Double Dead Comics Weekend: Heroes in Crisis 9 and Doomsday Clock 10


So I was right when I predicted, maybe six months ago, that I’d see Heroes in Crisis 9 before Doomsday Clock 12, for here is the former appearing the same week as issue 10 of the latter, with the penultimate issue due in another three months time and the final issue in sight of no published schedule at all. Let’s put the two together and talk about which is the biggest bust.

For me, it’s got to be Heroes in Crisis. I was expecting something interesting, thought-provoking, original and ground-breaking. I was expecting it to enslave me. I was expecting it to be good. Doomsday Clock has done nothing but live down to my expectations.

Last issue, Heroes in Crisis revealed that its villain was neither Booster Gold nor Harley Quinn, as had been trailed from the start, but instead Wally West, the series’ most controversial and unwelcome victim. What was so bad, as well as just dumbfuck stupid, about it was that whilst the multiple deaths were a tragic accident, Wally’s actions in covering up, concealing and fabricating evidence and framing innocents, placed him at or below the level of the most evil of supervillains.

Worse still than that, was the choice of Wally as the villain: Wally West, the victim of the New52, the wellspring of Rebirth in 2016, the character whose reappearance was a deliberate beacon, a symbol of hope, and who less than three years later has been trashed beyond recovery. And in choosing to make Wally such a manipulator of evidence, Tom King destroyed his own story: literally everything in issues 1-7 has been a fake, a red herring, a lie. None of it meant anything, except seven months’ waste of paper, ink and colour. Did nobody at DC realise this in advance?

The series has made Wally West irredeemable. The character is poisoned beyond any hope, except as a villin or a madman, for at least two decades: that was how long in took to bring Hal Jordan back after Emerald Twilight, and that only tenuously possible by having him be possessed by Parallax, the Fear-Demon. In the late 2030’s, assuming the comic book industry hasn’t disappeared up its own backside at last, someone can try to rehabilitate Wally. It would be nice if someone could come up with something that isn’t as cheap and casuall, or as blatant a rip-off, as having him be possessed, and not in his right mind.

Was this what Tom King planned all along? There’s been rumour, and circumstantial evidence, of editorial interference by Interferer in Chief Dan Didio. Who is known to dislike Wally West almost as much as he does Dick Grayson. Who was the force behind the conceptual approaches of the New52, which was rejected by Geoff Johns in Rebirth. Who has come out on top in a power-strugle with Johns, who made wlly the Hope of Rebirth.

Would DiDio be so petty? Are you kidding? He works in comics, doesn’t he? The industry is littered with the petty, the obsessive, the maladjusted.

You may by now be wondering why I am going on at such length on what is essentially a reprise of my comments on issue 8, but this is the bar that the last issue has to overcome when it tries to present the Redemption of Wally West, by doing more or less the same thing issue 8 did, that is, to wipe out what has gone before, and render the worst parts of issue 8 non-existent. It doesn’t work, not even for a second.

What happens is that, amongst another slew of single panel trauma investigations at Sanctuary, which we later learn is the new, repaired, publicly-known Sanctuary, the Booster-Beetle-Harley-Batgirl team catches up with Wally five days in the future where/when he’s about to strangle Wally West for his crime and take him back to Day Zero for his body to be found. Wally has decided against using time travel to, you know, like, stop himself from killing all those people in the first place, because of Flashpoint.

So, in the least convincing of manners and most cheap of reverses, Wally and Wally talk Wally out of it, Booster scoots into the future to grab a clone of Wally + 5 so that can be dumped at Day Zero, everybody hightails it out of Day + 5 before the Justice League get there,  and Wally can go back to Day Zero and confess his crime and get therapy, and go on to his bright and bountiful future in the DC Universe. The fact that in doing so he has now changed time in contravention of his principles in not changing time is not allowed to cross the mind of anyone except awkward readers.

