Friday, September 28, 2007

Identity Crisis #7 (2/05)

As occurred earlier when J'Onn and Arthur vanished in pursuit of a villain of interest who wouldn't appear for another four issues in other heroes' custody, the Manhunter and Batman stopped mattering after a major build-up. One panel saw J'Onn exclaim "By H'Ronmeer..." while in another Batman assured, "Ray? It's not Ray..." and the book was turned over to the aforementioned Mr. Palmer in his bedroom with ex-wife Jean Loring. Perhaps it's a limitation on my frame of reference, but I've always known the Atom as a scientist and adventurer-- not so much as a detective. That might explain my pet theory that when J'Onn J'Onzz reached out to find Ray's mind, he perhaps influenced or even usurped it as Palmer began grilling his once and present lover on the death of Sue Dibney.

We learned Jean used one of Ray's leftover size-changing belts from their divorce to attack Sue in a bid for both Ray's attention and for the benefit of neglected significant others of super-heroes everywhere. She inadvertently killed Sue, then began to cover for her crime with further indiscretions that led to the more deaths. Ray committed his clearly insane ex to Arkham Asylum and went into isolation, whereabouts unknown for many years. Surrounding events led to another heroine turning in her cape, as Manhunter stated before a gathered JLA, "So that's Atom and Firehawk off the reserves... Anyone else?" While he tried to have Flash act as liaison for a training session with the Teen Titans, West was distracted by thoughts of what exactly Batman remembered about the League's betrayal of him. New cracks began to show...

Again, Rags Morales and Michael Bair provided gorgeous interiors, though word has it Rags was scarred by his involvement with the book. Just as his star was ascending from cult favorite to star, he himself went into seclusion, with little output beyond a very brief run on Wonder Woman in the years following. Brad Meltzer eventually launched a new Justice League of America series that again favored the "Satellite Era" to the exclusion of J'Onn J'Onzz and inclusion of more Pre-Crisis elements. The effect of the mini-series was undeniable, as the entire DC Universe took a turn for the dark and twisted interlaced into its continuity.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Identity Crisis #6 (1/05)

Believing the murder spree over, our heroes breathed a sigh of relief and buried their death. Green Arrow explained, "...we... mourn in our own ways..." Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter's involved remembering their lost children together while look out into space from the Watchtower. Arthur explained, "...just the sound of his laugh..." to which J'Onn consoled, "Believe me Arthur-- I understand." However, just as Mr. Terrific and Dr. Mid-Nite were astonished by the results of their autopsy of Sue Dibney, Batman deduced the only possible portal of entry for her killer... tiny footprints on her brain which blocked her bloodstream. Batman called out from the Bat-Cave, "J'Onn, I need you to find Ray!" Surprised by his telepathic cry, Manhunter responded, "Is everything okay?" Batman scowled, "J'Onn, get out of my head! Just find him! Now! And keep him where he is!"

As the book fast tracked to it's conclusion, I as a reader was placed in a difficult position, which was repeated in Mark Millar's similar "Civil War" event at Marvel Comics. Here was an unoriginal premise, in this case a locked door mystery, reinvigorated when told in a new mileau that profoundly effected long-established concepts. An exceptional creative team was highly effective at telling a compelling story which would have intriguing ramifications for years to come. I really enjoyed a new perspective being brought to sometimes hoary old chestnuts. Unfortunately, the circumstances and editorial interference caused heroes to act both decidedly unheroic and painfully out of character, while events in the tale are off-puttingly sordid and borderline inappropriate for the medium. As a result, I'm to this day conflicted about the story, though for certain elements I reserve a dedicated loathing, the big reveal being one...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Identity Crisis #2-5 (Sep-Dec. 2004)

Veteran members of the Justice League of America had secrets the Wally West Flash and Green Lantern Kyle Rayner wanted revealed. In the early years of the League, teams of super-villains had a dangerous habit of learning the heroes' true identities, but nothing ever seemed to come of it. The pair of legacy heroes learned this was because, once the World's Finest duo left the scene, the other Leaguers would wipe the memories of their foes to protect themselves. This practice reached critical mass when Dr. Light managed to board the Justice League satellite at a time when only Sue Dibney was present. He proceeded to rape her, until he felt the combined wrath of the Barry Allen Flash, Batman, Hawkman, Zatanna, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, the Atom, and her husband, the Elongated Man.

