Existence: That Ol’ Meloncholy Feeling

Before I delve into the (somewhat) heady topic of this post, I must make two small comments.

  • Firstly: it should be made aware that I use parenthetical statements and hyphens with haphazard frequency. I do not always use them the way they are meant, as I find I am more of a stylistic writer than a pedantic grammar monster.
  • Secondish: readers (if any of you are out there!) might have noticed that I have been leaning heavily into the DCU with my first few posts.While I have plans to explore some Marvel topics, and there are several Image and indie posts I have considered, for the time being I expect to continue my focus on DC. With several exceptions *cough*X-Men*cough* I have always had more of a profound love for DC and all of their attempts, failed and otherwise.

So, in continuing the tradition of DC exploration, I recently came across a comic in my collection that stood out. See, in “organizing” my frustratingly large collection of comics (hoarding takes all forms, you know), I have always had 3 primary categories:

  • Series – these would be issues in any series (limited, on-going, cancelled, etc) that I collect (arranged by issue #)
  • Related to Series – issues not in a series, but related to a series (Annuals, Specials, etc)
  • The Rest – peculiar one shots and the like

The comic I unearthed falls into the third category.

 

The Kingdom was a weird attempt at continuing the awesome tale told in Mark Waid’s 1996 graphic novel, Kingdom Come. Illustrated by the always-impressive Alex Ross, Kingdom Come was an “Elseworlds” (think: imaginary) story that told of a realistic and rough future for the DCU. A fan-effing-tastic read, and a delicious treat for the eyes, but not the main reason for this post (but, seriously, check that shit out).

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The art alone makes reading Kingdom Come worth it.

Kingdom Come was wonderful but The Kingdom was another mess altogether and I honestly never cared enough to read or know too much about the greater story beyond Planet Krypton.

In Kingdom Come, former Justice League showboat Booster Gold opens up a superhero-themed restaurant named, you guessed it, Planet Krypton.

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Booster Gold in his earliest years. Oh and his robot buddy Skeets.


KC takes place in an alternate timeline, but The Kingdom was supposed to take place in the normal DCU continuity. So this one-shot quickly explains that our Booster Gold also decided to open up a superhero-themed restaurant named Planet Krypton. Convenient.

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From Kingdom Come again. Also, the waiter dressed like Aquaman is totally hitting on the waiter dressed like the Flash. Look at that pose! He doesn’t really care about the handcuff arrow! He’s just trying to make conversation and see how fast you really are.

Maybe a comic book that takes place in a restaurant and was intended to be read as part of a larger story does not seem like the most interesting material in the world at first glance, but it was quite enticing to me when I first encountered it.

Flashback!

1999. I was on a precipice, staring out at the swirling acne-fueled clouds of my teenage years. The storm was coming fast. Emotionally, I would deal with the deaths of several extended family members. Physiologically, my hormones were about to blast into crazy town. I was gawky. I needed braces and glasses. I was learning that I was gay. It was an intense time, and it caused me to lose many hours of sleep thinking. Which, obviously, is exhausting.

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The only photo I could find of myself on short notice. I mean, I may be obscured by a beagle (R.I.P. Shadow, my dude!) but I am dressed like Charlie Brown so I think this illustrates my awkwardness to an okay degree.

I was always something of a thinker as a kid. I suppose I still am. I cannot say my thinks (to be Seussian for a moment) are anything grand or enlightening, but I do enjoy spending time in the realm of thought. The big questions that would blink into my spells of insomnia during childhood began to pop over more frequently and always unannounced.

The usual stuff. Existence… what the hell is it? How infinite IS infinite? Is pre-birth the same as non-existence? All those oh-so-fucking-fun ponderings that the human mind is wont to bite into at the least opportune moments.

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I dressed like Charlie Brown and I thought ike Charlie Brown. So there we go.

I had never taken a philosophy course at this point in my life and just assumed that these thoughts did not have names. They were just those thinks. The ones that caused my guts to tighten, my entire body to seize. I suppose all people go through some variation of this visceral reaction when they grapple with those weighty fucking thoughts.

Despite these bouts of “WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN,” the comic books that I gravitated towards were usually the most ridiculous. The medium demands it. Superheroes are gods and goddesses in tights darting about the universe, living their soap operas, making clever quips and solving complex problems. With that much power, things get weird. They accidentally board trains that rip through time and space and are left stranded in bizarre dimensions. They work alongside dogs wearing capes, squirrels wielding the strongest weapons in the galaxy, frog-like telepaths from planets of pure methane in the 30th century.

Of course, by this point in the 90’s the last vestiges of the silly titles I had loved like DC’s Justice League (which I discussed here) and Marvel’s Excalibur (which you can bet we will be talking about in the future, folks) had been revamped to become more serious and focus on the drama of being a hero. The whimsy and magic and humor all faded in favor of big, violent events fraught with meaningless character deaths and grim revelations. Yawn City. Population: Me.

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Marvel’s Excalibur focused on some staple X-Men characters as they got into pan-dimensional mishaps

 

Don’t get me wrong, I love the depressing and violent as much as the next guy but I really love balance. Don’t tell me that Ace the Bat-Hound was considered too ridiculous and had to be removed from continuity. You can be a bad-ass vigilante AND have a dog mascot.

 

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Recent writers brought Ace back, thankfully. Lookit how awesome that damn pup is!

Planet Krypton was just another book that I was absent-mindedly flipping through at my local comic shop until something weird caught my eye. The colorful images peeling past my face made me take pause. I did not know what the story was about, per se, but I began to realize that the cast of characters was unusual. There were heroes who had not been mentioned in years. Characters that had been written out of continuity.

There was good reason for this. Planet Krypton is a tale of ghosts.

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The ghosts appear. Batwoman. Superboy. Fury. Captain Atom. Lightning Lad. Phantoms from other eras, from events that never transpired and histories that could not be.

The story follows a one-off human character named Rose D’Angelo who comes to work at Planet Krypton.

((Sidenote: the restaurant is jam-packed with items and references to comics/characters from DC’s decades of history. If it was real place, I would make it a point to visit whatever city it was in. You listening DC? I’ll eat there all the time! Just kidding, but probably more than a dozen times in my life.))

