Thursday, October 30, 2008

JLA: Black Baptism #4 (8/01)

Dr. Occult mystically extracted the homunculus/bullet from Superman's body an took it into his own.

Martian Manhunter: "This is what we've been able to deduce so far. The Diablos' accumulated soul-energy will be used in conjunction with the stolen Fountain of Lessing to open a permanent Hell-Gate. This so-called 'Black Baptism' is doubtless planned for today, so we haven't much time. The tangential involvement of the street mage known only as Faust, coupled with the recent disappearance of his father-- sometime JLA adversary Felix Faust-- suggests that the elder man may have been the Diablos shadow-partner all along. As you may recall, our recent encounter with Felix Faust concluded with the banishment of the mad Egyptian sorcerer he raised from the dead named Hermes Trismegistus. Trismegistus had possessed the wizard, and was obsessed with extinguishing all life on Earth. He nearly succeeded. At the time, we all assumed that the undead spirit had finally been laid to rest. Now, however, I fear that the lich has reasserted dominion over Felix Faust, and plans to use the unsuspecting Diablos' dark ceremony for his own nihilistic ends."

Faust: An intended pawn of Anita Soulfeeda in her betrayal of the Hellfather and the Diablos in her pursuit of personal power. The vulnerable June Moon and the threat of Scratch were her leverage.

Martian Manhunter: Joined the JLA against the Diablos at their meeting with Felix Faust/Hermes Trismegistus, targeting the Hellfather Don Asmodeus. Told Superman, "I'll keep him busy, my friend-- Just remember that [Scratch] is just as magical as the bullet that felled you."

Faust: Fought Hermes Trismegistus against his using the Fountain of Lessing to help in birthing a genocidal "vile form" through the unwilling Anita Soulfeeda. Determined that Anita was actually the soul of Enchantress he'd condemned to Hell, and reintegrated it into June Moon, creating another offshoot supernatural persona called Soulsinger. This entity would eventually heal the Sentinels of Magic, while Dr. Occult would take her under his wing.

Blue Devil: Freed by Faust, he helped Superman against Scratch.

Martian Manhunter: Once again acknowledging Wonder Woman as team leader this mission, reported the lesser demons had been subdued, "but their lord is quite resilient." Flash had already fallen beneath Don Asmodeus' hoof.

Batman: Commanded Tempest to cut off the black mana flow to the Fountain of Lessing.

Faust: Absorbed soul-force from Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern and Superman to use against Hermes Trismegistus.

Blue Devil: Destroyed the Fountain of Lessing, and in a chain reaction, seemingly all the Diablos and Hermes Trismegistus.

Zatanna: Agreed to become the JLA liaison for magic users after being healed.

Bloodwynd: Back on his feet and smiling, this time incorrectly drawn with a face mask.

Faust: Hid himself and his father in a bid to nurture their relationship. "Ironically, I think I may have finally found the immortality I have dedicated my life to. The secret lies in having you to carry on the family name. So that there will be another generation of Faust. I'm proud of you, Sebastian." The junior Faust had retrieved a horn lost by Blue Devil in battle, and said, "don't call me Sebastian. Only Mom calls me that."

The Creators: For a little remembered mini-series, a good deal of consequence to minor characters took place here. This was basically the bridge to what became the Shadowpact. Not having followed that series, I wonder how many of the loose ends intentionally left untied here were ever resolved?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

JLA: Black Baptism #3 (7/01)

Batman, Flash and Wonder Woman encountered human sacrifice in Metropolis. Flash and Green Lantern put out a fire at the Infernal Comics Company of Jacksonville, Florida, where GL did some freelance work and the writer took a dig at Crossgen and/or Verotik.

Aquaman: Acknowledged Tempest was still recovering, and that the Fountain of Lessing was "a fountain of healing that hasn't worked in centuries. My ancestors used it to cleanse the souls of sick children.

Blue Devil: Tortured by the Diablos for information, with little forthcoming.

Martian Manhunter: Observed of the Diablos and Scratch, "They seem to operate well as a team, and in all cases, the fallen Sentinels of Magic have been alone when neutralized... When I was close enough to probe its mind, I detected no sentient thoughts. My studies of comparative mythology suggest Scratch predates every godlike being the League has encountered... This Scratch entity is the key to their success. How this Anita creature gained control over it is a mystery I am keen to solve. However, after seeing them both in action, I don't believe she is the leader of their whole operation."

Faust: Took a nap at the Detroit City Morgue with the help of his buddy Shane the mortician. Contacted his father for help. Captured alongside June Moon by Anita Soulfeeda and Scratch.

Plastic Man: Traced Rose Psychic back to the Scrap Bar, where she changed into Dr. Occult once the Diablos showed up. Wonder Woman and Green Lantern were sent to engage them. Dr. Occult returned with the JLA to the Watchtower.

