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.

Books Of Justice Trade Post: Team History & Dark Things

justice league of america team historyJustice League Of America: Team History (DC)
Written by James Robinson, drawn by Mark Bagley
Justice League Of America #38-43

Months ago I was looking through the two longboxes of unread trades in my closet and realized I had a lot of post-Infinite Crisis Justice League collections. I’d read many of the issues as they came out, but not since then. It seemed like enough time had passed that I could give them a re-read. I started with Brad Meltzer’s two volumes, then moved on to Dwayne McDiffie’s four books and am now up to the first two James Robinson offerings called Team History and Dark Things.

Guys, this trade is an absolute mess and it has nothing to do with the stories. When I wrote about McDuffie’s last book, I noted that there was zero context offered for what the heck is going on in the larger DCU. If these trades were only sold in comic shops to fans, that would be fine, because they would essentially be written for existing fans. But because trade paperbacks are out in the world, I feel like there should be some way to catch new readers up on what went on before it. I also fully support adding a few pieces of text between issues if something huge happened in a different book. Basically, these TPBs need to be as timeless as possible and they’re not.

Team History deals with all kinds of huge events that aren’t centrally located in Justice League Of America, so it’s super confusing. You’ve got an already depleted League that has to deal with Blackest Night and the Cry For Justice storyline, none of which are explained outside of quick dialog recaps in the books themselves.  I read those other comics when they came out, but that was a while ago, so even I was confused when I got to Team History. And then, BANG, you’ve got the Cry For Justice team along with fill-ins for the Big Three. To be fair, Robinson does a great job of recapping past events in #41, but that’s already four issues deep in this trade.

All that being said, Robinson did a good job with what he was given. Can you imagine taking over the most iconic superhero team of all team and it consists of Plastic Man, Vixen, Dr. Light and Red Tornado? Sure Zatanna and Gypsy show up to help fight Despero, but that’s still about as far from a headlining team as you can get. But, they do make for an interesting group to deal with evil returned loved ones in the Blackest Night event. Like the other BN tie-ins that I talked about before, though, the problem with these stories as a whole is that, even though many of them figured out smart ways to deal with the Black Lanterns, none of it was used in the larger story so what’s the point?

Finally, towards the end of the book, Robinson finally got to do his own thing and it was…interesting. The League finds itself dealing with a group of New God wannabes and some devices found throughout the history of the DCU which offers some fun looks at the Metal Men, the Challenges of the Unknown and other heroes and groups. At the end of the day, though, it felt like a bit of a confusing ending that has to take time to explain why several heroes left the team and then move right into the next book, a crossover with Justice Society Of America.

justice league of america dark things Justice League Of America: Dark Things (DC)
Written by James Robinson, drawn by Mark Bagley
Collects Justice League Of America #44-48 & Justice Society Of America #41, 42

Unlike the previous JLoA/JSoA crossover handled by Meltzer and Geoff Johns, this one was written and drawn completely by Robinson and Bagley. The team in this book is a much smaller version of the one seen on the cover of the previous volume. You’ve got Batman (Dick Grayson), Donna Troy, Congorilla and Starman with Supergirl and Jade showing up as the story progresses. Basically, this story finds the JSoA teaming up with the tiny JLoA because Jade has returned to Earth and brought the Starheart with her. Its presence winds up driving her dad Alan Scott crazy and the rest of the book has the teams joining forces to first take care of some of the magic- and weather-related backlash and then stop Adam’s rampage.

There’s nothing wrong with this story, but it also didn’t blow my mind. This story has loose ties to Brightest Day, the Blackest Night follow-up that focused on some of the returned-from-the-dead characters like Jade, but it didn’t feel like there was too much information left out. At the end of the day, I think I’ve just read enough of these kinds of stories to be a little bit bored with them. I really enjoyed how this book incorporated the effects of the Starheart on the rest of the DCU with all kinds of cameos, but at the end of the day, this is another team-up based around, basically, the same heroes doing a lot of the same things they’ve done before. That’s less a complaint about the quality of the story and more about my general feelings about Corporate Comics these days.

