Friday Fisticuffs Blu-Review: Machete Kills (2013)

machete kills I get a lot of random PR emails. I’m not sure how I got on some of the lists and a lot of them wind up in the ol’ trash bin, but every now and then I get one I’m really excited about. Once such PR email asked if I’d be interested in a review copy of Machete Kills. Hell yes, of course I was! Life got a bit in the way so this review is going up later than I intended, but I really wanted to add my voice to the choirs praising Robert Rodriguez’s latest film.

I didn’t remember much about the first film and thought about going back and re-watching that one again, but a quick read of my own review helped fill in the blanks. This time around, everyone’s favorite former Federale Machete gets sent on a mission by the president (Charlie Sheen) to find out what bad guy Demian Bichir is up to. As it turns out, he’s about to launch a rocket and has hooked a dead man’s switch up to his own heart. Things don’t go so well for him, but his heart goes on Celine Dion-style.

Eventually we find out that Luther Voz (Mel Gibson) is the real bad guy who also has space-based plans. Guys, there’s a lot going on in this movie. Machete runs afoul of a face-changing killer called The Chameleon played by Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lady Gaga and Antonia Banderas. Actors like Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Spy Kids star Alexa Vega and Tom Savini return for the fun alongside Rodriguez newcomers Amber Heard, Sofia Vergara and even Vanessa Hudgens.

This film was an over-the-top smorgasbord of awesomeness that oozes with Rodriguez’s style and charm. Every time I watch one of his movies, I can feel how much he enjoys making these things. I can relate to his desire to make a variety of different kinds of art and envy the way he’s figured out how to bring those visions to fruition. He also has the uncanny ability to bring in a variety of famous actors who in this case don’t distract from the story because the whole thing is already ramped up to 11 to begin with.

I haven’t had a chance to go through the deleted and extended scenes at all but the Making Machete Kills featurette on the Blu-ray was pretty great. If you’re not familiar with how Rodriguez makes movies, this will give you a really good idea. If you are familiar, it’s a fun addition to what you already know with this specific cast.

Every time I finish one of Rodriguez’s movies I feel creatively charged and have a renewed respect for and love of movies. This guy is really doing it the way he wants to and I respect that. Plus, he makes super fun movies of which Machete Kills is a great example.

Comics, Comics, Comics, Comics: Gen 13 By John Arcudi & Gary Frank

Gen 13 26 On several different occasions (including this one) I’ve talked about how much I dug Gen 13 in the 90s. Every ten years or so there’s a teen superhero comic that kids of that era really gravitate to. For me it was Gen 13. I started reading the book somewhere in the teens and made it my mission to track down all of the accompanying issues, crossovers, spinoffs, one-shots and first appearances. I actually did a pretty good job and have close to a complete set from their first appearance up to Claremont’ run.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read OG Gen 13 comics though. When it comes to youthful favorites I often wonder if my adult self will enjoy the material as much as my younger self did. In this case I’m not so sure how things will hold up, but there was one run I decided to try again when we went to my parents’ house for Christmas: Gen 13 #25-41 written by John Arcudi and drawn by Gary Frank, two of my favorite creators these days.

The Arcudi/Frank stuff really starts in a back-up story in #25 so that’s where I began re-reading. The gang — superstrong Caitlin Fairchild, weather manipulator Sarah Rainmaker, firestarter Bobby “Burnout” Lane, gravity controller Roxy and  molecular bonder Grunge — are supposed to be lying low in NYC especially after their leader Mr. Lynch has been framed as a terrorist by the media and I/O leader Ivana. While I’m not 100% on what all went on in the 24 issues leading up to #25, it had something to do with part of the team going to space and Caitlin meeting a deranged version of their mentor and team leader John Lynch. Coming back, she can’t completely trust him because the crazy version didn’t seem all that different than the man she knows. After running into a fellow Gen Active who has a history with Lynch and fighting a mad scientist power-sucker named Tindalos, they head to the Florida Keys to lie even lower for a while.

