Justice League of America 183, “Crisis on New Genesis, or Where have all the New Gods Gone?”/Justice League of America 184, “Crisis between Two Earths, or Apokalips Now!”/Justice League of America 185, “Crisis on Apokalips, or Darkseid Rising!” Written by Gerry Conway, art by Dick Dillin (pencils 183), George Perez (pencils 185-185) and Frank McLaughlin (inks), edited by Len Wein.
As a variation on their annual get-together, the Justice League and Justice Society decide to hold meetings on both planets, with four members of each team crossing over to the other Earth. These are Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and Firestorm of the League, and Doctor Fate, Power Girl, The Huntress and Wonder Woman of the Society.
However, all eight find themselves together on New Genesis, the home of the New Gods. Only Superman has been here before, but whilst he explains things to the rest – Wonder Woman is very aggressive about the idea of ‘New’ Gods – the headstrong Firestorm flies off to explore and encounters the feral Orion in his Apokoliptian form.
The heroes come to the rescue, overcoming Orion, only to be confronted by a group led by Metron, including Mr Miracle, Big Barda and Oberon. They explain that Apokalips, aided by the Earth-2 Injustice Society, has kidnapped the entire population of New Genesis (saving the sextet who were on a mission in space) and turned them into mindless slaves. Metron had overriden the Transmatter machines to bring the heroes to their assistance.
The group travels by Boom Tube to Apokalips where, with Metron remaining behind to co-ordinate matters, heroes and Gods split up into four teams.
Batman, Mr Miracle and the Huntress are sent ahead to scout (Miracle recaps that Darkseid himself is dead, killed in the final issue (20) of Return of the New Gods, a revival picking up the numbering of the original Jack Kirby series, also written by Gerry Conway).
Doctor Fate, Green Lantern and Oberon battle their way into the Central Barracks, trying to find prisoners: Green Lantern is shocked at what he finds.
Superman, Big Barda and Wonder Woman force their way into Granny Goodness’s Orphanage.
And at a construction project, Firestorm, Orion and Power Girl find the Injustice Society (here consisting of the Fiddler, the Shade and the Icicle) engaged in bringing Darkseid back to life!
End of part 1.
Orion leads an immediate attack on the Injustice Society. It is the Fiddler’s music that is powering the Recreator, but even after his colleagues are defeated, he is able to use his violin to overcome the heroes, and return to his task.
Underneath Granny Goodness’s Orphanage, the child rescued from her soldiers leads Superman, Wonder Woman and Big Barda to the headquarters of a guerilla army of children, led by Crimson, whose automatic suspicions are quickly overcome by Barda talking to her about concepts totally alien to her: love and trust.
Another of the children, Playto, a ‘multi-cog’ recaps for them Darkseid causing an animate version of himself to appear to the three villains on Earth-2. True to form, the new Injustice Society is already betraying itself until Darkseid overcomes them and bends them to his will. To find out more, the heroes get Crimson to lead them in search of Granny Goodness herself.
Meanwhile, at the Central Barracks, Green Lantern is found making desperate, almost panicky attempts to free Izaya, High-Father, from his chains. His power ring is ineffective but Doctor Fate’s magic releases High-Father, as GL explains how he immediately identified Izaya with his own masters, the Guardians: hence his reaction.
At the Imperial Palace, the team of Batman, the Huntress and Mr Miracle are till working their way in. Miracle gets there first, and is horrified to learn of Darkseid’s full plan: the New Genesisians have been kidnapped to build Darkseid’s Recreation Machine but Darkseid means to do more that return to life: he plans to transfer Apokalips into the Earth-2 Universe, where there are no Old or New Gods to oppose him. And if he does, Earth-2 will be destroyed!
End of Part 2.
Matron, who is monitoring everything, recaps the story so far, but regrets that he cannot intervene personally.
In the Imperial Palace, Darkseid returns in body. He muses upon his brief period spent in ‘death’ and how it weakened him by causing him, however momentarily, to value life. The Injustice Society seek their reward, with the Icicle boasting of how he has captured Orion, Firestorm and Power Girl in a block of ice.
But by laying hands on Darkseid’s own son, the villains are dishonoured: Darkseid uses the Omega Force to transport them to prison, though he leaves Orion in captivity. However, the soldiers who take the block of ice away are ambushed by Batman, the Huntress and Mr Miracle.
