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.