On Christmas Day 2013, my brother gave me a booster pack of random, non-sequential issues from a variety of popular comic book titles that syndicated in the late eighties to mid nineties. The nineties was a time of groundbreaking work in the comic community that gave birth to the age of modern comics. Sometimes, not so much. These are snapshots of the industry at its best and worst. This is Brian’s Comic Book Grab Bag.
Justice League America Volume 1 #61
“Born Once Again”
Writer – Dan Jurgens
Penciler – Rick Burchett
Inker – Gene D’Angelo
Letterer – Willie Schubert
Superhero comics tend to focus on super abilities, typically emphasizing the particular “meta-genes” that influence the makeup of superhero groups and power balances that supplement the expanded universe. Trademark powers, such as flight, enhanced strength, and regenerative healing factors, are explained with pseudo-science or magic. Characters like Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern, illustrate how powers adapt to social circumstances surrounding the publication period. Pulp fiction imprints like Weird Tales attracted an eccentric fascination concerning the macabre and spiritually malevolent. It was from these mystery stories that Alan Scott’s power source was drawn upon, being consistent with the cultural milieu of 1930s and 40s fantasy. Today, powers are conceived in lieu of modern problems such as globalization and homogenization. So, the Green Lantern is no longer a lone agent, but a representative a part of a greater coalition of forces that span the galaxy. The threats the lanterns face are cosmic and take place in expansive locales, across stars and planets. At the same time, as the universe grows larger, it simultaneously becomes smaller. Once the territory has been foraged and penetrated, what was once mysterious is now novel and banal. It’s fortunate that the guardians are so apt to destroy their own galactic pacification force; otherwise the lanterns would eventually die of boredom.
Bent on discovering a new way to pass the time (my assumption), Guy Gardener has tasked himself to rebuild the JLA after a large catastrophe that has decimated the solidarity of the League. “Born Once Again” is the first chapter of a new conflict, but what I can gather is that the conflict brought forth by Weapons Master is a red herring obscuring a larger plot. A Dominator, played by an Asian stereotype with a lisp, helms the conspiracy to abscond with Guy Gardener’s power ring. What comes of this will develop, only I don’t have those issues. (Story of my life…)
While the plot is threadbare, it does evoke an intriguing contemporary conflict that the Free World had, at that time, just evaded. I’m referring to the Cold War, the arms race between the NATO and WarPac communities. Gardener’s role in rebuilding the League is motivated by ego (like most postwar politics) and his need to exert his will over the new team’s dynamics and strategies, but also comes on the cusp of a major assault on the League headquarters. The analogue between the recoveries of post war peacetime of recent 20th century conflicts is apparent, but of greater importance is the uncertainty that accompanies a narrow victory. If The Justice League of America, a world superpower in its own right, faces extinction, what does that mean for the Free World? Americans outspent the Soviets’ defense budget, but what are we going to do with all these unused ICBMs? Though his appearance is brief, the presence of Maxwell Lord proves that where nations have fallen, larger holding corporations are quick to capitalize on the cheap real estate upon which to build a satellite empire. Superman, of course, puts a stop to the merger. After all, he’s a populist.
What Weapons Master has to do with the larger story of the arc is, at this point, vague and subject to speculation. In the issue at hand he acts as a nuclear deterrent to the League, albeit unintentionally. After all, he’s just there for Gardener’s power ring. Between the League and Weapons Master, each side is paired evenly, although the battle is primarily contingent upon intelligence gathering, which Weapons Master had diligently undertaken in earlier issues. Just like the Cold War, each side makes little ground and stalemates on the precedent of mutual uncertainty. Bloodwynd, a Leaguer powered by magic, is the wrench thrown in Weapons Master’s machine. As far as what magic means, in the grand scheme of a Cold War analogy, I’m not sure. Maybe Bloodwynd is Henry Kissinger? Both have soothing, velvety voices.
(Is it appropriate to mention that the issue ends with a game of wits, styled after a chess board, played with real people? I’ll leave the parallels to WarGames for another day.)
I am a DCU fan, so my bias is apparent, but what I’ve always enjoyed about DC comics is the general practice of digging deep into the ethics and philosophy of current events. I have no doubt that Dan Jurgens was likely not aware of the subliminal breadcrumbs that he laid throughout this issue. Yet, what this demonstrates is the salience of Cold War realpolitik that dominated the culture of the time. As the 80s finished and the 90s began, DCU characters were growing into a mold that didn’t fit the previous decades. They were becoming socially conscious and self-aware, as if they were being directed by James Cameron. During this time, Grant Morrison was bending mind and space with his Animal Man reboot and the effects were rippling outward into the DCU. All the while Marvel was firing Chris Claremont and Image was being tested for HGH and other performance enhancing drugs in their new line. But DC, like Paas, was still performing with flying colors in Justice League America. God bless America.