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CSBG Archive

Comics You Should Own – JL/JLI/JLA #1-45 + ancillary comics

Say it with me: Bwah-ha-ha-ha!!!!!!



Justice League International/America by Keith Giffen (plotter; penciller, issues #8-10, 13), J. M. DeMatteis (scripter), John Ostrander (writer, Suicide Squad #13), Kevin Maguire (penciller, issues #1-12, 16-19, 22-24; Formerly Known as the Justice League #1-6; JLA: Classified #4-9), Steve Leialoha (penciller, issue #14-15), Ty Templeton (penciller, issues #20-21, 24-29), Mike McKone (penciller, issues #25, 28, 41-42; Justice League Annual #3-4), Bill Willingham (penciller, issue #30; Justice League Annual #1-2), Adam Hughes (penciller, issues #31-35, 37-40, 43-45), Tom Artis (penciller, issue #36), Russell Braun (penciller, issue #45), Luke McDonnell (penciller, Suicide Squad #13), Bart Sears (penciller, JLE #7-8), Tim Gula (artist, Justice League Annual #3), Terry Austin (inker, issue #1), Al Gordon (inker, issues #2-18), Joe Rubinstein (inker, issues #19-31, 35, 38-39; Justice League Annual #2; Formerly Known as the Justice League #1-6; JLA: Classified #4-9), Dick Giordano (inker, issue #27; Justice League Annual #1), Art Nichols (inker, issues #32-37), José Marzan (inker, issue #35, 40, 42-45), Bruce Patterson (inker, issue #41; Justice League Annual #1, 3), Malcolm Jones III (inker, issue #45), John Beatty (inker, issue #45), Bob Lewis (inker, Suicide Squad #13), Pablo Marcos (inker, JLE #7; Justice League Annual #3), Bob Smith (inker, JLE #8; Justice League Annual #4), Dennis Janke (inker, Justice League Annual #1), P. Craig Russell (inker, Justice League Annual #1), R. Campanella (inker, Justice League Annual #1), Bob Lappan (letterer, issues #1-10, 12-27, 30, 32-36, 38-45; JLE #7-8; Justice League Annual #1, 4; Formerly Known as the Justice League #1-6; JLA: Classified #4-9), John Workman (letterer, issue #11), Albert de Guzman (letterer, issues #28-29, 31, 37; Justice League Annual #3), Todd Klein (letterer, Suicide Squad #13), John Costanza (letterer, Justice League Annual #2), Tim Harkins (letterer, Justice League Annual #3), Gene D’Angelo (colorist, issues #1-45; JLE #7-8; Justice League Annual #1-3), Carl Gafford (colorist, Suicide Squad #13), Lee Loughridge (colorist, Formerly Known as the Justice League #1-6), and David Baron (colorist, JLA: Classified #4-9).

DC, 64 issues (Justice League/Justice League International/Justice League America #1-45; Suicide Squad #13, which comes after issue #13; Justice League Europe #7-8, which come after issues #31 and 32, respectively; Justice League Annuals #1-4; Formerly Known as the Justice League #1-6; JLA: Classified #4-9: “I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League!”), cover dated May 1987 – December 1990; September 2003 – February 2004 (Formerly Known as the Justice League); April 2005 – August 2005 (JLA: Classified #4-9).

Some SPOILERS, I guess. And click on the images to giganticize them! Some are totally worth it!

There’s no way this comic should have worked. As Andy Helfer writes in the introduction to the first trade paperback, “We needed to come up with an idea for a book that would work regardless of which characters were featured in it. It sounded like a suicide formula – after all, a sure sign of a bad comic book story is one in which any character can be used as the hero.” But then, of course, he and Giffen came up with the idea to focus on the Justice League as a “club” for super-heroes, meaning they would show the heroes when they weren’t necessarily “working.” Again, Helfer explains that, in the aftermath of Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC’s “big guns” – Superman, Wonder Woman, Hal Jordan, even Wally West – were all undergoing “renovation,” so they couldn’t have a “return to glory” for the Justice League. If they had launched the book with the line-up they did – J’onn J’onzz, Batman (Denny O’Neil “took pity” on Helfer, he writes), Black Canary, Mister Miracle, Captain Marvel, Blue Beetle, Doctor Fate, and Guy Gardner – and tried to make it a straight superhero book, it probably would have tanked as badly as the just-cancelled first Justice League series did at the end. But Giffen, who when he only writes comics is usually deadly serious, went nuts with the plotting, and DeMatteis, who presided over the destruction of the previous team (and showed a few flashes of humor, even though it was mostly deadly serious), were allowed to flex their funny bones as much as they could. They also lucked into Kevin Maguire, who was just starting out in the business but immediately made an impact with the kind of book Giffen and DeMatteis wanted to do. And so one of the most influential comics of the past 20 years was born!

Giffen begins the series with a full-page splash of Guy Gardner, which is fitting (note: Giffen is often credited with breakdowns, but I didn’t feel like listing those above, because I’m not sure how detailed his breakdowns were), as Guy has become one of the symbols of this incarnation of the League. If we consider the structure of the League after the first year, when the roster settled down to a core, we get a bit of a triangle: At the top is J’onn and Maxwell Lord, at one point is Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, at another point is Fire and Ice, and in the middle sits Guy, annoying and being annoyed by all (yes, other characters come and go, but those are the stalwarts). If we skip the fact that Giffen and DeMatteis decided to give Guy a serious head trauma in issue #7 and nobody seems to care about it (he gets better at the end of issue #18, when Lobo crashes into the embassy; this story has probably the best characterization of Lobo ever), Guy remains irascible throughout the series, but he also underscores the major theme of the series: redemption. All of the major characters are redeemed, even if it takes two mini-series fifteen years along to do so. With DeMatteis scripting the book, perhaps the redemption theme is not surprising, but it’s interesting that in a book that is known for its comedy, Giffen and DeMatteis give these heroes heroic quests that ennoble them and make them much more interesting as characters than we might expect. Redemption is a common theme in superhero books, of course, given that the hero often has to fail before he can succeed, but when it’s a single character book, it’s less effective because it happens so often. In a team book, the writers can shift the redemption angle around in an effort to keep it fresh. With this version of the League, it went a bit deeper, because the cast was, to be charitable, not the A-list. The Leaguers needed to redeem themselves not only within the individual story arcs when the bad guys (such as they were) beat them up, but also in the eyes of their fellow heroes. This makes the book far more interesting, because so much of the humor is predicated on the fact that these characters are not, in fact, DC’s big guns. But they are heroes, and over the course of the years, Giffen and DeMatteis were able to show that without ever making it explicit. At no time does a hero ponderously narrate about his or her search for redemption, which makes the quests fresher. Even many minor characters are seeking it. Consider: Wandjina, Blue Jay, and the Sorceress (in issues #2-3) are desperate to save the Earth from nuclear destruction because they failed to save their Earth. Mari McCabe is trying to redeem herself after the disaster that ended the previous League, and she’s looking for it in the Suicide Squad, which leads to her reunion with and forgiveness by J’onn in Suicide Squad #13, which crosses over with JLI #13. In issue #28, Black Hand has gone straight, presumably looking for redemption for his evil ways. Irwin Teasdale (the mad scientist who turns people in vampires/zombies in “The Teasdale Imperative,” the crossover with the European branch in JLA #31-32 and JLE #7-8) is, in his own twisted way, looking to redeem himself after Simon Stagg rejects him. Wally Tortolini, the reporter who writes a devastating exposé on the Justice League in issue #38 (which gets spiked by the Crimson Fox, who’s the European distributor of the magazine for whom he wrote the piece), looks to redeem himself by befriending Sonar. The Injustice League goes straight in JLA Annual #4, the notorious Justice League Antarctica story. Even G’nort, perhaps the dumbest character in DC history (okay, maybe not, as there’s a wealth of candidates), continously tries to make up for the mistakes he makes.