It’s bullshit, pure bullshit from start to finish. Worse than bullshit, it’s pathetic. The series has been dull, static and uninvolving, and it has undercut itself over and over to the point where it holds no reality whatsoever. And to prove this yet further, Poison Ivy is returned to life is issue 9.

That leaves Roy Harper as the only prominent dead character, along with a bunch of neverwases, and that isn’t going to last.

I really had hopes for Heroes in Crisis but it disappointed from the outset. According to one of the spoilers that I’ve avoided until now, King, as the writer, submitted his outline story and had the characters to use dictated to him, but I’m still not going to let him off. That’s stupid nonsense. Look for a complete set on eBay from Sunday afternoon onwards.

As for Doomsday Clock 10, this armpit of a story has dragged on for so long that I no longer have the energy for any truly visceral commentary. At this late stage, on this attenuated schedule, you’d think that Johns and Frank would be making at least some effort to move the story towards its glacial conclusion, especially given that Doomsday Clock is meant to be the future of the DC Universe and nobody as yet has any idea what they have to do to get there, and that it supposed to be the springboard for the long overdue returns of The Justice Society of America and The Legion of Super-Heroes.

Issue 10 has been trailed for longer than prehistoric beasts have existed as heralding the return of the Justice Society, and it is true that we have some new dialogue from their first meeting, but in which version of reality that takes place is beyond determining. Essentially, Johns has decided to spend this issue in the head of Dr Manhattan, who does not perceive time in linear fashion, and using this to summarise what the Doc has been doing since departing the Watchmen Universe and arriving in DC’s.

It basically wanders about haphazardly whilst the Doc adjusts to the idea of being in a Multiverse in which time shifts at periodic intervals, until he realises that the DC Earth is actually not a Multiversal construct but a metaverse, whose history is constantly shifting.

I mean, ho-hum or what, so very rose by any other name. In the end, we get back to the same old conundrum we’ve had waved under our noses for about a year of real time, that Manhattan’s perception of the future ends with Superman throwing a punch at him, meaning that either Superman destroys him., or Manhattan destroys the metaverse. And aside from all other considerations, the odds of Manhattan destroying something Johns has only just named/defined this week are non-existent.

This latest instalment essentially writes the series off as a crossover series, as well as its already pronounced failure as a Watchmen fuck-with. We haven’t had any of that for an issue or two, so in one sense it’s cheering to see Johns flash back to Manhattan’s last conversation with Ozymandias in Watchmen 12, but really it’s not since Johns has to lie through his teeth about what Alan Moore had these two talk about, and invent something that never happened and which demeans the good Doctor yet more.

With Tom King’s run on Batman suddenly announced as ending twenty issues prior than we’d been led to believe, and the only other DC title I’m getting being The Terrifics, I foresee discarding the contents of each of these series asbeing beyond easy. I doubt I’ll even have to read anything in which they have consequences.

Will someone put this thing out of its misery? Before August and issue 11.

Heroes in Crisis 7


How much of this story has been a waste of space? How many of the pages of this issue are pointless, an abuse of the audience by getting them to read a lazy, needless fight between Harley Quinn and Booster Gold, observed in couch potato fashion by Batgirl and Blue Beetle, until the four decide to pool their approaches? How many pages are wasted by Batman and The Flash using very different approaches to locating Blue and Gold, The Flash dashing off for microsecond searches of areas of the world where they’re not to be found, and Batman sitting in his Batcave chair, watching his alarms, which are hidden in every safehouse either of the pair have ever had, knowing that sooner or later, being Beetle and Booster, one of them will do something stupid and trigger their alarm? How many pages are given over to the Watchmen grid of Wally West talking to Sanctuary, updating himself on the number of weeks he’s been there and his evidently false belief that he’s been improving?

