Grant Morrison’s JLA (1997) #4: “Invaders from Mars” (part 4 of 4)
Last issue: The League was down, save for the traitorous Martian Manhunter, as well as Batman, who’s discovered the Hyperclan are [gasp!] Martians! After taking out four superheroes, Protex seems to lose it and hits the doomsday button, signaling the invasion of Earth.
Our fourth issue opens with Superman helpless beneath the onslaught of [sigh] kryptonite. But… is it kryptonite, really? Being stuck in that chair has given him a lot of time to think about how he’s not dead yet. And how earlier, fire-generating heroes and villains all got mysteriously sick. And how the Hyperclan have all these powers, yet seem to fear fire. And that’s when it all clicks in the mind of a guy whose day job is a reporter and can add up facts: he’s dealing with Martians. And if that’s true, then the kryptonite is just a figment of his imagination. And once that final piece clicks in place—
—the truth sets Superman free! I absolutely love this, in how Clark is shown to be no slouch in the brains department. And I love too how Protex’s tiny “He knows” implies he realizes he and the rest of the Hyperclan are seriously screwed. But Protex bounces back. He tosses aside his flaming cape and denies Superman’s need for answers, blasting him with funky vision of his own. Meanwhile, Primaid tells Armek to make sure Supes doesn’t get close to the Flower of Wrath. Sadly for her, Armek ain’t Armek.
Once more, it’s awesome to see this veteran Leaguer playing 3-D chess with the Hyperclan. J’onn says he’s well aware of the infamous history of the city they’re standing in. This is a city? Does it go miles underground? Or do Martians shrink to tiny size to conserve space and resources? Tearing across the Gobi desert, Zum and Armek rush to rejoin the team. Armek is upset that the Manhunter from Mars bogarted his form, and it’s a cool little insight into the alien mindset that adopting the shape of someone else is a sort of plagiarism. Zum notes that it’s no big deal, because they were going to kill J’onn anyway. Superman, devoid of his cape and still on fire, offers to fight Protex mano a mano without their heat vision powers. Protex’s response?
Protex literally envelopes Supes, who decides to take the fight downstairs and burrow into the Earth. Primaid gives J’onn a run for his money, noting he hits like a philosopher, and she says she’s ready to break out such shape-shifting attacks as the “Flesh Vortex” and “Storm of Hammers”, which sound like the names of Scandinavian death metal bands. J’onn turns off the Flower and gets Flesh Vortexed for his trouble and knocked outside. The Manhunter talks abut how all Primaid’s tribe could ever offer was war and destruction, and they got cast out for their atrocities. Primaid retorts that living among humans, all J’onn ever was was a green freak, and asks where his friends are now.
Armek and Zum show up, and Green Lantern is ready to take him out with a robo-scorpion mega-cannon. Robo-scorpion? I wonder if Michael Bay had a copy of this issue laying around when he was coming up with Decepticons for his first Transformers movie. You should look into that, Grant. But before Lantern can lay down the hurt, Flash instantly surrounds Armek with a host of lit candles, freezing him in place for Lantern’s 16 ton weight.
Meanwhile, Zum thinks Aquaman is going to be an easy match; with no fish to talk to, the King of Atlantis can’t hope to stop him. But actually, Arthur is a telepath, and a pretty damn good one since he spends all day talking to and controlling sea life. Aquaman finds a vulnerable spot in that thing Zum calls a brain and triggers a seizure in the Martian’s (presumably) gray matter. Though, if the mind blast didn’t take Zum down, Arthur’s lame one-liner would have. Cut to Wonder Woman and Primaid, who have stepped upstairs. Way, way upstairs.
Down below, Protex can’t shut up, telling Superman that a long, long time ago, Earth was to spawn a race of godlike beings. Then the pale Martians showed up and broke one DNA chain too many, making us… us. That’s why J’onn’s people are in the “Still Zone”, which I guess is like a combination of the Phantom Zone and the DMV. But Protex should have been doing less talking and more fighting, because he suddenly realizes he’s lost control over his form. Why? Because Superman has taken him down too close to the Earth’s fiery core. Protex has only one trump card to play: his mouth. He tries to appeal to Clark’s super-humanity, insisting that the Earthlings must hate him.
