Justice League of America #200 "A League Divided" (part 1 of 2)
Back in the early ’80s, my comic buying habits were a bit erratic. Other than X-Men, there weren’t a whole lot of titles I was steadfastly wedded to. However, I do remember really enjoying Justice League of America when I got my hands on it, and I think it was due largely to the art. George Perez was a giant in the industry at the time, with his work on both JLA and The New Teen Titans (another series I collected sporadically; Why I didn’t latch onto it like I did X-Men, I have no idea) and his art stood out. I was also a huge fan of Firestorm, so any time he was involved in a story, it made me tremendously happy.
Back then, I didn’t know they did things like oversized special issues; two hundred in my mind was just a number. So when issue #200 of Justice League of America dropped in 1982, two things struck me: the size of the issue and the price. A buck fifty was two and a half times more than a regular comic and I kind of balked at that, but you know what sold me? The cover. Illustrated by Perez, it was a wraparound and it showed every Justice Leaguer throwing down… against each other! I knew Something Big was about to go down and I slapped my hard-earned cash on that counter. You see, back then, comic covers weren’t just images of heroes taking selfies or doing generic flybys; what you saw on the cover was likely a very good hint of what was going to happen in the comic. Wild concept, right?
And back then, heroes fighting each other wasn’t very common; for the most part, heroes got along, so this story was a real novelty. It made you wonder why the heroes were fighting, and what was the ultimate goal? What were the stakes? And with the comic being a whopping huge seventy-plus pages it implied the writer and artist—oh, did I say artist, singular? Oh no, dear reader. The back of the splash page boasted that not only were we going to get the art of George Perez, we would also see the likes of Jim Aparo, Terry Austin, Brian Bolland, Brett Breeding, Pat Broderick, Frank Gaicoia, Dick Giordano, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, and Joe Kubert. I had no idea who all those guys were, and it was only later that I discovered these were a combination of some of the industry’s legends as well as up and comers. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Justice League of America #200 was being taken very seriously as an Event Comic.
Our tale begins with a recap of how the Justice League came to be, when seven different aliens came to Earth and prepared to throw down against each other, with the winner getting the throne of an alien world as a prize. Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, the Martian Manhunter, Batman, and Superman, either singly or in groups, fought the aliens and defeated them. In the aftermath, they decided they should stick together as a team. Cut to years later, and we find ourselves in orbit on the Justice League satellite. Yeah, you can keep your mansion and suck it, Avengers! We’ve got Firestorm, bored as hell and upset he missed a basketball game for monitor duty. The only thing on TV is I Love Lucy re-runs. Hey man, couldn’t they have sprung for cable?
Oh. Right. Can’t lay cable thousands of miles into space. Y’know, I bet they got Skinemax at the Avengers mansion, so maybe their base is the cooler one after all. Firestorm decides to, you know, do his duty and check the monitor and it looks like a missile’s been fired at the JLA HQ. Only… it ain’t a missile.
Ladies and gentlemen, we now see the artist on this part of the book is the one-two combo of legendary inker Terry Austin and Pat Broderick. Firestorm has no clue who this green dude is, who’s demanding to know why the Justice League base is deserted, and where the Leaguers are, and who the hell Firestorm is. Man, Flamehead needs himself a publicist.
We see a disembodied head, and for those not in the know, Firestorm is two people merged into one. Back then, the original duo was high school jock Ronnie Raymond and nuclear physicist Professor Martin Stein. Stein tells Ronnie in an expository way to shut the hole in the satellite with their “atomic restructuring power” before all the air gets sucked out. Ronnie replies out loud and the green dude asks, “Who do you talk to, boy?” and wonders why his Justice League signal device led him here. But then the green dude flies off before he gets an answer. Not only does he verbally bitch slap our hero, he also disses him by flying off as if he didn’t matter. Firestorm follows, but the guy turns invisible. Man, super strength, flight, invisibility, it’s like this guy was designed by a nine year old who wanted him to be able to do everything. Stein thinks the guy is spooked by Firestorm’s flaming head, so Ronnie turns up the heat. The dude’s response is…
Oh yeah, and include “Martian Vision” to his list of powers. What’s Martian Vision? Pretty much whatever the hell he wants it to be, I’m guessing. Firestorm is knocked out and he wakes up a little while later. Ronnie and Stein talk, and Marty thinks the guy used to be a Leaguer. Ronnie’s skeptical at first, but then he remembers how the guy talked about his signal device, and he eventually figures that Stein’s right. Ronnie decides to take a chance and he sends out a “triple priority signal”, meaning every Leaguer needs to show up. And who answers the call?
Hawkman, Red Tornado, Zatanna, Black Canary (with former Leaguer Green Arrow tagging along), Elongated Man… oh, and the Atom, who’s all tiny. Now, I realize that getting small is the Atom’s thing, but why is he always shrunk? Is it some sort of weird sex thing with him? I can’t help but wonder if he spends all the time at the meeting staring at Wonder Woman and Black Canary, and indulging in some kinky giant woman fetish.
So Red Tornado tells Firestorm he probably got his ass handed to him by J’onn J’onnz (which sounds like “John Jones”. Get it? Get it?) AKA the Martian Manhunter, one of the original Leaguers. Firestorm notices only half the gang showed up, and a terrified looking Green Arrow thinks he knows why. He lays down some history on the gang, about how the Appelaxians came to Earth to fight and they arrived in seven Kryptonite meteors. Why would the aliens use Kryptonite meteors, you might ask? My theory is they knew who Superman was, and it was a defensive measure. Although, if they knew who Superman was, why did they pick Earth in the first place? Then again, it was the ’60s, when Kryptonite was so common it wouldn’t have surprised me if you could buy it at every corner drugstore. And points to you if you got that reference.
