Justice League International Volume 3
Reprints Justice League International #14 – 22
Written by Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis
Art by Kevin Maguire, Steve Leialoha, and Ty Templeton
Things get off to a rocky start when the intergalactic dealmaker Manga Khan and his robotic horde, The Cluster arrive at Earth. Khan’s goal is to sell advanced technology to the highest bidder, and this immediately sends up alarm klaxons as the world is in the midst of the Cold War arms race. The Justice League has just brought two new members on board: The Green Flame and Ice Maiden while the disaster of a Green Lantern G’Nort returns to warn the League about Manga Khan. The conflict ends with Mister Miracle being abducted and a small group of Leaguers, led by Big Barda, heading off into space to track down their teammate. Meanwhile, the members left behind on Earth get caught up in some covert ops in Bialya, with Batman taking the lead and Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, and Green Flame (now calling herself Fire) going undercover only to uncover the menace of the Queen Bee. Life never slows down for the JLI.
We’ve reached my favorite chunk of issues, where I believe everything comes together to showcase the humor and adventure elements of this run is. Giffen & DeMatteis seem very confident in their character’s voices at this point, and we start to see the comedy duo of Booster and Beetle taking root. Meanwhile, they have foils in Fire and Ice who have very distinct personalities, and Fire plays a great foil to Booster and Beetle, being opportunistic but not as bumbling as the male heroes. Martian Manhunter has his character defined better than he ever had to this point, with a developed bone dry sense of humor that would throw others for a loop.
One major element of the Giffen/DeMatteis run was the fictional Middle Eastern nation of Bialya, ruled at different times by Rumaan Harjavti and one of his consorts Queen Bee. The creation has had a pretty significant resonance through the DC Universe post-JLI with the country playing an important role in storylines that took place in Young Justice and the post-Infinite Crisis series 52. In the pages of JLI, Bialya was a place where the Justice League would sneak into and try to cause as little trouble as possible, yet always fail at that. In a later volume, Justice League Europe has a storyline that feels way too close to what goes on in this issue.
The character of Manga Khan afforded the writing duo a chance at straight-up comedy as the intergalactic despot is never a real threat. Instead, he rhapsodizes about his plans while then getting distracted by minor annoyances or breaking the fourth wall and making a comment on the tropes of comic books. Giffen was old hat at writing this type of character having created the even more absurd Ambush Bug earlier in the decade. While Deadpool gets much cred for being such an “off the wall” being in a comic book world, he is hardly the first to be shown in such a light.
On the topic of Giffen creations, this collection reprints the issues where he brought back his space biker Lobo, featured in issues that would propel that character into a level of stardom in the 1990s. Lobo is the Czarnian, having slaughtered his entire planet and the only living beings he seems to have an emotional bond with are space dolphins. Lobo is hired by Manga Khan to stop the Justice Leaguers pursuing him, but the lines get crossed, and Lobo ends up on Earth forced to pretend his wants to join the team, while secretly waiting to get a drop of Big Barda and her crew. This leads to a knock down drag out fight with Guy Gardener that manages to undo the “nice guy” personality he changed to after a bump on his head back in the first collection. Lobo and Guy are a perfect match of egos and machismo which in turn give Booster and Beetle and opportunity to mock.
Eventually, these stories culminate with a showdown on Apokalips. After Manga Khan realizes he has the New God Mister Miracle in his possession, he knows he can make a deal with the denizens of Darkseid to trade him for something valuable. Barda and her crew eventually find their way the hellish planet and she Boom Tubes in the JLI that was left on Earth. With the whole team reunited we a fantastic mix of slapstick comedy and genuine adventure. Re-reading these issues gave me the feeling of watching something like Indiana Jones when we get a wry sense of humor alongside genuine peril. We never really worry that any of the JLI will get killed, but the clever twists in the story make it so enjoyable. I also think this is one of best post-Crisis portrayals of Apokalips. At this time we’d had John Byrne’s take on the New Gods in Legends and Superman and while these issues were coming out Jim Starlin’s Cosmic Odyssey was being published. Those books emphasized the mythic qualities of the characters by Giffen and DeMatteis make Apokalips feels like a functioning place where billions live and suffer. There’s a sense of bureaucracy as seen through Virmin Vundabar and Granny Goodness, and we spend a lot of time down in the muck and mire.
Reading the issues in this third collection you get the sense that our writers and artists are entirely having fun now. In the midst of some of the grimmest and grittiest comics, as the 1980s trended towards anti-heroes rather than spandex clad colorful superheroes, JLI feels so unique. Things begin to take a downturn in the next collection as the weight of JLI’s popularity causes an expansion.