Monday, May 12, 2008

Scott on the JLI part 5

[Guest-blogger Scott continues his look at the JLI. For more in this series see the toolbar on the right]

Booster Gold: More Like Superman Than You Think

Plus: The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

Have you ever noticed how much Superman and Booster Gold are alike? Seriously, think about it, they both come from ‘homes’ where nothing is left for them; in the case of Superman, it is his destroyed home-world of Krypton (often seen as an allegory for the old Europe abandoned by Jewish immigrants at the turn of the century) whereas, for Gold, it is a future (the 25th century I believe) where he is a fallen sports hero. Both men bring from their ‘homes’ certain things that allow them to be ‘super-heroic’ to us; For Superman, it is his innate powers and, for Booster, it is technology stolen from a future museum. (Note: I’m pretty sure I remember an old Who’s Who entry listing Nightwing’s ‘utility wristbands’ among his inventory. Can anyone else confirm this?)

Furthermore, both characters were very much representatives of the era in which they were created. I once saw a documentary that characterized Superman as a sort of ‘super new dealer’; FDR in a cape in tights if you will. He was created at a time where the American people were being asked to trust in a power greater than themselves for survival. As a result, Superman uses all of his power to help those less powerful than himself. Whether this was intentional on the part of Siegel and Shuster is debatable; Booster Gold, on the other hand, was intentionally meant to be a representative of his times. Created by Dan Jurgens in 1986, Booster is very much meant to be a hero for the ‘greed is good’ 80’s (this also makes him the first major DC character created post-crisis which makes him a good candidate for membership based on the idea of the new incarnation of the League being representative of a cross-section of the new, unified DC universe). Rather than using his power to help people simply because ‘it is the right thing to do’, Gold, initially at least, uses it for his own personal gain. His series was an extended riff on the idea of superhero as celebrity. Like the cold war tensions of the previous story, this is an idea that holds up surprisingly well 20 years later. What better place for a fame-hungry hero of the 80’s than the reality TV soaked 21st century. If Booster Gold were real, he’d be taking his turn on Celebrity Fit Club or Dancing with the Stars as we speak.

Although Maxwell Lord would later be characterized as a truly evil and murderous character, at this point in his history, he is simply a bit of an amoral opportunist. He sees the League as an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a rising superhero industry. In the more ‘realistic’ comics of this period, a globe trotting super-team would need more than a teenage mascot; they would need a publicist, someone to handle the media and take care of damage control. Again, this is part of Giffen addressing the more practical concerns of the enhanced reality of superhero comics of this period. Lord sees the relationship with the team as one that would be mutually beneficial to both parties but the League remains skeptical, especially Batman. There’s a great panel of Batman glaring, almost nose to nose, at a seemingly nonplussed Lord.

Max: You’re upset Batman. I can see that.

Batman: You’re very perseptive.

Max: Let’s talk about this like reasonable men.

Batman: I’m not a reasonable man.

First of all, I would like to say that I think Batman’s line about not being a ‘reasonable man’ was a nice touch. In the wake of The Dark Knight Returns, Batman’s grip on reality was being questioned more than ever before; this is a nice, subtle nod to that. Secondly, you’ve got to hand it to Maxwell Lord here; he’s willing to stand up to Batman. Not only that, but he’s also managed to duplicate a League communicator that is ‘superior to the original’, break in to League headquarters and he has, seemingly, been manipulating them from the beginning. I think that, in the next volume, it is revealed that Lord himself is being manipulated by another, more powerful foe (so this can excuse some of his more ruthless behavior like the UN hostage situation from the first issue) but you have to admit that, for someone without superpowers in a book that deals with some of DC’s most powerful, the guy’s got balls.

At the end of the third issue of Justice League, the team returned home to find Maxwell Lord introducing them to their “newest team member”, Booster Gold. At the beginning of the fourth issue, Dr. Light, enraged by the fact that Maxwell Lord has been using her, angrily quits the team. This is why I haven’t spent a lot of time discussing Dr. Light; she was just there as a plot point. In fact, she never even got to wear her costume during her three issue stint with the team and only got to use her powers twice by my count. Booster, his own ego a bit stung by the League’s skepticism regarding his membership, also storms out of the League’s headquarters but not before throwing the team a little tidbit of information that gives them a hint that he may be more trustworthy than they think.

Booster Gold: Good Luck with your master plan, Max… You’re gonna need it?

Batman and Martian Manhunter: Plan?

Batman: What plan?

Max: It’s … ah…. Nothing.

I think it’s clear why Max wants Gold on the team. He sees Booster as someone who can be more easily controlled than Batman or Guy Gardner. If nothing else, as a self-styled celebrity super-hero, he would be more sympathetic to Max’s vision for the team. The above exchange shows both the reader and the team that Booster is not so easily manipulated. At this point in the series, he has his dignity.