But it’s the main characters who go through the most trials and are most in need of redemption. Let’s check them out individually, starting with Maxwell Lord, the new creation for this book. Max is instrumental in bringing the new League together, from planning the terrorist strike on the United Nations in issue #1 (he does, however, take the firing pin out of the bomb the head terrorist straps to his chest, thereby neutering the threat even before the League shows up) to setting the Royal Flush Gang on the League in issue #4 as a way to get Booster Gold onto the team to allying himself with a machine to create a threat to the League in issue #7, clearing the way for UN recognition. We see some cracks in his façade throughout the first 12 issues, most notably in issue #11, when the League returns from space after fighting the Manhunters (in the “Millennium” crossover). Max expected that the “big guns” of the DCU who joined up with the League to fight the Manhunters – Superman, Hawkman, Hal Jordan – would stay in the league, but J’onn tells him they’re not joining. Max freaks out, telling them he needs “raw power” and not a “bunch of weak-kneed second-stringers!” We don’t know what he’s talking about, but over the next two issues, we learn that Max is working with a super-computer built by Metron (of the New Gods) that achieved awareness at some point. The computer helped Max move ruthlessly up in the world of business, and then it conspired with him to achieve “world peace,” mainly by manipulating the League and the United Nations into granting the League “super-police” status. But now the machine has gone too far, and Max rebels against it. He destroys the computer, but at great cost – in issue #9, he had been shot by a Manhunter, but the computer “repaired” him. When Max destroys the computer, his wounds re-open, and he spends several issues recuperating. But he has overcome his somewhat evil past and changed. He’s not off the hook, however. Giffen and DeMatteis do this quite often – they reach the end of a story arc, and we think that the character will now remain static, but they continue to throw more challenges in front of the character. Max gains a “persuasive” power when the gene bomb explodes at the end of Invasion! He gives people “nudges” with his mind to get them to come around to his way of thinking. This is a potentially evil power, and Max must struggle with the ethical dilemmas he gets into when he does use it. In issue #41, he uses it to get a woman to talk to him at a party, then dreams that he uses it to fight crime, at which he becomes more and more unethical. He wakes up and realizes that he only gave the woman – Wanda – a little push, but the dream has scared him (mostly) straight. Finally, years later in Formerly Known as the Justice League, Max has been humbled in business and, although he’s still arrogant, he’s learned how to deal with people better, and he’s much more a part of the team rather than the overlord. It’s a fascinating character arc, one that could only be achieved over several years (in publication time, of course), because then we believe that Max is slowly learning how to be a decent human being.

The next person on the League totem pole is J’onn J’onzz, and although he was an established character and therefore had to conform to the way previous writers portrayed him (yes, this was back when writers actually tried to hew closely to established characterization), Giffen and DeMatteis still give him chances to redeem himself. Of course, DeMatteis was writing the prior incarnation of the League, so the continuity was there. In the first issue of this series, we learn about the guilt J’onn is carrying around with him when he purges the records of the previous League, wiping Steel, Vibe, Gypsy, and Vixen out of (computerized) existence. J’onn takes a paternal role in every version of the League, even when the “big guns” are involved, but definitely moreso in this version, where the members – after Black Canary leaves and Batman shows up only occasionally – are largely neophytes. J’onn’s previous League was inexperienced, too, and the shadow of that League’s disastrous ending looms over J’onn for the entire run, even if you didn’t know what had happened to the prior League (and for years, I didn’t know because I hadn’t read it). J’onn’s larger redemption comes from the fact that, through his example, the heroes in this League find their footing and become better at their jobs, to the point where he doesn’t feel like he needs to babysit them. His biggest chance for redemption comes when Despero shows up in the excellent three-part story, issues #38-40. Despero is looking for the League, but the League he knows no longer exists – he finds Steel’s body and destroys it, then kills Gypsy’s parents and goes gunning for her. J’onn saves Gypsy, but Despero is too strong for the current League to handle, as he easily trashes them. The plot contrivance that Giffen and DeMatteis use so J’onn can defeat Despero is a bit annoying, but what makes it work is that J’onn believes in love – love for his home planet, his long-dead wife and child, his adopted planet, and his surrogate family – and he believes that love and forgiveness – a mirror of redemption – can save the world. Despero scoffs at this, but J’onn proves that it can. It’s a brilliant arc because J’onn understands that he must change the way a hero fights a villain when the villain is too strong. J’onn’s solution to the Despero problem is a perfect summation of who J’onn is. Giffen and DeMatteis give him a wonderful sense of humor throughout the series (and a love for Oreos), but he remains the emotional rock of the League.

