Or – “It Wasn’t All Just Bwah-Ha-Ha-Ha…”

When I think back to the iconic days of the post-Crisis JLI, I don’t just remember the wacky antics.  The character voices and interactions were some of the most realistic I’d ever read, and it was clearly NOT my father’s superheroes.  If you don’t believe me, then I’d like to tell you about the breakup of the greatest superhero bromance of the last 30 years.

I would also like to apologize for using the word “bromance.”

JUSTICE LEAGUE QUARTERLY #1
Writer: Keith Giffen (Plot); J.M. DeMatteis
Penciler: Keith Giffen (Layouts); Chris Sprouse
Inker: Bruce Patterson
Colorist: Gene D’Angelo
Letterer: Bob Pinaha
Editor: Kevin Dooley
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $2.95
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $3.00

Previously, in Justice League Quarterly:  The Justice League of America fell apart during the chaos of Crisis on Infinite Earths, only to rise from the ashes as a new beastie, under the auspices of Maxwell Lord, soon after.  Among Lord’s masterstrokes were recruiting Booster Gold, the quintessential 80’s hero (sort of Gordon Gekko with force-fields) and globalizing the team’s efforts.  Booster and Blue Beetle’s partnership was particularly fruitful, and the twosome found much in common, even with their different backgrounds.  Sadly, a business investment in the island of Kooey Kooey Kooey caused a rift between the heroes, and Booster quit the Justice League in frustration, believing he deserved more respect than the League was willing to pay him.  This issue starts with Maxwell Lord and L-Ron (an alien robot who once belonged to intergalactic despot Manga Khan) covertly spying on what Booster has been up to since leaving the JLI…

The “Claire” that Max mentions is not just a female version of Max himself, she turns out to be his former wife, who always said she could do better than Lord at any challenge.  Claire has assembled not just heroes, but corporate backing for the team, including the likes of Ferris Aircraft (Yes, that Ferris Aircraft), Stagg Industries (owned by Metamorpho’s amoral father-in-law Simon Stagg), and Lexcorp (!!!).  Also in the mix, the previously unseen Dupree Chemical, a company that is quickly shown to be less trustworthy than Stagg or Lexcorp, if one can believe that…

The young man’s name is Phil, and his pyrokinetic powers are the by-product of a Dupree chemical accident that killed his brother.  The Justice League and Booster’s new team, The Conglomerate (consisting of Booster, former Leaguer Gypsy, Vibe’s little brother, and a few folks that no one has heard of since the mid-90’s) both arrive to take Phil into custody, but it’s Booster’s telepath, a metaphysical type named Praxis, who is able to neutralize the threat.

The tensions between the teams are wonderful, due mostly to the work of a young Chris Sprouse, whose facial expressions even override the fact that he draws everyone with an enormous nose.  After their first mission goes so well, The Conglomerate is on a roll, becoming not only successful superheroes but media darlings as well, drawing the distrust of the League (thanks mostly to Max believing that Claire is only in it for the $$$) and the flat-out ire of Booster’s former best bro, Blue Beetle…

There’s amazing depth to DeMatteis and Giffen’s work in JLI, and this is a prime example, as Booster and Beetle take shots at each other, escalating in anger, just like real people, until neither can hear the truth in the other’s words.  The bitterness between the Blue and the Gold is echoed in their respective teams, and things only get worse as the corporate overlords do exactly as Blue Beetle predicted, bending the team’s mission statement to their own benefit.

Things get even more complicated as Carl Thrunctious (supposedly the liaison between the Conglomerate and the corporations, but also taking money under the table from Dupree Chemical’s corrupt leadership) works on a secret under-the-table project in case of emergency.  For all the League’s worries, Booster and his team are mostly decent folks, and the heroes of the Conglomerate chafe at the figurehead roles that their sponsors seem to want them in…

What’s really great about the Conglomerate for me is that, 20 years down the road, I still have a connection to these heroes, even though only I’ve only read about Booster, Gypsy and Praxis anywhere else.  The balance of the team is the perfect distribution of powers and dispositions, and even though this is their only appearance, I still remember the team fondly.  Things get even less savory, and the grays even grayer, as Thrunctious sends the Conglomerate into a crisis that directly benefits their corporate backers…

The small Central American country of San Sebor is run by a dictator known as “El Fajita,” one whose predilections have turned against the corporations that fund the Conglomerate.  Their answer to this crisis?

