Tag Archives: Justice League

Today’s Super Comics — JLA #16-17 (1998)

jla_vol_1_16The Justice League and the Avengers love changing their lineups. It’s a staple of both franchises. They also both like to shake up their rosters in issue #16, apparently. But whereas the original Avengers #16 replaced the old guard with mostly new members, the ‘90s Justice League reboot instead doubles its membership in JLA #16.

So we’ve got fourteen JLAers, plus the party-crashing Catwoman, and about a hundred reporters aboard the Justice League’s moon-based headquarters. And of course a new villain strikes and starts taking the team down one member at a time.

This villain, Prometheus, instantly appears to be a formidable and credible threat. His motivation is sketchy, but in writer Grant Morrison’s defense, he is juggling a ton of characters in the course of two issues and still manages to give everyone time in the spotlight.

The plot is pretty basic, but it’s really all about showing off the new team and introducing a highly skilled and intelligent new villain to DC’s ranks. And in that regard, it succeeds in being tremendous fun. Prometheus may be underdeveloped here, but he certainly shows potential. Maybe one of those CW shows might want to consider using him. Just a totally random thought there.

Writer: Grant Morrison

Pencilers: Howard Porter and Arnie Jorgensen

Inkers: John Dell and David Meikis & Mark Pennington

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in JLA: The Deluxe Edition vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Kingdom Come #4 (1996)

kingdom_come_4Kingdom Come arrives at a perfect conclusion.

The Superman in this miniseries has been one who’s lost his way. He still wants to do the right thing, but his previously impeccable judgment is impaired. This is the issue to address how he let that happen and how to right the course…but only after he reaches his breaking point, brought upon in part by his own incredible sense of responsibility.

Wonder Woman, too, has strayed, and her arc comes to a head in an excellent confrontation with Batman. And Captain Marvel is extremely well cast as the one character who is both superhuman and human.

The two-page spread early in the book showcases Alex Ross’s amazing artistic talents. He crams so many characters on the battlefield, with every bit player and background actor engaged in a specific action against a specific opponent. Throughout the book, each page is a phenomenal work of art.

Writer Mark Waid clearly understands superheroes’ two most important roles—to fight always for life, and to inspire. Unless they do those two things, they’re not truly superheroes. This series is ultimately all about superheroes becoming heroic again, and while I’ve never ranked my favorite comics, Kingdom Come would easily fall in the top ten. Probably top five.

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Alex Ross

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Kingdom Come (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Kingdom Come #3 (1996)

kingdom_come_3In the third issue of Kingdom Come, Superman doesn’t want to adjust to a changing world, but Captain Marvel couldn’t adjust. Superman strives to maintain peace, but Wonder Woman is prepared for war, if necessary.

The inclusion of Captain Marvel (Shazam) is an excellent choice. He truly is DC’s most innocent superhero. He’s a child who can transform into a super-powered adult, but he’s still a child at heart. But this miniseries is set in the future, and Billy Batson is all grown up…and the manner in which he’s grown up reflects the world around him. He simply doesn’t fit in this darker age, leading him into Lex Luthor’s thrall. His cheesy smile has never been creepier.

The conflict between Superman’s idealism and Wonder Woman’s pragmatism is especially well-handled, and it’s all the more interesting because it’s a conflict between two people who respect each other a great deal.

Tensions escalate throughout the issue. We get some relief as Batman has his Awesome Batman Moment. But this is all about putting all the chess pieces in place for the climactic battle, and it features many excellent moments along the way, including this fantastic quote from Superman to Batman:

“The deliberate taking of human—even super-human—life goes against every belief I have—and that you have. That’s the one thing we’ve always had in common. It’s what made us what we are.”

I will savor re-reading the final issue.

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Alex Ross

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Kingdom Come (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Kingdom Come #2 (1996)

kingdom_come_2Another issue that’s just as good, if not better than I remember.

This is the “gathering of forces” issue. Superman rebuilds the Justice League. Batman and a few other non-powered ex-Leaguers make their own appeal to the younger generation. Lex Luthor and a cabal of old villains are up to something. And the antiheroes continue to do whatever they damn well please…but with significantly tougher opposition now.

