Tales from the Longbox – Justice League #1 (1987)

Every other week, Jason Shayer will highlight an issue or a run of issues pulled from the horde of comic book long boxes that occupy more room in his house than his wife can tolerate. Each of these reviews will delve into what made that issue or run significant as well as discuss the creative personalities behind the work. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.

Justice League #1
“Born Again”
May 1987
Writers: Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis
Penciler: Kevin Maguire
Inker: Terry Austin

Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ take on the Justice League was a dramatic departure from the expected, which was a reboot of the team book featuring DC’s big seven (Aquaman, Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Flash, Martian Manhunter, and Wonder Woman). Let’s set the historical perspective for this issue. In the post-Crisis DC universe, the Legends crossover event had just wrapped up and the current incarnation of the Justice League (known as the Justice League Detroit) was destroyed, including their orbiting satellite base. Also at that time, Superman was being rebooted by John Byrne, Wonder Woman by George Perez, and the Flash (Wally West) by Mike Baron and Butch Guice. In the wake of all of this, the Justice League was being rebooted as well, but without the majority of those big seven superheroes. Giffen in his 2007 introduction to the hardcover reprint, mentions that they didn’t have input into who was going to be on the team.

It was certainly an odd and dysfunctional collection of heroes with Blue Beatle, Mr. Miracle, the new Doctor Light, Guy Gardner, Dr. Fate, joined by veteran JLAers Batman, Martian Manhunter, and Black Canary. It was hardly the most powerful Justice League roster, but definitely one of the more versatile. That versatility and oddness was echoed in the creative team with Keith Giffen, who was known at the time for his work on Ambush Bug and Lobo, J.M. DeMatteis who was known for his more literate and philosophical work like Moonshadow, and of course, rookie Kevin Maguire providing the penciled artwork. Terry Austin was the only real A list talent on the book and he only inked the first issue, being replaced by Al Gordon. Even DC President Jenette Kahn had concerns that Giffen wasn’t right for the book, but to editor Andy Helfer’s credit, he convinced everyone involved that this was the right direction to move in.

What this creative team managed to do though was to imbue each character with their own unique personalities, unlike the big seven who seemed to be more archetype-driven than character-driven. They built upon that character work and delivered some fun and laughs along with the drama and action. And even with Batman and Martian Manhunter they delved into these characters and pulled out some solid personality traits that blended well with the overall team. For example, who can forget Martian Manhunter and his obsession with OREOs.

Justice League #1 was the issue where it all started. It was a bit awkward as you can see that the creators were still trying to figure out what they were doing, what they could do, and how all the pieces could fit together, but you can feel the building energy that would explode over the next year and make this one of the memorable runs of the 1980s. Its from this base where classic “One Punch!” and “BWAHAAHAHAHAH!” jokes would become immortalized.

From Giffen’s introduction:

“Oddly enough, we never meant it to be funny. Not deliberately. It just happened. Then again, when it came to this relaunch of the Justice League, a lot of things just happened. (…)
Then the first issue came out and the numbers were… good. A confidence builder? Hardly. First issues always pull in good numbers. We were still convinced that the fans, once they saw how we were handling the Justice League, would dump the book like a hot potato.

Then the second issue came in higher than the first. No one was more surprised than us. From then on, the book just… took off. Apparently we’d struck a nerve. Grim and gritty wasn’t the comic book be-all and end all. Go figure.”

Jason Shayer has recently joined the Biff Bam Pop! writing team. He’s been trying his best not to grow up for that last 30 years and comics books are one of the best ways to keep him young at heart. He’s also known as the Marvel 1980s guy and has probably forgotten more than you’d ever want to know about that wonderfully creative era. Check out his blog at: marvel1980s.blogspot.com.

2 Replies to “Tales from the Longbox – Justice League #1 (1987)”

  1. One of my favourite series of all time! Everything worked perfectly here: character-driven writing coupled with brilliant art. Nobody captures facial expressions like Maguire!

    A little trivia: did you ever get a chance to see the JL live action TV pilot based on these characters (minus Batman)? I picked up a rough VHS copy at a con nearly twenty years ago.

    Thank God they stopped at the pilot!

Leave a Reply