Monday, August 27, 2007

Satellite Era Spotlight: Justice League of America #156

Justice League of America #156 (1978); "The Fiend With Five Faces," by Gerry Conway, Dick Dillin and Frank McLaughlin

Dateline: Honolulu, Hawaii

An exhasted, weakened Aquaman stumbles out of the ocean and heads for downtown Honolulu. He hails a cab, and takes it to The Bristol Building.

Hey, have you ever wondered what movie star Aquaman looks like?


We never learn why the cabbie continues to assume the soaking wet guy wearing Aquman's costume and talking about teleporters and the Justice League is Steve McQueen, nor do we learn why Aquaman volunteered the location of a secret teleporter tube to this total stranger, or why the Justice League didn't put one of them in Atlantis or the ol' Aquacave. No time for any of that, because there's an emergency brewing.

Once on the satellite headquarters of the JLoA, Aquaman asks Ralph Dibny to summon the other Leaguers. The call goes out, finding many of the other heroes right in the middle of somethin.

Black Canary, for example, is in Star City, battling The Boxer Bandits…

…and her mortal enemy, math:

Ray "The Atom" Palmer, meanwhile, is hanging out in a park with his finacee, Jean Loring, with quite a lot on his mind:

Uh, yes. If you’re going to marry someone, you should probably let them know pretty much everything about you. Or, at the very least, the broad strokes. Like whether you have any superpowers, for example, or have a costumed alter ego and have to attend meetings in orbiting space satellites once a week.

The only Leaguers who are unaccounted for are Flash and Green Lantern, who are busy investigating some weird plant growth, and find an even weirder culprit behind it—

Yikes! Dude, if you’re going to wear a leaf loincloth to cover yourself, you might want to avoid standing in the treetops and talking to people who are below you like that.

He gets the drop on them both using his crazy plant powers, capturing them both in vines.

Meanwhile, the Joker tries to steal a painting, seeking to distract the guards with clowns and Hostess Fruit Pies, but he apparently took his sweet time stealing the painting, as they had time to enjoy the real fruit filling and the light, tender crust and catch up to him.

Now, couple things here. First, this story seems to deviate from the pattern of all other scenes of DC supervillains being undone by Hostess Fruit Pies. See, usually the pies distract the villains from their perfidy with their real fruit filling and light, tender crust. But here, the Joker uses the pies on the crowds and police to distract them while he commits a crime, right? But the pies obviously don't really work, because the cops still catch him. Did he just take his sweet time stealing the painting? Did he overestimate how long it would take the cops to eat Hostess Fruit Pies and continue with their patrol of the museum? Or was it all part of his plan, all along? Were those pies all fille not with real fruit filling, but deadly Joker venom? I assume we'll return to the subplot later.

The other thing worth noting is that the last panel in this scene contradicts clearly established continuity regarding the Joker's feelings about Hostess Fruit Pies. In JLoA #147 he flatly turned down an offer of delicious Hostess Fruit Pies, thus revealing himself to be insane and thus, in all likelihood, the Joker. So which is it DC—does the Joker like delicious Hostess Fruit Pies or does he not like delicious Hostess Fruit Pies?

Anyway, back to the Justice League. Once assembled around the table, Aquaman relates his tale. It seems he was swimming along, minding his own business, when a volcanic island with a crazy living statue atop of it straight up rose out of the sea

The statue focused its ten pairs of eyes on him and unleashed a volley of eye beams. There was a flash of light and a thunderous "Zzzzzarom!" and then he lost consciousness. He lay on the ocean floor for two weeks, tended to by his sea subjects, who were responding to subconscious commands to keep him alive.

I don’t know if that’s cute or gross. Maybe a little of both.

When he awoke, he swam straight to the nearest teleporter tube, conveniently placed on top of a very tall building on land, and went to alert the League of the powerful five-faced fiend he had encountered.

Suddenly NATO calls and is all like, “Justice League! Halp! Some of our guys are fighting some Warsaw Pact guys, and we’re using ancient weapons and they’re using super-futuristic spaceships and lasers! You’ve gotta help us sort out this temporal crisis, or at least switch it so our guys have the good stuff!”

Recognizing some kind of time anamoly and/or magic hoodoo, the League responds to these multiple threats by doing what it does best—splitting into smaller teams!

This shit is so serious that The Phantom Stranger, who was then a member of the team whenever he felt like it, finally decided to deign the other Leaguers with his presence.

He joined Batman, Red Tornado and The Atom to investigate the island that Aquaman told them about. On the way, Phantom Stranger shows off his super wing-walking powers.

Once they arrive, Batman warns Red Tornado to stick with the others,

but the android is intent on setting destiny up for a punchline: “No way could a column ever collapse on me while my back was turned!”

Inside the temple, the heroes encounter some sort of intangible guardian demon, which the Atom takes care of by punching its molecules. How does taht work? I don't know, but he says it's simply physics, and since he's a physics teacher and I'm not, I'm in no position to challenge him.

On another front, The Elongated Man, Black Canary and Superman have traveled to Eastern Europe, and just as they arrive, Supes’ acid really starts to kicks in…

Sure dude. A black unicorn. Whatever.

