Justice League: Read More About It

I’m looking at DC’s latest listing of “essential graphic novels” and it turns out the company and I are not in agreement on what makes essential reading. I would never recommend anyone (especially anyone new to comics) to suffer through the convoluted, confusing “Final Crisis.” Nor would I point you in the direction of the creepy and depressing “Identity Crisis.”

81c3FTam4sLSo let’s throw the list away. Here are some of the books that made me love the JLA. Some may be out of print but you can find ’em on Amazon, so they’re out there somewhere.

My first experience with the Justice League of America was the early 1970s. I don’t remember the writers but the art was by Dick Dillin. He wasn’t a “hot” or flashy artist but his style was clean and sharp and I liked it.

You can find most of this stuff in DC’s “Showcase” series. Volumes 5 and 6 cover the years I was reading the book.  It was good stuff for a kid, it probably hasn’t aged well. But that’s OK, the best comics are the ones you loved as a kid.

61-OvGyiIPL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_I left DC for Marvel in the mid-70s and didn’t come back until George Perez, who made a name for himself drawing “The Avengers.” jumped ship to DC for a long run on “Teen Titans” and a short run on “Justice League.” His JLA work is available in 2 volumes — titled, appropriately enough, “Justice League of America by George Perez (DC Classic Comics Library).”

When Perez left, so did I. My next foray into Justice League lore would also be my longest. In 1987 the book was revamped for the 347th time — this time as a workplace comedy.

Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis weren’t allowed to use Superman or Wonder Woman in the beginning and had limited use of Batman so they put the focus on Z-listers Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Guy Gardner, Fire, Ice, Maxwell Lord and more characters you’ve never heard of. Giffen and DeMatteis were joined by artist Kevin Maguire, whose wonderfully expressive faces just added to the fun.

JLIOmnibusGranted, taking a serious book like Justice League and playing it for laughs didn’t sit well at first, but it was so well done it quickly became a hit, spawning a sister title, “Justice League Europe,” and several specials. When Maguire left the book he was replaced by the equally gifted Adam Hughes.

A big chunk of the run was recently collected in “Justice League International Omnibus Vol. 1.” I don’t buy omnibi — they’re too big and clunky and difficult to read, but I’m not you so do what you want. If you are also put off by the omnibus format, the initial run is collected in “Justice League: A New Beginning.” Start there and you’ll probably be able to find the rest collected somewhere.

There have been a couple of other JLA incarnations I’ve checked out over the years but nothing that stands out as something worth mentioning here. Some people really liked the Grant Morrison years — I was not one of them.

81dcYjT13fLIf you’re looking for something more in line with the movie, your best bet would be the recent “New 52” revamp of the team. “Justice League: Origin” collects the 2011 new beginning that tries to explain why Cyborg is now a Justice Leaguer when he should be chillin’ with Beast Boy, Starfire and Raven. The story is no great shakes but it has some sweet Jim Lee art.

 

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At The Movies: Justice League

DC Comics’ long-awaited attempt at putting together an all-star super-team movie has arrived. While on paper, the Justice League boasts a more powerful lineup than the Avengers, on film the A-team has nothing to worry about.

“Justice League” is a mixed bag. While I enjoyed it overall, it suffers from the usual weaknesses that plague comic book movies.

THE GOOD: The cast is the film’s biggest strength, which is key since that’s the main reason anyone is going to this movie — to see DC’s big guns interact. And it is fun seeing these iconic characters hook up for the first time.

Gal Godot’s Wonder Woman continues to be the franchise’s strongest link. She’s always captivating on screen. Ben Affleck is just as good a Batman/Bruce Wayne as anyone else to don the cape and cowl and better than some. Henry Cavill finally brings some charm and light to the previously dour Superman. I guess being reborn improves one’s attitude.

As far as the newbies, Jason Momoa — while bearing no resemblance in look or personality to his comic book counterpart — does a good job with the role of smartass/badass that is, of all people, Aquaman. Ezra Miller is fine in the comic relief role of the Flash — again playing a part that really doesn’t mesh with the comic book persona.  Last, and by all means least, we have Ray Fisher as Cyborg. It’s not that he does a bad job with the character, it’s just that the character isn’t fleshed out (irony not intended).

