Retro Reviews: Justice League Task Force #1-16 By Michelinie, Friedman, Waid, Velluto & Others For DC Comics

Justice League Task Force #1-16 (June 1993-September 1994)

Written by David Michelinie (#1-3), Chuck Dixon (#4), Denny O’Neil (#5-6), Peter David (#7-8), Jeph Loeb (#9), Michael Jan Friedman (#10-12), Mark Waid (#13-15), Christopher Priest (#16)

Pencils by Sal Velluto (#1-3, 5-8, 10-15), Gabriel Morrissette (#4), Greg Larocque (#9, 16)

Inks by Jeff Albrecht (#1-3, 5-8, 10-15), Dick Giordano (#4), Aaron McClellan (#7), Kevin Conrad (#9), Robert Jones (#11), Rich Rankin (#16)

Coloured by Glenn Whitmore (#1-14), Phil Allen (#15), Dave Grafe (#16)

Spoilers (from twenty-three to twenty-four years ago)

I’ve been on a big Christopher Priest kick lately, since he returned to writing comics with Deathstroke for DC, which more or less coincided with my rereading of his Black Panther run, which is one of my top five series of all time.  More recently, I dug through his Ray series, which got me thinking about his Justice League Task Force, which I remember as being a pretty off-beat title that came at a time when my interest in mainstream comics was dropping to almost nothing.

Before getting to Priest’s stuff, I wasn’t sure if I should reread all of this title, starting from issue one.  I had a lot of gaps in the series, but then I came across all of the issues I was missing in a couple of dollar bins, and decided to give them a shot.  I like the idea of this series starting with a rotating cast of heroes, and have always been a big Martian Manhunter fan, so I figured it’s worth seeing what all is in here.

When this book started, I had given up on the other Justice League titles.  After the Giffen/DeMatteis run died out, I didn’t like where the team went, and had stopped reading JLA and JLE.  When JLTF was announced, I thought that it sounded a little more interesting, but aside from the first two issues and the Knightquest tie-ins, I didn’t stick around.  I wonder if, looking back at these comics now, they were better than I originally thought.

The team had a rotating cast with a few regular members.  Let’s look at who turned up in the title:

Team Members

  • Martian Manhunter (J’onn J’onzz; #1-4, 7-16)
  • Flash (Wally West; #1-3, 13-15)
  • Aquaman (Arthur Curry; #1-3)
  • Gypsy (Cindy; #1-8, 10-15)
  • Nightwing (Dick Grayson; #1-3)
  • Bruce Wayne (#5-6)
  • Bronze Tiger (#5-6)
  • Green Arrow (Oliver Queen; #5-6)
  • Wonder Woman (#7-8, 13-15)
  • Maxima (#7-8, 13-15)
  • Dolphin (#7-8)
  • Vixen (#7-8)
  • Joe Public (#9)
  • Geist (#9)
  • Loose Cannon (#9)
  • Hourman (Rex Tyler; #10-12)
  • Thunderbolt (Peter Cannon; #10-13)
  • Elongated Man (Ralph Dibny; #10-16)
  • Black Canary (Dinah Lance; #10-12)
  • L-Ron (in Despero; #12-16)
  • Tasmanian Devil (#13-16)
  • Crimson Fox (#1, 13-16)
  • Fire (#13-14, 16)

Villains

  • Blitz (#1-3)
  • Count Glass (#1-3)
  • Lady Shiva (#4)
  • Sa’ar (#4)
  • Kidnappers from Santa Prisca (#5-6)
  • Asp (#6)
  • The Daals (#7-8)
  • Her Who Must Be Served (leader of the Daals; #7-8)
  • Wildman (#9)
  • Iron Cross (Aryan Brigade & The Cadre; #10-12, 14)
  • Heatmonger (Aryan Brigade & The Cadre; #10-12, 14)
  • Backlash (Aryan Brigade & The Cadre; #10-12, 14)
  • Blind Faith (Aryan Brigade & The Cadre; #10-12, 14)
  • Golden Eagle (Aryan Brigade & The Cadre; #10-14)
  • Leader (Senator Sander Hotchkins, Aryan Nation; #10-12)
  • T. O. Morrow (#11, 14)
  • Overmaster (#13-14)
  • Devastator (Cadre; #13-14)
  • Vandal Savage (#14)
  • Aztec (Cadre; #14)
  • Chaon (#16)

Guest Stars

  • Power Girl (Karen Starr; #1, 13-15)
  • Green Lantern (Hal Jordan; #1)
  • Dr. Light (Kimiyo Hoshi; #1, 13-15)
  • Elongated Man (Ralph Dibny; #1)
  • Sue Dibny (#1)
  • Bruce Wayne (#4)
  • Alfred Pennyworth (#4-6)
  • Robin (Tim Drake; #5)
  • Batman (John-Paul Valley; #5)
  • Booster Gold (#13-14)
  • Captain Atom (#13-15)
  • Metamorpho (#13-15)
  • Ray (Ray Terrill; #13-15)
  • Amazing Man (Will Everett III; #13-15)
  • Oberon (#13)
  • Bloodwynd II (#13-14)
  • Lionheart (#13-14)
  • Maya (#13-15)
  • Blue Beetle (#13-15)
  • Ice (#14)
  • Triumph (#15-16)
  • Max Lord (#15)
  • Seneca (#15)
  • Osiris (#15)
  • Arion the Immortal (#16)

Supporting Characters

  • Hannibal Martin (team handler; #1-4, 7, 10-13)
  • Mari Bowes (Martin’s secretary; #1-3, 11-12)
  • Shondra Kinsolving (#5-6)
  • Jack Drake (#5-6)
  • Henry R. Haggard (#7-8)

Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:

  • The series opens on the Martian Manhunter stopping a group of armed separatists looking to force Quebec to secede from the rest of Canada.  He stops them and feels good about doing good.  On Sanobel Island, a small country in the Caribbean, an otherwise unnamed Count from England demonstrates to a group of armed rebels a weapon that destroys all life using sound.  The Count is accompanied by an armored man he refers to only as Blitz.  He is meeting with rebels who want to overthrow the island’s dictator, Enrique Ramos, and he is pushing the rebels to adopt some brutal techniques to achieve their coup.  In Washington, Hannibal Martin speculates to his secretary that he is being summoned to the Pentagon to be given an ambassadorship to France (because that’s the kind of thing that happens at the Pentagon apparently).  Instead, he is briefed on the problems on Sanobel Island, and told that American interests dictate supporting President Ramos, despite his brutal methods.  The government wants to put together a strike force of Justice League members to go stop the rebels quietly, and they want Martin to put together the team.  He reluctantly accepts.  On Sanobel Island, the Count continues to negotiate with the rebel leader, when government forces attack them.  Blitz stops them all, and the Count puts him in his place when he brags about his prowess.  Martian Manhunter returns to his home to find Martin waiting for him, telling him that he needs him to lead a team to save millions of lives.  In London, the Justice League Europe (Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman, Power Girl, Dr. Light, Elongated Man, and Crimson Fox) stop a monster in the sewers.  When they return to their castle headquarters, they are summoned to a video monitor where Martin appears to recruit Flash and Aquaman.  Flash isn’t happy to be ordered around, but they agree.  In Manhattan, Gypsy steals some clothes from a store, and is found by the Martian Manhunter.  He wants to recruit her, and mentions that he knows she is broke and homeless.  He offers her room, board, and money (which is weird for a one-off mission) so she agrees to come with him.  Later, the newly-assembled team meets with Martin, and they talk about how they weren’t able to get ahold of Batman to get him on the team.  Nightwing reveals that he’s in the room to join the mission (having been tipped off to it by Alfred), but Aquaman, the Manhunter, and Gypsy don’t think he should come since he’s not on the Justice League and has rep for grandstanding.  Martin overrides them, welcomes him to the mission, and then tells them that they are going to have to stop some freedom fighters.
  • Hannibal Martin provides the new task force with a briefing that emphasizes the deadly nature of the cannon being deployed against President Ramos.  The team is a little unsure of supporting a dictator, but they also see that the death cannon needs to be stopped.  They agree to go on the mission (that they already agreed to last issue).  Flash tries to impress Gypsy, but she decides to go out for dinner with Nightwing before they leave on their mission.  On Sanobel Island, we learn that the revolutionaries have moved their cannon to the estate of a wealthy drug dealer named Miguel Piro because it’s the only place where they could secure the power necessary to run it after Ramos shut down all electricity outside of the capital.  Rafael, the leader of the revolutionaries is suspicious of Piro, and discusses with his brother Pablo his doubts about using the cannon and killing innocents.  In England, the Count, who we learn is named Glass, makes a fool of himself at a party where he tries to overshoot his social standing.  His bodyguard Blitz tells him they will return to Sanobel.  In New York, Martin and Mari monitor the team, while Martin complains about not getting the ambassadorship and about being on a diet.  Flash scouts and the team arrives at the site where the cannon was last seen.  They report that it’s missing, and Martin suggests that half the team check out the power plant near the Government Palace, while the rest go to Piro’s estate (being the only private power generator on the island).  Nightwing suggests how they should split up, which annoys the Martian Manhunter, who wants to keep the squad together.  Martin overrides him.  Glass arrives at Piro’s place, and he talks to Pablo about Rafael’s conscience.  Glass makes a suggestion to help ease Rafael’s mind, but we realize that he’s really just a sociopath that likes to mess with people.  Nightwing and Martian Manhunter arrive outside Piro’s, and disable a security grid, allowing Aquaman access to the swimming grotto (which doesn’t seem that important to the story).  At the same time, Flash and Gypsy infiltrate the Government Palace.  At Piro’s, the death cannon is ready, and Rafael orders it turned on.  Gypsy, at the Palace, notices that Pablo has been apprehended after trying to kill Ramos himself.  Nightwing, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter assault the death cannon, fighting all of the revolutionaries and Piro’s goons.  Rafael runs and turns on the weapon, which apparently is deadly to stand around while it’s powering up.  Gypsy begins to feel the effects of the cannon, and the Manhunter isn’t able to turn it off because of how it effects him (that’s a serious design flaw).  Flash pulls Gypsy out of the cannon’s range, while Nightwing tries to lasso the Manhunter away.  Gypsy radios her teammates to tell them that an important freedom fighter is under arrest at the Palace, and Rafael realizes that she means Pablo, which makes Glass happy.
  • Nightwing and Aquaman continue to fight the revolutionaries at Piro’s place while Martian Manhunter lies helpless.  Piro worries about his villa, while Glass orders Blitz to go put on his armor and join the fight.  Flash rescues Pablo from the Government Palace and the growing effects of the death cannon.  President Ramos also feels the palace, leaving his aides behind just as they all melt or something from the death cannon.  Pablo explains his brother’s thinking to Flash and Gypsy.  Some of Rafael’s men begin to move the cannon, while Blitz emerges suited up and ready to fight.  He targets the Manhunter, who is still unconscious.  Nightwing makes the decision to let the cannon go and protect his squad leader.  When the Flash arrives, Blitz retreats.  The heroes leave and rendezvous with Gypsy and Pablo.  They check in with Martin, who is furious they let the cannon go.  Nightwing tells him off, but this is working for whatever plans Martin has.  Rafael and Glass decide to sneak the death cannon next to the Government Palace so that they can tap its power to run it, using an American truck as cover.  Rafael, convinced that his brother is dead, wants to run the cannon himself.  Martin orders the Task Force to go to the power plant and stop the death cannon; he also orders Nightwing to be the one to stop Ramos if the opportunity presents itself.  The revolutionaries bring the death cannon to the power plant just as the JLTF shows up.  They move to stop the cannon, while President Ramos sends his men to stop everyone.  Rafael starts the cannon and then comes into the palace to look for Ramos.  He discovers that Pablo is still alive, and then the cannon starts to power up, making everyone feel funny.  Nightwing sees Ramos going for the cannon, and aims with a rifle, but refuses to kill him.  Ramos shoots at the death cannon, making it explode, killing him in the process.  The next day, amid celebration at the death of the dictator, Rafael tells Pablo that he should be president, and that he should pursue a strong partnership with the US (making this a very neo-liberal comic).  The Justice League, in the same room, congratulate themselves on a job well done, although Gypsy isn’t sure.  A couple of days later, in New York, Martin meets with the team.  Nightwing feels bad about not killing Ramos, which is out of character, but Martin explains that he knew Dick wouldn’t kill, which is why he gave him that job.  This angers Dick, and he and Wally walk out.  (Would any of these characters been okay with killing a world leader by shooting him in the back?  That doesn’t make sense to me).  The Martian Manhunter tells Gypsy that she can stay at this UN building until she gets her life sorted out, but she’s not happy about that.  We see on the news that Glass and Blitz were deported, and we learn that Glass is thinking about punishing the Justice League for his failure one day.  Martin is brought before his superiors and congratulated on a job well done.  He is also told that the government is making the Task Force permanent, and putting him in charge as head of operations.  He is not happy about that.
