Thursday, July 31, 2008

Justice League of America #240 - July 1985

sgA blast from the past for the JLA!

The Story: "The Future Ain't What It Used To Be!" by Kurt Busiek, Mike Sekowsky, and Tom Mandrake. Early morning at S.T.A.R. Labs, Temporal Research Division (of course they have one of those), we see two scientists, named, er, Fred and Daphne, discover something amazing--a human figure trapped in the timestream!

They use a handy (very handy) machine to get information on this time traveler, "viewing" events from his life, and they learn this man is Dr. Phineas Quayle, one of the world's leading physicists.

One day, in 1932, he came home to find an armed man waiting for him, who demands money! Dr. Quayle is no easy mark, however, and he quickly knocks the man upside the head with his umbrella, knocking him over.

But the doctor is also a kind man, and offers the disheveled man a meal and a few bucks to tide him over.

The man accepts, but Quayle realizes something bigger must be done, something to help all the people in the grip of this countrywide depression. He decides to build nothing less than a time machine, to go into the future, find a solution to the depression, and bring it back to his time!

He actually succeeds at this, landing in the mid-1960s. Scenes of an assassinated president, campus unrest, and riots in the streets horrify him. How did all this happen?

He determines its because of all these so-called "super-heroes"
A malfunction with his time machine makes Quayle realize he cannot return to 1932, stranding him in his horrible new time.

He can, however, look into the future, and sees that things only get worse--an endless war in Southeast Asia, a president who resigns in disgrace, and this "Justice League" living in an orbiting satellite, like overlords. Enough!

He decides to fight the JLA in their own terms, as a supervillain, Dr. Anomaly!:
He then goes about capturing each of the JLAers, using weapons derived from the future. In short work he captures Superman, then Aquaman, then Hawkman, then Batman, condensing them all and placing them in tiny colored jars!

The rest of the JLA arrives at their Secret Sanctuary, wondering where everyone else is. Suddenly Anomaly attacks them in their own HQ, and the JLAers seem no match for him!

The Flash tries to run rings about Anomaly and trap him in a super-speed vortex, leading to this hilarious pay-off:
...I love how GL and Wonder Woman don't even bother to help as their friend hurtles past them.

While the others try and stop Anomaly, we see the Superman jar start to wobble, toppling itself over onto the floor, where it cracks!

Anomaly's lab explodes, as we see the trapped JLAers, now reformed, burst forth! Anomaly is trapped, realizing even he can't fight them all at once. He only has one option--to disappear into the timestream!

Back with Fred and Daphne, who reason that Anomaly didn't follow a specific path in the timestream, so he couldn't be followed. But that left him stuck there, until an explosion rocks their lab, and there before them is...Dr. Anomaly!

Anomaly gets his bearings--its 1985--and says if he is to save the world, he "better get cracking!" He disappears once again.

Fred and Daphne are stunned, and leave their lab. Over the course of this, the two have let on they have feelings for one another, so they decide to have dinner and talk about...the future.

Roll Call: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern, Atom, Hawkman (all in flashback)

Notable Moments: I am of two minds about this issue.

First, its a delightfully charming story, capturing a lot of the goofy fun of the 60s JLA stories, but with a modern slant. And having the JLA's original artist, Mike Sekowsky, return to the book after almost 20 years was an ingenious touch.

My only problem is, I think they couldn't have run this at a worse time. The new JLA was a wobbly contraption at best, and they had just finally wrapped up the last loose end (i.e., the departure of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Flash). Now was the time to plunge straight into a new JLA-only tale, one that might've helped establish these new heroes are the rightful heirs to the JLA legacy.

Instead, we get a jokey story, featuring nothing but the biggest names in the DCU. As a reader at the time, I felt like the new JLA's momentum--such as it was--was stopped dead in its tracks.

Coming to think of it, this would've made a great issue of JLA: Classified.


russell said...

I liked this story. I remember thinking, now THIS is the Justice League! I found it odd that Jonn and Ollie weren't involved, though. And I kind of thought this issue happened so that Dr. Anomaly could show up to fight the current JLA, but it never happened...

Earth 2 Chris said...

Okay, I lied about dumping JLA with the previous issue. I bought this one, and it only made me miss the real JLA more.

But you're right Rob, this was a bad idea if they wanted to establish the new JLA. I never thought of it that way before.


Commander Benson said...

It almost seems like blasphemy for me to say it, but I was sorely disappointed in "The Future Ain't What It Used to Be".

I can see the elements of Gardner Fox that Kurt Busiek tried to incorporate into the story. Chronologically, the tale was set just after the final moments of the adventure involving the Key in JLA # 63 (Jun., 1968), and included a flashback to the League's second case involving the Royal Flush Gang, from JLA # 54 (Jun., 1967).

Busiek's beginning set up an excellent villain with a typical Fox-like idealistic motivation (see Andrew Helm, from "Indestructable Creatures of Nightmare Island", JLA # 40 [Nov., 1965]), and he did an excellent job of sidelining many of the JLAers at the beginning, in the fashion of Fox's third formula.

However, I was disappointed with the final half of the story. It was too short and felt rushed and cramped at the same time. (Obviously, the fewer-page-count of modern days hurt his effort.) None of the Justice Leaguers involved in the major action really got a chance to shine and the defeat of the villain came too quickly and too easily.

In the final analysis, Busiek spent too much time and too many pages setting up the main action, so when we finally got to the meat of the story, there was too little space left to really give the reader a payoff.

It was also dismaying to see Sekowsky's art in decline, too. Never the tightest of pencillers (which is why I hold Sid Greene as his best inker, ever), since leaving JLA, Sekowsky's pencils seemed to get looser and looser over the years. I'm afraid, by 1985, his work on JLA # 240 only resembled his classic days on the title in the broadest lines.

Andy Luckett said...

This is really strange, Rob, but as I left my house this morning, I was trying to pinpoint in my mind which JLA story it was which contained the scene of an old man fighting off a mugger and then giving him a free meal. I couldn't place the issue, then I log on to the Satellite tonight and here it is! Serendipity at work. I should go buy lottery tickets immediately.

I think I like this issue more if it is taken out of the context of when it was published (during the Detroit era) and rather sort of mentally file it in between some Fox/Sedowsky issues in the longboxes of my mind. Maybe it's easier for me to do this because I read these issues out of order many years after they were published, so I had no emotion wrapped up in the direction of the book. I simply enjoyed this issue for its throwback feel.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's the oddball art style, but there's something funny about seeing Robotman in such proximity to the Metal Men. It seems like those guys have been kept separate for the most part -- maybe because Cliff blends in a little too well.

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