Friday Flashback: BWA-HA-HA, It's The JLI!

In a time of Crisis . . . in a time of Legends . . . heroes dared to be . . . funny! Of course, it’s easy for some to dismiss the “Justice League International” relaunch as comedy only, but readers at the time (whom remain fans today) would tell you that it’s about more than that. With the JLI finally getting some love again by appearing in the year-long “Justice League: Generation Lost”, it’s a good time to revisit the arrival of the International team. Turn the clock back, then, to...

1987!

’87 was an interesting year for a lot of reasons. The run-up to the ’88 campaign (Bush Part I vs. Dukakis) was gearing up. Aretha Franklin became the first solo woman inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (well, she is The Queen). The Dow average was HUGE (see: Wall Street). Iran-Contra consumed many headlines. Microsoft dropped Windows 2.0 (yes, 2.0); in a related story, Prozac is released in the U.S.

The Year In Music

This year was amazing. Important releases included U2’s “The Joshua Tree”, Michael Jackson’s “Bad”, Whitney Houston’s “Whitney” (her second disc, which debuted at #1, making her the first female to pull that off), George Michael’s “Faith”, Husker Du’s “Warehouse: Songs Stories”, Public Enemy’s “Yo! Bum Rush the Show”, The Smiths’ “The World Won’t Listen”, Ozzy Osbourne’s “Tribute” to Randy Rhoads, Prince’s “Sign O’ the Times”, The Replacements’ “Pleased to Meet Me”, The Cure’s “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me”, Echo & The Bunnymen’s self-titled disc, Madonna’s “Who’s That Girl”, Motley Crue’s “Girls Girls Girls”, 10,000 Maniacs’ “In My Tribe”, Def Leppard’s “Hysteria”, New Order’s “Substance”, R.E.M.’s “Document”, Depeche Mode’s “Music for the Masses”, The Pixies’ “Come On Pilgrim”, The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Darklands”, Bruce Springsteen’s “Tunnel of Love”, Ice-T’s “Rhyme Pays”, The Sisters of Mercy’s “Floodland”, and many, many more by the likes of Joe Satriani, Midnight Oil, N.W.A. (first compilation appearance), Kool Moe Dee, Terence Trent D’Arby, Belinda Carlisle, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Smiths again (they dropped THREE discs in the U.S. in ’87), KISS, John Mellencamp, Debbie Gibson (her debut), Aerosmith, Los Lobos, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, and still more. Scholars of Alternative Rock should deem this year about as important as Comic Scholars deem 1986.

1987 in Film

Your popular movies included “Three Men and a Baby”, “Fatal Attraction”, “Beverly Hills Cop II”, “Good Morning, Vietnam”, “Moonstruck”, “The Untouchables”, “Lethal Weapon”, “The Last Emperor”, “Wall Street” (see?!), “Full Metal Jacket”, “Hellraiser”, “The Living Daylights”, “The Lost Boys”, “Predator”, “Dirty Dancing”, “Robocop”, “Raising Arizona”, “Thrown Momma from the Train”, and “The Witches of Eastwick”. “The Princess Bride” was a film that would find further popularity as time went on; other films that held more significance down the line included “Bad Taste” (welcome to directing, Peter Jackson!), “Evil Dead II” (a staple of “our” culture, to be sure), “The Hidden” (Kyle MacLachlan’s test run for his portrayal of Special Agent Dale Cooper, really), “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” (which I mainly include to point out that the theme, “Dream Warrior”, was by DOKKEN), and “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” (which effectively helped killed Superman movies for years).

A New League Is Born!

You may recall that during “Crisis on Infinite Earth”, the Justice League happened to be that of . . . Justice League Detroit! That’s right; the much-maligned League of Vibe and Gypsy happened to be on duty when DC’s biggest story ever hit. As many books and flagship characters were rebooted and relaunched coming out of Crisis, the Justice League seemed strangely unchanged. However, events were already conspiring to update that. Originally, the next DC event was going to be “Crisis 2” or “Crisis of the Soul”; by the time that it debuted, however, it had morphed into “Legends”, a mini-series that dealt with an attack on Earth’s legends by Darkseid.

“Legends” helped kick off the second big wave of post-Crisis DC Reboots, setting the stage for “Wonder Woman”, Captain Marvel, “Suicide Squad”, and, of course, Justice League. During the events of “Legends” in the JLA book, orchestrated attacks by the likes of Professor Ivo left Vibe and Steel dead and the League is disarray. By the time that he arrives to help the other heroes in “Legends” #6, Martian Manhunter indicates that there presently is NO League. After Darkseid’s defeat, several of the gathered heroes (including Batman, Dr. Fate, Captain Marvel and Blue Beetle) agree to form a new team. This actually pays off the promise of 1986’s “History of the DC Universe”, which previewed the team including these characters and Captain Atom (who wouldn’t join until later).

When the first issue dropped in May, it was courtesy of a new creative team; you had Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis on plot and script and Kevin Maguire on pencils. The first issue gathered most of the mainstays of the team: Batman, Martian Manhunter, Blue Beetle, Black Canary, Mr. Miracle and Guy Gardner (in addition to short-timers Dr. Fate, Captain Marvel and Dr. Light II). Looking back, the first few issues had humor, but were decidedly more serious in tone. Issue number one ends with a terrorist taking his own life, and issue 3 ends with extra-dimensional hero Wandjina scarring himself horribly preventing a nuclear meltdown. The “true funny” that most fans fondly recall began in a bit more earnest with issue 4; that’s when master manipulator Maxwell Lord tries to get the League to grant membership to Booster Gold. Gold defeats most of the Royal Flush Gang by himself, earning a smile from Batman and a place on the squad. Among all of this, Maguire proved himself to be a master of expressions; his arsenal of smirks, grimaces and ticks made the character emotion seem totally real. You KNEW these people.

After this, things took off like a rocket. Issue 5 featured the infamous “One punch!” throwdown between Batman and Guy. The League gained the “International” subtitle with issue 7, and welcomed Captain Atom and Rocket Red (the first RR was a Manhunter Robot, but he was replaced with Dimitri, whom we all loved, I think). Booster Gold and Blue Beetle became one of the classic comedy duos of all time, marking their first joint cover with number eight as they helped Black Canary move into the new embassy. That issue featured a hilarious sequence wherein Booster makes an ass of himself trying to pick up the League’s Paris liaison.

As time went on, the creators would frequently juggle serious threats with the humorous interaction. Big, dangerous battles featured the likes of Despero and a frightening couple of issues in which a possessed Blue Beetle went on a near-fatal rampage. Still, though, the thing that was most in evident was that the heroes were allowed to laugh, and we were allowed to laugh with them. While the other heroes often rolled their eyes at Beetle and Booster, I still believe that they liked them, and that was important. This was evident with some of the great scenes that they had with Fire and Ice (who joined up around issue 14); the two duos played well off of one another, and Ice even found her way into an unexpected romance with Guy, a subplot that still gets play to this day.

Frankly, we could go on and on about the JLI. They were a bright spot in comics, and I certainly loved them. I was sad when they went away, and actually dropped Justice League soon after “Death of Superman” until the Morrison reboot. I think that the current series is an interesting take on some old friends, and I’m definitely entertained by it. While I do with that they’d allow Ted Kord back in the door, I have to say that some of my fondest teen comics memories revolve around this interpretation of the League. They were the JLI, and they’re your Friday Flashback.

Do you remember the original JLI?

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