Okay, so, Rose is running from her past (who isn’t) and she feels as if she let her family down. Rose’s backstory: poor upbringing, meets handsome and wealthy man, man proposes to her, Rose does not love him and says no, family is upset about this, Rose runs away, Rose begins waitressing (and secretly sleeping) at Planet Krypton. Thing is, when the sun goes down, all of these ghosts appear in the restaurant. Spooooooky. Seriously, though. Fucking spooky.

Rose doesn’t really know who any of these ghosts are. Why should she? She’s a human in the DCU and many of these phantoms are of heroes who never existed. 

Now, here is where things get complicated. And  I love complicated in comic books.

History  LessonCrisis on Infinite Earths

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Written by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by George Perez, this epic crossover redefined the DC Universe. I mean, everyone’s being flung about space while Earths are colliding and exploding, for crying out loud! That’s gotta be worth something.

By 1985, DC Comics had been publishing the adventures of Superman & the rest of the effing DCU for over 50 years. In those five decades, a lot of stuff happened. So much stuff that there were scores of complications that needed to be smoothed out. Like, how were Superman and Batman able to fight in WWII and also still seem young and active in subsequent decades? Eventually, DC decided to explain that there were multiple earths existing across infinite universes and that every story published happened on one of these versions of Earth.

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Early explorations of the multiverse included the “Crisis on Earth One!” story that united the Justice League with the WWII characters of the Justice Society (who had been retired for over a decade at that point).

The primary Earths were (surprise) dubbed Earth 1 and Earth 2. On Earth 2 we had the heroes of the Golden Age of comics. The Justice Society of America and all those patriotic gals and fellas who fought in WWII. Earth 1 was where all the Silver Age stories took place. Where the Justice League had their adventures, where Barry Allen was the Flash, etc.

After 50 years of this, DC decided it was time for a change. They felt that they had too many Earths and the stories were too much for new readers. It was time to simplify matters, clean house, sell more comics.

Crisis on Infinite Earths was a 12-part series that set out to eliminate the multiverse and condense it into one continuity. Every DC title at the time had at least one tie-in issue to events in Crisis and no one was safe from the absolute chaos that was transpiring.

The story is actually really awesome. Alex Ross (who did the art for Kingdom Come) painted an amazing piece depicting the events of Crisis that I have prominently displayed in my apartment due to how overwhelmingly busy and beautiful it is . I love it.

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Ross creates homages to many iconic moments from Crisis, and includes every character (major or minor) to appear in the series. 

The plot of Crisis is both simple and complex. A character called the Monitor gathers a handful of heroes and explains that a great and terrible evil is threatening the very fabric of existence. As the story unfolds, time and space begin to rip apart and alternate universes are completely wiped out by waves of anti-matter. Eventually, the villain is revealed to be a powerful force of entropy known as the Anti-Monitor. Many battles are fought, many characters die and, in the end, the history of the DC Universe is completely rewritten.

These revisions caused quite the ruckus. For one, there were hundreds (actually untold billions but who’s counting) of characters completely erased from existence. Additionally, almost no one remembered that the Crisis even happened. When history was slammed into one pancake, everyone was reconfigured along with it and accepted the new reality as it was.

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Crisis on Infinite Earths is an insane story that includes hundreds upon hundreds of DC characters engaged in a battle that is literally destroying all known time and space. It was dipping into sweet nostalgia while still running full-force towards the future.

Now, there is a point to all of this. Many of the ghosts wandering about Planet Krypton are characters that had been completely erased from time due to the effects of the Crisis (or similar events). Rose, our protagonist, is dressed like Supergirl. This is important.

One of the biggest, and most upsetting, changes to happen during Crisis was the removal of Supergirl from the Superman mythos. Dwindling popularity in the 80’s and a flop film pushed DC’s editorial staff to give the “go ahead” to killing off the last lass of Krypton.

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Lots of characters die in Crisis but this death is utterly heartbreaking for several reasons. Supergirl’s death is as heroic as it is unfair and it makes me tear up every time I read it. Superman’s pain here is palpable. A man capable of giving so much to so many, unable to protect his last living relative. The image of Superman holding the lifeless corpse of his cousin is as iconic as it is devastating.

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Holy shit, right? That look in Clark Kent’s eyes as he realizes, despite all his strengths and do-goodery, that he cannot save her. That last panel, with Superman howling in agony, is haunting.

Despite Supergirl going out with a bang, and Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) eulogizing her fallen friend by saying her memory will never be forgotten, the events of Crisis DID erase Supergirl from memory. Ironic? I don’t know, but definitely sad. Superman was truly the last of his kind, and history was rewritten so that it was always this way.

And so Rose, decked out in the garb of a girl who never was, tries to escape her own past by conversing with the apparitions in the restaurant. Rose confides in them as they stare blankly back, unaware of her presence. She dreams of them.

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Rose dreams of flying alongside Jor-El (Superman’s Kryptonian father), Hawkgirl (Shayera Hall, wife of Hawkman who had her origins rewritten multiple times), Katma Tui (honored Fallen Green Lantern and wife of John Stewart) and an alternate version of Adam Strange.

These ghosts are an assorted lot. Though most are the shades of characters who never really existed, others are just the actual spirits of fallen heroes like Katma Tui (who I discussed here).

The first ghost we see Rose speak to is the original Batwoman: Kathy Kane.

Like Supergirl, Batwoman was from a simpler and sillier time in the DCU. Though her initial creation in 1956 was to detract those who had begun to think Batman was secretly gay with Robin, a true romance never actually blossomed between the characters. Instead, Batwoman was at first a rival and then a very dear friend to Batman and Robin. For years she joined in their exploits and had some of her own until DC decided to retire the character. Sadly, in 1979, Kathy Kane was brought out of retirement only to be killed by the Bronze Tiger. To quote Jack Donaghy:

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A sad truth.

But, as with Supergirl, her death would not matter as she would be another victim of the new history created by the effects of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Kathy never existed as Batwoman in this new timeline. Another woman who never was.

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Batwoman’s entry in Who’s Who which came after her death but before she was erased from history.

My real interest in Planet Krypton came from this curious fact about Batwoman. Kathy Kane was dead but, more importantly, Kathy Kane never existed. So, she shouldn’t even have a ghost… right? I loved this. I still love this. What, exactly, does that mean? It is so absurd, so ridiculous, and yet it can be imagined so it can be pondered. How does it feel for these ghosts? Does it hurt to be dead and then to be purged from history? How can we even comprehend any of this? More of those thinks.

