You know how sometimes a successful movie will make a direct-to-video sequel, with none of the original cast and obvious knockoffs of all of your favorite characters?
Well, the Justice League of Europe is kind of exactly like that, and unfortunately, that’s who most of this comic is about.
When I realized this JLI trade was going to be about a different faction of the team, I was intrigued. After all, I liked the stories featuring the members from the US team, so I figured I’d like this group just as much. After all, it’s the same basic trope, with the same writer and artist. It almost seems like it’d be impossible not to like them.
I may be prejudiced because I like the other JLI members so much, and those featured here feel like carbon copies in many ways. I like the idea of branching out, showing different JLI groups, allowing for new members to join the team and have their moments in the spotlight. It’s a great way to make a larger group of characters more mainstream.
Unfortunately, because the original JLI was so well-written, it seems Giffen and DeMatteis decided to use the exact same story format for this new group of heroes. It’s a schtick that works exceedingly well for the JLI, but reading this comic, I felt like I might as well be reading about the other characters.
Each character from the original base has an almost identical matchup in the European offices. Sometimes the similarities were glaringly obvious:
The Elongated Man and Animal Man are clearly the embodiment of Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, with Captain Atom filling the role of long-suffering leader J’onn J’onzz.
I get it. The formula worked before, why wouldn’t it work again? Possibly because all of the characters here are just so whiny. They don’t have many redeemable characteristics, and they never really work together as a team. They fight the good fight when they need to, but they sort of just fall into a solution, without banding together the way the Justice League members in the U.S. do.
On top of that, the supporting characters here are far more bland than before. The comparison that angers me most of all is the role of the “wife” character. In the original group we have Barda, a truly badass superhero in her own right who, even when she’s not tearing down walls and cracking bad guys’ skulls together, is still completely tough. She carries her character through each issue, be it in battle garb or shorts and a tee-shirt. She’s Mr. Miracle’s wife, but she’s so much more than that.
Justice League Europe’s answer to Barda? Sue Dibny, a flat, sometimes shrewish woman who spends most of the comic fawning over Captain Atom.
She doesn’t have superpowers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Did the writers have to make her so dull and one-dimensional though? I found her scenes tiring, adding neither comedy nor substance to the story. It’s as though they couldn’t figure out what to do with a wife character who wasn’t “super”, so they just made her boring.
While the stories collected in this volume weren’t bad per se, I found myself constantly wishing that they involved the original JLI cast instead. Luckily, the Justice League Europe comics are book-ended by stories featuring the original team. These were, by far, my favorite stories in this collection.
There was even a light at the end of the tunnel as, after a rather lackluster series of stories, the trade closes with a rather poignant story about J’onn J’onzz. As he searches for his formal partner’s killer, we are given a glimpse into his mind, his emotions revealed in a never-before-seen way. J’onn is not the solid, stoic tough guy everyone believes him to be. Instead, he is a compassionate, emotional being, feeling trapped behind the false persona of gruff leader. As the story closes, we witness J’onn adopting his true appearance and paying tribute to his slain friend:
This deeper side of J’onn hadn’t been revealed before, and it’s an inclusion I found rather beautiful. His friends (and his readers) know so little about him, and it just goes to show how secretive some of these characters’ histories still are, even to us. I’m hoping this is a storyline that gets followed up on in future issues.
While this collection was not my favorite Justice League International trade, I can’t entirely fault it. The stories were flawed but still enjoyable. While the characters and their group dynamic were quite similar to ones we’ve already seen, at least they were mimicking a great comic. Plus it helps that they’re all by the same writers and artists. I can’t really fault the guys for ripping themselves off. They know how to write the JLI really well. I’m just hoping they go back to our original heroes and focus a little less on this ragtag group.
Besides, I can’t entirely fault their style. After all, they did provide us with this little gem:
As long as scenes as absurdly funny as this keep happening, I’ll keep reading.