Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Justice League #5
September ‘87
“Gray Life Gray Dreams”
Keith Giffen: plot & breakdowns
J.M. DeMatteis: script
Kevin Maguire: pencils
Al Gordon: inks
Bob Lappan: letters
Gene D’Angelo: colors
Andy Helfer: editor

First and foremost, this is the kind of cover I want to see from Kevin Maguire, one in which he can flex his muscles with facial expressions and also play to this League’s dysfunctional nature. Also, Terry Austin’s inks look mighty fine on Maguire’s pencils--not that Al Gordon’s interior inks are any less effective.

Speaking of the inside of the book, the JL itself doesn’t show up until page 12--well, if you want to be technical, Doctor Fate turns up on page 2, but since he’s hardly been around over the previous four issues, I don’t really think he counts. That’s not to say, though, that I’m not excited about this Gray Man story, which hinges on Doctor Fate’s relationship with the Lords of Order. Quite the contrary. I’ve long been a sucker for weird mystical shenanigans in comic books, and I was completely absorbed in DeMatteis’ lyrical--albeit expository--flashback, which reveals the sequence of events that’s turned the Gray Man into such a curmudgeon.

Once the story does make its way to the (rest of the) League, we see that the bad blood brewing between Batman and Guy Gardner throughout the first four issues has finally reached a boil, and the resultant dish is utterly delectable:

With Guy out for the count, the League tries to get down to the business at hand--namely unraveling the mysteries of Maxwell Lord--but is quickly called away when Doctor Fate takes control of the monitor screen and summons the team to Stone Ridge, Vermont, ground zero for the Gray Man’s attack on humankind. Then, just because it’s about time things take a real turn for the weird, the Creeper shows up in all his glory:

There’s also a brief side story with Jack Ryder (sort of like Glenn Beck, only nowhere near as despicable), but the most important thing to take away from that brief detour is this mullet:

This issue’s weird, wacky and mystical, and it’s got Batman clocking Gardner, which holds up well to the test of time. All in all, it’s definitely the best issue of the series so far.

The complete 60 Weeks with the Justice League on The Danger Digest:
#1, #2, #3, #4, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #17, #18, #19, #20, #21, #22, #23, #24, #25/1, #26/2, #27/3, #28/4, #29/5, #30/6, #31/7, #32/8, #33/9, #34/10, #35/11, #36/12, #37/13, #38/14, #39/15, #40/16, #41/17, #42/18, #43/19, #44/20, #45/21, #46/22, #47/23, #48/24, #49/25, #50/26, #51/27, #52/28, #53/29, #54/30, #55/31, #56/32, #57/33, #58/34, #59/35, #60/36

All images this post copyright DC Comics. Original text copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Justice League #4
August ‘87
“Winning Hand”
Keith Giffen: plot
J.M. DeMatteis: script
Kevin Maguire: pencils
Al Gordon: inks
Bob Lappan: letters
Gene D’Angelo: colors
Andy Helfer: editor

For all the humor inherent in making the Justice League logo the “diaper” for this issue’s big bad guy (the Royal Flush Gang’s robotic Ace), Maguire’s undisputed strength lies in drawing facial expressions, and this cover’s wide shot of the Leaguers just doesn’t carry the same punch as when he’s drawing close-ups. Certainly, the book couldn’t survive with only talking heads filling its pages, but you really want the art to shine on the cover, and this one just doesn’t carry a whole lot of sparkle.

As for the inside of the book, my first read-through left me rather nonplussed. After three issues I was happy to chalk up to foundation building, I frankly expected something, well, significant to happen here. At least more significant than Booster Gold almost single-handedly taking down the Royal Flush Gang and earning official entrĂ©e into the League’s ranks. Because basically that’s all that happens.

