In 1987, when Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis relaunched the Justice League in the wake of “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” the omens weren’t promising. The team had few big-name characters and was composed primarily of lesser-known heroes. The artist was a young unknown named Kevin Maguire, while the tone of the book was also unusual, a world away from the grimness that had characterized recent hits such as “Watchmen” and “The Dark Knight Returns.”
Despite -- or perhaps because of -- these factors, the book was a tremendous success. The “Justice League International” would go on to become one of the most popular incarnations of the League, spawning a host of spin-offs and miniseries. To mark the 30th anniversary of the team’s debut, we’ve ranked the primary JLI-related (or JLI-adjacent) books released over the years, running the gauntlet from “Bwahaha HA” to “Bwahaha... HUH?”
17 EXTREME JUSTICE
When “Justice League International” was first released in 1987, part of its appeal was that it didn’t mirror other titles at that time, having its own distinctive tone. Unfortunately, “Extreme Justice” was very much a product of its time. Released in 1994, the premise of the title was that Captain Atom formed his own version of the Justice League after becoming frustrated with the direction of the “official” team. Joining him in this group were JLI mainstays Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, as well as Amazing Man and Maxima. The initial creators on the title were Dan Vado and Marc Campos, after whom the book subsequently went through numerous fill-ins before settling into the creative team of Robert Washington and Tom Morgan.
The number of creators on the book during its brief 19-issue run mirrors a title that never seemed sure how to pitch itself. Blue Beetle was frequently drawn in Spider-Man like poses, Booster Gold was trapped within his armor (complete with iron lung and pacemaker), while Captain Atom struggled with how he wanted the team to operate. In summer 1996, the title was cancelled, paving the way for the next incarnation of the Justice League in Grant Morrison’s “JLA.”
16 JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL (NEW 52)
At the conclusion of DC’S maxi-series, “Justice League: Generation Lost,” readers were teased with the prospect of a new ongoing series for the JLI. What few could have predicted was that, when this series eventually premiered, it would do so as part of DC’S New 52 relaunch. Written by Dan Jurgens and penciled by Aaron Lopresti – both of whom had previously worked on JLI-related books -- the series lasted for 12 issues and one annual before its cancellation.
Among the many off-beat launches that characterized the first wave of the New 52, this title was more traditional in its approach. It featured many characters closely linked with the JLI, including Booster Gold, Guy Gardner, Fire, Ice and Rocket Red. Booster was placed in the unfamiliar role of leader, but the team was in the familiar position of underdogs; members constantly having to prove their worth as heroes to a skeptical public. Many of the familiar JLI characters -- including Rocket Red, Ice and Fire -- were removed from the active roster in the second part of the book, and while there were some decent moments with the new team members, it undeniably affected the momentum of the book, until its cancellation.
15 JUSTICE LEAGUE TASK FORCE
In June 1993, a new Justice League series debuted: “Justice League Task Force.” Led by Martian Manhunter, this team was intended to be more proactive than other incarnations of the League. Operating under a United Nations charter, the concept was that the team would be sent on missions by the JLA. Unfortunately, connectivity between this and the main JLA title was poor, resulting in the minor inconvenience that the JLA never actually sent them anywhere. Christopher Priest, who wrote the book from #21 to #37 (its last issue) has admitted that in this respect, “Justice League Task Force was a book where absolutely nothing happened.”
This lack of missions was perhaps an influence in Mark Waid changing the focus of the book during his run on the title. Working on issues #13 - #20, he transformed the team into a training ground for new heroes. With the Martian Manhunter as the gruff drill sergeant, newer characters such as the Ray and Triumph were focused on. While all of this suggests a title that had little effect on the big picture, "Task Force" did have one significant event for JLI fans: in #14, Ice was killed by the villainous Overmaster.
14 ELONGATED MAN: EUROPE ‘92
Ralph and Sue Dibny were an important part of the Justice League Europe; more importantly, they were a happily married couple in a genre where the love-lives of superheroes were rarely uncomplicated. When Ralph joined Justice League Europe, Sue went with him and remained supportive, despite Ralph’s tendency to obsess over a mystery to the exclusion of all else. As one of the less well-known team members, Ralph perhaps wasn’t the most obvious candidate for a miniseries. However, the reason his worked so well is that rather than being a generic adventure, it was built around Ralph and Sue’s relationship.
