JLA Deluxe volume 8

By Chris Claremont, Chuck Austen, Joe Kelly, John Byrne, Ron Garney, Doug , Jerry Ordway, Tom Nguyen & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6342-3 (TPB)

When the Justice League of America – driving force and cornerstone of the Silver Age of Comics – were relaunched in 1997, the sheer bravura quality of the stories propelled the series back to the forefront of industry attention, making as many new fans as it recaptured old ones. However, fans are fickle and the intoxicating sheen of “fresh and new” never lasts. By the time of these tales – spanning May to November 2004 from JLA #94-106 plus material from JLA Secret Files 2004 #1 – there had been numerous changes of creative personnel… usually a bad omen… and a certain straying from the clear missions of the earliest adventures…

As you’ve come to expect by now, this volume is available in all digital formats as well as traditional trade paperback…

After battling all manner of contemporary and futuristic foes, in ‘Suffer the Little Children’ the World’s Greatest Superheroes now find themselves pitted against an ancient malevolence from out of Earth’s oldest nightmares. Contrived by a trio of the industry’s biggest talents – Chris Claremont, John Byrne & Jerry Ordway – the expansive saga originally ran in issues #94-99 of the monthly title.

When team mystic Manitou Raven divines that a great evil has come hunting, he is suddenly silenced before he can warn his comrades. As Batman and Flash follow a rash of global child disappearances, Superman is astonishingly defeated by a pair of strange juvenile runaways.

Comparing notes with other JLA members the heroes discover a pattern of metagenic abductions: someone or something is taking super-powered children…

Meanwhile an enthralled Man of Steel has become the slave – and ambulatory lunchbox – of diabolical vampire lord Crucifer, whose race of undying leeches has been secretly working to conquer the world since their initial defeat and extra-dimensional banishment by the Amazon warriors of Themyscira thousands of years previously.

‘The Enemy Within’ sees team boffin The Atom lost in a microverse within a magic artefact and meeting a lost race with a hidden connection to the crisis, even as a mysterious third force of freaks maneuverers for advantage in the background. When Wonder Woman consults ancient scroll records she is betrayed and attacked by her closest ally and the crucial data is erased…

As the beleaguered and outclassed heroes strive to cope, ‘The Heart of the Matter’ sees Martian Manhunter use his unique gifts to trace the Atom, but even as master tactician Batman works to counter the infallible plans of their hidden enemy, his ace in the hole Faith falls to Crucifer’s power…

And in the background, that shady band of outcasts undertakes their own plan to save the day…

‘Interludes on the Last Day of the World!’ sees the vampire resurgence edge ever closer. With Crucifer’s abducted metahuman victims acting as shock troops and physical hosts for the bloodsucking arcane exiles, the embattled remnants of the JLA reconsolidate and ally themselves with the skulking outsiders watching them, just as the vampire lord opens a hole into hell and bids his kin to freely enter…

The fightback begins in ‘Convergence’ with the rescue of the Atom whose fresh data provides the answer to the mystery of Crucifer’s seeming invulnerability, leading to a mass assault and ultimate victory by the competing teams of heroes in ‘Heartbreaker!’

The former X-Men creative team supreme reunited for this supernatural romp, but their old magic was sorely lacking: Byrne co-writing with Claremont and pencilling for the criminally underappreciated Jerry Ordway to ink and embellish is a far better “look” than “read”.

Comic fans love these sorts of nostalgia stunts, but sadly, the results here don’t really live up to expectations, resulting in a competent but predictable heroes-versus-vampires yarn that suffers greatly because it’s painfully obvious that the whole thing is a high-profile, extended gimmick designed to kick-start Byrne’s then-forthcoming reinvention of the Doom Patrol, and not really a JLA story at all…

Most comic books – indeed all popular fiction – are a product of or reaction to the times in which they are created. In the grim, authoritarian, morally ambiguous climate of post 9-11 America writer Joe Kelly wrote an issue of Action Comics (#775) addressing the traditional ethics and practices of ultimate boy scout Superman in a world where old values were seen as a liability and using “The Enemy’s” own tactics against them was viewed with increasing favour by the public.

‘What’s So Funny about Truth, Justice and the American Way’ (not included here) introduced super-Esper Manchester Black and his team of Elite metahumans who responded proactively and with extreme overkill to global threats and menaces in such a drastic and final manner that Superman was forced to take a long, hard look at his core beliefs before triumphing over a team who saw absolutely no difference between villains, monsters or people who disagreed with them…

In a distressing sign of those times, The Elite proved so overwhelmingly popular that they returned in JLA #100. ‘Elitism’ – by Kelly, Doug Mahnke & Tom Nguyen – depicts how the team, led now by Black’s cyborg sister Vera, at first oppose and eventually cooperate with the traditionally-minded JLA to save Earth from a catastrophic ecological and metaphysical meltdown – but all is not as it seems…

Vera Black correctly assesses the fundamental flaws in her methodology but also similar weaknesses in the JLA’s. She proposes becoming the League’s “Black Ops” division, gathering intel, working undercover and decisively dealing with potential threats before they become global crises. Her team will get their hands dirty in a way the JLA simply cannot afford to…

Over Superman’s protests, but with stringent oversight in place and using a combination of Elite and League volunteers, the plan is adopted and Justice League Elite subsequently won their own 12-issue series with Major Disaster, Green Arrow, Manitou Raven, and Flash joining Vera, energy manipulator Coldcast, human bio-weapon arsenal Menagerie and Naif al-Sheikh (a human spymaster who acts as): Director, Adjudicator and Conscience for a unit designed to neutralise organizations and nations that threaten World Security before things ever reach a boiling point.

JLA Secret Files 2004 develops the controversial theme in ‘Same Coin’, by Kelly, Byrne, Mahnke & Nguyen, wherein the two teams work separately – and mostly at odds – to stop a Hitlerian Ragnarok from occurring thanks to illicit use of mystic doomsday weapon the Spear of Destiny…

Getting over a post-celebration hump is always tricky for a long-running comic series. An anniversary or centenary is usually celebrated by some large-scale cosmos-shaking exploit which it’s impossible to top, leading to an anti-climactic “day in the life” venture. In the case of story arc Pain of the Gods – reprinting JLA #101-106 – Chuck Austen & Ron Garney take that hoary tradition, and indeed the equally tired plot of heroes’ soul-searching angst after a failure to succeed, and run with it to produce a stirring, potent exploration of humanity too often absent in modern adventure fiction.

Each chapter deals with an emotional crisis affecting an individual Leaguer who fails to save a life, beginning with Superman in ‘Man of Steel’ as the perfect hero misjudges the abilities of a new costumed champion and witnesses the wannabe hero perish in explosive conflagration…

‘Scarlet Speedster’ treads similar ground as Flash misses two children whilst evacuating a burning building and Green Lantern misjudges the homicidal determination of a domestic abuser in ‘Emerald Gladiator’. Throughout each of these tragedies a single family reappears; fuelling the emotional turmoil pushing each hero into obsession and psychosis.

