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.