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Saturday, September 25, 2010

JLA: Liberty and Justice - 2003

Comics Weekend "Liberty and Justice" by Paul Dini and Alex Ross.

Hoo boy, this is going to be fun!

JLA: Liberty and Justice was the sixth and final of the oversized one-shots by Paul Dini and Alex Ross, published in 2003 and featuring all the members of the League (and a few others!) in a literally world-shaking adventure.

The story opens with each of the original JLAers doing what they do best--being heroes. Martian Manhunter is saving an out-of-control plane, Flash is solving a bank robbery, Green Lantern is stopping a hurricane, and Aquaman is, as always, protecting the seven seas and the creatures that live there:
I've said this before, but these two pages remain for me one of Aquaman's greatest moments, period. I remember reading this book the first time and thinking, when I got to this part, the rest of the book could suck and it would still have been worth it, if just for these two pages. But of course, it didn't...

Anyway, Wonder Woman meets up with Manhunter to tell him that they are wanted at the Pentagon--on a top secret mission.

Manhunter sends out a mental call to the other members. Some, like Superman and Aquaman, are busy. But the others can make it, and one--Batman, of course--is, as Manhunter puts it, "Almost ready before I call him."

Four of the JLAers meet at the Pentagon and are told what the situation is--some sort of mass virus is breaking out, starting in Africa, and spreading at a rate previously unseen on Earth. Manhunter hears Batman enter this thoughts, which briefly startles him:
Manhunter, Flash, and Green Lantern head for the hot spot, and find hundreds of victims of the outbreak--but they're not dead; instead, they are all completely paralyzed. Flash and GL find the epicenter of the virus, a small meteorite. Meanwhile, Manhunter--changing form into a human relief worker--comforts the sick.

Batman sends a message asking Flash to bring the meteor to the Batcave, so he can examine it (cutting off communication without answering Wonder Woman's query as to how he tapped into her invisible plane's radio frequency, a wonderfully Batman-esque touch).

Flash is running across the surface of the ocean, carrying the meteor in a protective bubble courtesy GL. Unbeknownst to all of them, Flash's haz-mat suit has a rip in it, and while he's treading across the surface of the water, he grows weak and collapses. Luckily Aquaman is there to save him:
Meanwhile, news of the epidemic can not be contained, and it starts being reported around the world, causing panic!

Aquaman, with Flash in tandem, has sent out a call to the nearest vessel, which is a Russian submarine:
Aquaman, not realizing he too is susceptible to the meteor's effects, passes out. When he wakes up, he finds himself in the brig, along with the Flash.

Not being the most patient of fellows, Aquaman begins pounding on the walls, trying to get his Russian captors to free them. They don't immediately comply, so he starts "asking" a little louder:
...another great Aquaman moment. I love the sheer force on display, brought off perfectly by Ross, as Aquaman pounds through metal.

The Russians draw their guns, but before things get worse, Wonder Woman arrives to rescue them both, and get them and the meteor to the Bat-Cave.

While Green Lantern uses his ring (which only has a few hours of power left) to keep all the victims alive via iron lungs, Batman examines the meteor with the help of another JLAer, The Atom!

The Atom is at first worried Batman doesn't have the experimental chemicals on hand needed to create an anti-dote, but of course he does. Since the virus can mutate near instantly, the Atom needs to see it, for himself, up close. He jumps aboard a needle, and is injected into The Flash's system.

Meanwhile, more news reports are broadcast about the virus, and some begin to question if this crisis should be handled by masked superheroes, "some of whom aren't even human." Oh, that darn Fox News!

The Atom encounters the virus, and relays a message to Batman the precise balance of chemicals needed to counteract it. Batman mixes the medicinal cocktail, and it immediately revives the Flash. He then uses his super-steed to synthesize it in mass quantities, and he takes off.

As chaos begins to break out on the streets of America, Superman (who has joined his teammates at the Bat-Cave), Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and the Atom decide what to do:
We see the JLAers fan out: Green Arrow and Black Canary stop a militia from taking over a small bar (and claiming its waitresses as a "prize"), Hawkman and Hawkgirl stop rioters, and others, like Zatanna, Captain Marvel, Red Tornado, Plastic Man, Elongated Man, and Metamorpho help prevent crime and restore order.

