Current Reviews


JLA #88

Posted: Wednesday, October 15, 2003
By: David Kozlowski

“Trial By Fire” (part 5)

Writer: Joe Kelly
Artists: Doug Mahnke(p), Tom Nguyen(i)

Publisher: DC Comics

In this fifth chapter of “Trial By Fire” the Martian Manhunter has reverted to a primitive form of himself, bent on destroying mankind and the JLA – in no particular order. Through his expansive mind-control Manhunter has launched dozens of nuclear weapons targeting cities around the globe while concurrently engaging the JLA in hand-to-hand (or mind-to-mind) combat. Fortunately, there is one mind he cannot touch: Plastic Man – unfortunately he’s been misplaced.

Writer Joe Kelly is obviously angry at the U.S. Government. In past storylines he’s ripped Homeland security, the War in Iraq, the Mid-East Peace Process and now Nuclear Weapons (or WMD if you want to be contemporary). He's voiced a lot of opinions through his JLA writing, but he never reaches any conclusions - other than the omnipotent JLA can intervene and change it all. Kelly has even allowed the JLA to debate the question of power and control amongst themselves while sitting in the Watchtower overlooking the Earth, a great metaphor for the Gods deciding the fate of mortals. Here, however, one of the Gods has turned on the others and he’s bigger and badder than the rest of them combined.

If you haven’t been reading Joe Kelly’s entire JLA run, which goes back to the Obsidian Age over a year ago, you might be lost or at least wondering why the Martian Manhunter is no longer afraid of fire, wants to obliterate the world and has turned on his JLA allies. If I could do it in a sentence or two, I would… but I can’t. Kelly’s current storyline references his last three arcs in bits and pieces; it’s a classic DC “rising tension” technique, wherein there are competing A, B and C subplots – one of which is dominant. As subplot A ends subplot B and C are elevated and a new subplot emerges. Kelly is up to like F, G and H now with no end in sight for any of them.

This issue the JLA, minus Batman, race to stop a hundred nuclear missiles from impacting the planet – it’s not clear if this is supposed to represent all of the nukes in the world or just a few, how Kelly deals with that will be interesting. Manhunter is using these missile launches to distract the JLA and strike them from behind. He’s able to overwhelm the minds of nearly everyone he knows at the same time or within proximity, I’m not entirely sure how it works. Batman has been negotiating with Eel O’Brian to regain his Plastic Man persona; since his mind isn’t organic he isn’t subject to Manhunter’s mental domination. But O’Brian has no recollection of his former self, or does he?

Suffice to say Plastic Man does ride into battle and he’s a more vital and interesting Plastic Man than I’ve seen in years. He also has a decent sense of humor, in that his one-liners are actually amusing. Doug Mahnke was born to draw Plastic Man, his full-page splash is lights-out and the ensuing battle between him and the flaming Manhunter is awesome. I’d really like to see Mahnke take a run at this character in the future, his imagination is extraordinary.

Final Word:
The key to Manhunter’s own shape-shifting ability is close observation and replication, but Plastic Man assumes forms in real-time, so Manhunter cannot adapt fast enough and consequently they are well matched, which leaves time for the rest of the league to counter-attack. Next issue should complete this storyline, Kelly has set the stage for a resolution of the Manhunter’s actions, but I suspect he will be taking a leave of absence to reflect on his newfound nature. I just hope Kelly wraps some of the other dangling plots from the last twenty or so issues in the process.

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