Doomsday Clock 9


Doomsday Clock, DC’s on-going joke on its decreasingly loyal audience, was supposed to be complete in September or October 2018. It’s now reached its ninth issue, which was originally scheduled for February 6th, but which has been systematically, pathetically and farcically put back a week at a time for four consecutive weeks. Meanwhile, the rest of the potentially shrinking DC Universe gets put on hold whilst it awaits the signal for just when it can start joining the ‘future’ that it’s supposed to be mirroring as at issue 12, even as it awaits Geoff Johns telling them just what that future is supposed to be.

I know I whinged a lot about the haphazarrd sscheduling of Sandman Overture, but Doomsday Clock makes that look like a model of regularity, and anyway, it was set in the past and was independemt of anything else going on.

Doomsday Clock 9 has been delayed so long that I’d pretty near forgotten all about it, just written it off as something abandoned, incomplete, inessential. With still a third of it to go, it had gone beyond the great So What? Who cared if we got the rest of it, who cares what answers it will eventually provide, if we live long enough?

Having delivered myself of all that, I have to concede, for the second successive quarter, that this is a half-decent issue of Doomsday Clock, and for the same reason: the use of the Watchmen characters has been kept to a bare minimum, and Geoff Johns has not taken upon himself to (badly) piss all over them.

The only Watchman to appear this issue is Dr Manhattan, who finds himself facing battle from the entire DC superhero complement, bar two.

These are Superman and Batman, the victims of the supposed explosive end of Firestorm in Red Square. Superman’s in a coma in the Halls of Justice, with Lois as his only protector, Batman’s in bed at Wayne Manor, burned and banged and severely bruised. The world’s going to hell in a handbasket, Superman has compromised himself by siding with Firestorm against humanity, the President (an offstage Donald Trump, clearly) is throwing him to the wolves. Meanwhile, even without Batman, the Justice League has worked out that it wasn’t Firestorm that exploded but a frame-up, organised by someone on Mars: guess who?

Visually, the whole thing is a re-run of Watchmen 4, all pink sands and blue Manhattan.

Insofar as this is the DC superhero army gearing up to face a Universal threat, this is reasonable stuff, no better and no worse than any of Johns’ previous series’ (which, to be honest, don’t do that much for me, seeming to only ever be about setting up an ending that then leads into the next series). The start of the issue is incredibly static, consisting of pages and pages of three-tier single panels of groups of costumes flying to Mars, without even the banter.

Once they get there, everyone assumes Dr Manhattan is the villain and hostile, and some of the more hot-headed ones want to pile in and mix it up immediately. Some of the more stupid ones, such as Guy Gardner, are fixated on Manhattan being naked and his blue willy hanging out.

It ends up being a bit of a hodge-podge, because whilst this is going on, Johns is portraying Manhattan as he was in Watchmen 4, unanchored to linear time, though he doesn’t go to the length of duplicating the achronological sequence.

This is intercut with Lois on Earth, defending the unconscious Superman from an intruder who swears he’s only come to help, Lex Luthor, who turns out to be the one who’s sent her the Justice Society of America newsreel films, with Batman dragging himself out of bed whilst Alfred shrugs again, trying to get a message to Mars because he’s spotted something the rest haven’t and, finally, finally, getting down to this Superman Theory thing.

And Johns has rewritten Firestorm’s origin. Firestorm hasn’t actually been blown into smithereens but has been blown into two parts, Ronnie Raymond and Professor Martin Stein, both of whom have been kidnapped into space by the Justice League. Ronnie’s eager and thrilled, he has a name to clear, but the Professor is outraged, uncooperative, completely opposed, and refusing to take part even when Ronnie forces them into Firestorm again.

Then Dr Manhattan separates them again. And he takes Ronnie seven years or so into the past, to the day of the accident that created Firestorm. To eavesdrop on a phone call, by Stein, to an unknown authority. About how he’s selected Ronnie, determined he has the metagene, groomed him to be receptive, and plans to create the accident that will fuse the two together. So that ‘they’ can create a superhero – like they did with Jack (The Creeper) Ryder, Rex (Metamorpho) Mason and Kirk (Man-Bat) Langstrom – but with Stein on the inside, to spy on them…

And until now, Ronnie believed the Superman Theory was all a lie. Not that he believes the eevidence of his eyes and ears for a second. Well, you just don’t, do you? It’s always a ‘trick’, it ‘can’t be’.

Of course, we need a big ending to keep us going until another instalment of this crap arrives, which isn’t going to be any time soon since the date for issue 10 has not just been put back another week, again, but has been put back until no date whatsoever. Brilliant.

In case we’ve forgotten certain details since whenever it was the last issue came out, Johns starts by having Manhattan muse out loud whether Superman destroys him, or he destroys the Universe? Then he winds up Superheroes Assembled by showing them the last scene he sees, Superman, angry and bloody, charging at him.

Cue mass attack. Cue completely ineffectual attack. Cue dismissive wave of all massed superherodom. You know, this is not going to make the ending when Superman destroys Dr Manhattan, the one I predicted from issue 1, because Johns lacks the imagination, and certainly lacks the breadth, to give us anything but Superman killing Dr Manhattan, to secure a win over the Watchmen Universe the remotest bit more plausible.

I shall discurse further upon that topic when we are finally vouchsafed issue 12 which, if they can keep up this gruelling schedule, might even be this year, not that I would lay bets on anything but the contrary.

Doomsday Clock 8


Eating one’s words is never palatable, but I prefer being honest, so let me admit immediately that the eighth issue of Doomsday Crap was alright. It was even decent, and if the entire series had been pitched around the contents of this episode, I might even have been prepared to stretch to good. The reason for this is solely down to this being solely a matter of the DC Universe, with the Watchmen characters represented only by Ozymandias, watching what is going on on the first and last pages.

This goes to support what I’ve been saying all along, that Johns has fucked this series up right royally by all this shitting-on-Watchmen business.

The actual issue is more-or-less a three-hander, involving Superman, Firestorm and Batman, with a smaller role for Lois Lane, some Russian superheroes that we older fans will recognise, a couple of Daily Planet scenes and a substantial guest role for Vladimir Putin. We’re now dealing directly with the Superman Theory that’s been underlining things since the beginning, the fact that 97% of the planet’s metahumans are American and the allegation – which Putin is treating as truth – that they are part of a US Government programme aimed at world domination.