The special effects and action sequences are decent, especially if you love the way director Zack Snyder directs action sequences. Because this is exactly like every other movie he’s directed. Highly stylized with lots of slow-motion, sudden stops and starts, and the action usually takes place at night or in darkened places.

To his credit, Snyder does the best Batman visuals put to film. He gets that Batman should be able to move, and move quickly. He also does great with the posing.

The movie boasts a lighter tone than its predecessors “Man of Steel” and “Superman V. Batman,” which is a good thing. Joss Whedon was brought in to help Snyder finish the film and his trademark sense of humor keeps the film from being too solemn.

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THE BAD:  “Justice League” certainly isn’t the first comic book movie to feature a weak, choppy plot and a boring, colorless villain. It’s another alien invasion story, this one led by the uninspired, uber-powerful baddie Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds — not the band).

Steppenwolf has come to Earth to bring together three Mother Boxes that will transform our planet into a hellhole, the better for it to be taken over by Steppy’s boss Darkseid.

I think. The movie doesn’t do a very good job of explaining the plot at all. Nor does it adequately give us background on the new characters. I would’ve liked to have seen more of Aquaman in his element, or Cyborg before his accident.

THE UGLY: Outside of the big three, the costume designs are hideous. Aquaman looks better in tattoos and swim trunks than the thing he wears to fight evil. Cyborg is a human head on a robot body, and it’s not a good look. But the worst fashion disaster is the Flash. A guy who’s talent is running should not be wearing such an oddly jagged, busy costume. There’s something seriously wrong when your TV version looks so much better than you do.

THE SUMMARY: I think DC would’ve been wise to follow Marvel’s playbook and introduce the characters individually before bringing them together. There’s just too much going on shoved into a 2-hour time frame. Still, it’s not as dark and bleak as Snyder’s previous DC movies and the cast is strong and it’s entertaining seeing them all together.

As Superman’s chest emblem would say — there’s hope.

 

Justice League of Answers

Do you belong in the Justice League Elite or Justice League Antarctica? Let’s find out.

1. True/False: The Justice League of America was the first superhero team in comic books

6056-2014-6621-1-justice-league-of-amFalse. The original super team was the Justice Society of America, formed in 1940 and featuring all the big stars of the Golden Age. If you weren’t Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman you fell out of favor in the 1950s.

In the 1960s, DC revamped several of those lesser characters with new identities, costumes and origin stories. These new versions teamed up with the Trinity in 1960 as the Justice League of America.

It was later determined that the originals existed on Earth 2 while the modern versions lived on Earth 1. Yes, it sounds backwards to everyone. In later years they did away with the multiple Earths idea, but it may be back. I’m not sure.

2. Which of the following has not been a Justice League headquarters: (a) A cave (b) a space satellite (c) a watchtower on the moon (d) an underwater facility outside Atlantis

(d) To the best of my knowledge, the JLA has never set up shop under the sea.

3. True/False: The Justice League is partially responsible for the creation of the Marvel Universe

True. According to industry legend, Marvel/Timely publisher Martin Goodman was playing golf with an executive from DC/National and the DC guy was bragging about how well Justice League was selling, so Martin went back to the office and told Stan Lee to create a superhero team comic. Lee and Jack Kirby came back with The Fantastic Four and the rest is history. (The golf game part of the story is probably fiction. As Stan tells the story in “Origins of Marvel Comics,” Martin simply noticed that JLA was selling well and told Stan to come up with something similar.)

4. In the 1980s Aquaman disbands the JLA and creates a new team filled with newbies and second-stringers like Vibe, Gypsy, Vixen and the Elongated Man. This often-maligned group is known as the Justice League: (a) Boston (b) Chicago (c) Detroit (d) Pittsburgh

(c) Detroit. And Aquaman was never allowed to make decisions for the team ever again.

5. Which of the following was not a member of the Super Friends: (a) Apache Chief (b) Black Lightning (c) El Dorado (d) Silver Samurai

(d) While there was a member of the Super Friends named Samurai, the Silver Samurai is a Marvel villain who once fought Jim Belushi.

jlaNEW52_016. True/False: Catwoman has been a member of the Justice League

True. It was a recent version of the JLA. It was not put together by Batman.

