Unca Cheeks the Toy Wonder's Silver Age Comics Web Site

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BUILDING THE PERFECT BEAST

CHEEKS'CHOICE: "IF I RAN THE JUSTICE LEAGUE..."
(PART TWO)


7.) THE ATOM -- The Mighty Mite has always seemed a natural and appealing "fit" as one of the active members of the Justice League of America.

The Atom serves an invaluable ancillary function, within the League's line-up: that of the team's scientist-in- residence. A forward-looking, cutting-edge-of- technology kind of guy, as well as a natural-born tactician and strategist (because, let's face it: being able to make yourself smaller and lighter than your opponents is NOT, de facto, an advantage in the vast majority of hand-to-hand combat situations. I'm just sayin', is all.)

Too: the advantages inherent in having a team spy and/or saboteur who can go sub-atomic...

... well. Can you say "trump card"...?

WHAT HE BRINGS TO THE PARTY: Versatility. The element of surprise. And a constant reminder that it's nearly always the little guys for whom you have to keep one eye constantly peeled.

8.) HAWKWOMAN -- ... but not as a part of the heretofore inviolable "two-for-one" unit of: "Hawkman and -- ."

Look: working under the (self-imposed, admittedly) constraints of a twelve-member roster, tops... I'm being forced to "shop" a wee bit more critically than I (doubtless) might under more liberal or forgiving circumstances. And, the plain fact of the matter is: this team just flat-out screams for a li'l more representation from the distaff side of the aisle.

Now, I suppose most folks would -- like as not -- make a beeline straightaway for longtime League stalwart the Black Canary. And it's certainly not as if a reasonable and respectable case couldn't decently be made for the JLA's resident Fanboy Fishnet Fetish.

However: Hawkgirl is the more flamboyant (and visually exciting) of the two, what with those gargantuan... ummmm... wings. And the flaming red hair. (A personal "fetish" of my own. Oh, God. Ohgodohgodohgod.) And her characterization has blossomed, over the past few years, whereas the Canary's has -- by and large -- remained relatively static, by way of comparison.

... and: it just doesn't seem like a "real" League line-up to me without at least one of the Hawks swooping about, casting giant, winged shadows all over the place.

WHAT SHE BRINGS TO THE PARTY: A nicely "SF"-ish whiff of ozone... and the exotic.

9.) ROBOT MAN -- Better sit up straight, from here on in. These last four slots are the ones that are gonna set tongues to wagging from here to Altoona.

Everyone nominated for League membership in this exercise thus far -- even the sometimes (depending upon whoever's handling her, any given week) Hawkwoman -- has been the natural-born "team player," and Stolidly Dependable Type. And that's a good thing, of course; I mean, who in their right minds would willingly hook up with a group whose roster was comprised wholly (or even chiefly) of sullen, antagonistic "lone wolves"...?

However: I'm also a firm believer in the adage that every super-hero team worth its salt benefits immeasurably from the inclusion of at least one of these, in turn. Just to keep the emotional stewpot nicely a-boil during the occasional storytelling lulls, I mean.

DC Comics boasts considerably fewer spandexed "loose cannons" than does their traditional competitor, Marvel Comics... but: the ones they have had, over the years ( The Hawk, of HAWK AND DOVE fame; the O'Neil/Adams Green Arrow; Orion, of THE NEW GODS; etc.) are a nice, choice lot, indeed.

The most interesting banana in the bunch, however (in my humble opinion, I mean), is the longtime DOOM PATROL stalwart and linchpin "Cliff Steele"... a.k.a. Robot Man.

He adds but scant little, t'is true, in the "non-duplicable powers" sweepstakes -- although, honestly: what self-respeccting super-hero team can't use another strong man, at one time or another? -- but: in this instance, it's the nominee's buffed-and-polished-to-a-high-sheen characterization which is his particular ticket to ride.

Sometimes, it's not the costume; powers; and/or code name which auger most, in matters such as these. Sometimes... you just lob a given character into whatever goulash you have simmering on the stove top simply for the spice they promise to provide.

WHAT HE BRINGS TO THE PARTY: Some of the most acidic put-downs (self-directed or otherwise) ever employed by any DC Comics character. A fatalistic sense of "oh, sure... we're all going to survive this latest catastrophe. Shyeah. Right. You betcha" pessimism which plays nicely against the more studiedly confident and optimistic Leaguers.

10.) BLACK LIGHTNING -- a.k.a., "The One (Almost-)Leaguer That Got Away... and Shouldn't Have."

When inner-city schoolteacher and ex-decathelete "Jefferson Pierce" (better known to you, perhaps, as the grossly under-utilized Black Lightning) was offered a shot at League membership, back in the '70's... he became only the second super-hero so honored to turn the invitation down cold, at that time. (Future fellow OUTSIDER Metamorpho being the first, of course, in the classic Silver Age offering: "Metamorpho Says NO -- !"; JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #42; 1st series)

His stated rationale was that "I'm too much the urban 'loner'; I focus on the crimes happening in the streets." Which -- given that the team's roster, at that time, included the Batman; Black Canary; and Green Arrow -- was a pretty damned flimsy exercise in auctorial rationalization, any way you wanna slice that particular pimento loaf, really.

