Justice League International #16: Bialya, My Bialya (August 1988)

justice_league_international_v-1_16THE PACKAGING: Vol 3 of the JLI trade series

THE CREATIVE TEAM: Keith Giffen (Plot & Breakdowns), J.M. DeMatteis (Script), Kevin Maguire (Pencils), Al Gordon (Inks), Gene D’Angelo (Colors), Andy Helfer (Editor)

JUSTICE LEAGUE ROLL CALL: In the blue corner, zooming through space: J’onn Jonzz the Martian Manhunter, Big Barda, Rocket Red (Dmitri) & Green Lantern (G’nort). In the red corner, undercover in Bialya: Maxwell Lord, Green Flame, Batman Bruce Wayne, Blue Beetle and Booster Gold. Abducted and unconscious: Mister Miracle. Mysteriously absent: Captain Atom, Ice Maiden, Green Lantern (Guy Gardner). Left behind just as he likes it: Oberon.

GUEST STARS: Lord Manga/Manga Khan, L-Ron, Rumaan Harjavti, Jack O’Lantern, Queen Freaking Bee. Oh and Wandjina, remember him?

cluster-lost

THE STORY: Wow, this one’s a doozy.

In space, Lord Manga of the Cluster has accidentally abducted a superhero, and hasn’t the faintest idea what to do with him.

A bickering crew consisting of J’onn, Barda, G’nort and Rocket Red entirely fail to catch up to the far superior speed of the Cluster, which utilises the physics of Star Trek and/or Star Wars. Going, going, gone.

Meanwhile a spy drama is unfolding in our favourite mysterious, troublesome and entirely fictional European/Slavic country, Bialya. Max Lord convinces Batman to return to the JLI in order to go undercover (in disguise as Bruce Wayne) and investigate the shenanigans in Bialya.

Batman takes this to assume he is back in charge, and promptly returns to his old ways of being terrible at leadership, losing half his team in the process. (Oh, Beetle. Oh, Beetle)

1847822-rumaan_wandjina_queen_1Meanwhile, the sinister Queen Bee has been quietly recruiting disaffected former Global Guardians, ostensibly to serve Harjavti’s agenda, but this issue turns all that on its head. In the first big reveal, Harjavti announces to an audience that the dimension-hopping, tragic anti-nuclear superhero Wandjina is still alive and in his service.

In the second big reveal, we learn that Wandjina is actually working for Queen Bee, when he burns Harjavti’s face off at her behest, handing over control of Bialya to her.

THE CHARACTERS: Hey, where’s Guy Gardner? Didn’t he set up this plot? Also, where’s Ice Maiden? You guys, we have to keep an eye on those two or terrible things happen (like, ugh, dating)

This is our first time seeing Beatriz in action — and it’s interesting, balancing out her history as a secret agent (which we’re really not hearing much about right now) with her general ditz-like personality. Here, it’s worth noting that she considers her “bimbo” outfit a disguise and more skimpy than she would usually wear (HEAR THAT, COMICS ARTISTS) and while she flirts her tail off at Batman, she’s also quite sensible and thinks quick on her feet.

Also she partners with Batman without wanting to murder him, so.

jli1016_14Beetle and Booster are still in the same comedy routine they’ve been pulling out for issues and issues; it’s pretty dull, from Booster’s vomiting tendencies to them both spending yet another mission sitting around cracking wise because the big kids don’t trust them to be involved in the real action. I do love that they have such overt and pointless disguises (they could just not go in superhero costume and they’d be fine) especially Ted’s overly elaborate It’s a Wonderful Life reference, but I’m not sure why putting the blond American Booster in some kind of sheik outfit is remotely helpful.

I love Blue Beetle/Ted Kord, he’s my favourite and my best, so it’s actually been pretty frustrating reading these early issues because I have found so little to like. Then again he’s going to be pushed through the angst wringer soon enough, and I do like my heroes broken and angsty, so…

THE COMEDY: If there’s been one thing I have been noting since the beginning of this comic, it’s that JLI isn’t actually all that funny. It’s not failed comedy; far from it. It’s actually at its cleverest and most entertaining when the humour and snark is balanced out by some very deep, dark material.

Wandjina was a signpost of that from the start: a refugee from a world destroyed by nuclear war, he died once after being used as a pawn in someone else’s political game. Here, he’s clearly a weapon but not necessarily a person any more, controlled utterly by Queen Bee.

And it’s all so nasty, not just the violence (undercut by the snarky line about it all being a bit Cronenberg) but the clear sign that people’s minds are no longer their own. (Oh, Beetle.)

On a lighter side, while there isn’t much to love about the space chase scenes (Barda is basically shouty and loudly in love with her husband which is lazy writing of her), Manga Khan’s humour is becoming refined to a series of in-jokes about science fiction tropes (warp speed vs hyperspace!) and about comic book villains. You guys, he just wants to be alone in his room so he can talk to himself in peace.