Written by Gerard Jones and featuring wonderfully animated art by Mike Parobeck, the series sees Ralph and Sue travel to the Kingdom of Modora, where they become embroiled in a conflict with Sonar. There’s a tongue-in-cheek vibe to this comic that fits perfectly with Ralph’s powers and his childlike enthusiasm for a mystery. By the end of the series Ralph and Sue are reunited, as they would remain for their subsequent appearances prior to the New 52, both in life and death.
13 CAPTAIN ATOM
When the large number of Justice League solo books is considered, it’s somewhat surprising to realize that Captain Atom’s solo title, at 57 issues, outlasted the titles of fan favorite characters such as Booster Gold, Blue Beetle and Mister Miracle. Part of the reason may be that Cap’s solo title mostly had a totally different tone to his appearances in the JLI and JLE. In the team books, he was frequently portrayed as a straight-laced, harassed team leader who was often the butt of his comrades’ jokes. In his own book, he was a more serious character, a man out of time who had to find his place in a world that had moved on without him.
Due to an historic charge of treason, Nathaniel Scott was initially blackmailed into acting as a superhero controlled by the military, and as a result secrets and lies dominate the early issues of the book: both the ones that Atom is forced to tell by his handlers and those that he tells to protect himself or others. Longstanding DC writer Cary Bates scripted the majority of the run, with art by Pat Broderick. Bates expertly mixed personal drama with military intrigue and superhero action.
12 BLUE BEETLE
Like Captain Atom, Ted Kord, the Blue Beetle, was a relative newcomer to the DC Universe when he joined the JLI. DC had acquired Charlton’s superhero characters in the mid ‘80s, and used the events of “Crisis on Infinite Earths” to integrate them into the DC Universe. In his 24-issue solo run, between 1986 and 1988, DC readers were introduced to Ted Kord: a brilliant scientist, a heroic superhero and the CEO of Kord Inc. While Ted may be more associated with the get-rich-quick schemes he carried out with Booster Gold, in these early adventures he was a man of means whose intelligence and wealth allowed him to build a variety of crime-fighting equipment.
Len Wein was at the writing helm for the entirety of this series, while Paris Cullins and Ross Andru handled the lion’s share of the art duties. The series saw Ted face a variety of obstacles, including Chronos and Carapax, while teaming up with established heroes such as the Teen Titans. At the end of the series, Kord Industries was destroyed and Ted was free to commit to the JLI full-time, where he would go on to form a firm friendship with Booster Gold.
11 DR FATE
Doctor Fate’s membership on the JLI was brief. The majority of the character’s development during the JLI era took place outside the team, in a 1987 miniseries by Keith Giffen and J M DeMatteis and in the 41-issue solo title that followed. In this, DeMatteis crafted a provocative read that was a strange but exhilarating mix of ideas and concepts. Profound questions of religion and identity were mixed with potty humor and witty dialogue, while the close bonds between characters grounded tales that were often cosmic in scope.
Like Hawkman, Dr Fate has seen numerous reinventions over the past few decades. Giffen and DeMatteis did a good job of establishing the basic concept in the miniseries, introducing Eric and Linda Strauss, who merged to become Dr Fate. The love between Eric and Linda was integral to their time as Fate and the wider DeMatteis run on the book. DeMatteis has frequently listed this title as one of his favorite works and it’s apparent that he enjoyed the freedom to pursue his muse. In this, he was aided by the expressive yet cartoony art of Shaun McManus, who was able to depict everything from talking dogs to a smiling Darkseid.
10 MISTER MIRACLE
With Scott Free being an essentially goodhearted character, the tetchiness of his best friend, Oberon, and the warrior instincts of his wife, Barda, have often helped to propel his adventures along. This was certainly the case in the second volume of his solo title, which ran for 28 issues between 1989 and 1991. This series saw Scott, Barda and Oberon retire to the suburbs, as part of an effort to gradually cease their superhero activities. A lot of fun was had in the different ways that the characters adapted to their new circumstances. Barda struggled with becoming a housewife, while Oberon constantly tried to tempt Scott back into costume. For his part, Scott relished the chance to live a normal life, using his skills with technology to open an electronics repair store.
The series was initially launched by J M DeMatteis and Ian Gibson, but their partnership was brief. Joe Phillips took over art chores on #7, with Len Wein and Doug Moench both writing lengthy runs. By the end of the series, Scott had relinquished the mantle of Mister Miracle to Shilo Norman, a fitting end to a series that detailed Scott’s growing frustration with the superhero life.
