Thursday, September 29, 2022

JLA: Scary Monsters (2003)

In the Dakota Badlands of 1877, U.S. Calvary soldier Abel Carmody rescued the granddaughter of an American Indian shaman who gave his life to contain a demoniac hoard. Carmody eventually married the girl, become a great industrialist, and constructed the fortress "Carmody’s Folly" in preparation for another terrifying assault.

In the present, the Martian Manhunter ripped the back door of a suburban Denver home off its hinges with his bare hands. “As his name implies, he’s not from around here. But on his adopted homeworld, as on his planet of birth, J’Onn J’Onzz is a policeman. He swore an oath to protect the innocent. Moments like this, there’s nothing he’d rather do.” As he entered a den surrounded by police, the Manhunter began to assume a form more suited to the setting. He stepped over a young man unconscious on the floor to scoop up a frightened schoolgirl into his arms. “Hi, Ellie. I’m Detective Jones. You’re safe now. Everything’s going to be okay.” At that moment, a SWAT team burst onto the scene.

“Jones! What the hell are you doing here?!”
“What does it look like, Gene?”
“Watch the mouth, pal. You got no badge anymore, you got no right to be here!”
“Just doing my duty as a citizen, Lieutenant.”
“We had the situation under control--!”
“No—you were ready to start a war. In that kind of a cross-fire, what chance do you think the girl would have had? You got the bad guys, Gene. You saved the girl. You get to take the public bows. How ‘bout we leave it at that?”

Meanwhile, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, his girlfriend Jade, the Flash, and his wife Linda had taken to the Spirit Lake Resort for a vacation. Also at the resort were Kishana Lewis and three fellow forest service fire fighters, who were called out by resort manager William Hume to insure that there would be no sparks lit under the hot summer sun. Within hours, Lewis had made a fire, and left her men to burn in it. Smoke over the south ridge had alerted Flash and Green Lantern, where they found Lewis in shock and rambling. Clearing the flames, the heroes were attacked by the possessed bodies of the firemen, whose supernatural abilities allowed them to circumvent the Leaguers’ powers. The firemen spontaneously combusted just as the dual titans were ready to collapse. Additional Leaguers Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Plastic Man, and the Martian Manhunter were likely called to the western Badlands by Jade, who joined them in discovering Flash and Green Lantern unconscious.

“The Martian Manhunter can fly. He can bend steel in his bare hands and change the course of mighty rivers. In fact, he can pretty much do anything Superman can do. With two significant additions. He’s a shape-changer. And more important right now, he’s a telepath. Something attacked and critically injured two of his Justice League colleagues... J’Onn J’Onzz is going inside their minds... the forest around them bursts once more into flame. The Manhunter bares his teeth in a reflex of defiance... writhing in the heart of those flames is something far worse, so great and terrible that [GL & Flash’s] minds deny its existence, for their own survival.”

“That’s when we arrived.” Rayner and West were carried back to the lodge and put under observation, while Kishana Lewis was given her own room. There she was visited by John Jones. The narration read, "This is a challenge the Manhunter's faced many times before in his career as a detective. His Martian telepathy makes the human mind transparent. Knowledge comes easily to him. Proof is hard."

Introductions were in order. “Ms. Lewis? I'm John Jones. I’m a detective. I used to be with homicide. I’ve been asked to help... Is something wrong... you’re staring.”
“I’m sorry... it’s just your skin-- looks green.”

Manhunter was stunned, thinking to himself, “Incredible. Impossible. My replication of the human form is perfect, yet somehow she sees through it! I can deny it, but this might prove the way to get her to trust me.” J’Onzz revealed his alter ego to Lewis, who was unafraid of his form. “I mean, you’re a hero—one of the Justice League. Why should it matter what you look like?” Given permission to peer into Lewis’ mind, J’Onzz found her astral self to be a being of flame. “A very rare woman indeed-- by the twin moons!” Lewis' fiery astral form created a wall of fire to protect the lodge from demonic entry, then urged the Martian Detective to evacuate, before it was too late. The flames were too intense for J'Onn, forcing his mind to leave the astral plane, only to find Kishana was consciously aware of none of this.

