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.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Secret Origins #32 (November, 1988)

On the planet Appellax, whoever kills the world's leader succeeds him as the new kalar. With seven total claimants, the dispute could only be resolved through trial by combat, and impossibly destructive proposition. Instead of sacrificing 85% of their world to devastation, as occurred in the previous contest, it was decided to play out the scenario on the backwater world of Earth instead. The contestants would have their minds transplanted into various battleforms, and the last one standing would become kalar.

J'onn J'onzz flew over his city, wondering how people would react if he revealed his true Martian self, as he was tired of spending his life invisible or disguised. However, he spied stone statues littering the streets, and was discrete in checking them out. He realized these were not statues when he saw two police officers that he recognized in their midst, and heard the thudding footfalls of a stone colossus. Eyebeams from the battleform were petrifying people, so the Manhunter attempted to put a stop to it. Telepathy was particularly ineffective, as its overwhelming evil pained the Sleuth from Outer Space. The stone Appellaxian began taunting J'onzz, as the attempted probe had backfired, revealing J'onn's secrets-- including his weakness to fire! Sparks from stony fingers against a demolished gas station ignited an explosion, but J'onzz saved himself by landing on a fire hydrant. He briefly considered waiting the flames out, but recognized the continued harm the colossus would do in the meantime. Focusing totally on launching himself like a missile, the Alien Atlas flew through and exploded the proxy body of the Appellaxian. Waking up on the street, J'onn was not greeted by fear or anger, but the bemusement and incredulity of the citizens he'd saved. The mind probe had alerted Manhunter to the other invaders, and he set off to stop them before they could hatch from their cocoons.

In turn, Aquaman, Black Canary, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, and The Flash had faced their own battleforms. Likewise, each had been captured at the site of a sixth Appellaxian cocoon, turned into trees. Or as Barry Allen put it, "I feel like such a sap." The quintet were to march from Florida to Antarctica to help the wooden Appellaxian confront the remaining battleform. Luckily, Aquaman used his telepathy to break the alien's control to trigger a domino effect of super-heroes using the smallest measure of their remaining power to free parts of one another. This culminated in the entirely freed Flash turning the Appellaxian into toothpicks. The Manhunter asserted that there was no time for self-congratulation, and thought it logical to stick together, so Green Lantern used his power ring to fly everyone to the final invader.

The Martian noticed that the Lantern was the only hero entirely at ease with his presence, having seen more than his share of extra-terrestrials. The fast friends started calling each other by their first names. Up ahead in the frigid wasteland, "By Tarkas! Gentlebeings... we've been upstaged." Superman had destroyed the battleform and flew off without even noticing the approaching heroes. Dubious, given his super-senses, but we'll go with it. Despite the anticlimax, the Flash thought that it would be a great idea to stay together as a proper team. J'onn hated it, as it would necessitate going completely public. Still he was eventually convinced of the good they could do, "And it would be good to have... friends." Besides, it would be excellent P.R. for the Martian's coming out. Inspired by Black Canary's Society ties, they became the Justice League of America.

"All Together Now" was by Keith Giffen, Peter David, and Eric Shanower. I once asked David why he didn't do any more JLI-era material, since this was a swell story with an appropriate sense of humor for the time. Sadly, he was never asked, aside from a two part JLTF. The art nicely conveyed a Silver Age vibe, as well. Nearly three years after Crisis on Infinite Earths, with lots of weird and vague potential line-ups offered (such as in Secret Origins #29,) the answer to who exactly founded the group under the revised circumstances was finally decided. Taking its basic plot from the first team origin story from 1962's Justice League of America #9, Wonder Woman is swapped out for Black Canary and Batman is omitted entirely. While the World's Finest duo were late additions to the team and the tale the first time, here Superman is reduced to a cameo without interaction with the team at all. I really like the quintet model, at least for the early founding members (favoring Diana over Dinah, but still...)

Thursday, April 22, 2021

2015 Jonah Hex/Batman/Martian Manhunter pinup by Greg Moutafis


This piece is an example of a commission I created for a client.
I am currently taking commissions and if you would like more information, please view my commission info


I have an interest in all three of these characters, just like I enjoy eating kippered herring, bleu cheese, and mint ice cream... just not all at the same time, Right? Anyway, I considered doing a more substantial post earlier this week, but then today happened, so you get this.

