When we left off, the Giffen/DeMatteis era had just come to an end in early 1992, with both teams supposedly disbanded. However, it was merely a month or so before the League made its return in JUSTICE LEAGUE SPECTACULAR #1, which reformed the League, once more split into American and European divisions. Both series continued the numbering from the original Giffen/DeMatteis series, with Dan Jurgens writing and penciling JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA as of issue #61, while JUSTICE LEAGUE EUROPE was handled by writer Gerard Jones and artist Ron Randall.
JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA was definitely intended to try and retain some of the Giffen/DeMatteis audience, with a membership made up primarily of JLI holdovers: Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Fire & Ice, Guy Gardner and Superman. However, the roster would almost immediately be in flux, with Guy quitting after only two issues (only to return again not long after) and new members Maxima and Bloodwynd signing on. Maxima was a former adversary of Superman’s, an interplanetary empress who had come to Earth in the hopes of making Superman her consort. As for Bloodwynd, he was a mysterious sorcerer-type who seemed to be hiding a great secret from the team. Unfortunately, he just wasn’t a charismatic enough character to make his secret much for the readers to care about.
What was his secret, you ask? Turns out he was secretly J’onn J’onzz. Or merged with J’onn, or something like that.
The team would undergo further shakeups in the wake of Superman’s unfortunate (albeit temporary) demise in 1993, which not only cost the team the Man of Steel, but also decimated the League’s strength, with Fire and Booster Gold left powerless and Guy and Beetle critically injured as a result of the team’s losing battle with Doomsday. In the aftermath, Wonder Woman and the Ray joined up with the now-weakened team, while second-stringers the Black Condor and Agent Liberty were offered membership, but never quite pulled the trigger on signing on the dotted line.
The high point of Jurgens’ run was the “Destiny’s Hand” storyline from JLA #72- #75, in which the new League finds themselves contending with a dark, evil version of the Satellite-era League, thanks to the reality-altering powers of Dr. Destiny.
And while I’ve always enjoyed Jurgens’ work (his art is solid and handsome, and he wrote an excellent AQUAMAN run a few years back), his JLA never really clicked for me. Mostly, I think, from standing in the shadow of Giffen and DeMatteis, especially since he continued to use so many of their characters.
Jurgens’ run on the book was followed by that of writer Dan Vado, who added Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick to the team with issue #78. Later JLA writers Mark Waid and Christopher Priest both had runs on the book with limited success, trying everything from killing off Ice (a move Waid in recent years has said he regrets) to introducing Triumph, the previously unknown founder of the Justice League lost in time for a decade, with the world having no memory of his existence (this being an attempt to re-introduce a Superman-type character to the origin of the Justice League, with Superman’s involvement in the League still considered to be out of continuity after the events of the CRISIS).
More new members followed, folks like the new Hawkman, former Infinity, Inc. members Nuklon and Obsidian, the Blue Devil, and even a new version of the deceased Ice, but nothing really had much of an effect.
The series was losing readers by the month, and nothing creatives were throwing at the walls seemed to stick.
Things weren’t much better with JLA’s companion book, JUSTICE LEAGUE EUROPE. Starting off under Jones and Randall, the JLE began with a pretty respectable roster of Aquaman, Flash, Hal Jordan, Elongated Man, Dr. Light, Crimson Fox and Power Girl (who happened to be wearing the most atrocious costume of her career at the time. A mullet and a headband? Ouch.)
The new JLE’s roster was fluid as well, with A-level players like Aquaman, Flash and Hal Jordan falling away and being replaced by slightly less legendary types like Metamorpho, the Austrailan hero the Tasmanian Devil and the Indian heroine Maya.
This run of JLE also seemed to have trouble finding its footing creatively, and a longish storyline involving Power Girl’s mysterious pregnancy certainly didn’t help. The series limped along until its 68th issue, until it was cancelled in the wake of DC’s then-current crossover series ZERO HOUR.
That wasn’t the only JUSTICE LEAGUE spinoff book on the market at the time, however. June 1993 had seen the premiere of JUSTICE LEAGUE TASK FORCE, a book in which J’onn J’onzz would recruit superheroes, some League members, some not, for specific globetrotting missions, most of which had a more espionage-type flavor to them.
Former JL Detroit member Gypsy signed on as a permanent member of this group, while everyone from Nightwing to Green Arrow to Bronze Tiger to Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt would help out for a mission or two.
While it was good to see J’onn back in the JL fold once they managed to strain him out of that Bloodwynd guy, JUSTICE LEAGUE TASK FORCE didn’t really feel like a Justice League book, and I think did more harm than good in terms of reinforcing what makes the JLA concept work.
Later in the book’s run, writer Christopher Priest attempted to bring the series closer to concept by having J’onn rework the team as a training ground for new Leaguers (complete with matching uniforms, a Justice League first), but with a core group of Gypsy, the Ray, Triumph and L-Ron (Remember him? The little robot dude introduced in the Giffen/DeMatteis run as Manga Khan’s sidekick. Here his robotic consciousness had been placed into the mindless body of longtime JLA foe Despero and oh never mind.), the series wasn’t setting the world on fire, and it too came to an end in 1996 after 38 issues.
But that’s not all, folks. Yet another Justice League spinoff book was begun in January 1995, with the publication of the oh-so-’90s-sounding EXTREME JUSTICE, from writer Dan Vado and artist Marc Campos.
The idea here was that Captain Atom, frustrated with the Justice League’s leadership under Wonder Woman, forms his own Justice League, consisting of former Leaguers Blue Beetle, Booster Gold and Maxima, and new member Amazing Man, the grandson of the WW II-era superhero that Roy Thomas had created for his ALL-STAR SQUADRON series back in the ‘80s. To Vado’s credit, the team didn’t actually call itself “Extreme Justice,” instead referring to itself as the Justice League, since they believed themselves to be the true JLA over Wonder Woman’s group. Within the first year of the book, in a bizarre decision, Vado decided to introduce Saturday-morning SUPERFRIENDS sidekicks the Wonder Twins to official DC continuity, with enslaved aliens Zan and Jayna looking to the team for refuge from their masters, and by issue #16, they’d officially joined Captain Atom’s Justice League. Of course, by issue #18, EXTREME JUSTICE was cancelled, so it wasn’t exactly a lengthy or distinguished tenure.
By 1996, the writing was on the wall. Even though there were three monthly Justice League books, none of them were breaking any sales records, and, I think more importantly, none of them felt like the Justice League. That sense of mythology, of legend that used to come with “the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes” just wasn’t there any more, and DC realized it.
Thankfully, this was about to change.