The Jack Kirby Omnibus volume 2 – starring The Super Powers


By Jack Kirby with Joe Simon, Mike Royer Paul Kupperberg, Adrian Gonzalez & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3833-9

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Epic Entertainment… 9/10

Famed for his larger than life characters and gigantic, cosmic imaginings, Jack Kirby was an astute, imaginative, spiritual man who had lived through poverty and gangsterism, the Depression, Post-War optimism, Cold War paranoia, political cynicism and the birth and death of peace-seeking counter-cultures. He was open-minded and utterly wedded to the making of comics stories on every imaginable subject. He also always believed that sequential narrative was worthy of being published as real books beside mankind’s other literary art forms.

Looks like he was right, and – as usual – just ahead of the times, doesn’t it?

There’s a magnificent abundance of Kirby commemorative collections around these days (though still not all of it, so I remain a partially disgruntled dedicated fan). This particular magnificent hardback compendium re-presents most of miscellaneous oddments of the “King’s Canon” crafted for DC – at least those to which the company still retains rights.

The licenses on stuff like his run on pulp adaptation Justice Inc. (or indeed Marvel’s 2001: A Space Odyssey comic) will not be forthcoming any time soon…

This massive tome begins with pages of hyper-kinetic Kirby pencil pages and a moving ‘Introduction by John Morrow’ before hurtling straight into moody mystery with a range of twice told tales.

On returning from WWII, Kirby reconnected with his long-term creative partner Joe Simon. National Comics was no longer a welcoming place for the reunited dream team supreme and by 1947 they had formed their own studio. They enjoyed a long and productive relationship with Harvey Comics (Stuntman, Boy’s Ranch, Captain 3-D, Lancelot Strong, The Shield, The Fly, Three Rocketeers and more) and created a stunning variety of genre features for Crestwood/Pines supplied by their Essankay/Mainline studio shop.

These included Justice Traps the Guilty, Fighting American, Bullseye, Police Trap, Foxhole, Headline Comics and Young Romance amongst many more (see the superb Best of Simon and Kirby for a salient selection of these classic creations): a veritable mountain of maturely challenging strip material in a variety of popular genres.

One of those was mystery and horror and amongst that dynamic duo’s “Prize” concoctions was noir-ish, psychologically-underpinned supernatural anthology Black Magic and latterly a short-lived but fascinating companion title Strange World of Your Dreams. These comics anthologies eschewed the traditional gory, heavy-handed morality plays and simplistic cautionary tales for deeper, stranger fare, and – until the EC comics line hit their peak – were far and away the best mystery titles on the market.

When the King quit Marvel for DC in 1970, his new bosses accepted suggestions for a supernatural-themed mature-reading magazine. Spirit World was a superb but poorly received and largely undistributed monochrome magazine. Issue #1 – and only – launched in the summer of 1971, but editorial cowardice and back-sliding scuppered the project before it could get going.

Material from a second, unpublished issue eventually appeared in colour comicbooks Weird Mystery Tales and Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion but with his ideas misunderstood, ignored or side-lined by the company, Kirby opted again for more traditional fare. Never truly defeated though, he cannily blended his belief in the marketability of the supernatural with flamboyant super-heroics to create another unique and lasting mainstay for the DC universe. The Demon only ran a couple of years but was a concept later, lesser talents would make a pivotal figure of the company’s continuity.

His collaborations with fellow industry pioneer Joe Simon always produced dynamite concepts, unforgettable characters, astounding stories and huge sales, no matter what genre avenues they pursued, blazing trails for so many others to follow and always reshaping the very nature of American comics with their innovations and sheer quality.

As with all their endeavours, Simon & Kirby offered stories shaped by their own sensibilities. Identifying a “mature market” gap in the line of magazines they autonomously packaged for publishers Crestwood and Prize they saw the sales potential for high-quality spooky material. resulting in the superb and eerily seminal Black Magic (launched with an October/November 1950 cover-date), supplemented in 1952 by boldly obscure psychological drama anthology The Strange World of Your Dreams: a title inspired by studio-mate Mort Meskin’s vivid and punishing night terrors.

Dealing with fantastic situations and – too frequently for comfort – unable or unwilling to provide pat conclusions or happy endings, cosmic justice or calming explanations were seldom available to avid readers. Sometimes the Unknown just blew up in your face and you survived or didn’t… and never whole or unchanged.

Thus, this colossal compendium of cult cartoon cavortings commences with DC’s revival of Black Magic as a cheap, modified reprint title.

The second issue #1 launched with an October/November 1973 cover-date, offering rather crudely re-mastered versions of some astounding classics. Far better reproduced on the good quality paper here is ‘Maniac!’ (originating in Black Magic #32 September/October 1973); an artistic tour de force and a tale much “homaged” in later years, detailing how – and why – a loving brother stops villagers taking his simple-minded sibling away. This is followed by ‘The Head of the Family!’ (BM #30 May/June 1954, by Kirby & Bruno Premiani), revealing the appalling secret shame of a most inbred clan…

DC’s premier outing ended with a disturbing tale first seen in Black Magic #29 (March-April 1954). Specifically cited during the1954 anti-comicbook Senate Hearings, ‘The Greatest Horror of them All!’ told a tragic tale of a freak hiding amongst lesser freaks…

DC’s second issue – cover-dated December 1973/January 1974 – opened with ‘Fool’s Paradise!’ (BM #26, September/October 1953) wherein a petty thug stumbles into a Mephistophelean deal and revealed how ‘The Cat People’ (#27 November/December 1953) mesmerised and forever marked an unwary tourist in rural Spain before ‘Birth After Death’ (#20 January 1953) retold the true story of how Sir Walter Scott’s mother survived premature burial, and ‘Those Who Are About to Die!’ (#23 April 1953) sketched out the tale of a painter who could predict imminent doom…

‘Nasty Little Man!’ (#18 November 1952) fronted DC’s third foray and gets my vote for creepiest horror art job of all time. It saw three hobos discover to their everlasting regret why you shouldn’t pick on short old men with Irish accents. ‘The Angel of Death!’ (#15 August 1952) then detailed an horrific medical mystery far darker than mere mystic menace…

As the 1950s editions grew in popularity, Simon & Kirby were stretched thin. Utilising a staff of assistants and crafting fewer stories themselves meant they could keep all their deadlines…

The ‘Cover art for Black Magic #4, June/July 1974’ sensibly segues into ‘Last Second of Life!’, from Black Magic volume 1 #1, October-November 1950) wherein a rich man, obsessed over what the dying see at final breath, learns to regret the unsavoury lengths he went to in finding out: their only contribution to that particular DC issue.

There were two in the next release. ‘Strange Old Bird!’ (Black Magic #25 June/July 1953) is a gently eerie thriller of a little old lady who gets the gift of renewed life from her tatty and extremely flammable feathered old friend and ‘Up There!’ from the landmark 13th issue from June 1952 – the saga of a beguiling siren of the upper stratosphere scaring the bejabbers out of a cool test pilot…

DC issue #6 reprises ‘The Girl Who Walked on Water!’ (BM #11 April 1952) exposing the immense but fragile power of self-belief whilst the ‘Cover art for Black Magic #7, December 1974/January 1975’ (originally #17 October 1952) provides a chilling report on a satanic vestment ‘The Cloak!’ (from BM #2 December 1950/January 1951) and ‘Freak!’ (from the aforementioned #17) shares a country doctor’s deepest shame…

DC’s #8 revisited The Strange World of Your Dreams, beginning with “a typical insecurity nightmare” ‘The Girl in the Grave!’ (from #2, September/October 1952). The Meskin-inspired anthology of oneiric visions eschewed cheap shocks, mindless gore and goofy pun-inspired twist-ending yarns in favour of dark, oppressive suspense soaked in psychological unease and inexplicable unease: tension over teasing…

Following up with ‘Send Us Your Dreams’ from the same source (requesting readers’ ideas for parapsychologist Richard Temple to analyse), DC’s vintage fear-fest concludes with # 9 (April/May 1975) and ‘The Woman in the Tower!’ as originally seen in The Strange World of Your Dreams #3, (November/December 1952) detailing the symbolism of oppressive illness…

Kirby continued creating new material with Kamandi – his only long-running DC success – and explored WWII in The Losers whilst creating the radical, scarily prophetic, utterly magnificent Omac: One Man Army Corps, but still could not achieve the all-important sales the company demanded. Eventually he was lured back to Marvel and new challenges such as Black Panther, Captain America, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Devil Dinosaur, Machine Man and especially The Eternals.

Before then, though, he unleashed a number of new concepts and even filled in on established titles. As previously moaned about, however, his 3-issue run on Justice Inc. adapting licensed pulp hero The Avenger is not included here, but at least his frankly astounding all-action dalliance with martial arts heroics is…

Debuting in all-new try-out title 1st Issue Special #1 (April 1975, and inked by D. Bruce Berry), ‘Atlas the Great! harked back to the dawn of human civilisation and followed the blockbusting trail of mankind’s first super-powered champion in a blazing Sword & Sorcery yarn.