In ‘Manhunter from Mars’ team telepath and philosophical lynchpin J’onn J’onzz is forced to confront the life-long emotional barriers distancing him from his companions and resulting from surviving the death of his entire species, whilst Wonder Woman faces her own mortality whilst battling a super-killer in ‘Amazonian Warrior’ before Batman ultimately must acknowledge that he can’t know and do everything alone in ‘The Dark Knight’

The entire story can be viewed as a treatise on fallibility and post-traumatic distress with superheroes acting as metaphors for Police and Firemen, and the cleverly-inserted sub-plot of a seemingly mundane family seeking redress plays well against the tragic grandeur of the stars. It’s grand to see a superhero tale that thinks with a heart rather than acts with gaudily gloved fists for a change…

The JLA – in all its incarnations – has endured a long history of starting strong but losing focus, and particularly of coasting by on past glories for extended periods. Luckily the team still had a few more tricks left during this period and a little life in it before the inevitable demise and reboot for the next generation after Final Crisis: offering plenty of fun and thrills for casual readers and full-on fans alike.
© 2004, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Kingdom Come



By Mark Waid & Alex Ross, with Todd Klein & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6082-8 (20th Anniversary HB) 978-1-4012-2034-1 (TPB

In the mid-1960s a teenaged Jim Shooter wrote a couple of stories about the Legion of Super-Heroes set some years into the team’s own future. Those stories of the adult Legionnaires revealed hints of things to come that shackled the series’ plotting and continuity for decades as eager, obsessed fans (by which I mean all of us) waited for the predicted characters to be introduced, presaged relationships to be consummated and heroes to die.

By being so utterly impressive and similarly affecting, Kingdom Come accidentally repeated the trick decades later, subsequently painting the entire post Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Universe into the same creative corner until one of the company’s periodic continuity reboots…

Envisaged and designed by artist Alex Ross as DC’s answer to epic groundbreaking Marvels, Kingdom Come was originally released as a 4-issue Prestige Format miniseries in 1996 to rapturous acclaim and numerous awards and accolades. Although set in the future and an “imaginary story” released under DC’s Elseworlds imprint, it almost immediately began to affect the company’s mainstream continuity.

Set approximately twenty years into the future, the grandiose saga details a tragic failure and subsequent loss of Faith for Superman and how his attempt to redeem himself almost leads to an even greater and ultimate apocalypse.

The events are seen through the eyes and actions of Dantean witness Norman McCay, an aging cleric co-opted by Divine Agent of Wrath the Spectre after the pastor officiates at the last rites of dying superhero Wesley Dodds. As the Sandman, Dodds was cursed for decades with precognitive dreams which compelled him to act as an agent of justice.

Opening chapter ‘Strange Visitor’ reveals a world where metahumans have proliferated to ubiquitous proportions: a sub-culture of constant, violent clashes between the latest generation of costumed villains and vigilantes, all unheeding and uncaring of the collateral damage they daily inflict on the mere mortals around and in all ways beneath them.

The shaken preacher sees a final crisis coming, but feels helpless until the darkly angelic Spectre comes to him. Taken on a bewildering voyage of unfolding events, McCay is to act as the ghost’s human perspective whilst the Spirit of Vengeance prepares to pass final judgement on Humanity.

First stop is the secluded hideaway where farmer Kal-El has hidden himself since the ghastly events which compelled him to retire from the Good Fight and the eyes of the World. The Man of Steel was already feeling like a dinosaur when newer, harsher, morally ambiguous mystery-men began to appear. After the Joker murdered the entire Daily Planet staff and hard-line new hero Magog executed him in the street, the public applauded the deed. Heartbroken and appalled, Superman simply disappeared for a decade. His legendary colleagues also felt the march of unwelcome progress and similarly dropped from sight.

With Earth left to the mercies of dangerously irresponsible new vigilantes, civil unrest soon escalated. The younger heroes displayed poor judgement and no restraint, with the result that within a decade the entire planet had become a chaotic arena for metahuman duels.

Civilisation was fragmenting. Flash and Batman retreated to their home cities and made them secure, crime-free solitary fortresses. Green Lantern built an emerald castle in the sky, turning his eyes away from Earth and towards the deep black fastnesses of space. Hawkman retreated to the wilderness, Aquaman to his sub-sea kingdom whilst Wonder Woman retired to her hidden paradise. She did not leave until Armageddon came one step closer…

When Magog and his Justice Battalion battled the Parasite in St. Louis, the result was a nuclear accident which destroyed all of Kansas and much of Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska. Overnight the world faced starvation as America’s breadbasket turned into a toxic wasteland. Now with McCay and the Spectre invisibly observing, Princess Diana convinces the bereft Kal-El to return and save the world on his own terms…

In ‘Truth and Justice’ a resurgent Justice League led by Superman begins a campaign of unilateral action to clean up the mess civilisation has become: renditioning “heroes” and “villains” alike, imprisoning every dangerous element of super-humanity and telling governments how to behave, blithely unaware that they are hastening a global catastrophe of Biblical proportions as the Spectre invisibly gathers the facts for his apocalyptic judgement.

In the ensuing chaos, crippled warrior Bruce Wayne rejects Superman’s paternalistic, doctrinaire crusade and allies himself with mortal humanity’s libertarian elite – Ted (Blue Beetle) Kord, Dinah (Black Canary) Lance and Oliver (Green Arrow) Queen – to resist what can only be considered a grab for world domination by the meta-human minority. As the helpless McCay watches in horror, Wayne’s group makes its own plans; another dangerous thread in a tapestry of calamity…

At first Superman’s plans seem blessed to succeed, with many erstwhile threats flocking to his banner and his doctrinaire rules of discipline, but as ever there are self-serving villains with their own agendas. Lex Luthor organises a cabal of like-minded compatriots – Vandal Savage, Catwoman, Riddler, Kobra and Ibn Al Xu’ffasch (Son of the Demon Ra’s Al Ghul) – into a “Mankind Liberation Front”.

With Shazam-empowered Captain Marvel as their slave, this group are determined the super-freaks shall not win. Their cause is greatly advanced once Wayne’s clique joins them…

‘Up in the Sky’ sees events spiral into a deadly storm as McCay, still wracked by his visions of Armageddon, is shown the Gulag where all recalcitrant metahumans have been dumped. He also witnesses how it will fail, learns from restless spirit Deadman that the Spectre is the literal Angel of Death and watches with growing helplessness as Luthor’s plan to usurp control from the army of Superman leads to a shocking confrontation, betrayal and a deadly countdown to the End of Days…

The deadly drama culminates in a staggering battle of superpowers, last moment salvation and a second chance for humanity in a calamitous world-shaking ‘Never-Ending Battle’

Thanks to McCay’s simple humanity, the world gets another chance and this edition follows up with an epilogue ‘One Year Later’ which end this ponderous epic on a note of renewed hope…

This edition – available as a 20th Anniversary deluxe hardback, a standard trade paperback and in digital formats – comes with an introduction by author and former DC scribe Elliot S. Maggin, assorted cover reproductions and art-pieces, an illustrated checklist of the vast cast list plus a plethora of creative notes and sketches in the ‘Apocrypha’ section, and even hints at lost glories in ‘Evolution’: notes, photos and drawings for a restored scene that never made it into the miniseries.

Epic, engaging and operatically spectacular, Kingdom Come is a milestone of the DC Universe and remains to this day a solid slice of superior superhero entertainment, worthy of your undivided attention.
© 1996, 2008, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Crisis on Multiple Earths volume 1


By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Bernard Sachs & Sid Greene (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-895-2

As I’ve frequently mentioned before, I was one of the “Baby Boomer” crowd which grew up with Julie Schwartz, Gardner Fox and John Broome’s tantalisingly slow reintroduction of Golden Age superheroes during the halcyon, eternally summery days of the early 1960s. To me those fascinating counterpart crusaders from Earth-Two weren’t vague and distant memories rubber-stamped by parents or older brothers – they were cool, fascinating and enigmatically new.

