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JLA #76
writer: Joe Kelly
artists: Lewis LaRosa and Al Milgrom

In hindsight, it's a blessing that issue #75 of JLA did not end with someone on the Watchtower asking, "what are we going to do with 14 Justice Leaguers?" (Though also in hindsight, Gamemnae ended up with a suspicious resemblance to the all-new all-different X-Men's first menace, Krakoa, The Living Island…)

Instead, we must leave it up to #76 to answer that unspoken question. Cleverly, though, Kelly begins it by answering one we all forgot to ask: just where the heck is Plastic Man in all this?

The answer: broken up into a lot of mini-Plastic Mans, rookie, expert, veteran, and sub-microscopic, all lying on the ocean floor. For three thousand years since the second fall of Atlantis. Many fans have wondered if the post-Crisis Plastic Man could have been superheroing since World War II; Kelly didn't necessarily answer the question definitively, but at least goes on record as saying it's possible.

But on the cusp of also laying the groundwork for a Plastic Man far more powerful than anybody dreamed, Kelly also has O'Brien leave the team. Though his reasons are sound and moving, it seems a little anti-climactic. Not even an upcoming one-shot from Kyle Baker feels like enough room to really explore it.

As expected, Plastic Man isn't the only one to leave this issue. For the first time in revised League history, the Martian Manhunter takes some time away. Like Plastic Man, his reasons are sound, and reading DC press releases makes it sound like J'onn's j'ourney will be covered in future issues of this comic. In Kelly's hands, it may prove more interesting than the Martian's solo book.

Not so obviously, Green Arrow, too, takes a hike. And while you can't disagree with the decision (unlike Batman, he does work more effectively in a solo book), Kelly takes a cheap shot at him involving Hawkgirl, Faith, and Wonder Woman's lasso. This isn't the Oliver Queen currently appearing in his own book; if Kelly had read the Smith run, he'd know that his gamesmanship is for real.

The others who leave come as no surprise, just as, really, who stays will not rock the foundations of this book. Manitou, Raven, by any other name Apache Chief obviously has no place to go, and Kelly doesn't have enough juice for a limited series on the character. Yet. Ditto for Faith, a character who remains largely a mystery, except that every time she makes an appearance, I hear Stevie Nicks singing "Gypsy." Weird vibe. Go figure.

In an unfortunate decision regarding timing of publication, the fate of Aquaman comes as a shock to his fellow Leaguers, but not to readers who picked up his first issue a couple of weeks ago. And he sure seems calmer about it here.

Though much of this issue seems rote story-wise, the guesting art team lifts it up a notch. LaRosa handles the conflicting styles of the usual League portrayal and the long-forgotten "how Plastic Man sees the world." On the latter style, in particular, Milgrom proves a perfect match as inker. Though it would be nice to see Mahnke and Nguyen back on a regular basis, this is a far less painful pinch-hit than could have been.

Soon, very soon, we will see how effective the new team will be. In Kelly's hands, it could be good, but for the first time in this title's history, it won't have the core "Big Seven" to anchor it. Once upon a time, it was thought that that was why people bought the book in the first place.

Keep your fingers crossed.


Derek McCaw

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