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.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Justice League of America #239 - June 1985

sgVixen finally confronts her past, as does the new JLA!

The Story: "In The Shadow of the Ox" by Gerry Conway, Chuck Patton, and Mike Machlan. Picking up from last issue, the new JLA has returned home, with the missing Superman, Wonder Woman, and Flash in tow.

The three heroes demand to know how and why Aquaman could've done what he did--disbanding the Justice League!--while they were gone.

Aquaman tries to explain, and tells them about the Earth-Mars War. He then reiterates a short history of the team, about how it started, how it evolved, and the state is was in when Mars attacked
The Flash suggests that maybe its time for the League to change again, and for them to give these newcomers a chance. Superman and Wonder Woman agree, and they wish Aquaman and the others good luck.

Sue Dibny reminds them of the conundrum of that, to the rest of world, the three heroes have been gone for weeks, not the half a day Superman and the rest claim. Manhunter suggests it was one of those "time pardoxes" that seem to be occurring lately (due to the ongoing Crisis). Flash offers to take his friends back in time three weeks to avoid any further time hiccups. They head out, no longer members of the Justice League of America.

Later, Vibe's sister Rosita arrives at JLA HQ, saying that a beloved member of their community, an old woman named Mother Windom, has been kidnapped.

Turns out she was taken by The Ox, who says he will turn her over if Vixen turns herself over to him!

Vixen agrees, but Aquaman tells her no. Vixen refuses to listen to him, and tries to run off. Aquaman then hits her with a mental blast, which stops her in her tracks.

This is all too much for the Martian Manhunter:
Manhunter believes she must handle this on her own, and a stewing Aquaman looks on.

In downtown Detroit, we see Vixen arrives at the abandoned movie theater where the Ox told her he would be. When Vixen confronts Ox, he tells her he wants her Tantu Totem, or Mother Windom dies.

Vixen hands it over, and when Ox puts it on, it transforms him into his namesake--a giant, demonic, human/ox hybrid creature! He loses all control, and starts smashing everything in his path, including his own henchmen!

Vixen gets Mother Windom to safety, before taking on The Ox head-to-head:
Whether she meant it or not, The Ox, the man who haunted Vixen ever since she was a child, is dead.

Roll Call: Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Martian Manhunter, Elongated Man, Zatanna, Vixen, Steel, Vibe, Gypsy

Notable Moments: Of course, this is issue--the first half, at least--is monumental, since the last link between the old and new Leagues was broken.

Sure, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Flash are a bit too complacent in accepting what happened, but as Elongated Man pointed out back in JLA Annual #2, between Batman leaving, the Atom disappearing, and Green Lantern resigning from the Corps, the JLA had been breaking up for the past couple of years.

Nice to see Manhunter finally confront Aquaman on his jackassery; too bad it never really gets resolved.

Oddly, this was Chuck Patton's final issue as penciler. After taking such a huge role, along with Conway, in redefining the League, it seemed so odd that he would leave so relatively soon. And for the most part, Patton seemed to disappear from comics entirely not too long after.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Justice League of America #238 - May 1985

sgThe new JLA comes to the rescue of the old one!

The Story: "Savage Symphony" by Gerry Conway, Chuck Patton, and Mike Machlan. Continued from last issue, we see the new bad guy in control of Allegro's sinister keyboard, named Maestro, using the monsters that emanate from the machine to torture a paralyzed Wonder Woman.

Meanwhile, the JLA, in their shuttle, head towards Russia to find them.

There's a moment here where the JLA discusses what the newspapers having been saying about the new JLA, about how its a disaster, and how can these second stringers replace Superman, Wonder Woman, etc?

Vixen says that's because a lot of people are afraid of change, and never want the world to be different than the one they know. Hmm...

Their musings are interrupted when they are met by Soviet jets, but Zatanna uses the weather to neutralize them without harming the pilots.

Meanwhile, down on the ground, Allegro and his two friends are helping Superman, Wonder Woman, and Flash escape from their prison!

Back with the JLA, Martian Manhunter dispatches another set of Soviet jets, and when he returns, he is greeted with the kind of warmth he never got in the old JLA
This leads an odd sequence where Zatanna confides in Elongated Man that she is personally repelled by Vixen. Interesting...

Anyway, the JLA aims its shuttle for a river as not to be seen landing. Moments later, as Gorki aims his soldier's guns at Allegro and the paralyzed heroes, Aquaman and the other burst out of the water, to an astonished Superman, Wonder Woman, and Flash:
The JLA fight the Maestro's demons, but start to get overwhelmed. Finally, Allegro uses the confusion to grab a rifle, sneak up to Maestro, and smash his powerful keyboard. Gorki then shoots him in the chest.

