Saturday, December 3, 2011

Justice League of America #200 30th Birthday!

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Today--December 3--is the 30th birthday of one of my all-time favorite comic books, Justice League of America #200, which hit the stands on December 3, 1981!

Not only is this book one of my all-time favorite comic books, in any genre, but its hands-down my favorite superhero comic, and I put it on my Top 10 list of Greatest Aquaman Stories Ever Told, since it features the Sea King drawn by my all-time favorite Aquaman artist, as well as (IMO) one his finest moments as a superhero.

While I had originally hoped to do an Aquaman 70th Birthday-styled celebratory post, I just couldn't pull it together in time. So I'm settling for this, a re-run of my original post on the book from back in 2008.

At the bottom of the post I added portions of the interviews I did with this book's writer, Gerry Conway, and editor, Len Wein. While talking to Gerry, I tried to remain as professional as possible, but by the end I couldn't help but completely geek out and blabber on about the book, since how many times would I get the chance to talk to the man who wrote it? Also, we have some scans of original JLA #200 art, plus some shots of a very special, one-of-a-kind copy, courtesy of a F.O.A.M. member.

So sit back and enjoy:
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"A League Divided" by Gerry Conway, George Perez, Brett Breeding, Pat Broderick, Terry Austin, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, Frank Giacoia, Brian Bolland, and Joe Kubert.

Welcome to the 200th issue of Justice League of America!

This mammoth, 72-page anniversary issue opens, after the wonderful three-page origin prologue, with Firestorm, bored out of his mind while on Monitor Duty.

Suddenly, founding member The Martian Manhunter comes smashing through the hull of the satellite!:

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Firestorm, not having boned up on JLA history, has no idea who this guy is. At the same time, Manhunter is acting very strangely, even without all the satellite-smashing. He doesn't seem to know that this is the JLA satellite, even though he has been here before.

Firestorm manages to fend off Manhunter for a while, until his inexperience gives Manhunter the chance to knock him out and grab what he's there for--a small green meterorite residing in the JLA Trophy Room.

Minutes later, Firestorm wakes up amid the wreckage, and, not knowing what is going on, sends out a Triple Priority Signal to all members, past and present!

Soon the satellite is filled with JLAers Atom, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Black Canary, Elongated Man, Red Tornado, Zatanna, and Green Arrow. They inform Firestorm who it was he faced, and alone among them its Green Arrow that seems to know what's going on, and why none of the original members--Superman, Batman, etc.--have answered the distress call!

They quickly figure out that all the original JLAers must be after the Appellax Meteors, relics of the JLA's first case.

Then another face from the past shows up--Snapper Carr! Green Arrow takes charge, breaks up the heroes into teams, ordering Firestorm to stay behind with Snapper. Pwned!

Next we find ourselves at the Indian Ocean:

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Cut back to the satellite, where Reddy, unconscious, mysteriously appears from out of nowhere! Firestorm wonders aloud, "How did Reddy get up here, anyway?"

As the book says, "somewhere, a Stranger is smiling. His job is done."

Next we go to Paradise Island, where Zatanna is hoping to stop Wonder Woman before she performs her task:
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Unfortunately, the Amazing Amazon beat her there, and Zatanna proves to be no match for her. She gets knocked out by Diana using one of Zee's own spells against her, and she wakes up, hours later, with the Amazons using their curative Purple Ray on her.

Next, in Zimbabwie, a local General receives a phone call, and is a little shocked to see who made the call:

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The Atom finds Green Lantern, digging up one of the Appellax meteors. He momentarily knocks GL on his butt, and tries to reason with him, trying to make him remember who he really is.

It seems to be working, except that GL has just been sneaking up on Atom, and traps him with his ring. He grabs the meteor and takes off.

The Atom shrinks beneath the atoms of the ground, and slips out of the bubble, and heads back to the satellite. The Atom chalks up all their defeats to the "edge of experience" the others have, but Red Tornado theorizes that its because the original members are facing unknown opponents, while they are fighting friends.

