Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Previously In Justice League (1987)

Maxwell Lord IV scanned television reports from outside the Justice League's mountain base: "... Many people question the effectiveness of a new J.L.A. in these times of, at best, grudging tolerance of super-- ...Two of the newer members arrive-- I'm sorry, one new member and a veteran of this oldest of super-teams-- ...A Martian. What effect his presence will have on public opinion is yet to be--"

An arrogant Green Lantern Guy Gardner brooded alone at the new Justice League meeting table, intent on demanding leadership of the fledgling team. He was soon joined by Black Canary, Mr. Miracle, Oberon, Captain Marvel, and, together, Blue Beetle with the Manhunter from Mars. Oberon felt the media circus surrounding the group's reformation couldn't hurt.

Martian Manhunter: "In light of recent events-- I would tend to doubt it."
Blue Beetle: "I think the Martian Manhunter's just being paranoid, group!"
Martian Manhunter: "Then I suggest you think again! ...They are wolves-- waiting to consume us. To them, we're novelties... Sideshow freaks-- viewed with amusement one moment, reviled the next."
Blue Beetle: "Look, J'Onzz-- we don't really know each other... but aren't you being a tad grim?"
Martian Manhunter: "You are correct, Beetle. You don't know me. Nor do you know what I have lived through... what the old League endured... what we lost.

J'Onn cued a monitor bank of images:





He gazed at them solemnly for a moment, then crestfallen, pressed a button to purge the vision of his former teammates. Dinah consoled, "J'Onn, I--" but before she could finish, the most obnoxious Green Lantern returned to demanding leadership of the outfit.

A screaming match with Black Canary developed, followed by rough handling of Oberon, prompting Manhunter to step between the pair.




Unlike with Superman, Guy Gardner felt no hesitation about tugging on the Martian Manhunter's cape, lifting him off the ground by the neck. "I strongly suggest you let me down."
"Just butt out, Jolly Green-- or I'll boot you back to the valley! Ho-ho-ho."

Gardner briefly relented, until Oberon renewed hostilities, prompting Mr. Miracle to complain, "J'Onn, this is utterly infantile..."
"You are correct, Mr. Miracle. This is infantile. And it's time our ring-wielding baby got the spanking he deserves!."

Batman and Dr. Fate walked in on a full scale brawl, as Captain Marvel took a power ring blast to the belly that launched him into a guarded Alien Atlas. The Dark Knight strode through the collection of heroes to pacify Guy Gardner with his overwhelming presence, and a meeting commenced.

Meanwhile, the heroic Doctor Light (Kimiyo Hoshi) was at the United Nations, where her new Justice League signal-device was paging her relentlessly. She was so distracted, she almost missed the terrorists who would hold her and the General Assembly hostage.

The Batman was alerted, so he sent Captain Marvel and Dr. Fate ahead while he joined the rest of the team in flying to the scene inside Beetle's Bug craft. On arrival, Manhunter noted, "Batman-- I don't see Dr. Fate..." ...who vanished to take care of another matter.

The Martian Marvel joined his team in stealthily entering the U.N., where he embedded the heads of several assailants quite forcefully into a corridor ceiling. The Sleuth From Outer Space then invisibly contacted Dr. Light, whispering in her ear, "Show no alarm. Make no sudden moves. I'm J'Onn J'Onzz of the Justice League--"
"Y-you're invisible?!"
"Obviously. Now, please-- listen carefully." At his signal, Dr. Light blinded everyone in her vicinity, as Green Lantern swiftly handled all but two of he remaining terrorists. Dr. Light had elbowed half the remainder.
"I admire you... efficiency."
"Years of practice."
"They paid off."

Batman stared down the final boss, who thereafter committed apparent suicide. Martian Manhunter was annoyed to face the press after.

Meanwhile, the tycoon Maxwell Lord IV watched all these events from afar, having bankrolled the terrorists as part of a plot to help put the new Justice League on the international map...

Batman asked Kimiyo Hoshi (a.k.a. Doctor Light II) to repeat the story of where she obtained a Justice League signal device until she was exasperated, but Martian Manhunter entreated, "Please, Doctor. It's important."
"All right, Manhunter--"
"Call me J'Onn."
"--I'll go over it again. For you."
She did, until Batman pleaded for her to turn over the device. "'Please.'? Did you actually say-- 'please'? Here, take it-- quick-- before I faint!"

