By Paul Krueger
Summer is upon us, and with it come superheroes. This summer we get two offerings from Marvel in the form of Iron Man 3 and The Wolverine, while DC pins the future of its movie properties on the success of The Man of Steel. If Man of Steel makes it big at the box office, it will presumably be the first step to a Justice League movie franchise to compete with The Avengers. Iron Man 3 and The Wolverine each draw from an acclaimed story arc about their respective subjects: Warren Ellis’ “Extremis” for Iron Man, and Chris Claremont’s “Wolverine” for...well, guess. When the powers that be at DC sit down to look at source material for a great JLA story, though, they couldn’t do much better than Yale Stewart’s JL8.
JL8 is an unlicensed webcomic that takes the core members of the Justice League and tells stories about them in a preschool setting. While this sounds like some eldritch abomination that crawled out of the depths of fanfiction.net, Stewart is a talented enough writer and artist to sidestep the number one obstacle facing fan works like these: sucking. Stewart’s mastered the odd conceit of his project, and the end result is something that, while cute, remains true to the source material:
First of all, check out that presentation, eh? Issues of JL8 practically invite themselves to be cut out in strip form and put on the wall of a middle teacher who wants you to think of her as “cool.” The fresh-from-the-newspaper look falls nicely in step with the tone of the story, as well as the simple, cartoony art style. And it also pays a fitting tribute to the roots of these characters, whose first comics were printed on pages of pulpy, grainy tabloid paper.
That reverence for comics history permeates JL8. And given its nature as a fan comic, how could it not? Prominent fixtures of the DC universe make cameos, from arch-villain Darkseid to Morpheus, the dream king. And beyond that, the strip is stuffed full of little references to the characters these kids will become one day. Consider, for instance, the origin of Martian Manhunter’s famous addiction to Oreos:
I decided to spotlight JL8 for a very specific reason: too many superhero works, I think, have decided that “dark” is synonymous with “quality.” These works hit the market full of grit and testosterone, and most manage to make barely more of an impact than a wet thud. JL8 actively embraces lightness, fun, and whimsy, and manages to be just as true to the Justice League as that story where Ra’s Al Ghul robbed Batman’s parents’ graves.
That said, if Yale Stewart reads this, I’m sure he could do an interesting take on Tower of Babel and find a way for it to fit what he’s already established.
One last cool thing about JL8: it lives in social media. While most dedicated webcomics have their own web pages and pretty much always have since the medium’s inception, Stewart houses his work jointly on tumblr, Facebook, and deviantArt. Subscribe to the relevant pages, and you don’t have to check for updates; the updates will deliver themselves to you. I don’t know if Stewart decided to structure things this way because he has some great vision for the way webcomics work, or if it was just easier for him to use free platforms instead of paying for bandwidth. Whatever his motive, he stumbled onto what I believe will be the standard method of webcomic distribution down the line.
I’ll end this by saying that I’ve given this strip over to people who don’t like superheroes, people who don’t like cute things, people who adore both of those things, and even people who don’t like comics at all. Thus far, the only complaint I’ve received about it is that it doesn’t update nearly fast enough.