Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again


By Frank Miller& Lynn Varley (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-929-4

Despite and because of all the controversy and uproar over The Dark Knight Returns, the clamour for a sequel began almost immediately. Auteur Frank Millar kept everybody hungry for almost fifteen years and when he finally did capitulate it was – as usual – not what anyone was expecting.

Originally released as a 3-issue prestige format miniseries between November 2001 and July 2002 under DC’s Elseworlds imprint (a line featuring key characters in non-canonical or out-of-continuity tales). Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again once more confounded reader expectations with its concentration on contemporary social commentary, other (lesser?) superheroes and political corruption as well as the dumbing-down and sexualisation of the media …

Three years after the climax of the original epic, America and the world are worse off than ever and following a mood-setting Introduction from veteran journalist “Vicki Vale”, Book One opens with a well-hidden Bruce Wayne assessing just how far his country has fallen: a tidal wave of Bread-&-Circuses on the airwaves saturation-lobotomising the populace with tawdry titillation and celebrity news soporifics whilst impossibly popular, implausibly avuncular President Rickard assures the complacent proles they’ve never had it so good…

The Batman knows a secret however: PoTUS doesn’t exist…

There’s still some dissent, but who listens nowadays to old dinosaurs like Jimmy Olsen constantly bemoaning the repeal of The Bill of Rights or carping on about how all the costumed heroes have somehow vanished.

Elswehere, an incredibly tiny man continues his daily battle against voracious monsters until suddenly he is plucked from his hostile micro-prison by a young girl dressed like an animal.

After years in Hell Ray Palmer is ready to help an old comrade take back the world, but first he and Catgirl Carrie Kelley have to battle their way through an army of federal heavies and rent-a-cops…

Young, independent bedroom-&-basement News-hackers run with the story of “Masks and Capes” making a comeback, prompting Rickard to extend Martial Law into its 19th month. Somewhere far away a former Bastion of Liberty is terrified of the repercussions. Superman is still permitted to save lives in the world… as long as nobody sees him doing it…

In a cave far below ground, Catgirl helps The Atom retool for the forthcoming fight whilst introducing the bemused physicist to the Dark Knight’s latest addition to his arsenal: a legion of former gangstas and protégés dubbed The Batboys.

Buried in the nightly teaser-fest entitled News in the Nude, the Prez is delivering another placating homily when his image suddenly fritzes. The word is now out with more and more people realising their beloved paternalistic patriarch might be nothing than a hologram mask for any anonymous monster or maniac…

In the White House Lex Luthor fears his grip on power is slipping, whilst far-too-close-for-comfort, quintessential investigator The Question listens and learns…

The long days of quiet resistance at last end when an explosion deprives the entire Eastern Seaboard of power, allowing Catgirl and the Batboys to move into Phase Two of the plan: liberating missing speedster Barry Allen from captivity and energy-generating slavery on a collosal power-grid-feeding treadmill.

The Flash is resistant – horrified and furious until Carrie reassures him that his beloved wife Iris is no longer a hostage of the American Government…

Deep in his lair Wayne contemplates his successes and calculates when exactly the Administration will send his old friend Clark after him again…

As the free and unsanctioned parts of the media speculate on the return of caped crusaders and the freaks quickly become a hot trend, out in space Superman contacts the long-hidden Wonder Woman and she joins him in a conference with Captain Marvel.

The World’s most powerful heroes are still castrated by the secret alliance of Luthor and Brainiac which has held their loved ones safety against them for years. After being horrifically reminded once more of the cost of disobedience, Superman heads after Batman but flies straight into a perfectly planned ambush and falls to a resurgent and growing rebel Justice League and a particularly vengeance-hungry Green Arrow

Book Two finds the nation gripped by “Superhero Chic” as a torrent of fashion-crazed wannabes spring up everywhere. Increasingly furious Federal spin-doctors and government apparatchiks are helpless to stem, denigrate or even belittle the tide.

Ignoring the media storm Batman takes a more active role, attacking Luthor’s strongholds, liberating the likes of Plastic Man, Elongated Man and the rest whilst striking fear into the hearts of the too-long-complacent oppressors…

In a momentous change of heart, eternal lovers Wonder Woman and Superman abandon their previous position and even allow their long hidden daughter Lara to join the struggle.

As Earth celebrates the “return” of Superman, Luthor unleashes a ghastly facsimile of The Joker to kill the returned champions one by one, whilst Brainiac utilises an alien monster to draw the Man of Steel into battle. Heroes begin to fall. Manhunter, Guardian, The Creeper and Captain Marvel die before Lara arrives to decide the outcome…

With Luthor and Brainiac on the defensive Bruce Wayne unmasks at a massive freedom concert in Gotham and beseeches the public to reclaim their country. This revolution is being televised…

The apocalyptic conclusion in Book Three finds the battle in full flow with the massed forces and resources of totalitarian government ranged against two generations of masked champions and more – such as the exiled Green Lantern – arriving every moment.

Batman still has unfinished business: freeing the captive bottle-city Kandorians whose possession by Brainiac has neutered The Man of Tomorrow for years, but despite a concerted and successful campaign the Dark Knight is captured and tortured by Luthor even as the faux Joker targets Catgirl.

The killer has a history with the Bat-dynasty and a personal score to settle with the aging hero’s newest junior assistant…

With chaos, anarchy and even freedom in the air, the beaten dictators opt for a Scorched Earth policy and before long the entire planet looks unlikely to survive…

This controversial sequel volume is packed with production drawings and a Designs Sketchbook to augment a unique and decidedly different Bat-saga at once bombastic, brutal, challenging and immensely entertaining.

Whilst certainly not the equal of its mythic predecessor, The Dark Knight Strikes Again is certainly a tremendously important tale no fan of comics should miss.
© 2001, 2002, 2005 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Brightest Day volume 1


By Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Fernando Pasarin, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Joe Prado & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3276-4

Following the intergalactic Zombie Apocalypse of The Blackest Night, Earth’s profound importance to the nature and make-up of Reality was finally revealed and a select number of deceased heroes and villains were resurrected by a strange white energy force.

As the world slowly recovered from a horrific undead invasion, these newly resurrected and unaccountably different beings began seeking their own places and purpose in the bright new tomorrow, unaware that incredible and subtle forces were still manipulating them like meat puppets.

Scripted by Geoff Johns and Peter J. Tomasi, this first compilation of the extended mega braided-crossover series Brightest Day collects issue #0-7 of the sequel event (spanning June to October 2010) and begins here with ‘Carpe Diem’ illustrated by Fernando Pasarin, John Dell, Cam Smith, Prentis Rollins, Dexter Vines & Art Thibert.

In the shining light of day, former disembodied spirit Boston Brand – nee Deadman – finds himself disconcertingly corporeal again, yet still utterly invisible to the teeming masses of humanity. He now wears a white-glowing power ring which advises him “live” and demonstrates the ex-ghost’s new gifts by resurrecting a dead bird. The voice then screams “help me” and Brand is teleported away…

Aquatic warrior-queen Mera is luxuriating in the return of her husband Arthur Curry but Aquaman broods, disturbed by the changes he perceives in himself, even as Boston reappears in the depths of super-penitentiary Iron Heights, where both the Reverse Flash and Captain Boomerang have been held since their unfathomable and unwelcome reanimations.

In Louisiana Carter and Shiera Hall discuss their present situation. The eternal lovers have been reincarnated hundreds of times since they were murdered in Ancient Egypt, but his time is somehow different. Meanwhile, at the top of the world a team of ruthless men are recovering the bones the Hawks inhabited in one of those previous existences… After a glowing Zamaron power-gem smashes through the ceiling to embed itself in Nth metal super-weapon the Claw of Horus, the mystically alerted Winged Wonders furiously set off after them…

In a hidden hideaway, with only Boston Brand imperceptibly watching, fully restored mental manipulator Maxwell Lord takes the biggest risk of his fresh new life, overloading his psychic power to make (almost) everybody on Earth forget he ever existed, whilst on the Red Planet revived Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz exerts all his mighty powers in an attempt to make the dead world bloom again. He is glad to see again Green Lanterns Hal Jordan and Guy Gardner and promises to visit Earth soon…

On far distant Oa, home of the Guardians of the Universe, Jennifer-Lynn Hayden discusses her former boyfriend with GL doctor Natu as the medic subjects her to numerous tests. Emerald revenant Jade knows that since she came back Green Lantern Kyle Rayner just doesn’t look at her the same way anymore…

In New York Ronnie Raymond feels unwelcome at the funeral of Jason Rusch’s girlfriend Gehenna. When he was dead and dominating the energy-matrix composite dubbed Firestorm, Ron commanded their shared body to turn her to salt but the grieving Jason won’t listen and refuses to believe it was the Black Lantern Ring then animating him which gave the orders. When he again tries to apologise Jason hits him, triggering an unwanted fusion which traps them both in the form of the Nuclear Man…

Meanwhile in Kahndaq, reborn mystic superman Amon Tomaz is greeted as a god by the astounded peasantry. Their shining Osiris swears to them that he will usher in a golden age of prosperity and power whilst at the Arlington National Cemetery returned Avatar of War HankHawkHall picks up just where he left off, brutally smashing bad guys whilst partner and Peace Avatar Dove – AKA Dawn Granger – tries to ameliorate the carnage he inflicts. Being dead has done nothing to improve his temperament…

All such things Deadman secretly observes as the power of the voice bounces him unseen around creation, but when it unceremoniously dumps him in the ravaged heart of what was once Star City the power urgently demands that Brand now help it and all of the “returned”. In a flare of white energy it then turns the devastated city centre into a miles wide star-shaped primeval forest…

And in Silver City, New Mexico, ordinary people – exploring a huge crater with an immovable white lantern at its bottom – look up to see intergalactic conqueror Sinestro flying towards them…

Scenes set, the drama truly begins with ‘Second Chances’ (art by Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Joe Prado Vicente Cifuentes, Mark Irwin, Oclair Albert & David Beaty) as the renegade former Green Lantern is joined by Hal Jordan and Star Sapphire, but none of them can lift the tantalising white power lamp…

Assuming some kind of Sword in the Stone riff is in play, Jordan voices the question everybody is thinking… “Where’s King Arthur?”

