Justice League of America Annual #2 (12/84)
Writer - Gerry Conway Editor - Alan Gold
Penciller - Chuck Patton Inker - Dave Hunt
Cover Art – Chuck Patton & Dick Giordano
“... The END of the Justice League!"
Lets deal with that cover first.
I love it!
With the DC Bullet top left, the ANNUAL masthead and the issue indica top right these were perfectly framed books.
This entire cover is a classic one, heroes collected on rooftop but with the old guard in the clouds the sense of batton-passing is so reminicent of the All-New X-Men (Giant-Size X-Men #1) it's bordering on an homage!
What is really nice to see is that the interior artist - Chuck Patton - is given the introductory front cover rather than relying on a perhaps more well-known or popular artist for the 'new-direction'.
This visually interesting cover however completely ruins most of the tension in the storyline, as these things often do, as it shows right from the offset who is going to be in this new team regardless of any red herrings or mis-directions of the plot.
(I cannot let the cover go by without mentioning that the lack of any visible body for Elongated Man irks me!)
The strangest thing of all is perhaps the editorial decision to relaunch the JLA at this point - in the second Annual issue..?
That may not be that difficult to understand once we look a little closer, as this 'relaunch' is embedded deep in recent JLA history and produced very much as a continuation of the current series (indeed this book sits in continuity between #230 and #233. (231-232 being an annoying fill-in)) - no renumbering/new volume here!
The book opens, then with that continuity being addressed in a prologue...
The pre-existing Justice League Satellite has been destroyed and some of the last remaining recent members of the team discuss the chances of rebuilding 'it' (both the Satellite and the League) -- Aquaman announces the title of the book , while we get an instant follow up proclamation indicating the real purpose of this all... "Beginning A NEW Chapter In The 24-Year History of the World's Greatest Heroes!"
(Your mileage may vary.)
We are reminded/informed that it was a recent war between Mars and Earth that, amongst other things, caused the destruction of the Satellite and Aquaman equates that with the end of the League despite positive attitudes from members such as the Green Arrow. (Positive but not on the cover notice.)
Before a planned meeting at the United Nations in a week, Aquaman finds his wife has left him. (She cites his wanting to be with his team rather than his wife in the recent battle as the catalyst for her exit but both accept their strains relates back to the death of their son. (Aquaman. Death of A Prince. - one of the best comicbook stories ever in my opinion.)
This clearly leaves Aquaman available to direct all his attention to any new team, should he feel the need...
That UN Meeting does not trigger a new League however, Aquaman (suprisingly?) disbands the League after reminding everyone that the big-hitter members had been conspicuous by their absence when the team needed them. Most members present don't like the idea but in the shadows J'Onn J'Onnz nods.
Despite Firestorm's anger (I much preferred this original Firestorm meld of Ronnie Raymond and Prof. Stein than any since), Aquaman explains his point of view, "The world needs a committed fighting force -- a team of full-time, active members, living together, training together -- sharing a common purpose, a common duty." - which sounds like he's saying the world needs -- the X-Men.
Aquaman challenges the teammates to commit totally to the team and stalwarts such as Red Tornado, Green Arrow and Black Canary conceed they cannot do so. (I get it with the latter two with their helping the little man on the crime-ridden streets etc, but why not Reddy? His 'family-life' could have worked with the team couldn't it?) Hawkman and Hawkwoman have their allegiance to Thanagar first but even that's a bit thin as an excuse.
Zatanna signs up to this new commitment as does Elongated Man, dragging his wife Sue with him. Firestorm surprises by announcing he will commit only to be overruled by Prof Stein. (see, he wasn't on that cover either was he?)
As the old guard leave and we are reminded of others having gone before, J'Onn J'Onnz steps forward and joins up. Zatanna nudges Aquaman to lead the team and Ralph announces their foursome as... "We're The NEW Justice League!"
Time to meet new faces on that cover? A military (old)-man called Heywood hears of this new League and calls for his Grandson...
Model Mari McCabe hears the news and quits her job and an abandoned factory has lights turn on...
The four JLA members and Sue Dibney get to know each other and are, apparently attacked by ... the Vixen (Mari McCabe in a new-look costume than her debuts in Action Comics #521 and DC Comics Presents #68)
"I want to join up, what else?"
"Count me in too." "The name's Steel" Steel arrives and offers a new HQ.
Steel is the grandson we were nudged about earlier and at this point I as a reader had no idea who he may be, had no knowledge of his pedigree or where he was getting all his toys from but that cover kind of let me know he was going to be staying around.
