Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Justice League Detroit - Rebirth

Over the next few weeks on a Tuesday, I'll be working my way through the Justice League of America titles from 1985 to 1987, trying to work out if the Justice League Detroit era really was as bad as we think it was. Why? Why the hell not.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #233 - #236, Rebirth, Parts 1 to 4, written by Gerry Conway with art by Chuck Patton, Bill Anderson, Mike Machlan and Rick Magyar.

Picture the scene: you're Gerry Conway, you've just relaunched DC Comics' flagship team title in its recent annual and you need a storyline worthy of you're new team, something that will stretch them and prove that they are worthy of being known as the Justice League.

You start your first issue with a one page prologue, showing an ancient disaster, hinting that something or someone was behind the extermination of some of the first complex life forms ever to evolve on Earth billions of years ago. It's not a bad start - a foreshadowing of what's to come.

And then you have your first two-page spread, pages 2 and 3 of issue #233. What are you going to do, how will you introduce your new heroes, the new League?

Well, apparently you do this:

Click to embiggen
That's right - a casual reader's first introduction to the new League consists of two pages of Vibe breakdancing while Vixen and Zatanna look on. This is followed by another page of Vibe dancing while Vixen and Zatanna use his routine to illustrate how much the League has changed. Honestly, it's not the best way to start a comic about superheroes, but it is different. Can you imagine anything similar being played straight in today's DCU?

The four issue Rebirth storyline, judging by its title, was all about cementing the new League for the readers, and getting them used to the new guys. Each cover focused on one of the new heroes and as you can see, Vibe was up first.

Thankfully, there was more to Vibe than the dancing and the dreadful costume. He had been part of a street gang, the Lobos, whose rivals, the imaginatively named Skulls, were led by one Malcolm Tandy, otherwise known as Crowbar.

As a gang war builds between the two, Vibe is pushed to pick a side whether he wants to or not. When Crowbar attacks him, Vixen and Zatanna get involved, much to Vibe's annoyance.

Meanwhile, back at the bunker, Aquaman begins testing Steel's capabilities against the wishes of both the Martian Manhunter and Dale Gunn. This really marks the beginning of an attitude shift in Aquaman where he becomes angry all too easily and is quick to take it out on others. Dale Gunn, the technician and engineer behind the bunker, is not one to take it lightly:

The bunker needs better double glazing based on J'onn's cape!
The rest of the first issue's taken up with the gang war as the Lobos and Skulls face off which ends with Vibe being stabbed (obviously not fatally) and the League arriving to break it up. In her first real appearance, Gypsy turns up and manages to knock out Crowbar using his own weapon of choice and as Vibe lays recovering, Steel notices he's lost his accent. Perhaps even Conway started to get tired of writing dialogue such as "See wha' chu made me do? I could'a handled this withou' chu, man."

#234 starts to focus on Vixen, giving her background a bit more depth as she learns that General Maksai of the central African nation of M'changa is in town. Despite the other Leaguers being interested in helping Vixen, like Vibe, wants to take care of things on her own.

Aquaman still can't resist being a jerk around Steel, surprising the youngster as he exercises in the pool. The scene is interrupted by Zatanna who appears to agree with Aquaman which just ticks Steel off even more. However, Zatanna's noticed the sea king's change in attitude and acts on it, giving him a piece of her mind. Of course, being old friends it all ends in laughter but there's a progression here of Aquaman's behaviour being out of the ordinary.

Despite Vixen's insistence that she deal with Maksai on her own, J'onn J'onzz is determined to help her, even if she doesn't want it:

Vixen goes for big green guys?
while unknown to her, Maksai is also taking an interest in her and the Tantu Totem she wears that give her her powers.

Vibe and Steel catch sight of Gypsy but despite their best efforts, they fail to catch her but instead find Vixen, following her to Detroit's prison where she breaks in and terrorises criminals connected with Maksai. As Vibe and Steel decide to get the League involved, we get a quick interlude and a glimpse of some other characters:

The Monitor and Harbinger, watching everything as they were throughout the run up to the "maxi series, Crisis-Earth" including Crowbar and his new pals in the Cadre. The Monitor mentions the Overmaster as well, some mysterious bad guy who's put the Cadre together.

