Saturday, April 23, 2011

"[JLA] Without A Superman" -- Dan Jurgens' Justice League America (Part 3)

Well, this didn't exactly work out as planned. When I started writing this retrospective on Dan Jurgens’ Justice League America, I had hoped to compose both parts the same day! Now, we're finally on the third and final installment and it's been in the works for over a month. Does that mean it will have the professional polish of a Master's thesis? Of course not! It just means life happens. I would've even delayed the start of this series until I had finished the last post, but I had to go out of town abruptly the other weekend for a funeral and luckily part 1 was already cued up.

Speaking of funerals, our characters are grieving themselves following the Death of Superman…

JLA #70 is the first installment of the "Funeral For a Friend" storyline, which ran throughout the Superman titles. It was also known as the "World Without a Superman" arc. I wasn't about to let myself get sidetracked again by rereading all those issues (I read only one extra). After all this is about the "[JLA] Without a Superman".

The issue starts immediately after Superman #75. Lois is still holding Clark's body amid the rubble of his epic battle with Doomsday. Ice is recriminating herself (and the whole JLA) for not being there when he needed them. Adding to her pain is that fact that she's had a schoolgirl crush on him since he joined the team. Bloodwynd examines his vitals and there is no sign of life. Ice takes his cape from its flag-like position and drapes it over his body.

Blue Beetle is in a hospital bed at JLA HQ with Max Lord at his bedside, actually caring about his grim prognosis (or maybe he's just upset that the team is falling apart). Booster's suit from the future is totally trashed and he's now powerless until he can get a new one. Meanwhile the more traditional Justice League heroes start to show up in tribute to Superman: GL (Hal), Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash (Wally), Aquaman (two-fisted), etc. There's a nice two-page spread where Oberon is handing out black armbands with the Superman symbol on it. When Green Arrow crassly remarks that it "looks like your high flying new league has come crashing down." Bloodwynd chillingly responds that "This League will survive."

Speaking of chill, Ice creates an enormous ice sculpture of Superman. Even though it pains Guy to see her affection for Big Blue, he musters enough class to put on an armband himself. The only one not in attendance at the outside gathering is Booster, who is still at Ted Cord's bedside. It's a touching page that really speaks volumes of their friendship, which runs much deeper than the good times and jokes. He breaks down at the thought of possibly wearing a Blue Beetle armband too.

Superman #76 is part 4 of the Funeral for a Friend storyline, entitled "Metropolis Mailbag II". It's Christmas Eve and several heroes, including Guy and Maxima of the JLA, have gathered together in the pouring rain on top of the Daily Planet building. They travel to the Metropolis post office to read through Superman's mail and perhaps perform a few good deeds in his honor. Some of the requests can't possibly be granted, but a few stand out as doable, specifically one dealing with a woman who lost her house during the battle with Doomsday. It wasn't even a request for help, but a thank you note sent before Superman died. It is indeed Mitch's Mom from Superman #74.

Mitch is actually in Metropolis himself, hoping to apologize to Superman's wife for causing his death. He blames himself for asking Superman to abandon his pursuit against Doomsday when his house was on fire and about to consume his family. Turns out the woman claiming to be Mrs. Superman is just some person glomming for the spotlight. Lois is incensed and storms off, leaving Jimmy alone for a chance meeting with Mitch. Lois returns to Clark's apartment and weeps bitterly. Her pain is intensified, because she can't share it with anyone else. Fortunately, Clark's parents and even Lana arrive just then, so they all can commiserate. They all decide not to reveal Clark's secret ID, which conveniently paves the way for all the Superman imposters in Reign of the Supermen.

The Flash and GL do an extreme home makeover that would do Jimmy Carter proud and rebuild Mitch's home. They must have taken some blueprints from the standard rectangular Columbia split-foyer -- architecturally ornate it's not. Wonder Woman also manages to convince Mitch's father to return to the family. While touching, it really stretches credibility -- sure he's upset that they were almost killed, but does that erase all the hang-ups in their marriage? I hope they went to some counseling.

Back in Metropolis, Mitch and Jimmy are leaving the Superman memorial statue just as Lois, Lana and the Kents arrive to pay their respects. The rain has started to turn to snow. Another great chapter in the Death of Superman aftermath with only one minor bump.

Justice League America #71 marks the beginning of the new League. It's one of the few issues not drawn by Jurgens. Maxima "showers" on a new costume in a ridiculously cheesecake page. Meanwhile some recruiting is going on with Guy inviting the Ray and Bloodwynd inviting Black Condor to join the group. Maxima later brings in Agent Liberty. Can you say island of cancelled series? Guy's about to take over as leader (this is like his third attempt) when Wonder Woman shows up to run the team.

Probably the best part of this issue is when Booster discovers Fire has torched all of his pin-up calendars he made of her. Since she's now powerless, she used a plain ol' match. Too bad, it would have made him a fortune. Oh, and what must have been a last minute editing job, Fire is colored green from her neck to her toes -- I guess her bikini was a little too revealing so they needed to make it look like she was wearing more. Booster even digs out Skeets from storage to help with his damaged suit to no avail. With Booster and Fire powerless and Ice leaving the group, this is really the long delayed end of the JLI!

