Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Back Issue Box: Justice League of America #157

I keep trying to take an optimistic viewpoint when it comes to this new DC 'relaunch'. One of the things that I saw that intrigued me was the tweet above by Jim Lee. As we know, Lee is drawing the new Justice League book and there were some online concerns written about his timeliness. Lee responded he wouldn't mess things up. And then he invoked the name of Dick Dillin, the fantastic JLA artist of the 70s and 80s.

I find it interesting that part of the push, it seems, for this reboot, is to start fresh and leave the old continuity and history behind and then Lee mentions an artist from 3 decades ago. That sense of legacy and tradition should be considered a strength of the DCU, not a hindrance.

As always, things like this get my mind rolling so I thought why not review one of those Giant Justice League of America books done by Dillin. Of course, it would have to involve Supergirl. And I thought it would be cool to also find one which had some impact on current DC continuity.

Was that possible? Yep.

Released in 1978, Justice League of America #157 was written by Gerry Conway. And, I will admit, Dick Dillin only did some of the art on the book, the opening chapter and the epilogue. But as you will see, those are probably the most important pages of the book. The other chapters of this 'giant' issue are done by Juan Ortiz, an artist I have never heard of before.

The story looks at relationships and love on two levels. On one level there is the human side of love, made only more difficult if you are a costumed hero. The other level is the super-human side of love, that of power-mad love goddesses and the more lustful and possessive kind of love.

And, while I usually look at these things from my particular viewpoint, it can be said that Supergirl is the ultimate hero of this book.

But how could this issue from 1978 still resonate now? Well, as seen in the banner in the upper left, this issue included the Atom's wedding. We all know how that ended, ultimately leading to the events of Identity Crisis.

The story opens in the secret lair of a woman calling herself The Siren. It is a posh set up with hanging tapestries, statues of men and women embracing, sumptuous divans, and the prerequiste band of henchmen.

It is clear that the Siren has complete control of these men, wielding the promise of love and passion as the reward they will get for their complete obedience. It isn't a healthy love. On her command, one man smashes a TV screen with his fist, bloodying himself. It reminds me of the sort of lustful, possessive type of 'love' we see in the current Star Sapphires.

I also had to laugh at the ridiculous henchmen outfits, yellow unitards with a heart on them. Silly.

But who is the Siren?

Elsewhere, Ray Palmer and Jean Loring are enjoying a night out together before their wedding ceremony. The wedding is only a day away. And Ray realizes he needs to come clean to Jean about his other life. And he does it in dramatic fashion. He shrinks down right in front of her.

Before he does this, Ray thinks about Jean's already tenuous psychological state. She has already had three 'nervous breakdowns'. He hasn't revealed his super-heroics to her before this out of fear of inciting another one. Obviously honesty is the best policy. But I think maybe the night before the wedding is not the best time to reveal this. Maybe a little before ...

And Jean responds appropriately. She is angry and confused. She doesn't know what to think. She storms off making Ray wonder if the wedding will go forward.

The scene shows just how out of touch with Jean Ray could be. He is glad she didn't decompensate but he actually says he is surprised that she responded with anger. Really?? He didn't think that might be one of the ways she would react? This relationship was doomed from the beginning.

The rest of the League, as well as Supergirl, are up on the satellite preparing for the wedding.

The pre-party excitement gets interrupted by the Phantom Stranger. The Stranger gives a recap of a recent adventure where the League fought 'The Fiend with Five Faces', a being that was an amalgam of five lesser gods who fused their powers into one being to survive in the modern world. The League ultimately defeated the being, stranding them in statue form at the bottom of the ocean. But, it turns out that one of the five gods actually escaped that trap, replaced by an illusion. Batman, Green Arrow, and Aquaman as well as the Stranger fly to the open waters to investigate.

Meanwhile, Green Lantern and Red Tornado fly to Gorilla City to pick up Solivar who was invited to the wedding as well. Umm ... wouldn't Jean suspect something if a gorilla in a cape showed up at the reception?

With those 2 squads off on missions, the remainder of the League continues to prepare for the wedding. Included in that is Superman and Supergirl talking about relationships. Funny that Supergirl talks about 'never' joining the League given her more recent adventures. But odder is this part where Superman talks about how Kara isn't the 'loner she thinks she is'. I never considered Supergirl a loner, even if she wasn't involved with a team.

