Justice League International Volume 6
Reprints Justice League America #31-35 & Justice League Europe #7-11
Written by Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis (with William Messner-Loebs)
Art by Adam Hughes, Bart Sears, and Art Nichols
So we reach the end of the JLI run that DC Comics has decided to collect. In these pages, we get the first official crossover between America and Europe with The Teasdale Imperative story arc. In a small European village what seemingly appears to be a vampiric horde has surfaced, spreading its condition slowly but continuously. Not only has this drawn the attention of both branches of the Justice League International, but The Spectre and The Grey Man (from waaaaay back in the first story arc). Through a series of increasingly complicated twists and turns Simon Stagg, an antagonist of Leaguer Metamorpho becomes involved. Everything culminates in a battle where the League isn’t even necessary. To quote Elongated Man in the aftermath, “It’s over? I still don’t understand what ‘it’ was.”
This is around the point where the Justice League books peaked. DeMatteis leaves JLE after the Teasdale story, and William-Messner Loebs handles dialogue alongside Giffen. There is a clear demarcation in the decline of quality of Europe versus America. It’s not just the writing, the art in JLE is not doing the scripts any favor. Bart Sears has a style that was very “of its time.” In my review of volume 5, I talked about it being a proto-Image Comics style, but I will admit there are shades of Gil Kane. There are those classic worm’s eye view angles that Kane is famous for and some very detailed linework. I always remember Kane’s noses; they are so distinct. Sears does have that going for him.
It doesn’t help that JLA brings Adam Hughes onboard at this time so in the collection you are alternating between Hughes and Sears art. Hughes is just an immense talent, even here where he hasn’t reached the higher echelons of his craft. Hughes can draw the hell out of some hair, damn. He also showcases great emotional expression in his faces. I would say it’s very different from Kevin Maguire, whom I hold up as the quintessential artist for this run, but equally strong. Contrast with Sears over in JLE where I can’t tell the difference between Animal Man and The Flash when they are out of costume.
The biggest disappointment I had reading this volume is that my nostalgia for the series began to fade. The schtick is wearing a bit thin. Giffen & company have caught on to the audience perception of the series and are playing to it rather than telling stories. The prolonged joke of KooeyKooeyKooey was excellent for a one-off annual but not its part of a multi-issue storyline. Booster and Beetle work great as a superhero comedy duo, but Giffen turns them into cartoon characters with a new get rich quick scheme every month. They set up a casino and hotel on Kooey which becomes a pressure point for Max Lord. These antics begin to feel out of character, Ted Kord (Beetle) is a millionaire industrialist, and the writing doesn’t provide a great excuse for this. Booster makes sense because in his title he was established as being a hero for fortune and glory.
A big highlight is the inclusion of Kilowog as the team’s resident handyman and inventor. Kilowog had been tossed onto the pile of forgotten characters when the Green Lantern Corps series was canceled post the dreadful Millennium crossover. Giffen and DeMatteis see potential in the poozer and play up his connection with Guy Gardner as a way to get him into the team. Kilowog’s alienness is a nice counter to J’onn J’onnz’ dry, subtle wit.
The series ends with a cliffhanger, but it’s not enough to make me seek out the rest of the run, maybe I might want to re-read Breakdowns, the year-long event that concluded this whole iteration of the Justice League. I do plan on revisiting the mini-series sequels that came out in the early-mid 2000s (The Team Formerly Known as the Justice League and I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League). I will likely NOT revisit Judd Winick’s dreadful Justice League: The Lost Generation which stands as one of the grave markers of the pre-New 52 era.
Is this goofy, eclectic version of the Justice League still as good as I remembered? Those early issues up to after the Apokolips/Manga Khan storyline are fantastic. Once the creators played up the humor and created an imbalance with heroics, the series lost me. It’s still worth a read and had stood out from everything before and after it. JLI didn’t play into the trends of the time; it looked at the dark, grim & gritty direction comics were going and decided to play it opposite.