(Metagame Archive) Voices From The Past: JLA 101, Part 1

By Ben Kalman

From the Annals of History

The Justice League of America has one of the most convoluted histories in all of comicdom. They were born out of the Justice Society of America, which was the first super-team to hallow the halls of DC (then called National Periodical Publications). Gardner Fox took those Golden Age heroes of the ’40s and ’50s and revamped them into a new Silver Age. It was within the crisp pages of the January/February 1960 issue of The Brave and the Bold that the Justice League was born. Aquaman, Batman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Superman, and Wonder Woman founded the Justice League of America, a team created in honor of the Justice Society of America that had fought so valiantly during World War II and beyond.* In that issue, with the help of the young Snapper Carr, the JLA defeated the mighty Starro the Conqueror.**

For many years, characters joined and left the ranks of the Justice League. Green Arrow, Hawkman, and The Atom joined the ranks in the ’60s. In the late ’60s, when the original Justice League/Justice Society crises started, the JLA discovered Earth-2, an Earth almost exactly like ours (Earth-1) but across a sort of spatial dimension. It was from Earth-2 that the Justice League gained the Black Canary and the Red Tornado. Then, in the ’70s came Hawkgirl, Zatanna, the Phantom Stranger, Elongated Man, and Firestorm.

Then the Crisis on Infinite Earths hit. It was early 1985 when it all started, and by the end of it in 1986, the Flash had died and the multiverse had been wiped out. It was a clean slate with no Justice Society and an absolute mess of continuity issues that had to be resolved. As a result, characters were retconned (retroactively changed to fix continuity) and the JLA history was completely altered. New teams were formed, starting with a new JLA known affectionately as JLA Detroit, followed by Justice League International and Justice League Europe. The old JLA underwent some major plastic surgery.
The Magnificent Seven

Keeping track of all of the shifts and changes in JLA continuity would take a book’s worth of research and careful study, so rather than try to sift through a mess of details that will all change again as the Infinite Crisis progresses, I’ll instead look back at the original team. In the 1990s, Fabian Nicieza and Grant Morrison revitalized the JLA as The Magnificent Seven—a tribute to the Big Seven of the original JLA (but with Kyle Rayner instead of Hal Jordan and Wally West instead of Barry Allen). I’ll be looking at the original seven—the Magnificent Seven of the 1960s, to whom Nicieza and Morrison were paying homage—and their origins and connection to the team. I’ll also talk about the cards they rode in on.

These seven (Aquaman, Batman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Superman, and Wonder Woman) are considered the central characters in the DC universe—archetypes of the superhero. Many a hero has been held up to their example in comparison.
Aquaman

Aquaman was the son of Atlan the sorcerer and Queen Atlanna of Atlantis. Named Orin, the young Atlantean was left to die on Mercy Reef with other water-breathing children cursed with blond hair (a very bad omen for Atlantean children).***

But young Orin was a half-breed, and as such, he could breathe the air in which he had been abandoned. He was taken in by a pod of dolphins and raised by them, traversing the oceans and learning to survive on instinct. When he reached his teens, he was found by Arthur Curry, a solitary lighthouse keeper who had plenty of time to teach young Orin about life above ground, including how to read, write, and think critically rather than purely by instinct. When Arthur disappeared one fateful afternoon, Orin, now a young man, took to the sea again. He adopted the name Arthur Curry as a reminder of the surface world and the lessons he learned there, but it was also a gesture of respect toward the kind man who had taught him.

Eventually, the young Curry happened upon Atlantis, where he was captured and imprisoned in a work camp. A fellow prisoner named Vulko taught him about Atlantean culture. In the camp, he learned lessons of survival and humility. When he discovered his mother in the women’s camp and later became aware of her death, he decided to break out and spend time on the surface. He met Barry Allen (The Flash), who dubbed him Aquaman, and then he helped to found the Justice League.

After several years as a surface world superhero, Aquaman returned to the underwater metropolis of Atlantis, only to discover that his prison break had spurred a revolution; Atlantis had cast off its chains of oppression and had evolved into a free society. He was recognized as Atlanna’s son and crowned king of Atlantis.

Over the years, his rule was highly regarded, as he brought peace and tranquility to a society recovering from hardship and oppression. He married Mera, and she gave birth to an heir who Aquaman named Arthur, Jr. There were villains who attempted, sometimes with success, to wrest away his rule. His half brother Ocean Master was a constant source of conflict, and The Shark temporarily ousted Aquaman from his throne. But none of his enemies made a mark on his life like Black Manta did.

Black Manta was an African American who told his followers that he was tired of being victimized because of his skin color. He convinced them to build a kingdom under the sea where they could rule and be oppressed no more. Aquaman stood in his way, not wanting his kingdom to be plundered of valuables and knowing that that was Black Manta’s true reason for pretending to seek an undersea utopia. In order to get Aquaman out of his way, Black Manta kidnapped his son and trapped him in an air bubble, forcing Aquaman and Aqualad to fight in a gladiator pit for the toddler’s life. By the time they were able to break free and overpower their captors, his son had been asphyxiated. Arthur Jr.’s death drove Mera past the brink of insanity, and in her grief and rage, she blamed Orin for the child’s death. He left Atlantis, disbanded the Justice League, and then rebuilt it with several new members. He eventually returned to the sea and learned the truth about his heritage and his half-brother. He retired from life as a superhero.