We start with Firestorm in Russia, panicking under attack from The People’s Heroes. Firestorm is back to being a teenage Ronnie Raymond and Professor Martin Stein, as in the beginning, except that the Professor is not contributing any advice. Indeed, he’s so silent, we’re being led to question whether he’s there at all, and Ronnie’s experiences of getting a response are delusions.

How long Firestorm’s been Ronnie Raymond again I don’t know, I haven’t been keeping up since he was killed in Identity Crisis, but here he is in Moscow, surrounded by crowds, panicking and, whammo! dozens if not hundreds of them turned into glass.

This is a serious matter, both in itself and because up to this point Firestorm’s powers don’t work on organic matter. Is this a substantial plot point or is Johns just making it up as he goes along, as he been doing with the Watchmen bunch?

Superman appoints himself as the investigator, as the only metahuman still trusted outside the United States. The big blue boy scout takes himself to the Kingdom of Kahndaq, which I am pleased to see is still being ruled by Black Adam, an which is still maintaining its strictly neutral status metahumanwise, established in 52. Superman and Adam treat each other with strict respect, and almost friendship. Firestorm’s not taken refuge in Kahndaq, but he’ll be sheltered if he does.

Lois intervenes with the fatal suggestion that Ronnie might be in the one place no-one would think of looking for him, that is, still in Russia. And Superman finds him there, near hysterical over what’s happened and Professor Stein’s silence. And, lumme, he manages to convert back to life a small glass boy he’s taken with him.

The situation is reversible. Superman tells Firestorm to hang fire whilst he zooms to Moscow to defuse the situation. Unfortunately, the trust in Superman doesn’t extend far enough for Putin, or anyone in the crowd with a glass relative, to believe him. This against a background of Batman flying the Batplane and warning him, incessantly, not to talk to the Russians, not to take sides.

Sadly, Batman is very wise. Events overtake the sometimes too trusting Superman. He’s being bombarded with catcalls and questions, the Russian Firestorm is trigger happy (as you would be if Putin’s threatening to bung you back in state prison). Putin’s denouncing Firestorm as an American soldier, ordered to commit mass murder, he has evidence of this. And matters only get worse when Firestorm turns up himself, intent on saving everyone.

All that does is start a fight. With metahumans attacking Superman and Firestorm, with troops attacking, with the crowd rioting. And with stray bullets and manouevring tanks smashing into glass figures, and putting them beyond any reach of Firestorm putting them back together the way they were.

And Superman tries to intervene with the outcome that, to the entire world, he looks as if he’s siding with Firestorm, against Russia. That’s before Firestorm explodes, causing him and Supes to utterly vanish. And the twist is, as Bats realises far too late for it to be any damned good, it’s not even Firestorm…

Now I think we can safely mke a guess that the fake Firestorm is really everypone’s favourite naked blue guy and the whole impersonation has actually been about getting close to Superman in a moment of maaximum vulnerability, but that begs the question of why Dr Manhattan has to go all round the houses to do that when his true power level would enable him to pick Superman off whenever he felt like it. Except that Johns won’t ever let Manhttan be used at his true power level for that very reason…

All of which a satisfied Adrian Veidt observes, his plan working perfectly, whatever it is. Whatever is the sneaky, manipulative, from a non-optimistic Universe bastard planning now?

The other story-advancing twist this bi-month, if we can call a series crawling slower than a funeral cortege being advanced, is Lois received a flash drive with newsreel footage from 1941, as the Justice society of America go to war: who the hell are the Justice Society of America? she demands.

If you need an answer to that question, may I refer you to large chunks of this blog over the last seven years, but in the short term, it’s a single panel of seven of the eight founding members, the only absentee being The (Al Pratt) Atom.

I’d like to say we’re getting there, but seriously, we’re not. At least by the time things resume in February, Johns will surely be back to trashing things he doesn’t understand, but I’ll accept this issue as an unexpected Christmas present from him, even if I didn’t wait until the 25th to unwrap it.

The Great DC Crossover – Part 2 – The Flash


1, 2, 3...
1, 2, 3…

Now that was more like it.

The Flash part of the Great DC Crossover was the true start, with the arrival on Earth of the Dominators, invading aliens, necessitating bringing together every known superhero to face them. Given that this Earth-menacing menace was so big, it needed the combined cast of four shows to tackle it, it seemed clunky that the on going continuity of the three combined series should still go rattling on, but hey, it all just added to the density of affairs.

We started with Team Flash still testing the newly-powered Wally West, who’s shaping up to be faster even than Barry, but who everyone wants to keep away from actually getting out there to fight the good fight. This is interrupted by the arrival of a meteorite in downtown Central City, which turns out to not be a meteorite but rather a spaceship, out of which clomped the Dominators, in some of the worst CGI the show’s come up with to date. Just as soon as Lyla Michaels confirms these are aliens who’ve been around before in the Fifties, Barry decides to set up a task force.

This means pulling Green Arrow and Spartan out of the way of the Vigilante’s machine guns, plus Speedy jumping out of retirement because, hey, its aliens and that’s cool, plus a time beacon to summon the Legends – Ray has out of nowhere rebuilt his Atom suit – and Barry dragging a reluctant Cisco off to collect an alien of their own in Kara per yesterday.

Incidentally, I know we’re not exactly sticking to the classic DC Multiverse but it was a little demeaning I thought to have Kara’s Universe down as Earth-38. Something in single figures, at least.

So, its everybody hurriedly practicing how to be an en masse team, Wally keep getting pushed out of the way, everybody crashing and burning against a Supergirl who wasn’t even sweating and time to advance a couple of Legends of Tomorrow plot-points. First, there’s this mysterious  message from Barry itself that Jax and Professor Stein have been concealing from everyone else the past few weeks, which turns out to be for forty years in the future, confessing to the Flashpoint thing and warning everyone to beware because Barry could have fucked over all their futures.

Needless to say, Ollie counseled keeping it schtum, since Barry was Mission Leader (even though Ollie was giving the proxy orders), which didn’t even last ten minutes of screen-time before Cisco found the mp4 player, thus furthering his own Flashpoint-fuelled resentment of his erstwhile friend.

So, when everybody shot off to rescue the President from the cardboard cut-out CGI aliens, nobody wanted  Barry around, and Ollie stayed with him out of sympathy.