So one of the meteors, comprised of an element utterly lethal to Superman, was kept on the satellite, in his place of work. I’m sure that was Batman’s idea. The other six were buried in different spots on Earth. Why not drop them into the sun? Or bury them on the moon? The logic of this completely escapes me. But before I can ponder this question further, the emergency alarm goes off. The gang rushes to the teleporter room and it’s… Snapper Carr.
…Who? Oh, right, Snapper Carr, the Rick Jones rip-off. Oh, wait. Carr first appeared in 1960, several years before Rick Jones. So… Rick Jones was a rip-off of Snapper Carr? Stan “The Man” Lee might have been “inspired” by the competition? Say it ain’t so!
Green Arrow is shocked by Carr’s appearance, but the finger-snapping hipster explains his Justice League signal went off so he showed up. Green Arrow leaves Snapper behind with Firestorm… Wait, why leave Firestorm behind? You’d think a guy who who can rearrange matter might be useful against Superman. We never get a good answer, because six teleporter beams activate and we cut to the Indian Ocean, where we get a cameo from the Phantom Stranger. This chapter is illustrated by the legendary Jim Aparo, who had worked on the Aquaman comic as well as other projects before this landmark issue. And it’s apropos he should get this chapter, because it’s Aquaman vs. Red Tornado.
Arthur Curry crawls out of the ocean onto an island, where he seems desperate to find something. Conway gives us a nice little bit of backstory where he explains that to Aquaman’s mind, he’s still “King of the Seven Seas”, and the “tormenting reversals of the last decade” never occurred. And right there, that makes me want to know more about Aquaman. What tormenting reversals? It definitely makes the reader want to know more about this man who was so unjustly maligned for only being able to talk to fish. Aquaman spots what he’s looking for, and with his mighty leg muscles he leaps for it, but he’s knocked out of the sky by a massive burst of wind. Who caused it?
The Phantom Stranger looks on as Arthur smashes into Red Tornado, driving him into the ocean. The Tornado almost loses consciousness, but here again Conway gives hints of his past for the benefit of readers who don’t know much about him, and of the woman and little girl who are a part of his life. Memories of these two inspire him to kick it into gear and reach the surface, where he sees Aquaman has found one of the meteors. The Tornado’s about to lay the smackdown on Curry, but the Phantom Stranger calls down the lightning and knocks Red Tornado out, allowing Aquaman to get away with the prize. Dick move, Stranger. It seems there’s something bigger going down, and for some reason the Phantom Stranger thinks the original Justice Leaguers need to win.
Cut to the JLA satellite, and Firestorm and Snapper Carr find Red Tornado in the teleporter chamber. Firestorm gets the Tornado to sickbay while Stein tells him to turn on the diagnostic stuff and let it do its job, but the pair are still left wondering how a totally unconscious Tornado managed to get himself home.
Back on Earth, we find Zatanna—illustrated by the amazing Dick Giordano—flying to Paradise island. During this era, Zatanna’s powers (and costume) were different, in that she could only manipulate the four elements rather than being able to do, well, anything. I’m guessing the extremely broad nature of her powerset gave some writers pause. And at the time, her original costume looked a lot like what stage magicians wore. Unless you were Doug Henning…
…who, now that I think of it, kind of dressed like a superhero. Okay, he looks goofy now, but at the time, appearing on TV programs like The Muppet Show, he really did make stage magic look cool. Zatanna lands and talks to Queen Hippolyta, who explains her daughter pretty much blew past everybody to go into temple of Venus. She finds Wonder Woman there lifting a stone slab to reveal the meteor, but it sinks into the Earth. She turns and finds Mom with who she thinks is a total stranger… a stranger who needs to eat a stone slab!
Diana gets the rock and bails out of there for her invisible jet (does Wonder Woman have an invisible jet these days? I forget), but Zatanna is hot on her heels and tries to drown her with a wave of water. But then Wonder Woman redirects it by spinning her lasso super-fast, and the wave nails Zatanna instead. Diana gets away and the Amazonians manage to put Zatanna back together with their magical purple ray. And in case you’re wondering, before the Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot, Paradise Island was a high-tech wonderland that in retrospect was a bit more cool than the perpetual bronze age society we got later. But so far, it’s original Leaguers three, newbies zero.
Cut to Zimbabwe, where a general receives a long distance telephone call. It’s from the Atom, who’s using landlines for instantaneous travel. Now that’s actually kind of cool. Atom explains to the general that things are serious and asks to borrow a jet, but the general says he’ll fly Atom personally to wherever he needs to go. Any excuse to get out of the office, eh, general? But oh noes, a giant green hand grabs the jet and tosses it! This utter lack of originality can only be the work of Green Lantern, the Hal Jordan version. Hal goes back to digging up the meteor, but that one-track mind’s gonna cost you, Hal!
Now there’s some dynamic action. Give it up for artist Gil Kane, people. Atom tries to reason with Hal and explains that they’re friends, but Green Lantern doesn’t buy it and tricks Atom by trapping him in a green energy bubble. Hal flies away and Atom has to get super-small and slip between the molecules in the ground. He’s free but he still lost. So that means it’s 4 to zip, ladies and gents.
Atom heads back up to the satellite and Red Tornado, now fully awake, points out there might be a good reason why they keep losing: they know the original Leaguers are their friends, but to those Leaguers they’re just enemies to trounce. It’s a decided advantage, and one they might not be able to overcome.
Next time: How will Elongated Man, Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Hawkman fare against their opponents? Who gets the short straw where it comes to Superman? Who’s behind this insidious plot? Stop by next week to find out.