Monday, October 11, 2021

2015 Super-Team Family: The Lost Issues: "1000th ISSUE SPECTACULAR!" featuring Martian Manhunter and Drax the Destroyer

In the long life of The Brave and the Bold / Marvel Two-in-One: The Lost Issues, Ross has surely reached a lot of numerical milestones by posting every weekday. #1000 has to be among the most memorable though, since in 2015 no American super-hero comics had made it to that many issues, far eclipsing the combined runs of the various team-up titles that inspired the project. Also, people still paid attention to blogs in 2015. For the occasion, Ross did a real tour de force post, including scan of childhood hand-drawn team-up comics, how-to tutorial, best of gallery, and more! This is clearly a lifelong passion project, as evidence by his still going another half-dozen years since.

Ross also produced a special 1000th edition speculative comic in the tradition of DC Comics' 100 Page Giants, offering seven different pairings involving Batman, Deadpool, The Thing, Firestorm, The Hulk, Black Lightning, Superman, Gladiator, Ant-Man, The Atom... The primary story involved the Avengers and JSA, but for the purposes of this blog, a (crudely) foregrounded a back-up with J'Onn J'Onzz and Drax titled "Riot on the Red Planet!"

I just noticed that I screwed-up last week's link for Tars Tarkas, but another entry in my short-lived Martian Knock-Offs series of posts was Drax the Destroyer. Even by 2011, the characters had diverged sharply, to the point where the similarities ended with broad physical characteristics. Certainly, no one who has seen Dave Bautista (and of course James Gunn's) portrayal of an obtuse, brutally violent, fairly misogynistic MCU anti-hero would confuse the character with the more empathetic and pensive live action Alien Atlas. That said, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made Drax a full blooded alien mourning a deceased wife and child with deep wells of sadness detected by his psychic cohort Mantis, so in some ways they're even more alike today.

The images here were taken, I believe, from a Phil Jimenez two-page massive group spread from JLA Secret Files & Origins and a Ron Lim cover for Silver Sufer when Drax was still in his imbecilic Hulk phase. I was a huge Adam Warlock fan growing up, but unless Jim Starlin were to do the project, preferably in 1977, I doubt this would be my bad today.

Monday, October 4, 2021

2012 Super-Team Family: The Lost Issues: Martian Manhunter and John Carter, Warlord of Mars

Click To Enlarge

As I got away from writing posts, I likewise more or less stopped reading blogs. When Ross Pearsall of Super-Team Family... The Lost Issues! recently made a guest appearance on The Fire and Water Podcast, it reminded me that I hadn't exploited his fanfic team-up efforts for easy content in years!

We regifted a Batman and The Martian Manhunter Mock-Up Cover in 2011, Beta Ray Bill in 2012, Marvel Two-in-One: The Thing in 2013*, Captain America Vs. The Justice League of America in 2015.

One that I passed on covering for nearly a decade was John Carter, despite once harrassing his buddy Tars Tarkas. I remember having ancient Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies playing in the background to my less than rapt inattention when I was a wee lad, but I never had much use for Edgar Rice Burroughs. Blame Spielberg and Lucas, but I was raised to appreciate the bravura loving tributes, not the clunky source material.

* and just for good measure, Mahunter Paul Kirk and Iron Fist

Monday, September 20, 2021

2021 Martian Manhunter art by Nick Bradshaw

"Martian Manhunter bust illustration in pencil, ink and acrylic ink. Portrait, 11 x 17". By Nick Bradshaw."
Sorry that I skipped out for most of September. I've been juggling a lot this month. Ironically, by hitting a wall on my more elaborate projects, like podcasting, I'm taking a breather this week that allowed for posting here. Depending on how things go, I may try to make up some of that missed time, or not. Anyway, here's a big name artist with a very pleasing Art Adams streak providing a rare take on DC's Alien Atlas!

Thursday, September 2, 2021

2021 Martian Manhunter costume redesign by Scott E. Hileman

Click To Enlarge

A few months back, I started receiving some friendly emails from one of our reader/listeners, and thought I'd share a sampling of his words to go with the art above...
I first encountered the Martian Manhunter back in my elementary school days in the early 70s in a reprint of an earlier JLA comic where Fox and Sekowsky had them fighting robots or statues that looked like them. I’d catch him at different times over the years in reprinted stories in 100-page giants, etc. I was very excited when he returned to earth and the JLA during the Detroit-era, perhaps the only good thing to come out of that time period. Then I pretty much followed him ever since until the early 2000s. IMHO, ever since Identity Crisis, the flavor of DC Comics changed for me to the point where I just didn’t buy new DC Comics. And as such some of the newer appearances of J’Onzz I missed except for the last outing. I bought the first couple of issues but I haven’t looked through them, let alone read them.

So that’s my relationship with the character. Obviously, mine isn’t as deep and passionate as yours. I hope that some day soon that DC will J’Onn J’Onzz book that hit all your buttons. You deserve it for trying to keep the blue flame of Mars alive...

Fan-casting for a 1950s style J’Onn J’Onzz story, I think Richard Bulgi would make for a great John Jones.

If you could warp time and space, I’d suggest the late, great John Huston would have made a great Monte Moran. Not just his look but his voice too. I can hear it in my head mocking J’Onn as he gets away...

Here’s my idea. I’m not re-inventing the wheel by any stretch but I think this looks pretty cool in my humble opinion. It is nothing more than basically taking the blackest night costume and adding the original MM color scheme to it. I tried to make his shirt more like a tunic for a subtle nod to Ancient Rome (the whole Mars-Roman god thing). Also I didn’t want to give him outer shorts like Superman, but it need some kind of break between the legs and torso would do that and look a little better shorts or loin cloth. The open neck and short sleeves shows off more of his green skin and gives him a causal air about him, like he isn’t afraid to face any menace.

Monday, August 23, 2021

2021 “Justice League Extreme #1” Bloodwynd fanfic commission art by Brad Green

Despite having read over his stories several times with the expressed purpose of nailing down what his whole deal was, Bloodwynd yet remains a confounding mystery. To this day, most people still think that he was just a cover identity of the Martian Manhunter, not a separate character, if they ever think of him at all. I've had an angle on Bloodwynd in mind going back to at least the reviled Dan Vado run, but it doesn't fit with this project, and he somehow managed to become the motivating factor for the team's creation instead. I never talked up my interest in Manhunter/Bloodwynd like I did Artemis, so it would have been easy to shove him in between bigger characters for little more than a head shot or waist-up. I'm really glad Brad Green was able to draw most of the heroes as full figures, but especially that Bloodwynd is so fully realized with serious cape action and authentic African-American features. Bloodwynd has rarely looked as good anywhere as he does here!

art & cover by BRAD GREEN
variant cover by PHIL CHO
card stock variant cover by ED BENES
Bloodwynd is no hero. The mysterious dark mage of death has his own agenda, which he preferred to pursue in isolation. Outed by his nemesis, the necromancer briefly played at being a champion during a time of unprecedented tumult, when the world’s greatest super-heroes were threatened with extermination. The savage Kryptonian behemoth Doomsday beat Superman into a coma. Hulking criminal mastermind Bane broke the Batman. The minions of the war god Ares saw to the demise of a Wonder Woman. The multiversal destroyer Anti-Monitor extinguished the Flash. Alien tyrant Mongul drove Green Lantern mad. Extraterrestrial terror Imperiex obliterated Aquaman. The worshipers of Darkseid, Lord of Apokolips, executed Martian Manhunter. Through his necromancy, Bloodwynd recognized that these magnificent seven crusaders were tied mystically to the fate of all creation, and he stepped up to defend all of existence… including, especially, his own.

Then came Judgment Day, when the Overmaster and his Cadre arrived to witness the end of the Earth. Bloodwynd was cosmically aware that this moment was beyond him, that all hope rested with the Justice League. He merely watched as the universe ended… and began again. Like tumbling dominoes, the events set in motion by Doomsday led to Hal Jordan becoming Parallax, and with other terrorists against time itself, unleashed entropic energies that annihilated the universe. Only a handful of heroes remained at the Vanishing Point to restart everything with a Big Bang. Today, another Crisis in Time has begun, and many of the horsemen of the previous apocalypse rise again… without any of the Magnificent Seven to meet them. The Septuplicate is essential for salvation, a search for seven successors, an extreme form of Justice League.