Sea King Arthur Curry is half a word away, routing a band of pirates/human traffickers. However his righteous fury gives way to shock and horror when he telepathically summons the aquatic creatures he controls. The only thing which answers is a colossal, half devoured squid. Somehow his power now only affects and compels dead sea life…

At the same time on the Massachusetts coast, a restaurateur stops gutting fish and begins knifing people after seeing a broadcast on Aquaman’s return. Black Manta retired when his greatest foe died but now he has to go and kill him again…

At Pittsburgh University, inside the head of Firestorm, Ronnie and Jason are psychically tearing each other apart, whilst on Mars an agonising suppressed memory resurfaces, driving J’onn J’onzz to Earth to confirm the shocking recollection. In the Peruvian Andes Hawkman and Hawkwoman smash into the mercenaries stealing the bones of their former incarnations and get a chilling inkling of the ancient enemy who has been acting against them…

‘Nuclear Options’ (with additional inks by Tom Nguyen & Rebecca Buchman) opens to find the two component parts of Firestorm still railing against each other but unable to escape the body they spitefully share. Relief only comes after size-changing physicist RayThe AtomPalmer invades their conjoined nuclear form and forcibly disrupts the atomic matrix. But before the two separate into their human forms Ronnie detects another presence in the mental mix…

In New York a happy housewife, after years in hiding, learns of Martian Manhunter’s resurrection and slaughters hubby and the kids before resuming her ghastly true shape, whilst in the Andes Carter and Shiera learn that sorcerer Hath-Set – the third side of an ever-reincarnating Eternal Triangle – has been collecting the bones of each and every doom-drenched conjunction, and vow that this time they will end their curse by killing him before he can kill them…

In Colorado J’onn J’onzz visits the dementia-ridden daughter of the scientist who first transported him to Earth and learns the truth of his origins and of the beast Saul Erdel tragically teleported to earth before the Manhunter arrived from Mars…

Still being unwillingly shuttled around the globe, Boston Brand now finds himself transported to the antimatter universe to confront an appalling horror…

Discovering the white ring’s unsuspected offensive capabilities, Brand narrowly escapes an attack by the terrifying Anti-Monitor in ‘Revelations’ (inks by Vicente Cifuentes, Beaty & Irwin) before falling back into our cosmos, whilst in a hospital bed Ronnie Raymond realises the vile mentality of the Black Lantern Firestorm is still with him and hundreds of miles away J’onn J’onzz examines a New York atrocity and realises the beast Erdel summoned him to Earth to destroy now knows he’s coming…

As the White Lantern begins to pulse in Silver City, in Peru the Hawks find the extra-dimensional portal Hath-Set has built from millennia of their bleached bones and follow their nemesis into a bizarre new universe…

‘Thresholds’ then sees them stumble into a fantastic war between incredible beast species on a ferocious and fantastic Hawkworld where Hath-Set is making his final play for ultimate power, whilst back home Boston Brand’s life changes forever after he materialises in Dawn Granger’s bedroom. Both Dove and her maniacally over-protective “big brother” Hawk can see and – quite painfully – touch him…

In Silver City the situation is escalating as an entire lake mysteriously vanishes, whilst in the Bermuda Triangle, a phalanx of eerily familiar aquatic warriors begin to slaughter humans and in Pittsburgh Ron Raymond experiences a ghostly visitation…

‘Under Pressure’ opens with Aquaman and Mera investigating the bloodbath in Bermuda whilst in Georgetown Hawk has dragged Deadman to the grave of Don Hall, determined that his brother will also be revived by Brand’s touch.

As the Sea monarchs work they are attacked by the band of sea soldiers led by Mera’s twin Siren, even as on Hawkworld a furious attack by beastmen separates Carter and Shiera. In a Georgetown cemetery a White Voice admonishes Deadman and refuses to return the at-peace Don Hall. His subsequent attempt to bring back Dawn’s murdered sister is even more of a terrifying travesty…

In Bermuda, having narrowly escaped utter destruction, Mera is compelled to explain to her husband her true origins and the lie they have been living all their married lives…

The Martian Manhunter’s investigations bring him to a shocking conclusion in ‘Dead Zone’ (art from Reis, Clark, Prado, Cifuentes, Beaty, Irwin & extra inks by Christian Alamy) as he realises his mere presence is toxic to terrestrial flora, but whilst Hawk and Dove take the shellshocked Brand for his first meal in decades, in Pittsburgh a construction disaster compels Jason Rusch to summon the Firestorm Matrix, only to find his despised partner has been drowning his sorrows and the resultant merger has left the Nuclear Man dangerously intoxicated. As they struggle to save lives Jason too discovers a third – malevolent – personality in their mind-mix…

After consulting with the Justice League J’onn J’onzz determines to seek out fellow Martian survivor M’gann M’orzz but on arrival at her place of hermitage finds his brutally merciless foe has already found her…

This initial offering concludes with ‘The Secret of Life as Boston, Hawk and Dove are peremptorily teleported to Silver City where the former Deadman lifts the White Lantern and a wave of blinding energy blazes out, transforming all the other returnees and imparting unto all of them – in highly ambiguous terms – the specific reasons for each revivification…

To Be Continued…

Also included is a monumental gallery of 28 covers-&-variants from the series and numerous tie-in titles by David Finch, Scott Williams, Peter Steigerwald, Reis, Chuck Pires, Nei Ruffino, Dave McCaig, Ryan Sook, Pasarin, Joel Gomez, Randy Mayor and Carrie Strachan, with input by Jim Lee.

Complex, convoluted and compelling, this is epic and impressive fare for fans but probably impenetrable to casual readers, but I suspect even the most devout DC disciple will be best served by rereading the assorted volumes of Blackest Night before attempting this wonderful example of tight continuity, cosmic Costumed Drama.
© 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Super Friends volume 1


By E. Nelson Bridwell, Denny O’Neil, Ric Estrada, Joe Orlando, Ramona Fradon, Kurt Schaffenberger, Bob Smith & Vince Colletta (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4757-7

Once upon a time comics were primarily created with kids in mind and, whilst I’d never advocate exclusively going back to those days, the modern industry is greatly lacking for not properly addressing the needs and tastes of younger fans these days.

A superb case in point of all-ages comics done right can be seen in Showcase Presents Super Friends volume 1 which gathers the licensed comicbook tales which spun off from a popular Saturday Morning TV Cartoon show: one that, thanks to the canny craftsmanship and loving invention of lead scripter E. Nelson Bridwell, became an integral and unmissable component of the greater DC Universe.

It was also one of the most universally thrilling and satisfying superhero titles of the period for older fans: featuring the kind of smart and witty, straightforward adventures people my age grew up with, produced during a period when the entire industry was increasingly losing itself in colossal continued storylines and angsty, soap opera melodrama.

Sometimes all you really want is a smart plot well illustrated; sinister villains well-smacked, a solid resolution and early bed…

The TV show Super Friends ran (under various iterations) from 1973 to 1986; starring Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and a brace of studio-originated kids as student crimebusters, supplemented by occasional guest stars from the DCU on a case by case basis.

The series then made the transition to print as part of the publisher’s 1976 foray into “boutiqued” comics which saw titles with a television connection cross-marketed as “DC TV Comics”.

Child-friendly Golden Age comicbook revival Shazam!- the Original Captain Marvel had been adapted into a successful live action television series and its Saturday Morning silver screen stablemate The Secrets of Isis consequently reversed the process by becoming a comicbook.

With the additions of hit comedy show Welcome Back Kotter and animated blockbuster Super Friends into four-colour format, DC had a neat little outreach imprimatur tailor-made to draw viewers into the magic word of funnybooks.

At least that was the plan: with the exception of Super Friends none of the titles lasted more than ten issues beyond their launch…

This bombastic black-&-white extravaganza collects Super Friends #1-24 (spanning November 1976 to September 1979) and opens with a crafty two-part caper by Bridwell, Ric Estrada, Vince Colletta & Joe Orlando.

‘The Fury of the Super Foes’ found heroes-in-training Wendy and Marvin – and their incredible astute mutt Wonderdog – studying at the palatial Hall of Justice, even as elsewhere a confederation of villains prove that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery if not outright intellectual theft…

The Penguin, Cheetah, Flying Fish, Poison Ivy and Toyman, having auditioned a host of young criminals, are creating a squad of sidekicks and protégés to follow in their felonious footsteps and Chick, Kitten, Sardine, Honeysuckle and Toyboy are all ready and willing to carry out their first caper.

When the giant “Troubalert” screen informs the heroes of a three-pronged attack on S.T.A.R. Labs’ latest inventions, the champions split up to tackle the crises but are thoroughly trounced until Wendy and Marvin break curfew to help them.

As a result of the clash, Chick and Kitten are brought back to the Hall of Justice, but their talk of repentance is a rascally ruse and they secretly sabotage vital equipment…

Unluckily for them Wonderdog has seen everything and quickly finds a way to inform the still-oblivious good guys in issue #2 but too late to prevent the Super Friends being briefly ‘Trapped by the Super Foes’

The incomparable Ramona Fradon – aided and abetted by inker Bob Smith – took over the pencilling with #3 as ‘The Cosmic Hit Man?’ saw fifty intergalactic super-villains murdered by infernal Dr. Ihdrom, who then combined their harvested essences to create an apparently unbeatable hyper-horror who utterly overwhelmed Earth’s heroic defenders. However he soon fell victim to his own arrogance and Wendy and Marvin’s logical deductions…

‘Riddles and Rockets!’ found the Super Friends overmatched by new ne’er-do-well Skyrocket whilst simultaneously trying to cope with a rash of crimes contrived by King of Conundra The Riddler.

It wasn’t too long before a pattern emerged and a criminal connection was confirmed…

Author Bridwell was justly famed as DC’s keeper of the continuity, possessing an astoundingly encyclopaedic knowledge of DC’s publishing minutiae. ‘Telethon Treachery!’ gave him plenty of scope to display it with a host of near-forgotten guest-stars joining our heroes as they hosted a televised charity event whilst money-mad menace Greenback lurked in the wings, awaiting the perfect moment to grab the loot and kidnap the wealthiest donators…

The Atom played a crucial role in stopping the dastardly depredations of an animal trainer who used beasts as bandits in ‘The Menace of the Menagerie Man!’ before a huge cast change was unveiled in #7 (October 1977) with ‘The Warning of the Wondertwins’

TV is very different from comics. When the new season of Super Friends aired, Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog were gone, replaced without warning or explanation by alien shapeshifters Zan and Jayna and their elastic-tailed space monkey Gleek.

With more room – and consideration for the fans – Bridwell turned the sudden cast change into a bombastic battle to save Earth from total annihilation whilst properly introducing the adult heroes’ newest students in memorable style…

At the Hall of Justice Wendy and Marvin spot a spaceship hurtling to Earth on the Troubalert monitor and dash off to intercept it. Aboard are two siblings from distant planet Exor: a girl who can change into animals and a boy who can become any form of water from steam to ice. They have come with an urgent warning…

Superman’s alien enemy Grax has determined to eradicate humanity and devised a dozen different super-bombs and attendant weird-science traps to ensure his victory. The weapons are scattered all over Earth and even the entire Justice League cannot stretch its resources to cover every angle and threat…

To Wendy and Marvin the answer is obvious: call upon the help and knowledge of hyper-powered local heroes…

Soon Superman and Israel’s champion The Seraph are dismantling a black hole bomb whilst Elongated Man and titan-tressed Godiva are performing similar duties on a life-eradicator in England and Flash and mighty-leaping Impala are dismantling uncatchable ordnance in South Africa…

Hawkman and Hawkwoman then join Native American avenger Owlwoman to crush darkness-breeding monsters in Oklahoma whilst from the Hall of Justice Wendy, Marvin and the Wondertwins monitor the crisis with a modicum of mounting hope…

The cataclysmic epic continues in #8 with ‘The Mind Killers!’ as Atom and Rising Son tackle a deadly device designed to decimate Japan even as in Ireland Green Lantern and Jack O’Lantern battle multi-hued monstrosities before switching off their target of technological terror.