On the sidelines, other Leaguers watched Jack Rider's Hot Seat, the O'Reilly Factor of its day, as it grilled their new formation. "Then there's the extraterrestrial in their midst: the so-called Martian Manhunter. At a time when America can't trust other countries-- how can we trust a creature from another world?"

Green Lantern Guy Gardner, typically a far right-winger himself, was incensed to the point of threatening to go rip out Ryder's heart after his televised insults. Martian Manhunter raised his hand and decreed "You will do no such thing." The Dark Knight also chimed in, as J'Onn J'Onzz agreed "I'd advise you to listen to Batman, Guy. There's just so long we will tolerate this infantile behavior."

In Bialya, the surviving Champions of Angor Wandjina, Silver Sorceress and "Bluejay" attempted to dismantle the hostile Middle Eastern nation's nuclear weapons program. Their world had been lost to the same, and they hoped to rescue ours from our war mongering. Instead, they were convinced by Colonel Rumaan Harjavti to redirect their global crusade, under his guidance.

Later, Batman and Martian Manhunter studied the signal device in the lab of the team's cave-based headquarters. The Dark Knight Detective interrupted the Sleuth from Outer Space to pedantically interject that the signal couldn't possibly be genuine issue, and suspected it to be an inferior copy. "I didn't say it was one of ours... I said it seems to be one of ours... Actually, Batman-- it's a superior copy. There are elements of the design that should be incorporated into ours." The Caped Crusader was taken aback, but before he could more deeply consider the implications, Captain Marvel heralded a news report regarding the former Assemblers/Champions of Angor having struck missile silos in Israel.

Guy Gardner cheered, "I love it! Let's hope those three take out every two-bit country that's packing nukes! Nobody but Ronnie-Boy should have his finger on the button! Then we'd have the world where we want it, huh?" The Martian Detective thought, "Pathetic!" He then shared, "Guy, your logic... if I can even call it that... is utterly unique."
"Oh... then you agree with me?"
"Of course not."
"Well, I'd expect it from you-- I mean, you're a freakin' Martian!"

The team traveled via Blue Beetle's "Bug" airship to confront the trio, but Guy Gardner launched an attack before more diplomatic overtures could be made. Wandjina proved too much for the Green Lantern, and was next met by Mr. Miracle and the Alien Atlas. "It was not our intent to attack-- but we must ask you to surrender. Now." Manhunter's pointed request could not be enforced, as Bialya demanded the Bug leave its airspace, or be blown out of the sky. The Caped Crusader ordered retreat.

Subplots included Maxwell Lord IV looking into Jack Ryder and meeting with a "Mr. Gold," while Dr. Fate tried to warn the mystical threat the Gray Man off his chosen course.

While Silver Sorceress, Wandjina and "Bluejay" were not so naive as to actually trust Colonel Rumaan Harjavti, they still left Bialya to target the nuclear arsenals of the Soviet Union at his suggestion and aided by his country's intelligence.

After 9.2 hours of hovering inside "the Bug" outside Bialyan airspace, Blue Beetle was sarcastic and the Dark Knight didn't like his attitude. Martian Manhunter soothed, "Blue Beetle meant no harm, Batman. And, frankly, it has been a long night." Sooner, on-board radar detected the former Assemblers flying out of the country, and gave chase. Given the lack of information on the trio, Beetle and Manhunter were of like mind regarding their likely other-worldly origins. "Just what I was thinking, Manhunter!" The Bug gave chase, until the trio entered the Soviet Union. "If three costumed superbeings start attacking Soviet missile sites..."

The Rocket Red Brigade was alerted to defend the U.S.S.R., both from the surviving Champions of Angor and the Justice League. Guy Gardner, a prior threat to the Brigade, again took undesirable initiative against the Reds. Captain Marvel was too preoccupied with the Brigade to follow Batman's order to rein the Green Lantern in. The Caped Crusader then demanded, "Manhunter-- get out there and grab Gardner!"

