Pencilled by J.H. Williams III, Bob Hall (#5), Charlie Adlard (#9)
Inked by Mick Gray, Charlie Adlard (#9)
Coloured by Lee Loughridge
Spoilers (from twenty-three years ago)
The late ‘90s were an interesting time at DC. The shine had gone off the Vertigo line somewhat, although it was still very successful, and their superhero line was largely being anchored by Grant Morrison’s JLA. The comics market had imploded but was recovering, and it seemed like there was a willingness to give new things a chance (excuse the pun).
In that setting, a new series about a government agent who hunts the secrets of superheroes wasn’t likely to gain a lot of attention, but JH Williams III, a relative newcomer to the scene, made this book so visually stunning that it started to grab some notice. The writer, D. Curtis Johnson, was unknown to me, but as soon as I read the first issue, I got a strong Suicide Squad vibe from the book, and immediately fell in love with it.
Looking back, I vividly remember being very impressed by the storyline involving Maoist Shining Path guerrillas and Russian mercs in black market Rocket Red suit parts. This, at least at the start, had the kind of melding of real world politics and issues that I liked in my comics, and I was hooked. Also, using the weirdo character Mr. Bones to run an organization that policed superheroes? Brilliant.
Sadly, this series didn’t last all that long, and I remember not liking the way Johnson tried to retcon a 1950s super-team into existence. I don’t remember how the series ended (until I pulled it out of my long boxes, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that there was a DC One Million tie-in, but I do remember eagerly looking forward to Johnson’s next book, which then never really happened (to this day, Chase is his longest-running writing assignment, according to my internet research).
So, how accurate are my memories of this comic? Was it as good as I think it was? It’s time to find out.
Let’s track who turned up in the title:
Jerry Harris (#1)
The Construct (#2-3)
Shining Path (#2-3)
Rocket Reds (Russian mafia; #3)
Sergei Vurskelyov (Russian mafia; #3)
Acidia (Clockwatchers; #4)
Sharpe (Clockwatchers; #4)
Clock King (Clockwatchers; #4)
Crackle (Clockwatchers; #4)
Radiant (Clockwatchers; #4)
Cult of the Broken Circle (#5, 9)
Superman Blue (Clark Kent, JLA; #2)
Martian Manhunter (J’onn J’onzz, JLA; #2)
Green Arrow (Connor Hawke, JLA; #2)
Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner, JLA; #2)
Aquaman (Arthur Curry, JLA; #2)
Amanda Waller (Suicide Squad; #2)
Bolt (Suicide Squad; #2-3)
Sledge (Suicide Squad; #2-3)
Killer Frost (Suicide Squad; #2-3)
Copperhead (Suicide Squad; #2-3)
Risk (Teen Titans; #4)
Prysm (Teen Titans; #4)
Atom (Ray Palmer, Teen Titans; #4)
Argent (Teen Titans; #4)
Fringe (Teen Titans; #4)
Booster Gold (#4)
Firehawk (Lorraine Reilly; #4)
Sergeant Harvey Bullock (GCPD; #7-8)
Batman (Bruce Wayne; #7-8)
Commissioner James Gordon (GCPD; #7)
Oracle (Barbara Gordon; #8)
Nightwing (Dick Grayson; #8)
Sentinel (Alan Scott; #8)
Green Lantern (Hal Jordan; #9)
Air Wave (Harold Jordan; #9)
Chase (853rd Century; #1,000,000)
Snare (853rd Century; #1,000,000)
Lead (853rd Century; #1,000,000)
Skull (853rd Century; #1,000,000)
Sandy Barrett (DEO; #1-2, 4-6)
Peter (Chase’s boyfriend; #2, 4-5, 8-9)
Paolo (Peruvian guide; #2-3)
Director Bones (DEO; #4, 6-8)
Terry (Chase’s sister; #4-6, 9)
Knob (#4-5, 9)
Agent White (DEA; #7-8)
Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:
At a high school in a small town in Ohio, an outcast boy named Jerry is noticed staring at the girl he likes. When a bully confronts him, Jerry, who has always wished he was a hero, bursts into flame. Cameron Chase, a former Private Investigator, has just moved to New York to take a job with the DEO – the Department of Extranormal Operations. She’s late for her first day at work because she’s not used to New York traffic, and because Guy Gardner (the Warrior, in 1998) is fighting someone and blocking a bridge. When she gets to work, she’s two hours late. A guard gives her her access badge and sends her to her office, where he says the director is waiting for her. Chase walks through the DEO, so we get to see that they are monitoring various meta-humans. When she gets to her office, she finds Sandy Barrett, a field personnel manager waiting for her (the Director gave up). Barrett wants her to come with her to Ohio to deal with the incident from before, and makes it clear that Chase should take the subway. On the flight, Chase reads the file on the high school they’re going to. It seems that the DEO has been monitoring student records to try to identify potential meta-humans (and this is before the Patriot Act was even thought up!). Chase references an assignment in