The answers to these questions are 11, 3 and 4 respectively. That leaves 6 pages (including a double page spread) that might, we hope, actually advance the story, although not in any way that makes sense up to the end of issue 7. These involve Wally and Poison Ivy and a field of beautifully drawn and brilliantly coloured flowers that are a genuine aesthetic delight, and they seem to be leading towards the suggestion, which has been suspected by a lot of people for quite some time already, that the Sanctuary killer is Wally himself.

I really hope that this is still red-herringing.

Art this time around is split between three artists, twelve pages drawn by series artist Clay Mann, nine by Travis Moore and the remaining three by Jorge Fornes, whose more primitive style stands out like a sore thumb against the other two.

I mean, there’s not really that much else I can say about this issue. The main cover, an exasperated Superman shouting ‘Enough!’ and thrusting Booster and Harley out of the picture has nothing to do with this episode. The only thing I can applaud is that it’s coming out on time, and as Doomsday Clock 10 has now been pushed back into May, my prediction that I’d get to the end of Heroes in Crisis before DC’s premier fuck-up crossover is going to come true in spades.

Given that Tom King’s current arc in Batman, ‘Knightmares’, is as boring as fuck and seeming interminable, this is not a period in which I am favourably inclined towards him. I’d like that to improve.

Heroes in Crisis 5


What else can I say? I find it difficult to believe this story is being written by the same Tom King who’s got me buying Batman comics for the first time since probably the landmark Steve Engelhart run pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths. The concept is fascinating, the execution abysmal, the pace non-existent and the psychological insight as deep as a street puddle.

There isn’t a plot to issue 5, which at least is the midpoint of the series. Essentially, Booster and Beetle waste time hanging out drinking Bud befor invading The Flash’s laboratory, because he’s a better detective than both of them puttogether, Batgirl and Harley Quinn team-up to torture the robot Skeets to get Booster’s whereabouts and Superman gives a Press Comnference at which he explains the purpose of Sanctuary and the downside of superheroing at a length that is simultaneously heartfelt and, after four issues of Show, completely redundant in Tell.

Add to this the usual four pages of Watchmen grid, showing various heroes explain what bugs them. Booster plays Out, Damned Spot with his perfectly clear visor, The Protector (is he seriously in DC continuity?) boasts about being pilled out of his bonce all through his Don’t Do It anti-drugs campaign, Commander Steel actually makes a real point about being brought back to life so many times that you can never believe be ing alive will stick, and Harley Quinn tells the same ‘Knock Knock’ joke my mate Ken told us all whilst out for dinner last night, before confessing that the Joker used to hit her.

One worthwhile page out of four, but all are totally static. Throw in a two-page spread (seriously) of Blue and Gold watching TV whilst having their beers on the couch and that’s nearly a third of the issue taken up with nothing whatsoever.

As I said, the concept of Sanctuary is fascinating but the execution is a bust. These confessional pages are detached from the ‘story’. They’re visually dull and deliberately so, the level of insight is minimal (or am I simply too old, too experienced in both life and comics to see these pages as merely sophomoric, whereas for contemporary audiences they are full of new ideas?), to the point where even a genuinely intriguing condition, like that of Commander Steel, fails to have the appropriate impact, because it is weighted down too heavily by the dross surrounding it?

This failure is made more obvious by the latest issue of The Terrifics, no 12, which I bought at the same time. Rex Mason is Rex again, not Metamorpho. He’s having difficulrty to adjusting, even though he’s got everything he ever wanted: he’s human again, he has his beloved Sapphire with him, free of Simon Stagg’s influence at last, and he can’t settle to it. Some is that he wants to work, not be kept, but he has no transferrable skills nor relevant qualifications after years of heroing, but the big problem is, as he admits to himself, that he can’t believe he’s truly escaped from being Metamorpho, and he cannot live his lifeas aanything but an interlude until it happens to him again.