And yet, I was still disappointed by both of these books for a few reasons. First off, I’m not quite sure why this team exists other than to sell Justice League comics. I don’t necessarily need to be inundated with “team business” type stories, but there seemed to be very little of that. Heck, there’s hardly a team throughout both of these trades. Additionally, I was disappointed by both creators. Robinson penned one of the greatest superhero epics of all time in Starman and this doesn’t even come close to that. Maybe my expectations are too high, but I just can’t separate my love of that book from my expectations for this one. It’s not fair at all, but that’s how it is. Meanwhile, Bagley’s art didn’t wow me nearly as much as I thought it would. I was as excited as anyone when I heard he was moving over to a Justice League comic as the regular artist. But the results just seem a bit too slight and sketchy. These are supposed to be big, bold heroes and that doesn’t always come across.

At the end of the day, I’m not sure what to think about these books. They’re important pieces of the post-Infinite Crisis, pre-New 52 Justice League series of books, but are they shelf or collection worthy? I’m going to hold on to them for now and see if I can get my hands on the last few to see how they work as a whole, but I’m not so sure these are worth holding on to.

Books Of Justice Trade Post: Second Coming & When Worlds Collide

justice league of america second coming Justice League Of America: Second Coming (DC)
Written by Dwayne McDuffie , drawn by Ed Benes with Alan Goldman, Doug Mahnke, Darick Robertson, Ian Churchill & Ivan Reis
Collects Justice League Of America #22-26

Naturally, after reading Brad Meltzer’s two-book run on Justice League Of America and then Dwayne McDuffie’s first two, I moved right along into his last two. While The Injustice League and Sanctuary read like truncated tales, Second Coming actually felt like a full story that McDuffie wanted to tell that didn’t get interrupted by a larger DCU event.

As I said before, while Grant Morrison’s JLA deals with macro issues showing why the world needs the team, the Meltzer-into-McDuffie one seems more focused on why the team members need each other. While trying to fix Red Tornado again, Amazo shows back up and starts causing trouble for the team. Of course, they’re dealing with their interpersonal relationships which, like the threat itself, exist because this team exists. It’s a cool, organic process that does something a little different than I’m most used to when thinking of blockbuster JLA teams.

The trade ends with a crazier story than I remembered from my first reading. Vixen wants to get to the bottom of her new, wonky powers, so most of the team goes to Animal Man’s house. While there, a trickster god brings them into his dimension where he tells Vixen and Buddy about their true secret origins (if you can believe the god of lies) and also builds an alternate version of the Justice League by changing a few details here and there when it comes to hero origins. I’m a big fan of alternate reality stories, so this was right in my wheelhouse. I remembered this story being more confusing when it was coming out monthly, but felt it flowed a lot better with all the pieces in hand.

Art wise, this book is a little all over the place. Ed Benes is the main artist, but he’s still kind of in flux. The first issue of the collection has inks that are way too dark and heavy, but those back off as the issues progress. Alan Goldman came in and did a pretty great fill in and then you’ve got the cavalcade of killer artists from Doug Mahnke to Ian Churchill coming in to do a few pages here and there on one of the issues. All in all, both the art and story felt really pretty organic, not just for the few issues in this collection, but for the whole JLoA run to this point.

justice league of america when worlds collide Justice League Of America: When Worlds Collide (DC)
Written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Ed Benes with Jose Luis, Shane Davis, Rags Morales, Ardian Syaf & Eddy Barrows
Justice League Of America #27, 28, 30-34

The word I keep thinking of when trying to describe When Worlds Collide is: bonkers. This trade is all over the place. First, you’ve got a two part story dealing with the Milestone characters trying to steal something from the Justice League. This was around the time when those heroes and villains were first being integrated into the DCU, but not being very well explained. All of a sudden, we’re just supposed to accept that an entire comic book universe was shrunk down to one town, Dakota, and had always been in the DCU? Huh? Well, after adding to some of that confusion, McDuffie actually does explain what happened towards the end of this book and his run on the series. I don’t think I ever actually read all these issues when they came out because it was around the time I got laid off from Wizard and lost access to every comic ever, so it was a big question mark in my head until I finished this trade.

