Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Justice League Detroit - Adam

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.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #255 - 257, written by Gerry Conway and J.M. DeMatteis with art by Luke McDonnell, Bill Wray and Bob Smith.

With Despero vanquished (as seen last week) and the Detroit League finally having pulled together to overcome such a powerful foe, you'd think the troubles of the much-derided team would be over.

I'm afraid not.

#255 begins the long-awaited (as in "When's this going to end?") conclusion to the drawn out Zatanna story-line. In previous issues, we'd seen her abducted by Adam who shared some of the Homo magi genes with her but wanted more. Zatanna begins by having a dream-like conversation with her dead father while working through some images which are both unsubtle and somewhat creepy:

Her betrayer, Sheri, stabs her in the back then she's left sprawling on the floor surrounded by faceless attackers. All of this leads to Zatanna shaking off the drugs in her system and escaping from her cell only to be confronted by a transfigured Adam who claims to be God. Managing to activate her League signal device, we see through Adam's eyes as the rest of the League rush to her aid.

Gypsy, meanwhile, is helping out J'onn J'onzz on yet another long running sub-plot and finally tracks down the runaway Pamela Cross whose parents hired J'onzz to find her before he was framed for murder. In an effort to win Pamela's trust, we finally see Gypsy's origin: she came from a dysfunctional family where her father drank and her mother argued while her brother took it all in. One incident triggered her illusion casting powers:

and she ran, eventually ending up with the League in Detroit.

Talking of J'onn, his murder-frame story moves forward as he tracks the secretary of his boss having determined that she set him up. He interrupts a meeting between her and the husband of the murdered woman who he had killed his wife to be with the secretary, the killing J'onn was meant to be set-up for which, it turns out, had nothing to do with Pamela Cross at all. (Still with me at the back?) Trouble is, J'onn doesn't come out of this so well:

As the issue ends, neither Gypsy nor J'onn are able to respond to Zatanna's signal alert, although the rest of the team do:

Surprise, surprise, that's not Zatanna at all, but rather Adam who's able to manipulate even Batman's mind into forgetting about the whole alarm.

Talking of Batman, that there is his last appearance in this version of the Justice League. Remember a few issues back he said he had his own reasons for re-joining the League, reasons which would make Gypsy very surprised when he revealed them? We are never to see or hear them as his last appearance is waving goodbye to what he thinks is Zatanna.

And if we're mentioning last appearances, why not a first? Back in the burning apartment, J'onn has changed into his more usual form and, in pain from the fire, believes he is seeing H'ronmeer, the Martian god:

This issue, #256, is the first time we hear about H'ronmeer folks. Convinced he's dying, J'onn goes with his god. Elsewhere, Gypsy, along with runaway Pamela, gives money to a beggar woman who manages to transport her and Pamela into the same room as both Zatanna and J'onn. Turns out both the beggar and H'ronmeer were visions created by Zatanna to teleport them to her - Pamela was just an accidental tag-along.

Zatanna explains to them (once Pamela's got over the shock of J'onn) that she's been imprisoned by Adam and tortured so that he could absorb her gene pattern. Before they can do anything, reality shifts and they find themselves in a number of different situations until a bedraggled and pained Adam stumbles in and collapses.

Ignoring Zatanna's insistence that it's a trick, J'onn performs a Vulcan mind meld on him and discovers that Adam has touched the godhead, lost his ego, and gone ever so slightly mad. While J'onn and Gypsy want to help him, Zatanna takes some convincing - he did capture and torture her after all. Eventually, though, she takes Gypsy into "the realm of pure mind, where all humanity exists" and literally enters Adam's mind, using J'onn as an anchor point in the real world.

Things in Adam's subconscious, however, resent the intrusion and capture them, pulling them further down into his mind where J'onn cannot find them.

Thankfully, Zatanna's able to free first herself and then Gypsy but realises her young team-mate is injured and so sends her back to the real world. On her own, she sets off into Adam's psyche to try and help him recover.

Trouble is, in Adam's condition, he has no control of his reality warping powers which leads to J'onn and the others being surrounded by something . . . unusual:

As Gypsy uses her illusion powers to counter Adam's reality shifts, Zatanna (with the apparent help of her still-dead father) fights through the last of the hurdles in Adam's mind until she voluntarily hurls herself into the godhead which is literally eating away at Adam's ego.

In a second, Zatanna's thrown back into the real world where, it appears, Adam has died, his ego consumed. Zatanna heals him, however, and he claims that everything that happened was meant to be, a sentiment that, to J'onn's surprise, Zatanna agrees with. She and Adam were destined to be together and go off and explore the great plan of the godhead.

And that's pretty much it - J'onn and Gypsy meet up with the League (sans Batman) and wonder about Zatanna's "authentic mystical experience" as Vixen calls it, before their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Firestorm which leads off into Legends.

This story arc is the last that Gerry Conway would contribute to this incarnation of the League and, in all honesty, it's a very poor swan song. Contributing the plot to the first issue in this arc (J.M. DeMatteis wrote the dialogue using the pseudonym Michael Ellis - see sixth comment down on that post) it's interesting to wonder how he would have concluded it but we are never to know. For a man who wrote over a hundred issues of this series, it's also more than a little insulting not to have any mention of Conway leaving in the letter column.

The whole Zatanna / Adam / destiny conclusion is little more than filler material to bridge the leaving of Conway after the successful Despero story and the crossover with Legends that, as we'll see next week, leads into the last League story in this series. And while that sub-plot is wound up, it's worth noting that J'onn's frame up is left dangling. As you can see in the image above, the killer and his accomplice escape and never face justice.

The League as a whole play next to no part in this story, concentrating as it does on Zatanna, Gypsy and J'onn and as such it's barely a Justice League Detroit tale at all.

More letters from the issues of the time:

Jim Ficken, Wrenshall (JLA #255)
I hope they don't change it, Jim - it's the one I've been using for weeks, now. Oh and Booster - you might have to wait for the relaunch title in a couple of months.

Joe Wehmeyer, Ste. Genevieve (JLA #255)
Hey, that's exactly what I said! See, DC? Fans pick up on continuity things like this.

Wow, short and sweet, Tim.

Kip Talbott, Mt Sidney (JLA #256)
Oh Kip, you're a wag, aren't you?

Dale Coe, Cheshire, England (JLA #256)
Couldn't agree more with this - the Despero storyline really turned the character into something new.

Jim Ficken, Wrenshall (JLA #256)
See? Jim picks up on this just like Joe did earlier. DC isn't going to have an easy time cramming years of continuity into five years in the September relaunch.

Bill Climer, La Rue (JLA #257)
Uh-hu, Bill. Get Gypsy out of her skirt, eh? Into a sleek costume, eh? I hope you hung around for Justice League Task Force.

Kip Talbott, Mt Sidney (JLA #257)
I guess it's about time someone other than Gypsy or Vibe got ragged on.

"A major turning point in the life of Vibe"

I wonder what that could mean? I guess we find out next week as we reach The End of The Justice League of America.


  1. i remember that issue with the Martian Manhunter staggering through the fire cover. i never read it but i always thought the cover was great especially with the "Burn Martian Burn" catch line on it.

  2. Great cover, just a shame it was much better than the story within!


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