Superman and Justice League America Volume 2 (2016)
Reprints Justice League America #69-77, Annual #6
Written by Dan Jurgens (with Dan Mishkin)
Art by Dan Jurgens (with Dave Cockrum)
For a collection with Superman in the title, he is gone from the book two issues in. This collection presents stories told just at and after the infamous Death of Superman storyline. We get a tie-in with the League attempting to fight and getting obliterated by Doomsday. That’s followed by a Funeral for a Friend crossover as the League, and other DC superheroes come together to mourn the passing of the great hero. From there, we have Wonder Woman coming onboard, and Dan Jurgens begins to wind down his relatively short-lived run on the book. Jurgens’s departure feels abrupt as he barely slides into home base to finish off the Bloodwyn arc, and then it’s over. There’s a strong sense of a lack of closure for characters that were personal additions like Maxima and Agent Liberty.
With the death of Superman comes another Justice League membership drive. The new recruits this time around are Wonder Woman, Agent Liberty, The Ray, and Black Condor. Anytime you have a sudden burst of new additions to the roster, you have to ask, “why these characters at this time?” Wonder Woman was the pinch hitter in Superman’s absence. The Batman books were ramping up Knightfall around this time, so she would have to be the marquee name on the team. The Ray was chosen because DC was looking to boost his profile. Joe Quesada had just wrapped up a mini-series that introduced this new modern age version of the character, and putting him on Justice League was clearly a way to see if there was reader interest in more. Black Condor was another recent reimagining, having also had his own mini-series the year prior. His inclusion in the Justice League didn’t lead to bigger things, though.
Agent Liberty was a pure Jurgens pick as he was created by the writer/artist in the pages of Superman. Two years prior, a storyline had run through the Superman books that reintroduced Pete Ross into the post-Crisis Superman comics. He’d been a best friend to Superboy, but all that was gone, so now Ross was reimagined as an old friend of Clark’s who was now engaged to be married to Lana Lang. In addition, Ross had gone into politics and ruffled the feathers of the Sons of Liberty, a radical paramilitary group. Agent Liberty became embroiled in that story, and so it appears Jurgens saw potential in the character joining the League. Unfortunately, he never really does much under Jurgens’ pen here, and by the time the next writer takes over, the Agent apparently quits between issues and is never mentioned here again.
A lot of what happens in these issues could be considered “rebuilding.” Ted Kord, aka Blue Beetle, is in a coma for most of the book. Meanwhile, Booster Gold is powerless as his suit was destroyed in the battle with Doomsday. After introducing the new members, we’re dropped into Destiny’s Hand, a pretty good multi-part story. The readers are suddenly thrust into a dark world where the 1970s/80s satellite-era Justice League are brutal fascistic enforcers. Hawkman leads the charge but is joined by quite a few more than willing teammates. It’s very dark and brutal but an interesting path for the book to go down.
Eventually, it is revealed that the culprit behind this is a classic League villain, Dr. Destiny. He is a manipulator of dreams and is reaching into the subconscious of The Atom (Ray Palmer) and pulling out fears he has about the Justice League. Those dreams crossover with the unconscious mind of Ted Kord, and so our big battle is a rather phantasmagorical fight where the material and dream worlds collide. Destiny had been reimagined by Neil Gaiman in the pages of Sandman, so Jurgens incorporates that more grotesque version of the character. It’s also another reminder that Jurgens was more interested in revisiting the old rather than Giffen & DeMatteis, who didn’t find much interest (beyond Despero) in the old League baddies.
I really like the Destiny’s Hand story and think it is one of the underrated arcs of the JLA, especially this era where quality was about to degrade fast once Jurgens left. The dark heroes of The Atom’s dream state seem to portend something like Injustice or the Justice Lords in the JL animated series. Jurgens’ art is fantastic in these issues and seems to nod to Neal Adams at many points. I wouldn’t have minded this reality being explored in a mini-series or some other venue. It came when the Multiverse was verboten, so it could have been an excellent chance to have something akin to the Crime Syndicate of Earth-3.
Destiny’s Hand ends up being a key piece in the development of Bloodwynd as we finally learn who he really is…sort of. Jurgens’s final two issues would be the story “Blood Secrets,” which seamlessly follows our previous story. In the dream reality, Bloodwynd revealed himself as actually being the Martian Manhunter. But there also really is a person named Bloodwynd. It’s complicated. The gem infused to Martian Manhunter’s chest is also a microverse where the real Bloodwynd is trapped. It’s revealed that the Blood Gem is an inherited object forged by slaves to contain the soul of their wicked master.
However, the Gem has a byproduct; a demonic being named Rott lives inside it and feeds off the anger that created it in the first place. I get the sense Jurgens had wanted more time to develop this highly complex backstory, but for some reason, he was rushing out the door. I suspect the prominent Reign of the Superman and Return storylines were probably stretching him thin, so something had to go. Unfortunately, that turned out to be Justice League America. After just a little over a year, Dan Jurgens was gone from the League. The next era of the team would prove to be the beginning of the end.