Blue Beetle and Booster Gold get the most interesting redemptive story arcs, because for so much of the run, they’re used mainly as comic relief. Beetle is on the team from the beginning, and we get hints about his desire for money, but we don’t get the full story until issue #38, when we find out that as Ted Kord, he declared bankruptcy and “disappeared” into the Beetle identity. This is one of the interesting moments of “realism” in this book (as much as becoming a superhero to avoid creditors is “realistic”) – Ted Kord lost his fortune and didn’t know what to do, so he became a costumed hero. Throughout the book, Beetle concocts get-rich-quick schemes, culminating with the casino on Kooey Kooey Kooey (issues #33-35). The increasingly desperate attempts to regain his fortune make Beetle an increasingly pathetic figure, even as we laugh along with the goofiness. This ability of Giffen and DeMatteis to tinge the rampant goofy humor with some real-world pathetic behavior is what makes Beetle and Booster work – they’re not complete buffoons, because we understand why they’re so desperate to make a buck. It’s interesting that even though Beetle and Booster want money, they’re not willing to betray their principles – in issue #25, they take a “repo” job but discover that things are definitely not what they seem, and they walk away from the job much changed. Furthermore, the experience on Kooey Kooey Kooey seems to change Beetle to a certain extent, although this doesn’t play out until much later. In the issues after #45 (which I’ll get to), he and Booster remain figures of humor, but Beetle gradually lets himself go physically, and when Max puts the team back together in Formerly Known as the Justice League, Giffen and DeMatteis give him a heart condition. It’s mostly played for laughs (the characters tend to mock it), but it’s interesting to note that he’s put his life back together, is running Kord Industries again, and is far more mature than we’ve ever seen him. Giffen and DeMatteis always made sure to portray Beetle as competent, yet with that one fatal flaw: greed. By the time the “sequels” occur, Ted has realized that get-rich-quick schemes don’t work, and he’s moved on. Booster’s arc is a bit more complicated, because he often got involved in Beetle’s schemes just because he was Beetle’s friend. As he’s from the future, he has niftier gadgets than Beetle and often, in the early issues, seems far more competent than his friend. This, subtly, drives Beetle’s insecurities and makes him seek easy riches. Early on in the series, it seems as if Booster is simply humoring Beetle and is only friends with him because there’s no one else on the team for him to befriend, but we see the depth of their friendship in issue #29, in which Beetle has to be “deprogrammed” from the Queen Bee’s hypnosis and Booster has to wait while his friend is in a coma. There’s a nice scene in which Booster sits alone, worried sick about Beetle. As this episode occurs a few issues before the Kooey Kooey Kooey disaster, it illuminates why Booster would go along with Beetle’s schemes – they’re best friends, and best friends help each other out. Booster isn’t quite as obsessed with money as Beetle is, but he still goes along with his plans. Of course, this leads to Booster quitting the team because he’s fed up with being treated like comic relief, which implies that he’s a bit more grown-up than Beetle. He does return to the team, of course, and when we get to Formerly Known as the Justice League, he’s married to a rich old woman and waiting for her to die so he can inherit her wealth. He and Beetle, to some degree, have switched places. Throughout the two mini-series, Beetle acts as the mature hero while Booster is somewhat childish – he’s the one who sends the team to “Hell” in “I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League,” after all, in a fit of petulance. But he too redeems himself by saving Beatriz in the alternate universe and proving that he’s a true hero. His arc takes a bit longer and shows how insecure he really is – not surprising for a man out of time – but in the end, he isn’t just a figure of ridicule, he’s a worthy member of the Justice League.

Fire, Ice, and Guy are inextricably linked throughout this run, and both Beatriz and Guy also get redemptive arcs. Tora, interestingly enough, is one of the few characters in the series who gets very little character development. She’s most interesting when she’s reacting to Bea and Guy, and by the time the sequels come around, she’s dead. This, of course, is a key plot point in the second sequel, but it still doesn’t make Ice any more interesting. What Ice does is bring out the best in people because she’s somewhat saccharine and definitely naïve – she’s the daughter of a god, so she knows little about the world – and this is most evident when she dates Guy, but also in her friendship with Bea. Much like Beetle and Booster (whom they mirror in some ways), Bea and Tora’s friendship goes through different permutations, but Bea (like Ted) is usually the instigator of situations, with Tora (much like Booster) going along with them. We first see them in JLI #12, soon after the Global Guardians lose their United Nations funding, as they get their final (and puny) paychecks and try to figure out what to do next. Bea decides to join the Justice League! We don’t see them again until issue #14, when J’onn, who initially dismisses them, realizes he needs warm bodies to deal with the threat of Manga Khan. They quickly become mainstays. Notice, of course, that they join the league for the same reason, it seems, that Beetle and Booster stay in it – the opportunity for a steady paycheck. This gets back to the “realistic” attitude Giffen and DeMatteis take toward the League – it’s a job, and many of the members appreciate that. Beatriz transforms due to the gene bomb into a woman who can turn into fire – not unlike Johnny Storm – and they both remain powerful members throughout this run. Much like Beetle and Booster – to a lesser degree, however – they are part of the comic relief corps, as Tora is always there to deflate Bea’s vanity … to a point, as Bea is, to put it mildly, extremely self-confident. But like Beetle and Booster, their friendship helps anchor the book. It’s telling that when Despero shows up, Beatriz faces him alone, furious that he’s hurt her friends – even though those friends include Beetle and Guy, whom she often denigrates. Guy, of course, is the driving force of much of the comedy in the series, because he’s so very unlikeable. But he’s not inhuman, and this is, again, where Ice comes into the picture. She first meets him when his personality is altered, so she doesn’t realize what a tool he is. When his “original” personality returns, she doesn’t believe it at first, choosing instead to think he’s masking his true, sensitive personality. In issue #28, their first date, he basically dares her to go out with him. Of course, Beatriz, who feels very maternal toward Tora, doesn’t think it’s a good idea. The night ends disastrously, naturally, as Guy does everything wrong (taking Ice to an X-rated movie, for instance) and eventually punches out Black Hand, who has surrendered after a brief fight. Guy, of course, thinks he still has a shot with her, and in issue #45, we see another one of their dates (not the second one, as Tora refers to a cockfight Guy took her to). Guy lets her choose where they go, she chooses the “Ice-Capists,” and he promises not to lose his temper. Of course, Beetle pranks him and he loses his temper, but he still tries very hard to keep his cool. Ice has already begun to change him.

This becomes most evident in “I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League,” when Guy returns to the fold. If we look at the redemptive theme running throughout the Giffen/DeMatteis run, Beatriz has already begun to take another innocent under her wing, as Mary Marvel takes Ice’s place in Formerly Known as the Justice League. Bea might not be the best influence, but she does know something about the world, and she and Mary have the same kind of dynamic that she and Tora had, with Bea teaching Mary something about the world and Mary teaching Bea how to be less cynical. Then Guy returns, setting up the emotionally devastating trip to Hell in issues #6 and 7. First, Guy proves how incredibly powerful he is when he spearheads the rescue operation and puts Power Girl in her place (he’s still, after all, a jerk). Then, in issue #7, he sees Tora, who appeared at the end of issue #6. He snatches her away from Bea, who’s trying to revive her (she’s basically a zombie), and places a protective bubble around himself and her. Bea’s anguish and Guy’s tenderness is astonishing, especially because Guy is able to get through to Tora. Etrigan tells them they’re allowed to take Ice out of Hell, but only if they don’t look back at her. Of course. We know it’s going to end badly, not only because Etrigan tells them that “they always look back,” but because that’s how these things work! But we’re not sure if Guy or Beatriz will look back, and when Bea succumbs, Tora says as she disappears, “You always did care too much.” In a beautiful moment, Guy and Beatriz, their hatred for each other forgotten, weep in each others’ arms. What makes it more painful is that they return to an alternate universe, where Ice is still alive but is a stone-cold murderer who tries to slaughter Bea. Without the years of stories about this triangle, Guy and Bea’s brief reconciliation wouldn’t have the power it does. Tora has changed both Bea and Guy, as Bea has become more mature – much like Beetle – while Guy has learned that he had a chance at love and lost it. But we see that he has perhaps gotten a second chance at redemption. Giffen and DeMatteis aren’t concerned if he’ll take it, but they give him the chance, at least.

