For five years Justice League International (two years in, splitting into Justice League America and Justice League Europe) ran as an experiment that could not fail. Each month humor, pathos and hyperbole reached readers in an exact formula that enthralled and would continue to enthrall for a generation on. But the magic couldn’t last, and the original “Break/Downs” threw both the American and European Leagues up against the political forces they could no longer hold back. In the broader context of the New 52, Justice League International: Breakdown evokes that same narrative arc without repeating events directly.
Original JLI followed a course not at all dissimilar to Seinfeld. Just as Seinfeld and co. only found their groove and their audience by their third season, JLI in the early issues still misunderstood its focus as multiculturalism. By issue nine (issue 10?) the focus of the book still seemed very much to be on the JLI as a geopolitical player with the team’s Rocket Red revealed to be a plant by the sinister Manhunters.
But even by the end of that issue, even as Captain Atom contained an oil refinery fire and prevent an international incident, and even as a new Rocket Red was inducted to the team, the formula already seemed too much. The next issue would not only see Superman lead a team to hunt down the Manhunters’ abandoned homeworld, but would also see a return to the formula established in the first issue—where hyperbolic humor and frenetic action collide.
And while that original formulation of the JLI succeeded wildly and quickly, easily became a fan-favorite, it happened very much to the detriment of the League itself. Reintegrating the characters outside of the crazy, cartoony JLI bubble-reality proved difficult—the classic case being the Elongated Man miniseries which presented the JLI’s Ralph Dibny, minus the League. Some five years on, DC attempted a wholesale reboot of the franchise by reintroducing the DCU’s heaviest of heavy hitters and tapping Grant Morrison to write “JLA”. And about a decade after that, a second wave of reintegration would see former JLI boss Maxwell Lord (then boss of Checkmate) reimagined as James Bond-style villain, and longtime JLI member Blue Beetle as his first victim.
Outside of the highly-recognizable style however, the JLI books did make an important contribution to a post-Reagan world. In a very real sense, these books were DC’s first skirmish with superheroes’ actions having geopolitical implications. These books were also the introduction of a new breed of supervillain (masterminds all, having more in common with 007’s Ernst Blofeld) and the dismantling of second-tier villains from the Silver Age.
In a neat, compact compendium comprising just two volumes the New 52 JLI retraces that same territory superhero activity having geopolitical ramifications. And perhaps unintentionally shows how the original JLI was a worthy precursor to Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ grand drama, Kingdom Come.
Please enjoy our exclusive preview of Justice League International: Breakdown.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.