Or – “Slowly Crawling Back Into My Good Graces…”

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It’s no secret that this incarnation of the Justice League has been problematical for me from the beginning.  Brad Meltzer’s character-based stories were weak on plot, relying too heavily on coincidence, overkill, and the DC’s big three for my tastes.  The art of Ed Benes is very cheesecakey (see Zatanna’s general pectoral regions above) and the fill-in artists seem to have been chosen for their ability to ape his good-girl style rather than their own artistic strengths.  Add to that the fact that Meltzer left many dangling plotlines, and Dwayne McDuffie’s run has been full of crossovers and side-trips (which feel like editorial caveat to me) and you’ve got a not-entirely-satisfying reading experience.  But, each issue feels a bit more like a League that I would want to read, and this issue continues that trend…

Previously, on Justice League of America: The JLA has had a rough couple of years.  Reforming out of necessity, the team had to face down a huge conspiracy involving Solomon Grundy, and some stuff I still JLA2.jpgdon’t really understand, then leapt headlong into an encounter with the Legion of Super-Heroes that left everyone with unanswered questions, and returned the Flash to the fold.  With a membership that kept growing and growing and growing, the team has dealt with dozens of crises, but always seemed to be more of a team OUT of this book than in.  Now numbering over a dozen (though Zatanna may be on a part-time status) the League is finally zeroing in on a problem that has been plaguing them since about issue #5:  Namely, what in the hell is up with Vixen’s powers?  Normally able to channel animal abilities, she’s recently been using her magic totem to duplicate and channel the abilities of other heroes, a power that, honestly, I find much more useful than her regular ones.  Last month, she, Firestorm, Red Arrow (ugh) and team leader Black Canary went to visit Animal Man, whose similar powers are likewise on the fritz, as evidenced by his gleefully ripping into barbequed meat while having long been a vegetarian.  Oh, and Red Tornado fought Amazo.  Again.

We start our festivities at the Hall of Justice (anybody else just hear Ted Knight speaking) in the aftermath of Red Tornado’s sucessful fight.  Tornado is returned to his old self, in a new body, and reunited with his estranged lady-love Kathy.  She offers him the costume that Amazo made for his new shell, but he finds it hideous.  She questions his fashion sense, in a very cute moment, and he points out that Firestorm likes his costume.  “Doesn’t count.  Firestorm likes HIS costume, too.”  HA!  Reddy asks for some privacy, and takes a moment to propose to Kathy, adorably, I might add.  She agrees, just as Batman arrives with a lead, indicating that he has found “him.”  Tornado turns, and sets his mind to business.  Meanwhile, in San Diego, a very stiffly and awkwardly drawn group of JLAers try to talk to Animal Man and figure out the truth, and A-Man reveals what REALLY caused his powers:  Yellow Aliens!  It’s a callback to the delightful and very weird Animal Man series that Grant Morrison wrote 20 years ago (has it really been that long) and it’s funny to watch a team filled with aliens mocking him for his belief in them.  Firestorm flicks a finger, and creates something on Animal Man’s head.  “Made you a tin foil hat.  I figured it couldn’t hurt.”  Ha!  Vixen believes something slightly less believable is behind it all, the magic of her Tantu totem.  She touches it, and suddenly disappears…

In the JLA satellite, in a geosynchronous orbit 22,300 miles above the earth, Black Lightning arrives to spell Hawkgirl from monitor duty.  They discuss her relationship with with Red Arrow (ugh) and their current “off-again” status before he tells her to go and spend time with her daughter Mia, explaining that he understands the weight of being a superhero parent.  Far away, in Dubai, Batman and Red Tornado confront Professor Ivo, the madman behind Amazo, only to find that they’re facing another of his robot duplicates.  Of course, Batman being Batman, he has a plan, sending Zatanna to trace and capture the real Ivo.  With the madman behind bars, Red Tornado announces that he’s taking a leave of absence from the League, and making me quite sad.  Couldn’t we lose Batman or Superman instead?  I mean, they each have half a dozen titles going…  Why are we giving up Reddy?  Back inside the magical totem, Anansi the trickster god messes with Vixen’s head, taunting her with her powerlessness, then sucking in Animal Man to join her in mystical bondage.  The Leaguers follow to try and save them, but Anansi points out that he’s the god of stories, and tells one of them to the horrified Vixen and A-Man.  “Roy Harper, known to the world as “Speedy,” was a heroin addict in his youth.  Regrettably, he has fallen off the wagon.”  We see the JLAers trying to fight, but Red Arrow (ugh) pierces Black Canary’s heart with a rogue shot, and her death scream kills Roy immediately.  Firestorm is distracted enough to be overwhelmed and eaten by spiders, as the two heroes in orange watch, powerless.