Of course, what everyone remembers about this series is the humor, but what makes it interesting is how organic the humor is. Helfer points out in the introduction that if they were going to make it a “club” for superheroes, why not make it funny? Friends crack jokes and throw insults at each other all the time when they’re in an informal setting, so why wouldn’t superheroes? This was a huge paradigm shift in superhero comics, because although Helfer says it was a reaction to the “grim-‘n’-gritty” trend in comics at that moment, it was also different from pre-Crisis superhero stories, where the characters fought a villain and the only time we saw them at a headquarters was when they were discussing the threat. They weren’t grim and gritty, but they were serious about the threat (as Hawkman hilariously points out many time during his brief tenure with this league). Giffen and DeMatteis dared to wonder what they did during the many, many hours when a super-villain WASN’T attacking the city, country, or planet. The humor flowed naturally from that, as personality clashes led to funny situations. What makes this such a wonderful look at superhero relationships is that the humor WAS organic, and therefore fit in with the general flow of the story. The worst stories in the series are those where Giffen and DeMatteis set out to write something goofy – the Manga Khan tales, the G’Nort and Scarlet Skier story in issue #36, even the Kooey Kooey Kooey epic. These stories, which are often funny, aren’t as effective because they feel more like broad sketch comedy rather than the finely-honed situational comedy of the rest of the book. The humor also works best when we get a generous dose of action with it – Giffen and DeMatteis easily switch from the team bickering to fighting effectively, and again, it feels true – these people might argue with each over trivialities, but they’re still superheroes, and they get the job done. What’s also interesting is how Giffen and DeMatteis shift the effectiveness of the team to match the threat facing them – like most people, they underestimate things, and this gets them in trouble when they fight a doofus like Wally Tortolini in issue #44. They don’t treat all villains with the seriousness that they do Despero, and this adds to the humor. But it also makes them more human. The old League would give the same amount of respect to Despero AND Wally, to the detriment of both stories. What makes the Tortolini story humorous is that Orion DOES take every threat very, very seriously, and that’s bad news for the loser villains from whom Wally won all the gadgets. Giffen and DeMatteis know that this team is formidable, and they give them plenty of difficult threats to deal with, but they have the team deal with the threats in new and interesting ways. Batman going undercover in Bialya as “Bruce Wayne” (a fantastic idea) is one of those ways. Bartering with Manga Khan instead of fighting him is another. It’s impressive that the writers don’t simply give the League a threat and have them beat it up. They think about how this particular team (whichever characters comprise the team at that moment) would react to the threat, and go from there. It’s part of what makes the book so successful, beyond the hilarity of many of the situations.

The run is anchored, artistically, by two stellar pencillers – Maguire and Hughes. In the original run, Maguire drew 19 issues (Giffen’s pencils in issues #8-10 were back-up stories, so Maguire didn’t draw the entire issue, but still) and Hughes drew 12 (both drew issues outside of this run – Maguire returned for issue #60, the final Giffen/DeMatteis one, while Hughes came back for issue #51). In between, Templeton, McKone, and Willingham did solid work. These artists share one thing in common – they were relatively new to the industry, and it’s strange to see such new artists put on a flagship DC book. Of course, Maguire got the job because of his tremendous work with characters and their facial features, about which much has been made over the years, but it really is impressive. From the very first issue, he does a wonderful job, as when Batman cows Guy into stopping his shenanigans, and Guy’s face, in three quick panels, goes from aggressive to thoughtful (he’s wondering whether he can take Bats) to ashamed because he’s backing down even though he has a power ring. This continues throughout his run on the series – Black Canary’s absolutely devastated look on her face because she missed Batman punching out Guy in issue #5 is priceless. Maguire only got better, too – look at the cover of Formerly Known as the Justice League #1, as he captures the personalities of every character perfectly. His work in the two mini-series is much better than his work on the original series, which was already excellent. Mary Marvel’s slow breakdown in Formerly Known as … #5, when Ralph keeps bringing up the fact that she almost killed Captain Atom, is wonderful, and of course the magnificent scene in JLA: Classified #7, when Guy and Bea are trying desperately to keep from looking back at Tora, is simply beautiful. Maguire is a fine artist who has been good on other projects, but his sense of humor, combined with Giffen and DeMatteis’s, makes this his most memorable work. Hughes is much more on a pin-up artist than Maguire (it’s not surprising that Fire seems to be his favorite character), but his marvelously fluid style works well on the two big action arcs he drew, “The Teasdale Imperative” and the Despero story, and he’s no slouch in the facial features department, either. The Despero story is a masterpiece of not only pacing and excitement, but Hughes does a marvelous job turning Despero into a true monster, and his United Nations “cape” (a flag he crashed through as he landed on Earth) is a nice ironic touch. It’s stunning to think that Hughes’s JLA issues are the most he ever drew on a series, and he finished it when he was 24. Covers pay the bills, I guess (well, that and Penthouse Comix, which he also drew for a time), but it’s a shame that we don’t get more interiors by Hughes, because he’s so good at them.

The series went quickly off the rails after issue #45. The “General Glory” arc that led to issue #50 was terrible, and soon afterward Giffen and DeMatteis began the interminable “Breakdowns” arc, a 15-part story that destroyed both the American and European branches of the League. They were both revamped into normal superhero groups fighting normal supervillains, and the series staggered along for a while until DC mercifully axed it and paved the way for Grant Morrison and his “Big Guns” return to glory. It’s almost impossible today to think of the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League without considering what DC has done to stain its legacy. In the past few years, Sue Dibny has been retroactively raped and she and Ralph have been killed (they weren’t in the original run, but they were members of Justice League Europe), Ted Kord has starred in a one-shot in which almost every DC hero mocks him and then Maxwell Lord, who is now a bad guy, shoots him in the head, and Max himself has been killed. (This ignores the fact that Black Hand, who was trying to be a legitimate businessman in JLA #28, recently killed his entire family in preparation for being a Black Lantern.) It’s as if DC can’t stand the fact that they once published a series that bore the proud name “Justice League” and it didn’t take itself too damned seriously. It becomes even creepier when we recall the now-famous panel in JLA #35 in which Beetle and Booster actually discuss Max shooting them in the head or the running gag about Sue’s pregnancy in “I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League” (which, of course, was published after Sue was killed in Identity Crisis, but who knows when it was written). But we simply have to put the subsequent events of the DCU out of our minds and enjoy these comics in a vacuum. It’s much better that way.

