Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Awesome Comic Finds: Justice League International Vol. 1

It's time again for my new feature: "Awesome Comic Finds," in which I detail...well...particularly great comic finds. Not every comic I purchase shows up here, but when I find either unexpectedly amazing comics, unheard of comics, or comics at a super cheap price, I blather about them here.

I've made it no secret over the years both here and on Twitter how much I love the internet comic review show Atop the Fourth Wall. Lewis "Linkara" Lovhaug lays out comic history in an engaging and entertaining way, and his explanations for what makes a good comic or doesn't make a good comic altered the way I viewed comics and got me back into collecting and reading again after letting my Adventures of Superman subscription lapse back in the early 2000's. One of the things that Linkara has spent quite a bit of time talking about is how awesome the superbuddies duo of the Blue Beetle and Booster Gold are. While I'd never heard of them before, Linkara's enthusiasm got me interested in looking them up.

As a lot of these stories go, I was taking one of frequent trips to my local comic shop to check out their stock. I was actually in the middle of collecting the full Post-Infinite Crisis run on Superman that Kurt Busiek wrote in the mid-to-late-2000's. But something caught my eye. To my surprise, they actually had two used copies of Justice League International Vol 1.

One advantage to buying the used copies in the store over Amazon is that while Amazon has a huge, huge stock of basically every trade ever released, it's also at the whims of whatever weird economics the online marketplace follows. You'll have titles that will, for no explicable reason, balloon in price by 10, 20, 30 dollars or more, and sometimes they don't ever go back down to what they once were. At the time, JLI Vol 1 was going for something around $25, although it looks like the price has dropped back down to a more reasonable $12 or so as of this writing. Either way, finding it for $7.99 at my LCS (local comic shop) was still a great deal.

With that let me say: go grab this while it's cheap. This is a historical little book because of the audacious way Keith Giffen and J.M Dematteis approached the characters.

At first glance, it might not be something the mainstream person would likely pick up. If they're like me, they were raised on the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited cartoons. Those shows had the Big Heroes--Superman! Batman! Wonder Woman! The Flash! Green Lantern!--names that people recognize. But this cover features a bunch of nobodies, a luchador, and Batman--who might be the only reason someone picked this up. That, to me, is this book's biggest plus.

After JLA's lagging sales, Giffen and DeMatteis were tasked to reinvent the team, but weren't allowed to use any of the big named superheroes that might draw people in as they were tied up in their own stuff at the time. Because this group was made up of a bunch of odd-balls and lower tier heroes, the book seems to naturally take on a humorous, off-beat tone. The team is constantly struggling, both with their own weird interpersonal dynamics, but also with the general public questioning their methods and denigrating them because they're not the JLA that everyone is used to--which serves as a metacommentary on how the book was almost certainly viewed by some at the time--"but this isn't MY league! What are you doing??"

This run is often referred to as the "Bwa-Ha-Ha" era of the League in online comic circles, and for the most part, that's pretty accurate. For this first volume, the real standout to me is Batman, who is allowed to have a personality outside of the grim and grimacing dark avenger that people constantly want to dress him up as. I'd be curious to read overlapping Batman titles at the time to see how the tone of those books squares with the tone of this book.

The book isn't perfect--the women often come across as nagging wet blankets, or they're written off without anyone taking their opinions or concerns seriously. There's times this almost maybe seems like it's supposed to be a joke, but it's hard to tell, and either way it's not funny, nor fun. And there are a few unfortunate moments where even the "good guy" male characters--namely, anyone not Guy Gardner--objectify women in gross and uncomfortable ways. Of course, this came out in 1987, so it's of it's time, and while it doesn't ruin the book, it is there, and it's disappointing. 

All that said, the character dynamics are great, the stories are fun, and it's honestly refreshing to read a book that expands its view beyond the more commonly recognized characters. It makes the universe feel more fleshed out. I'd recommend checking your LCS to see if they have any old trades or back issues of this series, but if you can't, it's currently relatively cheap on Amazon and definitely worth $12 or so.