Reignman has been born through the melding of the corpse of the Cyborg Superman Zor-El, further enhanced with the automations of John Henry Irons, controlled by the intelligence of the Kryptonian Eradicator. The unjustly exiled Amazon Artemis has chosen to wear the indignity on her back, in the discarded garb of her fallen sister Diana from her own hour of disgrace, as a living Requiem. Freed from Mother’s control and picking up where The Colony left off, the genetically engineered and psychologically programmed killer Jean-Paul Valley is among the sole standing vigilantes defending Gotham from Leviathan, within his sealed Knightfall battle armor. Arrived from a catastrophic near-future where his family perished before his eyes, Walter West takes no prisoners with the crimson quickness of Dark Flash. Compelled by the Life Entity within his White Power Battery to defend their home world against aliens, Kyle Rayner returns to Earth to wield nearly limitless powers over creation as the Omega Lantern. Obsessed with reclaiming the throne for his bloodline, Arthur Curry’s only surviving son, the berserker Koryak, would rule as Aquamaster.

The return of Mongul to Coast City attracts several of these anti-heroes who have faced him in the past, and understand the danger he normally represents. However, the flaxen fiend has not come alone, and his fellows’ reach and menace in unfathomable. What is the Superman Death Squad, and what purpose could it still serve in a world without the Man of Tomorrow? And what of these would-be heroes? Are they all that they seem, and could there be just as much of a threat within their ranks as without?
ON SALE 05.12.21
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES
This issue will ship with three covers.
Please see the order form for details.

“Justice League Extreme #1” by Brad Green

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

2021 Martian Manhunter by Paul Smith

Juggling too many projects this week while also suffering from the energy depletion of dieting, so nothing substantial this week. One of those efforts is Siskoid's "Who's Editing" fan fiction thought experiment, for which I offered... 

written by G. WILLOW WILSON
art & cover by PAUL SMITH
Spinning out of the pages of DOOMSDAY CLOCK & ATOMIC! The Shadow Lords’ trap has been sprung, bringing about a new world order. Their Stormwatch Intercontinental now patrols the globe, capable of putting down any threats to their planetary rule. With the Justice League no more, numerous other challengers neutralized, and even the alien refugees being deported from Earth, their control appears complete.

Despite faltering at Shadowspire, there is yet a collective of heroes to fight back against these nihilistic fascists. Aided by Staq Mavlen before his demise, Ray Palmer located the 30th Century telepath Imra Ardeen within a dank prison, the captive of Adrian Veidt. Her own mission to save Superman, Johnny Thunder, and the new Rorschach Reggie Long has failed, but Veidt himself offered a path to redemption. The son of Erika Manson and Marcos Maez held special meaning to Doctor Manhattan, who left the boy to be raised by the former Silk Spectre and Nite-Owl in 1992. That boy, now adult, is somewhere on Earth with the full inheritance of power from his “foster father,” capable of correcting the time stream to save… everyone?

Dr. Osterman had prophesied before his disappearance, “In the year 2020, Superman’s timeline is bombarded by the reckless energies of the Old Gods, once again warping the Metaverse.” Instead, the New Gods brought about his end in that year, or have they? So many threads to pull on this harrowing new reality, and who better than the survivors of the classic Justice League, joined by their proud legacy from 1,000 years in the future? The Atom and Saturn Girl escape with Elongated Man, Hawkman and Hawkwoman, herself drawn to reunite her cohorts in serving The Life Entity during Brightest Day. But first, they need allies and a base to plan their next moves, and after a quick stop for Sue Dibny, they are directed to Monument Point, Virginia. Former mayor Jay Garrick is also under fire from the government after aiding XS & Kid Flash against A.C.E., and is ready to get back into the race as The Flash. Hot in pursuit is the Shadow Cabinet, led by the aged Veidt’s heir apparent, Cleopatra Pak… the villainess Nostalgia.
ON SALE 5.26.21
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

Like all right-thinking people, I love Paul Smith, so it's fun to see his take on J'Onn J'Onzz. He's bit too inhuman to me, especially with the Spock ears and vampire collar on an otherwise very Silver Age-y interpretation. The Alien Atlas isn't on my fake team because I killed him off with the rest of the Magnificent Seven JLA at the start of the project. More on that next week...

Monday, August 2, 2021

JLA: Year One #12 (December, 1998)

The Daily Planet buzzed over Earth's heroes beating back the Appellaxian invaders. Two generations of Green Lanterns & friends saved Metropolis. Black Canary & the Blackhawks had an Iwo Jima moment in DC. Aquaman, the Sea Devils and others were in... um... ocean? Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Shining Knight, and Black Condor fought avians in... air, and Martian Manhunter had to listen to them wonder how the aliens knew all their secret identities. Awkward.

Kalar took out his frustrations on Stonehenge, where a teleporting Vandal Savage used the mindwipe device to take out a group of Appellaxians, and also took offense at the insult to his design. On to St. Louis. In a brilliant moment, the Atom shattered a crystal proxy by enlarging slightly in one of its flaws, but the explosion knocked Ray Palmer out, leaving his tiny form to be caught in the palms of Doll Man. In Paris, Molly Mayne reported on the Global Guardians. In Central City, Canary and Flash reunited, as did Barry Allen and Iris West, so Dinah made clear that she wasn't going to be her mother's daughter in a way that would make for two-timing. Also, Green Arrow showed up to flirt.

Martian Manhunter helped clear Peking, but even with Metamorpho and the Doom Patrol, the Great Wall was lost. Despite some gains, there were just too many aliens being fought by exhausted heroes. Even the mystical likes of Dr. Fate and the Spectre faltered. Vandal Savage offered a poisoned chalice, delivered by a shapeshifted Clayface in his image. The device, now set to kill all the Appellaxians on Earth with the touch of a button. The League debated. Aquaman and Flash leaned yeh, Canary and Lantern nay. Snapper Carr and Martian Manhunter went a third way, filtering the device's ray's through J'Onn's psyche to render it agonizing rather than lethal. The Alien Atlas head warped and mind verged on shattering. Aquaman whispered, "I'm here, J'Onn, my friend. Open your mind to me... Open your mind... to us." The League lent their own psyches to the filtration. The mystics creating a portal to Appellaxia, and those that didn't walk through it were tossed in. Savage wanted the League complicit in an act of vengeance. Canary insisted, "We're not about vengeance... we're about justice!"

Flash noted, "I'll say it again, J'Onn. You never fail to surprise us. That was one incredible risk." J'Onn felt he owed a debt to everyone there for the way he'd compromised them, which Canary assured with a kiss was "--Paid in full. Let it go. We will." Hawkman asserted that the Justice Society was proud to pass the torch, and Superman stated that there could be no greater honor than to serve at their side when needed. Planet headlines announced future victories against Amazo, (an anachronistic) Despero, and Kanjar Ro. Aquaman removed the plague commemorating the Appellaxian casualty of their first missio, and thought the surface dwellers had done a nice job pulling together. There was a very forced moment where Black Canary likened herself to a flower blossoming and a bunch of stuff about hers and Flash secret identities being trains going in different directions, yadda yadda. Green Lantern put forth the notion of expanding the roster, beginning with Green Arrow, to the questioning of Dinah and Barry. They took it to a vote. As it turned out, the identity of the secret financier Simon Carr continued to keep was none other than Oliver Queen. "The Irony is just to wicked."

"Justice for All" was by storytellers Mark Waid / Brian Augustyn / Barry Kitson with inker Michael Bair. This extra-length finale didn't take so long to read or to write up, but I put it off because of all the expected listing of names and locations and this happened and that happened. All the toys got set up in their displays and the good guys won. I appreciated that this series made a point of spotlighting the original Blue Beetle, often overlooked in DC history as one of the earliest published super-heroes (thanks to his originating at another publisher and not moving to DC until after Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas were heading out the door.) Still, fanboy here, so can't quite forget that the Seven Soldiers of Victory should have still been separated and lost in time.

