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Lightening the Mood: Justice League of America, Part XI

Previously in COMICS 101: Last time, we began our discussion of the Giffen/DeMatteis era of JUSTICE LEAGUE, in which the Justice League reorganized following the events of the DC summer miniseries LEGENDS, with a membership consisting of many of the company’s biggest stars. Complicating matters for team leader Batman is the involvement of the mysterious businessman Maxwell Lord, who has taken it upon himself to recruit prospective members for the new League, beginning with the female Dr. Light, and following that up with the newest potential Leaguer: Booster Gold.

Booster’s unexpected introduction to the Justice League in JUSTICE LEAGUE #4 (August 1987) didn’t go smoothly, as both he and Maxwell Lord are questioned before Booster, unhappy about being rejected by Batman, departs. On the way out of the JLA’s Secret Sanctuary (which is no longer secret, by the way, with news crews waiting out front to speak with Booster, his arrival undoubtedly leaked by Lord), Booster discovers lying in wait the League’s old enemies the Royal Flush Gang, preparing to attack the League.

Mr. Miracle raises the League’s new force field around the HQ, trapping the Royal Flush Gang and Booster inside, but does not engage, as Batman wants to first observe Booster Gold in action.

“But hey,” I hear you asking, “who is this Booster Gold character anyway?” A quick digression: Booster Gold first appeared in the debut issue of his own series, BOOSTER GOLD, in September 1986, written and drawn by Dan Jurgens. The character made his debut as a flashy but mysterious new superhero on the scene, and one who had as much of an interest in marketing himself and snaring endorsements as he did the common good. As the months went by, readers would discover that Booster was a bit of a fraud, in actuality a failed college football player from the far future thrown out of the game for gambling, and reduced to a janitor’s job at the 25th-century Metropolis’ Space Museum. Booster than stole a Legion of Superheroes flight ring, a force field generator, wrist blasters and other bits of technology (along with Skeets, a museum security robot), and used Rip Hunter’s time sphere to journey back to the 20th century, where he used the future gear to make a name for himself as a superhero.

Anyway, Booster finds himself alone against the Royal Flush Gang, and after a rough start at first, soon finds himself ably handling the super-thugs, including this amusing exchange with Flush Gang member Ten:

In fact, Booster’s performance against the Royal Flush Gang is so impressive, it even garners that rarest of critical responses: a slight positive reaction from Batman.

With the unexpected arrival of an even more powerful android Ace, the rest of the League is forced to enter the fray, but once again it’s Booster (this time with an assist from the Blue Beetle, manning the force-field controls) who takes care of business, cementing the decision by Batman to grant him membership.

Before they can barely congratulate their newest teammate, Maxwell Lord has once more beaten them to the punch, further heightening the mystery of just who they slimy corproate type was who claimed to speak for the League. The following issue kicks off a two-part story involving the mystical threat of the Gray Man, a sort of cosmic custodian of the dreamscape, but what the issue is best remembered for is the confrontation between Batman and Guy Gardner, whose antagonism had reached a boiling point over the previous four issues.

It’s a great example of proper bait-and-switch plotting in comics, as everything about the buildup leads one to expect a grand knock-down, drag-out fistfight between Guy and Batman, everything from the very effective cover, showing Guy lunging at Batman from the Caped Crusader’s point-of-view, to the page layout, which leaves the reader hanging at the bottom right-page with Guy springing to the attack, only to turn the page to see Gardner dropped in a single panel by one punch from the Batman, leaving the rest of the page to the reactions of the rest of the League.

And as we would find out later, the punch would have long-running repercussions for Guy Gardner, which the League would have to adjust to.

Big changes were afoot in the seventh issue of the new series, made clear right away by the book’s updated title: JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL.