The great thing about the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League is that it didn’t rely simply on slapstick humor. It relied much more on creating interesting characters and allowing them to interact with each other, from which the humor sprung. Giffen and DeMatteis took the idea of the League seriously, but didn’t take the idea of heroes hanging out together too seriously, and that made all the difference. There’s a lot of action in this series, and because we know these characters as people, the fights become more personal. It’s not a question of just having heroes show up and beat villains, it’s a question of whether they will win or not and how. Giffen and DeMatteis understand that when you don’t have DC’s Big Guns, you need to be more creative about how the heroes triumph. This makes their triumphs much more interesting – as an example, we don’t want Guy to be so effective with his ring, but let’s face it, he is. It’s annoying cheering for Guy, but we do. And that’s part of the genius of this series. And when Giffen and DeMatteis get serious, the impact is greater because we feel like we know Ted and Booster (I know his name’s Michael, but no one ever calls him that in this series), and Guy and J’onn and Bea and Tora and Scott and Oberon and Max a little more than we know a more stolid League. And so we care more about them.

DC has finally, it seems, committed to releasing this series in trades. The first 12 issues were collected years ago, and recently DC has been putting out nice hardcovers of the series. It appears that the first two years have been collected in four volumes. Eventually they’ll be out in softcover, as DC’s policy of releasing paperbacks is a bit ridiculous (the paperback of volume 4 is coming out a year after the hardcover, in other words). Formerly Known as the Justice League and JLA: Classified #4-9 are also in trade. I don’t know how far DC plans to go with collecting the original series – perhaps all the way through issue #60, the final Giffen/DeMatteis JLA? Either way, this is a wonderful series that’s as good as you’ve heard it is. And it’s definitely a Comic You Should Own. And hey, if you want more – check out the archives! It’s almost Christmas, and you need gift ideas!

Batman always has the last word!

60 Comments

Awesome AWESOME profile of these series. I agree with almost everything except The Breakdowns storyline, which I thought regrounded the team. Before that, JLA especially had devolved into a kind of slapstick comedy, but Breakdowns re-emphasized how tightly Max, J’onn, Booster, Ted, Beatriz, Tora and Guy had grown as a family.

when Max puts the team back together in Formerly Known as the Justice League, Giffen and DeMatteis give him a heart condition.

Not to quibble but Beetle’s heart condition (which is actually fairly series: he’s essentially had a heart attack or two) comes from his time in Birds of Prey.

Wonderful write-up, Greg. My love for this series (and its sister book, JLE) is one of the many reasons I have such disgust for the post-Identity Crisis DC universe. It’s a shame what DC has done with these characters, and makes me wonder what might have happened if the powers that be at DC shared the same affection for them that so many fans clearly do…

Are they ever going to release the 5th Trade???

I used to have all (or most) of this stuff.
God DAMN those WERE the days.
sigh
What EVER happened to the good ol’ days?

Thok: Thanks. I didn’t know that about Ted.

Wesley: The reason I don’t like Breakdowns is because of the length. Giffen and DeMatteis simply brought back every villain from both books, and it just seemed to go on and on. A few individual issues weren’t bad, but overall, it was kind of a mess.

Dave: According to Amazon, the fourth trade came out in March. Is that right? If so, I imagine it might be a bit longer for the fifth one.

you know, i have never think on the theme of the series as redemption

and that is absolutely right.

And that is why I always think of the JL as a weird sister of the Ostrander Suicide Squad series: both of them were about the redepmtion (of heroes in the JL, of villains and not-so-heroic characters on SS)

Sweet, sweet nostagia…

Thank you…

*sniff*

Your review of the JL/JLA/JLE/JLI era was so good, I look forward to your reviews of the Satellite and Detroit eras!

While I doubt anyone will admit it for sure, it certainly does seem like recent DC folks have purposely been gunning for the fun times of that series. You know that annoying type of fanboy who will not accept superhero comics that are not 100% serious business at all times? Who seems to be intent on draining all of the sense of fun out of superhero stories? DC Editorial is becoming that guy. Nothing fun unless it’s some separate line of comics or an occasional miniseries outside of the mainstream universe. I always think that when you make guys in superhero costumes really dark, gritty, violent and even disturbing, they actually end up looking even sillier.

I do wonder if the change in direction for JLA towards a more serious relaunch was somewhat a reaction to the trend that made the comic even more of a comedy. That stuff with General Glory nearly turned it into a complete comedy.

By the way, didn’t Max actually become a bad guy many years earlier? Like, he was Lord Havoc or something?

Hey, don’t forget the post-Zero Hour JLA series headlined by Wonder Woman, with Fire, the old Ice Maiden, Nuklon, Obsidian, etc… cuz most everyone does. Even DC’s retrospectives of the team just skip over that part. They even seem to remember “Extreme Justice” more than that.

Yeah, it wasn’t very good, but it did occur. It sometimes annoys me how it’s completely ignored.

You know, I never bought into that whole “Dan Didio hate’s Giffen’s League” business, but as I’m re-reading the old stories in the trades, it really is astonishing the number of characters who were spotlighted in that era that either have been or are now dead. Out of the members who stayed on the team for more than 5-6 issues, only Fire and Booster haven’t been killed at least once, and only Fire, Ice, Booster and Guy are currently active.

I think.

At the same time Ethan, the fans have to take some blame as well. I think we can both name a number of fun books that were good in the past 5 years that the fans have kicked to the curb that the buying public didn’t give a rats ass about to support and don’t look to be changing.

FuryOfFirestorm: You might have to wait a while. I don’t own any of those issues, so I have no idea if they’re good or not! Sorry!

First: your analysis is brilliant. Very good point. My only complaint is that I wouldn’t exclude either Breakdowns and especially General Glory’s story from the overall concept. I don’t know if that’s for my concept of “full comedy”, but GG story was just on the surface straight comedy.
I saw it much more as a criticism on “ressurection” and some of the more “political” comic books of the early 40’s – at the same time as it also opened a new perspective on Guy Gardner’s personality. Also, it was responsible for one of my favorite books of all time, which was JLI Annual with General Glory in a coma and a “possible” future for each member was presented. That was the best portrait of Blue Beetle, in my opinion, and proves that, in spite of what you saw as greed in his character, what was really under the radar was a sense of failure and rejection. That’s for me the essence of Ted Kord (which sets him apart from Peter Parker): he does feel like he IS (and continues to be) a failure and must make up for it whereas PP must just make up for Gwen Stacy and his uncle Ben (and he is mostly very confident).
Without General Glory and Breakdowns, this side of Blue Beetle would not be fully explained and that’s why I don’t find them as bad as you said. Comedy is VERY hard to do, and it ALWAYS had a purpose in JLI.

By the way, there is another Keith Giffen book that current DC makes sure to say it never happened: his amazing Legion of Super-Heroes. And, just like JLI, completely ruined after he left, as if he was to blame (and not the competence of his followers).

Killer write-up, man, makes me want to go back and hit the whole run from “Wanna make somethin’ of it?” on. Weird bit of unintended foreshadowing in #35, there, too.

Re: Volume 5 of the JLI collections.

