Justice League Task Force #0, 17-37 (October 1994 – August 1996)
Written by Mark Waid (#0, 17-20), Christopher Priest (#18-37)
Pencils by Sal Velluto (#0, 17-24), Ed Benes (#24), Ramon Bernado (#25, 27-30, 33-37), Jim Cheung (#26), Roger Robinson (#31-32)
Inks by Jeff Albrecht (#0, 17, 20-21), Romeo Tanghal (#17), Mark McKenna (#18-19, 22-24), Andrew Pepoy (#22), Mick Gray (#22-23), Mark Stegbauer (#23-24, 30-32), Emir Reibeiro (#24), Rich Rankin (#24), Chip Wallace (#25-30, 33), Doug Selogy (#25), Jasen Rodriguez (#25), Dennis Cramer (#26), Ramon Bernardo (#33), Nick Napolitano (#33-37), Hanibal Rodriguez (#34-35), Dan Davis (#37)
Coloured by Dave Grafe (#0, 17-22), Alisande Morales (#23), Adrienne Roy (#24-37)
Spoilers (from twenty-one to twenty-three years ago)
After a wildly inconsistent first year and a bit, this book, after the line-wide Zero Hour event, began to settle down into an actual consistent team, with a more consistent writer. Mark Waid launched the new approach in the zero issue (which was a line-wide gimmick month, launching or soft relaunching numerous titles).
In the new JLTF, J’onn put together a new team, got a new headquarters, and started taking on superhero tasks outside of UN or US governmental direction. It allowed the comic space to work on character development, and once the great Christopher Priest took over, to be a bright spot in the bleak and ridiculous 1990s. At least, that’s how I remember Priest’s run, but I haven’t read these comics in over twenty years.
Let’s look at who turned up in the title:
- Martian Manhunter (J’onn J’onzz; #0, 17-37)
- L-Ron (in Despero; #0, 17-29, 31-33, 37)
- Triumph (Will McIntyre; #0, 17-37)
- Gypsy (Cindy; #0, 17-22, 24-28, 30-37)
- Ray (Ray Terrill; #0, 17-24, 26-27, 29-37)
- Mystek (Seong/Barclay; #26-32)
- Cabal (#0)
- Vandal Savage (#17-22, 25, 27-28, 37)
- The Osprey (#17)
- Baron Üman Von Mauler (#22-24)
- Mystek (#25)
- Death Masque (#26-28)
- Glenn Gammeron (#29, 31-33)
- Shrapnel (#30)
- Sledge (#30)
- Neron (#30)
- Brimstone (#30)
- Tornadians (#31-33)
- Quantum (#35-36)
- Bronze Tiger (#0, 24, 30, 37)
- Damage (#25-26, 30)
- Impulse (Bart Allen; #26, 30)
- Wonder Woman (#30, 37)
- Warlord (Travis Morgan; #34-36)
- Blue Beetle (#37)
- Booster Gold (#37)
- Captain Atom (#37)
- Maxima (#37)
- Gene Rabuzzo (#21, 25)
- Father Rocko (#26)
- Eddie X (#26)
- Fang (#26)
- Wilma (Triumph’s assistant; #27)
- Yazz (blue pterodactyl; #30)
- Glenn Gammeron (#34-37)
Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:
- Issue Zero launched the new approach to this book. The Martian Manhunter goes about constructing geothermal links in the middle of Ivotown while L-Ron, who inhabits Despero’s body, reads a self-help book (because it’s 1994). J’onn explains to L-Ron that Professor Ivo, a former enemy, gave his former island home, which is populated by robotic people and pets, to the League as a thank you for the recently deceased Ice’s curing him of his unattractive appearance. J’onn wants to build a new headquarters on the island, which is off the Carolinas, and use it to train a new team of heroes. They fly off to recruit their team. Triumph has been receiving many rejections from graduate programs, and appears to be feeling sorry for himself when J’onn and L-Ron arrive to offer him a spot on the team. He agrees, seeing that he doesn’t have any other prospects. As they leave J’onn’s old cabin, where Triumph has been staying, they miss a phone call from an old friend of Triumph’s. J’onn and L-Ron discuss telepathically J’onn’s concern that Triumph’s bitterness might make him a foe one day. In Chicago, Gypsy trains with Bronze Tiger, but is distracted by the sudden appearance of J’onn and the others. She really gives it to J’onn for leaving her on a mountain to die, letting her quit the League, and for bringing L-Ron to her, knowing that Despero killed her parents. Despite this, she accepts J’onn’s offer of a spot on the team, and kisses Bronze Tiger good-bye. He turns down J’onn’s invitation to come. Next they go to Philadelphia where The Ray is being attacked by five costumed goons called the Cabal. They are identical, but have different powers. The JLTF arrive to help, and after some initial problems, work well as a team to defeat these guys, who are after Ray for reasons we don’t know. Once the Cabal is captured, Ray accepts J’onn’s offer to join the team.
- Returning to the usual numbering with issue seventeen, we see Vandal Savage come under attack by an attack helicopter while going about his usual bloody business. Savage survives the attack, and using a commandeered cellphone, contacts his employee who tells him that his database of descendants is down. Savage steals a police car to go looking for some replacement body parts to fix his injuries, sneaking into the apartment of a local descendent he happened to have the address of. At their island base, Triumph and Ray train together, and begin to develop a friendly rivalry. Caught up in their arguing, they don’t notice that one of the island’s robots was about to shoot them, until Gypsy stopped it. J’onn and L-Ron join the conversation, and Triumph and Ray resist his suggestion that they need more training, although when one of the robots moves towards them, they prove J’onn right by overreacting. Later, Gypsy talks to a photo of her parents, explaining that she might not be able to stay on the same team as Despero’s body. In Philadelphia, a mysterious figure (who looks a bit like a moder-day Talon) overhears some cops talk about the way the JLTF put down the Cabal last issue. This figure, who calls himself The Osprey, vows that J’onn and the Task Force will feel his fury (although that never actually happens). Ray and Triumph hang out a bit, and Triumph tries to call his business associate Rusty when an explosion rocks the island. They find that a hydrofoil has crashed into their generator, and they see a number of other foils with hourglass symbols on their fronts attacking a speedboat. The TF jumps into action, employing teamwork. They find that they’ve rescued Vandal Savage, when a submarine launches a missile at the team. Triumph and Ray stop it, but the sub escapes. Once things have calmed down, Savage explains his history, and how he makes use of his descendent database to keep himself alive. He also explains that someone has his information and is targeting his descendents. He suggests that they work together, but the team is not that eager to help him. They begin to debate it until Savage smashes their only lamp (remember, there’s no power, although Ray could easily provide them with light), and tells them if they don’t help him, millions will die.
