Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Why the Justice League Never Works

Take a good, close look at the first image above. It tells you all you need to know about why current incarnations of the Justice League of America just haven't worked out. This is the kind of JLA issue I regularly saw when I was a kid - circa 1979 or so. Notice the heroes who made up the league back then? Sure, there are some B-Listers and C-Listers up there, but the big five are fully represented - Flash, Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman (Aquaman didn't even get any love in the 70s. Can the man EVER catch a break?). Without all of these five - ALL OF THEM - there really isn't a reason for the League.

Every time some writer tries to experiment with the tried-and-true formula of the classic JLA, it ends in dismal failure. Case in point - the grotesque aberration that was the Detroit-based JLA.

Justice League Detroit? A terrible, terrible, TERRIBLE idea! Note that NONE of the big five were present. No wonder this was a doomed effort from the get-go.

I have fond memories of the Giffen-Dematteis-Maguire JLA years, but their efforts were also in vain as they did not follow the cardinal rule of five. Even Batman, who was a league stalwart at the beginning of this run, was later ditched in favor of - I can't believe I'm saying this - the likes of G'nort. And let's not even begin discussing Justice League Europe. What hope does a team have when its anchors are Captain Atom and Metamorpho?

The only hope for the JLA in recent years was Grant Morrison's run on the series. Again, like many others before him, Morrison started off strong by focusing on the core power players. But even Morrison gave into temptation and began adding and deleting characters from the roster ad nauseum. Credit where credit is due - Morrison's stories were still damned good, mostly because he viewed and presented the League as a pantheon of god-like characters, so even his additions of characters like Azrael, Orion and Big Barda made sense within the confines of that conceit.
I highly recommend the recently-collected deluxe editions of Morrison's tenure on the JLA. They are not as narratively complex or challenging as, say, his more recent work on Batman or Final Crisis, but they capture the essence of the team far better than anything in recent memory.
The recent return of the Justice League of America, courtesy of writer/novelist Brad Meltzer, has just been a damned mess. It started off with an interesting premise - Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman discussing who should be added to the team - but the recruitment ended once again with a League featuring a select few of the Big 5 and mostly lesser-known characters. While I dig Speedy (now known as Red Arrow), he's just not JLA material, you know?
Once Meltzer departed, the League was once again on editorially shaky ground, with writers and artists hamstrung by what DC said could and could not be done with the characters. Perhaps the current creative team of James Robinson and Mark Bagley can do something to bring back the magic of the JLA, but I'll believe it when I see it.
Is there any hope for the League? Can anyone write for the Big 5, or is it simply too creatively (and/or editorially) challenging? Is there any way to revive the current incarnation of the League? If so, how?
Cross-posted at PastePotPete


Colleen said...

You so completely rock for posting this that I don't even know where to begin.

SkinnerBox said...

LOL! Thanks. Now, if only I could do something to get Aquaman a little respect... :)

Martin Gray said...

I rather liked the Detroit guys, though it didn't feel like the League - as you say, there have to be certain biggies present.

SkinnerBox said...

I think the inclusion of Vibe in the Detroit League did a lot to undermine the overall value of the concept. In spite of all of this, I still liked the multi-part last issues of this League, where J.M. DeMatteis deconstructed the entire team.

Anonymous said...

In defence of the Giffen era, that book sold HUGE - it was one of DC's top-selling titles until they made the idiotic decision to turn the title serious with the "Breakdowns" crossover.

That set it languishing until Morrison (and Waid and Fabe - don't forget, they wrote the introductory story) came along.