On the surface, Doctor Fate, Green Lantern and Oberon are taking Izaya to a destination he seeks. He reveals Darkseid’s full plan to them en route. Whilst Fate and GL battle a squad of Para-Demons, High-Father uses his powers to defend Oberon and himself but collapses, weaker than he had imagined himself to be.
In the Orphanage, Crimson leads Superman, Wonder Woman and Big Barda to Granny Goodness. Granny escapes the first two, but Barda knows the secret passages as well as she does.
Back to the Imperial Palace where the frozen trio have been released. Orion flies off to confront his father, with Firestorm and Power Girl in tow, the others proceed to locate the Injustice Society in their Punishment Block: they need the Fiddler to free all the New Genesisians. Having done so, they lead the New Gods to rescue Izaya and the other battling heroes, who are in danger of being overcome.
Metron decides to interfere at last. Orion confronts Darkseid, though it’s Firestorm who channels his Omega-Force back at the Tyrant of Apokolips. But they are too late: the Recreation Gun fires – yet instead of aiming at Apokolips, the beam targets the Imperial Palace, targetting Darkseid, destroying him again. It is Metron who altered its circuits.
Two planets remain to be rebuilt. But the Justice League and Justice Society are free to go home.
* * * * *
Though it was not apparent at the time,1980 was the year it began to change back for DC, whose confidence and credibility was still in tatters after the 1977 ‘Implosion’. It was not Justice League of America that had anything to do with it, still less the Justice Society, whose series in Adventure ended a month after the previous team-up. Once again, they were dependant upon the annual team-up for any exposure.
For the third time, the annual team-up was expanded to three issues and, for the second time it was a case of bloat. Bloat, and a new formula that, by 1980, had not so much been perfected as ossified: third force, check, very limited number of participants from each team, check (four from each side on this occasion), lumpen story with minimal real plot and lots of undistinguished fighting, check, oh check indeed.
Ross Andru had already moved on as editor, and the post had been inherited by Len Wein, six years after he had left his role as scripter. It wouldn’t usher in a substantial change, not with Conway as scripter, going about things in a slightly mechanical manner, but it would at least relieve the series of the desperate urge to ‘shake things up’ that had led to the previous year’s unfortunate effort.
But the greater change lay in the loss of Dick Dillin, twelve years the Justice League’s penciller. Dillin had made his debut on the first part of the 1968 team-up and his swansong on the series was the first part of this 1980 effort: after drawing two and a half pages of the second part, Dillin died of a heart attack. Excluding reprint issues, he had drawn all but two of the 120 issues (and he had drawn framing sequences for one of those).
With so little of the second part drawn, it was decided that it would not be disrespectful to Dillin to have the entire issue drawn from scratch by new penciller George Perez, with McLaughlin remaining as inker.
Ironically, in the same month as Perez took over Justice League of America, DC published the first issue of a new series also pencilled by Perez, and written by Marv Wolfman. The New Teen Titans, DC’s first success in the fan-market, was to guide the company back to health.
Given that Perez is, and always has been, a very fast, very detailed penciller, whose pages are, if anything, overloaded with information, why does his Justice League look like a cartoon? Unless he was instructed to draw very simplistically, to minimise the transition in art styles between Dillin and himself – which I think unlikely for reasons I will come to shortly – the only possible explanation I can come up with is McLaughlin’s inks.
Compare a page of Justice League of America 184 with a page of the contemporaneous New Teen Titans 1, inked by the much more sympathetic Romeo Tanghal and the difference is amazing. Tanghal is neat and tidy, faithful to the detail, bringing to Perez’s work the crispness of Dick Giordano at his best, but leavened by a subtle softness, a smoothness to the inking line that rounds edges by that slight but visible degree.
Yet Perez doesn’t compromise on his compositions: there’s a potentially stunning page featuring a vertical shot down the centre of a multi-level sinkhole that Dillin would never have attempted, but which looks flat. There is no real sense of depth to the image, as printed. And as Len Wein was instrumental in gradually drawing Perez away from Marvel, it seems highly unlikely he would have been offered the Justice League and then urged to simplify everything.
