Friday, August 31, 2018

Retro Review: Just Imagine Stan Lee’s JLA (2002) Review and **SPOILERS**

If the Kids Are United, They Can Never Be Divided

Written By: Stan Lee 
Art: Jerry Ordway 
Letterer: Bill Oakley 
Colorist & Separator: David Baron 
Front Cover Artists: Jerry Ordway, Alex Sinclair 
Back Cover Artist: Adam Hughes 
“Just Imagine…” Initiated By: Michael Uslan 
Editors: Mike Carlin, Ivan Cohen 
Executive Editor: Dan Didio 
Cover Price: $5.95 
Cover Date: February 2002


Oh boy! This Just Imagine… series may not be the boundless font of fascination it was cracked up to be, but it sure employed some of my favorite artists! Dave Gibbons, Joe Kubert…and now Jerry Ordway! Whew, it’s a non-stop parade of top-flight talent for this thing, I tell you what. So far, we’ve seen reimaginings of various DC Comics characters that are different…but really pretty much the same as their source material. And so, JLA is just a team consisting of those characters already presented. So how did it read? Check out my retro review of Just Imagine Stan Lee’s JLA, and see what you think!

Explain It!

If there’s a superhero team, there has to be a cataclysmic reason for them to get together. That reason presents itself up front, in the form of death row convicts Brock Smith, Lucinda Radama, and Deke Durgan, three killers in different states about to take their final nap. Each will be murdered in a different way, as proscribed by their state: Brock gets the electric chair, Lucinda hits the gas chamber, and Deke has earned himself a lethal injection. This is expressed on a page that is pretty artfully laid out, but ruined by some captioned narration appearing beneath each purple eye…it makes the page read all wonky and that’s not good comic bookery. 
This page reads like are in the middle captions meant for the end.
For some reason, the whole nation is riveted to this series of executions, which is strange because people are executed in America almost every day and you don’t see a lot of public emotion about it. Just as each prisoner is about to get their just desserts, they call upon some unknown entity—I’m gonna guess it’s ol’ purple eyes himself, Reverend Darrk—and they disappear before everyone’s eyes! A helpful caption explains that they’re going to return as the Doom Patrol! Of course, that tickled my fancy. 
"Actually, I have no idea how cyanide works. I just push a button."
Switching gears to Los Angeles University, one of Professor Leonard Lewis’ students is hitting on him, when he sees a panicked, white-haired kid wearing a dookie necklace run past, screaming for his life. Leonard is really the Green Lantern, so he excuses himself to go save this kid, and we now see he’s beset by deformed, purple versions of the convicts that were saved from their court-appointed deaths! Lucinda has turned into Parasite, who flies around and looks a little like Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt; Brock has turned to Blockbuster, so now he’s bigger and more muscular (and purple), and Deke’s hands have grown Shaq-sized, and he can kill with a touch—this is why they call him Deathstroke! So why didn’t they call you “Deathtouch?” Huh, Deke? Why didn’t they call you “Deathtouch?” 
"I am also sorry to say that I take the 'stroke' part of my name quite literally."
Green Lantern snatches Adam Strange away from the Doom Patrol (now there’s a sentence I didn’t ever think I’d write), and flies away. Settling under a boardwalk or something so he can charge, Green Lantern asks Adam to spill the beans, and he says that he went into the Church of External Exfoliation or whatever so he could rob the cash box, and there he caught Reverend Darrk saving those murderers from their sentences. Once they emerged through a portal and turned purple, Darrk told them to go kill the kid, not much of a trial by fire for three convicted killers. This is why, says Adam, Green Lantern has just gotta summon other superheroes, he can’t defeat ‘em alone! And Green Lantern is like, slow your roll, kid. I don’t even know those jerks. 
"I converted and now I'm an evangelical preacher with a flock of my own."
Summon them he does, and Superman is the first to show. In this universe, he’s more like a Booster Gold type, very egocentric and interested in merchandising, and Lois Lane is his manager. Still, he’s a hero, and when Green Lantern tells Adam to gently touch his chest for some kind of elucidation, Superman steps in and says he’ll touch it his damn self—but he touches it too hard and forms a force field around the two of them! A force field that not even the Doom Patrol can penetrate. Oh yeah, they just showed up too. 
"I'll do all the inappropriate touching around here, thank you."
Wonder Woman and Batman show up to tackle the Doom Patrol while Superman and Green Lantern are hanging out with Yggradsil, the source of Leonard’s power. Superman acts like a dick at first, but when Yggradsil implies that he can get him back to his home planet, he changes his tune…and also just decides to be a hero anyway, why not? 
How would you like it if someone picked apples from you?
The two teams pretty much fight each other to a standstill, then Parasite reveals her power and takes over Superman’s body! She immediately decides to break off and attack Reverend Darrk herself…or to make Superman do it so Darrk can steal his powers? It’s unclear whether she’s playing a double-agent here, and if so, for whom. 
"I'm gonna find out what it's like to be an altar boy!"
Deathstroke is able to suck the life out of Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman and Batman are similarly dispatched.
"...and he fucking sucks."
Blockbuster and Deathstroke resign to catch up with Parasite, and leave the crumpled forms of the JLA right there on the beach. Batman, the only one still in costume, is the first to wake up, and he drags the other folks under the boardwalk where they can’t be seen smooching. Hilariously, Batman doesn’t remove his costume here—he knows the others’ secret identities, but keeps his intact (aside from that not-secret-at-all identity he has a professional wrestler). While stashed under the boardwalk, the Flash shows up…late, of course. In this reality, she’s a chatty blonde girl in a white suit with a rainbow ponytail. Batman calls his Batcopter, and the team absconds to regroup.
Under the boardwalk...we were having some fu-un, under the boardwalk...please officer don't pull that gu-un
