“The Lightning Saga,” the JLA/JSA/Legion of Super-Heroes teamup story running through Justice League of America and Justice Society of America, reaches its penultimate chapter, and so, we reach the next to last in this series of annotations. JLA writer Brad Meltzer and JSA scribe Geoff Johns clearly have a soft spot for the DC stories of the 1970s and 1980s, but some of the references from that era that they include here might elude newer comics readers. So I’ve put together this guide. To read the first three sets of these annotations, you can click here, here and here, respectively, and for the next and final one in the series, click here. And now, on with the minutia of past wonders…
Justice Society of America #6
“The Lightning Saga, Chapter Four”
Cover art: As was the case with JSA #5, the regular-cover edition of this issue features no indication on the cover that this is part of the JLA/JSA crossover, no mention of “The Lightning Saga.” Given that this has happened twice in a row, and that this cover features a continuing series of single-character portraits by comics painter Alex Ross, I can only assume that DC doesn’t want to break the format or that Ross has negotiated some sort of deal to ensure as little cover dress as possible intrudes on his artwork. As for the variant cover by Phil Jimenez and Rod Reis, again, it appears to be part of a larger image, with the variant covers connecting to form one along poster.
The cover features Damage, a new member of the Justice Society, and he is more prominently featured in this chapter of the crossover. He is Grant Emerson, and he has explosive super-powers, the result of genetic experimentation by immortal villain Vandal Savage. Genetically, he is the child of the Golden Age Atom, and his current costume is patterned after his. Damage’s powers actually seem to resemble those of the Golden Age Human Bomb, a member of the original Freedom Fighters. That explains Damage’s brief association as a member of a modern version of the Freedom Fighters (as seen in Infinite Crisis, not the recent Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters limited series).
Page 1: The headshots lining the splash-page panel (as well as those of the Legionnaires a few pages later) are in keeping with previous JLA/JSA crossovers in the 1970s and ’80s. The “Jay” referred to in Superman’s narration captions is Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash. “The Legion of Three Worlds” is a new reference, but could easily be explained by the three different incarnations of the Legion of Super-Heroes: the original versions, the post-Zero Hour (a mid-1990s Crisis-like crossover) reboot incarnations of the characters and the newly rebooted team featured in the current Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes series.
Page 2: “The first Crisis” refers to Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Page 3: The lightning-rod ceremony to resurrect Lightning Lad (from Adventure Comics #312, as noted in the previous set of annotations) is exactly as Superman describes it. Lightning Lad died in the Silver Age fighting Zaryan the Conqueror.
Pages 4-5: Karate Kid refers to the Legion’s founders — Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl — as the team’s “Big Three.” This mirrors a reference to the Justice League’s “Big Three” — Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Judging from a plotline that’s unfolding in DC’s new weekly series, Countdown, Karate Kid will be remaining in the 21st century after this adventure (as will Starman, but he was already a new member of the Justice Society). This won’t mark the first time Karate Kid has spent time in the past. He had his own short-lived ongoing series in the 1970s, during the peak of popularity of martial-arts movies and TV shows. He eventually returned to the future and the Legion.
Page 6: Starman refers to Night Girl. She is Lydda Jath, a member of the Legion of Substitute Heroes (a team of heroes made up primarily of teens denied membership in the Legion of Super-Heroes) and Cosmic Boy’s lover. She hailed from the planet Kathoon, which was in a state of constant darkness. Night Girl has super-strength, but only in the dark. Starman also calls a swamp-dwelling snake a “swamp thing.” That refers to the Swamp Thing, an earth elemental that’s had his own DC titles over the years.
The Multiverse is a concept that’s been newly reintroduced into DC continuity. Before Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC’s heroes populated multiple parallel worlds (an infinite number, as the 1980s crossover event title suggests) before everything was consolidated into one world, one continuity. At the end of 52 last month, DC revealed the Multiverse was back, but limited to 52 worlds.
