Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Secret Identities, Exploding Hard Light Duplicates and the Fortress of Solitude

When I was a kid, I stuck mostly to Marvel for my superhero comics. When I bought something from DC, it was usually one of their World War II-themed books or an issue of Kamandi. (With an occasional oddity like Strange Sports Stories.)

If I could time travel back to mentor my younger self, I'd advice me to get DC hero comics more frequently, since I now know I was missing out on some quality stuff. I did get an occasional DC hero book--in fact, I was so impressed by the O'Neil/Adams Batman issues I read that I have no clear memory of why I didn't get them more often. It was probably a financial decision. You don't make all that much money with a paper route--so I had to spend my comic book money very selectively.

I did pick up Justice League of America #122 (September 1975) and I like the story so much that--when I ran across it again as an adult--I still remembered most of it.

I probably appreciate the story even more as an adult because I can better recognize the expertise with which writer Martin Pasko and artist Dick Dillin constructed the story. It contains a lot of exposition--the villain (Dr. Light) has to give an egotistical monologue explaining his incredibly convoluted plan. But Pasko manages to do this succinctly without bogging down the plot. Later, Aquaman has to explain how he saved the day (yes, Aquaman saves the day), which also includes a lot of exposition. But Dick Dillin mixes in flashback images of the Justice Leaguers saving each other from booby-traps, so the dialogue doesn't slow the action down at all.

Besides, Dr. Light's convoluted master plan actually seems like it needs to be convoluted to work. He is, after all, planning on taking out the most powerful and smartest superheroes on the planet in one fell swoop. You don't accomplish that without some clever advance planning

His plan is this: Use a light-generated illusion to make the Justice League think they've just fought and defeated a giant monster near the Fortress of Solitude. From there, it's not too much of a stretch to assume the heroes will take it to the Fortress' zoo for study.

The monster illusion then fades, revealing Dr. Light inside. He steals a supply of Amnesium--a memory-altering mineral that Superman keeps in the Fortress to study--and uses this to swap the secret identities of
the heroes. (Except for Superman, who is immune, and Aquaman, whom Dr. Light doesn't realize has a secret identity.) So Bruce Wayne now thinks he's Ollie Queen, Ollie thinks he's Roy Palmer and so on.

He then sends out thousands of mirage duplicates of himself (essentially hard-light holograms) to set up booby traps that are specially designed to kill specific heroes when they arrive at the homes or work-places they think are theirs.

He also sets a trap to blow up Aquaman with an exploding mirage duplicate of a fish. But Aquaman avoids the trap, frees the heroes from the booby traps and everyone confronts Dr. Light back in the Fortress.

I love Dr. Light's plan. As I've already said, I think the convolutions all make sense in the context of a superhero universe and every step plays a definable part in taking out the heroes. I suppose one could argue that swapping the secret identities wasn't really necessary--Light could have still set up the correct booby traps in the necessary locations. (The trap designed specifically for Green Lantern, for instance, would have worked whether or not Hal Jordan remembered his correct civilian identity.) But what the heck--swapping their IDs was the sort of thing an egotist like Dr. Light would have done just because he could.

The final fight in the Fortress of Solitude is what I remembered most vividly from when I read this as a kid. Dillin does a great job choreographing the heroes fighting monsters released from the zoo, explosive duplicates of the monsters and explosive duplicates of Dr. Light. There's a lot of variety in just a few pages of intense action: Atom and Green Lantern have to save the city of Kandor; Batman is hit by a "hate beam" and attacks Green Lantern; Superman is trapped in hard-light kryptonite rings; Flash's after-images are turned into hard-light duplicates that will catch up to him and explode if he stops. Dillin's work is always fun to look at--I think he does a particularly great job with this complex but internally logical fight scene.

I had an especially vivid memory of Aquaman saving Flash by stringing Superman's cape in front of a door. Flash then vibrates through this and his after-images explode when they hit the cape. It's a cool tactic--something that once again makes perfect sense in the context of the DC Universe. And it looks awesome. I would love to have those particular panels on a t-shirt.

So I really should have read more DC Superhero books as a kid. During one's formative years, one can never get enough exposure to convoluted villain plans and exploding holograms.

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