OK, so it's been a bit longer than expected to get this post up. Apologies to omike from the Superman Comicboards who got a promise that a post would be up on Sunday and then one didn't appear. It's not been the greatest week in the world for me, as I've been dealing with having a very ill girlfriend a very long way away from me. Blogging hasn't been something I've been up to doing the past few nights, but I'm back, the blog is back, and we've got us some pseudo-Silver-Age JLA to take a look at.
Writer: John Ostrander
Penciller: Val Semeiks
Inker: Prentis Rollins
Colorist: Jon Kalisz
Separations: Heroic Age
Letterer: Ken Lopez
Assistant Editor: Steve Wacker
Editor: Dan Raspler
Cover Artists: Val Semeiks, Prentis Rollins, John Kalisz
Cover Date: August 2001
Fire-Eye, a power-vision-wielding dinosaur from a different time, is attacking Gotham City harbour. The JLA move in to attack, unknowingly observed by Batman. Their assault initially seems to work, impressing Batman with their tactics and teamwork, but Fire-Eye is able to shrug off their attacks and continue his attack. Batman approaches Green Arrow and Black Canary, giving them an alternative battle plan. Despite Green Arrow's resistance, the JLA use Batman's plan, forcing Fire-Eye back to the portal that he appeared from, whilst Batman himself works to protect the bystanders from collateral damage. Fire-Eye refuses to enter the portal, but the sudden arrival of Superman tips the battle in favour the JLA, and a quick blast of heat vision through the portal destroys the apparatus maintaining it. In the aftermath, Superman is pressed by a reporter to join the JLA, a request that Superman finally agrees to. Superman and other members of the League take off, whilst Green Lantern, Flash, Green Arrow and Black Canary help to clear up after the battle. Flash takes umbrage at the brusque nature of Batman's intervention, whilst Arrow and Canary grow closer and reveal their identities to each other.
The next morning, Bruce Waynes is quizzed by Alfred as to why he hasn't joined the JLA despite several requests to. He points out that the League could offer him something he has very little of - friends. Batman then heads out on patrol, meeting Commisioner Gordon at a zoo, where the apes have been broken out of their cages and several security guards have been killed. Batman recognises a photo of the perptrator as Gorilla Grodd, and on his return to the batcave realises that every zoo on the east coast has been hit.
Barry Allen stops by for lunch with Hal Jordan, complaining about Superman's lack of trust in his team-mates, as evidenced by his holding back in a recent Superman/Flash race for charity. Clark Kent meanwhile attends the funeral of a schoolfriend, who had been killed whilst working as a policeman. Affected by his friend's death, he vows to never let a similar event happen again.
A few nights later, Batman spies on a gather of Grodd's forces, and manages to attach a tracer to one of the gorillas. The next day, Grodd attacks Washington DC, rounding up the government and caging them in zoos, and proclaiming that America belongs to him. The Atom infiltrates the Pentagon, but finds the gorillas there incapacitated by Batman. On Batman's instructions, Atom shrinks down into the cybernetic enhancements used by the gorillas, and discovers that they help Grodd maintain control. Batman liases with the JLA, deterring them from a direct assault and setting them up to neutralise the gorilla army. However, the plans go awry when Superman arrives, ignores J'onn's telepathic warning, and directly attacks Grodd.
Grodd telepathically makes Superman imagine that he has kryptonite, forcing Martian Manhunter and Aquaman to step in. Grodd makes Aquaman think that he is dehydrating, and attempts to disable J'onn by forcing him to believe that he is surrounded by fire. As the two telepaths face off, Atom finally discovers how to disable the cybernetics, and does so, causing the gorillas to revert to a pacifist state and the resulting feedback to break Grodd's telepathic concentration. The JLA makes quick work of Grodd.
In the aftermath, Superman is berated by Batman for not trusting the JLA and for charging in to directly confront Grodd, putting the League at risk. Batman explains that whilst he is short and abrupt, he has total respect for the capabilities of the League. Superman reflects on what has happened, and decides to step down from being a full member, reverting to his honorary membership. Before doing so, he initiates a vote to accept Batman into the JLA, a vote that passes, and Batman agrees to membership.
Back in Wayne Manor, Bruce smiles as he realises that he belongs in a group.
