Monday, April 10, 2017

On Wonder Woman and Justice League America Vol. 1

This 280-page collection of issues from Justice League America from 1993-1994 comprise the beginning of writer (and Slave Labor Graphics founder) Dan Vado's run on the main title of the then multi-book Justice League franchise, following the conclusion of Dan Jurgens' run as writer/penciler.

The entirety of Jurgens' run was collected in two volumes rebranded Superman and Justice League America, and apparently DC is doing the same with Vado's run, giving Wonder Woman top-billing in an apparent attempt to goose interest in a collection of these issues, which, if not the absolute nadir of the franchise, is certainly well into a valley between the peaks of the Giffen/DeMatteis run and the Grant Morrison.

The new title is more or less meaningless, just as that of the previous two collections was (as I mentioned before, Superman is barely in Superman and Justice League America Vol. 2, that's just a better title than The Second Half of Dan Jurgens' Justice League America). In fact, Wonder Woman took over leadership of this Justice League in Superman and.. Vol. 2, and she doesn't exactly play a bigger-than-average role in these comics.

Not only are we wading pretty deep into the era where DC was trying to keep the Giffen/DeMatteis conception of the League going past its expiration date at this point, but this book makes for an interesting read in 2017, given the fact that Vado is so clearly writing in the "old", pre-trade market, soap-operatic model of superhero comics. That is, rather than writing story arcs as part of a bigger, overarching storyline, Vado picks up the cast right where it was, making few if any real changes, and gives each of those characters a conflict of their own to wrestle with from issue to issue, major conflicts moving from the background to the foreground and necessary.

At this point, the League is still operating out of the new New York headquarters from their Jurgens run, with Max Lord essentially their boss and Oberon his assistant. Wonder Woman is the field leader of a team that consists of mainstays Blue Beetle, Guy Gardner (still wearing Sinestro's yellow ring), Booster Gold, Fire and Ice, plus Jurgens additions Maxima, Bloodwynd and their newest recruit, The Ray.

Of the long-timers, they are still all somewhere between reeling and sidelined by their fight with Doomsday, the one that killed the recently-resurrected Superman (the destruction of Coast City comes up in conversation at one point, and when Hal Jordan of Justice League Europe--Or was it International at this point?--shows up for a few panels, he's wearing his arm in a sling). Booster Gold's costume is still shredded, so he is wearing a big, goofy suit of armor that looks like a futuristic football uniform to me; Ted Kord has hung up his Beetle costume and devoted himself to lab work, leery of jumping back into the sorts of superhero fights that had landed him in a coma; Fire is still powerless; and Ice has left the team, but not the book, as she returns to her hidden ice kingdom.*

The foregrounded plots involve one in which Wonder Woman leading the team to secure an airport in a fictional war-torn country with an assist from original Flash Jay Garrick (who sadly doesn't stick around too long), only to face off against Dreamslayer and the "new" Extremists. Then she extends an offer of sanctuary to a pair of wanted space criminals who crash land on Earth, leading to a tense stand-off with Captain Atom and his '90s-looking back-up, The Peacemakers, who are working on behalf of President Bill Clinton. Finally, the team heads to the hidden kingdom Ice hails from, where her similarly-powered brother has initiated a hostile take over, and plans to march on northern Europe with the help of mystical weapons and the patronage of a shadowy threat which, if I remember correctly, will end up being the driving threat of the upcoming multi-book crossover event, "Judgement Day."

This collection has a nice new cover by Tom Grummet...unless DC found a nice Grummet drawing of this team in a drawer somewhere and repurposed it here. The bulk of the interiors are drawn by Kevin West, who arrives with the third issue of the collection, originally inked by Rick Burchett. West's style is quite strong, and pretty much perfect for the book at this point in its existence, as he draws figures as well as Jurgens--and, in fact, some of his lay-outs look so Jurgens-like it looks as if Jurgens himself was doing breakdowns--but he also has a strong facility for facial expressions, and several close-ups reminded me of the work of Kevin Maguire, the Giffen/DeMatteis team's original artistic collaborator.