In New Zealand time-scanning Tuatara tips off Red Tornado to the position of a bomb cached in the distant past and Venezuela’s doom is diverted through a team-up between Batman and Robin and reptile-themed champion Bushmaster whilst Taiwan benefits from a melding of sonic superpowers possessed by Black Canary and the astounding Thunderlord

The saga soars to a classic climax with ‘Three Ways to Kill a World!’ in which the final phases of Grax’s scheme finally fail thanks to Green Arrow and Tasmanian Devil in Australia, Aquaman and Little Mermaid in the seas off Denmark and Wonder Woman and The Olympian in Greece.

Or at least they would have if the Hellenic heroes had found the right foe. Sadly their triumph against Wrong-Place, Right-Time terrorist Colonel Conquest almost upset everything. Thankfully the quick thinking students send an army of defenders to Antarctica where Norwegian novice Icemaiden dismantles the final booby-trap bomb.

However, whilst the adult champions are thus engaged, Grax invades the Hall of Justice seeking revenge on the pesky whistleblowing Exorian kids, but is completely unprepared for and overwhelmed by Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog who categorically prove they are ready to graduate to the big leagues…

With Zan and Jayna enrolled as the latest heroes-in-training, Super Friends #10 details their adoption by Batman’s old associate – and eccentric time travel theoretician – Professor Carter Nichols just before a legion of alien horrors arrives on Earth to teach the kids that appearances can be lethally deceiving in ‘The Monster Menace!’ after which Kingslayer’ pits the heroes against criminal mastermind Overlord who has contracted the world’s greatest hitman to murder more than one hundred leaders at one sitting…

Another deep dive into DC’s past then resurrected Golden Age titans T.N.T and Dan, the Dyna-Mite in ‘The Atomic Twosome!’

The 1940s mystery men had been under government wraps ever since their radioactive powers began to melt down, but when an underground catastrophe ruptured their individual lead-lined vaults, the Super Friends were called in to prevent a potential nuclear nightmare…

The subterranean reason for the near tragedy was tracked to a monstrous mole creature, and led to the introduction of eternal mystic Doctor Mist who revealed the secret history of civilisation and begged help to halt ‘The Mindless Immortal!’ before its random burrowing shattered mankind’s cities…

Super Friends #14 opened with ‘Elementary!’; introducing four ordinary mortals forever changed when they were possessed by ancient sprits and tasked with plundering the world by Overlord. When the heroes scotched the scheme, Undine, Salamander, Sylph and Gnome retained their powers and determined to become a crime-fighting team dubbed The Elementals

The issue also contained a short back-up tale illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger & Bob Smith. ‘The Origin of the Wondertwins’ at last revealed how the Exorian genetic throwbacks – despised outcasts on their own world – fled from a circus of freaks and uncovered Grax’s plot before taking that fateful rocketship to Earth…

Big surprises were in store in ‘The Overlord Goes Under!’ (Fradon & Smith) as the Elementals began their battle against evil by joining the Super Friends in crushing the crimelord. All the heroes were blithely unaware that they were merely clearing the way for a far more cunningly subtle mastermind to take Overlord’s place…

‘The People Who Stole the Sky!’ in #16 was a grand, old fashioned alien invasion yarn, perfectly foiled by the team and the increasingly adept Wondertwins whilst ‘Trapped in Two Times!’ found Zan and Jayna used by the insidious Time Trapper (nee Time Master) to lure the adult heroes into deadly peril on Krypton in the days before it detonated and future water world Neryla in the hours before it was swallowed by its critically expanding red sun.

After rescuing the kids – thanks in no small part to Superman’s legendary lost love Lyla Ler-rol – the Super Friends used Tuatara’s chronal insight and Professor Nichol’s obscure methodologies to go after the Trapper in the riotous yet educational ‘Manhunt in Time!’ (illustrated by Schaffenberger & Smith), by way of Atlantis before it sank, medieval Spain and Michigan in 1860AD, to thwart a triple-strength scheme to derail history and end Earth civilisation…

Issue #19 saw the return of Menagerie Man in ‘The Mystery of the Missing Monkey!’ (Fradon & Smith) as the beast-breaker boosted Gleek, intent on turning his elastic-tailed talents into the perfect pickpocketing tool, after which Denny O’Neil – writing as Sergius O’Shaugnessy – teamed with Schaffenberger & Smith for a more jocular turn.

Chaos and comedy ensued when the team tackled vegetable monsters unleashed when self-obsessed shlock-movie director Frownin’ Fritz Frazzle got hold of Merlin’s actually magical Magic Lantern and tried to make a masterpiece on the cheap in ‘Revenge of the Leafy Monsters!’

Bridwell, Fradon & Smith were back in #21 where ‘Battle Against the Super Fiends!’ found the heroes travelling to Exor to combat a brace of super-criminals who could duplicate all their power-sets, after which ‘It’s Never Too Late!’ (#22, O’Neil, Fradon & Smith) revealed how temporal bandit Chronos subjected the Super Friends to a time-delay treatment which made them perennially too late to stop him – until Batman and the Wondertwins out-thought him…

The Mirror Master divided and banished teachers and students in #23 but was unable to prevent an ‘SOS from Nowhere!’ (Bridwell, Fradon & Smith) to the fleet-footed Flash. This episode also spent some time fleshing out the Wondertwin’s earthly secret identities as Gotham Central highschoolers John and Joanna Fleming

This splendid selection of super thrills then concludes with ‘Past, Present and Danger!’ by O’Neil, Fradon & Smith wherein Zan and Jayna’s faces are found engraved on a recently unearthed Egyptian pyramid. Upon investigation inside the edifice, the heroes awaken two ancient exiles who resemble the kids, but are in fact criminals who have been fleeing Exorian justice for thousands of years.

How lucky then that the kids are perfect doubles the crooks can send back with the robot cops surrounding the pyramid – once they’ve got rid of the Earthling heroes…

Brilliantly entertaining, masterfully crafted and always utterly engaging, these stories are comics gold that will delight children and adults in equal proportion. Truly generational in appeal, they are probably the closest thing to an American answer to the magic of Tintin or Asterix and no family home should be without this tome.
© 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 2014 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns


By Frank Miller, Klaus Janson & Lynn Varley (DC Comics)
Item ISBN: 0-930289-15-3,               current ISBN: 978-1-56389-342-1

I always feel a bit daft reviewing stuff that everyone already knows about, but I’m constantly being reminded that even though somebody talks about the classics of our art-form it doesn’t mean they actually have read them.

Moreover, the great thing about comics is that they’re meant to be re-experienced, over and over and over…

So here’s a quick look at Frank Miller’s most celebrated epic: a canny mix of iconoclastic bravura and contemporary dystopian angst blending urban anxiety with bleak wish-fulfilment power-fantasies and making all us whiny liberals love it anyway…

There had been many “Last Batman” stories over the decades since his creation in 1939 but none had the telling impact of the 4-issue “Prestige Format” miniseries which ran from February to June 1986, during a period when DC were creatively on fire and could do no wrong commercially…

The subsequent collection into a complete edition did much to kick off the still tentative graphic novel market, offering a plethora of different versions at the time: hardcover, paperback, bookstore editions, foreign language editions – and an Absolute Dark Knight edition, in 2008 – all proving how a single story could be successfully monetised to the benefit of all, except the poor bewildered fans who clung tenaciously to the cruelly punishing collectors’ credo “gotta have ‘em all”…

(There are a number of editions available to this day, but I’m concentrating here on my first edition hardback from 1986. Therefore, some of the ancillary features and articles might be omitted, augmented or replaced in later releases…)

The epic transformed the character as much as the industry, with writers adapting facets of the chaos and carnage-resisting, end-of-days Caped Crusader to subsequent in-continuity tales whilst the readership spent years looking for clues in the regular comics that the story would eventually become canonical…

After Alan Moore’s Introduction ‘The Mark of the Batman’ the challenge to a civilisation in crisis begins with ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ as Gotham swelters under a crippling heat wave and ubiquitous TV pundits jabber on incessantly, disseminating what the government allows to pass for news.

Aging playboy Bruce Wayne (55 and no longer counting) has narrowly escaped blazing death during a car race, street gang The Mutants have perpetrated another ghastly atrocity and long-past-it Police Commissioner James Gordon has challenged them to a showdown before his enforced retirement in four weeks.

It’s also the tenth anniversary of the last sighting of the fabled masked vigilante the Batman

Later that night Wayne and Gordon talk over old times but the billionaire’s journey home is interrupted by a pack of Mutants…

On the nightly News homicidal maniac Harvey Dent is paraded by arrogant surgeons and therapists as a shining example of their restorative and curative regimes. Two-Face is now a fully rehabilitated citizen ready to reclaim his place in the world…

Back at the Manor, as the TV disgorges a litany of tragedy and travesty, a grumbling urge that has been boiling in Wayne’s gut for a decade finally breaks loose and decrepit manservant Alfred realises with dismay and disgust that Bruce’s other self is coming back…

Whilst a storm breaks over Gotham the night is filled with the screams and the cracking of bones as a horde of violent thieves and thugs are brutalised. Wayward 13-year old Carrie Kelley is saved from a pack of Mutant chickenhawks by a merciless shadow and the News is filled with reports of gangsters reduced to cripples by a maniac “dressed like Dracula”…

When the savage shadow foils a bank raid, one of the hoodlums has a coin with the heads-side scarred and defaced.

…And in Arkham Asylum’s quiet-ward an old, mute cripple with fading green hair watches the News, smiling and laughing for the first time in a decade…

That night the public gets its first full view of the unfolding situation as Two-Face holds Gotham’s Twin Towers hostage and Batman spectacularly ends his campaign of explosive extortion…

‘The Dark Knight Triumphant’ opens to public and media uproar as the Batman’s latest exploits galvanise the Man in the Street, the cops and especially psychotic monsters like the leader of the Mutants – who offers a terrifying challenge to the citizens and their returned hero.

Carrie Kelley rises to that challenge, buying a Robin outfit and jumping over rooftops looking to help clean up the city. Batman doesn’t have time for nonsense and hot air. He’s an old man with a dodgy heart who knows his days are already numbered.

All he wants is to get through another night and punish the Mutants who kidnapped a little boy…

Government – Federal and local – remains stonily silent on the issue of Batman (the first masked hero to break ranks since the government outlawed them years ago) and tension and unrest only escalates when a subway commuter is blown up by the Mutants…

At long last the Mayor acts, appointing Captain Ellen Yindel as his new Commissioner of Police. Her first act is to issue an arrest warrant for The Batman on assault and sundry other charges.

The subject of the manhunt doesn’t care: he’s engaged in a savage battle with the Mutant Army, his bat-tank and gadgets decimating the feral thugs at the City Dump.

His big mistake is to engage their leader in hand-to-hand combat. The steroid and rage fuelled gangbanger is a hate-propelled mass of muscle and speed, half his age and utterly immune to the Dark Knight’s every fighting trick and stratagem.

He is moments from beating the old fool to death when Robin introduces herself to her hero by causing an explosive distraction and stealing the battered body. Guided back to the Batcave, she can only watch as Alfred stitches the broken sack of meat and bone back together for the millionth time…

In the White House the American President takes extreme action, sanctioning the colourful assistance of the Nation’s Kryptonian Secret Weapon whilst in Arkham Dr. Bartholomew Wolper – the man who “cured” Two-Face – continues his treatment of the newly reinvigorated inmate once known as The Joker, whilst in the streets a growing number of Batman imitators take the law into their own increasingly bloody hands.

