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Comics You Should Own – Justice League Europe #1-28

Hey, it’s a spin-off … just like Joanie Loves Chachi!

Justice League Europe by Kieth Giffen (plotter), J. M. DeMatteis (scripter, issues #1-8, 13), Bill Loebs (scripter, issues #9-12), Gerard Jones (scripter, issues #14-28), Bart Sears (penciler, issues #1-8, 10-12, 15-19, 23-28; inker, issue #9, 11-12), Art Nichols (penciler, issues #8; inker, JLA #32), Chris Sprouse (penciler, issues #13), Linda Medley (penciler, issue #14), Marshall Rogers (penciler, issues #20-22), Adam Hughes (penciler, JLA #31-32), Pablo Marcos (inker, issues #1-4, 6-7, 10, 15), Joe Rubinstein (inker, issues #5, 21, JLA #31), Bob Smith (inker, issues #8, 20), K. S. Wilson (inker, issue #13), José Marzan, Jr. (inker, issues #14, 22), Randy Elliott (inker, issues #16-19, 23-28), Bob Lappan (letterer, issues #1-2, 5-13, 15-28), Albert de Guzman (letterer, issues #3-4, 14), and Gene D’Angelo (colorist).

DC, 30 issues (Justice League Europe #1-28 and Justice League America #31-32, which come after issues #6 and 7, respectively), cover dated April 1989 – July 1991.

There are some very minor SPOILERS here – I don’t give away how the good guys defeat the bad guys in the three major fights, for instance. As always, click the images to giant-size them!

Justice League Europe was a strange comic, a spin-off that never seemed to soar like its parent title, Justice League International/America, but was still a lot better than what you could expect from superhero comics in the late Eighties/early Nineties. It was an odd hybrid, not quite as funny as JLA, but not quite as straight a superhero book as others. It gave us a classic issue (#6, in which the JLE and the Injustice League end up in French class together), two very good superheroey stories (issues #15-19, “The Extremist Vector,” and issues #26-28, the fine Starro tale), and the only decent villains to come out of the entire Giffen/DeMatteis League years (the aforementioned Extremists). The book, however, remains a bit of a redheaded stepchild. That’s too bad – if it’s not as good as the parent title, it’s still a Comic You Should Own.

Part of the problem is that the scripters who came after DeMatteis (who left the book after “The Teasdale Imperative,” the crossover with JLA) just weren’t as funny as he was. Both Loebs and Jones have been funny in other comics, and they’re not completely unfunny on JLE, but it seems like Giffen focused less on the “clubhouse” aspect of the parent title after DeMatteis left and more on the action/adventure. The book had a few issues that were more lighthearted after DeMatteis left, but they felt a bit more forced than in JLA. Where the book really shines after issue #8 is with the more serious stuff – issue #9 deals with Kara’s injuries that she sustained during “The Teasdale Imperative,” issues #11-12 are about Rex’s attempts to learn more about his son, issues #15-19 deal with villains who have no compunction about destroying the world, #23-25 are about industrial espionage (with, you know, giant worms), and Starro is always in the mood for conquering. There are generous portions of humor and even zaniness throughout (Wacky World?), and the quieter issues are pretty good, but the banter between the characters isn’t as biting. Loebs and Jones just don’t seem to have the synergy with Giffen that DeMatteis does.

But I come to praise, not to bury! Justice League Europe is a fascinating comic for several reasons, not the least of which is its European location. The writers didn’t do too, too much with it (and whenever they head out of Paris or London, the countryside is remarkably unremarkable), but they did enough to make it fairly unique in a superhero landscape focused on the East Coast of the United States. DC did this a lot more at this time – Ostrander sent the Suicide Squad all over the place, for instance – and JLE is a very good example. The fact that only Rocket Red is a non-American early on in the League becomes a nice plot point, as the French love the Global Guardians much more, which Jack O’ Lantern exploits nicely in the opening story arc. Getting a French superhero (in this case, the Crimson Fox) becomes a major concern for the League. Issue #6 is a classic partly because it stems from the heroes’ inability to speak French, so they attend night school. Kara’s difficult surgery in issue #9 makes her a hero to the French and goes a long way to alleviating the tension. And although Michael Morice (the Beefeater of issue #20) is a ridiculous caricature of, I guess, Basil Fawlty, he’s so very English that he simply couldn’t work if he were American. The few issues in London also give us a bit of culture clash, even though the language barrier is no longer a problem. Giffen and his scripters don’t go nuts with the Europeanness of the book, but they give us enough that it makes this a more fascinating comic than if it had been set in New York.

