Saturday, May 19, 2012

Grudge Match--Cap's Kooky Quartet Vs. Justice League Detroit

Serious question about a trivial topic today:

Why is "Cap's Kooky Quartet" so much better respected, so much more fondly remembered, than "Justice League Detroit"?

That question came into my mind the other day when someone was bashing the Detroit era of Justice League. Because, if you think about it, the JLD situation wasn't that different than Cap's Kooky Quartet (henceforth CKQ).

In Avengers #16, Iron Man, Thor, Giant-Man and the Wasp left the team, and Captain America was left to run "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" with B-characters and former villains: Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. In Justice League Annual #2, Aquaman dissolved the Justice League, moved their headquarters to Detroit, and brought in a bunch of new characters: Vibe, Steel, Gypsy, Vixen.

It's easy to pick on both teams--heck, Dwayne McDuffie regular dissed on the weakness of JLD during his Justice League run, and because he wasn't allowed to use DC's big guns, he publicly complained the he was stuck with "Cap's Kooky Quartet...without Cap."

I think that the weakness of both teams are greatly exaggerated. Sure, CKQ wasn't the most overpowering line-up ever. But functionally they were the Marvel equivalent of Batman, Green Arrow, Flash and Zatanna. I think most people would be happy with that line-up, at least for awhile.

As to JLD, people like to focus on "the kids," but they almost always overlook that Aquaman, J'onn J'onzz, Zatanna, and Elongated Man were part of the team, too. So it was never "just" the kids.

Still, if you talk to the average fan, CKQ is going to be held in much higher esteem than JLD. Why? Here's some reasons, methinks:

**Nostalgia: Cap's Quirky Quartet took place in the Silver Age, before most modern fans were reading comics. A hazy mist of "the good old days" has settled over those Avengers days. JLD, however, took place in "modern" times (at least for us old farts--the 30th anniversary of JLD is in a couple of years!). Experiencing JLD "live," as it were, in a more cynical era, it didn't have that nostalgic magic. Plus, a growing comics press and fan presence ensured that every negative thought on the JLD was more widely circulated than would have been the case in the 60s.

**Leadership: Captain America. while not the most powerful hero ever, was one of Marvel's Big Three (at least in retrospect). Aquaman? Not so much. I'm not engaging in gratuitous Aquaman bashing, but we all know how he was regarded by most fans (pre-Geoff Johns, of course).

Plus, the circumstances made Cap more sympathetic. The other Avengers chose to leave, whereas Aquaman haughtily "fired" the rest of the Justice Leaguers. And, to make matters worse, after he had dismissed the "classic" Leaguers for not being willing to commit themselves 100% to the League, he got swept up with personal problems and quit the new League himself.

**Writing: Stan vs. Gerry Conway. 'Nuff said.

**Themes: By using former villains, Stan got to make the quest for redemption a regular part of the stories. By including mutants he brought in themes of discrimination and fitting in. By bringing in previously existing characters to be the "new" Avengers, CQK helped build the spine of the growing Marvel Universe, making everything more connected.

JLD, fairly or not, was not perceived as having any such thematic depth. Many saw the move to "the kids" as pandering, as an attempt to hook onto the coattails of the success of the New Teen Titans. The fact that one of the kids just happened to be a break dancer added to the view of a cynical attempt to cash in on pop culture. (And I'm sure I'm overreaching here, but a character named Gypsy who dressed like Stevie Nicks on a bad day debuting soon after Fleetwood Mac's single Gypsy...OK, I'm just being stupid there...).

I must be fair here, and note that the "newness" of the "kids" has always been exaggerated. Vixen had nearly debuted in her own comic in 1978, before the DC Implosion caused it never to be published, and had debuted in 1981 in a Superman story. Steel was really a spin-off, as Gerry Conway had written a WWII-based Steel series in 1978, which was another victim of the 1978 Implosion. Conway made this "new" Steel the original's grandson. Only Gypsy and Vibe were truly new, and as noted above, there were plenty of veteran Leaguers around during the JLD era.

And thematics aside, Conway and DC should be lauded for putting together one of the most diverse teams ever up to that point...even if that means having to put up with Vibe.

**Length: This will surprise many, but CKQ lasted barely a year. The Pym's rejoined the team in #28, making it a sextet. Hercules came along not much later. Whatever pain and weakness the Kooky Quartet inflicted upon the public, it wasn't long lasting.

JLD, however, lasted for 2 1/2 years. If CQK were a recession, JLD was the Great Depression.

Well, that was an awful lot of words just to confirm--Cap's Kooky Quartet kicked Justice League Detroit's ass.


notintheface said...

McDuffie's "big-gunless" JLA group wasn't exactly weak, either.

Anonymous said...

Funny you bring this is up as I am in the midst of an Avengers reread from the beginning.

1) I think the positive response to CKQ exists because it happened near the beginning of the run when there was a greater sense of anything could happen, but it's also when the book really developed a personality

2) I wonder if the JLD would have been better received if Batman and the Outsiders hadn't been created almost a year earlier. If you are going to invest in a team with lesser known and new heroes, might as well go with the team starring Batman.


Martin Gray said...

Thanks for pointing out that JLD was more than Vibe, Gypsy, Steel and Vixen.

But even if it had been, it'd still have been AWESOME!

And of course, there was also lovely Sue Dibny and studmuffin Dale Gunn.

Earl Allison said...

I think Garaujo1 has a good point. The Detroit League was headed up by Aquaman, whereas the Cooky Quartet had Captain America. Heck, even McDuffie points that out :)

And poor Zatanna with her lobster-hat, that only Perez could make work, didn't help.

No, you're almost certainly right that timing played a lot into it, too.

Take it and run,