Justice League #1 (May 1987)

Previously on the JLI Reread: Justice League The Story So Far.

1-justice-leagueTHE PACKAGING: I own Justice League: A New Beginning, a trade collection of the first 6 issues of the 1987- run billed simply as Justice League, plus issue #7 where it was rebranded as Justice League International. The collection comes with a handy essay by editor Andrew Helfer on the behind the scenes shenanigans that led to this reboot of Justice League and provides all kinds of insight into the new book’s format, creative team and general philosophy.

THE CREATIVE TEAM: Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis writing (specifically Giffen plotting and DeMatteis writing dialogue), with DC newbie Kevin Maguire and his characteriffic faces taking on pencil duties. Issue #1 is inked by Terry Austin & lettered by Bob Lappan.

THE PITCH: Coming out of the perceived failure of “Justice League Detroit,” this book was supposed to bring back the glory years of the Justice League, but it ran into some serious problems right from the start: the book’s cast of characters were supposed to be decided based on the big Legends comic event which hadn’t been written yet, and several of the Obviously We Want Them candidates such as Superman and Wonder Woman were off limits because of creative changes happening in their solo books. (This is a theme, we’ll come back to it) Helfer, Giffen and the team they assembled had to plan a book that would work with a rotating, possibly random, maybe-we-won’t-know-until-the-last-minute collection of superheroes, and so they decided the following:

1) why not make this the story about what superheroes do when they’re off duty?

2) yeah if we’re doing that it should probably be funny

3) everything is Maxwell Lord’s fault. (*Invents Maxwell Lord*)

While Legends was ostensibly the launchpad for this title, it was the slightly less recent Crisis that really affected which characters were chosen; this version of the Justice League picked up several dangling threads from that comics event, providing a home and a chance at development for many characters who had been created or massively redesigned for Crisis and then cast adrift in the sea of ‘not currently appearing in any comic.’

THE TEAM: In issue 1, the newly reassembled Justice League of America includes Batman, Black Canary, Martian Manhunter, Blue Beetle, Mister Miracle (with his pal Oberon), Captain Marvel, Dr Fate and Green Lantern (Guy Gardner). We also get introduced to mysterious CEO of Innovative Concepts, Maxwell Lord. Dr Light (Kimiyo Hoshi) is recruited for this new League, but as we learn, the official team had no idea this had happened.

THE STORY: The new League assemble in the high tech headquarters set in their old cave (let’s hope they’ve updated the tech since the late 60’s), and start picking fights with each other immediately. Dr Light is caught up in a hostage situation at the United Nations, and alerts the Justice League to the emergency. Wondering why she even has a communicator, the team race into action and end the siege. The mystery bomber is mysteriously shot when no one is looking. By the end of the issue, we learn that Maxwell Lord, who has been doodling his plans for the new Justice League, was behind it all, though he never provided the bomber a firing pin. Oh, that rascally Max!

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THE CHARACTERS: This issue makes so much more sense after reading Helfer’s essay in the trade! Some of these characters will be integral to this version of the League (Blue Beetle, you’re hooome!) and others, I’m not sure why they turned up (Captain Marvel, why are you even). So far the format of the comic is very much “let’s throw in as many character conflicts in as possible and see who wants to punch each other by the end”. Guy Gardner dominates this issue, which is appropriate considering that he will be the most League-significant Green Lantern for nearly a decade. Also, he’s the one that everyone wants to punch.

Guy is a divisive character, mostly because he is a horrible, no good human being. He is sexist, racist, arrogant, rude. But having a complete asshole in the team is so much more realistic than having everyone be nice to each other. Guy is a very credible example of what happens when a terrible person gets superpowers. Like Dwight from the Office, we hate him, and the characters in the show hate him, and everyone has to put up with his bullshit, and then suddenly years later you turn around and realise he’s the most complex character in the ensemble. Guy is important to the story, and his very unlikeability is key to the format of this comic.

Speaking of unlikeable assholes: Batman is also one. He waltzes into the comic expecting everyone to bow and scrape and listen to his growly orders because he’s the goddamn Batman, but he has terrible people management skills. The whole thing plays out a lot like that whole sub-genre of Teen Wolf fanfic about how Derek fails as an alpha, and has to learn not to treat the pack like crap.

J’onn J’onnz the Martian Manhunter, AKA the Team Dad, is grieving his last team, and gets a few genuinely poignant moments marking the transition from tragedy to comedy. This is important because he is going to be the heart of this team, and will often make a serious face when everyone around him is cracking wise.

Black Canary is cranky. I love that she is written as kind of an asshole here too – she has a chip on her shoulder and is not above using her status as a member of the ‘real’ (ie version before the previous version) Justice League to remind everyone of their place in the pecking order.

Dr Fate brings nothing to the party, and Captain Marvel gets to join in on some of the bickering. Mister Miracle is the one of the extra bodies who is going to stick around, but his grumpy little person sidekick Oberon is even more important. They’re still settling in and are yet to make an impression, which is also true for (my beloved) Blue Beetle, whose biggest contribution to this issue is the Bug, his flying vehicle.