The ghosts are unaware of Rose, of her pleas for advice. They move about, completely detached from the corporeal world. How does it feel to have a life of adventure and then disappear into obscurity, completely erased from the very stories that you helped to forge?

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Apparitions include Insect Queen (an alias used by Superman’s first love, Lana Lang, in many pre-Crisis tales), Dream Girl and Princess Projectra of the Legion of Superheroes (both ladies were longstanding members of the team and both were retconned out of existence during an event called Zero Hour) and one of the peculiar Captain Marvels (perhaps Hillbilly Marvel?) that never took off at DC. 

One day, Rose overhears Booster Gold talking to an unknown person on the phone about the ghost problem. Booster is trying to bring someone in to take care of the ghosts and Rose wants to find out who is coming to take a look.

Who else should arrive that night but Batman?

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Classic Batman entrance.

Batman moves through the room, doing his whole World’s Greatest Detective shtick, studying the various bits of memorabilia on display in Planet Krypton. As he takes a closer look at some of the items behind glass cases, he realizes that there is something off. Many of the superhero artifacts that are on display are puzzling the Dark Knight.

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Pre-Crisis there were all kinds of weird and colorful kryptonite that did everything from changing Superman’s powers to giving Supergirl’s cat, Streaky, superpowers.

“Upon examination… particularly upon handling… I find that some of the items in question evoke an inexplicable emotional sensation. The closest descriptive assignable would seem to be “nostalgia” — but as these things do not, cannot exist… nostalgia cannot possibly to that which cannot be rightfully remembered.”

Crisis did not just erase heroes from existence. It also completely removed entire adventures or plot points from the DCU. Batman doesn’t recognize his own novelty batarangs in one panel because his post-Crisis history never included such devices.

Batman’s thoughts come to a head as the ghosts arrive. And then, in my favorite moment from this silly little one-off comic, Batman comes to face the ghost of Kathy Kane.

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As with Superman’s reaction to Supergirl’s death, the emotion in this moment lies in the way the face is rendered by the artist (Barry Kitson in this case). Also, note the presence of Superman’s dog Krypto in the first panel, sniffing up at Superboy.

That moment is everything. Kathy Kane never existed. Somehow, beyond all logic, across all realms of consciousness, Batman is able to make a connection. He is at once confused, surprised and upset. There is recognition, even if only a flicker. He sees his friend, the one he had known for so long, the woman who had died so many years before.

Batman whispering “Kathy…?” really hits me. Comic books can break through interesting layers in the imagination because the reader is often left to fill in some blanks. I choose to believe that the bonds of friendship stretched across the boundaries set forth by reality as we know it and Bruce got a brief chance to see someone that he did not even remember that he lost.

Of course, Batman immediately ignores this sensation and sets his sights on Rose, who was watching from the shadows. Batman explains that he knew she was there the whole time, yadda yadda yadda, and Rose questions him about his recognition of Batwoman.

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Oh, Batman.

He writes off the encounter and insists Rose goes home. Some minor things go down. A few of the ghosts are not actually ghosts. There are a few Kingdom Come characters mixed in, and Batman is able to tell them apart from the others. Since Planet Krypton is, again, a part of the larger series known as The Kingdom, it is explained that they come from a different timeline and that their presence in this one was causing the ghosts to appear. They were merely the shadows of other realities. In The Kingdom, DC undoes a lot of what was done during the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Crisis brought all realities to a singularity, The Kingdom comes along and says “JK, there are more realities again!”

The non-phantoms depart as the day begins to break, leaving Batman and Rose to stand with the remaining ghosts as their forms disippate into the morning light. Once more, Batman tells Rose to go home, he gives some advice, he does his classic Batman exit.

Before Rose leaves the restaurant, she catches the sight of one final ghost. It is herself, a Rose D’Angelo from another reality. One who made the choice to marry the rich man and still wound up working at a restaurant to support herself.

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Rose’s own ghost. Aw.

Her story wrapped up, the ghosts gone for good, Rose takes Batman’s advice. She decides to go home.

A nice goodbye to an unimportant character who will probably never be seen again.

Mark Waid tells a decent story here, and Barry Kitson does a fantastic job illustrating it (I am a big fan of his work on L.E.G.I.O.N. ’89).

A story of ghosts, a story of infinite earths, a story of Supergirl and Batwoman. A story of two women who never were.

Though I have read Descartes and Nietzsche and Plato (and so on and so forth), I think I have most enjoyed my own philosophical musings about existence through the filter of comic books. Though they defy reality, they are a mirror to the human condition. A testament to the imagination. A study in connection.

What a damn essay this turned out to be. If you stuck with it, good for you. If not, well, you probably aren’t reading this sentence then. Until next time, I leave you with these parting words from Rose D’Angelo in Planet Krypton.

“But, [Batman]’s gone too. And I’m alone in a silence turned ugly. I’ll never know if the ghosts had been trying to show me something. I no longer feel their presence. They’re just fading notions in the morning light. What had he called them? ‘Reflections of realities similar to our own… though divergent.’ Worlds that might have been. Full of men with rippling muscles, women in capes and tights… and a Rose D’Angelo who gave in for her family… and changed nothing. Batman told me to be a hero to myself. For the first time in a year, I finally realize… maybe I already had been. Either way, I decide I’m a little too busy to be haunted by the past anymore. I have to get home.”

Reviews from Yesteryear: Justice League #1

This week saw the San Diego ComicCon take place. As usual, there were tons of reveals and teasers about upcoming projects from all the major publishing houses. One such reveal was the trailer for the upcoming Justice League film.

The trailer is kind of awesome, but a great deal of it seems to center around Bruce Wayne talking to (or about) Aquaman. The bar is always set low for me when it comes to comic-based movies. One need only be let down by the X-Men films again and again and again to feel jaded. Still, this looks promising.

With the JL film being hyped (somewhat) I figured now is a good time to try out my feature:

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This is a shitty placeholder until I design a better title image. Sorry for the… quality.