  • Issue four, despite the cover credits, features Chuck Dixon and Gabriel Morrissette as creators.  The issue opens on Lady Shiva fighting and killing some guys in New York.  She’s looking for someone named Sa’ar, who is supposed to be ageless and deathless.  She sees posters with his face on them, advertising the Temple of August Silence.  Gypsy is shopping in the Village, and runs into her neighbour, who is looking for her boyfriend who has gone missing.  Gypsy (it’s a little awkward typing that name so often in 2017, you know?) goes to Martian Manhunter and Hannibal Martin to report that a lot of people have gone missing in the Village.  Martin doesn’t think that this is a Justice League problem, but since they assume Gypsy is going to keep looking into it on her own, the Manhunter decides to follow her and see how she does.  It doesn’t take long for Gypsy to stumble upon some men convincing another to join their temple; she follows and is in turn followed by J’onn.  Shiva kills the guards on the roof of the same temple, which is really just an old tenement building.  The new acolyte is taken before Sa’ar, and Gypsy looks around the place.  J’onn arrives on the roof and finds the guards Shiva killed.  He can’t use his vision powers to see into the building, which concerns him.  Shiva makes her way through the building, while Gypsy comes across a room of acolytes – all the missing people.  They appear to be in a trance.  Shiva approaches Sa’ar, but his guard gets ready to fight her.  Gypsy recognizes her neighbour but he doesn’t respond to her speaking to him.  All the acolytes, who are emaciated, start to chant.  Shiva fights Sa’ar’s guard, and then gets ready to fight Sa’ar himself, who is in better shape than he appeared a page before.  Gypsy uses her power to cast illusion to try to distract the acolytes, but her hellfire images don’t phase them.  Shiva and Sa’ar are well matched in their fight, and he gets her on the ground.  The Martian Manhunter busts in, but can’t resist Sa’ar’s psychic powers.  Gypsy tries a peaceful image on the acolytes, and they all wake up, draining Sa’ar of his strength.  He turns to dust.  Gypsy sees J’onn and they speak, allowing Shiva to escape.  Later, the Manhunter is reporting to Martin when they receive a call from Batman asking for help from the JLTF, leading to a Knightquest tie-in.
  • Issue five features the writing of the great Denny O’Neil (although the cover still credits Michelinie), and serves as the first part of the Knightquest: The Search tie-in.  Bruce Wayne, in his new high-tech wheelchair (this is happening after Bane broke his back) and Alfred Pennyworth disembark from a private jet in Santa Prisca.  A group of locals watch him and move to kidnap him.  Just before the locals make their move, Alfred makes mention of a young woman who was on their flight, a Ms. Kyle, which is foreshadowing, I’m sure.  The locals attack, and Bruce fires gas at them from his chair.  One of them holds him at knifepoint, but is attacked by Bronze Tiger, who appears out of nowhere.  The Tiger fights off most of the men, but as he is about to finish the last of them, Bruce runs into him with his chair and gasses him, apparently by accident.  With their assailants run off, Bruce offers to make amends with the Bronze Tiger.  They move into town to check into their hotel, and Bruce explains that he knew the kidnappers would be there, and that so would the Tiger, since J’onn J’onzz promised that to him.  They check into the hotel, which looks like a roach trap, despite costing $10 000 a night.  After they somehow get the wheelchair up five flights of stairs, Bruce points out that Gypsy has also been tailing them and is in the room.  He then explains that they are there to rescue two Gothamites, a Doctor Shondra Kinsolving and Jack Drake, who were kidnapped and brought to the island.  Bruce explains that he planted a tracker on one of their assailants earlier, and that he knows where they are.  A new assailant sneaks onto the balcony with an assault rifle, but before he can attack, he is hit with an arrow.  It turns out Green Arrow is on a nearby roof keeping watch over them all.  Bruce sends Gypsy and the Tiger to scout out the building where he thinks the kidnappers are, and then after they leave, he checks in with Robin, who is worried about his father.  The new Batman, John-Paul Valley, stands around looking menacing and ridiculous in his weird 90s Bat-suit.  Robin, Tim Drake at this time, is worried about his kidnapped father, and Bruce promises to get him back.  Bronze Tiger teases Gypsy about the fact that she hasn’t spoken once in this issue (which is weird because that’s more his deal usually).  She infiltrates the mansion where the kidnappers are.  We see that the victims are there, and that Jack Drake is very sick or injured.  Shondra Kinsolving wants to help him, but the kidnappers don’t allow it.  Their boss orders that they use rocket launchers to destroy the hotel where Wayne is staying.  Later, we see a group of men with high-tech weapons open fire at the hotel, causing it to collapse.
  • Gypsy and Bronze Tiger stand outside the wreckage of the hotel, and are attacked by the men who blew it up.  They defeat them, and figure that the best thing to do is to continue Bruce Wayne’s mission.  Wayne and Alfred, meanwhile, are in the woods in a tent, having left before the hotel was attacked.  Bruce puts on makeup to make it appear as if he is someone else posing as Bruce Wayne, figuring that the Tiger and Gypsy would notice.  Jack continues to suffer in captivity, and Shondra is not allowed to treat his injuries.  We learn that someone named Asp has hired the kidnappers, and is coming to collect his prizes.  One of the guards shows up with a bunch of dogs, who are to patrol the compound.  Bronze Tiger and Gypsy make a plan for Gypsy to sneak into the building, set a fire, and then let the Tiger in.  The Tiger is attacked by the guard dogs; he stops most of them, but one almost gets him, until it is hit by an arrow.  Green Arrow reveals himself, and the two men wait for Gypsy to make her move.  She starts a fire in the house, just as Asp’s helicopter approaches.  Gypsy lets the others in, and they head straight for the hostages.  They begin to fight with a number of goons, and while they are successful in stopping them, they are too late to stop Jack Drake from being loaded on the Asp’s helicopter.  They attack, and the Tiger frees Dr. Kinsolving.  The Tiger has to rescue Gypsy from one of the dogs, and in that time, Kinsolving jumped into the helicopter in order to treat Jack Drake.  The copter flies away.  Later, the team has gathered on a yacht belonging to Bruce Wayne, and he tells them that even though the mission failed, he still intends to save the two captives.  The issue ends with a box saying the story is continued in Shadow of the Bat #21.