It’s same same problem as Steel (can we drop this ‘Commander’ crap, please?), but this is led up to organically, its woven into the story, we see it for ourselves and Rex’s confession follows on our experience and leads into the great denouement where he betrayss Sapphire and himself and deliberatelly chooses to be Metamorpho again. All of which is a ton more effective, and affecting, that the antiseptic account by Steel that’s ninety percent an outline of his continuity.

Only one thing in issue 5 justifies its printing and that’s the one thing about the series that I could never get into. There’s been something unreal about the deaths we’ve seen of characters like Roy Harper, Poison Ivy and especially Wally West, and despite their unfunny footling about, Booster Gold and Blue Beetle discover something that has the potential to undermine that aspect: it appears that at his death, Wally West was five days older than he should be.

So, time travel, a wriggle out shows its head. Whether or not this sophisticated future people dater is taking into account the ten years Wally spent living in the Speed Force, and whether those years still exist, given what’s going on in the ever-increasingly-delayed Doomsday Clock, I would once have known, and once would have wanted to find out, but I couldn’t care. Once it’s done, Heroes in Crisis is going on eBay, and I will be dismissing it from continuity.

Heroes in Crisis 4


Still not convinced

Fourth issue. There’s a lot of typographical swearing in this one, including the title, the way you get it in mainstream comics. Can’t have everyone seeing the Black Canary saying ‘Fuck it,’ can we?

Once again, it’s too damned little and too damned slowly. Wonder Girl/Donna Troy/Troia/whoever the hell she is, hauls a pissed Tempest out of a bar, then has the first of three full pages of superheroine confessions. Donna muses about whether Paradise Island actually exists (just ask Diana, you clown). Batgirl says nothing, just pulls down her tights far enough to see the entry and exit wounds, sufficiently re-positioned from Killing Joke so that it didn’t actually sever her spine. Black Canary lasts three panels of a Watchmen nine-panel grid before saying whatever she says and walking, leaving six panels of an empty chair.

Batman and The Flash, the two best detectives, complete their investigation and proclaim the killer: Booster (Flash), Harley (Batman). The Flash swears (yes, even though he’s Barry Allen). Maybe he says ‘Shit.’

Lois Lane slinks round the bedroom in Superman t-shirt, tiny red knickers and very bare and very long legs, giving at least one page a reason for existing, exchanging cryptic remarks about what she’s to do with these ‘Puddlers’ revelations.

Green Arrow threatens to pop an arrow into both heads and let the afterlife’s greatest detective work it out: a decent line, at last.

Batgirl catches up to Harley and has to prevent her now cowl-less head being smashed in until, one cat-fight later, she persuades Harley to jointly investigate the crime with her, to prove to Batman that they’re not both broken, scared, scarred girls, leading to one very Poison Ivy-esque full body hug.

Booster reveals he’s passed the lasso of truth test, only that’s now no longer infallible, as apparently it can only tell that you think you’re telling the truth. He’s telling all this to Blue Beetle, the Ted Kord one (how long’s he been alive again? Do I care? You can answer that one yourself.)

And Superman pulls off a very blatant Ozymandias rip-off from Watchmen 11, letting Batman and Wonder Woman know about these videos Lois has been getting and that she’s going to print on them. Batty snarls, Wondy asks when, and Supes replies “35 seconds ago”.

This nonsense is now hard on Doomsday Clock‘s heels for most fucking awful piece of garbage going: I’d almost rather re-read ‘Gadgetman and Gimmick-Kid’. I’d better make a profit selling this on eBay when no 9 finally appears.

Heroes in Crisis 3


I so looked forward to Heroes in Crisis. It’s subject seemed to have infinite potential but, three issues in out of nine, it is already both a crashing bore and a disorganised mess. Whilst there’s still ample time for it to pull itself together, at the moment I can only foresee the immediate aftermath of reading no. 9 to be the offering of the complete set on eBay: get your preliminary bids in now.