Here, we’ll take a look at comic books of the past. Today, I am happy to talk about my favorite incarnation of the team as we explore Justice League #1 (1987)

Backstory for the unfamiliar:

Since 1960, the Justice League of America has been a team made up of the most powerful and prominent heroes in the DCU. The Big 7 (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter) would save the world time and time again, with other heroes coming and going throughout the years like Green Arrow, Hawkman and Hawkwoman, Black Canary, etc.

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The “Big 7” that comprise the legacy of the Justice League

By the 80’s, the League was a mess. Inspired by the success of teen team books, and feeling that the big hitters of the DCU needed reinventing, the Justice League moved to Detroit and brought in some young blood. At this point the team looked like this:

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*sigh*

New heroes like Vixen (the winner of the new crew), Vibe, Steel and Gypsy joined with veterans Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Zatana and Elongated man and… well… saved Detroit? I don’t know. I, like many, was not too crazy about this team. The big guns were away, the ones who remained were not happy and the new heroes were, for the most part, boring as all fuck.

After the Crisis on Infinite Earths the League really fell apart. Sales were down, fans were not pleased and DC realized that the time for cancellation was at hand. During their Legends crossover (which I’ve never read and have always wanted to) the League disbanded and a heart-heavy Martian Manhunter rang the death knell.

Though the longstanding series had been cancelled, it was simultaneously announced that a new team would fill the role. And that brings us to:

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Who the shit are these people?! Where’s Superman?

The dawn of a new era. Rumor, myth and fact-checking has it that Keith Giffen, the man in charge of relaunching the League (and a personal favorite writer of mine, guilty and sincere pleasures alke) wanted to use this relaunch as a chance to get the team back to the big guns. Sadly, DC was not open to the idea.

You see, post-Crisis DC was a weird time, with heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman getting totally revamped and having their histories rewritten. In this new universe, these guys were never on the League in the hayday because, well, they weren’t around yet. Confusing? Don’t worry. The whole thing is a mess of continuity clusterfucking that would carry on for decades. You don’t need to worry your beautiful face about it here, though. Just be cool and listen.

The only heroes of the big 7 that Giffen could get access to were Batman and Martian Manhunter. Since it is an oft-repeated saying that the League must always have a Green Lantern, it was decided that lesser-known Lantern Guy Gardner would be joining the ranks.

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You love to hate ’em and hate to love ’em.

To tie the League to its own history, Black Canary came aboard. As for the rest? They were all relatively unknown heroes who had not seen true popularity or attention over the years.

So why, you may ask, would DC gamble on a team of lesser-known heroes when they had just failed so terribly with the same mistake? Mainly because Giffen wanted to make the Justice League into something new, bizarre and, most importantly, hilarious.

The medium of comic books is an interesting one because, more often than not, writers take their material far too seriously. This can work, and it has time and time again, but when the industry follows this formula for every book it becomes bogged down in boring and gritty stories at every angle. Justice League broke with this tradition and allowed for damn silly adventuring.

The issue opens with Guy Gardner sitting alone in a former League hideaway in Happy Harbor, Rhode Island. From the start, Gardner’s thoughts paint a picture of the thick-skulled, shoot-first-ask-questions-later character that he would become. Though he was not a new character by a longshot, he still did not have many defining character traits except for being a jerk to more established Green Lanterns.

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A haircut as charming as his personality.

Of course, the first member to arrive is Black Canary. A feminist, and the on again/off again beaux of Green Arrow, the conflict starts right away when she begins to speak with Gardner about the ghosts of the League’s past.

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Canary’s costume in the 80’s made her look like she was constantly on her way to a ski lodge.

Establishing himself as a total cock, Gardner continues to insult each member as they arrive.

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Seriously. In 1987, there were at least eight Green Lanterns bouncing around Earth.

Mr Miracle and his dwarf manager Oberon. A character from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, Miracle is an escape artist and a god who found his way to Earth and performed in the circus for a bit.

Captain Marvel. Also known as Shazam (because of the obvious legal problems with DC’s biggest competitor over the name), Cap is really Billy Bastion, a young boy who is able to call upon immense power to become a Superman-type powerhouse. In this series, Giffen did not differentiate between the personality of Billy and that of Captain Marvel (as other writers tended to do) and it made for some hilarious conversations.

The group comments about how so many reporters and camera crews are outside the base, trying to cover the story of this first meeting of the new Justice League.

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Poor Manhunter. He’s a good dude.

Martian Manhunter arrives with Blue Beetle and laments about the final fate of the Justice League Detroit. In a somber moment, he brings up the images of Gypsy, Vixen, and the late Vibe and Steel. After a moment of silence, Gardner shows his irreverence once more by trying to assert his Stallone-style dominance over the others.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the mysterious Maxwell Lord IV is sitting in his office and watching a dozen or so monitors, most of which are covering the Justice League’s meeting. Lord watches with interest and scribbles down “Justice League of America” before crossing out “America” and smiling to himself.

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He’s also watching some Wheel of Fortune. 

Intrigue! What’s this sonofabitch up to? Who is he even? Since this review is on a comic from 1987, readers familiar with DC might already know the answer to this. But, hey, whatever, I’m pretending like it’s all new to me.

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Like, who picks on a mourning martian who is also a respected and powerful hero?

Back at the ranch, tensions are still rising. Gardner makes some sexist comments towards Canary, sweeps Oberon away with a giant broom and picks a fight with Martian Manhunter. Everybody gets in on the brawl.

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Zzaaakk, indeed.

Just in time for Batman to arrive with Dr. Fate.

Part of the fun of this book is watching characters play so heavily into their type. Batman, of course, takes it upon himself to set Gardner straight and he does it with two words.

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I’m not always a huge Batman fan, but I absolutely love him in Justice League.

Lovely. The Batman/Gardner fued would be one of the best early storylines in this book, culminating in perhaps one of the best (and shortest) fights in comic book history that doubled as a true LOL moment. But, I get ahead of myself. This is still issue #1!

Things settle down, Batman reads the charter, everyone is bored.

Meanwhile, at the United Nations in New York City, Dr. Kimiyo Hoshi is fighting with a beeping Justice League signal device.

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Obviously, to save the world you choose the United Nations over the Justice League.

