Bizarro Back Issues: The Justice League Against The Deadly Peril Of Board Games (1992)
Whenever people talk about the major eras of the Justice League, they tend to skip from the sitcom-inspired International era of Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire straight to the big action widescreen reboot of Grant Morrison and Howard Porter's JLA, and with good reason. Those were two hugely important and influential runs that helped to define what DC was for an era, and they're certainly worth talking about. The thing is, there was another era in there, too, and while it doesn't get talked about too much, it's every bit as tied into exactly what was driving the DCU: That stretch from 1992 to 1993, when Dan Jurgens rebuilt the Justice League around Superman.
To be fair, though, it's easy to see why it might not get the press that the other major runs receive. It's in this weird little middle ground between those two extremes, caught between snarky quips and world-shattering stories, never quite getting as memorable as either. Also, there's the thing where the new Justice League is almost murdered by a board game in their first adventure.
Okay, to be fair, the story that Dan Jurgens, Rick Burchett and Jackson Guice are telling in Justice League America #61 and 62 is actually an homage to the first issue of the Silver Age Justice League of America series, in which that version of the League is also almost murdered by a board game --- and if we're to believe what the bad guy says in this issue, it's actually the same one. But still, it's not exactly an auspicious start.
So here's how it all goes down: After Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire leave at the end of the "Break Downs" storyline, the Justice League is disbanded. This, in typical comic book fashion, is a fate that lasts about two weeks, right up until a bunch of diplomats are attacked by the Royal Flush Gang at a theme park and the world realizes that it still needs heroes. With that in mind, the band gets back together, and for the first time ever (in post-Crisis continuity, anyway), Superman's on the team.
Not that anyone bothers to tell Guy Gardner that.
Unfortunately for the newly formed League, they've already got a target on their back. It turns out that the fight with the Royal Flush Gang was not only orchestrated by Maxwell Lord in an attempt to get the team to reform, but it was also orchestrated a second time by a new villain: Weapons Master, an intergalactic arms dealer with the ability to teleport any piece of equipment that he needs from a seemingly infinite extra-dimensional armory.
It's a pretty great idea, albeit not an entirely original one --- the teleporting-weapons gimmick was done five years earlier by Superman's amazingly named enemy Bloodsport, although he did it on a much smaller scale.
The arms-dealer angle is new, though, and while Weapons Master is nominally working for the Dominators, an alien race best known for trying to conquer Earth in 1988's INVASION!, he's actually just trying to get his hands on what's generally considered to be the best weapon in the DC Universe: the Green Lantern ring, specifically the one currently belonging to Guy Gardner. And since he can just warp in a bright yellow suit of armor and a bunch of laser guns, he has a pretty good shot at getting it.
Or he did, until Superman showed up and just started beating the living crap out of him while he quipped about how he's a very expensive arms dealer.
And honestly, you have to respect that level of hustle. Dude's going full Destro.
To his credit, Weapons Master has a plan for that, too, and once he's had enough of being thrashed by Superman, he starts teleporting the League to a pocket dimension so that they can gather around a table for a good old-fashioned game of Murder Chess.
First, though, he has to deal with the first appearance of this League's new character: Bloodwynd!
Not to spoil it for anyone, but as rad as it is to see this dude show up and start talking about powering himself with the souls of the damned, that's only half of the story. Right around the time that The Death of Superman hits shelves, Bloodwynd's suspiciously familiar power set and aversion to fire are going to reveal that he's actually the Martian Manhunter --- and then after that, it's going to be even more revealed that he's super-actually a guy named Bloodwynd who has been possessing the Martian Manhunter through the power of a mystical object called, you guessed it, the Bloodgem.
But that weird little bit of complexity is in the far-off future of 1993. For now, what matters is that the Weapons Master has organized a game of chance, and he's selected Blue Beetle as his opponent. The basic idea is that there's a chessboard, and half of the squares are "safe" (meaning that if Beetle puts the pieces on them, the corresponding teammates will be sent back to the League's headquarters), while another half will lead them straight to Certain Death.
Go ahead and guess how the first one goes.
I'm not sure if it was meant to be, but Weapons Master's blunt "Too late. She's dead." is one of the funniest last lines in a comic that I've seen in quite a while, mainly because she's anything but. As you may have already guessed, Ice does not die in a single panel at the end of an issue, but is rescued when Beetle comes up with the pretty clever strategy of just putting Superman's figure on the same space as Ice's so that he'll be teleported there to rescue her from a planet of lava.
Eventually, Beetle's able to come up with an even better strategy that returns Guy Gardner's ring to its owner's finger, sending the Weapons Master back to his yacht, where Bloodwynd is waiting to dump him in the ocean and finish up the story. All in all, it's not a bad debut.
Of course, it's also not as memorable as that time when this version of the JLA tried to fight Doomsday and ended up getting Booster Gold's head slammed in a car door, but, y'know, you do what you can.