Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Jurgens League #2 - Starbreaker

And here we go again, casting our eyes back over an older incarnation of the Justice League, this time from the early 90's when Dan Jurgens was in charge. With that in mind, I had to call this the

JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA #63 - 65, written by Dan Jurgens with art by Jurgens and Rick Burchett.

Despite Superman's protests, Max Lord still has a hand in the League's business and after defeating the Weapons Master (see last week's entry) Lord does a deal with the UN which gets the team their own, brand new building right next to that of the UN.

Pretty much the entire League are more than happy with this situation - with the exception of Ice.

Since Superman arrived on the team, Ice has developed something of an infatuation with him where she is willing to defer to his every idea and thinks the rest of the team should do the same. It's something of a change for Ice's personality which is a little jarring in itself, but her new persona is also quite annoying anyway. Sadly, it's the one we're stuck with throughout Jurgens's run.

While the League are shown around their new HQ, the story shifts to space where we find a loyal supporter of Maxima in a damaged space craft. Escaping from Maxima's home planet of Almerac, he is determined to find her on Earth and have her return to oust the despot who has taken over her world. Problem is, the damage to his craft is so great that it cannot land safely and instead crashes to the bottom of the East River in New York where Maxima, alerted by a psychic signal, finds it.

Maxima decides to leave Earth and return to Almerac to defeat whoever it is that has taken her world prisoner. Booster, Beetle and Gardner are happy enough to let her go - Booster particularly - and she leaves to get her spaceship from the old League HQ. In the meantime, Fire discovers something in the latest Newstime that doesn't make her happy at all:

See that? Newstime thinks that Fire's outfit of jeans, jacket, belt and bustier is worthy of filling nine out of ten slots in the Top Ten Worst Dressed Superheroes list. We'll come back to this in just a moment.

Both Bloodwynd and Superman arrive at the League building, the latter with an arrest warrant for Maxima who had allegedly killed someone when first arriving in Metropolis. While telling him of her what's happened, the League mention the crashed spaceship from Almerac currently sitting at the bottom of the river and it doesn't take long for Supes to organise a salvage crew, bringing the craft back to the HQ.

As Beetle explores the wreckage, Bloodwynd gives him advice as to how to activate the communications device. While this works, it does also give Beetle another opportunity to tell the mysterious Bloodwynd just how little he trusts him.

For most of Jurgens's run, this is one of two defining attributes for Beetle: his never-ending quest to find out just who or what Bloodwynd is, while the other is his ingenuity and intelligence.

With the comms device activated, the League are treated to a visual display of the situation on Almerac which makes up Superman's mind: the JLA are off to help them. Booster and Beetle are not exactly happy about it and when Ice reprimands Gardner for speaking to Superman without respect he turns on her. The decision is made, however, that they'll head off together just as soon as Fire turns up . . . which she does on cue, sporting her new look that she's obviously whipped up in ten minutes:

If her old costume took up nine out of ten slots on the Top Ten Worst Dressed Superheroes list, I think it's safe to say she now fills all ten. Her new costume is, to my mind, without doubt one of the worst costumes ever seen in the pages of a DC comic. Her team-mates' comments must be either completely sarcastic or simple lies so as not to hurt her feelings. While the original look was very much of the time - particularly the head band and big hair - this black, green and white . . . thing . . . is utterly characterless. And if that weren't enough, the movement of Fire's hair clearly shows the League's new HQ has one hell of a draught.

Anyhoo, Gardner whips up a power ring bubble and the whole team head to Almerac which is where Maxima has already arrived to find the new ruler in her palace. When the League arrive, Superman decides to split into teams and investigate while Garder favours the more direct approach. When Ice chastises him for going against Superman, the Green Lantern finally flips and asks the League to make a decision:

It's interesting that the only one who shows any hint of being embarrassed by having to choose is Booster - not even Ice, up until recently Gardner's sort-of girlfriend, is ashamed to look him in the eye. With that decision made, Gardner flies off, effectively stranding the League on Almerac. A moment later and the villain of the piece arrives with an unconscious Maxima in his hands: Starbreaker, an old League enemy from years gone by.

