Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tales From the Vault: JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #87

Today we take a look at the unofficial crossover between the Avengers and the Justice League of America. On the Marvel side of things, this collaboration gave us the Squadron Supreme and the classic story in Avengers #85-86. And over on the DC side of things, well, this happened.

Details: Even though the situation depicted on the cover seems to be right out of 1962 – oh noes, Batman is a freaky jester king, why?! – this comic is actually from February of 1971. This is one of Mike Friedrich’s first efforts at DC, with art from Dick Dillin, who inexplicably is an artist and not a private detective.

Synopsis: Friedrich doesn’t waste any time getting things going as the story starts right in the middle of an action sequence, with Batman down for the count and Hawkman already spouting Friedrichian bon mots. Here's the first text in the issue:

"Batman -- out on his feet... badly beaten! Colossal monster! I'll show you we aren't to be slapped off as a cow does a fly!"

Oh. Great. It’s going to be one of those comics. To quote the great Harrison Ford regarding his role as Han Solo, “You can write this shit, but you can’t say it.” Anyhow, Hawkman gets zapped by, I dunno, an encephalo beam or something, and is out. Batman, with his final thought, tries to activate a homing beacon, but fails (I thnik that's what he's doing, anyway, he might just be trying to rub Hawkman's burly chest one last time before he dies). However, the conquering robot then activates it for him, as he wants the JLA to show up so he can defeat them.

Meanwhile, in the Arctic, Superman is brooding:

"I am SUPERMAN... why must I keep impressing that on Earthlings? There are 3 1/2 billion people on this planet and I am unique.... different!"

One panel and this is already the most unsympathetic take on Superman I’ve ever read. Take a bow, Mike Friedrich! Superman decides he needs the company of "those that share the curse -- as well as the blessing -- of super-powers" and goes to the JLA satellite. There he runs into:

"Zatanna... the girl with the enigmatic smile and dancing eyes... Zatanna... ever the calm in the midst of a stormy world... Zatanna... the bearer of peace..."

Zatanna... the brainwashing agent of fascist ethics... oh wait. Anyway, Superman is all, "what are you doing here?" and she's says she came to celebrate the anniversary of her father being rescued. I guess her idea of celebrating is to hang out in an empty satellite orbiting Earth in lonely arcs, hoping an angsty alien shows up to brood at her. Hey, her plan worked! But Superman is no longer brooding, he's totally checking out her junk in a panel with the caption "Just by being near her I feel so comfortable... at ease..." Sorry, Lois, you just got the silver medal.

Suddenly they get the distress beacon from Batman. So they rush to Peru, and coincidentally show up just as Flash, Atom and Green Lantern are getting there. The giant robot is still there, blasting crap, but Batman is like, "why are you guys here? Everything's fine. Go away." He says he and Carter Hall were working on an archaeological dig when they found the robot, so they decided to ask the robot to help with the dig.

Wow, that's a pretty dumb idea, Batman! If I found a robot buried in an ancient archaeological site, I'd want to spend maybe a little time studying it before I turned it on. Maybe? Of course, it doesn't matter, because Batman is lying through his teeth, which Superman detects with his cursed super powers. Batman decides he'd better just cut the lying bit since nobody is buying it and instead commands the robot to crush them all.

Then we get a long fight sequence which, like most fight sequences, bores the piss out of me. Batman goes nuts and declares himself king of the world and the robot starts doing his robot thing, which as you can guess means analyzing everyone's powers and coming up with counter measures, and then Colossus does a fastball special right into the Sentinel’s chest and…

If only. No, eventually, the robot defeats and kills all of them, then presents their bodies to Batman, who is giggling like a maniac.


Well, the end of part one. Now we get part two, where we learn that Green Lantern used his power ring to "substitute android duplicates" for the real JLA and send telepathic messages to everyone to play along. Green Lantern's ring can send telepathic messages? And create android duplicates? That’s handy I guess. Anyway, the JLA regroups (because the robot has… wandered off) and they send Batman and Hawkman to the hospital.

Now we get to a really confusing section. See, the Atom shrunk down and hid inside the computer – in other words, the only thing Atom has ever done in his entire existence-- and in a one panel text blurb it explains that the robot is from a world on the far side of the universe and that Atom and the robot were teleported back across the universe to this planet. So, using the combined willpower of the JLA, Green Lantern's ring is able to teleport the team across the universe to where Atom is waiting. During this sequence, GL has the temerity to say that "My ring isn't as galaxy-shattering powerful as it used to be..." Dude, Jesus. You just used telepathy, created androids and teleported the team across the ENTIRE UNIVERSE. Stop being a whiny bitch.