Overall, the story is nice and pleasant, with no small amount of nostalgia both for Silver Age comics and even then-contemporary ones. There are some great bits and classic character moments. The whole premise of a super-alien with total recall keeping filing cabinets full of excruciatingly sensitive data about masked heroes on paper in filing cabinets behind a false wall is about the dopiest I could point to off the top of my head. It worked way better as encrypted files on the Bat-computer in "Tower of Babel." All the Appellaxian stuff goes on for too long, and I wish we'd had more single issue spotlights and attention to period detail. Then again, they tried that with the quasi-sequel Incarnations, and maybe not so much. This is probably my second or third pass reading the material, and my second write-up, so I'm probably done revisiting it unbidden by outside factors. I like it fine, but prefer to skim rather than fully invest as a whole, which is probably why it never got a proper adaptation.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Year One: The Post-Crisis Retcons

Despite being familiar with Martian Manhunter going back to around 1984, I didn't become a proper fan until 1996's Justice League: A Midsummer's Nightmare #2. It was a moment of epiphany, as if all the near misses of finding favor with the Sleuth from Outer Space all swerved the other way at the same time. In a single splash page by Jeff Johnson, depicting a story beat co-writer Mark Waid informed me was Fabian Nicieza's contribution, it hit me that I loved this character. Being of limited means, I did what most new fans do; started picking up what I could of the character as it came out or when back issues presented themselves to me. While I was certainly a veteran comics reader, it became clear rather quickly that J'Onn J'Onzz's solo stories were a blind spot not only for me, but for the majority of the then-modern audience. Likewise, JLA was an immediate smash hit, reintroducing a new readership to the "Magnificent Seven" Justice League not seen since the early 1980s. DC wisely recognized that these recent converts would be receptive to a new testament, and so a twelve issue maxi-series was commissioned to expand upon a one-off revised League origin story the way Man of Steel and Legends of the Dark Knight had elaborated upon a modern take on heroes' formative adventures. These revisionist histories formed the ground floors of my Alien Atlas adoration, though I'd later face the cognitive dissonance of a deeper understanding of how the Manhunter did (or admittedly most often did not) work on his own terms. In this era, the gospel of J'Onn as "the Heart and Soul of the Justice League" reigned, strongly informing the late '90s WebTV fan site that predated this blog (to my knowledge, only the second significant one of its kind at the time.) Textless solicitation images of period books like JLA: Year One were the backbone of the site, especially before I had access to a scanner (and even then, always someone else's.) Seeing an image like the one above always sends me back to that period.

Martian Manhunter (1998) Martian Manhunter: American Secrets (1992)
by Gerard Jones & Eduardo Barreto
Justice League Quarterly Secret Origins
  • #35 (1988) "Martian Manhunter" by Mark Verheiden & Ken Steacy
  • #32 (November, 1988) "All Together Now" by Keith Giffen, Peter David, and Eric Shanower
  • #29 (August, 1988): "The Secret Origin of the Atom" by Roger Stern, Dwayne Turner & K.S. Wilson
JLA: Year One (1998) by Waid / Augustyn / Kitson / Bair The Silver Age (July, 2000) Chase #6 (July, 1998) Starman #28 (March, 1997) Justice League of America #0 (September, 2006)

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

JLA: Year One #11 (November, 1998)

Thanks to Simon Carr, the files kept by J'Onn J'Onzz at the Sanctuary were available to exploit. The Appellaxian invaders struck Earth's metahuman community hard and fast, exploiting their knowledge of secret identities and other vulnerabilities. "First, they took Superman." The Atom, Blue Beetle, the Metal Men, Batman, Hawkman, Johnny Quick, and Dr. Mid-Nite followed in turn. Setting up an internment camp on Blackhawk Island, members of the Squadron, the Freedom Fighters, Seven Soldiers of Victory, and the Justice Society could all be seen as being held captive. As the only files removed from the piles were those belonging to Barry, Dinah, Hal, and Arthur, they were the only heroes spared.

The Justice League were in Metropolis, fighting a tiny portion of the 7,000 or so Appellaxian proxy bodies alerted to the threat Earth posed, intent on wiping us out. Aquaman was randomly shouting orders to the team while discussing with Snapper Carr how Uncle Simon's Appellaxian, Kalar, evaded Martian Manhunter's telepathy by loosening his psychic grip as needed. Simon was barely aware of any changes to his consciousness. Martian Manhunter had only just caught a falling Green Lantern when he soon after took another tumble, thanks to a depleted power battery. After over 24 hours of continuous fighting, the League was broadly tapped out, but not so much that the Alien Atlas couldn't guide the Flash to a locker at Ferris Aircraft housing an invisible power battery. The Emerald Gladiator was soon speaking his oath to recharge midair. Aquaman congratulated the crackerjack teamwork, but also had to acknowledge that Metropolis was lost to the invaders.

In Gotham City, Kalar needlessly obliterated the mind of an Appellaxian fire proxy to take it as his own, surrendering Simon Carr's frail human form. Just as he'd sent the soldier to the plasmgods above, so to had he planned to execute Carr. However, he was spirited away by Vandal Savage, along with the device Kalar had used against his own kind. Meanwhile, things faired just as poorly for the League in Midway City, though Barry scored a kiss from Dinah in a moment of weakness. The Scarlet Speedster had wondered aloud "What... would the JSA have done," but suddenly struck upon his own inspiration.

Via the undervalued "talks to fishes," Aquaman knew where in the Atlantic Ocean the metahumans were being held. Almost as soon as the League arrived back at the sanctuary, they were captured by Appellaxians exploiting their specific vulnerabilities. Soon, the League was on Blackhawk Island, and Green Lantern was warned not to try anything, or his yellow bonds woukd squeeze the life out of him. A demonstration was provided, and Lantern screamed in such pain that it blew a hole through an Appellaxian's chest. "His" power ring had disguised the League as one another, so that Black Canary easily brushed off Lantern's bonds, while Hal Jordan was hardly bothered by a cage of fire, and so on. Soon, Flash had recovered all the heroes' stolen technology, which was being studied by the invaders ahead of their planning to do the same to the metahumans. Suddenly, the prison camp was becoming the staging grounds for the super-human resistance army...

"Stalag Earth" was by storytellers Mark Waid / Brian Augustyn / Barry Kitson with inker Michael Bair. It will never not drive me nuts that DC went decades pretending like everyone from the JLA to Speedy were active before Robin the Boy Wonder just because of stupid "Batman: Year Three." Real time, the Dark Knight flew solo for one year and one month, but editors and dirtbag fandom keep trying to erase one of the greatest characters in all of comics because grimdark. Don't even get me started on Wonder Woman. Anyway, it's always fun to see heroes get took, and leaving them behind fences has a resonance today following Gitmo and refugee detentions that may have been fuzzier to readers in '98 over a half century removed from the Japanese internments of World War II. Seeing these costumed prisoners of war liberate themselves might have had more "oomph" broken up by a cliffhanger, but the resolution was appropriately clever and Silver Agey for a series rooted in nostalgia. Neat to see so many heroes from across DC's history all in one place, centering on their first couple of decades so that we're not suffering any Infinitors or New Bloods or whatever. It's also fun because of how many DC acquisitions are present, published by different companies in the beginning, with few integrating into the DC Universe until the 1970s. It's the sort of thing children of the Greatest Generation could scarcely dream of when they were all publishing contemporaries.

Monday, July 12, 2021

JLA: Year One #10 (October, 1998)

"It is the worst nightmare of a man who can be felled by a candleflame. The sky is on fire." Given their role in igniting the blaze to exploit Martian Manhunter's greatest vulnerability, the Justice League remained quick to blame him for the outcome. Aquaman especially is a jerk, pointedly referring to him again as "alien" and stating "We already know that, even for a land-dweller, you're a lying schemer! What other conclusion are we to draw? Locus is changing the Earth to suit you! You're the eighth Appellaxian!" Never heralded as a detective, Aquaman took an energy blast to the back from armed Locus proxies. While the dysfunctional, paranoiac League tripped over themselves beating Locus back, the Alien Atlas ripped the terraforming device to pieces. This was done at personal expense, as J'Onn was severely burnt in the process.

The League abandoned the deathly still Manhunter to pursue Locus through a portal to one of their secret bases. The Aryan leader of Locus confirmed their plot to render the planet uninhabitable to humans while forcing a return to Pangaea. Somewhat recovered, "The Martian" traced the League to the Locus base, smashed through the ceiling with Laser Vision blasing, and demanded "Get away from my friends!" The League were audibly pleased and impressed. Green Lantern readily conceded leadership to Flash, who directed him to keep the continents in place until they could stop Locus' machines. J'Onn eventually began to take a pounding from the purple proxies, too weak to focus on turning immaterial. Flash moved his teammates to safety, then used super-speed to eventually determine the passwords to switch off Locus' contraption. Barry then asked J'Onn to use his telepathy to find a way to restore the proxies' minds to their human bodies. The probe instead set off a fatal neuroshock to kill the Locus soldiers and send their secrets to the grave with them. J'Onn felt like he was dying himself, and the heroes were left standing amidst piles of bodies. At least here Aquaman called for the Alien to get out of their thoughts before his own were snuffed.

