It’s hard to put into words how silly Justice League International #1 is.
On the one hand, it’s written in a style that’s a throwback to the very early 1990s. That shouldn’t be a total surprise: the issue’s written by Dan Jurgens, who largely hasn’t progressed beyond that style. In fact, he wrote Justice League of America, after Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis left the title. Stylistically, this issue would fit comfortably into that era.
And there’s nothing wrong with that in itself. I have a certain fondness for Dan Jurgens, to be perfectly honest. No, his work is decidedly not hip. But I’m usually glad there’s a place for him, alongside other, newer styles. I don’t see any pressing need to get rid of the old while embracing the new.
It is strange, however, just how many of DC’s “new” series seem to be throwbacks. O.M.A.C. is a Kirbyesque, Silver Age retro comic. Hawk and Dove is an early-to-mid-1990s Image throwback, not only artistically but also in its storytelling style. Who knows how many of the issues to come will be too. It’s almost as if DC looked at its recent “retroactive” offerings and decided to make a significant portion of its entire new line retro.
But what’s even more odd is that Justice League International wouldn’t pass muster, even circa 1991. In fact, it would have been laughed at back then.
It deserves to be pointed out that this is not a humor issue. Admittedly, this may at first be hard to discern. The story does seem at times to play loosely with this idea, which stems from the humorous, unrealistic tone of the celebrated Giffen and DeMatteis run. But there’s only one line that could possibly count as a joke. And while there’s plenty of absurdity, it’s clear that not all of it is intentional.
Believe me, by the end of this roller coaster, you’ll be left staggered and scratching your head… no longer over whether this is a humor comic but over how it could possibly have been published in the first place.
The issue begins with one Andre Briggs, “head of U.N. intelligence,” getting permission to form a new, controllable, international version of the Justice League. Naturally, to do this, Briggs gets representatives from various nations live on monitors. They skip right to recruiting potential members for the team, and it’s here that it becomes clear that there’s something very wrong with the dialogue.
As they turn to Plastic Man, what we presume to be the Russian representative says, “Nyet! How you say… too whacko!” When discussing Fire, the same representative says, “Fiery in spirit as well, I am told. If so, the Brazilian delegation will thank me with the finest cognac!”
Wait… if the speaker means the Brazilian delegation to the U.N., why are these representatives live on video in the first place, since this dialogue would seem to imply that they’re at the U.N.? And I guess Brazil must really love feisty women, because it apparently buys cognac for anyone who supports one. Also, why would they buy cognac, which Russians are known for? That’s a little like America thanking Germany for supporting a candidate who likes McDonald’s with the finest beer.
There’s more bad dialogue, but nothing trumps the scene’s conclusion, in which the Russian representative says, “As long as Russian sinew and glory are represented, I vote yes. Da!” People who speak foreign languages typically slip into their own tongue when saying common words like “yes.” But they do so the first time through, not when repeating. The only reason for this would be to emphasize one’s own language or nationality… in this case, to possibly remind readers that yes, this guy who just said he’s Russian is, well, Russian.
Okay, so maybe this is parody. It does sound suspiciously like dialogue excised from Red Dawn.
We then find out that Briggs assembled his team before getting approval. Pretty cocky, considering any representative could have vetoed anyone for an unanticipated reason. But Briggs also “acquire[d] the building.”
What building is that? Only the Justice League’s Hall of Justice.
So how did Briggs acquire it? We soon see protesters outside, several of whom shout in unison, “This is a public building!” That’s apparently why they’re protesting. Later, we see one with a sign that reads “The HALL is ours!”
Now, I have no idea who owns the deed to the Hall of Justice. I’d have guessed a shell company belonging to Bruce Wayne. But apparently, it’s the United States government. And that government either sold or gave it to the U.N. for this new super-team.
Why would the Justice League have functioned this way? Why would the U.S. government have shed this asset? And more importantly, why would people protest this, when you can’t get people to protest suspension of basic civil rights? And plenty of people would love to see the government get a dime in exchange for what we can only assume was an unused building. After all, the protesters aren’t shouting “The Justice League live here!”
What this all means is anyone’s guess. I’d have personally thought that the legal disposition of the Hall of Justice might have been worth establishing, if you’re going to make it a plot point worth protesting. But that’s irrelevant, because protests are cool, I guess.
Booster Gold arrives at the Hall of Justice, and it’s only then that he learns that it isn’t the actual Justice League for which he’s been recruited, but rather the new Justice League International. You’d think this would have been worth mentioning during the actual recruiting. We’re not shown that, presumably to dive more quickly into the actual story and get more Russian dialogue. So why are we shown that the recruiters were so incompetent as to not casually sneak into the conversation, “Oh, and by the way, just to avoid any confusion, this isn’t the Justice League we’re recruiting you for but another, unaffiliated organization bearing a remarkably similar name.” Failure to do so could even be legally actionable.
