A right time and a place for everything. Back in the '80s, Keith Giffen and J.M. Dematteis were assigned as the writing team for the relaunched Justice League series, and they unexpectedly ended up with a runaway hit on their hands (helped gynormously, of course, by sensational new artist Kevin Maguire). Giffen and Dematteis came up with and perfected a slapstick brand of storytelling which back in those days somehow meshed in with the comic book fan's psyche. I know this because I was around back then, collecting my share of comics. The Justice League series became so popular that it inspired a busload of spin-offs (JUSTICE LEAGUE EUROPE, JUSTICE LEAGUE QUARTERLY, JUSTICE LEAGUE TASK FORCE, and EXTREME JUSTICE). The fan love lasted until the mid-1990s or so, before the well ran dry.
In this trade, JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL Volume 4, screwball rules all... mostly. That is, while there's plenty of laughs to be mined here, several of the underpinning plot elements are actually pretty serious. Vol. 4 opens with the Leaguers dealing with the messy aftermath of the Invasion event and faced with clean-up duty on that South Pacific island... until the laughable new Injustice League makes its pathetic move. Once that's dealt with, well, there's still the clean-up duty. But the Invasion event does have a lingering impact on the JLI, with the meta-gene bomb heightening Green Flame's incendiary powers and awakening Maxwell Lord's latent mental "pushing" ability (which years later, as some may know, won't bode well at all for the Blue Beetle).
The classic double-sized 2nd anniversary issue #24 is reprinted here, this one featuring a reshuffling and yet another recruiting drive of team members (which would lead to JUSTICE LEAGUE EUROPE and the changing of JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL's title to JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA with issue #26). This issue also produced one of the funniest bits in this series, that of the conquering Khunds - whom in a previous issue Oberon had shrunken down - regaining their normal size and vowing vengeance. They tear thru a door, only to find themselves faced with a room packed with superheroes.
- One Khund to his fellow invaders: "Ve-ry, ve-ry quietly -- pick...up...the...door!"
One more classic moment? Lessee, Guy Gardner and Ice Maiden go out on a date which (naturally) horribly goes wrong. This same issue might also have you feeling sorry for the Black Hand, an insecure erstwhile supervillain kinda sorta trying to go straight but forced to come out of retirement, thanks to Guy Gardner's goading. If you don't like Guy Gardner, well, this story won't change your mind. But you'll probably laugh.
Not all are gems. The double-sized #24 actually comes with two stories, the second of which is the very fun recruitment drive/Khund attack. The first story has Max Lord returning to that cave with the computer. A necessary story, I guess, since this is when he gets an inkling of his mental powers, but a story that bored the hoolies out of me. Also, in issue #25, Beetle and Booster throwing their hats in the repo business may sound like a funny idea, but the story ends up flat and dark and depressing.
The Leaguers' undercover adventure in Bialya comes back to bite them, as Beetle goes berzonko and starts taking a knife to various Leaguers (but it's really Maxwell Lord he's targetting, which, looking back in hindsight, is all kinds of ironic). To rid the Beetle of his brainwashing, Batman taps Nabu (formerly in Dr. Fate's helmet, now not) for help. Nabu enters the Beetle's mind, and... oh, to chuckle. This three-issue arc (#26,27 & 29) also guest stars the Suicide Squad's Amanda Waller, giving the reader plenty of that Waller-Batman hatefest (dig the cover to issue #27, which is a nod to THE EXORCIST). The Huntress also shows up somewhere in here, probably only because Batman needed one more person to deeply distrust. Now this story arc doesn't really do much for me, but it does serve to remind us that Blue Beetle, in case we've forgotten, isn't too shabby with the fighty fight. So he does get a little respect, which is cool since he's my favorite of this JLI bunch. And, finally, we close with Mr. Miracle, Big Barda, Green Flame, and the Huntress going up against a street thug who's stolen Big Barda's mega-rod and we get yet another demonstration of Max Lord's underhandedness.
JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL Vol. 4 collects issues #23-25 and JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA #26-30. These issues were published in 1989, and, around that time, this comic book was still the shizzy. And yet one really, really noticeable thing takes away from fanboy rhapsody: Kevin Maguire shows up for only the first two issues in this trade. Kevin Maguire was a big, big contributor to what made the series so successful, and, no disrespect, but pencillers Ty Templeton and Bill Willingham's style aren't nearly as evocative. Mike McKone comes close (he's great in the recruitment drive story), but, really, no one else can quite draw those exquisite facial expressions and poses. So, 3.5 stars for JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL Vol. 4, partly because some of the stories fall flat, partly because the awesome second JLI annual (with the Joker) isn't included, but mostly for not having enough Kevin Maguire. Because his not drawing these pages? It's no laughing matter.