(I haven’t forgotten the other Legends bit, the one about Martin Stein having headaches and visions about a dark pageboyed young woman who he loves, rather than Isabella Hofman, aka his blonde and still lovely wife, Clarissa. He gets Caitlin to accompany him to his home, where Pageboy jumps out at him, hugs him, says she loves him, puts the wind up him good and proper until she calls him ‘Dad’. Phew! Cue near sprint away).

Back at the crossover Team Everybody But the Leaders walks into a trap that has them mind-dominated by the Dominators (heh, heh) and coming to get Barry and Ollie, but not before our franchise-holders have done a bit of deep background bonding. Barry shows Ollie the hidden room from season 1, and the Crisis headline newspaper from 2024, whilst Ollie goes back to his season 1 to speak of how his Dad sacrificed himself so Ollie could live.

Then they face off against the rest of the teams, until Barry gets Kara mad enough to chase him and smash through the Dominators’ machine, restoring everyone to their right minds.

Or are they? For some reason everyone chooses to stand outside STAR Labs, in the pouring rain, to discuss their next move, which is going to ask Argus what to do. Suddenly, beams of light transport away everybody but Barry…

To be serious, given that bringing together so many characters into a single story posed serious logistic problems of itself, it did surprise me that The Flash devoted so much time to internal continuity, and more so that it crossed all three related series. We can only assume that that’s going to be the pattern for both Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow. It makes for densely-packed, if relatively thin TV, and it makes the crossover story, which after all is only an alien invasion that appears to have vaporised the President, fairly unimportant. We shall see where things go tomorrow.

Incidentally, I did thoroughly enjoy the cramming together into one super-superimposed tangled of every show’s logo – The Flash on top, of course – and look forward to tomorrow’s version.

The Fall Season: Legends of Tomorrow season 2


And thus we complete the returning schedule.

Legends of Tomorrow didn’t really work last season. It was clumsy and clunky, ill-thought-out, the audience hated the Hawks, who are no longer with us (typically, I thought Fulk Hentschel worked really well as Hawkman). So an awful lot has been changed, to the extent that the producers are looking at this as a second go as a season 1.

In my spoiler-free world, I’ve managed to avoid anything but superficial hints about season 2’s changes. For instance, I knew that Nick Zano was joining the cast as Nate Heywood, aka Citizen Steel, but I did not know, until the end of this episode, that Arthur Darvill, as Rip Hunter, was leaving.

And I do know that the recurring villain this season is the Legion of Doom, which consists of a quartet of left-over baddies, Damien Dhark, the Reverse-Flash, Malcolm Merlin and – this one’s going to be tricky – Captain Cold.

And here we were, back to business. None of this Vandal Savage/Time Masters thing, in fact the Legends are the new, ad hoc Time Masters, playing time cops here and there, and spreading the joy of woman to woman love across the entirety of history (much as I love Caity Lotz, if the series is going to have her shagging every famous woman she meets, it will grow old very rapidly).

And straight away it’s pretty clearly more of the same, only different. It’s still clunky, and stiff, and kinda jerky in its transitions, and having Stephen Amell/Oliver Queen as guest isn’t designed to play to my prejudices at the moment. But it did the job, and I’ll happily keep watching it.

I’m sorry to see Arthur Darvill go, even though I can see how Nick Zano will make a better fit and can be more one-of-the-gang that the set-up ever allowed Rip Hunter to be. It’s unfortunate in that Zano’s character (who was created at the same time as Firestorm and by the same writer), Citizen Steel, has never been a character I’ve liked in any incarnation.

But at the end of the day, where Legends of Tomorrow scores for me is where it always did, misfire or not. It’s for the ten year old boy who’s always been a part of me, who grew up reading DC Comics, and who never imagined that he would ever see these obscure characters appearing regularly on his TV screens, in ‘real-life’ versions.

It’s like Doctor Johnson and that line about the dog walking on its hind legs: It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all. The part of me that goes back to Brigham Street, Openshaw, just sits and marvels that it is there.

And you know that season 2 will kick it for me by what happened in the final minute of this premiere. The Legends are about to shake the dust of 1942 off their backs when they’re ordered to stand where they are.

By the Justice Society of America.

Hooo-wah!

End of Term Report: DC’s Legends of Tomorrow


Offscreen

Let’s be honest, it’s not brilliant. It never has been brilliant from the start, except in one respect. It’s been loose and clunky and the Big Bad plot has never entirely worked, even in its best moments. The first season ran to sixteen episodes and it’s done well enough to be renewed, but even in the final episode it’s had moments that made you roll your eyes in embarrassment.

But in that one respect of brilliance, Legends of Tomorrow has been brilliant indeed, and in its last few seconds, dropping one heavyweight teaser for season 2, it had me whooping out loud with glee. Because Legends of Tomorrow features a bunch of DC Comics characters, all bar one of which went back to my earliest days reading those silly,enthralling, wonderful things (Firestorm, the exception, dates from 1976, making him the baby at only forty years old). It features them running and bouncing around, flying, throwing punches, being snarky with each other. Man, I would have loved this as a kid and I’m still close enough to that kid inside that I can just relish the thought and give this show a critical bypass on execution.

The show’s supposed to have been about Vandal Savage, The Immortal Villain, and preventing him taking over the world in 2166, and about the 4,000 year long struggle between him and the Hawks, man and girl, Carter Hall and Kendra Saunders (no, no, it should have been Shiera, Shiera Saunders Hall), but the writers couldn’t keep that interesting.

So it’s only properly worked when it’s been about the team doing all the things a team does, and not trying to tie it in to any any season-long arc.

Naturally, we had to dispose of Savage in the finale, and the gang did it in gloriously OTT fashion, killing him no less than three times, with everybody getting in on the act. I say everybody, but the Hawks didn’t really get to finish things off, and it was neither a surprise nor a disappointment to have them write themselves out of season 2.

There was the usual moment of clunk at the end. There’s a Thanagarian meteor about to go off and basically discombobulate the Earth. Our only hope is for Rip to fly it into the Sun, courtesy of the Waverider, all noble sacrifice and that. Rip’s suicide mission, his final reconciliation to the loss of his wife and child, his emotional journey concluded, serenity all around.

Then he jerks himself awake, jettisons the bomb into the sun and flies back. Sigh. You gotta love this, right?

