Justice League of America #233 (December, 1984)
“Rebirth: One – Gang War”
Writer – Gerry Conway
Penciller – Chuck Patton
Inker – Bill Anderson
Letterer – Ben Oda
Colorist – Gene D’Angelo
Editor – Alan Gold
Cover Price: $0.75
Here I sit in sort of a Super Blog Team-Up hangover. Had a wonderful time, and can’t thank the gang enough for letting me play along. If SBTU was your first time happening upon my humble blog and you’ve decided on a return visit, you have my humble and sincere thanks. I have added a permanent #SuperBlogTeamUp link to the sidebar for any latecomers who may be interested in “taking the tour”. It’s all great content, so if you’re inclined, hit’em up.
That was yesterday… now, let’s talk about today.
Before moving to Arizona some several years back, I never understood the significance of May 5th. Out here, due to the cultural makeup of our metropolitan area(s), I have come to learn about and appreciate the holiday Cinco de Mayo. Since marrying into a Mexican family, I’ve even had the opportunity to participate. Just this past weekend I cooked up a pot of barbacoa for the first time, and we all shared a lovely meal. In the spirit of the holiday, and perhaps my being just a bit cheeky… we’re going to pop in on one of the most endearing Hispanic superheroes around… Paco Ramone, better known to us as Vibe!
Another bit of fun for this one. As we currently stand on the precipice of one Rebirth… we get to experience and discuss another, some three-decades back.
|Click to enlarge… you won’t be sorry|
Paco Ramone AKA Vibe is performing on the streets of Detroit. He’s a master breakdancer, and comes equipped with both a boom box and a most excellent linoleum dance mat. The inner-city denizens all gather around to watch him flippity flop and snippity snap (his fingers), including a pretty young thing in a t-shirt that just reads “SPIT”. Among his audience are the Justice League’s Vixen and Zatanna in their civvies.
The ladies talk among themselves, saying how thankful they are that Aquaman allowed Paco to join the League… they are, however, just a bit wary because Paco’s secret identity is public knowledge. They get lost watching Paco’s sweet moves, and joke about how surreal it would be to see any of the “big gun” heroes conducting themselves in such a way. Now all I can do is picture Batman breakdancing, and Superman spinning on his head!
Suddenly a large bald fellow who goes by the name Crowbar enters the scene, flanked by members of his “Skull” gang. Crowbar wields his… crowbar, and SMASHES poor Paco’s dance-mat. If that’s not bad enough (and honestly, what could be worse?), he threatens Paco with a gang war. It’s the Skulls versus Vibe’s old running buddies El Lobos (hrmm… shouldn’t that be Los Lobos?).
|Back to cardboard boxes for you, Paco.|
Vibe tries to explain that he’s retired from the street life. He doesn’t mess with the gangs anymore… he really just wants to be in the League and dance. The neighborhood’s resident tough-old bitty Mother Windom interjects and tells the fellas to take their street war elsewhere, even going as far as tripping Vibe with her cane. Two of the Skull-ettes grab the Grandma and… jeez, threaten to cut her (and stick her with an ice-pick!).
This is all Vixen and Zatanna needed to see. They both, suddenly in costume, make their presence known. In the background is the ethereal form of Gypsy who looks on. Despite Vibe’s contesting, the women make short work of the Skulls. Vibe ends the fracas by ‘sploding a Skull-ette’s firearm before it could be discharged. This was during the time when Zatanna’s costume including an odd caterpillar type of thing in her hair… I always thought that was a bit off-putting.
Meanwhile, at the Justice League’s new Detroit digs, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman and League associate Dale Gunn are stress-testing Steel’s steel-alloy skeleton by having him hoist a gigantic piece of machinery over his head. Gunn is a bit trepidacious about pushing Steel to his absolute limit, however, J’onn and Arthur insist he keep applying the pressure. This causes Steel’s knees to buckle, and just as he’s about to get squished real good, his teammates come to his aid.