Gypsy then grabs Gorki, and we see the best example yet of her powers--she has the ability to transfer herself and someone else (or is it they just think they've been transported?) to another location! Gorki thinks he is miles up in the sky, and screams as he "falls." He is no longer in his right mind, as he lays in the snow, whimpering from fear.

Superman asks Aquaman what's going on, but he promises to explain everything when they get home. Meanwhile, Manhunter carries off the dead Allegro.

Roll Call: Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Martian Manhunter, Elongated Man, Zatanna, Vixen, Steel, Vibe, Gypsy

Notable Moments: After months of hanging around, nice to see Gypsy get something real to do--and saving everyone, to boot.

I wouldn't want to be Aquaman, having to explain what he did. We'll see tomorrow whether Superman grabs Arthur and throws him into the sun.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Justice League of America #237 - Apr. 1985

sgThe missing JLAers return, only to meet an old foe!

The Story: "Lest Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot..." by Gerry Conway, Chuck Patton, and Mike Machlan. We open in the new JLA's Detroit headquarters, where the team's leader, Aquaman, keeps a quiet vigil.

Vixen happens to see Arthur by himself, and asks him what he's thinking about. Turns out his missing wife, Mera, is on his mind. He's angry at her for leaving, yet cannot get her out of his mind.

Vixen suggests he go look for her, but he dismisses the idea, saying he can't leave the League. Also, he's been wondering, where have "they" been all this time?

The "they" are Superman, Wonder Woman, and Flash, who disappeared without a trace just before the Earth-Mars war, and haven't been seen since.

Their timing is fortuitous, since, at that exact moment, the old JLA's satellite proximity alarm goes off
We find our three heroes understandably confused as to what has happened to their satellite, since, according to them, they've only been gone half a day's time?

Superman notices a small satellite hovering nearby. Wonder Woman recognizes it to be of Soviet design. A few moments later, Aquaman alerts his League that his friends are heading into Russia. Steel says he'll ask his grandfather, with his extensive government contacts, for more information.

Once Superman, Wonder Woman, and Flash show up in Soviet airspace, they are fired upon, but they make short work of them. They get the Soviet pilots to land, saying they don't want to fight.

On the ground, they are met by a group of Russian soldiers, strangely-dressed man, carrying...a keyboard? Flash says the hardware looks vaguely familiar, but before he can place it, the man strikes:
These demons that emerged from the man's keyboard attack the three heroes, and knock them out, with the man then encasing them in some sort of greenish amber.

Later, at KGB Headquarters, demands are being made of the Russian Premier. With the three heroes--and this seeming supervillain--under the control of General Gorki, he demands total control over the country. When the offer is refused, the Premier and his guards meet with the same gruesome hate at the hands of these demons.

Later. we see the three heroes, paralyzed, being tended to by some male nurses, including one who the JLA knows as...Allegro!

Turns out, after his defeat by the JLA (way back in JLA #163), he defected to Russia, where he was institutionalized by Gorki, and his powerful weapon stolen from him.

Gorki arrives, and says he is here to begin the next phase of his plan...executing one of the Justice Leaguers! To be continued!

Roll Call: Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Martian Manhunter, Elongated Man, Zatanna, Vixen, Steel, Vibe, Gypsy

Notable Moments: I like bringing Allegro back, I think it gives a nice verisimilitude to the DCU--after all, what happens to these one-shots super-villains once they finish their jail time? Not everyone can be a professional bad guy like Luthor or the Joker.

Aquaman makes an off-hand mention here about Green Lantern, having "accepted" what happened to the JLA, making his departure from the team official. Kind of a shame that a founding member ends his run with the team with such a whimper, but this was around the time Hal had quit the Corps in his own book.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Justice League of America #236 - March 1985

sgPart 4 of the introduction of the new Justice League!

The Story: "Rebirth: Part Four--Gypsy Genius" by Gerry Conway, Chuck Patton, and Rick Magyar. Picking up from last issue, the JLA finds itself in the clutches of a new team of super-baddies called The Cadre!

The Cadre is run by a giant, masked man named The Overmaster, who speaks of himself as "I/We." He considers himself a god.

Overmaster does seem to have almost god-like powers, as he shoots blasts of energy out of his hands, scattering the JLA. After they get to safety, he then unleashes his Cadre after them.

First up is Black Mass, a guy who can change his internal mass and control gravity. Next is Shrike, an evil pixie-like harpy with a sonic scream. Both of them attack the JLA simultaneously.

Meanwhile, back in Detroit, Dale Gunn is met by Gypsy, who is waiting for him back the JLA's HQ. She tells Gunn she thinks the JLA are in trouble.

She's right, of course, and we see the JLA barely holding its own against The Cadre. Crowbar tells them that all he has to do to retain the powers Overmaster gave him is to kill the JLA, which he tries to do. But luckily Aquaman is now getting his bearings
...I love this sequence. After so many issues of being a hard ass, Aquaman gets to be cool.

Anyway, Shatterfist destroys the oncoming crowbar, and smashes the ground, creating a giant crevice, which the JLA escapes into. Aquaman wonders, as he and his team has to run, if he has made a giant mistake.

While Dale Gunn and Gypsy try to find where the JLA went, we see they make an amazing discovery in the bowels of the mountaintop hideaway of the Overmaster: that the entire HQ is made of up high-tech machinery!

They follow a tunnel, and make an even more amazing discovery:
While Manhunter tries to read the creature's mind, they are found by Overmaster and the Cadre, who attack them again.

Aquaman and Manhunter hatch a plan, and J'onn takes off towards the creature. To buy him some time, Aquaman leads his team on a forward charge--after all, they are the Justice League!:
Manhunter discovers a glowing jewel above the creature, which seems to be the source of the telepathic presence both he and Aquaman sensed. Overmaster doesn't like this, and tries to stop Manhunter. But he is distracted by an attack from...Gypsy!

Manhunter then takes on Overmaster directly, and tells Gypsy to touch the jewel. Finally deciding to risk her life for something other than herself, she does, which shoots off a blinding light, taking all The Cadre with it.

Dale Gunn then arrives, and tells the JLA he has brought a new shuttlecraft.

On the flight home, Aquaman and Manhunter tell the rest of the team what they figured out that--that this Overmaster was really just a parasite, feeding off the energy of this sleeping creature, who has been on Earth for millions of years and been involved with various species' birth or extinction.

They then watch as the mountaintop rumbles and shatters, and a giant spaceship, carrying the sleeping creature, blasts off into space.

Roll Call: Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Elongated Man, Zatanna, Vixen, Steel, Vibe, Gypsy

Notable Moments: Probably the best issue of the new JLA's run, since after this the team gets involved in either wrapping up loose ends (like what happened to Superman, Wonder Woman, and Flash) or getting carried away by story lines that were occurring outside of the regular JLA book (the Crisis, the upcoming Aquaman mini-series). In a lot of ways, this new JLA got hobbled before it ever really began.

The covers to issues 233-236 were released as a poster around this time. If you combined all of them, they made one large image:
...they don't quite line up right (there's overlap which interferes with the disembodied heads), but at least DC was trying to give the new JLA a little promotion.

That said, it occurs to me as write this, I don't think I ever saw one ad for the regular JLA comic at this time...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Justice League of America #235 - Feb. 1985

sgPart 3 of the introduction of the new Justice League!

The Story: "Rebirth: Three--Heavy Metal by Gerry Conway, Chuck Patton, and Mike Machlan. This issue opens with the JLA having an emergency meeting, as news reports show footage of Vixen breaking into the local prison, as she did at the end of last issue.

She did so to get information about where the man that killed her father, a military strongman nicknamed The Ox, currently is. What she doesn't know is that he is looking for her, as well.

As the JLA argues over what to do, we see that Gypsy is there, too. She's considering revealing her presence to them, but is put off by their bickering.

Steel quickly falls into an argument with Aquaman, who seems to be mainly concerned about the damage to the new League's public image Vixen is doing. When Steel loses his cool and smashes a nearby pillar, Aquaman shows an extraordinary new level of power, and crosses a line
Mind-controlling Steel, snapping at the lovable Sue Dibny? Aquaman is in full-on Jerk Mode right now.

While Steel clears his head outside, Gypsy is there waiting for him. As she sort of flirts with Steel, they are attacked by one of The Cadre, a goofily-dressed baddie named Fastball. After a few well thrown explosive balls, Steel drops a slab of concrete on him, but not before Fastball is transported away to safety.

Meanwhile, Vixen arrives in New York, who drops herself off a helicopter, right into the glass window of The Ox's high-rise apartment!

The two of them fight, and when The Ox's henchmen shoot at her, one of themhits her in the shoulder, causing Vixen to fall out of the window onto the ground below.

As the henchmen find Vixen and prepare to finish her off, they are stopped by...The Justice League! They rescue Vixen, carting her off into the JLA's shuttle (Vixen isn't hurt so bad she can't flirt with Manhunter in the process).

Before Aquaman can board, he is stopped by the local police, who want to arrest Vixen, for busting up the Detroit jail, if nothing else. Aquaman waits a moment, while the League wonders what he'll do.

Finally, he tells the League she is one of them, and "The League takes care of its own." They board the ship and take off.

While flying back to Detroit, their ship is blasted by a ball of energy, the JLAers transported away, and when they wake up, they are met by...The Cadre!:
To be continued!

Roll Call: Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Elongated Man, Zatanna, Vixen, Steel, Vibe

Notable Moments: Mike Machlan inks this issue (the first of many), and his smooth lines work well with Patton's pencils. He would stay on the book the longest of all of Patton's inkers.