  • Peter David took over the book for two issues starting with #7.  It starts with a plane going down somewhere deep in Africa.  The pilot takes the last parachute and dives, leaving his passenger to crash with the plane.  The pilot lands in a river and has all the flesh ripped off him, while his passenger survives the crash, swimming into a cave that leads to an underground civilization.  It turns out that he is a US agent of something, and is named Henry R. Haggard (David is really obvious sometimes, isn’t he).  He tries to call for help with his video equipment, but is stopped by a bunch of light green warrior women.  At the Justice League headquarters, a number of female superheroes (Gypsy, Wonder Woman, Maxima, Dolphin, and Vixen) are gathered watching a movie.  The Martian Manhunter asks why they are laughing at the film – An Affair to Remember – which he selected for them.  Gypsy, Maxima, and Vixen explain what is wrong with the film, and J’onn’s understanding of women, but then we see that Wonder Woman and Dolphin are crying, moved by the film.  They are briefed by Martin, who explains that Haggard was transporting a bioweapon, called the McGuffin Virus (here’s David being obvious again), and that they’ve been in touch with him.  The leader of his all-female captives insist that worthy female ambassadors be sent to collect him, hence the lineup.  J’onn expresses regret that he can’t accompany them, but they all give him meaningful looks.  Later, we see J’onn take on a female form, and get teased by his teammates, who call him Joan (but not J’oann, which would have been funnier).  They approach the place where Haggard crashed in a submersible, and are attacked by piranha like fish.  Their vessel is destroyed, and they have to swim, with Maxima protecting herself and Gypsy in a force bubble.  There are ongoing gags about Dophin being able to speak, and how hard it is to talk underwater.  They arrive at the entrance to the kingdom, and are attacked.  They quickly hold off their attackers, which proves their worth, and are taken into the city.  They meet Her Who Must Be Served, the leader of the Daals, who immediately declares that she wants Joan/J’onn to be her mate.
  • J’onn/Joan is bathed by Her’s servants, and after they leave, expresses his embarrassment at the whole situation to Gypsy, who was hiding in the room.  J’onn commands one of the women, Luta, to check on Haggard, giving Gypsy the opportunity to follow.  The other women of the task force discuss the Daalian society, and Wonder Woman basically admits that women on Themyscira are lesbians.  After Luta bothers Haggard a little, Gypsy knocks out his only guard and finds out that the virus was taken to a holy place.  Gypsy leaves Haggard locked up, and rejoins her comrades just in time for J’onn/Joan’s wedding to Her.  Later, Her and J’onn/Joan are carried to the holy place, where J’onn/Joan has asked that they consummate their wedding.  They are followed by Gypsy, Dolphin, Maxima, and Vixen.  Luta rages at Haggard, believing that Her should have picked her as mate.  She is about to kill him, but is stopped by Wonder Woman, who frees Haggard and prepares to take him to the others.  Her and J’onn/Joan relax on top of a plinth, and Her undresses, revealing that she has male parts.  Apparently one Daalian is always intersexed, which is what allows them to propagate.  J’onn returns to his male form just as Dolphin retrieves the briefcase with the virus from a nearby river (because of course that’s where they’d hide it).  J’onn and Dolphin fly towards the top of this subterranean world, where they discover that the sunlight is artificial, as the other women hold off the Daalian attack.  Vixen is stabbed in the leg protecting Maxima just as Wonder Woman and Haggard arrive.  They retreat into caves they feel lead to the surface world.  Maxima holds off pursuit with her telekinetic powers for a while.  They discuss J’onn’s theory that the Daalians are aliens, and come across an active volcano.  J’onn worries that he can’t fly over the volcano to the surface world like his companions, because of his psychosomatic fear of fire.  The others leave ahead of him, and just as he is about to fly up, Her attacks him, jumping on him.  He throws her off, and she begins to fall into the magma.  He swoops down and saves her.  He apologizes for deceiving Her, and she lets him go free, offering that he can always return.  J’onn tells the others about this, and they begin the walk out of the jungle.
  • Issue nine is by Jeph Loeb and Greg Larocque, and helps confirm the correctness of my long-running policy to not buy comics with Loeb’s name on the cover.  In Gotham, a family walks home from the movies through an alleyway, and are beset upon by a bunch of thugs who try to rob them.  A hero, Joe Public, shows up to try to help them, but he doesn’t know what to do when the teenage daughter is taken hostage.  An unseen other hero, later revealed to be Geist, is also on the scene and helps out.  The two new heroes (who received their powers during the Bloodline event) agree that they need some help with training, and decide to ask the Justice League.  In New York, the Martian Manhunter is happy to have an evening alone, although once he settles in to watch TV, he promptly falls asleep.  Loose Cannon, another of the New Blood characters is in New York after a taping on Geraldo, and he parties with some women in a bar.  He almost gets into a fight.  J’onn is woken by Joe Public and Geist knocking on the Justice League embassy doors.  He turns down their request for help, but when Geist sneaks into the building, he reluctantly agrees.  As they talk, a giant called Wildman rips off the roof, grabs J’onn, and tosses him across the city, where he lands on Loose Cannon’s limousine.  Wildman is trying to make a rep for himself, whereas Loose Cannon is upset that J’onn scared off the two women he was with.  He punches J’onn back towards Wildman, who hits him back again like a tennis ball.  This time he manages to recruit Loose Cannon’s help.  Joe Public and Geist try to stop Wildman, and J’onn tosses Loose Cannon into the fight.  Eventually, Joe Public uses his powers to drain Wildman of his strength, and Loose Cannon knocks him into the river.  Cannon surfaces alone, and everyone is okay with that.  J’onn tells him he wants to talk about something, but Loose Cannon just jumps away.  He tells the other two that it might make sense for the League to work with them, but they aren’t interested anymore.  Here’s a question, other than Hitman, did any of the New Blood characters ever make an impact?  Are any of them around in the Rebirth era?
  • Michael Jan Friedman came on board with issue ten.  His story arc opens with an undercover FBI agent fleeing after his cover is blown.  He is caught by five powered members of the Aryan Nation – Iron Cross, Heatmonter, Backlash, Blind Faith, and Golden Eagle – who kill him.  Martian Manhunter is brought into a meeting between Hannibal Martin and an FBI Agent about the Aryan Nation, which is situated in Pine Heights Nebraska, and has developed a virus (again with a virus) that will kill anyone who doesn’t have Northern European heritage.  The FBI knows their agent was compromised, and that the Aryans have been gathering genetic specialists.  They tell J’onn about the five metahumans that work for them, and that they’ve gathered a Task Force to go in and investigate.  They need J’onn to recruit the last member.  Later we see him in human guise, meeting with Rex Tyler, the original Hourman.  Tyler doesn’t want to fight anymore, citing his son’s cancer, but when he learns that he’ll be fighting Nazis, he’s in.  In Nebraska, the Aryans’ Leader (who looks like Cobra Commander in a white mask) inspects his facility, and asks why his virus isn’t ready to be launched.  He tells his scientists that he wants it ready to go very soon.  When he leaves, two scientists talk about how they’ve been delaying the project, and how they wish they’d never begun to work on this virus.  Outside, we learn that the Leader is Senator Sander Hotchkins, who has father issues, and who is being backed by a secret benefactor.  The new members of the Task Force meet with Martin, although J’onn and Gypsy aren’t there.  Thunderbolt is wearing a new costume, Black Canary apparently doesn’t have her powers anymore, and Martin is concerned with providing Elongated Man (who also has a weird looking costume) with allergy pills that replicate his stretching elixir, which I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of before.  We also learn that Hourman no longer needs his Miraclo pills to access his super strength.  Martin explains that J’onn and Gypsy are securing a cover identity for them all.  J’onn is in pursuit of Dan Fiedler, a friend to the Aryans who is soon going to be attending their conclave.  J’onn and Gypsy follow him and his followers to a government armory, and they stop them from stealing some high tech guns.  Later, J’onn, now disguised as Fiedler, leads a pair of jeeps filled with the Task Force members, all posing as white nationalists.  They enter the Aryan Nation compound, and notice White Eagle flying overhead.  Just as Gypsy reminds everyone of the importance of staying undercover, someone recognizes Pete Cannon, Thunderbolt.
