Wonder Woman and Justice League America Volume 1 (2017)
Reprints Justice League America #78-85, Justice League America Annual #7, and Guy Gardner #15
Written by Dan Vado (with Chuck Dixon and Bill Loebs)
Art by Kevin West, Greg Larocque, Mike Collins, and Chris Hunter
The post-Crisis reinvention of the Justice League had been around for seven years by the time these issues were being published, and it had clearly veered away from its original tone. That makes sense; the book was on its third creative writer, and the comic book landscape had changed drastically since 1987. Image Comics and other upstarts gave DC and Marvel a run for their money using gimmicks and an injection of something new. Unfortunately, the consumers of the era weren’t aware how quickly these fantastically new comics would burn out and fade away, and so the Big Two saw themselves mimicking the “gritty” and “edgy” style of their young competitors. The result was some of the ugliest unreadable stories to come out, especially here with Justice League America.
Dan Jurgens left the book abruptly with issue 77, and the following month Dan Vado was the writer. Vado’s run would only last 14 issues, and then he too would be replaced as the book sputtered to its conclusion. The writer would be responsible for creating one of the most laughable spinoffs from the League, Extreme Justice. One day, if I have the stomach for it, I’ll read through and review that debacle. But those same 1990s, extreme sentiments are very obvious in this collection. The Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick, shows up at the start to help the League recover a plane that went down with U.N. relief supplies. From the opening pages, it’s clear that Agent Liberty and Black Condor have been bumped off the team between issues. The Ray is still here as well as Maxima and Bloodwynd.
Vado begins sowing seeds for a more significant arc he has planned by introducing The New Extremists as the antagonists. The name comes from the team of villains who escaped from Angor during the Giffen/DeMatteis run. Those baddies were meant to directly reference Marvel villains with Lord Havok (think Doctor Doom) leading them. These New Extremists appear to be a jumble of random character designs pulled out of the most 1990s dollar bin you could imagine. One question you could be asking is, “Who the hell is Dan Vado?” He’s certainly not a comics superstar today. He was the founder of indie publisher Slave Labor Graphics (SLG) in 1986 and helped friends get their small comics out in the market. He has done a lot of editing work, but I am not impressed after engaging with his writing.
The stories in this collection are composed around the idea of throwing a bunch of characters we haven’t been made to care about on the page and having them fight. He doesn’t know what to do with certain team members like Bloodwynd or Maxima, as they are either written incredibly generic or rarely make appearances. Even Wonder Woman, whose name is in the title of this collection, feels like a non-character. Vado certainly likes Guy Gardner and plays up his brash misogyny. He also loves sexualizing Fire even more than she had been, which feels like an impossibility. The most baffling thing to me is the total mischaracterization of Blue Beetle and Booster Gold. They are written more like bland heroes found in Image Comics and retain almost none of the charm that made them likable in the first place. He even gives Booster Gold large, clunky armor, which makes the character look even more visually unappealing.
There’s a storyline that has two aliens crash landing on Earth pursued by their jailers. The two humanoid aliens are prison escapees, and their reptilian pursuers want them handed back. The premise of this arc is a good one. Wonder Woman and many Leaguers are not willing to turn the men over until they see proof of their crimes. Meanwhile, the U.N. sends in Captain Atom and a team of soldiers to finish this mess. But instead of well-thought-out conflict with searing dialogue to make the audience weigh the moral decisions, we get a lot of yelling and punching. The story goes in a wildly unexpected and unpleasant direction when Guy kills one of the prisoners. Oh, don’t worry, it’s not really Guy Gardner; it’s a clone that will lead to an issue of his ongoing comic, which feels so out of place and finishing a story that we have no background for here.
During all these issues, a subplot had been running featuring Ice. The Norwegian superhero has returned to her home, a mystical city hidden from the civilized world and centered around magic. Her father dies, and her evil brother forcibly takes the throne. Ice and her mother seek the help of the Justice League, and a wonderfully dumb & poorly written reunion is had. All of this occurs just to tease the audience with pseudo-90s X-Men style shadowy figures watching from a monitor somewhere talking enigmatically about the coming evil. Do not believe for a second any of that will pay off in any meaningful way. This was undoubtedly the death knell for this version of JLA, but it wasn’t over quite yet.