Well met fearsome traveller to the Halloween Blog Crossover Special. This Halloween a ghoulish batch of DC fansites are hosting a coordinated posting of reviews and postings about DC’s supernatural themed stories. For the Captain’s Justice League blog and the other superhero sites, this means a coordinated look at the “Ghosts” event that ran through DC’s 1998 Annuals. Many thanks to the Corps Conjecture for coordinating this Blog Crossover Special. You can find a full list of the participating site in the Commentary section below.
All Associated Cover/Issue Images
- Green Lantern
- A big, treacherous supervillain, with a history of messing with the Justice League wants us to bring him the most dangerous thing in the Universe, just ’cause he says he should? Does anyone else think that’s a bad idea?
Synopsis "Life Itself" (38-pages)
Felix Faust is seeking the secret of immortality that is encoded upon an Emerald Tablet which once belonged to an ancient sorcerer called Hermes Trismegistus. Hermes had grown tired of his immortality so he killed himself. His tomb was found in the 18th century by archaeologists from the Freemasons and his remains were put on display in the Smallville Museum of Marvels. The Tablet’s whereabouts are unknown so Faust has decided to go straight to the source. He breaks into the Museum and captures a security guard. With a combination of magic, the security guard’s blood, and his own breadth Faust manages to bring Trismegistus back to life. Faust demands the secret of immortality, but the now undead sorcerer is extremely displeased that this upstart has undone the death that he worked so hard to achieve.
J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, is watching an old movie when Faust contacts him telepathically. J’onzz then summons the Justice League who bring Faust to their lunar Watchtower. Faust explains that Trismegistus was so angry at having his death undone that he decided to wipe out all life on Earth (that way there will be nobody to ever resurrect him again). He has already started a spell that has weakened the life frequency of the material world allowing spirits of the dead to drift back from the afterlife. The League has already met a number of these spirits. Faust tells them that Hermes still needs his Tablet to complete the spell. It was split into three parts and hidden by the Freemasons who discovered his tomb. Following their tradition, the Justice League splits into three teams to retrieve the Tablet fragments before Hermes can.
Aquaman and the Flash seek the first Tablet fragment underwater in the lowest cavern of the Pierre St-Martin cave system in France. They have just found it when the ghost of their dead colleague Vibe (Paco Ramone, who was killed by Ivo’s robots) appears out of the darkness. Superman and Green Lantern trace the second fragment to a glacier in Nepal, near Mount Everest. Superman melts down to the fragment with his heat vision, but the snow around them transforms into a likeness of Ice (Tora Olafsdotter, who died defeating the Overmaster). Batman and Wonder Woman are retrieving the third fragment from the bottom of an ocean trench when their submarine springs a leak. They are saved when the image of Steel (Hank Heywood, who killed by Despero) appears on their monitors and tells them that he’s working on the problem.
The Justice League reassembles at the Watchtower with the three fragments, but their spectral colleagues follow them. Ice is there physically, but she seems confused. Vibe has vanished, but they are followed by unearthly music created by his vibrational powers. Steel remains on their computer monitors, yet the Manhunter cannot trace the origin of his signal. Faust barks at them to ignore the disoriented spirits and says that the pieces of the Tablet cannot be destroyed separately. It must be reassembled and destroyed as a whole. They begin the process, but Hermes Trismegistus then reveals himself. He had possessed Faust’s body and needed the Justice League’s powers to find and rebuild the Tablet for him.
Hermes/Faust had managed to resist Wonder Woman’s Lasso as they never asked him a question he had to lie to. Now he has the Tablet he can accelerate his spell to erase all life in the Universe. The only way to destroy the Tablet is to release spiritual energy within it, but the most direct weapon — Green Lantern’s ring — is frustrated by Hermes’ expertise in manipulating pan-dimensional energy. Hermes/Faust counters each of the League’s attacks, but he is unprepared for a sudden ice attack. His accelerated spell has returned sense to the ghosts that it had unwittingly summoned. Ice, Vibe, and more deceased Justice Leaguers appear to crowd around Hermes.
The ghosts wrestle Faust to the floor. Ice bids Superman a last farewell and then enters the Emerald Tablet through a crack created by Green Lantern. She let’s go of her spirit and the Tablet explodes. The ghosts dissipate and Faust’s will is restored to him. The exploding Tablet does grant Faust immortality, but the price is to have Trismegistus’s spirit trapped forever inside his mind – screaming, always screaming.
