Monday, January 23, 2006

100 Days of Justice League Day 6: JL #5

Justice League #5
Story: Gray Life Gray Dreams
Plot & Breakdowns: Keith Giffen
Script: J.M. DeMatteis
Pencils: Kevin Maguire
Inks: Al Gordon
Letterer: Bob Lappan
Colorist: Gene D’Angelo
Editor: Andy Helfer

It had to happen! Batman vs. Guy Gardner: Showdown!!

That’s what the cover blurb says. For four issues, now, we’ve seen Batman and Guy Gardner sniping, bickering, bantering, insulting and generally disrespecting each other. It comes to a head in this issue. But, while it’s what we’ve been anticipating all along, it’s really just one of several things happening in this issue.

Dr. Fate and the Gray Man: Remember the Gray Man from issue 2? Gray hair? Gray clothes? Mysterious fella? Dr. Fate had paid him a visit to warn him against any hostile action. The Gray Man didn’t take the warning to heart. We learn a bit more about him in this issue. Centuries ago, he was a great sorcerer who worked for many years to discover the mysteries of the universe. His quest culminated in his gazing upon the Lords of Order in their true form. For his hubris, the Lords of Order banished him to a barren isle and tasked him with collecting the remaining “dream-essence” from the recently deceased and returning it to the Lords. Think of him as a kind of repo man of the dead. The thing is he wasn’t permitted to leave his little island so Gray Man duplicates were created to do the work for him. He was placed in a supervisory role, so to speak.

It’s safe to say, I think, that at some point during the intervening centuries, the Gray Man’s mind snapped. At best, he’s pissed off and, at worst, he’s insane. His growing indignation over time has consumed him to the point where he is set to unleash his “other selves” upon the living. Instead of returning all of the dream-essence to the Lords, he’s kept a little bit for himself here and there so that he’s now, apparently, quite powerful – so powerful that he was able to defy the Lords by leaving his island and going to…Stone Ridge, Vermont?

At least in appearance, the Gray Man is a little different than the typical villain. He doesn’t wear a colorful, tightly fitting costume. He’s just a dude in a gray outfit. Where he is similar is in his basic motivation – revenge. Initially, he doesn’t seem to have been motivated by pride so much as by curiosity. That desire to know the unknowable, to pull back the veil to see the truth, was what drove him. It’s the motivation of scientists and theologians. So, when he succeeded, it seems harsh that the Lords of Order saw fit to punish him for it. Frankly, they seem kind of seem like dicks for doing it. But the Gray Man may have been onto them. He theorizes that they seek to recapture the dream-essence because humanity could accumulate enough of it to eventually challenge them. Doctor Fate doesn’t deny this, so perhaps this is the truth that he uncovered. A kind of cosmic exposé. If so, it makes the Lords of Order seem more sinister in one sense because they appear to be more interested in self-preservation than in maintaining the cosmic balance.

This gives the story a subversive quality – a nice example of disestablishmentarianism. (I just wanted to use that word in a sentence for once in my life.) One man questioning the authority of Those In Charge and whether or not they deserve to be in charge.

Jack Ryder a.k.a. The Creeper: TV commentator Jack Ryder has been riding the Justice League’s asses for an issue or two. He seems to be one of these self-aggrandizing types that seeks to foment his viewers’ fears into higher Nielsen ratings. Kind of like Bill O’Reilly. When a young go-getter informs him that Doctor Fate was sighted in Stone Ridge, Vermont, he gets a camera crew and hits the road to “nail the Justice League’s hides to the wall.”

While most of us would maybe agree that Ryder is in the wrong where his assessment of the League is concerned, it does tie into the “subversive” theme. Here’s a guy, who the vast majority of people believe to be one of them, speaking on their behalf and questioning whether the League needs to exist. If there truly were superheroes, I would probably be a little wary that they might assume too much, that they might cross that line from protectors to cabal. For us readers who know that Ryder is himself a superhero, however, we suspect he may have some ulterior motive.

The Justice League: It’s the moment of truth, people. Guy Gardner has had it with Batman. He’s ranting, he’s sticking his finger in his face, but Batman is unfazed and even seems to egg Guy on. Mister Miracle comments to himself that “Batman seems to enjoy these infantile confrontations.” When Guy demands to be placed in charge, Batman says he would sooner turn command over to Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel is hurt by this. Finally, Guy pulls off his ring and hands it to Blue Beetle so that he and Batman can duke it out. Captain Marvel tries to intervene, reminding Batman that, as the team captain, he should be setting an example. Batman totally blows him off as inexperienced. When Guy lunges at Batman, the Caped Crusader belts him right in the schnozz and knocks him cold. It’s a big moment in the history of this series. But while everyone is marveling over it, Doctor Fate contacts them to fill them in on the Gray Man’s doings. Batman dispatches Captain Marvel to Stone Ridge while the rest follow in Blue Beetle’s bug. The rest except Guy Gardner, that is. He’s still laid out on the floor.