"...Gardner-- Batman wants you inside... Now!"
"Aww-- go back to Mars!"
"I said inside-- and I meant it!"
The Alien Atlas drug Gardner by the scuff of his collar back to the Bug, and roughly dumped him inside, while J'Onzz went on to battle Rocket Reds. The Martian Marvel punched one of the armored fliers toward Captain Marvel, who redirected the Red into another with a blow of his own. "J'Onn-- I don't understand this. We're here trying to save the Russians-- but all we seem to be doing is beating on them!"

General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev saw the error, ordering the Brigade to stand down, and allow the Justice League to assist them. Sadly, a nuclear reactor had been shut down too quickly in anticipation of the surviving Champions of Angor arrival, initiating a meltdown. Wandjina managed to avert that tragedy, but not without paying a heavy personal price. The Soviets took the trio into custody, then escorted the Justice League outside their airspace.

Returning to their mountain base, the Justice League were greeted by Maxwell Lord IV, who arbitrarily introduced to them their newest member, Booster Gold...

Batman was upset by how Maxwell Lord IV had breached the League's headquarters with Booster Gold in tow, as well as replicating their signal devices, and representing the team without their authorization. Mr. Miracle was tasked with installing a new security system, but the Manhunter from Mars insisted, "Our security system isn't the issue. Maxwell Lord is the issue. A very disturbing issue." Batman emphasized, "The Manhunter is right. There's more to our millionaire entrepreneur than meets the eye-- and we'd better get to the truth if this League is to continue."

Lord was sequestered with Booster Gold and Doctor Light II (Kimiyo Hoshi,) both of whom he'd duped into believing were members of the new Justice League. Kimiyo expressed her disdain. "You're very smug, Mr. Lord. You're also a fraud and a liar... I QUIT!!!" The League confronted the remaining pair, and feeling Max was "begging" for him to be let on the team, a prideful Booster Gold also walked... just not very far.

While speaking with the media waiting outside, another security breach occurred, attracting Booster Gold to the culprit Royal Flush Gang. Cameras were catching their conflict outside the headquarters, so Batman decided the team should just observe for now. The Martian Manhunter felt it would be a better choice with one less audience member...

"If you'll follow me, Mr. Lord...?"
"But, I want to--"
"This is not for your eyes."
"Don't provoke me, Mr. Lord."
"I wouldn't dream of it."

Booster Gold managed to bring down most of the Royal Flush Gang, and was literally applauded by the Justice League. Batman even cracked a smile.Then an extraordinarily powerful robotic Ace (in the hole) appeared. "Manhunter-- you and Captain Marvel are our first wave!"

"I don't think Captain Marvel will be needed, Batman. I can-- YARRGH!"

Ace's mechanical voice spoke as a flame thrower was unsheathed from within its forearm: "Fire. The one earthly element that can terminate a Martian." Manhunter was swept away by an eruption that engulfed his head and torso, though Captain Marvel immediately placed himself in the line of fire. Ace had capabilities that exploited the League's vulnerabilities, so that none fared well before it. Immolating itself like an inhuman torch, Ace claimed, "It is child's play to defeat you, just as it will be child's play-- to incinerate you all!"

Since Ace was clearly programmed to address the League's powers, it would take a non-member to handle him. The first ever teaming of the Blue (Beetle) and the Gold finally folded Ace, prompting much excitation for Booster. "Did you see that, world?! Did you see what Booster Gold and the Justice League did?!"

The recovered Manhunter joked, "He'd be a fine addition to the team, Batman-- if only he wasn't so lacking in energy and enthusiasm." The Dark Knight concurred, and welcomed the young hero back into HQ as their newest team member. Still, the place was hard won, as Gold discussed with the Martian.

"...Oh, man-- I'm aching all over."
"And every ache was earned, Mr. Gold."
"Call me Booster-- and thanks!"

Dr. Fate located the Gray Man in Stone Ridge, Vermont, where he was stealing people's dreams to empower himself. The Gray Man's origin was told to Fate after the Lord of Order was captured.

Media critic Jack Ryder, still hot to discredit the new Justice League, followed a lead to Stone Ridge.