1st Issue Special #5 (August 1975, Berry) highlighted the passing of a torch as a devout evil-crusher working for an ancient justice-cult retired and tipped his nephew – Public Defender Mark Shaw – to become the latest super-powered ‘Manhunter’

A rare but welcome digression into comedy manifested as ‘The Dingbats of Danger Street’ (1st Issue Special #6, September 1975) with Mike Royer inking a bizarre and hilarious revival of Kirby’s Kid Gang genre starring four multi-racial street urchins united for survival and to battle surreal super threats…

Always looking for work Kirby – and Berry – stepped in for #3 of troubled martial arts series Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter (August/September 1975). Scripted by Denny O’Neil, the savage shocker pits the lone fighter against an army of assassins in ‘Claws of the Dragon!’

‘Fangs of the Kobra!’ comes from Kobra #1, released with a February/March 1976 cover-date. The tale is strange in both execution and delivery, with Kirby’s original updating of Dumas’ tale of The Corsican Brothers reworked by Martin Pasko, Steve Sherman and artists Pablo Marcos & Berry.

It introduces brothers separated at birth. Jason Burr grew up a normal American kid whilst his twin – stolen by an Indian death cult – was reared as Kobra, the most dangerous man alive. Sadly for the super-criminal, young adult Jason has been recruited by the authorities because of his psychic connection to the snake lord: a link which allows them to track each other and also feel and experience any harm or hurt the other incurs…

When Simon & Kirby came to National/DC in 1942 one of their earliest projects was revitalising the moribund Sandman strip in Adventure Comics. Their unique blend of atmosphere and dynamism made it one of the most memorable, moody and action-packed series of the period (as you can see by reading complete Sandman edition which is a companion to this volume).

The band was brought back together for The Sandman #1 (cover-dated Winter 1974); a one-shot project which took the name and created a whole new mythology…

Scripted by Simon and inked by Royer ‘General Electric’ revealed how the realm of dreams was policed by a scarlet-&-gold super-crusader dedicated to preventing nightmares escaping into the physical world. With unwilling assistants Glob and Brute, the Sandman also battled real world villains determined to exploit the unconscious Great Unknown. The heady mix was completed by frail orphan Jed, whose active sleeping imagination seemed to draw trouble to him.

The proposed one-off was a minor hit at a tenuous time in comics publishing, and DC opted to keep it going, even though the originators were not interested. Kirby & Royer did produce the ‘Cover art Sandman #2, April/May 1975’ and ‘Cover art Sandman #3, June/July 1975’ before returning to the series with #4.

‘Panic in the Dream Stream’ – August/September 1975 – was scripted by Michael Fleisher, and revealed how a sleepless alien race attempted to conquer Earth through Jed’s fervent dreams: a traumatic channel that even allowed them to invade the Sandman’s Dream Realm. The next issue (October/November 1975) heralded an ‘Invasion of the Frog Men!’ into an idyllic parallel dimension before the next issue reunited a classic art team. Wally Wood inked Jack for Fleisher’s ‘The Plot to Destroy Washington D.C.!’, with mind-bending cyborg Doctor Spider, subverting and enslaving Glob and Brute in his eccentric ambition to take over America…

Although Sandman #6 (December 1975/January 1976) was the last issue, another tale was already completed and it finally appeared in reprint digest Best of DC #22 in March 1982. ‘The Seal Men’s War on Santa Claus’ with Fleisher scripting and Royer handling the brushwork was a sinister seasonal romp with Jed’s wicked foster-family abusing the lad in classic Scrooge style before the Weaver of Dreams seconds him to help save Christmas from bellicose well-armed aquatic mammals…

During the 1980s costumed heroes stopped being an exclusively print cash cow. Many toy companies licensed Fights ‘n’ Tights titans and reaped the benefits of ready-made comicbook spin-offs. DC’s most recognizable characters became a best-selling line of action figures and were inevitably hived off into a brisk and breezy, fight-frenzied miniseries.

Super Powers launched in July 1984 as a 5-issue miniseries with Kirby covers and his signature characters prominently represented. Jack also plotted the stellar saga with scripter Joey Cavalieri providing dialogue, and Adrian Gonzales & Pablo Marcos illustrating a heady cosmic quest comprising numerous inconclusive battles between agents of Good and Evil.

In ‘Power Beyond Price!’, ultimate nemesis Darkseid despatches four Emissaries of Doom to destroy Earth’s superheroes. Sponsoring Lex Luthor, The Penguin, Brainiac and The Joker the monsters jointly target Superman, Batman & Robin, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman and Hawkman

The combat escalates in #2’s ‘Clash Against Chaos’ with the Man of Steel and Scarlet Speedster tackling Luthor, whilst Aquaman and Green Lantern scupper the Penguin as Dark Knight and Winged Wonder confront a cosmically-enhanced Harlequin of Hate…

With Alan Kupperberg inking, an inconclusive outcome leads to a regrouping of evil and an attack by Brainiac on Paradise Island. With the ‘Amazons at War’ the Justice League rally until Superman is devolved into a brutal beast who attacks his former allies. All-out battle ensues in ‘Earth’s Last Stand’, before the King steps up to write and illustrate the fateful finale: cosmos-shaking conclusion ‘Spaceship Earth – We’re All on It!’ (November 1984, with Greg Theakston suppling inks)…

A bombastic Super Powers Promotional Poster leads into a nostalgic reunion as DC Comics Presents #84 (August 1985) reunited Jack with his first Fantastic Four.

‘Give Me Power… Give Me Your World!’ – written by Bob Rozakis, Kirby & Theakston (with additional art by the legendary Alex Toth) – pits Superman and the Challengers of The Unknown against mind-bending Kryptonian villain Zo-Mar, after which the ‘Cover art for Super DC Giant S-25, July/ August 1971’ (inked by Vince Colletta) segues into the Super Powers miniseries, spanning September 1985 to February 1986.

Scripted by Paul Kupperberg the Kirby/Theakston saga ‘Seeds of Doom!’ recounts how deadly Darkseid despatches techno-organic bombs to destroy Earth, requiring practically every DC hero to unite to end the threat.

With teams of Super Powers travelling to England, Rome, New York, Easter Island and Arizona the danger is magnified ‘When Past and Present Meet!’ as the seeds warp time and send Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter back to days of King Arthur

Super Powers #3 (November 1985) finds Red Tornado, Hawkman and Green Arrow plunged back 75 million years in ‘Time Upon Time Upon Time!’ even as Doctor Fate, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman are trapped in 1087 AD battling stony-faced giant aliens on Easter Island.

Superman and Firestorm discover ‘There’s No Place Like Rome!’ as they battle Darkseid’s agent Steppenwolf in the first century whilst Batman, Robin and Flash visit a future where Earth is the new Apokolips in #5’s ‘Once Upon Tomorrow’ before Earth’s scattered champions converge on Luna to spectacularly squash the schemes-within-schemes of ‘Darkseid of the Moon!’

Rounding out the astounding cavalcade of wonders, are a selection of Kirby-crafted ‘Who’s Who Profiles’ pages from Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe 1985-1987: specifically, Ben Boxer, the Boy Commandos, Challengers of the Unknown, Crazy Quilt, Etrigan the Demon, Kamandi, the Newsboy Legion, Sandman (the Dream Stream version from 1974), Sandy, the Golden Boy and Witchboy Klarion.

Jack Kirby was and is unique and uncompromising: his words and pictures comprise an unparalleled, hearts-and-minds grabbing delight no comics lover can possibly resist. If you’re not a fan or simply not prepared to see for yourself what all the fuss has been about then no words of mine will change your mind.

That doesn’t alter the fact that Kirby’s life’s work from 1937 to his death in 1994 shaped the entire American comics scene – and indeed the entire comics planet – affecting the lives of billions of readers and thousands of creators in all areas of artistic endeavour for generations and is still winning new fans and apostles every day, from the young and naive to the most cerebral of intellectuals. His work is instantly accessible, irresistibly visceral, deceptively deep and simultaneously mythic and human.

He is the King and will never be supplanted.
© 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

JLA Deluxe volume 6


By Joe Kelly, Doug Mahnke, Yvel Guichet, Lewis La Rosa, Darryl Banks, Dietrich Smith & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5136-9

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Blockbuster, No-Nonsense Entertainment… 8/10

When the Justice League of America – driving force and cornerstone of the Silver Age of Comics – was re-imagined and relaunched in 1997, the sheer bravura quality of the stories propelled the series back to the forefront of industry attention, making as many new fans as it recaptured old ones. The stories were smart, fast-paced, compelling, challengingly large-scale and drawn with effervescent vitality.

