Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"Ghosts" concludes: JLA Annual #2!

It's taken some months--far longer than it took the crossover to run!--but today we'll check out the conclusion to the 1998 Ghosts annual crossover: JLA Annual #2, "Life Itself" Written by Ty Templeton, pencils by Mark Pajarillo, inks by Walden Wong.

I'm seriously considering calling shenanigans on the first panel of this one; as a shadowed figure breaks into the Smallville Museum of Marvels. I'm sure the Silver Age Smallville has a great museum with all sorts of crazy crap from when Superman was a boy; but this Smallville would just be a typical small Kansas town, which means it's museum would be mere local history and probably wouldn't have anything more exotic than a butter churn or a cotton gin. It seems kind of unlikely it would have the mummified corpse of Egyptian wizard Hermes Trismegistus.

Unless...unless it was some kind of exhibit somewhere else, like a travelling show perhaps. Perhaps under shady circumstances. Then a run-in with someone like, say, Jonah Hex; shots were fired, and when the smoke cleared the mummy was the only body without holes in it, so it was left to the town's podunk museum. That might've been a fun extra...

Back to the story at hand: long-time JLA villain Felix Faust is breaking into the museum for the mummy, since he wants Trismegistus to tell him about immortality. The narration, which seems inexplicably cheery considering the topic and that Faust is bleeding a guard to bring the mummy back to life, explains how Faust is afraid of death. Not for the usual reasons, but because he knows for a fact hell is real and he's totally going there; so he's mighty interested in finding an out.

Trismegistus returns to life like a very crabby man awoken from a good nap. Faust knows Tris has the secret of immortality, and would be alive to that day, if he hadn't committed suicide. Which means, Trismegistus didn't want to be alive...

I love the title page for this one: it's a 40's style detective movie, in black-and-white. J'onn J'onzz is enjoying a flick, when Faust's face appears on the actors as he begs for help. If that was a movie I particularly enjoyed, I would be super-pissed at Faust about then, since would I be able to watch it again without thinking of that tool?

J'onn brings Faust before the JLA, where he's chained and wrapped in Wonder Woman's magic lasso, so he can't tell a lie. Faust explains he resurrected Trismegistus, but now they need to find his Emerald Tablet to stop him from killing everything, removing "the life frequency" from the universe. Faust says the spell has already begun, weakening the borders, and they probably would've seen ghosts. The JLA'ers have, although seemingly didn't bother to mention it to each other: look, they see a lot of weird crap, OK?

Since the Lasso is figuratively twisting Faust's arm, they figure he's on the level. The tablet had been broken into three pieces by Freemasons, who hid it in the most inaccessible places they could get to. Flash points out they aren't that inaccessible, at least to the JLA; Faust counters they're supposed to be inaccessible to Trismegistus, but he would get them sooner or later.

The team splits up to recover the pieces, and each team encounters another ghost: Flash and Aquaman bump into Vibe, Superman and Green Lantern find Ice, and Batman and Wonder Woman see Steel. (Not the armored guy, the cyborg patriot from the JL-Detroit days.) Each ghost has a subtle ghosty feature: music--presumably breakdancing hip-hop--follows Vibe, Ice is pale and cold, and poor Steel appears on monitors like the ghost of Max Headroom. J'onn isn't positive they're ghosts in the traditional sense, that they could be psychic residue or playback. Faust insists they're merely a symptom of the bigger problem, and unless the tablet is destroyed, Trismegistus will come for it.

Still lassoed, Faust says the tablet must be reformed before it can be destroyed, and sets J'onn, GL, WW, and Aquaman as "a living elemental circle" around it. He then says he must be released to complete the spell, and Batman OK's it, since Faust couldn't be lying. A rare tactical error there, since Hermes Trismegistus had been hiding within Felix Faust! Although Faust had been forced to tell the truth, nothing he said had been a lie; although now Trismegistus was going to end all suffering by wiping out all life. Batman knows how to use the truth, though: Green Lantern could get a beam into the tablet and destroy it from within. Aquaman and J'onn chip in their willpower to help, but the collected heroic ghosts--now including a Robin and Deadman!--pile on Faust. Ice knows she can end this, by following GL's beam and destroying the tablet, which she does after saying goodbye to Superman.

With Trismegistus defeated, Superman still wonders if the ghosts were real. J'onn is open to the possibility, since he expects an afterlife, but doesn't think about it. Aquaman points out whether you dwell on it or not, eventually you'll get the answer. Batman gets the last line, but doesn't end with a joke: "I live with ghosts every day." Meanwhile, in an asylum (possibly Arkham but not necessarily) Faust is no longer afraid to die; since he's now immortal, because Trismegistus is trapped in his body screaming at him. Now he's afraid to live...

Maybe Templeton should've written this whole crossover--this and his Martian Manhunter Annual were high points. Of course, if you want to nitpick, try and figure out how many of the "ghosts" that were dead have since come back to life, either before or after the New 52 reboot...

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