This week saw the San Diego ComicCon take place. As usual, there were tons of reveals and teasers about upcoming projects from all the major publishing houses. One such reveal was the trailer for the upcoming Justice League film.
The trailer is kind of awesome, but a great deal of it seems to center around Bruce Wayne talking to (or about) Aquaman. The bar is always set low for me when it comes to comic-based movies. One need only be let down by the X-Men films again and again and again to feel jaded. Still, this looks promising.
With the JL film being hyped (somewhat) I figured now is a good time to try out my feature:
Here, we’ll take a look at comic books of the past. Today, I am happy to talk about my favorite incarnation of the team as we explore Justice League #1 (1987)
Backstory for the unfamiliar:
Since 1960, the Justice League of America has been a team made up of the most powerful and prominent heroes in the DCU. The Big 7 (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter) would save the world time and time again, with other heroes coming and going throughout the years like Green Arrow, Hawkman and Hawkwoman, Black Canary, etc.
By the 80’s, the League was a mess. Inspired by the success of teen team books, and feeling that the big hitters of the DCU needed reinventing, the Justice League moved to Detroit and brought in some young blood. At this point the team looked like this:
New heroes like Vixen (the winner of the new crew), Vibe, Steel and Gypsy joined with veterans Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Zatana and Elongated man and… well… saved Detroit? I don’t know. I, like many, was not too crazy about this team. The big guns were away, the ones who remained were not happy and the new heroes were, for the most part, boring as all fuck.
After the Crisis on Infinite Earths the League really fell apart. Sales were down, fans were not pleased and DC realized that the time for cancellation was at hand. During their Legends crossover (which I’ve never read and have always wanted to) the League disbanded and a heart-heavy Martian Manhunter rang the death knell.
Though the longstanding series had been cancelled, it was simultaneously announced that a new team would fill the role. And that brings us to:
The dawn of a new era. Rumor, myth and fact-checking has it that Keith Giffen, the man in charge of relaunching the League (and a personal favorite writer of mine, guilty and sincere pleasures alke) wanted to use this relaunch as a chance to get the team back to the big guns. Sadly, DC was not open to the idea.
You see, post-Crisis DC was a weird time, with heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman getting totally revamped and having their histories rewritten. In this new universe, these guys were never on the League in the hayday because, well, they weren’t around yet. Confusing? Don’t worry. The whole thing is a mess of continuity clusterfucking that would carry on for decades. You don’t need to worry your beautiful face about it here, though. Just be cool and listen.
The only heroes of the big 7 that Giffen could get access to were Batman and Martian Manhunter. Since it is an oft-repeated saying that the League must always have a Green Lantern, it was decided that lesser-known Lantern Guy Gardner would be joining the ranks.
To tie the League to its own history, Black Canary came aboard. As for the rest? They were all relatively unknown heroes who had not seen true popularity or attention over the years.
So why, you may ask, would DC gamble on a team of lesser-known heroes when they had just failed so terribly with the same mistake? Mainly because Giffen wanted to make the Justice League into something new, bizarre and, most importantly, hilarious.
The medium of comic books is an interesting one because, more often than not, writers take their material far too seriously. This can work, and it has time and time again, but when the industry follows this formula for every book it becomes bogged down in boring and gritty stories at every angle. Justice League broke with this tradition and allowed for damn silly adventuring.
The issue opens with Guy Gardner sitting alone in a former League hideaway in Happy Harbor, Rhode Island. From the start, Gardner’s thoughts paint a picture of the thick-skulled, shoot-first-ask-questions-later character that he would become. Though he was not a new character by a longshot, he still did not have many defining character traits except for being a jerk to more established Green Lanterns.
Of course, the first member to arrive is Black Canary. A feminist, and the on again/off again beaux of Green Arrow, the conflict starts right away when she begins to speak with Gardner about the ghosts of the League’s past.
Establishing himself as a total cock, Gardner continues to insult each member as they arrive.
Mr Miracle and his dwarf manager Oberon. A character from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, Miracle is an escape artist and a god who found his way to Earth and performed in the circus for a bit.
Captain Marvel. Also known as Shazam (because of the obvious legal problems with DC’s biggest competitor over the name), Cap is really Billy Bastion, a young boy who is able to call upon immense power to become a Superman-type powerhouse. In this series, Giffen did not differentiate between the personality of Billy and that of Captain Marvel (as other writers tended to do) and it made for some hilarious conversations.
The group comments about how so many reporters and camera crews are outside the base, trying to cover the story of this first meeting of the new Justice League.
