For Those Who Came In Late: Of late, we’ve been exploring the history and membership of the Justice League of America, DC Comics’ superhero team extraordinaire. Having just finished a brief look at some of the Justice League’s most tenacious opponents, we move this week to a couple of intriguing but smaller JLA topics. All set? Then off we go…
THANKS BUT NO THANKS
Hard as it might be to believe, not everyone in the DC Universe was lining up to join the Justice League of America. In fact, several prospective recruits showed the League the back of their hand, refusing membership outright. The first of these naysayers was the chemically unstable shapeshifter Metamorpho, taking place in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #42 (February 1966), in “Metamorpho Says – NO!”, by writer Gardner Fox and artist Mike Sekowsky.
First: a quick word about Metamorpho. Metamorpho first appeared in 1964, and looked to many like an attempt by DC to inject a little Marvel-style vitality into their line, with a new, less traditional superhero that looked nothing like the rest of their characters, and even had some of Marvel’s trademark angst in the characterization. First appearing in issue #57 of DC’s anthology series THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, Metamorpho was really Rex Mason, a soldier-of-fortune type working for the villainous millionaire Simon Stagg. Mason was permanently transformed into the freakish Metamorpho, who could transmute his body into any of the elements, thanks to exposure to the Orb of Ra, a mystical artifact Stagg had sent Mason to retrieve.
The series, created by writer Bob Haney and artist Ramona Fradon, really was like nothing else at DC, thanks both to Fradon’s innovative design for Metamorpho and her distinctively cartoony art style, and to the unique family dynamics Haney created for the series: Mason knew that Stagg was responsible for his becoming Metamorpho, yet continued to have to associate with him, due to his love affair with Stagg’s daughter, Sapphire, and in the hope that Stagg would someday find a cure for his condition. Complicating matters further was Stagg’s bodyguard Java, a Cro-Magnon caveman type who also happened to be in love with Sapphire.
The series did well enough in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD to warrant its own book, and by 1965 METAMORPHO, THE ELEMENT MAN had begun its publication run, to continued success. At first. However, when co-creator Fradon left the series after issue #4, sales began to drop drastically, and nothing DC tried, from the guest appearance here in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA to the introduction of Element Girl as a sidekick-slash-romantic-rival-for Sapphire, was able to save the book. METAMORPHO was cancelled in 1969 after 17 issues. Since then, Metamorpho has appeared in guest shots all over the DC Universe, and has had lengthy memberships on teams such as the Outsiders and Justice League Europe, and has been considered dead probably more often than any other DC hero, but always manages to reconstitute himself once more.
Metamorpho is invited to join the Justice League not by a surprise visit from a member or a gracious note in the mail, but by the League taking control of his body and using his powers to skywrite a message inviting him to try out for the team.
A little intrusive, don’t you think, not to mention downright rude. This just might be why Metamorpho is the first hero to say “no,” fellas.
Understandably, Metamorpho is less than flattered, and immediately turns down the League flat. Before the League can confront him, however, a mysterious invisible presence suddenly announces its presence and its own desire to join the JLA, and begins attacking Metamorpho, bringing inanimate objects to life.
The League, monitoring from afar, hurries to Metamorpho’s aid, and the heroes struggle valiantly until suddenly the presence disappears. With a moment to breathe, the League invites Metamorpho to join once more, but again Rex refuses, recounting his origin and explaining that all he wants is to be human again. He even asks if Green Lantern can cure him with his power ring, but GL’s attempts are thwarted by the return of the mysterious presence, who calls himself (itself?) The Unimaginable.
The Unimaginable, as it turns out, had been watching the JLA from his home planet, and, impressed, resolved to join their company. However, when he (and we’ll use “he” from now on, for lack of a more accurate pronoun) heard the League planning to invite Metamorpho to join, he decided to show up his rival and prove that his place was in the League. Hearing his tale, the League votes “no” on admitting The Unimaginable, and another brawl ensues, with the Unimaginable creating alien creatures to battle the League. With Metamorpho’s help, the Justice League manages to take the battle to The Unimaginable, traveling to outer space and attacking the entity from within, forcing The Unimaginable to discorporate.
Back at the JLA’s Secret Sanctuary, GL tries to use his ring to cure Metamorpho, but to no avail, and Metamorpho agrees to become a “stand-by” member of sorts, only to be called in case of emergency.