With JLA you could see on every page all the work undertaken to make it the best it could be…

The reinvigorated super-squad were a phenomenally hot property at this time, with creative teams coming aboard and moving on with startling rapidity. Writer Joe Kelly’s run on the World’s Greatest Superheroes has some notable moments for drama and action lovers, all contained in this Sixth Deluxe Trade Paperback and eBook compilation.

Contained herein are JLA #61-76 which comprise the majority of this fifth Deluxe Edition (available in hardback, paperback and eBook formats) and collectively spanning February 2002 to February 2003.

Illustrated by Doug Mahnke & Tom Nguyen, the wonderment kicks off with the stand-alone tale ‘Two-Minute Warning’, one of the best “day-in-the-life” type stories ever seen, blending sharp dialogue, spectacular art and a novel format to elevate it beyond the many other attempts to show what everyday means for such god-like beings…

Then 3-part disaster fable ‘Golden Perfect’ unfolds: a tale examining the nature of Truth itself. When Wonder Woman leads the team to the hidden kingdom of Jarhanpur to rescue a baby from a life of hereditary slavery, she encounters a despot whose philosophy counters her belief in objective or absolute truth.

The explosive dispute shatters her magical Golden Lasso of Hestia

All too soon this defeat has astounding repercussions for the entire universe. The broken lasso has destroyed objective truth completely. What people believe becomes the only arbiter of Reality.

The moon is made of green cheese, the world is flat, Earth is the centre of the universe…

As it all unravels, a devastated Amazon Princess must find a way to reconcile her beliefs within the new Reality while the rest of the JLA battle desperately to keep the cosmos alive.

A dynamic end-of-everything tale that challenges the mind as well as stirring the blood, the patented Kelly one-liners, especially from Plastic Man, leaven the tension and heighten the enjoyment in this cracking little epic.

Changing pace and cracking more smiles, ‘Bouncing Baby Boy’ is a wistful, genuinely funny team-up of the mismatched Batman and Plastic Man. This small story looks at the sad side of the eternal clown (that would be Plas, not Bats…), seen through the “cold and emotionless” eyes of the Dark Knight, and provides a welcome change from the Big Stories that increasingly all super-team books comprise.

An extremely potent example of such follows, spanning issues # 66-76. ‘The Obsidian Age’ is an ambitious epic designed to redefine the JLA which begins with ‘The Destroyers Part 1’ as peculiar water-based events and phenomena indicate that Aquaman – believed killed in a recent catastrophe which seemingly eradicated Atlantis – is actually alive and trying to contact his JLA comrades.

When the team are subsequently attacked by an ancient mystical warrior they get their first clue that it’s not “somewhere” but “some when”…

‘The Destroyers Part 2’ finds the heroes recovering from a second attack by the terrifying Tezumak and native shaman Manitou Raven, whose coordinated manipulations bring the JLA into the ruins of ‘Stillborn Atlantis’ and all-out combat with the deranged Ocean Master. When Tempest (the all-grown-up Aqualad, now a powerful magical adept himself) and a conclave of mystic champions, including Zatanna, Faust and Doctors Occult and Fate, are called in to assess the deteriorating situation in the no-longer sunken city, the assembled paladins of science and magic realise that something truly terrible is about to be unleashed….

Renewed assaults from the past indicate another growing global crisis and when the JLA discover a hidden message from Aquaman, they voyage back 3000 years to discover an unsuspected era of Atlantean domination.

With Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and Plastic Man gone, a stand-in team of heroes are appointed to guard the world, but the ancient mastermind behind the menace has also prepared a contemporary trap for the substitute JLA…

Illustrated by Yvel Guichet & Mark Propst, ‘New Blood’ features Zatanna and the Atom trying to stave off a concatenation of clearly unnatural natural disasters with the aid of Green Arrow, Captain Marvel, Firestorm, Jason Blood (with and without Etrigan the Demon), Hawkgirl, reformed villain and troubled soul Major Disaster, Nightwing and new find Faith. There’s even input and some hands-on help from the Justice Society of America uniting to form a desperate scratch-team woefully overmatched and under-trained…

Meanwhile and elsewhen, the strands of mystery are unravelled in ‘Revisionist History’ which finds the time-lost First Team in 1000BC, where an above-the-waves Atlantis leads a coalition of nations and super-warriors in a campaign to conquer the known world by sword and sorcery. This unrecorded episode of human history contravenes all known histories, and clandestine reconnaissance by the JLA reveals an enchantress named Gamemnae is behind the scheme.

However, her plans extend far beyond her own epoch and to that end she has kidnapped the 21st century water-breathing Atlanteans and enslaved their king Aquaman…

Fortunately, Gamemnae’s own team is far from united: Manitou Raven and his bride Dawn are deeply troubled by the venality of their allies and the obvious nobility of the Justice Leaguers…

Back in the future, focus returns to the new team in ‘Transition’ (with art again by Guichet & Propst) as the planet is ravaged by geological catastrophes and Gamemnae’s millennial booby-trap activates, designed to conquer the world of tomorrow by suborning its meta-human and mystic defenders…

In ‘History is Written By…’, Kelly, Mahnke & Nguyen reveal the JLA battling hopeless odds in ancient Atlantis whilst trying to liberate its enslaved, water-breathing, time-switched descendants, whilst in modern times ‘Last Call’ (Guichet & Propst) finds the replacement League faring badly against Gamemnae’s monstrous animated time-trap… until a ghostly message from the past enables them to turn the tide…

The tension mounts as ‘Obsidian’ follows the final tragic battle between the JLA and Gamemnae’s hyper-powered hit-squad The Ancients, revealing how her future assaults began even as Manitou finally succumbs to his conscience and changes sides.

‘Tragic Kingdom’ (by Mahnke, Guichet, Darryl Banks, Dietrich Smith and inkers Nguyen, Propst, Wayne Faucher & Sean Parsons) simultaneously provides the origin and final fall of the deadly Witch-Queen in a cataclysmic confrontation that bends times, breaks the barriers between life and death and costs one of the heroes everything…

In the aftermath the JLA gather to mourn one of their own who has fallen. ‘Picking up the Pieces’ (with art from Lewis LaRosa & Al Milgrom) sees the JLA conclude a 3000-year quest to restore their fallen comrade and re-jig their roster in the dread dire days following the adventure that has left them all forever changed…

By The Way: the action of Obsidian Age takes place immediately after the devastation of DC Crossover Event “Our Worlds At War” – wherein an alien doomsday device named Imperiex almost destroyed the planet – but there’s enough useful background and build-up in the chapters collected here to circumvent any possible confusion should that saga have passed you by…

Engaging, engrossing and especially entertaining, this is a superior superhero slugfest that will appeal to a lot of readers who thought the Fights ‘n’ Tights genre beyond or beneath them…
© 2002, 2003, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Justice League Hereby Elects…


By Gardner Fox, Denny O’Neil, Len Wein, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Dillin & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1267-4

“Just Imagine! The mightiest heroes of our time… have banded together as the Justice League of America to stamp out the forces of evil wherever and whenever they appear!”

The moment the Justice League of America was published marks the moment when superheroes truly made comicbooks their own particular preserve. Even though the popularity of masked champions has waxed and waned many times since 1960 and other genres have re-won their places on published pages, in the minds of America – and the world – Comics means Superheroes.

The JLA signalled that men – and even a few women – in capes and masks were back for good…

When Julius Schwartz began reviving and revitalising the nigh-defunct superhero genre in 1956, his Rubicon move came a few years later with the uniting of these reconfigured mystery men into a team…

The band of heroes debuted in The Brave and the Bold #28 (cover-dated March 1960) and almost instantly cemented the growth and validity of the revived sub-genre, consequently triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comicbooks and spreading to the rest of the world as the decade progressed.

Originally – although Superman and Batman were included in the membership – participation had been strictly limited as editorial policy at the start was to avoid possible reader ennui and saturation from over-exposure. That ended with the first story in this collection as they joined regulars Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, J’onn J’onzz: Manhunter from Mars to invite expansions to the roster.

Spanning June 1961 to September 1980 this full-colour paperback compendium of classics (also available digitally) compiles and re-presents Justice League of America volume 1, #4, 75, 105-106, 146, 161 and 173-174: issues that signalled the admission of many – but not all – new members…

First addition to the team since it’s premier, Green Arrow stormed into pride of place in #4’s ‘Doom of the Star Diamond’ (by Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs, and cover-dated May 1961), saving the day in a science-fiction thriller wherein a well-meaning alien exile threatens earth with destruction as part of a cunning plan to return to his own planet.

Happily. when the whole scheme goes lethally awry the Emerald Archer is on hand to sort it all out…

Black Canary enlists after a tragedy on her own world of Earth-Two resulted in the death of her husband during the annual JLA/JSA team-up. As a consequence, Dinah Drake-Lance emigrates to Earth-One, handily becoming the JLA’s resident Girl Superhero, and picking up a new – if somewhat unreliable – power in the process.