Yet his very first page, a beautifully composed splash centred upon the re-emergent Darkseid, the heroes are resolutely flat, without shading, or depth, with the simplest of indications of the barest number of muscles, with everything else eliminated and uniformly thick lines: the effect is similar to looking at old adverts for the TV cartoon Super-Friends.
As for the story, Conway should be credited with the first appearance of a story-telling technique that is standard practice nowadays. Like Fox, he breaks his heroes up into teams, obeying the clichéd requirement that each team consist of one Leaguer, one JSAer and one New God (or Oberon). But where Fox and his successors would let scenes play out, showing you the outcome of each team’s mission, Conway constantly cuts from one scene to another, never letting any one group advance too far at any one time.
It’s a more sophisticated technique, and enables the reader to maintain contact with the forward edge of the story throughout it’s development, but even in this early form it triggers my dislike for the latter-day ADD aspect of comics, the idea that if a scene doesn’t change every page, the audience gets bored.
And, to be honest, the plotting is hardly sophisticated. Each segment for each team involves a display of powers, bashing some Apokalips goons at each turn, without making serious progress towards any of the objectives. It’s a very baggy, saggy story with no real idea of how to develop its simple plot.
Along the way, there are improbable scenes that just get in the way. Wonder Woman of Earth-2 goes off on one about Superman calling the New Gods Gods: she only recognises her own pantheon, oh and Him, you know, the biggie, the one you can’t seriously fit into a superhero Universe but also can’t ignore. It’s a valid philosophical point, questioning how and why these other superhuman beings can be validly named as Gods, but unless the entire series is to be dedicated to a complete rendering down of the entirety of Kirby’s Fourth World, it’s an unanswerable question and a roadblock here because, once raised, it has to be forgotten.
Green Lantern’s panic attack at the sight of High-Father in chains is demeaning and ill-explained, but then Conway’s portrayal of his own creation Firestorm as a complete, out-of-control moron is not all that edifying to begin with.
Then there’s Crimson, tomboyish, pre-pubescent guerilla girl, warrior in a hard environment, who does not know anything of love or trust because the horror of Apokalips has denied her any chance to comprehend the concepts and, yes, you’re right, Conway has her bawling like a baby in just three panels. It’s nauseatingly simplistic, unreal and glutinous, but what do you expect? She’s a girl.
But I reserve my greatest contempt for the ending of this horribly naff story. It’s a total deus ex machina: Metron spends all his time telling us that he cannot interfere and then he goes and interferes. And Darkseid gets wiped out in a single panel: Darkseid, whom Conway killed off at the end of Return of the New Gods, whom Conway killed off in Secret Society of Super-Villains, Darkseid who Conway here kills off for the third time, suggesting a certain lack of imagination.
Not only that, but in a way that is getting depressingly familiar, the ending is incredibly perfunctory. Not only does Darkseid get killed off in a single panel, it is not in any way by the hands of Orion, his son, nor does Orion even battle his father (despite having been traumatised the whole three issues by his part in the latter’s last death).
And once Darkseid is gone, the wrap-up consists of three panels, and everyone goes home, leaving a bloody great mess to be sorted out behind them, but not a mess that Conway will have anything to do with.
The problem with this story is that it’s simply a bad story, badly told, in an era of bad stories badly told. The influence of New Teen Titans couldn’t come soon enough. Nor does it feel like a team-up story, like something that requires the Justice Society. Even the notion that Earth-2 is under threat is wholly lacking in logic: Superman is at pains to establish, early on, that New Genesis and Apokalips have no corporeal presence in the Earth-1 Universe, that they exist in an undefined, unexplained elsewhere, yet the plan is to plonk it in the Earth-2 Universe so Darkseid can conquer that instead? That’s complete nonsense.
As I said, by this point the Justice Society were back in comic book limbo, their series cancelled, their access once again this annual tradition. Yet what kind of access was it? Only four members took part, and one of these the near-identical Earth-2 Wonder Woman. There’s the stalwart Doctor Fate, of course, and the two new girls, the Earth-2 Batgirl and Supergirl, and as for the rest a single, Staton-esque panel in the first issue and nothing.
What was the point? Especially as the Justice Society could not simply engage in a battle with their counterparts that was too large for either team to fight alone, but which needed a third set just to bring them to the table. The fun had gone out of things and the series was being done for the sake of it.
At least there would be no real post-Crisis function for this story.