Friday, December 09, 2016

Last Stand (DC)
Justice League of America #261 When: April 1987 Why: J.M. DeMatteis How: Luke McDonnell

The Story So Far...
One defeat too many has left the Justice League of America in tattered ruins. While the evil machinations of Darkseid plot to make outlaws of heroes, their enemies attack unabated by the whims of fickle law.

Professor Ivo and his mechanical menaces have plagued the Justice League for longer than they care to remember, but the divided heroes have never been more vulnerable, nor the villain ever more bloodthirsty!

Already Ivo's android assassins have seen to the deaths of Vibe and Steel, and made chilling attempts on the lifes of Gypsy, and the Martian Manhunter. With the rest of the team gone or resigned, Vixen stands alone to seek vengeance for her fallen allies! Her keen animal senses and savagery will ensure she stalks out her prey, but whose death will result when she finds Professor Ivo's lair?

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Martian Manhunter 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Martian Manhunter 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Martian Manhunter 5 (Super-Human)
Stamina: Vixen 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Martian Manhunter 7 (Unlimited)
Fighting: Vixen 4 (Trained)
Energy: Martian Manhunter 5 (Lasers)

I would've been really disappointed to finish 2016 without returning to this now classic encounter! It represents an interesting transitional period in Justice League history, where the infamous Detroit team was to finally make way for a glitzy group, newly assembled in the pages of post-Crisis event: Legends.

Legends #2 was the last time we saw this version of the JLA, suffering a brutal defeat at the hands of Apokolips demon-seed: Brimstone!

In that city shattering battle, Martian Manhunter was caught off guard by the firey beast. Rushing in without thought to his own vulnerability (flame), he was overwhelmed by debris that also buried Vixen, and the rest of the League: Elongated Man, Gypsy, Vibe, Steel, with allies Firestorm and Cosmic Boy.

In the wake of their humiliating defeat, the League veered towards disbanding as President Reagan issued an order to outlaw superheroes. Martian Manhunter favored accepting the decree, Elongated Man departed amidst in-fighting, and everybody but Vixen sort of went their own way. Good news for Professor Ivo, whose evil androids were able to pickoff Vibe and Steel - both killed!

Fearing death; Anthony Ivo has obsessively sought to attain immortality. His pursuit brought him into conflict with the JLA, whose powers he once hoped to steal, believing they could unlock infinite life. He and his androids are making their Secret Wars on Infinite Earths debut, but the instrument of his earliest attacks on the League has appeared before: Amazo!

The power stealing Amazo has been known to act independently, and the increasingly mentally unstable Professor Ivo has become victim to the whim of his other robotic creations -- including his own doppelganger. The duplicate Ivo is responsible for the murders, but Vixen doesn't know - or care - about that.

As one of the last standing members of Justice League Detroit, Vixen has given in to her primal rages -- seeking vengeance for her comrades alone! Her ability to channel the innate skills of animals makes her a pretty tough customer, but alone against an army of killer androids, she might be in trouble!

Good thing former detective Martian Manhunter has also picked up the trailer to Professor Ivo's secret underground lair! He'll be making the save, and helping tip the scales in favour of the heroes. His Martian weakness to fire isn't ideal, but his phenomenal strength and molecular malleability means he can make light work of Ivo's tin soldiers, as long as they don't combust.

We've seen the trouble fire can cause Martians in DC: The New Frontier #2, and Final Crisis: Requiem #1! We've also seen plenty of Martian toughness, as well. He took down Appellaxian Stone God in Secret Origins #32, helped fight Doomsday in the guise of Bloodwynd [Superman #74], and caused Green Lantern & Flash a whole lot of trouble as a Black Lantern [Green Lantern #44]!

We haven't seen as much of Vixen thus far, but she has gone toe-to-toe with Wonder Woman [JLA: Classified #3] and Volcano Man [Justice League of America #15]. So it doesn't look too bad for the heroes! Let's see how it went...

The Tape: Martian Manhunter Ranking: Martian Manhunter (#32)

What Went Down...
Stalking through filthy city sewers, Vixen searches solemnly for her prey. Deep within the stone laden labyrinth - a familiar scent, drawing her deeper into the twisting underworld. Soon - a light emanating from a small grate. She pushes it in and descends into a small room, where Professor Ivo waits with a banquet.

Vixen makes her lethal intent clear while Ivo offers questionable pleasantries in exchange. Seemingly resigned to his fate, he asks for Vixen's company as last request of a condemned man. She hurls her cup of poisoned tea in his scaly disfigured face and reaches for his throat. An attempt at kindness, he calls it...

Suddenly the room fills with a dozen shirtless men - each an exact duplicate of the last! Vixen's keen sense of smell detects the distinct absence of humanity among them. Androids: programmed to kill, just like the ones who killed her Justice League friends!

Vixen goes to ground as the automatons surround her. She springs upward suddenly, delivering an all mighty uppercut! A knee to the stomach! A leaping face jam! A vicious decapitation! She is at one with her animal instincts.

She swings her fists wildly, separating two more of the android's heads!

Professor Ivo watches the battle coldly, expressing surprise. He didn't expect to see Vixen winning! These androids weren't programmed specifically like the ones that killed Vibe and Steel. Ivo corrects the deficiency, searching out Vixen's computer file to broadcast the necessary tactical attributes to his army.

The androids overwhelm Vixen, rushing in a pack. An android strikes with a backhanded fist. Another with a clubbing blow. They all lean in, throwing fists like a pack of wild dogs. Fear takes Vixen as she contemplates her own mortality. Significantly outnumbered, she anticipates her own coming death.

