You’re reading The Complete Infinite Crisis, a Comprehensive and Encyclopedic look through the universe-changing superhero event published by DC from 2005 to 2006. Shelfdust are proud to provide a complete overview of the story, and everything that happens in it. The overview was going great until we got a bit confused about some of the things which were going on – so we’ve had to call in some experts to help out.
Steve Lacey, for his sins, was halfway through talking about Countdown to Infinite Crisis when he mentioned something known as “Formerly Known as the Justice League”. Is he… serious about that? If there’s a series called that, then… then we’re just going to go ahead and ask Steve Cederlund all about it!
Who were the heroes Formerly Known as The Justice League – and why weren’t they the Justice League anymore?
Steve Cederlund: For the most part, The Formerly Known as the Justice League cast was the 2003 cast of the Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis/Kevin Maguire Justice League from 1987, minus anyone who was currently in the Justice League or had their own title. That meant none of the big guns of the DC Universe. So the Formerly Known As… cast was Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Fire, Captain Atom, Elongated Man, Sue Dibny and the mastermind behind it all, Maxwell Lord. And since for some reason they couldn’t or didn’t use Captain Marvel (I refuse to call him Shazam,) they included another member of the Marvel Family, Mary Marvel who played the role of “golly, gee-whiz” wide-eyed and innocent ingenue to the team.
You’ve got to give it to Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire; they were trying to capture that old time magic from 1987 without being able to use Batman, Martian Manhunter, Guy Gardner or even Mister Miracle. Or maybe they were trying to capture what everyone remembered about that 1987 incarnation of the team which was the “bwah-ha-ha” jokes and comedy. Formerly Known As The Justice League won the Eisner for best comedy publication in 2004. But here’s the thing— the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire was pretty good superhero comics that managed to be funny. This return to the team in 2003 was superheroes done as a situation comedy. This comic was played for the joke it was.
So what happened between 1987 and 2003 that made these characters not the Justice League anymore? Basically the answer to that question is that the 1990s and Grant Morrison happened. Eventually the Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire team left the Justice League and the comics transformed into something slightly more serious, even at times looking more like an Image Comic. Eventually we got Extreme Justice, a Justice League spinoff featuring Captain Atom, Booster Gold and Blue Beetle that was right at home with Image’s Youngblood, WildCATS, and Cyberforce. Any humor and joy that once existed in these characters was drained away to mirror the trends and success of where comics were in the mid-1990s.
And then in 1997, Grant Morrison relaunched the franchise as JLA, returning the focus of the team to Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and all of the classic characters and wiped out any remnants of the previous era. The comics became big, event driven, anchored by the heavy-hitters of the DC Universe and had no space for most of the 1987 team, certainly not the non-legacy characters. As Morrison and those who followed him focused on huge, large storytelling, there was just no room for the smaller, character driven story that the Giffen/DeMatteis team had perfected with their Justice League tenure.
What happened to the team at the end of the story? I don’t know if I dare ask but… was there a happy ending for them all?
Cederlund: There would be one more “reunion” of the Giffen/DeMatteis era League in the wake of Blackest Night, the event where all of the dead DC characters basically came back as zombies. In the finale of that event, a number of dead characters were resurrected, including Max Lord, who mysteriously slips off into the night. This lead to a 12-issue series, Justice League International, featuring characters from the Giffen/DeMatteis era but played much more serious and straight forward. It had none of the fun or light-heartedness that was a staple of the book it was trying to emulate. That book leads up to Flashpoint and DC’s New 52 that basically just reset everything.
So for a couple of brief moments in time, Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire were allowed to return to the good-old days, using the Justice League to show the lighter side of the DC Universe while everything else was getting darker and more morbid every month. While Giffen would stick around and act as Dan Didio’s in-house layout artist on a couple of weekly series, the creative trio would eventually take their shtick to Marvel to create a Defenders series that stuck with their brand of humor.
Some elements of the Formerly Known As The Justice League team have recently started to show up again in DC recently, particularly in Suicide Squad where Ted Kord is back. Basically it sounds like he’s playing the Max Lord role as the evil corporate CEO. In Tom Taylor we trust, I guess.
Stop right there, Scott. There was an event where every dead DC character came back to life as ZOMBIES? Okay, I’m going to have to get some more information on this before we can go one step further with Blue & Gold! Let’s catch up next week!
Scott Cederlund is a critic who has written for publications including Newsarama and PanelPatter. You can find him on twitter here!