As it turns out, there weren’t a whole lot of emergencies that desperately required Metamorpho’s services, as he only appeared in the series twice more, and as the years went on, any sort of consideration of Rex as a member of any kind fell by the wayside.
At least Metamorpho’s refusal was somewhat amicable, as opposed to the downright hostile response the Justice League would get in 1979, when they invited Black Lightning to join. Don’t believe me? Let’s let the cover speak for itself:
And after reading what the League was up to here, you’ll probably be inclined to agree. “Jive turkeys,” indeed.
First, a brief bit of background on Black Lightning. Created by writer Tony Isabella and artist Trevor von Eeden, Black Lightning was intended to create a high-profile black superhero for DC, as a response to the popular black heroes at Marvel like Black Panther and Luke Cage.
Premiering in BLACK LIGHTNING #1 in April 1977, the first issue introduced comics readers to Jefferson Pierce, a former Olympic medalist and Metropolis inner-city schoolteacher who took up the superhero identity of Black Lightning to combat organized crime’s hold on the neighborhood of Suicide Slum. Thanks to a gimmicked belt, Black Lightning could generate electricity from his body and utilize it as a force field, throw electrical blasts, and so on.
BLACK LIGHTNING’s solo series was cancelled in 1978, another victim of “the DC Implosion,” and in the years that followed, the character could be found as a backup series in DETECTIVE and WORLD’S FINEST, and as a member of Batman’s new 1980s superhero team the Outsiders. Black Lightning got another chance at a solo series in 1995, with original writer Tony Isabella back at the reins, but personality conflicts with the editor led to Isabella’s departure from the promising new series after only eight issues, and the book was cancelled not long after that. Lately Jefferson Pierce has been seen in guest-starring roles in Judd Winick’s GREEN ARROW and OUTSIDERS series, appearances that B.L.’s creator Isabella have decried as inappropriate and out of character. Personally, I didn’t have a problem with them, but as the creator of the character, I’m sure Isabella has an understandably different perspective. (And to be fair, Isabella has a history of being screwed by DC when it comes to Black Lightning. Ever wonder why Black Vulcan was invented for the SUPERFRIENDS Saturday-morning cartoon show while Black Lightning wasn’t used? And did you know that Tony Isabella, as the character’s creator, would have received royalties if Black Lightning had appeared on the cartoon? Funny how that works, isn’t it?)
Anyway, to get back to the story at hand: in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #173, “Testing of a Hero!”, by writer Gerry Conway and artist Dick Dillin, at Green Arrow’s urging, the Justice League was evaluating Black Lightning for membership, a move not at all welcomed by the grumpier-than-usual Flash, who accuses Green Arrow of wanting to induct Black Lightning as “a token black.” Ouch. To be fair, Green Arrow wasn’t helping his case with his rationale for why Black Lightning should be made a Leaguer:
“Cool, smart, brave… and black!” Okay, so maybe Flash has a point. To settle the issue, the League decides to test Black Lightning, posing as supervillains and attacking him throughout the evening to get a sense of his abilities and judgment. What better way to make a new friend and instill a feeling of camaraderie than by beating the crap out of a guy all night?
Maybe it occurred to the Justice League later that the two candidates to turn down the League are the only two to be abused in some fashion when asked to join. Hard as it is to believe in the face of this loving invitation, Black Lightning turns down the League’s offer, brusquely stating he has more important work to do in Suicide Slum.
Although the League shares another adventure with Black Lightning in the very next issue, Green Arrow’s continued entreaties for Black Lightning to join are rebuffed, although this time on slightly friendlier terms.
(Seems like Green Arrow’s got a bit of a man-crush on B.L., if you ask me…)
HOME IS WHERE YOU HANG YOUR CAPE
As mentioned in an earlier column, for the first nine years of the Justice League’s existence, they were headquartered in the Secret Sanctuary, a posh complex hidden away within a mountainside not far from the coastal town of Happy Harbor, where JLA mascot Snapper Carr lived, somewhere on the eastern seaboard. While the Secret Sanctuary had everything required of your traditional superhero base of operations (the standard package consisting of primarily a Trophy Room, a computer with a really big screen, and a meeting table with a whole lot of chairs around it), it wasn’t the most distinctive hideout a superhero ever had. However, at least it was secure. The operative word there being “was,” as of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #77 (December 1969), in “Snapper Carr – Super-Traitor!”, by writer Denny O’Neil and artist Dick Dillin.
