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Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Justice League 5 - Batman vs Guy Gardner

The tension between Batman and Guy Gardner reaches the boiling point in the Giffen, DeMatteis, Maguire, and Gordon story in Justice League 5 (Sept 87). Great cover for this one.

The top of the story introduces an everyday small town, Stone Ridge, Vermont. It's nothing special, except that the Gray Man shows up there. Dr Fate is about to enter his tower in Salem when he becomes aware of this, and mystically transports himself there.

Jack Ryder has just finished another news report slagging the new Justice League when he gets a tip about Dr Fate showing up in the town, and figures it is worth checking out.

The Gray Man has already taken over the town. Not only that, but he has captured Dr Fate. We learn that he was part of a group of mystics who probed the secrets of the universe. He managed to ascend and face the Lords of Order. For this, he has been turned into the Gray Man, given eternal life, and the task of gathering up the dream essence left by the dead, channelling it to the Lords. He has always considered this a punishment, and decided to start keeping some of the dream essence himself, increasing his power to the level it is now at. He intends to spread his control over the world, gaining enough power to be able to challenge the Lords of Order themselves. Dr Fate is not able to move, but does manage to send a message to the League, alerting them to the situation.

But before the message arrives, there are more troubles brewing with the team, centring mostly on Guy Gardner. He and Batman argue, which leads to the cover moment, as the two prepare to fight.

Delightfully, it's not much of a fight. Batman takes Gardner down with a single punch to the face. Guy remains unconscious for the remainder of the tale. Blue Beetle and Mister Miracle were onhand to witness this, but Martian Manhunter and Black Canary enter just afterwards. I love how upset Canary is that she missed it. Oberon is also back with the team, and is the one to alert them to Dr Fate's mouth emerging from the computer screen, informing them about the situation in Stone Ridge.

Batman sends Captain Marvel ahead to check the situation out, rudely ordering him not to take action until the rest arrive. Captain Marvel has been consistently insulted by both Batman and Guy, and starts to snap back. After he leaves, Blue Beetle calls Batman down for the way he has been treating Marvel, and Marvel's thoughts along the way show how his negativity has affected the hero. Batman has made Captain Marvel doubt himself and his abilities, and whether he really belongs on the team. That's not good leadership.

The rest of the team arrive just outside of the town. There is no sign of Captain Marvel, but they do find Jack Ryder's van, and then the Creeper shows up. He adds even more silliness to the situation, to Batman's fury.

But as the tale ends, we see that something very bad is going down in Stone Ridge.

The story continues in the next issue.

Justice League Annual 1 - the sentient cell

Bill Willingham, Dennis Janke, P Craig Russell, Bill Wray, Robert Campanella, Bruce Patterson, and Dick Giordano join Giffen and DeMatteis for the first Justice League Annual, which strikes a more serious note than the rest of the series, for the most part.

After a brief prologue at a former Waynetech facility on an island in the South Pacific, one recently purchased by Kord, Inc., at which people seem to get possessed by something, the action cuts back to the Justice League cave, where Batman and Guy Gardner are arguing again. Although Guy is always rude and over the top, Batman also has some difficulty with group dynamics, treating the other members of the team as though they ought to be unquestioningly subservient to him. The story takes place after issue 4, but Maxwell Lord does not appear in the tale. The League's computer alerts them to outbreaks of the same kind of possession that took place on the island, and they split into four teams of two to investigate.

Booster Gold and Black Canary head to Paris, where Booster tries flirting with Canary, only to get shut down fast. Canary comes off as the more impressive fighter of the two, which is accurate, but both wind up getting possessed.

Batman and Guy Gardner head to Tokyo. It seems weird that Batman would want to team with Guy, but makes sense, as this way he can keep an eye on him. Dr Light appears in the story, already having been possessed, and is the one to spread it to the two heroes.

Blue Beetle and Mister Miracle head to Chicago, where Beetle has his own facility, which has already been overrun. Beetle doesn't get to do much in the chapter, but Miracle gets a good bit after being shoved off a building by a rampaging crowd. Both get possessed.