- Ray flies towards Vandal Savage’s Crystal Palace facility, dragging the rest of the team in an energy bubble behind him. Ray deviates from the path he was supposed to take, which triggers Savage’s defenses, leaving the non-flying members of the team, and Savage himself, in free fall. Triumph goes after Ray and they drop in the surrounding lake. We learn from the characters’ thought bubbles that this was planned to give them the chance to probe Savage’s defenses, as the heroes don’t trust him. L-Ron protects Gypsy from their fall, which she doesn’t really appreciate as she doesn’t want to be near him. Savage has his guards stand down, and leads the team into the facility. He and J’onn leave the team behind so they can go to Savage’s nerve center. Gypsy discovers that L-Ron cannot be fooled by her powers, and when he tries to talk to her, she walks away. Ray worries about his personal life. Triumph falls over the side of a barrier and Ray goes after him. Savage leads J’onn through his operation and takes him to the person who manages his most sensitive information. This guy shows Savage footage of Triumph and Ray exploring the facility, including a long tunnel. Savage tells J’onn that the tunnel is actually a super collider, and after telling his long life story again, threatens to irradiate them, using the story of the frog and scorpion to prove his point. At the end he relents and allows them to live. They come out of the tunnel in Cleveland, where they discover a large office building with a gigantic hourglass icon graffitied on it, and assume it belongs to Savage. Gypsy seeks refuge from L-Ron in a washroom, and is surprised to hear a man enter the room. He kicks in the door of her bathroom stall, and despite her using her powers to hide, the man, Vandal’s computer guy, shoots her. Ray and Triumph sneak into the office building, and get to Savage’s office. As Triumph rifles his desk, Ray suggests that Savage is a “tuna sandwich”, or someone who is not as smart as he appears. Ray tells Triumph to not open the only locked drawer in the desk, and when he does anyway, the top of the building explodes.
- L-Ron busts into Vandal Savage’s control room to tell J’onn about the explosion that happened in the city, and that he can sense Ray and Triumph in the vicinity. J’onn flies off to investigate, ordering L-Ron to find Gypsy. In the bathroom, Savage’s dude has shot Gypsy, and explains that he can see her through a camcorder, making her powers physical in nature. She prepares to fight back, but things get complicated when L-Ron walks in the room. Gypsy disarms her attacker, but he throws a type of grenade that distracts her, freezes L-Ron (with an angry looking grimace) and allows him to disappear. In Savage’s office in the city, Ray and Triumph argue, and are then attacked by more of the hourglass guys. Triumph yells about returning to the Master, and Ray clues in that he wants to lead them all to Savage and joins in. J’onn, it turns out, was also there, hidden and waiting for his teammates to leave so he could look through Savage’s office. He discovers, behind a wall, tanks full of organ donor relatives. Ray and Triumph lead the hourglass guys through the tunnel that came from, when Triumphs powers blink out, leaving him helpless. Gypsy confronts Savage just as Ray leads the bad guys into his home. Savage’s tech guy calls for him while Gypsy and Ray try to figure out what’s going on. Apparently Savage’s systems have been compromised, and his batteries are super-charging and getting ready to explode. Ray and Gypsy find Triumph, who thinks his powers disappeared because of the charged particle field that Savage employs. He thinks that Ray will lose his powers next. Savage contacts them to tell them that they have about twelve minutes before the Crystal Palace is destroyed, and that he needs them to fix everything. J’onn, disguised as John Jones, confronts a Miss Watkins in a park, revealing that he knows she is behind the attacks on Savage. It turns out she’s rich, and that she and her son have the x-factor that makes them prime targets for Savage’s organ banks, and that she wants to stop him. The rest of the Task Force figure out that the best way to save the day is to go through the sewers. Gypsy heads down and finds the guy who shot her. She is about to stop him when Savage appears out of nowhere and kills him, despite the fact that he’s the only one who can shut down the batteries and save them all.
- Issue twenty opens strangely as we see Gypsy, with short hair and wearing a silver bathing suit with long gloves and boots flies around in Despero’s mind, while somehow talking to Triumph. She pushes her way through some threats to find a shirtless, human L-Ron tinkering in a room filled with electronics. Basically, she’s trying to get L-Ron to reboot and wake up Despero’s body, since they need it to stop the imminent explosion in Vandal Savage’s Crystal Palace. Gypsy comes to the realization that she doesn’t need to fear L-Ron the way she does Despero. He wakes up, and his teammates explain that he needs to find a junction box and a relay and destroy it to stop the Palace from exploding. There’s a countdown starting with just over three minutes and two seconds remaining. The tube he needs to go through to get to the relay is smaller than he is, but L-Ron insists on going anyway, with Gypsy waiting for him, while Ray goes to evacuate Savage’s employees, and Triumph goes off on his own. Gypsy and L-Ron converse telepathically, and are joined by J’onn, who is locked out of the Palace. Triumph confronts Savage, expecting he has a way out, but he doesn’t. J’onn tells Gypsy and L-Ron that there is no point in his sticking around, and he flies off, which upsets Gypsy, as this just happened to her recently with J’onn. Ray struggles to evacuate everyone, while Triumph gets in a fight with Savage. L-Ron gets shocked, and Gypsy has to administer telepathic mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to get him going again (I don’t get it either). L-Ron gets to the relay, falls, recovers, and as the clock runs out, the panel goes black. Next we move to the home of Miss Watkins, the woman that was funding the attack on Savage. We see her put her son to bed, and once she leaves his room, be confronted by Savage. They fight a bit, both fall out of a second story window, and Savage lands on her on top of her car, killing her. The Task Force arrives, too late, and complaining about how it took them an hour to track Savage down. He knows that he cannot be arrested by them, and they allow him to leave (on pretty shaky grounds, really). After he’s gone, it is revealed that J’onn took Wakins’s place, and he sends Ray to pretend to pursue Savage and lose him (which doesn’t make a lot of sense, since Ray moves at lightspeed), assuming that Savage’s people are watching. They tell the real Miss Watkins that she will have to go into hiding.
