Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Back Issue Box: Justice League Of America #150

Get ready True Believers because I am about to finish the first leg of my deep dive into the character of Mark Shaw, aka Leviathan, as I prep for (hopefully) Event Leviathan Checkmate

This leads us to Justice League of America #150, cover dated January 1978. This is the big turning point for our character. It is here that I feel you get the foundation of his turn to Leviathan. Of course, hard to know if any of this actually happened in current DC continuity. But the overall feel of the character is there. 

This also is the beginning of Mark Shaw's comic book hiatus until 1987!

Interestingly enough, this is also the end of Steve Englehart's run on Justice League of America. I don't know if this was by choice or by edict. In some ways the Shaw story here is wrapped up exceptionally quick which makes me wonder if Englehart wanted to draw this out that plot a bit more.

As usual, the art here is done by JLA veteran Dick Dillin. You get the feeling that Englehart put some bonuses in here for Dillin given it was the writer's last issue and it is #150, a sort of Anniversary number. But there are also parts of this story which are completely bizarre, allowing Dillin to open up a little bit.

So ... what happens to Mark Shaw aka Manhunter aka Privateer ultimately Leviathan. Let's find out.

Last issue ended with Dr. Light being defeated by the League (plus the Privateer). The rival criminal mastermind The Star-Tsar was revealed to be none other than former honorary JLA member Snapper Carr. 

And so the League has to figure out exactly how to process this information.

One of the subplots that has been brewing has been Red Tornado's insecurity since being reinstated in the League. He seems unsure of himself. If he fails, he gets down on himself.

And this is perfect grist for the drama mill when the brash, loud Privateer is also there. The two seem to be at odds with each other at times, sniping and insulting each other.

Something to note is Shaw's dialogue can be sort of quippy and down-to-Earth. Here he describes hanging out with the JLA as 'being invited to the clambake' and says he won't take 'guff'.

Certainly Leviathan's speech was a clue. His silly banter at times was something that made me think Leviathan was Ted Kord. Now seeing Shaw talk this way here adds some credence to the ultimate reveal.

Snapper awakens and some of his stellar-weapon wielding goons show up to rescue him. These are powerful star-guns which are able to hold off the entire League allowing Snapper to retreat.

It feels personal as Carr grabs the gun from one of the henchmen to fire at the League himself. But he doesn't want to wait to see if he has killed them. He just wants to leave.

The escape of the Tsar leaves an obvious vapor trail for the League to follow. But some think that touching base with Snapper's past might also help. League Chairman Hawkman calls for an emergency meeting right then and there, summoning all members of the League to the site.

It affords Dillin the opportunity to do a team splash page including even some time member Phantom Stranger. Englehart writes a nice little speech about the team. This is a very nice page.

It is funny though because the next page the Stranger says he isn't needed and leaves. Clearly he was brought in just for this scene.

Half the team, including the Privateer, follow the Tsar trail. Green Arrow asks Green Lantern if Privateer is going to become a member.

It leads them to a mountain hideout where the team is suddenly attacked by floating, flying key-shaped guns. In a show of skill, Shaw jumps on one of the weapons and basically bulldogs it to make it explode. There is no doubt. He is formidable.

But that small victory is short-lived,.

A hole opens up in the mountain. A gravity well negates all the heroes powers. And they are all trapped in key-shaped cages, caught between dimensions and helpless. The Key comes out to gloat. We get some backstory of the Key how his body was dying but the League accidentally cured his disease in their last melee. Now he has returned and has captured all his enemies!

But are the all trapped?

The other group of heroes heads to Snapper's home town where they run into his sister.

She tells a sob story of how no matter where Snapper went people only wanted to talk to him about his time as the JLA's mascot. It made him depressed to the point that he couldn't hold down a job because no one would leave him alone. He couldn't get on unemployment because the workers didn't think he was unemployable. And he couldn't get any advertising gigs because he was too small potatoes.

He fell into a darker hole and left town cutting off all contact with his family.

Before his sister can add anything else, Carr shows up in his Tsar outfit and fires on the team. Once again he leaves on his flyer, leaving an obvious trail.

So what do you think? Should we feel sorry for Snapper?

At the same time we see another Star-Tsar in the White House threatening President Jimmy Carter.

The Tsar has weapons of mass destruction, star weapons which can raze blocks of buildings. If the United States doesn't pay him one million dollars, he'll start leveling populated city blocks.

Insert your Austin Powers jokes if you must.

But now it seems like there is more than one Star-Tsar.

Moreover, it seems like Snapper has seen reason.

When the rest of the League follows his trail to the headquarters, he warns them to stay back. But they all also get trapped in the inter-dimensional keyholes, including Snapper.

He talks about how the Key found him and gave him the Star-Tsar outfit, finally giving Snapper powers.