Anyway: no more Time Masters so Rip appoints himself as freelance. Everyone except the Hawks (bye bye birdies) signs up for a repeat voyage with him, and at this stage there’s not necessarily a Big Bad to pursue, though there’s always the Thanagarians round the corner. And then…

Enter one crashing and burning additional Waverider, out of which a hooded, fresh-faced guy emerges to tell our brave band of lads (and one lass) not to get into their Waverider, or they’re all dead. He’s been sent here with a specific message, by none other than Mick Rory. Who is he? He’s the new cast member for season 2. He gives his name as Rex Tyler.

For a moment, the name registers as being familiar but, shamefully, I don’t place it. Until he adds, “I’m a member of the Justice Society of America.”

Woo-hooooooo! Bring on that second season, NOW!

The Mid-Season Replacements: DC’s Legends of Tomorrow


Very impressive – except for Caity Lotz’s hairstyle

The first thing to say is that, as a reader of DC Comics for the last fifty years, a show would have to tank pretty badly before I would not want to watch it (so, basically, we’re looking at Constantine here). Legends of Tomorrow, shared child of Arrow and The Flash, had its clunky bits, mostly to do with this being half a pilot in which we have to get to know ten different characters, plus the set-up, but it did enough for me to be both fun and adequately fulfill the expectation of seeing so many superheroes hanging out together.

The premise is this: in 2166, one hundred and fifty years from now, Vandal Savage, the Immortal Villain, conquers the world, destroying London as his last step and, being a cold-hearted psychopath, kills a mother and her young boy, Jonas. Incidentally, I had no problems with this incident: the man is 4,000 years old and has seen literally millions of people die, so in what way does the lives of two people have any meaning for him.

At the Council of Time Masters, Captain Hunter (Rip, to you and I, and Arthur Darvill to his friends) urges intervention to prevent Savage’s takeover from having happened, despite the Council’s express aim of preserving the Timeline from interference. When Rip returned to his base, collecting his AI, Gideon along the way (is this the same Gideon that works for the Reverse-Flash in The Flash or are Gideon’s as ubiquitous as iPhones in the future?), saying he’d had the expected answer, was I alone in immediately guessing our man had gone rogue? Nah, no way I could have been.

Rip returns to 2016 to collect a team he intends to mould to stop Savage completely, by pursuing him through time. As we all know, this meant the Atom, Sara soon-to-be White Canary Lance, the two halves of Firestorm, Hawkman and Hawkgirl and, just for fun, those unrepentant Flash-villains, Captain Cold and Heat Wave.

Our gang agreed to help Captain Hunter, in his long, swirly, leather coat for a variety of reasons, some noble, some redemptive, some inquisitive, some base on the notion of robbing the timeline blind (guess who?) and, in the case of the Jefferson Jackson half of Firestorm, because his elder, wiser half, Professor Martin Stein drugged and kidnapped him.

First stop, St. Roch, 1975 (lovingly re-created) and an expert in Vandal Savage, who only happens to be the aged son of Hawkman and Hawkgirl from the last-but-one incarnation (as Joe and Edith Boardman). We get a pointer as to the nature of time here: Hunter has chosen this day to approach Andrew Boardman as he is going to die within 24 hours, Hawkgirl insists on taking her ‘son’ with them to protect him from harm, but that is what leads to his death, and the hands of the chronal bounty-hunter, Chronos (a wildly re-written DC villain of fifty years standing).

Which is the cue for Rip to reveal that he is not, after all, acting on behalf of the Time Masters, but in his own behalf, and that his chosen band were selected, not because they were destined to be Legends of Tomorrow, but because they are completely insignificant to the timeline. Rip’s motive is personal: his wife and young boy were killed by Savage. In London. In 2166. Rip’s out for revennge.

And the gang stick with him, for varying reasons, but primarily because, as Ray (Atom) Palmer puts it best, they intended to kick the future’s butt, none of this insignificance bit, you hear me?

Meanwhile, over in Norway, Vandal Savage is lovingly cradling a nuclear warhead and waxing philosophically about how Man progresses only in times of war… But we have to wait until next week for Pilot part 2.

My overall first impression is that this was good enough to come back next week. I like the premise, I look forward to seeing what they do with it, and I’m sure it will improve once it settles down. At the moment, Legends‘s biggest problem is the size of its cast, and the need to have everybody doing something up front. So far, interaction is limited, with the team falling instantly into little cliques, pre-determined by their various histories, with little scope yet for overlap.

Surprisingly, it’s Arthur Darvill as Rip Hunter who convinces me the least, but then I was in the decided minority who thought Fulk Hentschel got it dead on as Carter (Hawkman) Hall. Best scene however was White Canary and the two villains, benched for the visit to Professor Boardman and pissed off at it, sneaking off the time-ship to go for a drink, which, once White Canary decided to dance, showing off Caity Lotz’s body,provoked a bar brawl faster than you could say, ‘Yee-haw!”. This three are going to be fun.

I look forward to the rest of the gang catching them up.

 

The Fall Season: The Flash


This is the one I’ve been most looking forward to seeing return. The Flash‘s first season was the unexpected hit among the superhero shows, mainly for its air of fun, and underlying lightness of touch among all the grim’n’gritty series focusing on the oh-so-serious and dark elements of costumes and powers.

In fact, I understand that, whereas the week 8 crossover between The Flash and its parent vehicle, Arrow, was intended as support for the newbie, by the time it hit the screens it was Arrow that needed the crossover appeal: outside of the crossover, Arrow‘s best rated episode didn’t get neat The Flash‘s worst.

So, good things to look forward to, and even better things on the card if season 2’s underlying arc is to involve Earth-2: the appearance of Jay Garrick’s winged helmet in the season finale was not just an easter egg for us D veterans.

But what of the cliffhanger that we were left with at the end of season 1? After a whirlwind flashback covering the whole season, we jumped straight to a perfect world: Flash and Firestorm take down Captain Cold and Heat Wave, everybody’s happy in STAR labs until we see Eddie Thawne and Harrison Wells… No, the reality is a deserted, dilapidated STAR labs and Barry alone.

It seems that for the past six months, the Flash has been pushing everybody away and trying to go it alone. Eddie and Wells are still dead. Caitlin’s quit and gone to work for Mercury Labs. Cisco is Joe’s science expert on the Anti-Metahuman squad. And Barry’s being very stubborn.

