Justice League International Omnibus Volume 2 (2020)
Reprints Justice League America #31-50, Justice League American Annual #4, Justice League Quarterly #1, Justice League Europe #7-25, Justice League Europe Annual #1, and Justice League International Special #1
Written by Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis
Art by Adam Hughes, Mike McKone, Bart Sears, Chris Sprouse, Darick Robertson, and Marshall Rogers
The JLI came across my radar with Justice League America #42, a cover that promised a team’s recruitment drive. I was nine years ago, and my knowledge of the Justice League came mostly from watching Challenge of the Superfriends, so you can understand how shocked I was when I opened up this book and found none of the characters I expected. Where were Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman? Instead, I was given new faces and names like Blue Beetle, Mister Miracle, and Guy Gardener. I didn’t have any idea who these people were. And they didn’t fight anyone; they spent a lot of time talking with a very comedic tone. I was confused as a child but still intrigued. A decade later in college, I would rifle through quarter bins on the floor of comic book shops, slowly but surely assembling a near-complete run of Giffen & DeMatteis landmark controversial run on the League.
This omnibus is a magnificent treat, presenting the League at what is arguably their prime. The writers have a perfect handle on each character’s voices and effortlessly play them off each other in whatever combination they decide each issue. Blue Beetle takes such glee in the misery of Guy Gardener while Oberon implores Max Lord to please do something about these basket cases while Fire and Ice banter about whether being on this team is worth it or not. If you are expecting grandiose cosmic battles between heroes and the forces of evil, this just isn’t that comic. I am a massive fan of Grant Morrison’s course correction in the mid to late 1990s, but the JLI is still near and dear to my heart.
The flipside of this omnibus is the Justice League Europe who I was very confused by for my youth. The heroes are not European, but the team is based out of Paris. These stories were my first introduction to Power Girl, possibly one of the most convoluted post-Crisis characters in the DC Universe. Initially, she was the Supergirl of Earth-2, a world where all of the DC Comics from the 1930s and 40s happened, and the heroes are older. Crisis folded that into a single Earth and erased Supergirl completely until John Byrne rebooted her a few years into the new status quo. But Power Girl remained…so, who the hell was she? Justice League Europe spends very little time on this, probably wisely, and briefly mentions her rebooted origin of being an Atlantean kept in stasis by magic. Later this would be dropped by Geoff Johns, who would just bring the whole multiverse back and let Power Girl be who she is.
The leadership on these teams are Martian Manhunter and Captain Atom, and the writers lean into the exhaustion these people have from dealing with a group of disparate, argumentative heroes. Wally West was The Flash at the time, and his character was often portrayed as a womanizer and hound dog when it came to the ladies. This, of course, puts him at odds with Power Girl, which leads to comic antics. Back in the States, Martian Manhunter is dealing with romantic possibilities between Guy Gardener and Ice as well as Booster Gold’s defection from the team for seemingly more profitable corporate sponsorship.
Even with all this comedy, Giffen & DeMatteis allow real heavy drama that never throws the tone off too much. In Justice League America, the infamous villain Despero returns from his exile in space with ravenous rage towards the team he remembers. It turns out the Justice League Detroit, the last iteration he remembers, is long gone. The path of death and destruction Despero carves out is shocking and brings tragedy to a former Leaguer’s life. This arc is my favorite of all the ones presented in this collection and features a moment that reminds readers why Martian Manhunter is one of the great characters in DC Comics’ stable.
Justice League Europe has The Extremists wreaking havoc on Earth. These villains come from a parallel reality known as Angor, an obvious pastiche of the Marvel Universe. Their premier team of heroes, The Justifiers, has fallen with only Silver Sorceress and Blue Jay surviving (takes on Scarlet Witch and Ant-Man). The two have been in Soviet custody since the early issues of JLI and break out, returning to Angor only to find the planet a wasteland. This has been done at the hands of the Extremists, a team of the worst villains ever seen led by Lord Havok (obviously a nod to Doctor Doom). The JLE faces their most formidable challenge to date with these enemies, but there’s a very smart finale that brings in Mitch Wacky, a variant on Walt Disney, to reveal some truths about Angor.
There are many story arcs in this massive collection, and I think fans of the series will find themselves getting lost in some enjoyable tales with some familiar faces. I am most interested to know what someone who has zero familiarity with this run, and these characters would think of it. Everything about this era of the Justice League stands in stark contrast to what we see now in popular media, both the comics and in television/film. I can’t imagine we will ever see a comedic take on the League that would be as long-running as this one was. It’s a reminder of what a wild time it was at DC Comics in the wake of Crisis where there were so many possibilities, and the company was willing to take risks.