Page 7: Earth-22 is the setting for Kingdom Come, Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s 1996 story of a dark, alternate future for the DC Universe. The current incarnation of Starman was introduced in that four-part, prestige-format series.
Page 9: The chapter title — presented in Interlac characters here — is “Three Worlds” (see earlier reference). Suicide Swamp is located just outside of Gotham City. It’s where the remains of a dead merchant transformed into a zombie swamp behemoth named Solomon Grundy, a super-villain that has plagued the Justice Society, Justice League and individual members of both teams over the years. He was also the mastermind villain from the first story arc of the current Justice League of America series. The reason Liberty Belle is such a big proponent of marriage here is because she’s a newlywed, having recently married the current Hourman.
The incorporation of the individual heroes’ logos is a tradition dating back not only to the original JLA/JSA teamups but to Golden Age Justice Society adventures in All-Star Comics. Liberty Belle also refers to the new Mr. America. There was a Golden Age Mr. America, but a second person to adopt the heroic guise was introduced in the first issue of this new JSA series. He was also killed in that issue, but by the end of that first story arc, his FBI partner took up the mantle of the patriotic hero.
Page 10: “Jess” is Jesse Chambers, AKA the new Liberty Belle. Black Lightning’s offer to tutor Damage privately is in keeping with his character. He’s former schoolteacher Jefferson Pierce and the former secretary of education from ousted U.S. president Lex Luthor’s cabinet.
Page 11: What we see here in the first panel is the ruins of the Hall of Doom, the one-time secret headquarters of the Legion of Doom. There’s just one problem: it’s never been a part of DC continuity. The Legion of Doom was a group of super-villains from The Challenge of the Super Friends cartoon in the 1970s. It was also reintroduced as the headquarters of the villainous Secret Society in the recent Justice League Unlimited cartoon. And Alex Ross used the general design and look of the structure as the basis for a super-villain prison in Kingdom Come. And as for Black Lightning wearing “Garth’s uniform,” the silhouetted characters are noting that his costume design is quite similar to that of Lightning Lad, AKA Garth Ranzz.
Pages 12-13: The first clue that Triplicate Girl is not the final missing Legionnaire is the fact that she is not from the same era as the rest of the time-lost Legionnaires. Triplicate Girl was from the Silver Age Legion, and the rest of the Legion members in this story are from the 1970s/1980s era. Furthermore, she is not wearing a Legion flight ring as the others have (which also serves as part of the memory-restoration trigger). Triplicate Girl later became Duo Damsel after one of her bodies was killed. The tentacled robot that emerges at the end of this two-page sequence is the one responsible for that partial murder. It is the mechanized menace called Computo, a creation of Brainiac 5.
Page 14: Younger readers may not know this, but the Speak N’ Spell was a children’s toy, a fairly basic, “talking” computer that helped kids with spelling.
Page 18: Note that the heroes who connected to cats and wolves complain about getting wet. The younger Wildcat’s comment to his father is a nod to the original Wildcat’s career as a championship boxer. Heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali used to quip that he “floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee.”
Page 19: The Legion flight rings’ jamming capability is a new trait, as far as I know, and its ability to interfere in part with a Green Lantern power ring would make it seem far more powerful and versatile than it’s been in the past. Dawnstar utters the Interlac phrase we’ve come to know so well in this story arc; it reads, “Lightning Lad.”
Page 21: The afore-mentioned death of one of Triplicate Girl’s bodies is replicated here.
Page 23: Sensor Girl first joined the Legion during the Silver Age as Princess Projectra of the planet Orando. She has illusion casting powers. In the 1980s, Legion of Super-Heroes writer Paul Levitz had her rejoin the Legion as Sensor Girl, keeping her true identity a secret not only from readers but from other Legionnaires as well. Her blonde hair, cape and the way she used her illusion-casting powers were designed to make people think it was Supergirl behind the mask.