Friday, May 16, 2008

Justice League of America #173 - Dec. 1979

sgI dunno, I think Black Lightning is being a little tough on that Cavalier-type guy. He looks kinda cool to me.

The Story: "Testing of A Hero" by Gerry Conway, Dick Dillin, and Frank McLaughlin. We open on a rooftop in Metropolis, with several members of the JLA following the exploits of a new hero, Black Lightning!

Lightning makes quick work of some bank robbers, and as he carts them off, Green Arrow stresses that Black Lightning is JLA material.

When he mentions that Lightning is "cool, smart, brave...and black!", The Flash objects suggesting that Green Arrow was saying they admit a "token black." Uh-oh!

This leads to Barry and Ollie squaring off, with The Flash taking a particularly hard stand on Green Arrow's political leanings:
Superman calls an end to the nonsense, and moves forward with the plan to test Lightning's mettle.

Meanwhile, a costumed baddie named The Regulator, who seems to be able to control--eww--rats, swears vengeance on society and all those who have wronged him!

Back at Metropolis Police HQ, Lightning laughs at the suggestion that there might be an "anti-vigilante" law passed soon, since of course that would affect Superman, too. He heads out, but is soon attacked by two bizarre beings, one an energy being, the other a type of she-ape!

Lightning defeats them both, and calls the cops to pick them up. He leaves before he sees what they do, that something is happening to these weirdos...Meanwhile, the Regulator's army of rats start to attack S.T.A.R. Labs.

Lightning is attacked again, by another strange being, a sort of invisible man. No sooner does he defeat this foe then he is attacked by yet another costumed stranger, this one dressed like your typical swashbuckler. He almost ends up killing this guy, before he calms down, and the swashbuckler reveals himself to be...Green Arrow!

Suddenly all the JLA show up, telling him they were testing him, and he passed with flying colors. Welcome to the Justice League, Black Lightning!:

Meanwhile, we see that S.T.A.R. Labs has been taken over by The Regulator. To be continued!

Roll Call
: Superman, Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Zatanna

Notable Moments: Black Lightning would've made a fine addition to the JLA, at the same time Conway gives us a plausible reason as to why he doesn't.

The menacing roles the JLAers assume are hilarious, and their super-silly names (Primak, The Trans-Visible Man) seem like a very subtle dig on Conway's part on how the JLAers see themselves.

The little moment Black Lightning has with the police inspector about not worrying about any law that would also affect Superman is nice, and used again by Alan Moore during his brilliant Swamp Thing run. It's a moment that relies upon the readers familiarity with just how beloved Superman is in this universe.


russell said...

wow, I had forgotten this story. I thought it was stupid AND patronizing. The JLA didn't give "initiations." And Zatanna just joined like, what, a few months ago JLA-time? Why ask another hero to join so quickly? Oh, wait, because Ralph, Aquaman, the Atom, and Shayera never appear; that's why. How many issues has it been now without any of them taking an active role...something like a year??? Boy, Conway was sucking big time at this time.

Earth 2 Chris said...

"jive bunch of turkeys"?

Sweet Christmas!


rob! said...

russell, don't hold back. :)


how did DC and Marvel never get around to teaming up Black Lightning and Power Man???

Earth 2 Chris said...

That my friend, would be far too funky for those foos to publish.

Jive-talkin' Chris, shut yo mouth!

Commander Benson said...

Once again, I agree with Russell. This story was, indeed, stupid and patronising.

After Fox and Sekowsky left the title, I stayed with JLA, partially through inertia and partially because I had a slender hope that someday another writer would get it right. So I read a great many issues that didn't sit well with me, but were tolerable. With the JLA/JSA team-up just covered and this story, though, I realised that there truly was no going home, again.

I am not surprised to see that Gerry Conway wrote this tale. Conway, even more than Denny O'Neil, takes the tack that, if he has a Neat Idea for how to depict something or someone, then he will just plain ignore anything in the previous continuity that would preclude his Neat Idea. That was his approach on the revived All-Star Comics title, when he insisted that the Earth-Two Superman possessed only the power-level of the character from Action Comics # 1 and when he gave Wildcat that punch drunk "dese, dat, and dose" personality. (Granted, after Paul Levitz took over the title, he explained Wildcat's depiction away.)