News reports, featuring footage of scary-looking "heroes" like Metamorpho and Plastic Man, help stoke the fires of panic. Even Aquaman and the Atom, not used to urban combat, get in on the action:
Batman stops his old foe Poison Ivy from taking advantage of the panic, and Wonder Woman rounds up a throng of rioters with her Magic Lasso.

One woman, sure the world was ending, decides to end it all by jumping off a bridge. But, luckily...

...no one dies tonight.

Meanwhile, Flash and Green Lantern use their combined powers to create a wind tunnel which will blow the contaminated air into space. The crisis--at least, the easier one--is over.

But there's still a lot of public trust to rebuild, so the next day the JLA makes an address at the United Nations, led by Superman. But as we see, this event is being covered by mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, so...?

In the middle of Superman's speech, he reveals himself to actually be the Martian Manhunter, who was initially shy about presenting himself so prominently to the people of Earth. He apologizes for the JLA's inadvertent blindness about how people perceive them, and he promises they will work harder at mutual trust, essential for them to do their work. In the back of the main U.N. hall, billionaire industrialist Bruce Wayne smiles.

Manhunter reiterates the League's mission and what it means:
Finally, he and Superman carry the meteorite into space, where Superman immolates it with his heat vision. Gazing at the Earth from space, Manunter hopes one day earthlings will see their home with the childlike wonder that he does. The end.

As you can tell from my breathless description, I simply love this comic. Not only is it a giant, treasury-sized Justice League adventure (something we came close to in the 70s, but never quite got), but its just a great story, perfectly executed.

It features all the classic members of the League (minus Firestorm, one could argue), as well as some heroes that probably should have been on the team, many of them getting a great little moment. Some, like Aquaman, getting more than one great moment. I may be crazy, but I think this would make a great template for a JLA movie.

Alex Ross is a professed Aquaman fan, so I think we can safely assume his significant role in the story is at least partially because of him. That initial two-page sequence should open any Aquaman comic in perpetuity, it so perfectly encapsulates the character in just a few sentences.

(Special Thanks to a F.O.A.M.er, who asked to remain anonymous, who oh-so-helpfully provided me with scans of all this entire book. Couldn't have done it without you!)


Wings1295 said...

Truly a great book, not just comic book, but great, classic book. All one has to read to see why the Super-Heroes, Aquaman or the JLA have such devoted fans.

Just amazingly great. Want to dig out my copy & reread it today.

Wings1295 said...

And thanks from the rest of us, too, for the F.O.A.M. member who did the scans.

rob! said...

Want to dig out my copy & reread it today.

I heartily endorse that idea!

wich2 said...

"all the classic members of the League (minus Firestorm, one could argue)"

Not this '60's kid!

Great book. Great blog post.

(The greatest, most underappreciated, thing to ever happen to ever-shrinking comics.)

-Craig W.

Brent said...

My favorite part was seeing Aquaman in "disguise" out in the "real world". I know his main domain is the water, but so rarely have we seen him out amongst the surface-dwellers...AND still being useful.

Oh, and a nice change to see him rescuing someone, instead of the other way 'round.

JasonMotesBowles said...

I'm pretty sure Alex Ross HATES Firestorm. He wrote him out of Kingdom Come as well. I find that annoying, especially when he insists on shoving Shazam and Plastic Man into every JLA project he does, when they were never members.

David J. Cutler said...

They were members in the 80s and 90s respectively, Jason, although I guess not classically though. I don't begrudge him using his favorite characters in his DC projects, though, I'm sure any of us would do the same. I'd somehow managed to never hear of Firestorm until the early 2000s, so this league works great for me. all the characters were created between 37 and 61 (I think), gives it such an epic, iconic feel. I'm sure Firestorm wasn't long after that (71? 72?) but he has a very very different feel for me.

Brent said...

@David: 1978, FYI

IADW said...

This book is brilliant, and one of those you can never read enough of.

May favourite Aqua spot had to be the crack at the Flash about running over the water. It was just great to see Ross and Dini show the industry that you can have Aquaman lose the gruff and survive it.

Plaidstallions said...

My wife and I looked into buying original art from this, the person at Ross art suggested the shot with the whale and told us it was his absolute favourite.

However, for over 10K my wife wanted the whole justice league.....to deliver it.