Last issue ended with Black Lightning turning down membership in the JLA and a new villain in a weird costume (the Regulator) using an army of controlled rats to attack a STAR Labs facility. This issue starts with Regulator inside STAR, ordering his rats to swarm over a guard. A STAR scientist confronts the villain and we get a self-narrated origin. Regulator used to work at STAR and invented a helmet that allowed him to control vermin, but using the helmet drove him crazy and he was committed to an asylum. Now he’s back for revenge on his colleagues at STAR and everyone else who wronged him, which seems to include most of the city. Regulator is also at STAR to get some tech to help his wild plan. On the JLA Satellite, Green Arrow is still worked up about Black Lightning turning down League membership (Arrow is the one who nominated him) and decides to ask Lightning again, without any tests or other bullshit. Ralph (Elongated Man) Dibny and Zatanna say they’ll go with Arrow. When an alert comes in about the trouble at STAR, the trio figure they should check it out, since Black Lightning might show up there too. Lightning does hear about the trouble on the radio and heads over that way, but the JLA get there before him. They find Regulator with an army of giant rats and roaches (mutated at STAR Labs) rampaging through the streets. The heroes are almost overwhelmed by the huge vermin and call for back-up, but only Batman and Wonder Woman respond. Black Lightning arrives by subway, just in time to save some bystanders from becoming rat chow. A STAR scientist fills in Lightning and the JLA on Regulator, and says if his vermin are allowed to spread beyond Metropolis, they’ll breed so fast they’ll take over the world. The JLA fight to slow the vermin and Wonder Woman tries to block their exits from the city. Regulator watches from a factory chimney, controlling his unholy army from his lofty vantage point. Black Lightning climbs up the chimney to confront Regulator, who uses his helmet on Lightning, almost frying his brain. Regulator gives Lightning shit for opposing him, since he’s trying to help black people who are stuck in unhealthy conditions. Lightning points out that Regulator’s pest army is killing black people left and right; Regulator is so freaked out by the realization that he’s wasting the people he intended to help that he tumbles down inside the chimney and gets roasted. Meanwhile, Batman is playing pied piper, spewing a pheromone trail to lure the vermin behind his Batplane. Wonder Woman brings a huge construction caisson and all the vermin are herded into it. Zatanna seals the caisson and Wonder Woman hurls it into space. Later, Green Arrow asks Black Lightning to join the League again, and Lightning turns him down again. Lightning points out that he’s not really cut out to be a team player; while the others were cooperating to fight the vermin, Lightning went off on his own and took care of Regulator. Arrow is bummed, but gets Lightning’s point. Of course, Black Lightning did eventually join the JLA, a couple decades later, but that was a somewhat different League.
- If you’re wondering why Regulator would invent a vermin-controlling helmet in the first place, he apparently wanted to use it to eradicate pests in the inner city. So his intentions were good before he went nuts.
- The reason only Batman and Wonder Woman show up in response to the emergency signal is that everyone else is busy: Superman’s on monitor duty, Hawkman and Hawkwoman are studying Jupiter for NASA, Red Tornado’s spending time with Traya (the orphan he quasi-adopted), Aquaman is rescuing a ship, Atom is exploring a cave with his wife, Black Canary is sick, and Flash and Green Lantern are on another mission (which we’ll see next issue).
- It’s mentioned that the process Regulator used to grow the vermin to monster-size is related to Compound One, used by the Shark in JLA #162 to mutate animals for nefarious purpose. Maybe STAR should destroy that particular compound …
- It’s said that the caisson full of vermin will fly through space forever, but it’s also mentioned that it’s airtight, so I assume all the pests would suffocate pretty quick.