Conway does the same thing in JLA # 173. As Russell point out, the Justice League did not require initiations for its prospective members. One of the basic tenets of the JLA, both during the Fox era and after, was that the League was composed of heroes who had already proven their worth. An inductee to the League didn't have to prove he was worthy; he already was worthy.

But Conway tossed all of that out just to he could write his Neat Idea for a story that could have a "surprise twist" at the end.

Nor did it help that he included one more scene of the Green Arrow's contentiousness. Ever since O'Neil turned G.A. into a gadfly, scenes of the Emerald Archer throwing a hissy fit occurred more and more often. That annoyed me then; it annoys me, now. In real life, no group would hold on to a member who showed such antagonism. Whatever skill such a member brings to the table does not compensate for the disruption in the harmony of the group he creates. The JLA should have bounced Green Arrow out on his quiver.

rob! said...

at the risk of over-thinking this, i don't think the "we need to test the hero" thing is all that strange, since they sort of established they didn't really know BL all that well.

Zatanna didn't have to go through that, since most of the JLA knew her for years and years (even tho she's still very young, but let's not let that bog us down).

now, of course, if they had tested Firestorm a few issues later in the same way, this wouldn't stick out so bad.

that said, it is kind of a goofy issue. :)

Butch R said...

If I may offer a counter point to the initiation for Black Lighting...

Zatanna had worked with various member of the league over the years (gathered together in a tpb) and was known among the DCU. Black Lightning had only appeared 2 years before (real world time in 1977) and wasn't that well known. So while the idea might seem patronizing, I think it has some merit. I mean, you just don't ask anybody to join because Green Arrow says they should join.
That's just my thought, I'm probably wrong (as usual).

And while I agree with Commander Benson about tossing out the trouble maker and them not being worth the trouble they bring along, I wished worked more like that in my life. Several jobs I've dealt with somebody who caused more problems than they solved, but due to whatever management reasons, they were kept around. And add in that most writers like the "maverick who says what he thinks" to add some spice to the group. (see Hawkeye back when the Avengers where the Avengers, Quicksilver on any team he's on and others).

Commander Benson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Commander Benson said...

Points respectfully noted and logged, gentlemen. Now, a couple of counterpoints . . . .

Of course, when it comes to individual heroes inducted into the Justice League, we're talking about several different writers over a course of many years. One can't reasonably expect to see consistency. But within the fictional conceit of the series, if we take the history of membership in the JLA as a whole, I would point out that the Leaguers didn't know the Green Arrow or the Atom or the Phantom Stranger all that well when they inducted them into the League.

And as far as how long they had been operating as heroes, the Atom had less time in harness than Black Lightning.

It goes back to the idea that, if a Justice Leaguer felt that a super-hero had sufficiently distinguished himself, then that Leaguer would vote for him at the annual membership meeting, and whichever hero got the most votes got the nod. You don't have to initiate a hero who has already proven himself to the group. If there was still a question about a hero's ability to perform, then he wouldn't have gotten voted in.

And quite frankly, if I had been Black Lightning and I had found out that the JLA had just treated me that way, in essence: "Well, we kind of want you to be a member, but we aren't sure so we had to test you!", my response would have been "Who needs you?", only in more colourful invectives.

As to "mavericks": yes, Butch R is spot on; writers love to insert mavericks or loose cannons into the admix--because it makes for more interesting writing. But it doesn't make things more interesting in real life. Along these lines, I once made a lengthy post about the "myth of the maverick" which, to save all the agony, I won't copy and paste here.

But one germaine part of it is, yes, you will find a company which keeps a gadfly around, but in those cases, there is at least one bureaucratic level between those who must endure the maverick and those who have the power to get rid of him. And bureaucracies, often, aren't the most efficient structures.

