Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #213: Formerly Known as the Justice League by Giffen, DeMatteis, Maguire & Rubinstein

How far back am I looking today?

Well, Formerly Known as the Justice League collects a miniseries that came out in 2003, so that's fifteen years.

But that miniseries was itself explicitly a throwback to the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire Justice League series, which launched in 1987 -- so that's another fifteen-ish years further back, for a total of thirty-one years.

So we're looking back at something that was itself looking back; revisiting a throwback.

The '87 Justice League was a reset: the previous series had gotten serious in ways that weren't resonating as well with the audience, and the core membership of the League had dwindled to a bunch of characters who couldn't be called third-string only because they were invented for that series and didn't have much of a life before or after it. Writers Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis got permission to use at least some of DC's bigger characters -- Batman, most notably, plus Captain Marvel in the Big Boy Scout role usually reserved for Superman, and the Green Lantern no one liked, Guy Gardner. Otherwise, this League consisted of more also-rans and never-wases, like the Martian Manhunter (whose claim to fame was that he was always in the JLA), the lightly rebooted Doctor Fate, the brand-new Doctor Light, the freshly arrived from lands of Charlton Blue Beetle, and always-seemed-like-he-should-be-bigger-than-he-ever-actually-was Mister Miracle.

Giffen and DeMatteis gave their adventures a somewhat lighter tone than was common at the time -- or has been common since -- which worked very well, and the series was very popular. And Maguire cemented his status as a hot artist by showing an equal facility for broad comedy and standard superhero action.

(Honestly, the tone was more an update of the standard Silver Age goofiness of a whole swath of DC Comics than anything entirely new -- DC has always had a silly streak a mile wide -- but it seemed new and different, and that was what mattered.)

It was successful enough that a lot of characters were part of that version of the League -- everyone from Animal Man to Captain Atom to Tasmanian Devil.

But eventually it became the '90s, and the Giffen/DeMatteis Leagues -- there were separate teams for America and Europe by that point, plus a one-off really jokey Antarctica version -- were getting passe. Grim and gritty was in, also pouches, also gritting your teeth really hard, and artists who couldn't draw feet. And so the goofy era of Justice League ended, as all things end, with a whimper and the birth of something much sillier in its own way.

But everybody's nostalgic for something, and enough people remembered fondly the bwa-ha-ha era of the League that the old band got back together for a reunion concert not quite ten years after they broke up. And this is the souvenir tour CD of that concert.

The story is set in something not quite congruent with then-current DC continuity; Maxwell Lord, the once and future businessman/leader of the JL, is seen here as his old pleasantly conniving self while he was simultaneously gleefully murdering superheroes and getting killed in turn in Identity Crisis.

But that's just fine: this continuity is better than the "real" one, anyway. And the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire team hit the ground running from the best of their old work and don't let up -- this starts from as silly as the old series got, but basically stays on that level the whole time.  Again, it is a more-or-less serious superhero comic, with worlds being saved and all that jazz, but they're all odd people, who bicker and complain and obsess about things like normal human beings do.

Giffen and DeMatteis make the dialogue sparkle and pop, like the world's least likely screwball comedy. And Maguire's crisp linework and knack for expressions sells the action -- his people are deeply physical, and not just in the usual superhero punching-people way. They shrug and raise eyebrows and smirk and gloat and pace and sigh. (Inking him this time out -- and, as one credit box implies, drawing all the backgrounds, is Joe Rubinstein.)

There is superhero stuff, as there should be, but the story here is one-half "putting the band back together" and one-half "and then unexpected stuff derails your plans." Again, a lot like life.

This is not high art. It might not even count as "great comics." But it's fun, and funny, and if superhero comics were more like this more of the time, I'd still read 'em like I used to in 1987.

No comments:

Post a Comment