Dr Fate and the Martian Manhunter head to Sydney, Australia. Both feel secure that they will not be able to be possessed, though for Dr Fate this faith is misplaced. Kent Nelson is still vulnerable. Nabu is able to communicate a bit with the virus, and lets the Manhunter know that it has threatened to kill Nelson unless he turns the body over. Dr Fate tosses away the helmet, and gets possessed. Only because of his Martian nature does the Manhunter remain immune.

In order to understand what he is dealing with, the Martian Manhunter puts on Fate's helmet. He learns that the problem is a sentient cell, developed in the Waynetech lab, which has gotten free, and spreads itself from person to person. It's goal seems to be to take over all human life.

The Martian Manhunter heads to the Pacific island where it originated. The rest of the League is already there, waiting for him, and he is forced to battle his comrades. This series does a good job making use of the Manhunter's wide variety of powers, including invisibility and shape shifting, which were often ignored in the past. 

But even with all his skills, the Manhunter has no way to defeat the cell, which forms itself a huge body out of the people it has taken over. It's Dr Fate, or more accurately, Nabu, who can do that. The Manhunter throws Nabu's helmet into the mass of people, allowing it to take control of the form. But Nabu can only hold it briefly. He explains to the Manhunter that the cell has to be isolated in a body from which it cannot escape. And that would have to be the Martian's body, which cannot be controlled by it. The Manhunter is repulsed by the idea, but allows the cell to invade him. Sure enough, this neutralizes it and frees everyone from its control.

Justice League 4 - Booster Gold vs the Royal Flush Gang

Booster Gold gets to show his stuff in the Giffen, DeMatteis, Maguire, and Gordon story from Justice League 4 (Aug 87). It is perhaps worth noting that Green Arrow became the first new member of the original team in Justice League of America 4 waaaaay back in 1961.

The story picks up from the end of the previous issue, as Batman chairs a meeting of Black Canary, Blue Beetle, Martian Manhunter, Mister Miracle, Captain Marvel, and Guy Gardner, as they discuss the mysterious Maxwell Lord and his actions. Meanwhile, Max casually talks with Booster Gold and Dr Light about his plans for the team, as though everything was happy and agreed upon. Dr Light is furious with the way she has been manipulated and storms out.

Booster Gold is also not keen on the way Max has been pushing him, and doesn't want to force himself onto the team. He leaves as well, though not before letting the League know about Max's comments about his master plan.

Timing proves to be everything here. Booster leaves the cave just as the Royal Flush Gang cut the power and launch an attack. Booster winds up taking them on single handedly, while the rest of the team watches. Batman holds them back, keen to observe how Booster will do. Black Canary wonders why the Gang would even want to attack them at the present moment.

Booster manages to take down the King, Queen, Jack, and 10, and it appears that he has won. Batman even gives him a half-smile of approval. But then the Ace appears out of nowhere, and the fighting resumes. This time the whole League joins in. Turns out they are needed, as the robotic Ace is designed with abilities to neutralize their specific powers.

Booster Gold and Blue Beetle wind up working together for the first time, with Beetle operating the force field around the cave and Booster luring the Ace into position, so that Beetle can activate the field and cut Ace in half. I hadn't been reading Booster Gold's book, so I really didn't know the character at this point, but his screams of joy after defeating the Ace really can't help but win you over. Seems to have worked for the rest of the League as well.

But that doesn't mean all is good. As the issue ends, Maxwell Lord holds a press conference to announce Booster's membership with the League, while presenting himself as their official liason.

Justice League 3 - fighting the Rocket Reds in Russia

The League wind up in a three way battle with the aliens and the Rocket Reds in Justice League 3 (July 1987), by Giffen, DeMatteis, Maguire, and Gordon.

The story continues from the previous issue, opening with League aboard Blue Beetle's ship, hovering outside of Bialyan airspace. Beetle's radar picks up the three aliens as they fly off to Russia, following Rumaan Harjavti's orders. Wandjina, Silver Sorceress, and BlueJay do not trust the man, but as long as his information is accurate, they go along with his plans. The League begin to pursue him, but Beetle stops abruptly when he realizes they are about to enter Russian airspace. Though it may cause an international incident, Batman orders Beetle to proceed.

The Rocket Reds pick up the three aliens on their radar, and head out to stop them. Guy Gardner had already faced these guys in the pages of Green Lantern Corps, and is so eager to fight them again he disobeys orders and heads out into battle. Captain Marvel is sent out to reign him in, but the Rocket Reds attack him, and he winds up joining the fight.

