Friday, June 30, 2017

Just Imagine Stan Lee... Secret Files & Origins #1 (2002)

Just Imagine Stan Lee... Secret Files & Origins #1 (March, 2002)
"The Coming Crisis!"
Plot/Profiles - Michael Uslan
Dialogue - Stan Lee & Michael Uslan
Pencils - Dan Jurgens
Inks - Bob Layton
Letters - Bill Oakley
Colors - Tom McCraw
Separations - Digital Chameleon
Profile Pencils - Joe Kubert, Jim Lee, John Buscema, Dave Gibbons, Kevin Maguire, John Cassaday, Jerry Ordway, John Byrne, Gary Frank, Scott McDaniel, Chris Bachalo & Walt Simonson
Profile Finishes - Scott Williams, Alex Sinclair, Karl Story, Sandra Hope, Klaus Janson, Stuart Immonen & Richard Friend
Editors - Mike Carlin & Ivan Cohen
Special Thanks - F.J. DeSanto
Cover Price: $4.95

Still in a Marvel mood, and... lemme ask ya, what's more Marvel than Stan "The Man" Lee?  Just Imagine (dot, dot, dot) was a strange turn of the century project where... well, we could stop imagining what it would've been like if Stan played for the other comic book team.  Results were... um, mixed?  Eh, we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Before we start spoilin' stuff, just wanted to say that we'll get back to JLA/Avengers pretty soon, I really appreciate the feedback received on that piece!


We open in the offices of The National Exposer where Maria Mendoza is chatting with her boss Mr. Willard about the current boom in the superhero population and the formation of the Justice League.  I was going to wait to spoil this, but let's just get it out of the way now... Maria Mendoza is really Wonder Woman.  This is a Stan Lee story... with Stan Lee charm, so keep an eye out for those alliterations!  Anyhoo, the boss ain't too sure if the League can be called friend or foe, and would like to interview each member.  Hey, this feels like a Secret Files & Origins comic already!

Maria's all "no biggie" and says she'll arrange everything.  Mr. Willard is incredulous at the idea, but Ms. Mendoza heads outside to "give Green Lantern a ring." (har har).  Mere moments later, Green Lantern has arrived!

... but he's not alone!  Lantern finds himself embroiled in a fight with a giant Medusa in a purple fog (or haze, if you prefer).  She claims to be there doing the bidding of *sigh* [Reverend Dominic] Darrk.  During the display, Maria gives Willard a bit of a quick 'n dirty on Lantern's power-set... causing the boss man to suggest he cook up a giant boxing glove to smack the baddie.  Oof.  Anyhoo, Green Lantern nails the Medusa-headed beast with a blast of green... and she's outski, though not before making a few threats about "the coming crisis" (get used to hearing that).

When the dust, er fog settles, Green Lantern chats up the nosy newsies.  He reveals that his powers are environmental in nature... humans pollute, donchaknow.  We also learn that he is the embodiment of Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life.  He suggests the purple energy is a result of an other-dimensional Deathlord, who will become an ally of Dominic Darrk during... the coming crisis!

He continues, tying together this new batch of superheroes with the Earth's release of a green mist... which could also effect those on neighboring planets, which is, ya know... awfully convenient.  So, here's the deal... Earth, in an attempt at self-preservation, released a green gas with superpower-granting qualities.  Goooo, Planet!  Before Lantern takes his leave he makes it clear that Darrk and his... oy, Church of Eternal Empowerment be exposed.  Is this a sect full of litterbugs and folks who run the faucet the whole time they brush their teeth?  Who knows.

Next up, Maria makes a phone call to Superman's Gir... er, Agent, Lois Lane.  It's not long before the Man of Ste..., yeah, I can't do it... it's not long before he shows up... right through the window... which seems, excessive.  At least it's being played for laughs.  Anyhoo, I oughta mention that he has an S-shaped scar over his left eye... which is, for much of this story colored the same as his hair, making it look less like a scar, and more like one wild lock of hair.

Anyhoo, before they can get down to "business", Superman hears a noise outside... so, he bursts out another window to check it out.  There's a car on fire, which only serves to allow him to do the iconic "holding a car over his head" pose, before chucking the clunker into space.

He then bursts back into the office... breaking a third window, to conclude the interview.  Superman is not opposed to the idea that his powers were brought on by exposure to mist.  They chat about the coming crisis, and the danger of Dominic Darrk.  Willard suggests it's a job for Superman... but Superman corrects him, this is actually a job for mankind as a whole!

