Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Meta-Origin of the Detroit League


Let's start talking about the Detroit League. There's been enough time. Healing takes time.

The first issue is:
what the heck were they thinking?

Easy;
they were copying Marvel.

In 1980, DC brought over Marv Wolfman from Marvel, who re-created the Teen Titans, refocusing the group around some new characters he created in the Marvel adolescent-angst parental-conflict mode; voila, instant X-Force.

Sales took off, mostly from stealing Marvel readers, I'll wager. Everyone I know who's a Titans fan had been reading Marvel before, then started reading the Titans, then grew up and read real DC comics. Well, not all of them grew up, but you get the idea.

"Aping Marvel makes $? Well, then!", DC says. It was the 1980s and Greed Was Good. So, following this idea of putting new whine in old battles, DC allowed two of its most traditional properties to be slaved to X-Men / Avengers ripoffs.

The Outsiders ("zzzzzzznnnn....") were the pseudo X-Men with
Batman playing the role of Prof. Xavier (trainer and leader). In 1984, the JLA was recast a la the Avengers, courtesy of Gerry Conway, another Marvel writer whom DC caught on his way to write Matlock. Like a bad head cold.

The Guys Who Had Their Own Series were sent off to go, um, fight something in some temporal something or other. Spearholders Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter (joined by ubergoober tagalong the Elongated Man) formed a new, ahem, League -- Marvel style!

Like a Marvel group, they had to have a headquarters in a down-to-earth, real world city. It don't get no more down to earth than Detroit folks. Like a Marvel group, they needed some immature, whining, insecure losers who just happened to have superpowers.

Fortunately (?), Detroit was full of them. In walks Vixen (conceptual love-child of Storm and Wolverine), Gypsy (conceptural love-child of the Invisible Girl and Mysterio), Steel (conceptual love-child of Captain America and Wolverine), and Vibe (the Sensational Character Find of 1984).

More on them later...

22 comments:

Walaka said...

Oh, Scip, I can't wait.

I can remember thinking along the same lines when these issues came out. Especially...

Detroit?!

Axel M. Gruner said...

I can see the similarities...

But still, these characters have some DC-weirdness to them. Vixen worked very well in Animal Man and JLU (who needs porn if you ahve Vixen in the JLU?).
Wasn't Steel from WWII? There was a character in Roy Thomas All-Stars...
And Gypsy?
That must be the weirdest name ever. Not very PC today. What was the name of her superboyfriend? Kraut? Spaghetti? Irish Lad?
And why Gypsy?
Was she bitten by a radioactive fotune-teller?

I still think when DC copies Marvel it becomes weird...

Tim O'Neil said...

I always thought Gypsy had been bitten by a radioactive Stevie Nicks...

Sarah said...

You know, if speculation turns out to be true and J'onn's not in the Meltzer League, the Detroit League will finally get to be less lame than at least one other League incarnation.

Bully said...

It's funny how very little I know about Vixen, Gypsy and Steel. But Vibe? Is there even a clearer example of a character the fans have resurrected from the wreckage of the end of the JLD storyline and kept alive in their discussions, either positive or negative?

You know how once in a while Thor would explain how the Norse gods exist and still have power because someone on Earth still believe in them?

Same thing with Vibe. We're keeping him alive. Every time we mention him, praise him, or curse his little breakdancing behind, Vibe stirs a little more.

Ladies and gentlemen: we are Vibe.

Scipio said...

"Wasn't Steel from WWII? There was a character in Roy Thomas All-Stars..."

The interior backstory of Steel postulated that he was the grandson of Commander Steel, a WWII era hero. There was no such character until invented for Steel's backstory. Commander Steel was, in essence, Captain America (another extra of Conway using the Detroit JLA to write Marvel stories).

Whether Roy picked up Commander Steel and used him later I do not; but that would be like him.

Scipio said...

"if speculation turns out to be true and J'onn's not in the Meltzer League"

Oh, it's not speculation. Brad will pretty much be recreating the League of his childhood, the Satellite Era League, of which JJ was not a part.

Scipio said...

"Same thing with Vibe. We're keeping him alive. Every time we mention him, praise him, or curse his little breakdancing behind, Vibe stirs a little more."

That is very very true, Bull. Hence the saying,"Vibe is manmade."

The Scarlet Slacker said...