It doesn’t work; Superman believes in humanity, and in his heart he feels they believe in him. Diana returns with Primaid, noting how she won because she could hold her breath longer. Kyle makes a juvenile inquiry about how long Diana can hold hers; it’s funny how Grant takes a jab at comic violence and then slips that little sexual innuendo in there. Aaaand we’re back to naïve Diana because she doesn’t get it. Batman says he can hold his breath for three minutes and fifteen seconds while—like the utter badass he is0—he drags in his four Martians.
The world record is 22 minutes, 22 seconds, in case you were wondering. I wonder if Batman’s time is while under tremendous stress, like punching Scarcrow’s face while full of fear toxin? So the Hyperclan is down, but the invasion is still underway, and honestly, there aren’t enough Justice Leaguers to stop all those Pale Martians. Is it time to assemble every hero on Earth, with the fire-based ones taking the lead? Why no. It’s time to mobilize mankind itself.
The Hyperclan has a broadcast system they were prepared to use to show the Justice League’s execution to the entire world. Now it’s been repurposed by Superman to send an appeal to the entire planet to fend off the invaders. Superman tells everyone that the aliens are afraid of fire, and they have to step up to fight back. And what could have turned into a meandering thirty-issue saga like modern Justice League Dark or Odyssey (and don’t get me wrong, Dark and Odyssey weren’t bad; it just felt like a ton of filler was thrown in because after defeating their respective Big Bads, the authors had no other bad guys for those teams to fight. And I can’t remember if they were thirty issues or not; they just felt that way), the invaders are taken down by fire.
Check out the dude selling t-shirts in these two panels. I have to keep reminding myself to pay close attention to panels like this for little Easter eggs like this.
The defeated Martians surrender worldwide as Superman assures planet Earth that the Justice League won’t let them down. Later, the League is on one of the Martian ships in the “Still Zone”, with its crew and soldiers in stasis. J’onn apologizes to Superman for letting his emotions get the better of him. Superman feels that only J’onn can judge the fate of his people. J’onn’s response is that his people were possessed by mind control techniques, and while Superman might now approve, only another Martian can be the final arbiter. Later in the Sahara, we see the Hyperclan’s Garden of Eden falling into ruin.
Diana’s question is a good one; where does the League’s authority end? When do they go from protectors to dominators? Superman says humanity needs to be allowed to reach for its own destiny. But if so, Green Lantern asks, then why are they here? Superman’s answer: to catch them if they fall. In the weeks that follow, a building is established on the Moon, constructed in part from the remains of the Justice League satellite. It rises, pointing towards Earth itself.
And they’re calling it the “Justice League Watchtower”. Interesting how they repurposed the name the Hyperclan used to describe their three facilities. And inside…
…Hmm. I can see why Diana started wearing a skirt.
So that was JLA #1-#4—but wait, there’s more! In the epilogue, we see a normal human, Bob Gray. He’s been suffering from nightmares ever since the League took down those pesky Martians. Bob just doesn’t feel like himself; it’s almost as if he were someone else entirely.
Him, and a whole bunch of other Martians…
During the other three parts, I stated the few problems I have with this series, so I won’t repeat myself now. Despite those problems, I think Grant Morrison delivers truly outstanding work here. Morrison understands comics in a way I think a lot of modern writers don’t, in that he knows it’s a visual medium so he and artist Del Porter deliver the action. The heroes are heroic and the bad guys look fantastic. He’s also able to tell a strong story in just four issues, in a time when Marvel Comics is about to drop a twelve-issue series about the X-Men attending a dinner party.
This would be the start of arguably the Justice League’s strongest run in its publication history, with an almost equally impressive series of stories penned by Mark Waid, and then later Joe Kelly. It’s also the introduction of Grant Morrison’s controversial “Bat God”, wherein he made Batman about as uber-competent as a human being can be, with uncanny deductive abilities and numerous backup plans and contingencies always in place. While some feel that sometimes the Bat God concept can be a bit much, I never particularly had a problem with it. Batman is a dude devoid of powers who has to regularly hang with superpowered beings; it makes sense that for anyone to be able to do that, they must possess uncanny abilities that place them near or at the peak of human potential.
If you haven’t read this run on JLA, I can’t stress enough that you’re missing out on a fantastic set of comics. Morrison is a talented and creative writer at the top of his game here. Heck, even if you already read these issues, go back and treat yourself. Peace out.