Comics Ate My Brain

August 12, 2004

Identity Crisis Research, Part Two

Filed under: crisis, justice league — Tom Bondurant @ 4:18 pm
Identity Crisis #3 flashes back to a 3-part story in which the minds of five JLAers are switched with the minds of five members of the Secret Society of Super-Villains. It appeared in Justice League of America #s 166-68, May-July 1979, and in fact takes place two days after the funeral of Zatanna’s mother, Sindella.

“The Long Way Home,” JLA #166, May 1979: Red Tornado’s on monitor duty at the JLA Satellite when the Wizard, Blockbuster, Plant-Master (a/k/a Jason Woodrue, the Floronic Man), Star Sapphire, and Professor Zoom attack. They’ve been trapped between Earth-2 and Earth-1 for the past 6 months until Zoom used his vibratory powers to free them. After taking out Reddy, they use the JLA transporter to go to Israel and pick up a magic griffin statue. Using the transporter triggers an alarm which brings five JLAers. They follow the Secret Society to Israel. They fight, and the villains win. Star Sapphire exposits that their life-forces are trapped between Earths. The life-forces will die unless the villains transfer their minds into the heroes’ bodies, which they do. The brain-switches are as follows: Wizard-Superman, Zoom-Green Lantern, Star Sapphire-Zatanna, Plant Master-Wonder Woman, and Blockbuster-Batman.

“The League That Defeated Itself,” JLA #167, June 1979: While Wizard/S and Zoom/GL squabble, the JLA tries to figure a way out of its Kryptonian-made cell. Remembering a flaw from when he built it, Supes/W gets GL/Z to pound one corner at super-speed, and the cell shatters. The villains have left, so the Leaguers reactivate Red Tornado. He thinks they’re evil, and fights them, but loses. A trip to a San Francisco prison lets GL/Z trick a villain named Hijack (former member of both the Royal Flush Gang and Secret Society) into giving up info about the Society’s new ‘Frisco headquarters. The League goes there, but everyone except Zatanna/SS is felled by Green Arrow’s shock arrow. GA, Black Canary, Flash, Hawkman, and Elongated Man have joined up with the other “Leaguers,” but GA is suspicious.

“The Last Great Switcheroo,” JLA #169, July 1979: Zoom/GL imprisons the “Society” members (minus “Star Sapphire”) in a power-ring diamond, chained and gagged. Green Arrow flashes back to reveal that “Superman” set up the ambush. Thanks to super-hearing, Wizard/S knows of GA’s suspicions. He throws the diamond towards the sun. The real Leaguers are shocked. Wiz/S says calm down, the other members discussed it before you got here, and besides I just put them into a solar orbit until they can be rehabilitated. This confirms for GA that “Supes” is an impostor.

Aboard the JLA Satellite, Red Tornado escapes the ice-prison “Sapphire” put him in last issue. He sees “Sapphire” arrive, but holds off blasting her. She says she’s Zatanna and passes out.

Wiz/S sets up the League to guard the “Nova Jewels,” ancient Aztec jewelry on loan from the Mexican government. The Leaguers split up, with Wiz/S flying over the city and Zoom/GL and Black Canary staying with the jewels. Once they’re alone, Zoom/GL kisses BC. She knees him in the crotch (!), judo-flips him, and yells “They’re imposters!” loud enough for GA to hear. GA takes out Saph/Z with a paralysis arrow (so she can’t talk). Blockbuster/B and Plant-Master/WW attack Flash, but he ties them up with the magic lasso. Wiz/S sees what’s going on with x-ray vision, but he’s downed by Supes/W’s magic. Later, aboard the satellite, Zatanna/SS switches everyone back.

This story looks like a pretty important part of Identity Crisis. In fact, JLA #168 contains an ad for Flash #275, out the same month, in which Iris Allen was murdered. This helps settle the chronology of events. However, there are still some problems, since Professor Zoom killed Iris. That most likely happened shortly after this story, because Zoom had been trapped between Earths for the past 6 months. (I know the parallel-Earth issue is gone now, but I would think it’s been replaced with something similar.) Moreover, Identity Crisis‘ flashback doesn’t have Flash beating the daylights out of Zoom. I haven’t read the Flash story, but it adds an extra layer to both the JLA story and IC — Zoom learns Flash’s real identity (if he hadn’t already), has it erased by Zatanna (according to IC) and still manages to kill Iris Allen not long afterwards. (I imagine that Zoom broke jail soon after the League left him with the authorities. Either that or this was a Zoom from another point in the timeline before the JLA story, which would really make my head hurt.) In that respect, Zatanna’s mind-wipe only postponed the inevitable.

