Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Justice League Detroit - Crisis On Infinite Earths

Over the next few weeks on a Tuesday, I'll be working my way through the Justice League of America titles from 1985 to 1987, trying to work out if the Justice League Detroit era really was as bad as we think it was. Why am I doing this? Why the hell not.

INFINITY INC. #19, written by Roy Thomas with art by Todd McFarlane and Steve Montana;
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #244 - #245, written by Gerry Conway with art by Joe Staton, Mike Machlan and Luke McDonnell;
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA ANNUAL #3, written by Dan Mishkin with art by Rick Hoberg and Mike Gustovich.

With the revelation in Justice League of America #243 that Steel's grandfather was the World War II hero Commander Steel (shown last week - you are reading these, right?) we pick up the story in the pages of Infinity Inc #19 where we find the Commander, with the aid of the mysterious Mekanique, has headed over to Earth-Two in order to recruit the Infinitors:

Commander Steel isn't exactly being honest, describing JL Detroit as "a bunch of super-powered young criminals" that he wants the Infinitors to defeat. Note the red sky in the background - the Crisis on Infinite Earths has begun making this one of the last times that Earth-Two would appear.

To be fair to the Infinitors, they do take a little convincing and it's mostly the hot headed Jade who forces their hand, along with Mekanique. Travelling back to Earth-One, Commander Steel and the Infinitors land at the Detroit bunker and instantly set off a bunch of alarms which brings the League running.

And just like that, the two teams are at each other's throats with Commander Steel taking on his own grandson. Despite the Commander's words about the League planning a "bloody revolution" and being "traitorous rebels" some of the Infinitors begin to harbour doubts about the rightness of the situation, particularly Silver Scarab and Fury.

Even Vibe shows some restraint though it's born of misplaced chauvinism:

For what it's worth - on the very next page, Jade clobbers him with a much bigger fist!

The fight quickly wraps up with Commander Steel and Mekanique vanishing with the unconscious Steel while the Martian Manhunter escapes with the rest of the League in a bizarre manner: with the Leaguers knocked out, J'onzz becomes invisible and, while the Infinitors are distracted, he uses his super-powered lungs to blow the League to safety along the floor! Once they're far enough away, he presumably scoops them up and heads off.

This leaves Infinity Inc wondering about the fight and whether they've been duped by Commander Steel and his golden robot. Determined to find out, they enter the bunker.

J'onzz and the League, meanwhile, borrow a space shuttle from NASA and use it to fly to the remains of the old Justice League satellite.

Yep, you read that right: they simply borrow a space shuttle and blast off. Launch windows didn't exist in the pre-Crisis DCU, folks.

Once at the old satellite, Elongated Man explains to Vibe why they're there: basically to use the old Transmatter Device to head over to Earth-Two and find out who the Infinitors are, what their connection to the Justice Society is and to ask for help.

Maybe there was something to that whole "readers are confused by the Multiverse" excuse DC gave for the Crisis happening if their characters can't believe in it! Of course, it all becomes moot for Vibe when he's dragged into the Transmatter and they're off to Earth-Two.

Meanwhile, we re-join the Infinitors in the bunker where, after investigating, they find nothing to back up Commander Steel's story about the League planning any sort of revolution. Drawn by the sounds of moans, Fury heads off to the medical lab where she finds Steel being experimented upon by Mekanique, under the direction of Commaner Steel himself.

Taken by surprise, Fury falls before the Commander while the Crisis rages outside the headquarters. The pair of turncoats track down and attack the remaining members of Infinity Inc, overpowering them:

The Commander launches into a long speech about why he's done what he did, how his grandson has disappointed him and how he loathes this new Justice League.

Unfortunately for him, and as so often happened in comics of the time, the villain's speech laying out his crimes is overheard, in this case by the Justice Society, brought from Earth-Two by the League. Cue one big fight where the Society manage to take down Mekanique while the Commander escapes only to face a revived Steel:

As the two Steels fight, the League, the Society and Infinity Inc head out into Detroit to deal with the chaos caused by the Crisis weather, wondering where it will all end. As far as Commander Steel's concerned, it ends with his butt being kicked by Steel.