Although not fully recovered, Batman and Robin are forced to strike again when the Mutant Leader murders the Mayor with his teeth. The old campaigner orchestrates a showdown in front of the entire Mutant nation who watch in astonishment as their unbeatable ruler is methodically taken apart and left a crippled wreck by the resurgent, unholy Warrior Bat…

The beginning of the End starts with ‘Hunt the Dark Knight’ as Gotham is beset by more urban violence as the Mutants splinter into smaller fringe gangs. More worrisome is the huge uptick in citizen violence as the ordinary, decent folk of Gotham get out their legally purchased guns and start shooting at anyone who threatens, frightens, annoys or disgusts them.

The strangest result of the leader’s fall is the declaration by a hard core of former Mutants who publicly convert to “Sons of the Bat”, dedicated to carrying on the Dark Knight’s work: channelling their need for violence into excessive force applied to all malefactors from murderers to jaywalkers…

The Government is far more concerned with the deteriorating international crisis and The Batman is otherwise occupied. As well as cleaning up street scum whilst avoiding the police trying to catch him, there is fresh hell unleashed when the Joker hijacks Gordon’s televised retirement party and incoming Commissioner Yindel’s moment of glory with an explosively gory statement of his own…

With Armageddon clearly coming, clandestine Federal operative Clark Kent takes time out from a very busy schedule of secretly thwarting Soviet military strikes across the world to give old comrade Bruce Wayne a very clear cease-and-desist-or-else message from the White House. Naturally he is utterly ignored…

When the Joker is interviewed on a hugely popular talk show, Yindel’s squads are ready for Batman’s inevitable intervention but not the appalling atrocity the Clown Prince has engineered. In the bloodbath that follows, the openly suicidal Harlequin of Hate pushes himself to even greater excesses after abducting High Society Madam Selina Kyle and instigating another murder spree…

With the gung-ho cops dogging Batman’s heels the bloody trail leads to Gotham County Fair and a horrific, breathtaking final confrontation…

The final chapter then opens with Batman as Public Enemy Number One and a desperate fugitive. The warrants now read “murder”…

Elsewhere Superman prevents nuclear devastation by diverting a Soviet mega-warhead but the explosion radically weakens him. Despite this the Good Soldier obeys his Commander-in-Chief’s next order… stop Batman…

The world is in total chaos as fallout and electromagnetic disturbances bring about a nuclear winter and fry most electrical systems. The Caped Crusader, however, has always been a planner and has an arsenal of weapons and a small core of converts ready for the world that survives.

He also has a hidden ally. Radical firebrand Oliver Queen used to be the heroic Green Arrow…until Superman maimed the intransigent rabble-rouser who refused to toe the Government line once too often…

All that’s left is the final apocalyptic duel between two old, broken and dying heroes defending to the death their respective visions of justice. Despite a phenomenal showing, at last ‘The Dark Knight Falls’, but there’s still one last surprise in store…

Peppered with barbed and biting cultural commentary courtesy of the perpetual vox-pop of talking heads incessantly interviewed by the caustically lampooned and satirised news media, bombarding the reader with key narrative information in subtly layered levels and periodically enhanced throughout by stunningly iconic and powerful full-page tableaux, The Dark Knight Returns ushered in a new style of storytelling and made comics something adults outside the comics industry simply had to acknowledge.

Mythic, challenging and staggeringly visceral, this is rightly the Batman book everyone has heard of. Why not read it at last and see why?
© 1986 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Wonder Woman: The Twelve Labors


By Martin Pasko, Elliot S. Maggin, Cary Bates, Len Wein, Curt Swan, John Rosenberger, Irv Novick, Dick Dillin, Kurt Schaffenberger, Dick Giordano, Jose Delbo & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3494-2

The Princess of Paradise Island originally debuted as a special feature in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941), conceived by polygraph pioneer William Moulton Marston and illustrated by Harry G. Peter, in a calculated attempt to offer girls a positive and forceful role model and, on forward thinking Editor M.C. Gaines’ part, sell more funnybooks.

She catapulted into her own series and the cover-spot of new anthology title Sensation Comics a month later. An instant hit, the Amazing Amazon won her own eponymous supplemental title a few months later, cover-dated Summer 1942.

Once upon a time on a hidden island of immortal super-women, American aviator Steve Trevor of US Army Intelligence crashed to Earth. Near death, he was nursed back to health by young, impressionable Princess Diana.

Fearful of her besotted child’s growing obsession with the creature from a long-forgotten and madly violent world, Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyte revealed the hidden history of the Amazons: how they were seduced and betrayed by men but rescued by the goddess Aphrodite on condition that they forever isolated themselves from the mortal world and devoted their eternal lives to becoming ideal, perfect creatures.

However with the planet in crisis, goddesses Athena and Aphrodite instructed Hippolyte to send an Amazon back with the American to fight for global freedom and liberty and, although forbidden to compete, Diana clandestinely overcame all other candidates to become their emissary Wonder Woman.

On arriving in the Land of the Free she purchased the identity and credentials of lovelorn Army nurse Diana Prince, which elegantly allowed the Amazing Amazon to stay close to Steve whilst enabling the heartsick care-worker to join her own fiancé in South America. Diana soon gained a position with Army Intelligence as secretary to General Darnell, further ensuring she would always be able to watch over her beloved. She little suspected that, although the painfully shallow Steve only had eyes for the dazzling Amazon superwoman, the General had fallen for the mousy but supremely competent Lieutenant Prince…

That set up enabled the Star Spangled Siren to weather the vicissitudes of the notoriously transient comicbook marketplace and survive the end of the Golden Age of costumed heroes along with Superman, Batman and a few lucky hangers-on who inhabited the backs of their titles.

She soldiered on well into the Silver Age revival under the canny auspices of Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, but by 1968 superhero comics were in decline again and publishers sought new ways to keep audiences interested as tastes – and American society – changed.

Back then, the entire industry depended on newsstand sales and if you weren’t popular, you died.

Editor Jack Miller and Mike Sekowsky stepped up with a radical proposal and made a little bit of comic book history with the only female superhero to still have her own title that marketplace.

The superbly eccentric art of Sekowsky had been a DC mainstay for nearly two decades, and he had also scored big with fans at Gold Key with Man from Uncle and at Tower Comics in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and on war title Fight The Enemy!

His unique take on the Justice League of America had cemented its overwhelming success, and now in 1968 he began stretching himself further with a number of experimental, young-adult oriented projects.

Tapping into the teen zeitgeist with Easy Rider style drama Jason’s Quest proved ultimately unsuccessful, but with the Metal Men and the hopelessly moribund Wonder Woman he had much greater impact. He would subsequently work the same magic with Supergirl.

The big change came when the Amazons were forced to leave our dimension, taking with them all their magic – including Wonder Woman’s powers and all her weapons. Now no more or less than human, she opted to stay on Earth permanently, assuming her own secret identity of Diana Prince, dedicated to fighting injustice as a mortal, very much in the manner of Emma Peel and Modesty Blaise.

Blind Buddhist monk I Ching trained her as a martial artist, and she quickly became embroiled in the schemes of would-be world-conqueror Doctor Cyber. Most shockingly her beloved Steve was branded a traitor and murdered…

Sekowsky’s root and branch overhaul offered a whole new kind of Wonder Woman (and can be seen in the magical quartet of full-colour collections entitled Diana Prince: Wonder Woman) but as I’ve already said fashion ruled and in a few years, without any fanfare or warning, everything that had happened since Wonder Woman lost her powers was unwritten.

Her mythical origins were revised and re-established as she returned to a world of immortals, gods, mythical monster and super-villains with a new nemesis, an African (Greek?) American half-sister named Nubia

Such an abrupt reversal had tongues wagging and heads spinning in fan circles. Had the series offended some shady “higher-ups” who didn’t want controversy or a shake-up of the status quo?

Probably not.

Sales were never great even on the Sekowsky run and the most logical reason is probably Television.

The Amazon had been optioned as a series since the days of the Batman TV show in 1967, and by this time (1973) production work had begun on the original 1974 pilot featuring Cathy Lee Crosby. An abrupt return to the character most viewers would be familiar with from their own childhoods seems perfectly logical to me… By the time Linda Carter made the concept live in 1975 Wonder Woman was once again “Stronger than Hercules, swifter than Mercury and more beautiful than Aphrodite”…

But as Diana returned to mainstream DC continuity the fans expected her to fully reintegrate, leading to this early and impressive example of a comics miniseries which ran in Wonder Woman #212 to 222 (cover-dated July 1974 – March 1976) and detailed how the Amazing Amazon rejoined the JLA.

Scripter Len Wein and artists Curt Swan & Tex Blaisdell got the ball rolling with ‘The Man Who Mastered Women!’ as the Hellenic Heroine thwarted a terrorist attack at New York’s United Nations building where Diana Prince worked as a translator. In the aftermath she surprisingly met old friend Clark Kent.

Over the course of the conversation she realised her memories had been tampered with and suddenly understood why her JLA colleagues hadn’t called her to any meetings… she had resigned years ago…

Although her former comrades begged her to re-enlist, she declined, fearing that her memory lapses might endanger the team and the world. After much insistent pleading she relented enough to suggest that the League should covertly monitor her next dozen major cases – in the manner of Hercules’ twelve legendary tests – as she proved herself competent and worthy, for her own peace of mind if not the JLA’s…

Once they grudgingly agreed she left and Superman began the surveillance, observing her flying to Paradise Island in her Invisible Plane. Correctly deducing that she had been subject to Amazonian selective memory manipulation, she confronted her mother and learned of her time as a mere mortal and of Steve’s death.

Although the past had been removed by her well-meaning Amazon sisters, Diana now demanded that every recollection excised be returned…

Back in Man’s World a crisis was already brewing as costumed crazy The Cavalier began exerting his uncanny influence over women to controlling female Heads of State, but his powers proved ultimately ineffectual over Wonder Woman…

As a result of that case Diana Prince changed jobs, going to work as a troubleshooter for dashing Morgan Tracy at the UN Crisis Bureau, and her first mission wasn’t long in coming…

Wonder Woman #213 was crafted by Cary Bates, Irv Novick & Blaisdell as an alien robot landed and removed all aggression from humanity in one stroke. As the Flash helplessly observed however ‘The War-No-More Machine!’ also quashed all bravery, determination, confidence and capability and the species faced imminent – if long and drawn out – extinction.

Happily Diana, a teenaged girl and a murderous criminal were all somehow immune to the invader’s influence…

Elliot S. Maggin, Swan & Phil Zupa then disclosed Green Lantern Hal Jordan’s undercover observations after a lost Amazon gem in unwitting, unscrupulous hands almost started World War III and the Princess of Power had to avert a nuclear holocaust triggered by a ‘Wish Upon a Star!’