For me personally the Detroit JLA was the worst thing to happen in comics history. Besides, isn't Detoit just the bad neighborhood of Central City...?

I loved the Satellite-era JLA. I only really had 3 problems with them: 1) no J'onn, 2) Green Arrow was an annoyng jerk just so they could have a Marvelesque annoying jerk and 3) having Batman quit towards the end just so Superman's word wouldn't be broken.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Gerry Conway had created the WW2 era Steel (conceptual lovechild of Captain America & the Six Million Dollar Man) just before the DC Implosion, and then went on to create a grandson for that character for JLD. It was after that that Roy Thomas put the elder Steel, promoted to Commander, in the All-Star Squadron.
Has anyone else noted my pet peeve about the JLD--Detroit was pretty consistantly referred to as being on the shore of Lake Michigan! I can only assume that it was just vacationing in Chicago.
Actually, my favorite theory is that Justice League Detroit was placed on the opposite side of Michigan than "real world" Detroit to show that it was actually a Bizarro JLA...

-Mindbender

Hoosier X said...

I love Justice League Detroit!

I loved it then, I love it now. (Well, I love the pre-McDonnell issues anyway.)

Maybe it's because I was a Marvel fan. But by 1984, I was reading fewer and fewer Marvels and had started reading a few DCs, notably Green Lantern and the Legion of Super-heroes. (I never liked the Teen Titans that much. I bought it every once in a while for the art.)

But I could never get into the JLA before the Detroit issues because of the basic flaw: With pre-Crisis Superman on the team, everybody else was superfluous. I did read a few of the JLA/JSA cross-overs because I liked the JSA so much, but otherwise, I didn't read JLA.

But Justice League Detroit was cool! I could do without Steel, but Vibe was great, and Zatanna, Vixen and Gypsy were hot. It was my first exposure to the Dibnys, and that was fun. And of course, I've always liked Aquaman and he was the LEADER. (The book suffered A LOT when he left.)

And the art was great for the first year or so.

At a time when I was reading only a handful of comics, I was into JLA. It's the only time I was a regular reader of the Justice League.

I re-read them all a few weeks ago, and, um, yeah, I'm seeing a few flaws. But I still like these issues, mostly because of Gerry Conway, dragging his late Silver Age writing quirks in to the mid-1980s. Good for him!

You know, I never bought the last few issues, so I don't know what happened to end JLD. I'm sure it was Crisis-related, but I didn't read Crisis and I hated what Crisis did to some of my favorite books (notably All-Star Squadron, which KICKED ASS until stupid Crisis).

I heard most of the new characters died. I would like to see Gypsy and Vibe revived.

Cheers!

By the way, even though I liked JLD, I really can't argue with your criticisms. They are frickin' hysterical!

(Your post on Central City was one of the funniest things you've ever written, by the way. The whole length of the Mississippi, indeed!)

Scipio said...

Hoosier X,

Thanks for being able to laugh at things you love in comics! Not every fan is able to, I'm afraid...

I think you'll enjoy the rest of this ride! What happened to those JLDers will be revealed...

Scipio said...

" I always thought Gypsy had been bitten by a radioactive Stevie Nicks..."

Actually, Gypsy, Jesse Quick, and Catwoman were all exposed to radioactivity while listening to Cher's "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves"...

Anonymous said...

The first Steel's book ("Steel the Indestructible Man"... running simultaneously with Conway's "Firestorm the Nuclear Man") ran 5 issues in 1978 then fell prey to the DC Implosion. Roy Thomas brought him back in All-Star Squadron in '81 or '82 in that book's first year, adding the "Commander" to his name (and also incorporating art from the unpublished #6 as a flashback). This was a couple of years before JLD.

Now, Conway did neglect to take into account the Earth 1- Earth 2 thing when introducing Steel Jr. So Thomas had to have Steel Sr. migrate to Earth 1 in ASS's Crisis crossover issue so he could be Steel's grandfather on Earth 1 40 years later...

--Chris K

Scipio said...

Wow, Chris, thanks for clearing that all up; pretty wacky!

Hoosier X said...

Scipio,

Do you have very many of these JLD issues? I'm particularly hoping you take a look at the letter columns, where the fans weigh in on the new JLA. Like THIS little gem from # 241 (about the new members):

"They are not very good role models. Remember, young kids read these books, and who are your heroes? Drop-outs, drug addicts, street walkers - how else does Gypsy support herself?"