  • Cannon has been recognized by Steve Mahler, an old work friend of his.  Pete manages to maintain his cover, and agrees to meet with him later.  Gypsy looks around at the white nationalists and talks about her Romani heritage and how her people are being persecuted in the post-Soviet states.  Ralph thinks about how he grew up near this region of Nebraska, and how his neighbours might have been hate mongers.  J’onn talks about how he’s seen hate in Alabama, and as they talk, they watch a young girl walk by with a black doll hanging from a toy gallows (seriously).  Rex thinks about his disbelief that anyone in America would rally behind swastikas, and then notices that gallows doll girl is about to get hit by a tree being chopped down.  He accesses his powers to swoop in and save her, moving fast enough that no one sees him.  Golden Eagle arrives and questions that ‘the wind’ saved the girl; he calls in this occurrence.  Later, Pete, with J’onn and Dinah in tow, goes to have dinner with his old friend.  We learn that Steve joined the Aryan Nation after he kept getting passed over for tenure in favour of minority hires.  Pete claims a similar set of circumstances.  In New York, a disheveled T.O. Morrow shows up at Hannibal Martin’s office, but on Martin’s orders, Mari does not let him in, recognizing him as a villain.  On his way out, Morrow tells her that she should get her ankle looked at; after he leaves she slips and twists it.  Pete Cannon is still surprised that his old friend has become a white supremacist, but J’onn explains how people can be swayed when they are unhappy.  They check in with the rest of the Task Force, and learn from Ralph that the timetable for the missile and virus launch has moved up, now that the Aryan Brigade is concerned about possible metahuman spies.  The Leader, preparing to enact his plan the next day, has a weird conversation with a painting of his father, who he feels still hasn’t accepted him.  Steve goes to the compound’s gates, suspicious of Pete Cannon, and is even more suspicious when he learns that Pete did not come through the gate under his proper name.  The Task Force bed down in their tents, but J’onn sleeps under the stars, thinking of his dead wife and child.  He is attacked by Iron Cross and the rest of the Aryan Brigade, who know who they are (Blind Faith could read their minds).  J’onn is knocked out, but Black Canary starts fighting, joined by Gypsy, Thunderbolt, and Elongated Man.  They all get brought down, just as J’onn rallies, but is stopped again by Blind Faith.  The Aryan Brigade realize that they are missing the ‘old man’, Hourman, who watches from behind some trees, waiting for twenty-four hours to pass so his abilities can kick back in.  He questions if he will be able to run this mission on his own.
  • The Leader, in full Cobra Commander mode, has the Task Force imprisoned in a convenient thick-walled chamber with an electrified floor.  Even though only J’onn can see him through the glass (somehow), he narrates a long speech about how his virus is going to kill anyone who is not genetically white.  He gets ready to leave, not knowing that the whole time, J’onn is in telepathic communication with Hourman, who is still not ready to use his powers again.  The Leader heads to his white supremacist rally, where he begins a big speech, while his scientists prepare to launch his virus-laden missile.  Hourman makes his way into the facility, taking out guards as he goes.  A scientist wants to defect, but he is shot by guards.  With no one watching them, Thunderbolt is able to use his powers to free the Task Force of their shackles, and J’onn busts them out of the cell.  They move towards the missile, the launch of which cannot be shut down.  The Aryan Brigade arrives and starts fighting our heroes, who do way better against them this time.  The missile launches, and J’onn flies after it, trying to stop it.  As it is about to explode in the atmosphere, J’onn decides to push it out into space, so when it explodes, it is useless.  Back on Earth, the Leader turns up in the command room, and shows the Task Force that he still has a sample of the virus, which he plans to release, knowing it will still spread across America (making the missile unecessary).  As the Leader fights Hourman, the vial is shattered, and the Leader is horrified to realize that it is affecting him, meaning he has a non-white ancestor or two, or perhaps proving once and for all that whiteness is a social construct (except it doesn’t affect Hourman).  He realizes that this is why his father hated him.  Later, the Leader, revealed as a Senator, is taken away by the FBI, while Hourman has to wear an isolation suit until the virus dies out.  The Task Force debriefs a little, and Thunderbolt is upset to see his former friend yell at him as he is taken away (although really, I’m not sure that he committed a crime).  J’onn and Gypsy return to their headquarters, where they find Despero waiting for them.
  • Issue thirteen is the second part of the Judgement Day crossover event, which began in Justice League America and continued in Justice League International.  There are tons of characters in this issue, although they don’t all speak or do something more than provide background scenery.  The issue opens with Booster Gold narrating about his greatest triumph, but then we see the reality that he is badly hurt in a mountainous region, while Captain Atom, Metamorpho, Martian Manhunter, Maxima, Ray, and L-Ron (in Despero) stand around him.  Some catch-up narration explains that Booster was attacked by someone called Devastator when they went to fight Overmaster, a dangerous galactic foe that L-Ron (in Despero) came to warn them about.  L-Ron explains that Overmaster planted his citadel on Mount Everest, and recruited a number of villains (including, it appears, most of the Aryan Brigade) to serve in his Cadre.  Captain Atom is upset that Booster was assured of winning, although Maxima verifies Booster’s future memories, and suggests that they get help for their friend.  At the Justice League’s headquarters, the JLTF, JLA, and JLI have gathered, as has Amazing Man, who doesn’t want to be a hero.  Wonder Woman appears to be in charge, and tries to find out what’s going on with Atom’s group when Maxima busts through the room, followed by Capt. Atom, carrying Booster.  When Wonder Woman tries to find out what happened, Atom is rude to her, making a secretarial joke while heading to Blue Beetle’s lab where Booster needs to undergo surgery (J’onn flies in two doctors).  Fire realizes that Ice is missing.  In India, a large group of little-known heroes fight the Cadre, and a woman named Maya is almost killed by Devastator, but is saved by someone called Lionheart.  Overmaster watches on his screens, and talks about himself in the singular and plural at the same time.  While the doctors operate on Booster, it’s clear that his arm can’t be saved.  J’onn watches the surgery.  Fire demands to know what happened to Ice and why she was left behind, and Captain Atom gets defensive, and a little sexist.  Gypsy interrupts to point out that Overmaster is broadcasting across the Earth.  The alien tells everyone on Earth that he is going to destroy the human race in one week.  He sends a swarm of amoeba-things to Central City; Flash rushes there to find the city is gone.  Overmaster threatens anyone who tries to stop him before he kills everyone (which is not really a big incentive to leave him alone, is it?).  Flash confirms to the team that the city is gone, and Captain Atom and Wonder Woman prepare an assault.  They are stopped by Hannibal Martin, who brings orders from the UN to stand down until they vote on the proper course of action; this makes Captain Atom more angry as he insists on being in charge of the combined League.  Wonder Woman slugs him, and everyone gets ready to fight, until J’onn comes out and yells at them all.  Wonder Woman and Captain Atom continue to argue, and Atom prepares to storm out.  Wonder Woman stops him with her lasso, and the heroes take sides and prepare to fight.  Wonder Woman relents and lets him go, and he leaves with L-Ron, Fire, Flash, Maxima, Metamorpho, and Dr. Light.  WW tells Martin that “her” league will work with the UN, but before they can make further plans, Blue Beetle comes to tell everyone that Booster Gold has flatlined.