(How did Vixen and Steel know where our heroes were staying by the way?)
Steel ships the team out to (under) Lake Michigan and Detroit to show them around a perfectly purposed building he offers as a new HQ for the team, while remaining secretive about it's origins.
The team is attacked by a mystery man in an armoured suit and Steel shows his abilities while defeating him and revealing the man inside as being like a father figure to him called Dale Gunn, (were we supposed to recognise him or the name? I didn't.) This leads Steel to explain his grandfather General Hank Heywood had the place built preparing for trouble. (we also get an idea that grandfather was behind Steel's abilities too as even Mr Gunn remarks, "How did you get so strong?"
"It boils down to one word Dale: Grandpa".
There are still some unknown faces on that cover right? The action moves to downtown Motown and we see street violence and graffiti artist Paco Ramone (Vibe) who has possibly the worst and most annoying 'accent' ever in comics (other perhaps than Gambit?) "Wha'chu think? Fresh, huh? 'Vibe', That's chill." breaks up the mobs with a kind of vibration-power and some breakdancing moves. (I know - the 80s!).
Steel and Vixen, out of costume, see this Vibe and recommend him as a potential recruit to leader Aquaman who refuses to consider the suggestion opening up potential team-control issues between him and Steel.
Vibe however then arrives anyway and Aquaman reconsiders.
I did like the "Wonderful. Our first day and already our 'secret' headquarters is no secret" comment"
(Anyone notice Aquaman thanking Gunn for his new wet-suit-like, well... wet-suit? I take it this is kind of like Namor's blue-suit - is the 'every hour he needs water' trope gone?)
While we get to know a little more about Vibe and his family (and accent) we meet another local resident coincidentally also with powers, the last one from the cover - Gypsy who appears to be a thief able to turn invisible.
Hank meets Paco's sister and is smitten while Dale Gunn is propositioned by Zatanna "Do you snore in your sleep...?" (Who knew she would be so forward?) while Vixen does warn she is interested in him too!
Gypsy breaks into the HQ, J'Onn can see her although after she spins a yarn she disappears all together - nit quite a member yet then.
The local residents welcome the team as 'good neighbours' and a s apart breaks out the New Justice League begins...
"None of this is working out as I planned."
So there we have it. A new team for a new Era. As much as this resembles the All-New-X-Men it also evokes memories of the 'Cap's Kooky Quartet' days of the Avengers with a depowered team and leadership quibbles.
New members Vibe and Gypsy are awfully generic at this point, Steel not much more interesting but with more planning for a background while Vixen is so-far-so-Tigra.
Old members Elongated Man seems to be likely to be given comedy-lines while Aquaman plays Captain America/Cyclops.
I know I was always in the minority - but I really liked Zatanna's costume here!
Up to this point I knew very little about J'Onn J'Onnz as he really had not been in the spotlight much but I found him somewhat overpowerful and yet a tad dull.
Did we the readers know what we were in for? Could the title survive without the traditional League members?
Has anyone any comments as we launch into a (hopefully) fairly regular read-along of the entire Detroit-Era JLA..?
Next issue -- "The Beginning..." (which is, of course, Justice League of America #233 if you want to get ahead and look it up.!)
Also, though the costume change happened in 1986 as per Who's Who #5 and DC Comics Presents #93 (My'86), it was probably done to differentiate Ralph from Plastic Man whose comeback was planned for 1988.
It's not the first time either, In the late 60s, the red in E-Man's costume became a deeper maroon when Plastic Man was revived in his own title.
Justice League of America #253 (08/86)
Writer - Gerry Conway Penciller - Luke McDonnell
Editor - Andy Helfer Inker - Bill Wray
Cover Art – Luke McDonnell & Kyle Baker
"For the first time -- The Origin of Despero!"
Anyone else spotting the creator's getting their names above the logo here. Are they really big draws for readers/buyers? Is this a sign of pride in the product or desperation to catch anyone's eye and sell more copies than they have been..?
The cover itself is fine enough, centre-starring Batman but with (most) the rest of the team neatly featured also. Despero looks very Thanos-and-the-Infinity-Gauntlet here doesn't he?
One page prologue here has five JLAers reacting to their plight before the Splash reveals Batman and Vixen captives of the mad-god Despero.
Despero explains how he is no longer the loser he used to be and having
" experienced pain and purification in the Flame of Py'Tar - Now I possess a power beyond description." - which is still vague if you ask me.
