Tuesday, 27 January 2015

JLA Ultramarine Corps (JLA Classified #1-3, Spawn/WildC.A.T.s #1)

 "These "no-nonsense" solutions of yours just don't hold water in a complex world of jet-powered apes and time travel" - Superman

And so we reach the end of teambook month with a look at a miniseries containing the greatest team ever, the late nineties, early noughties era Justice League America.  The first story in this slim volume I'm looking at particularly because it functions as a prologue to next month where I'll be looking at Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers Of Victory series JLA Classified features the Sheeda and Neh-buh-loh who go on to play a significant role in Seven Soldiers, this appearance being a prepemptive strike by them. Fans of Paul Cornell's brilliant Knight and Squire miniseries should also be interested in this as the wonderful Squire, Beryl, gets a starring role here. The trade paperback also contains a bumper length one shot that, in a pleasing Alan Moore-esque "end leads back to the beginning" is a team up starring the WildC.A.T.s and like Spawn/WildC.A.T.s it's really not that brilliant. Although it's definitely better as it doesn't treat the reader like a moron, the art though completely average at least works sequentially and the JLA are far more interesting in their interactions with the WildC.A.T.s (especially since several of the WildC.A.T.s are rip-offs of them) than Spawn was.

JLA CLASSIFIED - This comic starts out with the International Ultramarine Corp's in action.  These are made up of characters created my Grant Morrison for the crossover event DC One Million.  The original core team of four are Warmaker 1, Flow, 4-D and Pulse 8.  They were artifically created to oppose the Justice League, but rebelled and now police the planet from their flying city Superbia.  Other members include Knight and Squire, Goraiko, Jack O'Lantern, Vixen, Olympian, Kid Impala, Tasmanian Devil, Little Mermaid and Fleur-de-Lys.  The main thing that sets them apart from the JLA is their willingness to use extreme violence and kill to deal with difficult situations, making them similar to the Wildstorm superteam The Authority.
Gorilla Grodd in action.
The story begins with the Ultra-Marine Corp battling the forces of Gorilla Grodd - a super intelligent, telepathic ape - in the African city of Kinshasa.  Squire, who is Knight's side-kick fills them in on Grodd, he is number three on the "global most wanted" list. Goraiko, who is a mindless construct controlled by a young Japanese girl manages to take Grodd down, but Warmaker (a disembodied presence inside an armoured suit) thinks there is more to come.

They find a mysterious cube and Grodd tells them he burned Kinshasa to attract their attention.  It's a trap!  Goraiko suddenly sends out an electro-magnetic pulse that takes out Superbia's power.  The cube starts to absorb 4-D to gain a humanoid shape while Squire escapes the crashing Superbia on a flying bike and Grodd smashes Warmaker's armour.

Narration: "Savagery is crowned King.  Civilisations defenders fall."

The action cuts to Batman, Squire contacts him via the Bat-Phone to Batman's Bat-surprise.  When he is filled in on the situation he goes to his "sci-fi" closet to get outfitted to go help.  He tells Alfred the rest of the JLA are off saving someone else's universe. Back with Grodd, he is ranting about using Superia to smash human civilisation. He asks Neh-Buh-Loh what's in it for him.  he responds that he is preparing a way for "my Queen of terror".
The sci-fi closet.  Note the Dalek there.
Back with Beryl, she is blasted off her bike by flying jet powered apes.  Luckily Batman catches her with the small flying saucer he is riding.  He uses a "boom tube" to transport the pair of them to a JLA base near Pluto.  There is the same universe cube that turned into Neh-Buh-Loh, which Batman refers to as the "infant universe."  He believes Squire, whose powers relate to communications can contact the JLA inside it, while he goes and fights Grodd with his robot JLA.
Squire Beryl gets saved by Batman in a flying saucer.  Aren't comics awesome?!
Inside the Infant Universe, which Wonder Woman names as Qwewq, the JLA are watching the super-villain "Black Death" go about his business of being an evil dick.   It seems this universe is devoid of superheroes of it's own.  Then a payphone rings which Black Death answers and says "wrong number".  It was Squire trying to contact the JLA and we cut back to her telling Batman she "had something there."

