Friday, December 23, 2011

JLA FORTNIGHT: BETRAYAL!


So, who was it who ended the might "Secret Sanctuary" Era, which gave us the Justice League at their most iconic, reintroduced the superhero community back into the DCU, and set the model for all subsequent versions of DC's team of top-tier heroes?

Why, it's obvious, really: it was their weakest link, Lucas "Snapper" Carr.



As mentioned, Snapper Carr was the hip teenaged mascot of the Silver Age Justice League. Gardner Fox's idea of putting DC's greatest superheroes into one team was genius; his idea of creating giving them a "typical teenager" mascot for the readers to identify with... was
not genius.

Aaaand... that's Snapper riding a magic carpet with Merlin while singing the Air Force theme. Sigh.

Snapper's horrible, mangled faux-hepcat lingo was an assault to the senses, an icepick in the ear, the offspring of the English language being raped by a hundred maniacs. Poor DC; they were just trying to reach out to The Young People, but the writers--laughably unfamiliar with young culture through anything other than its dated, funhouse portrayals on television--were no more prepared to do so than your grandmother would be ready for her improv rap solo at karaoke night.

The pain of "Snapper-speak" aside, Carr's presence in the JLA was going to be a problem regardless. Snapper was put in the awkard position of either

(A) being a useless distraction for the JLA from actual crime-fighting
or
(B) of saving the day with some ridiculous "Wesley Crusher" moment.

In a series where you have DC's seven most powerful and popular superheroes--each of whom did (or could) fill one or more comics a month with their own exploits-- vying for panel-space, every second wasted on Snapper's birthday cake, Snapper's finals, Snapper's date at the funhouse, Snapper's flying jalopy, or Snapper's homework assignment was an eternity of wasted opportunity for the reader.

See? Crowded book.


Snapper was an attempt to connect the Silver Age Justice League with someone "ordinary". And that was what doomed them. In a story that was, per Denny O'Neil's usual style, an interesting underlying concept but terribly written, Snapper is seduced by a grassroots movement for 'normal' people, distressed at how extreme and super people like the JLAers were overshadowing the mass of regular people who don't just occasionally dabble in saving the world, but who keep its spinning every day with their efforts.

It's all about YOU, isn't it, Clark?


Snapper's seduction into this movement isn't well handled or made believable... but it
is a great idea. In Marvel, citizens are often shown to fear and distrust many of their heroes. This is a harder sell in the DCU, where any superhero worth naming has his own hometown museum and is on the authorities' speed-dial. But the idea that regular people would simply resent superfolk and worry about becoming reliant on them is quite realistic. This was also underlying concept of the well-written LEGENDS crossover miniseries that launched the post-Crisis DCU and was the only time, in my opinion, that Darkseid has ever been used well, if you're interested.

So Snapper-- the "JLA mascot"--becomes a movement spokesperson
against the JLA. It is a devasting PR coup for the Normal Movement, masterminded by "Joe Dough, the Most Average Man in America" (heavy-handed character name and sobriquet courtesy of Denny O'Neill, the Most Non-Subtle Writer in Comics). After "Dough" convinces Snapper to give him the location of the JLA's "Secret Sanctuary", he is revealed to be none other than... the Joker.

Ouch; that hurts. On the one hand, the Joker is a supremely odd choice for orchestrating the undoing of the Silver Age JLA. For one thing, the Joker, for all his popularity and cultural resonance, is not exactly a "take on the JLA single-handed" level of villain. Plus, his reveal at the end is a one-way panel throwaway twist at the end of the story. He didn't
need to be the villain of the piece at all; it might as well have been some 'normal person' bent on overthrowing the JLA.

On the other hand, the Joker is a perfect choice. First, he's "powerless", and his triumph (he kicks the JLA's asses with some crap from the Trophy Room)
is a victory of the non-superpowered over the godlike Leaguers. Second, although powerless, he is very very much NOT normal. At all. That the Joker, of all people, should pass himself off as the sympathetic spokesman and leader of 'the common man' is a horrifying deception. Third, the Joker's victory is ideological, ironic, and accomplished through superior psychological gamesmanship, all of which is very typical of the character. Fourth, after 15 years of fighting a host of new and entirely ad hoc universe-shaking adversaries, the JLA is taken out by a single villain from one of their member's Rogues Gallery-- in fact, the most familiar villain imaginable--is a cruel irony, indeed.

Perhaps it was a brilliant commentary by Denny O'Neill on the JLA's problem: they were too distantly focused on otherworldly issues (or Snapper's birthday) to focus on cleaning up their own backyards of the villains who preyed on the common folk. Or perhaps it was a lazy last minute twist. In either case, you do not mind-wipe the Joker, so the Secret Sanctuary's utility as a headquarters for the Justice League was over.

What's a supergroup to do...?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

JLA FORTNIGHT: Race war to the stars!