But Carr overheard the League talking about him when he was captured earlier and it broke through. He really has no reason to hate them. And so he stopped his men from killing the League and left the trail for them to follow here.

He doesn't want to be a villain any more.

Elongated Man figures out that the Flash could leave dimensions the way he does on his Cosmic Treadmill if he could get purchase to something. Vibrating, the Flash is able to make his way to the Elongated Man's keyhole trap.

Ralph then makes himself into a treadmill. Running on his best friend, the Flash is able to break free of being between dimensions and is back on terra firma. He then releases his friends.

Okay, there is a lot of comic book science here. Why can Flash leave his prison and get to Ralph's? 

But his running on Ralph is pretty weird.

The Star-Tsar comes in but is quickly beheaded by Batman.

The Key's body is shrunk except his head. When we saw the full-sized Key before he was in a robot suit. Here he is inside a Star-Tsar robot. It turns out that the cure for his disease also withered his body. He screams his body is 'dried meat' at least 3 times. 

But the League knows that Snapper was Star-Tsar but was trapped with them. The Key was the Star-Tsar and was with them. So who was the Tsar in the White House? There must be a third Star-Tsar!

The big headed, tiny bodied Key is nightmare fuel.

Red Tornado solves the mystery.

He realizes the Privateer was never in a keyhole trap. He wasn't in Dr. Light's globe trap last issue. In fact, the Privateer seems to disappear from the action a lot during these missions.

The Privateer, Mark Shaw, must also be the Star-Tsar.

It does seem a little too pat that none of the Leaguers noticed he was gone during all those times.

Confronted with the reveal, Shaw loses it.

After tasting the power of the Manhunter, he could never go back to just being a public defender. But he couldn't go full hero after tasting power and the thrill of mastery.

Mastery is interesting. 

As Leviathan, he seems to want to be part of a collective ('we are Leviathan') but he clear is the leader. And by derailing all secrets, there is a sense of him being the ruler of information? Or at least the figure head.

And then we get this text page.

More than anything, this makes me wonder if Englehart wanted to write more. All this background on Shaw's personality and how he made it seem like he was a hero.

I don't necessarily know what the ultimate plan was other than undermine the JLA from within. 

But that's that. Shaw ends up being overpowered by the League and led away in cuffs. 

And so ends the sordid first chapter in Mark Shaw's life. He went from heroic idealism as Manhunter to disillusioned pawn of an evil organization to restarting as a hero to only turn out to be a villain.

I think these issues of JLA certainly inform his turn as Leviathan. We have seen the power the Manhunters wielded. We see his skill and strategy. And we see his personality traits. And we see how he is passionate for his beliefs.

I don't think I am done with this exploration. Should I continue?

Overall grade: B+


Kinofreak said...

Yes, you should.

H said...

If you'd like to- I'm not a fan of the series that he next appeared in but there are definitely quite a few out there, especially in the last few years.

Careful with the 'True Believers' stuff though- this is a DC comic! Englehart may have crossed the aisle but JLA is still firmly DC style heroes at this point.

Thus ends Steve Englehart's JLA run, and most other peoples' runs on JLA for that matter. Other than a few issues here and there (mostly JSA team-ups), Gerry Conway wrote the rest of the series.

Martin Gray said...

Of course you should!

Mark Shaw... I really hated him in this story, arrogant even before he proved to be a baddie.

I’m glad Superman got Snapper a job at Stat (Tsar!) Labs after this, making him available for Supergirl, I’m not sure I’d have been quite so forgiving.

What does ‘bulldog’ mean in the context you use it? I assume it’s a sports term, but Google was no help.

Ralph as a cosmic treadmill is amazing! How resilient must he be? I wonder if this is where Joe Kelly got his ideas for Plastic Man as a being who could survive for millennia (probably not).

That big panel of text, I’m not sure I ever read it. Zzzzzzz.

I think this was where Steve Englehart wanted to stop, was it not the same time he was on Detective Comics - he wrote all the scripts and went off to Europe.

Professor Feetlebaum said...

I agree...continue.

And yes it is true that it was Steve Englehart's idea to stop at JLA #150. There is an interview in Back Issue #45 in which Englehart talks about his stint on JLA:

"Along the way, after quitting Marvel, before writing (The Point Man novel) I got a call from Jenette Kahn who said, 'Let's have lunch and talk about what you can do for us.' I really didn't want to do comics a whole lot anymore. I had already planned that I was going to go to Europe and travel...I had lunch with Jenette. I said, 'Okay, yes, I'll fix Justice League for you, but I'm only going to do this for a year."

Anj said...

Thanks for comments!

Looks like there will be a little more Shaw scrutiny on the site!

Pro - thanks for insight about Englehart!