Monday, April 19, 2021

2021 Zook Sketch Card by Fred Hembeck

I didn't post last week, despite The Irredeemable Shag sending this to me weeks ago. Hope to have something more substantial up later in the week to make it up to you.
Fred Hembeck Color Sketch Card: Zook

...This card is a fully finished, unique piece of art by cartoonist Fred Hembeck (Fantastic Four Roast, Fred Hembeck Destroys The Marvel Universe, The Nearly Complete Essential Hembeck Archives Omnibus, and the recent Marvel collection, House of Hem). It is one of a collection of sketch cards being offered by the artist.

The card is drawn on 2.5" by 3.5" smooth surface bristol paper that Strathmore produces under the "Artist Trading Cards" specialty designation. The back of the card has a hand-lettered declaration, reading "This is a genuine FRED HEMBECK SKETCH CARD!!" A "Fred Head" caricature as well as the name of the character depicted are also included on the opposite side.

The card will be slipped into a sleeve and then put in a top loader.
Please note that "1 of 1" refers to the specific illustration on each card, NOT the character depicted. Inevitably, some characters will appear on multiple cards in different poses. Each card is hand drawn, therefore unique.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Power of the Atom #5 (December, 1988)

I'm pretty confident that I covered this ground years ago, but while working on Power of the Atom Podcast #607, I got to thinking about relationships within the Justice League again. It's easy to think of the team as one big family, but the '90s hammered home that there are multiple groups within the sprawling League itself, and some folks seem to spend more time together than others.

As a side effect of Superman and Batman being held from early Justice League covers, they come off as being maybe just a little stuck up? I mean, the pair and Robin hung out on so many World's Finest Comics covers before the League was "born" that they had their preexisting clique. Obviously both the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader would happily team-up with most anyone in the DC Comics Presents / Brave & the Bold days, but after the mission was over, they probably gave you the bum's rush. Batman has more tolerance for street level detectives like Black Canary and Green Arrow, and various retcons have had him spend quality time with Zatanna. Due to being fellow travelers in rarified cosmic circles, Superman and Green Lantern pair up more often than you might recall.

Martian Manhunter is in an interesting place because he doesn't have an especially deep connection to anyone in the classic Justice League. Like Batman and Superman, he's had enough one-off team-ups over the years to get credit for starting the practice that Batman later took over in TB&TB. That said, serving as Batman's back-up for over a decade allows him some special access, especially in the JLI years when they were basically co-leaders of the team. I mean, Captain Atom was running Justice League Europe, but it always seemed to come down to J'Onn and Batman pow-wowing with Maxwell Lord about the overall JLI. Outside of the League though, J'Onn has appeared in a ton of Superman comics, and was something of a mentor to Kal-El in the aughts. When Morrison and Porter took JLA to #1, you'd think they'd lean on the DC Trinity with Wonder Woman, but it was obvious Manhunter and Batman did most of the oversight while Superman was a contributing figurehead. Ultimately though, Manhunter's loyalties are to the lesser loved Leaguers of the '80s & '90s.

Wonder Woman gets along with everyone, but gravitates more toward Superman than anyone outside of her core supporting cast. I'd argue that she's been treated as tighter with the Man of Tomorrow than any of her fellow Wonder Women like Donna Troy, Cassie Sandsmark, Artemis, or Nubia. I'm thinking more Steve, Etta, the Kapetalises, a few key Amazons, Barbara Minerva in recent years, and her mom.

The first non-World's Finest clique begins with the Flash. Barry's one of those pivotal figures that everyone likes and wants to be friends with, and Allen is emotional available enough to be such. Elongated Man, Superman, Green Lantern, Black Canary, the Atom, and Zatanna are all close friends and romantic prospects of Barry Allen's. Part of why Barry works better than Wally West is that despite spanning two generations of heroes as a Titan, Barry's sphere of influence is still larger. It's easier to list people that Barry isn't tight with, and who within his circle are closer to each other.

Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and Black Canary are something of a typical trio where you've got two buddies and one of their girlfriends. I have zero recollection of Dinah having any kind of relationship with Carol Ferris, and I don't see her being particularly friendly with Hal, either. Speedy is in the mix as well, but that's still Ollie's family and also his best friend Hal.

The Atom can be a bit of a judgemental jerk at times, but Hawkman is defined by being aggressively unpleasant. They shared a book together, and always have team-ups on the occasions that they have solo series. Oliver Queen is also a bellicose partisan, so Carter Hall is a partner in pugnacious discourse, but Ray doesn't much mess with Green Arrow. The Mighty Mite will ride the odd arrowtip, but they're not drinking together.

Aquaman is another stand-offish one. He clearly wants to be friends with Wonder Woman and Superman, but they don't give him much ground. Martian Manhunter clearly cares about Arthur, but it's not really reciprocated. His social pool is shallow.

