I have a treat for readers today! Since the late 80’s DC Comics have labeled many of their intentionally out of continuity stories as “Elseworlds.” While great deals of these stories, like all comics, are crap, there have been some standouts. Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come is a true classic, and Batman Year 100, Gotham by Gaslight and The Golden Age are all good. (Some are probably clamoring for Superman: Red Son, but I’m not a huge fan of that one.) However, the best Elseworlds that DC ever published has to be Justice Riders.
Written by Chuck Dixon with art by J.H. Williams III, Justice Riders re-imagines the Justice League as cowboys. While the high-concept is good, it would have been easy to just crank out a passable but forgettable story with little effort. Nevertheless, Dixon wrote a western that if stripped of its Superhero trappings would still be compelling, if overly supernatural, tale.
It may come as a disappointment to some that the Justice League in Justice Riders does not feature Superman or Batman. There is a simple reason for this: in the 90’s they were most often not part of the Justice League. The exception being Grant Morrison’s spectacular run on the title that started the same year that this comic was released. No, the League used for Riders is most of the rest of DC’s big 7¾besides Superman and Batman, the big 7 includes Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter¾plus some favorites from the very popular, and also spectacular, Justice League International. The star of this book is Wonder Woman, re-imagined here as Sheriff Diana Prince.
After leaving her town, Paradise, to catch some horse thieves, she returns to find it destroyed. With the dying words of her faithful deputy, Oberon Sheriff Prince vows revenge on the people who destroyed her town. So she goes recruiting. The first gunslinger to joiner is Kid Flash, the fastest gun in the west.
Young Wally West, who still has his super speed, quickly agrees to join Diana, though he does question her recruiting a man with his reputation. She also turns down Booster Gold, a gambler who looks exactly like Bret Maverick, preferring to decide for herself who joins her posse.
Her next target is Katar Johnson, a Native American who joins no questions asked. All he needs is his gear, which includes hawk wings, a loincloth and a shotgun. Honestly, Native American Hawkman may be the best Hawkman.
Meanwhile, still wanting to help, Booster enlists the eccentric Beetle to give him an edge over the speedy Flash. The possibly insane Beetle has just what he’s looking for.
We also get our first look at the villains, of this tale, the murderous railroad kingpin Maxwell Lord, the otherworldly Faust and their army of killer robots.
So perhaps I oversold how true of a western this is. That doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Justice Riders is a comic where the Cowboy Justice League fights an army of killer robots. All beautifully drawn by the great J.H. Williams III. It is terrific. I simply can’t emphasize enough how great the art is, as the included pictures should attest.
There aren’t many true surprises in this book, and there doesn’t need to be. Aside from the plethora of supernatural and science fiction elements, Justice Riders is a straightforward revenge western. Sheriff Prince and her group, who eventually number 7, chase Max Lord across the Southwest before the final showdown in Helldorado. There are several sumptuously drawn gunfights, and some inspired appropriations of Superhero concepts into the western framework.
There is one more wrench thrown in, one that is what puts it over the top. Kid Flash is wanted for murder in Texas and there in only one man who can track him down. The incomparable Kid Baltimore, the bowler wearing Pinkerton Detective Guy Gardner. As is always true, Guy Gardner is awesome. And his appearance in this book is just a glorious cherry on this delicious, western sundae.
It shouldn’t be hard to track a copy of Justice Riders down; I highly recommend you do so. You can get it for about $10 on Amazon. I found it for less than 5 at a local comic shop. It is bound like a paperback, so it will sit perfectly on a bookshelf. Really, go get it.