Comic Book Review – Justice League International Volume 5

Justice League International Volume 5
Reprints Justice League International Annuals #2-3 and Justice League Europe #1-6.
Written by Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis (with William Messner-Loebs)
Art by Bart Sears, Bill Willingham, Mike McKone, & Tim Gula

We open with an earlier tale of the Justice League taking on the classic Batman villain Joker. The Joker has been hired by the dictator of Bialya, Rumaan Harjavti to assassinate the JLI. The collection is capped with a team-up of the two Leagues as they visit their various embassies to get to know the staff and bond. This goes off the rails when they meet an ambassador from KooeyKooeyKooey, a rather industrious island nation that wants the League to make their land a protected embassy. In between these two over-sized annuals, we get the opening arc of the Justice League Europe as they experience an incredibly rough introduction to Paris. A Nazi war criminal dies on their steps and soon after they learn members of the now-defunct Global Guardians are out to get them.

I’ll be spending most of my review talking about the Justice League Europe, as the annuals included here are fine, reflective of the standard Giffen & DeMatteis had set but otherwise nothing spectacular. This doesn’t mean JLE is some hugely important stand out series; instead, it pretty much follows the formula the creators came up with on JLI. What is notable about the European expansion are the characters it chooses to spotlight and what it decides to tell us about them and how it frames them against the post-Crisis DC Comics landscape. The roster is composed of Captain Atom, Rocket Red, Elongated Man, Power Girl, Metamorpho, Animal Man, The Flash, and Wonder Woman. We also switch from the art styles of Kevin Maguire and Ty Templeton to Bart Sears, a penciler who is deeply reflective of the coming trends in comic book art of the 1990s. His approach to anatomy definitely falls in the proto-Image category. Sears came to JLE by way of the DC Comics’ event Invasion! where he worked with writer Keith Giffen.

Looking at the roster, the characters stand out as both choices of the writers and “hot properties” that were incorporated for sales reasons. Animal Man was a year into his incredibly popular run by Grant Morrison which explains his addition. The Flash, now Wally West picking up the mantle of his deceased mentor Barry Allen, was holding down the fort in his title was a classic member to have on the roster. Wonder Woman had been given a full reboot by George Perez and was another high profile character to have on board. This left the characters Giffen & DeMatteis wanted which was bringing Captain Atom and Rocket Red over from JLI while adding on Elongated Man, Power Girl, and Metamorpho. Just like JLI, these are not household names, but for fans and the writers, they are fun deep cuts into the universe.

The relationship dynamics are once again the core of setting the table in JLE. Elongated Man was a partner of Barry Allen when he was The Flash. So when we put EM and Wally West in a room together, we get a fascinating conflict. EM can’t help but compare Wally’s choices as The Flash to his predecessor, and this hinders Wally quite often in forging his own identity. Captain Atom is the team leader and ends up being one of the most neurotic Justice Leaguers I’ve ever read. He has a constant monologue going on about his insecurities and neuroses. It’s a weird experience that never really clicked with me but is an ongoing joke through these issues.

Power Girl was a very different concept pre-Crisis. Created in 1976, PG was originally Kara Zor-El of Earth-2. In the central DC reality, she was Supergirl, but here she took the moniker of Power Girl. The character main claim to fame was that artist Wally Wood would increase her bust size issue by issue, testing the attentiveness of DC editorial and the readers. As a result, she became known as the bosomy version of Supergirl. When the multiverse was collapsed down in 1986, Power Girl was a character many creators wanted to keep around, but Supergirl was erased from continuity. This was when an incomprehensibly complex explanation for who Power Girl was got invented and continued to be more confusing as the years went on. Now she was an Atlantean, put in suspended animation and awakened millennia later. Oh yeah, and then about 15 years later all of that got trashed, and she was once again made the cousin of Earth-2 Superman. Her portrayal in JLE is as a brassy and tough female executive by day who serves as the primary muscle of the team.

Wonder Woman’s inclusion would eventually become a meta-joke because of George Perez’s control of her main title. She was brought on in the pages of JLI during Invasion and established a good rapport with the team. When Max Lord was putting together the European roster, he even mentions that Wonder Woman will be a part-time member, a strange caveat seeing as how fictional characters can appear in dozens of books a month (see Wolverine). Wonder Woman appeared in the first couple issues of JLE, makes an appearance in a team cameo in another title, and is then GONE forever. There’s no official explanation for why Wondy got pulled so unceremoniously, but it is such strange thing to occur with little in comic discussion.

The overall story isn’t the most compelling. It’s probably one of the more traditional comic arcs done by Giffen & DeMatteis. We have clear villains and the team splitting off into trios and duos to fight the Global Guardians. When a few members go to Bialya events, feel like a blatant retread of the same story in JLI, and it reads as our writers have run out of ideas. There’s no apparent motive for Queen Bee and Jack O’Lantern and instead feels like heroes running around for the sake of a story. There’s a good argument to be made that expanding the original title may not have been the best idea — one more volume to go.

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