"... send these kids back to school where they can learn a trade."

The same letter writer also claims Steel is a child of incest, based on ... the voices in his own head, I think.

DO NOT NEGLECT THESE LETTER COLUMNS AS A SOURCE OF AMUSEMENT!

As for taking your favorite comic books too seriously ... BAD IDEA! I love everything you write about JLD. Imagine all the fun I would be missing if I got mad that you were making fun of the BEST JLA EVER! HOW DARE YOU MAKE FUN OF STEEL AND GYPSY! THEY WERE TOTALLY NOT MARVEL RIP-OFFS! YOU ARE JUST JEALOUS BECAUSE THEY WERE SO GREAT! FUCK OFF! I WILL NEVER WALK OUT OF THE HOUSE AGAIN BECAUSE I MIGHT RUN INTO SOMEONE WHO DISAGREES WITH ME! EXCUSE ME WHILE I BANG MY HEAD ON THE FLOOR OUT OF FRUSTRATION WITH YOU BEING SUCH A MORON!

(It hurt my head just typing it.)

For the record, my favorite comic book is The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1. You better leave that one alone unless you write something REALLY funny.

Scipio said...

"I WILL NEVER WALK OUT OF THE HOUSE AGAIN BECAUSE I MIGHT RUN INTO SOMEONE WHO DISAGREES WITH ME!"

Okay, that one brought tear of laughter to my eyes. However, your rant was clearly inauthentic, since it was correctly spelled.

"Do you have very many of these JLD issues?"

Thanks to Captain Infinity, I have them all.

methane said...

I reread the run of JL Detroit a few months ago. Yes, I still enjoy them!
I can laugh at them, yes, but I still do enjoy them as straight entertainment. And I was not a Marvel reader!

Axel M. Gruner said...

Sweatdrops gather on my furry brow...
I think I get the point, but what exactly makes the JLD so "marvelish"?

Are they not in fact "meta-marvelish" because each of the four then-new characters incorporates one of the archetypes that Marvel has used for decades?
Could we not see Vixen for example as the Avatar of the "animal-themed" Superhero?
A bit bland, but they all are, especially in name.
Steel -> metal -> hard & tough
Gypsy -> ethnic stereotype -> mysterious
Vibe -> some kind of energy
et voilá, a toughguy, some sorta mystical chick and another guy that shouts some kind of energy.

It's not as elegant as the elemental archetypes behind the FF, but one could very easily construct other minors teams on that formula animal/ mineral/ mental/ energy.

The Scarlet Slacker said...

Hey Scipio, I have a humble request now that I have delurked...

Since the intro question of this JLD entry was "What the heck were they thinking?", I was wondering if you could do an entry on the top 40 (or whatever number suits your fancy) dumbest things done by comic characters. The actions of the Shadowpact at the end of the Day of Vengence one-shot got me thinking about this topic. [SPOILER WARNING] OK, we have here the helmet of Nabu, a powerful relic that is sure to give immence magical abilites to whoever wears it. We can: a) paint it black, attach pointy ears, and give it to The BatMan, b) Have Zantana declare "TEMLEH FO UBAN, KEES TUO A NOIPMAHC OHW SI ERUP FO TRAEH", or c) chuck it into the air and let "fate decide" who will wear it (crossing our fingers that it doesn't crash through the roof of Arkham Asylum to land in the renovated cell formerly occupied by Jean Loring). Yup, they went with c. Not only do they act on this incredibly idiotic idea, but the Detective Chimp actually gets kudos for his wisdom in suggesting it! But I digress...

I would love to see what you come up with on this topic.

Phil said...

I remember scanning some JLD issues in the shop when they came out .. but I was a Marvel Zombie back then so I didn't buy any. You make me want to go and seek out the back issues, tho.

Marvel came out with a villain called Vibro at about the same time as Vibe. Which was first, do you know?

Jeff Albertson said...

Wasn't the real meta-origin that cionway wanted owm characters he could control the fate of? I don't think he had any say in losing Batman to the Outsiders, for instance. Flash was stripped away for the interminable trial, Green Lantern was off in space for a year, Atom was gone . . . . Anything he had planned for those characters was out! Making the whole series characters who didn't have their own series solved the problem. And also probably upped his royalties, since he had now created more than half the characters in the book. . .