The superb and vastly undervalued John Rosenberger pencilled Cary Bates’ tale of the ‘Amazon Attack Against Atlantis’ (inked by Vince Colletta) as Aquaman watched Wonder Woman unravel a baroque and barbaric plot by Mars, God of War to set Earth’s two most advanced nations at each throats, after which #216 found Black Canary uncovering the Amazon Sisterhood’s greatest secret in ‘Paradise in Peril!’ by Maggin, Rosenberger & Colletta.

The tale concerned an obsessed multi-millionaire risking everything – including possibly the collapse of civilisation – to uncover exactly what would happen if a man set foot upon the hidden Island of the Amazons…

One of Wonder Woman’s oldest foes resurfaced in ‘The Day Time Broke Loose!’ (by Maggin, Dick Dillin & Colletta) and Green Arrow was caught in the crossfire as the Duke of Deception attacked the UN with temporally torturous images and hallucinations designed to create madness and death on a global scale.

Issue #218 was produced by Martin Pasko & Kurt Schaffenberger and offered two short complete tales. Firstly Red Tornado reported on the ‘Revolt of the Wonder Weapons’ as an influential astrologer used mind-control techniques to gain power and accidentally undermined Diana’s arsenal, after which The Phantom Stranger stealthily observed her foiling a mystic plot by sorcerer Felix Faust which animated and enraged the Statue of Liberty in ‘Give Her Liberty – and Give Her Death!’

This was a time when feminism was finally making inroads into American culture and Pasko, Swan & Colletta slyly tipped their hats to the burgeoning movement in a wry and fanciful sci-fi thriller.

Thus issue  #219 found Diana preventing a vile incursion by the dominating males of Xro, a ‘World of Enslaved Women!’ with stretchable sleuth Elongated Man secretly traversing the parallel dimensions in Wonder Woman’s wake.

With the epic endeavour almost ended, regular scripter Pasko added a patina of mystery to the affair as the Atom watched Diana tackle ‘The Man Who Wiped Out Time!’ Illustrated by Dick Giordano, Wonder Woman #220 found temporal obsessive Chronos eradicating New York’s ability to discern time and time pieces: a plot foiled with style and brilliance by the on-form, in-time Power Princess.

The only problem was that during that entire exacting episode Hawkman had been watching Diana tackling another potential disaster hundreds of miles away…

The Feathered Fury’s report detailed how Crisis Bureau operative Diana Prince had been targeted by Dr. Cyber and Professor Moon – old enemies from her powerless period – who combined a hunger for vengeance with a plan to steal a UN-controlled chemical weapon in ‘The Fiend with the Face of Glass’ (illustrated by Swan & Colletta).

How she could be in two places simultaneously was revealed by Batman, who wrapped up the twelve trials in ‘Will the Real Wonder Woman Please… Stand Up Drop Dead!’ (art by Jose Delbo & Blaisdell), detailing how a beloved children’s entertainment icon had been subverted into a monster feeding off people and replacing them with perfect duplicates…

With covers by Bob Oksner, Nick Cardy, Mike Grell, Dick Giordano & Ernie Chan, this is a spectacular slice of pure, uncomplicated, all ages superhero action/adventure starring one of comics’ true all stars.

Stuffed with stunning art and witty, beguiling stories, this is Wonder Woman at her most welcoming in a timeless, pivotal classic of the medium: one that still provides astounding amounts of fun and thrills for anyone interested in a grand old time.
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

JLA Classified: New Maps of Hell

New, revised review

By Warren Ellis & Jackson Guice (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0944-5

It’s been quite a while since we covered a good old-fashioned straightforward and no-strings-attached superhero blockbuster: one which any old punter can pick up with no worry over continuity or identification and where good guys and bad guys are clearly defined.

That’s due in large part to the fact that nobody makes many of those anymore, but at least it gives me the opportunity to take another look a tale I didn’t much like when it first came out in 2006, but which has definitely grown on me after a recent re-read.

Produced at a time when the Justice League of America was enjoying immense popularity and benefiting from a major reboot courtesy of Grant Morrison, the end-of-the-world epic – starring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Oracle and Martian Manhunter – originally ran in issues #10-15 of ancillary spin-off title JLA Classified (September 2005-February 2006) with gritty futurist super-scribe Warren Ellis upping the angst-quotient on a hoary old plot whilst hyper-realist illustrator Jackson Guice adds a terrifying veracity to events.

The drama begins as Clark Kent and wife Lois Lane stumble onto a dirty little secret. Assorted, and presumably unconnected, scientists and bean-counters at President Luthor’s Lexcorp conglomerate have committed suicide in large numbers and the intrepid reporters suspect something very nasty is going on…

In Gotham City Batman learns the police have been turned away from an extremely unconventional crime-scene by Feds and a private security company, and he too begins to dig…

In the Bermuda triangle, a group of researchers are invited to the Amazon’s ancient library of knowledge only to die when the sky-floating island explodes in a horrendous detonation.

Wally West has terrible dreams of his beloved predecessor Barry Allen which lead him to a similar catastrophic conflagration, whilst Green Lantern Kyle Rayner ruminates on a primordial legend of the Corps’ origins until a wave of explosions rouses him to action.

In the ruins of each disaster the scattered, hard-pressed heroes find an ancient parchment of alien hieroglyphs and, when Superman recovers another page of the same from the shredded remnants of a plummeting space station, the call goes out to activate the League…

Tasking cyber-savant Oracle and aged Martian sole survivor J’onn J’onzz with digging up information, the team learn of an antediluvian scourge which wracked the red planet million’s of years past. A God/Devil which tested species’ right to survive and heralded its coming through a written code…

Luthor’s scientist’s had found such writings in remnants of ancient Sumeria and begun deciphering the text…

Mobilising to stop the summoning, the heroes confront Luthor in the White House but are too late. In Las Vegas the bowels of Hell vomit horrors into the streets and as the frantic team rushes to battle they are snatched up separated by the malign entity which has spent eons traversing the universe testing the worth of intelligent races and individually putting them to their sorest tests.

However the monstrous terror has never faced beings like the JLA before, or a mind like Batman’s, and soon its own darkest secret is exposed and its fatal weakness exploited to devastating effect…

With a painted cover gallery by Michael Stribling, this book offers simple, solid Fights ‘n’ Tights fun gilded with a sly and cynical post-modern edge: a sound example of contemporary action blockbuster comics at their best.
© 2005, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Justice League of America volume 5


By Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Cary Bates, Elliot S! Maggin, Marty Pasko, Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin, Frank McLaughlin & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-85768-195-9

After the actual invention of the comicbook superhero – for which read the Action Comics debut of Superman in 1938 – the most significant event in the industry’s history was the combination of individual sales-points into a group. Thus what seems blindingly obvious to us with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was proven: a number of popular characters could multiply readership by combining forces. Plus, of course, a mob of superheroes is just so much cooler than one (…or even one-and-a-half if there’s a sidekick in situ…).

The Justice Society of America is rightly revered as a true landmark in the development of comicbooks and when Julius Schwartz revived the superhero genre in the late 1950s, it was inevitable that there would be a new banding together of the latest reconfigured mystery men.

That moment came with The Brave and the Bold #28, a classical adventure title that had recently transformed into a try-out magazine like Showcase. Just before Christmas 1959 the ads began running. “Just Imagine! The mightiest heroes of our time… have banded together as the Justice League of America to stamp out the forces of evil wherever and whenever they appear!

The rest was history: the JLA captivated the youth of a nation, further reinvigorated an industry and even inspired a small family publishing concern to create the Fantastic Four, inspiring a whole new way of telling comics stories.

Following a meteoric rise, TV spin-offs brought trendy international awareness of costumed crusaders which in turn led to catastrophic overexposure. By 1968 the superhero boom looked to be dying just as its predecessor had at the end of the 1940s.

Sales were down generally and production costs beginning to spiral. More importantly “free” entertainments, such as television, were now found in even the poorest household. If you were a kid in the sixties, think just how many brilliant cartoon shows were created during that decade, when comics artists such as Alex Toth and Doug Wildey moved into West Coast animation studios.

Moreover, many comicbook heroes were now appearing on that ubiquitous small screen. As well as wholly original characters, the Marvel heroes, Superman, Aquaman, Batman, and even the JLA were there every Saturday in your own living room – even after that global bubble had burst…

It was also a time of great political and social upheaval. Change was everywhere and unrest even reached the corridors of DC. When a number of creators agitated for increased work benefits the request was not looked upon kindly. Many left the company – not always voluntarily – for other outfits. Some quit the business altogether.

Of course the greatest threat was the insatiable appetite for supernatural themes which decimated the industry’s pantheons of gaudily-clad mystery men…

This fifth monochrome Justice League Showcase volume compellingly reflects the signs of the times as the next generation of writers fostered a “new wave” and saw the title’s lowest ebb. Publication slowed to six issues a year before the tide slowly turned and the World’s Greatest Superheroes began climbing again to the top of the gradually recovering, tried-and-tested Fights ‘n’ Tights arena…

Collecting Justice League of America #107-132 from the era when superheroes were in the direst doldrums and looked like disappearing forever, this tome covers the period September/October 1973 to June 1976, during which the market changed forever from mass market to niche-industry and comicbooks stopped being casual, cheap or disposable entertainment.

By the end of this book the stories reflected the harsh facts, and publishers had accepted the conceptual and commercial transition from a broad-appeal medium slavishly following outside trends and fashions to increasingly become a targeted service making only what their most dedicated fans wanted…

The dramas begin here with Justice League of America #107 and ‘Crisis on Earth-X’ by Len Wein, Dick Dillin & Dick Giordano, the first chapter of another landmark crossover with their Earth-2 counterparts and antecedents in the JSA.

Following the popular revival of a forgotten team during their previous get-together (The Seven Soldiers of Victory as seen in Showcase Presents Justice League of America volume 4), this time the annual team-up reintroduced another band of Golden Age warriors – from corporate acquisition Quality Comics and newly rechristened The Freedom Fighters

It began when a recreational trip across the dimensional barrier was accidentally sabotaged by android stowaway Red Tornado, depositing Batman, Green Arrow and Elongated Man from Earth-1 and Superman, Sandman and Doctor Fate from Earth-2 into another alternate universe – one where the Nazis had won World War II.

Trapped and outnumbered, the seven displaced heroes were rescued by the last liberty-loving champions of a world dominated by fascist super-science and a secret dictator. Joining forces with embattled champions Uncle Sam, The Ray, Doll Man, Phantom Lady, Black Condor and the Human Bomb the newcomers ended the Nazi threat forever in the sinister sequel ‘Thirteen Against the Earth!’

With everybody returned to their home planes #109 then brought back a cultish guest star as ‘The Doom of the Divided Man!’ revived the dormant career of 1960’s hero/villain Eclipso, who harboured another cunning plan to conquer the world. However the real focus of this tale was the unexpected resignation of Hawkman following his recall to home planet Thanagar

Wein, Dillin & Giordano then got to deliver a delightful and potent seasonal present in #110 as Superman, Batman, Green Arrow, Black Canary and Red Tornado had to adapt to abrasive substitute Green Lantern John Stewart (a controversial “angry black man” conceived at a time when non-Caucasian heroes could be counted on the fingers of one hand) mid-mission, when the League gathered to hunt down ‘The Man Who Murdered Santa Claus!’

