Wednesday, November 03, 2004

"The Super-Power of Negative Thinking!" (Justice League of America #158)

jleague158

About that cover: there's a small coloring error. As the interior artwork can attest, Ultraa's thighs are actually bare. Who wears short-shorts? Ultraa wears short-shorts!

The September, 1978 issue of "Justice League of America" begins with the Flash and Wonder Woman interrupting a museum robbery. The perpetrators are Poison Ivy and Mirror Master, and the felonious pair does a fine job of smacking down the superheroes. But then Ultraa bursts onto the scene! So they smack him down, too. Though temporarily blinded by Mirror Master, Wonder Woman zeroes in on his voice, which she likens to "a foghorn." Great. From now on, whenever I read Mirror Master's dialogue, I'm going to hear Harvey Fierstein. Wonder Woman calls upon her years of warrior training to... shove Mirror Master down. Mirror Master falls onto Poison Ivy, who has caught her right foot in part of a sound effect. And oh, how I wish I was making that up. Mirror Master manages to flip himself over and deliver a very impressive Rockette-style kick to Wonder Woman's noggin. With all three heroes down for the count, Mirror Master and Poison Ivy vanish, along with their loot: a sundial.

In a big, steaming pile of expository dialogue, Wonder Woman tells the Flash about her U.N. job, reminds him of the fact that they'd enjoyed dinner together the previous night (What the hell?) and explains that the sundial is "worthless." Ultraa flips out: "You mean -- those villains jeopardized the lives of innocent people -- for an object of no value? That is -- unconscionable! ...Any act which endangers life is an act of evil! Particularly the act of a super-being! We have such power... we could destroy all humanity!" Ultraa flies off in a huff (sound effect: "SWOOSH"), leaving the Flash and Wonder Woman thinking, basically, "What's his deal?" The museum's employees and patrons poke their heads through a door and ask if it's safe to come out. The Flash reacts to this perfectly sensible question like a total asshole, which is something of a recurring motif in this story. His scarlet forehead all a-wrinkle with consternation, the Flash marvels, "Have you been hiding here the whole time? --Cowering?" The civilians compare superhero battles to "a combination earthquake and hurricane." So it's like any given day in Japan, then. In a silent panel, Wonder Woman and the Flash look at each other like, "Do you believe these pussies?" But safely away from the powerless human cattle, the Flash admits that they may have a point.

Later, Chronos, the Tattooed Man, and the Scarecrow welcome Poison Ivy and Mirror Master to "the new headquarters of the Injustice Gang!" First-time visitor Poison Ivy can't help but notice that the Injustice Gang's hideout is in the former location of the Justice League's headquarters. (Now, that's a ballsy real estate agent. "Superman, I've found an anonymous group of motivated buyers for your property, and they're ready to close on the deal today!" "Great! Say, they're not evil, are they?" "Ummmm... no.") The super-crooks add the sundial to their other swag, which includes models of a windmill, an oil derrick, and a hydroelectric dam. The group's mastermind, a towering, cloaked figure, explains that the artifacts were left on Earth by an alien race that intended to return and use them to control "the power output of the entire planet... leaving Earth barren... and reducing man to savagery once more!" The other villains think this story is total bullshit, so they immediately start hassling him with questions like "If these aliens are so powerful, why haven't they come back like you said?" The cloaked man isn't about to stand for insubordination, so he either grows to about three stories tall, or levitates -- the panel composition makes it hard to tell. Either way, it leaves the rest of the Injustice Gang staring up at him, their elbows akimbo, and for some reason most of them are standing with their legs spread about three feet apart.

At the Justice League's new headquarters, the assembled superheroes dish about Ultraa, just in time for the hotpanted dynamo to hurtle through the wall. He uses a ray-gun to bathe the Justice League in "negative waves" which "affect your thinking... your ego... your entire personality -- negatively!" Those negative waves are like the 700 Club, moveon.org, and the Atkins Diet, all rolled into one! "Never again will you be able to use your super-powers!" Ultraa boasts. The Flash skids into a wall. (Sound effect: "CHWOMP." Just what, exactly, is that wall composed of? Rice Krispie squares?) Superman has a dramatic little hissyfit about his vulnerability to Kryptonite in an oddly drawn panel -- he looks like he's shadowboxing while passing a kidney stone. The rest of the superheroes give up without a fight. Ultraa next uses the ray-gun on the Injustice Gang -- secretly, and without bothering to stick around and see if it works or not -- so he has no idea that the "negative waves" have actually boosted their self-esteem.

Feeling pretty darned good about themselves, the Injustice Gang proceeds to cripple the world's energy supplies. The Justice League monitors convey images of a waterfall that has halted in mid-descent, a windmill that refuses to turn, and oil rigs that have gone dry. Since there is no interesting way of depicting malfunctioning solar panels, we instead get to see a mob of people who are all shivering and hollow-eyed because there is snow on top of their heads. Put on a fucking hat, you idiots! Ultraa insists on facing the Injustice Gang by himself. The Tattooed Man attacks him with a living hawk tattoo. The Scarecrow incapacitates Ultraa with "fear pellets." Chronos uses his "time-gun" to... well, it's never made clear just what effect the time-gun has. It shoots tiny little sundials. Maybe they're really itchy. The Justice League has to go save Ultraa's sorry ass, but there's the whole negative wave problem. Superman suggests that they act as a mutual support group and cheer one another on. The final three pages of this story depict the League triumphing over the Injustice Gang while spouting stomach-turning affirmations like "I have to believe in myself, in my own will! Have to fight... fight my greatest enemy... myself!" Oh, and the man in the cloak turns out to be the old Flash villain, Abra Kadabra. And he was about fourteen feet tall for most of the story because...? Never mind. I don't care. Superman looks askance at the now-chastened Ultraa, and wonders, "After this, can we ever trust him? What do we do with him now?" With "headache lines" emanating from his cranium (and mine), the Flash replies, "I wish I knew, Superman. Right now, that's one question I simply can't answer..." Because it's the bottom of the last page, and there's no more room! It's the comic book equivalent of "called on account of rain." The writer just rolls a giant tarp over the script and then everybody goes home.

Also in this comic: join the Sales Leadership Club, sell only eighteen boxes of personalized Christmas cards, and win a "color TV video game!" This was in 1978, so I'm going to make a wild guess, here: it's "Pong."

2 comments:

googum said...

Love it: the panel composition is really dicey this month, since I think Ultraa's supposed to be nine-feet tall, but I'm still not 100% on that.

As for Ultraa's costume, I've heard yays and nays. I'm not a fan, but I just may not like Ultraa. What did you think?

Blockade Boy said...

I'm not thrilled with Ultraa's duds either. It doesn't quite violate my "no exposed thighs with long sleeves" rule, but the pirate boots are way too dominant. Maybe if he had more going on above the neck (heh!) like a mask or a beard or sumpin'.

It's still better than his post-Crisis outfit -- the Image-style one, with the extraneous ponytail. (He also gritted his teeth a lot then. Maybe his hair was pulled too tight!)