…And for some reason the “proper” heroes of Earth-One held them in high regard and treated them with obvious deference…

The transcendent wonderment began, naturally enough, in The Flash; pioneering trendsetter of the Silver Age Revolution. After successfully ushering in the triumphant return of the superhero concept, the Scarlet Speedster – with Fox & Broome at the writing reins – set an unbelievably high standard for costumed adventure in sharp, witty tales of science and imagination, always illustrated with captivating style and clean simplicity by Carmine Infantino.

The epochal epic that literally changed the scope of American comics forever was Fox’s ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (Flash #123 September 1961, and reprinted in loads of places, but not here): introducing the concept of alternate Earths to the continuity and by extension the multiversal structure of the future DCU as well as all the succeeding cosmos-shaking yearly “Crisis” sagas that grew from it.

Moreover, where DC led, others followed…

Received with tumultuous acclaim, the concept was revisited months later in Flash #129 which also teasingly reintroduced evergreen stalwarts – Wonder Woman, the Atom, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Doctor Mid-Nite and Black Canary: venerable members of the fabled Justice Society of America. Clearly Editor Schwartz had something in mind…

That tale directly led into the veteran team’s first meeting with the Justice League of America and the start of an annual tradition. When ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ brought us the notion of Infinite Earths and multiple iterations of costumed crusaders, public pressure had begun almost instantly to agitate for the return of the Greats of the “Golden Age”. The Editorial powers-that-be were hesitant, fearing too many heroes would be silly and unmanageable, or worse yet, put readers off. If they could see us now…

These innovative adventures generated an avalanche of popular and critical approval (big sales figures, too) so inevitably the trans-dimensional tests led to the ultimate team-up in the summer of 1963.

This gloriously enthralling volume – available in trade paperback and digital incarnations – is the first of a glorious sequence of collections celebrating Infinite Diversity in Infinite Costumes (extra fanboy kudos if you get where I filched that from!) and re-presents the first four JLA/JSA convocations: stunning superhero wonderments which never fail to astound and delight. It also comes with context-conveying Introduction ‘1 & 2 = Crisis’ from wonder-scribe Mark Waid detailing even more cool facts behind the phenomenon…

The comic book catharsis commences with the landmark ‘Crisis on Earth-One’ and ‘Crisis on Earth-Two’ (from Justice League of America #21-22, August & September 1963) combining to form one of the most important stories in DC history and arguably one of the most crucial tales in American literature: at least the stuff with pictures in it.

Written by Fox and compellingly illustrated by Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs, the yarn finds a coalition of assorted villains from each Earth plundering at will, meeting and defeating the mighty Justice League before insufferably imprisoning them in their own secret mountain HQ…

Temporarily helpless, “our” heroes contrive a desperate plan to combine forces with the champions of another Earth to save the world – both of it – and the result is pure Fights ‘n’ Tights majesty.

It’s impossible for me to be totally objective about this saga. I was a drooling kid in short trousers when I first read it and the thrills haven’t diminished with this umpty-first re-reading.

This is what superhero comics are all about!

The buying public clearly agreed and one year later ‘Crisis on Earth-Three’ and ‘The Most Dangerous Earth of All!’ (Justice League of America #29-30) reprised the team-up of the Justice League and Justice Society, when the super-beings of a third alternate Earth discover the secret of trans-universal travel.

Unfortunately, Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring are villains on a world without heroes who see the costumed crime-busters of the JLA/JSA as living practise dummies to sharpen their evil skills upon.

With this cracking thriller the annual summer get-together became solidly entrenched in heroic lore, giving fans endless entertainment for years to come and making the approaching end of school holidays less gloomy than they could have been.

(A little note: although the comic cover-date in America was the month by which unsold copies had to be returned – the “off-sale” deadline – export copies to Britain travelled as ballast in freighters. Thus, they usually went on to those cool, spinning comic-racks in the actual month printed on the front. You can unglaze your eyes and return to the review proper now, and thank you for your patient indulgence of an old and misty-eyed man…)

The third annual event was a touch different; a largely forgotten and rather experimental tale wherein the educationally-challenged and extremely larcenous Johnny Thunder of Earth-1 wrests control of the genie-like Thunderbolt from his otherworld counterpart: employing its magical powers to change the events which created of all Earth-1’s superheroes.

With Earth-1 catastrophically altered in #37’s ‘Earth – Without a Justice League’, it’s suddenly up to the JSA to save the day in a gripping battle of wits and power before Reality is re-established in #38’s concluding chapter ‘Crisis on Earth-A!’.

Veteran inker Bernard Sachs retired before the fourth team-up, leaving the amazing Sid Greene to embellish the gloriously whacky saga that closes this tome: one springing out of the global “Batmania” craze engendered by the Batman television series…

A wise-cracking campy tone was fully in play, acknowledging the changing audience profile and this time the stakes are raised to encompass the destruction of both planets in ‘Crisis Between Earth-One and Earth-Two’ and ‘The Bridge Between Earths’ (Justice League of America #46-47, August & September 1966).

Here a bold – if rash – continuum warping experiment drags the twin sidereal worlds towards an inexorable hyper-space collision. Meanwhile, making matters worse, an awesome anti-matter being uses the opportunity to break into and explore our positive-matter universe whilst the heroes of both worlds are distracted by the destructive rampages of monster-men Blockbuster and Solomon Grundy.

Peppered with wisecracks and “hip” dialogue, it’s sometimes difficult to discern what a cracking yarn this actually is, but if you’re able to forgive or swallow the dated patter, this is one of the very best plotted and illustrated stories in the entire JLA/JSA canon. Furthermore, the vastly talented Greene’s expressive subtlety, beguiling textures and whimsical humour add unheard-of depth to Sekowsky’s pencils and the light and frothy comedic scripts of Fox.

These titanic tales won’t suit everybody and I’m as aware as any that in terms of the “super-powered” genre the work here can be boiled down to two bunches of heroes formulaically getting together to deal with extra-extraordinary problems. In mature hindsight, it’s obviously also about sales and the attempted revival of more sellable super characters during a period of intense commercial competition between DC Comics and Marvel.

But I don’t have to be mature in my off-hours and for those who love costumed dramas, who crave these cunningly constructed modern mythologies and actually care, this is simply a grand parade of straightforward action, great causes and momentous victories.

…And since I wouldn’t have it any other way, why should you?
© 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 2002 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

JLA Classified: New Maps of Hell


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

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 really does those anymore, but at least it gives me the opportunity to take another look at a tale I didn’t much like when it first came out in 2006, but which has definitely grown on me with every 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, this politically-barbed, end-of-the-world epic – starring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Oracle and Martian Manhunter – originally ran in issues #10-15 of spin-off title JLA Classified (cover-dated September 2005 to 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 one would assume unconnected, scientists and bean-counters at President Luthor’s Lexcorp conglomerate have been committing suicide in large numbers and now, 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 starts digging…

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.

Legacy Flash 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 rouse 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 uncovering information, the team learn of an antediluvian scourge which wracked the red planet millions of years past. A God/Devil which tested a species right to survive and heralded its coming through a written code…

Moreover, Luthor’s scientists have found such writings in remnants of ancient Sumeria and begun deciphering the text…

Mobilising to stop the summoning, our 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 super squad rush 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 the horror’s own darkest secret is exposed and its fatal weakness exploited to devastating effect…

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

JLA Deluxe volume 7


By Joe Kelly, Rick Veitch, Dennis O’Neill, Doug Mankhe, Duncan Rouleau, Tang Eng Huat, ChrissCross, Darryl Banks & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1 4012 5528 2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Festive Fights ‘n’ Tights Fun… 8/10

When the Justice League of America – driving force and cornerstone of the Silver Age of Comics – were relaunched in 1997 the sheer bravura quality of the stories propelled the series back to the forefront of industry attention, making as many new fans as it recaptured old ones; but the intoxicating sheen of “fresh and new” never lasts and by the time of these tales there had been numerous changes of creative personnel – usually a bad omen…

However, Joe Kelly’s tenure proved to be a marvellous blend of steadying hand and iconoclastic antics through which the JLA happily maintained their tricky task of keeping excitement levels stoked for a fan-base cursed with a criminally short attention span.