The JLA Mail Room runs three pages this issue, featuring letters on the second JLA Annual. Reaction seems to be split, and editor Alan Gold suggests that that was the general reaction of all the letters received.

At the time, I was shocked that Aquaman was being written this way. He dips into megalomania mode, messing with Steel's mind as he does here. It's frustrating to me to know that Gerry Conway would've eventually dealt with this, but because of events outside his control, never got the chance to. So, as far as JLA readers would ever know, Aquaman is just one big jerk.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Justice League of America #234 - Jan. 1985

sgPart 2 of the introduction of the new Justice League!

The Story: "Rebirth: Two--Claws" by Gerry Conway, Chuck Patton, and Bill Anderson. This issue opens up with The Vixen, as she apprehends two men on the run from the police.

She soon learns from a TV reporter that the men were members of a terrorist group called Red Dawn, an extremist group financed by the Central African nation of M'Changa and its head strong man, General Mustapha Maksai. With cameras still on her, Vixen becomes openly enraged when she hears that name, and takes off.

The other JLAers, watching all of this on TV, later ask Vixen who this Maksai guy is, but Vixen tells them its none of their business. Steel is insulted, but Elongated Man takes it in stride, saying the old JLA had to learn how much to get involved in each other's lives, as well.

This leads Steel down a road of introspection, and he takes a quick dip in the new HQ's pool. He remarks how special he is, with his new powers
...that dark fist belongs to Aquaman, who pastes Steel so hard he flies out of the pool!

When Steel asks what the hell that was about, Aquaman tells him its to help train him to always keep his guard up. Being a Justice Leaguer means being ready for anything.

Steel isn't mollified by that, but Zatanna steps in and tries to calm Steel down. It doesn't work, and he storms off. Zee then turns her attention towards Arthur:
Meanwhile, Manhunter discovers Vixen doing research on General Maksai--aka The Ox--but she tells him to go pound Martian sand, too. At the same time, we see The Ox, now in New York, noticing that this Vixen women is carrying the "Tantu Totem." He orders his men to find her and bring her to him.

Back in Detroit, Vibe is having troubles of his own, trying to prevent the budding romance between Steel and Vibe's sister, Rosita.

While out on a date, Steel catches a glimpse of Gypsy, who he tries to catch. She gets away, and Vibe mocks Steel for his poor detective skills, speaking the immortal words--"Chu not bad, chu sad."

They then spot Vixen quickly headed somewhere, and follow her. At the same time, Manhunter is cluing the rest of the League in about the crimes of The Ox, about how he staged a military coup, killing the country's elected leader and his half-brother, Rev. Richard Jiwe--Vixen's father.

As the JLA decide what to do, Vixen breaks into the local jail, beating the two men she captured earlier into a pulp, demanding information on The Ox.

Meanwhile, via The Monitor (Crisis on Infinite Earths being less than a year away at this point) we see that the Overmaster has created and is training a team of supervillains he calls The Cadre. This issue ends with him corralling one more member--a monk named Shatterfist.

To be continued!

Roll Call: Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Elongated Man, Zatanna, Vixen, Steel, Vibe

Notable Moments: There's a nice moment where Elongated Man is frustrated with the JLA's inability to go after Maksai, and, casting about for an idea, suggests "taking him out." When Manhunter suggests that means assassination, Ralph quickly regrets what he said.

But I bet in that moment, he wished he was part of the Outsiders.

I hate to admit it, but Aquaman is really kind of an a-hole in this issue, especially towards Steel. If I was Hank, I'd be pretty fed up, too.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Justice League of America #233 - Dec. 1984

sgMeet the new Justice League!

The Story: "Rebirth: One--"Gang War" by JGerry Conway, Chuck Patton, and Bill Anderson. We open with Vibe, newest member of the new Justice League, about to do something we've never seen a JLAer do before--breakdance!

As Vibe busts a move (several, actually) on the streets of Detroit, he draws a crowd, including two of his fellow JLAers in plainclothes--Zatanna, and Mari McCabe, aka Vixen.

Zatanna remarks how none of the team's former members would ever be caught doing something like this, and marvels at the changes that have taken place.

Their reverie is broken by members of a street gang, led a crowbar-wielding named, well, Crowbar. He smashes a mailbox to get Vibe's attention (hey, that's a Federal crime!), but Vibe tries to calm him down instead of starting a fight.

But when another member of the gang pulls a knife on an old lady, Zatanna and Vixen show up to shut it down. Vibe tries to warn them off, but gets drawn in to the fight when a gun is pulled
That ends the fight, but Vibe is mad at his teammates, castigating them for getting involved where they don't belong. As the debate rages on, the mysterious girl known as Gypsy watches from the sidelines.

