And now dear reader, we enter the strange twilight world of the Super Buddies! Whence last we encountered him, our plucky hero – to wit: Maxwell Lord IV – had been turned into a digital consciousness by the nefarious activities of the Kilg%re. Yet, Max had managed to divest himself of his overlord and the equally shadowy Arcana.
The Super-Buddies – or- Formerly known as a good idea
Max had been absent from the Chronicles for some time when he resurfaced with a brand new enterprise. The Justice League International had been about helping people world-wide, but this time Max was going to organise a group that could help people on a neighbourhood level. His new dream was of accessible heroes who were free from corporate or political interests and were instead backed by a not for-profit organisation based in a strip mall in the New York suburbs. Max needed help to realise this dream so he rescued L-Ron, Manga Khan’s former lackey, from his dead-end burger-flipping job and set about recruiting their old JLI friends to his new cause.
Max’s first recruit was Ted Kord (the Blue Beetle) who tried to plead that he couldn’t take part due to a heart condition, but his protests fell on deaf ears and Max, in that way that only Max can, convinced him to take part. The Elongated Man was going stir crazy and jumped at the chance to sign up. Fire was doing well after turning her modelling career into a pay-per-view website where people could download pictures in her flame form. Captain Atom had sunk to paying an artist to redesign his costume and a script writer to formulate his in-fight banter. They too welcomed the chance to be part of something worthwhile again. Booster Gold was living as the toy-boy of an older woman and also jumped at the chance. The only person that turned Max and L-Ron down was Captain Marvel (Billy Batson), but idea intrigued his sister Mary Marvel and she volunteered (Formerly Known as the Justice League #1).
This time around Max was far more hand-ons with the paperwork – mainly because L-Ron refused to handle as much of it as Oberon had – and over saw the establishment of their new strip mall offices. Miss Tuttle and the local community organisation were concerned at the effect that Max’s new group would have on the neighbourhood and their fears were confirmed when a group of Harvard educated street hoodlums attacked the offices during their meeting. Max’s group managed, for once, to effectively contain the well-spoken threat and deflect Miss Tuffle’s objections (Formerly Known as the Justice League #2). The new group was to be called the “Super Buddies” (apparently “Super Friends” was taken). Max launched a promotional campaign that was derided by the press and that vexed his friends (Formerly Known as the Justice League #3).
Debate over Max’s advertising was tabled when the team, minus Max, L-Ron and Sue Dibny, were kidnapped by Roulette. She wanted them to fight as superhuman gladiators on her illegal pay-per-view network. They were kept under a mind control field that made them politely passive in their cells and murderously violent in the Arena. The mind control field was so powerful that the usually placid Mary Marvel almost killed Captain Atom when they were forced to fight under it. Fire managed to wiggle past the mind block – she thought in Portuguese (her native language) and the field broadcast in English. She then freed the others and made it to the Arena in time to stop Mary from killing Atom. However, even she couldn’t stand-up for long against the insane Marvel. Roulette was eventually forced to cancel the event and free the team when Mary’s normal personality returned (Formerly Known as the Justice League #3-4).
While his team were away Max’s offices were visited by a representative from the Cluster – who conveniently and threateningly left their very large spaceship hovering above New York. Years earlier Manga Khan, the Cluster’s verbose leader, had traded L-Ron (his personal robotic servant) to Lord, but Khan missed L-Ron so much that he had returned to Earth to barter for his return. Max resisted the pressure to trade L-Ron as if he was a slave or an object – even when the Cluster offered to exchange him for the former Green Lantern G’nort. A legion of Khan’s robotic soldiers surrounded the Super-Buddies offices as he and Max negotiated – even the JLA chose to wait to see what Lord would pull out of the bag. Khan bargained hard and even offered to use the Cluster’s technology to restore Max’s humanity (he was, at least at this stage, still a cyborg), but he resisted.
The impasse between Max and Khan was ended when Beetle and Booster returned from taking Captain Atom to hospital and accidentally toppled Khan’s robotic guard. The Flash, who was watching with the JLA, disarmed the guards and prevented a fire fight. It was then Sue, not Max, who – despite the Cluster’s superior tactical advantage – somehow managed to convinced Manga Khan that he was their hostage. Max then negotiated a settlement with Khan whereby they’d “release” him in exchange for him giving up all and any claim to either L-Ron or G’nort. After Khan had left Max signed up G’nort and told him that they were starting a chapter in Antarctica – he then left G’nort to hike down to the southern polar continent on his own (Formerly Known as the Justice League #5-6).
Left Turn Clyde! – or – I can’t believe they didn’t keep this in continuity.
With the Manga Khan instance out-of-the-way life continued, more or less, as it had done for Max and the Super Buddies. Captain Atom had resigned and he was suing Max over his near fatal injures he’d received from Mary Marvel. Blue Beetle inverted the colours on his costume, Booster Gold got rid of his collar, Mary Marvel and Fire started sharing an apartment, and everybody kept wondering if they were paid or not.
The new mystery was the identity of the owner of a bar that was opening next to their offices. Sue discovered that it was co-owned by a reformed supervillain and kept lobbying Max to storm the bar and force him out. She grew increasingly exasperated as first Max and then everybody else seemed unbothered by the news. Sue finally stormed next door and punched the villain, Richard Hertz, alias Blackguard of the 1,000, on the nose. Her husband and friends put her actions down to swinging hormones associated with pregnancy – something she angrily denied. Max managed to get the situation smoothed over until they discovered that Hertz’s partner was their former team-mate, jerk, and all round macho-man Guy Gardner. That the name of the new bar was called “The Dark Side” – the name of an old underground New York villains bar – didn’t perturb Gardner in the slightest (JLA Classified #4-5).