- With issue twenty-one, Priest takes over the writing on his own, and there is a definite shift in the tone of the book. It opens on Cleveland Police discussing the explosion in Vandal Savage’s office with Savage himself; he blames it on a terrorist group upset with some of his foreign business holdings. While talking to the police, he receives a fax showing proof that Watkins and her son are still alive, and Savage storms off. J’onn leads the Task Force in an attack on Westlake Defense Systems, the military contractor who supplied Watkins in her attacks on Savage and the TF’s island headquarters. As Triumph destroys all their helicopters, L-Ron takes out all the guards. He at first orders one to kill the others, but then remands that to a stun order – proof that Despero is taking over? J’onn confronts Gene, the CEO of the company, who apparently he knows, about his attacking their island. Ray, standing guard on the roof, begins to daydream about the recent revelation in his own book that his mother is alive. Triumph enters the room where J’onn is berating Gene, against orders, and J’onn orders him back to the base for a debrief at 4:00, before flying off on his own. Ray has to fly Gypsy back to the base. Later, Gypsy packs her clothes, thinking that there is no place for her on the team. L-Ron tries to give her a gift but she rejects it. Ray is still thinking about his personal life when he sees that Gypsy is going to leave. He picks her up to fly her away. L-Ron and J’onn have a telepathic conversation about the team’s youth and inexperience. Triumph discovers that he’s rich because of an investment he made before he disappeared a decade before, in the Home Bargain Channel. Triumph thinks he should keep his new wealth a secret, but then immediately tells Gypsy about it when he sees her. I don’t know why she returned after packing to leave a few pages earlier, but she has cut her hair, so maybe that’s an explanation. It also looks like the team is meeting in New York, not on their island headquarters. J’onn has given everyone matching “training” uniforms, with the idea that it will foster teamwork and obedience. Gypsy asks about loops on her uniform and learns that it’s to hold the energy baton L-Ron made for her (based on a weapon she created when she was in his mind last issue), but she rejects it. A holographic projection of Vandal Savage appears in their midsts, letting them know that he knows that Watkins is still alive. An explosion rips through wherever it is they are meeting.
- Issue twenty-two is a strange one. An aged Baron Von Mauler welcomes a young man named Trevor Harkins into the odd castle in Montclair New Jersey that a letter from Harkins to his fiancée explains he wants to convert into an orphanage. Harkins and Von Mauler more or less recreate the opening scenes of Dracula, as the older man attacks a complaining housemate, and then leaps on Harkins for not wanting to go outside to see his Subaru. He insists that the young man stay for five days, and tells him he’s written letters on his behalf explaining his absence. As Harkins asks himself how he got into this situation, we are meant to realize that this is actually Ray. He thinks back to the attack by Vandal Savage on their island headquarters, as the Task Force barely escapes the explosion. Savage’s holographic form threatens them again. J’onn, annoyed, flies off, leaving the rest of the team as to speculate on his moodiness. The members who aren’t L-Ron wonder if J’onn knew they were going to quit, although Gypsy, who has nowhere to go, and who has accepted the energy baton L-Ron made her, doesn’t really want to quit anymore. Triumph takes the team to J’onn’s cabin, and they search it for information about what he does in his free time. Gypsy discovers, in his globe, papers about Baron Von Mauler. They think this is an alter ego of J’onn’s, and decide to play an elaborate hoax on him, involving Ray and Gypsy adopting new identities. This takes us to the present, where Gypsy, posing as Cynthia Reynolds, Harkins’s fiancée, heads to Paris Kentucky, where Triumph’s research indicates that Von Mauler is arriving. She is knocked over by a man in period dress, but ignores him and starts flirting with an old guy that she thinks is J’onn in disguise. In Montclair, we learn that Ray is being kept in a room that blocks out solar energy and is heating up. The old guy feels up Gypsy in a diner, confirming her suspicions that he is not J’onn. She gets in touch with Triumph and L-Ron, who agree that this isn’t J’onn. The guy from before, who we now know is a younger Von Mauler, attacks Gypsy, who fights well, before he refers to her as his love, and knocks her out. Ray, meanwhile, feels like the heat in his cell is killing him.
- Ray, still trapped in the room that Von Mauler placed him in, manages to absorb some electricity from a heat lamp, and escapes. Triumph and L-Ron search for Gypsy in Paris Kentucky, tracking her uniform to the restaurant where she was snatched. Triumph uses his powers to freeze everyone in place (in a complicated procedure involving air pressure and g-forces), while referring to himself as Billy Mac and then regretting it, while L-Ron battles Despero’s resurging nature. Triumph finds the guy that tried to molest Gypsy, and recovers her belt from him. When the air pressure begins to affect one patron’s health, Triumph lowers the field and they fly around some more. When L-Ron suggests that he can’t telepathically find Gypsy because she’s dead, Triumph gets angry and feels guilty, since this whole weird plan to prank J’onn was his idea. They call Ray, who can’t figure out how to work his uniform’s communicator for a bit. It turns out Ray is in Paris France, and rejoins his teammates. They research at City Hall, where Ray finds a picture of Von Mauler from the late 1700s. They decide to dig up his body, thinking that something weird is happening, and that perhaps one of Von Mauler’s descendents is a serial killer. They find his body in his grave, and move to leave when L-Ron blasts the corpse. It attacks back, and it’s finally made clear to everyone that Von Mauler is a vampire, but a very powerful one with atypical abilities such as energy blasts and control over the ground. They fight him, and some reanimated corpses, until L-Ron brings Von Mauler into his mental headspace. While beating on him, L-Ron admits that Despero’s instincts are asserting themselves. Once he’s knocked him out, things revert to where they were a few pages ago, and L-Ron explains that Von Mauler, who is not in the corpse he is holding, used telepathy to make them believe they were fighting. J’onn arrives to tell them that he was making plans to deal with Von Mauler, and that because they all interfered, Gypsy may be lost.
