Monday, June 29, 2015

JLA: World Without Grown-Ups #1

Story Todd Dezago
Grown-Up Pencils Mike McKone
Grown-Up Inks Mark McKenna
Kid Pencils Humberto Ramos
Kid Inks Wayne Faucher
Jason Wright Colorist
Digital Chameleon Separator
Letterer John Workman
Special thanks to Grant Morrison

Our cover is a really cool wrap-around image that unfortunately is impossible to enjoy because of the perfect binding of this 48-page book. Well, I guess you could pull out an Exacto knife and destroy your book just to see the full image. But I wouldn't recommend that. Ramos and Faucher drew the young heroes on the roller coaster in the foreground, and McKone and McKenna drew the adult heroes in the background. And that big purple guy on the back? The villain of this great event — Bedlam. This comic is available digitally as DC Comics Presents: Young Justice #1, which combines the two issues of JLA: World Without Grown-Ups, and has this cover:

All in all, it's a really cool image. And it is absolutely wonderful to have Humberto Ramos back drawing Impulse again. He perfectly captured the personalities of Robin, Impulse and Superboy. I'm not the biggest fan of Mike McKone's style, but at least his contribution to the cover is limited to the background.

Our story begins in Gotham City, where Robin has tracked down a pretty big thug. Despite his size disadvantage, Robin handles himself quite well in the fight. That is, until he slips on some oil, and is caught by the large man. When the thug lifts Robin above his head — in a pose similar to Bane breaking Batman's back — the Dark Knight decides to end his role of observer and call the Boy Wonder off.

In downtown Metropolis, a giant samurai robot is causing some destruction and calling out for Superman. Instead, it's met by Superboy, who just happened to be passing through. Superboy easily destroys the machine, and pauses long enough for a quick interview on TV before preparing to fly off. But Lex Luthor stops the young man, asking whether he'll help clean up the giant mess he caused. Superboy isn't inclined to listen to the notorious villain, but Superman himself soon arrives and says Luthor is right.

In Manchester, Alabama, Bart Allen is hanging out with Carol Bucklen (who is called Carol Trent — an unfortunate error initially introduced by William Messner-Loebs). The two friends are microwaving some popcorn, which is taking far too long for Bart's liking. When the popcorn's finally ready, Max scolds him for putting off his homework. So Bart begrudgingly heads to his room, and Max orders him to study at normal speed so the information will stick.

Bart feels like Max is pouring molasses on his head, and as soon as Max turns his back, Bart takes off for Puerto Rico to search for the legendary goat-sucker, the chupacabra. Max quickly notices Bart's absence, and thanks to Bart's copy of The Big Book of the Unexplained left open on his desk, Max is easily able to track down his young ward. Bart sheepishly races back home to finish his homework, and Max grounds him for the weekend.

We then head to the Stuart home in a suburb outside of Boston. It's Matthew's 13th birthday, but he refuses to blow out the candles on his cake because his dad isn't home. But as soon as he says that, his dad walks through the front door and presents his son with a priceless birthday present — an ancient Atlantean artifact he found while on his archaeological dig. Matt's dad says his colleagues believe it was a toy for boys about Matt's age, but they weren't able to figure out how to make it work. But Matt is determined to be mad at his dad for almost missing his birthday, and he complains about not getting a Playtendo. His mom scolds him for acting like a brat, and Matt continues to throw a fit until he storms off to his room.

Matt throws himself on his bed and wishes his parents would go away and leave him alone. The Atlantean artifact then begins to glow, and Matt notices the figure of a man inside the glass. He smashes the artifact open with a sports trophy, and is immediately surrounded by a purple light, as the gaseous figure enters Matt's body through his eyes, ears, mouth and nose. As Matt is engulfed by the dark purple energy, he receives visions of the power's past. A long time ago, a mad sorcerer summoned a dark, dangerous power that feeds on dreams and wishes to reshape the world — the power of a god. But while the power is near-infinite, it still requires the vessel of a man. And the mad sorcerer was defeated by his brother, who drew out the dark power and trapped it in a tiny crystal chamber to be kept from and forgotten of by man. Matt, however, pays no attention to the warning of this story, and excitedly imagines what he could do with the power of a god. His eyes glow purple, and his parents disappear from a family photo.

