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Monday, 31 December 2018

Secret Origins 34 - Captain Atom, Rocket Red, and Gnort

Secret Origins 34 (1988) was the second of three issues devoted to the origins of the members of Justice League International. Captain Atom, Rocket Red and Gnort get tales in this issue.

I really didn't know much about Captain Atom before reading this story. He was a Charlton Comics character, so unfamiliar to me, and little of what made up his own book was reflected in the pages of Justice League. Here, Cary Bates, Greg Weisman, Alan Lee Weiss and Josef Rubenstein pull off a complicated, but wonderful, origin tale.

Effectively, this takes the Captain Atom stories from Charlton and turns them into a big cover story, a lie put forth by the US government to conceal the true origin of Captain Atom. In this telling, he is a mechanic who gets stuck in a nuclear missile, and gains his powers when the nuke goes off.

He operated undercover for a number of years, but now that he is out in the open as a hero, people connected to his earliest cases are having a reunion, sharing their stories.

But really, these are all actors rehearsing their roles. General Eiling and Dr Megala are monitoring this, and pick apart the mistakes in the stories.

In truth, Nathaniel Adam was convicted of treason and sentenced to death. He was forced to take part in a nuclear experiment that thrust him twenty years ahead in time, as well as giving him powers. He is now forced to pretend to be a hero, while spying for the government.
I absolutely loved this, and started picking up occasional issues of the series after reading it. So this story definitely did what it was supposed to do.

William Messner-Loebs, Irv Novick, and Josef Rubenstein turn in the origin of Rocket Red, told as a meeting that the Russian hero has with Gorbachev, and a general who believes Rocket Red to be a potential traitor, because his brother wants to emigrate.

The actual origin is dealt with very quickly, recapping events from Green Lantern Corps, when Kilowog helped create the Rocket Red outfits, which lead to a confrontation with the rest of the Corps. Dmitri, the Rocket Red in the Justice League, was not introduced in that tale, he made his debut only in the pages of Justice League International itself.

Here he goes into action to save Gorbachev's life from the general, who turns out to be a killer android.

The last story in the issue is the origin, such as it is, of Gnort, a Green Lantern Corps member who had been hanging around the Justice League recently, as related by Keith Giffen, JM DeMatteis, and Stephen DeStefano. This character had also been introduced in the pages of Justice League International. Gnort is a charmingly stupid and incompetent Green Lantern, and the tale here is pure silliness, and just a hoot.

Gnort's uncle Gneuman was an honoured member of the Corps, while Gnort was a totally useless stoner and pizza delivery boy. The uncle felt that being part of the Corps would give Gnort some direction and self respect, so pleaded with the Guardians of the Universe to admit him.

They reluctantly did. And have been regretting it ever since.

Actually, almost none of that would turn out to be true, but those revelations came much down the road. For now, Gnort was pure fun, and so was his goofy origin tale.

Secret Origins 33 - Mister Miracle, Green Flame, and Icemaiden

Secret Origins 33 (Dec 88) is the first of three issues that spotlight the origins of the current members of Justice League International. The covers of the three issues can be placed together to form a triptych.

Mike Carlin opens the issue with the combined origins of Mister Miracle and Oberon. Unfortunately, Don Heck does the pencils, and not even the inks of Klaus Janson and Arthur Adams can save this. That's a shame, as the parallel structure of the two origins works well. The top half of the page relates that of Mister Miracle, while the bottom halves tell Oberon's story. For both, they reflect on the origins as Mister Miracle performs an escape, with Oberon and Big Barda helping out.

We see Mister Miracle as an abused child being trained in Granny Goodness' orphanage on Apokolips, but Oberon was orphaned as well, his parents dying in a fire. He ran away and joined the circus, being a dwarf and all, but got treated abusively there anyway.

Each wound up finding protectors, though. For Mister Miracle this was Metron, who would appear and goad him on, and Himon, who helped train him to escape. For Oberon, it was the original Mister Miracle, Thaddeus Brown, another performer at the circus.

Mister Miracle finally worked up the courage to escape from Apokolips, not realizing that this fit in with Darkseid's big plans, to end the truce with New Genesis. Things didn't go so well with Oberon, either, as Thaddeus Brown was killed by a gangster, Steel Hand. But once Scott Free came to Earth he met Oberon, took on the Mister Miracle identity, and the two have been escaping death together ever since.