- Issue twenty-four features art by Ed Benes, which is a jarring change from Sal Velluto’s approach. It’s narrated by Gypsy, who is fighting Von Mauler in her head. He’s taken her to Romania, mentally, where she has to fight four ninjas. As they fight, we learn that she’s dealt with Von Mauler before, and she flashes back to when she saw him on the street in Paris KT, and how he got her in the restaurant. Distracted, one of the ninjas runs a sword through her, and she knows that if she dies in her mind, she will die for real. As she struggles, she reflects on the fact that J’onn was keeping files on Von Mauler, but never told her. She remembers him tying her to a bed and, in her head, marrying her. In reality, she was being held right by the grave that the rest of the Task Force had dug up in the previous issue, and could hear her teammates talking. She managed to escape while the TF was fighting Von Mauler, and she fled as J’onn was talking to the team. In her mind, she rallies and takes her fight directly to Von Mauler, psychically pushing her energy baton at his chest. She flashes back to her first meeting with him, when she was a fourteen year old runaway and he was posing as an aged priest who offered her a ride. Even then he called her Nakia, and when he tried to touch her, she hit him, causing a car accident. As she lay injured on the ground, he blasted her with his eyebeams, and in her head, appeared to her in his younger form. She was unable to stop him from psychically violating her then, but in the present, she manages to drive her energy baton into him. In the real world, Ray and L-Ron, who are standing around Von Mauler’s corpse, realize that he is in fact finally dead. Later, J’onn goes to see Bronze Tiger, whom Gypsy is staying with. J’onn, in his human form, explains to her that he knew that she would have to defeat Von Mauler on her own to be rid of him. As he leaves, J’onn tells her that Triumph is setting up a new headquarters, and that he hopes she will stay with the team.
- Issue twenty-five is tightly connected to two other titles, taking place just after Ray #12 (also written by Priest) and Damage #14 (which wasn’t). Mystek, an anti-hero who fought Ray in his book (see my Retro Reviews of that title) is flying around Philadelphia looking to find Ray. She goes to his apartment, and when she can’t find him, she decides she has to use his washroom, which means she has to take off her entire costume. Once undressed, she answers the door when his landlord knocks to deliver a package. They argue a little, and then she opens Ray’s mail after suiting back up. She discovers a large plastic sheet, with instructions to “jump in.” The sheet is a teleportation portal, which leads Mystek to the Task Force’s new headquarters, where the TF (without Ray) is waiting. Thinking that they are trapping and arresting her, Mystek attacks, making a mess of their war room. L-Ron, yelling “Death to all enemies!” brings her down, blasting her through the teleportation portal. Just then Gene Rabuzzo, the guy from Westlake Defense Systems, comes through the portal. It turns out that Triumph contracted him to build their new base, although the teleport tech came from L-Ron. They realize that they didn’t send Mystek to their holding cell, but to their vehicle hangar, and the team teleports there. As Rabuzzo calculates damages, the new hero Damage comes through the portal looking for the Task Force. The Task Force continues to fight Damage in their hangar bay. She flies out of the hangar, and realizes that she doesn’t know where she is. She takes down J’onn and Triumph, but is stopped by Gypsy, although they are both hurt when they fly through the teleport system and into a bookcase. Rabuzzo tries to enter into business with Damage. The rest of the team comes to Gypsy, and they realize that Mystek (who they all think is male because of her costume) is loose. Triumph bristles under J’onn’s commands, but is taken down by Mystek. Damage saves him, and the team assembles. They discuss how they don’t have the authority to hold Mystek (despite having a holding cell), and how they wish to keep their headquarters a secret from its surrounding location. As they talk, and Damage explains that he used Gypsy’s teleporter to come to them, also looking for Ray, Mystek recovers and blasts Damage, causing his powers to disrupt and blow up their headquarters, which is in Boston. Mystek flies off, and Triumph wants to go after her, but J’onn is against it. Instead, Triumph heads to the war room. Damage is about to ask the team for help in stopping Doctor Polaris when Vandal Savage shows up, more or less taunting the team. He teleports away, taking Damage with him. This story is continued in Damage #15.
- Issue twenty-six opens with a pair of armed men holding up a bar (do people actually hold up bars?) that happens to be hosting the Justice League Task Force and some friends – Martian Manhunter, Gypsy, Triumph, Impulse, Damage, Mystek, and Ray. Ray moves to stop the robbers, but J’onn, disguised as a human, instead offers them his wallet, and the heroes sit back down. Triumph is upset that J’onn is upstaging him, as he had a plan, and Ray asks what led to him being in this situation, which has become a standard Priest opener. Flashing back to days earlier, Ray is brooding at the site of an airplane crash (Ray Annual #1), and J’onn goes to talk to him. Ray is upset that J’onn knew his secret identity, and flies away. Death Masque, Ray’s computer program foe, warns J’onn that Ray is his. The day before the opening of this issue, Mystek is surprised to see J’onn at the computer store she maintains as cover for her operations. She suits up and confronts J’onn, and they fight for a bit before J’onn offers her a couple of packages. One of them holds one of the electron shield teleporters that the TF is using, and the other a customized TF uniform, one that maintains Mystek’s male appearance, which surprises Mystek. Twenty minutes prior to the start of the issue, Impulse is running around the large building that I presume is the Titans’ headquarters. He sees J’onn there, and asks him why he’s come. J’onn has a pair of packages for Damage, but Bart also wants to join the Justice League. He puts on Damage’s TF uniform and uses the electron shield himself. Damage finds a note from J’onn and pursues the impulsive teen. Triumph is outside a bar in Boston, deciding that he wants to purchase and run a crime-fighting organization he learned about on the internet. As he enters the bar, J’onn contacts him, but he blows him off. J’onn decides to teleport to Triumph to confront him. As he leaves the TF base, Ray arrives, followed by Impulse, and shortly after that, Damage. Bart takes off, looking for J’onn, just as Mystek shows up, which irritates Ray. They decide they also need to all find J’onn, although L-Ron stays behind. J’onn and Triumph talk in the bar, and Will complains about how he’s being treated like a child by J’onn. They are joined by the rest of the heroes. Will gets Gypsy to turn her uniform into civilian clothes, but when told to do the same, Mystek instead starts yelling to the crowded bar about how they are the Justice League. No one cares. Damage tells J’onn that he wants to stay in the Titans, and Ray begins to explain that he needs to quit the team, as his life is a mess. Bart shows up just as the gunmen from the first page of the book start robbing the bar. A priest calling himself Father Rocko distracts the robbers, just as the bartender pulls a shotgun and the hostage punches the guy holding her. The priest coldcocks the other robber. These three are the people that Triumph was coming to meet – Eddie X and Fang are the other two’s names – but a third gunman shoves Ray out of his way and tries to shoot someone. As it turns out, Bart took all the bullets from all the guns in the bar when he came in. Ray, even more upset, walks out.
