Superman and Justice League America Volume 1 (2016)
Reprints Justice League Spectacular, Justice League America #61-68
Written by Dan Jurgens (with Gerard Jones)
Art by Dan Jurgens and Ron Randall
In the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, one of the significant changes made to continuity was removing characters like Superman and Batman from the founding Justice League roster. Throughout the late 1980s, the JLA consisted of characters that weren’t considered headliners like Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, and Guy Gardner. Once the creative team of Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis stepped down after a five-year run, and JLA was handed over to Dan Jurgens, a writer/artist who was doing some exciting things in the Superman books. So it seemed natural that he would bring Superman to the title as it was time for a new pared-down team to form. That would consist of stalwarts Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Guy Gardner, Ice, Fire, and two new additions, Maxima & Bloodwynd.
This collection first presents the Justice League Spectacular, a one-shot that reintroduced both the JLA and Justice League Europe. Not too many radical changes were made to these teams. They were still very dysfunctional, often causing more problems internally than from outside forces. The JLE would see its most drastic changes with Green Lantern Hal Jordan leading the team. He would be joined by The Flash, Aquaman, Crimson Fox, Elongated Man, Power Girl, and Dr. Light. This is a sort of confusing era for the Justice League titles. They wanted to shift away from the comic hijinks of the previous run but knew the die-hard fans didn’t want too radical of a shake-up. It was also a time when big questions were finally asked about who exactly was in the Justice League for the last decade. Eventually, that question would be answered by essentially ignoring a lot of the post-Crisis changes.
The villains in this one-shot are perennial League foes, The Royal Flush Gang, an unnamed Dominator, and a new Weapons Master. The original Weapons Master was one of the League’s first villains. He’s given his arsenal by the Dominators, who are still holding a grudge over their failed Invasion a few years prior. The story is a cliffhanger branching off into the two League books, respectively.
JLA #61 finds a recreation of the iconic chess battle with Despero, only this time, Weapons Master is in the villain seat. Jurgens chooses this first issue to bring Maxima into the team. Maxima is the former queen of Almerac. She was first introduced in the Superman books as a villain working alongside Brainiac and Mongul during the “Panic in the Sky” event. It was eventually revealed that she was coerced, and she tentatively switched sides. She’s now exiled from her homeworld and seeking a proper mate, of whom she sees Superman as the only one worthy. He’s not interested.
Also introduced in this issue is Bloodwynd, a mysterious magic user who becomes the crux of Jurgens’ big mystery of his run. In retrospect, I feel like an adult reading the comics will key in on who Bloodwynd really is almost right away. While claiming to be a magic user, which he is, Bloodwynd displays invisibility/intangibility and shapeshifting almost right away. Any reader who knows their League history will probably deduce who this really is almost right away. But we’ll get more into that in the following review when Jurgens delivers his big reveal.
Guy Gardner quits the team as behind the scenes, he was getting ready for a significant transformation. Meanwhile, the League gets caught up in the plight of Almerac, when Maxima’s former servant crashes land in NYC to tell them an evil presence has taken over the planet. Jurgens shows that he’s interested in reinventing old concepts throughout his run, and here he reintroduces Starbreaker, an energy vampire from a League arc back in the 1970s. Starbreaker is a visually interesting villain, but as a character, he’s just another cackling megalomaniac. I wasn’t terribly impressed by him; it’s a fun little three-part story but ultimately feels meaningless in Jurgens’ longer run.
There’s a lot of table setting in the remaining issues. Guy Gardner returns after his recent Guy Gardner Reborn mini-series, now wielding Sinestro’s old yellow ring. He and Superman duke it out while in the shadows, a figure remarks on what it was like in his day. By the end of this story, that figure is revealed as Ray Palmer (The Atom), who is maybe possibly thinking about rejoining the team but not with these ruffians onboard. Through Jurgens run, that’s sort of a common theme; more severe superheroes (Superman, Batman, The Atom) ranting about what a mess this team is. It creates some conflict, more of the Marvel variety than the typical agreeable D.C. heroes, but I don’t feel like it adds much.
There are some fun character moments, though everything with Fire has not aged well and makes Booster Gold look like a misogynistic asshole. These team members are considered the core roster of the era, and you can see why. I don’t think anything ever gels, and we get so many redundant stories of the League facing off with some alien presence. The benefit of the Starbreak tale is that it did connect to a member of the team and allow her some more excellent character development. Blue Beetle is pushed forward as less of a bumbling joke and more of the team’s scientific mind, which I think was a good choice. Because of a smaller group, we get more moments with each character, and the plots feel less scattered than Giffen/DeMatteis could be. Unfortunately, Superman’s tenure will be short-lived, as we’ll see when larger events take him off the board in the next volume.