The whole series bears the mark of editorial interference, stemming, I strongly suspect, from Dan DiDio. Originally, the story was to have run only seven issues but at a late stage, too late for this to predate completion of the first couple of issues, it was announced that two ‘fill-in’ issues – nos 3 and 8 – would be added. Then, after issue 2 had appeared, it was casually mentioned that these extra issues, not drawn by series artist Clay Mann, were tie-ins that had been decided to be added to the series itself.

This comes after three pages in issue 2 having been drawn by a different artist, to insert a scene about Wally West’s death that otherwise wouldn’t have been in the issue.

What I, and many others, am smelling here is an attempt by DiDio to claw back something of the atmosphere and approaches of the New 52, his baby, that was roundly rejected in 2016 by Geoff Johns and the whole DC Rebirth saga. Though it was initially a sales boost, very few people actually liked the New 52, with its ultra grimness and ultra grittiness, its emphasis upon death and destruction, its refusal to allow marriages (because that would mean characters being happy) and its general, overall shitness.

Rebirth was a cosmic breath of fresh air, as well as being Geoff Johns’ baby, and which character was the symbol of Rebirth? Wally West. But Johns is no longer Chief Creative Officer at DC, and DiDio has room to start resweing his serpent’s teeth, and the first sign of this is inserting Wally West’s death into Heroes in Crisis.

I’ve already said I can’t believe it, and even though issue 3 features the (apparent) murder, via Harley Quinn’s sledgehammer to the back of the skull, I’m still not buying it. I’m almost certain I’ve never seen a comic book death so utterly unconvincing, and I’m convinced that’s because it wasn’t part of King’s story and has had to be forced in at DiDio’s orders: it isn’t believable because the writer doesn’t believe in it.

I also find it significant that the forthcoming Batman/The Flash four-part crossover in which the DC Universe’s two leading detectives team up to investigate Wally’s murder is being wholly written by Josh Williamson (a tie-in to Tom King’s series in Tom King’s regular title that Tom king isn’t writing any part of? And is having to announce he’s still going to write 100 issues?)

Issue 3 is a flashback issue whose cover is completely misleading. Batnan and The Flash’s faces reflect in a blood-stained, gold face-mask that reminds me of the Psycho-Pirate, but neither they nor any investigation takes place within. Instead, we see Sanctuary in operation through three figures. Lagoon Boy, a minor, pre-Flashpoint Teen Titan, traumatized by the deaths of his team around him is trying to getover his fear by continually being shot by a laser, repeating his injury until the trauma disappears (he is disembowelled by a stick and dies laughing). Wally West sits in the Chamber, a Star Trek-like holosuite, rebuilding his life with Linda and his children around him whilst a somewhat patronising system asks why (bloody obvious, I would have thought, and given he’s a superhero who’s re-emerged out of a previous reality, not something impossible to resurrect). And Booster Gold, on his first day, conjures up a snarky Booster Gold to argue with him.

Then there’s an emergency, people die all over the place, Wally huddles over a dead Roy Harper as Harley Quinn sneaks up from behind, bang bang, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer comes down upon his head…

The truth is that in one-third of its length, Heroes in Crisis has travelled exactly six inches. It’s been distorted by a megalomaniac who’s trying to fight a battle with someone who’s only recently stopped having more influence over him, and who seems blind to the fact that his yar-boo-sucks, I’m killing Wally West, ner ner, ner ner, ner is not only pathetic and childish but fucking pointless because if someone wants to bring Wally back after DiDio’s gone they’ll do so and it won’t even be because they want to piss all over his chips. It’s like John bloody Byrne sprinting back to Marvel the moment Jim Shooter was fired so he could bomb Pittsburgh.

And I thought this was going to be better than Doomsday Clock.

Heroes in Crisis 1


I’ve been waiting a few months for DC’s latest crossover series, both for the concept and the fact it’s being written by Tom King, a writer who has brought me back into reading Batman comics again – Batman! – for the first time since, probably, the Seventies.