You see, Hoshi is a scientist specializing in solar tech, but she is also the hero known as Dr. Light. Hoshi is the second DC character to have this moniker, as the first was a deranged villain who constantly picked fights with the Teen Titans.

During the Crisis, Hoshi was struck by some cosmic rays, because comics, and became Dr. Light (sporting a costume that was essentially the same costume worn by the villain). After the Crisis, Light did nothing of interest, and her inclusion in this title was a way to establish her.

Hoshi pleads with the device to shut up and flashes back to a mysterious stranger who came into her office, knowing her identity as Dr. Light, and offering her membership in the League. The plot thickens!

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Mystery!

As Hoshi snaps out of it, she encounters some terrorists who are surprised to see she is not with all the other hostages. Hoshi, meanwhile, is surprised that terrorists had taken over the UN while she was in the bathroom. Drama!

Terrorism might be a concept that is heavily associated with the post-9/11 world, but the 80’s seemed to love using terrorists as a threat/plot device/whateveryouwant. Every militant group wanted to blow up this or that. This particular terror-team has all the makings of a stereotypical group from this era: their leader has a beard, one is a creepy chauvinist and one is a woman. Comic book teams all had at least one woman character during this time, regardless of how important or useless the team in question was. I guess it was a way of being diverse (slow steps, obvi) but I honestly don’t think including at least one female in every terrorist cel was necessary. Its like, “Look! Women are terrorists too! Equality, ya’ll!”

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Terrorism is hard work!

So Light, being led to the rest of the hostages in the UN, hatches a plan. She realizes the signal device, which she had been so frustrated with moments before, would also call the League in to her aid. Holy, Chekhov’s Gun, amiright? She clicks a button and…

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Batman is not on board.

Black Canary receives the message! Batman is confused, as all the members of the League are present. Wait, what? So who gave Dr. Light her signal device? Was it the mysterious Maxwell Lord?

No time to think, as Batman takes action immediately.

The team arrives at the UN, minus Dr. Fate who decides to be as mysterious as ever and just disappears en route.

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Dr. Fate, you’re such a scamp.

This is where the team acts as a fucking badass hero unit under the leadership of Batman.

Miracle learns the nature of the bomb the terrorists are threatening the UN with.

Gardner uses his ring to create a field around the UN so no one can get in or out.

Canary and Marvel use their strength and agility to knock the hell out of most of the terrorists.

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After so many internal fights it is refreshing to see the heroes fight those who deserve the beating.

Beetle, hanging in his giant transport known as The Bug, uses his tech to hack into the comm system and confuse the terrorists.

And, finally, Martian Manhunter turns invisible, sneaks into the hostages and discloses a plan to Light. The end result is quite awesome.

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Boo! Heh.

The leader of the baddies, not wanting to look a fool, swears that he will kill himself and that it will cause the bomb to detonate and destroy them all. Batman calls his bluff and the leader, not wanting to be dissed by Batman, shoots himself in the head. The bomb does not go off.

The issue ends with Maxwell Lord watching the coverage of the events at the UN, which includes the first of a longstanding running gage of League members telling reporters to “Get those cameras out of my face!” Lord, talking to himself, reveals that he was behind the terrorist attack and that he sabotaged the bomb so that it would not detonate.

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Like Arrested Development, running gags were what Justice League was all about.

What?!

Justice League #1 is a glowing example of what a comic book can be. The silly tone is off-set by the reality of it all (the terrorist shoots himself in the head, for crying out loud) and the interactions between the characters sets up a lot of future drama and excitement.

 

That’s all I have this week, folks. If you’re curious about this incarnation of the Justice League, and you don’t feel like waiting around until I find time to review the next issue, you can purchase the first story arc in graphic novel form from Amazon.

Until next time, be well and thanks for listening to my rambles.

On the Unfairness of Life

Life is not fair. I mean, this should go without saying since “fairness” is a subjective concept. Still, people yearn for the idea of life being fair.

Right now I am struggling with how inequitable circumstances arise at the most frustrating of times. For various personal reasons, I decided to take a “mental health” trip to my homeland of New Jersey this week. As a resident of Philadelphia, I am not far from my home, but since I live in the northern area of the ol’ Garden State, it still is a decent drive.

Upon arriving home, and basking in the nourishing glow of friends and family, I received news that my favorite neighborhood bar in Philly is closing. Not in the future, either, but this week. This meant that I would not be there to experience the final days of a spot that completely transformed my life in the Philthiest of cities. You can read more about the love I have for this bar in an article I wrote for Spirit News, here.

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Sail on, silver girl.

Why not indulge in this feeling with me as we explore one of the most unfair moments in comic book history?

Death does not mean much for comic book characters. All one has to do is look at Superman, Batman, and Wolverine to know that death comes and goes. Hell, Jean Grey has died and been resurrected so often that it pretty much is just a personality trait of hers by now.

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So sad.

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This was a lovely and noble death until editorial decisions brought Grey back a few years later. 

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WE GET IT, JEAN. YOU DIE A LOT.

Unfortunately, some deaths are a bit more permanent. Especially, it seems, if you are a Green Lantern.

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Its not easy bein’ green…

 

Being a Green Lantern fan is like being a Game of Thrones fan. You really are never quite sure when one of your favorites is going to die. Sometimes you see it coming and other times… well…. all we have to do is look at the lovely Katma Tui to get a better understanding.

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Tough sonofabitch right here.

Katma Tui got dealt a shitty hand. Her homeworld, Korugar, was known for producing the hero-turned-despot-turned-villain Sinestro. Once Sinestro was stripped of his ring and his duties, Katma was selected to become the Green Lantern of her sector. But, because the people of Korugar were as simple and frustrating as those here on Earth, they called Katma a traitor for aligning with the same organization that Sinestro did. Classic. Katma even considered leaving the Corps quite early because she found love… but Hal Jordan told her love wasn’t worth leaving the GLC for… that douche.

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Brother did NOT practice what he preached.

Stern and caring, Katma was one of the more capable GLs introduced over the years. Though all Green Lanterns must have unparalleled willpower to become the wielder of their sector’s ring, a lot of them wind up dying quick. I mean, the universe is rough. Katma even got a pretty amazing story of her own, written by the infamous Alan Moore, where she was faced with the problem of recruiting a Green Lantern from a world that did not have a concept of light or sight. The ideas of both “Green” and “Lantern” were pretty meaningless there.