Once the Flash brings some of the green essence Green Lantern sent out when he called the team together, Leonard peps up and can turn into the Green Dr. Manhattan again. While in the copter, Batman finally removes his mask, and they resign to be a crew together, because it’s not like anyone else could suffer these weirdos apart. 
"Also, you're all liabilities now that you know the true identity of superstar pro wrestler, Batman."
Over at the Church of Éclair Electric, Parasite-as-Superman is pounding on a force field surrounding the church, to no effect. Adam Strange shows up, his pendant all purpley and glowing along with his eyes, and says he can help. He points his hand at the force field, and tells Superman to smash right at that point, and it works! I guess Adam had an ethereal glass cutter or something.
"Mean" Joe Greene?
Superman heads in just as the Doom Patrol shows up—and then the JLA show up and descend from the skies! What a coincidence, all these people showing up in the same place at the same time. 
The trick is to let gravity to the heavy work.
Adam sends the Doom Patrol to tackle the JLA, revealing that he was in on the plan all along! He intimates as much by looking at Green Lantern all purple-eyed. The Doom Patrol keep Flash, Batman and Wonder Woman occupied, but Green Lantern follows Adam inside the church, where he intends to confront…his father! 
"I have a few other pieces of mom's costume jewelry at home, too. You really ought to stop by, dad."
That’s right, Adam Strange’s father is Reverend Darrk! What, that’s not a big enough surprise for you? What if I said his mother was Patty Hearst? Adam has the Sapphire of Ranagar—that’s the amulet dealie he has swinging around his neck—and that makes his power greater than his dad’s! And you know that Darrk has to act like a hard-ass about it, but internally he’s actually very proud. Superman whales on Darrk for a while, and Darrk doesn’t bother to fight back—until he does! He throws off his hood to reveal he’s made of purple light or something, then kills his whole congregation because they didn’t rush to defend while Superman beat the snot out of him. 
Um, Reverend Darrk? As head of your Membership Committee, I prot-GAHHHHH!
Then, while he’s at it, he kills Adam Strange. With his last breath, Adam tries to appease his father, but come on dude.
"I'm still gonna have daddy issues!"
You were just trying to kill him, like not even a second ago.
Darrk pulls Parasite out of Green Lantern, and is first going to absorb her abilities, but then seeing Green Lantern, tells her to assume his body. So I guess she isn’t looking to usurp Darrk’s powers? Even though she said as much like two pages ago? I have no idea who is grifting whom here. Batman tries to strengthen Green Lantern’s resolve…with words, but to no avail. Darrk is gloating, and he’s got every right to. 
"The Purple Side: Prince's Unreleased Demos" due out Spring 2019
Back outside, the rest of the JLA figures out how to bump off the rest of the Doom Patrol. Batman assumes Blockbuster’s head is his weak spot, and tells Wonder Woman to blast him in the melon with her sun staff or whatever. She does, and it causes his purple exterior to crack and flake off. 
"Now a little boy crying...that really gets me going."
Brock tries to run away, but in a strange twist of fate, he is electrocuted by a stray wire—succumbing to the same demise he would have in prison! I bet the other members of the Doom Patrol suffer the same ironic fate! The Flash uses her super-speed to get Deathstroke to touch himself, which turns out to be a suicidal touch…so not really lethal injection. There goes your ironic twist endings. 
He died as he lived: zapped by tens of thousands of volts of electricity.
Inside the church, despite Batman slapping Green Lantern, Parasite is able to assume control of his body. Once inside, however, Lucinda confronts Yggradsil, who offers her peace. This is all she ever wanted, so she takes the deal, and Green Lantern is back in the saddle again! 
"So I don't have to be a murderous, hateful bitch?"
He’s still a little weak, though, so he steps to Darrk and pulls a bluff…and it works. I feel like a mage as powerful as Reverend Darrk would be less gullible, but there you have it. 
"Get the hell off of our turf."
Once Darrk leaves, the team leaves the church, where reporters are waiting outside with all kinds of questions—Lois Lane is also there, breaking Superman’s balls for not monetizing his fight against Darrk more. The Flash throws up a rainbow screen so the team can get away, and they determine that need a headquarters, somewhere they can convene away from the prying eyes of the public. Some kind of a tower, maybe…from where they can watch…watching…from a tower… 
"The left nipple gets FM radio."
Anyway, Green Lantern has them touch his boobies and they all get teleported to Yggradsil. Great. The JLA headquarters is a muddy tree. Just call ‘em the Hippie Squad. 
So, there a bathroom around here?
Of the four Just Imagine… titles I’ve read, this was the most enjoyable. Once again, just to see the work of a master like Jerry Ordway is enough to pique my interest. At the time of this comic, Jerry had been in the business for over fifty years—but still made use of skewed panels and other angles more common in the 21st century model of comic book making. The story is alright. It’s got some great action scenes (again, thanks to Ordway’s considerable abilities), decent interactions between characters, and I could see myself reading more from this team. Maybe in a shorter story, like all the Just Imagine… books, this feels about a third longer than necessary. That the Doom Patrol didn’t each die in the manner they would have been executed—despite this plot twist being set up from almost the first page—seems like a missed opportunity, or perhaps an entirely forgotten opportunity. They could also figure out something interesting for Wonder Woman to do in future incarnations. But beyond those nitpicks, I had a good time with this one. I guess it’s true for these heroes as it is for my wife and her boyfriend: they’re better together!
Batman administers tough love.

Bits and Pieces:

Stan Lee writes to his strengths in this gloriously-rendered team-based story. There's some name reveals that might surprise you, but aren't really relevant to anything. There's also a kid that looks sort of like Brother Power, the Geek. But that Jerry Ordway artwork, whew!

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