Another neat thing in the book is the way the conflicts get resolved. I don’t want to give too much away, but Giffen and his collaborators do a fine job of avoiding standard superhero clichés with their resolutions. The first arc (issues #1-4) is pretty much a punch-‘em-up with mind control, but Giffen and DeMatteis throw in the culture clash and the fact that Jack plays on the French sympathy for the Global Guardians, and it makes the arc more interesting. Metamorpho’s family drama in issues #11-12 is poignantly handled, with a son who can’t control his powers and an old man who simply needs someone to love him unconditionally. The Extremist arc ends very cleverly, and Giffen even does a decent job clueing us in on what’s going to happen without being too obvious about it. And the Starro story is interesting for a number of reasons: Giffen sets it up as if Starro isn’t really evil (we know that’s going to change, but it’s still pretty neat), the reasons Starro can’t possess all of the Leaguers is obvious but still keen, and the way Starro is beaten works nicely. Giffen and the scripters aren’t necessarily interested in having their heroes just beat people up, which makes the solutions rather inspired. When they do try to fight, they often get beaten – the League doesn’t really defeat the Gray Man during “The Teasdale Imperative” storyline, they get whomped by the Extremists pretty easily, and they can’t fight Starro when he’s possessing their teammates. Giffen does a nice job showing that the League doesn’t necessarily need to be the most powerful bunch of people – they have brains too! What a concept!

So if this comic isn’t as funny as Justice League America and it’s not a slam-bang superhero super-fest and the culture clash isn’t used as much as it could be, what else makes this a Comic You Should Own? Three letters: S, E, and X. JLE is, somewhat shockingly, dripping with sex appeal. If the characters in the parent title become more and more like a family as the series progresses, Justice League Europe is like a college dorm, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s not too often you get characters in a mainstream superhero book acting like hormonal teenagers all the time, and while I suppose it was a feature of Meltzer’s recent run on JLA, in this book it’s much more charming than creepy. This is basically a celebration of good-looking adults with great bodies wearing a lot of spandex fighting bad guys who threaten their very lives on a regular basis. Who wouldn’t be horny? Yes, Wally West is the extremely juvenile example of this, as he drools whenever he’s near Kara, but he’s Wally – it’s goofy. But let’s consider: Ralph and Sue Dibny have a fantastic relationship. They insult each other quite often, all in fun, but they have a healthy sex life and can make jokes about that, too. Sue thinks Captain Atom is a nice slab of beef (she’s not the only one), but it’s all part of the joke. In this book, Giffen and his scripters create one of the most interesting marriages you’re going to see in a mainstream comic book – the Dibnys are perfectly matched, with Ralph’s goofiness balancing Sue’s work ethic, and both of them smart as whips in different ways. It’s a joy to read their banter, because it’s funny without being obnoxious and sounds exactly like two people who have been married for a while but are still deeply in love would talk. The Dibnys aren’t the only ones who are married, however. In issue #12, Catherine Cobert gets Dmitri’s family out of the Soviet Union, and it’s not long before he and his wife are making up for lost time. It’s refreshing to see two married couples are normal as the Dibnys and the Pushkins. It contrasts with the only real misstep in the run, Animal Man’s brief adventure with the League in issues #11 and 12 after Grant Morrison killed his family. It feels very much out of place, and it would have been nice if Giffen had just mentioned it in passing and not had Buddy in the book.