Zatanna is broadly well-liked with a surprisingly large network. She's also something of a guy's girl, not especially close with heroines beyond Vixen (and not even her once they quit being roommates.) Excepting her recently seeming to take over the role once held by Kendra Saunders going into the New 52, Shayera Hol remains fairly joined at the hip with her husband. I think many people prefer her, but hardly anybody will suffer through Hawkman to get to her.

Looking back, the League cliques are something of a cohort. The Satellite era members seem to be a tight pack. If they were a solar system with Superman as the sun, the rest of the system would likely play out as Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, Zatanna Zatara, Bruce Wayne, Dinah Lance/Drake, Oliver Queen, J'onn J'onzz, Diana Prince, Arthur Curry, Shayera Hol, Ralph Dibny, Katar Hol, and Ray Palmer. Firestorm and Red Tornado have the lowest Q-ratings. Ronnie was forced out of the League going into the Detroit era, and sat every other one out until Extreme Justice. His book wasn't exactly rife with guest appearances, and he was usually a youthful nuisance to the likes of Blue Devil and Captain Atom. Nobody liked John Smith much, and even in Young Justice he was like the one grown-up who would buy you beer.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Secret Origins #29 (August, 1988)

People forget that the impact of momentous events is not felt universally nor instantaneously. DC Comics' super-hero publishing from December 19, 1985 until August 31, 2011 is referred to as "Post-Crisis," theoretically a closed expanse of in-universe continuity. You would then assume that everything DC put out in 1986 would be "Post-Crisis," and if you mean "published after Crisis on Infinite Earths #12," you'd be right. But see, "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" wasn't out until June of that year. The supposed "New Adventures" of Batman began with a Legends tie-in that August. Wonder Woman was a mound of clay until her book relaunched in November. Wally West may have taken on the mantle of Flash during Crisis, but his solo book kept until March of 1987. Supposedly everyone was starting off more or less from scratch, but Green Lantern and Aquaman have arguably never had a proper reboot. Whether or not "Aquababy" is still in canon today, the Sea King picked up roughly where Brightest Day left him in 2011 as the "New 52" continuity was ushered in. Hell, DC was coy about whether the "New 52" launching after the Flashpoint event series was a line wide reboot, and in retrospect it's pretty clear that DC editorial hadn't fully committed to that as the titles were coming out.

I mention all this because my recent revival of the Power of the Atom Podcast, fueled by early April Fool's Day pranking and my guest appearance on Justice League International: Bwah-Ha-Ha Podcast, meant revisiting Secret Origins #29 for a second time in audio format. John Byrne and George Pérez had committed to full reboots of Superman and Wonder Woman that did not include their ever having been members of the Justice League of America. Batman's membership was firm, but not his foundership. Their single panel appearance in this Atom origin story includes Hawkman, who notoriously had his ground zero reboot in mid-1990, almost five full years after Crisis and including his own solo ongoing series and a slew of guest appearances. Suddenly, a character presented here as a co-founder had never even been a member. They had to create Thanagarian spies who had been members of the Post-Crisis Justice League international, who were emulating the Golden Age Hawkman Carter Hall, who years later would get retconned into an early Justice League member himself. It was quite a mess.

A few months later, a different issue of Secret Origins finally determined that the founding members were Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, and Black Canary, the latter not having joined the League until the seventy-fifth issue roughly a decade into the property's life. And technically, that was the mother of the character depicted in Secret Origins. From the very beginning, Wonder Woman was in that very first League story from 1960(ish,) part of the cover-featured quintet. It's more than a little off to see the sausage factory heptad depicted here, and presumably only here. We saw a variety of permutations of the founders before and even after Secret Origins #32, but Dinah Lance was pretty much a staple from 1988 until the New 52 (though things got fuzzy after Infinite Crisis.

Another constant? Martian Manhunter. Unlike pretty much any other hero picture, nobody cared enough to make spurious claims about J'onn J'onzz's status as a League founder. He just wasn't that popular, and his continuity didn't pose serious problems, plus his status had been romanticized by "lost" stories featuring this M.I.A. member in the 1970s. If anybody could confidently be named a founder, it was the Alien Atlas, and this morphed over years into his being the most resolute and reliable member. Yeah, in the actual publishing, he was gone from the late '60s until the mid '80s. In the Post-Crisis canon though, he became "the" Leaguer, who never left in this continuity, and that construct did as much to elevate the Martian Manhunter within the universe and outside media like cartoons and movies as anything else done with the character. Throwaway images like this helped to build the Martian Manhunter that I built this blog to serve. Just Imagine...

"The Secret Origin of the Atom" was by Roger Stern, Dwayne Turner & K.S. Wilson.