After reading the issue a second time, however, I came away having enjoyed the work a good deal more. Certainly the book hadn’t changed: Booster’s jokes that I thought fell flat the first time around still made me cringe, but Ace’s declaration of annoyance followed up with swift backhand suggested the writers knew the dialogue might have its critics, and I found myself on DeMatteis’ side again.

The heart of this book is the interaction between the characters, and frankly I would be happy to see them tackle the most banal of tasks, right on down to grocery shopping and laundry, except for one fact: Batman is on the team.

Batman’s all seriousness. When he’s around, everyone should be taking care of business. And when he’s with the JL, the team should be preventing worldwide cataclysm. Why? Because he’s Batman, and nothing short of the end of the world should get him to leave the streets of Gotham. If he weren’t in this book, I’d be happy to watch all the rest of the team fight amongst themselves and then drink chocolate malts, but with him here, I expect a much more serious threat than the damn Royal Flush Gang.

I understand the need to have a grounding presence on the team, someone who can be all business all the time, but over the past four issues, Martian Manhunter has performed that role brilliantly, to the point of making Batman redundant. But hey, DC is (and was back in ’87, too) in the comics-selling business, and Batman sells books.

Maybe they should’ve just put Batman on the cover.

More Fun with Maxwell Lord!

The complete 60 Weeks with the Justice League on The Danger Digest:
#1, #2, #3, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #17, #18, #19, #20, #21, #22, #23, #24, #25/1, #26/2, #27/3, #28/4, #29/5, #30/6, #31/7, #32/8, #33/9, #34/10, #35/11, #36/12, #37/13, #38/14, #39/15, #40/16, #41/17, #42/18, #43/19, #44/20, #45/21, #46/22, #47/23, #48/24, #49/25, #50/26, #51/27, #52/28, #53/29, #54/30, #55/31, #56/32, #57/33, #58/34, #59/35, #60/36

All images this post copyright DC Comics. Original text copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Justice League #3
July ‘87
Keith Giffen: plot & breakdowns
J.M. DeMatteis: script
Kevin Maguire: pencils
Al Gordon: inks
Bob Lappan: letters
Gene D’Angelo: colors
Andy Helfer: editor
Special thanks to Terry Austin

As did issue 2, issue 3 ends with another would-be letters page commandeered by editor Andrew Helfer. I give him credit for emphasizing the important role of the inker, letterer and colorist, but when he writes “Gene is one of the few guys that can take characters of fifty different colors and find a background color that NONE of theme fade away against,” it really seems to diminish the thoughtfulness and artistry that goes into good coloring and, indeed, is evident in D’Angelo’s work. Perhaps more illuminating is Helfer’s quick run-through of the creative process behind this book:

“Mr. Giffen plots the story first--that is, he sits down with the editor at regular intervals (usually once a month) and figures out the events that will take place in any given issue. This includes both major plots, subplots, character ‘bits’ and anything else the plotter cares to toss in. Usually, the average writer will then hand in a typed, page-by-page breakdown of the story, which the penciller will then illustrate; in Mr. Giffen’s case, an uncontrollable fear of typewriters (or maybe just their ribbons) forces him to produce his plots as a set of mini-pages, which acts as a layout ‘guide’ for the pencil artist [….] Once the page is penciled, the entire package is shipped off to the scripter, who dialogues the pages based on the plot.”

Helfer goes on to explain scripter J.M. DeMatteis’ late arrival to the title; apparently the plotted and penciled pages for the first issue sat for some time before DeMatteis was officially on the book and writing the dialogue, which in turn slowed the inking process, requiring Al Gordon to take over responsibilities from Terry Austin. To my mind, even though this essentially describes the now-antiquated “Marvel Method,” when two writers are involved, it opens the door for a disconnect between the art and text such as is seen on page 12:

If the man in the red suit is the first to recognize the danger, his expression in the fourth panel seems redundant at best and awkward or downright inconsistent at worst. My suspicion (and it is only a suspicion) is that DeMatteis’ script changed the action Maguire penciled from Giffen’s breakdowns; it looks suspiciously like the workers seen in the first two panels realize the danger when the screen illuminates in panel three, and the man in the foreground of panel four is the only one who voices the reality these players are all suddenly made aware of.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Sticking with the art for a moment but jumping back to the book’s cover, I feel this issue is a definite improvement over issue 2, but it still falls short of the bold standard set by the series’ first issue. All the same, I very much respect the composition, with the title itself pointing to our heroes, who are further caged by the fence (made to look even more threatening thanks to the illustration’s perspective) and the encircling Rocket Red Brigade.

