Justice League: A New Beginning (Keith Giffen & J.M. Dematteis and Kevin Maguire)
I have a lot of love for the characters of the Justice League International despite never really having read the series that made them famous. I came to Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, Mr Miracle et al well after JLI ran its course and by way of books like Infinite Crisis and 52 along with cartoons like Justice League Unlimited. I have never touched any of the older JLI stuff while absolutely adoring the modern takes on the team and characters in books such as Justice League: Generation Lost and the New 52 Justice League International. I planned to change that and where else can you start apart from the beginning?
Justice League: A New Beginning is the starting point of tonal shift for the Justice League and the humble (read: hilarious) beginnings of the JLI.
For starters this book contains one of the single greatest pages of comic book storytelling to date, the famous “One Punch” scene. Which sees Batman take down Guy Gardner with one well timed and well deserved punch to the face. It is the perfect summation of the writing style of the book and is the reason it is worth reading. Not only is it a well executed gag but it is something that is built up to for the majority of the book. Guy is a complete ass up to this moment. He gets on everyone’s nerves and even annoys the reader with his typical Guy Gardner arrogance. He bosses people around, thinks he knows best and basically acts like a twat. Suddenly in another bout of mouthing off Batman takes him up on his offer to settle their differences the old fashioned way and the tables turn quickly and hilariously. It is something I have been well versed in over the years of reading DC books. It is one of those things that is referenced regularly so I knew it was coming well in advance of reading the book. Yet it was still incredibly funny. Why? Because like all good sitcoms the jokes stand the test of time, multiple viewings/readings and tellings. That is what this book is, a superhero sitcom and a brilliant one at that.
Giffen and Dematties’ writing really brings out the differences in all of the members of the team and uses those to great effect. The characters presented here are extremes of their usual portrayals because it follows the sitcom formula so closely. Outside influences constantly create the situations that set up the action and the comedy while the characters react to it while making you giggle. The only real downside to the book’s story is when it actually gets around to some old fashioned super heroics. The opening adventures of this team are bland at the best of times and just plain crap for most of the book but yet you read them with a smile on your face because the drama of the Justice League meeting room often spills out into the field. So while it is odd to say the more traditional aspects of the comic are the worst, they are still worth reading. There are some perfect moments like Booster Gold’s solo fight against the Royal Flush Gang mixed in with the usual terrorists and nuclear threats so popular during the 80s and 90s. It also helps that a lot of the action shows off some truly great art from Kevin Maguire.
I do not know what it is but Kevin Maguire draws some of the best expressions in comic books and they fit perfectly with this book! They truly heighten the comedy and bickering of the stuff that happens away from the fighting. Then when the punching starts you get to see some awesome strained expressions that show the effort the heroes are putting into the battle. It is great stuff and something you really do not see a lot of outside of a few notable artists. Maguire’s art suites any situation the book throws at it. From tense and serious standoffs to people goofing around. It always shines through giving the read just enough information to interpret the scene in their own way. It is different from any other artists’ work and to get a chance to sample it in this book is a real treat.
Justice League: A New Beginning is both a hilariously funny book to this day while also very much being a product of its time. Published in the year of my birth it is steeped in 80s viewpoints and hangups about the Cold War. Which are both interesting and a bit cringe worthy. For example Black Canary has to shout about her status as an independent woman who needs no man’s help to the point that it feels forced. Then you have the whole thing with the Russians and a nuclear reactor potentially going into meltdown. It is all very….well….old fashioned and it sticks out like a sore thumb in an otherwise great book. Then you have aspects of knowledge of the modern comics clouding my judgment. Mainly of Maxwell Lord who in the modern DCU is one of the evilest people on the planet. Yet here he is all smiles and sneaky business moves. Still a tricky bastard but nowhere near the evil mastermind his character grew into over the years following this story.
Still the comic was highly entertaining and is well worth a read. It may be a bumpy start but it has me interested in picking up the rest of the adventures of the Justice League International to see where they go and what gags come out of the very unusual setup of the series.
It is not for everyone but if you are a fan of classic sitcom comedy it is worth checking out. Especially for that one punch!
Justice League: A New Beginning is made up of issues #1 to #6 of Justice League and #7 of Justice League International from 1987 series. It is available digitally via the Comixology/DC Comics websites and apps or in trade via Amazon.