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She decided to see if explaining things through sound worked. Clever, Mr. Moore.

Like many female characters, Katma’s biggest obstacle in regards to character would come in the form of a man. Two men, technically. Hal Jordan decided to pull an LOL on Katma and disregarded his own advice, leaving the GLC for his ex-girlfriend Carol Ferris. John Stewart,  the substitute Green Lantern of Earth not the former Daily Show host, was quite uncertain about taking over the GL mantle from Hal Jordan full-time so Katma came on along to Earth to help him out. During this training period they fell in love and eventually were married (after, of course, John Stewart was able to explain Earth customs.)

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Why would you put your lips on me?!

The duo was adorable, fighting side by side on Earth when the Green Lantern Corps was allowed to break with tradition and patrol wherever they pleased. They even got matching costumes to show how unified they were. Couple stuff sure is fun.

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Something that says “We’re Green Lanterns but we’re still SUPER married. SO BACK OFF.”

Unfortunately, happy endings are not really in store for John Stewart. Dude is a complex and rich character who has been victim to some serious tragedy. I mean, he had the deaths of an entire planet on his head at one point.

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This one comes back to haunt him a whole lot. 

After a bit of fun, the Green Lantern Corps realized that they were in trouble. Sinestro, who everyone hated still, was put on trial and sentenced to death by his former comrades. So, making the only logical move, the GLC executed Sinestro… and then things went sour for them. Sinestro’s spirit (or something) infiltrated the main power battery of the Green Lantern Corps and corrupted it. Almost all of the known Green Lanterns lost their power rings, including Katma Tui. Powerless, she settled down with John and began her life of domesticity.

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Look at that smug jerk. 

Of course that didn’t last long. With the cancellation of the Green Lantern Corps title and a switch in focus to Hal Jordan in the DCU, there was a decision made to bring back his former flame Carol Ferris. Thing about Carol Ferris is that she is also the supervillain known as Star Sapphire. When in the form of Sapphire, Ferris is a complete and utter lunatic.

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Love is tricky.

Wanting revenge on Jordan, Star Sapphire hunted him down to his home, only to find Katma Tui in the kitchen. Without a ring, Katma was powerless to do anything and Star Sapphire chopped her up into tiny little bits. Cold. Blooded. Murder.

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Domestic life can kill, I tell ya.

And, as you can imagine, John Stewart did not take it well. Katma’s death would lead to plenty of storylines for Mr. Stewart but for Ms. Tui, the tale was over.

This was, and still is, one of the dumbest deaths in comic book history. Not only was Katma Tui a longstanding character with lots of development and interesting traits, she was also the first (shown) female Green Lantern and an entirely capable one at that.

She did not get to go out in any kind of glorified way. She was chopped up, without even having a chance to fight back, by the bonkers ex-girlfriend of one of her closest friends. Her death was used to show how unstable Carol Ferris/Star Sapphire had become, as well as add to the “man pain” of John Stewart AND Hal Jordan (because the bros were not happy with each other after this murder, obvi).

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This series was a REAL trip. Worth the read.

While characters come back all the time in comics, Katma has stayed quite dead. When John had his own title in the 90’s, the philosophical and wonderful Green Lantern: Mosaic, he sort of developed all these god-like powers. One thing he (seemingly) did was resurrect Katma. It was weird, and never fully explained, but she hung around as a ghost or something for a bit before the title was cancelled and the whole thing was forgotten about.

So, life is unfair. Sometimes your favorite bar closes suddenly. Sometimes your alien wife is hacked to pieces by the ex-girlfriend of your best friend who is possessed by a space gem that makes her bonkers for boys. That’s the way it goes.

I will miss my local bar, the same way I miss Katma. But, life is what it is, and we have to accept that from time to time.

Until next time, folks!

Who The %*@$: The Global Guardians

Everyone loves themed posts, right? Hello? Anybody? Well, guess what? This is a themed post so I guess we all just have to live with it. Hopefully, you’ll be amused. To kick things off, I’d like to present the first installment of:

WTFAATP

Here, I will periodically take a gander at a character (or group of characters) that I think deserves a bit of love and attention. To get started in the right way, I figure we should take a look at a team of knuckleheads whose pointless exploits were barely even recorded.

A team of international heroes-turned-brainwashed-slaves that I definitely sank some money into following through the back issue bins: The Global Guardians.

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Everyone pose for a quick group pic!

Let’s call it like it is: diversity has not always been the strongest suit of the major publishers. DC and Marvel have struggled with positive representation in the past. Nowadays, both of the giants seem to be making up for lost time by diversifying and shaking up the status quo. I, for one, am all for a reality where comic books feature characters as diverse as the crowd that reads them.

While recent years have seen Thor as a woman, Ms. Marvel as a Pakistani Muslim and Alan Scott as gay, it is important to remember the previous reaches for diversity that have come up over the years. Some of these attempts were pushed so hard that they actually wound up being more offensive than not. One day we will take a look at the glorious train wreck that is the DC 1980’s New Guardians title but, alas, today we are here to talk about a different diverse team with the name “Guardians” in it.

ExtranoGAY

Extrano, of the New Guardians, was one of the first gay heroes at DC comics. He was incredibly flamboyant and his superpower was.. magic? A gay story for another gay day.

Children of the 70’s and 80’s (and other decades, to be fair) are familiar with the television cartoon Super Friends and the exploits of popular favorites like Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman. DC Comics, perhaps realizing how vanilla it all was, made an attempt to show non-white faces. Unfortunately, since white creators didn’t seem to understand that people of color were more than their race, the black hero was, of course, named Black Vulcan. Add Apache Chief and Samurai to the mix and you get a half-assed attempt to showcase the whole of humanity by displaying heroes with names that reduce them to their race. Hooray!

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Black Vulcan was based on the much more awesome Black Lightning, whose name at least made a tiny bit more sense. The creator didn’t want Black Lightning involved in Super Friends so DC stuck “black” in front of another word for a hero with the same powers.

Super Friends also had a comic book, course. Since the team was, in essence, the same lineup as the Justice League of America, DC decided that the adventures of the Super Friends happened in another continuity entirely.