Gotham – some research tells me that Chase debuted as a character in an issue of Batman just before this series launched. Barrett and Chase investigate the scene, and learn that Jerry Harris, who is on Barrett’s list, is the only kid that hasn’t been located yet. Chase finds a page from his notebook and figures out that Jerry is a pyrokinetic. Barrett and Chase interview some of the kids who were on the scene, and start to pull together what happened. Jerry is located, and the two agents are there when the police approach him. Jerry’s hands catch on fire and he blows up one of the cop cars. When Chase pulls her gun on him, she undergoes a weird sensation that seems to slow down time or something. Jerry falls into some water and puts himself out. Barrett grabs him, and we learn that Chase felt similarly in Gotham. Once they get Jerry back to the station, Barrett offers to send him to a training facility where he can learn to control his powers, and he seems pretty interested in it, especially when he assumes it will lead to him becoming a hero. After Jerry is taken to a cell for the night, Chase argues with Barrett that Jerry should pay for the damage he’s caused. Barrett references what she read in Chase’s file – that she doesn’t like metahumans, and that there is some history involving her father; Chase shuts this discussion down. When Barrett goes to talk to the boy’s parents, Chase calls her boyfriend, who is still in California. They talk about him packing to move to New York, and how she saw her sister in Gotham. Peter (that’s the boyfriend) can tell something is wrong, and Chase starts to explain about the odd moment, but we don’t see that. Jerry is in his cell, fantasizing about saving the girl he likes from danger, when he hears a small crowd outside talking about him. A cop calls him a killer (the bully died in the hospital), and threatens him. The kid bursts into flame again, and the cop shoots him. Chase rushes over, but by this point, the boy has melted the brick wall and taken off. Chase figures he’s gone to see the girl he likes, and she and Barrett (who just came back) head out, following the trail of burning houses. Chase rushes into the scene and shoots at Jerry to get his attention. Jerry is very angry and yells at Chase, who feels that same strange feeling inside, and somehow extinguishes Jerry’s flames. Barrett questions Chase’s decisions, but when she talks to someone on the phone, she praises Chase.
In the middle of issue one, there are four trading cards bound into the book, featuring Red Superman (ah, 1998), Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, Firehawk, and someone named The Word; these cards give some hints as to where this series is headed.
In an ancient temple in Peru, near the Bolivian border, an artificial intelligence works away, but is attacked by the JLA (Superman Blue, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, and Aquaman). Chase finds her boyfriend Peter is sleeping on the couch, and her internal monologue tells us that they had an argument the night before, and that she wishes they could work it out, but she has to go away for work. She leaves him a note promising to make it up to him when she returns. In her office at the DEO, Chase looks over maps of South America before Barrett calls her for a briefing. This is to be Cameron’s first solo mission. Her briefing is being run by Amanda Waller (this would have scored major points with me in 1998!). Waller mentions that she knew Chase’s father, but Chase cuts her off by saying that she didn’t. Waller explains that The Construct, the AI we saw, was only a day away from taking over the world’s electronic communications when the JLA attacked it, but now there is concern that the Shining Path, the communist guerrilla army in Peru, might be heading there to extract technology, and that perhaps the Construct was not totally destroyed. Throughout the issue, we get random flashbacks to Cameron’s fight with Peter. We see that he was worried about her going to Peru, and that after weeks, she still hasn’t met the Director. In the briefing, Waller tells Chase to make sure that whatever is left in the Construct’s base needs to be destroyed. She’ll be going with the Suicide Squad – Bolt, Sledge, Killer Frost, and Copperhead, who are wearing detonation collars that are being monitored remotely via satellite. Chase and the Squad are flown by helicopter, and Chase thinks more about the fight. Peter believes that Chase is a meta-human, but she rejects that, because she doesn’t want to be subject to the kind of laws and scrutiny they endure. The chopper lands some distance from the temple, and Copperhead immediately attacks someone waiting there – it’s Paolo, their guide who usually works with the CIA. Chase gets