By Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire, Al Gordon & various (DC Comics)
The follow-up volume (see Vol 1) of the (then) All-New, All-Hilarious Justice League completes the year long story-arc that introduced businessman and 1980’s archetype Max Lord, who reshaped the World’s greatest super-team for his own mysterious purposes.
The stories themselves (Justice League Annual #1 and issues #8-12 of the monthly comic book) are taken from a period when the major comics publishers were first developing the marketing strategies of the “Braided Mega-Crossover Event” – basically a story involving every publication in a company’s output, for a limited time period – so a compilation like this perforce includes adventures that seem confusing because there are “middles” with no beginnings or endings. In this case the problem is deftly solved by inserting (mercifully) brief text pages explaining what’s happened elsewhere. It also doesn’t hurt that being a comedy-adventure, plot isn’t as vital as character and dialogue in this instance.
‘Germ Warfare’ from the annual, is drawn by Bill Willingham and inked by Dennis Janke, P. Craig Russell, Bill Wray, R. Campanella, Bruce Patterson and Dick Giordano. It is an uncharacteristically grim horror tale involving inhuman sacrifice and sentient Germ-warfare. It is followed by ‘A Moving Experience’, where the heroes take possession of their various new UN embassy buildings, possibly one of the funniest single stories in American comic book history.
‘Seeing Red’ is the first of two episodes forming part of the Millennium crossover alluded to 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, so 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 with an oil refinery, but by the second part, ‘Soul of the Machine,’ the team are in space attacking the Manhunter home planet 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 volume ends by resolving all the mysteries of the first year by exposing the secret mastermind behind the League’s reformation. With ‘Constructions!’ and ‘Who is Maxwell Lord?’ the series comes full circle, the whacky humour proves to have been the veneer over a sharp and subtle conspiracy plot worthy of the classic team, the action kicks into high gear and the characters are seen to have evolved from shallow, if competent buffoons into a tightly knit team of world-beating super-stars – but still pretty darned addicted to buffoonery.
Great art, superb action and a light touch mark this series as a lost classic. Read these and agitate for further compilations to be released.
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