The 22-page story itself plays out pretty straightforwardly: Colonel Harjavti convinces Wandjina, Silver Sorceress and Bluejay--the three aliens who have come to Earth to destroy the planet’s nuclear arsenal and prevent the type of global cataclysm that left their home world a lifeless husk--to remove the Soviet Union’s warheads, leaving the Justice League no choice but to breach Soviet airspace and risk an international “incident” to stop the trio.

Inside Russia, the team is stopped by the Soviets’ super-guardians, the Rocket Red Brigade, and airborne fisticuffs naturally ensue. However, with so many super-powered folk flying around uninvited, Russia’s nuclear infrastructure goes on high alert, and when the nuclear power plant from page 12 improperly shuts down, the Rocket Reds are forced to seek the League’s assistance in preventing a core meltdown.

Arriving at the plant, the general consensus is it’s too late to do anything, until Wandjina flies into the belly of the beast, apparently sacrificing himself to save the day--an act of heroism the rest of this cast seems incapable of performing. (Granted, I can appreciate that it’s bad for business to kill Batman--oh, wait. Anyhow, back in ’87, it wasn’t so easy for DC’s characters to return from the dead.)

Kicked out of the Soviet Union as soon as the crisis has been averted, the JL returns to headquarters, where they find the enigmatic Maxwell Lord waiting with the League’s “newest member,” Booster Gold.

Lord also factors into the middle of this book, when he makes a phone call to Gorbachev himself (or at least his cartoon counterpart) in order to smooth over the JL’s intrusion into the U.S.S.R.

Over this series’ first three issues, I dare say Lord’s behind-the-scenes moves have been the most interesting--or intriguing, anyway--story beats, and I’m hopeful that his stepping out of the shadows will pay dividends over the next few (or, ideally, more) issues.

It’s certainly noteworthy that thus far, the League has spent most of its time either fighting amongst itself or chasing after three aliens whose mission was essentially righteous. It’s a sign of the times that the Cold War takes such a front seat, and it’s significant that Reagan is frequently name-dropped and Gorbachev actually makes an appearance. This iteration of Justice League began its run roughly a month after Reagan addressed the nation regarding the Iran-Contra affair, and only a year and a half after the Challenger tragedy. It’s disingenuous, of course, to say that in 1987 the world seemed decidedly real, but for whatever reason, the “real world” was invited into the pages of our four-color entertainment. (In truth, this could well have to do with the aftermath of DC’s epic Crisis on Infinite Earths: After decades of multiple Earths existing across the dimensional planes, the company wanted its readers to know that the One World that remains is very much Our World.)

More next week…

The complete 60 Weeks with the Justice League on The Danger Digest:
#1, #2, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #17, #18, #19, #20, #21, #22, #23, #24, #25/1, #26/2, #27/3, #28/4, #29/5, #30/6, #31/7, #32/8, #33/9, #34/10, #35/11, #36/12, #37/13, #38/14, #39/15, #40/16, #41/17, #42/18, #43/19, #44/20, #45/21, #46/22, #47/23, #48/24, #49/25, #50/26, #51/27, #52/28, #53/29, #54/30, #55/31, #56/32, #57/33, #58/34, #59/35, #60/36