Oh, dear…  That can’t be good.  Superhuman or no, interfering in the affairs of a sovereign state are a bad idea, one that catches the attention of the United Nations.  And when the United Nations has a superhuman problem, the United Nations sends in the Justice League.  This unfortunate situation has very personal consequences for both teams…

In the time period (remember, this was in the era of Iran/Contra and such), this was a very contemporary sort of brushfire conflict, and it’s only by luck and Booster’s skills that things don’t turn into a superheroic bloodbath.  I like the fact that Booster is played as a very experienced and canny leadership force here, while never losing the goofiness and silly undertones that made him really stand out in the League in the first place.  Tasting success, Thrunctious begins trying to send the Conglomerate into other countries to protect his clients, but the team begins to rebel.  Fortunately, he keeps his feathers numbered for just such an emergency…

Ominous.  Ominous and very bad…  Things get even murkier when the team steps in to clean up an oil spill (the Exxon Valdez was also recent news in 1990) caused by their own backers, leading Booster Gold to speak out against the people who sign his paychecks.  Companies begin dropping their Conglomerate sponsorships, causing Claire to declare a truce with her ex-husband…

Again, there’s SO much character in this interaction, you really believe that these characters have years of association behind them, and the recriminations from their failed marriage hang thick in the air.  (Again, this is Claire’s FIRST appearance…)  Max agrees to take on the Conglomerate as a faction of the JLI, when things get ugly again.  Phil (Remember Phil?  This is a comic about Phil…) finds his mental powers tripping again, and realizes that he’s hearing the thoughts of his “dead” brother Ernie.  Sadly, for everyone involved, Ernie is Unctious’ mysterious project in the basement, a toxic monster whom Unctious sets up as the big bad to get his team back in the spotlight.  The League and Conglomerate are amazed when Phil shows up, but not nearly as stunned as Carl Thrunctious…

Eww…  Still, the brother’s tragic deaths serve at least ONE positive purpose, as Claire and Booster are able to leverage their knowledge of who was behind Ernie’s rampage, and using that knowledge to blackmail the suits into an interference-free Conglomerate.  Booster and Beetle make up, the teams agree to coexist, and (amazingly) Booster Gold does NOT come back to the League in disgrace!

Booster’s search for depth (a major component of Geoff Johns’ revamp a few years ago) started a little bit before this, but nowhere were his struggles more realistic or more complex than in this issue, and his pride finally takes a backseat to friendship in this issue.  This issue serves as a nice coda for the Detroit-era League as well, one of the first times in the post-Crisis era that the team was referenced, and one of the best uses of that legacy ever.  In short, Justice League Quarterly #1 is nuanced, dense with story, adult without being vulgar, comic booky without being silly, well-drawn, well-written and well-realized, all the while prefacing the future of comics books and earning 5 out of 5 stars overall.  This exemplifies not only the best of the JLI-era League, but one of the best Justice League stories in my comic-laden memory…

Rating: ★★★★★

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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12 Comments

  1. May 20, 2012 at 9:53 pm — Reply

    Just read this issue for the first time, and just thought it was wonderful. Fantastic review, though surprised with the mention of the bromance you didn’t include the scene with BB & BG in the Bug.

    • May 20, 2012 at 9:56 pm — Reply

      Just read this issue for the first time, and just thought it was wonderful. Fantastic review, though surprised with the mention of the bromance you didn’t include the scene with BB & BG in the Bug.

      I considered it, but couldn’t make it work in terms of space. Even with a 70-page book, there’s only so much I can include. :)

      • May 20, 2012 at 10:08 pm — Reply

        How do the limits work for these retro reviews work for anyway?

        • May 20, 2012 at 10:27 pm — Reply

          Simple answer? As little as possible. :)

          We’re here to celebrate comics while respecting those who create ’em.

          • May 21, 2012 at 8:44 pm — Reply

            Understandable. Don’t want to fall into Scans_Daily territory.

  2. Ian
    May 20, 2012 at 11:04 pm — Reply

    I had high hopes for Justice League coming out of Legends, but never enjoyed the bwahaha. Also thought both Booster and Blue Beetle were much better in their own books.

  3. Luis Olavo Dantas
    May 21, 2012 at 6:21 am — Reply

    As per Ian. JLI was a perhaps understandable and undeniably succesfull effort at the time… but I never found it worth the trouble. Also, the JLA survived the Crisis. Its end happened during Legends and cleaned the way for the JLI.

    • May 21, 2012 at 4:04 pm — Reply

      Also, the JLA survived the Crisis. Its end happened during Legends and cleaned the way for the JLI.

      You are correct. I had misremembered the “Legends” banner on issue #261 as a “Crisis” crossover banner…

  4. andreas
    May 21, 2012 at 6:39 am — Reply

    Would you like a copy of JLA 50 from ’91?

  5. Luis Olavo Dantas
    May 21, 2012 at 6:44 am — Reply

    That said, this is a surprisingly well-written story, particularly coming from the writing team that made Booster shallow in the first place.

    Too bad that the pencils (as typical of the JLI) are so darned weak to the point of putting myself out of the history. And that such a tale must be framed by the JLI in the first place.

    • May 21, 2012 at 3:43 pm — Reply

      Actually Dan Jurgens made Booster a glory-hog and fairly shallow in Booster’s ongoing, though certainly Giffen/DeMatteis played that up pretty heavily early on in JLI.

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