Last issue, a nutcase broke out of the psych ward at St. Croix medical facility and used information gleaned from secret files there to attack Sun Boy, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl’s minds by preying on their deepest fears. The attack left them catatonic and the “Psycho-Warrior” is about to complete his mission by doing the same to Superboy when a med-ship from St. Croix shows up. Psycho-Warrior figures they’ll screw up his plans, so he postpones his attack on Superboy and takes off. The doctors treat the three afflicted Legionnaires, using their tech to remove the catatonia and allow them to slip into a more soothing sleep. Everyone heads to R.J. Brande’s penthouse to discuss the matter, followed secretly by Psycho-Warrior. The St. Croix doctors give the Legion (and us) a rundown of Psycho-Warrior’s origin. His real name is Rejis Thomak and he was a fourth-generation colonist on a place called Bunyon’s World. Like something out of a Harry Harrison novel, Bunyon’s World is a living hell where colonists have to fight monsters and the environment every day just to survive. Thomak fell in love with a fellow colonist and the two of them were heading to Earth for some kind of job training when their ship got pulled near a supernova and vapourized. Thomak made it to an escape pod, but his girlfriend died, and the energy from the exploding ship scrambled his brain. He was rescued after drifting for a couple of months in space, and was taken to St. Croix to treat his fragile psyche. When he saw the Legionnaires visiting Brainiac 5 on St. Croix, he developed an irrational hatred of them—especially Sun Boy, whose power reminded him of how his girlfriend died. So Thomak stole the files on the Legionnaires’ deepest fears and busted out to come after them. As the doctor finishes his story, Thomak reveals that he’s breached the penthouse and is still bent on the Legion’s destruction. He uses a neural paralyzer bomb to neutralize everyone except Superboy, who he leads outside. When Superboy catches Thomak, he gets zapped with Kryptonite radiation and falls to the ground. He winds up in a cemetery, where he sees his parents’ graves. Apparitions of Ma and Pa Kent appear and tell him how they died in the past (which is still in Superboy’s future, since his parents are still alive at this point in his life). Superboy freaks out and blames himself for not being able to help them, but realizes Thomak is using his greatest fear against him. Superboy snaps out of it and sees he’s in the Superman museum, and that Thomak has used a hologram projector to recreate his dead parents. Superboy decides to give Thomak a taste of his own medicine and drags him up into the air to face the rising sun. Thomak freaks out, saying the sun killed his girlfriend, but soon admits it’s really himself he blames for not saving her—and for living while she died. Superboy says admitting his survivor’s guilt is a good start. Later, Superboy tells the Legionnaires he’s glad he found out how his parents died because he needed to face reality sooner or later. When Superboy first came to the future, Saturn Girl implanted a post-hypnotic suggestion in his mind to wipe his memory every time he returned to the past, so he couldn’t take dangerous knowledge of the future back with him. Now, she implants the suggestion (without telling him) for him to never return to the future, so he won’t have to remember his parents’ deaths every time. I guess it’s technically the right thing, but the underhanded way they go about it makes it seem a bit sleazy. All the Legionnaires are sad that they’ll never see Superboy again and he doesn’t even know. (In case you were wondering why the title no longer contains Superboy’s name, now you know.) But don’t worry, Superboy isn’t gone forever; he’ll be back in a couple of years. I actually don’t mind him being gone; having him around is too much of a deus ex machina. He’s just so powerful that it takes some of the excitement away from the Legion’s fights because we know Superboy can save them. So maybe things will be a bit more exciting now that he’s gone.
Over the last couple of issues, we got a glimpse at Hex’s past, showing how he started on the path of the bounty hunter. Eight years ago, Hex got mixed up with an old war buddy who turned out to be a wanted bank robber and his buddy was tracked down and shot by a notorious bounty hunter named Arbee Stoneham. Thinking about those times has made Hex crave a little revenge on Stoneham, who not only killed Hex’s friend, but stole Hex’s horse and guns. Now Hex has tracked Stoneham to a town called Murphysburg and finds out the old bounty hunter is living at a boarding house on the other end of town. Hex decides to have supper first and while he’s eating, one of the saloon patrons takes off and heads to a nearby livery barn. Turns out he’s part of a gang that Hex had been looking for, led by a guy named Jason Crowley. Crowley isn’t sure if Hex is in town because he’s after them, or if he really wants to see Stoneham, but Crowley figures this is their chance to get rid of Hex once and for all. In order to get to the boarding house, Hex will have to pass through the stockyards, so Crowley prepares to set up an ambush. Luckily for Hex, an old drunk (who looks a bit like Gabby Hayes) was napping in the livery loft and overheard everything. He goes to warn Hex about the ambush (and Hex gives him a $20 gold piece as a reward), so Hex decides he better take care of Crowley’s gang before he goes after Stoneham—business before pleasure, after all. Crowley has eleven men and hides two in a hay wagon, one up a windmill, and the rest around the stockyards. Hex manages to slip in and put his Bowie knife in the throat of Crowley’s lookout man, then guns down three more of Crowley’s while they’re still reeling from the lookout’s death. The shots bring three more outlaws running, whom Hex also guns down, leaving five to deal with. One of the guys in the hay wagon wings Hex in the shoulder, causing him to drop one of his guns. Hex makes it to the livery shed and climbs into the loft. He tosses a lantern onto the hay wagon, burning the two ambushers alive. That brings another guy running, who Hex plugs. The guy on the windmill opens up, hitting Hex in the ribs, but Hex rolls to cover and pulls out some dynamite. I don’t think I’d want to be rolling around with dynamite in my shirt, but Hex doesn’t seem to worry about that sort of thing. He tosses the dynamite at the windmill, blowing the sniper to shit. Crowley is the last outlaw left and he starts shooting at Hex from cover. Hex rolls away, but he’s all out of bullets and Crowley advances. Hex slips into the cattle corral and opens the gate as Crowley approaches. The longhorns inside stampede and Crowley is trampled to a fine paste. That night, Hex continues with his original plan, to confront Arbee Stoneham. But the years haven’t been kind to Stoneham; he’s in a wheelchair, half-deaf, and his mind is going. Hex’s anger evaporates and he wheels Stoneham down to the saloon for a drink. This is a great issue; the fight with Crowley and his men was cool, and I don’t mind the somewhat predictable ending. The Garcia-Lopez art is spectacular.