Then, the door to Ivo's lair suddenly explodes with an angry call of his name! The Martian Manhunter has also tracked the villain in search of justice! Refusing to accept another teammates demise - he marches through the android horde, furiously toppling and crushing the robotic men!

Professor Ivo fears and respects the "real" Leaguer who's beaten him so many times before "to a pulp". Searching for a means to defend himself, he recalls the Martian weakness to fire. Wielding a super-charged lighter, he bathes the distracted Manhunter in strength sapping flame!

Meanwhile, surviving androids observe that Vixen has no apparent life signs. Their programming is astute enough to warrant a second networked scan, but it fails to protect them from Vixen springing back to life! With a vaulting thrust of her legs she sends the two robotic men hurtling across the underground room!

The action distracts Ivo enough to give Martian Manhunter the break he needs to strike the villain! The Professor begs for mercy, inciting anger in the soulful Martian. He vows to teach him about pain and fear, but cannot bring himself to harm such a feeble opponent. An affliction Vixen does not share!

The grieving hero lunges at Ivo, wraps her hands around his throat, and snaps his neck -- revealing severed wiring and microchips. Another android!

Discarding the sophisticated facsimile, Vixen marches across the chequered floor towards a door that hides the true Professor Ivo! Not the conniving master of machines, but rather a feeble prisoner of his own creations.

Gripped with fear and insanity, the raving Professor is as afraid and ashamed of the actions of his own androids, as he is of the death he believes Vixen intends to inflict. Recognizing his torment and anguish, the heroes grapple with their own emotional needs, unable to direct a hate they cannot discard. They face the pointless deaths of their allies together. The final victory of the Justice League.

The Hammer...
It's a somber, quiet end for the Detroit era of the Justice League of America, but at least it comes with Vixen and Martian Manhunter victorious! As fitting a conclusion as possible to an obvious house-cleaning for the impending and iconic "International" re-launch.

This is another one of the issues I would've been very disappointed not to find time for. We spent a lot of the past year revisiting this period of DC Comics, in particular the concurrent mini-series Legends. I talked about this particular issue during the Vixen Hero of the Week - and here it is!

Justice League of America #261 purports to be "Chapter 21" of the Legends saga, but to even call it tangentially relevant to the main story would be very generous! If you were only reading the six issue Legends series, your final impression of the Detroit League would've come from their crushing defeat by Brimstone in Legends #2. Vibe and Steel are still alive, but you'd be forgiven for thinking they'd died buried beneath the rubble of Brimstone's rampage. 

For a series that will ultimately conclude with the assembly of the new Justice League -- (more star-studded than the last) -- it gets the job done. The focus of Legends is very much on the post-Crisis lay of the land, and the new mix of icons and acquisitions who'll be front and centre in DC's new era. There's very little time for romancing the outgoing B-league team, which makes the gratuitous "Chapter 21" tie-in branding very well meaning, if a little misplaced.

Martian Manhunter is the only Detroit hero who makes his way to a new featured role in Legends. He's a shape-shifting stand-in for President Reagan, who earns the government's trust for mistakenly vilified superheroes. He will continue to lend quiet dignity and soul to the new Justice League, offering the only real through line for enduring fans.

It might've been nice if Vixen could've tagged along, but I wouldn't want to downplay the justifiable unpopularity of the Detroit characters at that time. Fortunately, Vixen's newfound precarious existence, and the hard edge gained in this final JLA story, made her well suited to joining the other team that spun out of Legends: The Suicide Squad!

Her admission to The Squad strikes me as a pretty canny use of the character. It has a nice sense of symmetry: a diverging fork in the road for the final two Leaguers left standing at the end of Volume 1. It also allowed for further exploration and definition of a broken character. When the two teams meet and fight in Suicide Squad #13, there's a great moment of Martian Manhunter and Vixen quietly sharing a tender embrace -- much as they did at the end of today's feature fight. A sentimentality that's appreciated in both examples.

Of course, even JLA #261 was hastened to sell the 'New era of greatness for The Justice League' coming the following month! That iconic Kevin Maguire cover sure does a good job of pitching it, as well. It's tough for Gypsy and Vibe to make much of an impression when you've got Batman, Captain Marvel, Doctor Fate, Black Canary and Green Lantern scowling at you!

Thirty years later, I'm still pretty sold! By some bizarre twist of fate, the culture is in a place where the Detroit League has actually found a loyal audience on television! I'd like to say that's a good thing, but it tends to say more about how mediocre superhero TV is. With a less than impressive movie version on its way, you're reminded how it feels to long for the JLA done right!

There is definitely worthwhile material to be found in this period of the Justice League -- today's feature issue being one of the fine examples. That said, it could never be considered any kind of adequate standard for what the concept should be. The League doesn't always need to be the "Big Seven", but the best versions will always be hung on a cast of senior most iconic heroes, working toward an informed higher goal, and a greater good for humanity.

It's hard to know with any faith what really matters to DC Comics in 2017, but I'll sign-off with a warm thought. Just as Martian Manhunter and Vixen were able to share a moment built on the importance of their shared history, we can do the same. Knowing that these characters were part of a pretty great issue!

If you'd like to share more moments from Justice League of America, or any of the characters mentioned in this article, be sure to follow links provided for your convenience! You can sharpen your focus by targeting past features by publisher, series and issue in the Secret Archives Index!

If you like what you see, be sure to hit the G+1 button located just South of this article's text. Be sure to tell your friends all about the wonderful world of Secret Wars on Infinite Earths while you're at it. Every bit helps keep the wars infinite!

Winners: Vixen and Martian Manhunter
#22 (+10) Martian Manhunter
#115 (+231) Vixen [+5 kills]
#812 (new) Professor Ivo

No comments: