Justice League of America #200 "A League Divided" (part 2 of 2)
Previously in part one, we had a recap of how the Justice League was formed after they defeated seven alien combatants who came to Earth to fight for the rulership of another world. The seven Kryptonite meteors they arrived in were hidden in seven different places. Cut to a decade later and the original Leaguers, now thinking it’s ten years ago, find themselves compelled to retrieve said meteors. The rest of the League attempts to stop their teammates, but so far the score is four-nil in the original team’s favor. Can the rest of the latter-day Leaguers step up and stop their friends? Let’s find out!
We now find ourselves in Northern Italy, near the waters of Lake Como. The Flash finds miles of power lines and doesn’t remember them being there before so he asks a local—who he assumes knows English—if this is the Lake Como district. The “old man” says it’s Capris, and the Flash begins to run away. Only, it’s not an old man: It’s an Elongated Man. Ralph Dibny, knowing he can’t outrun the Flash, waits to ambush him. As for why the Flash hasn’t already found the meteor and skedaddled, I would attribute this to his confusion regarding the landmarks and his probably going round and round trying to figure out where the meteor is, as writer Gerry Conway wisely implies here. That there is good writing. Ralph is able to grab Barry, but Barry hits his head on a rock and Ralph gets all concerned he’s killed his friend. But it was a ruse, and Barry uses his vibration powers to open a crevasse in the ground for Ralph to fall into. But Ralph won’t be taken down that easily.
The art is provided by legendary Flash artist Carmine Infantino (who, by the way, not only co-created Barry Allen but also the Elongated Man) and inked by Frank Giacoia. By this point, I feel Carmine’s skills were starting to fade, and if you saw his later work on The Flash and Supergirl, you know what I mean. But Carmine Infantino was legendary in creating a distinctive style to showcase the Flash’s super speed in ways that hadn’t been done before. And he and Gil Kane (and it was an unforgivable slight in that I forgot to mention in the previous article that Kane had co-created the Hal Jordan Green Lantern and Atom) and Joe Kubert were critical in creating the DC Universe we know and love today.
But back to the story. Elongated Man takes a swipe at the Flash, but he only winds up hitting an optical illusion. Flash knocks Ralph out cold, finds the meteor, and speeds off to Metropolis where the original Justice League base is. There he finds Hal Jordan, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and J’onn J’onzz. They compare notes, noting that Wonder Woman’s costume has changed and the base is wrecked, and J’onn has found himself waking up on another planet. They realize something very wrong is happening and none of them have a clue who or what is responsible.
Cut to the Carolina coast off Cape Hatteras and… Oh man, the artist on this chapter is none other than the Man himself, Brian f-ing Bolland of Judge Dredd fame, cover artist extraordinaire. To say I’m a fan is an understatement; to this day he and writer Mike Barr’s Camelot 3000 is one of my favorite limited series. And who’s he illustrating?
The God-damn Batman! Oh, and, uh, Green Arrow and Black Canary. Ollie’s bitching and moaning allows Bats to get the drop on the duo, and his Dark Knight Schtick is enough to cause the pair to hesitate. Green Arrow gets pounced on first, and he shoots off his stun arrow accidentally, which bounces off a tree and smacks Black Canary in the head. Whoops. Batman slaps the cuffs on Green Arrow and fades off into the woods like a boss. Black Canary wakes up and uses Arrow’s Acetylene Arrow (and when in God’s name would he ever use that? Wouldn’t it have made more sense for Black Canary to have lock-picks on her? You can see why Mike Grell ditched the gimmicks when he took over writing Green Arrow years later. Not saying he was completely right, because strapping TNT to an arrow can come in handy, or stunning a perp sometimes beats skewering him) to free her boyfriend. Green Arrow starts bitching again and the Canary tells him what he’s good at is “kvetching”. Ooh, I bet that’s going to make Ollie all verklempt. They spot Bats on the beach and Black Canary uses her sonic cry to knock him over, but it’s nothing but a dummy wearing Bats’ cowl, and there’s an empty hole where the meteor was. Batman wins! Again.