"I Am A God!"
Such is the vagueness of this power..."He turned a skyscraper into a dragon?"
Steel throws some well, steel (?) into the dragon's mouth, Ralph praises the move, "Style, my boy -- that's what you've got S-T-Y-L-E." but then the dragon eats the steel. "Uh-Oh."
At last the banter in the team is starting to feel natural.
Desperoo explains to Batman that he's starting with Gotham but will transform the entire planet to his whim and mentions he's hoping ex/old JLA members will drop by to join the fight which is why he's keeping Batman etc alive.
Gypsy steps up and gives the dragon an illusion of an enemy to fight (her powers are increasing or she is at least getting better at controlling them. - Very Princess Projectra though.)
Steel and J'Onn use the Elongated Man as a catapult sending a rock to hit the dragon which destroys it... and hurts Despero.
After a bit of a tantrum Despero drops into flashback/explanation mode to Batman and Vixen.
On his planet of origin they built big cities and bigger reactors to fuel them...a reactor exploded. Many died others mutated. Out of that came Despeo's telepathic ancestors who enslaved the weak. this led to war and only one family left to rule - his. His father killed his mother and he killed his father leaving him to rule the planet. That was when the JLA first met Despero (JLA#1) and he was deposed which has led to his hatred of today. More recently he escaped his prison and returned to the flame that had been burning all the time and suffered great pain as he was reborn as we have watched in recent issues.
Despero leaves and our two heroes free themselves, now aware that Despero needs the flame to continue to power himself up.
Batman send Vixen to tell the rest of the team to destroy the flame and hopefully destroy the bad guy... Vixen wonders why her and then realises...Batman is going to distract Despero, possibly with his life!
She finds the rest of the JLA but they appear to be...dead?
So, there we have it. An origin for Despero is actually more interesting than I expected and neatly within the tale is the mechanism for his eventual defeat. It is a well constructed story with perfect pacing for the first time in several issues. We have action along with development for once. This is so much better, in general, than most of the issues before it - Conway finally seems to have an idea what to do with these guys - is it too little too late?
Batman clearly helps any title doesn't he?
No sign of Zatanna - which is actually less annoying than you'd think. I would much sooner we keep the momentum of this story than interrupt it with another pointless uneventful interlude reminding us what is happening with her. Lets get to it when we can actually progress the story eh?
Again and it continually deserves mention - the same creative team continues which is (unheard of? Unusual at least) glorious.
Next Issue "To be continued" only, so no details....which just increases the tension doesn't it?
I honestly enjoyed this issue - am I alone?
About the creator names over the title...
I would think that Gerry Conway, at the time, was fairly well-known as the creator of Firestorm and a reliable workhorse of DC. If nothing else, his name would clarify to readers what to expect.
Similarly, Luke McDonnell was very much a draw far as I am concerned. I quite liked his four-years run in Iron Man that had finished about six months earlier. After JLA he would go on to early issues of Suicide Squad, remaining there for about two years. I liked his art considerably better than that of, well, pretty much all of JLI's run.
Was this the first time creators' names were used in this way on a cover? It has become standard today.
IIRC, it had become common usage for some of the higher profile books at this time. It may have began with the Wolfman-Perez New Titans; New Teen Titans #38, cover dated Jan 1984, seems to be an early example, although it is still a bit tentative at that point.
A quick search shows that by this time it was a fairly common practice at DC, and JL of A was a bit of a latecomer really. The intent may well have been to suggest that JLA was among the prestige books alongside New Titans, Legion of Superheroes and the Vertigo books and various miniseries.
Justice League of America #254 (09/86)
Writer - Gerry Conway Penciller - Luke McDonnell
Editor - Andy Helfer Inker - Bill Wray
Cover Art – Luke McDonnell & Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
A cover of two halves - "Blowout" - I love the figures (credit to the inker I think) but the exploding/'climaxing' Despero in the background is a bit simplistic for my liking.
Nice to see the whole team (minus Zatanna again) on the cover though.
The issue begins with a splash page of battered Batman which leads to a stunning two-page spread where he watches the growing power-soaking Despero. (At last McDonnell is getting the hang of the right composition for these two pagers.)
As Batman fights seeming-impossible odds, Vixen tries to wake her defeated team-members, while she explains how Despero has got so powerful and (at last) defines this new power as "Now he's got the power to manipulate matter... like Firestorm, I guess but on a greater scale."
As the team begin to hatch a plan, Vibe throws in a reality check - ""You're all nuts!"
