DC Retroactive: JLA - the ‘80s #1

by Doug Zawisza, Reviewer |

Fri, August 12th, 2011 at 6:55PM (PDT)


As a child of the 1970s, I grew up learning to love comic books during the 1980s. “Marvel Team-Up,” “Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew,” and “Justice League of America” were favorites. I really started getting into comics -- making the weekly trek to the local comic shop and buying the new books on Wednesday instead of waiting for them to come out at the local convenience store -- around the time of “Crisis on Infinite Earths.”

Anyone who knows their DC chronology knows that that would put me hip deep in the Motor City incarnation of the “Justice League of America.” I’d sampled the book before, mostly based on the fact that I knew the heroes from Saturday morning episodes of “Super Friends,” but most of those heroes, save Aquaman, were nowhere to be found in the Justice League comic of 1985. That was OK with me. I lived in Toledo, Ohio, so the thought that the Justice League was headquartered an hour away was mind-numbingly cool. They weren’t untouchable or mythical. These were characters who very well could have stopped by Tony Packo’s on their way to stop Amazo somewhere in rural Ohio.

That, to me, was great. I became a fan of the Justice League Detroit. There wasn’t a single character on the roster I didn’t like. I even liked Vibe. With that one, I can cite my smalltown ignorance of the stereotype, but still, the character had potential, as did the concept of a Justice League without “big guns.”

In this “DC Retroactive,” Gerry Conway (writer of the JLD years) comes back and gives us a story of the League and the city they inspired. Conway also makes the story somewhat emotional as the city, and one little metro-Detroiter in turn, inspire the League. It’s a wonderful nod from one creator to his fans, but Conway even packs in a wink and a hair-mussing to one of his fellow creators in this story. I liked what I read here so much that I shared it with my wife who said, “That’s just cool.” I agree, honey. I completely agree.

Those of you who read my reviews here on CBR know that I’ve busted Ron Randall’s chops more than a few times. Sometimes the chop-busting was directly on his shoulders, other times, he just happened to be in the wrong place and the wrong time. Here, I need to apologize and declare the following: Ron Randall is the perfect artist for this issue. No artist today could have come this close to matching the spirit and character that Chuck Patton brought to the Detroit League over two decades ago. Randall’s take on the Detroit League is so human and so vibrant that this story gains a level of believability beyond normal comic boundaries. His characters are strong, but human and powerfully consistent.

The “DC Retroactive” line, when announced, struck me as just the type of thing that DC has been striving for lately: a return to the company’s brighter days. DC, especially under DiDio, has favored legacy and nostalgia, but the fact that they reached out to creators affiliated directly with those brighter legacy days speaks volumes to the fans who have the opportunity to enjoy one more story from those eras, by those creators, before everything changes.

I’m a big fan of Justice League Detroit. Sure, there’s just no comparison to any version of the League with the “big guns,” but for me, this is the type of nostalgia long boxes were made to store. The best part is that I don’t have to go digging through the boxes to find it. It’s right there, waiting for you on the new comics rack this week. To make it even sweeter, DC has even gone retro (or so it seems) with the paper stock for this issue. Need more? OK: DC gives you a freshly colored reprint of “Justice League of America” #239, written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Chuck Patton.

That story, featuring Superman, Wonder Woman, and Flash interacting with the Detroiters is a perfect sample of the Justice League under Aquaman’s chairmanship: Steel’s hotheadedness shines through, Vixen’s background becomes clearer, and the League learns more about their new neighborhood. That story is a magnificent choice to back up the newer leading tale, and this issue serves as a fitting tribute to the JLA of yesterday.

I know the odds of more Justice League Detroit stories are growing slimmer by the second, but this one really does a good job of showing the best of the potential that team had. Now that I’m feeling all nostalgic, I’m going to spend a little time this weekend thumbing through my old longboxes.