Meanwhile, at the JLA's new HQ, Aquaman, Manhunter, and Dale Gunn are testing Steel to see what the limits of his powers are. When Steel almost collapses under a huge weight he's trying to keep aloft, Aquaman criticizes him for failing. Steel is ashamed, but Dale Gunn tells him off:
Later, Zatanna and Vixen inform the rest of the League about the coming gang war, and then we see that happen, between two gangs--the El Lobos (led by Vibe's big brother) and the Skulls (led by the aforementioned Enemy of the Post Office, Crowbar).

Vibe is caught in the middle, and tries to stop both sides, but gets stabbed in the back for his efforts!

The Justice League arrives, quickly ending the fight. The final blow is dealt to Crowbar's head, delivered by Gypsy, who just as quickly disappears.

Vibe's brother Armando is none too pleased the JLA has gotten involved, and tells them to shove off. Aquaman realizes, while they did save lives, this is somewhat of a battle that isn't their business.

Later, we see Crowbar in his prison cell, when a mysterious ball of energy enters, calling itself The Overmaster. It flashes a light, andd, in an instant, Crowbar is gone. To be continued!

Roll Call: Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Elongated Man, Zatanna, Vixen, Steel, Vibe

Notable Moments: Patton and Anderson make a nice art team; it kind of seemed like DC was trying out all different kinds of inkers to pair up with Patton. Too bad this and the next were Anderson's only issues.

For the first time in many years, the JLA Mail Room header is changed, reflecting things both and old new:

This is obsessive (although isn't this whole blog?), but I'm not listing Gypsy yet as an official member. While she appears on the cover, on the mail room header, and in every issue, she doesn't officially join up until #236.

Fun Fact: Blogger's spell check does not recognize the word "breakdance."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

JLA Satellite Interview with Gerry Conway

Growing up when I did, Gerry Conway simply was the writer of Justice League of America, always had been the writer, and always would be the writer. The JLA was under his authorship when I first discovered the book, and he was responsible for almost all the stories I think of when I think of the book.

Since Gerry had left the world of comics to write for television, he was (for me) tough to get a hold of, so I resigned myself to not being able to talk to him directly for the blog.

Luckily, he started his own blog,
Conway's Corner, and through that I was able to contact him and ask him if we wouldn't mind talking to me for JLA Satellite.

He generously said yes, and I got to spend part of an afternoon doing something I never would have dreamed of when I was a kid reading his comics: sitting around talking JLA with the Gerry Conway:

JLA Satellite: After writing issues in between other writers like Martin Pasko, Cary Bates, how did you end up writing JLA full time?

Gerry Conway:
Well, let's begin with, I did those [early] issues during my second run at DC.

I worked at DC three separate times, first time was in the late 60s where I broke in, basically trying to get every assignment I could. The second times was after I had spent five years at Marvel, and I sort of brought in as a Great White Hope by Carmine Infantino, to offset the fact that Marvel was doing very well, so I was kind of a feather in his cap.
So they sent me around to write for a variety of different editors. I'd always loved the JLA, it was one of my favorite books growing up, so one of the editors I definitely wanted to work with was Julie Schwartz.

Julie brought me aboard to write some issues, and at that point he was casting about, trying to decide who was going to be the regular writer on the book.

I then went back to Marvel for about a year, maybe less, and when I came back to DC, it was under terms of an exclusive contract, for which they were going to guarantee me a certain amount of writing each month. By that point Julie decided he wanted me to be the regular writer for JLA.

JLA Satellite: I ask this of everybody--Len Wein, Frank McLaughlin, because unfortunately he's not around to talk about it--what was it like working with Dick Dillin? Even then, his run on the book was astounding, but nowadays, if an artist is on a book for six months, that's a huge deal...

GC: Dick was one of the old pros, he'd been around a long time, and the old pros, they looked at it as a long-term commitment. In fact, they were glad, because it meant they didn't have to hustle, and they could just concentrate on doing good work.

I never actually personally met Dick. We collaborated in the traditional DC format of me writing the scripts in advance, and they would be filtered through the editor, and the writer and artist, for the most part, unless they were personal friends, didn't connect up. It was kind of a hands-off system.

But as I worked with him, and I discovered what were his strengths, what he enjoyed doing, how could I focus my writing on things that would bring out the best in him.

He brought his own take to each of the characters without ever giving the sense it wasn't the same character [that you knew]. It as quite an accomplishment.

JLA Satellite: Did you have any expectation you'd be on the book for so long?

GC: You know, I actually enjoyed working on the book so much that it never occurred to me I would leave it [laughs]. Short of leaving the comic book business, I thought I would be writing the book. It felt like this was my home.

JLA Satellite: It certainly was an extraordinary run. I mean, as far as I ever knew, you always wrote the JLA!