Creator Tony Isabella breathed enough characterization "muscle" and personality ooomph into this guy -- right from Day One -- to generate the power requisite for the lighting of a good-ish sized city block. Which (now that you mention it) the man himself can do, as well, power-wise.

More so than virtually any other existing DC Comics character, Jeff Pierce is conscience-driven; one of the most aggressively moral (in the classic sense of the word) heroes in the DCU. His would be a voice and world view worth throwing into the hopper on those grounds alone, if none other.

WHAT HE BRINGS TO THE PARTY: A sense of Right and Wrong so structured and adamantine, you could play handball against it.

11.) KATANA -- Another former OUTSIDER and ex-teammate of Jefferson Pierce; this one very nearly his polar opposite in every way.

A rogue samurai whose enchanted namesake weapon houses (among other things) the unquiet spirit of her slain husband, the emotionally frozen (one might almost say amoral) Katana provides our putative League an "edge" (pun not intended; honest) in her willingness to not only cross the line, when need be, between heroine and hellion... but to jump over it. Back and forth again. Cackling.

This, of course, would provide the other Leaguers -- particularly the pacifistic Wonder Woman; the so-straight-it-hurts Superman; and the readily appalled Black Lightning -- a plethora of characterization-driven opportunities, in turn, to react to (and either bully or counsel against) such wanton disregard for The Way We Do Things In This League... not to mention story arc springboards aplenty, between her own ties to the Japanese Yakuza (oh; did I forget to mention those...?) and the quasi-supernatural aspects of her origins.

... and -- of course -- it nudges the feminine quotient of the team to a nice, round, respectable 25%.

WHAT SHE BRINGS TO THE PARTY: a walking, talking reminder that this whole "self-appointed arbiter of Right and Wrong" super-hero(ine) shtick has an inherently dark side to it, when squinted at just so.

Okay. This last one is where the summary judgments out there are going to come down squarely either on the side of "moron" or "Messiah."

Nobody say anything until I've had a chance to s'plain what I'm going for, here:

12.) JOHN CONSTANTINE -- Okay: in a weird, roundabout sort of way... this all ties in with the long-ago Justice League "mascot" known and revered (or reviled; mileage varies) as "Snapper" Carr.

I'm. Not. Going. One. Step. Farther. Until. You. Put. Those. Butterfly. Nets. Away. Dammit.

Love him or loathe him (and I know folks on both sides of that clay court; heck... I've played on both sides, over the years), the irrepressible "Snapper" served a wholly valid storytelling purpose, back in the Silver Age JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA comics. He was the ground level voice and P.O.V. of the "everyman": the almost aggressively "normal" human whose goshwow reactions to the derring and doings of the various god-like beings around him was meant to serve as a sort of emotional "tether" to the sympathies of the readers of the day.

This is a time-honored literary conceit, stretching all the way back to the days of the Greek chorus, in plays such as Oedipus Rex; and I'm of a mind that maybe -- just maybe, mind, now -- something interesting might be made of it again, in the very same comics series which first utilized said device.

Now... the question raises itself, at this point: "Do I think said character could 'work' today, played with the same sort of whey-faced innocence...?"

... and the mournful answer, in return: "Not. A. Chance."

I'm willing to make that much of a concession to The Brutal Realities of Today's Comics Marketplace. We're all (it says here) a little more knowing; a little more cynical, jaded and world-weary. And an "everyman" character would, naturally, need to reflect such a sea change in the readership gestalt.

The sly, saturnine and fatally charming (in an oily, mildly repulsive sort of way) John Constantine -- an aggressive, acerbic and relentlessly self-centered amateur "magician" (read: "con artist") -- would, I think, play spectacularly well against The Big Blue Boy Scout (Superman); the League's resident "control freak" (the Batman); the monarch who's used to pretty much everyone sketching a quick salute whenever he glides by (Aquaman); and so on... while tweaking interesting responses, in turn, from the bleakly sarcastic likes of the equally sarcastic Robot Man; shocking even Katana with his naked, "me-first" opportunism; and so forth.

Plus: everyone's always harping on and bloody on about how "the Justice League needs a magic-user in their ranks" (although they certainly seemed to limp along ably enough for one hundred-plus or so issues without one, back in the day)... and Constantine's presence would mean we (the readers) wouldn't be subjected to the tired and tiresome likes of, say, Zatanna. So: you see.

Yeah... well... you'd all probably be applauding and tossing bouquets of roses up onto the proscenium if Grant Morrison had said it first.

WHAT HE BRINGS TO THE PARTY: The "everyman" view of the '90's, and beyond... while surrounded by heroes (and heroines) who -- for the most part -- hearken back to the all-but-forgotten charms of an earlier, bygone era. And you can't buy the sort of frictional fireworks that that would provide, nowadays.

... and remember, folks: send those homemade pipe bombs and threats of violent militia reprisals directly to me: Rob Liefeld. ))

(Please, God: don't ever, ever let Rob Liefeld stumble across this site while surfing the 'net for nekkid pictures of Gabe Kaplan, or whatever. Please. I ask for so little. You know that.) ))


"If I Ran the Justice League...": PAGE ONE

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