One of the interesting things about doing this blog is the way I can just dip into a limited series for an issue or two then come away from it having only experienced one chapter of an overall story. Sure, there are times when it's going to be frustrating to try and follow the story of the series, but when the series is structured like this, then we get a lovely done-in-one that can stand apart from the other 6 issues of this series. JLA: Incarnations was a 2001 JLA spin-off where each issue looked at a different era of the JLA, from their formation all the way to the (then-current) Morrison-style Big Seven era, stopping off in the Satellite era and the JLI along the way. It was a fairly well received series at the time, although not well enough to receive a trade paperback.
I like this issue, despite it's diminished focus on the JLA. It's basically the JLA meets Superman and Batman, whilst also doing something quite common from this era in Superman's life, a compare-comparison between the two heroes that for once presents Superman in a less-positive light, making a virtue out of the things that are normally negative points for Batman. The structure is quite clear. The JLA have a fight, Batman and Superman turn up, the JLA loves Superman but is not happy with Batman. Then there's a bit of downtime, before the JLA have to fight again. Batman and Superman turn up, but this time Batman gets their respect whilst Superman realises that he's not as much of a team-player as he thought. Superman actually gets a little bit of a short shrift here. His first intrusion into the story is well reasoned, using his abilities and intelligence to realise the missing piece of the puzzle that allow him to assist the JLA in defeating Fire-Eye. His second is basically the same, charging at Grodd, but this time not using his abilities and intelligence to work out what is going on, resulting in a disruption to Batman's plans and placing two fellow Leaguers in danger. There is a moment that attempts to explain this change, the scene at Clark's friend's funeral, but it requires a leap in reasoning to apply Clark's thoughts from the funeral to Superman's unusual single-mindedness on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Batman is a far more rounded and human character than we've seen so far in this blog. We've yet to see him come out of his shell in World's Finest, and The Man of Steel is very much about presenting Batman as a reluctant ally to Superman. Here, the animosity that characterises their early interactions is still present, but wether softened by his years in the cowl, or just a shift in focus in the writing, Batman is now taking time to stand up for himself and his methods with his peers, which allows them to see beyond the brusqueness and superiority. Even Superman sees this, nominating Batman for membership, something he wouldn't have done after their first meeting.
I know I didn't enjoy Val Semeiks' art in ULTRA Humanite, but here it comes across a lot stronger. Watching his rendition of the JLA in action against Fire-Eye is a real joy. I like the little details, such as the 5 o'clock shadow on Green Arrow's face when he is confronted by angry Gotham residents hours after the fight. Olly looks genuinely exhausted in this scene, his face is longer and more drawn than usual, and this shines through even when he's flirting with Black Canary. Semeiks' Grodd is also well portrayed. Of late, Grodd has tended to be a behind the scenes opponent, using his telepathic powers over his physical prowess (I think the last time I read Grodd as a physical opponent was JLA Classified #1-3), but here he is physically impressive, and on every panel is portrayed as the kind of villain who could easily go toe-to-toe with Superman.
The Geeky Bits: John Ostrander is one of the most respected writers in modern comics history. He is best known for his five-year run on Suicide Squad, which has been thematically revived in the last few years, with contributions from Ostrander, in the Gail Simone-written Secret Six. Although Ostrander has never worked on the core Superman titles, he wrote the subsidiary series The Kents, some issues of which I looked at here.
This is, as far as I can tell, Fire-Eye's only DCU appearance. A few searches have a character called Fire-Eye in Elfquest #1-2 from the 1996 run, which would work with the idea that Fire-Eye is not from our time or reality. A fire-eye is a species of small bird noted for having red rings around the eyes.
This is one of the first times that Green Arrow reveals his identity to Black Canary. I honestly don't know when this first happened in comics, so if anyone knows this, please throw it out in the comments!
As far as post-Crisis continuity is concerned, this is the only time that Superman is an official member of the JLA until the Big Seven era. This hasn't stopped him from being a reserve member, and helping out the team on multiple occasions. This status would get changed in the aftermath of Infinite Crisis, where Superman would revert to being a founder member of the League.
Next on World of Superman: Batman's got a new companion, and it's time for him to meet the Man of Steel. It's Legends of the DCU #6!