7. The Justice League made its debut in: (a) Action Comics (b) The Brave and the Bold (c) Justice League of America (d) Tales to Astonish

(b) Brave and the Bold No. 28, published in 1960, to be exact.

8. True/False: Batman made up files on how to take out each member of the Justice League

Of course he did. He’s Batman.

9. Which of the following has not been a version of the Justice League: (a) Justice League Antarctica (b) Justice League Dark (c) Justice League Elite (d) Justice League Europe (e) Justice League International (f) Justice League Russia (g) Justice League Task Force

(f) There has never been a Justice League operating out of Moscow

10. Which animal did not hang out with the Super Friends: (a) Gleek (b) Krypto (c) Wonder Dog

(b) Krypto. Ace, the Bat Hound, didn’t have time for the Super Friends, either.

11. Before joining the big leagues, Cyborg was a longstanding member of this super team: (a) Challengers of the Unknown (b) Doom Patrol (c) Justice Society (d) Teen Titans

ICO002088_1._SX400_QL80_TTD_(d) Cyborg made his debut in the wildly popular 1980s revival of the Teen Titans. He’s still a Titan on Cartoon Network.

12. Who was the teenage mascot of the JLA: (a) Archie Andrews (b) Rick Jones (c) Ron Wilson (d) Snapper Carr

(d) Snapper Carr (he had an annoying habit of snapping his fingers, hence the name). Rick Jones was the Avengers’ teen mascot. I have no idea why super teams had teen mascots in the 1960s.

13. Blue Beetle and Booster Gold started a casino and resort, called Club JLI, on this South Pacific island: (a) Bali Ha’i (b) Krakoa (c) Kooey Kooey Kooey (d) Muir Island

(c) I will be disappointed in you if you didn’t at least guess Kooey Kooey Kooey.

14. True/False: Wonder Woman served as the Justice League’s secretary

False. What? What an incredibly sexist thing to think! Of course Wonder Woman did not serve as secretary to the Justice League! She did serve as secretary to the Justice Society. But then, that was the 1940s.

15. What is the Martian Manhunter’s favorite snack food: (a) Chocos (b) Mars bars (c) Pringles (d) Reeses Pieces

(a) Chocos, which appear to be the DC equivalent of Oreos.

16. The Vision is to the the Avengers what ________________________ is to the Justice League. (a) Cyborg (b) L-Ron (c) Red Tornado (d) Robotman

(c) Red Tornado is the JLA’s resident android with a heart.

17. The Justice League first met in their headquarters outside: (a) Gotham City (b) Happy Harbor (c) Metropolis (d) Star City

(b) Happy Harbor, Rhode Island

18. True/False: Hawkeye has been a member of the Justice League

2146953-tumblr_lp0f5eo1sg1qkz9yno1_500

Of course. Who wouldn’t want Hawkeye on their team? Despite belonging to a different company, Hawkeye joined the JLA for a page or two in the JLA/Avengers crossover miniseries of 2003-04. He immediately hooked up with Green Arrow’s girlfriend, Black Canary.

19. Which Justice Leaguer did Green Arrow have a long-running  feud with: (a) Flash (b) Firestorm (c) Hawkman (d) Superman

(c) Hawkman. There didn’t appear to be any reason for it, other than DC wanting to break away from the “super friends” image that was associated with the league.

20. This dog-like member of the Green Lantern Corps managed to get into the Justice League despite being the Jar Jar Binks of the franchise. (a) Ch’p (d) G’Nort (c) Guy Gardner (d) Kilowog

(d) G’Nort. He had an influential family member get him in the corps. He was shipped off to Justice League Antarctica to get him out of the way.

Score: 

0-5 G’Nort Could Have Done Better

6-10 Bwah-Ha-Ha, you’re still a loser

11-15 You deserve a box of Chocos

16-20 Like Marvin, Wendy, Zan and Jayna, you are an honorary Super Friend

 

 

 

Justice League Quiz

How well do you know the Justice League? Given how many reboots, revisions and crises they’ve gone through, I doubt anyone – even Batman – really knows all there is to know about the Justice League.

