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.”
So 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.
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.
Granted, 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.
If 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.