  • Chapter Five of Judgement Day opens with Blue Beetle, Booster Gold (who is cleary not dead), Wonder Woman, and Captain Atom standing in Tibet arguing some more.  It seems that there is little time left before Overmaster destroys the human race, and so they’ve decided to attack.  They have a massive complement of Justice Leaguers and assorted friends with them.  Closeby, T.O. Morrow, Vandal Savage, and Bloodwynd stand around looking at Morrow’s notes about what is going to happen, which provides a bit of a framing structure for the issue, as Morrow crosses off each event as they happen.  Overmaster watches the League break into three teams and begin to climb up Everest to come get him.  He sends Blind Faith, one of his Cadre, to go get Ice, who is the leader of this villainous team.  Ice is talking to the captured Fire, and when Blind Faith interrupts her, she kills her.  Fire’s powers begin to come back as Ice storms away.  The three League squads continue to make their way up the mountain, but the Aryan Brigade attack some of them.  Ray stops them, but is left to guard the injured, like Power Girl and Elongated Man.  Fire frees herself from her shackles.  More of the Cadre attack some of the other Leaguers.  Metamorpho changes into a big rubber band of unstable elements and surrounds them, and Maxima uses her powers to blow them all up.  Other members of the Cadre try to bury the central group of heroes in an avalanche, but only take out Gypsy.  The Manhunter wants to look for her, but the others convince him to leave her behind and continue the fight.  The last Leaguers standing – Captain Atom, Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, and Flash find Amazing Man, who has absorbed Metamorpho’s powers.  They also find Ice, who has turned evil.  J’onn appeals to her goodness and manages to return her to her senses.  She leads the attack on Overmaster’s base, and as they break in, they find Fire.  Overmaster finds them, and Ice attacks him and rallies the team.  Overmaster recovers and kills Ice, which Morrow knew would happen.  This story is concluded in Justice League International.
  • Issue fifteen is an epilogue to the Judgement Day event.  It starts with J’onn picking through the wreckage of the Justice League’s New York headquarters, and finding a framed photograph.  In LA, an editor at Hot Copy is upset that none of his reporters can get one of the Justice League to discuss Ice’s death.  In New York, Amazing Man is cornered by some reporters who are asking about Ice.  J’onn, posing as a reporter, asks a bunch of ridiculous questions and then flies Amazing Man away, telling him that the one thing that unites the League right now is their unwillingness to talk to Hot Copy.  They join the rest of the League, who are hanging out in a building somewhere, recovering from their battles.  We see that Metamorpho is healing from his injuries.  J’onn talks to Amazing Man about rebuilding the League and making a space for him in it.  Amazing Man replies that Captain Atom talked to him about the same thing, and then Wonder Woman pulls him aside to offer him a place as well.  A terrorist sets off a bomb in the Lincoln Tunnel, and some of the League – J’onn, Dr. Light, Maxima, Ray, Flash, Crimson Fox, and Tasmanian Devil respond.  Weirdly, the last three ride Ray’s light trail like it’s one of Iceman’s ramps.  They begin to rescue survivors of the blast, when Crimson Fox notices that the river is beginning to flood the tunnel.  Maxima tries to hold back the river with her telekinesis, but is having trouble.  J’onn links everyone telepathically so they can help support Maxima, and it works while J’onn delivers a speech about the importance of working as a unit.  Dr. Light mentions that Ice would be helpful, and this leads to Crimson Fox and Ray squabbling, which collapses their unity and by extension, the wall.  J’onn sends everyone out and then plugs the hole in the tunnel himself with a wrecked car.  While the team continues to argue, they are surrounded by reporters; Maxima shoves them away with her powers.  As the rest of the League flies off, J’onn begins talking to Gypsy, who was watching the whole event.  She’s still upset that J’onn left her on the mountainside last issue, and says she’s going to take a break from the team.  As J’onn flies off, Triumph appears briefly calling to him for help, before disappearing again.  Back at the League’s temporary HQ (which is in a church?), Max Lord and Captain Atom argue about the future of the team, while Power Girl and Elongated Man complain about how Wonder Woman is offering Seneca and Osiris, whoever they are, a spot on the team.  J’onn stands and stares at the photo he grabbed earlier, and then sees something upsetting on TV.  He storms out, tossing the photo of the original League behind him.  Captain Atom and Flash see that Blue Beetle is on TV talking about Ice.
  • Issue sixteen is the second of three Zero Hour tie-ins, written by the incredible Christopher Priest.  It’s continued from an issue of Justice League of America, and continues into Justice League International.  Triumph, who has just returned from a pocket in the timestream where he has been since the League was founded, has come looking for the League and is not too impressed to have found only Tasmanian Devil, Crimson Fox, Elongated Man, L-Ron (in Despero’s body), and Fire, who are all upset over recent events.  Triumph picks a fight when no one wants to help him look for aliens he is convinced are attacking the Earth.  He tosses Tasmanian Devil out a window, and begins to mix it up with everyone else.  The fight ends up outside, as Elongated Man lectures Triumph on how demoralized the team is.  An old man walks through Washington Square Park, fighting off dinosaurs with magic.  He enters a deli where he accuses the proprietor, the Atlantean Chaos Lord Chaon, of being responsible for the weird time anomalies cropping up everywhere.  It turns out the old guy is Arion, and his argument with Chaon is interrupted by the sounds of the League fighting Triumph.  Arion basically yells at them, and tells them that they need to deal with the timestream, and then refuses to help them, claiming not to care.  He leaves, and Triumph again tries to get the team to help him look for his aliens, and they agree.  Fire flies off to find Arion to get his help to look for Ice’s spirit in the realm of the dead, but he refuses.  The team has to use L-Ron’s new hypnotic powers to get plane tickets to fly and look for these aliens.  The Martian Manhunter returns to the team’s temporary headquarters, to find Fire crying.  She tells him about Triumph, who J’onn does not know.  They fly off to look for their friends.  In Washington DC, the Justice League drives around in a minivan arguing about where they are going.  Triumph gets annoyed and flies off, at which point Elongated Man decides to quit.  J’onn and Fire arrive, and J’onn immediately attacks Triumph, but as they fight, Fire decides that Triumph must be telling the truth about everything.  She tries to stop J’onn just as he blasts the forgotten hero and leaves him facedown in the Washington Monument’s reflecting pool.  Fire, J’onn, and Tasmanian Devil argue a touch, and then giant hands come out of the water to grab Triumph.

