Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Justice League Detroit Redux - DC Retroactive

And here we are, the last of these articles featuring the Justice League Detroit and we've come full circle.

DC RETROACTIVE: JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA - THE 80's, written by Gerry Conway with art by Ron Randall.

The Detroit League featured in this issue of DC's Retroactive series of one-shots written for the first time since 1987 by the man who brought them together, Gerry Conway. This was a chance for Conway to craft a story as good as the Despero arc, pitting the League against a worthy foe once more and laying to rest the enmity that the Detroit League has garnered over the intervening years.

Sadly, it wasn't to be.

As he did with Justice League of America #246, Conway starts this story by apologising for his League:

Is there any wonder that this League is held in such contempt when it's very creator insists upon comparing them to not only what came before but what will come after?

And it's reinforced just a couple of pages later when Steel comes out with:

"light-weight wannabes" and "not good enough" was a theme that ran through the original series and Conway does his League no favours by harping on about it twenty odd years later.

With regards to the story, Felix Faust has managed to obtain a tablet that allows him to control men's darkest nature and has used it to possess citizens of Detroit who attack the League's compound just as the League is conducting a guided tour for a bunch of school kids. Trapped by magical entities, the League has to work together to get the kids out safely and, at the same time, defeat Faust.

As the tour begins, though, one of the children wonders where the real heroes are and calls the Detroit League "nobodies. Just a bunch'a losers." which elicits this response from one of his classmates:

So the League isn't about the people, it's about an idea. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

It's a nice sentiment but Conway doesn't let that idea come through, either here or throughout most of his run on the original series. The Detroit League was always about the people - Vibe, Gypsy, Vixen and Steel in particular. He spent so much time trying to build them up as characters (succeeding for the most part whether or not readers actually liked the characters) that there was precious little time for "doing what's right" with notable exceptions being the Amazo and Despero story lines.

Anyway, Faust attacks and traps them in the bunker and eventually they decide to head out and take him on while Gypsy, Elongated Man and Dale Gunn get the children to safety. Not surprisingly, Gypsy ignores the order and heads back. As she did in the Overmaster story, Gypsy delivers the victory blow, breaking the magical tablet over Faust's head.

And that's it - the kids are safe and Faust gets bundled into a police car leaving just one last message from the boy who stood up for them earlier:

Again, Conway attempts to reassure the reader that this is the League despite saying much the opposite throughout the original series.

It's a shame that what could have been a last hurrah for the Detroit League from the man responsible for it turned into another apology.

So, that's the end of the look back at the Justice League Detroit and I hope you've enjoyed it. A couple of last things to mention on the subject: here's an interview with Gerry Conway where he talks about the Detroit League among other things, which includes this interesting fact:
"It didn't work, and I think part of the reason it didn't work was the choice of characters, part of the reason it didn't work because of the collaboration between Chuck [Patton] and myself was okay, but it never really sparked, it was a combination of things. 
After five or six months, I'm not sure how long it lasted, but I was starting to campaign to change it back--"You know, this was an interesting experiment, but I don't think it's working. Let's go back to the formula that had worked and find some way to revamp it." 
But by that point, they felt the problem wasn't with the book, it was with me. That was the problem, so they decided just to replace me."
Maybe that explains why the book didn't work as well as it could have - if the writer wasn't enjoying it, who else would?

And if, after reading these articles, you still want more of Vibe, Gypsy, Vixen, Steel and the others, head over to the dedicated Detroit League blog.

Oh, and if you have five seconds, why not find out which Detroit League member you are? (Turns out I'm the Martian Manhunter!)

Now . . . is there another unloved or forgotten iteration of the League that I can write about every Tuesday . . . ?

Any suggestions?


  1. Another excellent piece, Gary. The Geoff Johns bit was a tad cloying in that story; I agree, Gerry Conway should just have pummelled through, letting the JLA be awesome. Show, don't tell,
    and all that.

    Surely your 'new' league would be the version with the bleedin' Yazz - far worse than the Detroit bunch!

  2. Thanks, Martin - like I said, I think Conway missed an opportunity here to really say "Look, the Detroit League weren't that bad."

    As to the Yazz - hah! I'd forgotten all about him. Or was it a her?!

    Think I might look at either Extreme Justice or the Task Force next.

  3. I vote for the Dan Jurgens League, which was to the 90s what Detroit was to the 80s. Maxima, Bloodwynd, Fire and Ice...what were they thinking?

  4. the Dan Jurgens League, which was to the 90s what Detroit was to the 80s.

    I loved that run! Hmm, may have to rethink my priorities. Gotta be more fun than Extreme Justice.


Thanks for wanting to leave a comment, but this blog is no longer maintained. Feel free to visit my new site/blog over at


Look forward to seeing you there. :)


Related Posts with Thumbnails