Flashback Issue Bin: “Justice League of America” #200

George Pérez assaulted our senses with this mind blowing promise of wall to wall action.

George Pérez assaulted our senses with this mind blowing promise of wall to wall action.

As a kid, “Justice League of America” #200 was a perfect thing. A mammoth-sized book at 72 pages and free of a single advertisement for Hostess fruit pies or Mile High Comics. It boasted artwork by eight industry giants: George Pérez, Pat Broderick, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, Brian Bolland, and Joe Kubert. The story featured seven showdowns between the Big Seven and the Satellite League, each drawn by a different artist and written by the great Gerry Conway. It was the crown jewel of my continuously expanding comic book collection. Yes, as a kid, this book was a perfect thing. It still is.

The immense Pérez wraparound cover promised action, eight Satellite Leaguers (Green Arrow, Black Canary, Zatanna, Firestorm, the Elongated Man, the Atom, Hawkman, and Red Tornado) faced off against the original seven members of the Justice League of America (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, Green Lantern, and the Flash). To this day, heroes fighting heroes remains a staple of superhero comics, but I’d never seen anything as dynamic as this cover: it included an animalistic Batman heading straight down towards Green Arrow and his electrified arrowhead, Superman ready to toss a clocked-out Hawkman into space, and Zatanna struggling to free herself from Wonder Woman’s golden lariat. The book was bound by glue rather than staples, as if it needed to be any more unique. But there was so much more to discover beyond the remarkable cover and binding.

The story is simple and takes us back to the origin of the League, as chronicled in “Justice League of America” #9. In that story, the heroes found themselves faced individually against a group of invading aliens from that arrived from their planet Appellax contained within meteorites. After a razor-thin victory, the heroes decided to join forces should they ever be faced with another threat as serious as this one. Each team member took the remains of the meteorites and buried them around the planet where they have remained dormant. Until now. Flash forward to the present and the founding members of the Justice League of America believe little time has passed since their first adventure and they are on a mysterious mission to gather the meteorites. Thing is, the Satellite League knows something is wrong and attempts to face their teammates down in a series of showdowns, each drawn by artists who were known for working on one of the character’s books (except for Bolland at the time).

Firestorm is alone on monitor duty when the League’s satellite station is attacked by the Martian Manhunter in the first confrontation drawn by “The Furty of Firestorm” artist, Broderick. This was my introduction to both characters, neither who were featured on “The Superfriends”, where the majority of my DC superhero knowledge originated (though Firestorm would eventually get his day in the limelight). Broderick’s Martian Manhunter was a musclebound being who showed off one power after another every few panels (super-strength, heat-vision, flight, invisibility, etc.). An innate fear of fire puts J’onn J’onzz at a slight disadvantage, but his myriad other abilities are enough to handily defeat Firestorm and escape with the first meteorite.

The Martian Manhunter vs. Firestorm by Broderick.

The Martian Manhunter vs. Firestorm by Broderick.

Pérez draws the opening, the interludes, and the dazzling finale featuring all of the heroes, but I won’t jump ahead of myself. The Satellite Leaguers show up to find out what happened after Firestorm puts out a triple priority signal. Seeing as how the original seven members did not respond to the call, Green Arrow is the first to realize that this unusual attack by the Martian Manhunter may be tied to the team’s first case. The second generation Leaguers split up to take on their teammates before the remaining meteorites are collected. Former JLA mascot Snapper Carr makes the book’s first cameo; as an honorary League member, he also responded to Firestorm’s signal. While still a mite rougher than what he would eventually do on “The New Teen Titans” and “Wonder Woman”, this scene features Pérez’s penchant for detailed panels and clean line work. The artist pulls back to get all of the team together, amidst the shambled remains of the J’onn J’onzz and Firestorm’s quarrel.

