The Justice League at 60, Part 9: High collars and wide screens

It’s time for a relaunch: take a look back at the Geoff Johns-helmed New 52 relaunch of ‘Justice League.’

Check out part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, part seven and part eight of this series!

When the comprehensive history of DC Comics is written, I hope it goes into exhaustive detail on the conception, execution and ultimate retraction of the New 52. Let’s be clear right from the beginning: I did not love the New 52, but I didn’t hate it either. It represented DC’s willingness – although maybe not its best efforts – to try new approaches with key characters and to revive non-superhero genres.

As the spring of 2011 wound down, DC was wrapping up a couple of year-long biweekly series, Brightest Day (co-written by Geoff Johns) and Justice League: Generation Lost. The former followed a handful of superheroes who had been revived in Blackest Night – including Justice League stalwarts Aquaman, Hawkman, Firestorm and Martian Manhunter – while the latter was a Justice League International reunion that saw them trying to stop their old buddy-turned-baddie Maxwell Lord. Meanwhile, the Bat-books, Superman and Wonder Woman were each in the middle of altered-status-quo storylines.

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The Justice League at 60, Part 8: Fantasy Drafts

In this edition, Tom Bondurant dives into the “Crisis Cycle” era that defined the Justice League before the New 52 kicked in.

For a series which only lasted five years, there’s a lot to talk about with regard to Justice League of America volume 2. Much of this involves events outside the series, both in DC’s other comics and with the people producing them. Meanwhile, the “comics blogosphere” came into its own, intensifying fan scrutiny and offering real-time commentary on controversies. This post won’t go too deeply into all that extratextual drama; but rest assured it was there, and it crept inevitably into the work.

With that said, let’s get started.

The Legends miniseries begat Justice League International and the Justice League: A Midsummer’s Nightmare miniseries begat JLA. The 2006-2011 Justice League of America similarly traced its roots to 2004’s Identity Crisis, written by novelist Brad Meltzer, pencilled by Rags Morales and inked by Michael Bair. Featuring the murder of a superhero’s spouse and reaching back into the League’s hidden history, Identity Crisis kicked off a “Crisis cycle” that churned through DC books for the next several years.

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The Justice League at 60, Part 7: Pantheon

With the team’s first appearance arriving in December of 1959, Tom Bondurant looks back at the different eras that have defined the Justice League over the last 60 years. This time around: JLA!

Check out part one, part two, part three, part four, part five and part six of this series!

Throughout the 1960s, Justice League of America was the standard-bearer for DC Comics’ superhero teams. In the 1970s, the series boasted an expanded roster and solid, steady Dick Dillin art. The 1980s brought sweeping, lasting changes, from Detroit to the JLI; and the early ’90s turned the League into a franchise. Still, was any of that ever really cool?

I can’t tell you for sure, but I can say this: starting in the summer of 1996, the Justice League was cool enough for Wizard. The breathless self-appointed arbiter of mainstream superhero comics’ cutting edge was all over JLA in the series’ early years, including a 1997 special issue devoted entirely to the title. It was a super-high concept executed by Grant Morrison, one of the era’s hottest writers. Of course Wizard was going to notice.

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The Justice League at 60, Part 6: Globetrotters

Take a look back at the “International” era of the Justice League that brought new faces, more titles and lots of laughs to the team.

Check out part one, part two, part three, part four and part five of this series.

Folks, we’ve got a lot to get through today, so I’m going to give it to you straight: Some of this stuff was just a mess. Much of it was good and some of that was great. Some of it we can look at as “the ’90s.” However, some of it was, again, just a mess. I’m going to start in the middle and end with the beginning, so we can go out on a not-so-bad note.

Now then: Among the random bits of weirdness in this extended Justice League International period of 1986-1996 are the not-insignificant contributions of Slave Labor Graphics publisher Dan Vado. Starting in Early August 1993 (after Dan Jurgens left), he wrote 14 issues of Justice League America and then wrote the first 8 issues of Extreme Justice. Vado and his artistic collaborators Mike Collins, Kevin West and Marc Campos presided over a two-year stretch of League history, which threatens to be overlooked between the Jurgens and Gerard Jones/Chuck Wojtkiewicz runs.

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The Justice League at 60, Part Five: The Experiment

You gotta lose your mind as Tom Bondurant dives into the infamous ‘Detroit League’ of the late 1980s.

Check out part one, part two, part three and part four of this series!

There’s a lot crammed into the 40-page story writer Gerry Conway, penciller Chuck Patton and inker Dave Hunt tell in 1984’s Justice League of America Annual #2. The issue charts the official end of the JLA (as Aquaman exercises his founding-member privilege to disband it) and the subsequent creation of a new, ostensibly more focused team. Along the way the Leaguers say goodbye to their ruined satellite headquarters and hello to “the Bunker,” a mall-sized fallout shelter in the middle of Detroit, built by an ex-superhero who apparently saw too many movies about NORAD. Everything that happens in the annual happens quickly: four experienced Leaguers decide to re-form the team moments after dissolving the original; the new League gains two new members who each saw the re-forming happen on live television; and the third and fourth new members basically break into the supposedly impregnable new headquarters. The issue ends with a block party, welcoming the Justice League to this particular run-down part of town.