While Black Vulcan and co. did not appear, there is no need to fear. You can bet that there was a whole new slew of international heroes to pop up in these pages. And you can be sure that these heroes all had names that reduced them to a fact about their country of origin. Rising Sun is the champion from Japan. Ice Maiden hails from Norway. Godiva is from merry ol’ England. You get the picture. And, if you don’t, here’s a picture:

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For your sake: (Starting @ Top Left) Bushmaster, Godiva, Green Fury, Ice Maiden, Impala, Jack O’Lantern, Little Mermaid, Olympian, Owlwoman, Rising Sun, Seraph, Tasmanian Devil, Thunderlord, Tuatara, Wild Huntsman

Their powers were also questionable. Tuatara has a third eye that can see the future sort of. Olympian wears The Golden Fleece and has all the abilities of Jason’s Argonauts. Little Mermaid can… swim.

These… bright and shining stars… came into play during an arc where members of the Justice Lerr, uh, the Super Friends needed to split up to diffuse bombs around the world. Classic. Pairing with these international do-gooders, the day was saved. Technically, these heroes were not an actual team while running around chasing bombs in the pages of Super Friends. After popping up here and there for no real reason, DC added the group to the regular DCU continuity (for whatever that’s worth) and it was decided that this worldwide network of heroes was, in fact, an organized team known as The Global Guardians. Who’s Who (the definitive guide to the DCU!) even gave them an official entry with this lineup:

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The International Superhero Funtime Family Extravaganza!

They even got (something) of an origin story! The mysterious Dr. Mist brought them together, the United Nations sanctioned the team, and they all worked out of a spot called The Dome somewhere in Europe. Of course, their adventures were never really recorded and the team was rarely seen as one unit.

A handful of the GG popped up to help Superman in DC Comics Presents (because every mothereffing hero teams up with Superman at some point) and another small group worked with the team Infinity Inc on some inconsequential matterThere was also a bit of confusion about members. Teen Titans ally, and resident Russian in the DCU, Red Star (natch) was listed as a member but never appeared with the team. Damn Commies. A French hero named Fleur de Lis also is shown in a few group shots and has one solo adventure but she’s also never brought up again after one or two brief moments in the sun. Who cares, y’know? The Global Guardians got to pop up during Crisis on Infinite Earths and even survived the cataclysmic retcons that were to follow.

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Rising Sun, Jack O’Lantern, Godiva, Thunderlord and Green Fury have a nice, relaxing moment during Crisis on Infinite Earths

So, the post-Crisis timeline is upon the DCU and the ball is rolling for these guys. Some appearances here, some there. Then, wouldn’t you know it, they all got fired. Once the Justice League International came on the scene, the United Nations said “Peace!” to the Guardians and they were out of a job.

Keep in mind, the Justice League at this time was no longer comprised of the big guns like Superman and Wonder Woman. Batman was around for a bit and Martian Manhunter kept vigil, but this was the era of the goofy and fun JLI (my favorite run). This means that the Global Guardians got kicked out of a comfy spot working with the United Nations by a team of second and third string heroes who wound up causing more harm than good to property and people alike. Rough break.

Two members of the Global Guardians, Green Fury and Ice Maiden, upon learning they are out of work, decide to apply for membership with the JLI. The ladies needed income so that they could shop til they drop (remember, this was the 80’s). These two would go on to become the most famous members of the Global Guardians and shorten their names because, hey, it works. Hello, Fire and Ice.

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Ice’s story is actually confusing and worthy of another post for another day.

After the UN was all “GTFO,” the team actually got more attention in stories around the DCU. A little bit of meat (a very little bit) was added to some of the characters. Jack O’Lantern (of Ireland, natch) decided to take matters into his own hands and find a future for the ragtag globetrotting heroes.

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There was also a solid running gag about Tuatara being irate over parking validation.

During the runs of Justice League International, Justice League Europe and Justice League Quarterly (man, the late 80’s and early 90’s really were a great time to be a fan of the Justice League, I tell you that) the Global Guardians would come into play during various storylines and a few of the members started to develop actual personalities.

Jack O’Lantern turned out to be really bad at making decisions and started working for a crazy little dictator in the imaginary country of Bialya (somewhere in the Middle East, obvi) where he dragged his sweetheart Owlwoman into the mix and they tangled with the Justice League. Owlwoman was also molded into a peculiar Lady Deathstrike/Wolverine knockoff and genetically mutated by the dictator to have crazy retractable claws.

owlwoman1

Solid joke, though.

Luckily, the dictator got killed and overthrown by the Queen Bee, an even worse dictator. Yay! Jack O’Lantern then gets himself killed by Queen Bee and he’s replaced by a lookalike Jack O’Lantern because, hey this is a comic book, who then kidnaps and brainwashes the rest of the Global Guardians to serve as the Queen’s slaves and whatnot. Oh, Mr. O’Lantern.

Another character to get some attention was the Little Mermaid. Representing Denmark, LM is kind of useless. She’s one part legged person and one part mermaid and she can transform her legs into fins and breathe underwater. Well, she can breathe underwater for 30 hours at a time. So, after that she would die like anyone else. She can also fly but not really… she can hover a little bit. She’s, essentially, useless. Regardless, Little Mermaid was established as sweet but powerful in her spirit. She was the only Global Guardian to resist the brainwashing of the Queen Bee, until they upped her dosage and she fell into line.

LittleMermaidEdit

Jack O’Lantern Impostor is just a creep all around.

She was definitely the Kitty Pryde of the Global Guardians in personality. Sadly, her head got blown off by Mr. Impostor Jack O’Lantern, who was trying to blast at Justice Leaguer Captain Atom.

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SPLACH! is such a sickening sound, no? Yet, befitting.

Jack got his, though, because he was killed by falling debris pretty much right after Little Mermaid’s bloody demise. Their deaths revealed that he was an impostor, and made the GG realize they were pawns in someone else’s game. Self-actualization is the worst.

It is worth mentioning that, in true comic fashion, Little Mermaid turned up once again, alive and well. The Flash, of course, pointed out that she was supposed to be dead:

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Duh, Flash.

Outside of impostor O’Lanterns and decapitated mermaids, my favorite bit of GG development, for personal reasons, was learning Tasmanian Devil was gay. Quite gay, depending on the depiction:

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Lookit that flirt game.

