Thursday, October 4, 2018

Back Issue Box: JLA Act Of God

Just yesterday I wrote about the upcoming CW Flash/Arrow/Supergirl crossover event title  Elseworlds .

Today I thought I would review an example of an Elseworlds series in which Supergirl (Linda Danvers/Matrix) played a pretty big role. And so I present JLA: Act of God, a three part prestige series written by Doug Moench with art by Dave Ross. The premise is simple. What if suddenly all biologic powers disappeared? What would happen to the world?  I'll be highlighting the Supergirl portions predominantly but I'll keep you up to speed with the overall story.

I have to admit, this was a bit of cosmic serendipity. My comic store had just put out a large, well organized collection into the dollar boxes. All three issues were there and I find it hard to pass up prestige books in the dollar boxes, let alone complete mini-series. So I bought this on a whim. I was not expecting such a big Supergirl role so this was someone up there guiding my purchasing hand.

Now overall, I think this is just an 'okay' mini-series. There is a lot of plot points you just need to roll with. There is some goofiness that I would not have anticipated. Superman is treated pretty shabbily. But the fun parts definitely made it an enjoyable read, especially for the price.

I don't know Dave Ross at all. I found the art in the book quite nice with a fine-lined detailed approach. At times it felt a little like Rags Morales. That is a very nice compliment.

So where does Supergirl fit into all of this? Well, to put it in context, the Supergirl title was on Supergirl #50 during this run, the end of the long form Earth Angel arc by Peter David. It is that angelic Supergirl we see here. How did she fare? Let's find out.

Early in issue #1, a flash of 'black light' engulfs Earth.

Just like that all biological super-powers are gone.

But I am afraid it isn't that easy. Even natural physiologic powers which are considered 'above human' are gone. Aquaman can't breathe underwater. The Martian Manhunter can't do any of the things his natural genetics allow him to do.

And even stranger, Kyle Rayner/Green Lantern loses his powers. You would think will power and a Corps ring is more tech based but I guess not.

Indeed, only purely tech based heroes and villains - like Steel, Blue Beetle, and the Toyman - can continue to operate.

Meeting on board the JLA satellite, J'onn states what everyone is fearing. This 'act of God', this removal of bio-based powers, is probably permanent. People will need to get used to this new reality.

Indeed, J'onn is now stuck in his natural state, the power to shape-shift is gone.

Immediately, some heroes have a hard time adapting to the new reality. In particular, Superman begins to wallow in depression. And Kyle becomes more and more enraged.

Look at Supergirl's shocked expression. She isn't happy about this.

But some heroes are struch by how they can no longer help people. They wax a bit poetic.

I like Supergirl's line here since it resonates so nicely with her book at the time. They are like angels cast from Heaven.

I'm glad Moench embraced what was happening in her book here. There is some consistency.

Not happy with her new role as 'ordinary', our Linda Danvers decides she still needs to help people.

She'll follow in Fred Danvers footsteps and become a police officer, helping her fellow man as best she can.

What I like is once more Moench shows how he knows what has happened in the main Supergirl book. Linda and her parents have been through a lot. They love their daughter. So this mix of pride and worry felt spot on.

It also showed that even without the angelic powers, the Supergirl aspect has effected Linda profoundly.

Now I told you Superman is treated pretty badly in this book.

He simply cannot deal with not having powers. He can't tolerate a life without helping in a truly super-human way. And unlike Linda, he doesn't think about helping in small ways ... like let's say as a mild mannered reporter at a great Metropolitan newspaper. Journalists with integrity can help!

Instead, wracked with emotional pain, he leaves Lois! And, this being DC, he runs straight into the powerless Wonder Woman's arms.

I guess a lot of people think these two should end up together? Poor Lois.

And my Superman wouldn't become depressed. He'd try to make the best of it. Or lean on Lois for support, not abandon her. So this felt way off.

As I said, we get a lot of Linda in this series and that makes me very happy. I really loved that PAD series. So any unknown stories about this Danvers incarnation makes me happy.

Here we see her really on the mean streets of Leesburg, chasing down a mugger. It's a far cry from justice vision and flame wings.

And then we see her dealing with the emotional loss of her powers. It makes sense that heroes used to saving the entire world might get despondent over a new reality of running down street punks.

I like we see her actually missing her time as Supergirl. It wasn't always easy. There were as many downs as ups in her book. But she knows that she helped people and she wants to help more.

Even more than she can on the beat.

In a bold move, she meets up with the heroes who did profess that desire to be more - J'onn J'onzz, Aquaman, and Wally West.

And she really acts as the leader her. She says they can be reborn as new heroes. They can get the right training. They can rise like a phoenix.

That is to say ... they can get training from Batman.

Seriously, I love this.

Think of the heavy hitters she is in the room with, any of whom Moench could have put in this inspirational role. Think of all the female heroes he could have put here, even Diana!

Instead he chose Linda Danvers. And why not? In her own history she has risen up to be redeemed. Why not here. Wonderful.

But then things get a little silly. Their team is 'The Phoenix Group'.

J'onn is now 'The Green Man', armed with skull grenades. (Maybe this is a riff on the Green Goblin?)

Wally is The Red Devil, a martial artist with a staff.

Aquaman is 'The Hand' with a variety of cybernetic hands he can use.

And Linda is simply Justice, armed with 2 chained mace balls.