The influence of the era can be seen slowly creeping into the book, visually as well as in the scripting, as when Blue Beetle finally puts his costume back on it looks a lot like Todd MacFarlane's Spider-Man, Booster armors up and Fire and Ice both get new, much more-revealing costumes.

The rest of the art in the book comes from pencil artist Mike Collins (two issues), Chris Hunter (one issue of Guy Gardner scripted by Chuck Dixon, which is a direct tie-in to JLA) and the art team of penciler Greg LaRocque and a trio of inkers, who draw Justice League America Annual #7, which is placed at the end of the collection (That's from the "Bloodlines" event, and introduces New Blood Terrorsmith, who has a neat look and a neat power, but never really went anywhere after this, save a Showcase appearance...there are three even less interesting and less appealing New Bloods who show up as well to help the League fight him).

The overall quality of the book is rocky, and despite its title, it's definitely for fans of the Justice League, not of Wonder Woman. That is, if you were picking this up specifically because of it's title, chances are you're going to be sorely disappointed. The art and story actually age pretty okay, although Gardner's lewd come-ons seem incredibly weird today, and it's hard to understand why Wonder Woman or Maxima aren't constantly throwing him through walls or breaking his bones. This Wonder Woman is a lot more patient and less violent than more modern takes, I guess.

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As I noted when writing a little preview of this for Comics Alliance, back when there still was a Comics Alliance (sniff), this particular volume contains 1.) The Ray on the Justice League, 2.) The Justice League fighting a version of The Extremists and 3.) Terrorsmith, so one can't help but imagine a young Steve Orlando read and internalized these issues, given that he just launched a new comic book series called Justice League of America featuring The Ray on the the team, their first foes are a version of The Extremists and future solicitations reveal that Terrorsmith will be making, like, his third appearance ever.

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Amazon has an entry for an October volume of Wonder Woman and Justice League of America that collects the series through issues #91. That's only six more issues, and considering that those six include part 1, part 4 and an "aftermath" of "Judgement Day," I have to assume parts 2 and 3 of "Judgement Day" will be in there as well. (Vado also wrote Justice League America Annual #8, but given that it's an "Elseworlds" annual I imagine arguments could be made for and against collecting it; the best argument for being maybe that Evan Dorkin draws a back-up in it called "The O Squad," in which all of the many, many JLA villains whose names end in "O" team-up).

Then there's one chapter of the the Zero Hour tie-in that ran across the various League titles by Christopher Priest (The story introducing Triumph, which...well, I don't know if that would get collected with Triumph or Priest's (excellent) run on Justice League Task Force or...what. Priest wrote JLA Annual #9, part of the weird-ish "Legends of The Dead Earth", Elseworlds-esque themed annuals).

Then the Gerard Jones-written run begins, the last before DC cancels the whole Justice League franchise, clearing the decks for Grant Morrison, Howard Porter and John Dell's JLA. That lasts 23 issues, and if DC ends up collecting them--and at this point, they've come so far, why not?--I'm curious if they will keep the the Wonder Woman... and title for volumes 3 and 4 and maybe 5 or...what, exactly.
Say, is this temporary, one-arc line-up the closest a League comes to The Big Seven between the end of the Detroit Era and JLA...?
I'm also curious if at any point they will collect the other early '90s League titles, Justice League International (perhaps re-christened in trade as Green Lantern and Justice League Europe?), Justice League Task Force (originally conceived with rotating line-ups and writers, a first volume seems an easy sell, as the pre-Zero Hour conception would/could include scripts from Peter David, Jeph Loeb and Mark Waid) and the unfortunately titled, originally-rather-poorly-drawn Extreme Justice.

Extreeeeeme! I do like Amazing Man a lot, though, and was sorry to see that his death was treated as a real, permanent death. That guy should totally be on the Justice League right now. 


*Did DC miss a huge opportunity by not pushing Ice, a superhero who is also an ice-powered princess, a few years ago, in the wake of 2013's Frozen movie? Like, if they were reinventing, rebooting and relaunching all their characters anyway, it occurred to me while reading this volume that in many ways Ice is basically just Elsa, only a superhero.

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