I had to include this panel if only because of how inane it is. The Bat-plane gets attacked by a helicopter flown by some of the Siren's henchmen.

Now you have to understand that earlier in the book, the Stranger teleports into the JLA satellite. Just prior to this, the Phantom Stranger is standing on the wing of the Bat-plane without any harness. I mean, he was just standing there.

So I think it is a little silly that Batman was that concerned about him. If he could teleport into space ... if he could survive the supersonic speeds of the jet while standing on the wing ... I am pretty sure the Stranger could figure out how to survive a fall.

After a crazy skirmish where Green Arrow disables one of the Siren's helicopters with a magnet arrow, the assailants turn tail and run. This allows Batman to pick up Aquaman and find out what he learned on his reconnaisance mission.

It turns out that the Siren is indeed related to the '5 gods in 1' case mentioned before. There is a missing god from that underwater tomb, Mauri the Goddess of Love. Well, now we know exactly how the Siren wields her power over men. And as this was the 1970's, Mauri's powers only work on men.

Mauri's powers are strong. She meets up with Green Lantern in Gorilla City and very quickly takes control of Hal, promising him pleasures.

And the away team of Green Arrow and Batman have also been taken over, inoculated by the Siren's men with some controlling potion. With a portion of the male Leaguers controlled by Siren, they convene on the satellite to continue her evil plots.

With the rest of the League and Supergirl, Sue Dibny, and Iris West now off the satellite, Mauri comes on board and seduces Superman!

I guess her love powers could be considered magical, explaining how easily Superman succumbs.

All this passion and mind control is happening unbeknownst to the women Leaguers. Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Black Canary as well as Iris Allen and Sue Dibny are all helping Jean get ready for the wedding. Here, while she gets her hair done, Jean breaks down. How can Ray love her if he couldn't trust her with this information? Man, that is one plump tear on her cheek.

Odd that Supergirl seems confused by this. She certainly was keeping her identity secret from any number of suitors including Dick Malverne and that creepy San Francisco reporter Geoff Anderson. Still, it is nice that Diana lends some sisterly advice about how messy those secrets can become.

And it still adds a little bit of retrospective creepiness to Identity Crisis. Those secrets can lead to some messiness.

The final phase of the Siren's plans is to have her male slave super-heroes kill the female heroes, thus removing the one threat to her plan to rule the Earth.

A 'battle of the sexes' is set up on a remote island. And, thankfully for the League, Supergirl is there to add some needed muscle for the women. Here, she uses some smarts to get the Flash and Superman to take each other out.

During the fight, Supergirl actually figures out how to turn the tides. We see that Green Arrow seems to be pulling his shots around Black Canary. And Supergirl realizes that Superman also seems to be halfheartedly attacking her.

Taking the ultimate chance, she stops running and faces the Man of Steel. Supergirl realizes that her cousin really doesn't want to hurt her regardless of what Mauri tells him. It's time to take a chance ...

And it is a chance that works. The power of 'true love' will always win out, is more powerful than superficial lust or overpowering infatuation. The female heroes are safe and sound, the men standing behind them.

Without her thralls, Mauri doesn't have much of a chance. A right hook by Kara with a left by Diana and another right by Dinah makes short work of the god. And the Stranger ultimately traps Mauri underwater with the other gods there.

I'm always happy when Supergirl plays a big role in a story like this. She figured out how to defeat the Siren, took a big chance, and pounded the bad guy ... all in a Giant JLA book.

Dillin comes back to pencil the last chapter of the book.

Jean confirms her love for Ray despite his lack of complete honesty. True love means learning about someone over time. So why stop that journey? The wedding is back on.

And for once, the ceremony itself goes off without a hitch. No supervillain attacks. Nothing but an exchange of vows and a kiss.

I will admit, I had forgotten that Supergirl was a bridesmaid at the Atom's wedding. And yet there she is with Black Canary. Wonder Woman, and Hawkgirl. Didn't Sue have any friends of her own? And doesn't that panel composition make it look like Hawkman is a bridesmaid too?

The super-identity floating over the civilian one is an interesting way to go but I don't know if it 100% works here.