The action then returns to the Ultra-Marines.  Knight, 4-D, Jack O'Lantern and The Little Mermaid are barricaded in the armory.  They intend to go on the offensive but 4-D has a little Sheeda "spine rider" on the back of his head controlling him, and he makes tumours appear in the Little Mermaid to force the others to give up and they all end up under Sheeda control.
A Sheeda "spine rider".
Batman and the robot JLA attack, but are easily taken out. "That went well" comments Batman sarcastically, and Grodd grabs him saying he always wanted to eat him.  Squire finally gets through again via phone.  The JLA arrest Black Death who says his goal was to waste their time anyway so Grodd could enact his plan.  Superman speaks to Squire and they all Boom Tube their way out of Qwewq, which is about time as Grodd has Batman tied to a spit, all ready for roasting.

The real JLA arrive on the scene and Green Lantern engages 4-D who restores his weakness to yellow.  As he falls Flash creates a vortex that cushions him and sends him flying back up where he punches 4-D out.  Wonder Woman takes on several of the Corp, including Vixen and Tasmanian Devil. Grodd keeps rambling and ranting about the superiority of the gorilla race to Batman, who when Grodd's back is turned, breaks free and kicks Grodd hard in the groin.
Olympian takes down John J'onzz.
Martian Manhunter goes to take on Goraiko but is intercepted by Olympian who uses fire against him, John's only weakness.  Superman meanwhile makes his way to fight Neh-Buh-Loh.  Batman has disabled and tied up Grodd, Batman got free thanks to the help of Warmaker in his disembodied form.  Jack O'Lantern and Knight appear to attack Batman next.

Olympian attacks Aquaman, while Wonder Woman uses her Lasso of Truth to overide Tasmanian Devils mind control and lets him battle his teammates.  Aquaman knocks Olympian out, while Batman does the same to Jack O'Lantern.  Before he can fight Knight, Squire appears and appeals to Knight not to fight Batman.  Knight manages to pull the Spine Rider off the back of his head and crushes it.
But John is too badass to stay down.
Martian Manhunter breaks free of the fire he was trapped in and goes to find Goraiko.  But it has no mind of it's own that he can reach, luckily Aquaman finds it's controller and frees her from the Sheeda.

Superman reaches Neh-Buh-Loh and demands to know what he is.

Neh-Buh-Loh: "The seed of evil Black Death planted bore fruit in me!  I am Neh-Buh-Loh the adult universe of Qwewq".

He doesn't fight Superman, saying he has tested them, then he teleports away saying next time he will be back with his people and the takeover will be less ostentatious.  With the rest of the Ultramarines freed of Sheeda control and the gorilla's imprisoned, Superman scolds the Ultramarines.

Superman: "You were a disaster waiting to happen, Warmaker. 'Superheroes' who don't mind killing to achieve their ends can be dangerous in the wrong hands."

He suggests they all go into the universe of Qwewq and become the heroes that universe needs, which might stop it becoming Neh-Buh-Loh.  They agree and Boom Tube into Qwewq and we'll find out what happened to them in the upcoming Seven Soldiers Of Victory series.
Tune in next month folks to see how they do.
If I have one criticism to make of this mini is that it's very crowded.  An extra issue might have ironed out the leaps the plot takes in places.  But it feels a little churlish to complain when at the very least you're getting value for money with the amount of story crammed into these three issues.  The lighter Batman of this story is much more to my taste than the grim, humourless avenger running about the DCU these days, and Beryl (Squire) is always fantastic. The artwork by Ed McGuiness is particularly praiseworthy, it's a style I really like, ie. heavily cartoon-like with characters given a real weight and heft, as well as good sequential flow making it a pleasure to read.  The Sheeda and Neh-buh-loh are set up as intriguing villains leaving you wanting to know more about them, which was part of this mini's job as a prelude to Seven Soldiers of Victory, the Grant Morrison maxi-series I'll be devoting a whole month to in February.
Pictured: The 90's.
JLA/WILDC.A.T.S - The story starts with Wally West when he was Kid Flash running through the countryside.  Suddenly he is attacked by a cackling maniac in an armoured suit.  He tells Wally it's a 41st Century "telekinetically controlled, super-conducting, liquid polyalloy". He then introduces himself as "Epoch, Lord of Time".  Fortunately Wally is saved by his older self and his JLA compadres.  Epoch disappears saying he'll target another of them in the past.  The Flash notes the weirdness of briefly having his memory in stereo then they return to their time travelling cube-ship, leaving behind a bewildered Kid Flash:

The Flash: "Trust me on this Wally.  It's like kissing: just one of those things that won't make any sense until you're older."

