This one starts in the middle of the ocean with Aquaman pounding some Russians who are illegally killing whales. Aquaman gives them a lecture on how surface-dwellers rape and pollute the oceans, and takes out some of his anger by having the whales capsize the ship. Aquaman tells some dolphins to save the whalers from drowning, but suddenly the sailors start glowing and turn into weird gold-colored statues of stylized soldiers. The dolphins freak out and take off, leaving Aquaman to ponder in the sailors were turned into statues, or if they were statues masquerading as sailors to begin with. He also wonders why the statues’ design looks so familiar. Back on land, Atom is hitching a ride in a briefcase belonging to a fellow scientist. The scientist is being blackmailed by industrial spies into turning over plans for a solar generator in exchange for his kidnapped daughter. Atom pounds the spies and rescues the girl by shrinking down and picking the lock from inside. (I could make a joke about Ray and Jean’s sex life here, but I think Hank and Janet Pym already did that.) When Atom emerges from the lock, he’s startled to find the spies he defeated have morphed into strange-looking golden statues. They look somewhat like those Aquaman encountered, except one of these seems to be wearing a bishop’s mitre. In Star City, a rough-looking dude and his blonde cutie show up at a biker rally, but end up having to fight their way in. Yeah, it’s Green Arrow and Black Canary infiltrating the biker bash. The leader is talking about taking over the city and there’s swastika flag hanging behind him, so this ain’t your friendly neighbourhood motorcycle club. After some interesting (and gratuitous) shots of Black Canary changing clothes, she and Arrow bust up the meeting and Arrow goes after the leader, who turns into a (you guessed it) golden statue, this time of a knight. I think I see a pattern here. The golden knight almost skewers Green Arrow with his electrified lance, but Black Canary blows him to pieces with her sonic cry. In Gotham, Batman and Superman are at the airport with Commissioner Gordon, having just foiled a hijacking. They’re attacked by more golden statues, this time of castles, complete with pots of boiling oil and cannons that shoot flaming rocks. Superman tries to burn the castles with his heat vision, but they switch to firing Kryptonite rocks, which incapacitates the Man of Steel. Batman tells Gordon to get rid of the Kryptonite rocks and climbs up one of the castles to check it out, barely avoiding the boiling oil. Batman is startled to find the castle is just an empty shell, with no visible power source or means of propulsion. He uses plastique from his utility belt to blow the castle to shit and says it’s time to call the JLA. Zatanna is on monitor duty on the Satellite, and has been fielding similar calls from Aquaman, Atom, Green Arrow, and Black Canary. Zatanna recognizes the chess motif: Aquaman fought several pawns, Atom faced two pawns and a bishop, Canary destroyed a knight, and Supes and Batman were fighting two rooks. She says someone must be playing a chess game of cosmic proportions, with the JLA’s lives at stake; she figures they should all attend a meeting to discuss the problem. In a flying saucer orbiting Earth, we see the two chess masters who have been manipulating the JLA; one is Despero—hardly surprising since he’s done the “cosmic chess match” schtick before. What is surprising is that he’s playing the JLA this time … it’s his opponent who’s playing the other pieces, the ones trying to destroy the Leaguers. And most shocking of all is that Despero’s opponent is … Martian Manhunter! We’ll see how that came about, and how it ends, next issue.
This issue starts with a contingent of Legionnaires (Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Ultra Boy, Wildfire, Sun Boy, Light Lass, and Shadow Lass) repairing their headquarters. Ultra Boy almost gets crushed under a heavy wall before being saved by Light Lass … why isn’t she just making the wall lighter to begin with? It’d speed things up a lot. Ultra Boy rewards her with a (rather chaste) kiss and they goof around a bit (and flirt shamelessly). The others are cheered to see the playfulness, since they’d wondered if the Legion would find anything to laugh about again with all the crazy shit going on. Lightning Lad does his usual “mopey leader” thing, lamenting that the team is split into three at the moment. One bunch is helping discover who’s behind the space circus murders (which we saw last issue), and the other is with R.J. Brande, helping him recoup his fortune by getting back into his original line of work … creating stars. Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl wonder how things are going for Brande and his team, but we don’t have to wonder, since the scene now shifts to them. Brande and his team (Cosmic Boy, Shrinking Violet, Dream Girl, Colossal Boy, Chameleon Boy, and Karate Kid) have found a cosmic dust cloud with the potential to spawn a star in a few thousand millennia. But who wants to wait that long? Brande and crew stimulate the cloud with energy and it coalesces into a baby star, which makes them all go wild with glee. Brande already has an order for the new star and he’s designed a hyper-engine big enough to tow the star through space. Colossal Boy and Cosmic Boy attach the hyper-engine and Brande’s ship warps into space, following the new star. But when they reach their destination, all they find is planetary debris; the whole system has been blown to shit. They find one alien clinging to life amid the floating detritus and put him in the med-bay to stabilize him. Chameleon Boy imitates another of the alien’s species so it’ll tell him who