And now we have a little more exposition about Supergirl's solution. Superman tells the League that Supergirl guessed that their familial love would overcome the Siren's spell and she was right.

Once the spell was broken, Superman and Supergirl used their super-hypnotism to free the rest of the League and that was the end of the Mauri.

So how to grade this issue is tricky. Overall, the story itself, even with the subtext of true honest love versus magical infatuation, is pretty forgettable. But the 'event' nature of the issue, the wedding of the Atom ... especially given the ultimate ending to that relationship ... ups the ante. Of course, part of the problem is that link to 'continuity' is probably going to be rendered moot soon. Will the events of  Identity Crisis be wiped away by the 'relaunch'?

As for the Supergirl angle, she plays a pretty big role in this issue. Plus, she guest starred in the Silver Age Justice League only a handful of times, making these appearances rare and special. And to see her rendered by legend JLA artist Dick Dillin is a bonus. I would rank it low/medium in importance but a nice piece in a Supergirl collection. As usual, this is probably $5 or less in most back issue boxes.

Overall grade: B

But wait there's more!

Now I know what you might be thinking. There really wasn't enough Dick Dillin in this issue to get a sense of his take on Supergirl. Well, she did appear in Justice League of America #132-134 as well. As a bonus to this post, here is some more Dillin art, and Supergirl's brief appearance in JLA #133, as she chastises the League for their slow response to Superman having gone missing.

I might end up reviewing JLA #134 at some point which has a decent Supergirl vs. Despero fight.


Nikki said...

People laugh when I say Supergirl is the smartest Super but it keeps coming up. Supergirl's wits are as strong as her fist.

Anonymous said...

She always was "The thinking heroine"., even if all it meant in practice was that Jim Mooney would draw her in very thoughtful poses with giant thought balloons over her head.
Seriously though, I always thought that the Silver-Bronze age Kara'a lack of experience vis a vis Superman was somewhat offset by her rigorous Kryptonian education.

Be that as it may, these two stories illustrate a common thread from 1978 til today, that Supergirl is a wanderer in the DCU, she has at best weak team affiliations if any at all.
I wish that could've been remedied in this go round, I doubt it'll be addressed in the next one.

John Feer

Gear said...

She did get a lot of thought baloons compared to most heroes, didn't she? I like that.

But odder is this part where Superman talks about how Kara isn't the 'loner she thinks she is'. I never considered Supergirl a loner, even if she wasn't involved with a team.

Maybe not a loner, but she's always been a bit of an outsider in each incarnation, constantly changing jobs, never having a real permanent guy, or a "Jimmy Olson" type friend. It sort of fits into her character as a refugee and an orphan, she wouldn't ever feel like she quite fit in to a culture she didn't experience until she was a teenager. Even the Kara In-Zee version on the DCU JLA wound up staying in the 30th century partly because, as Green Arrow put it, "she must feel like she's in the stone age." The "loner" comment makes sense from that standpoint - it's a lot less scary to just think of yourself as a loner after so many you're close to die than it is to open up and let people get close again. It was nice to see her in recent JLA's always trying just a bit too hard to fit in, and being so happy when she did. That's another very real reaction when someone is finally breaking out of their shell.

It's also nice to see her tell the JLA to get off their chairs and get to work in that panel from JLA #133. She was always portrayed as willing to speak her mind and be the first out the door when it was time to get going.

I hope DC understands the nature of the characterizations they've created for her in each version, it would be nice to keep that sense of continuity.

Thanks ANJ, I love seeing these stories again.

Anj said...

Thanks for the comments.

People shouldn't laugh when you say that about Supergirl Nikki. She does often use her brains as a way to get out of a lot of predicaments.

And now that I read these comments, that loner comment does seem a bit more legitimate. I always think of loners as people who shun interactions, something I don't think Supergirl does. But to say she is a wanderer, looking for her place in the world ... that makes sense.

Anonymous said...

BTW why would Linda Danvers get invited to the Palmer - Loring nuptials? Did she intern at Ivytown University one summer or something?
Granted it's a class line up of perpetual DCU bachelorettes, Diana or Themiscyra, Dinah "I'll switch realities to escape my grief" Lance and Kara Zor El, juggler of planets jobs and men. I can just hear them singing "I am woman hear me roar" at the reception.

John Feer