Grant Morrison’s JLA (1997) #3: “War of the Worlds” (part 3 of 4)

Last issue: Wonder Woman and Aquaman were down! Green Lantern got double-teamed! Superman was rendered helpless by (sigh) kryptonite! And Batman is… dead? Possibly? Maybe?

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We open with two people talking about keeping someone alive, and we see their skeletons like an x-ray and everything is a sickly shade of green. As the two discuss a public execution, their forms become Primaid and Protex of the Hyperclan, and it seems the green tint is from the kryptonite they’re using to render Superman helpless. Protex gloats, saying all of Superman’s friends are dead and gone. He’s alone and helpless. Who can save him now?

“I would have been here sooner, but I needed to find a skylight to crash through”

The god-damn Batman, that’s who. As Batman gets confronted by defense robots, he inner monologues that he’s figured out who the Hyperclan are, and that they think he poses no threat because he’s human. They are wrong. I’m hearing all of this in Kevin Conroy’s voice, by the way. Elsewhere, the Flash is in a death race with Zum; the alien speedster has got tricks to spare as he whips bricks back at Wally, forcing him to phase through. Then Zum employs the Infantino Effect, creating multiple versions of himself that mess with Wally’s head. Wally recalls how back in the day, Barry Allen would lay the science down on him, in the form of Flash Facts. He uses that knowledge, turning up to light speed as he thinks.

Flash: The Speed Field forming around me; a flowing world of mystery. Silver, morphing hyper-dimensional gels. Speed Heaven, the source of my power.

No one talks like that, especially to themselves. But I don’t care; it’s comics, and I love it. It’s like the bit from issue #1 with Kyle in space, in the way Grant Morrison captures the coolness and wonders of having superpowers. You get the feeling that no matter how well-versed the members of the Justice League are in their abilities, they’re still blown away by the fact they have them. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all down with the idea that having great power means having great responsibility, but having that power must be a hell of a rush, even when using it for good. The Flash notes that as he approaches light speed, his mass approaches infinity. He blows past Zum—

—and damn, I love how this page’s action is set up. The Flash literally runs around planet Earth to come up behind the guy, and you see the world through Wally’s eyes, with Mount Rushmore all distorted and the only thing clearly visible is Zum’s horrified face as he sees a red fist coming at him containing all that mass. And Zum ends up going boom somewhere in Africa. Wally takes a moment to catch a vendor’s falling vase, noting how the wife would love it, but he hasn’t got time to haggle and he speeds off.

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Meanwhile in the Gobi, Green Lantern has troubles of his own. Zenturion chokes him out and tells Armek that Kyle’s “Oan power ring” is vulnerable to the color yellow. So like half of Hal Jordan’s enemies, Armek uses yellow in an attempt to defeat our hero by turning himself gold. The problem is, writer Ron Marz had already dropped that stupid Silver Age gimmick; the (literally, at this point) one true Green Lantern doesn’t have that weakness. And worse for Armek, Kyle Rayner is a nerd with a lot of imagination.

As Kyle fights the pair, he laments that villains have gone lately from “crazy jewel heists and dumb traps” to killing girlfriends and putting them in refrigerators. This is in reference to Kyle’s girlfriend getting murdered by Major Force and stuffed in their fridge, in an event which triggered the whole “women in refrigerators” social commentary. And no, I won’t digress and discuss the merits or lack thereof regarding that debate. What I do find interesting is Grant Morrison mentioning it here, with it coming out of the mouth of a character who wasn’t even around when villains were more, ah, Silver Age-like. I wonder if Morrison having Kyle talk about it is the author’s way of suggesting mainstream comics had gotten too brutal? Though this does sound weird coming from a guy who became famous in America for his Doom Patrol run, but that was geared for an adult audience, unlike JLA. But where is the line drawn? When do things become too much? Almost two years ago, I looked at the Batman story A Death in the Family, where Joker took a crowbar to Jason Todd and it left me uncomfortable, both two years ago and back when I first read it. I’m not saying death should be taken off the table entirely, but maybe it should be less exploitative, and maybe Grant Morrison was taking a bit of a jab at the editors here. But hey, I could just be reading too much into a single sentence.

Kyle downs Armek and the mind-controlled crowd attempts to mob him, which distracts him long enough: Zenturion throws his mighty shield! And those who oppose his shield must surely yield?

Never mind.

