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Formerly Known as the Justice League #1

Posted: Saturday, July 5, 2003
By: Ray Tate



"Another New Beginning"

Writer: Keith Giffin, J.M. DeMatteis
Artists: Kevin Maguire(p), Joe Rubenstein(i), Lee Louridge(c)
Publisher: DC

When many authors attempt to return to a book that made them famous, there's often the sense of self-serving nostalgia or kitsch because these authors have "grown" beyond the book and now miss the point of why they in the first place began the exercise years ago. Giffin, DeMatteis, Maguire, Rubenstein and even letterer Bob Lapan get the point.

The comic books of today have become too despondent--far beyond dark, too dependent on non-existent continuity and too obvious in their attempts to gain a readership. The writers and the artists generally have no faith in or simply do not like the characters let alone the fanbase or the critics--observe the sour grapes being squashed over at Pulse. In their arrogance they miss the fact that they have been given a gift: the ability to write iconic characters and add to the lore. These feelings translate into comic books filled with death, depression and a dearth of intellect which the publisher expects you to blindly follow.

Formerly Known as the Justice League by comparison is the unexpected cool breeze on a hot and humid afternoon. The book opens with an arch Justice League villain offscreen revealing himself through dialogue. A grin immediately develops on you face not just because the dialogue is funny but because you actually recognize who this character must be. If some other author decided to use this character, he would no doubt strip him of all the elements that made him successful as a villain in order to match a perceived hipness.

Reading the first page of Formerly Known as the Justice League transports you back to a comfortable time when comic books were being written with style and substance. The first page also reveals a mystery that's further hinted at throughout the book.

This issue's narrative structure is episodic, but that's to be anticipated since the premise of the story is to gather the forces on the cover. The title however never feels episodic. Each scene smoothly flows into the next even without segues. Part of that feeling comes from the unified art of Kevin Maguire. Maguire is an experienced artist whose style has not changed in the slightest. His influence results in a fluid look garnished with a never-ending array of expression and body language that fits each character.

Max Lord meets L-Ron, and readers will drink in the snappy repartee of their double-act. Blue Beetle seems to have changed the most, but Max ropes him in quickly, and before his problems become dramatic, the final line of his scene emphasizes the humorous nature of the title. L-Ron checks in on the Dibnys, and this is the funniest Ralph and Sue has been written. Bea--the Green Flame/Fire/"unbearably gorgeous half-naked woman"--conned her way into the League in the first place, and her incredulity over Max's plan and quick acceptance is completely in character. The Captain Atom sequence is the funniest. It serves as a microcosm of what the Giffin, DeMatteis, Maguire issues of the various Justice League titles succeeded to do. Booster Gold is Booster Gold, and the novelty comes from Captain Marvel accepting Max's offer.

In many ways, Formerly Known as the Justice League is the easiest book to judge. With their various Justice League titles the creative team has smithed stories that stand as a strong body of work even if most of that repository of comical genius has been retconned out of existence by people lacking senses of humor. All the reviewer really needs do is ask one simple question is Formerly Known as the Justice League as funny as some of the best issues of the previous work? The answer is simply no.

Formerly Known as the Justice League is not as funny as the issue where J'onn J'onnz becomes amused by Black Canary's reaction when she discovers that she missed the moment when Batman knocks out Guy Gardner with the quotable "one punch" and thus creates a plot thread that carries through most of the creators' run. The new book is not as funny as when Bea, Beetle and Booster Gold need to be rescued out of Bialya by Batman disguised as Maxwell Lord, but it is funny and far better than any team book that DC has not cancelled.



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