Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Back Issue Tuesday

Justice League Of America #224 (1984)

This week's entry will likely be a bit short, and it will certainly be lacking in those nice, space-filling illustrations I usually scan. The reason, simply, is because this issue isn't very noteworthy. Yet. It's well written, is the first appearance of a sorta cool new Supervillain(Paragon), and is a cool example of the early writings of Kurt Busiek. Busiek has been a favorite of mine since his Superman miniseries Secret Identity, and was the sole reason I picked this issue up. Secret Identity, along with Tom de Haven's excellent novel It's Superman!, was what got me into reading Superman on a regular basis. From there I've followed Busiek around to his miniseries Arrowsmith(a cool alternate history tale set during World War I, with dragons!), his Aquaman run(which, while certainly the only rational version of Aquaman I've read, was still Aquaman, and kinda lame), and various other projects like Astro City. When it comes to comics I tend to follow writers(and sometimes artists) more than I do characters.

I say that this issue is inessential, so far, and that's mainly due to the fact that nothing introduced in this story carried over to any other title or story in the DC universe. The new villain, Paragon, was never brought back again despite the inclusion of a question mark after the words 'The End' on the last page. It may seem like, after 50+ years of comics history, every minor villain or hero would have been brought back countless times, but there are numerous examples of stories and characters that are ignored or forgotten by the comics companies. Just recently Grant Morrison's work on X-Men was completely ignored(if not written out of continuity entirely) until Joss Whedon ressurected some of his ideas for Astonishing X-Men.

In the beginning of the issue we see Black Canary about to interrupt a mugging, until the victim unleashes some killer kung fu moves on the criminals. She steps in once it looks like the vigilante is going to go to far with his punishment. The vigilante, we will learn shortly, is Paragon. It isn't explained right away what his superpowers(if any) are, but he quickly gains the upper hand in his fight with Black Canary. Luckily, Superman, Green Arrow & Green Lantern were all nearby having lunch, and with Superman's super-hearing they knew Black Canary needed help, and quickly show up to intervene. Superman flies in and delivers a blow that should incapacitate Paragon, but he simply shrugs it off and punches Supes so hard he flies off into the distance from the force of it. By the time Green Arrow & Green Lantern show up, Paragon is long gone.

Back on the JLA satellite, the entire team discusses what to do, and with some fairly convenient deductive reasoning, they narrow their suspects to Nobel Prize winning scientist Joel Cochin. The team sends in the big guns, and everyone heads off to confront Cochin/Paragon at his home, but unfortunately they haven't put much thought into just what powers he might have. Whatever his power is, he makes quick work of the entire team, knocking them unconscious and attaching them to a huge machine in his laboratory. It turns out Paragon has the ability to mimic the superpower of anyone within a certain radius(although only natural abilities, he wouldn't be able to mimic Red Tornado because Red Tornado is a robot). The machine is either going to boost his abilities so he doesn't need to be near a villain/hero, or destroy 80% of humanity. Maybe both. His exposition isn't very clear. Neither is his origin story, where he says his powers were natural, but then implies that he created a machine that gave him his abilities. In the end the team saves the day by having Superman fly away so Paragon loses his strength, and then the above-mentioned Red Tornado distracts him until the other members of the JLA can subdue him.

I'm not really sure why Paragon has never been utilized again since this 1984 issue, since he seems like he'd be a pretty good all-purpose villain. Someone who would be a fitting antagonist to whichever hero you wanted to spotlight. Whatever discrepancies I mentioned in his origin/motives could easily have been fixed or clarified with some simple exposition, and I look forward to this when Paragon makes his return sometime later this year. For anyone looking for a good Kurt Busiek story I can't recommend Arrowsmith or Secret Identity enough. Secret Identity is especially good for someone who doesn't really want to commit to the boy scout morality of an ongoing Superman title, but is open to the idea that the character can shoulder a pretty damned entertaining book.

Also, one final note on that cover, which seems to be designed after a famous image from the 1967 Spiderman issue 'Spiderman No More':

The JLA cover shows Paragon walking out of an alley where a trashcan is stuffed full of the accoutrements of various JLA members. Green Arrows bow(with a broken string), Superman's cape, Red Tornado's torso... and Wonder Womans bra. The most identifiable symbol of Wonder Woman is her bra. Which also means she's out there topless somewhere, which is certainly a thought that will please many a fanboy.

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