Mild Mannered Reviews - JLA Comics

JLA: Incarnations #4

JLA: Incarnations #4

Scheduled to arrive in stores: August 8, 2001

Cover date: October 2001

Writer: John Ostrander
Penciller: Val Semeiks
Inker: Prentis Rollins

Part 4 of 7 - "Balance"

Reviewed by: Michael Bailey (

In Boston, on the River Charles, Zatanna and Aquaman launch an attack on the ship of Captain Squidd and Whaleboy. Whaleboy, who insists his name is Killer Whale, takes on Zatanna while Aquaman bursts through the ship's bow. Captain Squidd fires a crossbow, which traps Aquaman in an electric net. Seeing her teammate in trouble, Zatanna is momentarily distracted giving Whaleboy the chance to strike her from behind.

Aquaman rips free of the net and knocks Whaleboy back, giving Zatanna the chance to recover. As Zatanna renews her attack on Whaleboy, Captain Squidd spits out a spray of ink hitting Aquaman in the face. Blinded, Aquaman tackles Squidd and takes them both over the side of the ship.

Zatanna uses her powers to revert Whaleboy to human form before taking him down. The harbor police show up and Zatanna is momentarily concerned over Aquaman until Captain Squidd comes flying out of the water followed by the victorious Aquaman. Zatanna asks Aquaman if he is okay. Aquaman replies that he is fine and that she should contact the League to have Squidd returned to his own planet before heading back into the sea. Zatanna is concerned, a feeling not shared by the police who are enjoying the fruits of Aquaman's twelfth collar that month.

In the newsroom of ABS cable news Tully Reed's news director is curious why Tully would bring him a story about people who are called Captain Squidd and Whaleboy. Tully explains that Squidd, an alien who was shot down and read too much Treasure Island and Whaleboy, a mutant kid with self-esteem issues, aren't the real story. He contends that Aquaman is the story with the sea king's recent war on crime up and down the northeastern seaboard.

Tully's director asks why this is a story since Aquaman is a super-hero and that's what they do. Tully informs Mr. Yui that recent events don't jibe with how Aquaman usually acts and that with Aquaman being the King of Atlantis he usually spends most of his time down there. Mr. Yui tells Tully to run with the story since Tully's meta-human expertise is why ABS hired him in the first place.

In the Australian Outback, an alien craft crashes to the ground. A being exits the craft and phases out as the Flash arrives on the scene. He radios the League that he sees nothing and heads back to Central City.

In the Antarctic another alien fires a device into the sky before phasing out. Firestorm gets there just after the device and the alien disappear. After surveying the scene, and at the urging of Dr. Stein (one of the men who form Firestorm) they head out as well.

On the dark side of the moon, Green Lantern investigates a disturbance that the League's sensors detected. He radios in that he sees nothing and heads out. Seconds later an alien armada phases into sight. Inside the ship the pilot informs the warlord, Koll that the cloaking devices held but that engineering says that the ship can't take the strain. Koll informs him that soon it won't matter and that soon the Debris will have a home to call their own.

In the Satellite Headquarters of the Justice League, Batman abruptly resigns. He explains that every League meeting has been the same and that their effectiveness has been compromised by excuses and regulations, which prevents them from doing their job. Black Canary angrily argues that things have gotten all around more complicated. She also reminds him that her mother died only a short time before and that she hasn't had any time to grieve. Batman suggests that maybe they should all resign and then leaves. As Canary fumes, Aquaman suggests that he may have had a point. Canary tells him that she isn't resigning and heads out. The League watches her leave as Aquaman adjourns the meeting.

Back on the Debris vessel, one of Koll's men informs him that all planetary defenses have been accounted for. Koll orders him to check deployment of the mind mines, cloak the fleet and head to Earth.

Meanwhile, Ralph Dibney, the Elongated Man pays Aquaman a visit at the lighthouse that he has made his home. While the two discuss recent events in Aquaman's life Tully Reed shows up asking to come up. Aquaman at first denies he is Aquaman and claims to be Arthur Curry, but Tully says that he knows it's Aquaman because Ralph is there. After Aquaman chides him for not wearing a mask, Elongated Man brings Tully to the top of the lighthouse.