When we last left the JLA in the final throes of its "Secret Sanctuary" Era, the powerless Diana Prince and her blind guide, the absurdly named
I Ching, were at a carnival.


"Being with you is pointless, Ching; you are so Asian-y inscrutable."
"Of course you don't understand, Diana; you're a moron. And probably wearing something that makes you look highly scrutable, I'll wager."
"What in Gaea's name can I learn from CARNIES?"
"I don't know, Diana. Perhaps how to dress...?"


It's good to see some things never change, like the deep mutual hatred between Diana and Ching.

As luck, and Denny O'Neil's plot contrivance, would have it, there's some kind of crazy homeless person going berserk at the carnival!

"What causes commotion, Ching? Well, usually it's some sort of threatening disruption of...oh, you meant, 'what is causing the commotion'!"
"Yes, wise-ass. So it's a "man"? I guess I'll probably have to explain what one of those is to you, won't I?"


"Postpone our rest? Oh, really, Ching? And I was just about to pull up a lawn chair to watch!"


A crazy homeless person who is ....beating the
snot out of Diana and Ching.


Claude Raines 1, Emma Peale 0. And, YES, Diana, you did the judo move perfectly. You do everything perfectly, Princess. Yeesh.


"Ching, look out for--oh, wait, ha, ha! I forgot to warn him OUT LOUD. Pity. Still, he's getting the crap beat out of him. Why, it's like he can't even see the guy! Oh, wait... that's right...!"


As entertaining as it is to watch a violent homeless person bitch-slap Diana and Ching around, it's even more entertaining when you realize that that crazy, violent homeless person is, of course....

J'onn J'onnz, the Martian Manhunter


I think someone needs a cookie.


Yes! Godlike alien J'onn having a freakout and beating the tar out of a powerless dress shop owner and a tiny old blind guy. That's what comics are all about.

"This is it; I am never letting Ching pick out my outfit again!"
And, for the record, Diana; J'onn will NEVER regain his balance.


Oh, wait, there's only one more thing that will make this incident perfect:

Faceplanting Batman. "But... but I'm the goddaMMFFFPHHH!"
Eat sawdust, stupid Bronze Age Batman.


Wild man. Mad dog. J'onn J'onnz is insane, people.

Oh, but don't believe me; believe HIM.

That wasn't "something in your mind", JJ; it was your mind. How snapped is JJ? Let's just say that if his daughter is running for Homecoming Queen, pull your daughter out of the contest immediately.


So someone gives JJ a cookie to calm him down, and, while Diana and Ching are having their bones reset, he calmly reveals that,
"oh by the way, I've been lying to you about my backstory since I was introduced 15 years ago. I am essentially an escaped war criminal, and the Martian equivalent of Robert E. Lee."

That retcon is breezier than J'onn's Martian-breath. Still, the JLA is long since accustomed to rolling with whatever ridiculousness JJ spouts, since he's:

(A) powerful enough to kick any of their asses and
(B) crazy as a loon.

Therefore they do not say,
"What do you mean there's a planet-threatening war going on on Mars the entire time we've been working with you, during which we've jaunted off to about 30 different alien worlds and could have stopped off on Mars to lend a hand at any point, particularly since that war might threaten Earth? And why did you just beat the crap out of an old blind guy at a carnival? ARE YOU INSANE?" Because they already know the answer to that question.

So instead they say,
"Um, okay, J'onn sure. That sounds great; nice to know. Need a lift somewhere? Or will you just be wishing yourself into the cornfield now?"

There's never really any explanation why he's at the carnival, or dressed like the Invisible Man (particularly since he's a shapeshifter who can turn invisible), or freaks out violently just because there's a fire-eater there (dude; just walk away and get an ice cream cone, or better yet, just create one with your mind). But it's the Martian Manhunter, after all; if you are looking for sensible or even comprehensible explanations of his behavior then you've missed the point of the character.

Shhhhhuuuure, J'onn, whatever you say. Heh heh, yep, water is sure great.


Turns out that one of J'onn's previously unmentioned godlike powers is the ability to violate the Fourth Wall with his mind and telepathically influence comic book writers and editors, because they obligingly backed up J'onn's crazy story by retconning all of Mars to fit his babblings.



Suddenly there were two 'races" on Mars, the white and green, who'd been engaging in a long race war and J'onn had been exiled to the Martian desert wastelands by his enemy, Commander Blanx, for 13 years.

In a hilarious send-up of
The Lorax, Blanx basically sells off Mars to be strip-mined. In essence, Mars is the West Virginia of the solar system.


Denny O'Neil was fond of writing stories that contained veiled social commentary. If by 'veiled' one means "festooned in neon tubing, sparklers, and
'THIS IS OUR MESSAGE, STUPID!' arrows". This is one of the more subtle ones.