Gen 13 33In the Keys their adventures seem a bit more mundane but still include local conspiracy theorists, the return of Caitlin’s dad Alex, half the team running into another mad scientist who turned into a giant baby (see: right) and a quick trip back to New York by Roxy and Sarah so the former could meet with her step mom and the latter can try and find a woman she briefly met and became smitten with. All of this leads to a pretty bonkers confrontation with Tindalos and an attack that not everyone survives.

I vaguely remember this arc when it was happening and thinking it was kind of weird and slow. That’s an opinion that was shared by some of my fellow readers who wrote letters to that effect. But, like many of them, I found this arc to be incredibly engaging this time around. Sure, it lacks the on-the-run, constantly-in-danger antics of the previous 25 or so issues, but there is just so much going on here on a character level. Caitlin has to deal with her feelings about Lynch, Lynch needs some time away, Alex comes in and starts leading the team, Roxy discovers that her step mom is actually her birth mother AND that Alex is her dad. To a lesser extent, Sarah tries to combat her loneliness and find a lost potential-love. Grunge and Bobby don’t go through as much, but that’s alright. If everyone was having some kind of crisis, it would be exhausting.

Plus, Arcudi really made this whole thing feel like an arc. Characters learn things about themselves and each other, they deal with those revelations and by the end, most of them are different, especially Caitlin. And, while the wrap-up seemed to come a bit faster than originally intended (those last three issues cut back and forth a lot to the point where I’m still not exactly sure what happened), I still think as a whole these issues tell a complete larger story that feels satisfying at the end of it.

Did I mention how much I love Gary Frank’s art? Because I loooooooove Gary Frank’s art. I first saw his work on Midnight Nation and then a few other books that have all been a visual treat including his awesome run on Action Comics with Geoff Johns. He has such a clear, crisp style that mixes the big time superhero stuff we all know and love with the facial expressions of a Kevin Maguire or Steve Dillon. Heck, Cassidy from Preacher even shows up in a panel at one point!

gen 13 41

After reading this run again, I’m actually pretty excited to go back and read the rest of the books in my Gen 13 collection. I remember some really fun arcs, runs and one-shots in there that should be a treat to go back to. While I don’t think all of them will be as good or solid as this run, I think there will definitely be some fun nostalgia moments.

I also realized that this run will be a good candidate for binding. At 17 issues, it’s pretty much the perfect size. But, the real question becomes whether I want to bind my entire collection. If that is the case, I might have to take a closer look and figure out the best way to do so. Before this arc you’ve got 24 issues, plus the various first appearances and the original Gen 13 miniseries, so I’m just not sure how it will all shake out until I get my collection back together in one place. Maybe I’ll pick a mini or a few one-shots from this era to round things out.

Old School Trade Post: Uncle Scrooge Only A Poor Old Man & Adventures Of Tintin The Secret Of The Unicorn

uncle scrooge only a poor old man Uncle Scrooge: Only A Poor Old Man (Fantagraphics)
Written & drawn by Carl Barks

Right off the bat, I want to say that I talked about both of these books a few weeks back on the 42nd episode of my dad podcast, The Pop Poppa Nap Cast. I’m sure I’ll get to a few new points that I didn’t hit on there, but if you listened to that episode this post might feel a bit redundant.

Anyway, one of the greatest things about working at Wizard was meeting so many people who were so passionate about so many different kinds of comics. Some guys were Marvel scholars, others knew everything about indie books and a few others were more fans of old school material like Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge comics. These are Disney comics I’d been hearing about for years, so when I had a little extra cash last year I figured I’d finally dip my toe into that coin-filled pond and check out Fantagraphics’ Uncle Scrooge: Only A Poor Old Man which happened to collect Barks’ first Uncle Scrooge-starring comics (before that he was more of a supporting character in Barks’ Donald Duck comics).

Like a lot of people my age, I’m mostly familiar with Uncle Scrooge thanks to Mickey’s Christmas Carol and Duck Tails. While the former didn’t paint a very flattering portrait of the character, the latter made him out to be a go-getting adventurer with a mile-long greedy streak. It’s the latter version that comes front and center in this book. Every story revolves around the almighty dollar (or coin, in many cases) with Scrooge, Donald, Huey, Dewey and Louie going to great lengths to keep his money safe. The stories are presented in Barks’ iconic style which is perfectly cartoony, but also detailed and fun at times you might not expect it. He seemed to enjoy drawing Duckburg as much as Atlantis, so there’s a wide breadth of locations and characters in this collection to enjoy.