Felix Faust: Revealed to still be possessed by Hermes Trismegistus and secretly backing the Diablos.

The Creators: The covers by Tim Bradstreet were one of the major selling points of this mini-series, and each was exceptional. It's a shame the story began to falter at this point, as the magnitude of the evil began to shrink rather than expand. Zatanna was ultimately the most formidable presence here, as the Diablos were too silly to take seriously, and Felix Faust long past registering as a real threat. Also, the emphasis on minor characters like the junior Faust and Blue Devil makes it feel like the JLA were shoehorned into their story, guest stars in a backdoor pilot.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

JLA: Black Baptism #2 (6/01)

Martian Manhunter: "An ocean stretches across the surface of the moon! Aquaman, what's happening in there?" Gravity-- physics-- all gone haywire at the will of magic evoked by the mad Zatanna.

Zatanna: A stream of flies flew from her mouth as her words reshaped lunar reality. Faust tapped the souls of Green Lantern and the Flash, then created an illusion where Zee had to either regain composure or drown in Houdini's famous water torture trick.

"Manhunter to JLA. The moon is reverting to normal as quickly as it changed." Zee fell back into unconsciousness.

Faust: Visited June Moon at Detroit's Elysium Fields Sanitarium, who had been in a near catatonic state since he slit her throat to use the soul of the Enchantress to reignite the fires of Hell during the Day of Judgment.

Zatanna: Committed to a sound-dampened room at Arkham Asylum by Manhunter and Batman.

Martian Manhunter: Refused to take leave of this mission, despite the likelihood of demons bringing fire to bear. Felt that if magicians better communicated with one another, the attacks of the Diablos would not be as effective. Struggled to maintain psychic barriers against the insane babble of Arkham inmates. "The poor souls here... To think they experience first-hand the anguish I must actively fight to keep out. The very stones seem to weep with the desolation of the mad."

Batman: "John Zatara-- Zatanna's father-- was one of my greatest teachers. He taught me most of what I know of magic... both sleight of hand and the arcane mysteries."

Bloodwynd: Drawn with a Luke Cage-style tiara. In stable condition.

Blue Devil: Stabbed in the back with one of his own bones, kept by Faust when he resurrected the "demon" to keep him pliable. Faust wanted to dissuade the exceedingly loyal B.D. from following him deeper into damnation. Kidnapped by the Diablos.

Martian Manhunter: "Moons of Mars! The fiend masked its presence!" Transformed into an armored insectoid form to battle Scratch. Also present: "The succubus! She must be here for Zatanna! Incredible-- this creature is no mere demon, but of an older order altogether. How did the Diablos manage to tame it? ...Take what form you will, ancient one-- you will not pass!" Prevented Anita Soulfeeda from entering Arkham with his laser vision while fending off Scratch. Came to realize Anita Soulfeeda was Scratch's weakness for its concern, and tried to exploit it, but was shot in the hand by Anita's flame-emitting pistol.

The Creators: This was Jesús Saiz's first major work for DC Comics, after starting out in the European market. His work is almost unrecognizable here, as it is much more exaggerated than his later efforts for the company, "Manhunter," and "Checkmate." The look works best on the monsters and magical elements, aided by dramatic lighting and sex appeal. The super-heroes fare worse, coming off as silly intrusions in their own book.

J’Onn J’Onzz’s Nicknames of the Issue: "J'Onn" -Batman
"The Manhunter" -Wonder Woman
"Lousy green freak" -Anita Soulfeeda

Monday, October 27, 2008

JLA: Black Baptism #1 (5/01)

Zatanna: After the Day of Judgment, which altered the status quo in Hell and saw the formation of the Sentinels of Magic, Zee's profile rose sharply. Along with other Sentinels, she was attacked by mafia-styled demons calling themselves "the Diablos," who intended to sacrifice the magical heroes to resurrect more of the infernal fallen. Among them was "Anita Soulfeeda," a succubus who partially fed off Zatanna before being interrupted by Superman and Plastic Man.

Superman: Shot by poseur rhyming demon D'Monix with a magical gun that embedded a homunculus inside his body.

Martian Manhunter: Tended to Superman at the JLA Watchtower infirmary. "You are not a very good patient, you know. The dart seems to be lodged firmly in the wound. And it splinters at the slightest attempt to remove it." Others patients included Zee, Deadman, Madame Xanadu, Ragman and Bloodwynd. "Zatana's not responding. I am going to attempt a mind probe... She's hiding herself in a perverted version of her library."

Zatanna: Spouted gibberish on the psychic plane, from which she expelled Manhunter, after he assumed the appearance of her father.

Martian Manhunter: "No use. When that succubus drained half of Zatanna's soul, she was left on the brink of madness. I fear for those for whom the spell was completed..."