""The Justice League- Gimmie a break. What've we've got here? A Chicano from Detroit, a big green bald guy, a human rubber band, a no-name teenage girl who can make herself disappear -- some trick -- an ex-fashion model and a redhead tin woodsman." It's an interesting billing. "Losers, that's all we are."
The rest of the team do not let this get them down and advance on Despero... Vibe... joins them. "Okay, Dammit! Wait For Me!"
Okay, it's a common story beat pointing out the team is at it's lowest before rallying to win the day....
Despero toys with Batman - Vixen headbuts (Buffalo-butts) him actually hurting his leg. Steel fights but realises he's still quite weak so Gypsy covers both of them with her chameleon power to hide them from marauding demons.
Is this the first time she's used the power on anyone else and is it the first time it's being called 'chameleon power' rather than camoflague ?
Vixen and Elongated Man free Batman who advises..."Fight Like Hell!"
J'Onn and Vibe discuss the Martian's problems with fire and Vibe's capacity to save the day by disrupting the demon flame powering Despero.
Steel gets badly injured by a backfire hitting his...well...back - which really upsets Gypsy so she mind-zaps the big bad guy with his own fear/panic and Vibe uses that moment's weakness to zap the flame and Despero actually dramatically explodes. (It's not a Kirbyesque climax like it could have been, it's a bit derivative as a panel-page)
It's over. Despero has gone, everything else is back to normal. Batman points out Vibe was the one to thank and Vibe and he seem to reach a new mutual respect,
" Like, can we double-date?"
"Do yourself a favour, Vibe. Don't press your luck."
With that typically Batman putdown the issue and the long battle with Despero is over.
This second-string JLA has done it again and saved us all!
Again credit for the continuing steady creative team and we are seeing a nice combination of good character moments for individuals in the team too (Although Elongated Man still gets pushed to the back a bit.)
No Zatanna again - which is both annoying as we really need to get her storyline moving and laudible as the pacing of this story climax really benefitted from not being broken up with any interlude.
Another good issue.
What is going on here?
This is good.
I had not realized this previously, but this characterization of Batman (since #250) is very much a precursor of his JLI period. He is gregarious in a paternalistic, condescending way that may have been informed by The Dark Knight Returns. That is not otherwise typical behavior for the Batman of this time period, IIRC.
I can't help but feel that at this point the editorial decisions have been taken already. There is much in these issues that could very easily lead into a different future for the JL of A than that which we got.
Justice League of America #255 (10/86)
Plotter - Gerry Conway Scripter - Michael Ellis
Penciller - Luke McDonnell Inker - Bill Wray
Editor - Andy Helfer
Cover Art – Luke McDonnell & Bill Wray
At last Zatanna is back and she gets a solo cover appearance!
"Nightmare In Steel!"
It's an okay cover but the menacing robot hand (I'm guessing) really shouldn't upset a magician too much anyway should it? Also - I really liked this look for Zatanna - when someone like Perez drew it but it looks confused here and no-one seems to know what on earth that lobster on her head is do they?
We open with Zatanna strapped down in a (hospital?)bed having a conversation with her dead father in her head - with a reference to Swamp Thing #50 which seems to say where her father died..?
Zatanna recaps in her dellerium that she had been searching for her roommate, ended up on a yacht and betrayed by Sheri's so-called friends who delievered her, as if in a quasi-religious cult, to their strange head 'Adam' who is intent on stealing her genetic code and thus the secret of her magic.
Despite pleading for "No silly backwards spells" she recovers from her nightmare and uses backwards spells to free herself from her bonds.-- "--Eerf annataZ!"
Once back to fighting strength Zatanna suits up and summons Adam who arrives now declaring himself a god -- "I am a god!" (See.) - in fact he explains further he considers himself 'The' God...being Omnipresent.
through this Adam we catch up with the JLA at their HQ where an alarm sends them running off to help Zatanna - leaving Sue Dibney and the injured Steel behind.
While this happens, Gypsy is in town searching for the woman J'Onn J'Onnz was searching for when he was accused of murder (difficult to remember these meandering plotlines isn't it?)
Identifying Pamela Cross as a runaway she befriends her and relates her own backstory of domestic discord in suburbia resulting in her exhibiting her nightmare/illusion powers against her violent father and running away from her family herself.
(I thought Gypsy had been as surprised as us when she showed these powers rather than her camoflage powers...?)
She became Gypsy and met the JLA and we know the rest.
