Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Jurgens League #3 - Atom And Aliens

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 #66 - 68, written by Dan Jurgens with art by Jurgens, Rick Burchett and Jose Marzan Jr.

We start #66 in the middle of a battle between Superman and the returned Guy Gardner. Just in case there's anyone out there unaware of why Guy's outfit is changed from when we last saw him, this is because of the events of Green Lantern #25 and the Guy Gardner: Reborn mini-series. Basically, Guy was kicked out of the GL Corps, found Sinestro's ring and stole it for himself.

However, that's not the intriguing thing. Our mystery visitor (see last week's entry) is narrating this, complaining that today's League doesn't add up to the glory days of Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, Ollie Queen and the others. But this fight between Gardner and Superman isn't the starting point and we get a flashback to earlier that morning when Supes and Maxima had gone into Metropolis to respond to the arrest warrant put out on Maxima just before the team headed off to Almerac (again, see last week.) With her typical arrogance, Maxima's not exactly pleased with the situation:

Still, with the ability to teleport Sazu from "a prison on a distant planet" Maxima hopes to get it sorted out quickly, leaving Supes to leave only to bump into Batman who wants to know whether Superman's really up to leading the League following Gardner's departure.

Meanwhile, our mystery narrator delivers a scathing summation of Blue Beetle and Booster Gold. According to him, the only reason the pair of them could be allowed in the League is because they're blackmailing someone.

Beetle's in the process of (as usual) obsessing over Bloodwynd and how mysterious the guy is and has developed a new signal device for the team, partly to improve on the original, mostly to allow him to track Bloodwynd. The whole who-is-Bloodwynd mystery is a little forced throughout these issues - if Beetle's not inventing something or working out how to save the team's collective behinds, he's wandering around, gnashing his teeth over this makeshift mystery that is clearly in place just to allow Jurgens to tell us it's a mystery.

Elsewhere, Fire finally raises the subject of Ice's infatuation with Superman while our unknown (you know, if you ignore the title of this post) narrator stumbles across an enormous motion sensor:

Trouble is, that coincides with the arrival of Guy Gardner who has "come to claim his woman!" despite Ice's protestations. With the alarm going off and Fire attacking Gardner, the rest of the League react and attack their former team-mate before Superman, along with Batman and Maxima, turns up and takes control of the situation. Supes drags Gardner to the bottom of the river but refuses to fight him:

while Batman forces Beetle to check the scanners rather than assume the alarms went off because of Gardner's arrival. Sure enough, our narrator is discovered just as the fight comes round to where we came in at the start of the issue and within moments the Atom helps defuse the situation between Superman and Gardner.

Look at that: a proud collection of heroes which the Atom refers to as the League. And yet, only two pages later after Superman and Gardner agree to try and get along, he says this about them:

One minute he's all "Yay, it's the League!" the next he's "I don't think they're the League."

With the recent (at the time of writing) controversy over Starfire and Catwoman's portrayal in the new DC titles Red Hood And The Outlaws and Catwoman still fresh in my mind, opening up #67 and being greeted with a splash page of Fire posting in lingerie was something of a sad surprise.

It turns out Fire is posing for a new calendar featuring her, despite Ice's reservations. Apparently some company called the Tomorrow Corporation have talked her into doing this as she's a model, and she's agreed despite her never having met the Corporation's representative. Fire's happy to go with it - the prestige of having her own calendar is enough to make her disregard the "certain standard" that comes with being a member of the Justice League.

This was in 1992, almost twenty years ago (again at the time of writing) and in the wake of the above mentioned controversy, Newsarama asked various comics writers the following question: "Do American superhero comics tend to portray women in a sexist way, and does that affect the comic industry as a whole? Or are female comic characters usually portrayed comparatively to their male counterparts?" One of those who responded was Dan Jurgens and here's his reply in full:
"The question is a bit too broad, but I'll tackle it as best I can. 
Do American superhero comics tend to portray women in a sexist way? There is undeniable truth to that, though I think we're making strong improvements in reducing that. Rather than use the term "sexist", I think the word "unrealistic" applies better. It's more comprehensive than "sexist', which is just one aspect of unrealistic portrayal. For a lot of our history, I don't think there's much doubt that male characters have been written with a greater attempt at building a well-rounded character, whereas female characters have often been written to fulfill certain fantasies of what the writer either wants women to be or thinks his readers want them to be. 
Female characters seem to have been shortchanged in terms of attempts to build more interesting characters. For example, in JLI we're using two characters, Fire and Vixen (even the name Vixen can be indicative of what we're talking about) who were previously models in their private lives — as though that's the best they could hope for or all they would care about. And, let's be honest, in terms of artistic portrayal, most any female superhero, or male, for that matter, could make a living as a model. But we're changing that in order to give them more well-rounded, deep, less "She's hot! Let's make her a model!" backgrounds. We don't need to go down those old roads."
It's encouraging to note that Jurgens has moved on from the "Let's make her a model" background story.