The key to the issue’s success is the focus on varying worldviews. Superman and Batman’s argument, which involves not a single punch or blast of heat vision, is far more compelling than anything seen in the Batman v Superman movie. Wonder Woman, who’s serving as Superman’s right hand, also sees things differently than the Man of Steel due to her experience as a warrior.

And then there’s Magog, the “superhero” who precipitated Superman’s retirement. Magog took it upon himself to kill, rather than apprehend, the Joker; Superman wouldn’t stand for such a blatant disregard for the law and human decency, so he took Magog to court. And Metropolis and its citizens sided overwhelmingly with Magog. He was the future, and Superman was the past.

But “new” doesn’t always equal “right,” and as we saw in #1, Magog’s carelessness resulted in the deaths of a million innocents. And his genuine remorse in this issue adds just enough depth to his character.

“They chose the man who would kill over the man who wouldn’t,” Magog says, “and now they’re dead.”

As I suggested yesterday, this is one of the greatest Superman stories ever told.

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Alex Ross

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Kingdom Come (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Justice League of America #171 (1979)

justice_league_of_america_vol_1_171I always loved the “satellite era” of the Justice League of America, particularly when I was first discovering comics as a kid in the early ‘90s. Those late ‘70s/early ‘80s JLA books were always a treat to find in the quarter bins.

Justice League of America #171 is a good example. It begins with a joint meeting of the JLA and Justice Society of America (visiting all the way from the parallel world of Earth-2), and it ends by kicking off a locked-room murder mystery aboard the satellite HQ.

It’s harder to recommend for adults (other than for nostalgic reasons), but it shows what makes these classic JLA stories great for kids. These superheroes are adults and consummate professionals, and they respect and trust each other enough to freely share their secret identities. After the meeting, writer Gerry Conway takes time to show the two teams simply enjoying each other’s company, like a bunch of firefighters hanging out in the fire hall between calls, having forged close bonds in the course of their dangerous work. But when disaster strikes, they drop everything and leap into action.

If you’ve got kids interested in superheroes, show them old Justice League of America books from circa 1980. You’ll be giving them terrific role models.

Writer: Gerry Conway

Artists: Dick Dillan and Frank McLaughlin

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 8 and up

Today’s Super Comics — JLA #1-4 (1997)

JLA_1This is how you do a classic-style Justice League of America story with a modern sensibility.

In 1997, DC Comics injected fresh energy into the franchise by relaunching the title as JLA and reuniting the original lineup from the early ‘60s (the current versions of those characters, anyway). For probably the first since those earliest days, the Justice League consisted exclusively of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash (Wally West, not Barry Allen), Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner, not Hal Jordan), Aquaman, and the Martian Manhunter. All A-listers.

First on the itinerary is—what else?—thwarting an alien invasion. The aliens claim to be benevolent superheroes here to save the world, and they instantly get the public on their side. But of course things aren’t what they seem.

This entire JLA lineup, except poor Martian Manhunter, had their own series, so no major character developments were allowed in these pages. The trick to a great JLA story, then, is to simply let the characters be their awesome selves and interact with their awesome teammates as they awesomely save the world. Split them up, pair them off, knock them down, and let them get back up again and heroically prevail. Writer Grant Morrison gives everyone moments to shine, and artist Howard Porter makes them look suitably epic as they do so (he draws a particularly excellent Batman).

I remember when this series first came out. It was exciting, and I looked forward to each next issue. It’s good guys being good guys—exactly how the JLA should be.

Writer: Grant Morrison

Penciler: Howard Porter

Inker: John Dell

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; JLA: New World Order (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Justice League #1 (1987)

Justice_League_1_DC_1987Let’s continue this streak of comical comic books, shall we? The next obvious place to turn is the “funny” incarnation of the Justice League.

DC Comics rebooted the JLA franchise in the late ‘80s by giving it a more lighthearted, quirkier tone while keeping the threats serious. Comedy sprang from the characters’ colorful personalities, resulting in a frequently amusing, if seldom laugh-out-loud, series. Some storylines were sillier than others. A few were downright farcical. But as written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis and drawn by Kevin Maguire, it remained a consistently entertaining book for about five years or so.