“Great lengths” is actually a pretty solid descriptor of this book. I was surprised to find out how long many of the main stories were in this book. I guess that’s just how comics were set up back then, but I often found myself flipping to the end of the story to try and figure out how many more pages I had to go. Personally, I think a few of these longer stories could have been cut down and would have felt a lot more streamlined and focused. As it is, some feel a bit meandering at times. This was compounded by the fact that there are one page gag strips included that I absolutely loved. These were quick, concise and often hilarious.

Even though some of the strips felt a little slow, I would still recommend checking out some of these Carl Barks strips. There’s such a great sense of wonder and exploration here that doesn’t get swallowed up by the greed also present in the series. In fact, Scrooge’s obsession with money might kick off many of the adventures, but it also leads to all kinds of calamity. I don’t want to read too much into these stories, but you can easily pull lessons from here that are good for both adults and kids. I tried reading this book with my kid and she wasn’t super-interested just yet, but I’ll try again later on down the line.

tintin-secret-of-the-unicorn-little-brown-cover-1 The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn (Little, Brown)
Written & drawn by Herge

Herge’s Tintin is another one of those books that I’ve heard about for years but never actually read. At last year’s New York Comic Con I was flipping through a box of $5 trades, saw a bunch of Tintin books and decided to try The Secret Of The Unicorn. At the time I didn’t realize that this was actually the book that the recent Tintin movie was based on. I actually watched the movie, but remembered next to nothing about it aside from the opening scene which is the same way this book opens. From there, though, it was like experiencing a story for the first time.

In this book, kid reporter Tintin gets wrapped up in a mystery directly related to his pal Captain Haddock’s family. The adventure includes shady antique dealers, pickpockets, cops, robbers, pirates, treasure and even a big, old mansion. The simple, comic strip-esque art style lulled me a bit to the point where I was shocked when a guy got shot in the back. I also didn’t expect for the B storyline to tie back into the A one so concisely because I was expecting something more aimed at kids. This was probably the best way to read it because it helped enhance the surprises, twists and turns.

As it turns out, this book leads directly into Red Rackham’s Treasure which I don’t have, but do want to get my hands on. I enjoyed this story so much, I’m actually thinking of picking it up in one of those three-in-one collections so I can keep going.

I want to say one more thing about both of these books, they are absolutely packed with bonus material. Scrooge features an intro by none other than George Lucas and is followed by a series of essays written by Duck Comic scholars and fans that not only give details about Barks and what he was going through at the time, but also explores some of the themes therein. In the Little, Brown versions of the Tintin stories, they’re aimed at kids and include a bunch of material in the back that add historical context and also show off comparisons between Herge’s finished art and the extensive reference material he collected while working on Tintin. I love when trades like this add extra material to flesh out the experience, especially when you’re dealing with older material that might offer a bit more context.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Dino-Riders

This one’s for my pal Brett White! I learned on Twitter recently that he’s a big Dino-Riders fan. I myself liked the idea of the toys, but didn’t actually buy any, though two of the tiny figures (Mind-Zei and Fang) somehow made their way into my action figure collection. Like a lot of 80s properties, Dino-Riders was a one-two punch that featured a short-lived cartoon and a toy line from Tyco.

Holy crap, this commercial is bonkers. Not only does it have the kind of insane play environment that you only see in 80s toy commercials. but these toys are jam packed with action features. The figures have weapons, the dinosaurs have their own weapons and it looks like some of them mimic running or walking. That’s an impressive line and an even cooler commercial. Now that I think about it, it’s basically the same as MASK, but with dinos.

The story behind the line which featured larger, armored dinosaurs and their 2-inch tall riders. If I’m reading the Wikipedia page correctly, the concept revolves around two groups who hate each other, the super human Valorians and the human-animal hybrid Rulons who get thrown back in time where they use various methods to team up with dinosaurs. The good guys make nice while the bad guys use brainwashing techniques. Or something. The cartoon lasted one season while the toy line went on for four waves, the last of which revolved around Ice Age animals instead of dinos.