It’s quite understandable: he didn’t get to undo his Mom’s death, his Dad is still unjustly in prison for it – but it’s not until the carefully delayed flashback to the save from the Singularity that we see the real reason. Central City is holding Flash Day to celebrate the man who saved the City, but Barry knows that he only did so much, and that the true hero was Firestorm. Except that when Firestorm split, only Victor Gerber emerged, not Ronnie Raymond. Ronnie’s dead, and Barry won’t let any of his other friends face that risk.

Of course the episode is dedicated to reversing that decision and restoring the basic set-up for the next 22 episodes. This is accomplished around the menace of Atom-Smasher, aka Al Rothstein, a chunky, radiation-sucking gentleman with the power to expand his size and weight. Team Flash comes up with the solution of overloading his radiation absorbing capacities, though this doesn’t merely neutralise Rothstein, it kills him.

His dying words are to say that he was trying to kill The Flash at the behest of Zoom, who had promised to send him home. Who Zoom is was not explained, though we ancient comic book fogies know full well that the other name for Flash-foe Professor Zoom is… the Reverse-Flash (though since Geoff Johns is all over this series, it’s bound to be his revised version of Zoom: if you hear the name of Hunter Zolomon being bandied about…)

Nor was any detail given of where Rothstein calls home beyond, ‘You wouldn’t believe me.’ Oh, but I would: try Earth-2…

But there was still a surprisingly emotional moment to come. Barry receives a kind of living Will from the late Harrison Wells that he’s resistant to watching until Caitlin volunteers to share the pain. The late Doctor woofles a bit before telling Barry to erase the tape up to here: he then launches into a full confession for the murder of Nora Alllen. Barry’s dad is set free.

It’s a joyous moment, as well as an end to an overbearing plot that Johns introduced into the comics, and which I’ve always felt was totally inimical to the world of the Flash. To have that lifted was a great blessing on all levels, though the show then made its great mistep: no sooner is Henry Allen free than he’s buggering off out of Central City to parts far away from the son who has missed growing up with a father and whose greatest wish has just been realised. And why? Because having Henry around will stifle Barry’s growth as the Flash.

That’s definitely a comic book moment: stupid, implausible, based on specious reasoning, a clueless expedient towards trying to recreate the status quo after game-changing incidents.

So, we and the vast majority of Team Flash are now back where they were, which is to be both expected and welcomed. There are still tweaks to be ironed out: as Tom Cavanagh is staying with the show, either Harrison Wells has left a whole parcel of living Wills or else something ingenious is up someone’s sleeve (hopefully).

Nevertheless, it’s all good. STAR Labs is fully intruder-proofed: no-one’s just walking in here unannounced anymore. Except for the guy who does. He’s hear with a warning: Team Flash’s Earth is in danger. The guy’s name is Jay Garrick.

And he’s the Flash of Earth-2…

JLA Incarnations 6: The Old 52, or, Blink and you’ll miss them


I present this without comment

This one’s a joke, but we’d better include it.
After Infinite Crisis, the whole DC Universe moved One Year Later, paving the way to form a new Justice League.
The idea was that, during that year, there’d been no Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, no Justice League or Society. Things changed, the One Year Later issues presented a new status quo that you had to piece together. And in the meantime, there was 52.
52 was DC’s first official weekly series, written by a quartet of writers (Waid, Morrison, Johns and Greg Rucka), each issue covering seven days of the missing year. It was intended to fill in the pieces. Unfortunately, nobody foresaw that they were throwing four competitive writers into a story with an already fixed ending (i.e., the first month of One Year Later) and that if these guys were going to be writing this for twelve months…
But let’s pass over what became of 52 and instead focus upon issue 24, in which Firestorm reforms the Justice League in its Sixth Incarnation. He recruits Firehawk, Super-Chief, Bulleteer and Ambush Bug (and if the last of these didn’t tell you that this wouldn’t be a serious League, you’re hopeless). Much is made over a couple of preceding issues of the origin of the new Super-Chief (a revival of a very short-lived Western character in the very early Sixties, immediately before the Silver Age superheroes started their inexorable march to dominance) only for him to be killed in the League’s first – and only – battle, after which Firestorm disbanded this League.
Only the Detroit League welcomed this little snoozer: now they’re no longer the JL’s nadir.

JLA: Incarnations 1.