Aparo is up next for the battle between Aquaman, who the artist drew from the late 60s to the 70s, and Red Tornado. The Phantom Stranger, another character whose series featured art by Aparo, sets up the action as Aquaman races to find where he left his meteorite fragments near the Indian Ocean. He still thinks himself King of Atlantis, a title that has been stripped of him by this point. Arthur leaps from the ocean and is blasted by an enormous gust of wind. There’s a simplicity to Aparo’s artwork, but this panel is indicative of the artist’s ability to draw sensational figures as Aquaman is overwhelmed by the strength of Red Tornado’s flurry. Aquaman returns the favor and Red Tornado appears to be down for the count. The Phantom Stranger intervenes to keep the crimson hero unconscious, allowing Aquaman to fulfill his mission. Aparo’s panel, featuring Red Tornado being struck by lightning, is astounding; the hero contorts as he is caught off guard by this unexpected attack.

Aquaman vs. Red Tornado by Aparo.

Aquaman vs. Red Tornado by Aparo.

Conway pits Zatanna against Wonder Woman in a battle that takes us to Paradise Island. This sequence is drawn by longtime “Wonder Woman” artist/cover artist, and one of the best inkers who ever lived: Dick Giordano. Diana is filled with rage as Zatanna and Hippolyta confront her to question the Amazon princess’ confounding state. Her reaction? She tosses an enormous stone tile at the two, clearly with an intent to seriously maim. Zatanna quickly deflects the stone by making the Earth soar up from the ground. The battle grows more elemental as Zatanna attempts to subdue Wonder Woman with rushing water. Using her magic lasso in an incredibly cool manner, Wonder Woman sends the wave hurtling right back in Zatanna’s direction. The sorceress doesn’t even have a moment to say “pots!” before she is nearly drowned.

Wonder Woman vs. Zatanna by Giordano.

Wonder Woman vs. Zatanna by Giordano.

Longtime “Green Lantern” artist, Gil Kane, who penciled the first 75 issues of the Silver Age character’s book, draws the confrontation between GL and the Atom. For my money, Kane was at the top of his game here. His line work is thick and distinctive and he has an eye for action. The page featuring Atom knocking GL off of his feet is one of the issue’s strongest images. Like Aparo, Kane has an immense ability to convey movement. Atom throws everything into his punch as GL grasps at the air, the hero scrambles and fails to stay on his feet as he’s caught off guard by the miniature hero’s attack. The Atom attempts to reason with GL, who uses the moment to catch Ray Palmer by surprise. Four down, three to go.

Green Lantern vs. the Atom by Kane.

Green Lantern vs. the Atom by Kane.

Comic great, Carmine Infantino, has two of his co-creations go toe-to-toe with each other when the Flash and the Elongated Man duke it out in Northern Italy. At the time I was actually more familiar with Infantino’s work on one of my other favorite DC titles: “Dial ‘H’ for Hero” (published in the long-running the hero speeds through this battle, stopping only long enough to play possum and get the upper hand on Ralph Dibny. Afterwards, we finally meet up with the original League who have brought the Appellax meteorites to the site of their original underground headquarters. They’re confused about the amount of time that has passed and perplexed by Wonder Woman’s new duds. You may recall that Diana wore sandals and the classic golden eagle breast plate when the League first formed in 1960.

The Flash vs. the Elongated Man by Infantino.

The Flash vs. the Elongated Man by Infantino.

There are a pair of scenes in which the Satellite League are egregiously mismatched. In the sixth match, Black Canary and Green Arrow take on Batman who, in their fleeting brawl, swoops over the two and he’s done. I’ve always found this a fascinating storytelling choice by Conway. I assume this was the writer’s way of paying fan-service to the Dark Knight as well as break the monotony of having to present another battle between former allies. Green Arrow admirers must have either thought “No way could Green Arrow be taken out so easily!” or the more rational, “Well, it is Batman.” Bolland’s pages are astonishing. Black Canary’s expression after getting thumped in the head by one of Ollie’s rubber arrows is another of the book’s most memorable images. The artist captures her mid-“Ohhh” and you can feel the ache across Dinah’s face as she presses her fingers against her bruised temple. There’s no mistaking Ollie’s fury in being taken down so easily by the Caped Crusader.

