League of America #1
writer: Brad Meltzer
artists: Ed Benes and Sandra Hope
Here we go again, a story from Weird Uncle Derek's comic-book reading past.
One wintry morning at a neighborhood 7-11, back when they carried comics, one cover leaped out at me: Santa Claus face down in the snow, with the Justice League looking on in horror. Oh, yes, it was one of those 100 Page Spectaculars, too, so it being a good deal kept my attention. But Dad wasn't in a comic book buying mood that morning, so it wasn't until a week later that my babysitter gave me that very issue (was it #114?) for Christmas.
It introduced me to three heroes. First, John Stewart, who had to fill in for Hal Jordan in the League when Hal slipped on a bar of soap. The Phantom Stranger, who sort of deus ex machina'd his way into the end, never actually shown doing anything except that vaguely, he saved the entire League off-camera. Lastly, sacrificing himself midway through the story (for the second time in a year), the Red Tornado made a bold stand. At the end of the story, when the League gathered in the Satellite for a cup of nog, Black Canary gave Reddy a Christmas present: a funky new outfit that included a yellow arrow down his forehead; he still wears it to this day.
Yes, Red Tornado predated the Avatar look by more than thirty years.
The point is, this was back in the glory days of the League. And though I think I came to Justice League of America a bit before Brad Meltzer, we love the same general era.
As he did in his earlier DC forays, Meltzer takes it upon
himself to reclaim what people call the Silver Age.*
Though fans today might dispute the force-feeding of Superman,
Batman and Wonder Woman as the Trinity of the DC Universe
(other heroes are legitimately more powerful - perhaps),
back in the day, there was just no question. So of course
the ultimate fate of the League lies in their hands. No
satellite got built without their input - or more likely,
without Waynetech money.
The other thing Meltzer is doing with the Trinity is making them friends again. At the end of Infinite Crisis, we saw the glimmers of that, but it was a forced war-time camaraderie. Meltzer shoulders the burden of proof with this issue, giving hints of friendship and perhaps more importantly respect. This time around, like real friends can do, the three can have disagreements and still have a laugh.
That may be weird to some readers, but man, some of us miss the days when Batman laughed - a lot.
Through the Big Three, Meltzer gives us a rundown of his potential candidates, and here the story lacks some of the impact his zero issue had. There, he taunted us with possibilities, glimpses of events that may or may not happen if editorial keeps its focus. Here, we just get rundowns of heroes, and not all of the choices make sense. Some, like bringing in Arsenal/Red Arrow, seem arbitrary. It might ultimately be cool, but here we don't know why Roy gets the nod over Oliver or even Connor, who himself did spend some time as a Leaguer when Grant Morrison wrote the team.
On the plus side, if Meltzer follows through with Black Lightning on the team, he's also established an interesting new status quo for Jefferson Pierce. And really, who doesn't like Black Lightning?
Which doesn't really bring us back around to Red Tornado at all, but I'm going to use the segue anyway. The actual plot of this issue revolves around the Tornado, and his relationship with Kathy Sutton and their adopted daughter Traya. Peter David tried to do some things with this in Young Justice, but the sillier tone of that book kept it from becoming too affecting. Here, though, Meltzer creates a moment or two that can only lead to tears in the future.
Despite appearing at about the same time as Marvel's Vision and having a similar character arc, the Red Tornado has always seemed less conflicted in his personal life. He's far more suited to heroism, and to some extent nobility, without a lot of angst. But Meltzer taps into what there is.
The League and Kathy make no bones about a reassembled Red Tornado coming back to life. His soul always finds a way. But this time around, that disembodied soul has a chance at flesh, with the help of a ghostly guest star. Or is it?
In little vignettes, Meltzer sketches the humanity of the android, fond of crossword puzzles and somehow more human than Will Magnus' Metal Men, currently being positioned in 52 as uncanny in their "living" responses. (True, in a moment of girl talk between Kathy Sutton and Platinum, Meltzer brushes against real poignancy.)
Ed Benes and Sandra Hope even draw some of these flashbacks in the style of Dick Dillin and Dick Giordano, the artists most closely associated with the satellite-era Justice League. For the rest of the issue, Benes does his usual clean pencils, a little heavy on the good girl part. Few make even the Platinum Tina look this good. Oddly, Hope's inks come across as an effort to make Benes look like Rags Morales. We get it. We liked Identity Crisis. We're here because of that. Trust us with something new.
For a first issue, this delivered a lot, in both introspection and action. We've even got a new villain to join some classics. Here's hoping the pace continues, and that Meltzer doesn't break our heart with the Red Tornado.
*For lack of a better term, we'll
keep that, though many of the stories Meltzer refers to
took place in the mid-seventies. Would someone like Dave
Lewis give me a more precise concept? Bronze Age?