Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Team-Up: SECRET ORIGINS #32 (Nov 1988)

I wrote up a nice little introduction for this review explaining how Black Canary replaced Wonder Woman in the Justice League's original lineup after the universe-altering events of Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Then I read Mark Waid's "Secrets Behind the Origins" segment in the letters' column of Secret Origins #32 and realized--to absolutely no one's surprise--that he put it a hundred times more clearly and concisely than I could:

"When the decision was made to retell the origin of the original Justice League of America (first shown in JLA #9, 1962), certain publishing realities affected the story; most important, in DC's post-Crisis universe, Wonder Woman didn't make her heroic debut until long after her former comrades Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Flash and Green Lantern.  Plotter Keith Giffen and editor Mark Waid briefly discussed the idea of simply leaving a female member out of the original JLA but eventually dismissed the idea.  Not only was the League never really a "boys club," but there was something more substantive and--oh, gosh, just more "leaguish"-- about a five-member team... which is how Black Canary ended up being the fifth "mystery" member of the Justice League of America."

Yeah, that's better that mine.

Secret Origins #32: "All Together Now" is scripted by Peter David from a Keith Giffen plot based on the original story from Justice League of America #9 by written by Gardner Fox; Eric Shanower drew the heck out of the issue, with Gaspar providing lettering, Gene D'Angelo the coloring, and Mark Waid editing.  Shanower's cover shows the new old League monitored on screen by current members of Justice League International.

On the distant alien world of Appellax, the ruling Kalar has died.  According to Appellaxian custom, whoever assassinated the former Kalar gets to be the new one, but seven different Appellaxians are all claiming credit for the murder.  An Appellaxian official, like a grand vizier or something, explains the other Appellaxian custom that the seven candidates must battle to the death for the right to be crowned Kalar.

The problem is these types of civil disputes have historically decimated Appellaxian populations, so the vizier tells them they will have to fight on planet Earth.  The seven contenders' minds are transferred into host bodies of different forms and rocketed to Earth in seven meteors.

The first of the meteors lands near Middleton, Colorado, where the Martian Manhunter soars high enough over his city that no would can recognize his alien form.  As he wonders doubtfully whether people of Earth would accept him if they knew the truth, he views a bizarre happening down below.

The statues, J'Onn realizes to his horror, are the people of Middleton.  What could have caused this horrific transformation, he doesn't know, but from roughly a mile away J'Onn hears the thudding steps of a giant creature.  Turning invisible, J'Onn follows the sounds until he finds the first contender in the shape of the giant Stone God.

The Stone God shoots eye-beams that change people into stone statues.  The Martian Manhunter flies around using his super-Martian-strength to punch the stone monster.  It has no effect, so he switches tactics and tries probing the Stone God with telepathy.  That, too, fails, and even worse, the psychic backfire hurts J'Onn and gives the Appellaxian the knowledge of his Martian enemy, particularly his weakness to fire.

The Stone God wrecks a gas station and then ignites the gasoline, creating an inferno that threatens to engulf the Alien Atlas (that's for you, Frank).  Still invisible, J'Onn crashes into a fire hydrant, using the water to fend off the blaze and rejuvenate his powers.  The giant walks off, and for a moment J'Onn considers waiting long enough for the fire to burn itself out... But that would put more people in danger.  The Martian Manhunter will not be paralyzed by fear.

With all his Martian might and resolve, J'Onn flies through the inferno and smashes into the Stone God, shattering the Appellaxian's battle form.  The effort, while successful, is enough to knock J'Onn unconscious.  This is a really strong moment for Martian Manhunter and it would be a great, iconic page except that J'Onn is invisible for almost the entire scene.  The drama of the moment is a little undercut when the hero appears as barely any more than thought bubbles.

When he awakens, the people of Middleton have reverted back to normal.  And they're quite intrigued by the green-skinned humanoid among them, meeting the honesty of his Martian origin with incredulity and speculation.  J'Onn doesn't stick around long.  During his brief telepathic connection to the Appellaxian, he learned that six more were bound for Earth.  He takes off looking for the next would-be alien conqueror.

And one of those aliens has landed in the middle of the sea where we find Aquaman who only just found Atlantis earlier that day, putting this story canonically right after Aquaman's flashback tale in Adventure Comics #260.

After the second Appellaxian, the Mercury Monster, transforms Aquaman into a floating blob of mercury, he needs to resist panic and his own insecurities and figure out what to do.  Unable to do anything but ride the currents, Aquaman tries to attack the Mercury Monster, but that proves futile.  His movement is limited and haphazard and the Appellaxian has control over Aquaman and the other fish and sea life it has transformed to liquid metal.  At one point, Aquaman freaks out because one of his arms is almost separated.  This seems particularly noteworthy in hindsight, because writer Peter David would take Aquaman's hand off in a story five years after this.

Aquaman is near despair.  He doubts the formidability of his powers and his status as a hero.  But when the Mercury Monster heads toward Atlantis, Aquaman realizes he must act and defend his newfound home and people.  He spies a nearby whirlpool and suspects that the mercury blob would have no conception of what the whirlpool can do; all it wants is to convert more fish to mercury and bolster its forces.

Aquaman uses his telepathic powers to send the fish toward the whirlpool.  The Mercury Monster follows the fish until it is caught by the whirlpool's force and ripped apart.  The effect of the alien's death transforms Aquaman back to normal.

Damn, Aquaman!  You think your powers are useless and Superman wouldn't have anything to do with you?  Get some confidence already.

Elsewhere, a fledgling hero steps out one one of her first adventures.

Hearing the sound of a scream, Black Canary leaps into action, jumping from a fire escape to the alley before.  She sees someone harassing a woman and--taking a moment to deepen her voice so the perpetrator will take her seriously--demands the mugger surrender.

Except it's not a mugger; it's Glass Man, the third Appellaxian, who uses eye beams to turn people into glass.  The Glass Man tries to shoot Black Canary, but she dives out of the way.  Retreating to the street, she realizes that the monster has transformed even more people into glass.  Also, he's still coming for her.  She leaps away, but the Glass Man's gaze manages to turn one of her legs to glass.

The Appellaxian laughs at his prey, and that's enough to really piss her off.

Black Canary manages to get information about the meteor landing in the Everglades.  Black Canary speeds down to Florida in her car and sneaks past the police barricade.  She makes her way through the dense foliage, crossing her fingers that she doesn't ruin her fishnet stockings.  She spots the meteor... and something more.  A tree in humanoid shape speaking in an alien tongue.  When Black Canary approaches, she becomes frozen and demands the tree-person free her.  Now speaking in English, the tree-person says he is not responsible, that he is as much a prisoner as she.

Meanwhile, Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern of Space Sector 2814, returns to Earth after meeting the Guardians of the Universe and other members of the Green Lantern Corps for the first time.  This would put this story right after the events of Green Lantern #1 from 1960.

Hal's interest in the meteor picks up when he sees it suddenly change speed and direction.  Instead of burning up in Earth's atmosphere like a good meteor, this one crashes relatively safely in Africa.  Hal pursues the object in curiosity, while mulling over a few heroic catchphrases in his head.

From out of the meteorite comes the fourth Appellaxian contender in the shape of a giant yellow bird.  This Golden Roc fires eye beams that, just like the others, transform other people and creatures into beings not unlike itself.  Green Lantern's ring, of course, is useless against the color yellow but he dries some indirect attacks against the Golden Roc.  Faster than he expects the bird to move, it grabs Hal in its golden talons, and its touch begins changing Hal into a gold feathered creature.

Hal fires his ring into a cloud setting off a hail storm that distracts the Golden Roc enough that it lets Hal go.  Still in danger of changing, Green Lantern leads the big yellow bird on a chase into a waterfall.  When the Roc flies into the waterfall, Green Lantern freezes the water.  This destabilizes the Appellaxian's battle form enough that Hal and the other animals changed by the Roc revert back to their normal form.

After taking the animals to a zoo, Green Lantern realizes that more meteors have crash-landed on Earth.  He heads off toward the one meteorite believed to be unopened in the Florida Everglades.  When Hal arrives, voices from the woods try to warn him.

In England, the Flash had been meeting the Queen when he was asked to help put out some fires in the South London down of Croydon.  When the Flash arrives, he is shocked to see a Fire Giant, the fifth Appellaxian in a form that looks like, well, like a fire giant.  Barry Allen tries to blow out the Fire Giant by waving his arms at super-speed, but it only seems to embolden the Fire Giant.

The monster glares at Flash, which causes Flash to begin to transform into flame.  He immediately vibrates his molecular structure at the speed necessary to break the Fire Giant's connection.  Then Flash runs over to a standing body of water and circles it fast enough to suck up the water in a vortex and dump it on the Fire Giant.

When wind, water, and sand fail to extinguish the Fire Giant, Barry remembers the basic Flash Fact that fire requires oxygen to burn.  So he runs around the Fire Giant at such super-speed that he removes the oxygen from the surrounding air.  At last, the Appellaxian collapses, its battle form ruined.  The alien screams to unseen forces that he doesn't want his mind ripped from him, that he wants another chance.  Then he slumps over dead.

The Flash speaks to some of the Croydon citizens and one of them tells Flash about the other alien meteors arriving on Earth.  Flash runs across the Atlantic Ocean to arrive in the Everglades after the other heroes.  But when he arrives, he, like them, is transformed into a living tree.

The heroes banter for a short time and J'Onn tries to understand how they use humor to fend off terror.  Then the meteorite cracks open and the sixth Appellaxian steps out in the form of the Wood King.  This alien reveals to the heroes that he intentionally delayed his arrival, and now, thanks to Aquaman and the others (not that Aquaman and the Others), the alien only has one more contender to destroy before he can become Kalar of his home world.

The Wood King psychically commands the five heroes to follow him to Antarctica to battle the last Appellaxian.  Aquaman has no desire to walk from Florida to Antarctica, and little desire to serve as a tree soldier for the Wood King.  Using his own telepathic abilities, he is barely able to control his own physical body; it's not much, but it's enough to knock into Martian Manhunter who knocks into Green Lantern.  Using his own mental abilities, J'Onn is able to resist the Wood King's influence enough that he scrapes off the wood around Hal Jordan's ring.  Green Lantern only has enough will and aim to shine his ring's light on Black Canary's head, freeing her from the Wood King's power just temporarily.

Black Canary uses her Canary Cry on the Flash, pitching it at just the right frequency that it shatters the wood around his body, freeing the Fastest Man Alive.  The Flash launches himself at the Wood King with a volley of "a million high-speed punches".  He basically beats the Wood King to splinters, destroying the penultimate Appellaxian's battle form.

The five heroes agree to work together in bringing down the final Appellaxian.  Green Lantern and J'Onn J'Onzz fly, with Hal carrying Black Canary, Aquaman and the Flash in a bubble created by his ring.  During the journey south, Martian Manhunter notes that Green Lantern seems to be the only one completely at ease with an alien in their ranks.  Green Lantern, who just hours ago discovered he was part of an intergalactic peacekeeping force full of aliens, shares his first name, "Hal" to which the Manhunter from Mars says, "J'Onn."

When the group finds the meteorite in Antarctica, the Crystal Creature has already freed itself.  But it also ran afoul of Superman who has just destroyed the last Appellaxian.  The Man of Steel dusts off his hands and takes off, seemingly not noticing the heroes behind him (although with his super-senses, that seems nearly impossible).  The group is bummed out by their non-brush with celebrity and Black Canary mentions she was looking forward to working all together to fight the Crystal Creature.  "Safety in numbers," she says.  That lights up a bulb over Flash's head and he gets an idea.

Flash pitches the idea of working together as a team.  J'Onn is reluctant because it would require him to publicly out himself, but Barry counters that revealing himself in the context of joining other heroes would be good publicity for the Martian Manhunter--and for all of them.  Black Canary, as the youngest and least experienced of the group, says she loves the idea, that it would feel like a return of the old Justice Society of America.  Hal Jordan floats the team name Justice Society II, which gets shot down, and Barry floats the idea of The Avengers, but Dinah tells him they'll be confused by the TV show about British spies.

Finally they come to the name...

Within the clouds of future members of the Justice League of America are The Atom, Batman, Elongated Man, Firestorm, Green Arrow, Gypsy, Hawkgirl, Hawkman, Phantom Stranger, Red Tornado, Snapper Car, Steel, Vibe, Vixen, and Zatanna.  The notable absences are, of course, Superman who we saw earlier this issue and Wonder Woman, who we established was no longer part of the Justice League and wouldn't encounter the other heroes until the Legends miniseries event.

Peter David is one of the best writers in comics of the last twenty-five years so he's not going to script a crappy Justice League comic.  Keith Giffen and Mark Waid took Gardner Fox's decades-old story and fluffed it up a bit, and David added the right voices and little details that made the characters resonate so well.  With the exception of Aquaman being so down on himself, every character feels pretty right for the time.  J'Onn is a little paranoid of himself and stays hidden until he's encouraged by Green Lantern and the Flash.  Hal Jordan feels appropriately cocky given the weight of their situation, and Black Canary has the spitfire of a young woman looking to prove herself to her mother.

Eric Shanower's art is fan-freaking-tastic in this comic.  I've never really noticed his work before this issue, but it blew me away, particularly his rendering of human faces and expressions.  There's something similar to Mike Allred in how Shanower draws Aquaman and Hal Jordan, and most of his depictions of Black Canary are lovely and luscious.

So did I have any problems with this?  Well, not the issue so much as the effect Crisis on Infinite Earths had on the issue.  This may sound absurd coming from a guy who runs a Black Canary blog, but I don't think she should be a founding member of the Justice League of America.  I love Dinah, but she's not a heavyweight of that caliber.  Wonder Woman should always be one of the original members of the Justice League, as should Superman and Batman.  And their absence is noticeable in both this story and in JLA: Year One, the maxi series that serves as a sequel to this book.  In both of the stories, the League members seem a little rudderless; they lack leadership.  If Wonder Woman was part of this issue or Year One, the League would never feel leaderless.

Speaking of JLA: Year One, I suppose I should review that series sometime soon but there's a lot of other stuff I'm more excited about first.  Hopefully, before the year is over.


  1. I have looked for this issue for a long time and have never found it. So glad you covered it here. It only increases my resolve to find it.

    I am a giant fan of the original Appellax meteor story so I am glad that remained the basis for the origin. And I like that Black Canary is a founder. It shows that from the beginning you didn't need to be a planet mover to be a member. It probably opened the door for Green Arrow or even Batman.

    Great art too!

  2. I ordered my issue from

    I really like Shanower's art on this issue and I wish he would have done more series superhero comics like this.