Tuesday, July 05, 2005


I think comic books should be fun.

I know; I’m really sticking my neck out here. Perhaps I should clarify. I think comic books should be entertaining and engaging and well-done and… and fun. This is not to say that comic books should be limited in terms of the stories they tell or the subject matter they cover. They don’t have to be all sweetness and light, but at a bare minimum, I expect to be entertained when I read a frickin’ comic book.

This is why I love Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’s Justice League comic book that DC published in the halcyon 80’s. They were fun.

Man, these books were like a breath of fresh air after an afternoon of dumpster diving behind a Thai restaurant in Baltimore during a heat wave. Keith “Legion of Super-Heroes” Giffen plotted the books, Marc “Kraven’s Last Hunt” DeMatteis scripted them, and for a good stretch, Kevin “I fucking rule” Maguire penciled them. They were punchy, wise-ass, light-hearted comics whose main goal was to entertain, and they succeeded.

The comics in question are Justice League International #16 and #17, a two-part storyline in which a team of JLI heroes (Batman, Fire, Booster Gold, and Blue Beetle) go undercover to the nation of Bialya to try to figure out what evil buffoon Col. Rumaan Harjavti is up to. It turns out the real threat is the mysterious and manipulative Queen Bee, who deposes Harjavti (violently) and takes control of Bialya with the help of a mind-controlled superhuman. Chaos and hijinks ensue.

Here’s a scene where our heroes are plotting strategy in their hotel room. Note that Batman is cleverly disguised as… Bruce Wayne!

But man, these books made me a life-long Kevin Maguire fan. I even bought – ugh - Trinity Angels just because he was drawing it – that’s how deep my love for his work is.

In addition to being a master of facial expressions, Maguire knew how to draw a good-old fashioned fight scene. Case in point: here’s Batman, now cleverly disguised as Max Lord, kicking ass on a couple of Bialyan thugs.

I love that last panel, where he’s backhanding the guy. See? Fun.

The Queen Bee engineers a coup d’etat with the help of a brainwashed, mutated superhuman named Wandjina the Thunderer, who was deformed by a nuclear meltdown in a previous issue. At a state dinner, Harjavti is in the middle of a pompous speech when… well, his head gets melted real good.

Dude’s face gets melted! See? Fun!

Our heroes run afoul of the Queen Bee, who sics Wandjina on them. Fortunately, Captain Atom shows up just in time and the two powerhouses go at it. Here’s a great panel of an angry mob of Bialyans encouraging Wandjina to kick some ass:

The thing about the first couple years of the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League comics is that, if you read a plot synopsis, they wouldn’t sound particularly funny. The humor and interplay between the characters was sort of grafted on to the conventional superhero plots, which is one of the reasons it was so effective. As time went on the series slowly became a more overtly funny book, with occasional sharp left turns into drama, and it became sort of cloying and self-conscious for my taste. Even in the early issues, I cannot honestly say that DeMatteis’s jokes always worked. Sometimes they wasted too much page space on corny dialogue that didn’t really advance the plot or say anything about the characters – you get the impression that sometimes they were so pleased with a certain gag that they couldn’t bring themselves to cut it. But when these guys were on, they were on.

So there you have it. Justice League International #16 and 17 = fun comics.

And that’s never a bad thing.


Anonymous said...

I've tried to read the new stuff, I Can't Believe It's Not the '80s Anymore or whatever it's called, and... feh. Those first few years were so great, though. Even with the godawful printing.

David Campbell said...

Yeah, I sort of like the new stuff, but I think it falls a little short because the plots are too self-consciously "funny." The Giffen League books worked best when the humor was worked into a more serious plot and not when they're trying so hard to make the funnies.

Adam Reck said...

You must mean that Thai-Rish place on Charles Street. Man, that guy can cook, but dumpster-diving anywhere in Charm City is an invite for accidental exposure to infected hypodermic needles. Stay topside!

Tigran Andrew said...

mannn.... the JLI/JLE were the best in those late 80s years. It seems the best of DC came out from the LEGENDS crossover; it spawned the new JLI and SUICIDE SQUAD.

These two issues have one of the funniest lines I ever read in comics.

"We need to get our Butts out of Bailya!"
"Butts out of Bailya - I think I saw that on cable last night!"


David Campbell said...

"Stay topside!"

That is wise advice, my friend.

kelvingreen said...

Hang on... Batman's disguised as Bruce Wayne?
I'm not all that familiar with DC, but did the rest of the League know that Batman was actually Wayne? I mean, did they think he was in disguise on this mission, or just in his civvies?

And wasn't Wandjina the DC version of Thor?

David Campbell said...

At the time, nobody in the League knew his identity, so the story was Batman was "borrowing" Wayne's identity and traveling to Bialya where Wayne Industries had some business holdings - something like that. Giffen and DeMatteis were cheeky lil' buggers.

Dav said...

The thing I liked most about these two issues was seeing Batman in action out of his costume. I think there's so much potential there, and I'd like to see more of it.

Aside from the fight scene you posted, I also like the scene where he flips off the light switch and beats up the armed thugs in a few panels of complete darkness. This comic is not just funny, but has excellent storytelling as well.

Anonymous said...

Before this lovefest gets out of hand, it should be pointed out that these guys were also responsible for G'Nort. The only reason I don't hate G'Nort anymore is because Jar Jar came along.

Kevin Church said...

Those two issues, right there, were the ones that sold me on the series. Pure, pure fun on every page.

And then there's what happened to poor Beetle around issue 29-30.

gorjus said...

I hearted these comics SO. MUCH.

Kevin Church said...

And can I say that I liked it when nobody knew each other's secret identities the most? The fact that The Atom's Wife knew that Bruce Wayne = Batman seems to be the biggest security leak ever, especially in light of Identity Crisis.

SW said...

JLI was pretty cool, until we got to General Glory. I thought that JLE pretty much sucked, with the exception of the Extremist Vector story arc. I think that arc (I think of it as being among one of my all-time favs) was the epitome of what you loved about JLI.

Anonymous said...

I have to know: does wandjina rhyme with vagina?

David Campbell said...

G'nort clearly does suck, but I think General Glory might suck worse. That shit got old fast.

I always thought Wandjina rhymed with "On Gina"

Vaklam said...

the JLI/JLE were the best in those late 80s years.

If I agreed with this statement any more it would be illegal.

The Giffen/Dematteis/Maguire collaborations are like pizza; even when they're bad they're pretty good.

Brian Cronin said...

I often here about how fun those books were, and I agree, except I almost think it is sorta typecasting.

The stories were just good PERIOD.

If like "dark" comics, you should STILL appreciate these stories, because they were just plain well-written (with nice art).

Anonymous said...

Anyone know who did the lettering on these? I've always liked it.

Brian Cronin said...

The lettering on JLI was by the great Bob Lappan.

He really did a helluva job on that series.

Vienneau said...

Ooh, ooh, a comic I actually own! Finally a chance to comment!

"I agree wholeheartedly"

Hmm...perhaps not the brightest bon motte, but I do what I can. It's good to see that my appreciation of those JLI comics wasn't just me - they were actually good!

David Campbell said...

Ahh, you see how comics pull people together? 's beautiful, man. 's beautiful.

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