Confronted by the protesters, Booster Gold at first decides to win them over. Then he hears a particularly confrontational protester, and he decides to just go inside.
Because we don’t understand very well the situation that sparked these protests, it’s hard to imagine why the protester angrily snarls, “Tonight, we send a signal. Time to draw a line in the sand.” Is that a line between the government selling the Hall of Justice and allowing this asset to languish? I’m not sure.
(My sincere thanks to David Uzumeri, who corrected me here about who’s doing the speaking here.)
Briggs promptly makes Booster Gold the team’s leader. He cites that Booster understands “the need to sell” the new team, yet all Booster’s done so far is declare that the team needs to win the protesters over. He hasn’t actually engaged with the snarling protesters.
The team assembles between panels — this is the downside of being against decompression. Guy Gardner prompty storms out, upset that he can’t be leader. This might signal that DC’s decided to revert the character to his arrogant, 1980s personality, rather than the version developed more recently, but how much do you want to bet that this won’t be consistent with subsequent Green Lantern titles?
It’s here that we get the issue’s one line that could be construed as an attempt at humor. Guy Gardner calls Booster Gold “a pitchman for adult diapers.” It’s another reference (after Briggs putting Booster in charge) to how Booster Gold takes commercial endorsements, although the new reader couldn’t possibly be expected to know this. Booster Gold then very seriously denies the charge, which comes off as an attempt at humor.
Then Godiva asks, “What about underwear? You have the… build for it.”
I get it! Godiva’s horny! Characterization! Just a bit too subtle for my tastes.
Booster Gold refuses his teammates requests that he pursue Guy Gardner. But as Guy Gardner exits, he’s confronted by… Batman.
Does Batman say that this new team is a bad idea? That it’s obviously got some sneaky people behind it? That those people are probably trying to assemble an alternative to the Justice League who can be controlled?
Nope. Yes, he’s there to investigate the U.N.’s motives. But instead of laying low, he vouches for Booster Gold: “Don’t sell Booster short. He can do this.”
Keep in mind Batman is one of the characters who, before the DC relaunch, refused to listen to Booster Gold’s similarly undervalued pal Blue Beetle, leading to Beetle’s death. Has he somehow become the touchy-feely heart of the Justice League in the new continuity?
Guy Gardner flies off anyway, so the only point of this scene is to (1) establish that Batman is nosing around and (2) establish that Batman, even having suspicions about this team, thinks Guy Gardner should totally join. Because Booster’s cool.
Coming so soon after Godiva’s comment about Booster’s genitals, it’s almost as if this were written by someone with a vested interest in promoting Booster Gold. Someone like Booster’s creator.
Who just happens to be Dan Jurgens.
By the way, I like Booster Gold, as originally created. The idea of a sellout super-hero from the future was incredibly novel in the 1980s. Alongside Firestorm, he’s one of the characters who deserved to become a DC mainstay who, due to the vagaries of a change-resistant comics market, didn’t quite make it.
I’m a fan. But even I can’t stomach this.
Batman’s logic here seems to be “Yeah, I’m pretty sure they’re up to no good. So why don’t you help them out? There’s a pretty cool dupe they suckered into this, and it could really work out.”
What’s next? “Yeah, I do think the Joker’s behind this. And it’s obvious he’s trying to brainwash you, Superman. But you gotta admit, blowing the planet out of orbit is pretty cool, so why don’t you join him?”
Inside, Briggs introduces the new team to its jet. Because all super-hero teams need a cool, state-of-the-art jet. One apparently donated by Queen Industries, a front for Green Arrow. Why is Green Arrow endorsing this new team? Who knows.
Iron General, who’s Chinese, and Rocket Red, who’s Russian, quickly argue about the merits of their respective aviation industries. In the most cliched dialogue possible.
Booster Gold stops the debate by saying, “Enough! We have four United Nations research teams that we’ve lost contact with!”
Which is the first we’ve heard of it.
One of Booster’s powers is apparently random exposition.
Besides not being known for having a separate intelligence wing for Briggs to belong to, the U.N. is not known for having technological teams around the globe, coordinated by something called “U.N. control.”
More importantly, when did Booster learn this? Why wasn’t it mentioned before? Why was this team squabbling when they knew they had a mission? Doesn’t matter, apparently.
Booster Gold no sooner announces that they’re going after the missing U.N. teams in Peru than Ice says she hates “hot” weather. Because her powers involve ice. Get it?
In response, Rocket Red says she’d “love Russian winter.” Because he’s Russian. Get it?
Briggs gives Booster some sound advice before the team departs: “The first mission is always important, Gold. Don’t screw up.”
Would that anyone involved with this issue took this advice.
Guess who snuck aboard the jet before it took off? Batman. Not content with endorsing Booster Gold, he now wants to join the team. That he knows is run by people who are probably up to no good.
