Since the alphabet is the building block of our language, the Powet Alphabet is the building block of what makes us geeks.

The year is 1987. J.M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen had just been given the reigns of DC Comics ultimate team of heroes, The Justice Leage. They’re paired with a hot new artist, Kevin Maguire, and set out to bring Justice League to a scope its never reached before, joining the UN and becoming an truly global force. But epic tales of the world’s finest aren’t why this book is so well known and loved, its revered for being funny.

Superman was off limits, he was being revamped by John Byrne. Wonder Woman was out, she was being revamped by George Perez. Hell, even Aquaman was out. Giffen and DeMatteis suspect they were given use of Batman out of pity, even if Gotham’s caped crusader didn’t fit in the direction of the book. The Justice Leage went from a “Who’s Who” to a “Who Cares?” with such b-listers as Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, and Rocket Red. Even the Green Lantern on the team was Guy Gardner, and later G’nort, who may be the least effective character ever introduce to the League.

But without being mired into forced respect for characters, Giffen and DeMatteis began to follow the highly expressive Kevin Maguire’s pencils and write a funny book. Martian Manhunter becomes obsessed with Oreo cookies. Black Canary becomes a militant feminist. Captain Marvel is a super powered boy scout who just wants to sing songs and go camping with his fellow leaguers.

INT_JLI_punchThe initial story arc, collected in the first paperback volume, has one of the most infamous pages in the history of comics. Guy Gardener, who has challenged Batman repeatedly for leadership, takes off his ring and forces the dark knight to a fist fight. This does not go in Guy’s favor. In any other book, this might’ve been a sobering moment, but Blue Beetle’s “One Punch!” line is the perfect example of the characters not taking themselves too seriously. Its not quite Adam West camp, but its enjoyable.

While this line-up’s effect on the DC universe going forward wasn’t the greatest (what with the frequent continuity shake-ups and such), fans always wanted more. In 2004 they got their wish as the creators returned with “Formerly Known As The Justice League” and then in 2005 with “I Can’t Believe Its Not The Justice League,” which were written from the start as comedy series and introduced Mary Marvel and others to the circle.

Of course then DC raped and murdered Elongated Man’s wife Sue Dibney, had Maxwell Lord kill Blue Beetle, and push other favorites from these series back into the world of the grim. Thankfully, the current Power Girl series seems to be at least be a spiritual successor to these series, if not a sequel.

Most older comics can be tough reads since the writing and art can look dated, but JLI seems just as fresh as if it were printed today. You’ll have to overlook the 80s pop culture references, though. Note that volumes 3 and 4 are only available in hardcover, but will be in softcover in December and March, respectively. I’ve also taken the liberty of including a link to a set of Maguire inspired action figures, as well as the trio’s run on Marvel’s Defenders.