In a much lower sense, Guy Gardner is like the Gray Man in that he’s a guy with great power who challenges the authority over him. And like the Gray Man, that authority puts Gardner down. The difference may be that the Gray Man doesn’t seem to have been initially motivated by the belief that he deserved authority. Guy’s egotism (or inferiority complex?) was his undoing in this case.

It also calls into consideration the role of power wielded by those in authority. Both the Lords of Order and Batman exert some power, whether it’s cosmic power or the power to influence others. When Batman decks Gardner, the rest of the team are not outraged. They’re happy. Perhaps Gardner has been his own undoing, but Batman exerts enough power of influence over the others that no one, except Captain Marvel, rebukes him. If Batman had decked Mockingbird, they would’ve judged this as a clear abuse of power because she would’ve been undeserving of such an action. Likewise, unless the Lords of Order were motivated by self-preservation, this is what their punishment of the Gray Man is like -- an abuse of power directed toward one who doesn’t necessarily deserve it. The punishment doesn’t match the crime.

Captain Marvel: Batman’s comments really got to Captain Marvel. On top of that, though, he’s feeling like his inexperience may make him unqualified to be a member of this premier team even if he probably is the most powerful of them all. He arrives in Stone Ridge to find a member of Jack Ryder’s camera crew lying on the ground semi-conscious and delirious.

Marvel’s monologue is, I believe, the set-up for him to eventually leave the team. I don’t remember when it happens, but it’s soon, I think.

The Creeper a.k.a. Jack Ryder: When the League arrive in Stone Ridge, they almost immediately stumble upon the Creeper who reveals to them that the town, that little slice of Americana we saw at the beginning of the story, has been transformed into something otherworldly. The buildings look organic -- like they’re made out of bone and exoskeletons. It’s weird, man.

Visually, there are some great moments in this issue and I am including a few more scans than usual. Maguire and Gordon are fully in the groove now.

Finally, you may be reading an 80s comic if…

…an incidental character is wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the logo for Late Night with David Letterman.

…the movie theater in the town where some of the action takes place is featuring Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights.

Next issue: Justice League #6 -- Gray Madness!

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Anonymous SpiritGlyph said...

"If Batman had decked Mockingbird, they would’ve judged this as a clear abuse of power because she would’ve been undeserving of such an action."

Mockingbird? I think you're confusing Dinah with her Gruenward-created counterpart. The difference is that Bobbie prefers her archers clean-shaven.

Snarking aside, great summary. I've loved this series ever since I first discovered the back issues a few years ago. Ah, the simple joy of seeing Guy Gardner get punched.

1/24/2006 12:52:00 AM  
Blogger Paul O'Brien said...

"This gives the story a subversive quality – a nice example of disestablishmentarianism."

Are you sure you're not thinking of anti-establishmentarianism? Disestablishmentarianism means that you believe a country should get rid of its established national church.

1/24/2006 09:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Chuck T. said...

Damn, I had forgotten the Creeper finally shows up in this one. Like the JLU, Creeper needs to be in the League at least occasionally, though I can see why they didn't keep him on then.

1/24/2006 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger Christopher Burton said...

Paul O'Brien:
Crap! You're right! My one shot and I blew it. ;)

1/24/2006 11:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Steve Mohundro said...

One. Punch.

It never gets old.

1/24/2006 01:17:00 PM  
Blogger MarkAndrew said...

Very good summary of my (**Thinks**) Third favorite Justice League issue of all time.

(Only First Series 46 With the ANTI-MATTER MAN and the HUGE Mark Waid/Brian Hitch one shot from a year or two back beat it.)

Interesting examination of the subtext... Power and it's abuse, and the "little guy" against the system.

1/25/2006 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger Harvey Jerkwater said...

"I hate him. And even my hate is gray."
--The Gray Man

That line still freaks me out.

Goddamn, I loved the Giffen/DeMattis era of the Justice League.

Power Girl's cat? The Beefeater? Lord Manga Khan? YES! YES TO IT ALL! WOOOO!!!

1/25/2006 03:37:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

My problem with these summaries, Christopher, is that I loved these issues so much that I basically have memorized them all, so it doesn't do much for me, ya know?

That being said, for those who do not have an insane amount of devotion to the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League, I bet this is really informative!!

Good stuff.

1/25/2006 08:27:00 PM  
Blogger Apodaca said...

I will say, that I have almost no previous understanding of these issues, so I am appreciating the summaries. I think you've got a nice format with this one, Christopher, in that I can get the basic issue summary, but also some interesting thematic reviews.

1/26/2006 01:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Omar Karindu said...

Ryder also seems to function by reminding us that there is someone out to turn the League into some sort of cabal -- Maxwell Lord, whose motives haven't been revealed as yet.

1/26/2006 02:21:00 PM  
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8/16/2010 02:57:00 AM  

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