Back at the Secret Sanctuary, J'Onn J'Onzz was interrogated over his stalking of the League members in their private lives. "For years, I have been stranded on a world not my own... one that has a history of being... unreceptive to those who are different. One in which my senses are dulled by the simple light of a match... my life endangered by the flare of a campfire. Alone, in hiding, my survival depended on my powers of observation... of gathering and chronicling information on the motivations of the strangers around me. Recently, buoyed by the world's acceptance of you and others like you, I went public in search of kinship... During our first encounter, I watched you exterminate an alien force you knew little about... and take pride in that... We keep one of their corpses in the trophy room. I did not want to fear you people. My instincts told me you were good and noble. But you are, after all... still human. I needed to know more about you to guarantee my own safety. Foregoing an invasive mindprobe, I instead followed you with my enhanced senses... tracked you using an array of identities. I have no one to rely upon but myself. I did what I had to... to survive."

The team began to squabble amongst themselves again, and Black Canary despaired that they really didn't know each other at all. After a pause, Barry Allen chose to unmask and introduce his true self. Dinah Lance, Hal Jordan, Arthur Curry, and John Jones followed suit. The tension was broken, and trust was rebuilt. However, the super-heroes reasserted when a bloodied and battered Snapper Carr stumbled upon them. He revealed that Uncle Simon was the eighth Appellaxian, and had tried to kill him. Then a NORAD alert sounded, and the team rushed onto the beach to see a sky full of invading alien spacecraft...

"Heaven and Earth" was by storytellers Mark Waid / Brian Augustyn / Barry Kitson with inkers Michael Bair & Mark Propst. The quality of embellishment was more varied this issue, but the art made excellent use of small figures in wide spaces to minimize the power and presence of the Justice League. Where there had been a lot of forced O'Neill/Englehart conflict amongst the heroes, their recovery process offers a lot of fun moments to showcase super friendships. These people should like and support one another, or to put it in my preferred terms, they should be DC instead of Marvel. This story also features one of the all time great J'Onn J'Onzz speeches, explaining his character and how he relates to the heroic community.

Monday, June 28, 2021

JLA: Year One #9 (September, 1998)

Snapper Carr called the Flash back to base after days of it's being empty. "...morale's a little low. I can't believe J'Onn betrayed us like he did... Canary's cynical as it is, and Aquaman... I keep expecting him to swim off in disgust. He's just waiting for the rest of us to turn on him now." Snapper jabbed that he hoped they could set aside their paranoia long enough to save the world from three simultaneous globe-threatening climate disturbances, and everyone appeared to respond to the distress signal except J'Onn. Possibly not having seen each other since the confrontation, Flash asked about Green Lantern's pursuit of J'Onn. "I've searched high and low. Nothing." In truth, the Manhunter was present, invisibly undetected, and left for a third location after the rest paired up for separate priority targets.

The Flash was uncomfortable with his physical proximity to Black Canary while running to the Arctic, and she was put all the way off when he let slip that he had less a girlfriend and more a fiancé. Both had trouble sleeping at night knowing J'Onn was out there with all their secrets, presumably telling them to Locus. The pair still succeeded in bypassing a flaming giant Locus proxy body agent to destroy the machine that was melting the polar icecaps.

At the Mariana Trench, Aquman asked why Green Lantern was always giving orders, then belly-laughed at his answer. "You're not the leader. Flash is the leader! ... J'Onn, Canary, and I talked about this weeks ago. It's obvious to us!" The revelation poked leaks in Lantern's energy construct bubble, which would be much needed against a giant Locus agent sea monster. The heroes tricked it into destroying the second atmosphere-altering machine.

Locus agents collapsed Vandal Savage's base on top of him, but he survived by hiding in a sarcophagus, plotting revenge.

The eighth Appellaxian had failed to launch, but was found and freed by Locus, who eventually inserted it into the human body of Simon Carr. After four months of nightmares and a loss of control, Simon finally confided in Snapper, who tried to alert the Justice League. Instead, he had his face smashed through a computer monitor by Uncle Simon.

The machine in California's Redwood Forest was the lowest priority, so the pairs of heroes reconvened there, only to find J'Onn J'Onzz working the device. Green Lantern thought that cleared up any lingering doubts, assuming the Alien Atlas was guarding it, missing entirely the downed Locus proxy body off to the side. The Flash councilled against acting too rashly. "J'Onn's always been full of secrets. Suppose he neglected to tell us about his 'deathvision' or something. We only know one way to take him down for certain... and that's to take advantage of his one weakness." While Flash ran a ring of fire on the ground around J'Onn, Green Lantern punched him with a giant energy fist. J'Onn pleaded with them to extinguish the fire, but Aquaman popped him one while declaring "Not a chance, traitor!" Then the enormous explosion happened. "I tried... to tell you... to keep the fire away. The machine... I was attempting to shut it down safely. It was pumping... methane-based gases into the atmosphere! Not only are they deadly to human life... they're flammable!" Never mind that they knew about J'Onn's weakness because he told them, but hey, only you can start forest fires!

"Change the World" was by storytellers Mark Waid / Brian Augustyn / Barry Kitson with inker Michael Bair. In 1997, Grant Morrison gave an interview to Wizard Magazine for a special edition devoted to JLA, featuring sections with his thoughts on each member. "When I talk with other writers about JLA, a lot of them tell me they don't like the Martian Manhunter, and think that if there was going to be a story where someone betrays the JLA, then he's the guy who would do it. I see him much differently. If someone was to betray the JLA, he's the last person who would do it." Wizard stated his rationale was that Manhunter was the most stalwart member, in good times and bad, specifically referencing the Post-Crisis contrivance that he'd been a member of every incarnation. Obviously that wasn't true of the actual publishing history, and cue a slew of writers having Manhunter either betray or quit the team in some fashion. Ultimately though, Morrison was right, because fans roundly rejected or ignored these hot takes and pestered DC to get J'Onn back on the team. Anyway, I feel like Waid also agreed with Morrison, and did his best to explore that angle in a "safe" environment to abort any of those other nefarious writers' plans. The Manhunter isn't entirely in the right during this maxi-series, but the League is very in the wrong with regard to their treatment of our boy.

1990s, Aquaman, Black Canary, Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League of America, Martian Manhunter, Retcons, Vandal Savage

Thursday, June 24, 2021

JLA: Year One #8 (August, 1998)

Locus' plans were near fruition, thanks to the purple gengineered host bodies derived from Appellaxian DNA. Robert Anderson's last day as a fully human member was defined by distraction and detachment, even from Locus itself. After years of knowing Mr. Genuardi at the neighborhood store, Anderson refused to remember his name, even as he inquired as to the health of Anderson's brother. A dinner invite from a sunny married couple in his building was refused. Robert took his girlfriend Linda out to dinner for a one-sided tearful break-up, as he emotionlessly asserted "I just don't see a future for us" while imagining the smoldering corpses of everyone in the restaurant. At Rolling Hills Mental Hospital, "Bobby" saw his intellectually disabled brother "Stevie" for the last time, as he again blames himself for the Frankenstein-style accidental drowning of their sister, Janie.

Back at the sanctuary, Green Lantern angrily threw Superman's chair into space, ignored Black Canary's personal inquiries, and became a unappeasable martinet with his teammates and associates. While most of the League focused on Superman's lame "My time is not my own" excuse, Aquaman rightly noted that the more interesting comment was the Man of Steel's having fought another Appellaxian during their invasion. If the League missed that one, who's to say if there weren't others? Snapper Carr hacked into a bunch of government databases on satellites, and sure enough, he counted eight meteors on the day the League was born.

After a snarky comment while searching Star City Harbor for signs of the meteor, Green Lantern was called out for being a jerk by Green Arrow, as well as by Aquaman. Flash explained the Superman scenario, and apologized for rubbing any salt in the wound of Arrow not having been asked to join. The Emerald Archer displayed maturity over Lantern, chiding "What a baby. He's got to learn to take the blows..." Meanwhile, a Martian alternative to capacitors was offered to Snapper Carr for the headquarters, and he made the cringe joke "Mighty human of you" before immediately expressing regret to the Green Dude. "Think nothing of it, Snapper. It is a compliment... in a way. Over these past few weeks, I have learned a great deal about being... human." After, Uncle Simon was sweaty and acting weird, asking Snapper to keep an eye on J'Onn J'Onzz specifically, to see that he didn't do any unwanted snooping. Elsewhere, the brief turn of the Blackhawks acting as costumed super-heroes ended with them shedding their ridiculous short-lived affectation. Also, Barry Allen and Iris West were having relationship troubles over his growing affection for Black Canary and secret double life.