Batman: Initially refused Wonder Woman's suggestion that Faust, semi-heroic son of Felix Faust and an expert on soul magic, should be brought in to help. Relented, but ordered the injured Superman to inactive status pending recovery.

Wonder Woman: Visited the Scrap Bar, an underground club for freaks and misfits in Detroit, and a regular hangout of Faust. She found him in the company of Rose Psychic, receiving a piece of the Fountain of Lessing. Joined by Plastic Man and Blue Devil, the group questioned Samhain Diablo about his association with the Diablos. The group then joined Aquaman in a battle against the gang near Greenland.

Aquaman: Fought Scratch, a large shape shifting demon. Unable to defeat it, nor stop the Diablos from making off with the Fountain of Lessing, nor save the underwater city of B'miria. Faust allowed Tempest access to the knowledge of lost B'mirian sorcerers, which took Aquaman's ward out of the fight for a while. Meanwhile, the moon sprouted wings and a cyclopean eye.

The Creators: Writer Ruben Diaz was an assistant editor to Brian Augustyn and Paul Kupperberg in the 1990s before moving on to full duties, most famously overseeing the 1997 relaunch of "JLA." Diaz jumped ship to Marvel before fully reaping the benefits of that effort, then reappeared at DC as a freelancer before quitting comics for teaching. This mini-series represents his only major work as a writer. This first issue was respectable at establishing a threat to scale with the deified JLA, thanks largely to the vagueness of magic and our heroes vulnerability to it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

JLA Annual #2 (1998)

For most of the 1990s, DC Comics linked their annuals into "crossover events" of increasingly predictable poor quality and general lack of impact on continuity. By 1998, only eight were released, one for each founding member of the popular new "JLA." The existence of a Martian Manhunter annual as a result of "Ghosts" was about the only noteworthy occurrence over the nearly 400 pages produced. The individual annuals were self-contained stories based more around a theme, making "Ghosts" a hybrid of the years where a concept trumped an interconnected event. The cause and culmination of this supernatural phenomenon were alluded to in the group annual.

Felix Faust, recognizing his lifetime of magical transgressions had doomed him to inevitable torment in Hell, sought the secret of immortality from the likes of Vandal Savage. The key was a centuries-lost Emerald Tablet, so Faust opted to resurrect its last known possessor, ancient Egyptian alchemist Hermes Trismegistus. However, the fellow had gone to considerable pains to end his own life, and took such great exception to Felix's disturbance, he decided to insure his peace by killing everyone on Earth.

J'Onn J'Onzz was the first to be warned of this impending genocide, when Felix spoke to the Martian Manhunter through characters in an old detective movie he had been watching. At the Watchtower, J'Onzz explained to his teammates, "According to Faust, I was contacted first because I was most sensitive to his telepathic distress call... but after hearing him out, I thought it was best for the rest of you to hear his story... He's genuinely terrified. Mind probes confirm it." Faust explained that the Emerald Tablet was a talisman through which Hermes could "actually remove the Life Frequency from our universe." Superman mistook this for the Anti-Life Equation, while Faust continued, "Surely you've noticed the weakening of borders between worlds... Your meta-human energies are like beacons to the other side. You'd be the first to see them... ghosts." Everyone had, including J'Onn J'Onzz, with his departed wife and daughter. Felix Faust charged the League with finding the Emerald Tablet, which had been divided into three parts and hidden around the world by Freemasons, so that he could destroy it.

Martian Manhunter assumed a clear leadership role. "I am convinced this threat is genuine. I will stay here and look after our guest. I suggest the rest of you split up into three teams. Flash... Aquaman... you start in France...

Aquaman: Explored the Pierre-St. Martin Cavern with Wally. Found their piece of the tablet underwater. Surprised by unexpected visitor upon emerging from the depths. "Vibe--? But-- I thought you were dead--!"

Vibe: Startled the Flash when he appeared from out of the darkness of the cavern, accompanied by music. "You not the right one, man... What's happenin'? Where's Aquaman, Holmes?"

Ice: Appeared at the China-Nepal border after Green Lantern Kyle Rayner and Superman recovered their piece of the tablet. "What am I doing here? Is Overmaster defeated?"

Batman: Used a Waynetech prototype sub to reach the bottom of the Marianas Trench with Wonder Woman. Nearly drowned when the vehicle proved unable to withstand the pressures of the deep.

Steel: Took cybernetic control of Batman's craft, sealing it and commanding a crane to capture the final third of the tablet. "It's all right, Batman... I'm here... It's under control."

Martian Manhunter: "For the benefit of our younger members, the face you see on the video screen behind us belongs to a man named Henry Heywood. He was the cyborg Justice Leaguer named Steel. He was killed by Starro the Conqueror* a few years ago. We can't find the source of the signal to these screens..."

