Tuesday, July 05, 2005
JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL #16 & 17 DC Comics, 1988
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.