Justice League #5 (September, 1987)
“Gray Life Gray Dreams”
Plot & Breakdowns – Keith Giffen
Script – J.M. DeMatteis
Pencils – Kevin Maguire
Inks – Al Gordon
Letters – Bob Lappan
Colors – Gene D’Angelo
Edits – Andy Helfer
Cover Price: $0.75
Hey, hey, ho, ho… today marks our FIFTEEN-HUNDREDTH DAILY DISCUSSION here at Chris is on Infinite Earths! To celebrate, I’m going to be covering an issue that will hopefully allow me to cast a wide net and share this milestone with as many interested folks as possible.
I wanna give y’all a peek behind the curtain. I’ve said it time and again (though, I do try to curb my frustrations best I can), that blogging can be an incredibly lonely endeavor. Terms like “shouting into the void” come to mind. Heck, I’ve even recently started a podcast series called “Blogging into the Void” that’s available in the Chris and Reggie Archives if you’re interested in checking it out.
The reason we’re looking at Justice League #5 in particular today is… well, kinda silly. It’s kind of an “inside joke” shared among some comics content creators. Ya see, anytime any of us get a bit discouraged regarding our engagement (which certainly happens from time to time… and, there’s nothing wrong with that), someone will pipe in with “Hey, you can be the tenth person today to post that scene… and you’ll get loads of free likes!”.
Now, “that scene”, if you haven’t already figured it out, concerns Batman, Guy Gardner, and a single punch… err, I mean hashtag-OnePunch. If you’re more of a Marvel content creator, that “cheap heat tweet” usually accompanies an image of Spider-Man cradling Gwen Stacy’s dead body. Hope you’re takin’ notes, these are very good leads if you’re in the biz of internet karma farmin’!
Unfortunately for me, I’m not in that biz… though, I’d probably be far more satisfied with the “reach” of my work if I were! If you’ve been a reader of this humble blog for any amount of time, you’ll know that, for the most part, I’m a little bit more “off the beaten path” here. Basically, I write the sort of blog that I’d like to read. Weird stuff, novel stuff, stuff that isn’t “makin’ the rounds” on social media morning, noon, and night. Nothin’ against the popular stuff, but… I feel like there are so many books and scenes that get more than enough in the way of online advocacy.
Now I say all of that, so that I might say this. I hope the folks who’ve stuck with me have enjoyed these looks at the, for the most part, lesser-discussed books and stories from DC Comics (and DC-adjacent) publishing history. After today’s brush with hopeful social-media-friendliness, we’ll be returning to the normal silliness we usually attend to here. Still got a lot cooking, including, but not limited to:
- New Talent Showdays
- A chapter-by-chapter look at New Talent Showcase (1984)
- A look at some of the unsung and forgotten pieces of DC Comics history… the back-ups!
- DC Near-Misses
- Checking out story and character pitches that DC Comics passed on, while considering some various “what if…?” situations
- Bizarro Breaks
- Short bursts from the Bizarro World collection
- and of course, Wasteland Chapters
- A chapter-by-chapter look at John Ostrander & Del Close’s horror/satire anthology, Wasteland (1988)
And, of course, there are the Archives… which, at this point is fifteen-hundred pieces deep! If you have a free afternoon or two, and wanna read an idiot’s hot-take on comic books… please feel free to dig in!
I’ll save the thank yous and gushing for the end of the post… but, it’s probably about time to get into our spoilery-synopsis. Now, if you’re only here to see “that scene”… well, uh, it’s coming… but, I hope you decide to come back and see me some day!
We open in Stone Ridge, Vermont… and oh my goodness, is the lettering tiny! I hope it doesn’t stay this way throughout the issue. Anyhoo, it’s here that the Gray Man is stealing “dream energy”. Ya see, he’s supposed to siphon the stuff from the deceased, however, he’s decided to just start nyoinking it from whoever. This draws the attention of… Dr. Fate!
We shift scenes to the set of Jack Ryder’s Hot Seat. Here, Jack is really trying to spin the narrative that the Justice League can’t be trusted… and really, just need to be stopped.