Copperhead to back off, and Paolo, who is either a preteen or a young teenager, starts to lead them in such a way as to avoid the Shining Path. As they walk, the Squad grumbles. During a brief stop, Copperhead pounces on a marmoset and eats it whole. Part of Cameron and Peter’s fight revolved around the fact that he gave up his job in LA, but now isn’t even looking for work in NYC; he rejected Cameron’s offer to see if she could get him on with the DEO’s computer division. Paolo stops the Squad when he spots the Shining Path. He can hear them, and says they’ve found the temple, and that there’s someone else there they are planning on attacking. Copperhead suggests to the others that it’s time to go to Plan B, which Killer Frost explains involves them leaving and getting their collars disabled. Bolt tells Chase that he’s built a jammer so they aren’t showing up on the satellites. Copperhead wants to kill Chase, but Sledge is against that. When Copperhead makes his move, Chase’s powers kick in, and they both tumble over the side of the cliff. Paolo grabs Chase’s hand, while Copperhead quite comfortably holds the cliff face. Copperhead tells Paolo to drop Chase or he’ll kill them both. Chase tells Paolo to let go, and falls into the canyon she’s hanging over. A tree breaks her fall a little, and she lands in the river but doesn’t emerge. The Squad move, figuring the guerrillas must have heard them.
The letters page of issue two has more of these trading card-like files, on Waller, Bolt, Copperhead, Killer Frost, and Sledge that provides some insight into their characters and why they were chosen for this mission.
In what feels like a dream, young Cameron is at home when her father comes home in a weird bat-like suit. Some guy with a metal mouth comes in and grabs him. Chase comes to on the bank of the river as she’s joined by a half-dozen men wearing parts of Rocket Red armor. She tells them she’s DEO, and they consider killing her, but then think she might be useful. The Squad are fed up with Paolo for not getting them directly to the temple. He tells them he’s trying to avoid the Shining Path. Bolt is worried that he can’t keep jamming the DEO’s satellites forever, and they argue about what to do. Paolo points out that the Shining Path have found them, and there is a firefight. Chase is brought to the temple, where she meets Sergei Vurskelyov, the guy in charge of the Rocket Reds. He explains that he was in Soviet intelligence, but now he’s there as a businessman, looking into the Construct’s technology for business applications. They’ve found some backups, but can’t access it without a human interface. He has Cameron strapped into a chair and given a VR headset against her will. The Squad tries to keep moving away from the guerrillas, using Sledge as a shield, but they come to a rickety rope bridge and realize there is no way Sledge can get across. He tells the others to go ahead while he holds the guerrillas back (this would be a good place for Bolt to use his teleporting powers, but they seem forgotten). As they cross the bridge, the Shining Path fires a bazooka at Sledge. In a typical late 90s cyberspace, Cameron meets the Construct, which has taken Peter’s form. She figures out that the Construct has infected the Rocket Reds’ armor already. The Construct turns on Chase, and she calls to Vurskelyov to unplug her. The Shining Path approaches, and the Rocket Reds get ready to deal with them. The three remaining Squad members arrive at the same time as the guerrillas, and things get chaotic. Vurskelyov blames Chase for leading the guerrillas to them, and after he unplugs her from the Construct, refuses to listen as she warns him. He’s about to shoot her, so she tries to use her new powers, but they don’t work. She attacks him, and runs. The Squad wades through the Shining Path, while Killer Frost creates a blizzard. Soon, the surviving guerrillas flee. While Chase hides out in the ruins, the Russians work to disable the explosive collars on the Squad. We see that the laptop the guy is using has been infected by the Construct. A Russian comes out of the temple yelling that the central core has lost its shielding. Everyone scrambles to get to the helicopters and leave before the temple explodes. As they leave, Copperhead spots Chase as they leave. She’s far enough that the explosion doesn’t affect her. She knows that the Russians didn’t get what they were looking for, but also that they are taking the Construct with them. She finds Paolo, and they head off towards his village. We read the end of Chase’s report to the Director, which tells us that when Waller tried to blow up the three surviving Squad members, her own system was attacked by a hacker. She shares that she doesn’t think she’s done with the Construct.