For a new series, this book was a total mess.  The original concept, that the UN (or is it the US government, since that was never clear) makes use of a rotating, hand-picked team of superheroes to complete missions, is a very solid one.  It’s basically Suicide Squad with good guys.  The problem is, they don’t really go on more than three missions under those auspices.  Their first, morally questionable, mission sets up the status quo, but then they are used by Batman for a personal quest, before going on two virus-related missions.  From there, this book just became yet another chapter in a string of Justice League cross-overs, before finally, after sixteen issues, settling down (but that’s the next column).

The biggest issue with this book is not its inconsistent adherence to its core elevator pitch, but that it never kept a consistent writer for more than a few issues.  This led to all sorts of problems of characterization and in setting a tone or feel for the book.  

The best way to look at character inconsistency is to use Gypsy as a case study.  Leaving aside the rather problematic racial stereotyping and negative messaging of her name, none of these writers knew who she really was.  Denny O’Neil has her being mostly silent, while Peter David has he being funny.  Michael Jan Friedman makes her philosophical, while Mark Waid wrote her as a story device and easily hurt.  I’m not sure why she was in almost every issue, yet was always a different character.

The same can be said for J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter.  He is kept pretty stoic and quiet throughout this run, until Mark Waid needed him to be a catalyst for change in the League, at which point he becomes sullen and angry.  Only Jeph Loeb even acknowledges his more common (at that time) role of being a straight man for jokes.  J’onn is a great character, but despite being the anchor of this team, so little is done with him here that it feels like a lost opportunity.