[laughs] I had written it longer than any other writer to the point I left--I wrote it even longer than Gardner Fox.

JLA Satellite: I was about six or seven when I first discovered the book around 1978, so you were The Writer, so, okay, Gerry Conway Writes the JLA, sort of a fait accompli.

GC: Yeah, it's just part of the Natural World.

JLA Satellite: [laughs] Yeah, exactly--I was like "That's who writes this book." Anyway, something else I've wondered about--when you created Firestorm, he joined the JLA not too long after. Was that something you had in the back of your mind as you were creating him, that you'd use him in JLA, too, or was that sort of an accident?

GC: I didn't think of it in those terms. I believe I brought him into the JLA after his own title had been canceled.

JLA Satellite: Yeah, it was in between his book ending and his back-up strip in The Flash.

GC: I just wanted to keep writing him. I thought he fit into the group really well because they didn't have a really young member.

JLA Satellite: That's related to something else I wanted to ask you, they would occasionally have these polls where they would ask readers "Well, who do you think should join?", and one time they asked, Zatanna was the #1 choice, so they said "Well, next issue she's going to join!"

I realize this is very obscure, but I'm sort of fascinated--how closely would you guys follow that? What would happen if the people who bothered to write in picked the most ridiculous character, and you'd be stuck with them?

GC: Well, I think we would've found a way to make it work, but the reality is the reason these characters would be the favorite choice is because that's the character we did the best, or had the most intriguing back story.

So, it wasn't likely they'd pick somebody out of left field.

JLA Satellite: [laughs] You'd be stuck writing Ragman or the Queen Bee or somebody like that...

GC: Well, you'd have to admit, that could've been kinda cool [laughs], to bring in somebody...and this is what happened later, after I left the book, that they brought in some really left field characters, and that can be fun, that can be a way to really pump up the excitement.

But I think we knew it was a fairly safe bet that we'd have the most likely candidates.

JLA Satellite: I had a contest on the blog, asking people to pick the best character who should've joined but never did, and someone sent in Shade, the Changing Man.

When I first saw it, I thought, that's the stupidest...but then when I thought about it, I thought, that would've been really interesting!

GC: Exactly.

JLA Satellite: To throw that bomb into the book like that, so I said, ok, that's the winner.

GC: Exactly, and it should be fun like that, otherwise why do it?
JLA Satellite: The three-parter you wrote, "When A World Dies Screaming" (JLA #s 210-212, drawn by Rich Buckler) was originally conceived (and promoted) as an all-new treasury-sized JLA comic. Any idea why it was scrapped? And whose idea was it to use it in the regular book a few years later?

GC: The treasury-sized books were dropped because of mediocre sales versus expensive printing costs. I don't know who thought to use it in the regular books later, but it certainly made sense not to waste the material.
JLA Satellite: Why did you leave the book at #216, only to come back two issues later? I remember buying that on the newsstand and going--like I said, it didn't occur to me someone else could write the book--"Wow, what's going on here?"

GC: I hate to say it, but it's so long ago, I don't really remember the circumstances.

I know I was having some trouble at DC, in and around that period, and there was some interest in changing up the title in some way. I don't really remember the exact circumstances, I'm much clearer about why I left the book ultimately [laughs].

JLA Satellite: [laughs] Yeah, well, well get to that in second. But you left at the end of #216, co-wrote the JLA/JSA team-up with Roy Thomas [JLA #'s 219-220], wrote the ""Beast Men" story [JLA #'s 221-223], which was very intense, much more intense than anything I had seen in the book before. And then JLA Detroit kicked in not long after that.

What was the genesis for that change? Was JLA not selling well, so DC would've been open to that kind of experimentation?

GC: There was a sense, at that time, that they needed to shake things up.

It was right about that time that John Byrne was doing Superman [actually, that was two years later--Rascally Rob], new editors were being brought in, and regardless of what sales of the title was, they felt they needed a change.

The book had been doing very well. The sales took a hit when we did JLA Detroit, but before that I don't think they had been doing particularly badly. I think it had been doing fine.

But there was this sense that it needed sort of a revamp--and I didn't necessarily disagree, one way or the other, but I saw an opportunity to do something new for me--by that point I had been writing the book nearly ten years--but here was an opportunity to bring in some new characters, and it seemed like it might work.

And we had a new artist, Chuck Patton, and we had a new editor, and sense of, let's try something a little different.

It didn't work, and I think part of the reason it didn't work was the choice of characters, part of the reason it didn't work because of the collaboration between Chuck and myself was okay, but it never really sparked, it was a combination of things.

After five or six months, I'm not sure how long it lasted, but I was starting to campaign to change it back--"You know, this was an interesting experiment, but I don't think it's working. Let's go back to the formula that had worked and find some way to revamp it."

