4 out of 5 stars
David S. Goyer/Geoff Johns – Writers
Carlos Pacheco – Penciler
Jesus Merino – Inker
Guy Major – Colorist
Virtue and Vice is your elevator into the DC Universe, if that elevator suddenly went into a freefall and dropped you down into the sub-basement. It is a perfect sample of what the DCU can offer and is a great introduction into the Justice League of America and the Justice Society of America. There are no origin stories, no hard hitting narratives; instead, Goyer and Johns cut out a healthy slice of continuity and offer it up as an appetizer to impress you.
The heroes here are not iconic, but current (2002 current). Unless you’re a DC Universe continuity cop, you probably won’t be familiar with everything. Nothing is explained to the reader up front, but rather through the progression of the story answers can be found. It’s not outright confusing, but you just have to deal with the fact that Wally West is the Flash, Kyle Rayner is the one and only Green Lantern, JLA headquarters is on the moon and Lex Luthor is President (yes, that was a thing that happened). Several references are made to previous stories that took place in each teams’ ongoing series, JLA and JSA, but an unfamiliar reader can simply pass that off as ‘casual’ conversation.
Essentially, there is a lot for first time readers and long time fans. The characters and teams are introduced and then the story begins. The JLA and JSA join forces to fight an onslaught of robots, but then something even crazier happens. Several heroes begin to turn on their commrades, causing an outbreak of confusion and creating a desperate situation. From there the super-heroes break off into separate groups, allowing the writing team to focus on each character a little more. Everyone gets a turn to shine and introduce themselves to the new readers as they go on a tour of the DC Universe. Not only do you get Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, but also the lesser known likes of Hourman, The Atom and Doctor Fate. It makes it that much more rewarding when everyone converges for the final battle.
After the day is saved, the Atom and Hawkman each make a toast to their counterparts. “To the greatest heroes America has to offer, the Justice Society” and “to the greatest heroes the universe has to offer, the Justice League,” and that is really all you need to know about the two teams. The Justice Society of America formed during World War II, defending America and it’s people from the Nazis. Since then, the JSA has altered its focus to the future. They mentor young heroes so they can live up to the legacy of the past and, in a sense, bring the past into the future. They are America’s greatest heroes because they take America’s traditional values and infuse them into a new generation of heroes. The Justice League of America was formed in the footsteps of the JSA, at the beginning of a new era. Threats became more dangerous and outlandish and so the greatest super-heroes that Earth had to offer banded together to overcome such unthinkable dangers. They expanded to not only watch over America, but the entire universe, moving away from Earth and planting themselves firmly on the freaking moon! They are the protectors of tomorrow, as new generations spread out further into the cosmos, the JLA will be there to watch over them.
The art is exactly what you want from a super-hero comic. Characters are rendered big and bold, with energy on every page. The pencils are strong and the coloring really makes it obvious that this is a book filled with amazing people in colorful costumes. Later in the story the backgrounds seem to disappear, but its unclear if Pecheco simply got lazy or it was just a product of everyone flying around in the air. Thankfully, he keeps the detail consistent throughout. Whether it’s the scenery of the JSA museum, or the ripples in Superman’s cape, there’s something interesting to look at on every page. This is what you want your comics to look like.
The story leaves us with an odd question to consider, but then quickly waves it away just as soon as it’s brought up. During the celebration at the end, Courtney Whitmore, the Star-Spangled Kid asks Wonder Woman whether or not super-heroes cause more problems than they fix. They may have saved the day, but all they really did was prevent their own teammates from destroying the planet. Wonder Woman simply states that the important part was that nothing disasterous happened. Except there were riots and destruction and death, and while the heroes were not to blame for the creation of the problem, their powers exacerbated an already dangerous situation into a near-catastrophic crisis. Goyer and Johns opened up a giant can of worms and then immediately tried to stuff the lid back on.
Super-heroes have a responsibility to not only save those in danger, but to keep their powers in check. They might not have been in control of their actions, but how much damage did their hijacked powers cause? There’s no easy answer. They save the world, but things go wrong too, and that’s a factor that needs to be discussed thoroughly and not mashed into half a page. Let them celebrate the happy ending to an inspirational story and leave the philosophical implications to a story that is better equipped to answer that. This one is just for fun.