Kelly’s run on the series has some notable highs (and lows) and this portmanteau collection (gathering issues #77-93 of the monthly comicbook, spanning March 2003 – April 2004) happily falls into the former category as the team readjust to modern life after their time-lost traumas experienced in the Obsidian Age (see the previous volume of this enthralling deluxe series).

However, the adventure actually kicks off with an impressive, clever and fast-paced fill-in tale from Rick Veitch, Darryl Banks & Wayne Faucher wherein the team – Superman, Batman, Atom, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern John Stewart and Firestorm – are attacked by a civilisation-crushing cosmic wanderer which achieves its goals by invading brains and stealing knowledge in ‘Stardust Memories’

That threat successfully circumvented, the World’s Greatest Superheroes learn of an interplanetary conflict that looks likely to divide the team forever in the eponymous two-parter ‘Rules of Engagement’ by Kelly, Doug Mankhe & Tom Nguyen.

With half the team travelling, uninvited, many light-years to stop a war, the remainder of the JLA stay back to police Earth, giving the opportunity to add some long-missed sub-plots to the usually straightforward storytelling; specifically, some unpleasant hints into new member Faith’s clouded past, a long-deferred romantic dinner for Bruce Wayne and Amazonian Princess Diana and the beginnings of a very hot time for the Martian Manhunter with fiery potential paramour Scorch

On the distant world of Kylaq, Leaguers Superman, Wonder Woman, Manitou Raven, Major Disaster, GL Stewart and mystery girl Faith act unilaterally to prevent the invasion of the Peacemaker Collective. The champions are keenly aware that once they succeed, they must leave the rescued world to the mercies of its own highly suspect government… especially Defense Minister Kanjar Ro, intergalactic slave-trader and one of their oldest, most despotic foes…

We then get some hints into Faith’s shady background as the reunited team are called to an Oregon cult compound where a new Messiah has created Safe Haven: a separatist enclave for metahuman children in the first chapter of socially-controversial thriller ‘The White Rage’.

Unfortunately, the Federal Authorities are not prepared to leave them alone and the resultant clash of ideologies leaves a thousand dead children on the crippled consciences of the devastated superheroes…

Yet something isn’t right: why does each JLA-er believe that they alone are responsible for the massacre? Moreover, what is the actual goal of master manipulator Manson and how does neo-Nazi taskforce Axis America fit into the scheme?

The action-packed mystery saga comes courtesy of Kelly, Duncan Rouleau & Aaron Sowd and is followed by a chilling change of pace in ‘American Nightmare’ by Joe Kelly, Chris Cross & Tom Nguyen.

Clean, clear-cut, high-concept tales here give way to more involved, even convoluted storyline and an increasing dependence on other series’ and characters’ continuity. After an alien telepathic presence puts American President Lex Luthor into a brain-dead coma before assaulting the entire League, investigations lead to an alien incursion more than twenty thousand years ago the in epic 6-part ‘Trial by Fire’ with Doug Mahnke pencilling the chilling proceedings.

During the ice age a monstrous presence was defeated at huge cost by a band of cavemen led by the League’s oldest foe, but it appears that the diabolical beast known as The Burning might not have died forever…

Ranging back even further in DC history it appears that the Guardians of the Universe, immortal taskmasters of the Green Lantern Corps, were involved in the creation of The Burning, and their dispassionate, implacable genetic meddling may have been instrumental in the origins, rise and potential fall of one of Earth’s greatest heroes…

Plagued by cruelly debilitating visions and psychic assaults, as are a sizable portion of humanity, the heroes are desperately struggling as one of their own is possessed by the malevolent entity Fernus who is only seconds away from turning the entire world into a radioactive cinder.

Can the JLA get their act together in time to prevent Armageddon? Of course they can, but not without paying a brutal, tragic price…

A palate-cleansing change of pace follows as ‘Perchance’ (Kelly, ChrissCross & Nguyen) resolves the Batman/Wonder Woman romantic entanglement in a most imaginative manner…

Wrapping up the team-tribulations is a return for veteran scribe Dennis O’Neill who reveals how a phenomenally powerful and benevolent alien returns to Earth after eons away.

Illustrated by Tang Eng Huat, ‘Extinction Part 1: The Coming’ relates how the voyager is checking in on the species he felt was destined to evolve into the planet’s dominant species. The JLA are quite perplexed and very nervous about how to tactfully explain that mankind have almost hunted the silver masked monkey into oblivion…

Things get even more tense in ‘Extinction Part 2: The Lesson’ as the unwilling ambassadors try to convince the troubled tourist of the better qualities on Earth’s actual masters before events come to a cataclysmic head in ‘Soul Survivor’

The JLA has – in all its incarnations – a long history of starting strong but losing focus, and particularly of coasting by on past glories for extended periods. Luckily the New/Old Dog still had a few more tricks and a little life in it before the inevitable demise and reboot for the next generation after Final Crisis.
© 2003, 2004, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice League of America: The Silver Age volume 4


By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Bernard Sachs & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8061-1 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Wholesome, Wholehearted Super-Action… 8/10

The day the Justice League of America was published marks the moment when superheroes truly made comicbooks their own particular preserve. Even though the popularity of masked champions has waxed and waned many times since 1960 and other genres have re-won their places on published pages, in the minds of America and the world, Comics Means Superheroes.

The JLA signalled that men – and even a few women – in capes and masks were back for good…

When Julius Schwartz began reviving and revitalising the nigh-defunct superhero genre in 1956, his Rubicon move came a few years later with the uniting of these reconfigured mystery men into a team…

The JLA debuted in The Brave and the Bold #28 (cover-dated March 1960) and cemented the growth and validity of the revived sub-genre, consequently triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comicbooks and spreading to the rest of the world as the decade progressed.

Spanning June 1963 to September 1964, this latest full-colour paperback compendium of classics (also available digitally) re-presents issues #31-41 of the epochal first series with scripter Gardner Fox and illustrators Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs seemingly able to do no wrong…

And while we’re showing our gratitude, lets also salute stalwart letterer Gaspar Saladino for his herculean but unsung efforts to make the uncanny clear to us all…

The adventures here focus on the collective exploits of Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars, Green Arrow, The Atom, hip and plucky mascot Snapper Carr and latest inductee Hawkman as the team consolidate their hold on young hearts and minds whilst further transforming the entire nature of the American comicbook experience…

JLA #31 finally saw the induction of the Winged Wonder into ‘The World’s Greatest Superheroes’ – and not before time. However, in this ancient world of Boy’s Clubs and willing segregation, his dutiful wife and partner Shayera would have to wait for more than a decade before she herself was invited to join as Hawkgirl. Hawkman would be the last successful inductee until Black Canary joined the team in #75.

‘Riddle of the Runaway Room’ sees an alien wish-granting machine fall into the hands of second-rate thug Joe Parry, who nonetheless makes life pretty tough for the team before their eventual victory over his bizarre amalgamized multi-powered villain Super-Duper (no, really!).