Kimiyo Hoshi/Dr Light is one of the standout characters in this issue, getting a real plot and some mystery, plus providing us with yet another example of a Justice League team that starts out with more than one woman in the lineup. We don’t get to see her in costume, except on the cover! Her powers are pretty ace.

THE COMEDY: Yeah, it’s not actually that funny. Some of this is because the humour has dated, but also because, despite the whole ‘Bwahaha’ reputation of this era of the Justice League, it isn’t trying for overt slapstick — there’s a lot of banter, highly weighted towards sarcasm, and a lot of angry characterisation. All of these things work, but it’s more dramedy than sitcom. J.M DeMatteis is doing similar things with this comic than he was with Justice League Detroit, only now he’s not actively trying to rip our hearts out, and the art is better.

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THE ART: Kevin Maguire’s faces make this comic. His style is so expressive and animated, even — and I can’t stress this enough — when he drawing women. He’s not afraid to make his characters ugly (see: Guy Gardner) or goofy, and he sets the tone for an entirely different kind of superhero book. He also does some great filmic layouts, taking shots from odd angles and generally making this look like a movie. His Black Canary is a revelation, because for once, the focus is on her face, not her hair+boobs+legs. Having a female character pull as many twisty faces as the blokes is pretty great — and she looks completely different to Kimiyo in every respect, not just hair colour!

THE KITCHEN SINK: Already, the stories are revolving around the characters, our characters. The two main narrative lines of this issue are: 1) Guy Gardner thinks he can get away with declaring himself leader of the Justice League, and this is supremely annoying to everyone but especially Batman; 2) Maxwell Lord knows that he is going to end up leader of the Justice League, and is manipulating everyone to a point where they take that for granted.

Wow, he’s basically gaslighting the entire League. Something to think about.

A moment of silence for Black Canary’s costume, the worst costume that ever costumed. This is the first of many attempts to get Dinah out of those (embarrassing but iconic) fishnets and into something that an actual martial artist would wear. It’s… well. It’s sweet when people in the 1980’s think it’s a good time to make decisions about clothes.

mister-miracleBONUS CHARACTER HISTORY: Mister Miracle, Oberon & Big Barda!

Scott Free was an alien refugee and circus escape artist who had his own comic (and multiple spin offs) in the 1970’s, created by Jack Kirby.

Born on the planet New Genesys to its ruler Highfather, Scott was part of an heir exchange program with Orion, son of the galactic despot Darkseid on Apokolips to guarantee peace between their planets. Raised in creepy Granny Goodness’ creepy orphanage, Scott rebelled against his totalitarian surroundings, and was trained in secret as a revolutionary.

Eventually, Scott escaped and fled to Earth (escape is kind of his thing), where he was trained in the aforementioned circus and took on the identity of escape artist Mr Miracle. Back on his home planets/s, intergalactic war started up again, thanks to Scott breaking the original contract.

In the circus, Scott befriended Oberon, a cranky wisecracking little person, and was reunited with his true love, Big Barda, the equally rebellious former heir to Granny Goodness’s Battalion of Female Furies.

Words can not describe how amazing Big Barda is.

In the original comics run of Mister Miracle and other “Fourth World” titles from 1971-1980, Scott married Barda, and with Oberon at their side, toured the world in the circus while battling the various forces of Darkseid sent against them. Within a year and a half of Scott (and later Barda) being reintroduced to DC continuity here in Justice League International, Mister Miracle was relaunched as a title that ran for three years, following a now-retired Scott and Barda through their adventures living in the suburbs, with the inevitable humorous results of alien warriors and circus folk trying to act like mundanes.

doctor_light_kimiyo_hoshi_0001BONUS BONUS CHARACTER HISTORY: Dr Light

Not to be confused by the male supervillain with the same codename, Kimiyo Hoshi was a character created for Crisis on Infinite Earths (see: Justice League, the story so far).

An expert Japanese astronomer (later revealed to be a medical doctor and proficient in many other Sciences Of Convenience), Dr Hoshi becomes obsessed with the cosmic phenomenon leading to the Crisis disaster, and is shot by a “Devastating Beam of Energy” which grants her the superpower of “Photonics” as well as the previously-used codename Dr Light.

She is set up as an antagonist, but realises the error of her ways upon the death of Supergirl, and is inspired to help Superman in his battle against the Anti-Monitor.

Except of course, that in the wake of the Crisis, when all continuities were rewritten, Supergirl never existed, so Dr Light’s own backstory was changed to reflect this: she was now inspired by the vague “Other Heroes™“

Her arrival here in Justice League is the first anyone has seen her since Crisis, and she will later go on to be a vital, long-standing member of Justice League Europe.

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2 replies on “Justice League #1 (May 1987)”

  1. Grant Watson says:

    I’m a fan of the Mister Miracle run that spun off from this.

    • tansyrr says:

      I’m really tempted to hunt it down – I only ever caught a couple of issues and I really like the glimpses I saw. Big Barda is one of my all time favourites.

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