Monday, March 31, 2008

Scott91777 on the Giffen-Dematteis-McGuire Justice League: The Roster

[Guest blogger Scott joins us here with a look at the classic JL. Scott's title, below, reminds me of the Oscar Wilde line about life -- far too important to be taken seriously.]

JLI: A not-so-serious book that should be taken more seriously

This will, hopefully, be the first in a series of blogs examining the classic Giffen-Dematteis-MaGuire run on the Justice League from the late 80s. It seems that lately DC has been doing everything in their power to undo what was great about this book (killing Blue Beetle, making Max Lord Truly evil before killing him) and make it almost as though it never existed. I definitely feel that it's a book that should be treated with a bit more respect than that. Too many superhero books these days tend to take themselves too seriously; the grim and gritty era only gave birth to the Alex Ross inspired era of overly revered versions of 'iconic characters' (in case you're wondering who Ross considers 'Iconic'... pretty much any comic character created before 1985) not to mention the era of the super-mega-crossover. Looking back at this series, it is a breath of fresh air to see a superhero book that didn't take itself so damned seriously. Giffen-Dematteiss-MaGuire managed to produce a series that was fun, funny and, at the same time, a pretty solid good-old-fashioned superhero team book.

First of all, a bit of context is necessary here. This series was first published in 1987, in the wake of both Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Comics had entered the Grim and Gritty era and, while this series was not necessarily a reaction to or deconstruction of that movement (the way that, say, much of Grant Morrison's work at the time was), it, undoubtedly, had a certain indirect influence on the way the series was about to take shape.

Before I get into the actual issues of the series, I thought I'd give a bit of background on how this League came to be and examine it's roster. I want to talk about why I think various past members were omitted and why these characters were chosen. These are mostly just my opinions and educated guesses so if anyone happens to have any inside info or differing opinions; I'm completely open.

First of all, DC's premiere super-team had been languishing for some time prior to this re-launch. An attempt to revitalize the team by moving them to Detroit (?!) and replacing the more well known roster with third string and newly created heroes only served to further this decline. The DC crossover Legends resulted in the dissolution of the old league and the formation of this one. On a larger scale, Legends was very much intended as a fresh start for the DCU as a whole. Massive revisions to classic characters were going on across the board (mainly as a result of Crisis on Infinite Earths rendering most of the old continuity nil).

The only one of "The Big Three" to make the cut here was Batman. Post-Crisis a lot of DC characters were undergoing reboots. The easiest one to figure out is Wonder Woman. As part of her reboot (one that has since been retconned out of existence) there was no Wonder Woman prior to The Crisis On Infinite Earths. As a result, the character went from being a veteran to being a rookie at this point (and I'm not even sure that she had been reintroduced to continuity). Next: Superman. Same issue really: he was in the process of a pretty extensive reimagining at the hands of John Byrne. Besides, in a post-DKR world no one was really quite sure how to treat the relationship between him and Batman or how that might play out on a team.

As for the other usual suspects? Well, the Barry Allen Flash was dead and the former Kid Flash (Wally West), who had taken his place, was being launched into his own series; perhaps the editors felt the character needed time to grow and develop a following. Green Arrow was being reimagined as a more 'realistic' vigilante by Mike Grell at this time and just wouldn't have fit into the JL; I think the Atom was living in some microscopic universe while Aquaman was undergoing a reboot as well (and perhaps the DC offices felt it was best to remove the taint he might leave from his Detroit-era leadership). The Hal Jordan Green Lantern? Well, I'm not quite sure but I have a few ideas I'll cover when I get to Guy Gardner.

So who made the cut?

Well, there were a few that made sense...Batman, Martian Manhunter, and Black Canary were all veteran leaguers and logical choices:

Batman- while he was about to be retooled a bit by Miller in Batman: Year One, his reboot was significantly less extensive than the other big two. His origin story is one of the most simple in the history of comics; as a result, he would have remained the most unchanged of 'The Big Three'

Martian Manhunter- Another veteran of the League. Also, Manhunter had never been that successful as a solo character but he always seemed to work as part of the League; maybe he was kept in to appease fans of the character since JL books were the only place you were guaranteed to find him.

Black Canary- I think she was mainly chosen for 2 reasons: 1. She was a League stalwart and 2. The League needed a female member and they couldn't use Wonder Woman; Black Canary would replace Wonder Woman in the League's post-crisis origin story. What's interesting is that it's almost as though the Black Canary we see here and the Black Canary appearing over in Grell's Green Arrow are pretty much two different characters existing in two separate continuities (I think Grell has basically said that was how he viewed it).

Now, the unlikely supsects:

Mister Miracle- Actually, a more logical choice than you might think. The Justice League had always been a good place to put characters who weren't strong enough to carry their own series yet still had a pretty steady fan following (i.e. Green Arrow, Martian Manhunter, Zatanna, Elongated Man). Miracle fits the bill. He actually makes sense as someone the other leaguers would have chosen for the team: He's a veteran hero who, as the son of Highfather, is one of the New Gods and, as a result, potentially quite powerful and deserving of a higher profile in the DCU.

