Welcome to Longbox Junk, the blog absolutely PACKED full of comic book reviews nobody asked me to write!
Lately, I've been getting back to the roots of Longbox Junk by focusing on some, well. . .Longbox Junk! These are the comic books that you are practically guaranteed to find while digging through just about any decent bargain bin in just about any comic shop you might find yourself in. These forgotten relics of the 1980's and 90's are the space-filling meat and potatoes of dollar boxes across America.
This time out, I'm taking a look at the first issue of a comic series that was part of an interesting and somewhat infamous experiment by Marvel Comics in the late 80's. Let's talk about that for a moment before we get into the main event, shall we? Yes, we shall!
Boiled down to the sauce, the story behind the New Universe was that Marvel Editorial was trying to come up with something big to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Marvel as we know it. Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter came up with an outrageous idea. . .a complete shutdown of the Marvel Universe and a fresh start at issue #1 of ALL their titles (an idea later used by DC for their New 52 reboot, but THAT'S another story).
Shooter's idea was rejected because Marvel was doing pretty good at the time and why fix what ain't broken (YET. . .the 90's were just around the corner). So he did the next best thing and suggested a whole NEW Marvel Universe. . .8 titles with new heroes and villains coming out at the same time with issue #1 that readers could jump in on at the beginning and not worry about years of past continuity. Even better, THESE stories would be set in a more realistic world, where superheroes were extremely rare. . .a world like the one outside your window.
The new line was heavily promoted, but there were problems almost from the start. The budget was originally quite generous, but it wasn't long before Marvel's parent company (Cadence Industries at the time) decided it would rather spend money elsewhere and the budget was severely slashed to the point that almost none of the New Universe titles could maintain a consistent creative team or shipping schedule.
Within the first year of the New Universe, four of the original titles were cancelled. The rest of the titles were so inconsistent in tone and look due to the constantly-shifting creative teams that the entire project was scrapped in 1989 with a total of 170 published issues across the line. Jim Shooter was replaced as Editor-in-Chief by Tom De Falco halfway through the run of New Universe, and it is pretty much a given that Shooter's resignation was heavily-influenced by problems with New Universe.
Although the New Universe had its fans, and the four remaining titles after the purge of half of the line during the first year sold fairly well, it never really found a solid footing. Today the New Universe is generally regarded as a weird relic of the short space between the end of the Bronze Age of comics and the beginning of the Modern Age of comics. A space where more realistic stories were starting to be told for older readers, but the general comic industry (and readership) wasn't fully on board with them just yet.
Justice is generally regarded as one of the worst New Universe titles. Mainly because it violated the rules of a more realistic world without superpowers right out of the gate with this first issue. Despite this, it survived the first year purge of half of the New Universe titles and went on to the finish with 32 issues. . .one of the longer-running series. The main character also popped up here and there in Marvel comics (most notably in 1993's Spider-Man 2099) even after the end of New Universe, unlike the rest of the characters who were quietly forgotten for the most part.
Personally, when the New Universe was on the stands, Justice was really the only title in the line I liked, which is why I decided to re-visit it for this review. Does it still hold up after 35 years?
BRAVE NEW WORLD
SCRIPT: Archie Goodwin
PENCILS: Geof Isherwood
INKS: Joe Delbeato, Jack Fury, Joe Rubenstein
COVER: Geof Isherwood
Not bad! I like it! The bold colors really make this one pop. The blues and purples of the background really set off the main character and the title, which has a really interesting style. . .even though it makes it look like the comic is called JVSTICE. The signature black New Universe border that makes these comics so easy to spot in the bargain bin frames everything very nicely. Let's get inside!
We begin our tale in Alphabet City, a crime-plagued area of Manhattan. Three young hoods have just mercilessly robbed and killed an innocent woman. We follow them as they make their escape back to their hideout. . .
As they go through their ill-gotten loot, a mysterious and oddly-dressed man suddenly arrives. Despite the taunts of the criminals, he doesn't speak a word, and seems to be studying them with eyes that glow with a strange red light.
When threatened by one of the hoods with a knife, the stranger blasts the three of them with a bolt of power from his hand, finally speaking, declaring "I am Justice".
As the strange man leaves and begins moving through the decaying landscape of urban New York, the scene shifts to Los Angeles, California.
A powerful man named Damon Conquest receives an urgent telephone call informing him that someone (the reader assumes it is the strange man in New York) has survived an ambush meant to kill him, and not only did he live, but somehow he has "crossed over".
Damon is told that outside help is being brought in to find the man and finish the botched assassination attempt.
Returning to New York, we follow the mysterious stranger as he wanders through an East Village park. He is confused by a world that seems to be a harsher shadow of his own, and he struggles to remember his name and purpose. He knows he is a warrior, and that he serves the cause of Justice, but doesn't understand anything else that has happened to him.
As the mysterious warrior interferes in a fight between a drug dealer and a prostitute, he learns about a place called "The Factory", which runs organized crime in the area. The stranger becomes convinced that if there is a place of power nearby, then that's where he should begin trying to find answers.
We once again shift scenes to St. Marks Place in the East Village, outside of a popular nightclub called "The Factory". We join Rebecca Chambers and Hoyt Pittman. . .two undercover Department of Justice agents as they infiltrate the club disguised as a socialite and her chauffer.
The mysterious warrior arrives at the club at about the same time, and is somehow drawn to Chambers. He manages to talk his way in, not realizing that Chambers' partner is following him after noticing his strange interest in her.