Over in Italy, The Elongated Man lays in wait for The Flash:
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He gets the drop on The Flash, and feels sick about attacking his friend, but like Reddy guessed, the Scarlet Speedster has no such compunctions. One good super-speed punch, and The Flash has accomplished his mission.

Down at the original JLA Sanctuary, the original members start to talk, and can't figure out when all these changes--Wonder Woman's new uniform, the sancutary in ruins, Mars II--occurred.

On the North Carolina coast, Green Arrow joins Black Canary in searching for Batman:
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The Batman, of course, gets the drop on both of them, and uses the tight, confined space to his advantage. Green Arrow fires off an arrow, which misses, bounces off a tree, and knocks out Black Canary!

As Green Arrow finds himself handcuffed, he yells at a departing Batman: "You can't do this to me!" To which a smart-ass Batman replies: "I already have."

Canary then wakes up, and Brian Bolland shows off his mastery of distinct facial expressions:
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...I love Canary's annoyed, pursed face in panel four. They move on, thinking they've found Batman, but it turns out to be a decoy--Batman, and the Appellax meteor, are gone.

Last is what can only be the result of Hawkman drawing the short straw: he has to take on Superman!:
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Hawkman figures Superman can't retrieve the Kryptonite-laden meteor himself, so he isn't surprised when he encounters several Superman robot duplicates instead. But the third one looks a little different--its actually Superman!

One punch, and its all over, ending with Hawkman being hit so hard he drifts into outer space. Superman, using a paper-thin lead alloy suit to cover himself, finds the meteor and heads off.

Hawkman wanders so far into space he hits an oncoming Zeta Beam, and disappears! He is then found by old JLA friend Adam Strange, who calls the JLA and tells them they plan to beam Hawkman back. The Elongated Man, stretching himself farther than he ever has, shoots himself out of an airlock, and retrieves The Winged Wonder.

Meanwhile, at the Secret Sanctuary, the JLAers notice that all the Appellax meteors are glowing, and they eventually explode open, releasing the seven Appellax warriors!

This obliterates the JLAers' amnesia, and they are told, years ago, the Appellax meteors put a post-hypnotic suggestion in them, triggered to go off, just as it did.

The JLAers attack the Apellax warriors, but they find themselves overwhelmed, one by one, until finally there is only Wonder Woman:
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...that panel always felt so harsh to me. Yeah, I know Diana is nearly invulnerable, but taking a bunch of crystals to the face like that? Ow.

The Appellax warriors decide to pick up where they left off--that is, to fight one another, to see who will be the leader of their home planet!

Next, we see Batman and his fellow JLAers slowly waking up, but surrounded by their fellow heroes. Apologies are made, the heroes collect themselves, and head out to stop the aliens:

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(click to JLAify!)

The massive group of heroes split up into teams, classic Gardner Fox style, and Batman, Black Canary, Green Arrow, Hawkman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Zatanna head to Vermont to battle the Wood King, Crystal Creature, and Mercury Monster.

Unlike what defeated them before, the JLAer use teamwork, and after a well-placed Batarang shatters the Crystal Creature, its over.

Next, we go to the Irish Coast, where Aquaman, Elongated Man, Flash, and Red Tornado find the Glass Creature and the Fire Monster. The Flash tries a frontal assault, giving Aquaman the chance to sneak up from behind:
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...this is one of my favorite Aquaman sequences of all time. I love the examination of Aquaman's ability to survive in depths that would kill almost anyone else, but holding the Glass Creature by the throat until he shatters into little bits is just hardcore.

In the meantime, Flash, Elongated Man, and Red Tornado take out the Fire Monster--mission accomplished.

Last, in the heart of New York City, The Atom, Firestorm, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter take on The Golden Roc and The Stone Creature.

Lantern pummels the latter into chunks of rock, and The Atom is fired directly into the head of the Golden Roc, giving Manhunter the chance to shatter it with a well-aimed punch. It's all over!

Back at the satellite, Green Lantern and Red Tornado shoot the aliens' remains into the sun, destroying them forever.