Back in the valley, Superman and Batman found that the forest had special regenerative properties that allowed it to redevelop at an astronomical rate. “I think I can tell you why this forest burns so easily. The wood is super-saturated with a kind of resin. Once it ignites, the fire would burn as intensely as white phosphorus. And the shape of the valley, like a bowl, makes this a natural blast furnace… From the looks of the subsoil and organic residue, about one hundred-plus years ago the valley was burned down to its bedrock. Evidence suggests another fire, equally devastating, better than a thousand years previously. And yet another, even further in the past. But this is old-growth timber… the kind of trees you’d expect to find in an eco-neighborhood that’s been untouched for centuries. No way should this have grown in just a hundred years. Or even two. “ Then, as Superman himself felt the cold and a blizzard set in, the Man of Steel tossed the Dark Knight to safety just before a creature attacked. The magical monstrosity assaulted with a wealth of speed outdistanced only by its mass. “These punches hurt! The creature’s claws are drawing blood! So much for being invulnerable!” Superman managed to defeat the one abomination, but he felt the presence of a legion. Batman noted, “His uniform’s badly torn. There’s blood all over. I’ve never seen him take this kind of punishment before.”

Wonder Woman fared worse than Superman against the sinister entities. Diana was infected with a disorder that caused her to slowly turn into a demonic version of herself, then frozen inside a lake. It required most of the League's powers combined to release the Amazing Amazon from her trap, as everyone returned to the resort built around Carmody’s Folly to regroup.

During this quiet before the storm, Linda Park expressed discomfort around J’Onzz to her husband, Wally West...
“I know he’s your friend...”
“Tell me about it. Sometimes he spooks me, too.”
“It’s the telepathy. Intellectually, I know he doesn’t pry, but every time J’Onn is around... I feel like I’m naked. Transparent clear down to the soul.”
“But think about him. All those years living among us... and no matter how much he blends, he’s still an alien.”

J’Onzz made a second attempt at learning about the demons through Kishana Lewis’ mind, and was pleasantly surprised she still had no problem with his appearance. J'Onzz found her to be “Intuitive and brave. I like that.” Kishana responded, “Don’t be fooled, it’s mostly an act.” J’Onzz insisted, “I’m not. And it isn’t.” The Manhunter found a “memory” of the aftermath of the 1877 incident imprinted on Kishana’s genome, as she heard “Medicine drums, on the wind. A song of power.” Martian Manhunter also determined that though Lewis’ physiognomy was mainly African, her heritage was still definitely mixed. "Does the name Abel Carmody mean anything to you?"

The Alien Atlas and Kishana Lewis were attacked by a tentacle monster, but it was the progressively worse Wonder Woman's claws that tore open Manhunter’s face, as she swung wildly in the pair's defense. Kishana was concerned. “C’mon Manhunter, let’s get you—“
“My fate doesn’t matter! It is you they want!” Armed with an M-16, Lewis held her own, and vowed, “Those monsters slaughtered my team... Whatever you want of me, you got.”

Manhunter grimly warned, “Have a care Kishana. Before this struggle ends, we may well hold you to that pledge. And it will likely cost you more dearly than you can possibly imagine.”

“Superman is not invulnerable to our adversaries. That suggests their nature derives from magic. However, they appear to be extremely vulnerable to heat, making fire our most effective weapon.” The Manhunter from Mars surmised this as he helped his fellows fended off the creatures’ latest assault. “Perhaps I can use my intangibility to get past these outer limbs... to the main body of the creatures!” Or perhaps not, as unearthly talons “...gaffed him like a fish... J’Onn’s in no condition to fight,” at least in the Dark Knight’s estimation. A shotgun-wielding Kishana Lewis fought to protect them both, earning the heroes’ respect, while remaining in their eyes a liability. Though Kishana's skilled use of firearms and evasive maneuvers made her seem at least as effective as the super-heroes, she tearfully fell back to look after the wounded J’Onn, as both were led back to safety by Plastic Man. On their way out, Superman couldn't help noticing what had drawn Kishana into the fray to begin with. "Interesting that J'Onn used his telepathy to reach out to Kishana."

With study, the Dark Knight Detective concluded of the Scary Monsters, “Their native environment must be absolute zero… They come from a dimension of primal cold. But each time they appear here, they’re stronger, smarter, more resilient.” Given a respite, Superman learned from the Carmody library that knowledge of the texts would not be enough to use the occult against the creatures. “Shamanic lore requires a spiritual aptitude, much like the metagene that conveys super powers, in those who seek enlightenment. You not only have to be born to the role, you also have to earn it by undertaking a series of ordeals.” On other matters, given Superman’s assertion about the creature’s natural habitat, Batman surmised, “On their side of the ‘door’ they’re static. Here, they evolve.”