In addition to the married couples, we have the women salivating over Captain Atom. In a nice move, Giffen and the others flip the script and make Atom the sex object while resisting the temptation to do the same with Power Girl (despite Wally’s childishness around Kara). Catherine Cobert flirts wildly with Atom, and then the Crimson Fox joins in once she becomes a Leaguer (and in issue #10, her first main action in the title, she’s flirting with Bruce Wayne). Of course, the Fox who flirts with Captain Atom is Vivian, the more vivacious of the D’Aramis twins who share an identity, and her sister Constance is much more straight-laced. The sexual tension between the Fox and Atom is done well precisely because of the fact that there are two sisters who are diametrically opposed, personality-wise. The revelation about the Fox comes too late in the run for Giffen and Jones to really do much with it, but it’s just another sexy part of the book (and we musn’t forget that the Fox uses pheromones to attract men as part of her “power”). Captain Atom, of course, walks around essentially naked, so it’s not too much of a stretch to make him the object of desire. What’s interesting is that Giffen and the scripters don’t go the same route with Kara. Obviously, with Power Girl there’s always going to be men acting like bozos, but Wally fills that role nicely (the first words he speaks in the book are directed at Kara: “I’m excited, honey — but the big day’s got nothing to do with it!”) and he’s deliberately made buffoonish. Throughout the run, some people make comments about Kara (the French spectators in issue #20 most notably), but the focus is definitely not on her and her breasts. There’s simply too much other sex going on! What makes Power Girl interesting is that she and Captain Atom seem the most repressed of the Leaguers – Ralph and Dmitri are married; Buddy is not in the book enough to make an impression; Wally is all hormones; Rex doesn’t have his memory and then, when he gets it back, is too concerned with his son to worry about Sapphire, although he still has some feelings for her; and Vivian, Sue, and Catherine flirt with Captain Atom. It’s interesting that in this comic, at least, the most “superheroic” of the group are also the most repressed, sexually. Even Kara’s new, sleek, skintight costume (which debuts in issue #15) doesn’t help – it wraps her up even more in her body (plus, aesthetically, it’s ugly) and seems to make her angrier. Giffen set up the whole idea of her diet soda wreaking havoc with her emotions in this run (it didn’t pay off until the revamp after “Breakdowns”), but that costume couldn’t have helped, either. Both PG and Captain Atom would have benefited greatly if they had just, you know, gotten laid. I should mention the sexual nature of the Queen Bee and her dominance of Jack O’ Lantern, which is the dark side of all this hot ‘n’ sweaty stuff. It’s a fascinating counterpoint to the rather cheerful horniness going on at the Embassy.

Sears’ art is certainly not a favorite of many, but he fits into the aesthetic of the book, because his figure work oozes sex. His characters are certainly idealized, but what’s interesting about the women is that they’re all hips and breasts and butts, even the slender ones like Catherine. Kara, of course, is large-breasted, but she also has wider hips than we usually see with super-people. Proportionally, she doesn’t look like the porn-inspired “characters” we often see today, possibly because Sears actually, you know, drew her. The male characters, meanwhile, are also idealized, but not in a wildly ‘roided-out way – nobody’s muscles are all that big, and someone like Captain Atom, the object of female desire, is streamlined and well-proportioned. Even a villain like Dreamslayer is lithe and slinky and creepily sexual. Sears often puts the characters in everyday clothes, and that works well, too. Sue and Catherine, of course, are always in civvies, but Sears makes sure they project an air of sexual confidence without looking slutty. Minor characters are sexualized, as well – consider Ms. Kessler, the French teacher, in her ridiculous nineteenth century school marm clothing and large glasses that Sears somehow manages to make sexy. Vivian D’Aramis almost slithers through the book, all curves and seduction, making all the men she meets uncomfortable with her unabashed sexuality. That’s largely due to Sears, who does a wonderful job making these characters fully sexual beings. If Sears is a bit “too Image” for some, it’s in the service of the overall theme of the comic. Some of his art outside of JLE has worked (The Path, most notably) and some hasn’t (he was miscast drawing “Faith” in Legends of the Dark Knight #21-23), but if we look at the fill-in artists on this run, it’s obvious he was a great choice for this particular comic. Nichols, Sprouse, Medley, and Rogers are fairly divergent artists with different talent levels, but none of them were able to drench the book in hormones like Sears was. When we consider that Medley drew the issue that took place in Cannes and Rogers drew an issue with Kara in a bathing suit, that’s too bad.