Upstairs, we find Chango Villalobos, the boss of the local crime family, interrogating one of his men. We discover that they know about the Department of Justice's investigation and know the identity of Rebecca Chambers thanks to them turning another agent to their side. They plan to set her up.
Meanwhile, down on the floor of the club, the mysterious stranger has found Chambers, dancing with a man who we learn is another agent that has already infiltrated the crime family. . .the same agent that Villalobos believes they have turned to their side. The sight and the music triggers a flashback, where we see the warrior dancing with a woman in another time and place.
We learn that his name is Tensen, and her name is Shamora. As the two lovers dance alone, they are attacked by assassins! He is struck by an unknown power. . .a blinding white light. . .and then he remembers nothing except waking up in this strange dark mirror of a world.
We return to Rebecca Chambers and Jean-Paul, the agent who is helping infiltrate the gang. Unfortunately, they are overheard discussing their plans on a hidden camera and are attacked by Chango and his gang members!
Tensen arrives as a shootout begins. We see that he can form a sort of energy shield with one of his hands as he tries to protect Chambers from gunfire.
Not realizing that Jean-Paul is one of her partners, Tensen destroys him with an energy blast during the fight!
As Chango makes his escape during the confusion of the fight, Chambers gets the drop on Tensen and takes him prisoner, intending to arrest him for the murder of her undercover partner.
As they leave the club, Chambers' other partner arrives on the scene after hearing the gunfire. Tensen takes advantage of the distraction and uses his non-lethal shield power to escape custody.
We follow Chango as he tries to escape the club, only to be murdered by one of his own men, who intends to take his place. As the murderer gloats about his big future plans for the crime family, Tensen arrives and executes the mobster with a blast of energy. Rebecca and Pittman arrive on the scene to witness the killing and once again take Tensen into custody.
At the end, we return to California, where news of the attack on the nightclub has reached Conquest. Now that Tensen's location is known, assassins are dispatched to finish him off.
To be continued. . .
Okay, there it is. . .Justice #1. Let's break it on down!
With any first issue of a comic series, I expect two things. First, does the story introduce new characters and their situations in a reader-friendly manner? Second, does the story make me want to read the next issue? Just TWO things. I don't think that's too much to ask. You'd be surprised how many first issues fail one or both of these simple things.
For the first point, Justice #1 does a good job of introducing Justice Warrior Tensen and his arrival in this strange new world. The late, great comic legend Archie Goodwin keeps a nice aura of mystery around the character, while feeding the reader JUST enough tiny little bits of information that let you know there's more to come.
All we know right now about Tensen is his name, that he's from another place that resembles our own world, someone tried to kill him and he somehow ended up here, and that he has some pretty brutal powers he's not afraid to use on anyone he sees as deserving it. That may seem like a lot, but as the series moves forward, it's just scratching the surface. There's a lot more to learn about Tensen.
The story itself is pretty simple. . .a mysterious warrior from another world arrives in our own and immediately starts leaving a body count behind as he searches for answers while running afoul of the law. It reads almost like a Punisher story with a super powered twist. It works in its simplicity. Goodwin didn't try to get fancy, he just told a straightforward tale of a stranger in a strange land looking for answers.
On to the second point. Does this first issue make me want to read the second? Yes it does. The simple, fast paced tale reads quickly and definitely leaves you wanting to know more about this mysterious warrior who isn't shy about blasting anyone who stands in his way. As the series goes on into a rotating roster of writers and artists (a general downside of the entire New Universe line), things get a little shaky, but this first issue in the hands of comic veteran Goodwin certainly gets the series off to a good start.
On the art side of things. . .
To be honest, the art is a little bland. Not bad, but not great. It tells the story, but doesn't really try any harder than that. Generally-speaking, the art on all the first issues of the New Universe line shared a sort of generic look that probably didn't do the line any favors. Justice is no exception. The art isn't really a high point (Yet. . .there is a short run of later issues with some work by Keith Giffen that really stand out).
All that said, there IS one facet of this issue's art that I REALLY like a lot, and that is Geof Isherwood's portrayal of Tensen's powers. The energy blasts that he uses to dispatch his enemies aren't some little puny beams of light. . .they're huge, brutal explosions that completely engulf their target, knocking them off their feet and literally disintegrating them into piles of dust!
Take a look at the scans above to see what I mean. The way that Tensen's powers are illustrated make them look, well. . .powerful! They definitely don't look like something any average human could possibly survive.
Thanks to the writing of legendary comic veteran Archie Goodwin, Justice #1 is a pretty darn good read. It's a simple, fast-paced story about a stranger with brutal powers somehow arriving in our world and searching for answers. Goodwin leaves an aura of mystery around the main character, making me want to read the next issue and learn more.
The art isn't anything special, with the exception of the portrayal of the main character's powers, but it isn't bad. It tells the story, but doesn't reach any higher beyond that.
Overall, Justice #1 is a great first issue. It's not the best comic I've ever read, but it's nowhere near the worst. It's a simple and solid opening for a comic series that I'll recommend to anyone looking for a brutal Punisher-style story with a super power twist.
Justice was never collected in trade form, but from my experience, you can find almost every issue in the bargain bin. The later issues are a little harder to find, but they're out there.
The series takes a LOT of twists and turns as the New Universe in general struggled to survive (The main character goes through two complete overhauls in the course of 32 issues), but all in all, it's worth checking out.
Up Next. . .
How about I surprise myself by reaching into a random box of my collection and reviewing whatever I pull out? Is it gonna be a retro review? Is it gonna be a mini-series? A mainstream superhero comic? Some strange relic?
Let's find out!
Be there or be square.