Comics Reviews: JLA 164, Superboy & the Legion 249, Jonah Hex 22

JLA 164 coverJustice League of America #164 – “Murder by Melody” – Gerry Conway/Dick Dillin/Frank McLaughlin

This one starts with Red Tornado (still recovering from injury) on the JLA Satellite dictating recent events. Yup, this is one of those issues where most of it is told in flashback, with the added twist of it being narrated by Red Tornado. I really don’t like that particular storytelling device, but it  was used a lot at DC back in the late 70s. I’ll try to keep my retelling as straightforward as possible and hopefully my tenses won’t get too tangled. Reddy briefly recaps last issue, where Anton Allegro tried to kill all the people he thought had wronged him (including Oliver Queen) and Zatanna found out her mother might beRed Tornado dictation alive in the spirit realm, but her father had blocked her memory because he was afraid her mother’s spirit might be crazy. When Zatanna tried to contact her mother, she got a brief glimpse then the image vanished. In the meantime, Wonder Woman arrived and chaired a meeting, where Batman mentioned that Allegro’s synthesizer (which can create solid monsters out of music) might be magical. Zatanna says she heard music while trying to contact her mother, so she figures Allegro’s synthesizer screwed up the magical continuum and that’s why she couldn’t get a better fix on her mother. She says if they can get the synthesizer, maybe she can use it to open a rift to the dimension where her mother is. So Zatanna, Flash, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and Black Canary went to track down Allegro, leaving the others on the Satellite to pinpoint the mystic orchestrabarrier imprisoning Zatanna’s mother. In Star City, Allegro was conjuring up a phantom orchestra, whose music he transmitted over the airwaves, causing everyone who heard it to lose their minds. In Allegro’s crappy apartment, the JLA doesn’t find any overt clues, so Flash starts vibrating in case Allegro hid something on a different vibrational plane. Turns out he did; a book of some kind, but before Flash could grab it, the TV turned on spontaneously, broadcasting Allegro’s hypnotic music to the apartment. Flash lost his shit and crashed into the table and the other Leaguers were driven almost nuts by the music. Wonder Woman smashed the TV, but somehow the music kept playing until Zatanna conjured up some noise-canceling headphones. Flash told her about the book and she brought it into Earth’s dimension. It turned out to be some forbidden magical tome and Zatanna came up with a plan to defeat Allegro that involved Black Canary. The JLA tracked Allegro to the old concert hall and attacked, but his magical creatures slapped Flash, GL, and Wonder Woman around. They were just aZatanna and Black Canary attack distraction so Zatanna and Black Canary could get close enough to strike. Black Canary used her canary cry, enhanced by Zatanna’s magic, which destroyed Allegro’s creatures and stunned him long enough for Flash to deck him. Allegro was taken to Arkham Asylum and Zatanna grabbed his synthesizer before returning to the Satellite with the others. The team left behind had found the mystic barrier that was hiding Zatanna’s mother in Northern Turkey. Green Arrow rejoined them (he was hurt by Allegro’s attack last issue) after proving to himself that he hadn’t lost his flair for archery. Zatara remembered meeting Sindella (Zatanna’s mom) for the first time in Turkey when he was fighting some mystical villain. He conjured an earthquake that took out the villain but almost finished Zatara too. He was rescued by Sindella and instantly fell for her, but she disappeared. Some farmers told Zatara they’d Sindella flashbackseen her wandering in the nearby hills and he tracked her down. They fell in love immediately and she returned to America with him and married him, on the condition that he never ask about her past. After Zatanna was born, Sindella was supposedly killed in a car crash, but now Zatara thinks she must be alive, since the mystic barrier is on Earth and not in the spirit world. He almost loses his shit, but Zatanna calms him down. The JLA headed down to Turkey, leaving Red Tornado and Green Arrow behind, and that’s the end of the flashbacks. Now I can finally write in the present tense again. In Turkey, Zatara casts a revealing spell while Zatanna plays Allegro’s funky synth; GL uses his ring to insulate Zatanna while she plays, so she doesn’t go nuts like Allegro did. The magical combo opens a door in mid-air that leads into a city. The JLA head in to explore the place and are almost slammed by a streaking figure. It turns out to be a kid dressed like the logo on a can of Dutch Boy paint. The kid saysHighlord's threats they’re in the Secret City and he’s one of the Hidden Ones, which jogs Zatara’s memory again. The kid says outsiders aren’t allowed in the Secret City and disappears, saying he’s going to warn the Highlord. The Leaguers soon find themselves surrounded by armed magical weirdos who swoop down from the sky. They decide to play it cool and wait for the Highlord to show up. He recognizes Zatara and says he can’t have Sindella back. Apparently, Sindella has something in her brain called the Medulla Jewel which corresponds to the Highlord’s Optic Gem. When he finds out Zatanna is Sindella’s daughter, he brings Sindella out, wearing a weird crown on her head. Highlord says the Medulla Jewel is draining magical power from Sindela’s brain and when it’s all gone she’ll die … and Zatanna will then take her mother’s place. On that ominous note, the issue ends; we’ll have to wait to see what happens next.

