The current Justice League film is a hodgepodge of different creative impulses and corporate demands, but fans who want a cohesive vision of the team need to check out the Justice League run from the late ’80s. Justice League International Omnibus Volume 1 (DC) is a monster of a hardcover at more than 1,100 pages, reprinting Justice League #1-6, Justice League International #7-25, Justice League America #26-30, Justice League International Annual #1-3, Justice League Europe #1-6, and Suicide Squad #13. With the exception of the Suicide Squad chapter, all of the issues have plots and art breakdowns by Keith Giffen with scripts by J.M. DeMatteis, who craft an expansive Justice League narrative with a global point-of-view and a large cast of clearly defined characters.
Major political issues of the time period make their way into the narrative given the international focus, but the creative team’s sense of humor keeps the tone light and fun. Kevin Maguire is the main artist for Justice League and Justice League International, and he sets the visual template for the series, which prioritizes character acting above superhero spectacle. (Ty Templeton and Bill Willingham pitch in for fill-ins before taking more prominent roles later in the run, and Bart Sears is the artist for Justice League Europe.) Maguire’s range of facial expressions puts most other superhero artists to shame, and he imbues his characters with a real sense of weight in their bodies, which makes their physicality all the more expressive. The combination of DeMatteis dialogue and Maguire artwork makes these characters especially grounded and personable, and this Justice League run has one of the strongest superhero team dynamics put on the page. That dynamic is constantly changing as members leave and new heroes join, but there’s always a lot of heart behind these character interactions.
Crossovers cause some problems here, and the Justice League International issues tying into the Millennium event throw readers in the middle of an ongoing story that is a severe departure from what’s been happening in the book thus far. The Oberon-centric tie-in to Invasion! works much better, with the creative team taking this opportunity to spotlight one of the book’s supporting characters with a standalone Oberon tale. There are also some questionable elements of the design for this hardcover, like the occasional blank filler pages thrown in so that the covers always fall on the right page instead of the left. The credits for each issue are paired with a Maguire headshot of a different team member, but these are smaller images expanded to fit an entire page, resulting in unsightly pixelation.
In terms of extras, this omnibus features an introduction by DeMatteis and afterword by Giffen, an assortment of guidebook pages, and a gallery with the covers of past collections and some unused illustrations for the original series. It’s not a lot of backmatter, but given how unwieldy the book already is, it’s probably a good idea that DC didn’t pack even more material in here. There’s a lot of Justice League goodness crammed in this hardcover, and readers who want to read an ambitious superhero story that doesn’t skimp on character will find a lot to appreciate in these pages.