1. True/False: The Justice League of America was the first superhero team in comic books

2. Which of the following has not been a Justice League headquarters: (a) A cave (b) a space satellite (c) a watchtower on the moon (d) an underwater facility outside Atlantis

3. True/False: The Justice League is partially responsible for the creation of the Marvel Universe

aquacover184. In the 1980s Aquaman disbands the JLA and creates a new team filled with newbies and second-stringers like Vibe, Gypsy, Vixen and the Elongated Man. This often-maligned group is known as the Justice League: (a) Boston (b) Chicago (c) Detroit (d) Pittsburgh

5. Which of the following was not a member of the Super Friends: (a) Apache Chief (b) Black Lightning (c) El Dorado (d) Silver Samurai

6. True/False: Catwoman has been a member of the Justice League

7. The Justice League made its debut in: (a) Action Comics (b) The Brave and the Bold (c) Justice League of America (d) Tales to Astonish

8. True/False: Batman made up files on how to take out each member of the Justice League

9. Which of the following has not been a version of the Justice League: (a) Justice League Antarctica (b) Justice League Dark (c) Justice League Elite (d) Justice League Europe (e) Justice League International (f) Justice League Russia (g) Justice League Task Force

10. Which animal did not hang out with the Super Friends: (a) Gleek (b) Krypto (c) Wonder Dog

11. Before joining the big leagues, Cyborg was a longstanding member of this superteam: (a) Challengers of the Unknown (b) Doom Patrol (c) Justice Society (d) Teen Titans

12. Who was the teenage mascot of the JLA: (a) Archie Andrews (b) Rick Jones (c) Ron Wilson (d) Snapper Carr

justice-league-island-life13. Blue Beetle and Booster Gold started a casino and resort, called Club JLI, on this South Pacific island: (a) Bali Ha’i (b) Krakoa (c) Kooey Kooey Kooey (d) Muir Island

14. True/False: Wonder Woman served as the Justice League’s secretary

15. What is the Martian Manhunter’s favorite snack food: (a) Chocos (b) Mars bars (c) Pringles (d) Reeses Pieces

16. The Vision is to the the Avengers what ________________________ is to the Justice League. (a) Cyborg (b) L-Ron (c) Red Tornado (d) Robotman

17. The Justice League first met in their headquarters outside: (a) Gotham City (b) Happy Harbor (c) Metropolis (d) Star City

18. True/False: Hawkeye has been a member of the Justice League

19. Which Justice Leaguer did Green Arrow have a long-running  feud with: (a) Flash (b) Firestorm (c) Hawkman (d) Superman

20. This dog-like member of the Green Lantern Corps managed to get into the Justice League despite being the Jar Jar Binks of the franchise. (a) Ch’p (d) G’Nort (c) Guy Gardner (d) Kilowog

Tomorrow: The Answers

 

 

 

It’s Justice League Week

Welcome to Justice League Week, where we celebrate the big screen debut of DC Comics’ premiere super team. Eight-year-old me would be so excited. Eight-year-old me wouldn’t care about Warner Bros’ track record with DC movies. Modern me is a little more wary.

I have a long history with the Justice League, which I have already written about at length, so if you missed it the first time around look up “DC and Me” in the archives.

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We will be following our usual routine for these things.

MONDAY: Intro to Justice League Week

TUESDAY: Justice League: The Quiz

WEDNESDAY: Justice League: The Answers

THURSDAY: Justice League: The Movie Review

FRIDAY: Justice League: Read More About It

Now go study, because tomorrow we will be testing your JL knowledge and you’ll want to come out of it looking smarter than Booster Gold, won’t you?

On Stage: On Your Feet!

It’s always nice when a new show comes to town and it’s even nicer when the show is as fun and lively as “On Your Feet!”

The show is another musical biography, this time centered on Gloria and Emilio Estefan and their work with the Miami Sound Machine. It features all their big hits, including “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” “Conga” and “Turn The Beat Around” — as well as a song written especially for the show by Gloria and her daughter Emily.

“On Your Feet!” was written by Alexander Dinelaris with music by Gloria and Emilio Estefan and Miami Sound Machine. It opened in Chicago in the summer of 2015 and moved to Broadway later that year.