The repercussions of her move and Green Arrow losing all his wealth made Justice League of America #75 (November 1969) one of Denny O’Neil’s best, and artists Dick Dillin & Joe Giella were on top form illustrating ‘In Each Man there is a Demon!’ Here the fallout of the trans-dimensional bout found the hero-team literally fighting their own worst aspects in a battle they couldn’t win…

Crafted by Len Wein, Dillin & Dick Giordano, the “More-the-Merrier” recruitment drive continued in #105 (April 1973) wherein the Elongated Man signed up to save the day against marauding, malignant putty-men in ‘Specter in the Shadows!’

He was anonymously aided by a miraculously resurrected robotic Red Tornado who joined up in #106 (July 1973), utterly unaware that he had been reprogrammed into becoming a ‘Wolf in the Fold!’ by his malevolent creator and future-tech plunderer Thomas Oscar Morrow. Nevertheless, the Amazing Android circumvents his malignant code to save the day and join the team…

Between that triumph and the next tale, the Tornado sacrificed himself to save his comrades, so they are rather surprised when he resurrects at the beginning of Justice League of America #146 (September 1977), as Hawkgirl is finally invited to fight beside her husband Hawkman as a member in full standing.

‘Inner Mission’ – by Steve Englehart, Dillin & Frank McLaughlin – details how electronic AI entity the Construct attempts to destroy the League from within and cements the growing tradition of making the team a multi-hued army of heroes…

Long-term associate Zatanna was finally given the nod in #161 (December 1978) via ‘The Reverse-Spells of Zatanna’s Magic-Cigam’ by Gerry Conway, Dillin & McLaughlin. She seemingly turns them at first but it’s just a ploy to expose a sinister magical infiltrator…

Wrapping up the narrative delights here is a smart two-parter with a twist ending as the League try to induct mysterious vigilante Black Lightning (JLA #173-174; December 1979 and January 1980).

After much fervent debate, they decide to set the unsuspecting candidate a little task but as a vermin-controlling maniac unleashes terror upon Metropolis the ‘Testing of a Hero’ and ‘A Plague of Monsters’ (Conway, Dillin & McLaughlin) takes the old recruitment drive into a very fresh direction…

Bulking out this catalogue of Crisis challengers are an assortment of extra features including ‘JLA: Incarnations’ listing of every League iteration and every member thereof; a poster by Ed Benes depicting the team in its entirety and a blank certificate affirming your personal membership in the ranks (don’t use ballpoint pen if you’re reading the eBook edition!)

These classical compendia are a dedicated fan’s delight: an absolute gift for modern readers who desperately need to catch up without going bankrupt. They are also perfect to give to youngsters as an introduction into a fabulous world of adventure and magic…
© 1961, 1969, 1973, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Young Justice Book 1


By Peter David, Todd DeZago, D. Curtis Johnson, Mark Waid, Karl Kesel, Jay Faerber, Tom Peyer, Todd Nauck, Mike McKone, Humberto Ramos, Angel Unzueta, Craig Rosseau, Roberto Flores, Alé Garza, Joe Phillips, Cully Hamner, Amanda Conner, Ethan Van Sciver, Marty Egeland & various
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7116-9

There are many different aspects that contribute to the “perfect mix” in the creation of any continuing character in comics. How much more so then, when the idea is to build a superhero team that will stand out from the seething masses that already exist?

In the late 1990s a fresh batch of sidekicks and super-kids started cropping up at DC after some years of thematic disfavour, and as the name and modus operandi of the Teen Titans was already established, something new needed to be done with them.

But why were kid crusaders back at all? Ignoring the intrinsic imbecility – and illegality if you count numerous child-endangerment laws – of on-the-job training for superheroes who can’t shave yet, why should juvenile champions appeal at all to comics readers?

I don’t buy the old saw about it giving young readers someone to identify with: most kids I grew up with wanted to be the cool adult who got to drive the whatever-mobile, not the squawking brat in short pants. Every mission would feel like going out clubbing with your dad…

I rather suspect it’s quite the reverse: older readers with responsibilities and chores could fantasize about being powerful, effective, cool and able to beat people up without having to surrender a hormone-fuelled, purely juvenile frat-boy sense of goofy fun…

Spanning August 1998 – April 1999 and collecting Young Justice #1-7, JLA: World Without Grown-Ups #1-2, Secret Origins 80-Page Giant #1, Young Justice: The Secret and material from Young Justice 1.000,000 and Young Justice: Secret Files #1; this outrageously entertaining trade paperback (and eBook edition) offers a fetching blend of explosive action, sinister suspense and captivating comedy to delight every jaded Fights ‘n’ Tights fans.

‘World Without Grown-Ups’ sees a young boy use an Ancient Atlantean talisman to exile all adults, leaving the planet a responsibility-free playground. Planetary guardians the Justice League can only stew helplessly in some other isolated realm of existence as all the underage heroes left on Earth tackle a wave of idiocy and irresponsibility whilst trying to cope with the spiralling disasters caused by a sudden dearth of doctors, drivers, pilots and so forth.

Boy Wonder Robin, clone Superboy Kon-El and ADHD posterchild/super-speedster Impulse meanwhile seek out the root cause, desperate to set things right but painfully unaware that the malign entity imprisoned in the talisman has its own sinister agenda…

This canny blend of tension with high jinks, amusement and pathos, action plus mystery rattles along with thrills and one-liners aplenty courtesy of writer Todd DeZago aided and abetted by Humbert Ramos & Wayne Faucher (Kids World) and Mike McKone, Paul Neary & Mark McKenna (JLA sequences) who combine a compelling countdown to calamity with outright raucous buffoonery.

Closely following on is a related one-shot appearing as part of 1998 skip-week publishing event “GirlFrenzy”.

‘Young Justice: The Secret’ (by the Todds DeZago & Nauck, with inks by Lary Stucker) finds Robin, Superboy and Impulse being interviewed over the suspicious circumstances leading them to rescue a young girl composed entirely of smoke and vapour from supposedly benign federal agency the Department of ExtraNormal Operations – an exploit which will have major repercussions in later tales…

Close on those compelling scene-setters, the latest crop of “ands…” promptly stampeded into their own highly habit-forming monthly series. The monthly Young Justice comicbook saw fan-favourite writer Peter David script inspired, tongue-in-cheek, gloriously self-referential adolescent lunacy, beginning with ‘Young, Just Us’ (illustrated by Nauck & Stucker) wherein the unlikely lads arrange a sleepover in the old Justice League Secret Sanctuary and fall into a whole new career…

Whilst a nearby archaeological dig uncovers an ancient New Genesis Supercycle, the masked boys are busy vandalising the decommissioned mountain lair until similarly decommissioned superhero android Red Tornado objects. Before things become too tense the boys are called away to the dig-site where DEO operatives Fite and Maad are attempting to confiscate the alien tech.

After a brief skirmish with fabulously mutated minor villain Mighty Endowed (transformed by a “booby trap!”) the bike adopts the kids and makes a break for it…

The action then switches to the Middle East for ‘Sheik, Rattle and Roll’ as the semi-sentient trans-dimensional cycle deposits Robin, Superboy and Impulse in a sandy paradise. Apparently uncounted years ago an Apokoliptian warrior named Riproar was entombed beneath a mountain there after stealing the bike from New Genesis. Now the machine, enslaved to the thief’s ancient programming, is compelled to free the monster, but it has brought some superheroes to fight Riproar once he’s loose. Of course, they’re rather small heroes and a bit inexperienced…

A short diversion courtesy of Young Justice 1.000,000 introduces future versions of the lads and some foes from the 853rd century – that’s a million months into the future, science fans!

Devised by David, Nauck, Stucker, Angel Unzueta, Norm Rapmund, Craig Rosseau, Sean Parsons, Roberto Flores & Faucher, ‘Just Ice. Cubed’ sees a future YJ squad reviewing the exploits of their antecedents with reference to Doomsday, the JLA, Two-Face, the Sun-Eater and the Millennium Chicken before a measure of normality resumes with the 20th century kids back in America just in time for Halloween…

A riotous Trick-or-Treat time-travel romp ensues as those meddling kids dabble in magic and accidentally snatch a nerdy Fifth Dimensional scholar out of his appointed place – naturally endangering the entire continuum.

Sadly, although YJ’s best efforts in ‘The Issue Before the One Where the Girls Show Up!’ restore reality, they might have had a delayed bad influence on the quietly studious juvenile sprite Master Mxyzptlk

Secret Origins 80-Page Giant #1 provides background insights on our stars, beginning with ‘Decisions’ by D. Curtis Johnson, Unzueta & Jaime Mendoza with Red Tornado regaling intangible recruit Secret with ‘The Secret Origin of Impulse (Actual Reality)’ by Mark Waid, Ramos & Faucher, ‘Superboy! Secrets! Origins (This One’s Got ‘Em All!)’ by Karl Kesel, Joe Phillips & Jasen Rodriguez and ‘Little Wing’ by Chuck Dixon & Cully Hamner.

