Bryan Hitch’s trademark widescreen art style was built for stories with powerful, godlike characters like JLA #1. With the help of three inkers, his figures are detailed, yet expressive, and colorists Alex Sinclair and Jeromy Cox give the explosions, speed force crackles, and power ring flashes the digital sheen they deserve. Hitch has taken a page out of Grant Morrison’s epic run on JLA in the late 90s and given the Justice League of America a multiverse spanning threat to face in the long run that is integral to Superman’s mythos and legacy. In fact, Hitch opens the book with a potent double page spread of Earth exploding while a bleeding Superman floats in space before beginning his story proper. And this is where Hitch starts to struggle.
Throughout JLA #1, Bryan Hitch throws out some tantalizing ideas and moments, but has a little trouble connecting them. For example, there is a scene where Aquaman is speaking with world leaders about setting up trade relations and refusing to sell his “advanced” Atlantean weapons to them. This leads to controversy and a wonderful panel of Aquaman diving into the ocean with the leaders left in the lurch. However, he doesn’t join the other Justice Leaguers in their big, group fight against Parasite, who has somehow gotten free in a prison transfer. His storyline is tangentially connected to Superman and the Justice League’s, but there is a small mythological connection between his and their threat. Also, the way that the JLA takes down Parasite doesn’t make logical sense from the rules that Hitch has established. Why would connecting him to the New York City power grid drain his power when taking in a heavy dose of Green Lantern’s power ring or The Flash’s speed force wouldn’t?
The actual fight has a lot of cool moments though as Hitch puts the JLA through their paces in an exciting manner. JLA #1 lets these heroic demi-god-like beings cut loose in a way that hasn’t been seen since Jim Lee was drawing Justice League, and Hitch smartly alternates large and small panels to show them battling Parasite while simultaneously having a character reaction or hint at the big picture. (Batman likes being in these little panels, except when he kicks Parasite in the head.) Sinclair and Cox give Parasite a deep, disgusting purple coloring that becomes more grotesque as he absorbs more energy. It is also refreshing to see heroes actually team up to fight a villain in the first issue of a team comic instead of spending multiple issues jawing at each other and in-fighting.
But before this thrilling action sequence against Parasite, JLA #1 takes its sweet time spinning its wheels through extended text blocks, and Superman chatting with a couple less than ethical scientists at a lab, which actively tries to mess with his X-Ray vision. The lab’s head, Vincent, is portrayed as a possibly amoral, definitely socially inept, and doesn’t give much of an explanation for why there are dead versions of him from “different worlds”. These Supermen all look identical giving JLA #1 a stand-alone feel instead of playing with the DC Multiverse in a manner similar to Grant Morrison’s Multiversity or even something like Crisis on Infinite Earths or Marvel’s Secret Wars.
Even though this middle passage featuring Vincent, his assistant, and Superman drags on, it introduces a moral conflict for Superman as he must choose to “not die”, or the world will be destroyed. Beyond the bleeding, dying Supermen and some cryptic techno-babble, there isn’t a reason why Superman should actually believe Vincent. But a semi-mind blowing final page calls this doubt into question.
JLA #1 is another feather in Bryan Hitch’s artistic cap as he excels at showing superheroes in action along with labs, helicopters, explosions, and even a decent flirty interaction between Clark Kent and Lois Lane. However, his plot maybe suffers from some hypercompression as ideas, threats, and allies are introduced at a rapid pace without proper establishment. There are also a few story logic issues, The Flash and Green Lantern are written interchangeably, and Cyborg is kind of treated as deus ex machina. These misfires make JLA #1 an average comic with great art.