Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Justice League Detroit
In the early 80's, like much of DC's line, Justice League of America's sales stunk. Marvel had slowly but surely overtaken DC as the comic book sales leader in the 70's, and DC was feeling the heat. This sales crunch would lead to the "Marvelization" of DC in 1986, but what good would that be to Gerry Conway in 1984?
Conway was a popular Spider-Man writer in the 1970's, who made the move to DC late in that decade. After a number of failed series, and the modest success of Firestorm, Gerry took on JLofA. At that time, royalties were just beginning to be given to comic creators, but up to that point JLofA was the last book anyone would want to work on. While a popular title, writers and artists were not compensated for the extra work involved in producing a series about a 1/2 dozen + heroes with diverse looks and powers, often fighting villains of equal numbers. The series was creatively stagnant, buoyed by name brand characters and the Super Friends cartoon show.
For several years, Conway plugged away at fun JLofA stories that didn't attract much attention in the rollicking 80's, and sales continued to falter. Eventually, something had to be done. I doubt anyone at DC would admit to this, but it looks like they attempted to give JLofA the same X-Men flavor that turned The New Teen Titans into DC's gangbuster sales juggernaut of the early 80's. Instead of an international cast, JLofA would be the first major multicultural super-team. The group would consist of an Hispanic, a woman of African descent, a runaway teen of vaguely ethnic origins, an alien, a disenfranchised youth, and a few mainstays. Instead of a satellite in orbit over earth, the JLofA would now work out of a warehouse in Detroit. Sporadic Denny O'Neil style "relevant" stories would be told. None of the team members would have series outside of JLofA, giving Conway creative control that outstripped even Claremont's. There would be more personal interaction, and character's lives would actually be at stake. Kind of like the X-Men.
It looked good on paper, anyway.
Back to that alien. Conway, and penciller Chuck Patton, had created their "streetwise" team. Too bad most were terrifically underpowered to face anything remotely resembling a significant threat. Super-strength, invisibility, elasticity, animal mimicry, under-water breathing, and vibratory powers are not especially impressive. While Conway still had the magical Zatanna, the team needed a powerhouse to carry them. Guess who Conway picked?
Despised within comic circles, Justice League Detroit (not an official title at the time, but it stuck in fan circles) was still featured in some pretty good stories. Sells held up for a while, but it just wasn't the JLofA. Editor Alan Gold expected trouble from the change, and allowed himself a full page editorial in the annual to discuss his rational behind accepting writer Gerry Conway's proposal. Conway had wanted to reuse his short-lived Steel and Vixen characters from the 70's, while artist Chuck Patton had been looking for a place to put his ideas for Vibe and the Stevie Nicks/Cyndi Lauper/Madonna inspired Gypsy.
(Art by Tom Grummet and Bob Petrecca from JLA-Z #2, Dec. '03)