Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Geez, don't blow that out of proportion or anything: Justice League of America #162
Considering I'm a big Marvel fan, this is like a soft-sell.

I'm 90% sure Justice League of America #162 was my first JLA comic, and on that count I could've done a lot worse. The cover copy is suitably bombastic, but I probably tore into the comic barely noticing the words.

The story opens with this issue's Leaguers--Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Zatanna, Elongated Man, and Green Arrow, a pretty heavy lineup--at a secluded S.T.A.R. lab off the coast of Canada. The lab's been almost demolished, and the JLA's been called to investigate, although Superman acts a little put off that the lab was "so secret even we didn't know about it," which seems somewhat overbearing. The head scientist had no idea what happened there, but fears the target was the genetic manipulator, Compound-One. Apparently the marketing guys hadn't got that one yet, but on the other hand, I just read Paul Pope's Batman: Year 100 yesterday, and if you're in a secret conspiracy, you might want to think of a more secrety name before carrying around something called, "Fleshkiller."
Just because it says 'team lift' doesn't mean you guys can't...oh, never mind.
Moving along: GL suggests clearing a little rubble, to look for clues to the attacker's identity. He, Wonder Woman, and Supes pick up a lump of concrete wall...that any one of them could've picked up themselves. Without hesitating, Elongated Man leaps in to stretch his way through the debris, and Ralph notes he's been anxious to test himself lately. BTW, in this story, EM is really stretchy, more so than I think he was usually portrayed later. On the splash page, the perspective isn't quite right, because it looks like he's stretching around the destroyed lab and fire, over a couple of blocks.

The chunk of wall starts to give way, and again, although any one of them should be able to take care of it, Zatanna has to save Ralph with one of her spells holding the wall together while WW and Supes hold it...and Hal's apparently wandered off, probably having spied something either shiny or leggy. Ralph pulls out a Compound-One canister, empty.

Green Arrow makes a comment about how that tells them nothing, and he's the current JLA chairman, yet incredibly negative. Well, it's certainly a different leadership style, so you have to give it that. Zatanna says she will try to read the "psychic vibrations" of whoever last touched the canister...which would be Ralph, not helpful. She touches the canister, screams, and passes out. What have you been doing, Ralph?

Zatanna wakes up back at the JLA Satellite, which I love without reservation, and Ralph stayed there with her and Red Tornado. 'Great...great Exxon Valdez impression, Hal...'Zat's kicking herself, since she just joined the League in the previous issue, and doesn't think fainting is a good start. Ralph recaps that Hal checked her out with his ring, then used it on the canister, to unsettling results: Has GL's ring ever been used to make "psychic manifestations" before or since? I don't think so, and that's an odd use of it. Anyway, the rest of the team heads for Florida to check it out, leaving Zatanna and company to get into the subplot.
'Well...maybe your mind was wiped for the greater good, Zat.  We ought to try that sometime...'
Over a nice cup of coffee and wearing the Mandarin's rings, Zatanna explains that whatever zapped her broke a subconscious barrier, and she realized she had been missing the last two weeks of her memory. Ooh, retroactive irony. She didn't know what had happened to her father, Zatara; or where her new costume came from. The last she remembered, was being backstage at the Fox Theatre in Providence, RI; which I'm sure is a very nice theatre, but an unusual location for a superhero story, especially in the DC Universe of Gotham, Star, and Central Cities.

Ralph assures Zat that while he "may not be the Batman, but I'm a pretty fair detective in my own right. If anyone can solve this mystery, I can!" If anyone can solve it, do we need you? All kidding aside, the Elongated Man would probably be better remembered as a great detective, if he wasn't comparing himself to Batman every other breath. That said, you probably see Ralph doing more detective work. Red Tornado chimes in to help, pointing out Batman just saw Zatara the other day.

By now, the rest of the team's flown to Florida, in a fairly stylish manner:
It's comfy, but it doesn't go with any of my other furniture.
While mildly terrifying, it beats the hell out of the big green bubbles, although it is a reminder that back in the day, Wonder Woman couldn't fly. Too bad Black Canary wasn't there instead: Ollie does a great rendition of "Fly Me to the Moon."

Upon landing, WW sees a giant wave heading towards them. Green Lantern stops it with a giant wall, but notes the wave isn't a natural shape. He doesn't notice, however, the giant squid that grabs him. The giant squid with the yellow aura. Remember that next time you snicker at Aquaman behind his back, Hal.