There is no hierarchy in the JLA, though. The Green Arrow works right alongside those who have the power to get rid of him, and if not for the writer's personal desire to have a fun gadfly character to write, logically, the other members would have given G.A. the heave-ho long ago. He's not just saying what he thinks; he is contentious and disruptive, and frankly, he just isn't that important to the group to put up with that.

And long before being shown the door, he would have been marginalised by the group. He would have been hearing, "Oh, shut up, Arrow!" every time he opened his mouth.

The only way to avoid making the continued presence of a character not defy logic is for the writer to continually have such a character turn out to be "right", after all. That way, the writer can insert a (what is no doubt a favourite) scene of having the other members come back with their heads bowed, saying "You were right. We should have listened to you."

Again, speaking for myself, if I were a member of the JLA, at the next regular meeting, I would be telling the others, "Either Green Arrow goes, or I do! I don't care which!" That's how disruptive and annoying I found his character to be written.

rob! said...

>>gain, speaking for myself, if I were a member of the JLA, at the next regular meeting, I would be telling the others, "Either Green Arrow goes, or I do! I don't care which!"<<

well, CB, you'll get your wish (albeit briefly) in just eight days...

Earth 2 Chris said...

Whoo, lots of harshin' on old GA here. Having worked in an environment where one employee almost destroyed the rest of the department due to his attitude, I can see the point that the JLA could/should have just booted Ollie out. But, I think it was well-established that the Leaguers looked over GA's hot-tempered outbursts most of the time. After he was "liberated" GA was sort of the Jiminy Cricket of the League, and the JLA took the good with the bad because GA kept them honest and anchored. Years later, on JLU, Batman acknowledged this to GA in the finale to the Cadmus storyline.


Butch R said...

Good point there Commander Benson, I didn't think about the removal from annoyance. (BTW, if you ever want to share that "Myth of the Maverick", my email is I would love to read it)

I have to agree that it does seem like BL did get the shaft of "we need to test him" and Firestorm didn't. I hadn't really thought about it that way.

And I do agree that I think someone would have eventually pulled GA to the side and had a chat with him. "Ollie, lay it a bit thinner, ok?" Nothing at all wrong with social conscience, so don't read me wrong there. But I think that became all some later writers (after Denny O'Neal) remembered about GA.

Oh, and one last point, I've never actually read this story. I've read the letter column about it, heard about and now read Rob's summary, but never actually had it in my hands.
Black Lightning in the JLA??? What's next? Luke Cage in the Avengers? :)

Outburst said...

Meh, he was ultimately welcomed and didn't want it. He fit in better with The Outsiders anyway.
BL always had a chip on his shoulder, IMO, so to join the JLA at this point in time, they would have mellowed him out a lot a la Batman. This was a light-hearted period for the League, which is why Firestorm fit in better. Firestorm back then had the personality of Wally West's Flash. Young and wise-cracking. He fit right in.

Luke said...

I dunno, I liked this story. Mostly because I like Black Lightning and him facing the JLA like this is, I feel, a big part of his character. Lightning doesn't turn them down because he's arrogant or thinks he can do better, he just doesn't agree with their scope -- which keeps in line with how he was portrayed in his own series by Tony Isabella. Luke Cage would have told the Avengers to "go stick it," but Black Lightning says it's better to help the neighborhood than to be jetting around the galaxy.

Tick-Tock Tyler said...

In general, I dislike hero names that include "ethnic identity". But I'll give Black Lightning (and Tony Isabella) a pass on this, just because it is a cool twist on the phrase "white lightning". For the record, I also dislike the name "Martian Manhunter", but mainly because it is goofy. Those guys who made up Black Vulcan and Apache Chief for the Super-Friends show are really on my bad-list.

I assume (without evidence) that Black Lightning's stated reasons for not joining the JLA were based on Isabella's plans for the character's direction. I've never read any of his solo stories, but those reasons seemed to fit with the way BL was characterized earlier in this story.

The JLA really were "jive turkeys". BL had every reason to resent being subjected to an unwelcome test. As a reader, I resented the story. The story would have been much more respectable if the JLA had teamed with Black Lightning to fight a real menace (like what happens in the next issue), then asked him to join. He could still turn them down, for the same reasons.

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