Here Maxwell Lord’s agenda is finally made clear as, with the clandestine help of Mr. Miracle’s assistant Oberon, Lord pushes through to the United Nations a proposal to grant the League official and independent U.N. peacekeeper status, allowing them to operate globally with full cooperation and approval of the international community. However, with public opinion still divided regarding the League, the proposal’s passing looks unlikely. It’s here we discover that the mysterious Mr. Lord is not working alone, as an equally mysterious robotic something-or-other unleashes a satellite in orbit that begins raining down a colossal laser beam on the Earth’s surface, one that will strike a nuclear base within a matter of hours, setting off dozens of nuclear warheads all at once. The League takes off in a borrowed space shuttle at once to try to deactivate the satellite (minus Guy Gardner, who, following a second crack on the head following his knockout from Batman, has undergone a total personality shift, now behaving as a syrupy sweet Pollyana, volunteering to remain behind on monitor duty while humming Carpenters tunes to himself), and are somewhat easily rebuffed by the satellite’s automatic defenses (which, the team notes, are unexplainably accompanied by video cameras). When Batman’s suit is blasted open in the vacuum of space and yet he doesn’t die, Mr. Miracle recognizes the satellite as a training device from his homeworld of New Genesis, utilizing technology that would allow you to hone your abilities without ever really getting hurt.

Armed with this knowledge, Miracle deactivates the satellite and shuts down the laser, all before the eyes of a grateful world, thanks to the video broadcasts sent down to Earth by the satellite’s cameras. With public opinion at a record high, the U.N. feels it has no choice but to grant the League international status, especially with the League’s willingness to admit two new members from the two world superpowers, the United States’ Captain Atom and the U.S.S.R.’s Rocket Red. The League is suspicious about the business with the satellite and Lord’s potential involvement, but realize the potential for good in the new arrangement outweighs any misgivings they might have. With the new status comes more changes, with the departure of Dr. Fate and Captain Marvel, and Batman stepping down from the now far too public role of team leader, handing the reins over to J’onn J’onnz. So began Justice League International:

The next issue, JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL #7 (December 1987), is really where the shift in the book’s focus begins to first take place, moving from fairly straightforward action to more of an action comedy.

While the book had gradually been getting funnier and funnier in the witty banter and back-and-forth between Booster, Beetle and Mr. Miracle, “Moving Day” was the first issue to feature primarily comedy and character interplay, showing the newly international Leaguers settling into their various embassies around the globe. While Captain Atom, Mr. Miracle and J’onn work on the New York embassy (revealing for the first time J’onn’s fondness for Oreo cookies), Batman, Guy and Rocket Red oversee the establishment of the Soviet embassy, which, Batman discovers, has been equipped with a few listening devices the League wasn’t supposed to know about:

Meanwhile, Booster and Beetle are taking in the sights in Paris, France, meaning primarily the beautiful women. When Booster tries to pick up on a particularly lovely young Parisienne, his efforts are met with something less than enthusiasm, evidenced by Beetle’s reaction:

Beetle’s amusement continues when they return to the embassy, where Booster meets their new French bureau chief, Catherine Cobert, the same woman Booster had hit on earlier. Luckily, she doesn’t recognize Booster in costume. Unluckily, Beetle recognizes her immediately:

Topping things off for the League, Mr. Miracle returns to the New York embassy with their brand-new JLI shuttle, fresh from STAR Labs, and decides to land it on the roof, admittedly, the usual procedure for superhero teams. However, no one asked the construction guys if the building could handle the weight, and let’s just say it doesn’t go well.

Successive issues of JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL had a more balanced mix of action and comedy, such as in the very next issue, in which one of their new members, Rocket Red #7, reveals himself to be a Manhunter, one of the thousands of androids planted throughout the DC universe in key relationships with Earth’s super-types in an attempt to either convert them to their cause or destroy them from within.

(This was all taking place in a mostly unmemorable DC summer crossover series called MILLENNIUM, which detailed the Manhunters’ plot to stop the evolution of mankind by destroying a dozen or so individuals who were destined to bring about the next Great Age of Man, or something like that. Don’t bother, unless you’re really curious, or are just a fan of Joe Staton’s fine work as artist.) When the League refuses to join up with the Manhunters, Rocket Red uses his armor’s mecha-empathy feature to take control of their shuttle and fly it directly into a Bialyan oil refinery, which would have meant curtains for the League, were it not for the intervention of a squadron of real Rocket Reds, called in by a concerned Oberon.

The traitorous Manhunter is soon replaced on the League by Rocket Red #4, a.k.a. the good-hearted Dmitri Pushkin (who had been kicked in the teeth by Black Canary during their earlier skirmish with the League), who serves with the JLI for the duration of its existence.