JLA Secret OriginsHaving written so many words by now on the legendary Justice Society of America, I thought it might be a pleasant change (for me at least) to write something on the Justice League of America for once. After all, but for the personal prejudice of Julius Schwartz, the League would have been a new incarnation of the Society, and the course of comics book history may have run very differently.
As for the title of this series I’m unashamedly stealing it from the excellent and mystifyingly-uncollected 2001 series written by John Ostrander and drawn by Val Semeiks and Prentis Rollins: seven extended issues telling new adventures whilst defining the various eras of the JLA.
By now, in the post-Flashpoint, New 52 Universe, the Justice League is in its seventh distinct incarnation since its debut in 1960. The original Justice League of America series ran for 261 issues, and three succeeding JLA series have each run over 100 issues, not counting any of the increasing number of spin-offs from the basic team concept. The League has changed to reflect the times, but it remains DC’s leading light, the centre of the DC Universe in whatever form it’s currently taking, the central point for the DC Universe’s greatest heroes.
By 1960, Julius Schwartz was probably the hottest editor at National Periodical Publications. Four years before, he’d agreed to take on the task of reviving the 1940s hero, The Flash, although on condition that he be allowed to throw away everything that had been done and start afresh with a new version: new character, new origin, new costume, new approach. The new Flash was a big success, though it took four try-outs over three years before an unconvinced management finally accepted that they had a hit on their hands. Schwartz was then invited to do the same for Green Lantern, who only needed two try-outs.
But before any decision was taken on giving the Hal Jordan version his own series, Schwartz was asked to revive the Justice Society of America.
Schwartz didn’t like the name. Though he’d cut his editorial teeth on the JSA in All-Star Comics, Schwartz had never liked the name Society. Societies were where you got together to drink beer and eat chowder. It did not suit a team of superheroes fighting crime and saving the world. So he changed it to League.
A League was bigger, better, stronger. It suggested strength in togetherness. The kids would understand it instantly, given all the stuff they read about Baseball Leagues and Football Leagues. So they would happily flock to the Justice League.
The JLA made its debut in Brave & Bold 28, the first in a three issue try-out. Brave & Bold had been around for several years as a title featuring derring-do adventures by historical figures, but it had lately been converted into a Showcase-style try-out magazine, alternating monthly. It was never as successful in this guise, not spinning off series the way Showcase regularly did, but it hosted the Justice League and they went massive. The team went straight into their own title, and within a year was the best-selling title in the industry. Somebody boasted of that to rival publisher Martin Goodman, who got back to the office and demanded his cousin-editor create a team book as well. Stan Lee called in his best artist, Jack Kirby. The rest of that story is history.
The League made its debut fully-formed, leaping straight into the action against Starro the Conqueror, an interstellar starfish. The founder members consisted of the big three, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, Schwartz’s new Flash and Green Lantern (even though Hal Jordan had only appeared in his two Showcase try-outs so far), Aquaman, who’d been hanging around since the 40s without making an impression, and Joe Samachson’s J’Onn J’Onzz, the Martian Manhunter, who’d been introduced six months before Barry Allen,. but as an SF character, not superhero.
And where the Society had had Johnny Thunder, the League found itself landed with ‘Snapper’ Carr (first name not given for over twenty years). Snapper was the Justice League mascot, a hip-talking, jivey teenager whose nick-name came from his habit of snapping his fingers when he was excited, which was all the time. In reality, Superman would have drop-kicked the lad into a volcano inside three hours, but Snapper lasted until issue 77.
Initially, the League based itself in a secret cave sanctuary, near Snapper’s home town of Happy Harbor in Rhode Island State. In contrast to the JSA, the League did not have a permanent chairman, the post rotating through all its membership from meeting to meeting, nor did it operate with a fixed line-up: the League could add new members without having to push anyone out. Green Arrow, another 40s back-up, joined in JLA 4, the new Atom in issue 14 and the new Hawkman in issue 31.
For the first twenty-five issues or so, all the Justice league appeared in each issue, although Superman and Batman tended to fade into the background, playing minor roles. This was for the same reason the World’s Finest team had been excluded from the Justice Society: Mort Weisinger and his proprietorial hold on Superman. However, after National Publisher asked Schwartz why Superman didn’t appear much in the Justice League, and Schwartz gave him an honest answer, Weisinger was told not to obstruct Schwartz any longer.
But after the first Justice Society team-up, with the League eleven strong (counting Snapper) a new policy came in, with the League operating on a fighting weight of five to seven members each issue, making occasions when the entire League were called in a little more special.
Perceptive fans quickly determined that the League seemed to be split into a Big Five (Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkman) and a lesser six (Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, Atom, Aquaman and Snapper Carr), with appearances weighted in favour of the Big Five.
The induction of Hawkman was the last change for the Justice League for several years, retiring inkers aside. Mountain cave secret sanctuary, Fox plots, an unchanging line-up.
Meanwhile, the comics landscape outside DC was changing rapidly, with Marvel’s growing influence and sales potential. DC’s style became badly outdated as a generation of writers, who’d been in the business for nearly thirty years, found themselves developing concerns as to their future, lacking any kind of employee stability. In the end, the writers were dispersed and dispensed with, in favour of young turks, fans enthusiastic about getting into comics, about bringing their concerns into what had been a purely commercial craft, wanting to turn it into art.
The Justice League monolith was in drastic need of updating, which it got from new writer Denny O’Neil.
In tandem with Schwartz, O’Neil took the JLA through its first transition to a new phase. Out went the Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman and Snapper Carr, along with the cave Sanctuary. In came Black Canary, transferring from Earth-2 and the Justice Society, to fill the need for a female JLAer (the only other possibilities being Batgirl and Supergirl, entirely too derivative, and in breach of the rule against duplicating powers).
And, to firmly initiate the second phase, the Justice League took to the stars, transferring its HQ to a Satellite in geosynchronous orbit, accessible by teleporter tubes (the Atom would have never made it that far by telephone!)
The satellite headquarters, the implied sense of gods overlooking a planet to which they were infinitely superior, changed the dynamics of the team. Alan Moore defined it superbly in Saga of the Swamp Thing: ‘there is a house above the world, where the over-people gather’, though it was Green Arrow who articulated it first, long years after the fact, resigning from the League to deal with what he saw as the more important matters, at street level.
But, despite the change in HQ’s, and the increasing removal of the League from the human level, this still remained the same League, defined by the same members, entrenched in its uninterrupted existence.
Neither O’Neil, nor his successor Mike Friedrich, were entirely comfortable with the League, as evidenced by a sales decline that saw the title cut back from DC’s standard eight-issues-a-year format (applied to all titles using a single, as opposed to multiple pencillers) to bimonthly. The series was then taken over by writer Len Wein, who reinstated the basic Fox/Schwartz feel, this time with personalities and character. The last quarter of his run saw Justice League of America published as a 100 page Giant, 20 pages of new material and 80 of reprint, but after a year of that experiment, the comic was reduced to 32 pages again, but for the first time with a monthly schedule that it has followed ever since.
Wein also presided over a changing membership, inducting both the Elongated Man and, as a second transferred from the JSA, the new Red Tornado, as well as offering membership to his mystery-book character, the Phantom Stranger. Whether the Stranger actually joined or not was left to each individual’s own interpretation.
After Wein, the Justice League entered its first nadir, without a permanent writer. Cary Bates, Elliott S! Maggin and Martin Pasko tag-teamed for the next couple of years, producing professional but uninspired work that was far from what would normally be expected of DC’s flagship title.
This period ended when former Marvel writer Steve Engelhart, committing himself to DC for twelve months, was assigned Justice League of America, having been the long-term writer of The Avengers. Having the advantage of extra page-length due to the comic being promoted to Giant-Size, Engelhart added a degree of dynamism, character conflict and Hawkgirl as a member, sinking the old duplicate power rule. However, Engelhart had specifically limited himself to one year, after which Gerry Conway took over as scripter for the remainder of the first Justice League of America series.
Conway, who added further members such as Zatanna, and his own creation, Firestorm, proved to be the League’s longest-lasting scripter, equalling Gardner Fox’s eight year stint, though writing more stories, due to its increased schedule, though there is little from this period that lifted itself above the mundane.
But it was Conway who was responsible for the end of the first Justice League and the establishment of its second incarnation, the short-lived and much-maligned Justice League Detroit.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1982


Justice League of America 207, “Crisis Times Three!”/All-Star Squadron 14, “The Mystery Men of October”/Justice League of America 208, “The Bomb-Blast Heard ‘Round the World!”/All-Star Squadron 15, “Master of Worlds and Time!”/Justice League of America 209, “Let Old Acquaintances be Forgot…” Written by Gerry Conway (Justice League of America) and Roy Thomas (All-Star Squadron), art by Don Heck (pencils Justice League of America, inks 209), Adrian Gonzalez (pencils All-Star Squadron), Romeo Tanghal (inks JLA 207), Sal Trapani (inks JLA 208), Jerry Ordway (inks All-Star Squadron) edited by Len Wein.

