Justice is an ambitious story that takes every member of the original Justice League (except Firestorm), throws in a whole bunch of other characters that Alex Ross and Jim Krueger grew up with, and has the villains discredit the lot of them by actually helping humanity. That set-up incorporates several novel ideas applied to assorted super powers, so although the writing style is ponderous, to begin with at least there’s some hope that the story will match the jaw-droppingly good art.

That art is the true wonder. Doug Braithwaite’s layouts and pencils were handed to Ross to finish the illustration by painting over it, the result a glorious collaboration. Time after time you’ll gasp at an iconic illustration or a beautiful spread, and these aren’t just of the heavy hitters, as practically anyone who gets a line of dialogue is depicted beautifully. The Joker serves absolutely no story purpose whatsoever, but Braithwaite and Ross turn out several great pictures of him. That so often proves to be the purpose. Toward the end there’s the inevitable slugfest between the protected JLA, their villainous enemies, and other heroes who’ve been brainwashed, and it’s immense. It looks even better on the superior paper stock and oversized pages of the hardcover Absolute edition, an Eisner Award winner for the production. The art is so good, so iconic, that there is a serious case to be made for ignoring the plot deficiencies and buying the collection anyway just to drool at the pages.

Those plot deficiencies, however, accumulate. To begin with there hope that some illogical aspects will be explained, and that does occasionally happen. There is a reason for multiple scenes of Brainiac crowing over a captured Aquaman, for instance, but as Justice continues more and more plot holes lack an explanation. The concluding chapter has a couple of very powerful characters do what they could have done earlier, and the main villain’s scheme is revealed as something that they could have carried out in less complicated ways without involving the Justice League in the first place. If Justice was entertaining throughout, then a disappointing ending might be overlooked, but Justice isn’t entertaining throughout. Ross and Krueger lack the ability to focus the script on the necessary moments, and the result is long, dull scenes that don’t impact on the larger plot and make Justice quite the slog if the art alone isn’t enough.

Batman’s files on assorted heroes and villains are relevant to the story, let it be said a plot first used by Mark Waid in JLA: Tower of Babel, and a large bonus section of the Absolute edition presents Batman’s thoughts on each major character. These are accompanied by production illustrations from Braithwaite and Ross, followed by a layout section and reproductions of Braithwaite’s pencils before Ross applied the paint. It’s sumptuous, and ideal for anyone who can’t get enough of the art. However, the Absolute edition has a price to match the format, so if even the collected Justice is too expensive, used copies of the original volumes 13 may be preferable.