Thursday, April 24, 2008

Justice League of America #251 (6/86)

Steel: Finally took that continuity girl from his botched film shoot out on a date to the Met. She liked him because he wasn't a phony, but when she's almost killed by a taxi, Hank pulled a Christopher Reeve move, but without the guile. Staring down the mangled cab, Hank felt he had some explaining to do...

Batman: Taskmaster mode in full effect, the Dark Knight badgered his new team while putting them through their paces in the Secret Sanctuary's newly modified gymnasium. Still low rent, the only visible equipment in use was a pommel horse. With a straight face, stated, "Vibe has potential, Vixen, but he's undisciplined."

Vibe: Nearly crushed by falling debris released by his own vibratory power while in a training session. Was browbeat by and sneered at Batman before threatening to quit the team.

Vixen: Rescued Vibe and defended her team against Batman's criticism, noting "If that's how you handled the Outsiders, I'm not surprised you guys parted company." She may have actually hurt his feelings, as he continued brooding about being out of place on a hillside hours later. Mari found him and offered kind words. "You ask a lot... from yourself most of all. Trying to be the parents you lost long ago. I've been there. C'mon. You're probably hungry. So if you promise not to tell, just this once I'll cook dinner..."

Gypsy: "Say J'Onn J'Onzz, have you seen Zatanna lately?" Manhunter hadn't, but explained she was likely on a case, and that only past Leaguers picked up the old distress signal from the previous issue. Gypsy continued to press the Sleuth from Outer Space with questions, and despite his clear wishes, followed him on a case of his own. The bonding between these two characters had clearly begun in earnest at this point, as Gypsy was set on aiding Manhunter, whether he liked it or not.

Martian Manhunter: "Not at all, Gypsy. The Batman and I discussed it this morning... Zatanna's been worried about a young woman... who sublet her apartment... Undoubtedly, Zatanna is occupied looking for her. In addition to our League responsibilities, we have our own private concerns, after all. Such as my concern with this murder weapon..." Gypsy tried to look with her hands, to which J'Onzz simply admonished simply "no" while pulling it away. This was the instrument, lacking any discernable fingerprints, intended to frame private investigator John Jones. "Martians don't have fingerprints... At the Batman's recommendation, I've installed teleportation tubes at various locations in Metropolis, Gotham, and New York..." Gypsy didn't much care, until J'Onzz noted that he was stepping into one of them to abandon Gypsy's inquiry in favor of his own. John Jones next appeared to question his former employer, Burt Biloxi, while running bad Spillane monologue in his head. A file on the runaway Jones had been assigned to locate, Pamela Cross, was simultaneously lifted invisibly by Gypsy. Jones caught up to the Gypsy outside, revealing possibly for the first time in the Detroit run his power of telepathy. He had used it to locate his maverick teammate, and to scan Biloxi's mind, full of anxiety but short on information. That left only Cross' file...

"Hey, she's a kid. She can't be much older'n me. Why'd she run away?"
"Why did you, Gypsy?"
"I had a reason. Maybe she does, too... You check the parents. I'll find the kid."
"Gypsy, I cannot-- I will not allow-- Gypsy?"

Zatanna: Nude and bound to a hospital bed by advanced technology, Zee's sublet turned co-captor Sheri Stanley explained why she had set the heroine up for capture. A yuppie unable to handle her stresses, Sheri turned to self-help guru Adam and his cult of self-interest. Adam himself continued, explaining that he had in his genes the same elements of the mystical Homo Magi as Zatanna, but not to the same degree. His intention was to use Zatanna's blood to extract the power of her bloodline, mount it to a retrovirus, and infect himself. Adam also made it clear he did not respect Zatanna's personal space...

Elongated Man & Sue Dibney: No mention.

Despero: Destroyed the Justice League Satellite, for really reals this time.

The Creators: Why are the Caped Crusader and the Manhunter from Mars so much cozier than most? I say it's because J'Onn J'Onzz is one of the only fellow heroes to call him "THE Batman." Anyway, traction gained last issue through association with better characters was lost to the wealth of unresolved subplots that dominate this issue, and will in fact outlast this creative team. A shame, as the more serious turn the book took from the frivolity of the Detroit year really improved the title. That change can be traced back to the Amazo arc, but the revolving door of artists undercut the tension there, as did the slew of Crisis tie-ins and the underwhelming "Junior." Here, the twin menaces of Adam and Despero are quite frightful, although the latter's presentation was so over-the-top as to near camp. I'm certain, whether intentional or not, it influenced Keith Giffen's development of the Lobo character. Also, after letting things get a bit sketchy on the extra-length anniversary issue, Luke McDonnell and Bill Wray are back to fighting form. Rather than fighting back the darker aspects of Conway's work, they dive in headfirst, lending it weight it would otherwise lack.