- Somewhere between issues twenty-six and twenty-seven exists the four issue Triumph miniseries that I never bought or read. As twenty-seven begins, L-Ron is watching the news where he sees that a witness in a drug case is granted immunity from being prosecuted for killing a nine year old girl, a guy named Eddie “Terminator” Sanabria. This is related to the Triumph miniseries. L-Ron is annoyed by this, so he teleports to Queens where he confronts Sanabria in his bathtub, reads his mind, and kills him. He returns to base just as J’onn calls for the team to assemble. Triumph has had his back broken, and needs to rely on his powers for any mobility. He is stewing over the fact that Ray walked out on the team, and is remembering how, in Ray’s book, he turned him away when he came to the Task Force for help in fighting Death Masque. He is also stewing over his ongoing conflicts with J’onn. Gypsy calls him while he’s in some custom medical equipment, but she sees him in his uniform on her video screen. She tells him to tell J’onn about turning Ray away, and how that has led him to teaming up with Vandal Savage, but Triumph refuses. In New Riihad, the small African country that Death Masque has taken control of, Ray fights him, trying to destroy his shipyards. Ray overhears Triumph speaking to Wilma, his remote operator, just as Martian Manhunter and Mystek engage Ray, trying to get him to stop his attack. Triumph and Gypsy pursue Ray in their rotojet, but quickly lose him. Mystek’s energy blast is able to keep up with him though, and Ray gets knocked down. In a flashback, we see how Savage recruited Ray, and Ray explains to J’onn that the only way to stop Death Masque is to attack in unpredictable and uncharacteristic ways. Ray lets J’onn know that New Riihad exports drugs, so destroying the shipyards is a noble act. Ray mentions that Triumph turned him away when J’onn questions Savage’s motives. Ray flies off, and J’onn starts yelling at Triumph; they square off to fight.
- A man is placed in the electric chair, about to executed, while protesting his innocence. L-Ron busts into the prison facility where this is taking place and uses his telepathic third eye to determine the man’s innocence. As he flies off with him, the governor calls to abort the execution, claiming the man is innocent. L-Ron returns to the JLTF base and checks in with J’onn, who says that he can handle his current situation. That situation is a big fight with Triumph that last for nine, mostly dialogue free, pages. Gypsy and Mystek watch. To end it, J’onn sends Triumph flying from a punch, smashing him into the rotojet. As he lies motionless, J’onn tells him he’s fired. In LA, a man tells someone on the phone that he’s found Despero. Mystek flies the rotojet, thinking about J’onn’s fight, and how she killed someone called War Locke. Gypsy apologizes for not telling J’onn that Triumph blew off Ray, but J’onn puts the blame on Triumph. Death Masque approaches the injured Triumph, hurting him with eye beams, but DM is stopped by the arrival of Vandal Savage (in holographic form). They banter a little, but when Death Masque attacks Savage, his blasts have no effect (because he’s a hologram), and are in fact returned to Death Masque in some complicated way, causing him to leave. Savage speaks to Triumph, who has gone into shock. He uses his holographic magnetic field to jumpstart Triumph’s powers, which allows him some relief. Savage predicts that Triumph will soon come to him. Approaching their base, J’onn tells the remaining members of the team to take a break.
- L-Ron scans and attacks an offshore mining facility that is wrecking havoc with local dolphin populations. He intends to disable the platform without hurting anyone, but as he fires, a hand pushes his big 90s gun so it punches a hole in the hull, dumping some workers into the ocean. L-Ron moves to save them but one of his underwater jets explodes. He uses Despero’s telekinesis to push the workers back inside as he is attacked by a man identifying himself as Gammeron. He uses a weapon to knock L-Ron out. Earlier (presumably), J’onn, in his John Jones guise, goes to visit an old friend, Glenn Gammeron, in his more human form. They’ve known each other for centuries, but Gammeron didn’t know J’onn was on Earth. He explains that he’s there to arrest Despero on a Xanthcan warrant. J’onn explains that L-Ron inhabits Despero’s body, and they posture some, turning into their alien forms. J’onn shoves him into a wall and walks out. Triumph flies around Philly, thinking about how he’s been mistreated. Mystek comes to speak to him, suggesting that he apologize to J’onn and come back. Will ignores him. Ray is in a product development meeting with three guys who do not look like they work for a video game company (especially the guy in a cowboy hat). As the meeting ends, Will turns up. He offers to help Ray with Death Masque if Ray turns his back on Vandal Savage, and Ray gets annoyed and tells him to leave. After he’s gone, Ray acts annoyed before being called to a meeting. Triumph sneaks back into his office, thinking about the inside information Ray just gave him about the company. L-Ron is captive in the back of a truck, while Gammeron talks to his wife or girlfriend on the phone. He’s interrupted when J’onn smashes into the truck and attacks. Gammeron turns the truck into a spaceship (why was he driving on the highway then?) while he and J’onn fight. They both get dragged into L-Ron’s mental space, where L-Ron argues that he can stand trial, since he is innocent of Despero’s crimes. J’onn pledges to bring the Task Force to the trial as Gammeron flies off into space with L-Ron.