Green Lantern Guy Gardner once again waved his finger and hollered at the Batman. These "infantile confrontations" on both their parts caused Mr. Miracle to consider quitting the team. The completely innocent Captain Marvel was also drawn into the power struggle, as he grumbled about the Dark Knight's cruel words directed toward him, and began to feel he was too inexperienced to be a member of the team. After Guy hurled a "gutless pansy" and Batman a "mongrel," the situation came to blow. The mongrel in need of a kennel screamed "I BITE!!!" The Batman decked him with one infamous punch, knocking Guy Gardner "extremely unconscious" just as Martian Manhunter arrived with Black Canary...

"Good afternoon, everyone. Hope we haven't-- Is that Guy on the floor?" Blue Beetle couldn't stop laughing and crying "One punch!" Black Canary was in shock. Batman said simply, "I'm glad you're here, Manhunter. Now we can get this meeting under way. J'Onn replied, "Sorry we're late, Batman," and thought to himself "But not as sorry as Black Canary is."
"Batman belted him-- and I missed it? Oh. God, I'm so depressed."

Just as Batman was calling the meeting to order, with Manhunter at his right hand, Oberon alerted the team to a call for help from Dr. Fate. Batman grimly acknowledged "Fifty-two hours to save the world." Martian Manhunter noted "We've done it before. On a tighter schedule." Booster Gold exclaimed "You have?!"

Captain Marvel was sent ahead to Stone Ridge, while the rest of the team followed in the Bug. J'Onn worried en route...
"I hope Marvel's all right--"
"If he's not... it's his own fault."
"You're too hard on him, Batman."
"I'm hard on everyone."

Upon landing, the Manhunter from Mars floated ahead of the group. "Batman... I feel a presence. Strange. Disturbed."
"The Gray Man?"
"I don't think so."

That presence turned out to be the Creeper, Jack Ryder's maniacal alter-ego. Once, that was an act on Ryder's part-- but now? Not so much. The Creeper presented a "remodeled" Stone Ridge to the team: bizarre, organic, and entirely alien...

This was an awkward story from Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis. This specific issue spends a good deal of time with the Kent Nelson/Nabu version of Dr. Fate, who those same creators were in the process of killing off in a separate four issue mini-series. Perhaps this was intended as the character's final hurrah with the team? Then there's the vague Jack Ryder/Creeper subplot, which as I recall was intended as a backdoor pilot for that character, but never amounted to anything. Next there's the origin sequence and major build up for the Gray Man, much ado about nothing by the end of the tale. Finally, there's little left for the actual team to do besides drown in foreshadowing for upcoming changes. It seems editors who had lent big name heroes to the new Justice League were becoming aware of its serio-comic tone, and were in the process of pulling or minimizing their presence in the book. Even letterer supreme Bob Lappan was off his game, with a hideously amateurish story title even the least talented underground artist would be embarrassed by.

On the plus side, the issue still reads well on its own, it features a well-remembered classic moment, while the art of Kevin Maguire under Al Gordon continued to improve.

The Justice League gazed at the malformed town of Stone Ridge, Vermont. Mr. Miracle declared "It's... enformed madness. Like something out of my childhood on Apokolips." Martian Manhunter observed, "If you grew up in an environment like this... then my heart goes out to you." Scott Free warned, "Don't worry about me, Manhunter-- worry about Captain Marvel! He's down in the middle of that mess!" Shortly thereafter, Blue Beetle asked rhetorically "...weird, huh?" J'onn J'onzz replied, "'Weird' is a relative concept, Beetle." Kord thought, "Sheesh! Sometimes this guy acts like he's from Mars!"

Captain Marvel was in the clutches of the Gray Man, levitating motionless alongside the similarly compromised Dr. Fate. The Gray Man was disdainful of Dr. Fate's silence and his having brought the Justice League to Stone Ridge. The Gray Man decided to show his displeasure by taking control of Captain Marvel's body and assaulting the League.

Black Canary and Booster Gold were the Gray Marvel's first victims, picked-up and hurled through the air at deadly speed. The Manhunter from Mars warned his team's leader, "I can feel his mind, Batman-- he's being controlled--" The Dark Knight commanded, "Booster'll be all right. He's got a Flight Ring! Miracle-- you retrieve Canary! J'onn-- you nail Marvel! Don't hold back, do you hear me?"