After the show wraps up, some Joe Piscopo-looking dude pulls Jack aside to fill him in on some League-related info. It’s, well, the stuff we just read about going down in Stone Ridge… folks have reported seeing League Member, Dr. Fate on the scene. Ryder offers the mullethead a c-note to keep this between them, then arranges to head on up with a camera man.
Back in Vermont, we’re now at an old Rialto Theater… where Dr. Fate and the Gray Man are facing off. It’s here the Gray Man gives us the quick and dirty on his situation. We learn that wayyy back in the long ago, he was a Sorcerer whose magic revealed to him the Lords of Order. For his “hubris” in doing so, he was punished… and made something of a lapdog for them. Collecting all that “dream energy”, he’s even given the ability to create doppelgangers of himself as a means of expediting the task. What’s the deal with DC characters trying to look “too deep” into something and getting their comeuppance. Gray Man should start up a support group with Pariah and Krona.
Anyhoo, that was a long time ago… and by this point he tires of the Lords of Order and doing their bidding, and so he’s decided that he’s going to do whatever he can to become more powerful than the big guys themselves. He’s going to use the siphoned Dream Energy (or, Manna) for himself (now, as mentioned, from the living… as in everyone on the planet) and break free of their control… or something along those lines.
We now shift scenes to… Justice League Headquarters. Uh-oh, it’s that scene. Guy Gardner is in Batman’s face… demanding that he be made Team Leader. Batman nonchalantly just stands there, and remarks that he’d sooner hand over control to Captain Marvel. Wow, low blow Bats…
Gardner’s just about had it… and decides it’s going to have to come to blows between he and the Bat. He yanks off his ring, to do this thing “mano y mano” and pushes toward Batman. Just then, Captain Marvel steps in and attempts to remind Batman that, as leader, he should do whatever he can to set an example for the rest of the team. Batman brushes him off, and more or less tells him that “adults are talking”.
Then, Guy reels back…
And, well… hashtag-OnePunch. Batman kayos Gardner with a single right hand. Guy hits the ground, presumably, like a ton of bricks, as the rest of the League looks on.
J’onn and Dinah enter the room to see what’s happ’nin’, and get the skinny on the scene. The team, overall, is like really happy that Batman knocked Guy on his butt. Which, I guess I understand.
From here, we move into the Monitor Room, where Oberon informs Batman that the computer screen has a message for him. Batman immediately assumes this is nothing more than a dumb prank (and snaps at poor Obie), but comes around to the idea pretty quick when he realizes it’s Dr. Fate attempting to communicate with the team. Fate reveals that he’s out of power, and stuck in Stone Ridge… where there’s some bad hoo-doo goin’ down with the Gray Man.
J’onn runs a projection on how long it might take for this Gray Man to take over the world… and, get this, it’ll be done in Fifty-Two Hours! Fifty-Two? Man, that fetishized number just pops up everywhere, don’t it?
Batman commands Blue Beetle to ready The Bug, and sends Captain Marvel ahead to check out the scene… but tells him not to engage if he can avoid it. Billy claps back with some passive-aggressiveness, and takes to the air. As he approaches Vermont, he worries that he might’ve made Batman mad. Dude, Batman’s a colossal a-hole here, don’t go worrying about that.
Arriving in Vermont, Cap finds Jack Ryder’s Hot Seat Van. Outside it, lays (I’m going to assume) Jack’s cameraman. He begs Marvel for help, and insists that the world’s gone plum-loco.
Some time later, the rest of the League arrives in The Bug. J’onn feels a strange presence which prompts him to wanna explore some nearby woods. Deep within the trees, the team stumbles upon… The Creeper!
Creeper cackles that Captain Marvel headed into the town proper… and suggests that wasn’t the wisest move. Ya see, it seems ya gotta have the right mind-set to fully, uh, appreciate Stone Ridge, Vermont.
