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.