The revelations continue with the history of Spoiler in ‘Daddy’s Little Vigilante’ from Dixon, Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti, ‘Truth is Stranger – the Secret Origin of Wonder Girl’ by Jay Faerber & Ethan van Sciver, and conclude with ‘Shafted the Secret Origin of Arrowette!’ by Tom Peyer, Marty Egeland & Rapmund…

With the scene properly set, a whole bunch of meddling females then join the exclusive boys’ club in ‘Harm’s Way’ as writer David unerringly injects some potently dark undercurrents into the frenetic fun.

Impulse’s sometime associate Arrowette (a second-generation trick archer forced into the biz by her fearsome Stage Mother, the original Arrowette) is being hunted by a psychotic youth who intends to become the world’s greatest villain.

Aforementioned mist-girl Secret and the latest incarnation of Wonder Girl are dragged into the clinically sociopathic Harm’s lethal practice-run before the assembled boys and girls finally manage to drive him off…

Johnson, Alé Garza & Cabin Boy then step in for ‘Take Back the Night’ (from Young Justice: Secret Files #1) as Secret leads the now fully-co-ed team in a raid against the clandestine and quasi-legal DEO orphanage-academy where metahuman kids are “trained” to use their abilities. It seems an awful lot of these youngsters aren’t there voluntarily or even with their parents’ approval…

Back in Young Justice #5 ‘First, Do No Harm’ (David, Nauck & Stucker) spotlights the malevolent young nemesis as he invades YJ HQ and turns Red Tornado into a weapon of Mass destruction (that’s a pun that only makes sense if I mention that the Pope guest-stars in this tale). As the Justice League step in, the tale wraps up with a majestic and moving twist ending…

The senior superstars are concerned about the kids’ behaviour and set out a virtual test, but since this is comics, that naturally goes spectacularly wrong in ‘Judgement Day’ when the ghost of alien horror Despero turns the simulation into a very practical demonstration of utter mayhem.

This terrific tome – hopefully the first of many – concludes with the edgy and hilarious ‘Conferences’ as assorted guardians and mentors convene for a highly contentious parents/teachers evening, blissfully unaware that their boy and girls have since snuck off for an unsanctioned – and unchaperoned – overnight camping trip together.

As ever, it’s not what you’d expect but it is incredibly entertaining…

In Young Justice, perennial teen issues and traditional caped crusading are perfectly combined with captivating adventure and deft, daft home-room laughs to produce a magical blend of tension, comedy, pathos and even genuine horror.

The secret joy of sidekicks has always been the sheer bravura fun they inject into a tale and this book totally epitomises that most magical of essences. Unleash your inner rapscallion with this addictive gem and remember behind every world-saving champion is a big kid trying to get noticed.
© 1998, 1999, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice League International volume 2


By Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, John Ostrander, Kevin Maguire, Bill Willingham, Luke McDonnell & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2020-4 (TPB)

Way back in 1986 DC’s editorial leaders felt their then-vast, 50-year continuity was stopping them winning new readers. The draconian solution was a colossal braided-mega series to streamline and redefine whilst adding even more fresh characters to the mix.

The worlds-shattering, reality-altering bombast of Crisis on Infinite Earths resulted in such spectacular commercial success, those movers-&-shakers felt 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 crucially un-commercial Justice League of America was earmarked for 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…

The series launched as Justice League with a May 1987 cover-date before retitling itself as Justice League International with #7. The new super-team was formed from the ashes of the old on the basis of events comprising follow-up DC crossover-event Legends. The gathering comprised a roster of newcomers and relative second-stringers as America’s newest champions – Black Canary, Blue Beetle, Captain Marvel, Guy Gardner/Green Lantern, Dr. Fate and Mr. Miracle with heavyweights Batman and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz as nominal straight-men.

As the often-silly saga unfolded the squad was supplemented by Captain Atom, Booster Gold, Dr. Light and Russian mecha-warrior Rocket Red. In many ways the most contemporary new pick was charismatic, filthy-rich manipulator Maxwell Lord – who used wealth and influence to recreate the super-team…

The creators took their time, crafting a convoluted mystery over the first year and this second volume of the (as-was) All-New, All-Hilarious Justice League completes that saga as insidious entrepreneur and1980’s archetype Lord reshapes the World’s Greatest Super-team for his own mysterious purposes and is transformed himself in the process…

The stories gathered here (Justice League International #8-13, Justice League Annual #1, and corresponding crossover issue Suicide Squad #13) are taken from a period when comics publishers were first developing the marketing strategies of the “Braided Mega-Crossover Event.”

That hard-on-the-pockets innovation basically crafted really big stories involving every publication in a company’s stable, for a limited time period – so a compilation like this perforce includes adventures that seem confusing because there are in truth “middles” with no beginnings or endings.

In this case the problem is deftly solved by inserting (mercifully) brief text pages explaining what’s happened before and elsewhere. It also doesn’t hurt that being a comedy-adventure, plot isn’t as vital as character and dialogue in this instance…

The merriment begins with ‘Moving Day’ (deftly inked by regular embellisher Al Gordon), wherein the heroes endure a catalogue of disasters whilst taking possession of sundry new UN embassy premises: a slyly cynical tale of institutionalized ineptitude and arguably one of the funniest single stories in American comicbook history.

Here, the main episodes are supplemented by brief back-up vignettes drawn by Giffen and ‘Old News’ deals with the abrupt and precipitous closure of previous UN superhero resource The Dome – summarily axed when the League achieved international charter status. The dismissals leave a very sour taste in the mouths of previously valiant and devoted defenders of mankind…

‘Seeing Red’ is the first of two episodes forming part of the Millennium crossover hinted at above. Broadly, the Guardians of the Universe are attempting to create the next stage of human evolution, and their robotic enemies the Manhunters want to stop them. The heroes of Earth are asked to protect the Chosen Ones, but the robots have sleeper agents hidden among the friends and acquaintances of every hero on the planet.

Millennium was DC’s first weekly mini-series, and the monthly schedule of the other titles meant that a huge amount happened in the four weeks between their own tied-in issues: for example…

The Rocket Red attached to the JLI is in fact a Manhunter, who first tries to co-opt then destroy the team by sabotaging an oil refinery, but by the second part, ‘Soul of the Machine’, the JLI are jarringly transplanted to deep space and attacking the Manhunter homeworld as part of a Green Lantern strike force.

Nevertheless, the story is surprising coherent, and the all-out action is still well-leavened with superbly banter and hilarity.

The back-ups follow the suddenly unemployed Dome hero Jack O’Lantern as he travels to terrorist state Bialya in ‘Brief Encounter’ and then show an unfortunate training exercise for Blue Beetle and Mister Miracle in ‘…Back at the Ranch…’

JLI #11 started exposing all the mysteries of the first year by revealing the secret mastermind behind the League’s reformation. With ‘Constructions!’ – and the concluding ‘Who is Maxwell Lord?’ in #12 – the series came full circle, and the whacky humour proved to have been the veneer over a dark and subtle conspiracy plot worthy of the classic team.

The drama and action kicked into overdrive and the characters were seen to have evolved from shallow, albeit competent buffoons into a tightly knit team of world-beating super-stars – but still pretty darned addicted to buffoonery…

Giffen illustrated #13, wherein the team ran afoul of America’s highly covert Suicide Squad (convicted and imprisoned super-villains blackmailed by the government into becoming a tractable metahuman resource – and happily lacking the annoying morality of regular superheroes).

‘Collision Course’ found US agent Nemesis imprisoned in a Soviet jail with the UN-sponsored League forced into the uncomfortable position of having to – at least ostensibly – fight to keep him there even as the Suicide Squad seeks to bust him out.

Written by John Ostrander and illustrated by Luke McDonnell & Bob Lewis, concluding chapter ‘Battle Lines’ originated in Suicide Squad #13 and offers a grim and gritty essay in superpower Realpolitik which remains a powerful experience and chilling read decades later.

This volume wraps up with an out-of-chronology yarn from the first JLI Annual. Drawn by Bill Willingham and inked by Dennis Janke, P. Craig Russell, Bill Wray, R. Campanella, Bruce Patterson & Dick Giordano, ‘Germ Warfare’ is an uncharacteristically grim horror tale involving inhuman sacrifice and all-out war against sentient bacteria, with oodles of savage action and a tragic role for new team leader J’onn J’onzz…

This collection was – and still is – a breath of fresh air at a time where too many comicbooks are filled with over-long, convoluted epics that are stridently, oppressively angst-ridden. Here is great art, superb action and a light touch which mark this series as a true classic. So, read this book and then all the rest….
© 1987, 1992, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice League International volume 1


By Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire, Al Gordon & Terry Austin (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-787-7(HB)                      978-1-4012-1739-6(TPB)

Way back in 1986 DC’s editorial leaders felt their then-vast 50-year continuity was stopping them winning new readers. The solution was a colossal braided-mega series to streamline, redefine and even add new characters to the mix.

