Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Formerly Known as the Justice League

For no particular reason, I recently found myself looking for something funny to read. I have plenty of options lying around, from Dave Barry books to Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels to collections of Dilbert cartoons. (And that's just in print and on a bookshelf - plenty more at the library and on the Internet.) This time, what caught my eye was my Formerly Known as the Justice League comics.
More than 20 years ago, Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis wrote a series of comedic, tongue-in-cheek storylines in the Justice League International book. Much of the team was made up of characters who weren't well-known at the time, such as Blue Beetle, Fire, Booster Gold, and Elongated Man. It became irreverently known as the "bwa ha ha" era, and it was hilarious to read. Eventually the series moved on to a more serious tone.

In 2003, Giffen and DeMatteis returned to some of the same characters and style with the six-issue mini-series Formerly Known as the Justice League. It's drawn by artists Kevin Maguire (who also worked on JLI) and Joe Rubinstein. The plot revolves around Maxwell Lord creating a new superhero team called the Super Buddies, bringing together many of the old JLI members. And a few old enemies, though at times it's hard to tell the difference.

Formerly Known as the Justice League is most entertaining if you're a comic book fan, since it uses every opportunity to poke fun at the superhero genre. For instance: the whole idea of the Super Buddies, a bunch of lesser-known heroes available for hire. But it's plenty entertaining even if superhero comics aren't your normal thing, because there's a whole lot of puns, characters trading insults, and just general weirdness that makes it a fun read.

The same creative team also did a follow-up storyline in the JLA Classified series a few years later, called I Can't Believe it's not the Justice League. That one isn't quite as good in my opinion, largely because it didn't quite fit with the rest of the DC universe at the time. Identity Crisis had recently killed off Sue Dibny, and Blue Beetle dies in the Countdown to Infinite Crisis right around the same publication date. I Can't Believe it's not the Justice League takes place in an earlier time as far as continuity goes, but it was still odd to see the same characters being used for comedy and tragedy in the same general publication timeframe.

I keep Formerly Known as the Justice League around on my bookshelf because it's a great example of the lighter side of superhero comics. Highly recommended to anyone who likes the superhero genre, and I think even non-fans would find it amusing.

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