Aquaman: Noted that the music everyone could still hear was provided by Vibe.

Vibe: Though unidentified, I'm confident it was the "Beat Street" soundtrack, as projected from a Sanyo MX series jambox. Wikki-wikki-wogga.

Martian Manhunter: "We all know Tora-- Ice. Her death at the hands of the Overmaster touched us all... It seems impossible to communicate with them, even telepathically. I'm not entirely convinced they're really there. I think these manifestations of dead Justice Leaguers are more like psychic or telepathic playback... possibly from our own memories..."

Felix Faust: Had several JLAers form an elemental circle around the reconstituted Emerald Tablet. "Wonder Woman, you are made from the earth itself. Aquaman from water. Green Lantern controls the green fire... J'Onzz. Turn intangible, and you become the air. Join hands around the tablet..." Faust was revealed to be possessed by Hermes Trismegistus, allowing Felix to speak honestly while bound by the Lasso of Truth, which serving Hermes dire intentions. Flash and Superman were immediately removed from consideration by Hermes' superior sorcery.

Batman: Assumed command amidst the chaos. Directed Green Lantern to project his energies into the tablet.

Martian Manhunter: "Batman. This is J'Onn. Your plan requires a distraction." Tried to engage Hermes/Faust, but learned "J'Onzz. Intangibility is another form of energy interaction. You cannot touch this body unless I choose it to be so. Why fight me? I bring you perfect death..."

Aquaman: Telepathically lent his willpower to Green Lantern's own.

Martian Manhunter: Ditto.

Vibe & Steel: Joined Ice, Amazing Man, Crimson Fox, the first Black Canary, the original Mr. Terrific, Johnny Quick, Deadman, Robin II and Blue Devil in distracting Hermes Trismegistus long enough for Green Lantern's might to finally destroy the Emerald Tablet. Wonder Woman noted Ice's closing speech consisted of the exact same words she spoke before being killed by the Overmaster.

Martian Manhunter: Felt his theory about telepathic memory playback being behind the ghosts was, "One of many possible conjectures... but I do not discount the possibility of their existence. My religion and experience teaches me to expect an afterlife. It's something I know to be true. I don't dwell much upon it..."

Felix Faust: Institutionalized, maddened as he was by the perpetual screaming on Hermes Trismegistus, still trapped inside his body...

*: Steel was severely damaged by an android employed by Professor Ivo, leaving him a vegetable on life support for years. What was left of him was killed by Despero the Destroyer. Either name could be confused with Starro the Conqueror, whom Steel never encountered in a recorded adventure. I kind of hope he really was "killed" a third time by the giant alien starfish though, just because.

The Creators: Ty Templeton's story was cute, but lightweight considering the subject matter. Mark Pajarillo was one of several awful artists routinely utilized by JLA editors of the time, possibly because he was either very quick on a demanding book, or especially cheap.

Most Embarrassing Vibe Quote of the Issue: "You not the only one who knows how to move energy around, man. It's showtime!"

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Who's Who Vol.XXV: Vixen (3/87)

I was introduced to Vixen back around 1988 or so through discount copies of "Suicide Squad." I always liked her look, but her personality never seemed strong enough to match. After her second team book was canceled, I'd see her here and there, too often in that awful purple get-up that made her seem all the more bland and trivial. It occured to me she was basically the stock black female of the DC Universe, a pale Storm imitation trotted out to say, "Look, we have black heroines too! We just hide them out back in the shed!" Oh no, DC doesn't practice tokenism while avoiding viable minority characters like the plague, right? That's about the only praise I can give Dan Didio, as he's clearly pushed DC out of its entrenched, institutionalized racism.

Back to Vixen, after all those years of dismissing the character, I finally had the opportunity to learn what she was really about through her Justice League appearances. I found her vivacious, capable, and one of the great pleasures of the Detroit years. I suspect part of the problem with her "Suicide Squad" appearances was that J.M. DeMatteis had given her a similar arc to the one John Ostrander intended for Bronze Tiger, rendering Vixen as just "the girlfriend." Moving on, my interest in Vixen expanded thanks to the excellent design work and vocal talent of Gina Torres on the "Justice League Unlimited" cartoon. I'm pleased her appeal has been recognized at DC proper on the relaunched "Justice League of America," though I'm disinterested in the book, but her upcoming mini-series is one of the few things DC has me looking forward to these days.