So much of issue four of Justice League is pretty much your traditional ‘initiation-of-a-new-member-into-a-super-team’ story: hero applies for membership, is rejected for one reason or another, is placed in a situation where he is allowed to prove his worth on his own, a threat emerges that requires the whole team, including the pontential new member, must combine their powers to defeat and, in the end, the new team member is accepted. In the case of Booster Gold, shortly after leaving JL headquarters he is attacked by the Royal Flush gang. Since their attack is otherwise inexplicable and occurs at a rather convenient time for Gold to prove himself, one can only assume that, once again, Maxwell Lord has been pulling the strings.

Booster, of course, dispatches four of the five members in short order (with Ace noticeably missing). There’s a nice bunch of classic DeMatteis’s witty banter during the fight the best of which is a riff on a classic adventure hero moment. Booster has defeated three of the first four members of the gang leaving only ‘Ten’ who, in this incarnation of the gang, is female, when the following exchange takes place:

Ten: Uh… you wouldn’t hit a lady would you?

Booster: Well… um… you see… it’s … um… like this….

(the next panel is a nothing but a giant BOPP! Followed by a panel of Booster standing over a fallen ‘Ten’)

Booster: Where I come from equality of the sexes is a given… so we can hit anyone.

I also think it’s worth pointing out that it’s a pretty nice gag that while, where Booster is from, he can hit anyone, we never actually see him hit ‘Ten.’

Hearing a series of cheers and applause from above, Booster realizes that, throughout his battle, he has been watched by the rest of the League.

Booster: I had an audience? Well, then… ah… how’d I do?

Max: Do? You were…

Captain Marvel: Shhh!

This is followed by a panel of a close up of a stoic Batman which is, in turn, followed by a panel another close up but, this time, a smile of approval is beginning to curl across the Dark Knight’s face. Granted, Batman’s hasty acceptance of Booster may be a bit out of character but this really wasn’t a series to pick nits like that. Also, it serves as a nice way of encouraging the reader to accept Booster as part of the team. It’s kind of like saying, “hey, if Bats says he’s ‘ok’ then he must be ok.”

Before Booster can properly be welcomed on to the team, however, the final part of his ‘initiation’ must take place: the threat that the entire team must join together to overcome. In this case, it is the Royal Flush Gang’s newest Ace who, in this incarnation, is a giant android designed specifically to take out individual members of the team: he has a flamethrower for Martian Manhunter, a yellow force field for Guy Gardner, is stronger than Captain Marvel etc. As a result, he is able to take out the League’s most powerful members in short order, leaving only Batman, Beetle and Booster. With a little distraction from Batman, Booster and Beetle whip up a plan that uses the force-field surrounding the League’s headquarters to destroy the android. There’s a nice ‘silver-age’ moment when, as he’s flying Ace into the force field, Booster points out:

Whoever made you gave you weapons to take out all the Leaguers! But I’m not a Leaguer! (this also works nicely with the theory that Max has ‘set-up’ this little initiation for the benefit of the team)

The plan works and, with the android destroyed, Beetle thinks:

. Maybe standing around pushing buttons isn’t so bad.

The major threat, Ace, quickly takes out the League’s most powerful members only to be defeated by Booster and Beetle team members least worthy for membership. This is more than just the beginning of the classic ‘Blue and Gold’ team that would dominate so much of the team’s misadventures to come but it also is an example of what this series would eventually become; it was a series where the underdog would get to shine. The main characters of this run were not Batman, Martian Manhunter or even Captain Marvel; they were Blue Beetle, Booster Gold and Guy Gardner (and, later, Captain Atom, Fire, Ice and… lest we forget…. G’nort!).


Prof Fury said...

The one thing that has always nagged me about this issue (and you touch on it), which is otherwise one of my favorite single comics -- is that Batman, when praising Booster, calls him "m'boy." Would Batman really say "m'boy"? Even as a twelve-year-old reading this when it came out, that bugged me.

scott91777 said...

Well, at this point it Batman's evolution, the Miller Shadow had not yet completely engulfed him... So not every writer took the "dark psychopath" approach with him so it only stands to reason that the 'nicer' Batman would still crop up now and again... and "m'boy" is better than "old chum" I suppose.

speedreeder said...

I just want to add something about some comics I picked up this week.
BOOSTER GOLD # 9 features a reunion of the JLI, although it doesn't have the same look and feel (or humor! Geoff johns just doesn't have the same knack for dialogue.) It features the JLI fighting a deranged Max Lord. It features a more mature Booster, giving Batman orders. But, all in all, it's a pretty straight forward superhero tale.

BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL # 17 starts a five part story telling the first time Batgirl and Catwoman clashed. And the book is illustrated by JLI artist Kevin Maguire. This is a great book, it's funny, action packed, and has amazing artwork, I think JLI fans will dig it.

scott91777 said...

I'll have to check out that Batgirl/Catwoman thing!

Of course Geoff Johns can't pull off the dialogue... personally, I blame him for a lot of the fun that's been sucked out of supehero comics over the last few years. He can't pull off the JLI because his work with the JSA and such is the ANTITHESIS of what JLI was about.