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Mild Mannered Reviews - JLA Comics

Justice League Elite #5

Justice League Elite #5

Scheduled to arrive in stores: November 10, 2004

Cover date: January 2005

Writer: Joe Kelly
Penciller: Doug Mahnke
Inker: Tom Nguyen

"The Aftermath: Part One"

Reviewed by: Michael Bailey

Lying in bed with Sonja, Coldcast explains how easy it was for The Elite to go undercover as his crew to infiltrate the organization run by the mysterious Aftermath. Vera Black played the role of Miss Morphine, the Flash took on the guise of Supersonic and Kasumi used the Shadow Thief's technology to become the Nothing. He also tells her how he and his brother used to sell amphetamines to Jewish ladies under the cover of a lemonade stand when he was eleven and his brother, Christopher, was eight.

Coldcast tells her that he hadn't seen his brother for eight years. Now that his brother has hooked up with the supposedly alien street gang Chris thinks that he and Coldcast are gonna light the place up together. Coldcast had never heard of Aftermath but suddenly he sees them sitting in his mother's house eating sandwiches. Coldcast thinks they might be aliens, but are at the very least meta-humans. Sonja doubts the concept of alien gangbangers but Coldcast is quick to point out all of the weird things they have already seen.

Sonja asks what this group would want with Coldcast's brother. Coldcast explains that Aftermath is recruiting metas and alien hardware to take over the drug circuits, which for now is small time and quiet but Coldcast feels that this won't be the case for long. They want a foothold in Chicago and Chris saw an opportunity so he told them about Coldcast, the man who took down Superman. Chris wants Coldcast to gather muscle and take down some locals for Aftermath, which would make Chris very popular.

Sonja asks if Coldcast has told Vera about this and Coldcast gives a flip answer about getting chatty after sex. Sonja then asks if she is supposed to ask why Chris is dealing when Coldcast is supposedly one of the good guys. Coldcast explains that he wasn't always which is as good an answer as he is going to give and asks her if it matters. Sonja tells him no and the only thing that matters is what the team is going to do. She asks him if he still trusts the team after what happened.

Coldcast tells her it's not like that, that it can't be and that despite the fact that someone did wrong he still trusts Vera. Sonja comments that the list of people he trusts must be short considering what they just did. Coldcast quips that if he had to trust a woman to sleep with them he would still be a virgin. Sonja tells him that he shouldn't be mean and that he can be mad but not at her. She counts herself and Coldcast as the only two people she trusts. He asks her why she stays on then and she replies for her sister Pam.

As the two watch the sun come up she asks Coldcast if he is going to tell Vera. He tells her yes and that he is in either way because Chris is his brother. He adds that the Elite get the truth and they can decide for themselves.

Some time later Al-Sheikh tells Coldcast that he respects his intentions and candor but he believes that his plan may be the second worst idea he's ever heard, the first was rigging the Florida elections last time around. He asks if this Aftermath is as significant as Coldcast believes they are. Coldcast informs him that he can maintain the situation and that he won't blow the op. Al-Sheikh tells him that his brother is going to cost him his cover or his soul. Coldcast explains that his cover is concrete and that the rest wasn't his concern. Christopher may be his brother, but he's also an idiot, maybe worse. At the end of it, though, Chris is the entry point plain and simple. If Al-Sheikh can guarantee that Chris will get the same soft treat that those Enron buttheads got Coldcast will ride him all the way to Strykers himself.

Al-Sheikh agrees and Coldcast leaves him alone with Vera. Al-Sheikh comments on the fact that Coldcast is a hard man as she had said. Vera agrees and adds that despite all that she and Al-Sheikh had been through if he knew half of what Coldcast had seen, mostly with her brother that he would curl up in a ball with sympathy pains. Al-Sheikh asks her why she is smoking she gives a short laugh and tells him that she doesn't but her cover of Miss Morphine does and that sometimes she stays in character with her props if she isn't dealing with tech. She blames this paranoia on Wolfwood and asks if he had heard anything about him. Al-Sheikh tells her they need to deal with one case at a time.

Meanwhile Manitou spends time in the spirit world being insulted by a strange looking spirit. The spirit loses his train of thought and comments that there was a time when he could go for months before running out of disparagements. He asks if the world has moved on so. Manitou replies that he knows not of such things and that he has sat and borne his insults with breaking and asks if the spirit relents to his insult as it is written. The spirit sighs and relents tells Manitou to ask his boon, adding that he does his father proud.

Manitou explains that he requires an eye of eighteen pupils to find the one who has betrayed his "tribe." He wants to look into their hearts and know the truth. The spirit points out that his hatchet also has this power and would spare the skin of a good man. Manitou replies that those in his tribe may not be considered men as he considers himself a man and that some more so and some less. The spirit agrees but as he hands Manitou the eye of eighteen pupils he tells Manitou that not all betrayals begin with murder but all end with death and that the man who hunts his kin is damned.

Manitou comes out of his dream state and asks his wife to bring him his basin so he can purify before beginning the next phase. She doesn't and he asks for her again before realizing that he is alone.

Meanwhile the Elite go undercover and meet with the representatives of the Aftermath to sample their product. Vera muses privately that this is the part of the job she enjoys the most. For all the chaos that goes along with the drug trade drug dealers are simple folk who are very predictable. There won't be any fighting or killing because tonight is about the hook. She also thinks about the fact that busting heads is never enough since they could easily be some pissed off super-cops or a rival gang, which is why Aftermath himself won't show.

After Kasumi in her Nothing role takes the sample Vera, as Miss Morphine makes it look like she is taking a hit off of a needle one of the Aftermath reps prepares. Vera plays the part well making sure they see hunger in her eyes. She knows that the aliens enjoy this because they are dealers and dealers can never say no to a junkie.

Later, after Vera calls a sleeping Major Disaster and tells him to report to duty, Al-Sheikh informs the group that the drug sample they took is comprised mostly of heroin, but also contains an unidentified additive that keeps the substance liquid at room temperature. Coldcast adds that the street level guys have no clue what they are dealing and assume that it is liquid smack. Disaster asks why he was called for this and is told to show some respect to those that put their lives on the line to get the sample.

The Flash admits that he almost had a heart attack when Vera injected the stuff, but Vera reveals that she has a sterilized container in her arm that she uses to collect such samples. She adds that her instincts are screaming that these guys are going through a lot of trouble just to build better junk. Al-Sheikh tells the group that he doesn't want this "U.F.Opiate" to be circulated while they determine the scope of the operation. He asks Vera if they can bait and switch the product. Vera replies that it will be dicey until they know their prey's exact surveillance but since the group got in and out without trouble that there are probably no telepaths amongst the aliens.

Al-Sheikh asks Sonja what she has tucked away in her bag of tricks. Sonja produces a creature she calls Betty, which will replace the bait if they handle the switch. The Flash is volunteered to serve that function, much to the fastest man alive's chagrin at having to touch Betty. He asks if he is going to have to touch Betty and Vera replies that the term milk is more accurate.

Al-Sheikh declares the plan settled. The A-Team will continue to maintain cover as Coldcast's crew with the exception Flash who will pull double duty while the rest of the team is on perimeter duty. He also tells them that this time there will be zero casualties.

Afterwards in the locker room Green Arrow confronts Vera, telling her he has never met a woman with stones as big as hers. She asks if this is a new revelation or did it take him watching her get dressed to put that together. He explains that he couldn't figure out how she could fake out Wonder Woman's lasso, but then he realized that when she had it wrapped around her arm it wasn't really around her, which could allow for her it fake the lasso out. Vera asks if his questions are a shakedown since the last she heard he had quit. She also wants to know why he would stay around. He replies that he wants to see what happens. She tells him that he is a terrible liar and that she thanks God every day that she didn't sleep with him adding that if he wants to know what they are doing about house cleaning he should ask Manitou.