Another year has come round and the Justice Society prepare to transport to Earth-1. Doctor Fate, Green Lantern, Starman, Power Girl and Huntress arrive first and go on ahead of their team-mates. But on the Justice League satellite, it is the Earth-3 Crime Syndicate who appear and attack Superman, Hawkman, Aquaman, Firestorm and Zatanna.
The battle is brief and the victorious Syndicate steal a rocket to descend to Earth-1. They discuss evening the score with Per Degaton, an Earth-2 foe of the JSA.
Who, meanwhile, have found themselves in the interdimensional limbo prison the Syndicate have occupied since 1964. The bubble was designed to defeat equivalents of Green Lantern and Superman, but not of Starman or Doctor Fate, whose powers eventually free the JSA. But instead of landing on Earth-1, they find themselves on Earth-Prime, in a New York devastated years ago by some kind of holocaust. Green Lantern’s ring detects the emanations of Degaton.
Back on the satellite, the JLA come to, rescue each other and repair the satellite. Rather than pursue the Syndicate, they transport to Earth-2, to discover what’s happened to the JSA. But their headquarters are in ruins, neglected for years: forty years to be precise. Outside, Earth-2 is ruled by the fascist hand of Degaton: the appearance of the League causes the frightened population to scream for Degaton’s police.
After a brief battle, the victorious JLA decide they must go back to 1942 to find out how this has happened. They arrive at a pristine JSA HQ just as five costumed characters open the door: they are complete strangers to the League but we know them as five members of the war-time All-Star Squadron.
End of Part One


On Earth-2 in 1947, Per Degaton dreams of being an Emperor, ruling a coliseum in which, at his order, the superheroes of the Golden Age battle each other, until his employer, Professor Zee, stumbles into the stadium, shouting to the heroes that Degaton is their enemy: they turn upon him and he wakes up, sweating.
But the dreams has unlocked Degaton’s memories of his previous battles against the JSA, battles lost in time-loops that left them as never-happening. Determined not to fail a third time, Degaton arrives at Zee’s laboratory, where his Time Machine is (again) ready for its maiden journey. Shooting, and this time killing, the Professor, Degaton prepares carefully for conquest.
He travels forward to 1982, via a slight sideways lurch caused by a timestorm, which takes him to Earth-Prime, where superheroes are only comic book characters. Returning to the timestream, Degaton discovers the timestorm pulling him into limbo, to the Crime Syndicate’s prison.
Anticipating an attack, Degaton protects himself then offers the Syndicate a deal: do his tasks and he will release them. The Syndicate agree, and Degaton transports everyone to Earth-2 in October 1962 – the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
By having the Syndicate steal the Russian missiles from Cuba, Kruschev cannot remove them in accordance with President Kennedy’s ultimatum, nor does the young statesman believe the Russian Premier’s implausible tale of flying strangers in colourful costumes taking the missiles away.
Degaton tows the missiles away with the Time Machine, intent on threatening Earth-2 with them. The Syndicate try to attack him but he is once again prepared, and returns them to their limbo prison.
Meanwhile, on Earth-2 in 1942, three members of the All-Star Squadron, Johnny Quick, Liberty Belle and the new Firebrand, get back to New York from San Francisco just in time to tackle Nuclear the Magnetic Marauder. With the aid of fellow members Robotman and Commander Steel,  Nuclear is overcome.
The quintet decide to hold an informal meeting. With the JSA enlisted in the Services as civilians, Hawkman has authorised them to use JSA HQ, but as Belle unlocks the door, they find five costumed strangers inside.
End of Part Two


Naturally, the two sides believe each other are interlopers/enemies and fight, until Superman silences everyone with a shout. Calmed down, explanations are exchanged.
Once everyone is up to date, a phone call summons the Squadron to meet President Roosevelt at the White House. The League accompany them, and FDR takes the idea of them being from a parallel Earth in his stride: there are more important things to worry about. Using future technology, Degaton issues a video ultimatum to all the world leaders, warning them that he has the already-sought nuclear weapons and will demonstrate one the following day.
History is supposed to be unchangeable, and the League know Degaton didn’t win in 1942 on Earth-2. But given the presence of the timestorm, maybe he could…
Meanwhile, the JSA are touring the devastation of Earth-Prime New York, dealing with its deformed and animalistic inhabitants, until they find one old enough to tell them what happened in October 1962, and how the fearful Kennedy finally pushed the button, leading to nuclear destruction. Doctor Fate correctly deduces that somehow Degaton was behind the missing missiles.
Back on Earth-2 in 1942, the heroes convene at Degaton’s observation point, above the Atlantic Ocean. A nuclear missile is detonated and the 1942 heroes are astounded at its unprecedented force. Suddenly, a bubble appears in the middle of the blast zone, containing the JSAers en route from Earth-Prime 1982. The heroes rescue them, the Squadroneers seeing some familiar, if aged faces.
Degaton, in his bunker, is content if not pleased. The bomb did not destroy the heroes but it has demonstrated his power to the World Governments, who will have to surrender to him. Then he will crush the hated Squadron.
End of Part Three


Fifteen heroes from two worlds and different times gather and trade explanations, then return to the White House in time for Degaton’s second broadcast, in which he demands that all the world’s governments cede complete authority to him. Given the destruction Degaton can rain on America, Roosevelt decides that, unless the heroes can prove to him that all the missiles are gone, he will resign the Presidency to Degaton.
The heroes split up (at last). Superman, Doctor Fate and Robotman track down Degaton’s space satellite only to find Ultraman defending it, the Syndicate having apparently agreed to assist him again. Despite Ultraman using Kryptonite (which enhances his powers) the trio render him unconscious and out of the fight.
In the Pacific, near Japan, Aquaman, Starman and Liberty Belle destroy three missiles in a hidden base of Degaton’s, despite opposition from Superwoman.
In the midwest, Hawkman, the Huntress and Johnny Quick find three more disguised as grain solos and dismantle these whilst battling Power Ring.
Degaton fulminates against his three failed minions, but he still has the most impregnable base of all, and if he can’t conquer Earth-2, he will destroy all of them.
End of Part Four.