 

Just Finished Dexter Season 5 (2010)

dexter-season-5 Unlike with the previous season of Dexter, I burned through the fifth pretty quickly. I actually got so wrapped up in the season that I didn’t realize how close to the end I was until it was just two episodes away. Be warned right away that this review is rife with spoilers.

The season picks up right after the end of the previous one with Dexter having just discovered his wife Rita dead in the bathtub and  his son Harrison crawling around in the blood thanks to Trinity. Since Dexter had already dispatched the murderer before discovering what he did to his wife, this season doesn’t revolve around revenge, but instead healing in a strange way as our her tries to figure out how this new life of his will work as a single dad and obsessed murderer of bad guys.

While there are several different cases being worked by Dexter’s cop co-workers, the majority of his story this season revolves around meeting a young woman named Lumen (Julia Stiles) who he inadvertently saved from a guy named Boyd. Dexter thought Boyd was your basic serial killer who would leave dead girls in industrial barrels. Turns out, though, that Boyd was just one of several men who would get together, abduct women, torture and assault them and then toss them aside. Dexter’s not sure what to do with Lumen at first but he soon comes to realize that she now has a similar desire for murder that he does because these men created her own dark passenger. They kill together and even wind up developing a romantic relationship.

Of course, this is supremely screwed up for a normal person, especially when you think that his wife was just murdered. But Dexter gets something out of this relationship that he never had with Rita: complete honesty and openness. Dexter not only shares his methods for dispatching his victims with Lumen, but also brings her into the kill room and shares his deepest secret with her. For him, that’s the ultimate in sharing with another person, the ultimate union. While he had to hide his true self from Rita, he showed Lumen everything.

But Dexter’s still got a life to lead. He finds a nanny for Harrison and also deals with the tribulations that come when trying to help a couple of kids deal with their mom’s murder. The season is handled in such a way that it allows for Dexter to interact with them, but not to the point where they’re constantly around and he has to sneak around them.

I want to highlight a few performances that really stuck out this season. I thought Desmond Harrington really upped his game as Quinn this season. It helped that he had a lot meatier of a part this time around as Deb’s love interest. He still carried the bad blood he had with Dexter into this season, but also brought in Liddy (Peter Weller) who was ultra creepy in a skuzzy way that’s different that all the other creepy, gross dudes showcased this season. Anyway, I really bought everything that Quinn went through during the season and thought his strong, silent routine in the finale was stellar. I’m excited to see what they do with him moving forward now that Dexter got him off for the suspected murder of Liddy. Sure these plots are tied up nicely, but it didn’t feel contrived.

Then you’ve got Johnny Lee Miller as motivational speaker Jordan Chase. As it turned out, Chase didn’t just get people pumped up to better themselves, but did the same thing for his rapist pals. I’ve only seen JLM in Hackers, a movie I love, so seeing him as this chameleon-of-a-villain was a departure for my concept of him. It’s interesting how similar this character is to John Lithgow’s Trinity. They’re both outwardly good people who seem very in control, but have a truly ugly side underneath. And yet, the comparison didn’t hit me until close to the end of the season. Then again, that’s the same thing we’re dealing with in Dexter, so the show continues to examine his pathology from different angles.

Finally, the season basically rested on Stiles’ shoulders and boy did she have to run the gamut of emotions on screen from cowering victim to emboldened embodiment of vengeance. That could not have been a pleasant character to share headspace with, but she committed fully and it shows. As I mentioned in my post about Season 4, I didn’t actually know anything about the events of this one, but I imagined that she couldn’t or wouldn’t stay in Dexter’s life for long.

The people that made this show really knew how to do a season finale didn’t they? There’s always a kind of ticking clock feeling, like you just can’t wait to find out what’s going to happen. I kept wondering what Deb was going to do when she stumbled upon Dexter and Lumen and really thought she was going to kill Lumen and Dex would slip away. Then she just walks away because she feels for Lumen! But, there were still like 20 minutes left of episode and, especially after the last finale, I just KNEW something bad was going to happen. That scene on the boat with her riding up front made me super nervous. It couldn’t just end happily, right?

