By Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire, Al Gordon & Terry Austin (DC Comics)
When the continuity-altering bombast of Crisis on Infinite Earths resulted in such spectacular commercial success, DC must have felt more than justified in revamping a number of their hoariest icons for their next fifty years of publishing. As well as Superman, Flash, and Wonder Woman, the moribund and unhappy Justice League of America was earmarked for a radical revision. Editor Andy Helfer assembled plotter Keith Giffen, scripter J.M. DeMatteis and untried penciller Kevin Maguire to produce an utterly new approach to the superhero monolith: they played them for laughs.
A few months ago I reviewed the 1990s collection (reprinted in entirety in this impressive hardcover) with my usual bleating that such great material deserved a high-profile re-release and I’m delighted to see that DC were already thinking the same thing. These wild and woolly tales are a perfect panacea to all the doom and gloom that infests so much of today’s comics content. I’m also happy to say that this time the editors found room to include the great Maguire JLI poster from 1987 and the Who’s Who entry and artwork this time around.
Leading directly on from the DC crossover-event Legends, the new team debuted in May 1987, combining a roster of second-stringers Black Canary, Blue Beetle, Captain Marvel, Dr. Fate, Guy Gardner/Green Lantern, and Mr. Miracle with heavyweights Batman and Martian Manhunter – as nominal straight-men – later supplemented by Captain Atom, Booster Gold, Dr. Light, and Rocket Red. According to Keith Giffen’s new introduction the initial roster was mandated from on high but there’s certainly no stiffness or character favouritism apparent in these early tales.
Introducing the charismatic manipulator Maxwell Lord, who used wealth and influence to recreate the super-team, the creators crafted a mystery that took an entire year to play out – so let’s hope a second volume is due soon. The team passed the time fighting terrorist bombers (#1; ‘Born Again’ inked by Terry Austin), displaced alien heroes determined to abolish nuclear weapons (#2-3; ‘Make War No More’ and ‘Meltdown’) and saw off old-fashioned super-creeps like the Royal Flush Gang (#4; ‘Winning Hand’).
‘Gray Life, Gray Dreams’ and ‘Massacre in Gray,’ guest-starring the Creeper, was a memorable supernatural threat in issues #5-6, and Lord’s scheme bore fruit in #7’s ‘Justice League… International’ as the team achieved the status of a UN agency, with rights, privileges and embassies in every corner of the World.
These wonderful yarns are full of sharp lines and genuinely gleeful situations, perfect for the Ghostbusters generation and still as appealing today. That the art is still great is no surprise and the action still engrossing is welcome, but to find that the jokes are still funny is a glorious relief. Indulge yourself and join that secret comics brotherhood who greet each other with the fateful mantra “Bwah-Hah- Hah!”
© 1987, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.