Checking over Amazon’s listings, DC’s trades and collections through June of next year are all listed, and no JLI volume 5 is included as of yet. That may change, but sadly, we may have seen the end of DC’s brief JLI trade program. Fingers crossed that I’m wrong about that…

RE: JLI trade program

There is something that also has to be addressed: how to include JLE and JLIQ into this program. Will it be separated or done as a JLI package?

Jeremy A. Patterson

November 16, 2009 at 1:46 pm

Some of these characters (and some of the short-stint members of this era) would fit right in if DC ever tries to revamp the Global Guardians, after the near-anihilation of the recent GG in Cry For Justice!

J.A.P.

I agree with roberto above — the JL* and Suicide Squad were mirror images of each other. They are also probably my favorite DC series of all time.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

These are definitely comics that you should own…and I DO! It was, and remains, my favorite incarnation of the Justice League, and it breaks my heart that so many of the members have been treated so shabbily.

People remember the humor of course, but there WAS a fair amount of rip-snorting action and fights and …and stuff going on as well, which is one of the reasons that it worked so well.

We really need a mass resurrection of most of these characters.

To me, the JLA/JLI & JLE era were the definitive version of the league.

I started reading comics before CoIE – even went back and got some old issues (Like the Crisis on Earth-X story, dealing with the encounter with the Quality heroes during a JLA/JSA crossover).

To me, it seemed that much of the pre-Crisis League was an afterthought to the characters’ regular series. The Detroit JLA had its heart in the right place, but didn’t seem to know what to do with the characters they had (it could have been another Infinity, Inc. if done right, and II was one of my favorite comics of the time). Post-“Breakdowns”, the JLA incarnations just kept getting more and more soulless (and to an extent dragging down the JSA comic with it), to the point that when the local comic store went under in the summer of 2008, I made no effort to find an alternate venue (Though I’m kicking myself for not finding another store to find the Lo3W comics, sooner, and still lack the first and last of that 5-parter). The I can’t believe it’s not the justice league issues of Classified were the last JL comics I actually enjoyed reading.

Beetle gradually lets himself go physically, and when Max puts the team back together in Formerly Known as the Justice League, Giffen and DeMatteis give him a heart condition.

Actually, it was Chuck Dixon who gave Beetle his heart condition when he featured the Blue Beetle in Birds of Prey.

Classic series, but yeah, but by the General Glory arc it was going downhill, and Breakdowns was a bit of a tedious mess (with the exception of the last issue that Kevin Maguire came back for which was great).

What a great group of comics. These things were content-packed, too; it takes a while to read one. Speaking of, I always enjoyed Bob Lappan’s lettering. It’s thin and angular, with a good use of white space in the balloons. I don’t recall seeing many comics lettered similarly. For some reason it seemed to fit the material really well (although I may just associate it with comics I really enjoy).

Any particular reason you left out most of JLE? It is very rare that I read an issue of JLE that I think is good, let alone at the level of these comics. Why do you think it never clicked?

Dan: I consider JLE a totally separate title, especially after DeMatteis left and Jones took over the scripting. I do think it’s a lesser title, but I’m re-reading it next to see what I think. I have a feeling I’ll leave it off the list, even though I remember a few quite good issues. We’ll see. Maybe it will be the next post before we get to Morrison!

Unfortunately, I think Volume 4 was the last one we’re getting. See the comments to this article:

http://blog.newsarama.com/2009/04/03/jm-dematteis-on-justice-league-international-vol-4/

“RussBurlingame Says:
April 5th, 2009 at 1:04 pm

I guess we may be out of luck, unless we speak with our dollars or start writing. When I asked him this weekend, Bob Wayne says that DC currently has no plans to solicit further JLI hardcovers.”

Admittedly, a comment’s not the best source, though I wouldn’t doubt it if DC was done with the series. Releasing something in $25 hardcovers with softcovers not coming until a year later is not the best way to get people to buy something.

Part of the problem may be the wide availability of cheap back issues. I got the first two trades in the mid-’90s, then found the rest of the series for about $1 an issue. I still see lots of JLI issues in $0.50 bins. Why pay $25 for a hardcover when the comics could be had for six bucks or less?

To Mike:

Because trade market not necessarily has anything to do with the scarcity of a title: rather, it is directed to collectors in the first place (especially considering books released over 5 years ago).
I’d add there is an extra fact here: the paper in which comic books used to be printed in was very bad and, even if you do find comics at mint conditions, I doubt they will be even close to the quality of a new print on good paper.

Great piece; I love the idea that’s it’s all about redemption.

But you’ll break my heart if you don’t do a piece on JLE. I love that book just as much, maybe more. Including the post-Giffen, pre-JLI v2 issues.

Ricardo, I can’t disagree with anything you’re saying, just offering my opinion that getting the issues cheap would be appealing, despite the rough paper. I could be misremembering, but I recall the first New Teen Titans Archive not selling as well as expected because the original issues were much cheaper than the 50 bucks they charged for the Archive edition.

To Mike:

I totally see your point, and that’s probably relevant to DC in order to decide on whether putting out a trade collection. I just think that, to me, especially on critically acclaimed books such as JLI, there should be more to it than simply availability of cheap used issues.

Read ‘em once when they came out and bagged ‘em. I should really reread ‘em to see if I still like ‘em.

I’ve been re-reading this stuff (recently completed the run), and I think Templeton and Willingham are great artists and all, but they simply aren’t right for this comic. Especially Templeton. He would’ve been great in a straight JLA comic, but his work isn’t expressive enough for the kind of stories told here. All the faces look the same. All the postures are stiff. Great for showing people shooting lasers out of their hands and fighting space gorillas, not so much for every day stuff and comedy.

And Willingham… well, he’s not bad either, but reading his annuals in between Maguire’s issues made them look really, really mediocre. The exact same characters and jokes suddenly became lame. Those issues read like standard mid-80’s DC Comics.

I would include that story from the JLA 80 Page Giant as well! Great article.

Mister Miracle was another book written in a similar vein.
In fact, it diverged from JL/JLI immediately after the Manga Khan arc.

Also, my love of this series is one of the main reasons that I HATE the Martian Manhunter “revamp” prior to offing him. The skrull look? I think we can file that under WHAT THE FUCK WERE THEY THINKING?

Nice write-up, Greg. I agree that Breakdowns is less essential than the other stuff, but anyone who reads the first 45 issues is going to want to read it just to see how it all ends up. And issue #60 is a great issue and wonderful ending to the series.

I think the JLE stuff is all pretty good, actually. The Extremists and Starro stories are definitely worth checking out.