Gardner’s reappearance not included, Max needed more power on the team. Beetle and Booster were visiting Power Girl at the JSA to pass on Max’s offer to join the Super Buddies when Booster unwisely ventured into Doctor Fate’s rooms. He was investigating one of Fate’s Magical Idols, joking about the type of incantations one would say with it, when he inadvertently sent himself, Beetle, Fire, Ralph, and Mary to “the deepest darkest pits of hell!” Max was incredulous that Hell actually existed – he was more impressed that Fire could still get a cell phone signal there. Unfortunately Fire burnt the phone when she heard who’s fault their current predicament was. Power Girl briefed Max and Sue on the situation, but she was unable to contact Doctor Fate or to activated the magical idol. Guy found their predicament amusing and used it as an excuse to show his “superiority.” He used the idol to send himself and Power Girl on a rescue mission and then once in Hell he used his yellow power ring – which he had so far kept secret – to find the team.
Etrigan the demon had taken the five Hell bound Super Buddies to Hell’s equivalent of a Fast Food diner where they were to word out their time (they were, after all, illegal immigrants as far as Hell’s paperwork was concerned). Fire was horrified to find that one of the passive, mindless souls in line at the diner was Ice (Tora Olafsdotter), who at the time of her death had been Fire’s best friend and Guy Gardner’s girl friend. Guy wrecked the diner to free his friends and was shocked to see Tora. By now Etrigan had grown tired of the additional chaos the Super Buddies had wrought in Hell so he said he’d allow them to leave with Tora (she’d been sent there by mistake). The condition was the Orpheus Protocol, she would follow behind them, but none of them could look over their shoulder at her or she’d vanish back to her proper afterlife. They then started the long climb out of Hell, but tragically Fire couldn’t help herself and momentarily glanced back causing Ice to vanish is a flash of white light (JLA Classified #6-7).
The distraught heroes finally escaped Hell and found themselves back in a New York City that was being wrecked by a sky scraper sized G’nort. When Power Girl, Mary, and Guy tried to stop G’nort they found themselves blocked by twisted versions of Captain Marvel and Mary. The rest of them tried to return to the Super Buddies offices, but in its place they found a bar/strip club advertising a group called the “Power Posse” which was run by a sleezier, overweight version of Max. He was having an affair with Ralph’s wife and had employed a thuggish version of Metamorpho as a bouncer and an even dumber version of Booster as a barman. The biggest surprise was to find Ice still alive, but working as a stripper called Tiffany. By this stage even the Super Buddies had worked out that they were in a parallel universe. The evil universe’s Ice had killed her Fire on Max’s orders and he was angry to see her heroic duplicate. The evil Max then ordered his Ice to kill Fire again. The Super Buddies managed to defeat their duplicates and were saved the trouble of escaping that dimension when their universe’s Doctor Fate finally teleported them back home (JLA Classified #8-9).
Life and Death
The Super Buddies had been a marvellous, if aborted, reunion of Max’s team, but it represented something of a deadend for the people involved. Rapidly, very rapidly, things began to fall apart and to change.
- Guy Gardner never did allude to where he had acquired his yellow power ring, but it was soon forgotten when Hal Jordan managed to defeat the Parallax entity that had possesd him for years. Hal’s resurrection coincided with a re-foundation of the Green Lantern Corps by the Guardians of the Universe. Guy returned to being a Green Lantern and was even made a member of the Honour Guard which served the Guardians on Oa (Green Lantern: Rebirth).
- Captain Atom, who had been injured fighting Mary Marvel, found that his Air Force commission was reactivated by President Lex Luthor. He was then appointed to head up the task force that Luthor wanted to arrest Superman and Batman. Instead, Captain Atom blew himself up destroying a vast kryptonite asteroid what Luthor had used to frame Superman (Superman/Batman “Public Enemies”). The explosion didn’t kill the Captain and instead bounced him into another parallel universe where superheroes were distrusted (Captain Atom: Armageddon).
- The Super Buddies were never entirely sure if it really was Ice, Tora Olafsdotter, that they met in Hell or whether it was a projection designed to torture them. Etrigan claimed that she’d been sent there by mistake and that the Super Buddies were responsible for correcting that if nothing else. It would be several years until Ice reappeared, but she may not have been able to come back if she hadn’t been rescued from Hell.
- The first casuality of the Super Buddies was Sue Dibny, the Elongated Man’s wife. Jean Loring, the ex-wife of the Atom (Ray Palmer), murdered Sue in a delusional scheme to make the Atom love her again. Sue had served as Max’s assistant during the Super Buddies and he was seen at her funeral talking to Booster Gold (Identity Crisis).
- Booster Gold fell on hard times and reverted to taking sponsorship again.
- The Blue Beetle had discovered that his new costume was identical to the one of the Beetle from the evil parallel universe so he immediately changed back to his original look (JLA Classified #9).
Events around the Super Buddies were pulling them, and even the normal Justice League, in a myriad number of different directions. People were distracted and many things that should have been noticed were ignored. One of those things was Maxwell Lord’s real agenda and conspiracy he been building…