Looking back at Justice League #1 (before it rebranded as Justice League International shortly later), the creators seemed to ease into the new tone. Guy Gardner’s immaturity causes squabbling, and Batman gets to be the adult in the room (one who could stand to brush up on his people skills). But the main action of a terrorist siege at the United Nations is played fairly straight, and the book even includes a somber moment as the Martian Manhunter silently reflects on the downfall of the previous Justice League team he was a part of.

Still, it’s a clear shift from the traditional Justice League of America that was often staffed by consummate professionals. Issue #1 introduces us to a team whose individual members are formidable, but they don’t gel as amiably as their predecessors did. And that kind of friction serves the reader well.

It’s a more character-driven Justice League than in the good ol’ days…and yeah, a bit funnier, too.

Writers: Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis

Penciler: Kevin Maguire

Inker: Terry Austin

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; included in Justice League International vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comics — JLA: Year One #1-12 (1998)

JLA_Year_One_1I loved this miniseries when it first came out, and it still holds up excellently. Written by Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn, JLA: Year One chronicles the formative days of the Justice League of America, when five novice superheroes—each destined for greatness—were learning how to be a team.

The Justice League tends to fall into a certain trap from time to time, one laid not by any super-villain but by its stars’ respective ongoing titles. Any major developments in Superman’s life, for example, should ideally happen in Superman’s solo books, and the Justice League title merely gets to borrow him at whatever his current status quo is. Nothing wrong with that necessarily; there is plenty of fun to be had in seeing DC’s greatest characters teaming-up and interacting in character as they save the world. Many a thrilling JLA story has followed the blockbuster format to superb effect.

But JLA: Year One enjoys the best of both worlds. It stars five great DC characters—the Flash (Barry Allen), Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Black Canary, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter. They’re all portrayed perfectly in character, but the series takes place in the past, minimizing the need to coordinate and share with other books. Sure, they can’t contradict their present-day counterparts, and you know none of them are going to die (because some are scheduled to die later), but they have no competing contemporary versions—hardly even in back issues either, thanks to DC’s mid-‘80s continuity reboot.

Thus, the characters are free to drive the story, and over the course of a year we get to watch them grow and develop as heroes. The big world-shaking events are still there, of course, but the characters come first. And they are terrific, classic characters indeed.

If this had been an ongoing series, I would’ve kept reading it.

Writers: Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn

Artist: Barry Kitson

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; JLA: Year One (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comics — JLA/Avengers #1-4 (2003-04)

JLA_Avengers_1_CoverTwo major comic book movies this year have featured superheroes facing off against each other. Batman vs. Superman in one corner. Captain America vs. Iron Man in the other. And one of those movies was even good.

But in terms of sheer scope, both are downright pedestrian compared to the JLA/Avengers miniseries, the intercompany crossover that had been in the works for many years before it finally materialized thirteen years ago.

Marvel and DC could have phoned this one in and still sold a ton of copies, but instead they called in the big guns: Kurt Busiek and George Perez. Busiek is a fantastic superhero writer who understands the genre better than most. And if there’s a better artist than Perez when it comes to drawing crowded pages full of classic superheroes, well, that would be news to me.

So yes, JLA/Avengers is the ultimate comic book summer blockbuster. It offers no new insights about these characters, but why would it? The fun is seeing our favorite Avengers and Justice Leaguers interact, and sounding and behaving in-character as they do so. The book performs that task wonderfully, but it does go the extra mile by contrasting these two great superhero universes. The most interesting part is how the Justice League views the Marvel Universe as practically dystopian while the Avengers view the DC Universe as nearly utopian.

But seeing, for example, Superman going into battle while carrying Captain America’s shield and Thor’s hammer? It’s not high art, but it’s Superman going into battle carrying Captain America’s shield and Thor’s hammer. And really, that’s what it’s all about.

A grand fun time.

Writer: Kurt Busiek

Artist: George Perez

Publishers: DC & Marvel

How to Read It: back issues; JLA/Avengers (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up