The heroes decided they'd had enough, and as Light projected a holographic representation of his recent transgression, they voted on whether to not only wipe his memory, but alter his personality. The deciding vote was cast by Barry Allen, and through Zatanna's magic Dr. Light was reduced from a nefarious arch-foe to a blundering idiot coward easily managed by the Teen Titans. However, Batman was not a party to this decision, and discovered his fellows' intentions midway through the process. The Caped Crusader immediately moved to stop his friends, but he was subdued and mindwiped himself. This final betrayal of the heroic ideal created a fault line within the group, and retroactively explained the infighting of this era's League, which led to its dissolution in the mid 80's. While Kyle Rayner seemed fairly accepting, these revelations and more regarding his beloved mentor sparked a whole new crisis of conscience in Wally West, who was forced to question his own decisions about keeping secrets and facing a now shady history. This included another confrontation with Dr. Light, which caused his memory to be restored, and the League's conspiracy to be illuminated upon the super-villain grapevine.

Meanwhile, the death toll mounted. Vixen shed tears as she watched Firestorm meltdown after receiving a mortal wound. The current Robin's father, Jack Drake, and the Flash villain Captain Boomerang were killed by one another in a confrontation. The Atom's ex-wife Jean Loring was nearly hung, and Lois Lane received a death threat.

Despite repeated assertions by Green Arrow that other Leaguers, specifically Superman, knew only as much as they were willing to acknowledge about what was happening, J'Onn J'Onzz was left utterly blameless for their crimes. Best-selling novelist Brad Meltzer is an unabashed fan of the 70's "Satellite Era" League, one which despite retroactive continuity, J'Onn J'Onzz had no part. I'm thankful for this, as his participation in these psychic rapes would have turned him into an unforgivable hypocrite after his many assertions of respect for the privacy and integrity of other beings' minds. On the other hand though, J'Onn's unwillingness to molest the thoughts of others once again allowed him to be blindsided by the revelation of treachery in his midst, leaving him ineffectual in averting tragedy.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Identity Crisis #1 (8/04)

Sue Dibney, loving wife of the Elongated Man, was murdered in her Opal City apartment after sending her husband out on patrol to distract him from her planning his birthday celebration. Somehow, her killer managed to enter undetected an apartment safeguarded by "Thanagarian, Martian, and Kryptonian technology. Not to mention all the upgrades Steel stole from a Mother Box." J’Onn J’Onzz attended the funeral, alongside many of his and the victim's shared acquaintances. This included much of the JLI and all of the surviving members of the Detroit-based League. Afterward, Green Arrow noted, "J’Onn and Arthur (who both buried children) search for Mirror Master. The mood they're in, he better hope they don't find him.) Though Mirror Master was a potential suspect, a secret cabal of JLofAers had someone specific in mind they intended to visit while everyone else was on fool's errands.

Among the creative credits given to Brad Meltzer, Rags Morales and Michael Bair was the much smaller notation of assistant editor Valerie D'Orazio. After a stormy departure from DC Comics, D'Orazio began a series of posts on her Occasional Superheroine blog which noted the behind-the-scenes maneuvering to create a series where one of the rare happy, healthy marriages in comics ended in the brutal murder of a pregnant woman. Allusions were made to the trauma inflected on both characters and the creators forced to depict increasingly aberrant actions in what was marketed as a mainstream "event" comic.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Flash #208-209 (May-June ’04)

Martian Manhunter was part of an assemblage of heroes who forcibly teleported the Flash onto the JLA Watchtower for questioning. After the murder of Flash’s unborn children by the new (no-longer-Professor) Zoom, the Hal Jordan incarnation of the Spectre wiped the memory of the the Flash’s secret identity from the face of the earth, including within the very mind of Wally West himself. Batman deduced and informed West of his own alter ego, and demanded West explain the situation to his teammates. Among them were Firestorm, who wondered aloud why the Manhunter didn't simply read the Flash’s mind to gather information.

“Superman wants to give him the opportunity to open up freely to us, Ronnie. The Flash has his reasons for what has happened, and as a longtime friend, I am sure they are inculpable.” West recognized, “I can feel the Martian Manhunter lingering on the outer edge of my mind. The back of my scalp is numb, but I keep my distance. J’Onn lost his family a long time ago. I think he can ‘see’ the same kind of sorrow and pain in my eyes—because I hear three words float into my head. ‘I am sorry.’” More concerned about finding his estranged wife than clearing matters up, Flash had to be convinced by Superman to again unveil his visage to his teammates. J’Onn tried to console Wally, verbally this time. Also present at this "mindwipe intervention" were Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern John Stewart, Green Arrow, Zatanna, Hawkman, Elongated Man, Black Canary and the Atom. This specific assemblage would foreshadow dark revelations to come. Geoff Johns, Howard Porter and Livesay tell the tale.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Justice League of America Annual #2 (1984)

While Aquaman and his fellow Leaguers sifted through the wreckage of the Justice League Satellite, floating dead in space, he declared this the end. Sickened by the state of his super-team and disheartened by his wife having left him after years of emotional absence, Aquaman came to a startling decision. Before a U.N. assembly, he disbanded the Justice League of America, citing the absence of the League's most powerful members in Earth's time of need.