But it's not the end of Dan Jurgens’ Justice League. Issues 72 through 75 cover the Destiny's Hand storyline with each issue loudly proclaiming which chapter or part. I guess they got hooked on numbering titles from the Death of Superman.

I actually purchased #72 off the stands, due to the draw of the “real” Justice League on the cover. However, instead of the classic JLA, it’s actually a twisted mirror-universe type of evil leaguers. They’re basically running the world and are beyond brutal. Martian Manhunter vaporizes Star Sapphire and Hawkman dismembers Sinestro and steals his ring. The Atom and Flash even set off a nuclear bomb in China to prevent that nation from launching an attack against their satellite headquarters. GL is vice-president of the United States and treats the real Prez as nothing more than a puppet. The regular JLA is no where to be seen. You don’t even have any clue where this is or how it came about, except for a final shot of a hysterical Doctor Destiny in Arkham Asylum.

Issue #73 shows the new team testing the limits of the Ray's power, when they get word from the pentagon that the old JLA satellite is back in orbit. When they investigate, they encounter the fascist Firestorm who sends them hurtling back to earth. Upon landing, they find themselves on this other world ruled by the Lightning Squad. We get another glimmer of Doctor Destiny (a really lame looking villain – little more than a skeleton with clothes) and the Atom (the real one), who apparently hasn’t been sleeping much lately.

After two issues with no explanation for what’s been happening, in issue #74 we finally discover that Doctor Destiny is stealing images from the Atom’s mind (who is wasting away from lack of sleep) to create these evil Justice League doppelgangers. We have more interactions with the new League and the Lightning Squad, but there are two interesting developments. One Ted Cord’s brain activity is ramping up (Booster and Fire are still hanging around the complex) and two Bloodwynd all of a sudden changes his appearance to Martian Manhunter. Surprise! – Not!

Yep, Bloodwynd has really been Martian Manhunter all along, which we find out conclusively in issue #75. Blue Beetle also starts jumping around again, having tapped into Doctor Destiny’s dream reality, while he and the Atom were hooked up to the same medical device. His influence turns the tide and allows the Atom to regain control of his “evil” identity and Doctor Destiny is defeated. This all gets Ted out of his coma too (he was just a dream-created Beetle before).

If you’re confused by my summary, well that just reflects the story itself. Ironically, I was really excited about this arc 18 years ago, but it really left me cold this time around. I missed the interaction of the regular league and I found the “evil” counterparts to be so over the top that there was no credible way for them to ever be confused with the real heroes (by our characters), even for an instant. The art was still good though.

The last two issues under Jurgens writing, the two-part Blood Secrets in issue #76 and 77, are fully drawn by the up-and-coming (and series inker) Rich Burchett under Jurgens' art design. It's pretty good, but no way near the caliber of his work today. Based on the cover date, it looks like these were shipped bi-weekly. I seem to recall the Big Two using this gimmick back then. The story itself doesn't really justify the accelerated schedule. At least we get a resolution and a full explanation on the Martian Manhunter/Bloodwynd sub-plot that's been brewing from the beginning.

The Bloodwynd jewel, called the Blood Gem, is still attached to MM and when they try to take it off, he starts to shrivel up and almost dies. Inside the jewel is a dimensional prison where Rott (a big hulking, disgusting creature) has been "rotting" for over a century. The Atom shrinks down inside it only to be captured by the Weapons Master (also from the start of the series). He's still able to communicate with Booster and Beetle on the outside and to all of their amazement Rott wants the JLA's most powerful member, the Ray!

The Ray enters the gem and his power inadvertently releases Rott into the "real" world and the gem (safely but painfully) from MM's chest. Still in the dimension with the Atom, the Ray discovers Bloodwynd, the real one. The gem was created by the blood and sorrow of slaves and then used to murder their master, Whitney Chambers. Rott is a manifestation of Chambers and the "dark side" of the wearer's personality and the gem has been passed down for generations. Bloodwynd wears the jewel to keep it's dark power in check. MM had seen Bloodwynd in pain from the gem, removed it, which sucked him inside it and allowed Rott to influence MM into wearing the gem and becoming Bloodwynd. Whew--that's enough of that! Rott is weakened and placed back in the gem, the Weapon Master is defeated, and all our heroes, including Bloodwynd are now free. The Ray utters the question everyone is thinking, "Where do we go from here?"

Overall, Dan Jurgens' Justice League America is a good read, especially the issues leading up to and through the Death of Superman. Some are downright phenomenal. The final six issues are a bit harder to get through, but at least Jurgens wrapped up all the loose ends. I was genuinely surprised that there was an actual Bloodwynd character. However, I liked him better when I just thought it was a different disguise for Jonn. I'm mildly interested it what happened to the team after this point. I know the series went past issue 100, but I'd have to find them pretty cheaply to buy them.

That's all folks. Thanks for your patience! Oh and...

HAPPY EASTER or as some of us like to call it RESURRECTION SUNDAY!

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