- Hermes Trismegistus’s remains were unearthed in 200 years ago by archaeologists from the Freemasons. They split his Emerald Tablet into three parts and hid it.
“Life Itself” gives us the plot device behind the loose collection of ghost stories that comprises the Ghosts theme event. It turns out that Felix Faust has made a monumental mistake that has pushed the door open between this life and the next just a bit too far. It is now the Justice League’s job to close that door by hunting the three handily hidden in McGuffins in best their let’s split into teams tradition.
Writer Ty Templeton manages this traditional take on a Justice League story with wit and enough research to have made Julius Schwartz proud. From Hermes “I went to considerable trouble to commit suicide, fool!” scream to the old “that’s what he wanted all along” twist the rattles along with cracking pace and a deft balance. We zip around they world from the deepest sink hole to the highest mountain without event a pausing to catch our breath. This is the Magnificent Seven JLA at the height of the their power – no egos, no squabbling, no on the job dating – the current creative team could learn a lot from this.
The plot device at the centre of this story is a piece of the Occultism’s finest hogwash – Hermes Trismegistus and the Emerald Tablet. These are the type of thing that medieval alchemists used as a smokes screen for their own writings and conspiracy theorists just add their own rantings. It wouldn’t surprise me if Dan Brown or one of his clones hasn’t resurrected him themselves. That said, the spin put on them in this story – the suicidal sorcerer who is furious that all his efforts to kill himself has been undone by a wretch like Faust – is a brilliant subversion.
This story comes from an interesting time with regards to DC’s current continuity. In the Brave New World of the New 52 there are no legacies and few honoured dead worthy of a ghostly visitation. The recent storyline in Justice League, “Villain’s Journey”, tries this, but the emotional impact of the undead characters just wasn’t there. They were characters from the back story not characters who we grown to know and love over many years as fans. That’s what makes this story great and it’s also what made The Blackest Night so chilling.
The ghostly characters are handled perfectly with just enough of a spooky twist to make them special. I particularly like the idea of Hank Heywood appearing on the computer as a signal from nowhere and Vibe following people around as a disembodied break beat. However, the star of the ghosts has to be poor deceased Tora. She seemed to get more air play as a ghost in the old DCU than she did as a hero (have a close look at the original JLI, Ice doesn’t seem anywhere near as much as you might have thought). It seems that writers are constantly trying to give her a better death than she got first time around. And this story is as good as any of them.
I really can’t finish this retrospective review without mentioning the superb Mark Pajarillo and Walden Wong. There was a time in the 1990s when they were the defacto back up team on JLA, yet they managed to keep up this very distinctive art style of their own. I think it’s their Superman I like the most. He looks just that bit older than his contemporaries and it gives him a great presence. His sequence in the Mountains is nicely handled.
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All in all, this was an enjoyable story to read. What is worth noting is the art style of Pajarillo. His ability to convey emotion through facial expressions is uncanny and genuinely moving. His renderings of the JLA are very “realistic’: that is, they look like real human beings, anatomically-speaking. The costumes seem to fit like one would think a costume would fit. There are moments where things are a little boxy or two-dimensional. But, for the most part, I can say that Pajarillo’s efforts and results really surprised me.
Page 1. The age old questions of just how small is Smallville. It’s got the Smallville Museum of Marvels (est. 1889) so it can’t be that tiny.
Page 3. Felix Faust mentions several immortals who he has contacted. Vandal Savage is a DC Universe character, a 50,000 year old cave man. Nicholas Flammell will be familiar to readers of the Harry Potter books as the philosopher who owned the Philosopher’s Stone for which the first book is named. Alessandro Cagliostro was the alias of an 18th century Italian occultist.
Hermes Trismegistus is an amalgam of the Greek god Hermes, the Egyptian god Toth, and an Egyptian priest called Imhotep. His writings, the “Hermeticum”, are the basis for the works of almost every magician — from John Dee to Alesiter Crowley — that’s ever been cited in a Heavy Metal album. All these “real” magicians wanted people to believe their theories so they claimed they were part of an ancient tradition that stretched back to an impressive sounding ancient magistrate. In a way Hermes T. has become the lint collector the mystic arts. Anything loose and not nailed down will be sooner or later be accumulated to his corpus.
The Emerald Tablet has been attributed to Hermes. Its contents are vague rambles about nothing in particular and only number about a dozen or so lines. The alchemists of the middle ages believed that its “secrets” formed the basis of their art.