Green Arrow gamely tries to blow up the squid, but Wonder Woman notes his arrows are all too small...ow. Superman, for his part, has taken off towards the lab, having seen something really interesting; so Wonder Woman has to lasso up the squid. Somehow. Strangely, many of nature's wonders are evolving defenses against Green Lantern's ring, like the Zamaron Squirrel, or the Qwardian Gazelle.Anyway, she throws it into the next timezone. GA breaks Hal's fall with an inflating arrow, and says being shook up would do him some good anyway. Why did Hal drive cross country with him again? Ollie's the friend that watches you get into trouble, then mutters something about building character, or "chicks dig scars" before leaving you to your own devices. The kind of guy that tells you to "Man up" when you nick an artery.

Back on topic, GA and WW are then plowed over by a speeding form. They wonder if maybe Superman freaked out on them, before Supes comes stumbling in, muttering about "Brain-blast...mental energy...attacked my mind..." Just so no one can accuse him of making up a mental attack to cover leaving them in the lurch, he rattles off the location of another lab, probably next to be attacked.

Huh. The caption box on the next page starts "...or perhaps that's just the product of tense and wary imagination..." and made me think I was missing a page, but it doesn't look like it. Probably never noticed before. Zat, EM, and Reddy are looking over the theatre, but find little. Ralph points out some old posters for Zatara and Zatanna's magic act, which at least proves she used to have another (better) costume. '!Tauqs retnec t'nac, oidutS tiartroP sraeS diputS'Zat shows them an old photo of herself as a baby and her mom and dad, but when Red and Ralph look at it, her mom isn't there. Zat commences freaking out, then sucks it up and casts a spell to transport them to her family home, which she mentions twice as near Arkham Asylum. Wow, the property values can't be great in that neighborhood.
Baby's got the bends.
Meanwhile, Superman has built a little bathysphere to take WW and GA to the undersea lab of the Navy's Deep Sea "Proteus." It's the old-school clear dome kind of setup you used to see in Aquaman or Sub-Mariner even though it would be darker than the inside of my armpit down there. Ollie tells Supes the bathysphere was "spooky," probably because most people aren't conditioned for a trip to the ocean's floor in a glass bubble. An unpressurized glass bubble. With a little door on the side, to dock with the airlock...I can buy GL's power ring making something like that, but Superman just seemed to slap that thing together. In a nice detail, Supes is sopping wet when he gets in, though.

Hey, where is Green Lantern, anyway? Back at the satellite, taking a little rest after the squid attack. Hey, that's OK if you're a civilian or a fisherman not named Ahab, but Green Lantern? Suck it up! Ah, I hate it when Ollie's right.

Finding no one at the base, Ollie suggests Superman use his x-ray vision to look around, and Supes doesn't tell Ollie he can do his job, thanks. Spotting something, Supes tears open the floor, revealing the Naval personnel in cages. The seamen try to warn off the JLA, suggesting instead they bomb the place. (If the Navy uses depth charges, is 'bomb' the right terminology? Why do I wonder about this sort of thing?) Before they can really do anything, though, they are 'brain-blasted' by the villain of the piece, the Shark, finally appearing on page 13 of this thing.
This would be a dramatic reveal, if I had any idea who the Shark was...
Zatanna's house near Arkham is also described as in upstate New York, and has gone to seed. Even though it's old and decrepit, Red Tornado notices an intense magnetic field disturbance in the area. Ralph tries to go in the house, which then tries to eat him, which is more disturbing.
How to make kids afraid of houses, exhibit A.
The house attacks by collapsing towards Zatanna, who freezes; but I have to admit if the house I grew up in took a shot at me, I'd doubtless do the same. Programmed for action, Red Tornado saves Zat but is buried by debris himself; and Ralph's still trying not to get eaten.

With an impromptu exorcism, Zatanna banishes the spirit attacking them, then checks out the unmoving, broken Red Tornado. New to the JLA, Zat? Reddy's cool and will totally take a bullet for you, but broken is his default setting like half the time. Ralph, somewhat coldly, tells Zat they need to stay the course and make Reddy's sacrifice worth it. Turning back to the house, a weird spiral glows overhead, and Zat calls it "an interdimensional portal and it's incomplete!" Whoever was behind all this is trapped in there, and she seems to know who.

Back under the sea, GA, WW, and Supes wake up manacled to a wall...did the Navy have that set up in advance? Or did the Shark bring his own shackles? Either way, the Shark gloats about never sleeping, and explains that while in his last battle with Wonder Woman she used her magic lasso to turn him back into a normal shark and never turn human again, he's now a super-evolved shark. And that's part of his problem: even though he's powerful and "billions of years ahead of my own time," the Shark knows he's alone...except for those snooty super-gorilla bastards. Poor Sharky's lonely, and just wants some companionship, and if he has to super-evolve up some buddies, well, so be it!
You know, traditionally in comics, your creatures don't have to look like guys in suits.
Man, their human-looking hands are creeping me out, although I wonder I why they would evolve claws and hands...