The worlds-shattering, reality-altering bombast of Crisis on Infinite Earths resulted in such spectacular commercial success, those movers-&shakers 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…

The series launched as Justice League with a May 1987 cover-date before retitling itself as Justice League International with #7 (November) and all those splendidly enticing tales can be found here.

The new super-team was formed from the ashes of the old on the basis of events comprising follow-up DC crossover-event Legends. The gathering comprised a roster of relative second-stringers as America’s newest champions – Black Canary, Blue Beetle, Captain Marvel, Dr. Fate, Guy Gardner/Green Lantern, and Mr. Miracle with heavyweights Batman and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz as nominal straight-men.

As the often-silly saga unfolded the squad was supplemented by Captain Atom, Booster Gold, Dr. Light, and Russian mecha-warrior Rocket Red.

According to Keith Giffen’s reflective 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 filthy-rich manipulator Maxwell Lord – who used wealth and influence to recreate the super-team – the creators took their time, crafting a convoluted mystery that took an entire year to play out (happily there’s a second volume sitting on my “to be re-read again” pile and another nostalgic review coming soon!).

The neophyte and rather shambolic team started their march to glory by fighting and defeating a bunch of rather inept terrorist bombers in initial outing ‘Born Again’ (inked by Terry Austin), before confronting displaced alien heroes determined to abolish nuclear weapons in a 2-part thriller ‘Make War No More’ and ‘Meltdown’ before seeing off old-fashioned super-creeps the Royal Flush Gang in #4’s ‘Winning Hand’, which added future-born tech hero Booster Gold to the mix.

The Creeper outrageously guest-starred in ‘Gray Life, Gray Dreams’ and concluding chapter ‘Massacre in Gray’: joining forces against an immortal man tasked by supernal gods with collecting mankind’s excess dream essence. When he went mad and rebelled, all of humanity was imperilled…

Lord’s Byzantine 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…

Sadly, that merely meant that phase two of his plan came into play and deadly links to New God hellworld Apokolips began to be revealed…

To Be Continued…

Available as an impressive hardcover, accessible trade paperback and even digitally for the go-getting moderns among you, 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 the editors found room to include alternate covers, the great Ed Hannigan, Maguire & Austin JLI poster from 1987 plus a fact and picture-packed Who’s Who entry to back up the fun with some irrefutable facts about the World’s Greatest Superheroes…

These wonderful yarns are full of sharp lines and genuinely gleeful situations, perfect for young fans and old addicts alike and still as appealing today. That the art is still great is no surprise and the action still engrossing most 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 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice League of America: The Silver Age volume 3


By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Bernard Sachs & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6862-6

The moment the Justice League of America was published marks the moment when superheroes truly made comicbooks their own particular preserve. Even though the popularity of masked champions has waxed and waned many times since 1960 and other genres have re-won their places on published pages, in the minds of America – and the world – Comics means Superheroes.

The JLA signalled that men – and even a few women – in capes and masks were back for good…

When Julius Schwartz began reviving and revitalising the nigh-defunct superhero genre in 1956, his Rubicon move came a few years later with the uniting of these reconfigured mystery men into a team…

The JLA debuted in The Brave and the Bold #28 (cover-dated March 1960) and cemented the growth and validity of the revived sub-genre, consequently triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comicbooks and spreading to the rest of the world as the decade progressed.

Spanning June 1963 to September 1964, this latest full-colour paperback compendium of classics (also available digitally) re-presents issues #23-30 of the epochal first series with scripter Gardner Fox and illustrators Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs seemingly able to do no wrong…

The adventures here focus on the collective exploits of Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars, Green Arrow, hip and plucky mascot Snapper Carr and latest inductee The Atom and see the team further transform the entire nature of the American comicbook experience…

The wonderment begins with Justice League of America #20 and ‘The Mystery of Spaceman X’: an interplanetary adventure and cunning brainteaser featuring a marauding giant roaming Earth, serving up oodles of action and mystery but only really serving to whet the appetite for the pivotal classic which follows.

‘Crisis on Earth-One’ (Justice League of America #21) and ‘Crisis on Earth-Two’ (#22) combine to become one of the most important stories in DC history and arguably one of the most important tales in American comics.

When ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (Flash #123 September 1961) introduced the concept of Infinite Earths and multiple, diverse iterations of heroes to the public, pressure began almost instantly to bring back the lost heroes of the “Golden Age”. Bizarrely by modern standards, the editorial powers-that-be were hesitant, fearing that too many heroes – especially with the same name – would be silly and unmanageable, or worse yet put readers off. If only they knew what we know now…

Here the plot sees a team-up of assorted villains from two separate Earths plundering at will and trapping our heroes in their own HQ. Temporarily helpless, the JLA contrive a desperate plan to combine forces with the champions of a bygone era and alternate existence: the Justice Society of America!

It’s impossible for me to be totally objective about this saga. I was a drooling nipper in short trousers when I first read this story and the thrills haven’t diminished with this umpty-second re-reading. This is what superhero comics are all about! You really should read it and see for yourself…

Faced with the impossible task of topping themselves, creative team Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs rose to the challenge with an eccentric outer-space thriller: as ‘Drones of the Queen Bee’ the team was compelled to make the alien Zazzala immortal empress of the universe… Morevoer, even as the team combine to escape enslavement to an alien seductress, the continuity bug was growing, and the mention of the individual cases of members outside the confines of strictly JLA pages would become a mainstay of most future issues.

Alien despot Kanjar Ro returns in ‘Decoy Missions of the Justice League’: a sinister world conquest plot featuring a return engagement guest-shot for off-world adventurer Adam Strange, followed by a perplexing mystery with planet-shaking consequences that temporarily baffles the team in rousing cosmic romp ‘Outcasts of Infinity!’

In issue #26,‘Four Worlds to Conquer’ reveals the insidious revenge plot of three-eyed alien despot Despero after which a far more metaphysical menace troubled the team in ‘The “I” Who Defeated the Justice League’, despite deadly android Amazo appearing to add some solid threat to the proceedings…

The charmingly naff Headmaster Mind and a bunch of second-string super-villains tried to outfox the League in #28’s ‘Case of the Forbidden Super-Powers’ by orchestrating a UN ban on using superpowers but the real treat is saved for last in this epic collection…

‘Crisis on Earth-Three’ and ‘The Most Dangerous Earth of All!’ reprised the team-up of the Justice League and Justice Society, after the metahuman marvels of yet another alternate Earth discover the secret of multiversal travel. Unfortunately, Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring are ruthless villains from a world without heroes who see the costumed crusaders of the JLA and JSA as living practice-dummies to sharpen their evil skills upon…

With this cracking two-part thriller a tradition of annual summer team-ups was solidly entrenched in heroic lore, giving fans endless joys for years to come and making the approaching end of school holidays less gloomy than they could have been.

A little note: although the comic cover-date in America was the month by which unsold copies had to be returned – the off-sale date – export copies to Britain travelled as ballast in freighters. Thus they usually went on to those cool, spinning comic-racks the actual month printed on the front. You can now unglaze your eyes and return to the review proper now, and thank you for your patient indulgence…

With iconic covers by Sekowsky and Murphy Anderson, these tales are a perfect example of all that was best about the Silver Age of comics, combining optimism and ingenuity with bonhomie and adventure. This slice of better times also has the benefit of cherishing wonderment whilst actually being historically valid for any fan of our medium. And best of all the stories here are still captivating and enthralling transports of delight.

These classical compendia are a dedicated fan’s delight: an absolute gift for modern readers who desperately need to catch up without going bankrupt. They are also perfect to give to youngsters as an introduction into a fabulous world of adventure and magic…
© 1963, 1964, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

JLA Deluxe volume 5


By Mark Waid, Chuck Dixon, Scott Beatty, Brian Hitch, Mike S. Miller, Darryl Banks, Cliff Rathburn, J.H. Williams III, Javier Saltares, Phil Jimenez, Ty Templeton, Doug Mahnke, Mark Pajarillo, Steve Scott & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-14012-4750-8

When the Justice League of America – driving force and cornerstone of the Silver Age of Comics – was re-imagined and relaunched in 1997, the sheer bravura quality of the stories propelled the series back to the forefront of industry attention, making as many new fans as it recaptured old ones. The stories were smart, fast-paced, compelling, challengingly large-scale and drawn with effervescent vitality.