Nine successful heroes return to the White House to remind each other of the stakes in play, not only here but on Eath-Prime. Two teams are still out there.
In Geneva, Firestorm, Power Girl and Commander Steel enter neutral territory to neutralise Degaton’s next little missile nest, succeeding despite the efforts of the Syndicate’s Johnny Quick.
With all twenty-seven rockets now accounted for, everything turns on Degaton’s next move. His headquarters has been identified, in a daring location very near Washington, but the final team is currently working on saving Earth-Prime, and the risk of new paradoxes is very high…
What Zatanna, Green Lantern and Firebrand have done is to go to the JSA’s scientist friends, Professors Everson and Zee, who are working on trying to build the Time Machine. Zee is astonished to hear about the bumbling, ineffectual Degaton (who has not reported for work today).  Between them, Green Lantern and Zatanna complete the machine and use it to travel ahead to 1962, and cross to Cuba on Earth-Prime. They are there to see the sky tear open and the Syndicate emerge.
But back on Earth-2 in 1942, the remaining heroes converge on Degaton’s secret base, on the banks of the Potomac, underneath the construction work going into building the future Pentagon. They not only take out the would-be dictator, whose men surrender abjectly, but the Huntress prevents Owlman from escaping too.
Then, on Earth-Prime, the last trio battle the Syndicate and defeat them. Degaton tries to run, to get back to 1947 in the Time Machine but Zatanna halts him. Whilst the others send the Syndicate back to their limbo, the smashing of Degaton’s plans has the same effect it always does. History reverts, everyone returns to their rightful place in time and space, all memory of the incident fading as it is, once more, contained within a timeloop.
The All-Star Squadron return to New York. Degaton goes back to work in Zee’s lab with the same words as always, the Syndicate in their timeless limbo, and the JSA turn up on the satellite for the annual get-together. Only Power Girl seems disturbed by anything, enough to let Firestorm get his arms round her at last.
* * * * *
Surprisingly, for the longest team-up story ever, involving five issues, two series, two creative teams, three super-hero teams, three time-eras, three parallel Earths, a reference to an earlier team-up and enough real and counterfactual history to stuff a chicken with, this story is actually surprisingly sensible and straightforward. It is, of course, another Degaton story, to add to the one from All-Star Comics 35, and the one Thomas had already written for All-Star Squadron 1-3, which means that any literate comics reader knew how it would end from the moment Degaton’s name was mentioned by the Crime Syndicate.
I’m not going to pick this effort apart to the extent I have been doing in respect of recent stories, because there is less to complain about. Despite the fact that neither Gerry Conway nor Roy Thomas, for different reasons, impress me as writers, and despite the fact that, without ragging on him in the unmerciful way so many did, I don’t like Don Heck’s art. Despite the fact that, after complaining about the growing elephantiasis of the recent three-parters, this is actually a five part story. Because, for once, the writers have given themselves an adventure of genuinely epic proportions, and even though the latter part is just a series of missions intended to keep all the fifteen heroes visible, this time the space is a necessary element of the story’s breadth.
What I will say is that, yet again, the Justice Society play the minor role in all of this. When these team-ups began, this was due to the fact that, as guests, the JSA were not allowed to outshine the stars, but once the team-up was opened to a ‘third force’, gradually the Society slid into becoming the junior members of any such threeway. They became staid, old hat, the emphasis now shifting to the newbies.
This is further emphasised in 1982 by the fact that the ‘third force’ not only has its own series, but that the story involves that series in a crossover. The tone is struck by the story having twin opening episodes, one in each series, showing how the League and the Squadron come to their first meeting from both directions.
The Society, who lack a series base of their own, are second banana in both introductions, a point emphasised subsequently by having the majority of the story based in 1942 on Earth-2, the Squadron’s home turf. The JSA start off by being diverted into imprisonment, from where they go on to discover the devastation that’s affected Earth-Prime, but their adventures are not merely a sideshow, a parallel track, but a wholly uninteresting and uninvolving one: they fight deformed humans and killer vegetation but it has no ultimate purpose other than to spin wheels until they can be integrated into the main story, which is not until three issues of five have gone by.
Another of the key instances affecting the later team-ups  is the limited number of slots available for the JSA, and the consequent rigidity of roles. Involving a ‘third force’ led to the situation where numbers had to be rationed (especially as the changing mores of the superhero comic demanded more emphasis on character rather than plot, a development welcomed by the inrush of fans-turned-writers and -artists, who had no concept of the strict professionalism of their forerunners.)
What was worse was the continuing insistence on exact matches, so that there had to be the same number of Leaguers and Squadroneers as there were JSAers, an artificial, rigid structure that added to the sense of formularisation.
This reaches a kind of nadir here when the heroes break up into teams. Five from each team dictates five missions, each with an exact spread of teams, further compounded by there being exactly five Crime Syndicate members, spawning one villain per mission. The natural fluidity of life is dispensed with,and it’s impossible not to envision the authors ticking boxes.
And again, how do you choose teams? What, for instance, was the rationale for putting both magic-wielders together and pairing them with the incongruous Firebrand? Is there an internal logic to this or is it all done by the equivalent of dealing out Happy Families cards?
Having raised that, I have nothing else to say than to applaud Conway and Thomas on a decent story, done decently, though I can’t pretend that I warm to this adventure as I do to those of Fox and Wein, which fill my criteria for the kind of League/Society team-up I want to read. I have problems with the writings of each, but Conway’s laziness in construction is barely in evidence, whilst Thomas’s frequently sterile obsession with past continuity is, for once, put almost wholly to the service of the story instead of being allowed to accumulate in lumps, tripping up everyone all over the place.
In terms of post-Crisis viability, the main story could be almost wholly retained as a purely time-travel adventure, although the Earth-Prime element would have to either be deleted or else in some way absorbed into the single timestream. And if it were not, where would the Justice Society fit in?