Formerly Known as the Justice League
by Keith Giffen, J.M.
DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire
(DC Comics, 2004)

A dark, gritty and violent atmosphere pervaded many comic-book titles in the 1980s. Moving against the tide was a new incarnation of the Justice League, a global peacekeeping force composed of mainstays Batman and the Martian Manhunter, plus B-list heroes including Fire, Ice, the Guy Gardner version of Green Lantern, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, the Elongated Man, Captain Marvel and Power Girl.

Where most comics were grim, these JL books were whimsical. The heroes were fallible, lusty, irritating and sometimes easily annoyed, occasionally cowardly and almost always goofy. While there were certainly some serious story arcs -- such as the death of Ice and the fight that cost Guy Gardner his ring -- the book could usually be counted on for plenty of chuckles and hearty BWAH-HA-HA-HAs.

Formerly Known as the Justice League reunites several of those characters in a new team, once again under the leadership of Maxwell Lord. It is, perhaps, a last-gasp effort to use these characters in a funny way before their lives turned to hell in the Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis storylines to follow.

Thank DC for letting the creative team slip this in under the wire.

The book begins with Lord's efforts to recruit his team, using a mixture of charm, obstinance and robotic logic (via L-Ron) to bring them back into the fold. Then, after setting up shop in a seedy storefront in Queens, the newly dubbed Super-Buddies are immediately besieged by hazards, from a transmogrifying quartet of Ivy League street toughs to the local neighborhood watch. The team is kidnapped and forced to fight gladiator-style, resulting in a near-death experience for one of its most powerful members. The intergalactic bad guy (and melodrama coach) Manga Khan makes an appearance (with a host of killer robots) to reclaim something he left behind, and the canine Green Lantern G'Nort arrives with little fanfare. Meanwhile, the real Justice League is monitoring the situation from a nearby rooftop, waiting for the moment they'll have to step in.

That's a lot of story to pack into so slim a volume, but the book maintains a lively rhythm throughout. It's especially fun for those who remember fondly the team's glory days -- and, considering events to follow for some of them, it's an almost poignant snapshot of a simpler time.

by Tom Knapp
8 April 2006

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