They chase Epoch back and forth through time, foiling each attempt he makes to kill them.  Finally Epoch sends them into the future but keeps the ships time drive in the past. They end up stranded in AD 55, Batman realises the time drive might still be around but buried in the ground, so Green Lantern makes a plough and they dig it up, the other four hold onto Kyle's ring to boost the will that powers it and jump start the time drive. They return to the present (1997, the date of publication), but it's definitely not their right present.
Stuck in the Wildstorm Universe a year before it was cool.
The WildC.A.T.s ( Covert Action Teams) are busy fighting people who's latent gene-active tendencies have been activated by powerful fluctations in the quantum foam (oh Grant...), a disturbance which is coming from outside the universe.  Suddenly the JLA's timeship lands and the JLA come out to see what's happening. To stop the narrative getting too cluttered, the full roster of each team is not present.  There is Superman during his electric blue phase, Wonder Woman, Batman, The Flash and Green Lantern.  For the WildC.A.T.s there is Majestic, Zealot, Grifter, Void and Maul, part of the post-Alan Moore run line up of the team. 

When two superteams who are unfamiliar with each other meet there is always some fisticuffs over a misunderstanding before the inevitable team-up occurs.  When Majestic rather arrogantly says the following to a curious Superman:

Majestic: "I am Majestros of the Kheran Empire. These are the WildC.A.T.s and if you dare subject me to another electromagnetic scan, I intend to tear your head from your body".

Superman responds by punching him far outside the building they are in.  As Majestic is the WildC.A.T.s Superman rip-off (he was absent from Spawn/WildC.A.T.s I assume simply because he'd have been able to take out even a powered up Spawn easily) there is something quite satisfying about Superman's response to him, even if it does feel a little out of character for him.
Zealot versus Wonder Woman.
So Zealot takes on Wonder Woman, Zealot is also a "homage" to Wonder Woman, a proud warrior brought up and trained in the art of battle by an isolated sisterhood.  She isn't as super strong and resilient as Wondy is and she's also something of a humourless cow.  So all Wonder Woman does in the fight is defend herself while asking Zealot nicely to stop as she isn't really go to be able to hurt her no matter how hard she attacks.

Grifter isn't a direct copy of Batman.  He is the only WildC.A.T member with no superpowers so is alike in that respect, and he is probably the most "badass" of them too, also like Batman.  But he uses guns, which of course is Batman's big no-no, and he's intelligent enough to see just how much Batman outclasses him by the fact Batman managed to disarm him before they even started fighting and he correctly decides not to push his luck.
Flash and Void.
Void and the Flash are similar in that they both move at great speeds, but Void moves by teleporting herself and manages to stay a short step ahead of the Flash as they size each other up and realise they aren't a threat to each other.  This leaves the size changing Maul and Green Lantern battling, although they are definitely nothing alike.  Green Lantern is the only one of the JLA who really throws himself into his match-up and get's harmlessly disabled quite quickly by Maul as a result.

Superman and Majestic sort out their differences off screen, they realise they share a common enemy and finally Zealot calms down which she does out of respect for Wonder Woman's fighting prowess, they then try and work out what their next move should be against their reality messing, time-travelling opponent.

Batman: "We still don't know where we are.  According to the Grifter here this is 1997 but he's never heard of Metropolis, Gotham City or the Justice League."

Grifter: "Great name though guys.  Says what it means and it's not afraid to get laughed at."

Cheeky blighter!  I assume this is Morrison actually poking fun at the supposedly more "realistic" Wildstorm universe characters who are in fact just as silly as those of DC and Marvel.  Anyway, the Justice League set about the monsters that have just arrived.  Majestic is still a bit dubious about their tale of coming from a parallel universe, but Void, who's "thing" is space and time travel says it makes sense with what's been happening.

Void: "This 'Time Lord' they spoke of has disrupted probability so severely on their timewave that the distortions are leaking through to our universe, look!  This chaos will continue to accelerate unless we stop it at source."
Some metaphysical folderol.
They come up with a plan to cross into the JLA's universe to take on Epoch.  Void and Green Lantern both enter "Void-space" a trippy 4D place.  There are beings there who in return for Green Lanterns "concepts" which he doodles with his power ring will help them go back to the DCU.  It works and Void installs the technology into the time drive of the JLA's time machine.  It will make a bridge for them that will last a few hours, the WildC.A.T.s can help them for a short while but will have to return before the bridge decays.