Back at the satellite, Arrow and Canary report failure and the gang start to realize plan B might have to be figuring out what to do after their friends collect the meteors. Meanwhile, said friends, sans Superman, hear Batman talk about his run-in with a Green Arrow he didn’t know and a mysterious woman, and Martian Manhunter points out that the meteors they’ve collected are starting to glow. Elsewhere, we see a person arming themselves with weaponry so exotic that it’s not even listed in the first edition Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook. And who’s arming himself thusly? Why, it’s none other than that cop from another planet, a man of future super-science who uses the weapons of the past: Hawkman!
And he’s illustrated by the incomparable Joe Kubert, who helped give him life. As an aside, I do think it sucks that Hawkwoman is nowhere to be found in this story. Maybe Katar and Shayera were broken up at this point, but I don’t know. But to me, Hawkman and Hawkwoman are one of the most iconic pairings in comics, and not seeing the two fighting side by side sucks and may be my only real complaint regarding the series thus far. Okay, that, and Ollie’s acetylene arrow. No, I’m not letting that go.
Hawkman gets the “privilege” of going toe-to-toe with Superman, probably because he’s the only guy on his team who can fly (other than Firestorm. But Firestorm had to stay behind for…reasons?). You’d think maybe going up against Supes with just a mace is dumb, but Hawkman knows his teammate is kind of allergic to green glowing rocks, and he’s going to send Super-robots to fetch the meteor for him. Hawkman spots the first robot and catches it in a net, then scores a natural 20 with his corseque. Robot #1 is down, and robot #2 is on the way and it eats Hawkman’s crossbow bolt. Man, these robots really suck. The robots from D&D adventure module S3, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, were a helluva lot tougher, let me tell you. None of them would have gone down with a single crossbow bolt. Hawkman spots robot #3, and he winds up and takes a swing with his flanged mace. And then…
…Oh, Hawkman, you’re so boned. Katar goes flying off into space, and I’m betting he wished he brought his wife along now, doesn’t he? Supes exposits that he’s wearing a suit of “plasti-lead” alloy that’s virtually transparent. He flies off with the meteor and leaves Hawkman to go floating off into space to presumably die. But by a quirk of fate, Hawkman disappears, only to find himself on Rann. Yes, Rann, adopted homeworld of Adam Strange.
It turns out Hawkman wandered into a “zeta beam” which transports people to Rann. Look, it’s the Silver Age, just roll with it. Strange calls the Justice League and tells them they’ve got a winged hero and they don’t want him and they’re sending him back, but because Thanagar and Rann recently went to war, they’re shipping Hawkman back with zero frills. Which means they’re dropping him into orbit, and good luck on collecting him before he dies. Ralph, wearing a space helmet, goes super-stretchy and launches his body from the airlock to snag his teammate and reel him in. Katar wakes up and has to report failure, because the original Leaguers have all seven meteors.
Back at the original JLA base, the gang is wondering what compelled them to act. Hal Jordan says nothing compelled him, which makes me smile because yeah, sure, I find myself going out to collect Kryptonite meteors all the time. Hidden behind a lead vault door, the meteors are now doing more than glowing: they’re hatching.
It’s the original seven Appelaxian aliens, and as the League looks on they begin to remember. The aliens talk amongst themselves and lay down some exposition. It seems the aliens the League originally fought left “seed clones” of themselves in the meteors. And the mental compulsion? A clever plan put in place, involving a hypnotic suggestion that would be triggered years later. Um… wow. That’s a pretty elaborate backup plan. I hate to use the same excuse twice in one story but… Silver Age. Moving on.
The League comes busting in on the aliens and hey, they whipped these guys’ butts before, so the next time around should be easy, right? Only, it’s not. And… wait, did Aquaman just say what I think he said?
Did that mean something else back in 1982? I’m pretty damn sure it didn’t. But back to the fight. The stone giant has Kryptonite vision, because of course he does. Supes is laid out fast and the golden bird runs interference for the flaming alien, spoiling Green Lantern’s attack. Hal Jordan gets laid out bu the bird’s sonic blast. Martian Manhunter is doing well against the stone guy until the fiery guy takes him out. Batman gets blinded by the glass alien and beaten unconscious, while the wood guy wraps up Aquaman and drains the water from him, and Flash gets punked by the mercury creature off-camera. That leaves only Wonder Woman.