Aqualad convinced Aquaman to return to action, and it cost Aquaman his hand. Charybdis, a mercenary who blamed the world for the death of his partner and took out his anger on Aquaman, didn’t realize that Aquaman had no control over sea life. He put Aquaman’s arm into a pool filled with piranha, and they were hungry. This is why Aquaman wore a harpoon where his arm was for quite a long time.

Falling prey to his instinct more and more often, Aquaman began to lose his critical thought processing and became more and more reactionary. It was this instinct, however, that pushed him into a leadership role once more as he united all of the undersea kingdoms under a single banner and led them into battle against the Hunter/Gatherers who were threatening life in the oceans and on all of Earth itself. Aquaman became king of Atlantis once more, and though he realized that he was a better king than ever before, he didn’t want the throne. His body reacted and began to mutate into an undersea creature. As he began to accept these mutations, and with them his responsibilities as monarch, he was pushed into a battle for dominion of the oceans with a man named Triton by Triton’s father, Poseidon, God of the Oceans. Aquaman, with Triton’s help, won the battle, and as a reward, he was bestowed powers befitting a lord.

Triton would eventually kill Poseidon and set his eye on Aquaman’s throne. He would kill Aquaman, who would actually save Poseidon from Hades and escape death, defeat Triton, and reclaim his throne. Eventually Mera returned, mentally healed, and she became Queen of Poseidonis, rejoining Aquaman on the throne. Aquaman disappeared in the fight against Imperiex but then returned, and he is still king of Atlantis and Poseidonis today.****

Aquaman has two versions in the JLA set. Aquaman, Arthur Curry is his younger version and represents a time when he was still discovering himself and learning about the surface world. He hadn’t really asserted himself yet; he wasn’t a king, which is why he’s an ally and not a leader.

Certain water-based characters have been built to interact with the KO’d pile. Recursion, for example, can be equated with knowing secrets hidden in the depths of the oceans. Arthur Curry is no exception. If the KO’d pile is representative of the ocean for underwater characters, then it’s no surprise that Aquaman draws strength from its depths. He is stronger when your opponent has no foothold in the oceans, and when anyone powers-up, his ally power triggers. This is equally representative of Aquaman regaining his foothold by pushing your opponent’s grasp on the KO’d pile out of the game. It is a useful ability, not just in granting Aquaman his stat pump, but also in helping to reduce potential recursion strategies an opponent may have.

His second version is Aquaman, King of the Seven Seas, and it represents Aquaman after he lost his hand. In this version, he is the established king of Atlantis and Poseidonis and has a power base that surpasses most other characters at the same power level. As the strongest recursion we’ve yet seen, it won’t be hard to bring three cards back from your KO’d pile with his leader ability, which displays his influence over his people and his kinship and command over the various creatures of the sea. Aquaman doesn’t control them, but he asks them for help and usually receives it. This version is especially synergistic with Martian Manhunter, Manhunter from Mars, as King of the Seven Seas can bring back cards that the Manhunter can in turn discard for a power-up. Or, you can simply bring the cards back to use again; three cards a turn with no restriction means that those Beatdowns can get some more use, or those copies of Roll Call! and Teleport Tube can work again and again!

NEXT WEEK: The Magnificent Seven continues with Batman, The Flash, and Green Lantern.

Questions? Queries? Comments? Send ’em along and I’ll try to get them answered in the column! Email me at Kergillian (at) hotmail (dot) com.

* Though Batman and Superman were not in the team’s original appearances, they have been retconned as founders of the team several times and retconned out of the founding team several times. I consider them founders, and if you don’t like it, tough.

** Chronologically, the JLA had already existed for a short time, as we found out in “JLA #9,” even though “The Brave and the Bold #28” was their first historical appearance.

*** Aquaman has had several origins, but the most common is that he was the son of a mermaid and a lighthouse keeper named Tom Curry. The origin in this article is the most recent retconned origin and is considered to be his true origin.

**** Most recently, Aquaman is again behind the disbanding of the latest incarnation of the JLA, and he appears to be on the verge of founding a new team. It’s interesting to note just how much power Aquaman wields within the JLA; he’s often overlooked with Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman hogging the hero spotlight, but he’s one of the strongest willed and more politically apt members of the team. After all, he’s a king for a reason . . .

Also known by his screen name Kergillian, Ben Kalman has been involved in the Vs. community since day one. He started the first major online community, the Vs. Listserv, through Yahoo! Groups, and it now boasts well over 1,750 members! For more on the Yahoo! group, go to http://web.archive.org/web/20070425145028/http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Marvel_DC_TCG

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