Murderous psychopath The Key had set up the heroes for ambush with the callous assassination of an actor hired to cheer orphaned kids, but his horrific deeper scheme was only foiled thanks to the supernatural intervention of an almost forgotten League member…

JLA #111 introduced a seminal villain who became, decades later, a pivotal player in The Final Crisis. Here however the enigmatic Libra merely used his incredible abilities to revive the dormant Injustice Gang of the World.

Although his stated goal was to imbue Chronos, Mirror Master, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Shadow Thief and Tattooed Man with energies stolen from Aquaman, Superman, Batman, Flash, Elongated Man and the fully recovered GL Hal Jordan, the ‘Balance of Power!’ he was really seeking meant keeping all the purloined might for his own unimaginable use…

Those stolen super-powers featured in #112’s follow-up ‘War with the One-Man Justice League!’ as the entire team gathered to help restore their diminished comrades. The high risk solution was to resurrect power-stealing android Amazo to collect the stolen energies and abilities – but nobody considered what the mechanoid might do after it absorbed Batman’s vast intellect and suspicious mind…

Justice League of America #113 (September/October 1974) proved how desperate were the times for the spandex set as the epic annual collaboration with the JSA was restricted to a single issue. Nevertheless ‘The Creature in the Velvet Cage!’ proved to be one of the very best team-up tales as a JLA visiting party to Earth-2 (Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and Elongated Man) shared the shame and horror of The Sandman, when his greatest secret was catastrophically revealed.

Years ago the Master of Dreams had accidentally transformed his sidekick Sandy, the Golden Boy into a ravening silicoid monster and been compelled to sedate and imprison his best friend.

Now after three decades the beast was awake and free, seemingly intent on destroying the world. At least that’s what Hourman and the Golden Age Flash and Wonder Woman believed when they joined their old comrade on his tragic manhunt…

Wein, with the plotting assistance of Mark Hanerfeld, ended his run as scripter with a smart and decidedly effective little thriller in #114 – ‘The Return of Anakronus!’ During a League-sponsored telethon an enigmatic time-bending villain took disgraced old team mascot Snapper Carr and his family hostage. Although definitely dangerous, the crazed felon’s ranting didn’t make much sense: after all, why would a man who had repeatedly defeated the JLA stoop to demanding a mere cash ransom…?

The tone turned cosmic in #115 as Denny O’Neil provided a fill-in script which brought back retired hero J’onn J’onzz, Manhunter from Mars who begged his former comrades to save the dying remnants of his people from ‘The Last Angry God!’ who had imprisoned them on a far-distant world.

Cary Bates then contributed ‘The Kid Who Won Hawkman’s Wings!’ in #116 as sightings of Hawkman in Midway City led Elongated Man, Green Arrow, Aquaman, Flash and Batman into a deadly duel against the Matter Master. Closer inspection revealed the Pinioned Paladin to be a baffled kid named Charley Parker who had no idea why he changed into a Golden Eagle, whilst the actual mastermind behind the plot was a shock to everybody concerned…

After just over a year’s absence the true winged Wonder returned in JLA #117. ‘I Have No Wings and I Must Fly!’ – scripted by Elliot S! Maggin and with Giordano’s protégé Frank McLaughlin assuming the role of regular inker over Dick Dillin’s sleek and effective pencils – saw alien cop Katar Hol resurface to warn Earth of a deadly extraterrestrial menace dubbed The Equalizer.

This ineffable menace was driven to achieve pure balance in the universe, and to achieve this he somehow homogenised entire civilisations, making life forms exactly identical to each other.

His Equalizer plague weapon was overwhelmingly contagious and – after reducing the population of Thanagar to imbecilic, four foot tall clones of each other, including Hol’s beloved wife Shayera – the unfathomable voyager had turned his single eye upon Earth…

With his homeworld quarantined and after defeating the appalling threat beside the JLA, Hawkman had no other refuge than our planet and promptly joined Aquaman, Black Canary, Flash Red Tornado and Superman in resisting the ‘Takeover of the Earth-Masters!’ (#118 by Maggin, Dillin & McLaughlin). This saw a misguided attempt by trans-dimensional beings who sought to save our world from super beings by despatching eerie hyper-evolving Adaptoid organisms.

With even the Man of Steel unable to face the ghastly invaders, Hawkman devised a risky strategy involving his Equalization-infected wife, which fortunately turned out in Humanity’s favour in #119’s ‘Winner Takes the Earth!’

Another old friend reappeared in #120 as ‘The Parallel Perils of Adam Strange!’ (written by Bates) saw the Earth-born champion of Planet Rann forced to re-fight his greatest battles after despotic Kanjar Ro murdered his fiancée Alanna.

Even though Ro had cruelly stacked the deck, Strange – and his newly arrived Justice League allies – triumphed and even pulled a rabbit out of the hat to restore the Rannian heroine in time for her own magical wedding in the blistering conclusion ‘The Hero Who Jinxed the Justice League!’

In issue #122 Marty Pasko delved into the team’s private lives and revealed why the JLA shared their civilian secrets with each other in ‘The Great Identity Crisis!’ as old enemy Dr. Light used photonic super-science and the too-good-to-be-true mineral Amnesium (guess what it causes?) to mess with the heroes’ minds and lure them into what should have been inescapable death-traps…

Another year gone, it was then time for the annual JLA/JSA yarn and Bates, Maggin, Dillin & McLaughlin stepped far off the reservation with ‘Where on Earth Am I?’ and ‘Avenging Ghosts of the Justice Society!’ from issues #123 and 124.

In Flash #179 (‘The Flash – Fact of Fiction?, May 1968) Bates and Gardner Fox first took the multiple Earths concept to its illogical conclusion by trapping the Monarch of Motion in “our” Reality of Earth-Prime, where the Sultan of Speed was just a comic-book character.

Here Bates and co-scripter Maggin returned to the idea as a story conference in Editor Julie Schwartz’s office led to the oafish goons playing with the Flash’s hastily-constructed Cosmic Treadmill, sending one of them hurtling between dimensions.

Transformed and empowered by the journey, Cary Bates became the most dangerous villain alive, leading Earth-2 criminals The Wizard, Shade, Sportsmaster, Huntress, Icicle and The Gambler in a lethal assault on JSA heroes Robin, Hourman, Wildcat, Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder and Dr. Mid-Nite.

Maggin, meanwhile, had followed his friend but ended up on Earth-1. Undaunted, he recruited Batman, Black Canary, Aquaman, Hawkman, Green Arrow and Flash to save three imperilled universes but it took the Divine Might of the supernal Spectre to truly set every thing back to its assigned place and time…

Gerry Conway began his long association with the Justice League in #125 with a clever 2-parter concerning the dumping of toxic energy from an outer dimension onto Earth. ‘The Men Who Sold Destruction!’ craftily employed schizophrenic villain Two-Face as their wily broker to expend the deadly forces, but the super-minds of Dronndar completely underestimated the double-dealing Harvey Dent’s capacity for betrayal. Almost as bad was that the opportunistic Weaponers of Qward and the JLA were as easily fooled by the Machiavellian maniac in #126’s Byzantine conclusion ‘The Evil Connection!’

JLA #127 confirmed that ‘The Command is “Chaos”!’ when new menace The Anarchist discovered a means of tapping Green Lantern’s power battery and desperate Hal Jordan begged his fellow champions to stop him recharging his ring at any cost, after which Pasko popped back to author a sharp, smart reintroduction for the Earth-1 Amazing Amazon in #128’s ‘Death-Visions of the Justice League!’

For a period “our” Wonder Woman had lost her powers and fought crime as a martial artist (see Diana Prince: Wonder Woman volumes 1-4), but once her supernatural gifts returned she underwent a self-imposed set of trials before rejoining the team.

Sadly her readmission coincided with the team disbanding following a cataclysmic, psychologically punishing assault by alien fear-eater Nekron, and even the Princess of Power seemed unable to galvanise the Leaguers before ‘The Earth Dies Screaming!’ in #129.

The next issue explored the revelatory early days of the team’s orbiting satellite headquarters as ‘Skyjack at 22,300 Miles!’ (scripted by Pasko) disclosed how an intergalactic interloper attempted to turn the space base into a spawning ground and put the nonplussed heroes through a gamut of ghastly trials before order and equilibrium were unconventionally restored.

This mammoth tome ends with a clever mystery double-bill from Conway, Dillin & McLaughlin. Issue #131 featured ‘The Beasts Who Thought Like Men!’ wherein a new credit card currency for America somehow enhanced the minds of animals and insects, simultaneously decreasing human brainpower to such a low point that bugs could enslave deadly villains like Sonar and Queen Bee

The tale took a strange turn in #132 as Superman vanished and Supergirl stepped in to help against animals organised enough to conquer the country. Even then there was still one more tangled twist in the tale of ‘The Beasts Who Fought Like Men!…’

The Justice League of America has become a keystone of American comics and these tales are still among the most thought-provoking, controversial and purely entertaining episodes in their half-century history.

With captivating covers provided by Nick Cardy, Mike Grell, Giordano, Ernie Chan (née Chua) & José Luis García-López, this captivating transition tome shows the unalloyed appeal of the Fights ‘n’ Tights Crowd at their most innovative and inspiring.

Just Imagine…
© 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Trinity volume 1


By Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicieza, Mark Bagley, Scott McDaniel, Tom Derenick, Jerry Ordway & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2277-2

DC’s mythologizing of its most renowned character properties saw their ultimate expression in the ambitious if overly-convoluted year-long publishing event Trinity which revealed the unexpected cosmic significance of the relationship between Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.

The series explored the metaphysical underpinnings of the DC Universe through 52 weekly instalments, split into a lead chapter with a connected ancillary episode intended to ultimately combine into a complex web of narrative encompassing the entire multiversal cosmos.

This initial volume – of three, natch – collects issues #1-17 of the omniversal odyssey (from June to October 2008) and was conceived and written by Kurt Busiek, with Fabian Nicieza co-scripting the sidebar stories. The art on the primaries was by Mark Bagley& Art Thibert, with Scott McDaniel, Tom Derenick, Mike Norton and others tag-teaming on the back-ups…

The reality-busting drama begins with ‘Boys and their Games…’ in the heart of the cosmos where an ancient, immensely powerful and obsessive being struggles to break free of a vast all-encompassing prison. Meanwhile in Keystone City, as their heroic associates take care of the usual distractions, old friends Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince meet for breakfast and discuss the distressing fact that they have all been enduring the same disturbing dreams of a monster escaping its imprisonment…

The first back-up tale ‘In the Morrows to Come’, by Busiek, Nicieza, McDaniel & Andy Owens, casts a light on Castle Branek where dark witch Morgaine Le Fey is accosted by a mysterious mortal dubbed Enigma who offers her the chance to rewrite Reality in her favour, tempting her with glimpses of other Earths and unfamiliar heroes. The first thing they need to do, however, is find a third co-conspirator and then seek out and capture a young girl with a strange knack for reading Tarot cards…

As the conspirators’ plans come together, reality begins to warp and wobble around Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in ‘A Personal Best at Giant Robot Smashing’ (Busiek, Bagley & Thibert) but the heroes are proving remarkably resilient in the face of the bizarre and deadly outbreaks. Things are tougher for Green Lantern John Stewart in ‘It’s Gonna Throw the Car’ (Busiek, Nicieza, Derenick & Wayne Faucher) as alien powerhouse Konvikt and his diminutive mouthpiece and legal advocate Graak crash to Earth and go on a rampage.