Heroes in Crisis was originally billed as a seven-issue mini-series, drawn by Clay Mann, though at a late stage it was bumped up to nine issues, with issues 3 and 7 to be drawn by a second artist, which is mildly worrying. nevertheless, the concept is fascinating, and well within King’s capabilities and experience as a former CIA analyst.

The idea is that there is a place known as Sanctuary, set up and managed by the Trinity, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. It’s a refuge, a psychological refuge where traumatised superheroes can receive counselling over their experiences. Superheroes in counselling? It sounds ridiculous, but given the experiences they face on a daily basis, it’s not just logical but inevitable.

The set-up is that the series begins with a murder taking place at Sanctuary: not just a murder, but a massacre. I’ve been avoiding spoilers, especially about who dies, for weeks now.

So issue 1 is now to hand. To be honest, it’s a bit of a disappointment. What I’ve described above is, basically, about the whole of what we get. Nor is there any excessive amount of additional detail. There are dead bodies, including a number of no-marks, though the corpses include that of Citizen Steel, as in the one who’s been in Legends of Tomorrow this past two seasons.

But, and these are thrown away in a single panel without fanfare or follow-up in this issue, there are a couple of more substantial names: Roy (Arsenal) Harper… and Wally (Flash) West.

And the issue is plumped out by a running fight scene between Booster Gold and Harley Quinn, with the latter trying to stab the former, ending in a last page accusation that instead of it being Harley trying to complete her murder spree, as you would normally anticipate, she’s trying to bring in Booster because he killed everyone. She saw him.

I think we can safely assume there will be a few more twists along the way, but in terms of content, this is actually pretty thin stuff. I will be very surprised if Wally West is, or stays dead – he was ‘my’ Flash for a decade or more, through Bill Messner-Loebs and especially Mark Waid – and I will be equally surprised if Booster’s apparent culpability is the real deal, even under hypnosis, mental control, possession or any similar excuse.

It’s here, it’s begun, but given how it was sold to us, I don’t think Heroes in Crisis has travelled more than six inches yet. Roll on issue 2, and if King et al can actually keep a monthly schedule, I for one will be exceedingly grateful.

JLA Incarnations 3: Bwaa-ha-ha!


