So, this lighthearted take on the Justice League ranks as a personal favorite. And, despite the few grumpies who denounced it, this particular incarnation of DC's flagship title, from 1987 and on to the '90s, was an overwhelming success. Cherry picking from the roster of the Legends: The Collection mini-series, plotter Keith Giffen, scripter J.M. DeMatteis, and artists Kevin Maguire, Al Gordon, and Terry Austin (for one issue) were able to inject big new life into this flagging title. Flagging? JLA had actually been canceled after issue #261 (after the dismal Detroit arc), only to be re-started with this version. Giffen and DeMatteis weren't able to use Superman, Wonder Woman, or the Flash as these characters were undergoing their own revamping. So, with Batman, the Martian Manhunter, and the Black Canary representing the old guard, the cast is mostly made up of capes new to the League.
JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL Vol. 1 collects the first seven issues of Giffen and DeMatteis's run. Their first few stories were actually about as conventional as they'd get as, in these pages, the new, untested team faces off against terrorists holding the United Nations hostage, three otherworldly beings bent on destroying the world's entire nuclear weaponry, the mystical and frightening Gray Man, and the Royal Flush Gang. Also weaving in and out of the picture is the mysterious Maxwell Lord, who seems to be pulling some serious strings in the shadows. A drastic upgrading to the team's status on the world stage would be reflected with a title change as JUSTICE LEAGUE would become JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL with issue #7. But, even with these somber story arcs, Giffen and DeMatteis were already peppering in tidbits of what would become their trademark humor.
The characters draw you in right away. Of them all, my favorite is Ted Kord, the Blue Beetle (I liked his comic book series, too). His partner in farce isn't bad, either - Booster Gold, who'd show up by the 3rd issue. Then there's the gee-whizzy, aw-shucksy Captain Marvel and that fun-to-root-against nutjob Guy Gardner. In fact, one early highlight is the much anticipated showdown between the brash ugly Gardner and the domineering Batman. In their subversive portrayal of the Justice League, Giffen and DeMatteis have gone on record (in a Silver Bullet Comics interview) that they weren't doing a superhero spoof as much as basing their characters' playful interactions on how camaraderie in real life would play out. Whatever the case, the squabbling character dynamics would be ripe for comedy plunder for years to come.
It all wouldn't have worked as well, of course, without Kevin Maguire's wonderful artwork. Maguire, back in 1987, was an unknown artist, so DC's decision makers really took a chance by giving him the pencilling gig. But it pays off huge. Kevin is a great all-around artist but he really excels in drawing the most expressive facial expressions. He's also very good at rendering the most natural or the most heroic of poses.
So, yeah, so many things to like about this run. There's an energy here, and a freshness. And, while, soon enough, the madcap comedy would become tone-setting, there were still enough character driven stories and solid, straightforward action that I never got the feeling that the series became reduced to a parody book. At least, not until the much later issues (I wince at L-Ron and the doggy Green Lantern). JUSTICE LEAGUE (INTERNATIONAL) proved to be so popular it spawned several spinoffs: JUSTICE LEAGUE EUROPE, JUSTICE LEAGUE QUARTERLY, and JUSTICE LEAGUE TASK FORCE. But it all starts with JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL Volume 1. Give it a shot, and see if this brand of Justice League can't tickle you in the "Bwah-ha-ha!"
(In the Must-Be-Said Department: I don't know about anyone else who's read these issues before, but, for me, it feels a bit weird and even bittersweet, nowadays, to re-read the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League, given the events in Identity Crisis (DC Comics) and, specifically, to the Blue Beetle story leading in to Infinite Crisis. I'll just go on record as a non-fan of Maxwell Lord.)
And if you're wondering what else Giffen and DeMatteis have collaborated in, then also check out their DEFENDERS (with Maguire), Hero Squared Vol. 1 and Giffen and Dematteis' Planetary Brigade mini-series. These too have some good yucks.