Art by Luke McDonnell and Bob Smith.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

JLA: Incarnations #5 (Third Story, Nov. 2001)

The lead story in the December, 1988 issue of editor/publisher Tully Reed's Meta Magazine was intended to cover the murders of Steel and Vibe. "J'onn J'onzz, the alien acting as head of the allegedly disbanded League, denied that either of the former members were acting on its behalf and maintained that the League had disbanded. The murders, the Martian maintained, were carried out by robots created by Professor Ivo... G. Gordon Godfrey, the voice of the anti-metahuman movement sweeping the country, released the following statement through a press secretary: 'I am saddened by the deaths of these two young men, mislead into a life that they were clearly ill suited for by the false promise of glory and fame. Inadequately trained, they fell before ruthless foes. This is part of the reason for my crusade- to save our children! How many have been hurt already simply by tying towels around their necks and jumping off roofs while pretending to be Superman or some such?"

Tully Reed looked over the article, and asked himself, "What have I done? What am I doing?"

Reed's former editor was Roz Leung, whose scathing article on the Detroit League had triggered angst and strife in the group. It wasn't the kind of magazine Reed, a hero-loving Phil Sheldon type, wanted to publish. "Sure it is, sweetie! We cover the metahuman scene but we do it with attitude. I mean, who can take these steroid queens in their underwear pounding the poo out of each other seriously?" Reed loved Roz, but argued against her cynicism. As the couple embraced, Reed made clear "'s my magazine, Roz. And we're going to do things my way." Roz smirked, "Over my dead body, sweetie."

During the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Elongated Man, Vixen, Vibe and Gypsy were shown battling Shadow Demons and rescuing citizens in the chaos. Tully Reed was trying to calm the hysterical Roz Leung down on a ravaged New York street, but she was hysterical. "We're all going to die! ...This is one of my recurrent dreams! The red skies and black shadows and in the end everything goes black!" Tears in her eyes, Roz tore loose of Tully's grip and ran aimlessly, only to be killed almost immediately after by a Shadow Demon. Just as quickly, an unseen Green Lantern blew the demons away, and Vixen arrived to see if the couple was alright. Reed cradled Roz's body and cursed at Vixen for not arriving five seconds sooner. He felt his faith in heroes had been betrayed.

"I'm sorry for your loss but we couldn't be everywhere at once! Despite what you think, we are only human! We've saved as many as we could! ...We didn't betray you. We just couldn't be what you wanted us to be. Excuse me. I'm needed elsewhere."

Later, Reed met with G. Gordon Godfrey, who wished to use Meta Magazine as another soapbox for his crusade against super-heroes. After all, since his girlfriend's death, Reed had turned the magazine from a cheerleader to skeptic of metahumans...

Still staring at the printer's proof alone in his office, Tully Reed called to have the entire run pulped. "Yeah, I know what it'll cost. You're right. We probably will lose advertisers. Do it anyway." Reed realized he'd allowed grief to cloud his judgment. "And that creep Godfrey played me like a violin. Vixen was right. They're only human. I was the one who wanted them to be legends. They're not perfect but they are heroes and I'm never going to forget that again."

"Doubt" by John Ostrander, Eric Battle and Keith Champagne.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Justice League of America #261 (4/87)

Professor Ivo: Continued to be conflicted by his own murderous actions, seeing visions of himself in a padded room. The Ivo in a straight jacket thought Amazo was a silly name, was saddened "A Martian killed my son," but felt he couldn't himself have killed anyone. "Murder is a sin. Bad. Bad." The Ivo in a tux continued to argue with his android "psychiatrist," before deciding to trigger its self-destruct mechanism.

Dale Gunn: Drank a toast to Steel with the boy's grandfather and Martian Manhunter. Watched J'Onn J'Onzz toss his drink to the floor, cursing "Damn it!!" As the Martian slumped against a wall, Dale explained, "J'Onn? Listen to me. I knew Hank since he was just a kid. I've been working with his grandfather for more years than I'd care to count. We're all hurting, but there's nothing to be gained by throwing fits. Hell, what I know of you-- this just isn't your style."

Martian Manhunter: Answered, "My style? Dale-- you don't know what my style is. And neither does Ivo. I've never wanted blood so badly in my life."

Commander Steel: After analyzing the android that killed his grandson, devised means to track other androids with the same power source.

Martian Manhunter: "Before this day is out, Hank will be avenged."

Dale Gunn: Halted J'Onn J'Onzz's intended departure to deliver a speech. "I thought the name of your team was the Justice League... not the Revengers. Justice means you find the ones responsible for what's happened, and you let the law take care of it. Revenge isn't justice, J'Onn. You know that. Revenge goes against everything you and the Justice League stand for."

Martian Manhunter: "The League is dead, Dale-- or hadn't you noticed?"

