Every week From the Longbox reexamines stories that have been lost in the shuffle of today’s comic market. The mini-series or story arcs that aren’t as well known as Watchmen or Sandman, but are damn good reads. Many of these stories are written or drawn by some of the top creators of today, but may have come out before they really broke out. These hidden gems are all worth finding in trades or the back issue bins of your local comic shop. Mild spoilers to follow.
JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice by David S. Goyer, Geoff Johns, and Carlos Pacheco
Produced as a hardcover graphic novel in 2002, Virtue and Vice is a DC fans dream come true. It’s a good old fashioned super-hero team-up. The Justice League and the Justice Society combine for twenty-nine super heroes featured in the book. Odds are your favorite character made it in. The large cast is handled very well by Goyer and Johns. No character feels neglected or even overused. Somehow they find a way to balance all the big personalities into one cohesive story that gives everyone a moment or two in the spotlight. It’s also fun to see how Geoff Johns cut his teeth on this book before moving on to writing universe changing event books for DC.
While totally self contained, Virtue and Vice requires a little more knowledge of the DC universe to really get some of the more subtle character moments. That said, I think even if you only know the big seven from the Justice League, Virtue and Vice is a fun, classic super-hero story every fan can enjoy.
Carlos Pacheco’s pencils in this book are some of, if not THE best, of his career. After reading Virtue and Vice, I can’t help but feel he was born to draw super-heroes. The cast he has to handle is ridiculous, and yet even the most action filled pages don’t seem cluttered. His lines are clean and sharp, and the details in every panel are really well done. You can tell Carlos was able to take his time on this book since it was released as a one-shot. The whole thing is beautifully colored by Guy Major.
Virtue and Vice opens with Superman and Alan Scott (he was Sentinel for this story if you remember that time in his continuity) gazing at Earth from the JLA’s Watchtower on the moon. It’s time for the annual JLA/JSA Thanksgiving dinner. Most of the two teams are already on hand and the interaction with the different characters is excellent. Some of the younger members are in awe of just being on the moon, while some of the older ones sit back and enjoy the down time. Of course, there is no rest for super-heroes as Doctor Bedlam does his best to spoil a UN meeting.
Our heroes save the world leaders including President Lex Luthor(dating the continuity of the book). Everyone regroups to discuss the attack when suddenly a few heroes start acting very odd. Martian Manhunter knows something is up because he’s psychic and that’s what he does, but it’s already too late as fists are already starting to fly.We get our obligatory hero vs. hero showdown, which is very well done as on first read we really don’t know why they are acting this way. Next thing you know, Captain Marvel, Plastic Man, Green Lantern (Kyle, Hal was still dead here), Mr. Terrific, Dr. Fate, Power Girl and Batman have all gone rogue and the remaining members of the two teams have been scattered.
Now is where Goyer and Johns start to reveal who is really behind everything. There are a lot of magic elements in this story and this is where a deeper knowledge of DC continuity can help out. New readers might not know about things like Fate’s Tower or the Rock of Eternity, but longtime fans will love every little Easter egg hidden in the pages. Old JSA villain Johnny Sorrow has been pulling the strings on the magic side of things. Manipulating forces from the Rock of Eternity and giving our heroes the run-around. I don’t want to reveal who the JLA villain in the story is because it would ruin a reveal about halfway through the story. I will say that it is a very classic villain from the silver age and their appearance takes over the book.
The villains explain the how and why of their plan and at this point their victory is assured. Except they are taking on the DC universe’s two most powerful super-teams with an extremely wide variety of super powers to work with. But first, the heroes must free their rogue teammates from what is making them all so damn crazy. Carlos Pacheco treats us to an amazing double page spread of both teams heading into action and it’s slugfest time.
JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice is top notch super-hero comics. It’s 94 pages packed with action, plot twists and great character moments. DC’s top characters get to all share the same stage and go up against incredible odds and some really well written villains. If you are a DC person or a Geoff Johns follower, this book is essential reading. Maybe you just like super-heroes punching bad guys and saving the day.
You will love this book too. Virtue and Vice is a wonderful example of what the comic book industry needs more of. It’s a well written, beautifully drawn, self contained story that will entertain you from start to finish.
Follow Brad on Twitter @BradWiegele.