The first thing that strikes about Virtue and Vice is the nice production of the original hardcover edition, DC printing the cover illustration on the covers themselves rather than using a dust jacket. While the format of choice for UK Christmas annuals since the 1960s, all these years later it’s still unusual for an American graphic novel.

At the time of publication writers David S. Goyer and Geoff Johns were responsible for the JSA title, so already had strong ideas concerning thepersonalities of that team’s membership, but they also produce interesting insights into the far higher profile Justice League. It’s apparent from an opening page of Superman hanging in space by the Justice League Watchtower on the moon, wistfully wishing everyone had the opportunity to see Earth from that viewpoint. The iconoclastic Green Arrow notes his patriotism by stating “I bleed red, white and blue… Just different shades to most of you”, and the Atom applies a well conceived solution to a problem that baffled the Justice Society for decades. Even if it’s only a single line, Goyer and Johns give every member of a large cast a moment in the spotlight. They also cleverly subvert the superhero cliché of heroes having to fight each other before teaming up, a viable reason integral to the plot being provided. The clue is in the sample illustration, although not fully revealed until a while later.

Artist Carlos Pacheco has a similar workhorse attitude, filling panels with large groups of heroes, often full figure, and is equally generous with his time when it comes to those without super powers. A slim panel showing the military protection of the White House is packed with troops and vehicles. Pacheco is a great superhero artist, and he’s on form here, pouring the love into the pages and constantly coming up with great ways to see the heroes. A few pin-up spreads of the entire gathering are a bonus.

By the midway point you almost need a scorecard to keep tabs on everyone. Two teams of heroes have been thrown into inescapable traps sourced from the Justice Society’s past, and one team of heroes seems to have been possessed, which leaves a selection of reserve members to figure out what’s happened and put it right. Good use is made of several villains from the teams’ back catalogue, but the key aspect of seven heroes being possessed by the seven deadly sins doesn’t really have the room to breathe properly. It’s responsible for some nice small moments, although eventually too easily dealt with. The interaction of the heroes and their ingenuity compensates for minor shortcomings, meaning so much of Virtue and Vice is pure fun.