Retro Review: Justice League Annual #4 (Summer 1990)

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Or – “Bwah Ha Ha HAAA!”

These days, it seems that the 80′s ‘Bwah Ha Ha’ Justice League is a pretty devalued commodity, what with the multiple deaths, several heel turns, at least one brutal rape, and a general undercurrent of unpleasantness.  If these weren’t the actual stories taking place on a parallel Earth, one might even conclude that SOMEONE in power is embarrassed by these stories…  Settle in and get ready to decide whether or not they should be!

Justice League Annual #4
Written by Keith Giffen & JM DeMatteis
Pencilled by Mike McKone
Inked by Bob Smith
Lettered by Bob Lappan
Colored by Gene D’Angelo
Published by DC Comics

Previously, on Justice League:  The Crisis On Infinite Earths changed everything for the Justice League.  With a new history (not that they knew it, mind you) and a whole new world to work in, the traditional “Big Seven” JLA simply wasn’t an option.  Enter Maxwell Lord…  The financier/mogul used his pull to take a few heroes and pull them together into a League that was every bit the equal of what came before in power, but was considerably more human in worldview.  That Justice League quickly went International, with branches in Europe and elsewhere, and “embassies” around the world, as well as additional members from all walks of life, including Metamorpho, Captain Atom, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle Ted Kord and more.  But any good idea can be turned into a bad one simply by going back to the well too many times…  Thus begins the saga of JUSTICE LEAGUE ANTARCTICA!

Our tale begins in the unemployment line, as villains Major Disaster (of Green Lantern infamy) and Big Sir, (best known for being named Dufus P. Ratchett) both late of the Injustice Society, wait in line for their chance on the dole.  Big Sir is somewhat surprised to find that two of their fellows are a couple of vaguely familiar faces…

The foursome quickly realizes what a ludicrous concept “super-villain unemployment” is, and decides to return to action for one final big score.  As they make it to the front of the line, they meet another of their old members, a man known as ‘The Mighty Bruce!’  (These days he’s cartooning for some comic book website, I hear tell…)  They track down their last member, Multi-Man (not THAT Multi-Man) working as a butler for an elderly rich woman, hoping to get in her will, but she is scared literally to death at the sight of Big Sir.  Major Disaster calls it fate, and the band is once again back together… Their target:  The Metropolitan Museum!

 Gathering their capes about them, preparing their best intimidating grimaces, the Injustice League kicks open the doors and prepares to reap the rewards of villainy…

…only to find that others had the same idea before them.  The armed gunmen mistake the costumed members of the IL for superheroes, and attack, shooting Big Sir in the chest.  This serves to make him mad, and the Injustice League make quick work of the gunmen, and are heralded as heroes by the media.  This attention gives Major D. another great idea, and makes his way to the JLI embassy in New York, offering the team’s services to Maxwell Lord (not yet a mass-murdering $&@$-head) as superheroes!  J’onn J’onzz reminds Max that the Injustice League aren’t even capable enough to be dangerous, and will likely be even more useless as superheroes…

“Canine problem?”  What canine problem could he mean, you ask?  Well, Faithful Spoilerite, you may not remember a time when there was no Green Lantern Corps active in the universe, where only a few rings were extant and less than a dozen beings still acted as Lanterns throughout the galaxy.  One of those men (and I use the term quite loosely) is the nephew of a legendary hero, a being who genes are purebred (literally) for heroism.  Ladles and jellyspoons, I give you the greatest Green Lantern of 1990, the legendary G’nort Esplanade G’neesmacher!

The new Justice League Antarctica gets off to an odd start, as Power Girl and the Manhunter From Mars both leave in anger before the first meeting ends.  G’nort believes that the team needs to go “on patrol,” but no one else has a fur coat to protect them, leaving our GL to head out alone.  Big Sir follows him out into the snow, afraid that the “doggie” will freeze, but fails to keep up as G’nort finds an abandoned research laboratory…

G’nort also invited one more member to join the team, the former herald of Mr. Nebula called the Scarlet Skier!  (When you think about it, it’s not all that much more ridiculous than an Oscar on a surfboard, is it?)  Scarlet has been abandoned on Earth by his former boss, and foolishly trusted G’nort to help him fix his gear…  He also has a tendency to narrate his own life dramatically.

“Eep eep eep?”  What in the world says Eep eep eep?  The Skier bumps into the wandering Big Sir, and the dynamic duo quickly discover the true horror of the Antarctic wastelands which are now under their protection…

KILLER PENGIES!  AAAHHHH!!!!  G’nort snatches up Dufus and Scarlett, but things reach crisis proportions quickly, while back in New York J’onn and Max discover that the head of the research lab was working on biological weapons.  The experiments were designed to successfully cross a penguin with a pirahna) but he and all his partners were eaten by their creations.  The Injustice League, meanwhile, is up to their butts in beaks and tuxedoes, and G’nort knows it’s time to do what superheroes do best.  “Mindless violence?” asks Major Disaster, and the answer is a resounding “Yep.”

The League is run to ground, hiding in a closet in the dark (pengies got the lights, y’see.)  Members of the Justice Leagues America and Europe arrive and get involved in the fight in a somewhat more effective way, while Major Disaster makes a momentous decision.  “I just have to be free and clear to use my power to it’s fullest extent…  To be a HERO!”  The observing heroes wonder what’s going down, and Elongated Man answers the question succintly:

The team ends up buried in a lantern ring bubble (singing ‘Amazing Grace’, oddly enough) and gets saved by the other Leaguers.  Major Disaster has a second meeting with Maxwell Lord about the status of his team…

What happened to the J.L.Ant, you ask?

For those of you that keep score, Big Sir, Major Disaster, Clock King and Multi-Man are all dead, Cluemaster was shot through the chest a dozen times, G’nort’s entire family was killed when his home planet was destroyed during the Rann-Thanagar War, Bruce dropped off the face of the Earth, and there is no official policy regarding the savaging of the Justice League International at DC comics.

This is a pretty amazing issue overall, featuring art by a young Mike McKone (currently on Avengers Academy) and Giffen and DeMatteis in high form.  The runnning gag of Justice League International was that the heroes were, essentially, real people like you and I who didn’t focus on heroics as much as their libidos, their get-rich-quick schemes, and their various obsessions.  This book works even better, by introducing character who make the JLI team members look super-competent by comparison.  The dialogue is funny, and none of the running gags are driven completely into the ground as would happen later on in the series.  There’s a clear throughline of story, and the ridiculous battle with the man-eating pengies manages to actually be scary while simultaneously ridiculous.  The recurring cry of “Mindless violence!” pretty much sums it all up, and the issue really makes me want to dig out all of my old issues an reread the first 30 or so issues of Justice League…  If that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is.  Plus:  giant talkin’ dog.  Justice League Annual #4 earns a finely crafted 4 out of 5 stars overall, managing to be funny, to be exciting, and to remind me of a wonderful time past that is still in continuity and may finally get it’s due again…  (Though, Generation Lost is looking mighty grim and gritty, now that I think of it.)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  Why do people have an aversion to comedic characters in comics?  Sure, comedy is hard, but why would we want to scrub out every trace of fun from our four-color worlds?