16-ugly-as-sinThe spy hijinks are fun until they turn dark — Batman completely getting away with pretending he is wearing some kind of Bruce Wayne rubber suit is pretty hilarious, as is him assuring Green Flame that he’s super ugly underneath it, to make her stop hitting on him.

The balance of darkness to banter is pretty much perfect in this issue. But, oh. Beetle.

THE ART: Yeah the other dude was good and all but having Kevin Maguire back is never a bad thing. I love how he draws Beatriz in this comic — it’s weirdly surreal to see her with brown hair, but otherwise completely herself.

Her body language is interesting too — I’m always fascinated by how men (almost always men) draw Green Flame/Fire. At one point she’s literally draped over Ted, even though they don’t really like each other yet and are mostly communicating via snipe. She’s constantly posing as if for a camera. And yet, Maguire draws her in a chunky, mostly realistic style which is a far cry from the porn star poses/outfits we’ll see from her in future years. I think the main thing is she’s being presented as 80’s sexual object, which looks so innocently cheesecakey compared to how the 90’s will redefine the whole idea of Portrayal of Ladyparts In Comics.

But what’s with that cover, Kevin Maguire? Sure, I get the Bond reference with Bruce and Bea, but is that supposed to be Queen Bee next to them? She looks like she’s in disguise as a character from Midsomer Murders Does Cabaret.

Meanwhile, the dress she actually wears in the comic while standing on stage next to Wandjina’s murder show is spectacular.

THE KITCHEN SINK: This is one of the issue I read late, after having read a lot of the material that comes after. So I’ve never read it without thinking, oh, Beetle. Bad stuff is coming. Batman’s cavalier “oh Booster and Beetle will be fine” attitude is infuriating. Queen Bee’s takeover of Bialya is chilling. I love this storyline, but it makes me want to hold my children close.

queen_bee_bialya_001BONUS CHARACTER HISTORY: All the Queen Bees & Bialya

Okay, there have been a few of them. It’s a good name, I guess? Lissa Raven of Earth Two was a Mr America (??) villainess who used Queen Bee criminal alias in the 1940’s after her psychologist father erased her conscience during a scientific experiment. In 1951, the Blackhawks (then part of the Quality universe but later integrated with DC) fought a glamorous swim-suited villainess called Queen Bee who led the Golden Swarm, a troop of henchgirls who were eventually defeated thanks to their fear of mice. Marcia Monroe was a Batman love interest/sidekick/villain in 1966 who also used Queen Bee as her alias.

The main original Justice League Queen Bee was a literal bee-woman, Zazzala of the hiveworld Korll: this alien queen was one of those recurring villains who turned up in the pages of JLofA in the 60’s and 70’s. She was later brought back to the DC Universe in the late 90’s in all her buzzing glory.

Then there’s our Queen Bee of Bialya, who was introduced right here in Issue 16. A former member of the harem, she Milady-and-the-Cardinals her way into Harjavti’s trust, murders him and steals his job. We never learn her real name, or much about her past at all including whether or not she is a born citizen of the country she takes over. But she’s good at mind control and hypnosis, as seen here and in the story to come…

Both of these main Queen Bees have sisters who took on their title in the late 90s/early 2000s. Zazzala’s sister Tazzala appeared in the Creature Commandos series, attempting to conquer Earth.

Our Queen Bee’s sister is confusingly named Beatriz (I am assuming no relation to our Beatriz, AKA Green Flame), and she later takes over the rulership of Bialya according to issue #6 of Incarnations, an odd little mini-series which provides one-shots of different eras of the Justice League in post-Crisis continuity. I have no idea why the creators would think giving Queen Bee’s sister/successor the same name as Fire wasn’t going to be totally confusing, but okay. I have to read that one now to see if it’s full of Bee/Bea puns.

In an interesting side-note, Bialya existed in the DC Universe before JM DeMatteis got his hands on it. Indeed, original Blue Beetle Dan Garrett found his mystical Scarab while unearthing a Pharoah’s tomb in Bialya.

queen-bee-16

PREVIOUSLY ON THE ONE TRUE JUSTICE LEAGUE:
Justice League The Story So Far
Justice League #1 (May 1987)
Justice League #2 (June 1987)
Justice League #3 (July 1987)
Justice League #4 (August 1987)
Justice League Annual #1 (1987)
Justice League #5 (September 1987)
Justice League #6 (October 1987)
Justice League International #7 (November 1987)
Justice League International #8 (December 1987)
Justice League International #9 (January 1988)
Justice League International #10 (February 1988)
Justice League International 11 (March 1988)
Justice League International 12 (April 1988)
Justice League International 13 & Suicide Squad 13 (May 1988)
Justice League International 14 (June 1988)
Justice League International 15 (July 1988)

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