"...Marvel-- I can feel your mind struggling against him! If I can telepathically bolster your efforts--" The Martian Manhunter was unable to complete his sentence, as the Gray Marvel backhanded J'onzz, who skidded face first along and through the ground. From his trench, J'onzz grimaced, "I'm not amused."

"Oh, but I am! This is exhilarating! This is fun! I could incinerate you with a single spell, but I much prefer it this way." As the Martian Marvel batted the possessed Captain Marvel away with a boulder, he confessed, "So do I."

The League began to regroup, wondering what had become of the
the Creeper. Batman ordered, "Forget the Creeper for now! The Gray Man's our problem! We've got to find him!" Mr. Miracle asked, "What about Marvel?" The Caped Crusader dismissed the concern with, "J'Onn can handle it." Booster Gold snorted, "You hope." Batman countered, "J'Onn J'Onzz has been at this game longer than I have, Booster! He's the only member of this team I don't feel I have to nursemaid!"

The Alien Atlas continued to trade blows with Captain Marvel, as the Gray Man whined, "Fall, damn you! Why won't you fall?!" The puppet master sweated and strained at his bijou hideout, as Dr. Fate eroded the Gray Man's confidence further. "Not as easy as you thought, is it? Captain Marvel's power is mystical in origin. Even in his comatose state, his mind resists you. And the Manhunter is a formidable telepath. With each physical blow, he strikes at you psychically. The strain is beginning to show." The Gray Man was on his knees, cradling his head in his palms. "I said it's-- effortless!"

Outside, the Martian Marvel was procumbent, an upturned palm and a tensed arm the only signs of a rally to come. The Gray Marvel stood over the shrugging Alien Atlas, raring his fists behind his head in preparation for a crushing blow. "Do you see, Fate? He's down! And now that he is, I'm going to-- to... to...?" The gray in Captain Marvel's hair darkened to its natural black, and the ominous glow in his eyes dimmed to confusion. "Hey-- what's going--" As the Big Red Cheese struggled with his surroundings, the Manhunter from Mars pulled himself up and delivered the mother of all haymakers. The Power of Shazam planted his posterior against the ground, his head put through a stone wall.

"Captain Marvel?"
"Is it really you?"
"I'm sorry. I was dazed... I didn't notice the shift in minds at first. Did I hurt you?"

The Creeper called out to the rest of the Justice League, as he had tracked the Gray Man to the bijou. Inside, he and Dr. Fate were engaged in a sorcerous duel. "You're finished! Marvel and the Manhunter put too much pressure on you-- weakened you... allowed me the opportunity to break free! You've overextended yourself!" Not so much that the Gray Man couldn't defeat all the heroes inside, except Dr. Fate, who then took off the kid gloves. "Gray Man-- I pity you. I've tried and tried to get through to you-- to make you see the foolishness of what you've done... Do you really think that absorbing dream-essence can make you equal to the Lords of Order--? --Can make you equal to me? You pathetic little man-- I've been holding back in order to help you! But now I see that you're beyond help! And so I do what must be done to rid the world of you!"

Outside, Martian Manhunter saw the bijou vanish. "Gone. All of them-- gone. But gone where? With Fate and the Gray Man involved-- it's surely no place on Earth... or any other world. Which means that, for now, I'm utterly helpless. Yes-- for now. But I'll find a way to reach them. I have to. Still, there's Captain Marvel to think of. The strain of his possession... our battle... has caught up with him. I need to get him home. And, after I'm sure that he's all right-- I'll be back."

On a side note, Maxwell Lord IV met with Hal Jordan, who expressed his serious reservations about a Justice League employing his fellow Green Lantern, "that psychopath" Guy Gardner. Lord dismissed them.

I know super-hero battles are a dime a dozen, but b'gosh this one was swell-- though I may be just a tad biased. The rest of the story wasn't too hot, though. The Gray Man looked like Harlan Ellison, a plenty ornery novelist, but not a credible threat. The schism between the bleak mystical pretensions and screwball comedy was glaring, and you never want to have the League upstaged by guest-stars. The Creeper had way too much impact, and even Dr. Fate turned his teammates into sidekicks by the end. People hate magical super-heroes for exactly the shenanigans Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis pulled in this script. No fault of Kevin Maguire though, whose pretty picture helped the medicine go down. Bob Lappan was mostly back to form, aside for another rocky title lettering.

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