Oh no wait, no there really is a black unicorn! And astride it is a dude who appears to be Gehngis Khan wearing a power-suit designed by Jack Kirby. He says his name “may be Ku, War-God of Ancient Oceania,” and using his magic sword, he kicks the crap out of Superman! Ssshham!

Meanwhile, the other two Leaguers encounter another, even weirder-looking guy—

Canary’s flesh crawls at the mere sight of his costume. And considering the fact that she looks at Red Tornado's costume every single day, that's really saying something.

This strange figure is Rongo, Jester of Oceania, one of five gods of that ancient civilization who was trapped in the five-faced statue, as he exposits to Canary:

Tangora the Wise, the guy who looks a little like Oliver Queesn, is the one who imprisoned them in the statue, and he himself is currently imprisoned in the temple while the other four run amok. Or other three, anyway. I'm not sure where Mauri the Love-Goddess is at.

Meanwhile, Superman uses his super-brain to outwit and defeat Ku, the Stranger uses his magic to free Tangora, Hal Jordan outwints Tane the Nature-God (no, seriously!).

But what of Rongo, well, Black Canary uses her feminine wiles to seduce him and, then, when he's guard's down, to hit him at point blank range in the face with her sonic blast:

Dirty pool, Canary, dirty pool.

Freed by the Stranger, the head god puts them all back in their temple and sinks the island.

Back on the satellite, Ray realizes that this adventure wasn’t just about Earth being jeopardized by ancient gods, it was really all about him:

When he asks his fellow Leaguers whether he should keep such a big, huge important secret like his being The Atom from his wife or not, they all say different things.

Batman advises keeping it secret…because if there’s one thing Batman knows, it’s how to sustain a relationship. Flash tried going the whole lying-to-his-own-wife route, but ended up telling her in his sleep. Hal says to go ahead and tell her: “Trust Jean! She may be the only person you ever can trust completely," he says.

Adding, “Hell, don’t just tell her your identity, tell her all of ours too! And the identity of Batman’s current sidekick, and the identities of any and all future sidekicks he might someday have! What harm could possibly ever come of it?”

What does Ralph Dibny have to say of the matter?

Oh really Steve McQu—I mean, Aquaman. You don't think Ralph would have it any other way? Well, let's check back with him in 27 years or so, huh?

So what's it going to be, Ray?

Aw man, this issue leaves us hanging. It's to be continued in “’Till Doom Do Us Part,” the next issue, which I don’t have.

Well, whatever happened, I’m sure the Palmers ended up living happily ever after…


SallyP said...

Ray took advice from Hal? On relationships?


Chance said...

If you meet the Joker, he may kill you, or tell you a joke. He may eat your fruit pies, or be repulsed by them. He's just completely unpredictable that way. The only mistake there is assuming that the Joker has any permanence to his character traits.

Other than the enjoyable fruit pie subplot, the rest of that issue is front to back insanity. Loved your comments, though, especially the oh-so-ironic advice re Jean Loring.

snell said...

Folks, if you liked the fruit pies, allow me to recommend this site, a compendium of all the Hostess ads, DC and Marvel. Enjoy.

B.G. Christensen said...

So I'm guessing this is one of Meltzer's favorite issues?

And that Aquaman/Steve McQueen resemblance is just plain uncanny! I don't blame the cab driver for not noticing the brightly-colored costume.

Anonymous said...

This cracked me up, especially the Hostess fruit pie commentary. This is the JLA era of my childhood, so it holds a dear place in my heart, but that doesn't mean I can't laugh at it as well.

Avi Green said...

Thanks for posting this! It helps to prove just how contrived and forced Identity Crisis was by contrast. The reason why Superman and Batman, for example, didn't think Ray should tell Jean his superhero ID was simply because, what if any criminals figured out that she knew, and tried to attack her so they could use her as a weapon against him? That's why some superheroes if not all were reluctant to tell their paramours and other friends and relatives in stories like those, not because they were afraid that they'd literally betray them. The whole notion that they would is just totally stupid and definitely disgusting.

This reminds me that I'm mad at a contributor to another blog I'd once been at who seemed intent on justifying Meltzer and company's actions by telling me a lie about what went on here such stories. It was in connection to a most repugnant story in 52, one of the reasons why, unlike some others, I didn't dare to pick up that weekly series and won't do so even now. Some people have no true love for comics if all they can think of is to support things that only amount to character destruction and death.

Avi Green said...

Almost forgot: anything on mental health, it's important to note, had what to do with a story published in Super-Team Family #11, June-July 1977, where Jean was brainwashed into insanity a second time by an alien race (the first time was by a subatomic alien race called the Jimberen in 1969 in Atom and Hawkman #45, cured in Justice League of America #81 shortly afterwards), and was also kidnapped to another world where Atom had to rescue her from. Depending on how you look upon it, the description as "mental health" can be very awkward, but if you take into account that Jean had been brainwashed or even assaulted by ways of a radiation device, for example, then you see that while it may be insanity, it's still more or less the result of the aliens' attack on her, so it's still more or less a form of brainwashing that caused all that.

Any apologists who're defending any of these character distortions should take a closer look and get past their ludicrous biases.