And here we go with the third in a series of five sets of annotations for “The Lightning Saga,” the JLA/JSA/Legion of Super-Heroes teamup story arc currently unfolding in DC’s Justice League of America and Justice Society of America. Writers Brad Meltzer (JLA) and Geoff Johns (JSA) have crafted a tale in the tradition of the JLA/JSA annual teamups of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, but some decades-old references may escape newer readers. Hopefully, these annotations will be of assistance to new readers and forgetful longtime fans such as me. Click here to read the first set of annotations and here to read the second set. This time around, we turn our attention to the middle chapter of the story…
Justice League of America #9
“The Lightning Saga, Chapter Three”
Cover art: The regular cover — by Michael Turner — features one member of each of the three teams: Hawkman (Justice Society), Dawnstar (Legion) and Red Arrow (Justice League). Turner did the same for his cover art for JLA #8. As for the variant cover by Phil Jimenez, it’s clear now that it’s just a part of a larger image; it seems the five variant covers will connect to form one image.
Page 1: In the first panel, we’re told the Legionnaires “act like a JLU — a Justice League of the Universe.” It’s an accurate description, but the “JLU” comment is clearly a reference to the recently concluded Justice League Unlimited cartoon, or JLU for short. Red Tornado’s uneasiness since “the Grundy fight” refers to the first story arc of this series, in which the android hero lived for a short time in a human body before a devastating battle with the evil and brutally powerful Solomon Grundy forced him back into the artificial form.
Black Canary’s reference to the Tornado possible going “all Westworld on us” is a reference to the 1973 sci-fi movie Westworld. In that movie, the super-rich are entertained in an amusement park that provides its customers a way to live out fantasies through the use of robots designed to suit their adventures. Two patrons opt for a Western adventure, but they find themselves hunted by a robot gunslinger after a computer glitch. A responsometer is the feeling computer brain created by Dr. Will Magnus. Magnus’s robots, the Metal Men, each contain a responsometer that serves as each machine’s artificial intelligence.
Page 2: The heroes comment on the ordinary nature of the belt that emerged from Wildfire’s body in the previous chapter. It looks like the Batman’s belt, but has no hidden compartments or devices, and it resembles Legionnaire Brainiac 5’s forcefield belt as well. It’s neither. In the third panel, Dr. Mid-Nite is about to tell Dream Girl that his JSA teammate Sandman can help her sleep (he can emit sleeping gas from his gloves). In the fourth panel, “Brainy” is a reference to Brainiac 5, the 12th-level intellect member of the Legion and time-travel expert. Karate Kid also refers to “the Middle Crisis.” I assume the first Crisis was the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and the middle one is the Infinite Crisis. Another Crisis is to come, apparently.
Page 3: The reason Wildfire has words of advice for the Tornado, who is trapped once again in an artificial body, is because Wildfire is a non-corporeal energy being trapped in his containment suit.
Page 4: Vixen’s powers don’t work like Buddy’s… Buddy being Buddy Baker, AKA Animal Man. He can take on the abilities of an animal with the range of his powers. Vixen can take on any animal’s power, regardless of proximity. In the Grant Morrison run on Animal Man in the late 1980s, it was posited that the aliens who gave Animal Man his powers might have been connected to the animal totem from which Vixen derives her abilities.
Page 5: Gorilla City is a hidden civilization of, well, gorillas that has achieved technological superiority and social harmony. Its one deviant is Gorilla Grodd. It was first discovered by humanity when the Silver Age Flash (Barry Allen) happened upon it (and now, apparently, the Golden Age Flash is familiar with the site as well). Solovar was the now-deceased leader of Gorilla City. Nnamdi is his son.
Page 6: The newly born albino gorilla is referred to as “Nzame.” Nzame, also known as Naz and Nzambi, is the creator god from African mythology.
Pages 8-9: The “lone wolf” mentioned earlier is revealed as Timber Wolf, AKA Brin Londo. This Legionnaire’s power is super-agility.
Pages 10-11: Vixen once had a Wolverine-esque hairstyle like Timber Wolf’s. Timber Wolf’s memory is unlocked with the Interlac phrase “Lightning Lad,” just as his teammates’ minds were in previous chapters. Thanagar is an alien world to which Hawkman and Hawkgirl are linked; its police force is winged and flies thanks to the use of Nth Metal. The Javelin is the Justice League’s jet/spaceship (originally introduced in the Justice League cartoon, now apparently adopted by the team’s comic-book incarnation).
Page 12: Hawkman’s claim that he’s travelled forward through time for 4,000 years is a reference to his repeated reincarnations as various heroes over the centuries.
Page 17: The woman with her head cut open is Delores Winters, whom we saw in the second chapter of the story. She was the host body for the brain of the Ultra-Humanite, which has apparently been transplanted elsewhere. The Humanite, who is better known in his albino gorilla form, clearly has some kind of connection to the “Nzame” baby in Gorilla City.
page 18: The Ultra-Humanite, center, is joined by Per Degaton, left, and Despero. Per Degaton is an old, time-travelling Justice Society enemy, a former lab assistant with delusions of grandeur. Despero — seen here in his Silver Age incarnation rather than the bulkier modern form — is an alien despot; he would later gain mental and physical powers when he took on his current form. Dawnstar (who shows up shortly) is a Legionnaire as well. Her powers are unaided space flight and superhuman, galactic-level tracking. her home planet is Starhaven, colonized by Native Americans.
Page 19: Hawkgirl’s reference to Red Arrow as “Sarcastic Lad” is a clear homage to the simple super-hero codenames adopted by the Legion members in the Silver Age.
Page 20: Apparently, Dawnstar is gay. I believe that’s a new character trait.
Page 22: The belt apparently contains seven little lightning rods. Apparently, this group of Legionnaires is carrying out a mission similar or even identical to one another group of Legionnaires did in the Silver Age. After founding member Lightning Lad was killed, a group of Legionnaires learned they could resurrect him by sacrificing one of their lives in the midst of an alien lightning storm. Six Legionnaires each held a lightning rod, hoping that he or she would be the one to be sacrificed. In the end, it was Proty, Chameleon Boy’s shapeshifting pet, who sacrificed himself (disguised as Saturn Girl). The story unfolded in Adventure Comics #312. Oh, and “nass” is a 30th century curse word.
Page 23: See? I was right about the Lightning Lad resurrection mission. Again, Dawnstar’s memory is restored when someone says “Lightning Lad” in Interlac. The chapter title is also in Interlac; it says “Suicide.”