Justice League International

Of course DC were not going to go without a Justice League title for that long, and with the new policy being to have annual summer crossover events to demonstrate that DC’s Universe was indeed a Universe with all the dots connected, a new Justice League title was planned to start after Legends, during which the new JLA line-up would come together.
The man responsible would be editor Andy Helfer, who would quickly draw in artist/plotter Keith Giffen, who was so keen to work on a Justice League project that he would daily stick his head round Helfer’s door, hiss ‘Jussssticccce League’ and vanish, until the day Helfer told him to come in.
Though it was never publicly stated at the time, Helfer and Giffen wanted to go back to the original concept of the Justice League, starting with a ‘Big 7’ line-up that would replicate the original team. But with Superman, Wonder Woman and The Flash undergoing relaunches and upgrades in the post-Crisis era, that was clearly not possible, although Batman’s editor, Denny O’Neil, took pity on the duo and authorised them to use the Caped Crusader.
Even so, Helfer and Giffen were faced with a seemingly insoluble problem: that until the every eve of Legends itself, they had no idea exactly what characters they would have for their new Justice League.
It’s a comics shibboleth that a good story can only be good for its character. A good Flash story will not make a good Batman story, any more than it will make a good Green Lantern story. The same thing goes for team books: once upon a time, Gardner Fox could write dialogue you could put in any character’s mouth, be they Wonder Woman or Green Arrow. But not any more: team characters now had personalities, which meant that teams had to have dynamics, had to have some underlying purpose that distinguished them from the next crowd of brightly coloured zeebs, milling around.
What Helfer and Giffen needed was a format, a format that would work irrespective of the characters they would actually have to play with, a format that could not be the bland, unformed, uncommitted approach that would normally be implied. Like so many others in those days, they took their inspiration from Alan Moore.
Moore was riding at a commercial high, having taken American comics by storm with his Swamp Thing, and even more so with the immense, game-changing Watchmen. Part of Moore’s creed in the latter was that the kind of intensive personality required to put on Halloween costumes and go out in the streets fighting crime, hand to hand, was not conducive to playing nicely with others, and that teams were psychologically improbable, given the egos involved.
Helfer and Giffen couldn’t take that thesis at face value as it would destroy any idea of a Justice League, but they could adapt it. Yes, superheroes had extreme personalities, yes, they did not automatically subordinate themselves to others in team conditions. On the other hand, there was rich material there for an essentially comic approach to a team: outwardly serious and purposeful, but behind the scenes a mass of clashing egos and demands, a clubhouse in which the players could let off steam among their peers in a way that their public persona prevented them from doing.
Editor and plotter had their idea: all they needed was a line-up, and they would be fit to go as soon as Legends finished. Marc DeMatteis was brought in to write dialogue, a stream of conciousness gig from a writer usually associated with spiritual themes, and newcomer Kevin McGuire, blessed with an enviable flair for expressions – a must for this gig – as well as a clear, smooth line, to pencil over Giffen’s layouts.
Even at this early stage, it’s clear that what Helfer/Giffen were planning was a superhero sitcom, but to begin with, they worked with a strict, and dramatic underpinning, and with structural plans that led to a big change after only seven issues.
The League’s third incarnation debuted as simply Justice League – no America, no nothing. The initial line-up was a mish-mash of characters from all over, few of whom had any connection with the original League. The Martian Manhunter was again central, and Black Canary returned (albeit, in that redesigned cover-all costume that was far more practical and non-sexist, but nobody liked it). And Batman, newly wrought as grim’n’gritty and obsessive, to try to keep everybody in order.
But the rest of the team consisted of Captain Marvel (albeit for only two issues), Doctor Fate, Blue Beetle, Mister Miracle (with Oberon) and, as in-house Green Lantern for this recension, Guy Gardner. And the new, female, Asian, started as a villain Dr Light was offered JL membership by a mysterious figure who seemed to be quite authoritative but who had no official connection with the new League. As yet.
It made for a busy six months, as the League members jockeyed for position amongst each other, Batman throwing his weight around effectively, Guy Gardner throwing his weight around ineffectually, Black Canary getting all feminist, Blue Beetle already starting out as the lightweight, play-it-for-laughs figure, a role into which he was irrevocably sealed by the introduction into the League of Dan Jurgens’ Booster Gold.
This was courtesy of that mysterious background funder, millionaire philanthropist businessman, Maxwell Lord. Max was determined to take control of the League, to extend their remit and their facilities, though the fact that he was less than open about it hinted at ulterior motives, that would come out at the end of the first year.