We wrap up, finally getting a good look at the town… and well, it’s a weird and wacky-looking place indeed!
I hate this issue. No, that’s not true at all. I hate that scene. No, no… that’s not true either. I hate that “that scene” has become something of a short-hand as a way to describe this era of the League, because I feel to do so… sells short so much of what made this era spectacular! I might just be projecting a bit… or maybe I’m just burned out on the oversharification of “that scene”, but I feel there is so much more to this League than “hashtag-OnePunch“. Depth, tragedy, awesome characterization… it’s really a very special run. The likes of which we’ll probably never see again.
Keith Giffen himself apparently has similar feelings regarding the scene! In a piece written for CBR on November 20, 2008, he would write the following:
Oh, and while I’m here kvetching about over-simplification, there’s more to Angel Love than hashtag-COCAINE?!!… believe it, or not.
Now, there’s certainly an argument to be made that that scene between Batman and Gardner is indicative of the dysfunction of this new-League… and, as a piece of a whole, it works marvelously to illustrate that. These are a couple of hard-headed heroes who both see themselves as the “alpha”. It’s when we remove the context… and look at this scene as nothing more than a hashtaggable “funny, ha ha” that I feel it loses its “oomph”.
What’s more… in revisiting this issue, and that scene in particular. I dunno, I kinda find myself sympathizing more with Guy than cheering on Batman! Now, hear me out. Guy Gardner is a prick. That much is for sure. But, he’s just a brash, loudmouth sort of prick. Someone you should be able to dismiss, or tune-out if not flat-out ignore. Batman, on the other hand, comes across as a completely unlikable a-hole here. He’s cutting down members of the team, snipping at his peers… acting aloof and “above” everyone else. I think he might be the team’s problem here… not Guy!
As Team Leader, Batman comes across as dismissive and, almost abusive to those under him. Really, I don’t know how anyone can like this character, the way he’s written. We’re not getting much in the way of “reluctant leader” here… it feels more, I dunno, hateful than that. Really not a good look, in my opinion. I get that Batman’s on a whole nother level than most/all of this team, but… I dunno, I don’t like him “knowing it”, ya dig?
Let’s talk a bit about the story… because, believe it or not, Justice League #5 isn’t a two-page long “one-punch” pamphlet! The Gray Man/Dr. Fate/LordzzzzZZZZzzz of Order bit? Eh. If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you’ll know that Superman and I share a weakness…
mermaids magic. It just bores me to tears, and this instance was sadly no different. Couldn’t care less about the Doc or the Lords, regardless of who’s writing the story. These bits, though relatively brief, were kind of a slog for me.
Overall… despite my whining and whinging, this was fine issue. Despite my being overly burnt out on hashtag-OnePunch, I still dig the non-Batman team interactions and dialogue. It’s just weird to me that, now when I read it… I’m actually pulling for Guy to knock Bruce on his butt! Is this a sign that I’m growing up? Or am I just a jerk now? Don’t answer that.
With all that said… I want to a) apologize if anything I said today sounded, I dunno, bitter/jaded/cynical… that really wasn’t my intent. It’s all in fun. And, b) I absolutely want to thank anyone and everyone who’s stopped by at any point over the course of the past one-thousand five-hundred consecutive days in which this humble blog has been “a thing” that I do.
As mentioned in the pre-ramble, blogging can be a very solitary experience… and, honestly, without the occasional “attaboy” I get, I’d almost certainly have stopped doing this ages ago. It means the world to me anytime I get a new comment here, or even anytime somebody bothers to click the little heart-icon under one of my tweets. It’s the engagement that really makes my day… and makes doing this worthwhile… even if what I do here isn’t always the most engaging.
As always, I’m hesitant to name-names, or do any “personalized shout outs”… because I hate to accidentally leave anybody out. As a dude who is usually “left out” of the circle, I know how that might leave you feeling. Just rest assured, if you’ve ever visited… commented… and/or shared my stuff, you have my sincerest appreciation. This little blog ain’t much… but, it’s home, and I thank you all for being a part of it.