Nevertheless, Identity Crisis suggests (through Green Arrow’s narration) that the Secret Society storyline took place before Iris’ murder. I figure GA was trying to make a point. The Secret Society story immediately followed Sindella’s death, but it was probably some years removed from Larry Lance’s. Of those three deaths, both Larry’s and Sindella’s were sacrificial, and Iris’ was the only murder. Thus, GA had to include Iris’ death, or his argument would have fallen apart. Regardless, listing the two sacrifices alongside Iris’ murder is jarring. Neither Larry nor Sindella were in positions to avoid sacrificing themselves, and neither of them could have been saved by the protection of their loved ones’ secrets. In fact, it might have been the case that the time-traveling Zoom would have known Barry Allen’s secret identity anyway. Is Brad Meltzer setting Green Arrow up for a fall, or is he unwittingly undermining his own plot, or both?

Speaking of Zoom, I’m not sure if this Star Sapphire was supposed to be Carol Ferris. (There was another Star Sapphire roaming around, and I thought she, not Carol, joined the Secret Society.) I don’t think it was, because at that point Carol knew Green Lantern’s secret identity. To further complicate things, I can’t remember whether Carol’s Sapphire remembered GL’s secret. Still, that’s another problem with the League’s mind-wipes — what if you’re wiping the mind of the woman you love? (Carol may not be the best example of this, since she had other mental-health issues.)

There are a lot of JLA stories which have the Leaguers trade minds and/or bodies with villains or each other, and I am nowhere close to cataloguing them all. We’ll see how IC plays with this theme in future issues.

Notes: To account for the current timeline, Identity Crisis substitutes Black Canary for Wonder Woman, I guess by default. (This would mean that someone else racked-up “GL” when he put the moves on her, and Hawkgirl is the only female member remaining.) The story still takes place before Sue’s rape because Zatanna is in her old costume. She didn’t get the new one until much later, in JLA #187, February 1981. She also appeared in it in New Teen Titans #4, same month. Ironically, the new costume helped Flash figure out that “Zatanna” was an imposter. Another bit of irony — in the JLA story, Wiz/S overhears Green Arrow voicing his suspicions; and in IC, Supes overhears GA telling Wally about the mind-wipes. Finally, IC’s Daily Planet headline, “Switcheroo!,” is a bit of fun with the last part’s title.

Credits: All stories written by Gerry Conway, pencilled by Dick Dillin, inked by Frank McLaughlin, and edited by Ross Andru.

Identity Crisis Research

Filed under: crisis, justice league — Tom Bondurant @ 4:09 pm
Last night I pulled down the Justice League of America longbox and started rifling through, looking for issues with Dr. Light and Hector Hammond. (We’re told that Light’s assault on Sue came while the League was fighting Hammond.) I also looked at the DCU Guide online to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I re-read the 3-part Secret Society story from Identity Crisis #3 too, but that’s another post.

Hector Hammond first. His only fight against the League during this period was as a disembodied spirit, controlling the new Royal Flush Gang, in Justice League of America #s 203-05 (June-August 1982). Because this story features Firestorm, who’s apparently not part of the League at the time referenced in IC, I believe the reference is to an “untold tale.” I could be wrong; Firestorm may play a more prominent role in Identity Crisis later on. Still, the 1982 story is also long enough after Iris Allen’s death that I don’t believe it’s the same one referenced.

Dr. Light appeared only a few times in Justice League of America during the “Satellite Era.” The first, JLA #122, is eerily significant, but I’m saving that for later; and besides, it’s not clear (because it’s a “casebook” story) whether it takes place before the League moved into their satellite headquarters. The second, JLA #136, is part of a JLA/JSA crossover, and Light was just one of a horde of villains.