All images this post plus Andrew Helfer quotes copyright DC Comics. Original text copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Justice League #2
June ‘87
“Make War No More!”
Keith Giffen: plot & breakdowns
J.M. DeMatteis: script
Kevin Maguire: penciller
Al Gordon: inker
Bob Lappan: letterer
Gene D’Angelo: colorist
Andrew Helfer: editor

Picking up the day after the events of Justice League #1, “Make War No More!” throws the reader headlong into late ‘80s Cold War politics as only a comic book of the era could, with the introduction of a galaxy- and dimension-spanning trio of “heroes” who have tasked themselves with ridding the universe of nuclear weapons, the likes of which destroyed their own home world. First things first, though: Batman has to be an insensitive dick.

Despite Dr. Light’s help taking down the terrorists at the U.N., Batman’s peeved that she’s in possession of a signal device of unknown origin, and he’s determined to figure out from whence it came. His interrogation of the good doctor takes a coffee break when Blue Beetle calls the gang around the TV for the latest episode of Jack Ryder’s Hot Seat (misspelled “Rider” in one panel). The TV-screen panels certainly owe a debt to Frank Miller’s serious (some might say “decadent”) The Dark Knight Returns, to which this series’ comedy stands in response.

Beetle and co. aren’t the only ones enjoying the show: Ryder’s commentating serves as an “aural” bridge to the mysterious Maxwell Lord’s one and only page this issue. A potent page it is, though, portending of things to come as Lord welcomes Booster Gold into his office.

Following the Ryder episode, two pages reveal the whereabouts--metaphysical though they may be--of Dr. Fate, who up and disappeared during the first issue. It seems trouble is brewing with the Gray Man, and Fate pays a visit in an effort to keep the old-timer in check.

Page 8 takes us to that smallest of nuclear powers, the backwater country of Bialya, nestled somewhere in Eastern Europe. There, the Silver Sorceress, Wandjina and Bluejay have arrived to send the small nation’s nuclear arsenal into another dimension. Apparently successful in their mission, the three are welcomed by Bialya’s scheming leader, Colonel Rumaan Harjavti, who entices the heroes to make camp with him, and by issue's end directs their attention to the U.S.S.R.

By way of a two-page flashback, the creative team explains that these three characters hail from a world surprisingly like our own, only one that finally teetered over the brink and into nuclear Armageddon. In fact, the parallels between the worlds are so pronounced (beyond even a common species and language) that these three survivors mourn the loss of Captain Speed, “the fastest man on two legs,” which would have rung a number of bells back in ’87, not too terribly long after “the fastest man alive,” Barry Allen, lost his own life.

Thanks to a newscast, the trio’s actions finally catch the attention of the Justice League, and the two groups face off over Bialya. The conflict finds a temporary resolution (at least for this issue) when Batman accepts that the League is violating Bialyan airspace and leads his team away.

Throughout the issue, Batman stands firm as the team’s leader, even if his fellow members respect his guidance rather grudgingly. Significantly, though, J’onn takes his own place as a sympathetic, levelheaded and ultimately strong second in command. Regarding the story itself, it feels quite dated anymore, very much a product of 1987. Otherwise, the characterization and dialogue continue to entertain, although Guy Gardner’s insistence on referring to Captain Marvel as “Captain Whitebread” reads terribly--and even embarrassingly--stilted.

As for the art, the cover is a true weak link, a real step into mediocrity after the bold and now rightly iconic cover image from issue 1. Inside the book, however, Maguire and Gordon’s work again shines, with Maguire’s penchant for facial expressions perhaps best manifesting itself with a group of Bialyan soldiers, awestruck by the power of the Silver Sorceress, Wandjina and Bluejay.

Speaking of Bluejay, I was at first utterly confounded by his actual size, but upon a closer read or three, it seems he can shift his size, shrinking down to the approximate scale of his namesake, or growing to roughly the size of his compatriots. (Also, on the subject of artwork and as an addendum to last week’s post, it was unfair of me to credit Maguire for the run of the book when he was in fact off of the title for much of its run. However, in the 20-plus issues he did pencil, he undoubtedly developed the Justice League style, to which his successors would lend their own touch.)