They arrive to discover that this world has pretty much been totally trashed. The robot was sent by the controlling corporations of this world to find materials, and thus it arrived on Earth. The JLA doesn't know this, as it's told in flashback, but they find out pretty quick when they suddenly run into… The Avengers!

Or, well, not quite. They actually run into a team of super-heroes called The Assemblers. Their world also was attacked by a robot probe that teleported back here, and just like the JLA they followed the robot back. Now, since the two teams are all superheroes, they must mistake each other's intentions and have a foolish fight.

And so they do. The Assemblers look like this: Jack B. Quick, super speedster, who looks an awful lot like Quicksilver, only without the white hair; Blue Jay, "a normal man who's discovered how to shrink to the size of a bird and gain wings"; "Silver Sorceress -- A female with extremely powerful Hex-power, but unable to control it completely"; and "Wandjina -- coincidentally the name of the Australian aborigine god of rain... able to control the elements! On his world, he is believed to be an actual god, but no one really knows..." Wandjina also wields a giant mystical battleaxe.

The two teams battle for... two pages. A giant two-page spread. Then, on the next page, a rock accidentally clocks Blue Jay, almost killing him. Man, that's embarrassing. I’ve read that Blue Jay was a comment on how useless Wasp and Yellowjacket are, which is kind of rich coming from someone using good ol’ “I’ll just shrink down and jump through this telephone line” Atom. But I digress. Zatanna uses her magic to heal Blue Jay, and just like that the two teams stop fighting. They decide they should be friends, so they team up and..., they don't. Actually, the Assemblers go home and the JLA all grab Zatanna in a giant group hug which is really creepy and suggestive and I'm not even kidding. Go ahead, click on it to make it a little bigger so you can really see this weird key party. And then, after the hug...


For real, nobody tries to go find the corporation that sent the robots to conquer Earth or anything. The Assemblers fly off to go home to their own world, JLA hugs and the story ends. WTF!

Extras: So, obviously Friedrich and Roy Thomas were friends and arranged this unofficial crossover. This came out at the same time as Avengers #85-86, where the Avengers journey to an alternate world and meet the Squardon Supreme for the first time. That story is one of my all-time favorite Avengers tales and is about ten billion times better than this JLA nonsense. It’s interesting that this isn’t the first attempt at a crossover; the Squadron Sinister appeared in Avengers #71, but the corresponding Avengers material that was supposed to be in JLA #75 is so vague and watered down that it’s impossible to notice unless you already know it’s there and are looking for it.

It’s no surprise these crossovers weren’t officially sanctioned, though. Corporate politics aside, the Marvel end of both stories is so vastly superior that it makes DC look like a bunch of total chumps. It’s jarring to see just how advanced Marvel seems when you do a direct comparison of books like this.

My grades:
If it didn't have the bizarre non-crossover with the alternate universe Avengers, I'd give it a D. As a hardcore Avengers fan, I have to give it a B+ just for the curiosity factor.

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Yes, that was a shitty time in JLA comics, which I have historically liked. The "Zatanna, with the dancing eyes" spiel was a running joke with my friends. A couple of issues after this one features a character named Harlequin Ellis and ends with Friedrich proselytizing about "the crash-pounding of his creative soul," I shit you not. One of the worst comic books ever, by one of the worst comic book writers ever.

Great review, Scott! Very funny!

As head-scratching as Roy Thomas could sometimes make me (particularly when reading issues of FF or ASM when he directly followed Stan), he was light years ahead of just about everyone else writing as the Silver Age turned Bronze.

And after reading this review, you reaffirm why I was a Marvel Zombie (or at least 90% of the way) in the 1970's.

DC was putting out a lot of interesting stuff in the 70's -- just not in their superhero books. There were some high points -- Batman and Detective had some really nice runs, for instance -- but most of the really good DC stuff in the 70's was taking place in their genera titles -- war, western, horror, fantasy, etc. A lot of cool, offbeat stories there.

The Assemblers were revived during Giffen/Maguire's run on JLA in the 90s. Some really great stuff, especially loved Blue Jay and the Silver Sorceress, which goes to show you, throwaway characters can be scene-stealers when handled by the right creative team.