On the satellite, J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter spots a spatial distortion in space. After a quick mind probe he orders Zatanna to get off the satellite and get help. From the Debris ship, the aliens block all communication and teleportation before opening fire.

Zatanna appears at Aquaman's lighthouse through a hellride and tells the two heroes that the satellite is under attack. From space, J'onn telepathically tells Aquaman that the satellite is destroyed as the Debris prepares to deploy the mind mines. Aquaman orders everyone in the water and Zatanna conjures a spell to protect the non-water breathing people as they dive into the ocean. Seconds later, the mind mines detonate, neutralizing the entire population of the Earth.

Koll orders to begin the transfers and execute the dissenters. As Koll's men begin to do just that, the Martian Manhunter appears and attacks the Debris. As he battles Koll's men, J'onn listens as one of the prisoners explain that the Debris are the castoffs of multiple civilizations that are just searching for a home. Koll was a warlord who didn't want to risk asking for help and planned to use the mind mines to wipe out the wills of the people of Earth and exchange his people with as many humans as he could. After the humans were off planet, the ship would detonate. The Manhunter forms a plan to take out Koll, but contacts Aquaman first.

Aquaman, along with Tully, Zatanna and Elongated Man, have already arrived at the undersea kingdom of Atlantis, when the Manhunter contacts him. Meanwhile Tully is investigating the grounds of Atlantis. He is torn between his love for the heroes and his reporter's instincts. After seeing the grave of Aquaman's son and realizing why Aquaman has been acting the way he has, Tully rejoins the others to see Zatanna bring Green Lantern to Atlantis. Once he gets there, Aquaman begins beating the unconscious hero and throws Lantern through the walls of the city. The shock of the attack wakes GL up after which Aquaman reveals that the plan is to revive the other neutralized heroes while J'onn and the prisoners take down the Debris ship.

As battles wage across the Earth and in the Debris ship, Zatanna manages to wake the heroes. The battle is won and Green Lantern contacts the Guardians of the Universe to find a suitable world for the Debris to live on. After the battle, Aquaman calls an emergency meeting where he chides the League for their failure during the invasion. Aquaman insists that they should have seen this coming. Canary once again voices the opinion that they're doing the best they can. For Aquaman this isn't good enough and demands their resignations. When the heroes refuse, he dissolves the League.

In disbelief, Canary says that he can't do that, a concept J'onn disagrees with. A League by-law states that any founding member can dissolve the League at any time. Aquaman goes on to say that he intends to re-form the League with heroes who can devote the appropriate amount of time needed. Everyone but J'onn leaves.

From his office at ABS, Tully stares at a picture of the new League, which consists of the Elongated Man, Zatanna, Aquaman, the Martian Manhunter, Steel, Gypsy, Vibe and Vixen. He muses over the controversy the team has caused and reaffirms his belief in the League. To him, they are human and heroes, which means that someday he could be a hero too.

5Story - 5: Well, I can't really comment on Superman's part in this issue since he appeared in all of four panels and had exactly one line of dialogue. This being the Superman Homepage you would figure that something should be said about the Man of Steel himself. The only thing I can think to write is that he looked very heroic leading the heroes into battle and had an old-fashioned "man it's great to have kicked some invading butt" look on his face after the battle ends. Hopefully the next issue will have some more Superman and then I can expound on his part in the story beyond him looking to the sky and saying, "What?"

Despite the lack of Superman, this issue was a real treat. This issue takes a different approach than the previous stories. In previous issues, we got a good look at the League during its various incarnations (hence the title) and the bulk of the stories have focused on one Leaguer in particular. We've seen how the Black Canary dealt with her mother and the JSA, how Batman found fellowship with the League and how Green Arrow dealt with his personal issues and his place with the JLA.

From the cover you would expect that this was Aquaman's issue to shine and to a large extent it was. This period was a rough time for the Sea King and he was portrayed as a man who was dealing with a lot of inner conflict. His son had just died, his wife had left him and he was dealing with this by committing himself to the surface world and the League. This is one of the ironic points of the story. Everyone else seems to be going through their own problems what with the Flash being on trial for murder and the Black Canary dealing with the death of her mother. While they can't seem to devote their time to the League, Aquaman is using the team deal with his problems, which is where the main conflict with him and the team takes place. Ostrander wrote Aquaman as a very dignified, strong character, which is not how most writers deal with him. There are all the old jokes about how Aquaman has lousy powers and really isn't much when compared to the heavy hitters like Superman and Batman. We don't see that Aquaman here. There were some nice scenes, like the one where he cracks the meeting table after Batman quits or his idea of reviving Green Lantern. Also the sequence where he stands before Arthur Jr.'s grave and saying that he just wants to hit something was very powerful.