There are file entries included on the Construct and the Rocket Reds.
The Clock King has put together a team of teen villains (Acidia, Sharpe, Crackle, and Radiant) and has decided that their first appearance should be at a public appearance of the Teen Titans at the LL Siegel & Shuster Toys store in Metropolis. Chase is in Metropolis, having been assigned to “babysit” the Teen Titans event (this is the Titans team that the de-aged Ray Palmer ran, which included Risk, Prysm, Argent, and Fringe). Barrett approaches Chase and takes her outside to finally meet the Director, who is sitting in the back of a car. All we can see is half of his head, which looks like a skull. He tells Chase that because of the way she handled the mission in Peru, other agencies in Europe are more willing to collaborate with the DEO. The Clock King and his team are taking the bus, and it’s clear that his team doesn’t have a lot of faith in him. A woman in a coat and hat tries to gain entry to the toy store to talk to the Titans, but is turned away because she doesn’t have a ticket. Chase is surprised to see that her boyfriend Peter and her sister Terry are there to surprise her (and it is surprising, since one lives in New York and the other in Gotham). Her friend Knob is also there. He’s decided to move out east as well, and is living in his van. Booster Gold shows up in the store, claiming he wanted to check that the PR company handling the event is doing a good job. Chase rushes over, expecting things to go badly. Outside, the Clockwatchers position themselves. Booster starts talking to the media about his own toy line, and Risk gets irritated. Just as Chase puts herself between them, the Clockwatchers break through the wall. Chase again tries to keep things calm, but Risk attacks, and then it’s on. Knob and Peter leave, being helped by Argent, but Terry turns back. Chase’s powers activate and it has a strange effect on many of the heroes and villains. When Scramble needs to release his electric charge, Cam gets caught in the blast. Atom hides among a pile of his toys, and Firehawk (the woman in the coat) appears to save Terry from Acidia. Ray takes out Radiant, while Booster and Argent check on Chase, who is knocked out. The Clock King sneaks away while Argent’s powers work in new ways. Soon, the fight is over, and Booster and Firehawk are chatting. A DEO cleanup crew helps contain Acidia and tidy up the store. Argent asks Firehawk if she wants to join the team, but she explains that she and Booster Gold might work together instead, and they fly off. Clock King takes the bus home by himself. Peter and Risk figure that Cam is trapped under some debris, and when they pull it off her, she is cut up and unconscious. The end of Barrett’s report, which has been running over these last few pages, informs us that Chase is in the hospital on a respirator, and that she might not make it through the night.
The letters page contains an email from the Director to Barrett about sending Chase on the Titans job. There is also the email from Barrett to Chase telling her about this same job. I feel like it would have been more effective at the end of the last issue…
Chase has been in the hospital for a while, and is slowly starting to recover consciousness. Peter has been sitting with her, and she is able to hear him, but not respond yet. Terry, Knob, and Sandy Barrett come to visit, and we learn that Terry’s moved in with Chase and Peter since her place in Gotham was lost to the earthquake that happened in the Bat-books around this time. Barrett asks how long Peter and Chase have been together, and learns that they met over the internet. The more interesting story is how she met Knob, and he begins to explain in an extended flashback that was drawn by Bob Hall (but with Mick Gray inking, it maintained a consistent look with the rest of the book). They met six years prior, when Knob was also working as PI, investigating (on his own dime) a cult that had moved into the Bay area. He saw that Chase posted on an occult message board he read, so he went to her one night when he thought he was being pursued. Her first instinct was to turn him away, but then she let him in, because the brightly-shining astral projection of Klarion the Witch Boy turned up in her apartment. Klarion explained that the cult kidnapped his body, having lured him to this dimension with a simple spell. When he realized what was going on, he was able to split his astral self from his body and seek help. They found the place in the park where the ritual was performed, but there were no clues. Knob led them to a house that the cult owned. As they broke into and searched the house, Klarion warned that the cult must be a pawn of a demon (it’s clear he’s talking about Etrigan). Chase found a flyer for a nightclub, so they headed there next. Once Knob was inside with the boy, he made himself visible to everyone, and they saw a couple of people run out. Klarion gave chase, but Chase is