Justice Inc. is based on ‘The Avenger’, a late 30s/early 40s pulp hero that was prominently featured in Street & Smith dime novels and pulp magazines. For anyone who doesn’t know, The Avenger was created by an editor and a circulation manager who were desperately trying to tap into the pulp magazine market by imitating the elements of the two best-selling pulp heroes at the time (Doc Savage and The Shadow). To summarize: The Avenger was a master of disguise who was able to shape his malleable face into any configuration he wanted – this came in handy for espionage and spy missions. Over time he also recruited a crew of operatives to assist him, this crew was named ‘Justice Inc.’ Additionally, The Avenger was also highly trained in hand-to-hand combat and had a few cool inventions like bullet-proof armor and a tricked-out car (like James Bond).
This was the second time DC published a Justice Inc.* series. The first time was during 1975 when DC was undergoing a pulp heroes revival – characters like the Shadow, Tarzan, and John Carter of Mars were either getting their own series or were being featured in various DC publications. The 1970’s boom in pulp heroes was attributed to a sudden interest in nostalgia amongst comic book writers and fans alike. The pulp hero bubble burst due to a fickle comic market and bad timing. The first Justice Inc. series lasted 4 issues (3 of which were penciled by Jack Kirby) and were illustrated adaptations of The Avenger stories found in older pulp magazines. The series might’ve lasted longer if it had not been for the DC implosion (cancellation of all titles that were only doing moderately well in sales).
DC comics gave pulp heroes a second try in the late 80s – it seems as though DC was trying to re-introduce classic pulp characters (ex: The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Phantom, etc) to a new generation by contemporizing them. This second mini-series of Justice Inc. fits this description to a tee. Written by Andy Helfer (who also wrote The Shadow (1987) series), Justice Inc. recounts the aftermath of what happened to The Avenger and Justice Inc during the cold war. Helfer makes a few additions/retconns to the Avenger’s origin and weaves an excellent story that mixes all the best elements of suspense, espionage and political intrigue (see if you can spot the veiled political message the writer is making about the USA’s involvement in the cold war.). Even if you knew nothing about the previous exploits of The Avenger, this still makes a great stand-alone series and will probably want to make you dig out any background material you can find on the character. The mini-series consisted of two 52-page prestige format books and was marketed towards mature readers.
I believe Condé Nast publications owned the rights to The Avenger and Justice Inc. when this mini-series was published, and were just leasing it to DC as per some sort of agreement where Condé Nast still had final creative control of the character. As of this writing, DC Comics does not own the rights to The Avenger or Justice Inc., so we may never see a reprint.
In 1991, Justice Inc. was nominated for two Haxtur Awards: “Best Script” and “Best Long Comic Strip”.
*They couldn’t call it ‘The Avenger’ since Marvel comics trademarked ‘The Avengers’, so it was named ‘Justice Inc’.