Vixen: Continued to stalk New York's rooftops. "Dead. Can he really be dead? Steel? My friend? If he's dead, it's my fault. I knew what the situation was. G. Gordon Godfrey turned the whole country against us. Yet I let Steel go out there... No... It's not my fault. It's Ivo's fault. And I'm going to find that murdering scum-- and he's going to pay." Dropping to a subway entrance, a group of bums made their way toward her. "Predators. They think I'm a woman. They think I'm something that can be taken, used, and discarded. But I'm not a woman. I'm Vixen. I'm a panther. An elephant. A vulture. A snake. I'm whatever animal-spirits I need to be to hunt my prey. To hunt-- and kill."

Vixen continued to wrestle with her bestial drive and more reasoned humanity. "I'm not an animal. I'm Mari McCabe. I'm a fashion model. I'm a woman." This didn't stop her from roaming barefoot in a New York sewer, beating rats to death as an aggression vent. Finally, Vixen located the underground headquarters of Professor Ivo, who greeted her with a poisoned meal. While Ivo was terribly civil, Vixen offered him a variety of means by which she could kill him, and threw tainted coffee in his face. "I'll feast on your dead flesh... How stupid do you think I am! You think I'll just sit here like a good girl and drink my cup of hemlock?"

While Vixen battered the immortality-ravaged Ivo, a dozen of his pretty shirtless androids appeared to wrestle her to the ground. Vixen destroyed several of them, but their programming was altered to specifically target her weaknesses. She was drowned in numbers.

Martian Manhunter: "IVO!!" J'Onn J'Onzz smashed his way into the Professor's lair, who stammered, "No! Not you! You're one of the real ones! You always beat me!" J'Onzz emphasized, "To a pulp." Learning of Vixen's plight, the Manhunter barreled through all but two of the Ivos before the Professor came to a realization. "Oh, of course! He's a green man from Mars. And Martians can't abide fire." The Professor then lit up J'Onzz with a tricked-out lighter. "I knew I carried this with me for a reason. You can't hurt me now, Green Man... Now I would deeply appreciate it if you'd die."

Vixen: The two remaining Ivos could find no pulse, heartbeat or respiration, but just as they were prepared to certify she had expired, Vixen came alive. She smashed the pair.

Martian Manhunter: "You turned your back on me, Ivo. A very big mistake... You have the audacity to ask for mercy? You've got a lot to learn, Professor. And I'm going to teach you. Right now. I'm going to teach you about pain. About fear. And death... I can't. Dammit-- I can't."

Vixen: "I can!!" Vixen tore Professor Ivo's head off... not clean, as various wires and other mechanical bits left it dangling. "This 'droid was extremely sophisticated. It even mimicked the scent of a living man." She caught the real Ivo's scent behind a door, and found those visions of the Professor in a padded cell were factual.

Professor Ivo: "He escaped from Arkham Asylum, built an army of androids, even created a near-perfect duplicate of himself to fool the authorities with in case he was discovered. And yet, he was totally insane." The androids' minds modeled after Ivo's, they too were filled with madness and conflicting impulses, and locked away their own imperfect creator in a new cell. "Indeed. He pushed them to murder. While his soul burned in shame."

Martian Manhunter: "I find it impossible to hate someone so filled with remorse... so lost and anguished. And I feel such a need to hate. Such a deep need... Mourning. And forgiveness. And something more... I see it so clearly. Let the President and his orders go to hell. Let every man, woman and child in this nation come to loathe us. But, in order for Steel and Vibe's deaths to have any meaning-- the League must continue. Politics and opinion shift. Tomorrow we may be heroes in the eyes of the world again. But that doesn't matter. What matters is that we are duty-bound to do our job, despite praise or blame. Fate took me from my homeworld... brought me to this earth for a reason: To help. To fight for what's right. For justice. And, for the sake of justice, the League must never dissolve. We've got to go on.

Vixen: "I looked inside myself these past few days. I saw a demon... a demon that had to be exorcised. And I did exorcise it. Vixen died... For the first time in my life... I'm truly, wholly-- Mari McCabe." Mari wasn't sure if G. Gordon Godfrey wasn't right, considering the violence that surrounds super-heroes, and the deaths of her friends. "We choose to live like this! We choose this bloody path! There are a million ways to help people, to make the world a better place... ways that don't have anything to do with fists and suns and corpses... I don't intend to beget any more violence in this lifetime, JJ. I want to be free of the animal, and embrace the human. Maybe the League should continue. But it won't continue with me... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to sound so... judgmental."

Martian Manhunter: Tried to convince Vixen to remain, but acknowledged her path led elsewhere, and hugged her goodbye. J'Onn stared into a monitor bank at the Secret Sanctuary for a time... into the faces of the departed Gypsy, Vibe, Steel, and Vixen. An emergency signal sounded, and the Manhunter from Mars was off.

Gypsy: Retired from super-heroics to return to her family and school, for now.

Vibe: Family in mourning, including a younger brother who will develop similar powers.

Steel: Grandfather shut off life support, but for good?