the one who caught them. Klarion learned that his body was being kept in a spirit jar, but the two men didn’t know where it was being kept, beyond a focal point. They establish that focal points tend to be henges, pyramids, or obelisks, and they decide that the Transamerica Pyramid is a likely place to search. They headed there and saw that the building had a thirteenth floor. That floor looked like a giant rocky cavern, and across a bridge, they spied Klarion’s body (with his cat, Teekl). Klarion was surprised to find the enchantment holding him was rather simple, and notices that Chase has a sensitivity to the occult world. Looking back across the bridge, they see Knob surrounded by the cultists, all dressed like extras in a Conan movie. Klarion called on the cult’s “master” to come face him, and they told him that they weren’t in contact with a demon; they caught him on their own. Knob jumped away from the cultists, and Chase broke the jar, releasing Klarion and Teekl, who went on a bit of a rampage. After the cultists were dead, and Chase pulled Knob up from the bridge, the witch boy disappeared, and the space reverted to being an empty office floor. Chase and Knob went out for breakfast, and became friends. Knob tells the others that they tangled with the cult again. Cameron wakes up and disputes the fact that Knob talked about them breaking and entering, since Barrett is a government agent. Everyone is happy to see that she’s awake.
Barrett is at the DEO office when she receives an emergency call. Her assistant, Tanya, updates her on a few things and lets her know that Cameron is returning to work on the coming Monday. Barrett signs the card for her, and then joins a heavily-armed team in the elevator. Cameron and Terry are spending the day shopping in Manhattan. It’s been two months since her accident, and she’s ready to go back to work. She’s decided to quit smoking, since it doesn’t irritate people in New York the way it did in California. They decide to swing by Cameron’s office to drop off their bags before heading to the World Trade Center. On the subway, Terry reads an issue of Herotab, a National Enquirer-like publication focused on heroes. When they get to the DEO, Cameron has to leave Terry in the public areas, where a “superhero” named Ivan talks to her. Cameron is pleased to see a card and balloons in her office, and a note from Barrett that she decides to leave until Monday. When she returns and finds Terry talking to Ivan, who is in a colourful costume, Chase messes with him a bit, telling him that Terry is dating Lobo. The sisters get in the elevator to head down to the street, but the power goes out and they’re trapped. Terry is triggered, thinking it’s like the quake in Gotham. Chase calls Barrett on her cellphone, but Barrett is a little busy fighting some kind of demonic serpent thing on an upper level that escaped containment. She tells her it’s just a power outage caused by this creature, and to sit tight. Terry reads her Herotab, but when she gets into a story about a girl who didn’t know her father was a supervillain, Cameron gets annoyed, and pretty soon, they’re close to arguing. Cameron starts to explain their family history to Terry, revealing that their father was once a vigilante called the Acro-Bat (he jumped around in a cheesy bat-suit, fighting crime in the 60s). Terry doesn’t believe her, but Cameron continues, explaining how during that time, there was a small group of heroes that included their father. He was the leader of the Justice Experience, and Terry wonders how he really died. Cameron explains that a man named Larry Trapp, who had a severe facial deformation and was a genius, blamed heroes after his wife, the only person who ever loved him, was killed. Trapp created a set of metal teeth and lower jaw for himself, and set out to kill as many heroes as he could in brutal death traps. Trapp figured out who the Acro-Bat was, and waited for him in their house while the girls and their mother were asleep. He killed Cameron’s father with his metal teeth, and it was seven year old Cameron who found his body. After that, Trapp took out the rest of the Justice Experience – Song Bird, The Bronze Wraith, Major Flashback, Mister Action, and The Manx. Finally, some of the retired Justice Society (Starman, Green Lantern, Flash, and Doctor Mid-Nite) captured Trapp, and he’s been locked up ever since. Terry is upset that she was never told any of this, and lashes out at Cameron, even though it was their mom who kept it from her. Firefighters pry open the elevator doors and help the sisters out. Barrett notices that Cameron looks rough, and suggests she come see the Director about her next assignment. Chase demurs until Monday, and goes over to apologize to Terry, sorta, and they smooth things over. Barrett goes to see the Director (who has portraits of Infinity Inc. and himself in his Mr. Bones uniform on the walls). He’s not happy about the day’s events, and wants to know if Barrett told Chase that they’re sending her to Gotham. I’m not sure I understand why the Director is so focused on Chase all the time…