Even though the Martian Manhunter gets Guy back into the ship, the Reds now view the League as attackers. Black Canary goes out to try to talk to them, but that turns into a fight as well. She knocks the tooth out of one, and in a later issue this will be revealed to be Dmitri Pushkin, who would later join the League.

The League thus unwittingly provide cover for Wandjina, Silver Sorceress, and BlueJay, who arrive at a nuclear base. Once again, the dialogue, as they confront the Rocket Reds there, is given a humourous bent, which aids the standoff immensely.

The League finally show up as well, just as the power plant begins to melt down. Wandjina brushes everyone aside and enters the plant, somehow managing to stabilize the core and end the threat. This completely wipes the guy out, though, and he collapses. The Rocket Reds take the three aliens into custody, and there is nothing for the League to do but leave. Not a very successful mission, but an entertaining story nonetheless.

It also has a great finale. The League return to the cave, only to find Maxwell Lord there, introducing them to their newest member, Booster Gold.

Justice League 2 - Wandjina, BlueJay, and Silver Sorceress come to Earth

Al Gordon joins Giffen, DeMatteis, and Maguire for the second issue of Justice League (June 1987), which brings back some obscure characters from the earlier version of the team.

Following up on the last issue, Batman and the Martian Manhunter question Dr Light about who recruited her for the team, and provided a signal device. To Batman's frustration, Blue Beetle informs him that the device is a superior copy of the one they are using now. Guy Gardner wants to beat the information out of Dr Light, to the disgust of Black Canary and Mister Miracle.

Jack Ryder does a negative news report about the new team, which is used to segue from the team itself over to Maxwell Lord. He makes a comment about Ryder's file being under the letter "C," which reveals that he is aware that Ryder is also the Creeper, something that very few know. As this scene ends, Booster Gold arrives for an appointment with Max.

Dr Fate gets a separate plot thread, as he pays a visit to the Gray Man. This is a new character, a very morose one. It is not clear to the reader just why the Gray Man is upset, or what Dr Fate has sensed he is planning, but it lays the groundwork for an upcoming story arc.

Then the action shifts over to Bilya, a country that will play a major role in the Justice League books over the next few years. Wandjina, BlueJay, and Silver Sorceress arrive in the nation, announcing that they intend to get rid of all their nuclear weapons. And they start doing so, as the military is unable to stop them thanks to the Sorceress' powers and Wandjina's might. And BlueJay's...ummm...little wings?

At any rate, these characters are clearly patterned after Thor, Scarlet Witch, and Yellowjacket. They had appeared, along with a Quicksilver type character, back in one issue of the classic Justice League of America, in 1971 . We learn here that their world had descended into a nuclear war, one that wiped out pretty much the entire population, killing not only the people but also the heroes. Jack B Quick, from the original story, had died, although here he is called Captain Speed. 

The League receive an alert about the situation, and head out to investigate. Guy Gardner, who doesn't think any nation other than the US should have nukes, is at first on the side of the mysterious aliens. But he is also always eager for a fight, so he charges into battle, and gets trounced by Wandjina. Guy has been mocking Captain Marvel, so he is humiliated when Marvel rescues him. Rumaan Harjavti, the ruler of Bialya, denies entry to his airspace to the League, and Batman reluctantly orders them to withdraw.

Harjavti has pretended to befriend the three aliens, but is clearly playing them for his own agenda. This becomes clear as the issue ends, when Harjavti tells the three that they need to head to Russia next, to get rid of their nukes.

The story concludes in the next issue.

Justice League 1 - the new Justice League has their first meeting

Legends had been a serious miniseries, so one had every reason to believe that the new Justice League was going to be the same way, the stalwart team at the core of the DC Universe. Keith Giffen, Jean-Marc DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire, and Terry Austin turned expectations on their heads, though, making the book as much of a comedic adventure as a superhero one. A lot of this had to do with simply playing the characters for who they were, primarily Guy Gardner and Batman. Both had such strong personalities, well-established by this point. It was easy to develop the rest of the crew, simply by having them react. The series launched with the May 1987 issue.