But by that point, they felt the problem wasn't with the book, it was with me. That was the problem, so they decided just to replace me.

JLA Satellite: I was going to ask you about that--you were gone in the middle of a storyline. All of a sudden, someone else was writing the book. There was no discussion of it on the letters page, and I remember thinking, what the hell's going on here?

GC: These things happen. I was burning out, as a writer. I had a lot of resentment over the way I was being treated at DC, by some of the people there. I felt I had been scapegoated for policy changes that hadn't anything to do with me.

I had been hired to put out a lot of writing--you know, that was what they wanted when they brought me on. And then I became criticized for...putting out a lot of writing.

JLA Satellite: [laughs]

GC: No one said, hey, we'd like you to cut back a bit and focus on a handful of titles, and we'll work with you on that. They decided I couldn't do it; I was old news and they didn't want to hear it.

They pushed me out; first they fired me off the editorship of [Fury of] Firestorm, then I was pushed off that book, which I had created, and then they took me off JLA, a book I'd been writing for ten years.

Then they basically started cutting my assignments without replacing the work that they had guaranteed me, and that they were paying me for. And then they wanted me to give money back!

At the end of the year, they had guaranteed me X number of pages, writing during the course of the year, and paid me for that, and then when they hadn't given me the assignments to do it, they said I had failed to deliver.

It became really rancorous, it was really bad--

JLA Satellite: Hard to believe you left to work in Television instead.

GC: Yeah, certainly, you get treated just as badly, but...

JLA Satellite:'re paid a lot more.

GC: I did go back and write for Marvel; they thought I was doing a pretty good job.

And you know, all the people that were involved with that are no longer with the company. Today, I don't have any resentment over it because its, what, twenty-five years ago? And I certainly had my share of the blame.

JLA Satellite: I specifically wanted to ask about Aquaman, because this [JLA Detroit] was a big moment in the character's history. Here was a character not in the book that much, and here he is taking the reins and taking charge.

When you were scoping out the plans for changing the book, was Aquaman someone you wanted to write more of, and this was the way to do it, or was it more of, "Hey, I have this idea to rejigger the team, and this character, because he's not appearing anywhere else right now, would be the most logical candidate"?

GC: Yeah, it was that.

The goal was to have a group of characters who could relate to each other, specifically in this title, and we could do continuity within this title. That's why I started focusing on Red Tornado, say, and Zatanna, for story lines before this because they didn't have series anywhere else. And it made it easier to develop personal conflicts and personal storylines.
It was hard to get conflict between Superman and Batman if they don't have that conflict outside the book.

JLA Satellite: Looking back over your run, I was reminded how much of Red Tornado's story you built up in JLA--you developed his relationship with Kathy, you introduced the orphan girl, his adopted daughter Traya; a lot of the stuff that people would use when they were writing Red Tornado. So I wondered if you were looking to do that for Aquaman.

GC: I really like Aquaman, I really loved the Steve Skeates and Jim Aparo run in the 60s. I thought what they were doing was just awesome.

So I thought he had a lot of potential, it's just at that time--it really makes no sense for an ocean-based character to lead a team that's based on a lake.

JLA Satellite: [laughs]

GC: You know, if you think about it, it's really dumb, but hey! It seemed like a good idea at the time.

If I had to do over again, and I thought about it the way people think about it today, I would've picked a character like Martian Manhunter, but he wasn't as interesting a character as he would become later on.

JLA Satellite: You did that two or three-parter, where Aquaman goes to look for Mera [JLA #'s 241-243], and he quits! He finally says, you know, I need to be with my wife and I'm gonna leave.

That was very abrupt, because he sort of burnt a lot of bridges with this group, saying "You need to have commitment, commitment", dragged them all the way out to Detroit, and then goes "Naah, I'm gonna leave."
I look back on that and realize that was probably wasn't necessarily something that was your idea, because they had the [1986 Aquaman] mini-series...

GC: At that point, I was being told what to do. My autonomy on the book--whenever I had any--probably ended around the time I left the book that first time, and after that I was basically trying to manage my way within the DC system.

I don't think [Aquaman leaving] would've been my goal, leaving a group he had brought together.

JLA Satellite: [laughs] Yeah, I have to say, when I read those issues, I was fourteen or fifteen, I was really mad--"Gerry, you've made Aquaman a big jerk!"

But they had that Neal Pozner mini-series that I really loved, just a few months later, and I eventually I figured, oh, okay, this was probably some edict from DC, saying, we gotta get him out of this book.

When you're a kid, you tend to think the writer and artist are running everything, you think everyone is Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, totally running the show. Later on, you go, ok, I see what's going on.

GC: Nowadays they coordinate things a lot more, and I think it works a lot better. But back then you had a very weak management team at the top of things, and you had editors that have never done this kind of work before.