Later, Coldcast and his brother sit in his mother's house and clean their weapons. When their blind mother comes in to get her popcorn they tell her not to come in since they have the broken stove in pieces. Chris is happy at the fact that he and his brother are working together and how much he appreciates all Coldcast has done for him. He asks if Coldcast is going to stay a while and see the whole thing through. Coldcast replies that all the way through is the only way he ever plays.

That night Vera wakes up suddenly with her weapons drawn after something flies over her head. She is shocked to see her brother, complete with an open wound where the top of his head should be, standing over her. She screams out no and wakes up thinking it was all a dream. Just as she thinks that someone should invent a pill to stop such thing she notices the smoldering cigarette on her bed.

Meanwhile Coldcast and Chris are in the process of selling the drug supplied to them by Aftermath. As Chris exchanges the vial for money the Flash races in and replaces it with another vial that contains a liquid Sonja produces. Suddenly there is a green explosion. Coldcast and Chris turn around to find Green Lantern, Black Canary, Power Girl, Hawkgirl and Mister Terrific standing before them. Hawkgirl tells them that whatever they are thinking they should stop and that if they enjoy the luxury of walking they will give the heroes what they want. Cracking his knuckles Mister Terrific asks where Aftermath is.

3Story - 3: Okay, last issue I tore this book a new one. I wrote about how I thought the book was flawed in terms of both premise and execution. For the most part I still hold to this opinion, but this issue actually managed to not only not completely suck but pull off some genuine emotion and storytelling as well.

The next storyline of Joe Kelly's Elite started off nicely. Kelly managed to pay off the set up from the previous issue by introducing the group of alien gangbangers and their mysterious boss named Aftermath. Outside of being kind of a weak name I think the idea of aliens trying to mess with the drug trade may prove for a good read,

What really held this issue was Kelly's characterization of Coldcast. By far Coldcast is the most fleshed out character in the series. He's a man of principles who has a mysterious past but isn't stuck in it like other characters. He has learned from his mistakes and became a man of honor because of them. The fact that he is willing to use his brother to take down a drug dealing organization shows that he is willing to do anything to get the job done. He recognizes what his brother is, but still tries to protect him by making the deal that ensures that his brother would only serve soft time.

I really like Coldcast. Frankly he, Green Arrow and Dawn are the only reasons I am mildly interested in this book. Despite the usual Joe Kelly "pop culture" dialogue he manages to feel like a real character.

The framing of this issue was also well done. The flashback at the beginning of the issue wrapped around Sonja and Coldcast talking in bed was interesting and a great way to get the point across without too much exposition. The cover identities were clever and the team chosen for this operation was also good. I liked the scene where Coldcast and Sonja were talking as it fleshed her character out a little more. Sonja comes off as a complex, loyal and somewhat guilt stricken character as she reveals that she stays in the group because of her sister.

I have to admit that having the Flash replace the drugs at super speed was really clever. It was a great way to explain how this group could sell drugs while not actually selling drugs. It was also interesting how Vera faked her own drug injection was pretty cool as well and lead to something that might prove to be her downfall, but more of that later.

Of course the main reason I want to read next month's issue is the JSA, but maybe that's just me. I am a huge fan of the Golden-Age characters and I think the concept of having the Elite having to run into another super-hero group is a good idea and makes sense in terms of what they are trying to do. It also gives an excuse for the typical hero/hero smack down.

Also, the Dawn/Manitou storyline is going along nicely.

The issue stumbled in two areas, the first being the scene where Manitou is having his "dream state" experience. Joe Kelly loves witty, Kevin Smith type dialogue, but does it really have to be with every single character in the book? I mean I like to read a comic that makes me laugh as much as the next guy, but I don't think introducing the term "scrotal tick" into the DC lexicon is the best of ideas. Sure if he had played the scene straight and had a really cliched spirit imparting wisdom sequence, but I don't think that replacing that with a witty, sarcastic, trash talking deity.