- Issue thirty ties in with the Underworld Unleashed event. It opens with J’onn working on a spacecraft, while talking to Yazz, a blue pterodactyl alien who lives on the JLA’s new refuge headquarters in space. J’onn’s asked Yazz to summon his team, but instead, he brought all of the former Task Force members, except for Hourman and Thunderbolt it appears. They aren’t all that happy to be summoned this way, and Bronze Tiger leads the exodus of most of the heroes. Wonder Woman talks to J’onn about how there’s a lot of chaos going on that they need help with (referring to the random attacks of villains as part of Neron’s plans), and she also talks to him about how he’s taking a dark turn, beating on Triumph and making other questionable choices. Diana gives J’onn some Oreos and invites him back to the main team before leaving. J’onn begins to speak to the Task Force when Yazz interrupts to tell him about a rampaging giant. J’onn decides to ignore it, which sparks yet another argument with Triumph. J’onn decides to deal with the alerts on his own, ordering his team to stay where they are until he returns. Triumph then picks an argument with Ray, who raises to the bait, and ends up zapping Gypsy by mistake when she tries to calm them down. She lands on a flying platform which shoots out an airlock. In Switzerland, Shrapnel rampages in a mall until J’onn shows up and stops him quickly. Ray, Triumph, and Mystek begin searching for Gypsy in the JLA refuge, which is like a gigantic, mostly empty, city. They split up. In Madrid, Sledge rampages until J’onn shows up and stops him quickly. Sledge mentions Neron’s name. Ray looks for Gypsy, but thinks about the Underworld stuff that happened in his own book. He is met by Neron, who reminds him that their deal has a time limit. Mystek takes off her costume for a bit, and is met by Neron, who knows everything about her. He offers her her heart’s desire. Brimstone is on a rampage until J’onn shows up and stops him quickly. It turns out that Brimstone’s host is some guy that Neron approached. Triumph fumes will looking for Gypsy, and imagines the original Justice League mocking him. Really, it’s Neron making him see things, before offering to give him back the glorious ten years he lost. He leaves him a box, saying that if he opens it, it means he accepts Neron’s offer. Gypsy, who has figured out how to fly the platform she was on, finds Triumph, who is still confused as to what happened. They speak briefly, as Ray and Mystek arrive, with Mystek talking about how she turned Neron down. They know that J’onn is coming, so they return to the room where he left them.
- The Task Force is en route to Xanthcar to testify at L-Ron’s trial. J’onn is running the show as usual, with Gypsy trying to engage him in conversation while Will thinks about Neron’s offer, and Mystek hides in the bathroom, suffering from claustrophobia. It’s a fifty-seven hour journey in a ship taken from Overmaster. Gypsy talks to J’onn about his aloofness, but he remains aloof. On Xanthcar, L-Ron is at the centre of a media spectacle. Three aliens, Tornadians, come to free Despero, but Glenn Gammeron stops them, with help from L-Ron himself. Gypsy and J’onn talk about how he didn’t support her in the Von Mauler affair, and how she can’t fully trust him. Will thinks about his past, and how his father went to jail, how Hourman inspired him, and how he ultimately screwed up that inaugural Justice League mission that left him in limbo. Mystek, still in the bathroom, remembers her past. Gypsy and J’onn’s talk provides the opportunity to flashback to the beginning of the mission, when Ray bailed on the team, and Triumph insisted on coming along. Mystek takes off her costume so she can feel less claustrophobic, and when Triumph opens the door wanting to use the washroom, he discovers that she is really female. Time passes, and we see that the team bonds over trivia, and then argues a lot. This is one of the strongest issues of this run, where it feels like Priest’s goals for this book are really being met.
- After forty-nine hours in the spaceship, Mystek loses control of her claustrophobia and her mind, blowing a hole in the hull. Triumph tries to stop her from making things worse, while Gypsy calls to J’onn for help before being sucked through the hole. Mystek’s wild firing has knocked out the ship’s reactor core, which has the effect of draining Triumph’s power. Gypsy flies into the vacuum, while Mystek pushes J’onn through the same hole on her way out into space. Gypsy, caught in the ship’s wake, doesn’t die immediately (because comic book science), and stretches for J’onn’s hand. Instead, J’onn hits her with his eyebeams, making her drift away. Triumph manages to turn the gravity back on in the ship, and considers opening Neron’s candle before making the right decision, and going after Gypsy with a life mask, following J’onn’s orders. Will worries that he’ll be too late, and has to face his own fear of death, but manages to find Gypsy and get her breathing. So far from the ship, Will’s powers have stopped working again (I don’t really understand his powers), so they have no choice but to drift and wait for J’onn. J’onn, meanwhile, makes his way back to the ship, and gets it turned on and aimed back towards his friends. Later, Will explains to Gypsy that J’onn needed to push her out of the wake so that Triumph could find her, and so he could get to the ship. They come across Mystek’s body, which is floating and looks dead. Ray arrives on Xanthcar, looking to support the team and L-Ron. He has trouble with the thick atmosphere. Despero’s trial continues, and the persecution lays out a convincing case. Ray can’t get into the court, and once he makes it clear that Despero is his friend, is attacked by the crowd outside. Ray’s battle with everyone around him ends up in the courtroom, where Priest works in some OJ Simpson references that probably worked way better in 1996. Gammeron goes after Ray, finally getting him to slow down after covering him with some goop. As they fought outside, more Tornadians got into the courtroom and have made off with the judge (a purple Lance Ito). Gammeron goes after them, and Ray looks up to see J’onn standing over him. He asks for Gammeron and Ray points him in the right direction. Back at the ship, Gypsy looks for their parking permit, and when she and Will exit the ship, the thick atmosphere and gravity causes Will to collapse.
- Leaving all the craziness happening outside the courtroom, Gammeron comes to check in on L-Ron, blasting him a few times to make sure he doesn’t go anywhere. J’onn turns up and tosses Gammeron out of the courtroom, to where Ray is still recovering. J’onn frees L-Ron, and we see that his mental image of himself is aging quickly due to the stress of fighting off Despero’s instincts. Gammeron and Ray explain that the judge has been kidnapped by the Tornadians, and that the planet is rioting. L-Ron scans for the judge and then goes back into custody, so J’onn and Ray can go find the judge. Triumph has collapsed under the extra strong gravity, and when J’onn and Ray arrive, J’onn starts taunting Will, until he gets angry enough to hit back, taking control of his broken back again with his powers. The Task Force heads into underground tunnels where they believe the Tornadians have taken the judge. They split up, and Gypsy asks to go with Triumph. They talk about how it is odd that they are both there – Gypsy hates Despero but wants to help L-Ron, while Will has come back to the team despite his problems with J’onn. Ray finds the Tornadians, while Will and Gypsy are attacked by a giant worm. J’onn comes and snatches the judge from Ray before the worm starts chasing him too. Back in court, Gammeron decides that Despero should be executed; he is about to order the guards to shoot when L-Ron brings him into his mind, and convinces him that they’ve switched bodies. A large number of locals show up wanting to kill Despero, and L-Ron takes advantage of the confusion to smash Gammeron, and then just walk away. The Task Force and the judge arrive to find their friend missing. J’onn questions Gammeron just as another crazy mob arrives to kill everyone. They head for J’onn’s ship, with Gammeron, but find that it’s been towed away. They are surrounded by hostiles.