The visually impressive Hawkman must have been popular with the creators, if not the fans, as he was prominently featured in all but one of next half-dozen adventures. Issue #32’s ‘Attack of the Star-Bolt Warrior!’ introduces the uncanny villain Brain Storm who attacks the League to avenge his brother who had been “murdered” by one of their number!

The entire universe was once again at stake in time-travelling thriller ‘Enemy from the Timeless World’ as the team strive to counter a chronal monster dubbed the Endless One, after which a persistent old foe had yet another go in #34’s ‘The Deadly Dreams of Doctor Destiny!’: a thriller packed with an army of guest-villains.

The team are attacked by their own clothes in issue #35’s supernatural adventure ‘Battle Against the Bodiless Uniforms’, a devilish fall-back plan concocted by the antediluvian demons Abnegazar, Rath and Ghast, which had been slowly percolating since the end of JLA #11.

Issue #36’s ‘The Case of the Disabled Justice League’ sees the team raise the morale of despondent kids with disabilities by overcoming their own recently-inflicted physical handicaps to defeat the returning Brain Storm. This tale was in fact inspired by ‘A Place in the World’, a Justice Society of America adventure from 1945’s All Star Comics #27. That yarn was produced at a time when returning servicemen, maimed and disfigured in combat, were becoming an increasingly common sight on the streets of America…

The third annual JLA/JSA team-up follows, a largely forgotten and rather experimental tale wherein the Johnny Thunder of Earth-1 wrests control of the genie-like Thunderbolt from his Justice Society counterpart and uses its magic to alter the events that led to the creation of all Earth-1’s superheroes.

Then it’s JSA to the rescue in a gripping battle of wits in #37’s ‘Earth – Without a Justice League’ and the concluding ‘Crisis on Earth-A!’

Issue #39 was an Eighty-Page Giant reprinting Brave and the Bold #28 and #30 and Justice League of America #5 (represented here by its evocative cover), so we jump to #40 and the ‘Indestructible Creatures of Nightmare Island’: a challenging mystery wherein an astral scientist’s machine to suppress Man’s basest instincts almost causes the end of humanity. The result is an action-packed psycho-thriller stuffed with villainous guest-stars and oodles of action before this compendium concludes with JLA #41 which introduces a modern version of an old Justice Society villain.

The Earth-1 mastermind called The Key is a diabolical scientist who employs mild-altering psycho-chemicals to control the behaviour of our heroes in ‘The Key – Master of the World!’

With iconic covers by Sekowsky & Murphy Anderson, these tales are a perfect example of all that was best about the Silver Age of comics, combining optimism and ingenuity with bonhomie and adventure. This slice of better times also has the benefit of cherishing wonderment whilst actually being historically valid for any fan of our medium. And best of all the stories here are still captivating and enthralling transports of delight.

These classical compendia are a dedicated fan’s delight: an absolute gift for modern readers who desperately need to catch up without going bankrupt. They are also perfect to give to youngsters as an introduction into a fabulous world of adventure and magic…
© 1964, 1965, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

JLA: Zatanna’s Search


By Gardner Fox & various (DC Comics/Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0188-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless and Magical… 8/10

With Julius Schwartz and John Broome, writer extraordinaire Gardner Fox built the Silver Age of comics and laid the foundations of the modern DC universe. He was also a canny innovator and one of the earliest proponents of extended storylines which have since become so familiar to us as “braided crossovers.”

A qualified lawyer, Fox began his comics career in the Golden Age on major and minor features, working in every genre and for most companies. One of the B-list strips he scripted was Zatara; a magician-hero in the Mandrake mould who had fought evil and astounded audiences in the pages of Action and World’s Finest Comics for over a decade, beginning with the very first issues (to be completely accurate the latter’s premiere performance was entitled World’s Best Comics #1, but whatever the book’s name, the top-hatted and suavely tailed and tailored trickster was there…)

Zatara fell from favour at the end of the 1940s, fading from memory like so many other outlandish crime-crushers. In 1956 Editor Schwartz reinvented the superhero genre and reintroduced costumed characters based on the company’s past pantheon. Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and The Atom were refitted for the sleek, scientific atomic age, and later their legendary predecessors were reincarnated and returned as denizens of an alternate Earth.

As the experiment became a trend and then inexorable policy, surviving heroes such as Superman, Batman, Green Arrow, Aquaman and Wonder Woman were retrofitted to match the new world order. The Superhero was back and the public appetite seemed inexhaustible.

For their next trick Fox & Schwartz turned to the magician and presumably found him wanting. Rather than condemn him to Earth-2 they created the first “legacy hero” by having Zatara vanish from sight and introduced his daughter, set on a far-reaching quest to find him. Zatanna debuted in Hawkman #4 (October-November 1964) illustrated by the great Murphy Anderson in a tale entitled ‘The Girl who Split in Two’.

Following a mystical trail and wearing a variation of Zatara’s garb the plucky but impatient lass had divided her body and travelled simultaneously to Ireland and China, but lapsed into paralysis until Hawkman and Hawkgirl answered her distress call.

Although nobody knew it at the time she appeared next as a villain in Detective Comics #336 (February 1965). ‘Batman’s Bewitched Nightmare’ found a broom-riding old crone attacking the Dynamic Duo at the command of mutant super-threat The Outsider in a stirring yarn drawn by Bob Kane and Joe Giella.

Current opinion is that this wasn’t originally intended as part of the epic, but when the quest was resolved in Justice League of America #51 at the height of TV inspired “Batmania”, a very slick piece of back-writing was necessary to bring the high-profile Caped Crusader into the storyline.

Gil Kane & Sid Greene illustrated the next two chapters in the saga; firstly in ‘World of the Magic Atom’ (Atom #19, June-July 1965), wherein Mystic Maid and Tiny Titan battle Zatara’s old nemesis the Druid in the microcosmic world of Catamoore, and then later with the Emerald Gladiator in an extra-dimensional realm on ‘The Other Side of the World!’ (Green Lantern #42, January 1966).

Here the malevolently marauding, potentially Earth-dominating Warlock of Ys is eventually overcome after a mighty struggle and compelled to reveal further clues in the trail.

The Elongated Man starred in a long-running back-up feature in Detective Comics, and from #355 (September 1966, pencilled and inked by Carmine Infantino) ‘The Tantalizing Trouble of the Tripod Thieves!’ revealed how the search for a stolen eldritch artefact brought the young sorceress closer to her goal, and the search concluded in spectacular and fabulously satisfying fashion with the aforementioned JLA tale ‘Z – As in Zatanna – and Zero Hour!’ (#51, February 1967).

With art from the incomparable team of Mike Sekowsky & Sid Greene, all the heroes who aided her are transported to another mystical plane to fight in a classic battle of good versus evil, with plenty of cunning surprises for all and a happy ending at the end.

Collected here is a triumphant early and long-running experiment in continuity that remains one of the very best adventures of the Silver Age, featuring some of the period’s greatest creators at the peak of their powers.

This slim volume also has an enticing encore in store: following the mandatory cover gallery is a never before reprinted 10-page tale. ‘The Secret Spell!’ – by Gerry Conway, Romeo Tanghal & Vince Colletta – was originally seen in DC Blue Ribbon Digest #5 (November-December 1980) which revealed ‘Secret Origins of Super-Heroes’ and explores the hidden history of both father and daughter in a snappy, informative and inclusive manner.

Although a little hard to find now – and a top candidate to be arcanely transmogrified into an eBook – this is a superlative volume for fans of costumed heroes and would also make a wonderful tome to introduce newcomers to the genre.