The MILLENNIUM crossover also introduced the JLI to one of its more frequent supporting characters, one that would probably do more to brand the Giffen/DeMatteis JUSTICE LEAGUE as a comedy/parody than any other. On a deep-space mission to destroy a Manhunter base planet, the League discovers G’nort, a member of the Green Lantern Corps best described as a cross between Lassie and Ed Norton from THE HONEYMOONERS.

G’nort, a good-natured but completely incompetent doglike alien, received a ring only as a favor to his uncle, “a highly influential member of the Corps” and was sent to a sector of the galaxy completely devoid of life so that he couldn’t do any harm. Of course, since the android Manhunters aren’t technically alive, the Corps had no idea they were sending G’nort right into their lair, and G’nort, being about as dumb as a box of rocks, never realized it once he was there. Fans seemed to either love or hate G’nort, and he’d return time and time again throughout the Giffen/DeMatteis run.

The first year of JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL closed out with the long-awaited revelation of Maxwell Lord’s master plan. As it turned out, Max himself was merely a puppet of the aforementioned mysterious computer, which he had discovered while on a corporate rock-climbing retreat, and which seduced him into carrying out its schemes. When Lord breaks down and asks the League for help, the computer goes on the attack, first unleashing Lord’s building’s defenses on them, then setting a colossal robot against them when they manage to track down the computer’s mountain compound.

After the League defeats the robot and invaders the compound, they’re net by the computer’s creator: Metron, the cosmic seeker of all knowledge from Jack Kirby’s NEW GODS series. Only the presence of fellow New Genesis resident Mr. Miracle prevents Metron from immediately attacking the League, and as the two reason together, it’s clear to the computer (created by Metron to gather information on Earth, but built too well, gaining sentience and self-awareness), which had been planning to eventually replace the world’s leaders with robotic duplicates and begin running the world itself, that the jig is up, and its electronic consciousness retreats back to what’s left of Max’s office, where it attempts to seduce Max once more with dreams of power.

This time, Max is able to resist, and he destroys the computer, before succumbing to mortal injuries he’d suffered earlier, injuries that the computer was keeping patched. The League finds the comatose exec before the end comes and gets him to the hospital, and after a mindscan by J’onn, a decision is made about Max’s place with the League:

The next big threat the League would face would more firmly cement most people’s opinion of JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL as a comedy series: the interstellar capitalist Lord Manga Khan and his galactic barter syndicate known as the Cluster. Lord Manga would wallow in overdone Shatner-style soliloquy while threatening the Earth to “Shop or Die,” with some minor kibitzing from his loyal robot lackey L-Ron (obviously named for sci-fi writer and Scientology huckster L. Ron Hubbard).

The “Lord Manga” storyline, fun but mostly innocuous, was notable for two things: the somewhat more whimsical and cartoony art of Steve Leialoha, and the addition of two new members of the team, Green Flame and Icemaiden, later to be renamed simply Fire and Ice.

A word or two about Fire and Ice, if I may: with the female membership of the League at an all-time low after the departure of the Black Canary in issue #13 (headed off to her tortured fate in Mike Grell’s GREEN ARROW: THE LONGBOW HUNTERS, to be exact), Giffen and DeMatteis decided to bring in some new women Leaguers and do so in a way that reflected the League’s new status as well, and how it was affecting the DC Universe at large. To be more specific, a previously established international DC superhero team called the Global Guardians (introduced, in all places, in DC’s SUPERFRIENDS cartoon tie-in comic book), which, now that the League had received United Nations funding and support, was deemed unnecessary and scrapped, its members turned out on the street. Rather than give in to despair or fall in with bad companions like some of its members, two of the ex-Guardians, the Brazilian pyrokinetic Beatriz “Green Flame” DaCosta and the ice-generating Norwegian Tora “Icemaiden” Olafsdotter, decide to knock on the front door of the local Justice League embassy and apply for membership.

Which just happened to be when a shorthanded J’onn J’onzz needed some additional forces for his battle with Lord Manga. Works out quite nicely, doesn’t it?

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