With JLA you could see on every page all the work undertaken to make it the best it could be…

The JLA were a phenomenally hot property at this time and got to star in an oversized new format. Moreover, thanks to author Waid and artists Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary and colourist Laura DePuy, the content matched the packaging. JLA: Heaven’s Ladder precedes the monthly JLA issues #47-60 which comprise the majority of this fifth Deluxe Edition (available in hardback, paperback and eBook formats) and collectively spanning October 2000 to January 2002.

Also packed into this blockbusting bonanza are snippets from JLA Secret Files #3: all combining to provide charming character yarns and astounding epics of cosmic wonder and universal upheaval which still pack a punch nearly two decades later…

Heaven’s Ladder reveals how beings of truly cosmic scale face their ultimate dissolution by almost taking the rest of the universes with them when they go.

After adding Earth to a batch of planetary baubles strung together like a necklace, stored in an incomprehensibly huge starship, the hyper gods are tackled by the comparatively infinitesimal Justice League who discover the invaders have no concept of an afterlife and are infiltrating the mythologies of the galaxy’s lower lifeforms so they can build themselves one to repose in…

As if that’s not enough, a rebel faction – determined to die graciously without polluting themselves – violently opposes accepting the assistance of lowly bacteria like humanity…

Cosmic in conception and epic in scope and delivery, Heaven’s Ladder is an astounding example of big sky comics serving as a perfect appetiser to the wild dramas which follow, beginning with a dark fable illustrated by Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary introducing a supernatural hell-queen who makes fairy tales real – but not in a good way…

‘Into the Woods’ is an extended yarn describing how an evil empress of imagination escapes from fiction and reshapes reality to suit her vicious whims. Her crusade leaves the League nonplussed and helpless, but even though Batman is no longer a member, the Dark Knight is still pulling the heroes’ strings…

‘Truth is Stranger’ (with a portentous visit to Fairyland limned by J.H. Williams III and Mick Gray) offers more horror and a glimmer of hope before Hitch, Neary, Javier Saltares and Chris Ivy bring it all to a conclusion as Fantasy and reality collide in the spectacular ‘Unhappily Ever After’

That brought up the celebratory 50th issue, and true to tradition it’s a tale resplendent with guest artists. ‘Dream Team’ reaffirmed and revitalised the heroes – who had developed a healthy distrust of Batman – through a series of pitched battles against nightmare-materialising old foe Doctor Destiny, with art from Hitch, Neary, Phil Jimenez, Ty Templeton, Doug Mahnke, Mark Pajarillo, Kevin Nowlan, Drew Geraci and Walden Wong, which segued neatly into another End-of-Days cosmic catastrophe, as a sixth-dimensional super-weapon is unleashed on our universe.

In ‘Man and Superman’ (illustrated by Mike S. Millar & Armando Durruthy) the extra-planar Cathexis come seeking the JLA’s help in recapturing their rogue wish-fulfilling “Sentergy: Id”. Sadly, it has already struck, separating Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and Plastic Man from their secret identities, rendering them into twelve incomplete and ineffectual half-men. As always, however, all is not as it seems…

Hitch & Neary resumed the art-chores as a wishing plague devastates Earth in ‘Element of Surprise’ with one unexpected benefit in the grotesque resurrection of dead hero Metamorpho, but the prognosis is poor until the now un-reformed thug Eel O’Brian (who turned over a new leaf to become the daftly heroic Plastic Man) sees which way the wind is blowing in ‘It Takes a Thief’ and leads the disjointed team’s resurgence in the apocalyptic climax ‘United we Fall’.

Th strictures of order firmly re-established and Batman back on the team, the JLA than endure a devilish attack dubbed ‘Terror Incognita’ as the sinister White Martians (who first reared their pallid, spiky heads in JLA: New World Order) return to transform Earth into their own recreational slaughterhouse.

Launching the campaign with a series of blistering personalised psychic assaults in ‘Came the Pale Riders’ (Waid, Hitch & Neary), their ever-intensifying efforts are met with valiant resistance in ‘The Harvest’ (Mike S. Miller & Dave Meikis), before Batman leads the counterpunch with plenty of guest-stars in tow, displaying ‘Mind Over Matter’ (Miller & Neary) and ultimately resulting in a calamitous crescendo and glorious triumph in ‘Dying Breath’

With no appreciable pause for breath the team are then drawn into a cross-company publishing event that saw “Jokerised” super-villains running amok throughout the DCU (see Batman: the Joker’s Last Laugh for further details).

Set deep in the icy Antarctic wastes, ‘Bipolar Disorder’ (scripted by Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty, with art from Darryl Banks & Wayne Faucher) sees magnetic malcontent and world-class loon Dr. Polaris made even crazier when infected by the Crazy Clown’s unique brand of insanity; stretching Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and Plastic Man to their utmost in a bid to preserve the planet …

This leads into a classy Christmas neo-classic as Plastic Man reveals how Santa Claus joined the JLA in the outrageously engrossing, frolicsome fable ‘Merry Christmas, Justice League… Now Die!’ by Waid, Cliff Rathburn & Paul Neary. In case you’re wondering, this one’s played for laughs, kids…

Inserted next to wrap up the proceedings are mini-treats from JLA Secret Files #3, beginning with ‘Lost Pages’ (Waid, Mark Propst & Tom McCraw), revealing the superhero community’s reactions when Batman was kicked off the team, after which Scott Beatty scripts a selection of villainous pin-up/fact file pages: ‘White Martians’ (illustrated by Dale Eaglesham &Andrew Hennessy), ‘Queen of Fables’ (Yanick Paquette), ‘The General’ (Doug Mahnke & Tom Nguyen). ‘Mageddon’ (Norm Breyfogle), ‘Qwsp’ (John McCrea & Tom Chiu) and ‘Queen Bee’ (Greg Land & Al Gordon).

Witty, engaging, challenging, beautiful and incredibly exciting, these are some of the best superhero adventures ever created: timeless, rewarding sagas that must be part of your permanent collection…
© 2000, 2001, 2002 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

JLA Deluxe volume 4


By Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Devin Grayson, J.M. DeMatteis, Howard Porter, Mark Pajarillo, Steve Scott & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1401229092 (HC)            :978-1401243852(PB)

When the Justice League of America – driving force and cornerstone of the Silver Age of Comics – was re-imagined and relaunched in 1997, the sheer bravura quality of the stories propelled the series back to the forefront of industry attention, making as many new fans as it recaptured old ones. The stories were smart, fast-paced, compelling, challengingly large-scale and drawn with effervescent vitality.

With JLA you could see on every page all the work undertaken to make it the best it could be. Moreover, their example – at least initially – was mirrored by all other creators brought in to craft the hero-team’s later adventures…

This fourth Deluxe Edition (available in hardback, paperback and eBook formats) gathers issues #32-46 of the resurgent series, spanning August 1999 to October 2000: re-presenting astounding epics of cosmic wonder and universal upheaval which still pack a punch nearly two decades later…

The action opens with ‘Inside Job’ (Waid and Devin Grayson script with art by Mark Pajarillo & Walden Wong): a tale deeply embedded in company continuity and set during the spectacular and prophetic Batman: No Man’s Land publishing event. The gripping tale of mutation, bio-warfare and government indifference references one of the League’s first cases (for which see JLA: Year One) as outlaw genetic supremacists Locus return to make quake-devastated Gotham City their private Petri-dish.

After releasing a mutagenic terror-virus that not even the JLA can combat, the genome-maniacs’ opportunistic attempts at conquest result in devastation and despair until the heroes formulate a new and evolving strategy…

Waid, Pajarillo & Wong’s then examine ‘Altered Egos’ as Batman leads a plainclothes mission to discover who – or what – is masquerading as Bruce Wayne: an unexpectedly violent mission which sees the return of the team’s most dangerous modern opponents…

As envisaged by re-originators Grant Morrison & Howard Porter, the World’s Greatest Superheroes had always been meant to tackle a progression of gargantuan epics and mind-boggling conceptual endeavours. This long-awaited cosmic spectacle had been patiently unfolding for years and culminated in a “Big Finish” saga that proved well worth the wait.