Chase is in Gotham, working with Agent White from the DEA, to look into a new drug that has been transforming people into demon-like creatures. She, White, and Sergeant Bullock attend the scene where two transformed bodies have been found. Batman turns up on scene, and doesn’t seem too happy to see Chase there. They all go to the autopsy of these bodies, and discuss experiments being done on thyroidal mutagens, by the DEO and DEA, with the goal of developing super soldiers. Chase knows that a company in Gotham was doing some of this work, but refuses to tell Batman where it is, knowing he’ll find it anyway. Chase and White return to their hotel rooms, and Chase reports to the Director (using code) before heading back out. She goes to the company, Better Living Industries, and stakes it out using high tech camouflage and night vision gear. It’s not long before she sees Batman exit the building. The next day, she and White interview Doctors Wein and Green at the company, and learn that one of their employees, Morris Sanders, was becoming increasingly paranoid and was performing research outside of their purview. When the quake hit Gotham, Sanders and their supply of the mutagen went missing. Chase calls Commissioner Gordon to share information, and learns that the police have two mutated individuals cornered in a shop. They arrive just before the two exit and attack the police. Batman arrives and takes one down. When the other attacks from behind, Chase shoots him. Batman is furious with her for using a gun and for killing the person. The female mutated person gives the cops a clue, sending them to the Callister Cargo Company. Before Batman leaves, Chase asks him to work together, and make a plan so they don’t get in each other’s way. The Callister warehouse was damaged in the quake, but hasn’t been knocked down yet. Chase and White surveil it, and wait for Batman’s signal (which is a demon-person being tossed through a window). They enter and find Batman fighting one of these mutants. Other, non-transformed people come at them, and Chase starts firing with the non-lethal concussive rounds she’s loaded her gun with. White sees Sanders run out, and goes after him. Batman and Chase mop up everyone left in the warehouse, and White returns with the case that Sanders dropped as he ran. It’s full of the mutagen compound. Batman wants confirmation from Chase that they will use the mutagen to fix the people it’s transformed, and then disappears. Later, Chase calls the Director, and confirms for him that she believes that there is only one person wearing the Batman suit, and it becomes clear that she’s actually in Gotham to investigate him, and that the other stuff is just a cover story.
Issue eight opens with a flashback to Chase getting her orders to look into Batman from Director Bones. He wants to know who Batman really is, and thinks that Chase might be able to make some headway in that direction. Now, Bullock has brought her and Agent White to the side of the river, where another demon has been pulled out of the water, dead from gunshot wounds. White says he’s taking the rest of the mutagen back to the DEA, while Chase is going to stay in town to help look for Doctor Sanders. Of course, that is cover for her real reason for being there. Chase hacks into some computers, looking for Batman’s presence in the systems, and starts to find some digital footprints. When she sets up some fake accounts and leaves some digital traps (she learned a lot of this from her fiancée), they are quickly discovered, and she watches as “Batman” starts to dismantle them, delete any record of his presence in the computer systems, and starts deleting Chase’s own work. We see Oracle call Batman to warn him that her work was uncovered, and to suggest he be careful. Batman responds that he knows who is responsible. Chase calls the Director to report, and learns that someone has attacked the DEO’s servers. Chase sets up a white noiser to make sure she’s not overheard, and we see that Batman is watching her. However, using goggles that let him see through her curtains, and read her lips as she speaks. The next morning, she’s woken from a dream about Trapp by Bullock and White coming to her door. They tell her that they figured out the body they pulled from the water belongs to Sanders. They suspect that one of his customers killed him because their drug supply dried up. White says he’s heading back, but Bullock mentions that they were going to be invited to a charity gala being thrown by Bruce Wayne. Chase decides she wants to stay for it. She calls Peter, who she got permission to talk to about her case, in a nonspecific way. He suggests that the person she’s looking for (it’s not clear that he knows it’s Batman) is using one of three methods to hide his computer work, and the most likely is by piggybacking on the