Noticeable Things:

  • I’m not sure how Flash heard the music in the apartment if he was on a separate vibrational plane. You’d think sound vibrations wouldn’t travel between planes.
  • The magic book Allegro used to gain his powers is the second volume of “Mystic Abominations” by Jacek. Zatanna says it’s so evil, all copies were officially destroyed but some survived in private collections. Allegro’s edition was published in London in 1756 and reading it is what drove him crazy. As far as I can tell, it’s completely fictitious, not based on any real-world books.
  • If you’re thinking Zatara and Sindella’s instant love-match sounds weird, just wait; it’s explained next issue.

LSH 249 coverSuperboy & the Legion #249 – “Capital Crimes of the Chemical Conqueror” – Gerry Conway/Joe Staton/Jack Abel

This one starts right where last issue left off, with Sun Boy and Brainiac 5 in Legion headquarters being attacked by the giant crap monster that had earlier been ravaging the sewers. That’s right, you heard me. Sun Boy’s powers worked against the creature last issue, but it seems to have adapted since his powers are ineffectual now. Mon-El hears the disturbance, but decides not to leave Shadow Lass’s side, who was hurt by the monster last issue. Brainy expands his force-field to crush the monster and when he examines the unconscious Sun Boy, he finds curious similarities to Shadow Lass’s symptoms. In Metropolis, Superboy, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Phantom Girl, and Cosmic Boy check out R.J. Brande’s building, having received a distress call from BrandeBrande's building last issue. Phantom Girl phases inside to check things out, but before she can report, Superboy smashes in. They find no sign of Brande, but the same slimy shit that assaulted them in the sewers is everywhere. It forms into a pseudo-being and attacks, but Lightning Lad blasts it. Lightning Lad is still unsure of his leadership ability, but Saturn Girl refuses to help him so he finally makes a decision; if the slime creature came out of the sewers, maybe that’s where Brande ended up. Back at headquarters, Brainiac 5 figures out who’s behind the attacks and heads off to find him. Mon-El refuses to come and Brainy says he’ll be sorry. In the sewers, the Legionnaires track down Brande and his kidnapper … Mantis Morlo, the Chemical Conqueror, who Morlo attackthey fought way back in Adventure #363. His slime creature attacks and when Saturn Girl goes after Morlo, his Chemoid bodyguard decks her. Brainy shows up and catches her before she splats, then blasts the Chemoid and the slime creatures. Morlo is knocked out by the feedback and Brainy brags about how he figured out Morlo was the only one with the chemistry knowledge to animate the crap monster. Brainy then gets all snotty and says he’s going back to his lab work. If you’re wondering why Brainy’s been such a dick lately, we find out next issue. But first …