You may not think a superhero comic that lacks the laugh-out-loud humor of Justice League America but is still an above-average action/adventure comic with a serious sexy streak is not worth owning. Well, you can think that, but you’d be wrong. JLE is impressive because Giffen and the scripters still treat the characters like human beings, like they did in the parent title, but they also allow them to engage him some fine flirtation, which doesn’t happen too often in JLA (Guy Gardner’s pursuit of Ice notwithstanding). The book is even rather charming in its sexuality – even Wally, for all his boorishness, never crosses a line. Most mainstream superhero comics never acknowledge the sexuality of their members or, in recent years, they wallow in it. Justice League Europe walked a fine line between these two extremes, and if we consider that it’s a pretty darn exciting comic at that, it’s totally worth your time.

If you know anything about DC, you know that comics released in the mid- to late-1980s and early 1990s are not often collected in trade paperbacks, and this comic is certainly no exception. If it took DC this long to get around to collecting the main title and aren’t going to continue with those, I wouldn’t hold my breath for these! But that just gives you an excuse to hit the long boxes! And don’t forget to check out the archives for more suggestions!

Oh, and no points for figuring out what the next installment is going to be!

23 Comments

Tom Fitzpatrick

January 5, 2010 at 9:28 pm

I enjoyed this title back in the day, as well as the art by the legendary Bart Sears.

Even the JLI.

So sue me.

I think I liked JLE even better than JL/I/A! Back when Ralph and Sue were Ralph and Sue, and Bart Sears was a great artist. I also think #37-50, where Gerard Jones went solo on the writing chores, are comics demanding one’s ownership, as well. It went off the rails, tho, once it became JLI again.

Your reading of this run has totally bowled me over, and now I must reread it. For the sexiness.

There’s one KEY piece of the puzzle you’re missing here: the Armaggedon 2001 annuals.

Ok, I’m not so sure about the JLE one (haven’t read it in a while)… but JLA Annual #5 is a WORK. OF. ART. It’s funny (not G’nort funny, “one punch” funny), it’s touching (just look at those Kevin Maguire pages for the Ice/Guy sequence… best thing he’s ever done), and since it’s set in the future, it gives closure to most of its running plotlines. It’s the perfect ending to the series, and I think it’s very appropriate that it came out right before BREAKDOWNS started.

I invite you to re-read those annuals and reconsider your decision to keep them out of these articles.

Justice League Antarctica!!!

So how many “no points” do I win?

“College Dorm” is a nice description of the JLE vibe.

Personally, I enjoyed the dynamic the Wally had with Power Girl. The Mike Baron run introduced the idea of the Flash as a flirtatious sort. It really fit the character nicely. With PG, we got to see those advances being less than well received. It made sense. As the run wore on, they developed something like a friendship, but that essential dynamic never went entirely away.

Ralph and Sue Dibny really are the stars of this title. Their relationship pretty well defines everything else going on.

found jle interesting as the team members proved that the team did not need the big guns to work . espically loved the crimson fox and captain atom love hate realationship. as for why its not collected in trade. mostly due to dcroyalty policy they pay to the creators of such books. that any thing from the 70s to early 80s dc is hesitant to do as trade because the royalties needed to be paid would wind up making the project too costly to due.unless they get the creators to take a back up payment plan. that and dc proably thinks not enough fan support to collect the thing.

I’ve been disappointed with every issue of JLE I’ve ever read. It is likely that it’s because I’ve compared it to JLI, but I just really didn’t care for it. I wish I had substantive criticism to share, but I can’t recall much about the series.

Since you seem rather defensive in this write-up, Greg, (no offense!) would you mind being your own devil’s advocate? Tell me why you thought there were reasons this shouldn’t be a comic I should own.

When this comic came out I saw it and in my 16 year old mind thought “Marvel’s doing a UK based book (Excalibur) that’s selling well this is DC’s attempt to do something in that part of the world and cash in”

Yay! I loved the JLE. There was just something about Bart Sears artwork that I really enjoyed. It was similar to Kevin Macguire’s JLI work enough that it felt like it was definitely the sister publication.

And, yes, this is where I fell for Kara and the Dibnys…

JLE was great. At the time Bart Sears’ art was great too. Nowadays I can’t really read anything he draws, so I guess he basically had a significant downfall.