In my humble opinion this book/concept got old after about a year – around issue 12 which, if I recall, resolved the Max Lord storyline.
What made JLA fun to begin with was the nice balance of “serious” DCU heroes playing straight men/women to the more comical characters.
Having Martian Manhunter, Batman, Dr. Fate, Black Canary and Captain Atom trying to get the job done despite Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Guy Gardner and Rocket Red is what made this book so magical and unexpected.
But gradually all of those, okay, I’ll use the terms “A-listers” and “B-listers” go away, only to be replaced by Fire and Ice … The balance got tipped in favor of the humor.
I know there are die hard loyalists of this era, and God knows I’m nostalgic for comics I read in my youth (Bob Harras’ Avengers anyone?) but I just don’t think this run continued to shine for as long as some of the fans claim it did.

I have this whole run and just love it! One of the few runs I have kept over the years and will actually reread.

Maybe it should be pointed out that we currently have an ongoing Booster Gold series. It’s not in the vein of the old JLA / JLI series, but it also doesn’t turn Booster into something he’s not, and large hunks of it are about his relationship with Blue Beetle, both the old, semi-dead one and the new one.

“I’d add there is an extra fact here: the paper in which comic books used to be printed in was very bad and, even if you do find comics at mint conditions, I doubt they will be even close to the quality of a new print on good paper.”

Yeah, but look at the shoddy paper that DC used even on the HCs. It’s hardly better than the original paper!

I would’ve bought the HCs if they were on better paper, but decided for the softcovers when I saw what I was getting. I’m european, I’m used to see comics printed in good paper. Darnit, when I was a teen in Brazil the JLI comics I bought were printed on cheap paper better than the one DC used at the time (and about the same they use now…). Can’t US comics be printed on better paper than those on third world countries?

Not to try to make this a DC X Marvel thread, but Marvel ALWAYS prints their HCs on quality paper. And costing about the same as DC’s. So there you go.

Best,
Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

Oh, and the best part of that second cover that’s posted here? The tagline refers to the JLI as the “World’s Greatest Non-Mutant Super-Hero Team!”

I agree with Brian, it was largely over rated. Being unable to use the A-listers and forced to rely almost solely upon the scrubs hurt the series. I did not find the likes of Rocket Red very interesting and sub plots like Blue Beetle getting fat were just lame.

Well, I certainly disagree. The point is that the writing MADE the characters interesting. The “scrubs,” as you call them, had much more room to be interesting rather than using the A-listers, whose personalities are set in stone. As good as Morrison’s run is, he only did anything with characterization with the lower-tier characters. He writes the A-listers well, but doesn’t do anything different with them.

Great write up!

I came to the tittle midway – Adam Hughes’ first issue, he’s still my favorite artist of this bunch.
A co-worker was kind enough to let me borrow her complete run of the series up to that point.
It was a blast to be able to read them back to back, all before the days of having almost (I said almost) everything collected in trade format.

The Despero arc was great. Kirby as the priest at Mr. Miracle’s funeral was a nice touch.

To Mxy:
I had the exact opposite reaction to Templeton’s work, I thought he handled the domestic aspects better than the action, go figure. Actually I didn’t care for his work when I was younger. Looking back I see that it had a charming lightness and “openess” to it that I appreciate much more now.

Insightful, thorough, and awesome review/recap here. Nicely done.

Releasing something in $25 hardcovers with softcovers not coming until a year later is not the best way to get people to buy something.

They really dropped the ball with this one. The TPBs could have been either cheap digests or big doorsteps like the Return of Superman TPB – something like the Essentials, but colour (but just the cheap original colouring to keep it cheap).

I think they could have been huge sellers if they’d kept it cheap like this.

Nice article, though I disagree with some of your conclusions (and some of the assumptions they’re based on) Blue Beetle certainly did not “become a hero to make money.” He had been the star of his own (DC) title for over a year before joining the team, during which he ran a successful corporation in his secret identity. He didn’t lose his business until JLI had been running for a year or so. Add to that his many-years Charlton run (which are at least semi-in-continuity, since his CD book featured him ‘coming out of retirement) and the assumption doesn’t work. I also think it’s incorrect that Booster was the character “going along with” Beetle. Booster had been conceived of as mercenary from his very first appearance, in his own book. And even just skimming through my collection, I don’t get the impression that Beetle was the “greedy one” nor the instigator in their relationship. It seems to me you’ve pretty much completely reversed their roles in the book.

Also not sure why you display such disdain for the General Glory and Breakdowns arcs. Yes, the General Glory story was largely comedy-centered, but it served to sketch in some of Guy Gardner’s behavior up until that point (why would a former hero who had become brain-damaged act that way? Because he was trying to imitate the comics he grew up reading.) Breakdowns, meanwhile, may have been too long, but it was genuinely touching on multiple occasions, and it dealt realistically (comic book-wise) with just how a superhero team that had become a family would deal with losing their autonomy. (By the way, it’s hard to call an additional 53 issues plus two more spinoffs “staggering along,” whether the series was as good or not. That’s nearly the length of the Giffen/DeMatteis run.)

There is also a false assumption that everyone, even people who claim to love the JLI era, makes about the book, which is that the JLI was “second stringers” as compared to the original team’s “big guns.” Even the comics professionals do this, and I believe they’re simply guilty of revisionist history. The facts behind the original JLA’s roster and the JLI’s, which can be borne out by objective evidence, are this: The original JLA was NOT about “the big guns”- not from the first appearances in the Brave and the Bold, nor for most of it’s run. Yes, in comparison to the old JSA stories, it featured Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman more than the previous team had- but only barely. Superman and Batman hardly appear in the early issues of the JLofA, and when they do it’s as deus ex machinae. Of the remaining members of the team, only Flash, at that point, was a “popular” character. Green Lantern had only made his own debut four months earlier- which, in terms of comics lead time, would have been far too recent for anyone to gauge his “popularity.” Likewise, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter both had languished as backup features before and after the JLofA was formed (Aquaman having received his new origin less than a year prior). If they had been “all-stars” at the time, the Manhunter would have headlined a book by that point- he never did. The simple truth is the JLofA, at first, consisted of pretty much any superhero at the time who was available and who fit into the format. The book existed more to promote new characters than it did to represent any character’s “popularity.” Of the 13 later members of the JLofA, only two were starring in their own titles when they joined. The other eleven didn’t even get solo series until years after they joined the team- and even then, only Firestorm was given an ongoing title before the Crisis. Even if you count the full Satellite membership as active before the Detroit team came in (which would be inaccurate due to the trial of the Flash and Hal Jordan’s resignation from the GLC), only six of the sixteen members were appearing regularly anywhere else at the time the team was disbanded (and only Firestorm, Superman, and Batman avoided cancellation post-Crisis). The “big guns” became “big guns” because of their association with the JLofA- not the other way around.