It’s been literally decades since I read Ron Marz’s run on Green Lantern, so I can’t say definitively that Morrison has gotten Kyle’s tone right, unlike the way I feel he missed the mark with Aquaman and Wonder Woman—although it’s possible what we’re seeing here might have been meant as a soft reboot? Hard to say. It could just be a mildly egotistical writer at work. What I do like is how Wally is portrayed as being uber-competent, in contrast with Kyle’s mild inexperience.

The two enter the citadel to make mischief; Wally knows the guys they just beat up will be back soon, but Kyle’s all cocky. Again, nice seeing the contrast in terms of experience. I also like how Wally doesn’t call Kyle on this; Wally’s a team player, not a leader. Inside, they find the monitoring room and spot a screen showing a “news” report of Superman being tortured after attempting to destroy a Bangladesh dam and being stopped by the Hyperclan. Kyle can’t believe anybody’s falling for this and he wants to trash the place, but Wally wants to pick up some intel first. The Flash finds a remote, and after plugging in a couple thousand combinations, he gets it to work. A display shows the mind control satellites are in a different part of space now, which is why they weren’t spotted before. Wally speculates that the satellites aren’t satellites at all, but rather ships. And the Hyperclan might just be an advance scouting party. But before the speedster can come up with more theories, Armek and Zenturion show up. Oh, man, time for round two; let’s see what our heroes come up with this time—

—or they could just get their asses handed to them off-camera. Not what I was expecting, but I’m not too upset, considering how Morrison and Porter have already delivered some tremendous action. Armek notes how the heroes caved in after finding out J’onn had turned on them. Again, this happened off-camera. If you know me at all, then you’re aware I’m not down with decompressed storytelling. All the same, I wonder if this tale could have maybe used an extra issue; but then again, it’s possible—even likely—that that would have entailed a little too much padding. Sometimes when you trim the fat you lose a little meat; so let’s move on.

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Protex explains to Superman how the heroes are strapped into the “Flower of Wrath”. It probably got that name because “Death Blossom” was already taken. And I have to say, that’s some pretty savage living room furniture the gang is strapped into. I love how they have protective face shields, so they can stay alive longer while they’re being multi-punctured. Protex trash-talks Superman again, and damn, does he love the sound of his own voice. Armek says J’onn is ready to denounce the League right before their execution, while A-Mortal notes they’ve lost five security drones upstairs. He wonders if maybe—just maybe—a bat is on the loose. Protex thinks a “fragile” creature like Batman is no threat, but A-Mortal wants to check it out. Alone. So A-Mortal is arguably both the smartest and dumbest guy on the team. But hey, maybe Protex is right; what can one human do against them?

Later… A-Mortal’s still hasn’t reported in. Tronix, Flux, and Zenturion head off to find out what happened to him while Protex continues to rail on about how Batman’s not a threat, and I’m getting an “all is well” vibe from him:

The trio of Hyperclanners wander to the upper levels, to A-Mortal’s last known position. Zenturion smells something funny but can’t place it. The gang find a bunch of wrecked drones, and also:

I can still remember seeing this page and thinking “Daaamn!” It’s such a badass panel, and fits in perfectly with Batman’s “criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot” vibe to have him hang up one of their own to scare the bad guys witless. While I have an issue or two here or there with the characterization of some of the Leaguers, Morrison “gets” Batman so very, very well. Zenturion tells the others to call Protex while they track down Batman, who seems to be drawing a circle on the floor with something. The trio surrounds him and Batman says he’s figured out that due to their wide variety of powers, they must be Martians. He pulls out a box of matches (likely kept on hand when he’s posing as “Matches” Malone) and drops a lit one. It’s then that Zenturion realizes what that smell was: jet fuel.

Zentuion loses it in the most comical way possible, as he begs for someone to do something. Oh, Batman’s going to do something alright, Zenturion. And whatever that something is, it’s gonna hurt.

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Down below, Protex starts to really break down as he begins to sense that the plot has gone off the rails. How can this be happening? Batman is only one man! But Superman points out with a weak smile that Batman is the most dangerous man on Earth. But Protex doesn’t wan to hear this, and he smacks Supes across the face and then orders Armek to activate the Death Blossom Flower of Wrath. He then puts in a call, and it turns out Wally was right: those satellites really are ships. Protex tells Superman that there’s seventy more of them coming, and now they’re going to rain down hell upon Earth’s cities.

Next issue: The stunning conclusion to Morrison’s four-parter.

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