Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Satellite Spotlight: Justice League of America #78-#79

Last month we took a look at Justice League of America #61, by Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky. It was the first issue collected in Showcase Presents: Justice League of America Vol. 4, and I talked a little bit about how interesting that particular volume was, as it contained between its covers the the transitional issues in which the Silver Age slowly became the Bronze Age, how a reader today could pick up this volume and see the characterizations and relationships that defined these characters coming to be, and, perhaps more interestingly, watch writer Denny O'Neil struggle with the conventions of his medium as he tried to tell more sophisticated, relevant stories.

The two-part story that ran in JLoA #78 and #79 is a pretty good example of this phenomenon, as it's chockful of instances of the title's growing pains. In the preceding issue, O'Neil did away with the team's longtime sidekick Snapper Carr and the original Happy Harbor headquarters, and in #78, he unveils their new HQ, making this issue the very dawn of what we now refer to as "The Satellite Era."

So let's take a look at this important moment in Justice League history, starting with "The Coming of the Doomsters," featuring art by Dick Dillin and Joe Giella, and a not-terribly-representative-of-the-actual-contents cover by Gil Kane.

I mean, yeah, Vigilante does appear in the story, and the JLA do beam themselves up to their new satellite HQ, but it wasn't to quit earth while people were passing out all around them. If I had paid fifteen cents for this in 1970, I would have been so pissed off! And then I would have gone to visit my dad in high school.

It opens with the sort of purple narration I wish I could say I never see in comics any more: "Night has fallen on Star City...a night as bleak and chill as a dream of death! A solitary figure moves through the jungle of the slums, vigilant, alert..."

This vigilant, alert, solitary figure belongs to Green Arrow, who is frustrated by all the smog, which makes it "like a patrolling in a sack;" he can't see a thing! Of course, it's also night time. That might have something to do with the poor visibility.

The be-goateed hero can still hear though, and the sound of gunshots draws him to a nearby factory, where a night watchman is battling some armed thugs, and doesn't seem to be in need of any help from GA. Nevertheless, our hero decides to shoot a flare arrow up into the air, to "shed some needed light on the smoggy situation," but, unfortunately, it falls into a nearby river, and sets the polluted water ablaze, Cuyahoga River style!

Way to go, hero. Green Arrow calls his more effective friends Superman and Green Lantern, and they put out the blaze. Together the trio fly off, leaving the watchmen running after them with a briefcase, thinking, "They didn't hear!" That seems rather unlikely, since Supermman has super-hearing.

"Dang...I gotta find 'em," his ominous thought balloon continues ominously, "The whole future of the human race may depend on it--!"

Meanwhile, Superman and Green Lantern take Green Arrow—and through him, the readers—through the process of commuting to their new satellite headquarters. Where to find half of a Thanagarian Relativity-Beam System, how it will verify his identity and teleport him to the satellite in geosynchronous orbit 22,3000 miles above the United States, showing him a map of the joint, and so on.

I like this sequence because it means that the whole Justice League got together and decided to build a brand new headquarters in outer space and no one even told Green Arrow until it was completely finished.

Just then, the Atom reminds GA that they have to make a public appearance in Star City, and Black Canary heads towards the teleportation cylinder, saying "Will someone descend with me? I'm still spooked by super-scientific gadgets..."

Green Arrow sees an opening:
He's so smooth, it's no wonder she ended up marrying him. Actually, dig how completely unimpressed whe is with him in that panel, despite how intense his face is while he delivers his come-on/joke.

Back in Star City, it's a very slow news days
so the Star City Gazette goes with a headline-only front page, which is lucky for the night watchman, who was looking for the JLA.

Less lucky for him? A car full of thugs with machine guns attack him, but he's able to shoot out one of their tires and make his escape.

Cut to the ballroom of an expensive hotel, where a $100-a-plate charity banquet is being held, featuring the Justice League:
Apparently, this is shortly after Green Arrow changed costumes and grew his goatee, as everyone keeps talking about it.

Superman introduces the League's newest—and prettiest—member:
This story apparently takes place around the time when Superman was still crushing pretty hard on Black Canary.

The crowd calls for a speech, but Canary's just a dizzy dame, how could she possibly string together enough words to deliver a speech?
In fact, she's such a dizzy dame that a halo of dizziness emanates from her head.

Canary is saved from public speaking when the night watchman rushes in, demanding that the League "powwow" with him about "a mess of owlhoot," owlhoots who are right behind him, with guns drawn. The League vanquishes them, and Superman's x-ray vision reveals they are actually robots who are about to self-destruct.

They take the night watchman up to the satellite, and learn that he's really Greg Sanders, the retired crime fighter who used to go by name The Vigilante. Apparently, he got sick of being a cowboy-themed superhero, and decided to move to Star City and become a night watchman for some dumb reason.

The factory he worked at was might strange though. It was always running, day and night, shooting soot into the air and dumping waste into the river. Eventually he learned that the pollution wasn't a byproduct of production, it was production: He was guarding a pollution factory!

He managed to get his hands on some documents, including the formulas for the pollution the factory was making, and a star map.

The team decides to split up, with GL and Superman seeing where the map leads, and Vigilante and the others checking out the factory. Green Arrow decides that rather than do any of that, he'll take the opportunity to tell off the city manager of Star City.

The city manager's second-in-command Jason Crass isn't terribly impressed by Green Arrow's claims that the factory is actually a pollution factory operated by robots at the behest of aliens from the Sirius star system.

Crass (Ha ha, subtlety!) takes the opportunity to make fun of Ollie's beard, making a point of saying he has time to shave, which seems odd, since Crass has a mustache himself.

