'Justice League International' Is a Wasted Opportunity

Jeremiah Massengale

Rarely does a #1 issue feel like a worthless investment for the reader. Enter, Justice League International #1.

Justice League International #1

Publisher: DC
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Dan Jurgens, Aaron Lopresti
Price: $2.99
Publication Date: 2011-09

Rarely does a #1 issue feel like a worthless investment for the reader. The possibilities are endless and, more often than not, a good first impression can go a long way in the comic medium. That’s the beauty of new beginnings. However, Justice League International needed no reboot. There was no confusing continuity that needed a clean state since the book hasn’t been published for several years. After reading the new lackluster first issue, you can only wonder why DC Comics scraped the bottom of the barrel to include the title, and then did nothing creatively to elevate its status. Justice League International represents almost everything that’s wrong with DC’s “New 52” initiative.

In the issue, the United Nations forms a Justice League of its own that it can send out and control, with no heroes with secret identifies in its roster. The head of U.N. intelligence Andre Briggs recruits a variety of heroes from different countries to handle international emergencies and, somehow, also help restore people’s faith in their own governments. Booster Gold, the egoistical hero from the distant future, surprisingly has been chosen as the group’s leader and the title’s central character.

It should be noted that Batman tags along as a non-sanctioned member, as he’s done in the book in decades past, to serve as a connection between the Justice League and JLI. Though, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that The Dark Knight’s really there to increase sales.

Like the average reality television show, the team members seem to be chosen for a diverse appeal across the demographics, with August General in Iron, Godiva, Fire, Ice, Vixen, and Rocket Red on the team. Perhaps by adding international heroes from locations like China, Great Britain, Brazil, Scandinavia, Africa, and Russia, the book is being mistakenly aiming for greater success overseas. The characters also seem to be chosen for conflict with the infamous Booster Gold as leader and the annoying Green Lantern Guy Gardner whining about falling under his leadership. Batman is there as a wildcard who provides correction for everyone.

Early in the issue Briggs says, “I like you, Booster. You realize we have to sell this to make it work.” Andre Briggs isn’t trying to break the fourth wall with the statement, but perhaps DC executives were thinking the same thing. Booster Gold is a captivating character, but he works better when he has a character or two bounce his arrogant, glory-seeking thoughts off of. DC would be much better off with Booster Gold having his own book as a part of the companywide reboot, but perhaps they thought including the words “Justice League” in the title would sell a few more copies. Yet, any hopes for success, both in the title’s storyline and for finding readership, lie with him.

Speaking of which, there are several references to the iconic Justice League team in Justice League International, which is both appropriate and foolish. While it’s important to explain that the stories occur in the same universe, especially with Batman appearing in both titles, it accidentally reminds you that you’d probably rather be reading about Superman and Wonder Woman instead of Rocket Red and Fire. Heck, in one panel even Booster Gold whines, “A different Justice League?”

Aaron Lopresti's art is at its best when the characters are in close-ups. The detailed, emotive facial expressions are vital to the dialogue-heavy storyline that’s filled with bickering. Seeing a team of heroes learn to work with one another on the fly could have been intriguing but writer Dan Jurgens presents a storyline without heart or wonder. You’d expect this part of a companywide relaunch to do something special with its cast of mostly D-list heroes. What you get is a shred of potential and a lot of disappointment. Unfortunate stereotypes abound with non-Americans speaking broken English and lots of ethnocentrism.

The story starts slow with over five pages of dialogue from U.N. committee members, which is, unfortunately, as thrilling as you’d imagine. In opening pages suggest that familiar heroes like Green Arrow, Blue Beetle and the whacko Plastic Man were considered for the team, but then quickly disqualifies them. The issue squashes any hopes readers have of seeming those unique characters in the near future. Why devote panels to an instant letdown? The pacing of Dan Jurgen’s story suffers from the slow exposition and the decision to hastily throw the team into battle in the book’s final pages.

Plus, when the antagonists do show up at the end for a fight, they’re as generic as comic book enemies come. Couldn’t they have at least attached a memorable villain to the tale?

There’s also a pointless B-story that involves average citizens protesting JLI’s takeover of the Justice League’s Hall of Justice. While angry men shout “This is a public building,” readers will be confused as to how the Hall is supposed to fit in with the continuity of the “New 52.” Then, readers will proceed quickly without investing at all in the narrative.

While Guy Gardner and Batman work as adequate foils for Booster Gold, the rest of the heroic cast seems bland next to the trio, making most of the JLI neither particularly likable nor expressly unlikeable. Several characters fail to get their moment in the spotlight and new readers will be forced to look elsewhere to find out exactly what special abilities Vixen has or whether August General in Iron is wearing a costume or if he has a bizarre skin condition. (It’s the skin condition.)

Ironically, it seems like the Justice League International reboot was created by some marketing wizards that were worried about reaching the right demographics and playing it safe, instead of by daring artists interested in creating a meaningful, enthralling storyline. It’ll sell plenty of copies but in a few years, no one will remember it.

While Booster Gold is rather excited about, as he calls it, “A whole new launch here, from the Hall of Justice,” no one should be excited about this new title launch.

Justice League International is an insipid comic with filled with uninspiring heroes with nothing worthwhile to offer, except assurance that its many forgettable superheroes are certain to remain forgettable. Like a U.N. representative says in the issue, “I remain skeptical.”


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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