Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Justice League Detroit - A New Chapter

The words above come from the end of the review of the first series of Justice League of America in The Slings & Arrows Comic Guide, specifically referring to issues #233 to the final issue #261. That's the era from late 1984 to mid '87 that covered what became known as Justice League Detroit.

I've never hidden my fondness for the Detroit League and with the recent Retroactive posts I've done, coupled with the news about the DC relaunch and both a new Justice League and a Justice League International title, I found myself wondering about that much derided time in the League's history. Has my memory of the stories been clouded by nostalgia or were they a "disaster, creatively" speaking?

Basically, was Justice League Detroit really that bad?

Even though nobody has asked me to, over the next few weeks I'm going to go through the original run of the Detroit League to try and find out.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA Annual #2, -- The End of The Justice League!, written by Gerry Conway with art by Chuck Patton and Dave Hunt.

In the issues running up to the "radical surgery" quoted above, the League (and the world) had faced an invasion from Mars or, more accurately, Mars II, the planet where J'onn J'onzz and the rest of the Martians had settled some time before. The League helped J'onzz beat them back and while they left, he was forced to remain on Earth. The League's satellite headquarters was destroyed during the battle, leaving the team homeless as well.

During that battle, the League was low on power; characters such as Superman, Wonder Woman and others were off having one of the least satisfying of their annual team-ups with the Justice Society so saw nothing of the Martian invasion. It was this fact that saw Aquaman address the United Nations in the pages of Justice League of America Annual #2:

As one of original seven members, the sea king has the power to disband the League much to the shock and anger of some of the members. When confronted with the choice of being in a full-time League or not, however, most of them admit they don't have the time, leaving just a small core group:

So at this stage the League consists of two members of the Big Seven as they'd later be known, one of the DCU's top magicians . . . and Elongated Man.

Along with new members, they also need a new home: the League has lost its satellite headquarters, their base of operations that almost came to define the previous team throughout the 70's and into the 80's. According to J'onzz their plan is to have their headquarters
"in New York, or in another large city. Only by living among the people we are sworn to defend can we maintain our sense of purpose and commitment."
but finding somewhere up to the job is not easy. Thankfully, having seen the news of the League's predicaments, the answer to their problems of both a new HQ and members comes calling for them. First Vixen makes herself known to them:

If received wisdom is to be believed, Vixen would soon be joined by other people laughing at them.

And just like that, the League appears to grow, accepting a little known hero in the shape of Vixen and a brand new one called Steel who is able to not so much buy his way on to the team as have his membership fast-tracked because he has the other thing they're missing: a new headquarters.

An hour later and they're in Detroit for the first time, being shown around the bunker that Steel's grandfather has built beneath an abandoned factory in the industrial area of the city. Having nowhere else to go, the League reluctantly settle in.

The next day we're introduced to another brand new character, this one called Vibe, as he breaks up a gang fight:

These antics are seen by Steel and Vixen who are out buying groceries but despite their recommendation, Aquaman refuses to admit Vibe to the League by insisting that
"We need no more members -- particularly, no more children."
Vibe, however, simply walks up to the front door of the headquarters and within seconds is being confronted by Aquaman:

A quick burst of Vibe's powers against Aquaman makes him rethink his original decision and in the third such quick fire hiring in a dozen pages or so, Vibe's now a member of the League.

Aquaman's doubts would seem (at least with hindsight) to voice the concerns of readers while J'onzz's reply could be construed as being that of Gerry Conway, the writer.

If Vibe can simply walk up to the front door, it stands to reason that just about anyone else can and it's not long before someone breaks into the building, tripping an alarm and ending up captured:

Unlike the other new characters, Gypsy doesn't instantly sign up for the League, instead vanishing as quickly as she appeared. Before the League can even begin to think about getting back to their beds, there's one last threat they have to deal with:

The doorbell.

It appears Vibe was right - everyone on the street has been talking about the League's presence and they want to welcome everybody with an impromptu party:

There's a lot that goes on in this issue and everything moves at a fast pace. Few, if any, questions are raised about the backgrounds of the new members before they're welcomed on board as fully fledged Leaguers and despite Aquaman's concerns about who owns the factory and the bunker beneath it, he's happy enough to set up home there. This despite the fact that within a day of arriving, the entire neighbourhood knows they're there and holds a party right outside the front door.

Of the new characters, Vibe's the only one with any real personality. Problem is, it's fairly annoying, not least of which is Conway's dreadful attempt at both an accent and street slang - the repeated "chu" instead of "you" grates almost as much as Snapper Carr's hip and groovy dialogue from the 60's.

As for supporting characters, Sue Dibny gets to accompany Elongated Man to the bunker though she doesn't do much apart from hang on his arm. The bunker's chief designer and technician is Dale Gunn who works for Steel's grandfather and both Zatanna and Vixen take a shine to him setting up a possible love triangle plot.

It's not the most auspicious of starts - a handful of new characters, no threats to the team, no big scale fights - but it is something a little different. Patton and Hunt's art is clean lined and serviceable and while Conway's dialogue isn't always sparkling (again, particularly with regards to Vibe) it does the job.

Next time, we look at the first four issues of the Detroit League's run.

1 comment:

  1. I like the The Slings & Arrows Comic Guide, but they are prone to hyperbole and occasionally questionable taste. Admittedly, the writing was pretty lousy for that first year, but Chuck Patton's art was swell, and some of the characters (Vixen, Aquaman, Steel) had good plotlines. There were just huge missteps early on, like the limp introductory annual, the poor handling of the Satellite League hand-off, the Tuska fill-ins, the ill-conceived threats of the Cadre, the Maestro, & EskiAmazo, plus the inventory issues. Still, I think "disaster" is a bit much. The book actually improved greatly following Crisis, with the Despero and "Last Days" arcs being some of the finest of the entire series.

    Also, the JLD was in no way a financial meltdown. Their worst crime was mediocre sales that failed to arrest the book's perpetual decline throughout the early '80s. That turned out to be a job for the JLI.


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