Manhunter himself was evolving, as his shape-shifting abilities merely amplified the speed at which his septic wounds allowed their poison to turn him into a monster. J’Onzz envisioned the volcano we know as the Olympus Mons. “According to legend, it was created during a great and terrible battle for the soul, not only of the Martian race, but of our very world. Against a malevolence too awful to even name. The closest word we applied to them was-- Winter.” J’Onn drew Kishana into his mind, within which the monsters attacked the pair telepathically. “My heart is racing. It sounds like… drums… The pattern… it sounds African… It sounds Indian… Just like me… My blood-- feels like it’s setting me on fire!!” Kishana began to radiate heat, vaporizing the ice in their thoughts and cauterizing the Manhunter’s wounds clean. “The patterns of his life… are as clear to me as a trail of fire. The poison in him creates patches of darkness and cold. All I have to do is reignite the flames of creation… and I can make him whole.” J’Onzz felt reborn, and apparently aroused, as he kissed Kishana passionately...

"J'Onn, I--!"
"Hush. I'm a telepath, remember..? I know."

J'Onn J'Onzz and Kishana Lewis shared a bed, and a dream, beginning with the events that led to the death of Lewis’ fellows, Gerry, Rudy, and Simeon. With a tear rolling down her cheek, Kishana said, "They deserved so much better."
"Sometimes, Kishana, we choose the battle. Sometimes the battle chooses us. Fate is not fair."
"Part of me wishes I'd died with them."
"As I wish I had on Mars, with my own wife and family. But I was chosen for another purpose. And so, it seems, were you."

Kishana gasped at the sight of a white buffalo, until she was distracted by a white bird overhead, which landed on the shoulder of the newly revealed White Buffalo Woman. "She brought the awareness of life to the people of the plains. In a way, without her, we wouldn’t even be human. And that bird on her shoulder, that can only be--! With a clap that sent Kishana and J'Onn reeling, Thunderbird created sonic force waves with its wings. These visions, including the return of her possessed friends, were intended to help Lewis come to terms with her mission as the descendant of Abel Carmody and the shaman's granddaughter.

William Hume, the resort manager and longtime possessed pawn, opened the doors of the fortress to allow his masters entry. Diana, still struggling with her condition, was the first on defensive. Superman, Batman, and the Martian Manhunter were called next, just after J'Onn had presented the World's Finest pair with his lover's true nature. "I am not of this world, Kishana. I play at being human, but I am not. By nature and by choice, I have stood apart from your passions. I have observed the emotion you call love... but rarely experienced its passion! It is hard for me to leave you. Yet to save you, I must." Lewis replied, “Come back quick, J’Onn. Come back safe. I’ll be waiting.”

While the Kryptonian and the Martian flew off, the Batman tried to drag Kishana down to the catacombs. "I'm staying! ...I saved J'Onn, doesn't that count for something? The monsters believe I'm important, even if you don't! Can you really afford to throw away any potential asset?" Batman appreciated the American Indian lore regarding the demons and a fabled guardian, though going too deep into metaphysics bothered him. Kishana agreed to the Caped Crusader's tutelage in accessing her abilities. "Twice now, with J'Onn on the astral plane, I transformed into an avatar of pure flame. He said it was like looking at the spark of creation that brought the universe to life. If there were beings who existed before that moment... maybe they want revenge for being evicted."

Just after Jade arrived to support the Amazing Amazon on defense, Wonder Woman’s adulteration was completed, and she downed the emerald heroine. Seeking a final resolution, Superman and the Martian Manhunter decided to attempt to activate a dormant volcano under Black Spirit Lake with their heat vision. "This will trigger an eruption on a scale that hasn't been seen since this world was born. The ecological consequences will be devastating, Superman." It would be Green Lantern's job to contain their scope. "If he fails, my friend, our actions will leave this world as barren as its moon." Much ado about nothing, as the Scary Monsters immediately froze the site and relaunched hostilities against the heroes.