So, there’s this bonkers story about all these heroes you’ve either never heard of and don’t know or have heard of and don’t know why they’re around. Then a whole issue is skipped over. After that, Hawkman asks the team for help in fighting Shadow Thief. After that, there’s an issue where Black Canary’s talking to all these different people about why the League is basically over with next to no explanation as to what went on to cause all this. Finally, a team consisting of Dr. Light, Firestorm, John Stewart, Vixen and Zatana runs up against Starbreaker. This last story also brings in a few more Milestone characters (and explains why they’re here now) as well as the Batman from the alternate universe in the previous volume. Again, bonkers.

The real problem with this book is that there’s zero context or explanation for what’s going on in the greater DC Universe at the time. This was around Final Crisis which lead to the death of Martian Manhunter, the temporal displacement and apparent death of Batman, Superman heading off to live on New Krypton and Wonder Woman disappearing for some reason. Some of these things are mentioned in the book, but a simple text explanation would have been greatly appreciated.

That lack of interest in catching a reader up really bothered me while reading this book and the next one which also picked up after some pretty huge out-of-book events. There’s this assumption that you already know everything that’s going on in the entire world of these characters. Heck, even if you did read everything when these issues were coming out and owned the trades, it’s incredibly likely that you won’t a few years down the line when you want to give them a re-read (which, you know, is the point of friggin trades!). To keep new readers abreast of what’s going on around these stories, there needs to be a small amount of explanation for what the heck the characters are referring to. This is an incredibly easy comic related problem to fix, so someone needs to get on it!

Books Of Justice: The Injustice League & Sanctuary

justice league of america injustice league Justice League Of America: The Injustice League (DC)
Written by Dwayne McDuffie with Alan Burnett, drawn by Mike McKone, Joe Benitez, Ed Benes & Allan Jefferson
Collects Justice League Of America Wedding Special #1, Justice League Of America #13-16

After reading through the two Brad Meltzer Justice League Of America books, it just made sense to keep going and re-absorb Dwayne McDuffie’s run on the book which makes up four trades. While my negative memories of Meltzer’s run were somewhat vague, I had very specific memories of why McDuffie’s bummed me out. First and foremost, it went with the “a group of villains getting together” story which had been done plenty of times before and after. Then you had the fact that it seemed like there were editorial mandates that just kept coming down which truncated some arcs and interrupted others. One arc ends with a “Huh?” because it had to lead into Salvation Run while another reintroduces the Tangent characters for seemingly no reason.

At the time these books were coming out, I remember thinking that all of this just seemed wrong. The Justice League should have been the book steering the good ship DCU instead of feeling like something that was being back seat driven by someone other than the book’s writer. So, when getting back into these stories I tried to forget everything I knew — which turned out to be a bit easier than expected — and actually read this book as if it was in charge. How’d the work out?  Continue reading Books Of Justice: The Injustice League & Sanctuary

Justice Trade Post: JLoA The Tornado’s Path, JSoA The Next Age & The Lightning Saga

justice league of america the tornado's path Justice League Of America: The Tornado’s Path (DC)
Written by Brad Meltzer, drawn by Ed Benes
Collects Justice League Of America #1-7

The last time I was really excited about mainstream comics was the lead-up to Infinite Crisis and everything that went on up until about Countdown. It seemed like DC had done a great job of keeping their universe well organized, using several quality creators to not only tell stories that were unique and fun in and of themselves, but also lead up to something much larger. Sometime during the Infinite Crisis event, I actually started working at Wizard, so I had more of an inside track on what was going on. To be honest, as cool as that can be, it’s not always a great thing and can taint how you feel about different books. It’s the age old bit about seeing how the sausage is made. Sometimes it’s interesting and enlightening, other times it’s pretty gross.

Hit the jump to keep reading!  Continue reading Justice Trade Post: JLoA The Tornado’s Path, JSoA The Next Age & The Lightning Saga

Books Of Justice: Justice League America By Dan Jurgens

Justice League America JurgensJustice League America By Dan Jurgens
Written and drawn by Dan Jurgens with Dan Mishkin, Dave Cockrum, Sal Velluto,
Collects Justice League Spectacular #1, Justice League America #61-77 & Annual #6 (personally collected and bound)

The Justice League was a different animal when I started reading comics. Back in the late 80s/early 90s, the team tended to consist of one major league character and then a lot of others that the writer was able to really grow and change. Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis were the guys who really took this idea and ran with it post-Legends. And, while that run on the book is beloved by many (including me) the rest of Justice League America does not seem to be fondly remembered by many people up until the time that Grant Morrison relaunched the concept with the Big Seven in JLA.