The issue ends with the space that will become the letters page, now simply titled “Justice League” to match the book. Only being issue number 2, however, the space eschews letters in favor of a piece penned by editor Andy Helfer, who details this reboot’s genesis. Here are what strike me as two especially noteworthy passages:

“The JUSTICE LEAGUE of AMERICA defines the greatest of DC’s heroes in a way which ‘solo’ superhero books can not--that is, it defines the individual heroes in the context of their peers--it deals with the FRATERNITY OF HEROES, and allows readers, for a few brief moments, to enter into that private world, and see how heroes interact with EACH OTHER, rather than the ‘ordinary’ people the heroes are sworn to protect, or the villains they are duty-bound to battle [....]

“Even in the old days, the emphasis on America was down played. The JLA saved the WORLD, the UNIVERSE, every month--the considerations of America were almost petty in comparison. Even though they consistently stated their national affiliation (and even though there always seemed to be at least one MARTIAN in the group) the JLA always represented the interests of more than a single country. They played for the BIG STAKES--and perhaps the insistence on maintaining the ‘America’ led to some confusion on the part of the readers. Perhaps. We don’t really know. Either way, though, we immediately dropped the ‘Of America.’”


Boy, did I love The Centurions back in the day, especially the green dude who I swore was an animated Tom Selleck. It’s a real shame I missed out on this miniseries, advertised opposite page 17 in this issue…

The complete 60 Weeks with the Justice League on The Danger Digest:
#1, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #17, #18, #19, #20, #21, #22, #23, #24, #25/1, #26/2, #27/3, #28/4, #29/5, #30/6, #31/7, #32/8, #33/9, #34/10, #35/11, #36/12, #37/13, #38/14, #39/15, #40/16, #41/17, #42/18, #43/19, #44/20, #45/21, #46/22, #47/23, #48/24, #49/25, #50/26, #51/27, #52/28, #53/29, #54/30, #55/31, #56/32, #57/33, #58/34, #59/35, #60/36

All images this post plus Andrew Helfer quotes copyright DC Comics. Original text copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Justice League #1
May ‘87
“Born Again”
Keith Giffen: Plot & Breakdowns
Giffen & DeMatteis: Script
Kevin Maguire: Penciller
Terry Austin: Inker
Bob Lappan: Letterer
Gene D’Angelo: Colorist
Andrew Helfer: Editor

And so begins an epic journey, not only for the Justice League, but for The Danger Digest as well. For we’re about to go through the entirety of the Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire run on Justice League--60 issues that ran from 1987-92--book by book, one book per week, for a total of 60 weeks. (Along the way, we’ll also cover the 36 issues of Justice League Europe that began around the middle of that run and fell chiefly under Giffen’s guidance, with DeMatteis contributing to a goodly number of issues as well.)

Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire’s Justice League represents a series that I think I really love. Clearly I’ve gone to the trouble and expense of acquiring all 60 issues (96 counting JLE), but I’ve only ever actually read maybe a handful of them. I enjoyed that handful enough that I tracked down nearly the complete run a couple of years ago, but I’ve only just filled in the final issues I’d been lacking, and I’m only now getting around to tackling this beast from the beginning. Here’s hoping that 60 weeks from now I can say it was worth the time and expense…

JL #1 picks up after the events of DC’s Legends crossover event--which itself followed Crisis on Infinite Earths--and the cancellation of the previous Justice League of America series with issue #261. DeMatteis, who had worked on the last issues of the League’s previous incarnation, stayed on to script, and he was joined by Giffen, who prior to this assignment was best known for his work as an artist.

In addition to scripting, Giffen contributed the breakdowns for Maguire, whose pencils perfectly complement the writers’ emphasis on action, comedy and the personal interactions between grownups who spend the better part of their days wearing costumes.

