Thursday, September 29, 2005


Formerly and Can't be and Identity, oh my!

Fomerly Known as the Justic League #s 1-6
JLA Classified #s 4-9
Written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis
Illustrated by Kevin Maguire and Joe Rubinstein

Identity Crisis #s 1-7
Written by Bran Meltzer
Illustrated by Rags Morales and Michael Bair

Earlier this year I started picking up lots of late 80s-early 90s DC comics. I’ve never really read that many DC comics at all, but for a quarter each I was willing to check them out. The first couple I got were issue one of Justice League Europe and an issue of Suicide Squad (I’d just seen the episode of JLU where Task Force X show up and wanted both Suicide Squad and JLA comics). I dug both of them, and started buying more. I also picked up some of the related titles: the Elongated Man miniseries (well, most of it), Mr. Miracle, JLI, loads of stuff really. Overall my collection of DC comics increased several times over (I really didn’t have that many to start with).

I think one of the other reasons I started buying these comics was that after years the characters in them were being used again. In Giffen and DeMatteis’ miniseries Formally Known as the Justice League and in DC’s big event comic Identity Crisis. Since then some the characters have been used in the lead up to Infinite Crisis.

Formally Known as the Justice League (FKATJL) is the miniseries written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis and drawn by Kevin Maguire and Joe Rubinstein, the main creative team behind Justice League International and it’s various spin-offs. (An aside, I discovered upon reading one of the letters pages in an issue of JLI that Excalibur, the x-sword title, was launched sort of in competition to JLI as Marvel’s humorous team comic. I picked up a complete run of Excalibur in the 90s, and the first couple of years were really good.)

I honestly can’t say I’m all that familiar with all of the characters here. Captain Atom, Elongated Man and Sue Dibney are the ones I’m most familiar with as they were in JLE. I know a bit about Booster Gold, Blue Beetle and Maxwell Lord (and even L-Ron), but barely anything about Fire (or Mary Marvel). But for the most part it doesn’t matter that much that I don’t know all of the histories of these characters. They used to be on the same team and they argue all the time. That’s all you need to know really.

This miniseries has Maxwell Lord trying to start up a new, public friendly, easy access, superhero team: the Super Buddies. Lord tries to recruit the former members of the JLI who aren’t currently on any team. Some of them join in an instant, while others (a more mature Blue Beetle) are less sure they want to be involved at all.

Before they can star doing anything they get kidnapped by someone and forced to fight in gladiatorial combat. I guess they couldn’t just bicker and fight with each other for six issues. The first series also features the return of one of the villains from the JLI series, Manga Khan. He’s coming back to Earth to try and reacquire his robot L-Ron.

I Can’t Believe it’s not the Justice League is the long delayed sequel to FKATJL that finally showed up in JLA Classified earlier this year. The delay was caused by DC deciding to mess around with a bunch of the characters from JLI, making them pretty much unusable in a more humourous comic. Thus the first issue of this story starts with a caption that says “A Long Time Ago, In a Decade Far, Far Away.” If only DC had let the creators keep doing comics in this style.

This series follows pretty much directly on from the last one. The Super Buddies still haven’t done that much, and the biggest problem they’re facing now is that Guy Gardner (all I know about him is that he’s a jerk. He sure is a jerk) and a former super villain are opening a bar next door. Then they get sent to hell (or someplace a lot like it) and end up working in a burger joint and then going somewhere else weird. Power Girl shows up.

However, whatever the plot in either of these stories is really doesn’t matter, as it’s just an excuse to have these different characters hang out again. And as far as I can tell that’s one of the reasons these characters rejoined this team, so that they could hang out. They’re career superheroes, and for the most part don’t really have friends outside superheroing. They want to be able to talk with people and hang out with people, and who better to relate to or hang out with then other super heroes?

The art is really good, and I think it really shows how much better comics look nowadays thanks to computer colouring and better paper. Yeah, I might cry out for cheaper comics, but I do like computer colouring. One thing I’m not sure about is how the art is divided between Maguire and Rubinstien. The credits for issue one say that Maguire doesn’t draw the backgrounds, but Rubinstein does. That’s a pretty odd set up (for North American comics), but whatever works I guess.

The second series has the same quality of art as the first does, but it also (nonsensically) features some characters changing their looks a lot, despite happening directly after the first miniseries. Why does fire suddenly have long hair? Hmm, well I don’t really care as I think she looks a lot better with long hair.

I didn’t find the humour to be laugh out loud funny (despite the era of the Justice League these comics are based on being referred to as the “Bwa-ha-ha” era), but it is still funny. These comics made me smile a lot. The constant bickering between the characters, Mary Marvel being ridiculously naïve, misunderstandings and Batman not making jokes. It’s all good. And I like these characters (except for Guy, but I’m not supposed to like Guy). They seem more like real people with super powers. I think… Maybe it’s just that they seem to have more developed personalities and interpersonal relationships then most superhero characters.

So what about Identity Crisis? I’d be lying if I said that all the people online complaining about how Identity Crisis ruined a bunch of the JLI characters didn’t make me interested in the characters in the first place. I finally decided to read Identity Crisis to see if the characters I’d grown to like were ruined.

They are. Damnit Brad Meltzer! Why did you suck the fun out of these characters? And it’s not like you just don’t have an understanding of these characters. Issue one’s characterization of the Elongated Man was really good (I thought Meltzer captured the relationship between Sue and Ralph Dibney really well). But it’s not like you couldn’t do a slightly more serious take on one of these characters without killing off their friends. Giffen and DeMatteis do that in their recent series by having Blue Beetle be more mature.

I will admit that despite the grim and grittyfying of the characters I thought issue one was pretty good. It was enjoyable enough. The other issues of this miniseries just kind of suck though. It’s rapetastic! Stupid brainwashing something something. And I think the art by Rags Morales is pretty terrible.

So what did I like about this series? Hmm, I like the JLA. I’m going to pick up that DC Showcase Presents JLA volumes that’s out later this year. And Green Arrow is cool. I like him as a character for some reason. Maybe it’s the beard… (Warlord!)


Let's see more pictures of what you're talking about. BTW...I love the Justice League, but either I've gotten old or the writing of some of these series just sucks. Maybe both?
(forever later, I'm great at checking comments)
Yeah, I'd do more pictures if I had photoshop/webhosting space (which I'd get if I had photoshop... soon...).
I don't want to just steal bandwidth.

The JLA are pretty awesome, but some of the jla comics recently have been pretty bad (JLElite just doesn't make sense)

I think I'm going to get that big showcase presents collection of old jla stuff that's out later this year.
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