Anyone buying this book is likely to be a fan of Alex Ross's work and already have the six previously published, over-sized books that have been collected here in one handy, easy to read volume. The stories are no more than perfunctory so it's the glorious artwork that prompts the purchase. Ross's depictions of superheroes as real people are justly praised and the pages here, for anyone in love with this genre, are to be drooled over.
Unfortunately Ross, along with the likes of Adam Hughes, Jim lee, Jim Cheung and Travis Charest falls into the category of current artists whose output is scant and is frequently limited to comic book covers only, so this is a book to be treasured in the hope that sooner or later he returns to interior artwork and produces something of the calibre of 'Marvels' and 'Kingdom Come.'
'World's Greatest Super Heroes' is a wonderful set of stories which places four of DC's biggest icons - Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel/Shazam and Wonder Woman - together with the entire Justice League in five oversized Graphic Novel storylines and also a set of two-page origins for nearly all of the team, collected here in a single Paperback with oversized art work.
Written by Paul Dini, writer and producer of the best of the DC Animated Universe cartoons in the 90's and 00's and with artwork by the exceptionally talented Alex Ross, who is able to draw in such a unique style which captures not only the heroes at their best but in a way which is incredibly realistic. This is further helped by the fact that the theme of the collection was to imagine heroes dealing with real-life situations, and strong moral questions of whether one hero or team can solve all the world's problem.
The first four parts of the collection feature four specific heroes - Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel (now called Shazam in the New 52 to avoid issues with Marvel's own characters with that title) and Wonder Woman. All of these stories were released to collide with each one's 60th Anniversary from 1998 to 2001. There's no renowned super villains to battle or a huge supporting cast - rather the writer and artist choose to strip away to the spiritual cores of these heroes and what drives them when they each consider an issue they consider themselves capable of dealing with, only to learn there are limits even to what a single person can do. Superman tries to help deal with world hunger for one day at Christmas, Batman investigates the reasons behind crime and attempts to see if he can destroy the sources, Captain Marvel discovers his inner child and the problems facing the young who are sick or in need, and Wonder Woman uses her diplomatic skills and intelligence over mere Amazonian strength as she resolve to help women who are in need. In each story the heroes travel to incredible locations and learn that sometimes the powers they rely on can hinder as well as help if not used properly. There are no word bubbles in these stories bu each character provides a great inner monologue which acts like a storybook, taking us on the journey they are undertaking. All of these stories are great but I think that the Superman one - 'Peace on Earth' - was the most touching for me. All of these stories would make for fantastic short animated movies.
The final two parts of the book expand beyond the single hero and into DC's most known team - the Justice Leage. 'Origins' is effectively a prologue to the final part and provides a selection of beautiful drawn takes on the beginings of DC's most renowned heroes, not just the four above but also Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow and more. Even if you're a DC expert and known these characters inside out the origins are still a treat for the eye as the rest of the book. Finally there's 'Truth and Justice', which is a longer story that manages to feature every major DC player. Whilst Martian Manhunter acts as an narrator the last story does feature traditional comic dialogue. Again there's no major villain (beyond a brief cameo by Poison Ivy) that the League is battling here - rather an alien virus has arrived on Earth by accident and people are becoming infected, leaving the Justice League to try to combat the effects. But their actions to quell paranoia leads the League to take actions they come to regret, and the story deal with the question of how many of the team are not human and how this leads to distrust of their actions by the world. It's a great story and despite the large cast you don't find that one member dominates proceedings - every League member has their part to play here.
Finally at the end of the book there's some lovely behind the scenes material with artwork and sketches for each of the six books featured. This is topped off with a great double sided poster at the back featuring the entire Justice League in a dynamic pose. In all this is a great purchase - if you're long time DC fan you'll have great stories with your favourite heroes. But someone new to DC might well enjoy this too as all the stories are very accessable and can provide a good introduction to people who know Bats and Supes but would be curious about the wider DC characters. Clearly this is out of continuity and set prior to the NEW 52 effects so some characters have changed, but this is still worth a look for all the content within!