In 1986, this is what the Justice League looked like. Four characters I’ll bet many people STILL have never heard of, a guy who isn’t as cool as Plastic Man, B-lister Firestorm, and Martian Manhunter. None of these guys could carry their own book. And there attempts to give many of them solo titles, but over and over they failed. As if in response to the fact that DC’s “legendary” hero team was anything but, John Ostrander, Len Wein, John Byrne and Karl Kesel launched a six-issue miniseries/event designed to reshape the DCU’s organizational structure. Frank Miller had just shattered comic books with his Dark Knight miniseries, and Alan Moore was delivering the second punch with Watchmen.
It was time for a new order.
There was lots of great stuff in here. First of all, Darkseid–the greatest evil doer in DC–played with toys.
And broke them.
This was also a time when comic books–especially at Marvel–were becoming increasingly corporate. In fact, it was precisely that fact that had led to John Byrne signing on with DC. After scraps with Marvel’s editorial board about his plans for the Fantastic Four and the fact that Shooter made Byrne and Chris Claremont change the ending to the Death of Jean Grey (and made them introduce Dazzler, too, as part of a corporate tie-in with a record company), Byrne went across the street to reboot Superman. Wein had also left Marvel under a dark cloud after he felt his editorial suggestions and positions weren’t supported by management–specifically, Stan Lee.
And doesn’t that dude over there on the right who is destroying Superman, the world’s first superhero, kinda look like Stan?
In his wonderful book about the history of Marvel Comics (Marvel Comics: The Untold Story), Sean Howe explained that this battle between a control-freak bad-guy and wise-ass Guy Gardener was intended to reflect Byrne’s hostility towards Jim Shooter’s editorial policies…Right down to referencing the huge, multi-million-dollar boondoggle that was The New Universe….
So why do I say that this was DC’s best event ever? Well, there’s many reasons….
[box]REASON #1: NONE OF THE TIE INS WERE NECESSARY.[/box] All you have to read are six regular-size issues, filled with wonderful art and crisp writing. Second, it was self-deferential….Something DC almost never does.
Here, Green Lantern is felled by a piece of metal that happens to be yellow colored. Stupidest heroic flaw ever, and they’re willing to expose it in a big event.
[box]REASON #2: Suicide Squad![/box]
Legends reintroduced the Golden Age team to modern readers. It marked the first appearance of Amanda Waller, too, who was the first black Nick Fury except that she was a fat black lady.
[box]REASON #3: Batman is a Jerk, and it’s His Fault Jason Todd Got Killed![/box]
Batman gets knocked out by a bottle of perfume, which makes no sense…
Apparently, stingy eyes really bother Bruce. He allows Gordon to lead him off, despite the fact that Robin is being attacked by a mob….
And this leads to Robin being in a full bodycast in the hospital. And rather than say, “Hey! Dude! You abandoned me!” Jason blames himself.
It foreshadows the death of Jason Todd, the creation of the angry Red Hood identity….Usually, events don’t really develop or focus on characterizations. Legends was the exception.
[box]REASON #4: It is true to DC’s Soul[/box]
Despite their successes in the mid/late ’80s with Dark Knight and Watchmen, DC’s core has always been more innocent than Marvel. It’s heroes are the first ones most kids ever discover. Characters like Batman and Superman were the first to have movies and TV shows made about them, and even non-comic-fans easily recognize them.
So rather than kowtow to the darkening of the light and making a serious, violent, hardcore event to follow DC’s first real event (Crisis on Infinite Earths), DC embraced it’s innocent side: And children end up saving the day.
(Although it is creepy to have a dude named “Stranger” extolling the virtues of young children.)
In this sense, it also made good use of the “legends” idea by utilizing many characters created by Jack Kirby, who is probably comicdom’s most renowned artist.
[box]REASON #5: It actually rebooted the DCU for the better[/box]
At the end of Legends, DC launched a new (and very good) Flash comic. They gave Keith Giffen, Kevin McGuire and J. M. DeMatteis the reins to an alternate Justice League that was not only hilarious but was probably the best Justice League book of all time. (Yes, even better than Morrison’s JLA.) It brought Shazam into the modern era, in addition to rebooting Suicide Squad.
And, it left the DCU with a real Justice League, made up of champions and…Legends.