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by Bruce Bachand

JLA ANNUAL #2
"Life Itself"

Story: Ty Templeton    Pencils: Mark Pajarillo
Inks: Walden Wond    Colors: John kalisz
Separations: Digital Chameleon
Assoc. Ed.: Tony Bedard    Editor: Dan Raspler

JLA Roll Call:
Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman,
Green Lantern, Flash, Martian Manhunter

Someone is bound to ask you it sooner or later so why not me: do you believe in ghosts? Or spirits? How about angels or demons?

In terms in book sales, the topic of angels\spirits has generated alot of "coin" the past five years. Even a quick look at the TV schedule the past few seasons bears witness to this one (e.g. Touched By An Angel). Everyone from New Agers to Christians to neo-pagans to atheists has something to say about the subject of spirits and angelic encounters. In the simplest terms, an angel is a spirit being that has intelligence and personality and is incorporeal (though it can manifest to us humans as having the appearance of a body i.e. corporeality). Since the foundations of humankind women and men, as well as boys and girls, have also testified to having encountered persons who were supposed to be dead (i.e. their bodies died and their spirits were separated from them). Even dead spirits seem to historically manifest themselves in the guise of having a "spirit body" so that we would recognize them. To be approached by a person whom one assumes or knows to be dead would be a truly disturbing experience, to say the least!

Felix Faust… it has been awhile since I have heard that name in a Justice League comic. For all you "newbie" JLA fans, Felix Faust is the name of a sorcerer who has tried repeatedly for the last 30 years (publishing-time) to destroy the Justice League. He is a sorcerer who has always been portrayed as somewhat of a bumbling oaf in the magic-circles of DC villains. A Middle-Eastern cap with flaps is his signature trademark. His is not a "good guy". This year's JLA annual features three ghosts (literally!) from the JLA's past membership. I have got to say that I found this issue to be an entertaining and enjoyable read, overall. Let's look at the story.


*SPOILER ALERT*


Faust breaks into the Smallville Museum of Marvels to steal eternal life (how is that for a display?). Into the pictures enters one mummified-man (who is now dead) named Hermes Trimegistus. Faust's plans to raise him from the grave and extract the secret to immortality are eliminated when Hermes, rudely awakened from his suicide, now intends on killing all of humanity so that his beauty sleep is not disturbed again. And you thought that you are grumpy first thing in the morning!

Felix seeks the aid of the Justice League as a last (and first) resort.. A tablet lies at the center of the plot that can be used by the holder of it to do ones bidding. It had been split in three sections by the Freemasons two hundred years earlier and each piece was hidden in very remote locations. Faust is vigorously questioned by the JLA who, following a wrap of the ol' magic lasso of Wonder Woman, determine that Felix's story is true.

The team splits into pairs to retrieve the tablet portions before Hermes does. The pairs are: Flash & Aquaman; Superman & Green Lantern; Wonder Woman and Batman; J'onn J'onzz remained behind to look after their guest, Mr. Faust.

The surprise in the tale (you gotta admit that things are pretty standard so far) is the choice of guest stars: three dead JLA'ers! I mean, literally, they are all currently deceased in DC continuity. Now that is an act that is hard to follow up. I won't give away the specifics of whom they are, but this I will say: one of my least favorite members is amongst the three. The only other clue is that they are two men and one woman. Near the end of the annual we can see other dead DC heroes making "special guest appearances from the beyond the grave for a limited time only". This includes Robin (i.e. Jason Todd, who has looked better), Mr. Terrific (lookin' somewhat pale), Black Canary (better than Dead Canary, eh?), Deadman ('nuff said!), Amazing Man (not amazing anymore), and a few others who shall remain nameless.

All in all, this was an enjoyable story to read. What is worth noting is the art style of Pajarillo. His ability to convey emotion through facial expressions is uncanny and genuinely moving. His renderings of the JLA are very "realistic': that is, they look like real human beings, anatomically-speaking. The costumes seem to fit like one would think a costume would fit.. There are moments where things are a little boxy or two-dimensional. But, for the most part, I can say that Pajarillo's efforts and results really surprised me.

A great scene to note is where Superman and Green Lantern are in the midst of securing their piece of the tablet. A dead JLA'er makes her first appearance and scares the you-know-what out of Superman.. For some odd reason Kyle doesn't even recognize her (doesn't this guy look through the JLA scrapbooks at all?!). On the other hand, Kal is terrified. The art perfectly captures his utter horror at seeing… oops, I promised not to tell. She even wraps her arms around him to receive consolation and he pulls back. This man who can move mountains can even be rattled significantly. Good illustrating, Pajarillo!

