Justice League America 31: Crossed Wires (Oct 1989)

THE PACKAGING: We’re up to Volume Six of the JLI trades… and sadly the last of this series. I’m gonna be elbows deep in flimsies by next month. Trades kick in again in 1992, but until then we’ll be digging through my filing cabinet. This last JLI trade alternates between JLA & JLE (as does this blog) because of the Teasdale Imperative crossover that begins with this issue.

THE CREATIVE TEAM: Keith Giffen (Plot & Breakdowns), J.M. DeMatteis (Script), INTRODUCING ADAM HUGHES (Pencils), Joe Rubenstein (Inks), Gene D’Angelo (Colors), Andy Helfer (Editor) Kevin Dooley (Assistant Editor)

CROSSOVER ALERT: I forget what the actual plot of the Teasdale Imperative is, probably because I read these all in the wrong order originally, but also maybe because the interesting bits in this issue have nothing to do with the crossover.

It’s an excuse to do stuff across the JLA & JLE and means that we get some Sue, Catherine & Power Girl drawn by Hughes instead of Sears occasionally though so yay!

JUSTICE LEAGUE ROLL CALL: J’onn J’onzz the Martian Manhunter, sometimes Batman, Green Lantern (Guy Gardner,) Fire, Ice, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Mister Miracle (Scott Free) with Maxwell Lord & Oberon in civilian support. Introducing (re-introducing?) The Huntress (Helena Bertinelli apparently) & Dr Fate (Linda Strauss) as regular members. No Big Barda damn it, they’re still pretending she’s not on the team.

GUEST STARS: From the JLE: Sue Dibny, Catherine Cobert. The Spectre & the Gray Man being mysterious, sinister and cloak swishy.

THE STORY: There’s some stuff that The Spectre is really ominous abut it’s not that interesting. Gray Man pfft.

Otherwise it’s just business as usual at the JLI. Fire & Ice have redesigned their costumes. The new Dr Fate drops in to join the team, startled Fire, and sets off all the fire alarms, leading to comedy misunderstandings between Oberon and some firemen.

Over at the Secret Sanctuary/Justice League Cave, Beetle, Booster & Mister Miracle add some new upgrades to the shuttle, while bemoaning that Max has rented out most of the cave to the Doom Patrol in their absence.

Mostly everyone is chilling out until the emergency call comes in from the JLE… or rather from Sue and Catherine who are freaking out because the JLE have all disappeared mysteriously, as have the dead bodies resulting from several destroyed villages. JLA to the rescue!


THE CHARACTERS:
This one is pretty much all character work, as it’s a gentle prelude to the crossover proper. We get to see our team on their day off, tinkering and rebranding themselves, or in Guy’s case being randomly obnoxious. It’s a very good jumping on point to get to know who the JLA are right now.

THE COMEDY: Very few outright jokes except for the extended banter between Beetle & the boys about the comics based on their adventures. “You just don’t like the fact that they write me wittier than they write you” is still one of Beetle’s all time best lines.

The humour comes entirely from character in this one — it’s people who know each other well poking fun at each other, sharing in jokes and filling the silence with random silliness. I’m very fond of this issue!

THE ART: So begins the era of the JLA that I am perhaps most firmly nostalgic about — I started reading JLI comics in 1992, and collected back issues like crazy. I had not realised until this re-read that Adam Hughes was the artist I most associated with several JLI characters, especially Guy Gardner, Fire and Ice. (I never used to pay attention to who the artists were because I knew nothing)

Fire and Ice both have a major design overhaul with this issue, with costumes that actually reflect their personalities rather than the generic ‘flying bikini rando’ look they had been sporting since they joined the Justice League. Fire (who apparently designed both costumes) now wears a fairly classic (and for her character, iconic) Black Canaryesque short jacket over bustier & leggings, which was to be a fairly common costume type for DC women over the next decade. (In particular, one of the biggest ever changes to Wonder Woman’s costume was almost identical to what Fire wears here, but with different colour combos & bike shorts instead of leggings) Her hair is especially MTV, long and spiky with a head scarf.

Ice, meanwhile, is now wearing an extremely flattering and modest costume (for something clearly made out of spandex) which would be even more iconic for her character than Fire’s more changeable costume. The blue and white reflects her ice powers, but particularly the short tank over full body leotard seems more in keeping with a superhero character who doesn’t want to throw her boobs at everyone she meets. (I’m reminded of the recent developments in sporty actionwear for Muslim women, and how popular the burkhini became with Western women too because self consciousness had been preventing them from taking part in sporty activities)

It’s interesting that the dialogue has Tora still protesting the costume as being too modern and different for her, considering she was literally wearing a bikini into battle before now, while Fire is the one teased for wearing clothes too small for her, which is not untrue, but she’s still wearing more than in previous issues.

And hey, Adam Hughes. This is actually his DC debut, and he’ll be on the title for 2 years. I’ve always enjoyed the way Hughes draws women — he might have a reputation for “cheesecake” but his female characters are usually drawn with great respect. He’s a fantastic example of a comics artist who draws women as glamorous, athletic and sexy without resorting to demeaning poses, or gratuitous sleaze.

Also hey, we get Mister Miracle with his shirt off in this issue.

Hughes does a lot of great character work in this issue — Beetle and Booster have squishy comedy faces, J’onn appears in his natural format, and Oberon spends a lot of time beating his head against a wall. I’m not convinced by Hughes’ Huntress (who looks like she’s been taken straight from Earth 2 – this isn’t our snarky Helena Bertinelli at all) but his female Dr Fate is glamorous, mysterious and statuesque.

Most of all, his Guy Gardner is fantastic, Hughes has captured his weird crunchy rugged angry dude lack of charm very effectively.

THE KITCHEN SINK: Tora is so cute in this issue I can’t even tell you. Finally, she looks like herself!

So no bigs or anything but in a team of officially 10 superheroes, we have 4 ladies. Just sayin.

BONUS CHARACTER HISTORY: Dr Fate (Linda Strauss)

We already looked at Dr Fate’s character history back in JLA 6 though I’ll admit Linda herself got short shrift in that one, so here’s a little extra to tide you over.

So Kent Nelson and sometimes his wife Inza were Dr Fate, for ages, and the power kept them young until it didn’t any more. After Inza’s death, Kent was kept alive unnaturally by his spiritual guru/mentor Nabu, who had taken up residence in his body (remember that recent Blue Beetle being un-brainwashed issue? Yeah, that dude.)

Anyway, Kent finally died after discovering that Dr Fate was always supposed to be a triad: man, woman & Fate. Only with two humans combined can they access the full Dr Fate powers. Before Nabu allowed him to pass on, Kent had to find his replacement, and he chose Eric Strauss, son of an abusive and wealthy entrepreneur who had recently died.

Nabu aged Eric to adulthood (CREEPY) and they later realised that the woman destined to be part of their triad was Linda, Eric’s stepmother (SO CREEPY).

At this point in the story, Linda is Dr Fate solo because Eric is unwell, but only a couple of months after this appearance, Eric will die in a battle on Apokolips, leaving her stranded as the demi-powered solo Dr Fate.

It’s not gonna end well for Linda either, don’t get attached.