Batman vs. Green Arrow and Black Canary by Bolland.

Batman vs. Green Arrow and Black Canary by Bolland.

Well, someone had to go up against Superman and Hawkman drew the shortest straw. Kudos to Katar Hol for flying confidently into action, armed with his small arsenal of medieval weaponry. The triumph of this sequence is the timeless artwork of the late Joe Kubert, one of the industry’s finest. Kubert had drawn both Golden and Silver Age incarnations of the winged hero.  Here, Hawkman is destined to receive the punch of his lifetime. He takes down a couple of Superman’s robot selves with ease; the Man of Steel uses the robots to aid him in acquiring the meteors to avoid Kryptonite exposure. Eventually Superman cannot afford any more time to be wasted and comes out of hiding to clock Hawkman, sending the Thanagarian drifting into space where he falls into the peaceful hands of former adversary, Adam Strange.

Superman vs. Hawkman by Kubert.

Superman vs. Hawkman by Kubert.

With all seven meteorites collected, the Appellax aliens rise again and confront the unwary heroes. Though the Big Seven had no problem taking out the Satellite League, they were about to get their own clocks cleaned by the malevolent aliens that brought them together so many years before. Now it’s Pérez’s turn for action and you can see that this was an artist who was going to become a name in comics, and quick. Conway and Pérez made us believe that the Appellax aliens were a fearsome bunch that could swiftly take down DC’s icons. Battered and beaten, the Satellite League show up, accept apologies, and do what comes naturally: race across the world to serve up a heaping can of whoop-tush to the beings that caused all this havoc.

The Justice League of America by Pérez.

The Justice League of America by Pérez.

What follows is three chapters of two-fisted action as the League separates into three teams comprised of new and old ranks. The Appellax aliens are using Earth as a battleground, fighting one another to the death to determine which creature will rule our small planet. Pérez, in limited space, gives each member of the League enough space to show off each member’s formidability. Superman punches a wooden alien to bits, Aquaman crushes a glass alien to bits, Green Lantern jackhammers a stone creature to bits, Martian Manhunter… well, I think you know where I’m going. The book slows down enough to see the aliens broken remains tossed into the sun, Green Arrow welcomed back to the League, and Firestorm afflicted with Snapper’s annoying habit of snapping his beatnik fingers.

This was perfection. Great characters, beautiful art, and a fun story. Over the years my copy of “Justice League of America” #200 would grow more ragged as my brother and I would pull it from our treasured stash of comics to read it again and again. There was nothing else in our collection that compared to the pure entertainment or the celebration of comic book art contained in this massive anniversary issue. I’ve often wondered why there haven’t been more books like this, with classic and contemporary artists working together to tell one single whopper of a story. Can you imagine a match between Batman, Green Arrow, and Black Canary drawn by Greg Capullo? Or Francis Manapul illustrating a battle between the Flash and the Elongated Man? The opening, interludes, and finale could be drawn by Jim Lee with a story by Geoff Johns! Now, that would bring out my inner-twelve year old.

Since I’m putting some wishes out there, I’d also love to see DC give this book the hardcover treatment a la “Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” or “Batman: The Killing Joke”. It could also include “Justice League of America” #8 and maybe old “Who’s Who” pages of all the characters featured in the book. I’m not too greedy so I’ll stop there. I may not be getting a “DC Comics Classics Library” edition of “Justice League of America” #200 anytime in the immediate future, but I do have my beautifully recolored digital version to access anytime I need to be reminded of my childhood and the perfect place comics would take me.

Justice League of America #200
Written by: Gerry Conway
Art by: George Pérez, Pat Broderick, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, Brian Bolland, Joe Kubert
Inks: Brett Breeding, Terry Austin, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Gil Kane, Frank Giacoia, Brian Bolland, Joe Kubert
Colors: Carl Gafford, Tatjana Wood, Adrienne Roy, Anthony Tollin
Letters: John Costanza
Publisher: DC Comics
Original Publication Date: March 1982
Pages: 72 pages

You can find this book at one of the following recommended retailers:
comiXology.com

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