"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Film, Comic Books
Oh, DC, you came so close to a slam dunk. If you had told me Keith Giffen, J. Marc DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire would be working on Legion of Super-Heroes, I’d have been beyond excited. After all, Justice League International was nothing if not a superb ensemble comedy, and what richer source of super-ensemble action does DC have than the Legion?
Instead, though, we’re getting Justice League 3000, set in the Legion’s 31st century and apparently following the events of August’s final Legion issue, but not explicitly tied to the 55-year-old super-team. This raises two questions. First, whither the Legion itself? DC has previously put the Legion on hiatus, although never for too long, so one wonders how long it’ll lie dormant this time. Second, why does it have to be such a familiar Justice League? The initial roster includes Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and Green Lantern, with redesigns (courtesy of Howard Porter) that retain some fairly familiar elements. Is the League being “Avengers-ized,” so that every major super-team must have some “JL” in its name?
And those two questions combine for a third: How sustainable is JL3K, really?
At the risk of being too obvious, the answer no doubt depends on how readers react to the new title. Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire’s Justice League relaunch was different enough both from its immediate predecessor (“Justice League Detroit”) and the classic Justice League of America style that’s now its own brand.
What’s more, the three turned things around rather quickly. Although Maguire left Justice League International following the 24th issue, the book had already become popular enough to warrant a spinoff. On Justice League Europe, Giffen provided the plots and page breakdowns, while DeMatteis scripted the early issues. (William Messner-Loebs took over for DeMatteis on JLE, and Gerard Jones followed Messner-Loebs.) Meanwhile, DeMatteis was writing JLI-related solo series like Dr. Fate and Mr. Miracle, in addition to his regular scripting duties on the renamed Justice League America. Giffen and DeMatteis also guided the oversized anthology Justice League Quarterly. All in all, they spent five years on the various League books, taking a bow with 1992’s JLA #60.
Since then, they’ve reunited a few times: for 2003’s Formerly Known As the Justice League miniseries and its sequel (the JLA Classified arc “I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League”); for a Defenders miniseries at Marvel; and for a “Metal Men” backup series in the most recent Doom Patrol revival. During this period, Giffen and DeMatteis created another superhero comedy for BOOM! Studios, Hero Squared; and later returned to a character they helped redefine, when they co-wrote Booster Gold for a year (issues 32-43). The two are getting ready to launch a Larfleeze series with artist Scott Kolins. Meanwhile, among other work (including a cheesecake-heavy Batgirl/Catwoman arc for Batman Confidential), Maguire’s creation Tanga appeared in two DC miniseries, the revivals of Weird Worlds and My Greatest Adventure. Maguire was also co-penciler (with George Pérez) on the current Worlds’ Finest series.
Accordingly, while all three have been working fairly steadily, they haven’t done anything regularly since “Doom Patrol” ended in 2010; and their last collaboration was for the DC Retroactive: JLA — The ‘90s special. Neither of those were positioned to sell particularly well — and, to be honest, neither is Larfleeze, despite its Green Lantern connection. That’s not so much a concern as it is a comparison, as you’d have to think a new-ish Justice League title is going to get a lot of attention, especially with Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire involved. Those are two big factors in JL3K’s favor, and the mystery of just who these Leaguers are may well add to the hype.
Along those lines, there seem to be a few basic possibilities for the origin of this new League. They could be existing Legionnaires — Bleeding Cool suggested (and then retracted) Mon-El or Kent Shakespeare, plus Night Girl and maybe Celeste McCauley, along with a handful of more obscure future-DC folk. They could be the present-day League, thrown forward in time as a result of “Trinity War.” (That would explain their Forever Evil absences.) For that matter, Superman and Wonder Woman are practically immortal, so they could still be active in the 31st century. There is much speculation that the Flash and Wonder Woman are actually Wally West and Donna Troy, either displaced in space and time or just “New 52-ized” for this title.
Of course, they could simply be new characters, inspired by the Legion’s example to take up the identities of the previous millennium’s Justice League, just as the Legion itself was inspired by Superman and colleagues. That would probably be the simplest explanation, but perhaps not the most marketable, assuming DC is using both the “Justice League” name and the A-list costumes to rekindle interest in the Legion’s home era. (For whatever it’s worth, Giffen told CBR that the familiar roster helped sell him on the series.) Calling this book Justice League 3000 is a clear attempt to give it instant significance, such that fans may think it “matters” more than another Legion relaunch would.
That sort of cynical perspective is most likely at odds with the work itself, as Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire told Newsarama that JL3K will be pretty much what you’d expect. Assuming it does take place in the immediate aftermath of whatever happens to the Legion, there should be frequent unflattering comparisons between the new and old super-teams, as well as world-weary banter among the Leaguers, and a healthy amount of broad humor. Given Giffen’s history with the Legion, the new League’s adventures should also be grounded in DC lore (which would be an ironic development for a New 52 comic, since the Legion’s history was somewhat insulated from the relaunches in the present-day books).
Wherever (or whenever) they come from, though, JL3K’s characters should have some strong interpersonal relationships. JLI’s “one punch!” scene is probably the best-known single moment from Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire’s run, and it came from character interaction. It wasn’t subtle character interaction, obviously, but it illustrated succinctly how Batman’s no-nonsense leadership style dealt with Guy Gardner’s outsized ego. Perhaps more important were the other Leaguers’ reactions: Blue Beetle doubled over with laughter, J’Onn J’Onzz taking it all in stride, and Black Canary depressed for having missed it.
In keeping with League tradition, the first couple of years of Justice League International also boasted a variety of storytelling approaches, from globally flavored adventure (stopping a terrorist threat at the United Nations, dealing with another super-team’s incursion into the Soviet Union) to magic-based threats, alien invasions, a super-spy parody and a somewhat-unusual (back then) trip to Apokolips. These stories varied in length from a single issue to a series of arcs connected by subplots, and they seem to be a blueprint for the first year of JL3K. The Giffen/DeMatteis-written issues of Booster Gold were structured similarly, so it’s not like the approach hasn’t been tried in a while.
Still, despite my eagerness to see JL3K, and despite the confidence I have in this team, the book feels like a placeholder until the actual Legion of Super-Heroes returns. Because the Legion’s history wasn’t especially affected by the New 52’s continuity rewrites, it felt disconnected from the rest of the superhero line in a way that similarly-protected franchises like Batman and Green Lantern didn’t. In other words, whatever the merits of the book itself, the New-52 didn’t do the Legion any favors by effectively denying it a fresh start.
Meanwhile, Justice League 3000 has the potential to be lots of fun. I know, I know — us fans of the bwah-ha-ha always think Giffen, DeMatteis, and Maguire can do no wrong; but so far, their collective schtick has held up. Still, part of me hopes JL3K turns out to be a stealth Legion relaunch, because, boy, do I want to see these guys take on Matter-Eater Lad …