Justice League: Breakdowns
Takes place in Justice League America #52 – 60, Justice League Europe #28-36, and Green Lantern v3 #18
Written by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Gerard Jones
Art by Trevor von Eeden, Bart Sears, Chris Wozniak, Darick Robertson, Joe Staton, Kevin Maguire
In 2019, I began re-reading this classic run of Justice League. I decided instead of waiting for the last omnibus or the final trade paperback collection (DC recently started to repackage this series from issue one in a new tpb series), I would just read this final epic storyline via DC Universe Infinite. If you have read my previous reviews, you know my personal love of this era of the League. They were not the most excellent roster to ever appear, but they were a breath of fresh air and a completely different direction that has become iconic. After five years, Giffen & DeMatteis decided it was time to wrap up their tenure on Justice League America and Europe and do so with a 15 part event titled “Breakdowns.”
While it was published under a single banner, Breakdowns is actually four different arcs where each flows into the next. The first arc is kicked off by the attempted assassination of Maxwell Lord, founder of this version of the League. Max ends up in a coma while the Leaguers worry about what happens next. This provides an opportunity for a review of the team’s charter with the United Nations and the arrival of Max’s replacement. This arc runs almost parallel with an attempt to wrap up loose ends with the Middle Eastern nation Bialya. Bialya had first appeared in Justice League #2 and since then had been a consistent thorn in the team’s side. In the page of JL Europe, it was revealed that the Global Guardians had made Bialya their new home. The Guardians were a team of international superheroes first appearing in the early 1980s. With the introduction of an international Justice League, the Guardians didn’t really have a place anymore.
The shake-ups on the team lead to several Leaguers (Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, Elongated Man, and Ice) either leaving or being fired. They end up in Bialya, where they uncover links between the attempt on Max’s life and Queen Bee, the mind-controlling dictator that ruled over the secretive country. The writers play this for equal parts, laughs, and hitting some serious notes. I’ve always felt the Global Guardians never found their niche and can be an interesting element in the DCU. With the Justice League back to being the classic roster, it would be nice to have a more internationally diverse team out there.
With the Bialya story resolved, the team gathers their bearings and faces eviction with the United Nations, entirely terminating their charter with the League. The group ends up in the Secret Sanctuary in Happy Harbor, Rhode Island, where the original Justice League of America had been headquartered. At this time, Grant Morrison had also stationed Doom Patrol in the Secret Sanctuary as part of their run on that book. When the League had been given embassies worldwide, this old-fashioned cave base had been unoccupied.
Meanwhile, in space, longtime League enemy Despero is being used as a living weapon, rented out by Manga Khan and using a control collar. Of course, the control collar ceases working, and Despero makes his way back to Earth to exact his revenge. Manga Khan hired bounty hunter Lobo to pursue and capture his property. The League gets right into the middle of this battle with Despero targeting them while Lobo tries to wrangle the villain. This fight has always stood out to me because of the cover of Justice League America #58. I remember seeing this cover in a grocery store and wanting so badly to pick up that comic book but not. Years later, finally getting to read the story, it is okay but certainly not the best moment in this very unique run.
The final story arc is about the return of the Extremists. Introduced in JL Europe #15, the Extremists were from the other-dimensional world of Angor. Angor had been created in the 1970s as a pastiche of the Marvel Universe with a trio of heroes (Silver Sorceress, Bluejay, and Wandjina) serving as the only heroes left from this devastated planet. The Extremists were themselves very obvious reskins of Marvel’s greatest villains. Gorgon, with his tentacled hair, was Doctor Octopus. The bestial Tracer was a stand-in for Sabretooth. Doctor Diehard shared Magneto’s powers. Lord Havok covered his face in metal just like Doctor Doom. Chief among the villains was Dreamslayer, a slightly different take on Doctor Strange’s enemy Dormammu. Dreamslayer manages to take over Max Lord’s body and travels to Kooey Kooey Kooey, the island where Beetle and Booster got into significant trouble a year or so prior. There, Dreamslayer takes control of the island natives and begins setting a trap for the League.
When I look at this storyline as a whole, it is quite a mess and doesn’t have a great tonal balance. Some moments feel like we’re checking off a list or simply idling the engine because the number of parts has been decided, but the story doesn’t need to move forward yet. A lot of things happen over these 15 issues, and it can be dizzying at points. I think the opening arc with the new League director went on for way too long with little action happening.
There are highlights, though, and first among them was the resolution to the Despero storyline. Months prior, intergalactic business-bot Manga Khan had gifted his majordomo L-Ron to the League. L-Ron had become a comic sidekick to Martian Manhunter, commenting on the antics of the team. To create a new control collar for Despero, former Green Lantern Kilowog has to use parts from L-Ron. The robot happily gives up his life to stop the monster. However, L-Ron is not dead; his consciousness now inhabits Despero’s body because of the collar. There’s a short fight at the tail end of Breakdowns where Despero’s consciousness manifests in L-Ron’s diminutive robot body, but he’s defeated much more quickly this time. I’ve always wished the L-Ron/Despero storyline had been continued more satisfyingly. L-Ron would show up in the pages of Justice League Task Force, a book with a rotating roster, and even get his own action figure in the mid-1990s. Then at some point, the writers just abandoned the idea and had Despero showing back up as himself. L-Ron pops up from time to time, but no one has ever consistently developed the character.
The other moment I really love from this storyline is the final battle between Dreamslayer and Silver Sorceress. Sorceress is her universe’s version of the Scarlet Witch. She is one of only two heroes who have survived Angor’s destruction and this moment brings her face to face with one of the chief architects behind her planet’s death. I don’t feel like the character ever got developed enough; she was a member of JL Europe for about a year and then was heroically killed off. Her fellow Angorian, Blue Jay, ends up being the sole survivor of their world by the conclusion of Breakdowns. This character would fall in total obscurity in the wake of this story and pop up as a background character when large tableaus of superheroes were needed. Decades later, writer Steve Orlando would use Blue Jay in a vital role during an arc of his Justice League of America. However, the character’s next appearance was in the dismal Heroes in Crisis, where he was once again background dressing and pretty unceremoniously murdered.
This would not be Giffen & DeMatteis’ last hurrah with the Justice League. However, the reunion of these mismatched heroes will be something we look at on another day.