With Brad Meltzer’s relaunch of a more traditional JLA series with Justice League of America v.2, he and Justice Society of America writer Geoff Johns have brought back another 1970s/’80s tradition, and that’s the annual JLA/JSA teamup. Both writers have demonstrated that their super-hero work draws upon the continuity from that period, which coincides with their youth. As a result, a wide variety of characters, conventions and continuity points come into play in their writing, so newer readers may find some reference material handy. As such, Eye on Comics presents an annotated guide to the “The Lightning Saga.” The first chapter is covered here; a separate post on the second chapter can be found here.
Justice League of America #8
“The Lightning Saga, Chapter One”
Cover art and general comments: Both the regular and variant editions of the book feature the Batman and Mr. Terrific on the covers, while the former features Karate Kid, the latter, new Justice Society inductee Starman. What’s notable about both covers is that they each feature a member from the three teams spotlighting in this team-up tale: the JLA, the JSA and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Karate Kid and Starman (when he was Star Boy) are members of the Legion, a team of super-heroes from the far flung future (the 30th or 31st centuries, depending on which Legion comics you’re reading).
However, the Legion of Super-Heroes featured in “The Lightning Saga” is not the same team featured in the current ongoing series Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Meltzer and Johns seem to have opted, not surprisingly, to use the 1970s/’80s-era Legion characters for this story. Also notable about this era is that much of Legion lore in the 1980s was written by current DC Comics president Paul Levitz. Both Karate Kid and Starman sport their 1970s costumes (though Starman’s is an Alex Ross-tweaked version, first seen in Kingdom Come, an Elseworlds limited series published in 1996).
Page 1: I’m not going to bother discussing the core lineups of the title teams, but additional characters do merit introductions (or reintroductions, as the case may be). In the first panel, joining Justice Leaguer Red Arrow and JSA member Wildcat is Geo-Force. It would seem from this story that he’s now a member of the Justice League. Geo-Force is Prince Brion Markov, monarch of Markovia. He has earth-based powers (gravity control and “lava” blasts), and in the previous issue of this series, he developed the earth-moving powers of his late sister, Tara Markov, AKA the traitorous Teen Titan known as Terra. Geo-Force’s presence among the Justice Leaguers stems from the fact that two of his former teammates from the original Outsiders — the Batman and Black Lightning — are members as well. The character was created by Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo for the Batman and the Outsiders series in the 1980s.
Judging from his appearance in this storyline (and from the Justice League origin feature in the back of 52 Week 50), Geo-Force is a member of the new Justice League of America. Makes one wonder what all that voting stuff was all about in the first story arc.
The narrative caption in the first panel noting that the three heroes are in the Kitchen refers to the combat-simulation room aboard the Justice League’s new satellite headquarters. The Kitchen is highly reminiscent of the X-Men’s Danger Room, or the Star Trek franchise’s holodecks. A caption in the second panel refers to the locale as the Hall. That’s the Hall of Justice, the League’s more public HQ on Earth. Black Canary refers to Mr. Terrific by his civilian name. His full name is Michael Holt.
In the third panel, someone is dressed up in the costume of Trident, a villain introduced in the 1980s by Marv Wolfman and George Perez in their New Teen Titans v.1 series. It’s not Trident, though, it’s…
Page 2-3 spread: … Karate Kid, as revealed in the third panel. He wears a Legion flight ring, which, as its name suggests, grants the wearer the ability to fly. It also serves as a communication device for Legionnaires and, as revealed later, a homing-signal device. The fifth panel shows that Karate Kid is (or had been) under the mind-controlling influence of a Starro spawn. Starro the Conqueror is a longtime JLA villain that employs miniatures versions of its starfish form to mentally dominate and control other sentient beings.
Karate Kid’s appearance in this storyline might explain why early, promotional art for the first issue of this JLA series featured the character in a group of shot of potential members. It also merits note that Karate Kid was the star of his own short-lived series in the 1970s. The premise behind the Karate Kid title saw the hero from the future living in the 20th century. It’s likely that the Legion spinoff series stemmed from the popularity of martial-arts movies at the time.
The Batman’s reference to “Clark’s” information on Karate Kid is obviously a reference to Superman, AKA Clark Kent. In past continuity, Superman was a member of the Legion during his teen years, when he went by the name Superboy. More recent changes to continuity eliminated those adventures in the future, so what this story has to say about the current status of DC continuity isn’t entirely clear.
Page 4: In the third panel, we see Vixen, AKA Mari McCabe, monitoring the action in the Kitchen. She refers to “Kendra,” namely Kendra Saunders, AKA the new Hawkgirl.
Page 5: The “Jeff” referred to in the first panel is Jefferson Pierce, AKA Black Lightning. “Dinah” is Dinah Lance, AKA the Black Canary.
Page 6: Apparently, Hawkgirl is “faster than Carter,” namely Carter Hall, AKA Hawkman, who has been a member of both the JLA and JSA. In panel four, Mr. Terrific refers to Green Lantern by his given name, Hal Jordan.
Page 10: It’s fitting that Mr. Terrific declares “checkmate” in the double-chess game, as he’s the White King in the international espionage/diplomacy agency, Checkmate (in the current ongoing series of the same name).
