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Off The Rack Comic Review: JLA – Tower of Babel

September 29, 2019 | Posted by Rob Stewart
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Off The Rack Comic Review: JLA – Tower of Babel  

It’s been a while since I was able to write an article, as the last few weeks have been mayhem. First, I was in beautiful Punta Cana for my sister-in-law’s wedding, and while I was there, my Mac died, so I had to get it fixed upon my return. I’m of two minds on the matter: first of all, thanks to AppleCare, my laptop was looked at, sent away, fixed, and returned in just three days (that’s a crazy good timetable!), but second, this laptop is only about 18 months old, and it COMPLETELY DIED out of nowhere. According to the service report… “Adapter pins Stuck/Broken/Burnt” and two copies of “Cables – Defective”. And they replaced the Board Logic. Come on, Apple! This was a $1300 computer! It shouldn’t just go to shit in a year-and-a-half.

Anyway, Punta Cana was nice, thanks for asking. I do not know that I will go back (I went to Jamaica last year, and it was a lot nicer/better there), but it was good times. There is a place called “Monkey Land” where you go feed squirrel monkeys while they jump all over you; that was the best part. I would recommend Punta Cana JUST for that. God damn adorable is what it was.

TITLE: JLA – Tower of Babel

Writer and Artist: Mark Waid and Howard Porter

Publisher: DC

Protagonists: The JLA

Antagonists: Ra’s al Ghul. And Batman.

Hot on the heels of Grant Morrison’s wildly successful JLA run, Mark Waid took over the book for a brief spell and penned this arc, which only went on to become one of the most famous and talked-about DC comics of its era. Anyway, this book is the reason that, if you pay attention to nerdy things like who-would-win battles, Batman with time to prepare is considered to be unbeatable. Not that I am a fan.

This book wastes absolutely no time whatsoever in getting to the meat of its tale, and it is that some unknown villain has found brilliant ways to neutralize the entire JLA. Within the first few pages, Martian Manhunter is exposed to nanites that bond to his skin and burst into flame when exposed to air, Plastic Man is frozen and shattered, and Aquaman is doused with fear toxin that makes him terrified of water. By the end of the first issue, Green Lantern is taken off the board, too, afflicted with blindness.

And that’s going to lead me into my biggest complaint on this title: It’s too fast. Whereas so many of us comic fans complain on the regular that there are too many event stories, and companies don’t let their characters just deal with regular threats now and again, this would have been a GREAT event story over the course of ten-to-twelve issues. It all feels a bit rushed here as it is. There’s barely any build, and the entire JLA has been subdued by the second issue’s end. I mean, it’s fine; it’s not a huge knock or anything, and it doesn’t make the book unreadable, but everything just moves so quickly that there isn’t really enough time to take in everything that has happened. I would have appreciated it if the drama and tension had built longer and the made the stakes feel more dire.

As the JLA falls to the perfectly calculated plans to eliminate each of them, it is revealed that these plots are being enacted by the nefarious Ra’s al Ghul… but they were all originally the brainchild of Batman himself. With the Dark Knight fearing that his immensely powerful allies could either turn on Earth or be manipulated into doing so at any time, he cataloged their weaknesses and came up with ways to defeat them. I guess his password is either “Martha” or “Password123”, though, because Ra’s stole them off-screen pretty effortlessly. Batman himself is distracted from realizing what is going on by Ra’s League of Shadows having stolen the bodies of his parents because haha, really? What the hell with that?

Can we talk about Ra’s endgame here? Because it’s wildly creative and, again, would have been worthy of a longer, more prominent tale (especially mixed in with the Batplan stuff). Ra’s wants to thin out humanity so that nature can thrive (and he can assume control over the few struggling survivors), and his angle with which to do so is to emit a global, ultrasonic frequency that makes the human brain incapable of understanding written or spoken language. This leads to a wide array of major dysfunction as soldiers come into conflict because they can no longer determine borders, hospitals can not know which medicine is which or what patients’ charts read, and traffic becomes a game of Russian Roulette. AGAIN, though, this is all resolved too quickly; when spoken language is stolen by Ra’s tech, it’s barely a momentary nuisance for the heroes before their abscond to the security of their base on the moon and then rely on J’onn’s telepathy to keep them in communication as they start destroying the radio towers sending out the waves. It would have been a treat to draw that seemingly severe attack out, showing the world’s heroes completely incapable of coordinating their efforts for a while. I’m really harping on this, yes; this story feels bigger than the short span it was given.

Ultimately, the JLA puts a stop to Ra’s schemes, and that sets up the real climax of the series: a fractured JLA voting on whether to kick Batman out. It’s… a BIT juvenile. Like they are voting him out of their special club instead of coming up with real ramifications for his breaking their trust. Imprisoning him feels a bit more deserved. I mean… coming up with torturous, lethal ways to defeat your friends… there are people in Arkham for less than that, right? Anyway, with the vote tied at three (Kyle, J’onn, and Wally in favor of keeping him and Diana, Aquaman, and Plas against), Superman is undecided… until Batman leaves on his own. Because, ultimately, this really interesting villain plan is just used as a bridge to force some drama.

Talking Point: This book felt like it should have been a heel turn for Bats, but obviously, that was never really in play because he’s BATMAN. So… what are some of your favorite villainous turns from established heroes?

And while you’re thinking on that, if you want to enjoy more comic book related blogs and a weekly podcast, visit Ghosts of the Stratosphere. Our podcast is full of debates, top ten lists, and comic reviews, and we update daily!

You can also follow us on Twitter, @gotstratosphere for updates!

The final score: review Not So Good
The 411
The art is mediocre at best, and the story is incredibly rushed when it had high-end potential. But it’s a wonderfully fun idea (both in terms of Batman’s protocols and Ra’s actual plan) and really bolstered a facet of Batman’s character that is such a staple of him since. It’s not putrid, but it falls so short of its potential.

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Off the Rack, Rob Stewart