Green Flame gets a very silly telling of her origin, thanks to Tom and Mary Bierbaum, Chuck Austen and Gary Martin. This was designed to incorporate a little of the superspy element that she had had under the name Green Fury, when the Brazillian hero appeared in Super Friends.

She grows up on the beaches of Rio, and has a brief career as a showgirl before turning to spydom. Brazillian spies were using a new, protoplasmic gun, but one got stolen by the son of a powerful man. She is sent to get the gun back discretely.

This backfires big time, and BB DaCosta is responsible for a massive protoplasmic explosion, which would wind up giving her powers.

Although the powers she gained at that time were not the most useful: the ability to spit fire. This is a lower level than she was shown to have in Super Friends, but on par with the power she had been displaying in Justice League.

The story ends as she joins the Global Guardians.

The last story in the issue is the origin of Icemaiden, another Global Guardian turned Justice Leaguer. Gerard Jones, Jim Valentino and Eduardo Barreto handle this tale, although Jones did not do his homework. We are given a story in which a man is sent into the Norwegian mountains to investigate claims of ice wielding people living there.

He meets Tora Olafsdotter, but her father freezes the man. He keeps warning her about the dangers and evils of the outside world, but this just makes Tora increasingly curious about it. She frees the man, and then informs her father that she is going with him.

That's about all there is to it. He brings Tora to Paris, where she joins the Global Guardians. But there is a bit more to the story than is apparent. In Who's Who, Icemaiden's name had been given as Sigrid Nansen. In years to come, it would be revealed that Sigrid was the first Icemaiden, the one mind controlled by the Wizard to betray her team, in the pages of Infinity, Inc. After that incident, she resigned from the team in disgrace. Tora Olafsdotter joined at that point, and took on the identity of Icemaiden.

Secret Origins 32 - Justice League of America

Keith Giffen, Peter David, and Eric Shanower put a humourous twist on their retelling of the origin of the Justice League of America in Secret Origins 32 (Nov 88). While this remains true to the original version, in the broadest sense, it makes some significant changes to the line up. Superman and Batman had marginal roles in the original, and Batman is completely left out of this version. Wonder Woman is dropped completely, and replaced by Black Canary.

But the overall plot remains intact. Some aliens from the planet Appellax come to Earth to fight it out between them to determine which should be the new ruler of their planet. They land as meteors, and each alien takes on a different form, spreading that to the people and animals around them to form their own army. As in the original tale, the Martian Manhunter is the first to encounter one of these beings, who has taken a rock form. The hero destroys it, and then sets out to deal with a meteor that landed in the everglades.

In the original version, Aquaman dealt with the alien that turned things into glass, but in this telling that gets switched around, and Aquaman has to deal with a mercury creature.

The glass creature is saved for Black Canary. In the original, Wonder Woman fought the mercury creature. It's also worth pointing out that this story introduces the notion that Black Canary is the daughter of the one from the Justice Society. The mother/daughter relationship is basically that of the Silk Spectres from Watchman, copied and pasted onto the Black Canaries. It was a damn good idea, and added a lot to the character.

Green Lantern has to deal with a giant yellow bird.

The Flash faces a fire creature.

And as each hero defeats one of the aliens, they all head to the everglades. There, they all fall victim to a wood creature, and duplicate, more or less, the cover from Justice League of America 9.

The heroes are barely able to move, but through some teamwork, each is able to help one of the others, and they get the Flash back to normal, so he can defeat the wood alien. I love that he gets splinters while doing so.

At this point in the original version the five heroes meet up with Superman and Batman, who have defeated the final alien. In this version, they almost reach Superman after he does so, but Superman flies off, never seeing the other heroes.

So its just Martian Manhunter, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Black Canary who become the founding members of the League.

Secret Origins 31 - Justice Society of America

Secret Origins 31 (Oct 88) contains a full length story by Roy Thomas, Michael Bair, and Robert Downs, which retells the origin of the Justice Society of America, although it leaves out Superman and Batman from Paul Levitz's original. This actually doesn't require very many changes.

As in the original, FDR is the driving force behind the creation of the team. He wants to aid the British, but is hamstrung by the fact that it is 1940, and the US has not yet joined the Second World War. But they are producing superheros, and Roosevelt has the notion of getting them to work together as a unit, and defend England. Flash and Green Lantern are the first two heroes approached, and they willingly agree to take part in a mission behind enemy lines.

