DC Retroactive 1980s Justice League of America #1 review

It's the 1980s and Felix Faust attacks the new Justice League of America in their HQ, using the despair felt by the people of Detroit to power his demons. Can the heroes overcome their inferiority complex long enough to save the children to whom they've been giving a tour?

Of course they can. Vibe, Gypsy, Vixen and Steel may be new kids, but alongside Aquaman, J'onn Jonzz, Elongated Man and Zatanna, they are indeed the world's greatest super-heroes. Zee's mystical knowledge and Gypsy's cheek finally end the crisis, but everyone pitches in to protect the children.

It's a shame not everyone gets a big moment, though - yes, hip-hop hero Vibe unleashes his shock waves but he's downed after a panel or so. And Vixen lacks a big spotlight scene.

Still, it's fun to see the team again, even though I don't recall the collective inferiority complex being as full-on as it is here. It's as if the squad has bought into the derision dumped on this 'Justice League Detroit' by non-readers of the series and do indeed see themselves as second class. The approach is surprising, given that in the original run writer Gerry Conway was emphasising what a powerhouse the oft-jeered Aquaman truly is. And when you have Zatanna and Martian Manhunter on hand, you're hardly lacking in strength. Then there's Elongated Man, not the mightiest hero, but one of the smartest. Among the younger members, Steel had the potential to be Captain America; Gypsy had interesting stealth abilities to be explored; Vibe could create mini-quakes; and Vixen tapped into the power of gods.

Really, this bunch were as powerful as many a JLA line-up. And in technical genius and ladies' man Dale Gunn they had a far more useful 'mascot' than Snapper Carr, while Sue Dibny was often on hand to add class and bring snacks.

So I'd have preferred a straightforward adventure showcasing the Detroit League's relationships and capabilities without the starting point of them having to prove their worth to readers today. Still, Conway's deft narration does make the point that this is the League - twice, in a nice rhythmic bit of narration.
I'm deducting points for the script's wink towards the abomination that was Identity Crisis (click on image to enlarge), but restoring them for engaging with the problems of Detroit. The commentary on Reagan's America is a little late, but at least it's there. And Conway's Felix Faust is a more fearsome mage than usual, a charismatic menace.

As I'm in a good mood, I'll excuse the ick-making inclusion of a kid in there apparently based on upcoming JLA writer Geoff Johns. He it is who inspires the team to go on in the face of despair blah-de-blah.
In the Eighties Ron Randall was drawing Roy Thomas's seriously underrated Arak, Son of Thunder series, but I've no complaints about him being here. His work is excellent, well-composed and full of life. Pencilling and inking, he gives real weight to his figures, and his storytelling is first class.

I do have complaints about the colour work of Carlos Badilla and Tony Avina, which is awfully gloomy. A bit of dour is fine for the vault scene, but even in daylight the red-headed Elongated Man, for example, becomes a brunette. While the colours of Gene D'Angelo in this issue's reprint do hurt the eyes - I think that was when the new Flexigraphic printing process made even black 'pop' - there is a happy medium to be found. I've been giving the morbid tones on some of these DC Retroactive books the benefit of the doubt, but enough is enough - didn't someone send a memo out that as well as reading like old books, they need to look like them?

The back-up itself, from JLA #239, is interesting seen alongside the new story, as it begins with Aquaman and the new League insisting to Superman, Wonder Woman and Flash that they're the JLA now. Other than that, it's a Vixen spotlight, a little soapy, but decent stuff from Conway and artists Chuck Patton and Mike Machlan.

Colouring aside, this is another enjoyable DC Retroactive entry, one which may make the Detroit League a few new fans. Hey, a man can dream.


  1. The Detroit League gets a bad rep over the years. I remember when the change up happened. It was radical, sure, but it made some sense in the wake of the Crisis On Infinite Earths. This group allowed the writers freedom to explore the characters without influence of other writers on other books where the characters also appeared. That was the reason for the old roster members chosen and the inclusion of four new heroes. It was an attempt to do to JLA what was done with the Teen Titans franchise a few years prior. The results, sadly, weren't as good.

  2. That bottom panel you show of Steel, Vixen and Gypsy's faces make me want to see Ron Randall draw EVERYTHING. Great expressions, there! Reminds me of Paul Pelletier.

  3. Martin, spot-on. The JLA creative team was upfront about this intention to 'do a New Teen Titans', but sadly, that didn't make it any more likely to work.

    Rob, I see what you mean about the echoes of Paul Pelletier. I wonder why Ron Randall doesn't have a regular assignment.

  4. He's been at it so long, and is so good that I wonder if him not having a regular assignment is a function of having more lucrative work elsewhere.

    Would love to see more from him, though!

  5. I, for one, liked the Detroit League, but this made me like them even better. A very fun walk down memory lane.

  6. Rob,it IS curious. Randall was sharing the pencils on Doom Patrol for awhile, and I'd love him back full-time.

    Siskoid, indeedy-doody!


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