Before long the unstoppable ETs are thrashing the entire Justice League in ‘Kplow’ (Busiek, Bagley & Thibert) and only the big three are left to stop them… until the big bruiser decks Superman… Meanwhile ‘Earth to Rita’ (Busiek, Nicieza, Norton & Jerry Ordway) reveals how street Tarot reader Marguerita Covas starts getting some very strange readings even as she realises her predictions have been misused by a local gangbanger.

However when the superstitious thug tries to abduct Rita to secure her exclusive services, concerned citizen Jose Delgado steps in too late and finds her dazed and reeling near a pile of dismembered gangstas. Something far more dangerous than the urban vigilante called Gangbuster is watching over the baffled clairvoyant…

The spectacular struggle against the fully amok Konvikt is going badly, prompting Batman to break off to investigate the aliens’ arrival point in ‘Caped Simoid Thinks So, Hm?’ (Busiek, Bagley, Thibert). During his absence a secretive new player makes use of the melee to surreptitiously brand Wonder Woman with a mystic sigil, whilst ‘World-Something…’ (by Busiek, Nicieza, Norton, Ordway, McDaniel & Owens) reveals how Rita’s dreams contact another alien  monster. The bloodthirsty Despero is mercilessly eradicating the forces of his stellar rival Kanjar Ro and, although she doesn’t know how or why, Rita is painfully aware that her foresights will become fact, affecting her and the entire Earth…

‘Great. Now He’s Holding His Breath.’ (another BBT production) sees the defeat of Konvikt by Batman, who also captures the mystic Howler which branded Wonder Woman. Miles away Rita’s Tarot face cards undergo a bizarre transformation, whilst things get hot for her self-appointed bodyguard Delgado as hired super-freaks Blindside, Throttle and Whiteout attack the ‘Knight in Shiny Armor’ (Busiek, Nicieza, Norton & Mark Farmer) to seize the tarot-reader…

Barely escaping, the hero and his charge flee, but Tarot is almost oblivious to her personal peril: all she can see is that the pictures on her cards keep changing…

‘Truth, Justice & the American Way…’ follows the recovering Trinity of heroes through the visions of the ever-evolving Tarot. Her attempts to divine the meaning and significance bear no fruit until a horde of Howlers overpower Gangbuster and drag the girl away. Just as ‘Almost’ (Busiek, Nicieza, McDaniel & Owens) shifts focus to Hawkman, as he defeats the seductive Nocturna , the reincarnated warrior stumbles onto the bloodied and brutalised Delgado who is obsessively searching for Rita. His hunt has taken him to StonechatMuseum – where her old Gangsta associates are stealing ancient artefacts – and into accidental combat with the Winged Wonder.

Once the dust settles and amends are made, the two heroes confer and learn that other relics are being taken from museums all over the world…

With odd incidences of threes occurring everywhere, the League start researching and discover a link to the “primal creation energies of the universe”. A check on the Cosmic Egg holding captive the rogue Guardian of the Universe Krona proves a dead end, but the Amazon’s brand has changed shape and ‘A Third Symbol Now’ is revealed just as Hawkman and Gangbuster arrive.

Soon the Pinioned Paladin’s millennia of knowledge and Batman’s deductive ability have reasoned out a link to Ancient Egyptian Tarot rites and discovered that an army of the Dark Knight’s old enemies have been hired to steal pertinent items and relics for an unknown client…

And far across the galaxies Morgaine and Enigma appear to Despero and offer him an equal partnership in controlling all that is…

In ‘Away from Creation’ (Busiek, Nicieza, Derenick & Faucher), John Stewart gives new Firestorm Jason Rausch a history lesson on Krona, who brought evil into the universe through his hunger for forbidden knowledge, unaware that the rogue Guardian and the Cosmic Egg that holds him are now in the possession of the triumvirate of universal usurpers…

Back on Earth ‘Have You Tied Him Up, Yet?’ finds Batman fighting off an attempt to brand him with a sigil as a new force of super-foes is formed by the still-unidentified masterminds. Atomic Furnace Sun-Chained-in-Ink, lovelorn super-ape Primat, eerie Trans-Volitional Man and the flamboyant Swashbuckler have their ‘Dreams of Power’ (art by McDaniel & Owens) as do the exultant Morgaine and her two comrades in re-Creation…

Overcoming the Howler pack assaulting him, the Dark Knight notices that he is acting out of character. All of the Trinity are slowly assuming each others attributes and attitudes, but this hasn’t stopped him deducing who is behind the Tarot-related plot in ‘Crumbs in the Forest’ (still Busiek, Bagley & Thibert) but before he can act a global crisis diverts the JLA’s attentions and forces the team to travel to another dimension, leaving Barbara Gordon, AKA digital information-wizard Oracle, to coordinate Batman’s network of Gotham-based champions on Earth by ‘Making the Pieces Fit’ as a series of macabre and surreal robberies mark the second part of the Dark Trinity’s scheme…

Anti-matter alternate metahumans the Crime Syndicate of Amerika have often battled the JLA but after their last clash their planet, – a polar opposite of ours where Evil, not Good, is dominant, was devastated by a super weapon called the Void Hound.

In ‘Rough World’ the villains were revealed to have abducted humans from many other Earths as a slave force intended to rebuild and repopulate the shattered world. However, as the Justice League arrived to rescue the victims, Superman became increasing infuriated and unstable…

On our Earth, the Dark Trinity’s plan continued to unfold as Robin and Nightwing clashed with Primat in ‘Maybe She Doesn’t Like Concrete?’ and Oracle got an inkling of what the bizarre scavenger hunts were actually for…

‘Distinguished Visitor’ saw the battle in the Anti-Universe seesaw dramatically with each side gaining and loosing ground whilst ‘The Next Step’ (Busiek, Nicieza, Derenick & Faucher) found Hawkman and gangbuster seemingly lose a battle but win the war against Primat and her esoteric allies, after which ‘100101010’ added a new wrinkle to the inter-dimension struggle as GL Stewart was revealed to have been possessed by the devastating Void Hound, and back here reformed villain Edward Nigma investigated the Tarot thefts and found himself accused of being the man behind the mask in ‘Riddle Me This’ from Busiek, Nicieza, Norton & Karl Kesel…

‘That Was a Sonic Boom’ revealed the League’s secret weapon in their war against the CSA, whilst ‘Drop the Coffin and Surrender’ (illustrated by Derenick & Faucher) saw a showdown between Hawkman, Gangbuster and the odd squad turn into an all-out clash involving the Outsiders, Justice Society and Teen Titans which went catastrophically awry when the Ink Chaining the Sun was atomically disrupted…

In the Anti-Matter realm the JLA’s victory provoked global anarchy and chaos which their attempts to rectify only exacerbated. However, ‘So What Now?’ also forced the enigmatic Enigma to reveal some of his many secrets, but when the victorious heroes gratefully returned to their own world, Superman had been sigil-branded. Dark Trinity: 2, Heroes 0…

With Sun-Chained-in-Ink literally in meltdown, ‘Let the Burning Begin’ (Derenick & Faucher) almost saw Earth’s last sunrise until Supergirl and Geo-force managed to shift the threat into deep space, whilst half a world away Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman tracked down Morgaine, Despero and Enigma for a climactic confrontation in ‘And I Finally See It’ but, even with almost every hero on Earth beside them, things did not go according to plan in ‘A Bit of Overkill’ (Busiek, Nicieza, McDaniel & Owens) and

‘We’ll Finish Things Here’ saw the conniving plotters win the day…

Scattered to the Winds’ (art by Norton & Ordway) found the helpless Rita come into her terrifying dormant powers just as Morgaine was ultimately victorious, and the heroic Trinity who inadvertently dictated the Shape of Reality vanished in ‘But So No Longer’ by Busiek, Bagley & Thibert…

As the universe altered into a new and unknown configuration, the origins of Konvikt were revealed in ‘Honor and Justice’ from Busiek, Nicieza, McDaniel & Owens, and this first volume ends on the incredible sight of an impossible world where there never was was a Man of Tomorrow, Dark Knight or Amazon Avenger…

This convoluted but compelling collection also includes a vast selection of covers by Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino, Allen Passalaqua, Andy Kubert, Edgar Delgado, Jim Lee, Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair and nine pages of sketches by Bagley and Shane Davis, but, despite being long, frantic and bombastically suspense-filled, it’s just the prologue for the really big story.

To Be Continued…
© 2008, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

DC Universe Online Legends volume 1


By Marv Wolfman, Tony Bedard, Howard Porter, Adriana Melo, Mike S. Miller & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3218-4

No matter how much nostalgic old geezers like me might wish it otherwise, most of the classic American Superhero characters have far outgrown their static 2-Dimensional origins and are far more creatures of the screen now: Movie, TV or Computer – and often all three.

As such it’s no longer odd to see such veteran pen-and-ink superstars return to funnybook pages as their own spun-off avatars, in adventures where they are transformed, sometimes bastardised versions of (to me at least) their “true” selves.

One of the better examples in recent years of this chimerical commercial alchemy was a phenomenal Armageddon Epic based on a computer game starring the Justice League of America which actually surpassed much of the company’s contemporary output vis á vis thrills, chills and old fashioned comicbook class…

DC Universe Online Legends first appeared as a 27-issue series running from March 2011 to May 2012, based on a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (or MMORPG for those computerati already in the know). It featured the final triumph of paramount Superman villains Lex Luthor and Brainiac as the starting point for a blistering “Twilight of the Gods” scenario and this first compilation volume gathers #1-7 of the fortnightly series and also includes the “issue #0” which came free with the game itself.

‘Prelude’ by Tony Bedard and artists Oliver Nome, Michael Lopez & Livio Ramondelli, starts the ball of doom rolling as cosmic marauder and collector of civilisations Brainiac launches a harrowing assault on Metropolis, and the JLA – Aquaman, the Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Superman and Batman – mobilise to stop him. Unbelievably they fail…

Marv Wolfman, Bedard, Howard Porter, John Livesay, Adriana Melo & Norman Lee then kick things into high gear with ‘Legendary’ as in the near-future Luthor, now more machine than man, finally slays his life-long nemesis in the ruins of a ravaged Earth and leaves the Kryptonian to rot amidst the corpses of his fellow fallen heroes.

