Here we are, finally, at the final installment of perhaps my most ridiculously titled series of non-fiction ever, Guy Gardner Has a Bowl Cut. Last time, the series that we’re covering changed names and… well, levels of quality. As Justice League became Justice League International, it shed some of its narrative crutches that kept the book from being the fun, inventive superhero book it would grow to become. The League, last we checked, were setting up embassies all over the world. So now that we’ve finally gotten into a good groove here, let’s throw it all to hell and skip ahead sixteen issues, what do you say?
And remember… I’m going in fresh, never having read any of this before.
From jump, the cover is an obvious homage to the first issue. You know a series is doing well when it can pay homage to itself. The JLI seems to have dramatically increased its membership here, too, so let’s dive in and see who joined the ranks and why in this oversized 55-page issue.
Now, we pick up with someone who we spent a lot of time with in #1 and #4, but who didn’t show up in the last two installments we covered: Maxwell Lord. He features more heavily in the three stories collected in this issue than any of the actual superheroes, though Blue Beetle also gets some solid page time. In the first tale, Maxwell Lord goes on an expedition, gets trapped in a cave in, and screams for help. Blue Beetle, who is hanging out miles and miles away with Oberon and Ice (new addition to the team) hears Max’s call. Unsure how or why this happened, Beetle and Ice find Max exactly where Beetle somehow knew he’d be, and they save him.
The next story captures the funnier, lighter “Curb Your Enthusiasm with spandex” vibe I felt in the last review. The Justice League International is looking to recruit new members, so it hosts a party with superheroes – including some former iconic members such as Flash and Wonder Woman. This leads to some great bits, such as Flash lamenting that this League isn’t like the one he remembers, and Beetle proving that to be exactly right by unabashedly hitting on Wonder Woman. There’s a brief skirmish between the League and a group of villains that, upon seeing they’ve walked into a room densely populated with superheroes, decide that they’d rather not fight. It’s too late, of course, and they get walloped. There’s also an intriguing scene between Ice and another new member, Fire, who is sick – but with the focus on one-liners and action here, we don’t get to know them well.
The issue rounds out with another “Maxwell Lord is in trouble” story, but though the script from guest writer David Levin and art from Dean Haspiel aren’t bad, this one feels a little too close in plot and cast to the first story for it to stand out much. It was fun, though.
Now, this is about to be some nerdy shit, but the thing that grabbed me here was a bit of mythology that Maxwell Lord was talking about. He references having the “metagene,” a gene that makes a person more susceptible to getting superpowers. Basically, if someone with the gene and someone without it encountered some origin-story-level radiation, or perhaps fell into a vat of villainy, the person with the gene would be way more likely to come out with special abilities. I’ve never heard this referenced in any of the DC Comics I’ve read before, but I think it actually introduces an interesting explanation for why a lot of these transformative, often radioactive events that would kill any normal person instead turn so many DC humans into super-powered beings. A cursory search shows that this idea wasn’t created within this run, but I had to call it out as interesting.
So that brings us to the end of this month’s focus on Justice League International. I found the installments I read to be entertaining, inventive, uneven, ambitious, and entirely too heavy on Guy Garnder – who is mercifully not a focus of this final issue. One of the things I love most about taking deep dives into past, historic runs of these legendary titles is seeing how the books I love today were influenced by the stories that can before. And man, the influence of Justice League International looms large not only in the DC Universe, but in comics writing in general.
Also, just to cut him some slack, I do empathize with Guy Gardner. He has every reason to be mad. I mean, how could his barber do that to another human being? The humanity…