However, I am not one of those people. I’m sure it’s at least in part because my very first JLA line-up included Superman, Fire, Ice, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, Maxima and Bloodwynd. Plus, between his run on this very formative run for me and his hand in the Superman books of the day, Dan Jurgens became a very important creator for me.

At some point in my collecting career, I decided that I wanted to get every issue of every Justice League series from the time frame between Crisis and JLA. I’ve set my mind to collect many series’ like this, but the Justice League books are the only ones I’ve ever completed. While reading through some stuff in the past year or two, I came to the Jurgens issues and was really happy to find that I still enjoyed these stories. So, with all that in mind and a few extra bucks in my pocket I decided to get Jurgens’ run on Justice League America bound.

To give a little context, Jurgens picked up the book after a huge storyline called Breakdowns that essentially toppled both Justice League America and Europe, things were never really the same after that, partially because Giffen and DeMatteis departed at that time. With Batman and Martian Manhunter both leaving the team for various reasons, Superman reluctantly decided to lead the team. At this point, Superman was still in his late 80s/early 90s mode of “very powerful hero” but not the nearly unbeatable god he eventually became.

These issues find the League facing off against the Weapons Master, Starbreaker, Eclipso (in the annual), Doomsday, alternate reality versions of the Satellite Era League and of course each other. I don’t know if I’d call any of those stories — aside from the Doomsday stuff — classics, but I did still find them enjoyable. I like how Jurgens doesn’t always have them winning one particular way. In one adventure, Beetle uses his smarts to get them all out of a jam, in another case it’s all brute strength. As much as I love Morrison’s run, it feels like so many of those stories ended with “And Batman beat them because he’s super effing smart” (or maybe that’s just how my memory remembers it).

In the wake of Superman’s death, the team got several new members, many of whom are considered Z-Listers, but I thought Jurgens did a good job of making them interesting, something he did with each and every member. We’re talking about Agent Liberty, the then-new Black Condor and the kid version of The Ray. Oh and Wonder Woman became the de facto leader.

At this point in Jurgens’ run, he did a really cool alternate reality story called Destiny’s Hand, a four-parter that envisioned a world where the JLA started taking on more and more power and became more like fascists. Part three of this story was actually probably the first JL book I ever read and re-reading it brought back crazy memories. I remember facial expressions, story beats and panel layouts from this issue, I must have looked through it a million times after getting it in a random multipack. Anyway, I was super confused by this comic back in the day and had no idea what was happening, but it reads a lot better all together.

Before leaving the book, Jurgens also told the origins of Bloodwynd, a character I still probably don’t understand 100%. Actually, I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on him now, finally, but I liked that he finished that story thread before leaving the book.

I guess there’s no real question about whether I liked this book or not. Hell, I made the thing myself, didn’t I? But, in addition to the huge nostalgic factor for me, I like these comics. Jurgens did a good job continuing on the sense of humor that characters like Blue Beetle and Booster Gold featured in the Giffen/DeMatteis run. He also did some really fun superhero stories with villains that, to this day (as far as I know), aren’t overly used. Sure, these aren’t the kinds of threats you’d see in a JLA comic these days, but you’ve got to remember that, if one of those kinds of threats popped up in the mid 90s, you’d have yourself a crossover, not an arc.

So, yeah, I like these comics. Heck, I might be in love with a few of the issues, having known them longer than almost everyone in my life. But I also think they’re good comics, the kind that you might be able to pass to someone, though you’d probably have to answer a lot of questions.