I actually like her costume, especially the 'ninja turtle' mask.

Throughout the book.we see that, no surprise, Lex Luthor is trying to take advantage of this world without super-heroes. He funds tech based villains. He hires tech based heroes. He plays both sides against the other so he is needed by both sides.

And, he also experiments on needy heroes trying to re-ignite their powers. In this way, he killed Ray Palmer who he had shrunk.

The time has come for the Phoenix Group to get their feet wet. Time to investigate the crime scene of the Atom's death.

Meanwhile, even Clark and Diana's relationship, born from pain, becomes rocky. She becomes a business woman, working in finance, and become a devout Christian. (Hmmm, the descendant of the Greek Gods? Could have been fascinating if there was more focus on that.)

And Superman continues to sink deeper and deeper in to despair, turning to the bottle.

Did I tell you that Superman is treated shabbily here? It is pretty rough.

It seems that Luthor was probably behind the Atom's death. The only way to get to the truth is to break into LexCorp and dig up the evidence.

The Phoenix Group decides they are ready for their first mission, infiltration under the guidance of Nightwing.

Maybe the costumes are a bit garish. But this is an Elseworlds. You are allowed to be a little silly.

Another thing I like about this story is that Moench really keeps Batman as a background character. You can imagine this going in another direction as 'Bat-World' and everyone in black suits with pointy ears. But instead, Bruce is behind the scenes and these other characters get to shine.

The mission goes well. We see the spiked balls of Justice! We see The Green Man chucking all sorts of skull grenades. We see The Hand putting on different attachments, like the Swiss Army Knife of heroes.

And even other villains, like the Joker, show up.

In the end, Luthor's dealings are revealed and he is locked up.

Check out Linda beating up the Joker! Cool!

And then, all becomes right in the world.

The new heroes have cemented their place in the world. The old heroes put on their togs to honor The Atom at a funeral. Superman realizes he is more than a sad drunk, tossing the bottle aside, re-entering the workforce as Clark Kent, and staying married to Diana.

And Clark and Diana have a baby who looks like they have powers ... another act of God?

Okay, I don't think I will say you need to scour the back issue bins to find this. But if you love Linda Danvers and you see it in the cheap bins it is worth buying just for her. Otherwise, this is a story that doesn't 100% click.

Still, I have to give kudos to Moench for thrusting the 'trinity' into the background and making younger or less appreciated heroes step forward in a time of crisis.

As for the art, hopefully some of the pages I showcase illustrate the Rags Morales comparison. The art is very good, even the odd new costumes the Phoenix Group has on.

Overall grade: C+


Anonymous said...

... Yes, I don't think I'll be checking this. Linda may have good moments, but it doesn't make up for Superman and other heroes being mischaracterized in such an awful way. But those who decide to turn to Batman's ways, apparently. I have the feelings there's a underlying "Superman sucks and he would be nothing without powers, Batman rocks because he has no powers" tone here, and I don't like. I wouldn't be surprised, given the time it was published.

And why the Green Lanterns lose their powers? They have no powers!

At least it was proved once again Lex is a giant hypocrite. I can't help the world until Superman is out of the way, my rear.

And what is with the SM/WW romance in every Elseworlds? People, it was intended to be an accidental relationship stemming from a tragedy in "Kingdom Come"! Mark Waid never intended to suggest they were soulmates!

Martin Gray said...

I shall read this post later... the copies I bought when you said you were looking at it have now arrived.

Anonymous said...

I read it, i didn't like it even one of my favorite comic reviewer think is just a ode to Batman and some lost of powers of some heroes doesn't make sense.

Anonymous said...

Probably splitting hairs, but Supergirl was much taller and had a different physique than Linda (something of a tiresome running joke during the second half of Peter David's run) - so what happens when she loses her powers here? In those days, the only shape shifting she was still able to do was with her body including her hair color and length (I think her eyes remained blue, though) - not even her costume.

After the power loss, she seems to continue to have blond hair (at first), and her Supergirl costume doesn't get to be too big on her. That suggests she retains her Supergirl form.

Then we see Linda at home - with dark brown hair. Well, maybe she dyed it. But does anyone ask why she is suddenly taller? So who does she look like - Supergirl or Linda?

As Justice, she's a compromise - dirty blond hair. Easily explained with hair dye.

Anyway, you've pointed out that there are no entirely sensible rules in this mini-series. Plus there really wouldn't be room to explain every rule for every character even if something plausible could be invented. You just have to go with the overall concept.

I much preferred Dave Ross's interpretation of Justice to Leonard Kirk's Supergirl or Linda, but I think I liked every artist more than Kirk. Here, Justice, is brave, inspiring, tough, and beautiful.

That panel you included, Justice in the foreground with the group introducing themselves to Batman - "Linda Danvers, formerly Supergirl, now Justice..." just a wonderful splash panel.

The Justice character is front-and-center on the cover of #3, though not necessarily the most prominent due to sizing. Still, much more prominent than the sometimes microscopic treatment in large groups.

Superman sure did get an awful treatment. If his real identity is Clark, it makes no sense. He was raised as Clark, with his powers developing slowly - he should be able to resume being Clark without this much trouble. Guess they needed to find a dramatic hook for this story.

Anonymous said...

I won't comment on a miniseries I declined to read because of all the ways to Job Out Superman (and DC invents new ones every day) turning him into a skeezer drunk was....laughable.