JLA Satellite: I have one other nerdly question, and then I'm done with these sorts of questions--when you were coming up with the idea for JLA Detroit, a lot of the characters that bailed out were not appearing anywhere else--Green Arrow, Black Canary, the Hawks, was that your choice not to include them, or was it...
GC: No, that was my choice, in one sense, I wanted to include new characters. The reason being, the template I wanted to use was the transition from the old Avengers to the new Avengers, around issue #20, where you had this group made up of the permanent Marvel superstars, it then transitioned to this group of new characters who were going to be led by one familiar figure.

JLA Satellite: Right, Captain America.

GC: I remember that's when the book became interesting to me. It allowed the title to be whole.
If I had used more characters from the general DC universe, they would've come in with their own baggage, their own personalities, and at that point I just wanted to write something that was essentially a new book.

That was the plan, but it never coalesced.

JLA Satellite: Wow, I've waited all these years to learn these things!

GC: [laughs]

JLA Satellite: Looking back...when I talked to Steve Englehart, he was really happy to talk about his year on the JLA. Because most of the time when he's interviewed, he's asked about his Batman stuff with Marshall Rogers or his Marvel work, but he was very proud of his JLA work, and he didn't get asked about it much.

Do you look back at your JLA run, and say "That was some of my best stuff"?

GC: There were a handful of titles I was really connected to as a writer and a fan, of course one being [The Amazing] Spider-Man, another was Firestorm, because I had created him and felt paternal about it, and JLA, because it was one of the first books I can remember being a fan of.

I can still remember the first three or four I bought off the newsstand, one with Kanjar Ro, or maybe even Despero, it was really early. And so I was always a fan of the book even though I lost track of it a bit when I became a Marvel fan.

I felt, you know, a personal commitment to it, and I really enjoyed writing the stories. I really enjoyed the "here's the group, let's split up into smaller teams" stories, I enjoyed coming up with the Crisis each year, trying to top the previous year. The more complicated...

JLA Satellite: Poor Dick Dillin!

GC: Yeah..."What can we do now?". That was a lot of fun for me...once I found a way to hook into individual characters and develop stories for them, like The Red Tornado, then it really felt like a personal book.

Plus it was an ego trip...after a certain point you realize, "Wow, I've been doing this longer than anybody...this is cool! I want to see if I can break some records..." So there was a certain amount of fun doing that.

JLA Satellite: Are there particular ones you look back on and think "Those were the best ones I did"?

GC: Yeah, I think most of those would be the "Crisis" stories I did, I'm particularly fond of the crossover with the western characters [JLA #'s 198-199] because that to me was fun...doing Jonah Hex [laughs] was strange doing that.
I liked the Red Tornado story lines...I don't remember specific issues, I remember story lines, arcs. It was fun.

JLA Satellite: Yeah. I've mentioned here before, and on your blog, that--and I am barely kidding when I say--that I think that JLA #200 is the single greatest piece of literature ever produced by Western Civilization.
GC: [laughs] Oh, wow. How old were you when that book came along?

JLA Satellite: Let's see...1981, so I would've been ten years old.

GC: I figured it would've been around that time.

JLA Satellite: This probably won't make the interview, but I have to mention this--years ago, I had a girlfriend who also read comics.

Now that's rare enough, but she didn't like superhero comics. I guess if you don't first find them as a kid, they don't resonate with you, so she couldn't understand why I liked them so much.

So one day we decide to exchange comics we each liked, and she asked me for one comic that summed up what I liked about superhero comics. So I bought her a copy of JLA #200.

GC: Wow.

JLA Satellite: So anyway, I give it to her, its in a bag and board, and she puts it off to side.

She lived in another part of the country, so we only saw each other every few months. I go back, a month or two later, and there's the book, in the same spot it was when I left, completely untouched.

And I thought to myself "This relationship's doomed! She can't find the time to read one measly 72-page superhero comic!"

And you know what? I was right! We eventually broke up.

GC: [big laughs].

JLA Satellite: I thought "How can you not read this?" Its so much fun, it moves so fast, the artwork is so nice..."

Really, I'm like, "If Gerry Conway only wrote one comic book in his life, this would be enough." This thing was the most tremendous comic ever.

GC: [laughs]

JLA Satellite: I'm going to leave it at that. I cannot express how much it means to me to get to talk to you. I appreciate all the work you did, its so beloved to me, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me for the blog.

GC: Oh, it's been a pleasure. Thanks so much for remembering.

I can safely say there probably wouldn't be a JLA Satellite blog without Gerry Conway. His run on JLA gripped my then-seven-year-old imagination, introducing me me to a world of heroism and camaraderie that has stuck with me, all these years later. This blog is in part a tribute to how much I loved those books, and Gerry Conway was the creative drive behind most of them. Thanks--for everything--Gerry!

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