antenna used by the Gotham Broadcasting Network. Coincidentally, that’s where the party is being held, since Wayne Manor is still being repaired after the quake. Chase arrives at the gala, and meets Wayne, Dick Grayson, and Alan Scott (this was during the era where he was de-aged and went by Sentinel). She can tell right away that Scott is more than he seems, and when he says he must leave early, she figures that he must be Batman. Chase decides to leave, making a comment about men with two first names, and comes right back to the GBC building, to stake it out. Batman appears behind her, and tells her that he learned that White is the one who killed Sanders. He also makes a comment about how her hunting down Batman and other heroes won’t avenge her father, and she gets very angry. As he runs across the rooftops, she chases him, often coming close to losing him but generally keeping up. He leads her into an area of condemned buildings, and then falls through a roof. She climbs down to him, finding him stunned but not badly hurt. She considered taking off his mask and exposing him as Alan Scott, but has a change of mind. She tells him that she’s not looking for revenge, but instead is hoping to help others from avoiding what she’s gone through. She walks off. “Batman” gets up, and we learn that Scott used his powers to fake Batman’s appearance. The real Batman, and Nightwing, are there. Batman knew she’d not go through with the unmasking, but wanted Chase to realize it on her own. From their discussion, it’s clear that Sentinel doesn’t know who Batman is either, and then Batman disappears again.
Issue nine is mostly drawn by Charlie Adlard, and features another flashback sequence. In the beginning of the issue, Cameron, Terry, Peter, and Knob leave In Darkest Night, the Green Lantern biopic movie, starring Tom Cruise, and discuss how Cruise didn’t get Hal’s character right. Terry is surprised to learn that the rest of them met him, and they tell her the story. When they were all in San Francisco, Knob was helping a young woman named Hyathis look for her missing brother. Chase figured he was just trying to hook up with the young woman, and asked about the fact that she had the same name as an alien empress that the JLA fought. Hyathis was defensive about that. Chase, Knob, and Hyathis went to the brother’s place, which was a dump, and caught one of the Broken Circle cultists in his apartment. The kid ran from them, and got on his knees in front of an ATM, calling for Atem to save him. Electricity came from the ATM and appeared to fry him – there was nothing left of him. Chase called Peter to join them (they were early in their relationship), and sent Hyathis back to her place. They noticed that the cult had grabbed her and were taking her to the same ATM. Knob wanted to save her, but the others wanted to make a plan. That’s when Green Lantern turned up and quickly took care of the situation. He talked to Chase and they interrogated one of the cultists, who talked about how they worshiped at the ATM so Atem would provide them with wealth. Peter talked about his hacking skills, and they agreed to go to Chase’s office to hack into the bank. GL told them he came to San Francisco to look for his friend’s cousin, and that he would send his friend to them. At Chase’s, Peter discovered an account for the Broken Circle Family that seemed suspicious (of course, it’s more suspicious that he would be able to hack into bank computers so easily). Hal Jordan arrived, talking about how his cousin, also named Hal, was working on some kind of radio technology experiment thing when an electrical storm caused him to disappear. Peter explained that he could change the PIN number of the account, locking the cult out of it. That’s when the cult showed up at Chase’s door and attacked them. Two of them threw Jordan out the window, while others roughed up Peter and fought Chase and Knob. The cultists captured the two PIs and walked them out of the apartment, leaving Peter behind. Peter heard the computer saying the word “free.” On the street, Green Lantern turned up again, and the cultists decided it was better to leave. Peter came down and told them that he found Hal’s cousin Hal, and every other person who’d gone missing. It turns out that Hal was the hero Air Wave, and that he got trapped in the computer systems of the bank (this part is not very clear at all), where the cult found him (how?), and because he was unable to remember who he was, he started digitizing other people and storing them in his bank account or something. Hal Jordan arrived, pretending to have been in a dumpster, and left with Air Wave. Knob finishes telling Terry the story, and they talk about what a great hero Hal Jordan was (this is after Hal turned evil, became Parallax, and died).
The letter page of #9 states that it’s the penultimate issue of the title, but also the last one set in present day. There is no explanation as to why the title was being canceled.