© 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1980, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Metamorpho, the Element Man


By Bob Haney, Gardner Fox, Ramona Fradon, Joe Orlando, Sal Trapani, Charles Paris & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0762-5

By the time Metamorpho, the Element Man was introduced to the costumed hero-obsessed world the first vestiges of a certifiable boom were just becoming apparent. As such the light-hearted, almost absurdist take struck a Right-time, Right-place chord, blending far out adventure with tongue-in-cheek comedy.

The bold, brash Man of a Thousand Elements debuted in The Brave and the Bold #57 (December 1964/January 1965) and, after a follow-up try-out in the next issue, catapulted right into his own title for an eclectic and oddly engaging 17-issue run. Sadly, this canny monochrome compendium – collecting all those eccentric adventures plus team-up tales from B&B #66 and 68 and Justice League of America #42) – is currently the only archival collection available. Until someone rectifies that situation, at least you can revel in some truly enchanting black-&-white illustration…

Unlike most of these splendid Showcase editions, the team-up stories here are not re-presented in original publication order but closeted together at the back, so if stringent continuity is important to you, the always informative old-school credit-pages will enable you to navigate the wonderment in the correct sequence…

Sans dreary preamble the action commences with ‘The Origin of Metamorpho’ written by Bob Haney (who created the character and wrote everything here except the JLA story). The captivating art is by Ramona Fradon & Charles Paris and introduces glamorous he-man Soldier of Fortune Rex Mason, currently working as a globe-trotting artefact procurer and agent for ruthlessly acquisitive scientific genius/business tycoon Simon Stagg.

Mason is obnoxious and insolent but his biggest fault as far as his boss is concerned is that the mercenary dares to love and be loved by the millionaire’s only daughter Sapphire

Determined to rid himself of the impudent Mason, Stagg dispatches his potential son-in-law to retrieve a fantastic artefact dubbed the Orb of Ra from the lost pyramid of Ahk-Ton in Egypt. The tomb raider is accompanied only by Java, a previously fossilised Neanderthal corpse Rex had discovered in a swamp and which (whom?) Stagg had subsequently restored to full life. Mason plans to take his final fabulous fee and whisk Sapphire away from her controlling father forever, but fate and his companion have other ideas…

Utterly faithful to the scientific wizard who was his saviour, Java sabotages the mission and leaves Mason to die in the tomb, victim of an ancient, glowing meteor. The man-brute rushes back to his master, carrying the Orb and fully expecting Stagg to honour his promise and give him Sapphire in marriage…

Trapped, knowing his time has come; Mason swallows a suicide pill as the scorching rays of the star-stone burn through him…

Instead of death relieving his torment Rex is mutated into a ghastly chemical freak capable of shape-shifting and transforming into any of the elements or compounds that comprised the human body: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, calcium, iron, cobalt and so many others…

Hungry for vengeance, Mason follows and confronts his betrayers only to be overcome by the alien energies of the Orb of Ra. An uneasy détente is declared as Mason accepts Stagg’s desperate offer to cure him …“if possible”.

The plutocrat is further horrified when Rex reveals his condition to Sapphire and finds she still loves him. Totally unaware of Stagg’s true depths of duplicity, Mason starts working for the tycoon as metahuman problem-solver Metamorpho, the Element Man.

Brave and the Bold #58 (February-March 1965) reveals more of Stagg’s closeted skeletons when old partner Maxwell Tremayne kidnaps the Element Man and later abducts Sapphire to his ‘The Junkyard of Doom!’ Apparently, the deranged armaments manufacturer was once intimately acquainted with the girl’s mother and never quite got over it…

The try-out comics were an unqualified success and Metamorpho promptly debuted in his own title, cover-dated July-August 1965, just as the wildly tongue-in-cheek “High Camp” craze was catching on in all areas of popular culture; blending ironic vaudevillian kitsch with classic movie premises as theatrical mad scientists and scurrilous spies began to appear everywhere.

‘Attack of the Atomic Avenger’ sees nuclear nut-job Kurt Vornak trying to crush Stagg Industries, only to be turned into a deadly, planet-busting radioactive super-atom, after which ‘Terror from the Telstar’ pits the charismatic cast against Nicholas Balkan, a ruthless criminal boss set on sabotaging America’s Space Program.

Mad multi-millionaire T.T. Trumbull then uses his own daughter Zelda to get to Simon Stagg through his heart, accidentally proving to everyone who knew him that the old goat actually has one. This was part of the maniac’s attempt to seize control of America in ‘Who Stole the U.S.A.?’, but the ambitious would-be despot backed up the scheme with an incredible robot specifically designed to destroy Metamorpho.

Happily, Rex Mason’s guts and ingenuity proved more effective than the Element Man’s astonishing powers…

America saved, the dysfunctional family head South of the Border, becoming embroiled in ‘The Awesome Escapades of the Abominable Playboy’ as Stagg tries to marry Sapphire off to Latino Lothario Cha Cha Chavez. The wilful girl is simply trying to make Mason jealous and had no idea of her dad’s true plans; Stagg senior has no conception of Chavez’s real intentions or connections to the local tin-pot dictator…

With this issue the gloriously stylish Ramona Fradon left the series, to be replaced by two artists who strove to emulate her unique, gently madcap manner of drawing with varying degrees of success. Luckily veteran inker Charles Paris stayed on to smooth out the rough edges…

First up was E.C. veteran Joe Orlando whose 2-issue tenure began with outrageous doppelganger drama ‘Will the Real Metamorpho Please Stand Up?’ wherein eccentric architect Edifice K. Bulwark tries to convince Mason to lend his abilities to his chemical skyscraper project. When Metamorpho declines Bulwark and Stagg attempt to create their own Element Man… with predictably disastrous consequences.

‘Never Bet Against an Element Man!’ (#6 May-June 1966) took the team to the French Riviera as gambling grandee Achille Le Heele snookers Stagg and wins “ownership” of Metamorpho. The Creepy Conchon’s ultimate goal necessitated stealing the world’s seven greatest wonders (such as the Taj Mahal and Eiffel Tower) and, somehow, only the Element Man can make that happen…

Sal Trapani took over pencilling with #7’s ‘Terror from Fahrenheit 5,000!’ as the acronymic super-spy fad hits hard. Metamorpho is enlisted by the C.I.A. to stop suicidal maniac Otto Von Stuttgart destroying the entire planet by dropping a nuke into the Earth’s core, before costumed villain Doc Dread is countered by an undercover Metamorpho becoming ‘Element Man, Public Enemy!’ in a diabolical caper of doom and double-cross…

Metamorpho #9 shifted into the realm of classic fantasy when suave and sinister despot El Mantanzas maroons the cast in ‘The Valley That Time Forgot!’: battling cavemen and antediluvian alien automatons, after which a new catalysing element is added in ‘The Sinister Snares of Stingaree!’

This yarn introduces Urania Blackwell – a secret agent somehow transformed into an Element Girl and sharing all Metamorpho’s incredible abilities. Not only is she dedicated to eradicating evil such as criminal cabal Cyclops, but Urania is also the perfect paramour for Rex Mason…

He even cancels his wedding to Sapphire to go gang-busting with her…

With a new frisson of sexual chemistry sizzling beneath the surface, ‘They Came from Beyond?’ finds the conflicted Element Man confronting an apparent alien invasion whilst ‘The Trap of the Test-Tube Terrors!’ provides another attempt to cure Rex of his unwanted powers. This allows mad scientist Franz Zorb access to Stagg Industry labs long enough to build an army of chemical horrors…

The plot thickens with Zorb’s theft of a Nucleonic Moleculizer, prompting a continuation in #14 wherein Urania is abducted only to triumphantly experience ‘The Return from Limbo’

Events and stories grew increasingly outlandish and outrageous as the TV superhero craze intensified and ‘Enter the Thunderer!’ (#14, September/October 1967) depicted Rex pulled between Sapphire and Urania as marauding extraterrestrial Neutrog terrorises the planet in preparation for the awesome arrival of his mighty mutant master.