J’Onn J’Onzz’s Nicknames of the Issue: “JJ” and "Big Green" -Gypsy.

Most Embarrassing Vibe Quote of the Issue: "Ridin' me like your own personal donkey. I'm telling you, get off."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Justice League of America #221-223 (12/93-2/84)

To be honest, I'm more of a JLA fan in theory than practice. I was familiar with "Super Friends" and other sideways exposures, but I didn't start picking up the title regularly until the International period. I then skipped out, returned for "Breakdowns," and left again with Giffen & DeMatteis. I came back for Gerard Jones' largely execrable run, but again steered mostly clear until Morrison finally fulfilled the promise of the classic team. I did eventually go back to the early and quite painful Gardner Fox and Denny O'Neil runs, plus a smattering of Satellite issues before diving into the Detroit train wreck.

My point in telling you all this is that unless Showcase reveals the 70's to be a golden decade, the Justice League of America has trended toward the lousy for nearly its entire existence. In my experience, the "classic" membership sucks all the life out of the stories, leaving it up to the aberrant and inappropriate to produce anything worthwhile to read. The three issues I'm spotlighting here are no exception, as they deal mostly with a criminal cartel run by were-corporate executives given to grisly gladiator combat, and the League's stepping into their arena is as curious and exciting as it is plain wrong. Allow me to detail why:

The story opens with filthy, amorally rich spectators sent into orgiastic fits when splattered by blood ejaculated into their faces from the killing floor of a metropolitan coliseum. This was followed by Superman and Wonder Woman being battered unconscious by an anthropomorphic killer whale. A man-rhino then gores the Flash and leaves him for dead. Hawkman us at an archaeological dig where scientists are skewered and crushed by giant hybrid scorpions, one of whom's stingers penetrates the winged warrior's backside and leaves him deathly limp and the bloodletting continues. Elongated Man is savaged by attack birds and a steam press run by an old... Chinese... wait, that wasn't were-creature related. Ralph Dibney just sucked, and got his ass kicked by a geriatric Yellow Peril leftover. Oh, and writer Gerry Conway's pet character Firestorm avoids getting powned by taking a renegade cat woman into his care. As I hope I've illustrated, this story is gory as hell and uncompromisingly brutal in a manner that grabs your attention span by the collar and slaps it across the face.

Things slowed down considerably in the second chapter, as the catwoman revealed she was part of the board of an insolvent company that chose to mutate itself and turn to technology theft to buoy their fortunes. I know it seems ridiculous, and it is, but imagine the pleasure of seeing the League combat a Ken Lay jackal-man and you'll forgive the excess. Besides, there's an extended arena clash between evil leader lion Rex and a traitor that ends in barehanded disembowelment and decapitation, which is always distracting. Hawkman being gassed in his sickbed along with Hawkwoman while Wonder Woman is beaten into submission and taken hostage also works. I only wish it were the Amazing Amazon that got gored, as the subtext would add a sexual component to this great mound of wrongness.

By the final chapter, so many life fluids were flowing that they had to start coloring it purple to get past the Comics Code Authority, or else it was expelled in such haste as to have not yet taken on oxygen. The surviving Leaguers invaded the were-Republicans secret island base, where Superman was pelted with red sun radiation and crucified. Aquaman fared better, using his telepathy to lobotomize the whale man, never to be heard from again. The sea king also choked a snakeman, making him the big winner in backsliding to barbarism amongst our heroes. Zatanna even managed to be useful, though the were-men were devolving throughout the arc, and ended up regressed back to seemingly lifeless animal form. Somebody call PETA?

The full arc was pencilled by Chuck Patton, who by rights could have been the Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez of the 80's if he'd just stayed the course. He even managed to overcome the inking of Romeo Tanghal, a feat George Perez struggled with. I don't know that anyone has ever drawn so iconic and dynamic a Justice League, which only furthered the contrast with the savagery of their foes. It was wonderful, and of course all to brief, and the rest of Patton's career would be defined by his guilt in co-creating Vibe, the breakdancing wonder. If only we could get the inter company crossovers up and running again, so that Patton and Steve Ditko could craft the perfect coda to their respective careers-- a team-up with Speedball.

In summary, do go find these three back issues and relish them. It was all pop locking and BWAHAHA for the next couple decades. If anyone can recommend a similar diversion from Satellite Era shittiness, do leave a comment. Stories like this I could make room for.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Justice League of America #250 (5/86)

Sue Dibney: Fallen form lorded over by "Junior," who had emerged from its tentacle blob form to become a bronze-skinned bipedal Adonis not named Adam Warlock (as he had a blond crewcut and convenient green trunks, rather than a lustrous blond 70's mane and convenient red trunks.

Green Lantern: Recently reunited with his beloved power ring, Hal Jordon was chasing a comet when he heard the League's distress signal. Scanned fallen Detroit team for "minimal life signs." Went looking for "Junior" with Green Arrow, only to have his life force drained before making any significant contribution. Somewhere, Zatanna let out a knowing sigh, I'd assume.