Which brings me to the team’s members in this first issue. Presented roughly in the order in which they appear, they are:

Guy Gardner: If all of these characters are childlike in their wardrobe choices and good-versus-evil worldview, Guy’s the only one completely incapable of at least acting like an adult. When I was younger, I hated him and didn’t have a clue how he could be a Green Lantern. Now, I love to hate him, which was of course the point all along.

Black Canary: She rolls into the headquarters with a deep respect for the League’s history. Also, she looks just like Sarah Connor at the end of The Terminator (1984).

Mr. Miracle and Oberon: Gardner’s incessant jokes regarding Oberon’s short stature might grow old in a handful of issues, but here it’s all good fun. Also, there is always room, on any team, for characters created by Jack Kirby.

Captain Marvel: At least this guy’s alter ego really is a little boy.

Martian Manhunter: The consummate veteran of the League’s many incarnations, J’onn J’onnz grimly carries the memory of recent tragedy. He’s also, arguably, the most powerful member of the team, but with this bunch, he just can’t no respect.

Blue Beetle: I tried reading a few issues from this run of Justice League when I was a kid, and I totally did not get it. However, I instantly thought Blue Beetle was terrific. That impression has not changed.

Dr. Fate: Growing up, I used to read his backup story in the monthly Flash series, so I’ve always had a soft spot for him. Also, apparently reassembling the League was his idea.

Batman: It’s up to Batman to actually reform the re-formed League, and babysitting the likes of Guy Gardner really gets his cape in a twist. But you know what? Angry babysitter Batman is funny.

Dr Light: Unbeknownst to the rest of the team, she was asked to be a member and given a “signal device,” which beeps at the darnedest times.

Maxwell Lord: This guy loves watching TV.

Despite Batman’s desire to keep a low profile at first, the new League is forced to make its public debut when a ragtag band of terrorists holds the United Nations’ General Assembly hostage; the League is alerted by Dr. Light, who, in her secret identity as Dr. Kimiyo Hoshi, is among the captives. Batman sends Fate and Marvel ahead of the rest of the team, who follow in Beetle’s flying “Bug.”

Naturally, hiccups occur in this team’s first outing: Dr. Fate mysteriously “disappears,” perturbing Batman something fierce, and Guy continues to be a pest at every conceivable opportunity. All the same, the team easily dispatches the mercenary misfits--too easily, in fact, for Batman’s tastes. Comedic touches season the action, but the story ends on a rather dark note, with the leader of the terrorists actually killing himself. It’s an action it seems Batman could have easily prevented, and as such I’m not sure it totally jibes with Batman’s character. (Also, it’s pretty ridiculous that this motley assortment of terrorists could have infiltrated the General Assembly, but then again, it’s also ridiculous that the people who come to save the day arrive in a giant flying beetle, so I’m happy to roll with it.)

Of course, some growing pains are to be expected as this new creative team finds its footing, but on the whole, I closed the first issue in eager anticipation of the next. Questions linger, most notably surrounding the mysterious Maxwell Lord (who is confirmed on the final page to have some significant ties to the U.N. attackers). So come on back next week, maybe for some answers, probably for more questions, and most definitely for more danger. Yo-ho!

The complete 60 Weeks with the Justice League on The Danger Digest:
#2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #17, #18, #19, #20, #21, #22, #23, #24, #25/1, #26/2, #27/3, #28/4, #29/5, #30/6, #31/7, #32/8, #33/9, #34/10, #35/11, #36/12, #37/13, #38/14, #39/15, #40/16, #41/17, #42/18, #43/19, #44/20, #45/21, #46/22, #47/23, #48/24, #49/25, #50/26, #51/27, #52/28, #53/29, #54/30, #55/31, #56/32, #57/33, #58/34, #59/35, #60/36

All images this post copyright DC Comics. Original text copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest.