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Subj: Convergence:Justice League of America #1 - The Unforgettable...
Posted: Sat Apr 25, 2015 at 04:31:47 pm EDT (Viewed 597 times)
There are any number of potential reasonings behind the current two months long revisiting of past era's of DC Comics, but despite all its fundamental flaws and the philosophical negatives inherent in the project the statistical probobility is that with such a massive two month long release schedule at least a few of these releases will turn out to be of a worthwhile, and even commendable, quality. The challenge for the fan and casual browser is therefore where these occasional nuggets are to be found amidst the detritus, and just what form the enjoyment of the product will ultimately take.
Convergence as an event series is now proving itself to be the single worst event series I can recall reading, bar the gold standard benchmark for absolute mediocrity that was Secret Wars II that is.
If the main series is unreadable one might not have reason to have any faith in its tie-ins, but having dipped a cautionary toe in this week the fairest verdict is that amidst the sea of pulp one can actually find a couple of gems if selective enough and of course nostalgic enough - this particular publishing venture is all about triggering longtime readers fond memories after all.
So out of the titles so far released why did I quickly settle on Convergence:Justice League of America #1 as my one definite purchase? Featuring a look back at probobly the most ambivalent and controversial period in the Justice League's distinguished and now chequered history? I would say the fact is I was curious about it for the very reason DC Comics decided to revisit this particular much maligned era this book is focusing on. And by relation the same reason a section of likeminded old enough comicbook fans retain a fascination for the failed but bold experiment it represented at the time.
To grasp the rationale behind the decision in 1984 to overhaul the JLA and replace the robust line-up of Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern etc, one has to consider the publishing landscape and dramatic changes which DC Comics was undergoing at the time. When JLA #233 arrived in the shelves Hal Jordan had just resigned from his role as Green Lantern, Barry Allen's trial for the death of The Reverse-Flash had just got underway proper, Batman had longsince left the League to manage The Outsiders, The Atom had retreated to live a 6" life as chaampion of an alien settlement in a remote jungle in South America, Wonder Woman's title was just issues away from ending, and Hawkman was... gone. And The Crisis on Infinite Earths was imminent. The world had moved on from the original Justice League's line-up, or rather the line-up had moved on from the world. In hindsight it did seem akin to a form of entropy eating at the DC Universe, a fatigue eating away at the oldguard heroes, as fresh new blood like The Outsiders, Firestorm, The New Titans, and even Infinity Inc rose to prominence and success the Justice League of America must have seemed rather staid in some respects, notwithstanding the broader fates of Wonder Woman and The Flash the classic line-up of the League's heyday was now all but untenable, but with the turn of 1985 was there going to be anyone available by which to fill the vacuum left by their passing? Who was there to legitimately replace the World's Greatest Heroes if those heroes all walked away or were simply unable to attend to the missions that the League would frequently demand? An interesting conundrum, one which the books longtime writer Gerry Conway did not shy away from. Though in the end result it would become clear that the entire problem could have been approached in a more considered and professional way one cannot fault the daring by which Conway and DC Comics entered into the revamp. It was bold, and it would set the precedent many other future such overhauls of the JLA concept and what might be done with the make-up of its membership. The Detroit League then was where it was pioneered.
For myself I can't claim any great love for this Detriot based revamping of the Justice League, but neither the level of contempt and derision often aimed their way. In 1984 the Justice League of America as a book had been steadily drifting away and while I stuck with it faithfully by the time of #230 the quality had deteriorated to the level where enough was enough and better books vied for my attention. So come #233 the arrival of an all new League to grab the attention what was the impression given? Excitement and curiosity surely? Well, no. Not quite. Certainly some curiosity as I bought the initial storyarc, it was entertaining, and yet, tellingly, that was about it for me with the Justice League...
That indifference I was imbued with at the time is a key important detail to consider, as I was just another average reader and consumer of comics. And that metaphorical shrug of the shoulders at the time was clearly shared by a substantial section of other readers as well - the ambition of the enterprise of the Gerry Conway/Chuck Patton JLA was certainly admirable, it still is, but the actual exection had failed to offer compelling characters or a convincing Justice League surrogate. When your competition consists of Batman and the Outsiders, The New Teen Titans, The Legion of Super-Heroes, and all of the various other teams to be found at Marvel Comics, what we were given for this new Justice League was in comparison but gloss with no substance.
In many ways Gerry Conway and Chuck Patton's overhaul of the book was a clear attempt to mimic the success and daring of the Len Wein Dave Cockrum reinvention of the X-Men some years before, the use of a pair of old faces shepherding all new recruits was a gamble which paid off extraordinarily well, as with that new X-Men line-up the Justice League's new face would be filled with broad stereotypes and ethnicities which might be deemed superficial in depth by todays value judgments, but what seperated the X-Men's new line up from the new Justice League was more than a shared desire to diversify and experiment, it was all in the attention to actual character and personality defects. Ororo Munroe was african goddess, but hid a secret terror of confined spaces. Peter Rasputin was a simple russian peasant, who hid his insecuties and doubts. Kurt Wagner was a demonic looking German lad who belied a charming and good natured soul. Logan on the other hand was a feral brawler, hiding some surprisingly paradoxical depths. The new Justice League had the same desire for fresh young faces, but the diffrence was in its failure to truly offer a diverse group of people or give them any true depth. In real terms it wasn't the X-Men Gerry Conway was mimicing, it was Marvel's New Defenders.
The New Defenders was a revamped book which preceded the new Justice League by several months and of which owes much in common with the finished product of the Justice League's coming overhaul. Disbanded by one of their senior members due to internal politics and a perceived external threat The Defenders would be continued with a new line-up consisting of new faces and auxillary members from the oldguard. The series was a good deal darker than the sunny world of the Justice League, but in spirit the two series shared much in common. Not least of which is the underdog natures of both series and the ultimate brutal fate which claimed much of the membership... two failures in the end. Two under-achievers. But while The New Defenders sits forgotten and unmourned the Detroit based League has shown itself to have a lingering fascination. Being a 'Justice League' is one obvious explanation of course, but the appeal to the group goes somewhat further than just a name. And in this special Convergence two parter writer Fabian Niceiza not only isolates the reasons why that is, but equally impressively recaptures a now forgotten era, the spirit of the original Detroit era Justice League...
From the very first opening page Convergence's Justice League of America #1 successfully recaptures a whole other world, A time and place long gone to us. But more than that Fabian Nicieza delivers to us something utterly alien to the modern DCU - a Man and Wife. A Happily married Man and Wife, Kissing. Smiling.
I had completely forgotten that Sue Dibney was along with Ralph for the initial Detroit experience but given the relevant issues are lost somewhere in the deepest recesses of my collecion in the loft, unread since the late 80s, the details of this era are bound to be a little fuzzy in areas. Certainly the quality of this Convergence tie-in is made evident on the very first page as with Chris Cross' art the overall book looks initially rough and undisciplined, only as a completed reading experience does art synch up with script to deliver the full effect. So while on a cursory shelf inspection the issue looks rather forgettable one shouldn't judge a book by appearances,for as the opening sequence with Sue and Ralph shows this is a book with genuine heart, a sincere tribute to another era deserving of some respect and reconsideration rather than scorn.
In line with the Convergence concept Gotham City has been trapped under a dome for a full year and the League has had to adapt and cope to this situation without their powers, quite why they are in Gotham to begin with is not made clear, but it is heartening to see the League willing and able to adapt and get out into the city to help others on a one-on-one basis. Whether the spirit of cooperation and togetherness in the city is independent of their small efforts or influenced by them one can understand the psychological siege mentality at work in the population as the isolation suddnly somes to an end and the formless voice of Telos makes its declaration of a coming test between worlds. How the newly reempowered Justice League responds to this impossible challenge is the unfolding subject of Nicieza's story, and the resultant response as the issue progresses is both faithful to the original underdog ethos that came to characterise this underpowered league and at the same time would come to make them worthy of a grudging sympathy and respect from the readership in the years since.
Back in 1984 the Justice League as a book had never seen an overhaul anything like as radical as this. Some Thirty years before Brian Bendis employed the very same rationale for Anthony Stark to dissassemble The Avengers Gerry Conway had Arthur Curry stand before a U.N. Council meeting to unilaterally disband the original Justice League, as he feels the old hands are no longer committed enough to serving active regular membership and a more dedicated unit is required to protect America and the world at large.. Taking in the first moderately powered superhumans he meets over the next day or two, and with at least two of these new recruits ranging between just 14 and 18 years old and literally pulled off the streets with minor criminal records attached quite what Aquaman was thinking with his overhauling of the Worlds first line of defence is a mystery. Would the likes of Vixen, Gypsy and Vibe have turned back the recent Martian invasion which triggered his desire for a new League? Probobly not. And in this formative structural weakness the trend that followed for this new Justice League all came back to that original lack of planning from Aquaman. Pushed to the wall by Despero, brushed aside by Brimstone, mauled by Infinity Inc, and ultimately murdered by Professor Ivo. Aquaman's culpability for the failure of the Detroit League has never been addressed, and this is one more element which contributes to the lingering interest in this team, they were never contenders. They shouldn't have been there. But they were, and they tried. And in the end that earnestness, doomed as it was, is what appeals about the group. Steel, Vibe, and almost Gyspy, died in a squalid ignoble manner which I really would wish on any hero. Paco Ramone's final moments in particular still linger in the memory as he knows full well he was out of his depth in the League, he shouldn't have been there. But he was, and in the end whether he made any difference by doing so is unimportant compared to how those around him perceive him. Retreating to his old neighbourhood this is the lesson he learns as a local young boy at first dismisses his credentials then willingly embraces him as he fights for his life and others against Professor Ivo's android assassin. In a sense Vibe's insecurities and doubts are entirely justified, like Gypsy he was inducted into the most high profile and demanding superteam on the planet, confronted with challenges well beyond either his ability to fully understand or for his meagre one-note power to compete against. Where once the marauding Despero and Amazo answered to the lofty likes of Superman and Green Lantern now they were to be confronted by the utter insignificance of Paco Ramone and Hank Heywood. The very idea of it was absurd.
But they were there. And they tried. And that is what is important.
As Martian Manhunter and Aquaman see the Justice League warehouse implode from across the city the first shot of the war Telos promised has been thrown, but who are the attackers? With several of the League caught in what appeared to be a controlled small nuclear blast all that is left is the collapsed debris of the Warehouse and a watching Sue Dibney sure that husband Ralph and the others are dead beneath it. As the source of this attack makes itself known the arrival of the Secret Six from the Tangent Earth seems to promise armageddon has arrived, immensely powerful, determined to sweep aside the champions of this city to win Telos favor, the pacing and plotting of this final quarter of the book is a masterclass in how to project suspense and form a heroic comeback for luckless underdogs. Fabian Nicieza here skillfully manipulates the fact that the reader knows how this version of the League ultimately ends, in failure and squalor, the hopeless luckless losers of the superhero jetet. And yet this is exactly the reason special retrospectives like 'Convergence:Justice League of America #1' continue to appear, as despite their fundamental shortcomings this incarnation of the League never stopped trying, whether it was the Crisis on Infinite Earths or the assaults of Despero and Darkseid this hopelessly out of their depth Justice League still brought their meagre attributes to stand against the impossible and at least wave a token flag for the Justice League and the world they tried to protect. And Fabian Nicieza not only astutely isolates this never-say-die spirit, he celebrates it.
The Justice League's world faces the apocalypse, but as Sue Dibny observes the assault of The Secret Six and frets for the future the collapsed rubble and street in front of her shakes and buckles, and the League rises from the dead to confront the power of these invading Tangent Heroes. The Justice League of America isn't down yet... and as those final pages arrive you will be raising your fist with a vocal "YES!" as I was, cheering the underdogs of the Detroit-League on to face the might of the Tangent universe's greatest and save the day... Go team! Give them what for.
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