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The Justice League at 60, Part Four: Conway’s Corner

Tom Bondurant continues his look back at 60 years of the Justice League.

Check out part one, part two and part three of this series!

Ask a Marvel fan about Gerry Conway and you’re likely to get an answer involving Gwen Stacy. Ask a DC fan about Conway and the answer may well involve his eight years as regular writer of Justice League of America. We’ve mentioned his statistics already, but they bear repeating: Gerry Conway wrote 102 of JLA‘s 261 issues (including 81 in the Satellite Era), plus one of its three annuals. Original JLA writer Gardner F. Fox is in second place with 65 issues.

Between Fox and Conway, an assortment of writers worked with the scarily dependable penciller Dick Dillin. Denny O’Neil, Mike Friedrich and Len Wein each contributed solid, multi-year runs before writing duties were shared among a bullpen for three years. After that was Conway’s immediate predecessor Steve Englehart, whose 10 oversized issues successfully combined existing DC lore with new characters and relationship-driven subplots. Included in the latter was friction between Flash, Green Arrow and Wonder Woman over her alleged bossiness (in reality mind-manipulation from new villain The Construct). Englehart left everyone on good terms, but it was awkward and a little bumpy getting there.

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Wally West can’t stop running

Tom Bondurant recounts the history of Wally West, from reluctant superhero to generational avatar.

For many superhero-comic readers of the 1980s and ’90s (not to mention viewers of the Justice League animated series in the 2000s), Wally West was the Flash – the fastest man alive. Created by John Broome and Carmine Infantino for January 1960’s The Flash issue #110, Wally gained super-speed just as his idol did, by being doused in Barry Allen’s laboratory chemicals and struck by lightning. Today Wally has become a symbol of DC Comics’ superhero legacies, so much so that his role in 2016’s DC Universe Rebirth special signaled a wholesale return to a previous timeline. However, when editorial fiat dispatched him in 2011, Wally had arguably done everything he’d set out to do. Indeed, Wally’s history includes a couple of prominent retirement periods already. Now he’s inherited Metron’s Mobius Chair and Doctor Manhattan’s powers, but the question still remains: What’s left for Wally West?

Wally started out as Kid Flash, sidekick and sometimes backup-feature star. At first he wore a kid-sized Flash costume, so his more familiar duds (acquired in March 1963’s Flash #135) represented a significant step in his development. He was a charter member of the Teen Titans from its primeval beginning (June-July 1964’s Brave and the Bold #54) to its February 1978 dissolution (Teen Titans #53). Shortly thereafter, in 1978’s DC Special Series issue #11, writer Cary Bates and artist Irv Novick had Wally tell his family that he would only be Kid Flash through the end of his college career; and upon graduation, he’d retire from superheroics.

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The Justice League at 60, Part Three: Into Orbit

Tom Bondurant jumps into the ‘Satellite Era’ of the 1970s and ’80s this week, as he continues his look 60 years of the Justice League.

Check out part one and part two of this series!

What we’re calling the “Satellite Era” of Justice League of America began in November 1968’s issue #66, several issues before the team would move into its new headquarters stationed geosynchronously 22,300 miles above Metropolis. Still, writer Gardner Fox’s departure with #65 was the end of an era which stretched arguably back to the Justice Society; and successor Denny O’Neil was making changes even before the satellite was built.

Just as the Silver Age was dominated by Fox and artist Mike Sekowsky, the Satellite Era would be directed mostly by writer Gerry Conway and artist Dick Dillin. This period lasted until November 1984’s issue #232 (after which the team had moved out of the satellite for good); and of those 164 regular issues and two Annuals, Conway wrote 81 and Dillin pencilled 116. Because Conway arrived long after Dillin started, the two only collaborated on 39 issues. Nevertheless, one or the other was part of just about every JLA issue from November 1968 through February 1984.

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The Justice League at 60, Part Two: Setting The Standard

Tom Bondurant continues his look at the different eras that have defined the Justice League with an overview of the team’s early years.

Check out part one in this series here!

On or about Dec. 29, 1959, newsstands received new issues of 10 comics series. Next to the four different Archie Comics titles and two Prize Comics romance series were four DC books: Sugar & Spike #27, Detective Comics #276, Strange Adventures #113 and (cover-dated February-March 1960) The Brave and the Bold #28. Like its fellow DC series Showcase, B&B had switched to rotating features and had just concluded three issues’ worth of the spy-centric Suicide Squad. Therefore, dominating B&B‘s cover this month was the title of the newest feature, Justice League of America.

Thanks to Strange Adventures #113, Starro the Conqueror was not the only tentacled menace on that day’s newsstands; but he was the only one being fought by a quintet of familiar superheroes. Martian Manhunter had been around for a few years in Detective; just a few days before, DC had published new issues of Flash and Wonder Woman; and on New Year’s Eve, readers would find a new Aquaman tale in Adventure Comics #269. The relaunched Green Lantern was the newest of the group, having concluded his three-issue tryout a month or so earlier, in Showcase #24. (GL’s solo book wouldn’t start until May 24, 1960.)

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