After she finally killed the last of her tormentors, you’ve got to wonder if Lumen will still have the desire to kill or if she just needed vengeance. The problem there for Dexter is that he does need to kill, so if she’s done with it, where does that leave them?

And that’s basically what happened. After healing herself with Dexter’s help, she’s ready to move on, but murder is a part of him and she has to leave. It would have been easy to have Deb shoot her on accident or something strange come out of left field, but this is the more honest and emotional way to wrap this story up. As Dexter says at the end, her dark passenger is gone, but his isn’t leaving anytime soon. I actually thought I was pretty clever writing all that as I thought about it in the last 20 minutes of the episode and then they basically came out with most of it.

The season ends with a Harrison’s first birthday party, a celebration of life which acts as a counterpoint to the bloody death the season started with. Dexter’s broken up from Lumen leaving his life, but I imagine the experience of this season actually went a long way to not only heal him from Rita, but also showed him what a more honest relationship can be like. It makes me wonder if he’ll ever be able to get rid of his own dark passenger and move into a more normal life. I guess I’ll see.

Book Vs. Movie: The Eiger Sanction

eiger sanction by trevanianA few months back, my father-in-law, an avid reader who I often trade books with, passed me two novels by a guy calling himself Trevanian (real name Rodney William Whitaker) titled The Eiger Sanction and The Loo Sanction. While I wasn’t familiar with the author’s name (either of them), I did recognize the title from perusing the list of Clint Eastwood movies on Netflix and IMDb. Since my last two Ambitious Reading Lists turned out to be busts and I was looking for something else to read, I picked it up and gave it a shot. After finishing the book last weekend and then watching the film not long after, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to do another Book Vs. Movie post!

The Eiger Sanction, which was first published in 1972 follows the exploits of Jonathan Hemlock, a man who teaches art history by day, lives in an old, converted church with his illegal art collection by night and also “sanctions” (read: assassinates) people for an organization called CII when he needs some cash. A rough and tumble kid from the street who grew up without much of a moral code (read: sociopath), Hemlock made the easy transition into killing people for money. This book opens with another CII agent getting iced and Hemlock tasked with taking out the killer and his accomplice. Hemlock doesn’t want to do two jobs, so he takes the first one and assumes the second will go to someone else.

While on the way home from killing the actual trigger man, Hemlock meets a stewardess named Jemima who he takes home only to realize the next day that she was working for CII and stole the money he earned for the sanction. With his money gone, bills to pay and illegal paintings to buy, he’s desperate enough to meet with CII head Dragon once again and take a job that involves killing one of three men trying to climb a mountain called the Eiger. As it happens, Hemlock used to be quite a mountain man in his day and failed to traverse this mountain twice before. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Hemlock agrees to go on the mission, trains with his old climbing buddy Ben, who also happens to be the ground man for the Eiger climb and then heads to the location where he and the other climbers do their best to conquer the hill.

I had a great time reading this 350 page novel. It’s got a lot of espionage-like elements that reminded me of James Bond, but with a completely different character in the lead role. Instead of a charismatic ladies man, we’re dealing with a sociopath who kills in order to buy paintings, holds friendship as the highest form of social contract and only has sex for the release, not the pleasure. At the same time, it’s pretty fascinating to read about the Eiger, its history and the challenges Hemlock and his crew have on the mountain which wind up trumping the actual mission he’s on.

To get into SPOILER territory a bit, the plan is for Hemlock to find out from CII who his actual target is before having to climb the mountain. That doesn’t happen, so they all go up and the idea of killing someone falls to the wayside as the poo hits the fan and they must rely on themselves and each other to stay alive and get down after a storm hits making ascent impossible. In the process, one guy dies from a concussion mixed with the elements and the other two haphazardly fall off the mountain trying to get Hemlock to safety. This last was pretty out-of-nowhere and seemed a bit contrived as a way to keep Hemlock alive and kill off the potential targets which fulfills his mission. Later after Dragon credits him for killing all three possible sanction targets, Hemlock — SUPER SPOILER — figures out that his friend Ben was the other guy on the initial murder mission. What I liked about this reveal is that, when you look back at the book, there’s enough hints that you could have picked up on to figure out (though I did not), specifically when he ralphs after something intense happens on the mountain which reflects what happened on his ill fated mission.