- Issue thirty-four opens with a horseman who has modern day binoculars and some kind of electronic equipment looking at a walled city that might be called Tet-Weringo. The horseman is a mercenary employed by a wizard named Eballum to retrieve something called the Eye of Usaf, and he is with a few other horsemen, planning his attack, when a spaceship drops out of nowhere and lands on him, squashing him. We see Glenn Gammeron open a window in the ship. Inside it are the rest of the Justice League Task Force, minus L-Ron and apparently Mystek’s body (because no one has talked about her at all). The team figures out that they’ve somehow ended up in a pocket universe after having fired their warp engines in the Earth’s atmosphere. Triumph and Gammeron try to clear out the other horsemen, who are attacking their ship, and they discover that their primitive-looking arrows carry plasma-charged tips. Ray and J’onn join the fray, and when Ray and Triumph avoid an arrow, it hits their ship. J’onn stops everyone from fighting, and while they are all posturing, the ship explodes, with Gypsy just barely escaping in time. Gypsy, angry at her teammates for again leaving her defenseless, clobbers Ray and Will. J’onn talks with the barbarians, and they learn they are on Skartaris, and then they recount how they got there. We go back to the planet Xanthcar, where the Task Force and Gammeron are being attacked by court guards and other aliens. Gypsy tracks down the parking attendant who towed their vehicle, to learn that it was sold for scrap; he gives her a lead on another ship they could use. She returns to the team and leads them to the ship we’ve now seen them in. They return to Earth with Gammeron, who has given up on being paid for the Despero job. As they reach the Earth’s atmosphere, the ship starts to heat up, triggering J’onn’s fear of fire. To fix things, Gammeron fires up the warp engine, which is how they’ve ended up in Skartaris. One of the barbarians explains that his people are being slaughtered by someone called Devvar, and that they needed the Eye that the dead guy was going to get for them in order to help their wizard protect them. Gypsy wants to help, while Gammeron and Triumph just want to get back to their Earth. Before J’onn can weigh in with his opinion, they are joined by Travis Morgan, the Warlord.
- Ray, Triumph, Gammeron, and Warlord fight a number of barbarian warriors. When Warlord saves Ray from one by killing him, Ray gets angry and takes a shot at him, causing Warlord to shoot at him in return. Triumph has to get them back on track, and Gammeron reminds them that they are supposed to be keeping their powers secret. Once they’ve taken out all the barbarians, Warlord sends one of the survivors back to his ruler, Quantum, as a message. Morgan reminds the heroes that Quantum has killed many people and wants to wipe out his village. Morgan punches Ray and walks off; Ray, upset by the barbarity of the place flies off to find Quantum on his own. J’onn, meanwhile, has broken into the treasure room in Tet-Weringo, where this storyline started. He’s found the item that the original barbarian mercenary was looking for. Outside, Gypsy hangs around waiting for J’onn, dressed like a concubine, with Warlord’s cat Shakira, who after Gypsy punches out a guy who kisses her, turns into a woman. J’onn gathers them. Ray finds Quantum, who is a small old man, and begins to talk to him. J’onn brings Gypsy and Shakira to Warlord’s village, Vlandar, and they talk about whether or not Skartaris is in the centre of the Earth, or is an alternate dimension for a bit. Quantum takes Ray to his village, which is very poor, and a local woman gives her child to Ray. Following Quantum’s direction, he blesses it and returns it to her. Morgan explains to J’onn that ancient Atlantean technology is all over Skartaris, and that Quantum is misusing it. Quantum, meanwhile, explains to Ray that Morgan wants to use the Sword of Usaf to destroy his people. Triumph worries about Ray, and Morgan shows J’onn his treasure trove of technology; while they talk, Morgan explains that Quantum tricks people into helping him through the whole baby blessing business. Triumph checks in on Eballum, the wizard, and discovers that magic spells on Skartaris are done with a computer. Gammeron and Gypsy, being basically panel filler, watch as the Sword of Usaf, a United States Air Force missile, launches. Just then, Ray arrives with pterodactyl-flying swordsmen, and attacks J’onn and Warlord.
- Triumph chases the ICBM that was launched, trying to figure out how to use science to boost his powers to stop the missile before it launches its payload. He gets hit by one of its rocket stages, and turns to J’onn for help over comms, but J’onn is too busy fighting off Quantum’s hordes, alongside Warlord, Gypsy, and Gammeron. Quantum has switched bodies with Ray, and juiced the young hero with magic to make him even more powerful. J’onn starts to fight Quantum/Ray, while Ray wakes up in Quantum’s body and discovers that he’s surrounded by small dinosaurs. Gammeron, Gypsy, and Warlord keep fighting. J’onn checks in on Triumph and suggests he use the strange magnetic properties of Skartaris’s static sun to use his powers to grab the missile. It launches three separate warheads, but Triumph is able to grab two of them. Ray, in Quantum’s body, runs from the dinosaurs. The third warhead explodes, on a very confusing page, and it’s hard to tell what happens to Triumph. Ray watches this. Quantum/Ray fights J’onn some more, and melds with Ray’s mind to force him to shift solid again, just as Warlord shows up, causing Quantum to give up. Ray returns to his body, and the Task Force, which has simultaneously defeated all of Quantum’s men, talk about how the missile was launched. Triumph shows up to explain that the warheads were dummies, although the wizard Eballum explains that he filled them with tainted fertilizer, looking to damage crops and livestock. Quantum returns to his body, finding it covered in the fertilizer, and is attacked by the dinosaurs. Warlord leads the Task Force to a subway tunnel that leads to a mountain in Peru (seriously) and the team departs.