Page 11: The Batman refers to “the Amazing Kreskin” in the sixth panel. Kreskin is a real-world mentalist who had his own network TV show in Canada in the 1970s, which was syndicated in the United States.
Page 15: The Red Tornado’s civilian guise is “John Smith,” an alias the android super-hero adopted so he could more closely interact with humanity.
Page 16: In the fourth panel, Mr. Terrific refers to Starman as being in “the looney bin.” This incarnation of the character is mentally ill but nevertheless is allowed to leave the psychiatric facility he calls home in order to do heroic deeds and participate in JSA missions.
Page 17: The scene is a New York hospital in 1948. With a team of super-heroes from the future playing a prominent role in the story, time-travel elements should come as no surprise. The Ultra-Humanite is a male scientist who discovers how to prolong his life indefinitely by transplanting his brain into other bodies. One of those was actress Dolores Winters in the 1940s. The Ultra-Humanite ultimately transplanted his brain into the body of a powerful albino ape, and that’s the form in which he is best known.
Page 18: With Wonder Woman’s golden lasso tied around him in the first panel, Karate Kid can only tell the truth, allowing the heroes to verify his story. In the second panel, Wonder Woman notes they need “J’Onn.” She’s referring to J’Onn J’Onzz, the Martian Manhunter, whose powers include telepathy. And as for the name Mr. Terrific drops, Power Girl’s civilian identity is Karen Starr.
In panel four, Starman says, “The white angel’s screaming.” Judging from what we saw in the previous issue of this series, he’s like referring to Dream Girl. We saw her being tortured in #7, she’s dressed in white, and as Starman’s lover, she’d be his “angel.” In the sixth panel, Starman speaks Interlac, the universal language of the Legion’s future. The phrase he utters to unlock Karate Kid’s memory is “Lightning Lad.” Lightning Lad is a founding member of the Legion. In recent years, the character has gone by the name “Live Wire.”
In the final page on this page, Starman again makes a reference to the screaming white angel. The specific mention of C-sharp indicates he could be talking about another character: Tyroc, a male Legionnaire, clad all in white, whose power stems from his voice. The howling wolf to which Starman refers might be a reference to Timber Wolf, another Legionnaire.
Page 19: The final caption on the page notes that the two teams gather “nineteen minutes later.” Perhaps this is a reference to novelist Jodi Picoult’s latest book Nineteen Minutes. Like Meltzer, Picoult is a novelist who has recently delved into the realm of super-hero comics writing with her five-issue run on Wonder Woman.
Page 20-21 spread: The Justice League and the Justice Society formally team up to investigate the Legion mystery, but despite the crisis, they’re still social. This scene — and the storyline in general — harkens back to the JLA/JSA teamups featured in Justice League of America v.1 that began in the Silver Age of comics and continued on an annual basis. To keep them from getting to repetitive, a new formula arose in the 1970s that saw writers bring a third team of heroes into the mix annually.
Among the other groups of heroes to team with the JLA and JSA back in the day were the Freedom Fighters, the Seven Soldiers of Victory, the New Gods, the Earth-S heroes (the Marvel family and others), the All-Star Squadron and, yes, the Legion of Super-Heroes. In JLA v.1 #s 147 and 148, the three teams worked together in “Crisis in the 30th Century!”
Curiously absent from the gathering of the two teams is the original Wildcat (AKA Ted Grant), yet the newest Wildcat (his son, Tom Grant) appears. Sand tells Geo-Force his powers are approaching “Alec Holland levels.” A murder attempt and lab accident transformed Alec Holland into the Swamp Thing, an earth elemental. Hourman tells Red Arrow he no longer takes his strength-enhancing Miraclo drug in pill form and that it’s no longer addictive. Red Arrow is interested because as the teen hero Speedy, he was addicted to heroin for a time. Dr. Mid-Nite and Black Canary’s awkward conversation taps into the brief romantic dalliance they shared. Hawkman’s interest in Green Lantern’s resurrection stems from the fact that the winged hero has been resurrected time and time again over the centuries since his time as a prince in ancient Egypt.
Page 22: In the third panel, the heroes discuss non-Legionnaires who have had Legion flight rings. “Booster” is Booster Gold, a disgraced professional athlete-turned janitor who stole pieces of technology from a museum in the 25th century and travelled back to the present day to become a hero. Vril Dox is a native of the planet Colu, leader of the interplanetary police force known as L.E.G.I.O.N. and is an ancestor of Brainiac 5, another Legionnaire. Superman would have had a ring from his time in the future, and “Kara,” AKA Supergirl, travelled to the future and joined the Legion as well, earning her a ring.
In the fourth panel, the time-lost Legionnaires are referred to as “seven soldiers.” In JLA v.1 #s 100-102, the JLA and JSA teamed up to rescue a group of World War II super-heroes — the Seven Soldiers of Victory — who were, yes, lost throughout time.
Page 23: The leaders of the JLA and JSA propose splitting up into smaller groups, another JLA/JSA teamup tradition. The JSA roster on the right indicates both the new and old Wildcats are, in fact, participating in the story. And at the bottom of the page, the chapter title printed in Interlac is, again, “Lightning Lad.”
For annotations for Justice Society of America #5, the second chapter of “The Lightning Saga,” click here.