Justice League International Volume 4
Reprints Justice League International #23-25 and Justice League America #26 – 30
Written by Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis
Art by Kevin Maguire, Ty Templeton, Mike McKone, and Bill Willingham
The world is in the midst of the alien Invasion! led by the Dominators. The Justice League has been stranded in the South Pacific where they attempt to get a Khund vessel up and running which leads them into the path of the Injustice League, an equally second-tier group of villains. Max Lord develops telepathic powers as a result of a Dominator gene bomb which causes him to seek out the artificial intelligence that has manipulated him. The League decides to expand its ranks and has a membership drive that brings together dozens of DC’s heroes and can only lead to more hijinks. After the new Justice League Europe forms and seen off to Paris, the American branch must deal with Blue Beetle’s brainwashing from his time in Biayla at the hands of Queen Bee. Batman meets the new Huntress and seeks out help from Amanda Waller and Kent Nelson (formerly Doctor Fate).
This collection ended up being a hodgepodge of smaller arcs without the apparent direction of volumes one through three. There are the tie-ins with Invasion! and a double-sized issue that wraps up Max Lord’s first arc while opening the door for the Justice League Europe. From there we have some one-off issues with the main arcs being Blue Beetle’s brainwashing and Mister Miracle, Big Barda, and Huntress hunting down a stolen power rod. Nothing huge or earth-shattering but that is what made this League so singularly different. Even the world-ending stories never feel that perilous. What ends up being the takeaway are some pretty great character moments.
Giffen and DeMatteis never shied away from writing superheroes that were less than heroic and none more so than Guy Gardner, one of many Green Lanterns wielding rings on Earth at this time in DC history. It wasn’t until going back and re-reading these issues that remember how genuinely awful Gardner was, but that was the point. In this collection, we get the first date between Ice and Guy, a couple that would defy explanation but goes on to be the great love story to come out of this run on the League. Guy, being completely obtuse when it comes to women, takes Ice to a porn theater in Times Square. As you can guess it doesn’t go well. The date gets cut short when retired villain Black Hand perceives the duo as attempting to break up his organized crime ring.
The Blue Beetle storyline didn’t grab me strongly and felt like it dragged on a bit longer than necessary. Tying back into the Bialya mission is a good hook, and I wish we had a more direct line to Queen Bee. The way the plot is framed has the villain entirely offscreen save a single flashback. Because of this, it’s hard to latch onto a clear conflict that’s worthy of so many pages. The bringing in of Kent Nelson and spending so much time going over how this is Nabu inhabiting Kent’s body (all this went down in DeMatteis’ Doctor Fate solo series) feels laborious at times. The hunt for the missing power rod also lacks a compelling narrative, and I found myself getting a bit bored near the end of the collection.
Where things shine is when there isn’t a need for any plot, and we have the characters riffing off of each other. The gathering of heroes for the grand expansion of the team is a significant event and an excellent chance for some quality comedy. Giffen & DeMatteis are already setting up a dynamic between Elongated Man and The Flash that carries over into the pages of Justice League Europe. Elongated Man, being a close friend of the recently deceased Barry Allen, can’t help but critique every one of Wally West’s decisions as The Flash. This is part of a more extensive commentary coming from members of the classic Justice League roster, showing their embarrassment at this goofy version of their team. The best part is Hawkman’s complete mental breakdown and resignation from the group when Beetle and Booster Gold push him too far.
It’s in these pages that Batman meets the Huntress, a reimagining of a pre-Crisis character who had been the daughter of Earth 2’s Batman. Formerly Helena Wayne, now Helena Bertinelli, Huntress had her origins rewritten in the pages of mini-series published shortly before this Justice League appearance. There is a moment, that is likely more a wink to the audience, where Batman seems to recognize her. However, DC editorial had wiped the original Huntress from continuity, so Batman had no memory of ever meeting his counterpart’s daughter with Catwoman.
There is a small moment that carries great resonance for later events in the DC Universe that happens in these pages. Maxwell Lord develops his superpowers, a telepathic suggestion power that allows him to push people in a particular direction, making them feel positive about a choice they might otherwise not select. Max uses these powers in a chilling scene at the very end of the collection, pushing Huntress to change her mind regarding joining the Justice League. It’s the first inkling that, despite early leanings, Max is continuing a path towards the dark side. This summer I’ll be looking back at the sprawling lead up to 2006’s Infinite Crisis which includes a significant culmination of Max’s character arc and is a story that is contingent on these powers he’s developed. Overall, this collection is just the same old you’d expect from Giffen & DeMatteis.