They head to Germany and battle the Murder Machine, created by Helmut Streicher (who had been the Red Panzer in the pre-Crisis reality). The battle does not go so well, and it turns out that Dr Fate has been monitoring it. He calls on Hourman for help, and they head over to save the two heroes from being impaled on Hitler's Spear of Destiny. That works, but then Hitler uses the Spear to summon Gudra and the Valkyries, sending them to attack the US, while a Nazi fleet heads to England.

The four heroes try to stop the women, and Dr Fate sends out four mystic spheres to gather more heroes.

These bring the Atom, Hawkman, and Sandman, who join the fight.

But it's the fourth, which reaches the Spectre, that makes all the difference. The Spectre single handedly takes out the entire Nazi fleet.

Then it becomes a race to stop Gudran from killing FDR. The Atom proves willing to sacrifice himself to save the president, but Gudra still manages to kill Roosevelt.

This is the biggest change in the story, as in the original Superman had prevented that. In this version, it all falls to the Spectre, who enters the realm of the dead and makes a personal appeal to god to save Roosevelt. Thomas nearly deifies the man, comparing him to Moses. But it works, and FDR is saved.

As the story ends, Roosevelt suggests that the heroes continue working as a unit, and they form the Justice Society of America.

Secret Origins 30 - Elongated Man, and Plastic Man

Ty Templeton does such a wonderful job on the cover for Secret Origins 30 (Sept 88), and the issue itself isn't half bad, either.

Gerard Jones and Grant Miehm join Templeton for the first story in the issue, the origin of the Elongated Man. This is an exceptionally well written tale, which sees Ralph Dibny and his wife, Sue, return to his family and home town for his 30th birthday. The origin and history of the character is told in scattered bits, interspersed with conversations that Ralph has with Wally West, Sue, and his brother. Ralph desperately wants his old friends to be impressed with him, but everyone just seems to ignore him.

With Wally, Ralph talks about his childhood, never fitting in. He developed an obsession with contortionists, and wanted to be one. Ralph's detective skills were already in evidence, as he noticed that they all drank the same pop, Gingold. Ralph distilled the essence of the plant, drank it, and gained his stretching powers.

Ralph talks about his first outing, when the Flash thought he was a villain, and how by the end of the case they became friends.

The story uses a lot of panels that recap various adventures. As a result, when I read this, I assumed there actually was a story in which the Elongated Man married Sue, with Flash as his best man. In reality, there never was any such tale. The first time we see Sue she is on her honeymoon with Ralph. So kudos to the creative team for giving us the background on how they came together, and making it look and feel perfectly aligned with the rest of the tale.

Ralph winds up asking Sue what she really thought of him when they first met, and Sue admits her attraction was based on him not being like all her high society friends. But she goes on to explain that as time passed, she found that she had truly fallen in love with him. Ralph was also bamboozled by the wealthy and classy Sue Dearborn, but only grew to really love her once they were a couple.

Ralph corners his brother, and wonders to him why nothing he does ever seems to impress anyone. The brother explains that he, and everyone in town, takes pride in the Elongated Man's achievements, and his many battles as a part of the Justice League of America. But that no one is able to really relate to him, he's always just so odd.

So Ralph decides to keep himself from acting up, and just be normal for the rest of the party. But it's Ralph Dibny. Normal just don't work for him. A delight.

Roy Thomas, Stephen DeStefano and Jean Frinke handle the origin of Plastic Man, even though Woozy Winks does his best to make the story about him.

It's Thomas, so you know it's going to be a pretty faithful rendition. DeStefano does not try to duplicate Jack Cole's original art, but does a commendable job of taking things to the extreme, and keeping the tale wild and kinetic. We meet hoodlum Eel O'Brien, who gets shot during an attempted robbery. He falls into a vat of acid, and is abandoned by the rest of his gang.

Eel gets found by a monk and taken to a monastery to recover. As in the original story, Eel discovers his stretching powers upon waking up, when he stretches his arms. Unlike the Elongated Man, Plastic Man is able to warp his body into any shape he desires.

He decides to take revenge on his old gang, and rejoins them, while keeping his powers a secret. I have to admit, I love the panels in which Woozy tries to insert his own story.

Eel joins the gang for another robbery, but goes into action as Plastic Man to take them all down. But he does it in such a way that none will suspect that Eel has turned on him. Clearly he wants to keep his own identity.

But that didn't last very long. Plastic Man wound up joining the FBI, and we get a brief montage of his various crazy cases.