He manages to endorse Booster again, this time to his face, before they land.
Then comes one of the unintentionally funniest pages in comics history.
Truly, whole books deserve to be written about how stupid this page is. It’s that endlessly, phenomenally dumb.
It stars those two young protesters seen earlier, one of whom snarled at Booster Gold and said, “Tonight, we send a signal.”
What’s that signal?
Come on, guess what these two kids do.
They blow up the Hall of Justice using a water cooler.
Yes, there are explosives in the water cooler. But I’d be surprised if they could do more than blow a hole in the wall, even if they were military grade and the wall were just made of concrete. But this is the Justice League’s old headquarters here. And these are kid protesters. The scene has the atmosphere of a prank. Yet the bomb blows up the Hall of Justice, which is seen dramatically burning against the night sky.
Now, it should be pointed out that the protesters were only there because they believed, for whatever reason, that the public owned the Hall of Justice. So I guess the United States selling or giving the Hall of Justice to the U.N. seemed like a good reason to blow it up.
This is a little like someone protesting that the natural glories of Yellowstone National Park has been privatized by burning it down.
Or maybe someone protesting the fact that American soldiers don’t make enough money by, say, shooting some American soldiers.
But hey, they’re protesters, and protesters are often college kids who like to blow things up. Their actual motivations don’t matter.
Oh, they get some dialogue. They say they got the explosives from “a Black Hawks depo.” Whatever that means or why the Blackhawks, formerly one word, have thermonuclear water coolers, who knows? And why, if they have such technology, aren’t they guarding it? If this isn’t clear to a DC adept, it’s sure as hell not clear to the new reader.
One protester explains that he fought for the U.S. but “now I realize that these governments lie to us. Take our money, pad their wallets and use us to fight their wars.”
And you got this from the sale of the Hall of Justice how?
And wait a minute… you say the government lies? That it uses us — “us” being volunteers for the armed forces — to fight wars? I’m shocked. And you say they… “take our money?” Wait, there’s something called taxes? Wow, let’s blow some shit up right now.
Also, it’s a U.N. building now. So congratulations on hitting the wrong target. If you hate the U.S. so reflexively, shouldn’t you be happy that it’s shedding assets to international organizations?
Now, I’m having a lot of fun with this, but this scene is actually phenomenally offensive. It makes no sense that someone protesting the sale of the Hall of Justice would suddenly shift to being concerned with U.S. foreign policy. But most Americans disagree with their country’s continued involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet here, people with a gripe against U.S. foreign policy are portrayed as incoherent protesters, shocked by the most mundane of facts, who treat the bombing of a U.N. building with all the serious contemplation of a fraternity prank.
But back to the team in Peru, which soon encounters rock monsters who burst from the earth.
That’s right: rock monsters.
Which Godiva refuses to fight. Batman calmly tells her that she has “to be more involved.” Her response? “Sod, off, Bats. Lethal rock creatures aren’t my style.”
Man, who chose her for the team? She was apparently intended to pacify the British, winning their vote. But is this the best the British have to offer? A girl who loves Booster Gold’s genital bulge but refuses to fight?
Well, at least here, for once, Jurgens is going against a national cliche. Stiff upper lip? Hard-hitting journalism? Standing tall against Hitler, even as their people were being bombed into oblivion? Standing beside the U.S., even knowing the U.S. was going to invade Iraq no matter what the intelligence said? Yeah, that same nation apparently thought it was funny to put Posh Spice in the Justice League.
Then the rock monsters run away, and a giant robot erupts from under the earth.
No, you didn’t read that wrong.
And no, I don’t feel bad for spoiling the ending. Spoilers are about how the plot unfolds. And that’s usually the stuff of endings. Rather than — just for argument’s sake – a random giant robot erupting from the earth.
See how Batman says it’s “too late?” That’s not a wisecrack. That’s super-hero drama, said by a serious, serious man. One who sees Booster’s worth, in his infinite wisdom.
Who the hell approved this?
This makes Justice League #1, for all its inanities, look like Watchmen.
This is so bad that you’d think someone at DC would have said, “Is it really so bad if we end up with 51?”
There’s really no possible way to go with this title except to pull a Basic Instinct 2 and claim that it was always intended as camp all along. Really, there’s no way forward except to aim for the “it’s so bad, it’s almost good” reaction.
But how is that possible? With all the attention DC’s given to the “new 52?” With all the money given into marketing? With all the planning that DC claims went into these titles?
Who are these new readers DC is trying to attract? Lapsed comics fans from the early 1990s? Seriously, what’s the demographic on this one? Who are the new readers this is going to convert?
And no one at DC, from the issue’s editor Rex Ogle to the higher-ups, thought this was anything but perfectly fine work.
Nyet, I say. No cognac for you.