The next instalment heralded an ‘Hour of Armageddon!’ as the uniquely menacing Thunderer takes control of Earth until boy genius Billy Barton assists the Elemental defenders in defeating the mutant horror.

Trapani inked himself for Metamorpho #16; an homage to H. Rider Haggard’s She novels wherein ‘Jezeba, Queen of Fury!’ changes the Element Man’s life forever.

When Sapphire marries playboy Wally Bannister, the heartbroken Element Man undertakes a mission to find the lost city of Ma-Phoor. Here he encounters an undying beauty who wants to conquer the world and just happens to be Sapphire’s exact double.

Moreover, the immortal empress of a lost civilisation had once loved an Element Man of her own: a Roman soldier named Algon transformed into a chemical warrior two millennia previously.

Believing herself reunited with her lost love, Jezeba finally launches her long-delayed attack on the outside world with disastrous, tragic consequences…

The strangely appetising series came to a shuddering and unsatisfactory halt with the next issue as the superhero bubble burst and costumed comic characters suffered their second recession in fifteen years. Metamorpho was one of the first casualties, cancelled just as (or perhaps because) the series was emerging from its quirky comedic shell with the March-April 1968 issue.

Illustrated by Jack Sparling, ‘Last Mile for an Element Man!’ sees Mason tried and executed for the murder of Wally Bannister, resurrected by Urania Blackwell and set on the trail of true killer Algon. Along the way, Mason and Element Girl uncover a vast, incredible conspiracy and rededicate themselves to defending humanity at all costs.

The tale ends on a never-resolved cliffhanger: when Metamorpho was revived a few years later no mention was ever made of these last game-changing issues…

The elemental entertainment doesn’t end here though as this tome somewhat expiates the frustrating denouement with three terrific team-up tales beginning with The Brave and the Bold #66 (June/July 1966) and ‘Wreck the Renegade Robots’ where a mad scientist usurps control of the Metal Men just as their creator Will Magnus is preoccupied turning Metamorpho back into an ordinary mortal…

Two issues later (B& B #68 October/November 1966) the still Chemically Active Crime-buster battles Bat-Baddies Penguin, Joker and Riddler as well as a fearsomely mutated Caped Crusader in the thoroughly bizarre ‘Alias the Bat-Hulk!’ – both tales coming courtesy of Haney, Mike Sekowsky & Mike Esposito.

Sekowsky also drew the last story in this volume. Justice League of America #42 (February 1966) sees the hero joyfully join the World’s Greatest Superheroes to defeat a cosmic menace deemed The Unimaginable. The grateful champions instantly offer him membership but are astounded when – and why – ‘Metamorpho Says… No!’: a classic adventure written by Gardner Fox and inked by Bernard Sachs.

The wonderment finally concludes with a sterling pin-up of the Element Man and his core cast by Fradon & Paris.

Individually enticing, always exciting but oddly frustrating in total, this book will delight readers who aren’t too wedded to cloying continuity but simply seek a few moments of casual, fantastic escapism.
© 1965-1967, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Black Lightning volume two


By Dennis O’Neil, Gerry Conway, J.M. DeMatteis, Martin Pasko, Paul Kupperberg, Dick Dillin, George Tuska, Rick Buckler, Marshall Rogers, Mike Netzer/Nasser, Romeo Tanghal, Joe Staton, Pat Broderick, Dick Giordano, Gerald Forton & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7546-4

Black Lightning was DC’s first African American superhero to star in his own solo title, which launched in 1977…

When former Olympic decathlete Jefferson Pierce returned to the streets of Suicide Slum, Metropolis to teach at inner city Garfield High School, he was determined to make a real difference to the disadvantaged and often troubled kids he used to be numbered amongst. However, when he interrupted a drug buy on school grounds and sent the dealer packing, he opened everyone around him to mob vengeance and personal tragedy…

When the ruling racketeers – an organised syndicate dubbed The 100 – came seeking retaliation, one of Pierce’s students paid the ultimate price. The traumatised teacher realised he needed the shield of anonymity if he was to win justice and safety for his beleaguered home and charges…

Happily, tailor Peter Gambi – who had raised Jefferson and taken care of his mother after the elder Pierce was murdered – had a few useful ideas and inexplicable access to some pretty far-out technology…

Soon, equipped with a strength-&-speed-enhancing forcefield belt and costume, plus a mask and wig that completely changed his appearance, a fierce new vigilante stalked the streets of Metropolis…

Now with the urban avenger the star of his own television series, those early groundbreaking adventures have been gathered into a series of astoundingly accessible, no-nonsense trade paperback and eBook collections.

This second outing gathers a flurry of back-up and guest appearances from May 1979 to October 1980, gathered from various titles where the urban avenger prowled after his solo title folded. They cumulatively comprise World’s Finest Comics #256-259 and #261, DC Comics Presents #16, Justice League of America #173-174, Detective Comics #490-491 and #495-495 and The Brave and the Bold #163 plus pertinent material from Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #3 (1985) and Who’s Who in the DC Universe #16 (1992).

Following an informative Introduction by character originator Tony Isabella reprising Black Lightning: The In-Between Years, the (relatively) down-to-earth superhero antics commence with ‘Encounter with a Dark Avenger!’ (by Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Frank Chiaramonte, taken from World’s Finest Comics #256).

Here the electric warrior is manipulated into a potentially fatal confrontation with equally fervent urban vigilante Green Arrow. As the heroes clash neither is aware that the 100’s ousted boss Tobias Whale is behind their mutual woes…

That short yarn saw Black Lightning as GA’s guest star and served as a prelude to ‘Death Ransom!’ in WF #257, the beginning of Pierce’s second (strictly backup) series. Crafted by O’Neil, George Tuska & Bob Smith, it sees a fateful, brutal clash with The Whale and results in a wary ceasefire for the archenemies as they unite to destroy the swiftly rebuilding 100 cartel…

Of course, a scorpion’s gotta sting and the alliance only lasts one issue before Whale betrays Lightning’s trust and another innocent dies in ‘The Blood of the Lamb!’ (O’Neil, Rich Buckler & Romeo Tanghal, World’s Finest #258)…

World’s Finest #259 provides a labyrinthine conundrum as the hero and a horde of gunman act on a deathbed tip-off and converge on a seedy welfare hotel that might be ‘The Last Hideout’ (O’Neil, Marshall Rogers, Michael Nasser/Netzer & Vince Colletta) of a legendary criminal and his ill-gotten gains. Sadly, only the masked hero cared about collateral casualties…

‘Return of the River Rat!’ (O’Neil, Tanghal & Colletta, World’s Finest #261) ended this back-up run on a mediocre note as school chaperone Jefferson Pierce is fortuitously on hand during a river cruise party just when an exiled mobster tries to sneak back into the USA by submarine…

A co-starring role in DC Comics Presents #16 (December 1979) then finds the street-smart urban avenger and Superman confronting a heartsick and violently despondent alien trapped on Earth for millennia in ‘The De-volver!’ (courtesy of O’Neil, Joe Staton & Frank Chiaramonte) after which the lone avenger gets a nod of approval from the Big Guns of Superheroing…

Justice League of America #173-174 (December 1979 and January 1980) offered a smart two-parter with a twist ending as the League try to induct the mysterious, unvetted vigilante.

