Justice League Europe #4: Bialya Burning (July 1989)

THE PACKAGING: Justice League International trade Vol Five

THE CREATIVE TEAM: Keith Giffen (Plot & Breakdowns), J.M. DeMatteis (Script), Bart Sears (Pencils), Pablo Marcos (Inks), Gene D’Angelo (Colors), Andy Helfer (Editor)

CROSSOVER ALERT: Weirdly, both JLA & JLE are dealing with Queen Bee plots right now, but in different ways — there are references to the current “brainwashed Beetle” storyline. Also several references to some kind of revelation about Captain Atom spying on all of them for the government which I assume came out in his comic, which featured a lot of guest appearances by Beetle, Booster and other Justice League characters during this era.

JUSTICE LEAGUE ROLL CALL: Captain Atom, Power Girl, Metamorpho, the Flash (Wally West), Elongated Man (Ralph Dibny), Animal Man, Rocket Red (Dmitri Pushkin), with Catherine Cobert and Sue Dibny in civilian support. [Ralph and Sue don’t really contribute in this one]

GUEST STARS: Queen Bee, Jack O’Lantern, J’onn J’onzz

THE STORY: Power Girl, Animal Man, the Flash and Metamorpho all travel to Bialya on a covert mission to find out what’s been going on with that whole mystery.

J’onn is furious to discover that the JLE has made an incursion into Bialya without checking with him first, given the recent dramas, but the JLE strike team prove to be astoundingly competent, using their brains and various special skills to learn what Queen Bee is up to.

As it turns out, she has a mysterious doctor working to manipulate the genes of her pet Global Guardians, giving them power boosts but also controlling their minds and hearts. Owlwoman is currently under the knife, and while Jack is obsessively loyal to Queen Bee (by design), his feelings for Owlwoman are clearly starting to seep through.

Metamorpho, investigating in his gaseous form, learns that this doctor is in fact a Dominator leftover from the Invasion! storyline. The JLE battle against Jack and a whole bunch of Bialyan guards, conquering Queen Bee’s forces easily

Oddly, we skip ahead to after they have made a remarkably diplomatic if ethically dubious negotiation with Queen Bee, promising to keep her recent Dominator-related antics from the world if she leaves them alone.

We learn from the Dominator that he has killed Jack at her behest, offpage, and then we see Queen Bee kill the Dominator himself, as her deal with the JLE means she is supposed to separate herself from association with him.

Back at the ranch, Captain Atom is so troubled at J’onn’s lack of trust that he can’t even properly enjoy how well his mission turned out. Catherine flirts with him to make him feel better. He doesn’t feel better.

Oh, and Sapphire Stagg is in town, heading for the JLE Embassy and her unwitting ex husband!

THE CHARACTERS: Kara and Animal Man make a good team, though it’s hard to get any kind of read on Buddy’s characterisation in this comic. He’s a bit more snarky here, which almost makes him likeable. It really doesn’t help that every man has the same face. If it wasn’t for the blond v. red hair, I couldn’t tell he and Wally apart.

Wally is still awful. I just don’t know what’s happening. He opens his mouth and a steady stream of sexual harassment just pours out of him. The only times he stops being an asshole are when Buddy is using the mean “you’re a second rate Flash compared to Barry” joke that he borrowed from Ralph. Oh and not content with making awful comments objectifying Kara, he also makes some extreme body-shaming remarks about Metamorpho’s appearance. You’re a shithead, Wally. Get it together.

Metamorpho has started his character note of making grumpy references to old TV shows — though the Prisoner this time, which was interesting because I’m pretty sure The Three Stooges is his go to pop culture reference, 9 times out of 10.

I do like that the team are competent in the field, finally. It makes it look like Captain Atom is actually on top of things. Though Jack O’Lantern is still the most thoroughly developed character in this issue, and he gets killed offpage! Possibly. Maybe.

THE COMEDY: Um. Yeah. No?

THE ART: Urrrrgh I hates it.

Though I’m not sure if this is Stockholm Syndrome but I do quite like how Sears draws Queen Bee. I just… I don’t know why Kara’s head is the same size as her boobs. Like, that’s not quite as bad as it sounds. HER HEAD IS WEIRDLY SMALL OK?

At least his obsession with drawing muscular bare naked backs of women is… less demeaning than what a lot of other contemporary artists were doing?

THE KITCHEN SINK: Um. Wasn’t there a mystery involving the word braces? Did I miss something? No, okay, on to the next storyline.

BONUS CHARACTER HISTORY: The Flash (Wally West)

The original version of The Flash, Jay Garrick, appeared in comics through the 1940’s. In 1956, five years after Garrick’s title was cancelled, the Flash was rebooted as Barry Allen, forensic scientist, with Jay Garrick’s character retconned as a retired predecessor. These two are generally referred to as the Golden Age (Garrick) and Silver Age (Allen) Flash, though it’s the latter who is seen as the most iconic version of the character. (ie he’s the one that most current comics professionals grew up with)

Wally West was introduced as Barry’s kid sidekick in 1959, nephew of Iris West, Barry’s then-girlfriend (later wife). Struck by lightning in a weirdly similar laboratory accident to the one that gave Barry his powers, Wally himself became a junior speedster and was named Kid Flash, a superhero identity he would wear for nearly 30 years.

Along with other DC sidekicks such as Robin and Wonder Girl, Kid Flash was a founding member of the Teen Titans in the 1960’s, as well as its far more successful reboot in the 1980’s, The New Teen Titans.

After Iris herself was killed off, Wally was eventually sidelined and de-powered due to a mystery illness caused by the effect of the speed force on his young, still-growing body. He was cured by a random blast of energy during the Crisis of Infinite Earths crossover event, which turned out to be convenient, because Barry Allen ran so fast he disappeared/was atomised during that same event.

Post-Crisis, Wally took on the mantle of the Flash, albeit a version with less intense powers (he can travel at the speed of sound, not light). He had his own title from 1987 and on through the whole of the 90’s and beyond, characterised by humour, cheerfulness, and a powerful sense of a legacy he could never quite live up to.

One key element of his character during this time is that he didn’t have a secret identity: everyone in Central City knew Wally West was the Flash, which meant it wasn’t just Barry’s old friends who made fun of him for not being as good as Barry — his Rogues Gallery did it too!

There’s a lot of cool stuff ahead of Wally West — including a LOT of speedsters joining his club, many beloved friends returning from the dead, and a whole lot of Speed Force related storylines. But we’re not there yet. And I really hope he stops making the skeevy jokes sometime soon.