9 MARTIAN MANHUNTER
Booster Gold and Blue Beetle may receive much of the attention, but if one character was the heart of the Justice League International era, it was the team’s resident Oreo aficionado, the Martian Manhunter. The first issue of “JLI” saw him scarred by the fate of the team’s last incarnation, but over the course of the run, it was clear that he came to regard the new team as a family (albeit an often exasperating one). In 1988, J M DeMatteis and Mark Badger collaborated on a 4-issue miniseries that explored the Martian Manhunter’s origins, calling into question many of the accepted facts about J’onn J’onzz.
Among the revelations in the series were that he was the last Martian (the others being wiped out by a plague thousands of years ago), that his real form was a more alien-looking cone-headed creature and that his long-standing aversion to fire was psychological in nature. In many cases, when such sweeping changes are made to a character’s background, it comes across as forced or needlessly complicated. This was not the case here, with the changes being well-explained and only adding to J’onn’s appeal as a character.
8 JUSTICE LEAGUE 3000/3001
The high concept of the Keith Giffen and J M DeMatteis collaboration, "Justice League 3000," is that Project Cadamus used the genetic material from Earth’s mightiest superheroes to bio-engineer them in the 31st century. Unfortunately, the untested process and the sketchy history of the 21st century meant that the heroes didn’t exactly turn out as expected. Kevin Maguire was originally slated to pencil this book, but was replaced before launch by Howard Porter, with Scott Kolins drawing the latter issues.
The bickering and banter between the team harkens back to the classic JLI run, a link that is made explicit when Booster and Beetle, and then Fire, Ice and Guy Gardner are brought into the book’s cast, with Guy having to deal with the fact that he has been reborn in a woman’s body. While it’s a pleasure to see Giffen and DeMatteis write the JLI characters again and there are some strong character moments for Fire, Ice and Guy, Beetle and Booster feel rather shoe-horned into the plot and abruptly disappear from later issues. Their planned storyline may have been curtailed by the book’s premature cancellation, but it means that JLI fans never saw the full reunion of these characters that they craved.
7 JUSTICE LEAGUE: GENERATION LOST
When "Generation Lost" was launched in July 2010, it was something of a mixed blessing for fans of the JLI. On the positive side, it re-united old comrades such as Booster Gold, Ice, Fire, Power Girl and Captain Atom and integrated new versions of characters such as Rocket Red and Blue Beetle. On the negative side, the entire plot of the series revolved around Maxwell Lord and his villainous agenda that had been revealed in “Countdown to Infinite Crisis.” This retcon had upset many fans of the JLI, but the book was able to turn this to its advantage, with Max’s former friends and teammates expressing their confusion, disgust and regret over his actions.
Judd Winick wrote the 24-issue epic, with a plotting assist from Keith Giffen on the first six issues and Aaron Lopresti taking on the majority of art duties. The series isn’t perfect -- at times it's actually rather unfocused -- and its great length means that at times it feels like everything but the kitchen sink has been thrown into the mix. On the whole, though, the book was a successful attempt to build on the legacy of the JLI and reintroduce its members.
6 FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE
In 2003, fans of the JLI era had cause for celebration: the JLI dream-team of Keith Giffen, J M DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire reunited for a six-issue miniseries that combined prominent cast members from “Justice League International” and “Justice League Europe.” The concept of the book is that Maxwell Lord believes there is a place for a superhero team that is accessible for the common man, tackling threats that would be under the radar of the JLA or similar teams. Thus, the "Super Buddies" were formed: a team name that was greeted with horror by every hero other than Mary Marvel, the team’s newest, most innocent member.
During this miniseries, the team fought super-powered Harvard dropouts, Roulette and the forces of Manga Khan. As entertaining as each encounter is (and with Kevin Maguire on pencils it’s no surprise that they’re also beautifully drawn), the greatest joy is in how these characters relate to each other. If anything, the scripts by DeMatteis had become even more verbose since their original run and the dialogue sings, helping elevate this series into something very special indeed.
5 JUSTICE LEAGUE EUROPE
The success of “Justice League International,” as well as the growing number of characters linked to the team, led to DC launching a companion title in April 1989. “Justice League Europe” saw Captain Atom leading a team that comprised of Flash, Power Girl, Metamorpho, Elongated Man and Rocket Red. Although Wonder Woman and Animal Man were both on the cover of the 1st issue, Buddy Baker departed after the 12th issue, while Wonder Woman never took a full role in the League’s affairs.