The obsessive villain had long ago entered into a devil’s bargain with Brainiac and now intends to rule the remains of Earth, but soon discovers that the Scourge from Space (an implacable, unstoppable planetary plunderer who has destroyed most of the civilised universe and even crushed the immortal Green Lantern Corps) has played him for a fool and now acts to assimilate the planet’s remaining valuable resources – which includes Luthor’s mind – and eradicate the gutted shell…

Realising too late the horrific mistake he’s made, Lex swiftly formulates a plan to undo the damage he’s caused and repay Brainiac for his treachery. The first step is to gather all the surviving metahumans – heroes and villains all oblivious to the fact that Luthor has already slain their greatest champions – into an attack force whilst the infuriated evil genius prepares to unmake recent history…

Meanwhile, several years earlier, a fully human and hero-hating Lex Luthor is contacted by a drone from deep space and enters into a sinister alliance with the alien reiver whose mutual dream is to destroy Superman forever…

Scripted by Bedard, ‘Control’ finds Luthor directing his rag-tag team of deeply suspicious resistance fighters (Dr. Fate, Mr. Freeze, August General in Iron, Solomon Grundy, Power Girl, Cheetah, Blue Beetle, Black Canary and the Atom) in forays against the extraterrestrial Exobyte nanomachines and robot drones disassembling the world, unaware that they were secretly produced in the malign magnate’s factories years before…

In those long-ago days, Brainiac’s probing attack has captured the Daily Planet building in Metropolis. The alien inquisitor apparently needs test samples of base-line humanity to examine before he can calibrate his ghastly devices and begin harvesting Earth’s metahuman resources…

In the furious future the schemer’s pawns continue their missions utterly unaware that, to ultimately save humanity, Luthor plans to sacrifice them all…

Wolfman, Mike S. Miller, Melo & Norman Lee disclose the master manipulator’s ‘Betrayal’ of his team after Power Girl discovers the corpse of her cousin Superman and the resistors demand vengeance. After first setting a horde of bloodthirsty villains upon them, Lex then murderously saves his squad of heroic stooges, pleading repentance and offering to surrender to justice once earth has been saved.

Of course, he’s still lying…

In the present, whilst Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White explore their options as captives of Brainiac, an increasingly unstable and impatient Superman chafes at the JLA’s caution, unaware that the cosmic conqueror is planning an imminent and devastating sneak-attack of the League’s satellite citadel…

Bedard & Porter take the creative lead for the all-action episode ‘Strike Force’ as, in the world of today, the Justice League battle valiantly but futilely against swarms of Exobytes which readily bypass all their defences and begin stealing the powers of the embattled defenders. In the Foredoomed Tomorrow, Luthor leads his duped disciples in a fool’s errand onto Brainiac’s ship, tasked with recovering a city-full of yellow power rings, originally used by the minions of renegade Green Lantern Sinestro, whilst the master manipulator himself plans to confront the invader face-to-face…

Wolfman & Miller produced the shocking ‘Three Minutes’ in which the JLA lose their holding action and have to abandon their orbital Watchtower to the Exobytes – but not every hero escapes – whilst in the future the raid has gone equally badly and one of Luthor’s key pawns is maimed, leading to time-split ‘Downfall’ (Bedard, Porter, Livesay & Pop Mhan) for both teams of champions.

In our time, after warning Luthor to get out of the city, Brainiac casts the Watchtower out of orbit and aims it at what’s left of Metropolis, with the Man of Steel desperately attempting to rescue his stranded comrades and simultaneously save his hometown, whilst in days to come Luthor, Atom and Black Canary split up…

The heroes now carry a canister of retrieved Exobytes holding all the planet’s harvested super-powers – enough to turn all Earth’s survivors into metahuman warriors – but the disgraced Machiavelli who guides them is determined to personally destroy the alien who played him for a fool…

In the past, Superman narrowly saves Metropolis, but fallout and debris from his last-ditch attempt falls on the fleeing Luthor, crushing his body whilst in the future the cyborg genius at last battles Brainiac but is easily and resoundingly beaten…

This first explosive chronicle concludes with the revelation that Luthor has a secret ally as, in the untitled seventh chapter (by Wolfman, Porter & Livesay), a Batman also more mechanoid than mortal manhunter acts with a band of freshly created superheroes to use the Exobytes in a bold and radical manner.

Rather than boost the dying earth’s meagre surviving population with the stolen super-powers, what if the nanobots were taken back in time and used to turn an entire overpopulated earth into a planet of “metas” before Brainiac’s invasion beachhead was established?

Of course even here in Earth’s final hour, Luthor cannot resist betraying his comrades but has again underestimated the sheer dogged determination of the demi-digital Dark Knight…

This high-octane Fights ‘n’ Tights shocker also includes a selection of covers and variants by Carlos D’Anda, Jonny Wrench, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Alex Sinclair, Ryan Sook, Ed Benes, Randy Mayor, Jorge Gonzalez, Tony Aviña & Carrie Strachan as well as pages of behind-the-scenes character, tech and scenario designs and sketches from the game iteration.

Fast, furious, spectacular and devilishly devious, this is a sharp, no-nonsense graphic Götterdämmerung saga that will delight traditional comicbook action fans as well as all those young plug-in babies of the digital age.
© 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

JLA/Avengers


By Kurt Busiek & George Pérez, coloured by Tom Smith & lettered by Richard Starkings (DC/Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1957-4

Fair Warning: this review deals with the very bedrock of superhero comics. If you’re not utterly au fait with the continuity minutiae of Marvel and DC Comics, this review won’t make much sense, and might well cause migraines or dizziness and could well prevent you from operating gigantic universe-bending machineries.

If you’d rather read something else I’ll quite understand and will hopefully see you tomorrow…

From the moment a kid first sees his second superhero the only thing he/she wants is to see how the new costumed crusader stacks up against the first. From the earliest days of the industry we’ve wanted our idols to meet, associate, battle together – and if you follow the Timely/Marvel model, that means against each other – far more than we want to see them trounce their arch-enemy one more time.

For many years that immature “who’s strongest/fastest/toughest?” preoccupation could only be addressed within individual company boundaries, but once publishers at DC and Marvel realised the sales potential of inter-continuity crossover clashes in the 1970s a veritable torrent of “impossible” superhero mash-ups (of generally excellent artistic quality but mired in inescapably mediocre plots) followed, all generally suffering from the protective partisanship of their legal owners.

After all, who wanted their pantheon to come off second-best in any confrontation?

When a much-touted and eagerly anticipated meeting of the Avengers and Justice League of America famously foundered due to irreconcilable creative differences between the sponsoring publishers, the crossover practise was shelved for years until cooler heads, a general sales decline and the far less hide-bound attitudes of smaller new companies (such as Valiant and Image) who simply found a negotiated way to make these temporary mergers work amicably and effectively, revitalised the whole concept and practise…

Which is a shame as Busiek is one of the most skilled writers in the business, easily ably to inject telling personal emotion and poignant character revelation into the driest plot – but here there’s simply not enough room…

Gathering together the deluxe 4-issue miniseries from 2003-2004, this powers-packed tome opens with a joint Introduction from the co-instigators of the Silver Age of Comics, Julie Schwartz and Stan Lee, after which the non-stop creative chaos begins with ‘A Journey into Mystery’ as the obsessive monster Krona smashes his way into the Cosmos we’ll call Marvel.

The cosmic intruder is a renegade Guardian of his own Universe, driven insane by an insatiable hunger to learn the origin of Reality. His previous rabid inquiries had already introduced evil into his own once-innocent continuum, shortened its sidereal lifespan and reduced an incomparable multiverse to a few straggling survivor dimensions, but now his impassioned search has brought him to a previously unreachable and unsuspected parallel realm only to encounter a being almost his equal…

En Dwi Gast, a puissant conniving being dedicated to games of chance, contests of power and duels of skill, is an Elder of the Universe and one of the most powerful creatures in this existence, but even The Grandmaster is helpless before Krona’s fanatical assault and manic inquisition. Nevertheless the wily immortal manages to inveigle Krona into a diverting little side-bet…

A month later, the world’s greatest champions in two vastly differing dimensions find themselves battling incomprehensible threats from beyond their reality. Investigations indicate that invaders from an alternate Earth are inexplicably appearing and causing devastating damage.

It also seems that the too-incompatible realms are colliding…

Offering a solution, the Grandmaster appears to the Justice League of Americaand sets them off in search of twelve objects of sublime power (six from each Earth) that will end the crisis. On Marvel Earth the morally ambiguous New God Metron tasks the Avengers with the same goal and soon the duped heroes are all engaged in furious and escalating clashes across two worlds, culminating in a shattering confrontation on Earth-DC…

In a place beyond physics and geography, the size-shifting Atom has hitched a ride with the unsuspecting Grandmaster and becomes privy to a private conversation with the New Genesisian God of Knowledge.

However, even after discovering the real nature of the crisis and the true threat involved, the hapless hero is unable to reach either fooled friends or foes to warn them…

‘A Contest of Champions’ open with the JLA and Avengers at war above Metropolis whilst the cooler heads of Batman and Captain America have both deduced that something is not kosher. The two surreptitiously declare a truce and leave their unnaturally enraged comrades to their futile battles and continued competition for the dozen arcane objects of power, and instead track down the Atom in the Grandmaster’s non-dimensional lair.

The deeper plan is revealed: the Grandmaster’s game is rigged and the prize Krona is vying for is possession of Galactus: a being from the reality that preceded the Big Bang…

Meanwhile the massed armies of heroes have finished their savagely fought duels. The Grandmaster’s side has been victorious…

…Which means nothing to Krona who simply blasts the Elder, cruelly claiming and dismantling the prized Galactus as nothing more than a new research tool. However the renegade Guardian has been duped: En Dwi Gast was after the twelve objects all along and uses them to reorder the realities and the once-incompatible Earths…

In a world of constant turmoil and ‘Strange Adventures’, the JLA and Avengers are now old allies, frequently pairing to battle overwhelming menaces in union, but Captain America can’t shake the feeling that something is not right. On anther Earth Batman has the same notion, as blips in reality and temporal hiccups shift heroes and even replace them with dead or departed predecessors. It’s soon clear that Existence is in big trouble and when Superman and Iron Man travel into space they observe huge metaphysical hands catastrophically mashing the two Earths together…

With chaos rising and all life threatened, the constantly changing teams are led by the inscrutably unfathomable Phantom Stranger to a place beyond where the dying Grandmaster – who has once again underestimated the merciless, self-destructive and utterly determined Krona – warns them of the imminent end of all since the Guardian is quite prepared to take the universe apart to find out how it began…

As both worlds shudder and shatter, all the heroes of the earths mobilise to save lives, allowing ‘The Brave… and the Bold’ JLA and Avengers to pursue Krona into the void for one last battle to preserve and restore the universes, but even here a double game is being played: Metron and the Grandmaster have one last surprise in store for when the status quo is inevitably restored…

With guest-shots from just about everybody created by the two comicbook companies over seven decades, there’s a awful lot of crowded, blistering action but not a lot of room for character or plot, but even so most action fans will find something to rave over. Moreover, for art lovers this book is a sublime treat, with some of Pérez’s most spectacular illustration, ably augmented by a stunning cover gallery at the back featuring all four of his stellar wraparound covers.

It’s fair to say that I’m not a great fun of such profit-led pairings, but there’s still enough of the fan-boy in me to viscerally thrill at armies of costumed stalwarts bashing the bezonkers out of each other and, even if the story is forced and patently menu-led (one from company A, one from Company B, over and over again…), there are still some nice fanatic-friendly touches and witty in-jokes whilst inarguably the artwork – every millimetre stuffed with manic detail and wry, deferential tributes and touches – is amongst the very best George Pérez has ever produced.

If you like this sort of thing this is certainly one of the best of its ilk…

© 2003, 2004, 2008 DC Comics and Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.