Martian Manhunter arrives with Blue Beetle and laments about the final fate of the Justice League Detroit. In a somber moment, he brings up the images of Gypsy, Vixen, and the late Vibe and Steel. After a moment of silence, Gardner shows his irreverence once more by trying to assert his Stallone-style dominance over the others.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the mysterious Maxwell Lord IV is sitting in his office and watching a dozen or so monitors, most of which are covering the Justice League’s meeting. Lord watches with interest and scribbles down “Justice League of America” before crossing out “America” and smiling to himself.
Intrigue! What’s this sonofabitch up to? Who is he even? Since this review is on a comic from 1987, readers familiar with DC might already know the answer to this. But, hey, whatever, I’m pretending like it’s all new to me.
Back at the ranch, tensions are still rising. Gardner makes some sexist comments towards Canary, sweeps Oberon away with a giant broom and picks a fight with Martian Manhunter. Everybody gets in on the brawl.
Just in time for Batman to arrive with Dr. Fate.
Part of the fun of this book is watching characters play so heavily into their type. Batman, of course, takes it upon himself to set Gardner straight and he does it with two words.
Lovely. The Batman/Gardner fued would be one of the best early storylines in this book, culminating in perhaps one of the best (and shortest) fights in comic book history that doubled as a true LOL moment. But, I get ahead of myself. This is still issue #1!
Things settle down, Batman reads the charter, everyone is bored.
Meanwhile, at the United Nations in New York City, Dr. Kimiyo Hoshi is fighting with a beeping Justice League signal device.
You see, Hoshi is a scientist specializing in solar tech, but she is also the hero known as Dr. Light. Hoshi is the second DC character to have this moniker, as the first was a deranged villain who constantly picked fights with the Teen Titans.
During the Crisis, Hoshi was struck by some cosmic rays, because comics, and became Dr. Light (sporting a costume that was essentially the same costume worn by the villain). After the Crisis, Light did nothing of interest, and her inclusion in this title was a way to establish her.
Hoshi pleads with the device to shut up and flashes back to a mysterious stranger who came into her office, knowing her identity as Dr. Light, and offering her membership in the League. The plot thickens!
As Hoshi snaps out of it, she encounters some terrorists who are surprised to see she is not with all the other hostages. Hoshi, meanwhile, is surprised that terrorists had taken over the UN while she was in the bathroom. Drama!
Terrorism might be a concept that is heavily associated with the post-9/11 world, but the 80’s seemed to love using terrorists as a threat/plot device/whateveryouwant. Every militant group wanted to blow up this or that. This particular terror-team has all the makings of a stereotypical group from this era: their leader has a beard, one is a creepy chauvinist and one is a woman. Comic book teams all had at least one woman character during this time, regardless of how important or useless the team in question was. I guess it was a way of being diverse (slow steps, obvi) but I honestly don’t think including at least one female in every terrorist cel was necessary. Its like, “Look! Women are terrorists too! Equality, ya’ll!”
So Light, being led to the rest of the hostages in the UN, hatches a plan. She realizes the signal device, which she had been so frustrated with moments before, would also call the League in to her aid. Holy, Chekhov’s Gun, amiright? She clicks a button and…
Black Canary receives the message! Batman is confused, as all the members of the League are present. Wait, what? So who gave Dr. Light her signal device? Was it the mysterious Maxwell Lord?
No time to think, as Batman takes action immediately.
The team arrives at the UN, minus Dr. Fate who decides to be as mysterious as ever and just disappears en route.
This is where the team acts as a fucking badass hero unit under the leadership of Batman.
Miracle learns the nature of the bomb the terrorists are threatening the UN with.
Gardner uses his ring to create a field around the UN so no one can get in or out.
Canary and Marvel use their strength and agility to knock the hell out of most of the terrorists.
Beetle, hanging in his giant transport known as The Bug, uses his tech to hack into the comm system and confuse the terrorists.
And, finally, Martian Manhunter turns invisible, sneaks into the hostages and discloses a plan to Light. The end result is quite awesome.
The leader of the baddies, not wanting to look a fool, swears that he will kill himself and that it will cause the bomb to detonate and destroy them all. Batman calls his bluff and the leader, not wanting to be dissed by Batman, shoots himself in the head. The bomb does not go off.
The issue ends with Maxwell Lord watching the coverage of the events at the UN, which includes the first of a longstanding running gage of League members telling reporters to “Get those cameras out of my face!” Lord, talking to himself, reveals that he was behind the terrorist attack and that he sabotaged the bomb so that it would not detonate.
Justice League #1 is a glowing example of what a comic book can be. The silly tone is off-set by the reality of it all (the terrorist shoots himself in the head, for crying out loud) and the interactions between the characters sets up a lot of future drama and excitement.
That’s all I have this week, folks. If you’re curious about this incarnation of the Justice League, and you don’t feel like waiting around until I find time to review the next issue, you can purchase the first story arc in graphic novel form from Amazon.
Until next time, be well and thanks for listening to my rambles.