So JJ and the Leaguers go clobber B'illy Blanx's little mob of white Martians, but don't manage to stop him before he burns off everything on Mars including the atmosphere. A few Martians escape in a starship for parts unknown while J'onn, the perennially calm stable center of the JLA, beats Blanx to death with a Mars globe.
Yes, really.

Oh, and somewhere during all that, Hal falls asleep.

Yeah, well, staying up till 5AM with three Pan-Am girls will do that to you, Hal.


Unfortunately, Superman catches Hal right before he lands, or I'd be sharing with you a picture of
Hal getting hit in the head WITH MARS. Which would be impressive, even for Hal, particularly if, unlike Blanx, he survived getting hit in the head with Mars. Oh, how many licks does it take to get to the center of Hal Jordan's noggin? The world may never know.

The upshot of all of this is J'onn leaves Earth to search the stars for the S.S. Martian Minnow and the JLA lets him because he's

(A) powerful enough to kick any of their asses and
(B) crazy as a loon.

Don't let the door hit you on the way out, er, I mean, "godspeed!"


So, the Manhunter is put on a bus and Earth-2 rejects Red Tornado and Black Canary are sniffing around the campfire, begging for scraps of readership. What other disaster could befall the Silver Age Justice League?

I'll give you a hint: what is the sound of one hand snapping...?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

JLA FORTNIGHT: Black (Canary) Widow

Meanwhile, at "the beginning of the end" for the Secret Sanctuary Era of the Justice League of America...

As mentioned in our last post, after Red Tornado's disastrous arrival, Black Canary arrives to Earth-1. Like all Golden Age Heroes worth their salt (and associated with the Justice Society), when the Silver Age arrived Black Canary was determined to live on the parallel world of Earth-2. UNTIL...

a disastrous team-up between the JLA and JSA, where her husband got killed. For no particular reason (although I will blame Red Tornado), the JLA and JSA join forces to fight the usual Ersatzian Threat. You know, some cosmicky extra-dimensional, one-shot villain, with vague motivations. This time, apparently, the moon was in the seventh house, because they fought Aquarius, the Living Tiki Mug.

He really needs to be wearing a paper umbrella behind his ear.
The JSA Snowglobe is still the most popular purchase at the Earth-2 Gift Shop.


Aquarius (again, for no real reason) kills Black Canary's husband Larry with a giant lint ball.
"HA! Foolish human! You've fallen into my lint trap!"


Actually, Larry voluntarily jumped in front of the giant lint ball to save Black Canary's life. The lint ball was about to crush
HER instead, because she was stuck to the ground in front of it. And just why was Black Canary stuck to the ground in front of it....?

Green Arrow's stickum-shaft, that's why.

C'mon; you didn't really think I'd posted that just for fun, did you...?

Oh, and, to be honest with you; that's
NOT a ball of lint. It's a ball of cosmic power from Starman's rod. Yes, let's repeat that. Black Canary's husband was crushed to death by a ball of power from the cosmic rod of her ex-lover because she was glued to the ground with her legs open by the stickum-shaft of her future lover, Green Arrow. Top that, Scott Lobdell.

This is kind of ironic, since Larry was always a classless jerk, a shiftless freedloader and skeevy gumshoe who was a millstone around Canary's neck.

What a charmer. No wonder Green Arrow looked good to her.


Of course, what happens afterwards is even more ironic: she takes up almost immediately with another classless jerk, the self-righteous blowhard and skeevy crimefighter
who's the reason her husband is dead.

"We're both crippled, Green Arrow; you by your ridiculous facial hair...me by my 20 lb. Tammy Wynette wig."


You see, once Larry is dead, Black Canary does what any grieving widow would do...

LEAVES HER UNIVERSE ENTIRELY.

Panel 1: "This entire universe reminds me too much of my husband."
Panel 2: A panel that reads very, very badly out of context.


In the process of migrating to Earth-1, Black Canary--somehow--acquires a superpower: -superscreaming.


Actually, if you pay attention to the story, you notice that Black Canary's power is NOT generated by her voice. It's psionic; the 'canary cry' is something that she generates with her mind, not her voice. It's more sensible, I think, and something I'd like to see reasserted when she is reintroduced as part of the Earth-2 JSA in the New 52.


Black Canary gains superpowers right after Wonder Woman loses hers. This is perfect timing, because now she can join the JLA to take the place of Wonder Woman, who having lost her powers, quits the group, and takes up a new hobby:

hating I Ching.


"What in Hades did you drag me to a carnival for, old fool? Can't you see I'm not dressed for it? Oh, that's right; you can't."

"To teach you the simple childlike delight of laughter, you brain-dead cow. Now LAUGH, wench, LAUGH."


Coincidentally, this blissful little scene of Wonder Woman and I Ching snipping at each other is the beginning of another nail in the coffin of the Secret Sanctuary era, which I like to call...

"RACE WAR TO THE STARS!" So, stay tuned.