OYF_TOUR_9_17_2431_preview


Mauricio Martinez as Emilio Estefan and Christie Prades as Gloria Estefan and Company, in a scene from “On Your Feet!” The musical is now playing at the Fox Theatre. 
Photo © Matthew Murphy

As is the way of these shows, it opens with Gloria Estefan (Christie Prades) at the height of her popularity before going into flashback mode to her childhood. Young Gloria is a gifted singer with a great deal of family responsibilities.

With encouragement from her grandmother Consuelo (Alma Cuervo), Gloria performs an original song for local musician Emilio Estefan (Mauricio Martinez) and his band. He brings her into the band and they begin the long climb to stardom.

Like any “Behind The Music” story, there is plenty of drama and sadness to sprinkle among the exuberant song-and-dance numbers. There are fights with record executives, a rift between Gloria and her mother (Nancy Ticotin), and other incidents that I won’t mention in case you’re unfamiliar with the story. Thankfully, the tale avoids the drug addiction element that’s so common in musician biographies.

“On Your Feet!” is a high-energy crowd pleaser with dazzling costumes and lighting effects, impressive and infectious dance numbers, and powerful vocal performances by Prades, Martinez and the rest of the cast.

The show ends with a mega-mix of Estefan’s hits that is sure to get audience members on their feet — and maybe dancing in the aisles.

“On Your Feet!” runs through Nov. 19 at the Fox Theatre. https://www.fabulousfox.com

At The Movies: Thor: Ragnarok

In Norse mythology, Ragnarok is the great final battle where the gods fight and die and the world ends. Think of it as the viking version of Armageddon.

So you wouldn’t think a movie about such an event would be a funny, fun-loving adventure — and yet that’s what you get with “Thor: Ragnarok.”

When last we saw the God of Thunder (at the end of “Avengers: Age of Ultron”) he had left Earth to seek out the Infinity Stones, which have been plaguing Marvel Studios’ movies for some time. As our new story begins, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is chained up in the subterranean lair of Surtur (Clancy Brown).

DIBDRP1UwAAtU6JSurtur is planning on bringing about Ragnarok, but his plans are thwarted by Thor’s hammer. Thor returns to his home in Asgard, only to find father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) missing and brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) on the throne. (He would’ve already known this if he had watched “Thor: The Dark World.”)

With help from Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Thor and Loki find Odin on a bluff in Norway. Odin warns that despite defeating Surtur, Ragnarok cannot be stopped. Only now it’s going to come in the form of Hela, Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett).

As if on cue, Hela arrives. After a very brief skirmish, Thor and Loki and hurtled into space while Hela makes her way to Asgard. She is greeted by Skurge (Karl Urban), who has replaced the missing Heimdall (Idris Elba) as guardian of the Rainbow Bridge. Together they cut a bloody swath through the home of the gods.

Elsewhere, Thor lands on the planet Sakaar, a world run by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). The thunder god is quickly captured by a bounty hunter who was once one of the Norse warrior women, the Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). She takes Thor to the Grandmaster for use in his popular gladiatorial games.

The Grandmaster’s reining champion turns out to be none other than Thor’s incredible avenging buddy, the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Now Thor simply has to defeat the Hulk, escape the Grandmaster, deal with Loki, and return to Asgard to stop Hela. And all without his beloved hammer.

Director Taika Waititi (who also plays the friendly rock monster Korg) has put the Thor franchise back on top after a disappointing second outing. The laughs are welcome and plentiful, but there are also some grim, violent moments and some touching ones as well. The film has heart as well as humor, thrilling action, outrageous costumes and nifty special effects.

Some old favorites had to make way for all the new faces, but the additions brought a fresh feel to the film. The Thor franchise continues to prove it has the best villains in the MCU, with Blanchett’s Hela proving just as wickedly entertaining as Hiddleston’s Loki.

And it’s nice to finally see the Hulk get a voice and a personality beyond “smash.”

Granted, some of the comedy is overdone and the light-hearted tone doesn’t always mesh with the end-of-the-world plot. But as a big, goofy, sometimes absurd, superhero tale it gets the job done.

2017 hasn’t been a great year in many respects but it’s been an impressive one for superhero movies. “Thor: Ragnarok” joins “Guardians of the Galaxy 2,” “Wonder Woman” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” as stellar action-adventure entertainment. Will “Justice League” be in the same league? We’ll know in a few weeks.