"During what's come to be called the Earth/Mars War... Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern-- all were absent... The world deserves something more than a part-time organization of uncommitted dilettantes." He suggested the formation of a full-time League, made up of individuals with no other duties placed before the team. "In a hundred and more languages, the world's representative react with shock-- as one quiet observer in the shadows nods slowly in thoughtful agreement with Aquaman's words." This lone Martian continued to look on as Red Tornado, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Hawkman, Hawkwoman, and a deeply reluctant Firestorm refused the demands of Aquaman's re-conceptualized defenders. Zatanna rose to the challenge, as did Elongated Man, but only with the stipulation that his wife, Sue Dibney, would be along for the ride. A tear rolled down Ralph Dibney's face as he considered, "We should have seen this coming months ago... when the Batman quit, and Flash took a leave of absence... and the Atom disappeared in South America... the old gang's been breaking up for almost a year now."

Finally, the long-lost Leaguer who's return proved the catalyst for this dynamic change decided it was time to step out of the shadows. "If it is a commitment you seek, may I offer mine? I stayed on earth, because I am no longer wanted on the world I once called home. Every living creature needs a home, my friends--and I would be proud to share yours." Aquaman replied, "We'd forgotten--when the war ended, you stayed on Earth--! J'Onn J'Onzz, the honor is ours." While Elongated Man had been an official member since 1973, he'd barely ever encountered J'Onn J'Onzz, who went into exile to guide his people to a new homeworld several years prior. "The Martian Manhunter, hey? Now we're cooking!" The announcement of a new League had attracted the attention of Mari McCabe and Hank Heywood Sr., which would pay off in short order.

The heroes held up at the Hilton until they could make other arrangements, which afforded John Jones the opportunity to fully embrace the 1980's with his poofy hair, brown windbreaker, and blue jeans. He asserted, "...We must find a headquarters here in New York, or in another large city. Only by living among the people we are sworn to defend can we maintain our sense of purpose and commitment." It was then Arthur introduced John to Sue Dibney, who nearly dropped the drinks she was serving when the Martian dropped his disguise. "Yoick! This is gonna take getting used to!" Zatanna reassured with a hug, "You'll be fine, Sue. Your unaffected, totally human outlook will keep us honest." At that moment, Zatanna spotted a feminine yet bestial prowler outside their window, who was seized by a Martian Manhunter combining his flight, intangibility, and giant elongated hands. A likely deflated Elongated Man asked, "Neat trick, JJ. Going through walls. Mind telling me how to do it sometime?" J'Onzz replied, "You'd have to have been born on Mars, my friend. Now, female, explain yourself." The response was a snort and laughter."...Big, green and handsome. You're much too cute."

"Cute? Woman, who are you?" She was former Metropolis super-heroine and fashion model Vixen, and she had come to join the team. McCabe was soon joined by Steel, but this was not the Black Superman of Shaquille O'Neal vehicle fame. This was the grandson of Heywood, who was himself known in the 1940's as Commander Steel, before becoming a millionaire industrialist. Heywood Sr. supplied the team with a base, equipment, and they also got L.O.S.T. (Low Orbital Supersonic Transport), providing plenty of fodder for pundits. On the support side was Dale Gunn, who'd met General Heywood in Vietnam and become his chief designer, technician, and the inventor behind the League's new toys. He could also handle security if it came to that, with his body armor and sophisticated weaponry. When J'Onn J'Onzz wasn't suffering from Vixen's unwanted advances, he traded barbs with the nineteen year old street kid Paco Ramone, soon to be better known as trash-talking Latino breakdancer Vibe, one of the worst stereotype characters in modern history. "Told chu people...Gill-Man! Chu like my new costume? It's so chill, it's bad!" It sure is Paco. It suuuure is...

Clearly horrified by what his decision had wrought, Aquaman whispered, "J'Onn, this is not what I had in mind for the new League." The reply? "Life is full of the unexpected, Arthur. Accept it. You've no choice." Another such surprise came when, while impersonating a piece of machinery, J'Onn J'Onzz caught the invisible Gypsy sneaking around in the League's new base. "My vision embraces a broader spectrum than your Earthborn eyes..." Gypsy managed to cut and run, but would join the team in a later issue. In the meantime, neighborhood residents alerted to their newly resident super-team pulled together a street party in front of their not-so-secret headquarters, where J'Onn downed a brewski with a Motown native and other Leaguers got their groove on. "Let's boogie!"

J’Onn J’Onzz’s Nicknames of the Issue: "JJ" & "J.J." -Elongated Man

Most Embarrassing Vibe Quote of the Issue: Aside from those previously quoted, there's still so many to choose from. "Chu don' smell like no fish."