Mxy was dead on: the Armaggedon 2001 Annuals were excellent. Blue Beetle’s future was just too touching. And JLE was the perfect complement to JLA. In fact, this is something that DC simply forgot during Dan Didio’s tenure: the Justice League should be an international force.

acespot: I included JLAntarctica in the write-up of JLA.

I own the Armageddon 2001 annual but didn’t re-read it when I was reading these. I guess I should!

Dan: Well, JLE isn’t as well-written as JLA, and as I mentioned, the humor occasionally feels forced. Luckily, it’s not used as much, either, so it doesn’t overwhelm things. Except for the solutions of the big fights, the superheroey stuff is somewhat standard superheroey, but if you like that, it’s fine. And Sears is kind of an acquired taste. I still say the pros outweigh the cons by quite a bit.

Coming up next: “I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League”?

Thanks for reminding me of these! You hit the nail on the head regarding the action tone of this series, the EXTREMISTS were–in my mind–the most bad ass group this era’s JL era ever faced anywhere, even their return was sweat enducing. At the time, I don’t think I much noticed the toned down humor, because I felt like I was holding onto a out of control train during those chaotic storylines. The funny issues when they came around were a good break (a bit like the last season of a formerly huge sitcome, they hit the notes but didn’t produce an emy winner). I was probably in the dark days of my own puberty when these were being published, and it induced a long standing love affair w/ Bart Sears (what ever happened to him anyway . . . .)
Thanks for reminding the world of these!

I liked Power Girl’s yellow and white outfit. It is certainly a step up from the boob window in my opinion.
JLE had its moments but it was always second place to JLI.

Loved it just as much as JLI at the time. Apart from some of the editorial screw-ups (announcing Animal Man and Wonder Woman then barely if at all having them). It was a more serious take on the League that a lot of people missed, but with touches of humour.

Let’s not forget it introduced the Kara’s Cat from Hell (or heck). After frequently attacking Wally’s face they eventually got rid of it by sending it to the JLI embassy, where it met Guy Gardner. :P

Wow, Janie, that wasn’t spammy AT ALL.

I really loved this series all the way to the end., and to me it really felt of a piece with what was going on in JLA, if not always on a par with it. But of course after that, the post-Giffen, pre-Morrison period was just dreadful.

Okay, I’ve not read large tranches of this or JLI. But I’m aware both have a big rep, and I’ve picked up quite a few issues over the years as I’ve chanced upon them.

And I’ve always been really disappointed. None of the issues I’ve read have struck me as really funny, or ann exciting JL adventure romp.

Have I missed something? Does it read better in long runs??

Or was a lot of the impact they made at the time down to the fact that poking fun at the JL was a daring comics idea at the time. (Yes that’s my bias, and I suspect a lot of people who have fond memories of them would find them a disappointing re-read.)

jackdaw53: Well, I just re-read them, and thought they were both very good titles. But that’s just me.

I think the humor definitely works better if you read them in chunks. The humor in individual issues is good (well, according to me), but over the course of the run, the creators develop a nice rhythm and the humor becmes less obvious and more interesting. There are some missteps, of course, but overall, it’s more wry humor than just telling jokes. And when they want, they can write some very good superhero adventures.

I’m sure some fond memories are from the whole “poking fun at the JL,” but even today, the stories themselves hold up well. But that’s just my opinion!

Jackdaw: the problem is the books are mischaracterized as “comedy books”. they’re not (and this was the problem I had with the 2 revival series.)…when they went for broad comedy, they were at their worst.

They’re more “Dramedy” than sit com…like Sports Night was.

They’re FUN books, not FUNNY books.

It’s weird to me, looking at the current Power Girl series, that at least for her time with the JLE, her character was basically “the angry bitch”. The run after Giffen cranked this up much farther, going so far as to blame her anger on a reaction to her diet soda. Seems kind of ridiculous, but maybe that was the writer’s way of reversing her pissed off characterization?

man this reminds me of how much I miss Dmitri and his trying to “understand” American Super Heroes. I always thought that him and Martian Manhunter would have been just as awesome as Blue Beetle and Booster Gold..

How much is the 1st issue just#1 worth annyone have a estimate?

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