By Deidre Freitas
In the mid ’90s, there were three different Justice League teams, all run by separate leaders. They had all disagreed on the best way to lead The League, so they split up. Why and how was this possible? Sticking with tried and true comic book logic, I can only say that it’s just how it was.
Extreme Justice was one of these teams (even though the team never referred to themselves as extreme justice on the page), with a 19-issue run that started in November ’94 and wrapped up in May of ’96. This team was led by Captain Atom, who disagreed with how Wonder Woman wanted to work with the United Nations, claiming that the UN was too slow to let the heroes help people in need, so he and his team set out to do things differently.
Captain Atom in this era of comics was an act first, think later kind of guy. After his solo run and a stint leading Justice League Europe, he had no love for the government that had betrayed and tricked him into becoming a hero. Instead, he became a hero on his own terms. With the team of Blue Beetle II, Booster Gold, Maxima, The Amazing Man (Will Everett III), Firestorm (Ronnie Raymond), and eventually the Wonder Twins, Atom and his crew would go on to save the planet from several world-shattering events, over the course of the 19 total Extreme Justice issues.
This series seems to get overlooked, with the most common complaint I could find amongst fans being that it has an inconsistent art style (although Ken Branch inking and Lee Loughridge coloring the full run provide some consistency). It’s true that six different artists pencil this run, but really, I’m more impressed with how the series had multiple writers (four, to be exact), and still seemed to keep hold of its main storylines throughout its run.
It’s certainly not perfect, not even close, and personally, my biggest issue was that Maxima (the only woman on the team until Jayna joins about halfway through) was only ever used as a love-interest. Her first major conflict with the team came when she seemed to fabricate a flirtation between herself and Captain Atom and was upset when he decided to rekindle things with his then ex-girlfriend Plastique, aka Bette Sans Souci.
Looking past that bad romantic subplot, it did make me laugh when the second issue ended with Captain Atom blowing up (like he always does) and an editor’s note saying sorry about killing one of your favs, but we’ll probably do it again. We should bring back these sassy-but-happy editor’s notes. Especially when it’s in reference to a character like Atom, who’s blown up more times than I can count, and always comes back.
Anyway, much of Extreme Justice focuses on Captain Atom trying to come to terms with how he acted under the government’s thumb, and trying to reconcile that with who he is now that he’s free. And naturally, when we have a main character in an identity crisis (sorry!), we have to throw another wrench in their inevitable self-actualization. In this case, the main villain of the story, the newest version of Monarch, reveals himself to be the “real” Nathaniel Adams, explaining that the Captain Atom everyone has come to know since his accident in the ’60s is just a clone of the original man.
Maxima, whose powers included telepathy, helped Atom look deeper into Monarch’s mind to see Nate’s own memories about his wife and children. This leads Atom to believe Monarch really is telling the truth, and he’s nothing but a metallic copy of the original man. Maxima doesn’t seem to be entirely convinced, but they are both booted from Monarch’s mind before she can draw her own conclusions.
Regardless, Captain Atom tells everyone to call him by the name Cameron Scott only, and breaks off his rushed engagement to Plastique, claiming he needs to figure out who he is outside of the life he thought was his own.
One thing about this series is that it seems to be discarded as a byproduct of the ’90s, and its certainly of its time, from its Extreme label to the outfits, hairstyles and even mannerisms of the characters. But beneath the lingo and fashion choices, there are some genuinely good storylines in this book.
Booster Gold, who had nearly died at the end of Justice League America, is kept alive by a suit that Blue Beetle made him. He lost an arm, and his vitals are only stable because of the alien technology surrounding his body. For all intents and purposes, Booster is disabled for much of this run. Several times in the series he questions his own usefulness, wondering if all of this is worth it. Booster even goes after his former manager, spiraling into a dark depression and anger because the man embezzled all of his money.
It’s interesting to see Booster so down-trodden, especially when he seems to be more popular than ever with the public at this time. And with modern writing of him emphasizing how much he craves the attention and glory of people seeing him as a real hero, it just adds an extra layer of interesting tragedy. He is at his core still the man who wanted to go back in time and become an immortalized hero, just like the ones in the museum where he used to work. And instead of appreciating all the people who did see him as a Justice Leaguer and real force for good, his judgment gets clouded by his resentment for his former manager.
At his lowest point, Booster takes up Monarch’s offer to heal him and rid him of his chronic pain and failing machinery. Things seem fine, before it is revealed he was implanted with something to make his mind go haywire, and turn him into some sort of mechanical monster. But he’s saved by the League, and gets a new suit that has Skeets as a mainframe.
Despite it all, it’s important to remember that the Justice League was never a perfect group. They definitely get mythologized, but in the best runs, Leagues have always had their flaws, be it the original seven, or a hodge-podge of other heroes just trying to do good, as seen in this run at times. What made them a team was their ability to lift one another up, and be there when another fell. Oftentimes, it feels like people don’t consider a team to be the “real” League unless one of the Trinity is present. But runs like this one show that not only can the League exist without one of them, it can still tell interesting, character-drive stories..
Extreme Justice is both a literal and spiritual successor to Justice League International/Justice League America in that it was published right after that run and also the team isn’t made of well-known heroes. The membership here weren’t the A-listers people expect, but they were heroes in their own right. And even the biggest names on the team had their own struggles holding them back, making them question their involvement in the League.
The series may have only lasted a year and a half, but it had the spirit of The League, and if you’re looking for a DC Deep Cut to revisit, you can do a lot worse than these 19 issues.
- Extreme Justice #0-18 (available on DC Universe Infinite)
Extreme Justice #0 – #18
Writers: Dan Vado, Charlie Bracey, Ivan Velez Jr., and Robert Washington
Artists: Marc Campos, Mozart Cuoto, Al Rio, Pasqual Ferry, Tom Morgan, and Chris Gardner
Inker: Ken Branch
Colorist: Lee Loughridge
Letterer: Kevin Cunningham
Deidre Freitas is a pop culture lover and resident theatre kid who’s sometimes funny on Twitter as @deidrefrittatas.