Then the three old JLA friends, Green Arrow, Martian Manhunter, and Snapper Carr take their leave...well, two of them do:

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What to say about this issue? Its one of my all-time favorite comic books ever, and certainly my all-time favorite superhero comic, ever.

I love the scope of it, and the fact that Conway took the time to work in as many people from the JLA's past as he could--The Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, Snapper Carr, Adam Strange, The Phantom Stranger...

Of course, the one glaring exception is Hawkgirl. Apparently over in the solo Hawkman feature in World's Finest running at the time, Hawkgirl was missing or something, hence her not being here.

As as kid, I loved internal continuity, and having all the characters work in a definable time line. But--in this instance, I wish Conway and whatever other editors would've made the call had forgotten that for a moment, and put Hawkgirl in here. This is the big JLA story, and Shayera definitely should've been included.

The art is of course fantastic--Aparo, Perez, Kubert, Bolland, and lots more, many of them working on their signature characters (Aparo even gets a two-fer). Having Perez do all the linking chapters gives the book a cohesiveness that improbably works, considering all the people involved.

(Fun Fact: The Superman/Hawkman chapter was lettered by The Joe Kubert School, the first time I can remember hearing of such a place. Little did I know I would be a student there, a little less than eight years later.)

As if all this wasn't enough, Gerry Conway gives us a two-page text piece on the history of the team, which is enormous fun. Click
here to read it.

I remember buying this comic at the now forgotten-but-not-gone Voorhees Tobacco and News Shop, which had a huge selection of comics, many more than my local 7-11. To that end, I used to beg my Dad as much as I could to take me there.

Like I said, the place is still there:

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The copy I have is the same one I bought in Dec. 1981--its beaten up, has brown pages, the binding is held together with high hopes and a lot of scotch tape. Yet if there was ever a fire in the house and I could only save one comic, this would be it.

To me, this book sums up everything that is fun about the world of superhero comics, and what drew me to the Justice League so passionately at such a young age--camaraderie, action, humor, plus a sense of enormous history. Not too long after this, the Crisis would take place, forever putting the DCU I knew and loved into the Past Tense. This book is one glorious 72-page tribute to what made DC so great for so long.

In regards to Aquaman, there was some debate on my JLA blog at the time about how it was disappointing that The Phantom Stranger had to "save" Aquaman from being defeated by Red Tornado, since of course us Aqua-Fans didn't believe Aquaman needed any such help.

And while I can see that point of view, I've always thought that it was worth it to have Jim Aparo draw both Aquaman and The Phantom Stranger again, after distinguished runs on both characters.

Also, Aquaman has, to me, one of his all-time best moments in later in the book, when he grabs the Crystal Apellax alien and crushes him to bits which, thanks to a random series of events, showed up as an example of Aquaman's amazing powers in the book The Physics of Superheroes:
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So, in the end, I thought it was a good trade-off. I would never trade the above moment for anything--in a book full of great moments, Gerry Conway makes this scene unforgettable.


Here's some original art from the book. Man, I would kill to own some of these:
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Speaking of art, F.O.A.M.er John Trumbull--also a huge fan of this comic--went on a crusade to get as many signatures from JLA #200's creative personnel as possible, and he's amassed quite a collection! John was kind of enough to provide some scans of all the John Hancocks, along with the story of how it all got started:

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Wow--Perez, Broderick, Giordano, Kane, Infantino, Bolland, and Kubert! How'd you do it, John?:

"A little history of how I got started on this project: My original copy of JLA #200 went missing sometime back in the late 80s (I subsequently found it, so I have two copies now). Since, like you, this is one of my favorite comics of all time, I knew I had to get a replacement copy. I managed to pick one up at The Great Escape in Nashville, TN for $1.50. When I got it home & cracked it open, I discovered that the very first page was signed by none other than George Pérez! I'm sure the dealer hadn't noticed, or I would've paid a LOT more than $1.50 for that copy. I wondered for years if it was really a George Pérez signature, since it looked a bit different from how he traditionally signed his artwork. Thanks to Facebook, I was finally able to reach out to George personally in 2010 and verify that it was an authentic signature. Here's my correspondence with him:


'November 28, 2010

George Pérez

John: My autograph has mutated quite a bit over the many years and many times I've had to sign it. That is most definitely my signature-- before I developed a style wherein I seldom pick up my pen between signing my first and last names.