While crawling through ducts to set up more requested surveillance cameras, Snapper accidentally looked in on J'Onn's private quarters. Alarmed by what he saw, Snapper began filming. He immediately showed the footage to the human members of the League, declaring J'Onn a spy. The Manhunter was recorded shapeshifting between various identities, including Mike the cop, Detective Paris Jackson, F.A.A. investigator Lora Denton, and Coast Guard Officer Perez. The League smashed through the wall of J'Onn's private quarters demanding answers, only to discover detailed files on Earth's metahumans like the Atom, the Metal Men, Metamorpho, and the Spectre. Black Canary finally realized that J'Onn had once called her by her real name in battle, only heightening her feelings of violation. Aquaman felt that it was an obvious mistake to have taken Manhunter at his word, and wondered if the deception was so deep as to cover for his being the missing Appellaxian. J'Onn asked for trust, but in a new reason for calling him Snapper, "NO! Why should we? Why should we believe anything you say?" Manhunter started to fly off, but was caged by an energy construct, Lantern declaring "Forget it, alien! You're not going anywhere!" A little weird that the Alien Atlas used invisibility and presumably malleability but not intangibility, blasting through the roof to escape the base. Lantern gave chase, while J'Onn's only (barely) defender The Flash smashed his globe of Mars. Rude.

Mr. Anderson was not another identity of J'Onn J'Onzz, in case you were wondering. He finally committed to reengaging with his life, and tried to warn the Justice League about the Locus plot. While attempting to make his way into their base, he was discovered and shot dead by Simon Carr, who branded him a traitor to Locus.

"Loose Ends" was by storytellers Mark Waid / Brian Augustyn / Barry Kitson with inker Michael Bair. More than half the series has been noodling and character work, so this issue was almost jarring in its use of a one-off POV side character and throttling acceleration of the plot. Not so much a slow burn ratcheting tension and more the sudden panic of realizing the big test is coming up and you need to start cramming. Everything was in place already, but the contrivance of it all hitting at once with peak histrionics was an artificial turn following seven relatively languid issues. The writers did such a great job of indicating Hal Jordan's toxicity in a story clearly informed by his fall from grace a few years earlier that I still can't accept his redemption arc under Geoff Johns. It was just too clearly another example of white guys always getting another chance, even with the blood of an entire corps and parallel universes on his hands. Your mileage may vary on J'Onn J'Onzz being the first non-white member of the League, but the othering portrayal here leans hard into that aspect. Jordan especially said "alien" with a hard "r," and while J'Onn's trespasses were grievous, the reaction went full Karen.

1990s, Aquaman, Black Canary, Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League of America, Martian Manhunter, Retcons, Superman,

Friday, June 18, 2021

JLA: Year One #7 (July, 1998)

The Gotham City Executive Club could barely tolerate the rest of the Justice League's attire, but J'Onn J'Onzz's mankini was entirely unacceptable. Shapeshifting into what probably seemed like Tony Stark in a tuxedo, but what true fans would catch as a callback to Marco Xavier, the Martian was finally allowed passage. Once inside, Green Lantern led the team in an inquisition of Simon Carr, as it was suddenly untenable to have a mysterious benefactor giving them likely billions of dollars in support with no questions asked. "For all we know, Vandal Savage could be holding the purse strings!" Weirdly gendered phrasing from Black Canary. During this rather unnecessary public spectacle, Maxwell Lord tried to bet Bruce Wayne over who could "nail" Canary first (not-so-oddly gendered phrasing,) but Wayne was all *who are you* and *this is boring* about it. Both Wayne and Lord had no patience for the more prejudiced club members treating the League as riffraff, with Lord expressing a keen interest in turning them into his personal army. Foreshadowing, both intended and unforeseen. Speaking of, the Marco Xavier form was abandoned by page 3 for effect when The Sleuth from Outer Space affirmed that Carr was telling the truth because "I read his mind." I believe J'Onn rightly asserted on the "ride home" that he'd previously disclosed this ability, but the team had a delayed freakout over the implications. "I'm sure J'Onn wouldn't invade our private thoughts... right, J'Onn?"

In her personal time, Dinah Lance hashed out her beef with mom over coffee with friendly Officer Mike. Cut to the various new supporting cast members who've inserted themselves into the League's civilian lives to gather data and build intelligence files. The dossiers were hidden behind a holographic wall, and there was some questioning the ethics of manipulating the team members, assuaged by having "much at stake". Locus saw value in such files digging up "dirt," though their leader was content to simply allow the League to be distracted by other threats as they continued their own agenda unmolested. Genegrafting their minds into superior new bodies would assure their survival in the coming holocaust. Boy, this issue is full of problematic phrasing, as even by the '90s the term "holocaust" was firmly associated specifically with the Nazi campaign of genocide, though as with "ghetto," later association doesn't negate a word's independent origins.

There's a two page spread of the Justice League's unrecorded missions, battling the Invisible Destroyer, Icicle, Gorilla Grodd, and the "phantom doom." Typically, this would be where you'd reference actual stories from the League canon to establish a time frame, but the creators chose to frustrate future wiki contributors with ahistorical matches involving villains individual Leaguers had already beaten on their own. Clark Kent was doing a story on the team for the Daily Planet, and caught sight of them battling one another while mislead by an illusion cast by Xotar the Weapons Master, one of their earliest foes. Superman's heat vision slagged whatever literally futuristic device Xotar was employing, and clear-eyed, the League turned their attention toward their true enemy. Green Lantern embarrassed the team with a ham-fisted error, but clean-up was a snap with the Man of Steel pitching in. Superman smashed a "time-porter," and Xotar was seemingly flung back to his starting point 10,000 years in the future. Still, Lantern was staring daggers at being upstaged, while the rest of the starstruck team gave Superman a tour of their headquarters (with a security system incorporating Martian technology.) At the urging of Aquaman and Canary, the Flash finally offered Superman League membership (seconded by Arthur.) In an abrupt chapter close, Superman turned them down, retroactively stripping Metamorpho and Black Lightning of their privileged status as first refusals.

"The American Way" was by storytellers Mark Waid / Brian Augustyn / Barry Kitson with inker Michael Bair. I enjoy the crisp, dark line that Bair provides, adding just the right touch of edge and mood while still maintaining Kitson's overall genteel Silver Age quality. Sekowsky drew the original stories, but he was an atypical DC artist, with his awkward, rough-hewn figures and stylized, angular backgrounds. This series feels like the Justice League being reclaimed as part of what Jacobs & Jones called DC's 1950s "Frigidaire" house style of clean, clear, antiseptic, conformist commercial art. That may seem like a knock, but after the grotesque excesses and perilous upheaval of the Chromium Age, this was a comfort to aging '90s audiences. The industry had reached its ultimate peak, fractured violently, and plunged to lows that seemed liable to terminally pulp the art form. A pleasant nostalgia piece was entirely called for in 1998, with just enough Image sheen to satisfy the fanboys.

1990s, Aquaman, Black Canary, Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League of America, Justice Society of America, Martian Manhunter, Retcons, Superman, Vandal Savage

Monday, June 7, 2021

JLA: Year One #6 (June, 1998)

At Doom Patrol Headquarters, The Chief used technology mostly cribbed from Robotman's spare parts to offer the Justice League temporary prostheses to compensate for their missing parts. Fitting for the era and for why such devices aren't the focus of Niles Caulder's life's work, the devices are very bulky, cumbersome, inaccurate, and overpowered for use by the general public. With the exception of J'Onn J'Onzz and the fully able-bodied Aquaman, the dismembered Leaguers were also hobbled by doubt, anxiety, and self-pity. In the case of the Manhunter, he had a large dome visor covering most of his head that aloud him to see with poor depth perception and delays as through a fog. Caulder had done his best to navigate the maze of a Martian nervous system, and wondered how many senses his subject possessed. "With my eyes missing? Eight."

The Leaguers weren't sure if they could function well enough to continue, but Manhunter insisted "We... We have responsibilities, nonetheless. Thanks to the Brotherhood, the people of Manchester are equally... disadvantaged. We must reclaim the Genegraft device that caused all of this... and reverse it." Back in Alabama, the Brain had used his power ring to build his own energy construct castle, and refused to surrender any of his ill-gotten gains to the Locus attack force buzzing outside. The Brain wasn't using his, simply employing the League's eyes, voice box, and legs for natural purposes. He focused solely on the ring, unaware of its vulnerability to the color yellow and limited charge. Robotman and Aquaman not only made a fine pair... but they also exploited those weaknesses.