Vixen: Her hiatus from the life will be short, but she will return in very different company.

The Creators: J.M. DeMatteis did wonderful work here, and his take on madness hints at what would become one of his most famous stories, the Death of Kraven the Hunter. It's no wonder editor Andrew Helfer asked him to stay on for the Justice League relaunch. Bob Lewis provided inks in a style reminiscent of Terry Austin, which set him apart from any of the others on this arc. This was some of Luke McDonnell's best work, but his style would soon change with his moving on to Suicide Squad. These were not the characters or situations one would expect to close out over two decades of JLA comics, but the story was well told regardless

J’Onn J’Onzz’s Nicknames of the Issue: "JJ" -Vixen
"J'onn." -Dale Gunn, Commander Steel
"J'onn J'onzz." -Ivo
"Green Man" -Ivo

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Who's Who Vol.XXII: Steel (12/86)

Steel II is a character I didn't care for on first reading. Then, on second try, I still didn't care for him. Third time was the charm, as it was then I began to realize the potential of the character.

Hank Heywood II, like his grandfather, was a sort of roughhewn, inexperienced, right wing Captain America. In Hank Sr.'s case, that made him a bit redundant in the midst of the WWII bravado typical of Golden Age-styled super-heroes. With Hank Jr. though, it made him an intriguing anomaly. Here's this Reagan Era neophyte in a minority-skewing, lefty super-hero team based out of bombed out Detroit, Michigan. He was the stiff, sure, but also the sensitive Colossus sort under his rigid exterior. He had his own secret headquarters in "The Bunker," access to Heywood Industries gadgets and fortunes, the L.O.S.T. aircraft, a mentor in Dale Gunn, and adversaries/legacy tied to Commander Steel. Of all the new Detroit members, he was the one most ready made to stand on his own as a viable soloist.

Steel was also ahead of his time: Among the first of many old school super-heroes to loosen up by shedding a skullcap... the first to have a cybernetic endoskeleton, ala Steve Austin or "the Terminator," allowing him to take horrific battle damage... among the rare heroes with a clear political ideology... and of course he served on the prototype for misbegotten new line-ups replacing beloved super-hero teams. Steel's career is like a blueprint for '90s comics. All he needed was a brown bomber jacket, useless pouches, and a big gun.

So let's all shed a tear for the lost opportunity that was Steel. He certainly would have.

Art by Chuck Patton & Larry Mahlstedt

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Justice League of America #260 (3/87)

Professor Ivo: Continued to be conflicted by his own murderous actions, seeing visions of himself in a padded room.

Vixen: Rented Orson Welles' "A Touch of Evil" and tried to take Hank's mind off things with pleasant conversation. Argued with Hank that the President's ban prevented their doing anything more, but was told her she sounded like the Manhunter. "Well, with Batman out of the picture, the Manhunter is the senior member of the team, and--" Hank became more forceful, grabbing hold of Mari's arms. "Take your hands off of me, Steel-- or I swear I'll dismantle you." The pair relaxed, and Mari explained, "...when it comes down to it, Mari McCabe is as big a fraud as Hank Heywood. I'm Vixen. I'm a hunter... a fighter. But all the breast-beating and self-pity in the world won't change anything." Hank decided to become Steel, and while Mari tried to stop him at first, soon relented. In fact, unable to keep Steel in check, Mari went on the hunt for Ivo by herself, though in plain clothes.

Steel: Couldn't stand idly by at Mari's apartment with Ivo on the loose. "Dammit, Mari! A friend of ours was murdered-- and because of that idiot G. Gordon Godfrey-- our hands are tied! Where's the sense in that? Where's the justice?" Mari threatened Hank when he got grabby, and things cooled down. "Funny. You got mad-- and called me Steel, not Hank. And that's who I really am... Steel, the unstoppable cyborg. Strong enough to give Superman a run for his money. But of course I can't use my strength. The President won't let me." Hank stormed off into a bedroom, and emerged in his Steel costume. Mari thought he was out of his mind, but Steel demanded, "Away from the door, Vixen-- or I'll dismantle you."

Walking the streets of New York in broad daylight, Steel expected to attract Ivo's attention. That and more, as Steel was dismayed by the fear and disrespect that greeted him from the G. Gordon Godfrey-influenced public. Police arrived and drew down on him. Steel gave a somewhat effective speech extolling the virtue of costumed heroics, until he attacked an Ivo android dressed as NYPD, dissipating good will in favor of panic. Steel hauled the manipulative automaton to a discrete alley to extract information, but received only head games and energy blasts. Steel valiantly pressed the Ivo into reaching critical mass with its energy projection, absorbing the resultant explosion with his own body to protect bystanders. Steel was severely damaged when found by the Martian Manhunter, in terrific pain, and barely conscious. "Got to go b-b-back... to... De... Detroit... Got... t-t-to go... home..." Hank Heywood Sr. cried as he found his grandson too badly damaged to function on his own, and eventually turned off his life support.