There are some other strong moments in the story. When Faust snaps verbally at Kyle the look on his face is priceless. Wally looks somewhat innocent throughout the book. Wonder Woman is also drawn well. She looks like a "real women": her breasts are not drawn as if they were two Patriot missiles mounted on her chest. That is nice for a change. Batman is pretty boring; the same ol' brooding and somber Dark Knight demeanor. A truly funny moment involves J'onn watching a classic movie on a massive home theater system. It is short, sweet, and hilarious.

One change is the more serious role that is written for Faust. He is usually written as if he is the bumbling moron who couldn't steal candy from a lethargic trick-or-treater. For once he is taken serious and the results are believable (as written by Templeton). It is good to see that Faust can be a good dramatic player as well. Let me deviate on a related thought for a moment.

Why is it that writers think that fans want their villains to be portrayed half of the time to be comedic wags or silly dolts? I don't believe that even the youngest reader wants the villains to be silly or campy. The occasional humorous story is fine and worth reading when well done. But the superhero genre is primarily drama and action. That is why people read it. Whether it be the Avengers or the X-Men or the Titans or the JLA, why is it that half of the time foes are written as if they are imbeciles? What is the deal with this? The humor is usually either infantile or else loaded with sexual innuendoes. Intelligently-visceral stuff is harder to come by. The whole thing with Prometheus being taken out by a shot to the "family jewels" is simply absurd! He would have had armor there, too, surely! Who knows, maybe good humor is out there and I am missing most of it.

Back to the review.

Bringing back dead League members is an entertaining thing to do. Is it tasteful? Well, that is another matter all together. It depends on your perspective. What is odd in this story is that the dead superheroes are all still clothed in their costumes while living "beyond the grave". I guess that they are short on tailors there or something. I think that superheroes or regular people like you and me would probably be naked if anything in the land of the dead!

Now for a few more negative comments and observations:
Why did Batman go to the bottom of the ocean rather than the Martian Manhunter? When J'onn did a probe on Faust why did he miss out on "reading" some very important information? Why would a little town like Smallville have such an exotic display of archaeological artifacts, including the mummified body on an ancient Egyptian scholar (maybe an NEA grant gone really outta whack)? What is the deal with Faust being tied down with about 215 lb. of chains? Why do comics have covers with scenes THAT NEVER APPEAR IN THE BOOK AT ALL? If Aquaman can see at the bottom of the ocean, where the lighting is very black, they why did he need to wear a helmet with a light on it (a fashion statement, perhaps?) in a deep cave? Why do Diana's bracelets not appear in one scene only to magically appear in the very next panel?

Regardless of these small details, I recommend getting this story if you want an interesting read. No, this is not Crisis On Infinite Earths, but this is a solid book with fine art and a story that moves steadily. Word on the 'net has it that Ty Templeton is set to replace Grant Morrison as JLA's principal writer as of January 2000. If this 48 page annual is any indication, he has the ability to write interesting characterization. At only $2.95 US, this comic is a decent value for the money. I give this issue a 8 out of 10.

JLA Rumours & Tidbits

Here are a couple of items that have been floating around the message boards the last couple of weeks that relate to the JLA.

1. Morrison and Porter will do their last JLA issues to be released December 1999. The writer mentioned to replace Morrison is Ty Templeton (as noted above).

2. Guest Stars for the JLA for the next year include Captain Marvel, Animal Man, and the newly-reformed JSA team who will also star in the first JLA-JSA team-up in 13 years. Now that is good news! The JSA line-up will include the Flash (i.e. Jay Garrick), Sentinel (i.e. Alan Scott, former Green Lantern), and Wildcat just to name a couple of the key players. This could be GREAT!

3. Is the Multiverse going to return? This is a BIG rumor that has been much debated. The answer is a "yes" and a "no". Apparently some kind of "timeline multiverse" is the correct answer, though this is only a rumor at this point. The big lead up to the year 2000 is going to have DC publish a series that is Crisis-level in scope. WOW!

All characters are ™ DC Comics
All scanned artwork is ™ DC Comics.
This article is © 1998 by Bruce Bachand.

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