But what Max was doing, behind the scenes, and with the cooperation of the Martian Manhunter, was building this League for a new role, an official role, a global role, which was revealed in issue 7, as the series was renamed Justice League International, and the team came under the sponsorship of the United Nations, with Headquarters in every major city (even Russia) in the form of Embassies.
This led to the very funny issue 8, ‘Moving Day’, which was a non-action issue focussing on the JLI moving into its Paris Embassy, Booster hitting (extremely unsuccessfully) on an attractive French lady who turns out to be their chief of staff, and Beetle coming out with the first recorded, (in)famous “Bwaa-ha-ha!”
It was a fresh, smartarse, funny and lively approach, and it was also a very popular one. So much so that two years into the Third League’s life, DC would capitalise on the series’ popularity by spinning off a second Justice League title.
Just as the original had been spun out of Legends, the spin-off was born out of another summer crossover, Invasion. The justification was that the League had bulked up so much in leading the fight against Earth’s multifarious invaders that it had too many members to function efficiently, so a bunch of them were sent off to base themselves at the Paris Embassy, where they operated as Justice League Europe.
Within a couple of issues, the original series would change its logo (and much later, its official title in the indicia) to Justice League America.
The JLE operated to a broadly similar formula, with Gerard Jones scripting off Giffen’s plots, relying to a large extent on the superficially inherent absurdity of Americans in France, ignorant of culture, inheritance and the language. There was a four part crossover between the two teams, but on the whole, the European branch of the League – led by Captain Atom, at least until Armageddon 2001, tended to have more serious adventures.
Though the story in which they relocated to London, after completely destroying the Paris embassy, was spectacularly hilarious, featuring as it did a wonderful take-off of Basil Fawlty as the traditional British hero, the Beefeater.
The Helfer/Giffen League lasted five years, most of which it spent as a successful, indeed hip series, in on the joke. The number of Leaguers passing through, at one point or another, was legion. Max Lord himself even developed a superpower, that of being able to ‘push’ people’s minds along in the direction he, but not they, wanted, although we always wound up with a nosebleed as a consequence.
But the rot was inevitable, and visible as early as this League’s second year, when Earth was menaced by the might of Manga Khan, shopper supreme. Khan, a would-be megalomaniac who’d taken courses in unnecessary shouting and expository speeches, headed a consortium that wanted to trade with Earth, and if Earth wouldn’t trade, they’d take what they wanted anyway. A good and silly idea, executed with silliness and lots of jokes, it was nevertheless a perfect demonstration that a superhero sitcom could not go very far.
The problem with comedy is that it always has to top itself, to be fresh and new. It always needs new subjects, new things to poke fun at, satirise etc. The funnier things were, the funnier the next thing had to be. Booster and Beetle as money-chasing morons. The Wally West Flash as a weak-willed, girl-crazy moron. The original Hawkman’s pomposity and disgust in face of the looser League standards. These things could work for a time, but they would always have to be accelerated, and since superheroes are, in themselves, an inherently unrealistic and absurd construction, there is not far to go before the line is crossed between satire and silliness.
This probably reached its nadir in G’Nort. G’Nort Esplanade G’Neesmacher was a Green Lantern. A dog-like Green Lantern. A dumbbell of a Green Lantern. A Green Lantern by virtue of a powerful, influential and indulgent Uncle who got him a ring and a completely empty space sector to protect. Unfortunately, the state of the space sector exactly reflected G’Nort’s head and, during the Manga Khan story, he was found in Earth’s space. And he stayed around.
Then again, maybe it was the island of KooeyKooeyKooey, and Beetle and Buster’s vacation hideout for supervillains scam. Or maybe the short-lived Justice League Antarctica. No, it was definitely G’Nort.
The silliness was unsustainable, not that Helfer/Giffen cared. The Justice League, in both of its branches, was still part of an essentially serious Universe that DC was anxious to promote as cohesive and inter-connected. The Third League deliberately played at odds with every serious portrayal of its characters in their own titles, and got away with it because of its extreme popularity. But the disconnect would, indeed could, only get greater. JLE introduced an other-dimensional Walt Disney figure, which was viable in itself but who was called Mitch Wackey, thus drawing attention to the febrile lack of rationality that was making the two titles increasingly difficult to sustain.
Nothing lasts forever. After five years, Helfer/Giffen/De Matteis were burning out. The bloom was off the rose of their comedy. Sales were falling back, the Justice League was a joke, and an increasingly non-functional joke.
As a parting measure, the creative team ended their run with a fifteen part crossover entitled ‘Breakdowns’, alternating between A and E. Actually, it was a sequence of three five-issue stories, as nobody had the stamina for a story running the full-length. Silly figures like Mitch Wackey were destroyed, brutally, the Silver Sorceress was killed – primarily, it seemed, because no-one liked her costume’s colour scheme – and the League(s) lost their UN sanction and funding. The Third League was over, but the series continued. There would always be a Justice League, and now we would be looking at the Fourth.