Sunday, October 1, 2000

The Mount: - JLA: Tower of Babel & Green Lantern: Circle of Fire Review

This month's column is going to be very, very different. I'm afraid this is going to be a little difficult to say… but with all the great thing happening in my life right now… I'm back in the big city, at a new college with a new job. Things are going really great right now, so I'm afraid… I have nothing to complain about for this month's column. I have no great inspirational sermon about some great evil in the comic industry, some horrible book that is destroying a once proud legacy or some writer who is completely oblivious as to their inability to write a decent story.

In fact, a lot of really good stories have come out this last month… so for the first time, and probably not the last time… What is GOOD this month!

First up, seeing as how this is a JLA issue, let's talk about the best that DC has put out in the last few months… Mark Waid's four-part "Tower of Babel". Personally, my favorite stories during the current run of JLA have been the guest shots written by Waid, especially the brilliant story guest-starring Atom as the League fought against a scientist who created an engine that altered the laws of chance. With Grant Morrison stepping out of the title after issue 41, I was looking forward to seeing Waid take over on a monthly basis. Well, he didn't disappoint. Although I must confess that I may be a bit biased of this story. Besides being a fan of Waid's previous JLA work, he chose to make his first story feature the one villain who can get me to buy any comic no matter how much I may hate the creative team involved. He's one of the greatest villains in all of comics, the one man who makes even Batman nervous. The character who is the sole reason I continue to read Detective Comics… Ra's Al Ghul.

The plot was very simple; Ra's comes up with another plan to reduce the population of the world. The problem is that this one is much more public and likely to attract attention than Ra's usual shadow plans. So Ra's also sets about disabling or distracting all the members of the JLA, insuring they won't disrupt his plans. Of course he forgets about all the dozens of other metahumans in North America alone who can get called upon in a time of emergency. Then again, so did Grant Morrison in every story but World War III, where everyone on the planet became a superhero to fight against a weapon of the Third World Old Gods. Still, if you ignore the fact that the JLA is hardly the only group of heroes capable of stopping Ra's, this is a good story.

Another great story that came out this month was the fifth-week event "Green Lantern: Circle of Fire", a series that had almost something for everyone. When a villain who calls himself "Oblivion" attacks the planet Rann and tells a quickly-fading Adam Strange that he is coming for Earth next, the JLA moves to confront this new menace. The battle goes poorly, with all of the JLA except Green Lantern disappearing, Kyle having been sent back to Earth for reinforcements. During the battle, Kyle notes that Oblivion looks and acts like a supervillain from a comic book he wrote as a kid.

On his way back to the Watchtower, Kyle wishes he had some kind of help. Soon after his arrival, six Green Lanterns throughout time, space and reality appear; all of them claiming to have been summoned by Kyle's wish for help. Teaming with JLA reserve members Power Girl, Firestorm, The Atom and Adam Strange, the new Lantern Corps move across the galaxies, searching for a way to stop Oblivion.

This story is great for two main reasons. First, we get (even if only for one issue) to see some heroes in action who don't get used nearly enough. Consider GL/Firestorm where a Manhunter empowered with a ring teams with Firestorm to search for a weapon that might destroy Oblivion. The story is bound to please all diehard Firestorm fans, finally telling us what happened to the long lost Proffesor Stein since he became a fire elemental.

We also get an story featuring the always welcome Adam Strange, working with Green Lightning; a future ancestor of Kyle Rayner and Wally West, who inhereted the powers of both a Green Lantern and The Flash. The two travel to Rann to investigate the damage caused by Oblivion.

The Atom, along with two members of the Teen Lantern Corps, deal with the various outbreaks of metahuman crime, sparked by word of the JLA's absence from Earth. The Teen Lanterns come from an alternate future where all the adults on earth died, so the children of Kyle's ancestors share the ring to protect the people of their time.

Power Girl, a long ignored heroine until recently (Thanks Chuck Dixon!) works with a Daxamite GL from 800 years in the past, who worked on Earth in a chainmail suit as The Emerald Knight to free the JLA from Oblivion's prison.

And Kyle joins up with Alex Dewitt; his old girlfriend, who comes from an reality like ours, except that in that reality Kyle was killed by Major Force and Alex Dewitt became Green Lantern. The two lovers, both amazed to see their first love alive and well, work to track down Oblivion himself.

The climax of the story is a true surprise, with Oblivion's true identity and Kyle's response to dealing with it one of the few great secrets this year not spoiled by Previews.

Speaking of Green Lantern, Judd Winick is doing a great job writing Kyle's monthly book. The current plot, with Kyle facing off against a group of Manhunters is engaging by itself, but Winick has restored something long absent from the book since the mid-90's. Namely, Kyle's life outside of the ringslinging. Kyle had one of the richest supporting casts in comics, but aside from Radu the landlord (who only showed up to deliver plot-important packages) they've nary been seen in the past 2 years. This is a shame, since some of the series best books have featured the cast in prominent roles.

A lesbian couple living across from Kyle featured prominently in GL 93, where Deadman took possession of Kyle's body to stop a lesbian-stalking serial killer. Radu himself had a hand in the action in GL 120, when he was threatened by an assassin from his homeland. And Kyle's friendship with blind musician Cleveland has often provided the book with a sense that we are really peaking in on a person's life and not just waiting for a fight to start.

Not only has Winick restored the old cast, he's added onto it by giving Kyle an assistant and putting John Stewart in a more prominent position as a friend and mentor to Kyle. GL #129, for example, is well worth buying just for Kyle and John's conversation about the definition of retro and why a black man cannot like A-Ha!

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