Black Canary, Martian Manhunter, and Elasti-Girl were the second group. Rita Farr tried to offer solace over her partners feeling like freaks, but J'Onn J'Onzz did her one better. "Which is what puzzles me most about Earthlings-- How they can perceive such differences between themselves. Even with my eyes, I could see that people were distinct... but not truly different. Not enough to drive such wedges between them. Some days, I fear that I will never understand the artificial divisions you create among yourselves. Other days... I fear I shall... I've been meaning to tell you, Ms. Farr, how disappointed I am you're no longer making films... When I first came to Earth, television was my window to language... to culture. I saw many of your 'chiller' pictures, and... well... I suppose I became a fan." Elasti-Girl gave him a kiss on the cheek, then saved the Leaguers from Monsieur Mallah when they proved useless against him.

Green Lantern, Flash, and Negative Man were clearly the most effective fighting unit, though what exactly caused the castle to collapse was never made clear. Regardless, The Brain still massacred the Locus forces and imprisoned most of both super-teams with his power ring. Canary tried to administer first aid to one trooper, who spoke of a coming holocaust. Flash and Aquaman teamed up to bring an end to the matter at hand, as the Sea King used his superior will power to command a ring construct cutlass to decapitate The Brain. Hal Jordan confided to Larry Trainer, who had recognized his fellow pilot, that he was shaken to see the ring used for a potentially lethal action (aft-shadowing "Emerald Twilight.") Every body was restored, and the two teams gently ribbed each other about dibs on hero of the day Aquaman. Rita assured J'Onn that Sigourney Weaver would have approved of him, and explained to her cohorts that the heroism they'd learned from being ostracized from society simply came naturally to the League.

"Sum of Their Parts" was by storytellers Mark Waid / Brian Augustyn / Barry Kitson with Michael Bair & John Stokes. Haven't read this issue in a couple of decades, so it's fun to rediscover the Doom Patrol from a place of greater knowledge. Madame Rouge makes a good case for how stretching powers work better for villains willing to fully exploit them for creep value. Cliff Steele really is just Ben Grimm at this point. It's fun seeing the JLA riff of character logos being statted into the openings of spotlight scenes, but with the twist of lesser-knowns like Black Canary and Negative Man. I'm guessing they're still using Xerox instead of Photoshop though, because they are tiny with a curious disparity in sizes. It would have been nice to have gotten an older vintage Manhunter logo than 1987, but it's still his best one, and DC's later offerings since have been so hideous that it's more than welcome to see. Also, I just realized from this issue that one of the most endearing aspects of J'onn is that he's the Linus van Pelt of the League. He's the one who'll grind the story to a halt to explain the subtext in a heartfelt but objective way. It's a comic book, so that's exactly what super-heroes should do, and anyway, Linus is the best character in Peanuts. Not sure if that makes H'ronmeer Baby Jesus or The Great Pumpkin, but there it is.

1990s, Aquaman, Black Canary, Doom Patrol, Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League of America, Justice Society of America, Martian Manhunter, Retcons,

Monday, May 31, 2021

JLA: Year One #5 (May, 1998)

Coast Guard Officer Perez was almost caught in the Secret Sanctuary by Snapper Carr while at the meeting table going through files regarding the League and referencing Locus. Hmm. Speaking of, J'Onn J'Onzz called a meeting to discuss his extensive findings about Locus, alternately geneticists and survivalists, but consistently "ruthless to the extreme." Aquaman was glad that at least one of them was still pursuing the case (conveniently omitting his own lack of said pursuit,) but when Flash wondered why J'Onn hadn't shared sooner, "It did not occur to me to do so." Again, one of the most thin-skinned and stand-offish members questions the dynamics of a team despite contributing to its toxicity.

The individual Leaguers continued to struggle with work-life-vigilantism balance, with the recent revelations about her mom's affair prompting Black Canary to pointedly question her teammates' marital status. "I am... Or, rather... I was. My life on Mars was rich with a wife and a daughter. Just before an errant teleportation beam brought me to your world, they were taken from me by a tragic accident. To this day, I sometimes think I hear the song of their laughter in the still night air. I am mistaken." Well, anyway, Canary doesn't want to talk about the JSA anymore. Also, this was a tweak to Manhunter's post-Crisis origin, as he previously still labored under the delusion that the pulp-fueled fantasies of Saul Erdel were his true life on Mars. J'Onzz had embraced this fiction in part to escape the painful reality that his people were wiped out by a plague, not an accident. The then-upcoming Martian Manhunter ongoing series would clarify this while removing all vestiges of the Pre-Crisis/imaginary Mars from the narrative.

Manchester, Alabama was either so rural that they still waited anxiously for the delivery of stacks of newspapers, or this story was intended to be set in the mid-80s (there's a Reagan reference.) We're so old, you guys. A couple of men were discussing "the Green guy" from the Justice League, and when one thought he meant "The Martian," the other clarified that nobody in the general public ever talks about the Manhunter unless he's a suspect. Then a bunch of citizens were shot with that Locus "genegraft ray" cannon that takes chunks off of people and aggregates those chunks into humanoid purple protoplasmic minions. It's like Gardner Fox trying to do body horror, appropriate to the villainy of The Brotherhood (of Evil.) This unsurprisingly attracted the Doom Patrol, a heroic team of "freak" accident survivors, provoking the public's reticence to being saved by such a lot.

The arrival of "matinee idols" the Justice League was more warmly received, and the two teams joined forces against the purple people. However, Manhunter warned "Be careful! My telepathy suggests that many of these creatures are melded to innocent, frightened victims!" It was mostly down to the League to route and contain the monsters, leaving them vulnerable to a blast from the genegraft ray that ripped away their key attributes: Canary's vocal cords, Lantern's ring arm, Flash's legs, Manhunter's eyes, and Aquaman's... um, actually, he hung back with the Doom Patrol. But anyway, The Brain created a new body for himself out of the pieces of Leaguers. The Brain is a super-genius whose brain lives in a motorized jar and leads the Brotherhood. I should have mentioned that sooner.

"A League Divided" was by storytellers Mark Waid / Brian Augustyn / Barry Kitson and still "guest inker" Michael Bair. I'd had a few exposures to the Doom Patrol in the past, but never really "got" them. This issue offered me insight that they were influenced by the early, quarrelsome Fantastic Four, but had likely influenced the X-Men, which went a long way toward seeing the potential appeal of the premise.

1990s, Aquaman, Black Canary, Doom Patrol, Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League of America, Justice Society of America, Martian Manhunter, Retcons,

Thursday, May 27, 2021

JLA: Year One #4 (April, 1998)

Even though Snapper Carr had been retconned into being a constant presence within the Secret Sanctuary as resident tech wizard and maintenance man, Green Lantern still manhandled the "handykid" as a suspected intruder, and couldn't be bothered to remember his name. Admittedly, the League had been out all night fighting Starro the Conqueror (with a key assist from the already forgotten Carr,) so they were all likely punchy as they raced off to tend to their day jobs. This left Aquaman indignant, as Locus continued to be a threat, and were less likely to be taking the day off.

Hal Jordan flirted with FAA investigator Lora Denton, but a slip-up inspired by the distraction of the League forced Carol Ferris to ground him. Barry Allen got held up by chatterbox new detective Paris Jackson and was almost too late to prepare dinner for his fiancé Iris West. Here was a second instance of a hero being caught flat-footed by their significant other when asked about their unaccounted-for activities, and I do wonder if artists ever get tired of redrawing the cover to The Brave and the Bold #28. Aquaman went swimming at Ocean World to check on his "imprisoned brothers," and ended up with hysterical guards screaming and pointing guns at him. The angle continued to be Aquaman as "freak" who doesn't understand social norms, but his concern for sea life tracked with his environmentalist streak since the '70s. Officer Perez of the Coast Guard showed up to defuse the situation, and we learned that in off-hours, he'd exposed Aquaman to Planet of the Apes. There's actually several comedic beats like that in this issue that reminded me how funny the writers can be when allowed, and it's also a nice nod to the JLI. There's a moment when one of the Ocean World trainers sincerely took advantage of the Sea King's abilities to check on the marine life's well-being, and lets just say this fictional amusement park got higher marks than real world documentaries would lead one to believe.

I've never been as into Black Canary as I wanted to be, but seeing Dinah Lance dressed for The Matrix with a raven bob certainly helped bridge the distance in that moment. I wasn't well-versed enough in the DCU to fully appreciate Dinah at a birthday party with the retired JSA in 1998, so it hits harder on rereading today. Still weird to have a female character referred to as "Junior," but maybe that was more of a thing with the "Greatest Generation?" Then-recent Starman material had turned a series of '60s team-up stories with Canary into an extra-marital affair, perhaps too on the nose, but still an intriguing development. Seeing the awkwardness between Ted Knight and the widowed former Dinah Drake, especially once deduced by "Dinah Junior" (weeird) was a highlight of the series.

