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By special guest Alan Kistler aka Continuity Cop

JUSTICE LEAGUE #1

Sometime after the CRISIS, it was intended that the Justice League of America would herald in the return to a former, classic glory. The team would reform under the more simple title of "the Justice League", marking that their activities were no longer restricted to a single continent. Rather, they were dedicated to saving the world at large. Further more, it was intended that the Big Seven be on the roster. Superman, The Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Flash and the Martian Manhunter.

Unfortunately, this was not to be. Superman was under new control by John Byrne and he said that he preferred the Man of Steel to fly solo for a while. Wonder Woman was being relaunched from Ground Zero so her staff didn't wish to confuse things so early by putting her in a team book. Flash was undergoing some changes (back in the days when Wally was a jerk), so he was out of the loop, too. Green Lantern (Guy Gardner), Martian Manhunter and Batman were the only ones who were allowed to be on the team. Of the Big 7, only three were available…and even then, not THE Green Lantern.

But lo and behold, here came the writer Keith Giffen to work some magic. Aided by J.M. Dematties, Giffen decided on a new approach to team books. Fans were very used to seeing the standard team book of "super-heroes live solo lives, then the team alarm goes off and they all join together to combat a major threat." Well, what if there were more? What if the heroes were shown during their "down-time", relaxing with each other between missions, acting as their own supporting cast? And what if there were instances where their camaraderie made things sitcom-ish, even downright funny? Such an approach had never been done before with a team whose members were largely composed of characters with their own books. But Giffen went ahead. And this is what we got.

Under the suggestion of Dr. Fate, the Justice League is reforming. A select few were called in to join the team. Black Canary, Guy Gardner, Captain Marvel and Blue Beetle were all called in by Martian Manhunter, Dr. Fate and, to everyone's surprise, Batman. Mr. Miracle has also shown up to join, as he hopes this will be good publicity for his stage performances as an escape artist.

Now, this would be the first time the darker post-Crisis Batman would be shown alongside other heroes on a regular basis. Thus, this was a test for Giffen to see how the new "Dark Knight" would relate to the heroes and how it would be different from the friendlier days of the Caped Crusader. Almost immediately, Giffen shows a Batman which we are all too familiar with today. Guy Gardner has decided that he is obviously to be the leader of the new League and that there is no arguing with him. Naturally, this leads to a tussle between him and many of the other Leaguers. Batman and Dr. Fate step into the room. Batman sighs, not at all surprised, and immediately stops the fight by the simple act of walking in, staring down Guy Gardner and telling him in a very cold, angry voice to "Shut up." The fight having been averted, Batman calls the League to business.

Almost immediately, Batman naturally assumes command of the new team. Perhaps it's because Martian Manhunter turned League leadership over to him in its last incarnation. Or perhaps its because he's decided that if he's in the League he wants to make sure it's run properly. His full reasons aren't really explained, again showing the early signs of the dark vigilante of today's Bat-books.

Meanwhile, the mysterious business man Maxwell Lord is starting a hidden agenda of his own and somehow the League is largely involved. Maxwell has already taken his first steps by giving a duplicated JLA communicator to the heroine Dr. Light II (Kimiyo Hoshi). Soon afterwards, Hoshi (working at the UN building in New York) finds herself taken hostage by terrorists. At first she is frightened for the other delegates who have been taken hostage but then she remembers the communicator that she was "conveniently" given earlier.

The Justice League is startled when they receive an emergency transmission from a communicator that they didn't make. Nonetheless, they soon find about the situation at the UN. Batman leads the team into the fray, carefully positioning each of the members at different locations so as to cover all the bases.

Now, in some ways this is much like Morrison's later use of Batman. Giffen also portrays the Dark Knight as a brilliant tactician who is incredibly terrifying. But at the same time, this is not all there is to it. Mr. Miracle is not terrified of Batman. He thinks he's a jerk. And while Batman certainly proves himself a brilliant leader, one does not get the sense that it's actually HIM saving the day. The theme of a team effort is very clear as the League takes out the terrorists and rescues the U.N. At no point does there really seem to be one Leaguer who is more of a main character than another. All of them are giving equal consideration. Even the Blue Beetle, who doesn't see much action this issue, is able to make his presence known through his constant witticisms and observations.

And so, after the situation is averted, we are left with a few mysteries. Who is Maxwell Lord? How did he duplicate a JL Communicator? Why did he supply the terrorists with weapons while sumultaneously ensuring that Dr. Light would be able to call for help? And what does he plan to do with the Justice League? These mysteries certainly keep the reader waiting for the next issue. But at the same time, the story is so complete that it's not as if you're really left with a huge cliffhanger, a la "Will Guy Gardner survive the fifty-foot plunge to death or not?" In fact, it's amazing at how much dialogue and story detail is fit into this single issue. The comic is certainly more dialogue heavy than recent issues of JLA but the book doesn't suffer for it. The art and lettering is set-up so as not to give it a cluttered look and thus all that happens is that we get a lot more characterization meshed in with all the action.

The only problem I had with this book was it made presumptions about the reader. It presumed that if you were buying JUSTICE LEAGUE #1, you already knew who Batman, Martian Manhunter and the rest were and thus did not need their names, powers and origins neatly laid-out. It presumed that you had read LEGENDS, the pre-cursor to this book which led into and explained the reformation of the Justice League. And it presumed that you would know some League history, such as what J'onn means when he looks at photos of dead Leaguers Vibe and Steel I and says "You have no idea what we've lost."

Despite these faults, this was one of the best first issues ever, and those are hard to do.

9 out of 10 shields.

All characters are ™ DC Comics
All scanned artwork is ™ DC Comics.
This article is © 1999 by Mark Gillins.

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