DC Retroactive: JLA – The ’90s #1
Writers: Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis
Artist: Kevin Maguire
Colors: Rosemary Cheetham
Letters: Carlos M. Mangual
Editor: Jim Chadwick
Writers: Giffen & DeMatteis
Inks: Terry Austin
Colors: Gene D’Angelo
Letters: Bob Lappan
Editor: Kevin Dooley
Cover artist: Maguire
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99 US
When DC Comics first announced its plans for these DC Retroactive one-shots, I was pleased to see the published was acknowledging the skills and contributions of some of its past creators by spotlighting them once again. Of course, since then we’ve learned that these one-shots were intended in part to fill out DC’s schedule as it ramped up to its September “New 52” relaunch. Still, these nods to its past were a welcome development, and I planned on picking up several of them. After my first experience with the line — DC Retroactive: Wonder Woman – The ’70s #1 — my enthusiasm quickly waned. I didn’t pick up as many of the one-shots as I planned, but those I did read were more than a little disappointing. Still, as a huge fan of the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire era of the Justice League, I couldn’t resist delving back to the Retroactive line one more time. The new material was amusing but didn’t quite live up to the hilarity I loved two decades ago. And like the other Retroactive comics I sampled, the choice of the reprinted backup story is baffling.
After one of its number unknowingly wins a piece of Apokalips technology in a super-villain poker game, the hapless Injustice League sets out to set behind their loser ways by embracing heroism rather than larceny. Unfortunately, Big Sir is transformed into a giant, rampaging Patient Zero, capable of decimating the human race with a deadly alien pathogen. It’s up to the members of Justice League International to save the day, but they’ll also have to contend with anger-management issues, ineptitude and a sickly, ill-tempered cat as well.
Incorporating the goofiest incarnation of the Injustice League into this revisitation of the humor-era of DC’s premier super-hero team was a great choice on the writers’ part, and I like that they take us back to the super-villain bar that served as the catalyst for one or two other stories from Giffen/DeMatteis League era. We really don’t see the villains do much in this issue, but the interplay among them was probably the highlight of this story. We actually get a little more nuance in the Injustice League characters than the heroes. It’s more about the broad strokes for the protagonists. Guy Gardner’s little more than a brute. Mr. Miracle is defined by his irritation. Blue Beetle’s a coward. Their misadventures here are fun but not as memorable as some of the moments from the late 1980s and early ’90s that made me want to pick this comic book up in the first place.
Maguire’s self-inked artwork on the new story is incredibly clean and sharp. It’s interesting to compare it to the work in the reprint section, which was inked by Terry Austin. Of course, the 1992 artwork was printed through a much different process than it would be today. I wonder if the crisper quality of the new stuff might be attributable to the fact the older art might have been recovered from old plates or separations. The expressiveness of Maguire’s artwork has always been his greatest strength, and that holds true today.
One of the things that’s irked me about the reprint material in these one-shots is the omission of the original cover art for the reprinted issue in question. Furthermore, in this particular case, the reprinted issue in question is mislabelled in the indicia. It says the old-school material is from Justice League of America #6, but it’s actually the contents of Justice League America (no “of”) #60. Furthermore, it’s the epilogue from a 15-part cross-title story entitled “Breakdowns,” and it’s a complete bummer, radically different in tone from the new material. Furthermore, the spotlight is on Max Lord, who’s almost unrecognizable from the character he is today. Why wouldn’t the editors choose a self-contained issue from this classic run?
It’s a shame DC Retroactive as a line wasn’t stronger. I’d love to see more new material from the creators who helped to build the DC brand and mythology over the decades, but the quality of the material has to be better than what I’ve sampled some of these one-shots. Of the DC Retro comics I’ve read, this one was the strongest, but that’s not really saying much. Don’t get me wrong… I enjoyed the new story here, but it was more of a middling, fleeting diversion at best, and the poor selection for the reprint detracted from my enjoyment of this comic-book. 5/10
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