Green Arrow decides he's heard enough, and the three Justice Leaguers shatter their restraints and attack! Startled, the Shark had thought his blasts would leave them paralyzed. In poor form, Supes thinks back but doesn't tell the Shark how GL cast a "protective mental aura" over them. Still, that's the only break for the heroes: the Shark's blasts still stun Superman, and he and the Rat-Creature are giving Supes the business; Wonder Woman's lasso isn't working on the Super-Scorpion (for some reason...) and Green Arrow is getting asskicked by a Hawk-guy, for a change.

But Ollie sees the evolution chamber still glowing, and has an idea to evolve the creatures past this point, and they quickly cram all four in there. Again, even though Superman should damn well be able to hold the door shut, Wonder Woman helps him. Did Supes have an injury we should know about or something? Green Arrow is left...to flip a switch, which he accomplishes with some difficulty. If that machine was made with the naval equipment, how and why would it be set for super-strength? If you had super-strength, would you really need everything to give you more resistance, like an iPod wheel that takes two tons per square inch of pressure to spin?
Then, with the ease with which some men may flip a switch, Green Arrow...flips a switch!
The Shark and his pals are evolved all the way back around to amoebas, "since evolution, like time, is a circular process." The hell? Is that like intelligent design or something? Superman's impressed with Ollie's leadership--he was actually chairman at the time, which is strange since I always associate GA with serving for a while, then quitting and never coming back--but Ollie's busy taking a little nap right now. I may mock, and feel free to argue, but unless Ollie was able to get Dinah to wear Wonder Woman's costume, this may well be his greatest victory in the JLA.

Setting up the next issue: Zat pulls a figure out of the mystic whirlpool, the only person it could be: her dad, Zatara, who without his top hat looks like an unconscious Rhett Butler. Zatanna accuses him of having lied about her mother since she was a kid, setting up the next issue: I haven't read that one, but I'm not sure it was any good. A shame, since this was a suspenseful buildup to it.

Now the ever-popular nitpicky questions: Why would the Shark want to hang out with a rat, a scorpion, or a hawk; even super-evolved ones? Wouldn't he want, say, a female Shark? Oh. Oh. Um, barring that, I suppose the other guys could just be diversifying his team's base--Shark's probably not great on an air attack or in the desert, for example.

Like most of Green Lantern's villains, the Shark's had a substantial redesign since this issue. Reckon you have to keep up with the aesthetic of the times or be left behind, but his new look is somewhat charmless. (Like one or two GL redesigns...) I shouldn't complain, since in the past Green Lantern has sometimes been aggressively retro, but in the past few years it seems like it's trying too hard to be cool. Regardless, I don't recall the last time the Shark reared his pointy head, but I suppose after everything that's going on lately, a Shark attack would barely make the news.

Shortly after this, Justice League of America #166-#168 was a classic three issue battle with the Secret Society of Super-Villains. I only had #167 as a kid, so it was years before I found out what happened. Years later, those issues would be used as a retroactive springboard in Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis, but this evening while I was making dinner (almond tofu and rice, and if the Wife says she made it she's lying!) I wondered how different it might have been if #162 had been Meltzer's inspiration instead. After all, a treatment that can super-evolve animals could surely have some other uses, and a Zatanna that remembered losing her own memories may have been less likely to do that to someone else.

Yes, it would probably still suck. But it would suck differently.

All panels from Justice League of America #162, "The Creation Conspiracy!" Written by Gerry Conway, pencils by Dick Dillin, inks by Frank McLaughlin.


SallyP said...

Heh. This sounds pretty good in a bizarre sort of way. I also love your take on Ollie and Hal.

"Hal wandered off, probably having spied something either shiny or leggy."

Perfect description of Hal! Although it would also probably fit Kyle as well.

It does seem odd that Superman and Wonder Woman seem to need help holding up puny walls and such, but perhaps after that "sensitivity" seminar that they all had to attend, they have decided that sharing is the best way to build cohesiveness in the group dynamic. Or something.

The Mutt said...

Nice article. It took me twice as long to read than the actual comic book did.

Heinrich7 said...

I am not a longtime reader, but I am a faithful one and, even though I'm not much of a comic book savant, I must say that your enthusiasm and obvious writing skills make this a blog worth reading.

That aside, from what (little) I have read, this is definately one of your best posts.

So thank you for the blog and please keep on doing it!