There's no real link between the preceding issues and the Justice League of America Annual #3 but it seems to fit best between JLA #244 and JLA #245. It begins after the Red Tornado has been transformed by the Anti-Monitor with the android hero trying to figure out what he becomes. His tests take place on the semi-ruined Justice League satellite but cause an explosion, sending the old HQ hurtling to the Earth.

League members new and old band together to stop as much of the debris hitting the ground as possible after which the two hot heads of Leagues past and present show their colours:

Finding the remains of the Red Tornado in the wreckage, the League are then faced with an unknown foe using weather satellites to control the Earth's climate, sending rain and thunderstorms. They race to a hydro-electric power station that's apparently gone haywire and attempt to take back control:

Various other heroes, including Superman, are called in to fight against the satellites and the crazy weather which seems to be channelling towards the dam where the rest of the League have gathered and once again, Green Arrow and Vibe butt heads, this time coming to blows:

It comes as a surprise only to the Leaguers when the mastermind behind the crazy weather, the satellites and the power station is revealed as the disembodied spirit of the Red Tornado. While he starts off rational, he goes a little messianic, claiming to want to save the world and willing to destroy anyone who stands in his way.

And with the final threat of a reckoning to come, what was the Red Tornado flies off.

Back with the JLA title again, in #245 there's a sudden change of pace. We find Steel staggering around an apocalyptic world, a broken, damaged moon hanging in the sky, with savage giant insects attacking him while  six mysterious figures watch him. He's helped by a woman called Olanda, an enemy of the six, who takes him to her father. There's a quick interlude where we find the rest of the League and a repentant Commander Steel, all worried about Steel's whereabouts, before we re-join Steel and Olanda who goes from being friendly to mean when Steel reveals he's a member of the League.

She takes him to speak with her father who lays hidden in a crystal chamber and after finding out that he's in the year 1,000,000,000 AD (no, that's not a typo - it really is nine zeros) Steel tells how he got there: basically a Crisis induced time warp smacked him way into the future.

The six figures seen at the start send robots to attack Olanda and her father's base whereupon Steel plays the hero and saves them, earning the right to know the man's identity:

It's the old Justice League villain, the Lord of Time!

Turns out the six are clones of the Lord of Time (as is Olanda though she was obviously tweaked in the process) who resent him for being the crater and have stolen his Chrono-cube, trapping him at the end of time. Steel agrees to help the Lord attack the six in order to retrieve the cube and in return be sent back to his own time. The attack's a success and the Lord convinces (off-panel) his younger self not to clone the six, but he does keep Olanda who, it seems, has taken something of a shine to Steel.

It seems strange to have such a massive, line-wide crossover as Crisis On Infinite Earths and have the Justice League play such a small role in it. Of the issues, including Infinity Inc #19, that featured the Crisis banner, only the Annual really takes place amidst the Crisis itself - the first two issues are spent fighting the Infinitors while the last has an almost throwaway story about Steel in the future. The Annual itself suffers from being a one-shot written by another writer and trapped in a plot about Red Tornado's transformation which, frankly, isn't that good.

It's almost as if the Crisis passed DC's premier team by, resulting in a crossover in name only. Even in the Crisis... title, the League plays almost no part in the action.

For such an epic piece of DC history, it's a disappointing show for the League.

Let's have a quick look at the letter columns for these issues:

Ryan Lee, Green Bay (JLA #244)
Aquaman And The Outsiders - coming to you in the new DCU in September!

Bill D. Middleton, Clovis (JLA #244)
I can't help wondering what Mr Middleton thought of The End of the Justice League of America in issues #258 to #261 which finished off this series (and which we'll get to in a couple of weeks).

Anthony R. Cardno, Mahopac (JLA #245)
Most of the anger about the new League was directed at Vibe but it looks like Gypsy's come in for her fair share as well.

Sally E. Aaron, Cayce (JLA #245)
But here's something to balance it out.

Next week we see how the League deals with moving home again.

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