Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Justice League Detroit Redux - JLA Classified

Largely pilloried at the time of their original publication in the mid-80's, the Detroit League were given a much stronger outing in 2001 in JLA Incarnations #5 (as shown last week) and it wasn't too long before they cropped up again in the pages of JLA: Classified from 2006.

JLA: CLASSIFIED #22 - #25, written by Steve Englehart with art by Tom Derenick and Mark Farmer.

JLA: Classified was used to tell tales of the Justice League that weren't always set in the present so it was no surprise that the Detroit League showed up in its pages eventually. After John Ostrander's take on the team (again, see last week) Steve Englehart - writer of one of, if not the definitive Batman stories - should have done wonders with the team. Instead, it's a step backward as we join the League just after their defeat of Amazo and find J'onn J'onzz has brought them to Canada to go camping and Steel, for one, isn't happy:

"Second-stringers, third-stringers, and rookies" is how he describes the League. It's no wonder nobody likes them if they don't like themselves.

While the team begin training, the villains of the piece assemble: the original Royal Flush Gang, the guys who wore clubs on their suits rather than spades. Hearing the League is off on a training exercise, they decide to get back together (minus Amos Fortune, the original Ace of Clubs) and take on the League.

Again, a condescending tone about the Detroit League.

Englehart dishes up the first of his continuity errors next by ignoring the fact that Aquaman resigned immediately after the Amazo case. Instead, he's introduced as the leader of the League and has him learn of the impending attack in a manner which just makes me hang my head:

Pisces ex machina, anybody?

Anyway, back in Canada, the Royal Flush Gang attack the League armed with the home-built stellaration machine and a pack of cards, the latter of which, imbued with the powers of cartomancy, are hurled at the Leaguers with various results:

The stellaration machine gives the League bad luck allowing the Gang to attack and kick their butts. Stuffed to bursting with pride, though, Ten inadvertently gives away the cause of their powers, allowing Steel to grab a tree in an attempt to smash the machine . . . with disastrous results:

That there, ladies and gents, is Steel accidentally killing Ten and Queen of the Royal Flush Gang.

Once that happens, Jack and King high-tail it out of there, unaware that Fortune, the original Ace, is watching everything.

Aquaman calls in to League HQ to find neither Zatanna nor Elongated Man around but decides to head up to Canada and find the League anyway.

Fortune explains to Jack and King that it was he who turned the tide of their battle with the League. He's had the same idea - to kill the Detroit League - and used his original gang to test their responses before launching his own attack with his new spade-wearing Gang. By the time the League put more boulders on the dead Ten and Queen "to keep the animals away" the spade-Gang launch their attack but in a role reversal, their attack is hampered by King and Jack of the clubs-Gang who use their stellaration machine to interfere with Fortune's. All of which results in a huge forest fire breaking out, both Gangs running away and leaving the League trapped by flames which, unsurprisingly, render J'onn unconscious immediately.

Around this time, Aquaman arrives, landing his plane near the fire and swimming up a nearby stream in the hopes that it will lead him close to the League's camp. As the two Gangs head for their respective hideouts, the League take advantage of Vixen's animal senses and attempt to escape the fire. During this, Englehart dishes up his second continuity error, implying an attraction between Vixen and Steel which simply never happened during the original run.

Lost in the fire, Aquaman gets directions from a fish in the stream and finds the deserted camp, dousing himself with a pot of water to keep his energy up. After the spade-Gang find and kill the King of the clubs, allowing Jack to escape, the League find a cave where J'onn begins to recover. Dried out by the fire, Aquaman resorts to desperate measures to keep going, finding the buried bodies of Ten and Queen:

Yep, that's Aquaman smearing his face with the blood of dead villains in order "to save the JLA!" Think Geoff Johns will mention this in the new Aquaman series?

Back with the League, Gypsy finds a playing card and deduces that the Royal Flush Gang are further in and within moments they're split up and gone searching which allows us to discover J'onn's real reason for the field trip:

Martian Manhunter, one of the most noble of characters, wanted to secretly listen to his new team-mates' thoughts. How out of character is that?

Talking of out of character, though, Englehart excels himself with his last continuity error which concerns Gypsy. If you read the original run or have simply read the recent Justice League Detroit posts on this blog you'll know Gypsy is Cindy Reynolds, a young girl with camouflage and illusion casting powers who ran away from her suburban family to avoid confronting her drunk father. According to Englehart, Gypsy is an actual Roma gypsy with powers never seen before:

It's Gypsy who finds the Royal Flush Gang in time to hear Amos Fortune / Ace out line his plan to kill the League:

and using her Gypsy powers, she summons the rest of the League to her location without actually admitting it was her. They attack the Gang who transform themselves into living avatars of various Tarot cards and after a long fight, the new Leaguers are backed up to the edge of a chasm when, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, this happens:

A bear wanders in and falls into the chasm.

With a last > koff! < the King of Spades - who's been coughing the whole way through this story - has a heart attack and dies, forcing Fortune to shut down his Tarot-inducing-luck-machine-thing, leaving them wide open for a final attack by the League with Fortune himself being taken down . . .

. . . by Gypsy.

With the fighting over, Aquaman finally arrives in time to . . . well, to say sorry for taking so long, really. Meanwhile Gypsy has a prophetic vision of Vibe and Steel laying dead, and mopes around about how she can't tell them their future.

While Vibe remains oblivious!

Frankly, this is a dreadful story arc with heroes acting out of character, continuity errors all over the place and a bear falling into a chasm.

It does nothing for the reputation of the Detroit League - if this were someone's first introduction to this team, there's no way they'd be interested in reading more. What was an opportunity to build on the JLA Incarnations view of the team was squandered. For all its faults, I enjoyed re-reading the original run for this series of posts; this story I could have lived without.


  1. Very glad I missed this batch. Still have a soft spot for this version of the League.

  2. The original run by Conway was better than this - you dodged a bullet, mate.

  3. I know i'm late to the party but i really enjoyed reading your recap of the JLA Detroit era. It's probably my favorite era of the team. I was only around 5 when it came to an end so i didn't get to enjoy it while it happened. What do you think about Vibe returning in the new 52? Is this the only way to contact you or are you on any other forms of social media?

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Michael! I'm willing to wait and see what they do with Vibe in the New 52, and yeah, this is my only foray into social media at the moment.


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