Ostrander strayed from the previous issues by having a dual focus with Aquaman and Tully Reed. Tully really comes into his own with this issue and Ostrander does a wonderful job of using Tully as a reflection of the readers and fans of the Justice League. This time period wasn't only rough on Aquaman. When he disbanded the League it marked a serious change in the tone of the book. Suddenly the heavy hitters weren't there anymore and they were replaced with a group of young, untested heroes. I can't speak from personal experience since I wasn't collecting comics at the time this all went down, but by talking to older fans I get the sense that the comic audience, like the regular people who Tully talks about at the end of the story, were divided by the new League.

To go further, Tully also shows the fact that around this period in League history comics were going through huge changes and old heroes were being portrayed in new ways. While Stan Lee and crew were the firsts to really show super-heroes as having human flaws in the '60s it wasn't until the '70s that DC followed suit. Another resurgence of this concept was going on in the mid '80s. By having Tully suddenly realize that as much as he loved and admired his heroes they were also people with very human problems. The fans were also shown this side and they went through a similar process. I know that this is oversimplifying the situation and putting it in a neat little package, but the sentiment remains. This was the emotional hook for this issue.

There were some other little things that I dug as well. Again Ostrander shows great characterization combined with attention to research. Elongated Man is charming in a very silly way and the bit where Aquaman tells him he should wear a mask because Tully found him so easily was funny. Captain Squidd and Whaleboy were a hoot as well. The Debris were interesting, but something about the concept didn't appeal to me. Then again the villains were not the point of the story. They were there as a means to an end to get the League to where they needed to be so I can't complain too much.

4Art - 4: Again, while Val Semeiks is a very capable artist there are some problems with bits and pieces of his art. I don't know why but he just cannot get the hang of Black Canary. This could be the fault of the inker, but there were some places where she just doesn't work for me. Like the previous issue most of the characters seem to have a homogenized look and feel with the exceptions of Aquaman and Tully. These were the focus characters so it makes sense that they would stand out. The main problem is the blocky look the characters have, but this is a personal problem on my part. That's not my bag as far as art goes.

What does work for me were the designs for the Debris and the backgrounds. There was a lot of detail put into the backgrounds, especially the lighthouse and the Debris ships. There was a nice distinction between the old fashioned and the futuristic that worked well. The scenes in Atlantis were detailed as well with the spiraling towers

The fanboy in me was really glad to see the old school League costumes. For some odd reason I always preferred the Elongated Man's black and red costume and despite it being extremely gaudy when compared to today's standard there is something about Zatanna's costume in this issue that was appealing. (No, it was not any particular portion of her anatomy. This is a drawing we're talking about here. I was referring to the costume itself being aesthetically pleasing.)

5Cover Art - 5: In Man of Two Worlds, Julius Schwartz lists the keys to a successful comic book cover. Number one was showing the planet Earth in danger. Number two was to show duplicate heroes. Number four was to have a character command the reader to do something and number five was having a gorilla doing something ungorilla like.

Number three is to have heroes fighting each other. Schwartz is right when he writes that readers love to see their favorite heroes fight and how can you argue this point when an entire message board on Comic Book Resources is dedicated to heroes pounding on each other. So having Green Lantern strangling Aquaman as Elongated Man and Zatanna watch makes for a good cover even though the scene really didn't happen that way in the book. According to Schwartz this makes a good cover.

And who am I to argue with Julius Schwartz? I liked the cover.

Mild Mannered Reviews


Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic was on sale.

January 2001

February 2001 March 2001 April 2001 May 2001 June 2001 July 2001 August 2001 September 2001 October 2001 November 2001 December 2001 Annuals

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Check out the Comic Index Lists for the complete list of Superman-related comics published in 2001.