Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Original JLA

I “met” Walter Paquette via an online  forum about the superhero miniatures game Heroclix, where he occasionally chided me for concentrated too much on the FF and Spider Man in my discussions of comics. Well, I challenged him to do a guest review of any Golden or Silver Age comic he wanted and he took me up on it. So here is this blog’s first guest review:

BRAVE AND THE BOLD #28 (May 1960)

Recently DC comics rebooted their universe—The Justice League, among other books, has gotten a "do-over" complete with a new origin story. Today I would like to go back to where it all started with the first appearance of the Justice League of America in The Brave and the Bold.

The team consisted of Aquaman, Batman, Flash (Barrry Allen), Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Martian Manhunter, Superman, and Wonder Woman. At this point you may be wondering to yourself “What kind of enemy would bring some of the most powerful super heroes from the DC Universe to fight together for the first time?”

A giant starfish from space, named Starro the Conqueror.

The story starts out with Aquaman being told about the threat by his good friend, Peter the Puffer Fish! Peter tells Aquaman of how Starro appeared, making deputies out of other starfish to help him conquer Earth.

Once Aquaman is told about the threat, he sends out a signal to his friends to let them know that they are needed to save the Earth! First person to receive the signal is Wonder Woman, who quickly leaves the date she is on to help. Hal Jordan is flying an aircraft designed to fly around the world in 24 hours, but he quickly suits up into Green Lantern and wills the aircraft into autopilot. Flash is trying to stop a tornado (which he quickly takes care of), and Martian Manhunter is about to go on vacation. Batman is busy on the tails of some Gotham looters and Superman is busy protecting Earth from an impending meteor threat, so those two decide that the others can manage without them until they finish up their current Business.

The team members then show up to discuss what to do, where they all decide it is best for them to patrol different areas and try to find out just what kind of threat this Starro character is. During these patrols the first person to run into one of Starro’s deputies is Green Lantern. The deputy attacks a military aircraft and steals an atom bomb, which it quickly sets off in order to absorb its immense power. Green Lantern takes it out with a quick shot to its single eye, reverting it back to its starfish state.

Meanwhile, Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter are at the Hall of Science, where another deputy is attacking. While Wonder Woman is distracting the Starro deputy, Manhunter takes to the upper atmosphere looking for some sort of weapon to take the creature out. J’onn finds some meteor pieces (which he mentions is from the same meteors Superman is taking out at this time) and also uses his super breath. All this causes the Starro deputy to fly off, taking the Hall of Science with it!

A fight ensues between the three, with the Starro deputy trying to take out Wonder Woman and Manhunter with its atomic beams. They easily protect themselves from the beams while making quick work out of the deputy.

We cut to Flash, where he is at the coastal town of Happy Harbor where Starro’s deputy has begun to mind control the entire town, except for one unfortunate soul named Snapper. The deputy shoots an atomic laser at Snapper,  but Flash manages to save him. The Scarlett Speedster  tales care of the deputy by creating a vortex to make the creature spin, leaving it unable to aim its atomic beams. Soon the deputy retreats to a nearby lake.

Flash follows the deputy to the lake, using vibrations to part waves in an attempt to find it. He then allows the waves to collapse down on the deputy, knocking it out. The mind controlled town folks are released from the deputy’s spell and are able to tell Flash where Starro is located.

Flash takes his new buddy Snapper with him, thinking he might be key to figuring out how to defeat the alien monster. Upon meeting up with the other five Justice League members,  Green Lantern decides to take on Starro. A problem arises when Starro reads Green Lantern’s mind and finds out his weakness…the color yellow! The alien turns himself yellow, gaining immunity to GL’s ring.

At this point, Flash figures out that there might be some reason that Snapper is unaffected by Starro’s powers, so he has Green Lantern make a spectroscope with his ring where they find out that Snapper is covered in Calcium Oxide, or Lime, from doing yard work earlier in the day. Aquaman then mentions that oysters use lime to defend themselves from being eaten by starfish. The five members of the Justice League then gather up a bunch of lime and quickly cover Starro with it, imprisoning the monster.

I was slightly disappointed that Aquaman didn't do much of anything in the story other then warn them of the threat then added in some information on why the lime worked. I was also bothered by the fact that Flash can take out a Starro deputy by himself while Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter had to team up. Also I guess I am more used to stories stretching out longer--nowadays comics like that would be stretched out into a 6 issue series plus tie ins while this one solved the problem in just the one issue.

ME AGAIN: I agree that Aquaman was underused in the story. But then that’s always been a chronic problem with the King of the Seas whenever he appears in team books. If the story doesn’t take place underwater, writers have always had a hard time coming up with something useful for poor Arthur to do. Over in Marvel, Prince Namor’s personality and power levels have always seemed to allow him more leeway in being useful on dry land.

For some years, DC Comics tried dumping constant tragedy and angst on Aquaman while also amping up his powers to an extent in a desperate effort to make him interesting. But it wasn’t until the recent Batman: The Brave and the Bold animated series that we finally got a really awesome version of the character.

I do kinda like, though, that the world is basically saved because Aquaman passes on a message from PETER THE PUFFER FISH!!

Walter makes an interesting point about single issue stories versus multi-part epics. Nowadays, comics are published with the intention of collecting just about everything into trade paperbacks—a format that I understand to be a major revenue source for the publishers. And the debut of the JLA might have been improved by drawing the story out for several issues and allowing the various characters to get more of a spotlight. But artificially stretching it into a long, long story with multiple crossovers  would not have been a good thing. Stories should be as long or short as they need to be to fulfill the requirements of drama and good storytelling. Though I concede that the publishers have every right to turn a profit, I’ve always felt that the need to produce multi-part epics almost exclusively has been damaging to the overall quality of modern superhero stories.

Thanks to Walter for his guest review.

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