Initially written by Keith Giffen and J M DeMatteis, with art by Bart Sears, "JLE" was more action-orientated than its sister title, with intense battles with high stakes. This was balanced by the character-based humor and farcical situations that the JLI titles were known for, with much humor being derived from the team’s fish-out-of-water presence in Europe. Their encounter with the Injustice League at a French class in #6 was an early highlight, while the team’s later adventures in London saw them encounter an eccentric superhero called the Beefeater, who bore more than a passing resemblance to John Cleese.
4 BOOSTER GOLD (VOL. 1)
Booster Gold’s original series may have only lasted 25 issues, but writer/artist Dan Jurgens ensured that each issue was jam-packed with Boosterific goodness. Booster’s original concept as a superhero out to exploit the commercial potential of his fame was a perfect fit for ‘80s materialistic culture, but Jurgens took care to ensure that Booster always remained a sympathetic character. As the series progressed, readers were given more information on Booster’s origins and life in the 25th century, with this time-displaced status and shaky knowledge of the 20th century often complicating his life.
In one of his earliest writing jobs for DC, Dan Jurgens crafted an incredibly entertaining book that featured characters from across the DC universe. Booster’s residence in Metropolis saw him meet Superman, while his use of a Legion flight ring led to a visit from Brainiac 5 and his teammates. Booster has always been a character far more capable than his reputation might suggest and this series saw the beginning of his evolution from someone who treated super-heroics as a game into someone who understood both the rewards and tragedy it could bring.
3 BOOSTER GOLD (VOL. 2)
Booster Gold’s starring role in “52” led into his second ongoing series, by the creative team of Geoff Johns, Geoff Katz and Dan Jurgens. Recruited by Rip Hunter, Booster’s new mission was to protect and repair the timeline of the DC Universe, and the book revelled in the storytelling possibilities this provided. Booster tried to protect Barbara Gordon from the Joker, ensured that Hal Jordan became Green Lantern and teamed up with Jonah Hex. The climax of the Johns/Katz run came with “Blue and Gold,” where Booster attempted to prevent Ted Kord’s death, leading to a time-altering adventure that featured a JLI reunion, a scene stealing appearance by Wild Dog and a lump-in-the-throat farewell between Booster and Beetle.
When Dan Jurgens took over as writer and artist, the high quality of the title continued. He developed many of his original plots, including the death of Booster’s sister. The quality of the title was so high that when Keith Giffen and J M DeMatteis became the new writing team with #32, it almost felt like a backward step; the more overt comedy being a change of tone from the mixture of humor and pathos that had preceded it.
2 I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S NOT THE JUSTICE LEAGUE
The success of the first Super Buddies miniseries meant that Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire soon returned for a follow-up. Captain Atom was absent from this version, but the introduction of Guy Gardner and Power Girl more than made up for his absence. As usual, Gardener was a social hand grenade, but he also formed the emotional heart of the story as he and Fire have to deal with finding Ice only to lose her all over again.
In comics, as in comedy, timing is everything. Unfortunately for this series, events unfolding elsewhere in the DCU detracted from its undoubted quality. Although the adventure was completed in 2004, it was held back until 2005. This meant that by the time of its release, Sue Dibny had been killed in the pages of “Identity Crisis” and Max Lord was about to kill Blue Beetle in the pages of “Countdown to Infinite Crisis.” These events gave a certain poignancy to the book and it was fitting that Maguire intentionally drew the last panel of the series so that it portrayed a smiling Ted Kord and Max Lord: a better representation of characters that JLI fans had grown to love.
1 JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL
What can be said about “Justice League International” that hasn’t already been covered by countless creators, fans and comic bloggers over the years? The 60-issue run by Giffen and DeMatteis saw a succession of great artists attached, including Kevin Maguire, Ty Templeton and Adam Hughes. Crucially, while these three could detail fantastic action scenes, they could also depict the character based moments that the title excelled in.
The quality of the book is sometimes downplayed by those who just focus on the humor and the perception that it was Seinfeld with capes. The humor was important, of course, but it’s more accurate to say that the title was about real people. The betrayal that Beetle felt when Booster quit the team; the unexpected vulnerability of Guy in forming a relationship with Ice; the friendships and rivalries that ebbed and flowed throughout the book’s run: Giffen and DeMatteis were even able to make the demise of the Mister Miracle robot genuinely heartfelt, simply because the loss and sorrow from the other characters was so authentic. The team may have been under-powered in comparison to the Grant Morrison line-up that followed, but they were every bit as deserving of the Justice League title.
What was your favorite character, version or offshoot of the Justice League International? Let us know in the comments!