With the other heroes attentions elsewhere, Batman was convinced that Lewis’ powers needed a means of ignition, and departed the fortress with Kishana and Plastic Man in tow. While Lewis wore Plastic Man as a suit for protection in her trek to the lake, Batman stayed behind to stall the now entirely possessed Wonder Woman. In the forest, Kishana and P.M. came across a white elk, “…in a valley where as far back as anyone can recall... no animal, not even an insect, has ever been seen… The white buffalo is a spirit totem. It imparts wisdom. The great elk is a warrior totem. It imparts the strength to use the wisdom. We’ll make way better time with a ride!” The elk was slain by a spear tossed by Diana, who had overcome the Batman.

As the extraterrestrial duo fought off flying demons, Manhunter analyzed the situation. "Batman is down, Superman. And Wonder Woman has been turned! She's one of them now!" Plastic Man and Kishana are on their own. We have to help." Superman acknowledged that regardless of the cost to her and the probable loss of the Leaguers’ lives, the salvation of Earth was in Kishana Lewis' hands, much to J’Onn’s chagrin. “You don’t understand. I-- care for her! More than you know. More than I ever imagined possible! I know you’re right-- but in my heart the price is too high!”

Kishana’s powers began to surface in conflict with "Dark Diana," and as she grew nearer to a tower in the middle of Black Spirit Lake. Once the reanimated elk preoccupied Plastic Man, Lewis recognized, “It’s all on me now! It’s up to me to succeed where the Justice League failed! The world is so screwed! NO! I won’t accept that! Those heroes had faith in me!” Lewis was then lynched by Plastic Man’s twisted form, as Diana noted that while Kishana’s touch was anathema to her, Plas’ fallen form allowed Wonder Woman to end Lewis' threat.

Kishana was given a breather by the kamikaze flight of the Manhunter from Mars, in a form similar to the prophetic Thunderbird, but was then gutted by Diana. “Why, J’Onn, what a surprise! Whatever could have possessed you?! To take an action so passionate, so utterly uncharacteristically human! And so ultimately futile!! Has Cupid’s arrow found your alien heart?”

“She is the hope of the world, Diana! ...Your kind are in my memory as well. From a battle so fierce it laid waste to the souls of my entire race. You are one of the reasons we cannot abide fire. Not because of what it may do to us—but because of the monsters we used it to destroy! After all, why would a species who live in mortal fear of fire... breed its generation into our very genome?”

With that J’Onn J’Onzz fired his laser vision into Kishana’s eyes, and she was converted into an energy being. The explosion that followed eradicated all trace of the demons from the valley, as well as washing over J'Onzz himself. "My life for Earth? A nothing sacrifice."

Fallen heroes were restored to grace, though the inferno eradicated all plant life in the area. Kishana Lewis resuscitated J’Onzz with a kiss, while appearing to briefly become a Martian herself. “”This is but an illusion, painted by a merging or your power with my telepathy. It’s not meant to last.” Truer words... as energy shot between the lovers, painfully tearing them apart. Batman explained, “Apparently, you’ve become an avatar of fire, channeling the molten heart of not only the earth, but the sun as well. You may still look human, but the change is total and irrevocable. Given the Manhunter’s inherent Martian vulnerability to flame, even the most casual physical contact will be painful. Anything prolonged is guaranteed fatal.” Kishana couldn't believe the unfairness of it all.

Green Lantern was almost converted to a demon just before the cleansing, and while he didn’t see his attacker was William Hume, he knew a human was in league with the scary monsters. Kishana concluded, “If the demons have an agent loose among us, and there are other gates--! Then this isn’t over. We’ve won a battle… but the war has only just begun. Fine. If this is the job I was born to do, I’m game. But that doesn’t let you off the hook, Mister! We’re not done.”

Lewis and J'Onzz stared into one another's eyes... “Kishana--!” “Hush! I’m a romantic. I believe in true love. In the end, against all odds, it will triumph.” “In the face of such passion, who am I to argue? I speak for the League. You have done well this day, Kishana. Your grandfather and grandmother would be proud. And should the need arise for us to fight once more by your side, it will be our privilege.”

By Chris Claremont, Joshua Hood and Sean Parsons.


kevin from new orleans said...

I enjoyed this story but I've never seen it collected in a trade paperback.

Diabolu Frank said...

This was in the days before everything got collected. I don't think many of the numerous JLA branded mini-series and specials from that period have ever been collected, even in the big omnibuses. Unless Grant Morrison or Mark Millar wrote it, DC doesn't care. I don't think this one sold especially well either, at least relative to similar titles.