 Sadly, Tas is a character of wasted potential. Outside of Fire and Ice, it is the Tasmanian Devil that has had the most exposure in the DCU. He sort of distanced himself from the team for a bit during their “Brainwashed in Bialya!” days and, eventually, landed his own spot on the Justice League. Even while on the Justice League he did not get any interesting stories or development and faded back into obscurity without many complaints from fans. Eventually he showed up again so that he could be killed and turned into a bearskin rug, only to be brought back to life so that he could be underutilized once more.

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Watch out Bears and Otters, Tasmanian Devils are the new gay category.

But I digress. For the rest of the GG, life really does not get much better. Once the team beats all of their brainwashing they are relegated to “background characters who pop up for special events.” When they finally appear for the final issue of Justice League Quarterly, it pretty much is as a “bye bye” storyline.This issue, to me, is a great example of how comics were changing during the 90’s. I grew up reading comics in the 90’s and I hated the trend of bulky, macho, dark, brooding and “real” heroes. It was and is so lame to me.

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I mean, c’mon. Why give Owlwoman scythe-like hands if she already has insane claws? 90’s, man.

 The first few pages do the “bold” thing of killing off Bushmaster, crippling Impala and burning off all of Godiva’s hair (her power is having, uh, prehensile hair… so that move kind of also crippled her). This was all to highlight how “badass” this new villain was. Keep in mind, this villain is never heard of before or after this issue, so really all these characters suffered for a dude that didn’t wind up amounting to anything. I, like many comic fans, hate the tired trope of killing characters for the sake of showing how “scary” a new villain is. Seriously, it is just a sign of really lazy writing.

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Bushmaster doesn’t even get to die by the hands of the villain. Punk bank robbers take advantage of his distraction and just shoot him in cold blood. Rough.

And it does not end there. Before the end of the story, Thunderlord dies in battle, Tuatara is put in a coma and The Wild Huntsman is.. sort of… made to vanish? It never is quite clear what happens to him (or his dog and horse that always kept him company). In an attempt to tie up any of the complicated continuity issues the team was prone to, it was established that Little Mermaid and Jack O’Lantern (the first one, not the murdery impostor) were both, in fact, actually and truly deceased. R.I.P., dudes.

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Now its time to say goodbye to all our company…

Total Global Guardians Body Count:

  • Deceased: Dr. Mist (kind of), Bushmaster, Thunderlord, Jack O’Lantern (I & II), Little Mermaid, Wild Huntsman (also, kind of)
  • Critically Wounded: Godiva, Impala, Tuatara

Pretty sad numbers for a team that started off so colorful and poorly named.

The final Global Guardians story makes the attempt to end on a positive note. Owlwoman proposes to the surviving members (all four of them) that they add some new blood. She shows images of these potential new members (who also never appear in anything else except for a cameo or two) and the team tosses up their hands to celebrate their future. Spoiler alert: they have no future. The End.

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To Comic Limbo!

And that kind of is the end of their story. Though the last official Global Guardians tale took place in 1994, the team has had something of a legacy in the DCU. A few of the members (including, for some reason, a twice-resurrected Little Mermaid) joined up with another underused international team The Ultramarine Corps.

A second and ill-conceived Global Guardians team popped up in Green Lantern in 2006, with only Tasmanian Devil returning from the original lineup. These guys don’t last long either and are all killed within a few years in another “look how bad this bad guy is” moment.

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These guys accomplished even less and died way faster. Progress, y’know?

Oh, and Godiva (with all her hair attached) got the spotlight when DC pulled the ol’ “time to restart everything” move and relaunched Justice League International as part of The New 52. Though, now that The New 52 isn’t a thing anymore, who knows what her status is… or anyone’s for that matter.

I have absolutely no clue in the universe why I love this team so much. Forgettable characters with barely any personality or development, cringeworthy names and subpar powers…. I mean what’s NOT to love?

Perhaps, if I ever somehow wind up writing for comics (note to self, make that a goal) I will get a chance to tackle these characters and see what makes them tick. Honestly, these clumsily named sons of bitches deserve to have their stories told. And I’m the idiot to do it.

And that’s who the %*@$ The Global Guardians are.

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They tried.

 

 

 

Unite, You Fans of the .50 Bins

I have wasted a lot of money in my life. I mean, like, I do not think you can grasp the number. It will blow your mind.

Just kidding, if you live in America you probably toss your money at garbage all the time! #freedom

We all have something that makes us happy to buy. I, for one, hate buying almost anything. I will buy clothing every other year, maybe, and my wardrobe is generally packed with the garments handed over to me by my wonderful (and, luckily, fashionable) friends. So, outside of food and all that boring necessary stuff like paying bills, I only really spend my money on comic books. Ridiculous comic books.

I typically shun the Batman and Superman and Avengers titles. Pssh. Who cares, am I right?  While I totally get down with all X titles, and I love me some Saga, most of the comics that I have eaten up over the years have been less… popular. They have been the stories that punch the imagination in the balls, grab it by the face, point it at the page and say “hey, look at this nonsense!”

A fan of a non-human character? So am I! Some of my favorite characters are the ones that are too ridiculous to take seriously. Chaselon, the crystalline Green Lantern. Tellus of The Legion of Superheroes. Kitty Pryde’s dragon BFF Lockheed (dude has a DRINKING problem! what?!). I also like plenty of human characters, but I always root for the Quislets and Widgets and Ch’ps a little louder than the rest. I figured, after a lifetime of following these characters, I should do something with all of these stories and characters (and non-characters) who have taken up residence in my mind.

I have no clue what this blog is going to be. I’m bad with blogs. BUT, those blogs are usually about me and I am not always good at writing about me.

I can, however, talk about comic books for the rest of my life. And I rarely have the chance to do so because I sometimes keep my nerdom under wraps (only sometimes). I think I’m going to pull out my long boxes, rummage through for some gems, and start digging into the madness that I enjoy oh-so-much.

Reviews on titles that haven’t been published in decades? You bet! Spotlights on the most absurd characters to grace the page? Um, yeah! Desperately hoping someone is going to read this? Of course!

So, strap on your… uh, strap-ons, and get ready to take a journey into a world of yellowing pages, continuity clusterfucks, heartwarming moments and rock ’em-sock ’em battles.