Not going to lie, I did a little fist pump when I saw the sign reading "Middletown Police Headquarters." John Jones helped Diane Meade read her date (Detective Vince Logan) for filth. Meanwhile, Locus had indeed kept busy, securing a Starro tentacle for its regenerative abilities and working with T.O. Morrow & Professor Ivo on promising, under budget projects. They were also plotting mad science to be perpetrated against Blue Beetle as an unwilling "graft donor" captured by the Brotherhood of Evil. They played it coy for most of the issue, but I can all but guarantee you that a stretchy woman and a gorilla in shadow were not cluing me in at this point in my DC fandom.

"While You Were Out..." was by storytellers Mark Waid / Brian Augustyn / Barry Kitson, joined by "guest inker" Michael Bair... for the rest of the maxi-series. I'd noticed the richer, crisper ink line from the second page, and Aquaman's face in the second panel of that page was a dead giveaway. That collaboration would continue for a while, and Bair would rightly (see: Infinity Inc.) help define the look of spin-off/begetter JSA with Stephen Sadowski. I'm a fan of Bair's, and only just realized one of my most treasured pieces has a younger sibling. I'd obviously be curious to know what it went for. Anyway, Bair added that touch of post-modern darkness that compliments the writers' efforts, as the creative team textually and visibly references a Silver Age milieu. It parallels James Robinson's work on their Golden Age progenitors, reflecting a period that was always kinkier, weirder, and more violent than the Justice League's time. Bair lends that little bit of edge, but not so much as to tip it outside of somewhat genteel Boomer nostalgia. Still can't believe how talky and decompressed this series was, but I'm grown, so I can dig it.

1990s, Aquaman, Black Canary, Diane Meade, Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League International, Justice League of America, Justice Society of America, Martian Manhunter, Middletown, Retcons,

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

JLA: Year One #3 (March, 1998)

Storytellers Mark Waid / Brian Augustyn / Barry Kitson offer another action-light, interaction-heavy tale of the Post-Crisis founding five Justice League. Locus had employed T.O. Morrow to help vivisect the Appellaxian bird to create a new humanoid automaton, but it failed to launch. Vandal Savage wondered how they would topple the League before they found their feet, but Locus' Aryan leader remained confident. Meanwhile, in Chicago, the old Blackhawk foe Killer Shark and his men attempted a heist at Kord Industries... where the League was meeting with disheveled college-aged tech genius Ted Kord about outfitting their headquarters. It didn't take Ted long to decide that he had more interest in super-heroics than the family business.

On Rhode Island, the military dropped off the fire Appellaxian at the League's cave for safekeeping when their own study efforts proved far less effective than even Locus'. Simon Carr suggested to Aquaman that they use it to start a trophy room, while his nephew Snapper was reintroduced as the team's on-site mechanic and electrician. Still fairly insufferable, but at least no longer completely useless. Snapper had even rewired the speaker system, asking Martian Manhunter, "You like Aerosmith, right?" J'Onn J'Onzz had been to Metropolis to pick up newly created signal devices from S.T.A.R. Labs. 1971. I winced a little. "They're uplinked to a global satellite system. With them, we can summon each other as well as stay in constant contact. I have never seen anything quite like them.

At various points, couplings of Leaguers discussed their origins and motivations, usually with a single panel to highlight these milestones. No, Manhunter and Aquaman did not get one. They're not invited into the brewing love triangle either, not that much of anything will come of it. J'Onn asked if Flash had noticed anyone strange checking him out in his civilian identity. "Just curious." Aquaman referenced (I believe) meeting Superman in a Man of Steel annual, and seemed to be cagey when it came to others like him in Earth's oceans. "I share your loneliness. I myself am the last of the Martians. An otherworlder." J'Onn offered an All-Star Manhunter two line origin. "I have been here many years... but I still struggle to adapt." Aquaman was happy to note that Manhunter was the only surface person who didn't have a problem with his default quiet voice. "I'm a good listener." J'Onn also had to explain what a bulb wrench was, or rather wasn't...

Pairing off, Aquaman related another retconned story, this time his first meeting with the Flash in Time and Tide, noting how he was hung with the name simply by a brief initial association with a super-hero. He was irritated by the presumptuousness of these people. "Like you, I avoided them for the longest period. In time, however, I came to realize that they were more accepting than I'd given them credit for... As a general rule. Some regions of the world are more relaxed, some less... but I eventually found, after years of living in hiding, that it's best to be yourself around the people of Earth." Black Canary offered a bit of pushback on that, and an angry Aquaman sauntered off, given that Dinah had played along with Green Lantern's joke about his needing a "bulb wrench..." Canary was dismissive of oh so common male aggression, and thanked J'Onn for treating her as an equal in the field after numerous "chivalrous" acts by Flash and GL specifically. "Why would I not?" Exactly.

The meeting table in the Secret Sanctuary was unveiled, complete with circa-1997 JLA logo, as well as personalized chairs with the heroes' own symbols. I still feel a pang of guilt for not having bought the DC Pocket Heroes version, but they're still relatively cheap on eBay if I ever change my mind. There was a chair with a Superman shield at Flash's aspiration, prompting a team debate, until Superman seemed to show up and take his seat. Turned out to by the Manhunter, who then turned into some sort of Elmer Fudd / Mr. Mxyzptlk* hybrid. Initially shocked silent, the team broke out into laughter. "You're a shapeshifter, too? That's so wild!" He actually turned into the giant monster last issue, but I guess they meant his gift for mimicry. "Geez, J'Onn... how many more powers have you got? You're a regular--" This led to teasing Black Canary over her constant JSA name-dropping. J'Onzz was relieved that his attempt at humor hadn't fallen flat, and the team seemed to be bonding enough that another member besides J'Onn almost revealed their true identity. Aquaman had a poorer sense of social propriety than a Martian though, and picked that moment to sullenly confront Green Lantern about making him the butt of a joke over his difficulty adapting to matters like screwing in a lightbulb with superhuman strength. Green Lantern sorta-kinda "If I offended..." and called the meeting to a close. Everyone else retreated, leaving the Alien Atlas alone to gaze silently at the Appellaxian for a full page before flying up to pass immaterially through the ceiling...

*Spelled from memory like a boss... nerd.

1990s, Aquaman, Black Canary, Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League International, Justice League of America, Justice Society of America, Martian Manhunter, Retcons, Vandal Savage

Monday, May 10, 2021

JLA: Year One #2 (February, 1998)

Locus made contact with Vandal Savage to seek his help in ending this new age of super-heroes before it could begin, just as a few well-placed senators had done to the Justice Society of America. Savage had already gathered a group of four super-villains to target the new group, consisting of the Thorn, Clayface, Eclipso, and Solomon Grundy. Meanwhile, Manhunter met with Aquaman on the dock to offer him a lift into downtown Gotham City. The Sea King was struggling with learning to read and speak English, to which J'Onn offered, "Learn German first. It's more logical. That's what I did." The meeting was not prearranged, and Aquaman took note of the Manhunter's possessing telepathy that far outstripped his own empathic abilities.

To the relief of Aquaman, he was soon set back on dry land to attend a press conference at the JSA's old headquarters. Not so fast, as Aquaman's soft mumble and ignorance of the surface world ("I'm sure that Sea Devil is a fine man...") plainly irritated the reporters. J'Onn J'Onzz avoided the microphone entirely, with only Black Canary and Green Lantern demonstrating any aptitude in public speaking. While the team was official out and named, lots of questions remained about their jurisdiction, politics, nationalism, and so forth. These deeper questions were set aside upon the thunderous crashing of the affair by Savage's quartet of villainy.

The heroes of the League had never been targeted before, and were thrown by the unprovoked assault, as well as the need to protect the host of imperiled collateral bystanders. Martian Manhunter did one-up Clayface after being threatened that the crook could transform into his worst nightmare. "My. How frightening. Try this one. It's from Mars." Clayface creamed at the sight of a giant alien beast with claws and teeth a third the size of the bad guy. Another unexpected power for the Alien Atlas.

Eventually, the three-quarters of the quartet turned on a rampaging Grundy, allowing the League to regroup and strategize. Manhunter recovered from a temporary blinding from a black diamond eyebeam to emit his own Laser Vision to harden a water-saturated Clayface. However Grundy collapsed the hotel ballroom, and the quartet were teleported away from the scene. Home audiences cheered another victory for the new Justice League of America being reported upon by the likes of Vicki Vale, Lois Lane, and Jack Ryder. Even "bystanders" Ted Grant and Alan Scott signaled their approval, though The Batman had every intention of running them out of his town.