Take care,

GPz'

Needless to say, I was ecstastic to get this response. It was a thrill to correspond, even briefly, with one of my artistic idols, as well as get the answer to a question I'd had for nearly 25 years!


So the Pérez signature planted the seed in my mind that I should try and get the various artists who worked on JLA #200 to sign my copy as well. Dick Giordano, Gil Kane and Brian Bolland were all guests at the Atlanta Dragon Con in 1990, so I got all three in one fell swoop. I got Joe Kubert to sign it when I attended a weekend workshop the Kubert School did in Nashville in 1992, prior to my attending the school from '94-'97. I had a friend get the Carmine Infantino signature for me at a New York con in the early 2000s. I think I must've had my friend get the Pat Broderick signature for me at the same con, as I don't recall ever meeting him myself.


Sadly, I never had the chance to meet with Frank Giacoia, Jim Aparo or Adrienne Roy before they each passed away, which is too bad, because I was a big fan of all of their work. I'm still hoping to someday get signatures from writer Gerry Conway, editor Len Wein, inkers Brett Breeding & Terry Austin, letterer John Costanza and colorists Carl Gafford & Tatjana Wood to add to the book! I think it's safe to say that if this book hadn't engaged my imagination at age 9 the way it did, that I may not have grown up to be a cartoonist. So thanks, one & all who where involved with such a great comic book!"



Now we hear directly from two of the people involved in the making of this awesome comic. From my interview with Len Wein on 6/16/2008:

JLA Satellite: As editor [of JLA], you presided over my--and a lot of people's--favorite era of JLA, roughly issues 185-220, including the blockbuster 200th issue. Whose idea was it to have such a massive 200th issue, with so many characters and artists?

Len Wein: Oh, mine. After all, I had to come up with some way to top what I'd done with issue #100. As an editor, I'm incredibly proud of that issue. We had an amazing array of artists and Gerry Conway's script weren't exactly chopped liver neither.


Finally, from my interview with Gerry Conway on 7/23/2008:

JLA Satellite: 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.
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Gerry Conway: [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.
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5 comments:

DougK said...

I was also 10 when that came out...still one of my favorites too! Thx for the trip down memory lane!

Gernot said...

I was 19 when this book came out! :)

The ONLY thing that disappointed me about the book was that Aquaman was the only one of the Big 7 who needed help to defeat his opponent. None of the other heroes needed help, and Batman even defeated TWO heroes! Aquaman should've been able to defeat Red Tornado on his own, and they could've done something else with The Phantom Stranger.

GREAT review, otherwise! :)

John Trumbull said...

I was just on the phone with my good buddy Loston Wallace, and he reminded me that he was the one who got the Pat Broderick signature for me at Heroes Con back in 2003. I mailed the issue down to him in North Carolina, and Loston was nice enough to wait in line to get it for me! So a retroactive public THANK YOU to Loston!

You can check out Loston's great art here: http://www.lostonwallace.com/

dbutler16 said...

I just recently re-read this. It is indeed an awesome issue. I, too noticed that Aquaman was the only original member who needed help, and felt there should have been a way for him to defeat Red Tornado without help, and also the Phantom Stranger's appearance was somewhat unnecessary, notwithstanding his butting into Aquaman's battle.

I like how Green Arrow took charge of the non-founders, though he was awfully rude to Snapper. I do wonder how a creature could have Kryptonite eye beams, since Kryptonite only comes from the planet Krypton, as far as I know.

In spite of these little nits, this is one of the first comics that pops into my head (along with X-Men #137) when I think of the wonderful comics of my youth. For the record, this must have come out right around my 13th birthday.

stanley simmons said...

I just started a blog and my first comic I'm blogging is JLA 200. I didn't go into as much detail as you but I did use your blog as a link! I hope you don't mind. I also spoke to you a few years back on facebook about this exact same issue!
http://icomiceye.blogspot.ca/
Cheers!

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