Diana’s good, but three to one are fierce odds for anyone. After she’s defeated, the aliens decide it’s time to throw down to find out once and for all who deserves to rule Appellax. Later, Batman wakes up to find an arrow pointed right at his face. The Latter Day Leaguers finally figure out where the originals are, and show up to find their teammates laid out. Why did the aliens let them live? Yes, once again… Silver Age, moving on. The League, now re-united, heads out to stop the aliens. The League splits up and we find the first group in Vermont.
The “Wood King”, “Crystal Creature”, and “Mercury Monster” are going at it when the heroes show up. Wood King snags Hawkman but it leaves him open to Superman literally punching him into pulp. But oh noes! Wood King is irradiated with Kryptonite. Who could have possibly seen that coming?
Wonder Woman makes the save with some lasso action and Green Arrow saves Hawkman with a bladed arrow. Zatanna wipes out the Mercury Monster with a super-heated air bubble. Black Canary distracts the Crystal Creature and Batman shatters it with a batarang. Awesome! The good guys win by… killing three sentient beings. But hey, they were aliens, right? All their codes against killing don’t count. Cut to the Irish Coast…
…where it’s time for our heroes to fight the Fire Lord and… Glass Man. You know, the glass guy is kind of lame. You already have the Crystal Creature. Maybe the crystal guy should have been something else, like diamond? Then again, that does sound pretty indestructible; I can’t see even Batman’s batarang doing much against that.
Anyway, the [sigh] Glass Man blinds Flash, allowing Aquaman to make the grab. Arthur Curry pulls him down… down… down… to untold ocean depths were the Glass Man shatters. Meanwhile, Elongated Man distracts the Fire Lord, and Red Tornado blows out his flames while claiming these guys were never alive in the first place. I… have serious issues with this. I mean, these creatures think and feel, and just because they might be artificial that makes them as alive as, well, the robot Red Tornado, right? It just feels like editor Len Wein pointed out at the last minute that hey, the JLA just murdered a bunch of aliens… again… and Gerry Conway said, “Oh shit, you’re right! I gotta fix that!”
We now find ourselves in New York City…
…where Firestorm runs crowd control, changing debris into gas so nobody gets hurt. Meanwhile, Green Lantern protects numerous buildings from the “Stone God” with a force-field, then literally jackhammers him into pieces. Hey, at least it wasn’t a giant hand. Martian Manhunter endures the “Golden Roc’s” sonic attack, allowing Green Lantern to create a mini-cannon to fire Atom at its head. The creature is stunned and J’onn J’onnz punches it to pieces.
Later, every piece of alien… or clone alien… or whatever is gathered up along with their meteors and sent into the sun. The gang meet a final time and J’onn tells everyone he has to be getting back to Mars II. Snapper Carr—remember Snapper?—says he’s got to be going as well, and Hawkman tries to talk Green Arrow into not leaving. Ollie says he’s a loner, but then reconsiders and our story ends with Green Arrow’s joyful re-joining of the Justice League.
Justice League of America #200 isn’t perfect. Oh, at the time I thought it was the most awesome thing ever, but looking at it now, I do see how the story is a little flawed. Don’t get me wrong; the art is tremendous, mostly because the guest artists working on some of the different chapters were chosen because of their relationship with the characters. I didn’t realize what those relationships were until much later, and that does make the story more special now. But the aliens’ plan seems a bit far-fetched, and the excessive use of Kryptonite does show how at the time writing Superman into any story could be difficult.
All the same, I thought the fights between heroes, while short, were lots of fun. Could the story have been longer? Could they have drawn this out to some six-issue epic? Well, yeah, sure. But sometimes less is more, and in this case we have a very tight tale with a minimum of fat. Give me that over a padded-for-trade story any day. I also appreciated the fact that the nature of the fights meant neither side had to be portrayed as, well, dicks. Just take a look at the Civil War comics or Avengers vs. X-Men and see what I mean. Here, there’s no character assassination for the benefit of telling a “grown up” tale. Conway and Company give us a fun story devoid of the sort of angst some modern writers love to shove down our throats in order for them to look too cool for comics.