It may surprise you that my favorite superhero is actually a DC character. Or at least he was – he took a bullet to the head about 7 years ago and thanks to the New 52 DCU (which has apparently retconned it’s 2.99 line drawing) he may not have even existed. Perhaps you’ve met him.
I first met my hero in one of his least glamorous moments when I, like every other comic fan in 1992, read the Death of Superman. Blue Beetle’s role in that story can be summed up by:
But Beetle wasn’t the only casualty of the JLA’s tie-in to Doomsday. But to handle that mess, I guess we should start at the beginning of the post-Crisis JLA and work our way up.
In 1987, Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis launched a Justice League title that was different from the rather disastrous “Michigan JLA” period that had featured the likes of Vixen and Commander Steel. Not able to use the big guns of the DCU (especially not in the early post-Crisis period where all the big names were doing big things), Giffen and DeMatteis created a team of second-stringers.
For 60 issues, Giffen and DeMatteis played the book for laughs, with the lesser-than heroes being well aware that their organization was seen as a joke and pushing on anyway. The run was also plagued with editorial mandates that saw characters getting yanked from the book with little-to-no warning, including Captain Marvel, Black Canary, Batman, Dr. Fate, Huntress, and several others. At least I think that’s why they kept coming and going. Maybe that was the point.
Anyway, after five years, GIffen and DeMatteis ended their run with a 15-part story crossover with their equally-for laughs Justice League: Europe and handed the reins over to Dan Jurgens. Dan Jurgens was primarily a Superman writer at the time (handling one of the Man of Steel’s FOUR ongoing titles) and so he decided to make the JLA more of a Superman book and smarten the team up.
After I managed to procure all 60 issues of the Bwa-Ha-Ha era in 2004, I was curious to see how Dan Jurgens changed the book when he took over. The answer came in just the first issue with “A whole lot.”
While keeping some of the staple characters of the team – Blue Beetle, Ice, Fire and Guy Gardner – Jurgens brought Booster Gold back to the fold with little explanation. Booster had left the JLA because he had become tired of being treated like a fool and joined a well-paying gig called the Conglomerate. Suddenly he was back with the League just because. Gone was the team’s longtime leader the Martian Manhunter and in his place was the mysterious Bloodwynd. And Bloodwynd had everything you could want in an early 90’s “Chromium Age” hero. He was mysterious, he talked in eerie-blood soaked word balloons, he had a collared black cape, and his name had both “Blood” and a misspelled word tied together, not because it made any kind of sense, but because he was hip. Also added was Superman villain Maxima who was tossed in to have the “strong female” (whose sole purpose was the desire to bang Superman) who talked down to everyone.
But the biggest change, of course, was the addition of Superman to the team. It was explained as Supes taking the League away from the evils of Max Lord (longtime overseer with government ties) and back to the grace it had once stood in. This was frustrating to longtime readers as the entire 5-year run of Giffen and DeMatteis could be summed up as the redemption of Max Lord. It was the running theme of how Max became not only a better person, but trusted by the heroes and a member of the team himself.
Forget that – Superman thought he was shady so there you go. Oh, it also sparked conflict with Guy Gardner, not only because Supes was the leader, but because Ice instantly formed a schoolgirl crush on Big Blue. Like a drooling, mumble your words crush.
But notably different was the seriousness of the book. Blue Beetle quickly lost his extra weight and suddenly was drawn in most panels hanging upside down off of something like Spider-Man. There was action and adventure, and the odd and silly happenings almost completely vanished, or were put down when they happened. JLA went in one issue from being a spoof to a generic comic.
It lasted all of eight issues. The coming of Doomsday, besides leaving Beetle in a coma and Superman dead, left Fire and Booster Gold powerless, Ice injured and taking leave from the team. And just like that, all the 80’s Leaguers were out, leaving just Bloodwynd, Maxima and Guy Gardner (the new cowboy boots wearing post-GL version). You know, the COOL members. But you can hardly have a team with just three members, so in issue #71, Jurgens debuted his new team.
Now you probably recognize Wonder Woman, but have little to no idea who the other three are. They are Black Condor, a legacy hero now given a Native American feel; Agent Liberty, a Bucky Barnes-Captain America type, except not at all cool; and the Ray, a teenage hero (also legacy) who was actually a pretty cool character. So with that, the Justice League had its new direction with its new team, and became completely a generic hero force of the 90’s.
And I am not just saying that, mind you. There was absolutely zero interesting things about this period in JLA history. Of this lineup, the two most interesting things were:
- Every member could fly. (Well, except for Agent Liberty, but he probably had a jetpack or something.)
- The less-important spin-off Justice League Europe (or International, as it became) had Green Lantern, Flash, Power Girl and Captain Atom on its roster.
Jurgens’ run on the book eventually ended with the huge reveal that Bloodwynd had actually been the Martian Manhunter THE WHOLE TIME. Well, huge reveal in that Blue Beetle wondered about Bloodwynd for eight issues, figured it out just before Doomsday attacked him, then blurted it out as soon as he woke up from his coma. The reveal wasn’t much, since it wasn’t like anyone in the League was sitting around asking where Manhunter was, and it was compounded with the reveal that there was an actual Bloodwynd trapped in the crystal of the fake Bloodwynd, so when all was said and done, there were both characters! Hooray!
Eventually, the scattered former Leaguers started hanging around more, with Booster Gold even replacing his sleek costume with this:
…and eventually the League became a big mess of people coming and going whenever the story needed them. And since the stories – which basically came down to punch villain, the end – never required anyone specific, the characters came and went whenever the creators felt like using them. But by this time no one was reading it anyway.
The entire Justice League line was finally revamped with Zero Hour, sorting out the various members into the various books (JLA, JLI, Justice League Task Force, and the so bad it can hardly be believed Extreme Justice), and the JLA got some heavy hitters with Flash and Hawkman along with Wonder Woman. Of course the rest of the lineup was Fire, Nuklon, Obsidian, Metamorpho and Crimson Fox, but hey babysteps. Well, babysteps until DC yannked Flash, Wonder Woman and Hawkman from the title.
Finally in 1996, with the league in shambles and no one being able to name half the members of a six person team, let alone actually buying the book, DC had enough and cancelled the whole line. The JLA’s final lineup?
Fire, Obsidian, Nuklon, Metamorpho, Blue Devil and Ice Maiden (not Ice, who had been killed off). The post “Bwa Ha Ha” Era, possibly known as the Chromium, Generic or even God Awful Era of the JLA lasted 54 issues. There is not a memorable story in the entire thing.
So did DC learn its lesson and try to redo the League with a decent creator, direction and team?
You tell me.