Martian Manhunter: Was attacked by the Ivo he found at Gypsy's house. "I don't want to fight you, android... There is no reason for this! 'Though your creator, Professor Ivo, sent you to slay Gypsy-- you spared her life! You have proven that you can transcend your programming-- and think independently!" The Ivo argued that Gypsy was harmless, while Manhunter was among those responsible for turning Ivo into "a reptillian grotesquerie!" Manhunter tried to explore the Ivo's mind to determine its master's location, but was hobbled by its lunacy. Out of gratitude for its sparing Gypsy, Manhunter tried reason one final time, and the Ivo tried wringing his Martian neck. "It... won't be that easy... machine... You won't do to me... what your "brother" did to-- VIBE!" Having boxed its head off, the Ivo still claimed Manhunter was responsible for Paco's death. Manhunter angrily pounded at the dismembered android, demanding it "SHUT UP!!"

Manhunter disallowed Gypsy from rejoining the former League members, requesting, "Please Gypsy... no tearful farewells. It's not the Martian way." Still, he turned back toward the girl and received her affectionate goodbye.

On finding what was left of Steel, among police offers who couldn't figure out what to do with him, Manhunter proclaimed, "You-- do-- nothing!" Manhunter knelt down to cradle the agonized Steel in his arms, intent on carrying him home to Commander Steel. The police thought otherwise. "And are you going to stop me? No-- I didn't think so." Manhunter tried to comfort Hank Sr., but learned there was nothing that could be done as the plug was pulled on Hank Heywood Jr. J'Onn, head in hand, despaired for the loss.

Gypsy: Looked on as Manhunter tore the Ivo that had befriended her to pieces, learning from taunts that Vibe had been killed. Intended to pursue Ivo with the Justice League, but was flat refused. Manhunter believed that the law was right, that the situation was too dangerous for her, and that she needed to focus on her family. "You've been away from them for too many months, away from the normal life you deserve... I know that you're all strong... that you love each other... and that, together-- you'll find a way to heal your wounds." Gypsy cried and hugged J'Onn goodbye.

The Creators: J.M. DeMatteis gave Steel a stronger and more character-specific send-off than Vibe. There are more precious moments between characters here than I'd be inclined to detail further, but am happy to applaud. Luke McDonnell continued to be passed round robin amongst inkers, this one being Steve Montano. The results were average, aside for a lovely page with a prowling Vixen.

J’Onn J’Onzz’s Nicknames of the Issue: "JJ" -Steel, Gypsy
"J'onn." -Steel, Commander Steel
"J'onn J'onzz." -Ivo
"The Manhunter." -Steel, Vixen
"Manhunter." -NYPD
"Mr. J'onzz." -Gypsy's Mom

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Who's Who Vol.X: Gypsy (12/85)

Like most of the new Detroit League, my first reaction to Gypsy was "eh." Since I had dropped JLI before her appearances there, I first made her acquaintance in the first issue of "Justice League Task Force." Like I suspect a good many readers at the time, my thought was "who is this person?" She kept popping up though, and I started raiding back issues, filling in the gaps of my knowledge. I paid special attention to Gypsy in light of her connection to J'Onn J'Onzz though, and with time his affection toward Gypsy rubbed off on me.

I believe the character has a great deal to offer now, and in retrospect I find her very influential. She was like the anti-Kitty Pryde: Secretive... spiteful... sarcastic... as often the cause of problems as the solution... quite often the damsel in distress very much needing a save from teammates. No Wesley Crusher showboating for Gypsy!

I can see where that wouldn't play with fans of the Justice League in the mid-80's, but I can just as easily see the genesis of characters like DKR's Carrie Kelly, the X-Men's Jubilee, and every other Joss Whedon creation. While I can understand her Cyndi Lauper/Stevie Nicks/Madonna shtick rubbing people the wrong way, I find it interesting that she's one of the very few super-heroes dating back a quarter century for whom snarky dialogue is entirely appropriate, as opposed to forced. She was both behind and ahead of her time at once.

I don't know that I'd be as excited about a Gypsy mini-series as I was Vixen, but still, a character deserving of less animosity and even, dare I say it, TLC? I imagine Gypsy being a "Cloak & Dagger" type for the DC Universe-- a street-level heroine dealing with teen runaways, junkies, alternative lifestyles, and prostitutes alongside a helping of "teh wierd." You may laugh, but try to remember Gypsy counts Lady Shiva, Vandal Savage and Despero amongst her personal foes, and still carried a membership in the Birds of Prey last I heard. You've come a long way, baby...

Art by Chuck Patton & Bob Smith.