I found that my interest in these books woke up a lot more towards the end of this run.  Michael Jan Friedman’s story about white supremacists trying to eradicate the Earth of people of colour felt very relevant to 2017, and the ending, which has the leader of this group infected with his own virus made me think of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s frequent references to “people who think they’re white” in Between the World and Me.  The Leader kept referring to a benefactor that his group was funded by, but I guess we’ll never know who that was supposed to be.

The issues that tied into the other Justice League books also worked very well for me, as I love the feel of a shared universe, even if I didn’t recognize a ton of the characters in that event (who the hell are Lionheart and Maya?).  At the same time, I was permanently lost in that storyline.

Artwise, nothing here really stands out.  Sal Velluto is good, and I loved the exaggerated yet still realistic musculature on J’onn J’onzz, at a time when every other artist went out of their way to be incredibly “extreme”.  Velluto got much better during his Black Panther run, but aside from that, I’m not sure what ever happened to him.  The other fill-in artists were not very good, and Greg LaRocque, who I remember admiring on Legion of Super-Heroes and Flash, is particularly disappointing.

Anyway, I suppose it was quite clear to someone at DC that this book wasn’t really working, or that the rotating creative teams and character roster needed stability.  After Zero Hour, this book solidified around a central cast, and the writing was handled by Mark Waid for a bit, before being passed off to Priest.  That’s what I wanted to re-read when I started this set of columns, and that’s where we’re headed next time.

If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.

If you’d like to read any of the stories I talk about here, you can follow these links for trade paperbacks that encompass some of these issues.
Justice League Task Force Vol. 1: Purification Plague
Batman: Knightfall Omnibus Vol. 2: Knightquest

Justice League Task Force (1993-1996) (Issues) (25 Book Series)

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