What’s ironic is that people regularly deride the JLI as “B-listers,” even though Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, and Captain Atom were the first new members to join the team while simultaneously starring in their own books since Hawkman joined over two decades earlier! And they clearly weren’t being “dumped” there- Blue and Gold’s books weren’t canceled until nearly a year’s worth of JLI issues had been published, and Captain Atom’s own series continued for years. Considering that Batman appeared in about half of the issues of the Giffen/DeMatteis run, it’s hard to accept the whole “JLA=Big guns, JLI=Second-stringers” argument that always comes up. DC clearly had high hopes for most of the characters introduced in in “Justice League.” Captain Marvel was intended to get his own solo series (aborted due to creative differences between Roy Thomas and DC); Blue Beetle and Booster Gold has both been heavily promoted and it was clearly felt that membership in the team could “push” their sales; Dr. Fate and Mister Miracle both soon received relatively long-running solo series; Guy Gardner and Dr. Light had both played major roles in the Crisis a year earlier. If they’re considered “second stringers,” it’s because of hindsight- not because of they were intended to be second stringers when they joined. True, later additions like Rocket Red, Fire, Ice, and General Glory, were pretty much created to serve the format of the book- but that’s hardly any different that the addition of Red Tornado, Black Canary II, and Zatanna to the original team.

Still, I can’t disagree that JLI is a “comic you should own.” Though I think you should take a closer look at JLE- it was a worthy partner to the original series, and actually was quite a bit more serious than its progenitor, which endeared it at the time to some of the fans who felt that JLA had swung too far into bwah-ha-ha territory.

Chris: Well, I’m going to read JLE next, so we’ll see about that.

This is an interesting comment – thanks for it. I didn’t have any conception about the status of the heroes used in JLI, because it started before I began reading comics, and I only came to it later. I base the idea that they were less than A-listers solely on Helfer’s introduction in the first trade – if the editor says they couldn’t use the “big guns” and were therefore forced to use lesser-status heroes, who am I to disagree with him? You make a compelling case, though.

As for Beetle and Booster – I read these comics as an entity unto themselves, so I try not to bring in any ideas about the characters from earlier stuff. I obviously do it, but I TRY not to! I have never read any solo series with either Beetle or Booster, so while I believe your characterization of them, I didn’t know that when I started reading the series. Reading simply the issues in this series, it’s obvious that Booster is certainly greedy, but he doesn’t instigate the schemes – that’s Beetle. Maybe that’s not good characterization based on their previous series and we should blame Giffen and DeMatteis, but that’s what it is in this series.

Part of the reason I don’t like “Glory Bound” and “Breakdowns” is because the art is truly atrocious. I don’t mind Medley, but she doesn’t work on this book. And Wozniak is just terrible. I don’t like the stories as much – they feel very sloppy, but if a good artist had drawn them, they might have worked.

And I know the book didn’t “stagger” along in terms of selling, but the quality went way down after Giffen and DeMatteis left. I was just re-reading them, and I could barely get through some issues. This was back in the days when people often bought comics for characters, not writers (which is still very prevalent, of course, but I don’t think as much as back then), so I wonder if people just liked the idea of the “Justice League” and kept buying. I know I did for a while, until the book got so terrible I just couldn’t continue.

Thanks for the history lesson, though – I like the fact that these characters became A-listers because of the Justice League, and not the other way around. That’s a good point.

[…] The Despero story is a masterpiece of not only pacing and excitement, but Hughes does a marvelous job turning Despero into a true monster, and his United Nations “cape” (a flag he crashed through as he landed on Earth) is a nice ironic touch. …. A few individual issues weren’t bad, but overall, it was kind of a mess. Dave: According to Amazon, the fourth trade came out in March. Is that right? If so, I imagine it might be a bit longer for the fifth one. …Click Here […]

I guess I probably should have read the JLI trades I have before reading this (I currently have the first two, plus the trades of the two recent minis, but I’ve so far only read—and loved—the first volume), but oh well. Great writeup, though!

Great humorous books like this one, Peter David’s first X-Factor run (his current run’s good, but “humorous” really isn’t a word I’d used to describe it very often), Joe Kelly’s Deadpool, Fabian Nicieza’s Cable & Deadpool, Gail Simone’s Secret Six, Abnett & Lanning’s Guardians of the Galaxy, etc., tend to be my favorite books, as much as I like serious comics as well. I’ll really suck if there do end up only being four JLI trades. Guess I’d better order a copy of the first volume for the store I help out at to do my part towards keeping the series in demand . . .

Breakdowns did go on a bit long, but overall it was a very good story and contained some great moments, such as when the JLA members return to the old “Secret Sanctuary” to find the JLE already there and asking what took them so long, or the Injustice League go to visit Max Lord in the hospital, and who can forget “Leave…The…Ducks…Alone!” The story gives readers a much better sense of what the League means to its members, especially J’Onn.
As for the team being second stringers, well, other than Batman, there was no one here that, say, my mom would have heard of (except for the very brief tenure of Wonder Woman in JLE), but a lot of the members did have their own books when they joined. In fact, I started picking up JLE because Captain Atom was my favorite book at the time, and Cap was leading the JLE.

Greg,

You made a comment earlier that your synopsis of these characters is based as purely as possible on how they were portrayed only in the pages of JL/JLI/JLA etc. You further pointed out that you haven’t read the solo titles of many of the members of the League. Have you given any thought to checking them out? A friend of mine just recently turned me on to the Bates/Broderick run of Captain Atom. I’ve also been currently reading the 80’s Booster Gold series and find it to be a fun, breezy little superhero comic. I don’t know if any of them would merit “Comics Yo Should Own” status, in your eyes, but just the same, I’d like to know what you think about them. I’ve read many of your other postings and have generally agreed with your opinions.

P.S. Although it is irrelevant here, I’d like to add that Dreadstar (both the Starlin and David/Medina versions) are some of my absolute favorite comics I’ve ever read.

Jonathon: I’ve heard better things about Booster Gold than Captain Atom, frankly, but I wouldn’t be adverse to checking either out. As they’re not in trade, it would have to be something where I stumbled across them in a back issue box, because I’m not sure I’d go looking for them. The problem is that it’s becoming more and more difficult to find stores that have back issue inventory. But thanks for the recommendations – I’ll have to keep them in the back of my mind when I’m shopping.

Greg:

I know DC has a Showcase of Booster Gold that came out around the time that Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz’s Booster Gold run began. I think it includes the whole series that Dan Jurgens did when the character first appeared. I’m not sure about Captain Atom (and I haven’t heard much about his solo book), though.

Also, random question, but it’s recently come to my attention that there’s another person posting on here as “Drew.” I’m not sure how much he (or she) has been posting, but is there any way to retroactively change my old posts (and this one, I guess) to include an initial or something like that?

Drew: Ha! I doubt it, but you might want to e-mail Brian, as he’s the blog’s grand poobah. But I still doubt it.

Hmmm … I’ve never seen the Booster Gold Showcase. Maybe I’ll have to look for it.

Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League, the Tora in Hell story, it simply made me cry like no comic before ever had. I’m a grown man, but this characters, for who I cared so much during the initial run, in this heartbreaking moment, was too much for me.

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