#235 starts with Steel and Vibe alerting the League to Vixen's actions. That they took the time to change into their costumes seems a little strange but there we go.

Within the first couple of pages, Aquaman and Steel are each other's throats again. This time it goes beyond just an argument with Aquaman actually using his telepathy against a team mate in order to shut him up.

It's a reaction that is completely over the top given the circumstances and one which shows again just how much of an arrogant jerk Aquaman has become since forming the new League.

J'onn J'onzz, however, is the only one who realised what had happened and is not happy:

And just to finish things off, Aquaman not only humiliates Sue in front of the team but summarily dismisses them.

The remainder of the issue is a combination of Fastball of the Cadre paying Steel and Gypsy a visit but having his arse handed right back to him and then Vixen's foolhardy assault on General Maksai which ends in a stalemate once the rest of the League arrive. Steel gives up a little bit of his origin to Zatanna, explaining that his grandfather performed experiments on him to turn him into the cyborg he is today. As they return to the bunker, their ship is teleported away, leaving all of them to face the Overmaster and the Cadre in full:

In #236 the Overmaster claims to have been behind all of the mass extinctions in Earth's history and has brought the League to him to fight the Cadre in order to test humanity's right to live, as preposterous a motive as any, I suppose.

Not surprisingly there's a big fight as the two teams go up against each other while back in Detroit Gypsy proves her worth. Having been hiding out in the bunker, she happened to see the moment that the League's ship was lost as she explains to Dale Gunn:

The teams continue fighting with Aquaman berating himself for being a pretty crap leader while Dale and Gypsy track their signals and rush to their aid. Beneath the Overmaster's lair, the League find an enormous alien in stasis, with a glowing pyramid hovering above its head from which J'onn detects a telepathic presence. The Cadre and the Overmaster find them again and continue the fight but Gypsy finds them and lends a helping hand or, more specifically, a laser:

Following J'onn's advice, Gypsy touches the jewel and both the Overmaster and the Cadre disappear, allowing the team to escape and reflect on just who or what the Overmaster was.

It's been said before that any good heroes can be measured against how tough their enemies are. For this new League's first foray they appear to be fighting an almost omnipotent being responsible for mass extinctions. On the face of it, a worth adversary. All too soon, however, he and his team are defeated and revealed as being fakes - there never was any great threat and once you take that away, it cheapens the League's victory.

As an introductory arc, it doesn't really focus on the new characters that much - Vibe gets the first issue, Vixen's story is spread over the second and third, Steel gets one page in the third and Gypsy turns up and saves the day in the last. While Aquaman and Martian Manhunter get a lot of face time, Elongated Man is relegated to the background and apart from decorating the bunker with Sue doesn't really do much at all. However what does work is the growing tension between Aquaman and the rest of the team which will continue over the subsequent issues.

Next time, the new guys meet the old guys.


  1. Thank you for interdicting any temptation I may have had to ever read this. I needed get no further than Vibe's dancing....

  2. Not a problem, Kent - I'm happy to take those bullets for you!

  3. As bad as some of these stories were, I have a real soft spot for the Detroit League.

    My one massive issue with the whole thing was when they had Ralph say something about Lake Michigan as they were coming into Detroit...ummm, Lake Michigan is on the other side of the state people.

    I loved Steel, Gypsy and Vixen as the newbies, but was not very fond of Vibe. Ah well.

  4. Dave - It's sad to say that as I re-read these stories with a critical eye, the poor stories seem to outweigh the good. With that said, I still can't help liking the new guys - even Vibe!

  5. They get points for enthusiasm, and I think they remain well remembered because of their overwhelming lameness. It wasn't even so much the team as their ludicrous early opponents. Truth is, the only real blights are Vibe and Gypsy, who never had anything approaching respectable careers. Vixen and Steel better acquitted themselves over time, and even Martian Manhunter and Zatanna were still in development before truly earning a modern following.

  6. For me, it's Vibe that's the weak link overall. Gypsy benefits from hindsight, I think, and going on to be a better character in years to come; while she may have been something of a one-note wonder, Vibe dates very quickly with the whole break-dancing thing.


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