REVIEW: Justice League Annual #1 Falls Flat Despite its Epic Story

All of the parts are shiny and new. The chassis has been polished with diligence, ready to have those shiny, new parts installed atop it. Not a speck of dust or smudge of grime are present to hinder how well the brand new parts will run in this ostentatious machine. The people behind the craftsmanship are talented and bright. They speak the vernacular; all systems are go, and what has been wheeled out before the masses should be nothing short of a miracle. But for some reason, which have eluded me since June of 2018 when Scott Snyder and Jim Cheung's Justice League #1 was released, the machine is idle. Not even the double-sized Justice League Annual #1 can ignite the series to take off, even as another coat of paint is slathered on to make us fall in love with the machine.

I absolutely despise the fact I don't love this series. The team who have been producing Justice League since last summer has been filled with some of my favorite creators in the industry. Scott Snyder is great writer (his solo Batman work is fantastic, and Wytches is one of my favorite horror comics, ever). Jim Cheung is in my top five favorite comic artists working today, right up there with Lee Weeks, Fiona Staples, Olivier Coipel, and Jorge Jimenez (who has also worked on this title). And even writers and artists I may have been a bit lukewarm on in the past, like Jame Tynion IV and Mark Morales, have contributed some solid work here. So... why does it not work?

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Justice League Annual #1 might contain the answer, since it's a culmination of all the things that have irked me about the book. Despite the fact the plotting moves along at a solid clip and the art is always strong, if not jaw-droppingly gorgeous, the events which unfold in this series often feel weightless. It's as if that shiny and new machine is sitting dead in the driveway, looking gorgeous and slick, but without the necessary gusto to pull out into the street. The action in Justice League Annual #1 is big and cosmic and loud and beautiful, but it all feels so meaningless. This series struggles to get readers invested in the idea of the barriers of Multiverse being broken down and the heroes who we all love being caught in the giant mess.

In the hands of a writer who knows how to really push the pedal to the floor when it comes to the cosmic, Multiverse weirdness of the DC Universe (guys like Grant Morrison), it can work. But it's not an easy task. Where things suffer the most is not in the crazy larger-than-life scenario feeling utterly bland, like a poorly rendered CGI disaster film, it's the lack of character connection that really hurts. Despite how well we know these heroes, the manner in which they interact feels stale and rote, as if the creators are assuming readers will call upon past comics to fill in the gaps in terms of general characterization. The only flare this annual really has is the dynamic between Brainiac and Lex Luthor, a relationship that has been antagonistic for decades and is always fun to play with.

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So what else works in this issue? The art is solid. Daniel Sampere and Juan Albarran are doing their best to make what should feel like an epic issue feel like it has some gravitas. They almost pull it off, but the story occurring on the page isn't given enough room on the panel to stretch its legs, and their work suffers from feeling cluttered because if it. Andriano Lucas' colors are also great. In fact, this the colors in this book are always well done. There's never too much of that smudgy color palette of earth tones seen in a lot of Marvel Comics releases. Even when the story is lacking, Justice League is always bright and beautiful.

Look, if the ongoing story of titans and cosmic craziness and defending the Multiverse is your jam, then Justice League Annual #1 will be right up your alley. I won't besmirch anyone for loving something no matter how much I don't. If you've stuck with the series this long, there's no reason to pass on this annual; it's more of the same, for better and worse. The people behind this issue have put their best foot forward in crafting an exciting story, but in their rush to make things big and bold, they seem to have forgotten digging into the characters more, and that's a kiss of death for me.

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