The other area where I feel a sense of dread was the "return" of Manchester Black. Last issue we had a quick little quasi-cameo at the very end and from the cover (more on that later) you would expect that this issue would be all about his return. But no, we get a crappy little sequence at the end that tried to save itself with the mysterious cigarette on the bed thing. That was it, a scary shot of Manchester minus brain pan and then nothing.

So what does this mean? Well I don't know for sure, but I have a pretty good idea and that way lies madness and me pulling my hair out that my time and the time of many of you who are bothering to read this book is being wasted.

If I'm right, Manchester Black's consciousness has invaded Vera's mind. Either that or somehow Vera feels guilt over Manchester's death (or something like that) and has developed a separate personality. In any case Vera may not be in control of herself. Despite the fact that she played off her smoking as wanting to stay in character it could also be read that this is Manchester asserting control.

So if Vera is being controlled by Manchester then this could lead to at least one of two things. One that Manchester Black is going to return and the Elite is going to have to fight them. Boring. Really, really boring. I mean is this what bad Marvel Comics were made of in the '80s. I hope this isn't going to happen, but from what Previews is letting slip than this is the direction the book is going in. I just hope that the story is entertaining enough to support the bad idea.

The second bit of fall out to Manchester taking over Vera is that maybe, just maybe Vera is the one that killed the President in the third issue. But it wasn't Vera, it was Manchester controlling Vera.

Oh God it could happen! Please, please don't let it happen.

I mean I liked the fact they pointed out that Vera might have been the killer since she could have faked out Wonder Woman's lasso, but if it was a controlled Vera than it weakens the character.

Man, if that happens this series is dead artistically. Bad enough we have to deal with the supposedly amusing political commentary Kelly peppers his stories with.

In a nut shell a better issue with some decent characterization, but if I had to shake the Magic 8 Ball and ask if this book is going to end well I bet I would get the "Signs point to no," answer.

3Art - 3: I was surprised at how much Mahnke's and Nguyen's art grew on me this issue. While I don't like Mahnke's super-hero work, his style lends itself to this type of story. It's dark and weird and so is the story. What really surprised me was how well he drew the JSA at the end of the story. They looked good and I am looking forward to seeing what he does with them next issue.

1Cover Art - 1: Yeah, I said 1. This cover gets a 1.

Why? So glad you asked.

One, it's an ugly, ugly cover. I am all for having a cover shocks me, but I think this goes a little far. I mean I know this book is probably not going to end up on a newsstand, but at the same time this isn't the type of cover that should go beyond the comic shop. I am all for freedom of expression and think that DC should put whatever they want on a cover, but the last thing we need is a bunch of "concerned" parents seeing this cover and forming advocacy groups. Not that they would get anywhere, but this is how comic shop owners get put into jail.

Two, and more importantly, THERE WAS ABSOLUTELY NO PAY OFF TO THE COVER!!! I mean this isn't the usual red herring cover where a character misleads the audience. It says right on the cover that "Manchester Black is Back!" It's right there at the bottom corner of the cover. So you would expect some dramatic return. Instead we get a really lousy cameo and then nothing.

So DC tried to sell us on one thing and gave us something that didn't even remotely resemble what we were led to believe. It's one thing to have a hero robbing a bank with a group of shocked onlookers, it's another thing to suggest that a character is returning and then play it off as a dream.

I felt robbed.

Oddly enough, because of the graphic nature of this cover I have to give it a nine of the Grab Me meter. It certainly made you want to pick up the book, but I feel bad for the poor sap that got sucked in.

Mild Mannered Reviews


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

January 2005

February 2005 March 2005 April 2005 May 2005 June 2005 July 2005 August 2005 September 2005 October 2005 November 2005 December 2005

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