Ask me what my favorite era of the Justice League happens to be, and I would have to decide between two very different periods: Grant Morrison’s classic, Silver Age modernized style epic run in the 90s and Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ more comedic run in the late 80s to early 90s. I covered one of those earlier this week, so let’s hit the other one now with the first volume of Justice League International, reprinting the first seven issues.
I came to this series a bit late in its original run, but then I was able to go back and read many of the older issues through the magic of the back issue bin. And at first glance, this is a really odd team. How did such disparate characters like Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, and Guy Gardner end up on the Justice League in the first place? Particularly since they didn’t seem to be Earth’s Greatest Heroes so much as a bunch of guys mocking each other and not fighting evil all that much considering their more epic late period battles were often against one-eyed alley cats or a tabloid reporter who won a bunch of supervillain tech with a really lucky hand in a poker game.
The earlier issues somewhat answer that question, and what it doesn’t, the Legends mini-series did. Legends, which also introduced the Suicide Squad, did present a Justice League team that made sense. If this post-Crisis world was a combined Earth with one history, then yes, characters like Blue Beetle, Captain Marvel (his name is not Shazam), and Dr. Fate would be members of the League because they were prominent superheroes in their own right on their respective Earths now merged into one. Toss in Mr. Miracle to represent the New Gods, Batman, Black Canary, and the Martian Manhunter as the old pros, and finally include Guy Gardner as the resident Green Lantern because someone thought that just because the Corps required its members to be honest and fearless but not necessarily nice, and you have the makings of an interesting team.
It would be interesting also due to the clashing egos of Guy and Batman and the in-universe relative inexperience of many of the others, including Dr. Light (gone within four issues) and Booster Gold (DC’s first post-Crisis attempt at making a new iconic hero), and you have a team that is going to look dysfunctional. Character and personality were always the key to this era of the League.
So why not let them act like squabbling coworkers who could barely stand each other in many cases?
And therein lies the fun of what plotter Keith Giffen and dialogue writer J.M. DeMatteis came up with. Combine the whole thing with artist Kevin Maguire’s highly expressive faces, and you have the makings of damn good comics. And as it is, we got damn good comics.
Besides, for all this group is known for its humor, they did start off fighting legitimate threats, and even at its goofiest, the series could turn on a dime and drop the League into a serious story as needed. This volume shows the League battling the well-meaning Champions of Angor and the twisted Grey Man while someone manipulates them behind the scenes for his or her own purposes. Yes, it may look like Max Lord, but there seem to be others out there as well.
Besides, this was the series, and it’s in this very volume, that gave us the ONE PUNCH. See it above.
Fortunately, this series aged well, and it’s still among my favorite Justice League eras. It hadn’t quite hit its stride yet in this volume, but it turned out Giffen and DeMatteis worked well together on this, their first collaboration, and given the series’ rep, it’s odd neither man was much known for his humor outside of Giffen’s occasional Ambush Bug story. 9 out of 10 BWA-HA-HAs.