The third was December 1977’s Justice League of America #149, entitled “The Face Of The Star-Tsar!” JLA #149 has a number of elements significant to Identity Crisis. It opens with Light “at long last” finding a JLA transporter terminal (which, of course, he later hijacked in IC). He doesn’t get to use it because the League chases him off. Light easily escapes from the Leaguers, but runs afoul of new villain Star-Tsar. Eventually, Flash and Superman find Light’s invisible hideout. Light traps the various Leaguers in a sphere of whirling titanium slivers, traveling at near-light speeds so they’ll slice to ribbons anyone (even Supes) who tries to pass them. He then turns the “Spectriminator” on them, which splits them up into little pieces, each colored a different part of the spectrum because each is in a different dimension. Because GL’s power ring isn’t in a yellow part (still in a green part, in fact), he reunifies himself and the others, and Star-Tsar frees the League from the titanium prison. Light reappears, but Hawkman decks him.

Throughout the issue, Light says he wants the League to die, and refers to a “war” between himself and them. Batman calls Light a “clever criminal mastermind – very deadly,” and the Hawks, GL, and Wonder Woman all agree. Light calls his spectrum-trap “the definitive destruction – because you remain alive to suffer, but have no hope of ever reuniting your scattered parts!” Thus, Light shows a sadistic side, and is still considered a genuine threat. Indeed, we see that if GL’s ring had wound up in the yellow dimension, the League would have been trapped forever by the Spectriminator.

If JLA #149 helped set the stage for Identity Crisis, then JLA #122 is certainly its direct ancestor. In “The Great Identity Crisis!”, Dr. Light disguises himself as an ice-creature which the League defeats and takes to the interplanetary zoo in Supes’ nearby Fortress of Solitude. While the Leaguers are occupied, Light takes “Amnesium” from Supes’ armory and puts it into a weapon. The Amnesium will transfer the memories of each Leaguer’s secret identity to Light’s mind. Aquaman doesn’t have a secret ID, and Supes is invulnerable to the weapon, but Light’s got plans for them too. Light shoots the five other Leaguers with the Amnesium. He then scrambles the information and returns it to different minds: Green Arrow thinks he’s Ray Palmer; Green Lantern is Barry Allen, Batman is Oliver Queen, Atom is Hal Jordan, and Flash is Bruce Wayne.

The five confused Leaguers leave the Fortress for their “homes” without Supes or Aquaman being any wiser. The “switched” Leaguers are each trapped in various ways, and unable to escape because they can’t quite use their new bodies’ powers. Meanwhile, Aquaman is knocked out by Light’s exploding fish-trap.

Light, still in the Fortress, reflects that Supes and Bats once switched identities to trap him (in JLA #12, June 1962). Supes returns, but Light traps him in Kryptonite rays. The rest of the Leaguers show up, led by Aquaman, who reveals he wasn’t fooled by the exploding fish. (Aquaman also says that Light didn’t think he had another identity, but he does — Arthur Curry, the name his human father gave him.) Checking with the Fortress’ computer, he learned Light’s scheme; and from there the other members were rescued. After an extended fight through the Fortress, Light is captured. The Amnesium erases the secret identity data from Light’s brain, but Green Arrow points out that if they’d known each others’ identities, this wouldn’t have happened in the first place. The League agrees to share secret identities among all members from this point forward.

This looks a lot like the inspiration for Identity Crisis. The title alone would be enough, but here we also have Dr. Light learning the Leaguers’ secret identities, and the Leaguers erasing that knowledge and changing their protocols to make sure something similar doesn’t happen again.

However, if this story shows up in IC, it would have to be heavily altered. Superman didn’t have a Fortress of Solitude at this point in post-Crisis history, nor did he know Batman’s secret identity (or vice versa). Flash, Green Lantern, and Green Arrow probably knew each other’s secrets. I don’t know about Atom. Besides, “amnesium” as a plot device wouldn’t fly with today’s readers. Although Brad Meltzer has talked about “reclaiming” the Silver Age stories, hokum and all, it would be a stretch to revisit this one.

Next up: the Secret Society of Super-Villains!

Credits:

Justice League of America #122, September 1975. “The Great Identity Crisis!” Written by Martin Pasko, pencilled by Dick Dillin, inked by Frank McLaughlin, and edited by Julius Schwartz. JLA Roll Call: Aquaman, Atom, Batman, Flash, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, and Superman.

Justice League of America #149, December 1977. “The Face Of The Star-Tsar!” Written by Steve Englehart, pencilled by Dick Dillin, inked by Frank McLaughlin, and edited by Julius Schwartz. JLA Roll Call included Batman, Hawkgirl, Red Tornado, Superman, Flash, Hawkman, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman.

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