In the story, a gullible Snapper falls under the thrall of the bland but villainous John Dough, a.k.a. “Mr. Average,” a sort of evil motivational speaker leading a national crusade for “normalcy,” and railing against all things strange or out of the ordinary.
As part of his plot, Dough uses Snapper to ambush the Justice League, kidnapping Batman and humiliating the rest of the team at a rally, to turn public opinion against them. After catching up with Snapper, who still seems to be buying Dough’s rhetoric, the team heads for their headquarters, where Batman has deduced Dough is hiding. Indeed, Dough has gained access to the Secret Sanctuary thanks to Snapper, and blasts Superman with a Kryptonite ray gun from the Trophy Room as soon as the League arrives.
(Note to Superman: maybe keep those things at the Fortress of Solitude. Better yet, just destroy them…) Thanks to the Black Canary’s newly discovered “canary cry,” Dough is beaten, and unmasked to reveal none other than the Joker.
Unfortunately, this meant that the Joker now knew where the Secret Sanctuary was, making it well, no longer secret, and hardly a sanctuary. Clearly changes were in order for the Justice League, and they’d take place in the very next issue.
In JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #78 (February 1970), “The Coming of the Doomsters,” again by O’Neil and Dillin, Green Arrow is introduced to the League’s new home. First taken to a nearby rooftop, Arrow is shown a cylindrical booth described as a Thanagarian relativity-beam.
Upon recognizing Green Arrow’s vital statistics, the device whisks him immediately to the new JLA Satellite, 22,300 miles above the Earth, in fixed orbit over the U.S.
Although Green Arrow is shown a brief floorplan, not much detail on the new Justice League Satellite is really given.
A better look at things comes in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #95, when Superman flies Batman and Aquaman to the Satellite himself, in the mistaken belief that the teleporters are malfunctioning after the mysterious disappearances of several other Leaguers.
A surprising detail from this cross-section can be found in the fact that each Justice Leaguer has their own office. I had no idea that League membership required so much paperwork. I’m guessing Superman has the corner office with the good view.
I always liked the Satellite best as a headquarters for the Justice League. Most of that is probably due to the fact that that’s the League I grew up with, so that’s the way it should be. But more than that, it just seemed appropriate that the League, this gathering of legends, was watching over the planet and all of us from above, almost like the gods looking down from Mount Olympus. Alan Moore said it better than I ever could in this passage from SWAMP THING #24:
The Justice League Satellite itself got an origin story of sorts in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #130 ( May 1976), in the “untold tale from the JLA Casebook” entitled “Skyjack at 22,300 Miles!”, by writer Martin Pasko and artist Dick Dillin. Taking place when the Satellite was just being completed, the tale begins with Hawkman explaining the new Satellite’s construction, a mixture of Kryptonian and Thanagarian technology, to the Flash.
Hawkman and the Flash then have the misfortunate of beaming up to the Satellite as the same time as a mysterious alien that had just escaped from a moon rock brought back from a recent Apollo mission.
As a result, Hawkman, the Flash and the alien are jumbled up into three new creatures with the same purpose: hijack the Satellite and use it as a vehicle to return them to their home planet to spawn.
Meanwhile, Superman is briefing Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Black Canary on the Satellite’s new computer system, with the help of this convenient floorplan:
Once the Hawkman-Flash-alien composites get onboard, they manage to take control of the Satellite and send it hurtling toward the alien’s home planet. Eventually, the League manages to herd the creatures back into the teleporter and undo the process, restoring Hawkman and Flash to normal, while the desperate alien somehow merges with the JLA satellite’s computer system in a last-ditch attempt to retain control. As it turns out, the alien’s presence solved a glitch in the computer’s circuitry, so despite the fact that the alien was only following its biological imperatives and by any moral reasoning has a right to exist, the JLA keep it in suspended animation inside its computer, all so its new machinery can run more smoothly.
What does the Green Arrow, liberal voice of the League, say to this clear abrogation of the creature’s right to live?
“Far freakin’ out.”
You know, some of these “untold cases” are probably better left untold…