Friday, April 07, 2006

"Everybody Limbo!"
Justice League Unlimited #14 When: December 2005
Why: Adam Beechen How: Carlo Barberi

The story so far...
Whenever an animated world finds itself in peril and the threat is too great for one hero, the collective forces of the Justice League are there to step in and save them!

When Wonder Woman starts checking herself out in the mirror, the League have cause for concern, but all is not as it seems! The Amazon warrior is possessed by the wandering spirit called - Deadman!

Deadman is in search of the League's help to combat the upstart menace of the demons three, but this isn't a job for Green Lantern or Flash. This special case calls for the collection of magically experienced heroes affectionately referred to as - the Trenchcoat Brigade!

Tale of the tape...
Generally the books derived from the animated series don't interest me. They tend to abstain from extended comic-related continuity, and are generally aimed at a younger audience, thus featuring simpler storylines. That said; this particular issue's solicitation piqued my interest, so I thought I'd at least give it a go.

Following the format of the Justice League Unlimited animated series, the issue features a rotating cast of DC JLU superheroes. Solicitations promised a Wonder Woman who was possessed by Deadman, and looking for help. While this is the opening premise, this only serves to collect an eclectic group of magicians and occultists.

While a casual fan of the TV series might be disappointed by the grouping of second and third tier characters, a more general DC comics fan probably gets a kick out of at least one of the 'trenchcoat brigade' characters.
Regardless of fandom, they are certainly a potent posse of supernatural superheroes: the Demon Etrigan, Zauriel, Doctor Fate, Zatanna, Deadman, Doctor Occult and the Phantom Stranger. Characters like Zatanna, Dr. Fate and Phantom Stranger have legitimate claims to being among the most powerful characters in their universe.

The antagonists of this story, 'the demons three', are alternatively quite weak. Disregarding the nature of the situation, you would have to consider this teaming to be little more than sheer overkill. This is probably attributed to the showcase nature of the series, but partially justified by the fact these three lesser demons are attempting a coup against both Heaven and Hell.

By any assessment, I think it's safe to say the Justice Leaguers are a shoe-in to win this, regardless of what problematic spin is put on the story. Where Deathstroke may have had argument to disarm a collection of top superheroes, the Demons three have very little going for them.

What went down...
As Deadman leads the group through mystic means toward their clogged destination, Etrigan's rhyming calls his allegiance into question for the already testy Zauriel. Demon retaliates to the angel's accusations with a belch of flames, but Zatanna is able to difuse the situation as the team reach Limbo.

The trapped denizens of Limbo cry out for help from the coloured costumes ones, as they scour the jaded courtyard for the demonic culprits.

Dr. Fate discovers the bricked up portals to Heaven and Hell, and declares to magic to be more complicated than expected. The backward speaking Zatanna scoffs Fate's claims of difficulty, but before she can utter her mystic backward command, pink infernal hands clasp around her face - the hands of Ghast!

Deadman warns the rest of the team to beware his companions, Abnegazar and Rath, but it's too late. Phantom Stranger and Dr. Occult are surprised from behind by Rath, who frys them with hellacious, crackling energy blasts.

Dr. Fate remains strong, calling Abnegazar out to face his fate!
Unfortunately for Dr. Fate and Nabu, the binding spells that make the Demons three masters of Limbo, also grant them superior power in their domain. Fate is felled by powerful eye beams from the pink demon.

Deadman does his best to fist fight one of the demons, but sadly his powers are relatively useless against the more versatile Rath. He reaches his hand through Deadman, and then incapacitates him with a powerful burst of energy.

Zauriel realises their apparent overconfidence in approaching the weaker demons, and calls for Etrigans help as the last men standing. Demon blurts flames at the angel, revealing himself as a double agent for the possessors of Limbo.
"I see brains were not given/To all but just some... How do you think/they knew we would come?"

The heroes are mystically bound, while Zatanna remains muzzled by the demons. They reveal their intentions to rip her incredible powers out of her, to claim them as their own. Using the souls of those trapped in Limbo, and the heroes themselves, the demons believe power strong enough to rebel against both Heaven and Hell will be theirs.

The Demon offers himself up as a wise choice for ripping Zatanna's power from her throat, brandishing clawed fingers.
Zauriel cries Etrigan's name in curse, as the Demon pulls his arm back to finish the job.

To the surprise of all, Etrigan instead rakes the fingers keeping Zatanna's mouth closed, revealing a second layer to his deception! Demon directs Zatanna to use her power to free their captive colleagues, setting the team up for a prepared strike against the foes.

The demons boast superior power in their realm, but Doctor Occult is glad to point out that although they outweigh any of them individually, the combined might of all their magicks is more than enough for them.

The powers of order, the afterlife, pure magic, mystery, heaven, the underworld, and the mystic symbol of the seven are too much for the upstarts. As their remains are replaced by smoke, the doorways to Heaven and Hell are again open to be travelled.
With that, the unlikely hero of the day, Etrigan, departs down the tunnel to the Underworld, but not before teaching Zauriel a lesson in his deceptive nature.

"Darkness shall rule/and make no mistake/but today's not that day/that power to take. Understand this/and you'll understand me. There are more things in heaven and Earth/than are dreamt of in your philosophy..."

The hammer...
Apologies to those who stopped by Friday looking for this week's update. I once again fell a little behind, being quite busy and a little unwell.

With their quite literally combined efforts, we can crown the Trenchcoat brigade entire, as victors in this particular battle.
Despite having a rather PC take on the story, and avoiding flat-out terms like Hell; this is still a surprisingly grim tale. Not to say darkness is the measure of a good story, but themes dealing with the afterlife damned to be trapped - in a comic that can't say Hell - is a pretty gutsy move, if you ask me.

As I mentioned, it was the solicitation for this issue that caught my eye.
I have to say I was a little disappointed that it focused on Deadman possessing Wonder Woman, neglecting to mention that the Justice League regulars would not be featured.

I find it difficult to be any more critical than that, as this is really just a book that is what it is. It hides very little beyond the surface, serving as a vehicle for an interesting group of Justice League heroes, often not featured prominently.
That said, it still served up a pretty fun read which I hope reflects the overall approach to the [formerly known as] Johnny DC line.

The Fight: 2 The Issue: 3.5

NEXT: The burglar, Catwoman versus the assassin, Elektra!

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