It’s weird that this series ended with a tie-in to the DC One Million event that launched out of Grant Morrison’s JLA run. In the 853rd century, there is a market in power icons – illegal computer programs that give their user metahuman abilities through their headnet. The DEO is a secret organization at this time, and a squad tracks down a guy named Sandoval, who is dealing in these icons. The DEO agents, all female, look a lot like the Judges in Judge Dredd. They go to apprehend Sandoval, and the Chase, our narrator, uses her ability to negate powers to take him down. He uses a new icon though, based on Ambush Bug, but teleports himself into a wall, killing him. Later, at the DEO’s base, the organization’s leader, Skull, is not happy that Sandoval wasn’t properly detained. Chase uses her headnet to track down a lead on Mars – a man living off the system named Chito Delemar. They head to his house, which looks like a late 20th century home, filled with books. The women are disturbed by it, and when they meet Chito, he tells them that he doesn’t have any tech in the house, per DEO orders. Chase is conflicted by this, feeling that it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. The women are about to perform a telepathic scan on Chito, not believing that he’s out of the icon game, but his daughter, Aloette, tries to stop them. She admits to being the one supplying Sandoval with icons, since she creates them as part of her work. When they try to apprehend her, she fights back, accessing some of the power icons. Chase is the only one who can stop her, by negating her powers, but she hesitates and decides to let her run. When she returns to Skull’s office, she explains to her superior that she doesn’t know if the DEO is doing the right thing. Skull tells her that she had the same doubts, and that’s why she was promoted to being Skull. She sends Chase to her room to read information that she’s left for her, and promises that they will talk.
In the letters page to issue 1,000,000, it’s made clear that the creators had a lot more planned for this book, and weren’t expecting it to be canceled so soon.
This series is not exactly how I remembered it. I feel like my memories of this book live entirely in the two-part Peru arc, and that the rest of the run was a slow downward slope leading away from it. The Batman arc was also very cool though, and every issue, including the One Million issue, showed just how much potential this book had.
It bothered me that so many plotlines were slowly being developed, and never went anywhere. I wanted to know a lot more about the DEO, and its mission to gather information about the different heroes and villains. The idea that they would send Chase to try to figure out Batman’s identity is pretty bold, and leaves me wondering how the inevitable confrontations that policy would spark would turn out.
I also wanted to know a lot more about Chase’s developing powers. I think that Marc Andreyko addressed them when he used Chase in his Manhunter run, but I don’t remember it too well now.
One of the coolest things about this book was the way in which it utilized Mister Bones, the C-list character from Infinity Inc. to such interesting ends. I wanted to see a lot more of him, and to learn his story (again, I know he showed up in Manhunter later).
I was also curious to know more about Chase’s father and his career as a superhero in the 60s and 70s. It seemed like Chase’s dreams about Trapp, the man who killed her father, were leading somewhere.
Likewise, we never got to learn about the Cult of the Broken Circle, and why two flashback issues were devoted to them. It was curious that Johnson and Williams spent more time developing Chase’s past and relationships with Peter, Terry, and Knob than they did her time at the DEO. That had to have been leading somewhere.
In a lot of ways, this series could be seen as a bridge towards a number of the better series or trends in comics to come during the 00s. This time around, I read Chase as a prototype of both Jessica Jones and Maria Hill (although perhaps Barrett fits that role better). The series itself felt like a necessary step towards the genesis of Gotham Central, one of the greatest DC series of the following era.
This series should have marked the beginning of two long careers in comics, but D. Curtis Johnson seems to have disappeared after this. It’s too bad, because I liked his writing here. I hope he went on to things he liked doing.
It’s cool to see JH Williams take steps towards being the artist he is today. In many issues, he employed novel page designs, often using circles in outer corners and illuminating panel borders. He’s not as wild with his designs as he would be with Promethea, but it’s cool to see that evolution taking place.
It’s worth noting that while I was reading these comics, Williams’s new series, Echolands debuted, and it’s beautiful and a very good read.
I’m glad I took the time to revisit this series, even if it wasn’t as epic as my memories make it out to be (this is actually why I’ve been afraid to cover Starman in this column). Has Chase been seen in the Rebirth or Infinite Frontiers eras? I’d be interested in her getting a spotlight again some day.
Next time around, I’m going to return to another classic of the late 90s, a miniseries that might hold some clues as to where the Marvel movies are headed next.
If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.