Packed with enough twists, turns, intriguing characters and fun facts, The Eiger Sanction kept me reading at a pretty quick pace to the point where I was anxious to finish the book one night when I probably should have gone to bed earlier. It gets a big thumb’s up from me and I look forward to getting around to The Loo Sanction to find out what that one’s about. I’m going to jump in blind like I did with this one and hope for another great ride.
the eiger sanction poster

While reading the book, I tried casting Clint Eastwood as Hemlock in my head and it was a tough fit. Much as I love Eastwood as an actor, I had trouble seeing him as not only an art lover and professor but also a mountain climber teetering on the edge of sanity. Sure, that last part wasn’t so hard to put on the actor, but the combination didn’t match up with my vision of the actor.

And that was pretty much the case with the 1975  film version that Eastwood directed. He’s more of the brawling tough guy looking for justice and easily handled many of Hemlock’s one-liners, but he didn’t quite embody the character I had in my head. Since the time between my reading and watching the two versions was so close, I can’t quite judge whether Eastwood essentially created a different version of the character from the book and if that was successful. I just kept thinking of the differences between the two formats. On a similar note, while I love George Kennedy as Ben, I think they should have gone younger for both parts considering how intense the climb is supposed to be.

The comparisons between book and movie made up the majority of my thoughts while viewing the film. Certain bits of information are disseminated in earlier portions of the film, characters are cut out and elements are rearranged, none of which are bad in and of themselves. In fact, I thought cutting down the number of meetings between Hemlock and Dragon made a lot of sense. On the other hand, they changed a lot of the history between characters and what was going on with the CII missions to the point that I felt overly confused. The book itself wasn’t exactly mind-bendingly complicated, but it seemed like the movie version shook up the details along with the timing that information was revealed and just threw the results in the script.

The biggest problem with the film, though, is that the biggest point of the book’s finale, the mountain climb, doesn’t come off as epic as it should. Just like in Cliffhanger, it’s amazing to see humans climb a mountain. That footage will make me nervous any day of the week and looked fantastic as did the entire thing. But, in the book the climb is prefaced by telling us how dangerous it is even if the mountain isn’t overly tall. It then gets crazy as an insane storm rolls in. I understand that that would be difficult to film back then, but it all just seemed kind of fluffy to me. On a similar note, Hemlock doesn’t seem to spend nearly as much time with his team as he should have. We probably could have cut down on the beautiful, but not overly pertinent scenes of him flirting with and eventually bedding a woman named George while training with Ben.

On the other hand, the film does do a better job of keeping the target-related paranoia at a higher level on the mountain than the book. There are two scenes that hint at one of the fellow climbers as being a bad guy, but then they focus on actually surviving.

MORE SPOILERS. The movie version continues its kind of flat presentation by having Ben reveal to Jonathan that he’s the real target on the train ride back from almost dying. In the book he’s in the hospital and figures it out for himself, but in this case it’s kind of a casual conversation that ends without much fanfare or animosity which does make me think that the film features a different version of the Hemlock character that I’m just not as interested in because I’ve seen versions of that guy in this role played by that actor plenty of times before.

The whole time I read the book, I thought it would translate really well to the big screen. Unfortunately, I don’t think Eastwood’s version was the best film based on this source material. Maybe in a few years I’ll give it another look and see if it works on its own, but as an interpretation of Trevanian’s novel, not so much. If you’ve seen the movie without reading the book, drop me a comment and let me know how you liked it. I think I’m still too close to the source material, but maybe my problems were shared by others.