Beginning with the thematic prelude ‘The Ant and the Avalanche’ (Morrison, Porter & John Dell), the JLA faces increased super-villain violence, natural disasters and general global madness after New God Orion determines that a threat from the time of the Primal Gods is closing in on Earth. With the entire planet in bellicose turmoil, Lex Luthor and his malevolent allies – Queen Bee, Prometheus and defrocked General Wade Eiling inside the gigantic, indestructible body of the erstwhile Shaggy Man – prepare to destroy all Earth’s heroes once and for all…

‘The Guilty’ by J.M. DeMatteis, Pajarillo & Wong takes a timely sidestep to focus on debased angel Zauriel and the Hal Jordan-bonded Spectre who invades the heroes’ home to judge the past sins of the assembled Leaguers…

Cleansed and refreshed the team then embark on the six-part epic ‘World War Three’ (Morrison, Porter and Dell), starting by learning the origins of Mageddon, a semi-sentient doomsday weapon which creates hatred and violence in all living things. Now it is nearing Earth…

Responding to its presence, former Leaguer Aztek (see JLA Presents Aztek, the Ultimate Man) comes out of retirement as Luthor’s team ambushes the team in their lunar citadel with devastating success…

Meanwhile on Earth, the inexorably approaching God-Weapon is driving the populace – human and not – into manic blood-frenzy whilst the hard-pressed superhero community finds that even they are not immune to Mageddon’s malign influence…

When even Heaven refuses to act in Earth’s defence, all hope seems lost until the long-missing Flash returns with crucial assistance from the end of time and space and Zauriel recruits aid from a most unexpected source, but even this is not enough until one hero makes the ultimate sacrifice…

Given a fighting chance, humanity takes its fate into its own disparate and temporarily super-powered hands for a spectacular and cathartic cosmic climax to delight fans of every persuasion and preference.

After battling every combination of ancient, contemporary and futuristic foes, the World’s Greatest Superheroes next found themselves pitted against a miniscule and most poignant threat in ‘Half a Mind to Save a World’, an intriguing take on Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage from Dan Curtis Johnson, Pajarillo & Wong, wherein The Atom leads a JLA team on a mission to forcibly evacuate an advanced civilisation of bacteria that have taken up residence in a small boy’s brain and begun strip-mining his dendrites. Of course, the bacteria aren’t that keen on moving…

Often cited as one of the best Batman stories ever created, multi-part paean to paranoia Tower of Babel concludes this collection. The saga begins with immortal eco-terrorist Ra’s Al Ghul’s latest plan to winnow Earth’s human population to manageable levels well underway…

In ‘Survival of the Fittest’ (Waid, Porter & Drew Geraci), a series of perfectly planned pre-emptive strikes cripple Martian Manhunter, Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Plastic Man and Green Lantern whilst Batman is taken out of the game by the simple expedient of stealing his parents’ remains from their graves.

With the Dark Knight distracted and his fellow superheroes utterly disabled, the full scheme begins as humanity suddenly loses the ability to read. Books, newspapers, complicated machinery instructions, labels on medicine bottles – all are now gibberish. The death toll starts to mount…

In ‘Seven Little Indians’ as the League attempt to regroup and fight back, Batman realises that the tactics and tools used to take out his allies – now including Superman – were his own secret contingency measures, designed in case he ever had to fight his super-powered best friends…

In ‘Protected by the Cold’ Batman leads a counter-attack despite the shock and fury of his betrayed comrades, and as the final phase kicks in with humans losing the power of speech too, the disunited team mounts a last-ditch assault on Al Ghul in ‘Harsh Words’ (illustrated by Steve Scott & Mark Propst). The same team handled the epilogue where the recovered heroes angrily seek to understand how their trusted friend could have countenanced such treachery…

Compelling, challenging and genuinely uplifting, this tale is a high-mark in modern superhero comics and one no fan can afford to miss. Morrison & Porter’s JLA was never afraid of looking back fondly or laughing at itself: an all-out effort to be Thrilling, Smart and Fun.

This is the kind of joyous fare nobody should ever outgrow and these are stories to be read and re-read forever…
© 1999, 2000, 2010 DC Comics.  All Rights Reserved.

JLA Deluxe volume 3


By Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Mark Millar, Howard Porter, Mark Pajarillo, Arne Jorgensen John Dell & various (DC Comics) ISBN: 978-1-4012-3832-2

Infinitely rewarding comics concepts such as the Justice League of America generally wax and wane with terrifying regularity over the decades: constantly being reinvented for fresh generations before tailing off until the next big idea.

After numerous reboots came and went, in 1997 Grant Morrison, Howard Porter & John Dell, took their shot: offering a back-to-basics line-up of heroes battling in cutting-edge conceptual chillers and thrillers.

The result was a gleaming paradigm of comicbook perfection which yet again started magnificently before gradually losing the attention and favour of its originally rabid fan-base. Apparently, we’re a really shallow, jaded bunch, us comics fans…

These stories were smart, fast-paced, compelling, challengingly large-scale and drawn with effervescent vitality. With JLA you could see on every page all the work undertaken to make it the best it could be. Moreover their example – at least initially – was mirrored by all other creators brought in to craft the hero-team’s later adventures…

This third Deluxe Edition (available in hardback, paperback and eBook formats) gathers issues #18-31 of the resurgent series, spanning May 1998 to July 1999: re-presenting astounding epics of cosmic wonder and universal upheaval which still pack a punch nearly two decades later…

With a team that consists of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Hourman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Connor Hawke (a second generation Green Arrow), Plastic Man, Huntress, Steel, fallen angel Zauriel, covert information resource Oracle and New Gods Orion and Big Barda you’d imagine there would be little the JLA had to worry about, but you’d be wrong…

Scripter Mark Waid steps in for ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Julian September’: a scary, surreal and utterly enthralling two-part thriller that begins with ‘Synchronicity’ (illustrated by Porter & Dell) which finds the World’s Greatest Heroes hard-pressed to combat the rewriting of Reality by a luck-bending scientist. Walden Wong then joins the art team to conclude the spectacular last-chance battles against a world riotously remaking itself in the ‘Seven Soldiers of Probability’ – featuring a particularly impressive guest-shot by lapsed former JLA-er the Atom

Adam Strange then makes one of his far too infrequent appearances to combat a splendid ‘Mystery in Space’ (Waid, Jorgensen & Meikis) as the League travels to distant planet Rann only to be betrayed and enslaved by one of their oldest allies; an epic encounter resoundingly resolved in the Doug Hazlewood-inked ‘Strange New World’, after which Morrison, Porter & Dell return for a multi-layered extravaganza as the team’s most uncanny old foe resurfaces…

‘It’ finds the world under the mental sway of insidious space invader Starro, where only a little boy, aided by the (post Neil Gaiman) Morpheus/Lord of Dreams/Sandman can turn the tide in the breathtaking finale ‘Conquerors’

Issues #24 begins with Morrison, Porter & Dell introducing a brand-new super-team in ‘Executive Action’ as the American military, in the form of General Wade Eiling, announces its own metahuman unit “The Ultramarine Corps”.

The four-person squad is officially tasked with pre-emptively defending America from paranormal threats, but as the JLA (and long-term DC fans) are well aware, Eiling has a long history of covert, “black-bag” and just plain illegal operations compelling the JLA to remain duly suspicious…

When the Corps steal the artificial body of League bête noir Shaggy Man everyone concerned knows it bodes badly, but even they are unprepared for ‘Scorched Earth’ wherein Eiling pits his Ultramarines and the US army against the heroes…

Meanwhile the New God JLA-ers are preparing for the imminent cosmic threat they had enlisted to confront whilst Batman, Huntress and Plastic Man infiltrate the General’s base to discover his real motives…

The spectacular, revelatory conclusion comes in ‘Our Army At War’ (with art by Mark Pajarillo & Wong) as Eiling’s plans are exposed and the truth about the Ultramarines uncovered. The net result is the disillusioned, lied-to super-soldiers setting up their own operation independent of any national influence and beginning to gather like-minded costumed champions for a First-Strike force. They would soon return…

Time-travelling future-robot Hourman replaced the Martian Manhunter for a while at this juncture as Mark Millar, Pajarillo, Wong & Marlo Alquiza craft ‘The Bigger They Come…’ a delightfully retrospective yarn which sees size-changing physicist Ray Palmer return to active duty as the Atom after power-stealing super-android Amazo is accidentally reactivated.

The main event of this volume is JLA/JSA team-up ‘Crisis Times Five’ by Morrison, Porter & Dell. The Thunderbolt Genie of Johnny Thunder returns with a new master and reality is grievously assaulted by unnatural disasters and magical monsters. Somehow, Triumph, an old friend and foe of the League is at the heart of it all, but promptly finds himself trapped in a true Devil’s Bargain…

With reason on the run in ‘World Turned Upside Down…’ the assembled champions of League and Society battle rampant magical chaos, all the while revealing and retrofitting a little more secret history. The assorted sprites, Djinn and pixies of the Silver Age DC Universe are revealed to be something far more sinister, and ‘Worlds Beyond’ finds those wishing wonders reduced to civil war; concluding with ‘Gods & Monsters’ as a vast army of united heroes save reality in the nick of time and space…

Compelling, challenging and never afraid of nostalgia or laughing at itself, JLA was an all-out effort to be Smart and Fun. For that brief moment in the team’s long, chequered career these were definitely the “World’s Greatest Superheroes”, in increasingly ambitious epics reminding everybody of the fact. This is the kind of thrill nobody ever outgrows repackaged in graphic novels to be read and re-read forever…
© 1998, 1999, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.