Page 5. If Hermes taught the secret of immortality to Methuselah (who reached 969 years old) and Methuselah’s grandson Noah (950) he would have had to have lived before the Deluge, i.e. somewhere about c.3000BC in the pre-dynastic reaches of Egyptian civilisation. The manner of his burial, as an Egyptian mummy, doesn’t narrow down the date of his own death as mummification persisted into the Roman Era.
Page 11. Superman mentions the Anti-Life Equation. This is the equation that Darkseid is perpetually seeking, the solution of which will removes free will.
The Justice Leaguers mention meeting about ghosts. These encounters was played out across the entire DC Annual range for 1998 with each of the Annuals featuring a ghost themed story. These are covered individually by the Halloween DC Blogs crossover.
- Aquaman Annual #4 — Reviewed by The Aquaman Shrine
- Batman Annual #22 — Reviewed by Batman: Gotham Knights Online
- Flash Annual #11 — Reviewed by Speed Force
- Green Lantern Annual #7 — Reviewed by Corps Conjecture
- Martian Manhunter Annual #1 — Reviewed by The Idol-Head of Diabolu
- Superman Annual #10 — Reviewed by Great Krypton!
- Wonder Woman Annual #7 — Reviewed by Diana Prince is the New Wonder Woman
Page 13. Pierre St Martin cave system is in France. When it was discovered in the 1950s its main shaft of 320m was indeed the deepest known, although a fair few deeper holes have since been documented.
Page 14. The massive Salle de Verna cavern is that largest naturally occurring underground chamber in the Northern Hemisphere. However, getting into it isn’t usually as hard as the route Flash and Aquaman took. Its so large they’ve even organises balloon flights inside it:
The French energy company EDF once thought about using the chamber as a component of a hydro-electric storage station. That idea fell through, but a service tunnel was dug from the surface. That “EDF Tunnel” remains and means that visiting the Salle de Verna is now just a gentle walk and not an arduous cave hike.
Page 16. Vibe is Paco Ramone. Paco combined his vibrational based powers with street dancing flair as a street-level superhero in Detroit. Vibe was pulled into the Justice League after Aquaman briefly relocated the team there, but he was killed in the assault by Professor Ivo’s android which ended that particular incarnation of the team. He later appears as a Black Lantern in Justice League of America (vol. 2) #39 (January 2010). The rebooted version of Vibe is scheduled to appear as part of the New 52′s Justice League of America.
Page 17. Mount Everest. As Green Lantern allude it wasn’t climbed successfully (that we know of) until 1953 when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit. The Khumbu Glacier, on the Nepal side of the Mountain, is the world’s highest glacier and is on the route to the traditional Everest base camp.
Page 20. Ice, Tora Olafsdotter, was a member of the original Justice League International. She was a Norwegian superheroine who first appeared in the Super Friends tie-in comic. Although never particularly active with the JLI — she spent a hell of a lot of time injured or just absent from theose stories — Ice was an important part of the team’s emotional core. She was also something of a favourite with the fans. The writers chose to kill off Ice to give an emotional impact to their big “Judgement Day” crossover and went down the entire betraying the team, but turning out good at the end route. Unfortunately, that just didn’t work with her character and the result was rather unsatisfying for all concerned — least of all Ice who was dead.
Both Kyle Rayner’s appearance — along with Hal’s fall into villainy — and Ice’s death both took part as story-lines that led into Zero-Hour.
Page 21. The Marianas Trench is the deepest part of Earth’s oceans. Its maximum depth here on Earth-Prime is 6.8 miles, but may go deeper on the Justice League’s Earth.
Page 24. Hank Heywood is the second hero to be called Steel. The original was a WWII superhero called Steel, the Indestructible Man. Despite the setting of this stories, the original Steel actually appeared in comics published during the 1970s and was a victim of DC Impulsion. His creator Gerry Conway revived the concept when he wrote the Justice League’s Detroit adventures (the same era as Vibe). The new Steel was the grandson of the original. He, like Vibe, was killed off when that League’s comic was cancelled. It was later revealed that he survived on in a vegetative state attached to a life-support system, but rapidly killed off for good by Despero. Steel also come back as a Black Lantern in Justice League of America (vol. 2) #39 (January 2010).
Wonder Woman appears to recognises Steel. Her first public appearance in this continuity was during the Legends event and it was during that event that Steel and Vibe died. So she may had met him, but she can’t have known him during her time on the League (which came a lot later).
Page 30. Green Lantern’s construct is the glove of the killed Freddy Krueger from the Nightmare on Elm Street films.