Books Of Justice: Justice League International Volume One

justice league international vol 1 Justice League International Volume One (DC)
Written by Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Kevin Maguire
Collects Justice League #1-6, Justice League International #7

I’m sure I’ve talked about this plenty on the blog here before, but I have an extensive collection of post-Crisis, pre-JLA Justice League comics. I still don’t quite remember why I started digging through longboxes for back issues of everything from Justice League International to Quarterly and even Task Force, but I’m pretty close to a full set. For the most part, I would grab whatever books I could find, read them and then put them in a box. I was planning on going back and re-reading everything from the beginning once I completed my obsession, but that plan fell away a few years back when my collecting side waned to almost nothing. And yet, I still wanted to get back into those books, so I was happy when I saw DC start collecting the Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis/Kevin Maguire era of the League in the Justice League International collections. I’ve got five or six of these books sitting in my to-read box and recently found myself in a place where I wanted to pay them a visit.

I realized not long after cracking this book open that, even though I consider myself a big fan of this era of Justice League comics, I’d never actually read these first seven issues in order. It was fun going back and reading them in their proper order with a much deeper understanding of the DCU of the day.

This particular League consists of Green Lantern Guy Gardner, Batman, Black Canary, Doctor Fate, Captain Marvel, Blue Beetle, Martian Manhunter and Mister Miracle. The book starts off with this group trying to stop a terrorist group from blowing up the United Nations. They also face off against a trio of Avengers analogs known as Bluejay (Ant-Man), Silver Sorceress (Scarlet Witch) and Wandjina (Thor) who want to rid our world of nukes as well as a mystical threat known as The Gray Man.

From there, a mysterious businessman named Maxwell Lord steps in and tells the League he’s proposing to the United Nations that the team become a sanctioned peacekeeping organization with embassies all over the globe. The group’s like, “Who is this guy?” but thanks to some recent international incidents, they go along with it. The team gets Captain Atom and a member of Russia’s armored Rocket Red squad foisted upon them and look forward to new adventures on a global scale. Dr. Light was in there too for a few issues too, but didn’t stick around. Dr. Fate took off as well.

What blew me away the most about this first book of Justice League comics is that it really jumps right in and spends zero time telling you how the group came together. In fact, there’s so little mentioned that I wound up getting the Legends event miniseries that spawned this team off of ebay because I was curious. I’ll talk more about that in a separate post because it’s pretty bonkers. There is a page devoted to Martian Manhunter mourning his fallen teammates who were part of the Detroit-based League that preceded this one. This style of having a team set before the book launched and dealing with personnel changes as they came is basically the antithesis of the Brad Meltzer League that launched several years back and even the New 52 version more recently. Those eras spent SO much time bringing everyone together and explaining how this character met that one or what he thinks of her that they failed to launch with much gusto. I’m a firm believer that team politics and dynamics should flow organically from the events of the book and not be frontloaded in the early issues. It was refreshing seeing such a different take on what seems like a standard kind of superhero story these days.

The other major departure for this era of the League, the one that it’s most known for, is the humor. Between Giffen’s plots, DeMatteis’ dialogue and Maguire’s art (specifically those wonderful facial expressions) the laughs come from all over the place. What surprised me about these early issues, though, is that they’re not as yuck-filled as the later ones. Sure, they’re in there, but they’re peppered throughout the action which is still taken seriously. That balance of levity and drama is what really makes this run so well-remembered, not just the fact that it’s a funny funny book with superheroes.

Finally, I love that they didn’t immediately throw this new League up against a well known foe. It would have been easy to bring in Kanjar Ro or Starro again, but instead the creative team created new threats, made the book more political and presented complex characters like Max Lord and Bluejay, Silver Sorceress and Wandjina who are actually trying to save this world from the weapons that destroyed their home world. These aren’t simple bad guys to just beat up, they’re more complicated and therefore more interesting to my mind. Instead of making their comic grim and gritty like a lot of the other books of the time, which in and of itself is a way of making comics more realistic, this one brings in larger questions and villains that can’t simply be knocked out, which infuses a book filled with Lords of Chaos and Order, aliens and New Gods, with a different angle of reality. I’m psyched to keep reading and see how International plays out and the eventual inclusion of Justice League Europe in the trades. Plus, here’s something to look forward to when/if the books ever get to the Breakdowns crossover. I did an interview with Keith Giffen about that run that I’ll dig up and post for some fun content.