He then turns to another story, explaining how the League came to save them, but couldn’t, because a young Bruce Wayne watches his parents die, then took the killer’s gun and shot him, his vengeance growing into the proto-cowboy legend of the Paladin, who never joined the league.  And Hal Jordan’s ring went to another man…  And how the death of her husband (!) Superman sent Wonder Woman into seclusion, causing the nucleus of the team to fall apart, and the League to never have existed.  Vixen snarls at the spider-god that he’s made one pretty large mistake in his calculations:  “You underestimated me.”  With that, she leaps through a portal and escapes into the streets of Gotham City.  Anansi curiously muses that he hopes she IS wrong, that she can save the day, “otherwise, the story is no longer mine…”

This is an interesting issue all told, with a nice series of twists on the origins of the various Leaguers, especially Batman.  If it has a weakness at all, it’s that Trinity is currently treading very similar ground with the whole “altered-reality-sans-the-big-three” storyline, and the parallels weaken both stories a bit.  Aside form my irritation that they retconned Animal Man’s origin (of course, I’m surprised that the yellow aliens hadn’t already been retconned away) it’s a strong book.  Ed Benes’ art is more detailed and together than I remembered, and guest art by Doug Mahnke, Darick Roberston, Shane David, Ian Churchill and Ivan Reis really shores up my complaints in those departments, at least for a while.  What I hope comes out of this arc is a truly unified League, without all the loose ends and strangeness that the team seems to be unable to escape in this incarnation.  As a fan of Vixen and Animal Man, I like their front-and-center status, but I’m afraid that, like Red Tornado, she’ll be quickly sidelined when her story is wrapped up.  Either way, Justice League of America #25 is one of the better issues in recent memory, earning a not-bad-at-all 3 out of 5 stars.  Let’s hope that this alternate universe really invigorates the book and the characters…

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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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7 Comments

  1. Ricco
    October 14, 2008 at 2:11 pm — Reply

    They didn’t redcon anything, or rather they didn’t have to. In 52, the “yellow aliens” brought A-Man back to life after a deadly encounter with Lady Styx and gave him the power to chanel alien animals, which is what is being refered to in this issue. Not how he got his original powers, but how they came to change recently.

  2. Maximus Rift
    October 14, 2008 at 3:45 pm — Reply

    My guess is that they won’t ditch any of the Big 3 because they’re easily recognizable. It could also be an editorial mandate.

    Still, with Morrison’s current mind-**** on Batman, it would have been better for Batman to take one of his “breaks” from the League.

  3. ~wyntermute~
    October 14, 2008 at 3:55 pm — Reply

    Actually, I believe the Trickspider says something about “These aliens? Pure fiction.” implying that the yellow aliens never existed to begin with… That’s a retcon, IF the Lying God is, y’know, NOT lying. :D

    Tangentally, I’ve decided that “Trinity” is about as in-continuity as an Elseworlds tale. To wit: right now there are 2 “big events” going on: Final Crisis and Trinity. Which one is “bleeding” (pardon the pun) into the other titles? F.C. Which one seems to be pretty much ignored except for within the context of its own pages? Trinity. I’d have posted this thought stapled to a Trinity review, but, um, they ain’t here no mo’. :D But to speak to what you said, yeah, it does kinda seem to be recycling ideas to imagine the “world without Triumvirate”… There, I made my Trinity ramblings somewhat relevant. :)

  4. Josh P.
    October 14, 2008 at 6:48 pm — Reply

    Silly question, how does Black Lightning know about Kendra’s daughter? Isn’t she, y’know, in adoptive care because Kendra gave her up? Other than some of the JSA, who would really know this?

  5. applejack1310
    October 15, 2008 at 7:11 am — Reply

    I know he gets a bad rap, but I love Ed Benes’ art. I want my superheroes to look superhero-ey. I want the heroines to be hot and, sure, cheesecakey. I want the guys to look roided-out and cool. I like Benes, Jim Lee, Turner (he’s missed), Ivan Reis, Ian Churchill, Benes being my favorite. I don’t like the more “realistic” artists like Cassaday, Quitely, or Ross. Quitely made Superman look like he was wearing a full diaper yanked up to his nips, and like he had eaten about, I don’t know, seven thousand too many Krispie Kreams. Not everyone’s the same; some people love Quitely, even rave about him, it’s just not for me. But that’s what’s cool about comics, I guess. One man’s favorite is another’s trash.

  6. David
    October 15, 2008 at 11:06 pm — Reply

    Me, I finally made it to my store, and I pulled this issue from the stack in my box (#124) and I put it back on the shelf…and I’m pleased to find from reading this that I really didn’t miss anything to give a shit about.

    I know the first year of this book was a snoozer, but it was, for me, it included the only interesting thing done with Red Tornado in decades. Now we’re back the status quo, android in love with humanoid, so happy together and blah, blah, blah.

    This book right now sucks for me like the post-1985 Gerry Conway JLA run in which Earth’s Mightiest Heroes did a lot stuff on a grand scale, and yet nothing really happened – like, ever. As I type this, I DO wonder if I’m being unfair, but the Vixen thing is a yawner too. The only forward progress I see in Vixen’s life story advance from the JLDetroit days is she’s cut her hair, gotten a little neurotic and her tits have gotten bigger. This is supposed to be a cornerstone book for DC, and it doesn’t hold a candle to what’s going on in Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman’s solo books.

  7. October 16, 2008 at 8:20 am — Reply

    In Eds defense, Zatanna has always been kind of cheesecakey. Even when I was a kid, I reeeaaally liked it when Zatanna was featured in a JLA story; reeeaaallly really. Something about the hotpants (way before their time when I was a kid) and or the vest/corset arrangement. And I am a sucker for burnettes. I must say I like the Betty Page bangs on this version. Baby!!!
    Joe xray

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