- On Christmas, Ray rushes to answer a JLTF alert, despite having only been back on Earth for a short hour (which, considering what else happens in this issue, is hard to believe). When he arrives at J’onn’s cabin, he finds that he’s been invited to a Christmas party, attended by J’onn, Wonder Woman, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Captain Atom, Bronze Tiger, Maxima, Gypsy, and Glenn Gammeron (who still just wants his money). Santa Claus arrives, but it’s actually Triumph. He apologizes to J’onn for how he’s acted, gives him a gift, and asks if they can start over. Gypsy and Ray dance together, while Triumph bonds with Captain Atom over being tossed out of their correct time. J’onn talks with Capt. Atom and Wonder Woman about how their teams should work together better, but Atom picks a fight with Wonder Woman. Triumph steps in to calm things down, and makes reference to his being back on the team. J’onn clarifies that while he’s forgiven Will, he’s not placed him back on the team, which leads Will to throw yet another tantrum that, once Maxima is hit with a table full of food, turns into a full on brawl. J’onn stops everyone with his telepathy, and points out Triumph’s behaviour to him. Will flies off, and J’onn tries to stop Gypsy from going after him. She leaves with Ray, and Vandal Savage shows up at the party, shunting Captain Atom out of reality, and telling J’onn he’s there to make peace. He says that Will is about to change the world. Will, meanwhile, stands in the woods and thinks about using Neron’s candle to change the last ten years. Gypsy shows up and they talk about everything that’s happened to them, including Will’s guilt over Mystek’s death (it’s nice to see that this is finally discussed). Gypsy refuses to believe that Will only saved her own life out of fear, and their brief fight turns into a kiss that Ray interrupts. They start to argue and trade insults, and then they all embrace. Triumph returns to the party, proving Savage wrong, and apologizes again for his behaviour. Gypsy and Ray look at the sand statue Will made of Mystek with his powers, and Ray uses his abilities to turn it into crystal. Gypsy places Neron’s candle, not knowing what it is, in the statue’s hands, and has Ray light it. We return to the start of the party, as events repeat themselves, although now it is L-Ron who comes in the Santa costume (and Despero’s body, of course). He apologizes for ditching the team on Xanthcar, and pays Gammeron the money he feels he’s owed. As the party continues, we see Triumph, in his original uniform, watching from the cold woods before walking away.
This series ended incredibly well, if abruptly, because shortly after this, Grant Morrison relaunched the Justice League with his incredibly well-received JLA series.
This was a very interesting run of comics. I’m not sure if Priest ever reached his full potential with this book, but he did explore some unfamiliar ground. Priest always writes for the long-term (see his Black Panther or his current Deathstroke for examples of this), so I think that the premature ending must have left him scrambling to wrap up some storylines adequately.
It’s interesting to look at what he did with the main characters of this book. His J’onn J’onzz was recently an Oreo-cookie obsessed joke, but under Priest’s direction, became an enigmatic alien leader. In some ways, such as J’onn’s high level of preparedness and inscrutable actions, he feels like a good test run for how Priest later approached T’Challa in the Black Panther. J’onn’s role in this book, to teach and train the next generation of heroes, was never explored as much as it could have been, but did make his interactions, including the fact that he never wore the team uniform, noteworthy.
L-Ron, the friendly jokey robot now trapped in the body of Despero, DC’s answer to Thanos, was also an interesting character whose arc got cut way short. We could see that L-Ron was starting to have to fight to maintain control of his new body, but after he just disappeared on Xanthcar, that was never to be mentioned again. Likewise, his relationship with Gypsy, who he seemed determined to befriend despite her hatred of him.
Gypsy probably got the shortest stick in terms of screen time. Even when she was at the centre of the Von Mauler storyline, her abduction was barely shown from her perspective. She was shown as a dependable teammate, but she barely used her powers, and her complex relationship with J’onn is barely explored.
Ray was already being written by Priest in his own book, and so he often became a supporting character here. It seems to be understood that anyone reading this book was also reading Ray’s book, so references were often made to what he was up to over there, especially his relationship with Vandal Savage, which I still feel needed to be examined more closely.
Triumph is probably the main character of this book, having driven so much of what happened here. He’s a hard character to like, and his relationship with J’onn reminds me a lot of the classic Hawkeye/Captain America dynamic. For a while Priest tried to build a cast around Will, but that never seemed to take (although, again, I didn’t read the Triumph miniseries). His position as a secret, forgotten hero seems to have been the inspiration for Marvel characters like Sentry and whoever the upcoming Voyager is, and his deep flaws did make him seem more like a Marvel than DC character. After a while, I started to get pretty tired of Triumph, so I was happy when he got fired from the team, even if he never actually left.
Mystek was a character with a lot of potential who never came close to meeting it. I read that Priest had hoped to secure the rights to this character, but used her too quickly in the title, ensuring that she stayed DC’s property. That might explain her hasty death after so much time spent dropping hints about her backstory. It’s unfortunate, because she really was an interesting character. Her gender-bending alone makes her noteworthy, as she might have been a DC first.
As a team, the Task Force stayed pretty dysfunctional, and really didn’t face all that many threats. Savage came to them, as did Glenn Gammeron (another character with unused potential), which launched the Xanthican and Skartaris stories. This concept was a fresh one, and I wish it had gotten more breathing room to develop. I especially like the team costume approach – in the 90s I was a sucker for a team jacket, like the Avengers had, and once Morrison took over, the X-Men. It made this book stand out to me.
Ramon Bernado’s art was sometimes problematic, in that it reminds me a lot of Sal Buscema’s (especially around characters’ mouths), but as he progressed with the title, I started to like it more and more. The 90s storytelling could be difficult to follow, but there was a growing dynamism to Bernado’s work that I did enjoy.
I don’t have a whole lot more to say about this title. It’s curious that DC would decide to put out such a character-driven title at a time when everything needed to be X-treme. It didn’t fit with some of DC’s other post-Zero Hour oddball titles, like Primal Force or the excellent Starman, but it also stood out against the other Justice League titles. A frequent commenter to this column, Chris Ulichney, referred to Priest’s JLTF as “DC’s version of the X-Men”, and that was something I found myself thinking about time and again as I read this. I can see what he’s saying, as this is one of the most Marvel-feeling DC titles I’ve ever read. I often find it hard to pinpoint the differences between the two companies in the more modern era, but books like this make that easy to see. The group dynamic lacks the professionalism or humour of other iterations of the Justice League, and the growth of a (dysfunctional) family dynamic does seem more like the X-Men. Either way, it worked for me.
Next time, I want to read a Marvel run featuring a character I’ve never really liked until his recent series. Why do I want to read that? Because I discovered that some truly stupendous artists were working on the book.
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Justice League Task Force (1993-1996) (Issues) (25 Book Series)
Tags: Justice League Task Force, Retro Reviews