“JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA: TORNADO’S PATH” REVISITED

DC Comics

2007

 

Coming out of their Infinite Crisis event, DC needed a superstar team for the relaunch of the JUSTICE LEAGUE, their flagship book. Brad Meltzer was not only a consistent best-selling thriller writer, but also the man behind the then recent IDENTITY CRISIS, which was a smash hit for DC. Meltzer provided the needed buzz behind the relaunch, and he had the proven chops to pull it off. And with the more than capable Ed Benes providing the artwork, the stage was set for the inaugural storyline. The first installment of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA: THE TORNADO’S PATH came out on July 19, 2006.

That was seven years ago, almost to the day. I must admit, at the time, the story left me a bit cold. While it’s true that you can’t please everyone all the time, I’m a fanboy. Therefore, I want everyone to please ME all the time. “Sorry, Malmon. Ain’t gonna happen.” I had recently finished the incredible book FIFTH ASSASSIN by Meltzer and was knocked out by how good it was. So, I started poking around my bookshelf, looking for more Meltzer and came across THE TORNADO’S PATH. With a bit of free time on my hands this week, I decided to give it another shot.

First and foremost, this is a story that takes place in a set period in DC history. At this point in continuity, the JLA had disbanded, and Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman had all taken time off after the events of Infinite Crisis. The story opens with the Big Three meeting in the Batcave, looking through a huge stack of 8×10 glossies of other super-heroes, discussing whom they should invite into the club. This is an ongoing device Meltzer uses throughout the story, and he excels with it. Using different colored boxes for each of the three narrators, Meltzer captures each of their voices perfectly. From Batman wanting recruits he can control, Wonder Woman voting based purely on tactical reasons, and Superman just trying to be nice, these pages read true. I’d be a fly on the wall for these sessions all day.

At the same time the Batcave meetings are going on, past JLA member Red Tornado is having an identity crisis of his own. “Reddy” as he’s known to his friends, has always had a bit of a convoluted past. Basically a Pinocchio for the super-hero set, Reddy is a robot with the soul of a man. (Very much the long-lost cousin of the Marvel Comics hero The Vision.) Reddy has hatched a brilliant plan with the spirit hero Deadman (a personal favorite of mine) and in a fantastic sequence becomes reborn in a human body. Just wonderful comic-booking right here.

Then we get to the crying parts.

Meltzer’s strength as an author lies with his uncanny ability to draw out the human element in whatever he’s writing. Super-heroes. Political thrillers. Children’s stories. Doesn’t matter. He’ll find the relatable human piece to hold onto. But when you have a basic one-note character that’s only really identifying character trait is wanting to be a Real Boy, well, there’s not much else there. So Meltzer spends time focusing on Reddy’s wife, Kathy Sutton and his adopted daughter Traya. The sequence with Kathy and the robotic Metal Man, Platinum, is brilliant. When Platinum asks Kathy “How did he make you love him?” Just… wow.

But from then on, it feels like page upon page of Kathy… crying. The story is brutal for Reddy’s family, but Benes does many, many close ups of Kathy crying.

Jumping back to the reformation of the Justice League, we find Green Arrow’s former sidekick Speedy (or more recently “Arsenal”) is being offered membership in the big club. This is a big deal, and a topic that DC historically excelled at compared to Marvel. DC never shied away from the Legacy aspect of super-heroes. Sidekicks growing up and assuming the name/title of their mentors. It’s one of the things that always drew me to their comics, and conversely, what pushed me away from DC with the New52 initiative.

Focusing on Green Arrow’s long-time companion Black Canary (mother figure) and GA’s best friend Green Lantern (uncle figure), these sequences also flow in a logical manner. Again: realistic dialog and natural character progression. But damn, there it is again: Black Canary, and even military test pilot Green Lantern… weeping. And add in the constant use of first names instead of super-hero code names, and yeah. Just not for me. I know, I know. All of these so-called issues were meant to press home the fact that the JLA is a FAMILY. But still.

Seven years ago, it all just seemed a bit much.

So I reread it, and I still find the aforementioned issues troublesome. But do they impact the enjoyment of the story? NOPE. With a fresh palate, the Deadman scenes still knock my shoes off. And the Kathy Sutton pieces? This is a woman who loves her man, loves her makeshift family. And in this time of crisis, THERE IS NOTHING SHE CAN DO TO HELP. So she cries. She wails. And tries to hold it together as best she can. What else can she do?

Hey. I’m no heartless robot. But with a little age and a little maturity, I too discovered the room was a bit dusty when Black Canary and Green Lantern give the now retitled Red Arrow his new grown-up duds.

<Ahem> Dusty. So, so very dusty. <Sniff>

So, I guess the point of all this, is this: Comics written for grown-ups don’t just mean sex and violence. Although TORNADO doesn’t lack for violence. The damage done to Reddy is absolutely cringe inducing. But grown-up storytelling also deals with emotional issues. Feelings of helplessness. Feelings of inadequacy. The eventual stepping out of someone else’s shadow and becoming your own person.

As mentioned earlier in this (overly long) write-up, Meltzer will find that human issue, and expose it to the light. Expose it, identify it, and make us all feel a bit more human.

Seven Years Ago Malmon missed this. Seven Years Later Malmon?

Message received.

Thanks, Mr. Meltzer.

 

Dan Malmon