Those loveable rapscallions Keith “Curmudgeon” Giffen, J.M. “Goodnatured” DeMatteis and Kevin “The Artful Dodger” Maguire have reunited for what they claim (again) is the last time, to write the beloved Justice League International in this week’s JLA RetroActive: The 90s.
Justice League of America RetroActive: 1990s One-Shot
Writers: Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis
Artist: Kevin Maguire
Colorist: Rosemary Cheetham
Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual
Cover: Maguire and Cheetham (with ghost work by Dewey and Howe?)
Assistant Editor: Chynna Clugston Flores
Editor: Jim Chadwick
Previously in Justice League International: I was in the single digits, Rodrigo was going through puberty, and Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire had created a shining beacon of humor in the midst of the grim and gritty death-strike bloodforce 90s. The JLI took a ragged band of heroes and forged them together into a truly great Justice League under the guidance of Maxwell Lord, prior to his heel-turn. As a part of this RetroActive event, we get an all new tale written in the vein of the era, as well as an authentically reprinted comic from the old run itself.
GETTIN’ THE BAND BACK TOGETHER
For anyone who has read the classic JLI, this issue is a fine example of what it was all about. DC has done terrible things with many of the members of that team (Ralph and Sue Dibny, Ted Kord and of course Maxwell Lord), but Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire bring a real love to these characters, even if they’re probably a bit tired of working with them. In fact, the premise of the plot has allowed them to focus more on some underrated villains from the series, the Injustice League. The Injustice League consisted of Big Sir, Multi-Man, Clock King, Major Disaster (who went on to a really nice stint with the replacement Justice League in The Obsidian Age), The Mighty Bruce (which is a GREAT super-villain name), and Stephanie Brown’s father, the Cluemaster, who I’d forgotten was in the Injustice League.
The bickering between the members of both the Injustice League and the Justice League is a good representation of what Giffen and DeMatteis get you when they’re together. It’s interesting, because neither of them really write that way when they’re apart, but on their co-written titles like the JLI, Hero Squared (a personal favorite of mine) or Planetary Brigade, the script has a sort of frenetic zaniness to it that makes the prodigious amount of dialogue fly along. The plot for this isn’t anything earth-shattering or new, but it’s a lot of fun–Big Sir wins a Parademonic Medibooster off a vacationing Parademon at the Darkside Bar, then proceeds to react poorly to the Apokoliptian DNA in it. He ends up morphing into a sort of gigantic Parademon, and the JLI has to contain the Apokoliptian plague and stop Big Sir from wrecking the city, while the Injustice League watches and debates turning over a new leaf and becoming heroes. Of course this doesn’t go well for the Injustice League, as the delightfully obnoxious and jingoistic Guy Gardner notices them and starts pummeling them without as much as a how-do-you-do, seeings as they are villains after all. Eventually the day is saved as Power Girl’s cat is thrown into Big Sir’s mouth, causing some sort of allergic reaction that results in his body rejecting the Parademon DNA and returning to normal, with no permanent inconvenience done to the cat.
An element of Giffen and DeMatteis’ dialogue that works particularly well with the humor of the Justice League is their habit of beating a joke into the ground until it’s no longer funny, and then continuing to pummel the poor thing until all of a sudden it becomes hysterical; it’s like in How I Met Your Mother, when The Proclaimers’ “500 Miles” was stuck in the cassette player of Marshall’s Fiero–for the first hour or two of a road trip it would be great, then the next hour it would be terrible, and then magically it would come back around and be even better than it was at first. These bad jokes punctuate the script, and the way different characters use them–often without having heard the others mention them–also serve to reinforce the fact that these characters are a team. It’s a masterful device that always anchors Giffen/DeMatteis scripts.
THE MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES
For my money, there is no comic book artist I have encountered that can capture nuances of emotion in a facial expression as well as Kevin Maguire can–the only person who comes close is Amanda Conner. That being said, I wouldn’t say this issue is Kevin’s finest work; it is fantastic art, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve seen better from him. There were some small details that I especially liked; Maxwell Lord holding a coffee mug with “Take it to the max” written on it made me chuckle, and it’s refreshing to see the classically drawn Max given how poorly most artists these days draw the man (sidenote: While I loved most of the art on Winick’s run of Power Girl, Basri just cannot draw Max Lord without making him look hideous).
BOTTOM LINE: BE GRATEFUL FOR ANOTHER JLI STORY
Whether you’ve ever read the Justice League International or not, if you have a sense of humor then you ought to enjoy this book. Its price tag is a little daunting at $4.99, but you get a full issue of new material as well as the very last issue of the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire run on JLI from the 90s, so it works out to be a good deal. I didn’t bother reviewing that older issue, since I didn’t want to make this review as wordy as DeMatteis’ scripts (I say these things with love), but I didn’t really think it was the right issue to include in this one-shot; it had a decidedly different tone, given that it deals with the fallout from the huge Breakdowns crossover event. I would’ve rather seen something lighthearted; including the Injustice League / JLEurope goes to French night classes would’ve fit quite well. Considering all those factors, I give this one-shot a 4 out of 5 stars–I am very grateful that we got another JLI story, and really enjoyed this issue.