After much fervent debate, they decide to set their still-unsuspecting candidate a little problem to prove his worth.

However, as a vermin-controlling maniac unleashes terror upon Metropolis, the ‘Testing of a Hero’ and ‘A Plague of Monsters’ (Gerry Conway, Dillin & Frank McLaughlin) takes the old recruitment drive into a very fresh direction and leads to disappointment all around…

Still Not Quite Popular Enough, the hero was found tenure in the more moody and grounded Detective Comics beginning with #490 (May 1980). Here Martin Pasko, Pat Broderick & McLaughlin reveal how ‘Lightning Strikes Twice Out!’ as a protracted clash with a ruthless Haitian gang led by Mama Mambu leads to his kidnap and the loss of his powers and gimmicks in concluding chapter ‘Short-Circuit’ (Detective #491).

A corrupt Senator stealing oil shipments to finance a private army and attempted takeover of America is brought down by separate-but-convergent investigations conducted by Black Lightning and Batman in ‘Oil, Oil… Nowhere’ (Paul Kupperberg & Dick Giordano; The Brave and The Bold #163, June 1980) after which J.M. DeMatteis & Gerald Forton assume creative control of the Lightning’s path in Detective Comics #494 Detective Comics #494.

‘Explosion of the Soul’ (September 1980) sees the streets haunted by a murderous junkie-killing vigilante, and all Pierce’s investigations seem to lead inexorably back to one of his students…

Ending on a dark note of tragedy, ‘Animals’ (DeMatteis & Forton, Detective #494) then sees the Suicide Slum School Olympics turned into a charnel house when a juvenile street gang seizes the girls’ hockey team and demands safe passage and new lives in Switzerland. When Black Lightning intercedes, not everybody gets out alive…

Supplemented with a cover gallery by Ross Andru, Giordano, Jim Aparo, Neal Adams & Dillin, and including fact-packed background and data pages about ‘Black Lightning’ from Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #3 (1985) and an updated entry from Who’s Who in the DC Universe #16 (1992) this potent package of fast-paced Fights ‘n’ Tights thrillers are so skilfully constructed that even the freshest neophyte will be able to settle in for the ride without any confusion and enjoy a self-contained rollicking rollercoaster of terrifically traditional superhero shenanigans.

So, what are you waiting for?
© 1979, 1980, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

JLA: A Midsummer’s Nightmare Deluxe edition


By Mark Waid, Fabian Nicieza, Jeff Johnson, Darick Robertson, John Holdredge, Hanibal Rodriguez & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7432-0 (HB)

There are many facets that contribute to the “perfect mix” in the creation of any continuing character in comics. How much more so then, when the idea is to build a superhero team that will stand out from the seething masses that already exist?

In the mid-1990s, the iconic squad which truly ushered in the return of superheroes to comics suffered one of its periodic plunges in quality and popularity and ignominiously folded.

Of course the Justice League of America is too hallowed, venerated and valuable to fester in oblivion for any length of time and was quickly reconvened in a fresh new interpretation which quickly became the breakout book of 1997, courtesy of Grant Morrison & Howard Porter.

However, the scene was set for them by a strikingly exuberant miniseries which acted as a reassessment and reintroduction of the World’s Greatest Superheroes. Since the Silver Age’s greatest team-book died a slow, painful, embarrassing death, not once but twice, DC were taking no chances with their next revival and tapped Big Ideas wunderkind Morrison to reconstruct the group and the franchise.

However, he was to a large extent riffing on groundwork laid by writers Mark Waid and Fabian Nicieza – as well as the impressive illustration of Jeff Johnson, Darick Robertson, John Holdredge & Hanibal Rodriguez – in a captivating no-nonsense miniseries which went a long way towards regenerating interest…

This slim sleek Deluxe celebration (collecting in both hardback and eBook editions, Justice League: Midsummer’s Nightmare #1-3 from September-November 1996) opens with an effusive Introduction from Morrison before a world of confusion is revealed in ‘True Lies’ wherein comicbook artist Kyle Rayner struggles to meet the deadline for his assignment. He can’t understand why anybody would want to read about whacky, fictitious masked mystery-men characters like Green Lantern when the entire planet is in the midst of a cosmic revolution.

All over earth humans are spontaneously developing super-powers as an inexplicable genetic “spark” triggers the next stage in evolution.

Millions of superhumans are manifesting with no rhyme or reason whilst others seem doomed to remain merely mundane. It’s like a comicbook plot come to life…

Amongst the ordinary mortals left behind are reporter Clark Kent, billionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne, schoolteacher Diana Prince, college lecturer Wally West and corporate compliance officer Arthur Curry. Elsewhere, separated by immeasurable gulfs, scientist J’onn J’onzz leads an idyllic life under the skies of Mars with his wife and daughter…

The dreams of all these mortals are troubled. They have vague, impossible recollections of being colourful champions and indomitable heroes in a world filled with their like, not this savage situation where selfish “Sparkers”, intoxicated with newfound power, squabble and bicker like bullies and thugs in a primarily plebeian universe…

Meanwhile, in a hidden place, an immortal mastermind manipulates a super-villain the entire world has forgotten ever existed, using his potent power to reshape dreams to achieve an eons-long plan…

However, there’s far more to heroism than powers and each mentally diminished champion individually struggles to find the disturbing deeper truth they know has been somehow taken from them…

The spell of targeted amnesia starts to unravel when journalist Kent somehow survives being caught in a savage exchange between rival Sparker gangs. Shocked back to Kryptonian normality, he starts tracking down his vanished costumed contemporaries…

Elsewhere relative neophyte “Legacy Heroes” Wally and Kyle have their own epiphanic moments as the second chapter ‘To Know a Veil’ finds a restored Superman and Batman systematically unravelling the sinister plot.

In a hidden sanctum, Machiavellian Know Man further exploits the reality-warping gifts of his slave Doctor Destiny to manufacture a Sparker-squad specifically designed to eradicate the re-emergent heroes. During this time Aquaman and Wonder Woman have united with the World’s Finest team in time to be ambushed by an army of enhanced myrmidons. The battle is in no way certain until the fully-recovered and restored Flash and Green Lantern pile in…

After the inconclusive clash the reassembled heroes realise they need their old telepathic team-mate back and hunt for J’onzz, eventually dragging the Martian Manhunter from his perfect dream of paradise regained – in reality a seedy bunker at Roswell, New Mexico. Having lost his world and family a second time, J’onn is in no mind to be merciful with his anonymous abductors…

The saga kicks into terminal high gear with ‘Daze & Knights’ as Know Man’s tailor-made Sparker-squad attacks, only to fall as one before the brutal psychic assault of the furious and heartbroken Manhunter.

His mental capabilities then glean the whereabouts of their true foes from data buried by rebellious Dr. Destiny in Kyle’s subconscious and the fighting-mad team race off to a final confrontation with their hidden enemy…

Fast-paced, action-packed and breathtakingly bold, this galvanic tale pits the greatest champions in DC’s pantheon against an immortal enemy whose roots stem back to the earliest days of the universe is a gloriously baggage-free romp and a splendid jumping on point for readers new and old alike.

This fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights fable also includes a handy information section recapitulating and assessing the characters of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter, plus a gallery of covers from the original miniseries previous collections.
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