They make it, but in the short time they have been away, Epoch fused with with the ultimate weapon of the 68th century, a self evolving supercomputer.  Now he can't tell where he ends and it begins.  He has used his power to summon troops from the future to subdue Earth, and he intends to convert the Earth into a huge time travelling engine with humans as it's slave population.
The villain "Epoch"
The JLA and WildC.A.T.s spring into action.  Epoch goes into high alert and downloads all the anti-JLA codes he has.  Superman absorbs electricity from the clouds then he and Majestic unleash powerful energy beams at Epoch's protective shield. Meanwhile on the ground Batman and Grifter and Zealot and Wonder Woman fight through the future army of monsters.  Maul grows to a huge size and smashes Epochs weakened protective shield.  Then Superman tells Majestic it's up to his people to finish dealing with Epoch as he has no defences programmed against them.

Void manages to disable the forcefield around Epoch and they hit him with energy beams, bullets and a sword. Before Epoch can overload and destroy Earth the JLA arrive with their time cube which they have programmed to follow a circle in time, a temporal prison.  Epoch screams that the records promised he would be master of the earth and he disappears locked in a timeloop for all eternity.
The WildC.A.T.s save the day.
The JLA and WildC.A.T.s bid each other farewell.  Superman says he and Majestic should meet again and talk some day.  Majestic isn't sure they would have much in common, but he does think Superman should wear a cape.  Batman tells Grifter he doesn't need guns to fight with,  Grifter says he'll still use them, but gives one to Batman as a souveneir and as they disappear back to their home universe he says it was a "pleasure and a privilege working with you Batman."  The story ends with a page showing a totally insane Epoch trapped in the timeloop forever.
And they return the their own universes.
JLA/WildC.A.T.s is a bit of fluff.  It's a fairly bland and flavourless read but has some nice moments sprinkled here and there.  It does throw into sharp relief just how uninspired most of the Wildstorm characters are when placed in a story with the iconic DC characters they emulate.  Grifter comes out of it best, mainly because Morrison writes him as a pseudo Batman type and he gets the pick of the good lines.  The art by Val Semeiks is... uninspired to say the least.  Oh, don't get me wrong, it's not full of confusing splash pages nor sequential fails like Spawn/WildC.A.T.s and the female characters are drawn with respect. But this is another Morrison "cosmic" tale and the art doesn't really capture the spectacular weirdness parts of the script seem to call for. Of course one is left with the question of how the Wildstorm Universe can exist when at this point in the DCU timeline there was one universe and one universe only.  But I pick nits.  Buy JLA Ultramarine Corps for the lovely JLA Classified mini and enjoy JLA/WildC.A.T.s as a decent bit of extra value.


  1. Little Mermaid??? Seriously?!?

    I remember the formation of the Ultramarine Corps. I can't remember whether my favourite member was Pulse 8, because he was all cool and mysterious — and because I like the words 'pulse' and 'pulsate' — or whether it was 4D because she can slip through cracks and go anywhere. Famous superheroes probably can't get away with breaking and entering, though.

    Did you know that 'superbia' means 'pride'?

    I knew he was going to say he'd eaten the hostages before I read the speech bubble.

    It's funny, 'cos when I was lying in bed this morning I thought that the universe might just be one bubble in a big... foam. Maybe in God's bathtub.

  2. Yes, The Little Mermaid, lol. I had to find this out from wikipedia and narrow her down in that scene because the three issues are so packed not everyone gets introduced, but it has to be one of the lazier superhero names. To be fair it predates Grant Morrison.

    See now I did not know that about "superbia", I can rely on you to bring the smarts!

    That line about quantumn foam is just the sort of thing I could imagine Data or the Doctor saying to describe a temporal event, then I get sad that Morrison is not qualified to write for Who. He'd be great at it, I'm still chortling over the "sci-fi" closet. I wonder if it's bigger on the inside?

  3. jet powered apes lol, grant morrison thinks up the coolest stuff. i wanna a sci-fi closet with a dalek in it now!

  4. When your superhero identity prompts lawsuits from Disney, you're in trouble.

    Middle English (circa 1400 AD) has a great word for pride: sourquydrye. Middle English is the best.

    I have some awesome comic books to give/lend you!

  5. G. - Every home needs a sci-fi closet I have decided!

    Lucy - I don't even know what Little Mermaid does, I assume it's water based. I look forward to what you have to lend me. I'm on an economy drive right now so have run out of comics to read.

  6. You poor love :-(

    I will bring all the comix I can carry.

    Coming out of the sci-fi closet = letting people know that you are a massive nerd :-D

  7. Brills, look forward to it.

    I love the idea of coming out of the sci-fi closet! Makes that scene even more awesome now. :D