Saturday, March 19, 2011

"...Someone Gets Hurt!" -- Dan Jurgens' Justice League America (Part 2)

Last time, I started my Back Issues retrospective on Justice League America by Dan Jurgens (circa 1992-1993). Superman had joined the Justice League to bring some seriousness to the team (and the title), but his presence alone doesn't automatically take all the "fun and games" aspects out of the Giffen/DeMatteis JLI. No, it seems you need someone to BEAT it out of them...

There's a monster stomping around Ohio all dressed in green with an uncanny ability to grow bony protrusions when his clothing gets ripped of such length that they could not have possibly fit underneath his clothing. Like a force of nature, he destroys everything in his path.

Continuing from Man of Steel #18, Justice League America #69 finds the JLA investigating the monster sightings in Beetle's Bug. Meanwhile, Superman is being interviewed on the Cat Grant show. Jurgens masterfully covers both simultaneous stories by using a single widescreen panel for the Superman interview on the top of each page (starting on page 4) to contrast his words with the League's battle with the monster – A monster who has just speared the Bug with a tree trunk, bringing it crashing down.

For example, in one scene Superman is asked a question about Guy Gardner losing his ring by a high school student in the audience and at the same time the monster is trouncing Guy with one hand (literally) tied behind his back.

The battle eventually progresses to an oil refinery site, where the mysterious Bloodwynd is engulfed in flames revealing to Blue Beetle who he actually is (c'mon it's easy and obvious). Beetle is just about to identify him when KANG, CRACK, FWOOM, "HA HA!", (toss 30 feet in the air) and finally a silencing WHUMP sufficiently takes him out. He may not be dead yet, but he's pretty close. [Meanwhile, Superman has just learned of the incident and is departing the show.] Booster tries to tackle the creature himself with some force blasts, but also gets thrown far into the air (at least he has a force field unlike poor Ted) only to be caught by Superman in a beautiful full-page splash. "I hear you people are having some trouble." "'Trouble' isn't the word, Superman! I'm telling you right now -- it's like DOOMSDAY is here!"

Yep, we've just landed into the beginning of the Death of Superman! One story that definitely lived up to it's hype and is still an excellent read nearly 20 years later. Doomsday's destruction is really intense and terrifying. It seems clear that the other main reason DC added Superman to the JLA was for this moment to give him that group connection, so that their reactions to what happens next will make the story more powerful and poignant.

The battle continues in Superman#74, which I didn't have for years until I could find an affordable first printing (remember my hang-up on printings?). Maxima reluctantly takes Beetle to a hospital, while Ice is trying to face the monster alone. By reluctant, I mean Maxima didn't want to leave the battle, but she was Ted's only hope for survival. In another brilliant storytelling move, Jurgens establishes a more down-to-earth reaction to the fight with Mitch, a disgruntled teen-ager who's a jerk to his Mom (recently separated from his Dad, who walked out on them) and baby sister. Mitch also just finished watching the Cat Grant show satellite feed at school and has no love for Superman either. He arrives home and tears into his mother over the snacking choices, when Ice is thrown through their window.

After arriving at the scene with Booster, Superman confidently confronts Doomsday -- after all he's the Man of Steel and virtually nothing can hurt him, right? WRONG! Doomsday kicks Superman right through Mitch's house causing it to collapse around the family. When the rest of the JLA show up the battle really gets intense. Superman's heat vision, Fire's flame power, Booster's power beams, Gardner's ring, and Bloodwynd's eye beams are all brought to bear simultaneously against Doomsday. Both Fire and Booster expend all their energy in the assault and Guy can hardly see straight from the punching he's already endured. The result of their efforts -- Well, they've managed to peel off half of his mask at least, revealing his terrifying visage.

Doomsday grabs Booster by the neck, punches him with his other hand, knocks him into another tree and then SLAMS a car door right on his head! Booster's suit no longer works, so he takes the full brunt and is then tossed aside. Bloodwynd tries to eye-beam him again, but his aim is thrown off due to Doomsday's punch and it catches Mitch's house on fire -- then it hits the gas line: BWHOOOOOM! Now everyone is surrounded by flames and smoke, except Superman who took off after Doomsday. The JLA are out of it and Mitch cries out to Superman for help. Superman is just about to catch up to Doomsday and is blocking out Mitch's plea. Awesome, awesome, awesome story and it took on a totally new dimension, being more focused on the JLA side, rather than just one part of the DoS storyline.