GA commences with a sermon about pollution, which doesn't have much of anything to do with the sinister alien pollution factory in town: "Man, you are stupid! Look...in some cities the air is so foul that breathing is the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes... And cigarettes are hazardous to health!"

Eventually Crass orders the city hall security guards to put GA in the slammer, although they ultimately let him go, despite his insinuation that they were Nazis.

Batman, Atom and Black Canary take Sanders to "a local western goods shop" where he finds everything he needs to reassemble his costume.
Black Canary tells him he looks very handsome in his costume, which may not actually be a compliment, considering the fact that his costume consists of a mask obscuring most of his face.

"At that instant, many light-years distant," GL and Superman arrive at the fifth planet from the sun Sirius, a one-time earth-like planet which has been changed to "a gigantic trash-can!" What could have caused this devastation, and could it provide a teaching moment about the environment to the kids at home?

Maybe!

At the factory, Vigilante and the gang get captured, put in a big net, and are being slowly lowered into a vat of "bubbling, noxious...death." And that's where the issue ends! With a cliffhanger! Holy shit, is this the end of the Justice League?! Or at least three of 'em, plus Vigilante?!

No. Not it's not, as we discover in "Come Slowly Death, Come Slyly!" by the same creative team.
(This next issue's cover is by Neal Adams though. The focal point is clearly the dying Superman, directly appealing to the reader to stop pollution, but look at Hal in the background: He looks like he's going out big with a death scene he learned in an opera, but that's silly. Hal Jordan would never see an opera).

After a brief recap of the events of the previous issue, we follow Green Arrow as he runs from city hall to the pollution factory, arriving just in time to rescue his allies from the net-dipped-in-a-vat-of-death trap.

Once free, they attack the, um, the Doomsters. Check out this page:
Note how the characters can't simply crack wise while fighting the robots called the Doomsters who run a pollution factory for an alien, but they have to talk about how weird it is to be cracking wise, and justify and rationalize the comic book convention to each other.

Defeated, the Doomsters escape to a portion of the factory which is actually a rocket ship and blast themselves into space.

Even further out in space, GL and Superman finally find a survivor on the ruined planet in the Sirius system. This humanoid alien in on the way out too, but he has time to tell the story of his world and the Doomsters.

Once, the people of Monsan—that's the name of this planet, I guess—gloried in their industrial might, creating goods like crazy. Scientists warned that the were destroying the planet with pollution, but the government didn't pay any attention...until people started dropping dead and the planet dying. The evil leader Chokh (Get it?! Chokh!) used a radiation bath to transform himself and his followers into "Doomsters," able to survive in such an environment. Now they travel the galaxy for new worlds to pollute and conquer.

When that dude dies, Hal considers destroying the planet with his ring, but Superman wants him to leave it as it is, "a monument to mortal ignorance-- and a warning!"

Back in our own solar system, Chokh and his Doomsters seed the earth with pollution bombs that, in one hour's time, will release "total pollution!"

GL and Superman return, beat the shit out of all the Doomsters on their ship-disguised-as-a-factory, but they missed Chokh himself, who attacks the JLA satellite, and gets the upper hand. Waving a gun at them, he demands they open the airlock and throw themselves into space.

The Atom asks Batman to distract Chokh, and shrinks out of sight.

Bats and GA decide to distract the main Doomster with some soap opera shit:
That gives the microscopic Atom the one panel he needs to sneak across the room, enlarge and, ZOKK, punch out Chokh. The alien begs Green Arrow not to remove his mask, but GA does so anyway, and Chokh immediately chokes to death. See, fresh air is poisonous to him! Irony!

Finally, the earth is saved...

...or is it?!

6 comments:

chiasaur11 said...

Man.

Easy to see how Hawkeye stole Canary in JLA/Avengers. As disturbing as his metaphors are, at least he knows how to shave. A useful skill.

Also, check out Batman on the second cover. He's not dead. He's just tired.

LurkerWithout said...

Her late husband? That means Ollie is hitting on Dinah's MOM. That ain't right...

Sea-of-Green said...

Ha! Great recap of this storyline.

I'm sure Carol Ferris probably did drag Hal to an opera once -- and he probably took notes. ("Hmmmm ... Carol is bawling her eyes out. Wow, chicks dig this stuff. I'm gonna have to remember that...!") ;-)

Jacob T. Levy said...

Ow. That's some painful, painful comic-booking right there. Neither good space opera nor good social-relevance drama.

I guess this is during Wonder Woman's I-Ching leave of absence from the JLA; otherwise it's kind of obnoxious of Superman (who was capable of super-obnoxiousness) to declare Dinah the prettiest Leaguer in front of a roomful of strangers. It's sexist as all hell anyways-- but not quiet as bad as "Right smart for a lady!"

I like how her blonde wig is portrayed as big Jersey hair ca. 1987.

Per the terrible, goofy retcon in the 80s, the person Ollie is currently hitting on has Dinah Senior's memory but Dinah Junior's body. That's creepy enough from Ollie's perspective... but imagine the issues it creates around the memories of dad/ husband Larry.

Teebore said...

Yeah, I love how Vigilante considers Black Canary "right smart...for a lady."

So she's smart, but just lady-smart? Which, I assume, is not as smart as Guy-smart...

Walaka said...

Thank you - this serves as an excellent critique of comics in general from my formative years. One of the characteristics of Generation Jones is our betwixt and between nature, and that applies to comics, too. We can't claim Silver Age goofiness or Modern Age grim 'n' gritty as our own - we're stuck with Bronze Age awkwardness.

Nicely done.