Or – “Tangled Timelines and Tortured Antecedents…”

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The JLA.  The Big Seven.  The most recognizable icons in the industry (with the possible exception of Spider-Man, The Shadow, and maybe Dick Tracy.)  This current incarnation of the League is in the running for most powerful lineup ever, and is carefully balanced to include at least some nod to all previous Leagues, balanced in race and gender like no JLA before it, and giving some much needed airtime to neglected stalwarts of the DC Universe (Black Lightning and Red Tornado.)  So, why does it feel like NOTHING happens in this book?

Previously, on Justice League of America:  Let’s be honest, here.  It’s been pretty much a JLAC.jpgdead sprint since issue #1.  The team was established, fought a strange, nebulous threat, then was thrown into a massive crossover with the Justice Society and the Legion of Super-Heroes which left little room for character development.  After a couple of quick character one-shots (that felt a little bit rushed, honestly) the team was then at the shotgun mercies of Lex Luthor and his Secret Society.  The battle that followed was eerily reminiscent of the last season of the Justice League Unlimited cartoon, right down to the strange pairing of Luthor and Grodd, and before we know it, The Flash may or may not have joined, Firestorm has been inducted, Geo-Force seemingly joined between panels, then was traded to the Outsiders, the League is faced with a handful of villains who show up at the Hall of Justice (which may be brilliant, or may be stupid, the jury’s still out) asking for asylum from the government’s “catch-and-release-on-a-hostile-planetoid” rehabilitation program…

The assembled League is stunned as the villains, including Doctor Polaris, The Icicle and someone who may be the original Tattooed Man willingly put themselves in custody.  Their figurehead, The Key, explains that no one knows what’s been happening to the villains of the DCU (though, if you’ve been reading Salvation Run, you do) but they all think that only the League can protect them.  The villains placidly walk into cells, and Batman suddenly thinks this is all a bit too easy.  Suddenly, Tattooed Man flakes, and tries to run, only to get a Bat-boot to the head (YA YAAA!) and suddenly it clicks into place.  Batman realizes that The Key thinks he can waltz out and free his friends any time he wishes, thanks to his powers.   Batman almost smirks, as he watches The Key figure out that they’ve managed to nullify his powers.  With one threat neutralized, The League members suddenly find themselves facing down the Suicide Squad, led by Bronze Tiger…

Tiger confronts his ex, Vixen, (they dated in the old Suicide Squad series, back in the day) but she’s not interested.  When The General, who I thought was already ON the villain prison planet in Salvation Run (!?!) makes a move, Black Lightning hits him with a couple million volts, and Superman lays down the law.  “The Key and his group are staying here for now.  We’ve granted them asylum.”  Bronze Tiger isn’t cowed by Big Blue (and kudos to him for it) taking his agents and walking (“Hair looks good,” he tells Vixen on his way out.  Heh.)  Red Arrow (Ugh) leaps forward to inquire about Vixen, while Hawkgirl burns with a jealous hatred in the background….  Batman checks in with his intelligence sources (Martian Manhunter, in disguise on the prison planet)  but doesn’t get a location in time…  I don’t know if it’s a problem in art or writing, but the transitions that should possibly tell me how long an amount of time is occurring aren’t working.  Ed Benes may be many things, but a clear storyteller isn’t high on the list.

Some time later, Red Arrow (ugh) tries to get Red Tornado (trapped in a holographic computerized form) to tell him where Hawkgirl is, but she’s not answering.  Before he can brood over it, Bronze Tiger leaps in and takes both of them out.  Vixen confronts him, and his approaching Suicide Squad, dropping each of them with their own powers (her punchout of The General is spectacular) before Superman and Wonder Woman arrive to once again bring the stalemate.  Bronze Tiger tells the League that they’re going to look like “traitors” and they’ll end up on the Salvation planet themselves.  Somebody (it’s not clear whom) advises that the League wants to see the planet up close, as Batman hits a Bat-Dickness level of roughly 5.5, gritting “I just received the planet’s location.  Let Waller know it’s not a secret anymore.”