In Adventures of Superman #497 by Jerry Ordway (writer) and Tom Grummett (artist), Superman after landing a terrific double-page spread punch on Doomsday, finally listens to Mitch's cry for help and pauses to look back on the fiery house scene with his telescopic vision. Seeing that the rest of the JLA are unconscious, he starts to fly back, when Doomsday leaps up and attacks him from behind. While the two are entangled in the air, Superman flips Doomsday over and flies him downward, dropping him into a deep lake where he's halfway buried in the silty ground. This gives him enough time to save Mitch's mother and baby sister with a little assist from Bloodwynd. Now on a stretcher and headed for a hospital, Guy gives Superman some encouraging words: "Kaff Kaff. Don't 'Wuss out, Boyscout. Put this Doomsday guy in a pine box -- or I'll crawl offa this gurney and kick both o'yer butts! Kaff."

The battle resumes when Superman catches up with Doomsday, who has just demolished an Army helicopter. Using one of the helicopter’s missiles, Superman explodes it against Doomsday, who plummets downward right on top of a police cruiser parked in front of the Kirby County Police Station (somewhere in New York, I think). This Main Street melee intensifies when another Army helicopter arrives with guns blazing. Doomsday spears it with a light pole and throws it against the Town Hall. He then gestures with his hands in a mocking way to Superman that seems to say, "Bring It!" From behind Maxima catches Doomsday off guard and manages to punch him aside. [Meanwhile, Superman's supporting cast, Lois, Jimmy, etc., start to mobilize to cover the carnage.] Maxima throws Doomsday through the front of a grocery store, uttering General Zod's "bow down before me" line (She used to be a Queen, remember?). Superman barely has time to chastise her for endangering innocent bystanders when Doomsday topples both of them. The battle has shifted to a gas station where Maxima gets a van dumped on her. Superman kicks Doomsday into a gas pump and the flammable fluid begins to gush, covering all the combatants. Maxima begins to pull up a light pole, when the sparks start to fly and KAA-BOOOOOOM!!! The incredible explosion leaves both Superman and Maxima unconscious for a bit while Doomsday traipses along his merry way. Superman now realizes that he will have to stop him alone.

I'm a huge Grummett fan today and from this era. He's got to be one of the most undervalued artists around. His layouts, pacing, and action are incredible. Hopefully, he can remain off the superstar status lists long enough for me to acquire some original art.

Action Comics #684 and Superman: The Man of Steel #19 chronicle some more of the battle leading up to the showdown in Metropolis. It's really like a long-term boxing match, where each contestant is weakening with each successive round. Well, Superman is weakening at least. The JLA are completely absent in these issues other than a brief scene with the unconscious Maxima at the beginning of Action #684. These issues certainly have been padded a little to prolong the fight, but by the end of MOS#19 all the players are in place for one of the best comic book fights of the 90's, maybe of all time, in Superman #75!

But first, we pause for a personal anecdote:

I remember waiting in line to purchase my two black polybag copies of Superman #75 in Fairfax, Virginia. The date was Friday, 1992 November 20th. The next day was my wedding day and I kid you not, but I was seriously considering wearing my black Superman armband over my tuxedo. Fortunately, I had more sense then that, but I still managed to wear my Nickelodeon slime Fruit Loops watch under my shirtsleeve with no one the wiser. I don't know if it's been a full 18 years or not since I last read #75, but boy was it just as powerful today as it was then.

For an epic battle, you need an epic size and each page is at least a full-size splash page. These aren’t just the static “pin-ups” from an Image comic of this era. Jurgens uses a variety of camera angles to keep the action exciting. There are so many memorable scenes, but here are a few of my favorites:

Page 4 – Superman is thrown against the news helicopter with Lois and Jimmy inside.
Page 7 – Superman and Lois’ good-bye kiss.
Page 10 – Aerial shot of Superman crashing the supporting columns of a skyscraper.
Page 11 – Superman gets pile driven into the pavement and loses his cape.
Page 13 – Superman’s fist rising from the ground beneath Doomsday with Lois and Jimmy framed between Doomsday’s legs.
Page 15 – Top view of Superman pulling a Cyclops with his heat vision against Doomsday.
Page 16 – Doomsday cuts Superman with his knee bone dagger.
Page 17 – Doomsday rips the side of Superman’s face with his fist.
Page 18 – Superman plays “Mercy” with Doomsday and kicks off one of his bony knee protrusions.
Page 19 – Their blows shatter every window in the Daily Planet building.
Page 20 -- Right before their final blows with Superman preparing to punch with both hands together.
Page 23 – Martha and Jonathan watching the scene on their old console TV set, embracing one another.
Page 24 – Ice and Bloodwynd arriving too late.

And last but not least the finale, which I can’t believe I had forgotten about the gatefold image. The two page shot shows Ice praying with her head bowed above the still Doomsday on one side and Lois is cradling Superman in her arms on the other side. Turn the page and Superman slumps to the ground “dead” taking up the full three pages. Fantastic and moving – a masterpiece.



NEXT TIME (not necessarily next week) PART 3 – “[JLA] Without A Superman”

No comments:

Post a Comment