Blue Beetle- from a business perspective, Blue Beetle makes perfect sense. Just a few years earlier DC had acquired the Charleston characters and had enough hope for their success that they had Alan Moore retool his original proposal for them into Watchmen so that DC would still have the characters in a usable condition when it was all over. Since Beetle had been the first of the characters introduced into the DCU (his first DC appearance was in the first issue of Crisis On Infinite Earths), I think DC felt he had the best potential for success and had even given him his own series that had launched prior to the Justice League. As a result, his inclusion in the League was to create a greater visibility for the character and, maybe, draw readers over to his solo series.

Captain Marvel- I think his inclusion was similar to Beetle's. Since acquiring the character, DC never quite managed to get him to take off and, like Beetle, he had just been re-introduced/introduced to the main DC continuity in his own series (before the Crisis, Captain Marvel's adventures had been confined to Earth-S). Besides, while he wasn't the most popular character in 1987 he was a classic Golden Age hero and, thus, a sensible choice for the league. I think his inclusion might also be another good reason to keep Superman out of the league; his presence would have rendered Cap redundant (I was also just reminded by my friend Shaun that Captain Marvel was only leased to the team for a few issues).

Dr. Fate- This one is a bit tougher than the rest. I know that he had 'assembled' this league in the Legends mini-series much the way Dr. Strange used to 'assemble' the Defenders (pretty appropriate considering this motley assortment of characters) or, if you will, the same way Raven brought together The 'New' Teen Titans a few years earlier. Also, Fate is a classic Golden Age character and founding member of The Justice Society so he kind of makes sense as a means to forge a connection between the two.

Guy Gardner- Ok, seriously, no idea. None. The only thing I can think of is that it sidestepped any controversy regarding John Stewart Vs Hal Jordan. However, this was perhaps the most important choice for the team since his character would be incredibly important as to the shape that the series was about to take, pretty much from the first page.

Dr. Light II- I won't say much for now since, as I'll get to in later blogs, Dr. Light is pretty much here to help move the plot along and was not 'chosen' for the league the way all the others were.

I think it's also worth noting that the roster represents a smattering of characters from the newly integrated DCU which had previously existed on separate 'Earths' before The Crisis: Martian Manhunter (Earth 1) Dr. Fate (Earth Two) Blue Beetle (Earth 4... I think), Captain Marvel (Earth S). Throw in Mister Miracle from Kirby's Fourth World and you've got a pretty good cross-section.

Over the course of these blogs, I will examine how Giffen and Co. took these lemonds and made lemonade and actually managed to shape the development of some pretty important characters here including Guy Gardner, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, and even Batman.


speedreeder said...

WoW! Hey this is great! I think the 80's JLI was a pretty amazing comic, I don't know why they don't get any respect from today's DC comics.
It really was pretty great despite of all the flack it takes nowadays. I just want to mention that DC recently killed off Rocket Red #4, who became another important character in the JLI.
I look forward to reading this blog series!

James said...

Prelude t`o Misery Crisis aside, I wouldn't say this series is getting treated that badly.

Prof Fury said...

Enjoyed reading this, Scott! I was completely obsessed with this series in my early teens and I think it has held up pretty well, all things considered.

I would be curious to know to what extent Giffen/DeMatteis were involved in the selection of these characters and to what extent they were simply handed this roster post-Legends (which also featured Guy Gardner as its spotlight Green Lantern). My memory of the main Green Lantern title at the time is that it was in the "7-GLs-on-Earth" period, with Hal as their leader and Guy as the odd man out, so it probably made more sense to have him on the team than Hal. Guy was really perfect for the team, anyway, since he was at that moment in his jingoistic right-winger phase (at first...); one of the subtexts of that series, especially in the first couple years, was the functioning of American power internationally, and Guy functioned as a kind of national id.

Fun fact: Luke McDonnell was originally to be the penciller for the series before getting moved over to Suicide Squad (or getting bumped over by Kevin Maguire -- I don't know the ins and outs). I love McDonnell's, but you have to think that JL would have been an entirely different book with his moody, shadowy pencils v. Maguire's sunny details.

Looking forward to more of these posts!

Prof Fury said...

Um, the "that series" that was about American power in that sentence up there refers to Justice League, not Green Lantern Corps. Carry on . . .

scott91777 said...

Prof Fury: "I would be curious to know to what extent Giffen/DeMatteis were involved in the selection of these characters and to what extent they were simply handed this roster post-Legends."

Glad you asked; according to the intro to the latest edition, Giffen-Demattis had NO imput whatsoever with the line-up (except maybe Dr. Light who I will get to in later blogs). As you put it, they were, in fact, simply 'handed' this roster post-legends.

Your explanation of Guy Gardner (re: Hal was leading the Corps on Earth) had also occured to me.

Prof Fury said...

Ah! Thanks. That was implied in your post, of course, but I wasn't sure if we knew for sure. You have to wonder if the DC offices foresaw a Mister Miracle solo series spotlighting the character's adventures in suburbia when they put him in the Justice League.

scott91777 said...

Prof Fury,

That's quite possible considering the way Giffen and Co. handled the character in the series or it could have been the other way around; the way he was handled in the series gave them an idea for the series but more on that in upcoming posts.

Streebo said...

Justice League was one of my favorite books at the time. The first few years rank among one of my favorite runs of any series. Guy Gardner. Blue Beetle. Booster Gold. So many classic moments.