attacked. Turns out it was space pirates and the alien gives Cham their last known course. Brande tells them to cut the proto-star loose because they’re going after the pirates. When they catch up, they’re shocked to find the raiders are actual pirates … as in 18th Century Earth pirates, with sailing ships, buccaneers, flintlocks, and cutlasses. Somehow, the old wooden ships are propelling themselves through space toward a rogue planet, and the crew don’t seem to have any trouble breathing or even just existing in the frozen vacuum. The Legionnaires don space-suits and attack, pounding the pirates but getting knocked out when the pirate ships ram Brande’s vessel, causing a huge explosion. They all wake up strapped to a table in some kind of lab on the rogue planet. I’m pretty sure they’re all supposed to be naked, but the art is rendered so it passes the Comics Code. They’re decontaminated and allowed to dress, then taken to see the supreme leader … a mouldering skeleton dressed in pirate rags. Chameleon Boy checks the computer and figures out the guy died 257 years ago. He was some kind of reclusive nutcase engineer with a penchant for old Earth history, so he built the artificial planetoid, the pirate ships, and the android pirate crew as entertainment for various planets. The planetoid’s artificial intelligence kept trying to stage bigger and bigger amusements for the engineer, even after he died, which explains the attack on the planet and their capture of the Legionnaires. Chameleon Boy morphs himself to look like the dead engineer and orders the planetoid to cease operations. Before leaving, they incinerate the planetoid; Cosmic Boy wonders about all the destruction the planetoid caused, but Brande says the remains of the destroyed planetoid might someday coalesce with other space-borne material and form a new star, thus continuing the cosmic cycle of life and death.
- Brande’s starship survived the explosion from the ramming pirate ships because he had all the shields up.
- If the dead pirate guy was a misanthrope, as Cham stated, why would he design an amusement park and visit a bunch of planets?
- The dead pirate looks like he stole his helmet from Galactus … or maybe one of the Eternals.
We get a bit more of Hex’s past in this issue, and learn why Quentin Turnbull hates him so much. The story starts with Hex pursuing three bandits called the Carley brothers. They try to ambush him, but he turns the tables, skewering one with his Bowie knife and forcing another to switch clothes with him. Bound and gagged, and wearing ex’s clothes, the bandit is shot down by his own brother as Hex sneaks around to get the drop on him. Hex actually brings the last brother in alive, but when he’s dropping him at the town jail, a guy across the street notices Hex and rushes to send a telegram to Richmond, Virginia. The recipient is Quentin Turnbull—whose face we never see, but who carries a distinctive eagle-head cane—and Turnbull is thrilled to hear of Hex’s whereabouts. The news is timely, since Turnbull is about to attend a meeting of the Fort Charlotte Brigade; what the hell is the Fort Charlotte Brigade? Glad you asked. As we soon see, it’s a group of ex-Confederate soldiers who still pledge allegiance to Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy, hoping things can go back to the way they were before the War. They also have a personal grudge against Jonah Hex, which we learn about in flashback. During the Civil War, Hex was in the 7th Cavalry with his best friend, Jeb Turnbull. They were great fighters, but when Lincoln freed the slaves, Hex’s conscience wouldn’t let him fight for a side that wanted to put them back in chains. He also couldn’t fight against his Confederate brothers, so he decided to turn himself over to the nearest Union unit (at Fort Charlotte) and spend the rest of the war as a POW. Jeb wished him well and Hex went ahead with his plan. Naturally, the fort’s Captain wanted to know where Hex’s unit was, but Hex wouldn’t tell him, so he ordered Hex to be thrown in solitary and shot the next day. One of the Union soldiers noticed distinctive red clay on Hex’s horse and reasoned that his unit must be down at a marsh where the red clay was found. The Union soldiers surprised the Confederates and took them all captive. Some of the 7th Cav wondered if Hex had betrayed them, but Jeb wouldn’t hear of it and defended his friend vigorously. But at Fort Charlotte, the Captain gave Hex credit for helping them find the Confederates. Jeb still refused to believe it and decked the Captain, but the rest of the unit seemed to think Hex might be guilty. They were tossed in the prisoner compound and Hex, watching from his nearby cell, blamed himself for their troubles. He discovered a loose board in his cell and an escape tunnel underneath. When a soldier brought his dinner, he noticed the disturbed boards and told the Captain. Turns out the Captain already knew about the escape tunnel—in fact, he’s the one who had it dug. Apparently, feeding prisoners taxes the rations the Union boys could be using for themselves, and since the rules say any escaping prisoners can be shot legally, the Captain has arranged for escape to be easy. Hex follows the tunnel and frees his fellow soldiers, but the Captain has Gatling guns on the walls and mows most of them down—including Jeb Turnbull. With his last breath, Jeb says he knows Hex didn’t betray them, but the handful of other survivors are certain he did. And that small contingent is who makes up the Fort Charlotte Brigade, which Includes Jeb’s father, Quentin Turnbull. All of them blame Hex for the Fort Charlotte Massacre, and are now ready to ride down to Texas to exact vengeance. We’ll see how that goes next issue.