As the series begins, the team is gathering at the old cave headquarters. Guy Gardner has arrived first, and fully intends to be the team's leader. Black Canary, Mister Miracle, and Oberon show up, and all come into conflict with Guy immediately. It's not violent conflict, but this is not a man they intend to take orders from. It's far from clear how Mister Miracle wound up getting hooked up with the group, as it seems he has not met most of the others. Captain Marvel is the next to show, and he is played up very much as an innocent child in a man's body. 

Blue Beetle and the Martian Manhunter are the next to enter the cave, and the Manhunter makes reference to the events of Legends, and the deaths of some of the members of the last incarnation of the team. Guy's atrocious behaviour becomes abundantly clear by the way he cuts off the moment of remembrance, as the Manhunter purges Steel, Gypsy, Vixen, and Vibe from the computer.

The action cuts away to introduce us to Maxwell Lord, a businessman who seems to have his own plans for the team. He watches the way the news is covering this new team, and doodles, removing the "of America" from the name of the team.

By the time Batman and Dr Fate show up the other members of the team are now all fighting against Guy Gardner. Dr Fate prepares to cast a spell to calm things down, but Batman forestalls this, getting everyone into order simply through the force of his personality. Within a few pages each of the members of the new team have distinct personalities, and the battle of wills between Batman and Guy Gardner has been made clear.

The action then jumps to the United Nations, where Dr Light is preparing to address the General Assembly, but gets distracted when her Justice League signal device goes off. We get a brief flashback showing some mystery man recruiting her to the team, though it's clear that no one else in the group is aware that she is a member. 

When terrorists take over the assembly, Dr Light uses her device to alert the League. Though puzzled at how she is in possession of the device, the team heads out. Batman barks orders at everyone, but the team does manage to work together to take out the bad guys. Even Dr Light helps out, though it's Batman who faces down the leader of the group. Instead of fighting him, Batman simply allows the assembly to evacuate, humiliating him and leaving him behind.

The issue closes on Maxwell Lord watching the news. We see that the terrorist leader did not set off his bomb, just killed himself instead. There is a great note of menace at the end, with the revelation that Lord had arranged all of this, yet did not provide the firing pin for the bomb. Just what games is this guy playing?

With only one issue, this incarnation of Justice League has already blown away the earlier incarnations of the group, simply by using characterization and humour.

Monday, 22 July 2019

The Spectre 31 - the series ends

Pat Broderick and Bruce Patterson provide a beautiful cover for The Spectre 31 (Nov 89), the final issue of the run. Moench and Mayo wind up the two part possession story in this issue, but otherwise the series just sort of ends, as opposed to coming to a conclusion.

Still, it's a good story to go out on, one of the better ones from the run. Betty Bumphus is able to wrest control of her body back from the demon, and calls down the Spectre for not being able to do the same. She is right on that count, though the Spectre tries to justify the situation by pointing out that, since his demotion, he is now a tool in other people's hands. Hmmm. Perhaps there is a bit more to the truth behind that statement than has been apparent in the series.

Anyway, the husband and wife finally turn on each other as well. The resentment both of them have felt for decades about the murder of the brother has helped to create the evil atmosphere in the house.

Gina gets a few pages of running around being freaked out by everything that she sees, but it works well. Much in the same fashion as Shelley Duvall at the end of The Shining. The possessed daughter murders her father, and Gina sees the Spectre turn into Jim Corrigan, revealing his secret.

But Betty Bumphus is still the only one able to act in any sort of effective and rational way. She has one of the bones of the dead brother, and tries to use against the possessed girl, but the ground springs up from below, impaling and killing her. The girl's skin splits open, and the demon emerges from her, but the Spectre is once again in control of himself, and drives the demon back to hell.

The end of the story has the family mourning both the father and the dead brother, and Gina mourning Betty, but the page before it has the final conflict between the Spectre and Jim Corrigan, with Jim furious that the Spectre did nothing to save Betty, and won't go to hell to rescue her now. The Spectre seems far less concerned about Betty's death, or even Jim's concerns, than he has been previously. Or perhaps I am just reading that into the scene, knowing what Ostrander will do when he brings the character back a couple of years down the road.

Not a terrible series, but not the best Spectre incarnation either.