- Posted by Johanna on January 22, 2006 at 7:46 am
- Category: Superhero Reviews
- CREDITS: story by Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis; art by Kevin Maguire & Joe Rubinstein
- PUBLISHER: DC Comics; $12.95 US
Looking for a fun and funny superhero story? A humor book that doesn’t take potshots at the genre but does character-based comedy that works? Formerly Known as the Justice League is just the tonic you need.
Once upon a time, this creative team worked on the flagship Justice League book. Bereft of big names (except for an occasional Batman appearance), they turned it into the superhero equivalent of a college dorm. Underused characters like Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Captain Marvel, Fire, Elongated Man, and Captain Atom were thrown together to save the world, which they frequently did, but along the way, they acted like real young adults. They played pranks and worried about dating a co-worker and screwed up starting their own businesses.
This story reunites both the creative team and characters. In the intervening years, we’ve had a return to the “big gun” Justice League and a turn towards grimmer, bigger scale adventures. Formerly Known as the Justice League provides a nice contrast, a book that doesn’t take itself too seriously. This light-hearted take on being a superhero is a breath of fresh air that still manages to work as an adventure tale, even if you haven’t read that earlier Justice League run.
The introduction to the collection sets the tone, with a Mike-Carlin-drawn (no, really!) Batman in the style of Sergio Aragones introducing profiles done in the voice of each character. The creators, characters, and readers are all older, more jaded, and and in the case of the heroes, a bit more shop-worn, so that becomes part of the premise: businessman Max Lord reunites the team as the “Super Buddies”, super-heroes for hire.
After Sue and Fire antagonize the guys by rating them on a scale of 1 to 10, the team winds up clashing with Harvard-educated street hoodlums. Much of the humor in the series happens through unexpected contrasts of this type, as when Captain Mary Marvel’s “golly gee whiz” innocence is belied by her amazing abilities. When the heroes are kidnapped by Roulette to fight in her arena, Marvel and Atom battle to the death (under mind control, of course). Then the aliens arrive.
There are a bunch more cameos, all wonderfully fun. The expressive Maguire art is an essential support for the back-and-forth dialogue. Snappy conversation drives the story and the comedy, especially once robot ex-lackey L-Ron shows up to help with recruiting. (A special mention here to letterer Bob Lappan, who quite accurately is credited as “the only person on the face of the planet who can fit all those #$#%$ words on the page”.)
This kind of humor has been missing from the superhero genre. It’s a shame that there isn’t more of it available, but this collection helps fill the laugh gap.