Zatanna: Hal heard the signal from Mercury, but Zee missed it entirely at a NY dock. Finally tracked her sub-letter to a suspicious "social group" at a marina boat, only to be conked on the head with a lead pipe. This was on the order of the "group leader," the rather Aryan "Adam."

Steel: Emaciated and aged, looked a lot like his grandfather. I mean now, after years in the ground. Felt better and hung with Hal Jordan, the most obvious Republican of the old timers.

Black Canary: Asleep on Ollie's couch when she heard the signal. Donned awful 80's costume to investigate. Ordered to sit with the infirm while the top-billed boys searched the Secret Sanctuary for "Junior." Comforted Gypsy, and in talking with her deduced that her powers were telepathic in nature, which protected her. J'Onn's being a victimized telepath and Gypsy's having previous been effected never came up. Later helped Ollie draw out "Junior" with her Canary Cry.

Green Arrow: Along with Dinah's urging, Ollie dug through his closet to find a mothballed signal device arrow. Really. Joined and was forced to rescue Green Lantern when confronted by "Junior," who he singed with an electrified arrow. Double-teamed "Junior" with Black Canary.

Gypsy: Dreamt of an idealized version of her suburban home life before running away, which turned into a nightmare pitting her against her withered teammates. Her Manhunter taunted, "We are your family! ... Now and evermore," prompting Gypsy to push him away, but instead caved in his chest. She awoke to find her youth restored, and that she was encircled by former League members. Broke down in tears, blaming herself for her friends' malady. "I never want to hurt anyone, but its like I always do. Ever since I got the power, my life's been a mess... I'm just so scared..." Figured out "Junior" had become what it ate, confirmed by the creature's simplistic internal regarding it making it all the easier to hunt amongst mankind.

Superman: Was putting out a fire when he heard the J.L.A. Alert signal. Learned more from the Dark Knight Detective before being attacked by "Junior." Thought to himself, "Eh? The Batman's gone--? I may not like him, but I never expected him to run..." Used his body as a conduit to redirect the Leaguers' life energy.

Elongated Man: Hung out with Kal-El and his wife, presumably to keep the Man of Tomorrow away from the riff-raff. My theory backed-up by his being the one to suggest and press the League veterans to stick around.

Batman: Halting a terrorist attack on Gotham when he heard the signal. Investigated the scene and ordered his fellow veterans around. Clearly, the brusque control freak pre-dated Frank Miller. Found the records J'Onn J'Onzz browsed last issue and laid the blame at Superman's feet for the mess. Saved the Man of Steel from Junior. Lured the creature into an electrified elevator shaft, which both flash-fried "Junior" and released his stored energies. Devised method of sending those energies through the Last Son of Krypton back to their rightful carcasses.

Vibe: Unintentional humor from the sight of a geriatric Paco with silver hair, shades, and a plunging neckline. Got along with Green Arrow for once through bonding over their mutually unfortunate facial hair.

Vixen: Formed a girl power conversation clique with Dinah and Gypsy, once she felt equally fit.

The Atom, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, and Aquaman: Far removed from any signal receiver, as they were all away from home on important affairs, meaning solo mini-series.

Martian Manhunter: A passive lump for most of the issue, until talk of recalling veteran Leaguers to service came up. He approached the distant Batman, saying "Old friend, I've been told you left the League... unhappily. I cannot judge the right or wrong of that leaving. Nonetheless, today's events prove this is where you belong. You should lead the League, not I." Green Arrow concurred, while Vibe and of course Batman briefly protested. An again tearful Gypsy pleaded "We need you! I hear you were an orphan. So are we, sorta. Orphans gotta stick together, right? Right?" Batman patted her head and promised them a year. "Gypsy thinks she convinced me... but I have my own reasons for rejoining the League. And when I reveal those reasons, she'll be very surprised..."

The Creators: would we all. Batman's "year" turned out to be one story arc before he abandoned the group and the never-resolved Gypsy sub-plot. The issue at hand fell into cliche quickly, though it ushered in what will be last hurrah of half this creative team.

Most Embarrassing Vibe Quote of the Issue: [Of Batman] "That dude? Get serious. We'd chew 'im up, and spit him---- out. Uh, well, maybe not."

EPILOGUE: On the planet Kalanor, atop a narrow spire leading to garbed aliens standing before an enormous pyre... "Hail, O Master... You have braved the cleansing, transforming Flame of Py'tar... and no longer are you the creature you were when you welcomed that all-consuming embrace. In form, in substance, you are reborn. What is your will, Walker In The Flame?"

"My will... is vengeance against mine enemies. My desire... is the destruction of the Justice League. And when I tread their bloody remains beneath my booted feet, I wish only one reward: let them whisper my name in horror...