“The Arctoraan Jewel Case” – Paul Kupperberg/Joe Staton

This is a Chameleon Boy solo adventure. He’s been called in by the Science Police to stop a blackmailer who they’ve been unable to trace. The blackmailer has been ripping offJeryl high-level diplomats, his latest being the Ambassador from Arctoraan, whose name is Jeryl. Chameleon Boy is instantly smitten with her … understandable, since she walks around with her tits almost hanging out. She kinda reminds me of Bereet from Hulk Magazine. She claims she’s being blackmailed because she accidentally got mixed up with smugglers years ago; personally, I’m thinking sex tape. Anyway, the SP officer in charge mentions their headquarters (which is at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean) was recently robbed by one of their own gone rogue. He stole a bunch of components that could be used to make a super-spy device, capable of tapping into any computer or surveillance device in the local sector of the galaxy. And the SP headquarters has been having weird power blackouts lately, but when Chameleon Boy suggests the obvious—that the blackouts are due to someone using the super-spy device, which would take tremendous power—the officer says they’ve checked the incoming power cable and it hasn’t been tampered with. Cham says he’ll check it himself blackmailer wrapped upand heads out into the ocean, after transforming into a fish. He noses along the power cable and gets zapped by a microwave projector. He changes into a Nitwonian Nibbybug, which thrives on microwaves, and burrows under the microwave projector to avoid a force-field. He finds dozens of buried cables, probably connected to receptors all over Earth, but the water is flooded with poison and he has to change form again and surface. He tells the SP and Jeryl that whoever’s behind the blackmail must have a way of tracking him in different forms. He suggests Jeryl pay the ransom, which she’s not happy about, but obviously Cham has a plan. Jeryl sends the ransom (a huge gem) through a teleporter where it follows a convoluted route before ending up with the blackmailer—who, of course, turns out to be the rogue SP officer who stole the components for the super-spy device. He thinks he’s smarter than Cham because he has a machine that can detect Cham no matter what shape he takes. He grabs the gem and threatens to vapourize it, but the gem turns out to be real … Cham was actually disguised as the container. He kicks the shit out of the blackmailer, returns the gem, and asks Jeryl out. Judging by her response, I’m thinking Cham’s definitely getting some action.

Jonah Hex 22 coverJonah Hex #22 – “Requiem for a Pack Rat” – Michael Fleisher/Vicente Alcazar

This one starts out in typical Jonah Hex fashion, with a hanging. No, it’s not Hex this time, but a guy he brought in named Lobo, who apparently likes to kill children. Hex is escorting him to the gallows and it seems his hanging has been bumped up a day, since there are just so many bad guys to hang. Lobo is duly hanged and later, in the general store, Hex runs into an old friend of his named Pack Rat Benson. Benson is an old prospector who’s finally hit a lucky strike. He shows Hex a big gold nugget and mentions his whole family is helping him work the claim. He invites Hex to come home with him for supper and they leave. A guy named Diablo was listening to every word in the store and heads out after they leave. We see him return t a couple of his friends and report that Lobo (who they’d been planning to recuse before his hanging) was already dead. Diablo says they can get revenge on Hex for bringing Lobo in andHex shot maybe get rich at the same time. As Hex and Pack Rat are crossing a desert stretch on the way to Pack Rat’s claim, Pack Rat is shot right off the buckboard. Diablo, Nat, and Rafer take Pack Rat’s map and shoot Hex in the leg, leaving him to die in the desert as they ride off on the buckboard. He uses a plank that conveniently fell off the buckboard to make a splint for his leg and a crutch. He then hobbles toward the nearest water hole, seven miles away. Diablo and his friends find Pack Rat’s cabin and wait until nightfall before heading down. Hex makes it to the water hole and drinks before falling asleep from exhaustion. Diablo and his men invade Pack Rat’s cabin and terrorize his family, which consists of his wife (Molly), Molly’s father (who’s deaf and lame), a couple of grown sons, and a grandson. At the water hole the next morning, Hex is attacked by a couple of Sioux warriors. He kills them both but can’t grab a horse, so he cabin fightsettles for a bow and arrows. He takes a short cut over the mountain to Pack Rat’s place. Diablo and his crew send the younger family members to work the mine (watched over by Rafer), planning on killing everyone as soon as they’ve brought out a pile of nuggets. Diablo sends Molly to get water and Hex is waiting by the well. When Molly doesn’t come back, Nat goes to check on her and Hex puts an arrow in him. Hex then goes to the mine and blows Rafer to hell with some dynamite. He returns to the cabin, surprising Diablo, who draws on him. Molly’s father knocks Diablo’s gun from his hand and Hex tackles him. Their brawl starts the cabin on fire and Diablo is buried under falling timbers. Pack Rat’s grandsons drag Hex out of the fire and he thanks the old man for his help. The old man says “cripples” like them have to stick together.

Noticeable Things:

  • This issue is a little strange; Lobo, Diablo, and their two friends, as well as Pack Rat and his family, are all African-American. Nothing wrong with that, it’s nice to see some inclusiveness, especially since the Western genre tends to be pretty white-centric. But the way the villains is weird … sometimes they sound more like 1970s black guys than 1870s—for instance, they all refer to each other as “brother”, which I’m pretty sure is a late 20th Century concept—and sometimes they sound straight out of a minstrel show. And the whole vibe the villains give off is a bit weird. Maybe it’s just white guilt rearing its head, but it feels a bit off to me; not overtly racist, but a little strange nonetheless.

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