As Starbreaker begins to take down the League - which he does with surprising ease - Bloodwynd unveils another of his powers. With his telepathy, he manages to inform both his team mates and the reader of Starbreaker's powers and purpose: as a sort of energy vampire, he intends to move Almerac into its sun and feast off the energies released from the resulting collision. Superman fills in the rest, covering Starbreaker's imprisonment by the Guardians of the Universe but all this exposition is obviously distracting; the villain creates two duplicates of himself and, with the League defeated, carries them off to the royal city, parading them in front of the terrified populace. Maxima is the only one left behind to rouse herself and pledge vengeance.

There's a quick interlude back on Earth with an annoyed Max Lord learning from Oberon that the team are off-planet, while a mysterious visitor appears outside the HQ:

Notice what's odd about those three panels? The man's clearly not in the first and last . . . who could it be?

Back on Almerac, Starbreaker uses his energy duplicates to split the League up, taking them to different parts of the planet. Beetle and Bloodwynd are taken to the polar regions and the energy levels the villain takes from Bloodwynd are so large it gives Beetle another excuse to wonder who he is. Booster and Fire are taken to the Forbidden Jungles, while Superman and Ice are taken to a bomb crater over a fault in the planet's crust. At each location, Starbreaker absorbs the energies of the heroes and fires them into the planet triggering huge explosions that nudge Almerac out of orbit and towards its sun.

Alone in the royal city, Maxima is found by rebellious citizens who blame her for not being there for them and, as the planet begins to die, they turn against her.

As drained as Superman is, there is nothing he or Ice can do to stop Starbreaker tossing his unconscious body into the rift his energy blasts have caused. With the world in its death throes, Starbreaker takes Beetle, Booster, Bloodwynd, Fire and Ice back to the palace, imprisoning them in an energy cage so that they can't escape while he gloats at them. Everyone's surprised at the appearance of one of the Guardians inside the energy cage, however, and when the rather clueless villain turns it off in order to get at the little blue guy, the League attack. As Starbreaker takes down the League once more, the Guardian is revealed as Bloodwynd using hitherto unknown illusionary powers. Leaving the League to fare on its own, Bloodwynd heads back to the polar regions to attempt to close the rift; at the same time, a revitalised Maxima attempts to do the same in the Forbidden Jungles.

Once again, Blue Beetle is revealed as the brains of the outfit, cannibalising Booster's suit to turn Starbreaker's own energy cage into a device to siphon off his powers:

Unable to prevent the draining of his own energies, Starbreaker evaporates while Maxima, Bloodwynd and a recovered Superman manage to halt the destruction of the planet. When he rejoins them, Supes even pays the League a back-handed compliment:

Despite having just saved the planet, the Almeracians can't wait to interrupt them and pass judgement on Maxima. In moments, she is exiled from the planet and a democratic government is to put in place. I'm all for republics overthrowing anachronistic monarchies but this seems a bit harsh even to me - she did help save the planet after all.

Maxima's space ship is repaired and the League are allowed to leave with her. Before they go, however, there's a rare moment of vulnerability shown by Maxima and a surprising amount of empathy from Booster of all people:

It's a genuine attempt to help her from Booster and it's a shame, though totally in character, that Maxima couldn't accept it. And this from the man who was happy to see her leave.

With that, the League bundle up into her ship and head back to Earth.

It's another serviceable story from Jurgens. The conflict between Superman and Gardner is temporarily solved; Beetle continues to be used as the intelligent member of the team while still obsessing way too much over Bloodwynd; and both Maxima and Booster have a moment of real character growth. The only characters who don't do much are, once again, Fire and Ice. Aside from Tora's mooning over Superman and Fire's hideous new costume, the pair don't do anything at all; it seems Jurgens simply doesn't know what to do with them.

Next week, we're back on Earth and we find out the identity of the mysterious visitor. (Which, of course, you could find out on any number of websites between now and then, but let's play along shall we?)

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