We next meet Willard and Mendoza standing on the shoulder of Interstate-10, where they await the arrival of the Flash.  Just as Willard is complaining about her tardiness, she arrives and takes him on a rapid world tour.  While in her arms, he asks about the green mist connection... she ain't buying it.  She believes her powers are the result of something to do with hummingbird DNA.  Okay then.  He then asks if she thinks she's the "weak link" of the JLA... which, is probably a stupid thing to ask, right?  To demonstrate that she's not, she runs really fast... and makes him vomit.  That'll learn 'im!

Next stop... well, it ain't Gotham City... it's Century City, Los Angeles, where we join Batman and his ponytailed detective buddy as they take down a pair of criminals.  Hilariously, this is when Willard and Mendoza wander up.  I mean, dude just finished beating up a few bad guys, and these two just saunter up to ask questions.  

Before we go on, I gotta say... this costume is the pits.  Anyhoo, he ain't keen on giving interviews... but they press him anyway.  They ask about the green mist... and he says (over and over) that he has no superpowers.  Now, we know Batman doesn't have powers, but does that seem like a wise thing to advertise?  I mean, that just seems foolish.  Anyhoo, he splits, Maria makes an Altoids joke... and our POV pair heads back to the office.

Along the way, Willard asks about Wonder Woman.  Maria's all "no prob, Bob" (well, Bill... because his name is totally William Willard) because, as we know... she is Wonder Woman.  And so, she appears before him at the offices, corroborates the story of the green mist... and talks about the coming crisis.

Our adventure ends as she summons the rest of the Justice League for a very DC seance, where they search for allies on another Earth... where they find Robin, Shazam, Aquaman, Catwoman, and Sandman!


Well... hmm... I don't wanna say it.  Like, I really don't wanna say it.

Okay, this was... something.  I can't rightly say it was bad, because it wasn't... while at the same time, I can't say it was all that great.  I hated that for an event of this scope and import, we were treating Stan Lee as a novelty act.  Relying too much on tropes, fan-service and corniness rather than actually trying to tell a compelling story in the old Marvel way.  This felt like it should have come with a Stan Lee checklist... 

Now, it's hard to hold this against anyone... because, I think to many, at this point just having Stan write anything for DC Comics was worth the price of admission... I know it was for younger-Chris.  However, with such a "big" project, I feel like more effort should have went into the actual story than "Here are the heroes with alliterative civilian names"... oh yeah, and "Captain Planet Crisis".

I really didn't dig the character designs here either.  I think I'd have preferred just giving Stan Lee an issue of each "big" DC book to write.  Let him craft a nice mainstream story, build a threat, and pay it off.  Either that or (and this would never happen), Just Imagine Stan Lee creating... Spider-Man/X-Men/Fantastic Four/etc. in the DC Universe.  Those would have been interesting... at least in concept.  This endeavor just felt like a let-down... I felt that way in '02, and unfortunately, I still feel that way today.

For this issue in particular... well, it's a Secret Files & Origins... it's pretty much exactly what you'd expect from one of those.  It's a great way to catch us all up on the characters, their origins, motivations, yadda yadda... and solidify our threat leading into the grand finale.  The cover price is a bit excessive (as all SFO's are) but there's still some decent moments here... plus, profiles (see below)!  I'm not sold on the "green mist" concept... I'm not sure the members of the League needed to be tied together so tightly.  It feels like this group is compelled to band together, rather than choosing to, which makes the entire affair seem less genuine.

Dan Jurgens art was what we'd expect... great, clean, superhero action.  My only complaint about the art is in the coloring of Superman's scar... which, is minor.  While I'm not keen on the character designs, Jurgens did a great job making them "work".  It's so weird to consider that these characters were designated their own Earth during Multiversity.  Being a fan of "everything fitting in", I can't say that I'm against that.

Overall... ya know, there is enough novelty value here that I couldn't advise against grabbing Just Imagine...'s, it is Stan Lee writing for the Distinguished Competition, which is... ya know, interesting... wouldn't recommend paying the $5 cover price for the privilege, though (which I did).  Personally, I can't help but be disappointed... not that I expected the story/event to knock my socks off... I just wasn't expecting it to put me to sleep.





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