Books Of Justice: JLA Deluxe Volume 2

JLA DELUXE EDITION VOLUME 2 (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Howard Porter with Val Semeiks, Arnie Jorgensen, Gary Frank & Greg Land
Collects JLA #10-17, Faces of Evil: Prometheus #1, JLA/WildC.A.T.S. #1
As with the previous volume, I was once again surprised with how much Morrison packed into so few issues. I remembered the Injustice Gang story, the one where GL, Aquaman and Flash travel to Wonderworld and then to a possible future where Darkseid has taken over, but did not realize they were all happening at the same time. This is one helluva yarn to unravel and that’s before we even get to the Prometheus story. Wow, so much going on here. All other comic book writers–especially ones who want to write big time superhero team comics–should take notes for reference instead of throwing out yet another boring retread of old villains without much new thought or spark.

While a group of super villains coming together to put an end to the heroes might not have been the most original idea of all time–and seems even less so after the past few years of that being the go-to plot for villains–Morrison twisted it just enough by putting Lex Luthor in charge and having him use hostile takeover (read: business) tactics to destroy the JLA. He also, thankfully, didn’t just go with whatever Super Powers lame-os that seemingly everyone else who does this story. I fully expected to see Cheetah instead of Circe, but Circe makes so much more sense. As it turns out, the Injustice Gang series acts as a kind of book end for the other stories I mentioned. Kyle Rayner really gets to shine in an issue before Morrison moves the spotlight over to Aquaman. He does such a good job of giving everyone their due diligence.

But, my favorite aspect of this story is the Darkseid Is possible future. I am a sucker for these kinds of stories because they really get to play with our heroes in ways that just can’t be done in modern comics. Superman’s dead, Batman has been forced to kill, Flash is a fat guy, GL’s a zombie, but more interestingly, Argent has become a hero! Most of you might not remember Argent, but she was one of the characters in Dan Jurgens’ relaunch of the team in the late 90s. Seeing a guy like Morrison show her in such a cool light made me really re-think that character and reinforced the idea in me that there are no bad characters just bad takes on them. Apparently, no one else was paying attention because she hasn’t done much since Devin Grayson’s Titans book (I think).

And then the JLA disbands…but not really. It was a hokey trick that didn’t need to be there. Besides, it wound up just being a restructuring that brought in new members. And you know what? Morrison didn’t put the team together by having our heroes looking at pictures and weighing their options or all meeting up by happenstance and deciding to join forces, THEY WERE JUST THERE! I’d like those potential super hero team writers to take note of this too. We don’t need to see how the team is put together. It’s boring. Just put them together and if questions arise (or better yet, if mysteries abound) answer them as you go. I don’t want to see how next season’s Steelers come together, I want to see them play football! Wow, I’m punchy today, but I think it’s because this stuff all seems to basic and obvious and yet we’re inundated by boring and bad team books all the time.

Anyway, we’re introduced to a brand new villain named Prometheus thanks to his one-shot that then carries right into the next issue that introduces the new team. Prometheus might be one of the greatest villains of the 90s with his ability to download everything from building schematics to marital arts moves into his brain, but I do have one question, how did he get their moves on camera, especially Batman? Ah well, maybe he used his Cosmic Key. Like Zauriel, Prometheus has been mostly mishandled, but I think he could use an upgrade and come out swinging. He had the one-shot not too long ago, has he appeared since? The whole “he doesn’t have VILLAINS programmed in his brain” conclusion is a little Silver Agey, but wound up being fun anyway. I’m still not clear if Catwoman being there was her own idea or Batman’s but that sure was good luck if not planned.

The book ends with a comic I’ve never read before, but enjoyed: JLA/WildC.A.T.S.. I’ve gone on record several times as being a fan of the Wildstorm Universe, so seeing the ‘Cats interact with the Big Seven and written by one of my favorite comic writers is a treat. However, this book won’t blow you away. It’s kind of your standard inter-company crossover, but with Morrison’s crazy brain working on the reasons why they’re crossing over. Even so, I’m glad it’s included in the book to make sure everything he did with the team is collected.

Reading this book not only made me want to get the other two volumes of the JLA Deluxe series, but also get all of the DC 1 Million issues and read the whole thing as one big epic. It would be nice if DC put something together with all the one-shots in the correct chronological order with the main miniseries, but since I haven’t heard anything about that, maybe I’ll just put my own together and bind that shiz up. I’m going to keep my eye out for them as the con season heats up and will maybe get to them after getting my Justice League collection bound.