So, back to the story . . .

Despite showing up last issue and ranting at the League, the Atom decides not to join up, even going so far as to say they are "far short of the real thing!" The Atom, making a size joke? Why, he'd fit right in! Beetle and Booster, meanwhile, are once more talking about the mysterious Bloodwynd and Booster's had enough, claiming that Beetle has become obsessed and lost his sense of fun. They transport over to the JL Europe team in London having cooked up a scheme to get a laugh:

They swap costumes and pretend to have been spliced together. Sadly, the humour - like Beetle's obsession over Bloodwynd - feels forced and thus not funny. In retaliation, Flash gets Power Girl to round up the League and sends Beetle and Booster back to them:

There's a couple of things worth commenting on here: Fire has decided to get rid of that hideous costume she designed a couple of issues ago and replace it with something utterly impractical; Guy Gardner thinks the British brew fine lager when what we have over here is damn good real ale; and Beetle wears boxer shorts with hearts on them!

It's at this point that Jurgens actually decides to inject a plot into the issue: a NASA space shuttle has gone missing and they'd like the League to help find it. The team split up and on the journey over to Edwards Air Force base, Booster Gold drops something of a bombshell. Remember that company Fire was posting for at the start of the issue?

Turns out that Booster is behind the Tomorrow Corporation and Fire is not pleased at all. This doesn't show Booster in a good light = sure, Fire's a model so her signing the contract and posing for the calendar is her responsibility. But Booster at the very least is a team-mate if not a friend and for him to do this in such an underhanded manner and then gloat about the money he'll make reveals him to be a whole new level of scumbag.

Anyhow, they get to the air force base just in time to find the shuttle hurtling towards Earth, precipitating a quick rescue and the discovery that the astronauts are missing. An alien spacecraft appears which they enter to find an alien called Chaq who has abducted the astronauts and claims to have bought the Earth and everything on it.

#68 starts with the remaining Leaguers trying to find Superman in order to have him help find Booster and the others who have gone missing. With Supes refusing to wear a signal device, Gardner uses his ring to construct a giant version of himself marauding through Metropolis in order to get Superman's attention. When Gardner calls him out on his lack of signal device, it's nice to see that Ice agrees with him and Superman realises they're right.

Once appraised of the situation, Superman, Maxima, Gardner and Ice head to the air force base and while the three fliers split up to search for the rest of the team, Ice remains behind and we get a brief moment of her wondering about Superman and Guy.

Soon enough Maxima discovers Chaq's ship and with Gardner picking up Ice, the rest of them gain entry where they find the other Leaguers and the astronauts held in some fluid filled sacs which are slowly killing them. Forcibly trying to remove them, however, causes the captives pain. Chaq appears and despite the League attacking him, offers evidence for his claim to own the Earth which, surprisingly, Maxima backs up.

Despite the legality of the claim, despite Ice drawing comparisons to the early American's treatment of the Native Americans, Superman is willing to defend the Earth with force. The man who stands as a paragon of virtue is willing to ignore Chaq's legal claim.

Thankfully Maxima comes up with a plan and, telepathically, utilises Gardner and his ring to create the illusion of wealth in Chaq's cargo hold. Obviously being something of a simpleton (not asking how the money got there) Chaq agrees to sell his claim to Gardner, release all the captives to them unharmed and to head off back into space.

Superman, though, is not happy.

Of course, there's no way that Superman's going to let Gardner have a deed saying he owns the Earth:

The appearance of the Atom and his abrupt departure, along with the alien world owner are both very light stories from the point of view of content and plot. They're nothing special so I've tried to concentrate on the changes and actions of the characters. Superman comes across as something of a hard-liner while Maxima solves the issue of Chaq with brains rather than brawn; Fire wanders around creating new costumes; Ice simpers over Superman; Beetle obsesses over Bloodwynd who in turn does next to nothing; and Booster - written by his creator of all people - shows himself to be a complete git.

The whole thing smacks of being little more than filler issues, particularly in light of what came next.


  1. Wow, I've forgotten so much of this - Ice fancying Superman? Atom showing up?

    I liked these issues more than not, mainly due to the Burchett and Marzan art, really nice stuff. And Maxima, it was good to see her de-murderessed. I do love her visual, the upcoming Supergirl version looks horrendous by comparison.

    Bloodwynd was so rubbish, it's a wonder he's never been brought back.

  2. Yeah, Ice didn't come out of this run very well at all.

    And Bloddwynd? Yeah, we haven't seen him for a long, long time... of course, with Jurgens now writing Justice League International, maybe he'll show up there?!


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