In the aftermath, Vandal Savage tried to quit his association with Locus, though they seemed to perhaps persuade him otherwise. On the scene, when Ryder launched into a heated criticism of the League, the newly arriving Green Arrow sent a shaft through his mic. Seemingly in tow was Simon Carr, representing a wealthy anonymous benefactor offering to bankroll the team. An inventor named Ted Kord had already been retained to facilitate anticipated advanced equipment, vehicles, and facilities...

"Group Dynamic" was by storytellers Mark Waid / Brian Augustyn / Barry Kitson. Since this was arguably the least issue of the maxi-series, I think it's the best place for heavy nitpicking on my part. I realize that this was a new story from the early days of the JLA, unbound by prior continuity, except it isn't. The 1988 Secret Origins story had been edited by Waid, and the maxi-series studiously avoids retelling the actual 1960s League tales while simultaneously referencing them. What's the point of having a walking DC Comics Encyclopedia co-write a project like this without having it steeped in established continuity? The scene with Aquaman learning to read is nice... except Arthur Curry taught him to read (cursive diary entries no less) in The Legend of Aquaman (also edited by Waid.) The villains for the issue include the Matt Hagen Clayface (introduced in December of 1961) and Eclipso (August '63), with cameos by Metamorpho (January '65), The Atom (October '61), The Creeper (April '68), Blue Beetle (November '66), and the New Blackhawks (June '64) in a story that would be contemporaneous to The Brave and the Bold #28 (March 1960). The League are supposedly putting the Sea Devils out to pasture, even though they won't debut for five months? The only non-Golden Age heroic cameo that legitimately predated the League was the Challengers of the Unknown (February '57). Story wise, I get having the most stripped down "action heroes" reacting to the new super-hero team, but nerd-wise, it breaks my brain. Further, there's a new version of the "Justice League of America" naming sequence, already trod in Secret Origins. The Thorn was an exceedingly weird pull, given that she had barely appeared in the Golden Age and Infinity Inc. made a story point of her having disappeared completely following the births of Jade and Obsidian. Likewise, Eclipso had mostly kept to his own strip in House of Secrets until being revived for a Green Lantern subplot in the '80s, so why have him battle Hal Jordan twenty years too early? Grundy and Eclipso are especially dangerous villains, so it was a shame they offered so little a threat. Plus, Green Arrow may have been the first expansion member, but do we really need him around this early? This issue was... fine... but it clearly raised my geek hackles.

Monday, May 3, 2021

JLA: Year One #1 (January, 1998)

In a darkened room, a series of unidentified individuals watched television monitors with reports of freshly emerging super-heroes the Flash, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Manhunter from Mars, and Black Canary. Notes were taken, specifically locations of sightings. The last images were of J'Onn J'Onzz and the combined heroes, for which no notes were written, of the Appellaxian invasion. "...rumors for years of a Manhunter from Mars in Middleton, Colorado... but those rumors are now fact." In a cringey splash page for Martian fans that doubled as a house ad and store poster, all the Leaguers get their trademark epithets ("The Emerald Gladiator",) even ones unfamiliar and perhaps dubious, ("The Blond Bombshell"?) except "The Manhunter from Mars." To paraphrase Henry Jones, "We named the strip Manhunter from Mars." Stuff like that drove me to create this blog, with preferable canon epithets including "The Alien Atlas" and "The Sleuth from Outer Space." Anyway, it's a personal speed bump on the way to the inspirational "They were young... They were new... and still, they forever set the standard for all who would follow. Ten years ago, five powerful heroes came together... for a world that needed one unbeatable team. Just Imagine."

The League wasn't "official" at the end of their first case, leaving the prospective members to mull the decision in their private identities. Central City Police Department forensic scientist Barry Allen was uncharacteristically impatient and testy, as he's introduced to incoming detective Paris Jackson (less than six months before the more famous bearer of that name was born.) In Star City, Dinah Lance unpacked shipments to her floral shop while discussing the team with her mom. The elder Dinah (née Drake) was maybe putting the mother in "smother," especially when she got a new beat cop named Sherman to promise to keep an eye on her nineteen-year-old "little girl." A mild Canary Cry and numerous busted pots later, the junior Dinah was out the door for her meeting. Aquaman tried to make friends in a rough dock bar, but between his soft-speaking, heavy accent, and costume, he nearly ended up in a brawl instead. Things were calmed down by a kindly Coast Guard named Perez. At Ferris Aircraft, Hal Jordan ignored his buddy Tom Kalmaku's pleas to eject from the experimental $30M X-90 jet (or at least wear his power ring during test flights) in order to impress his boss Carol into a dinner date. Successfully landing, his next step seemed to be sweet-talking FAA investigator Lora Denton, but he fumbled.

In Middleton on a rainy night, Detective John Jones sat in a parked car with his partner Diane Meade on stakeout. He asked if she thought of him as a trustworthy team player. "God, John. Warn me when you're gonna speak. I'll alert the media. At least clear your throat or something... You're the most curious detective... You have a spotless record, you always get your man... and no other investigator has yet to find your sense of humor. What more do I need to know right now?" Twitch's tip about drug manufacturing at the back of Angelo's Restaurant panned out when armed dealers showed up to punish his skimming off their operation. Jones expressed his lack of understanding about addiction and violence, which the sassier Meade mocked. Pinned by erupting gunfire, Meade called for back-up while an invisible Jones used laser vision to heat the guns out of their hands. As the only armed man present, the suddenly visible Jones could easily arrest the lot. The press arrived before the reinforcements, with Channel Twelve News' Cal Redmond looking for the scoop on this hero cop. The taciturn Jones bowed out to meet with, perhaps, others like himself?

The quintet of super-heroes had agreed to turn over the two surviving Appellaxian battle drones to the Air Force, specifically General Eiling, but a small army of masked and armed individuals were already at the seaside caves where the team had hidden the alien proxies. A battle ensued, with the reawakened fire giant putting J'Onn J'Onzz out of direct action. Black Canary critiqued the heroes by comparison to her "family" in the Justice Society, but included a Golden Age Flash Fact that helped her and the Scarlet Speedster to bring down the also awakened bird giant. When not undermining the only woman on the team, Green Lantern bailed on yellow bird duty to help Aquaman leave the fire giant all wet in a grotto. Jordan was surprised to learn of the Manhunter's weakness to fire, and tried to walk back a faux pas statement of bring sick of these aliens. "You mean no insult. Go. I will shield the soldiers."

More than that, the Manhunter executed a maneuver that would be adapted to animation in the Justice League TV pilot "Secret Origins." When armed assailants pointed their rifles at him, the Martian disappeared into the ground immaterially, only to arise behind the men and bash their heads together. So much for "The Martian is weak! Quickly! Before the others come to his rescue. --We will reduce him to Martian ash--" Green Lantern noticed, and wondered if his power ring could do that, too? The attackers tried to destroy what they couldn't steal, but were disarmed by the Flash. As a fail-safe, their leader leaped onto the bird giant and had his fellows "triangulate a portmatrix" to teleport them both back to base. General Eiling had ordered his men to stand down for their own protection, and openly admired the super-heroes who'd saved the day (if not the bird giant.)

After the USAF airlifted the fire giant for study, the quintet hesitantly agreed to remain a team to investigate the robbers, by order of Flash, Canary, Lantern, and Aquaman. Only Manhunter offered an unreserved "You... each of you... has treated me as you would one of your own race. You have included me where others might turn away. I am... grateful. I would be honored to join you." Meanwhile, the uniformed members of Locus watched video of this meeting remotely at their base, taking notes on the League's confessions to one another, while their field agents were already in play on the ground to gather intelligence...

"Justice League of America: Year One" was by Mark Waid / Brian Augustyn / Barry Kitson. I grew up on Super Friends, and the first JLofA comic that I remember seeing was 1983's #217 with the George Pérez cover, but it wasn't until the late '80s JLI era that I ever bothered to read any of the things. While I have a fondness for many periods of the property, it wasn't until the 1996 JLA relaunch that the premise finally sung for me, and it was during this period that I truly and eternally became a fan. That half-decade under Morrison and Waid will always be "my" League, and this maxi-series played a big role in that. Since I'd yet to read any but the earliest Detective Comics stories, I had no idea Diane Meade was a preexisting character, and I was still 100% sold on the Post-Crisis Middleton, CO shtick that I'd reject years later.