This is about time we learned Gypsy's history although we kind of knew most of this and it's hardly stunningly amazing or particularly needing the secrecy with which she's guarded herself even from her teammates since her debut is it?
The alarm that the other JLAers reacted to finally alerts Gypsy, but she stays with her runaway.
J'Onn, in his detective guise follows another woman, Norma Simons, who reveals it was Burt Biloxi who had used the gun they planted on him to murder his wife! Biloxi arrives and explains he di that so he could marry Norma.
He shoots at J'Onn who falls back into a fire (which is his Martian Kryponite remember and the conspiritors escape.
That JLA alarm sounds for J'Onn.
The team, led by Batman discover Zatanna thanks to that alarm and... she apologises for bothering them! (?)
"It was a False Alarm".
The team accept this and leave while we learn the real Zatanna remains trapped..!
So, we have this entire issue building up to a climax/battle that we never got to!
It's frustrating. I guess it is good in that all dangling plotlines have been referenced to remind everyone where we are but could we please get on with it?!
Oh and where was the menacing machine of the cover (almost represented by the medical instruments used on Zatanna but nothing like the cover illustration) AND - what's the Nightmare 'IN STEEL'??
"Next: Back to Godhead!"
Justice League of America #256 (11/86)
Writer - J.M.DeMatteis Penciller - Luke McDonnell
Editor - Andy Helfer Inker - Bob Smith
Cover Art – Luke McDonnell
“Back To Godhead"
Luke McDonnell turns in a solo (self-inked?) cover highlightinmg J'Onn and setting him and the cover on fire.
It's fine - "Burn, Martian, Burn!" - but it is a bit simplistic isn't it?
If I had have noticed that the last issue marked the end of Gerry Conway's solo writing era for the 'Detroit JLA' I would have made more of it in the last column.
J.M DeMatteis takes over this issue and I'm not sure how much is him and how much left over from Conway but there is no credit for Conway as co-plotter or script or anything. De Matteis has his moments and has turned in some classic rums of titles over the years, usually with characterisation at it's heart....we'll see how he does with these, still slightly shallow, teammates...
The issue opens from out of that cover with J'onn J'Onnz surrounded by flames and mourning his dead grandmother..which becomes the 'voice of Mars' he calls 'H'Ronmeer' (Martian god wasn't he?) and he says he's claiming J'Onn as if to death... We don't really know if this is a dream/nightmare sequence or hallucination of some sort...
On the streets we catch up with Gypsy and the runaway Pam who was part of the act to frame J'Onn for murder a while back. Gypsy pauses to give cash to a vagrant woman only for her to grab Gypsy and declare "I Am You Child."
A battle of wills begins where the female vagrant metamorphs into a devil-like adversary...
Turn the page and the 'truth' is revealed! J'Onn, Gypsy and Pam have been drawn to the unconscious Zatanna who after an initial outburst when she wakes...finally explains everything.
She explains that cult-leader Adam had taken her gene-pattern but her dead father Zatarra had helped her. (What, did you miss something?)
We go through some more hallucinations/visions, including where Adam appears injured and overwhelmed by the vastness of existence.
J'Onn mind-melds and goes through a Starlin-esque sequence where J'Onn/Adam try to cope with some kind of merging with God or as it's called here -- "We Touched The Godhead!"
It's all a bit trippy isn't it?
Zatanna has no sympathy for Adam who J'Onn wants to help and (of course) eventually Zatanna agrees. She then, with Gypsy helping, enters Adam's mindscape (I think).
After a while our heroes are overwhelmed by monsters and on the plane of true reality Adam warns J'Onn they have to help or they will be lost...!
Okay so it's all a bit vague and familiar and drawn out. This doesn't really progress the story very far and the science-meets-magic of Adam taking blood for the Magic-gene-DNA has given way to all magic/psychic stuff and probably lost a few readers in the process.
I like the fact that we don't have any sub-plots to muddy the waters but this doesn't feel much of a team book at the minute as a result.
Same nice art as usual and I continue to give credit for that and who knows if DeMatteis had to cobble this issue together at speed but it does feel thin and unsatisfying.
I've said it before I know but...maybe next issue things will improve...?
Richard Mantle said:
Anyone else spotting the creator's getting their names above the logo here. Are they really big draws for readers/buyers?
That was the period when covers began to commonly carry credits, but a quick check tells me this wasn't done universally. I suppose it can give a reader a reason to take a new look at a title he's stopped following, or flick through a title he doesn't know. Also, if it's a bagged back issue it tells you who the creators are.