Gunn and Aquaman get into each other’s faces. After a brief heated exchange, Gunn leaves with Steel. J’onn and Arthur confide in one another that they probably handled things wrong… perhaps as a way to illustrate these two fellas adjusting to their leadership positions.
As the two heroes exit, they run across the Dibneys who are currently in the midst of redecorating the dilapidated old factory walls.
We observe a brief scene between Steel and Gunn, as they discuss the young man’s grandfather… the Golden Age hero, Commander Steel. Shortly, Zatanna and Vixen return to HQ and call a meeting to the conference room… they have old Mother Windom in tow, and she’s got a story to tell.
We rejoin our main man Vibe, as he meets up with his former “associates”
Los El Lobos. We learn that the leader of the Lobos is Paco’s older brother, Armando Ramone. He’s gone to them to inform them of the pending gang war between the Lobos and the Skulls. No sooner do those words escape his lips, than Crowbar and his crew o’ geeks crash the scene.
There’s a major skirmish going down, and Vibe is attempting to play defense. He doesn’t appear to want to harm anybody, his sole concern is safety. In an unfortunate bit of irony… focusing on what’s going on in front of him has left his back wide-open. During the brawl a Skull-ette is able to sneak up behind him and shank him round about the kidneys!
Just as all appears to be lost, Paco’s new gang arrives on the scene. It’s the Justice League! The gang-geeks are absolutely no match for the League, and go down quite easily. The parting shot being Crowbar being whonked in the head with his own crowbar by our favorite ethereal urchin, Gypsy.
When the dust settles, the League goes straight into lecture mode on the Lobos. They reply with a hearty “pshhh…”, and walk off. Paco’s wounds are serious, yet not necessarily life-threatening, and so he is brought to the hospital.
|Metas just don’t understand|
We close the issue with Crowbar in his jail cell. There is a sudden appearance of a ball of light. It refers to itself as The Overmaster, and appears to know Crow’ by his IRL name. With a flash of light, both the Overmaster and Malcom “Crowbar” Tandy vanish.
Now, I know I poked a fair amount of fun at this one, but… I really enjoy this incarnation of the League. When I look back on this, it feels like DC Comics saw some of the success of the All-New All-Different X-Men, and decided to do something similar. While the Giffen/DeMatteis League is generally the one folks think of when anyone mentions a “soapy” comic, this era shared many of those elements (without the sorta-kinda irreverent sense of humor).
The story and art are all fine. Gerry Conway is/was/always will be a master, and Patton never fails to impress. This is just a slice of mid-80’s inner city life, with a superhero twist. It’s novel to see not just any superhero team deal with the street-level threats… but, the Justice League… and. this isn’t “West Coast” Justice League, or the “Uncanny” Justice League taking care of the smaller hazards while the big-guns save the world… this is THE Justice League.
A fine issue, and a different Justice League tale. Worth pursuing simply for the novelty.
|Don’t know what I covet more… the headband or the SPIT shirt|
Before we wrap up, I suppose we ought to discuss the (break-dancin’) elephant in the room… Vibe. Vibe to me is one of those low-hanging fruit punchline characters. Folks who have never even read a single issue featuring the character have almost a knee-jerk reaction to mock him… and, if I’m honest… there is a lot to mock. He is most certainly a product of the times and it would be a definite challenge to put this Vibe (not the New-52! or the goofball on the CW Flash Cisco Ramon version) into a contemporary book.
|You’re killing his gimmick, Steel!|
It can be argued that he is kind of a caricature of the inner-city Latino… and there is plenty of ammunition to fuel that argument. He affects a terrible pseudo-Spanglish accent, and has a gang background… and I’m sure if we were to visit his apartment there’d be a velvet Jesus on one of his walls. With all that said… I like him. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to dislike… I’ve seen him held up as an indictment of how “bad” the Detroit League was. I respect that opinion, but wholeheartedly disagree. I can’t say that I’m right or wrong in feeling that way… but what I can say, is that this is an offbeat take on the Justice League that folks should check out on their own before forming an opinion… you may just come to think that this League deserves a far better reputation than it currently gets.