The main story ends here, and we get a quick backup focusing on Red Tornado, as Reddy muses about his computerized body, about the computing power he wields, the millions of something-or-otherbytes he can put into play, but he still can’t hug his daughter or kiss his wife.  Trapped in his holographic form (just like the Vision was, years ago) Reddy watches as a strike forced consisting of Will Magnus, (creator of the Metal Men) John Henry Irons, (creator/wearer of the Steel armor) Batman, Niles Caulder, (The Chief of the Doom Patrol, creator of Robotman) and Zatanna work on his new body, a super body that will allow him to finally be (essentially) human.  The professors talk tech specs, while Zatanna explains to Tornado that she’ll be moving his soul with a magical spell.  If anything goes wrong, she warns, “you could end up dead, or a soulless golem or…  there are worse things.  You don’t want to know what they are.”  Reddy’s wife Kathy and his daughter Traya arrive, to talk him out of the incredibly dangerous procedure he wants to try, but Reddy insists.  “I’m coming back to you.  That’s all there is to it.”  No matter the cost, The Red Tornado will have his family back…

It’s interesting to me how much more effective the backup story is than the tale up front.  It’s a personal look at a Leaguer, something that’s been sorely missing since the kickoff of this title, and the art (by Jon Boy Meyers) is much stronger than Benes, even occasionally providing a background for the scene.  Bad enough that the first story felt like an ad for ‘Salvation Run,’ and the nagging questions about what characters are where and when, but when you compare and contrast to the simple tale of courage in the back, it really puts most of this run of Justice League in an ugly light.  There’s a lot of sound and fury here, since issue #1, really, but precious little character development.  I understand that a 14 person strike force of superheroes isn’t always going to be able to focus on everybody, but Meltzer’s issues didn’t successfully (for me, anyway) focus on ANYBODY.  Still, writer Dwayne McDuffie has nailed characterization, as well as remembering the Vixen/Bronze Tiger relationship (a fanboy must) so I’m still willing to see where his run is going.  The first portion of the issue is a 2 star effort, with some muddling about in the art, and a ton of things shoehorned in, but the Red Tornado solo is easily a 4 star affair for me, touching on Reddy’s history, and finally throwing aside the absurd “I-am-a-com-pu-ter!” affectation he had been sporting recently.  The combined issue nets 3 out of 5 stars, an issue better than many recent JLA’s, showing sparks of something that might finally make the stories worthy of the characters themselves…

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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8 Comments

  1. Salieri
    February 24, 2008 at 2:04 pm — Reply

    …And speaking of Batman?

    (Yes, I’m a real badgerer.)

  2. Josh R.
    February 24, 2008 at 2:28 pm — Reply

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t Dwayne McDuffie (for some mysterious reason) been relegated to ONLY the backup feature? I’m pretty sure Alan Burnett is writing the main story. I’m also pretty sure this set-up continues ’till #19, with McDuffie taking over again with issue #20-which is also when Ethan Van Sciver fills in for Benes (thank God).

  3. February 25, 2008 at 12:11 am — Reply

    “…And speaking of Batman?”

    No.

    I have more than enough confusing and endless melodarama plotlines stuck in my head…

    You’ll have to ask Stephen. :)

  4. February 25, 2008 at 12:13 am — Reply

    “Correct me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t Dwayne McDuffie (for some mysterious reason) been relegated to ONLY the backup feature?”

    You ain’t wrong… This may explain the divergence between the quality of the two stories?

  5. Josh
    February 26, 2008 at 5:37 pm — Reply

    Question. Dr. Polaris. Classic Coke or New Coke? Cause Classic Coke died in Infinite Crisis #1.

  6. February 27, 2008 at 10:21 am — Reply

    “Question. Dr. Polaris. Classic Coke or New Coke? Cause Classic Coke died in Infinite Crisis #1.”

    Um… Earth-2?

  7. Roy
    February 27, 2008 at 8:11 pm — Reply

    C’mon…..5.5? I don’t even know if that’s a 3! 5.5 would be Batman popping in on Waller as she leaves the bathroom and THEN telling her, himself, that its not a secret anymore. And then handing her deodorizer.

  8. ykw
    March 2, 2008 at 10:38 pm — Reply

    Good heavens… a Frantics reference? And here I thought ’twas good to have you guys back again… :)

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