At dawn the next day, at the venerable estate of Jack Drake, the maid tries to wake up Tim for breakfast. When he doesn't answer, she enters his room to find it surprisingly empty. And all across the country, every parent wakes up to find their children have mysteriously disappeared. In Manchester, Max assumes Bart is just out goofing off, and he vows to ground him for more than just the weekend when he gets back. Helen tries to calm him down, and the morning news explains the dire situation — all juveniles under the age of 17 have suddenly disappeared.

The Justice League meets at the Watchtower on the moon to frantically determine the cause of the crisis, but to no avail. After scanning the entire planet and finding nothing, Green Lantern tries to lighten the mood by joking about the plight of the Kids WB channel. But Flash chastises him for joking at such a time. Martian Manhunter points out the state of the adults on Earth — falling into mass hysteria and rioting — and he worries what the children must be going through after being abducted from their beds.

Elsewhere, in a place now known simply as Kidworld, we see that most kids aren't quite as terrified as Martian Manhunter feared they would be. On average, the kids' reaction to the missing adults was about 7.9 minutes of fear and loss, followed by roughly 3.4 minutes of mild disorientation, before making way for an incredible, exciting sense of liberation. With all the adults gone, the kids can now do whatever they want, and most of them choose to party. They get into their mom's makeup, break into toy stores and use chainsaws to destroy their furniture.

Some learn very quickly that some things aren't as fun as they thought they'd be, such as smoking cigars. Others, though choose to live dangerously. We take a peek at a couple of kids goading a younger boy into jumping off a roof with an umbrella. Luckily, Mary Marvel is there to catch the kid and scold the older ones. In Manchester, Arrowette stops some would-be arsonists. In Gateway City, Wonder Girl stops a wayward minivan. Inferno deals with some dangerous fireworks in New Mexico. The Teen Titans save a bunch of kids from killing themselves at an amusement park in Ohio. And Spoiler rescues a kid from nearly drowning in the Gotham Harbor.

At Ferris Aircraft in Wisconsin, one kid is able to actually get inside a jet and get it up in the air. Luckily, he flies right past Superboy, who is quite concerned to see such an inexperienced pilot. Meanwhile, at the Montgomery Zoo, a couple of kids have broken into the control room and opened all the animals' cages. A wild stampede soon erupts, and a little girl is nearly eaten by a tiger, which she mistakingly believes is Tawny. Luckily, Impulse is able to zip her to safety. And in Gotham, one kid brings a real gun into an arcade, much to the horror of his peers. But before he accidentally shoots somebody, Robin knocks the gun out of his hand with a batarang and tells him to go home and not do anything his parents wouldn't let him. Robin then hops in his Redbird car and determines to investigate the cause of the crisis.

Superboy catches up with the kid pilot, who is quite terrified at this point. Superboy politely asks him to cut the engines, then begins the delicate act of gently guiding it down to a safe landing. Impulse finds the kids in the control room, who realize too late that they've endangered the lives of the animals and people by opening all the cages. They ask what they can do, and Impulse simply says, "Time me."

Impulse gets all the animals securely and safely in the cages in 35 seconds flat. He did pause for a second to notice a wayward jet passing above, but he makes sure to get an apology from the kids before checking out the plane. Impulse quickly finds the plane, Superboy and the frightened pilot collapsed on the ground. Impulse asks if the kid's going to be alright, and Superboy says he will once the world stops spinning. Impulse then asks if the world is actually going to stop spinning as well, but Superboy tells him to forget it.

Robin soon arrives, saying he followed the jet on his radar. But Robin is happy to see his friends, and suggests they team up once more to figure out what happened. Impulse asks why the JLA can't do it, and Superboy impatiently explains that the disappearance of all adults includes the Justice League. Robin points out that with the JLA gone, then they're all the world has. Superboy and Impulse readily agree to help Robin, and they follow him back to the Batcave for research.

With no adults to run any broadcast signals, all TV channels and radio stations are just a steady stream of static. Robin tries to contact the JLA Watchtower, but a bored Impulse easily becomes distracted with all the trophies in the Batcave, including the old uniform of Jason Todd. Bart asks if Robin put his old costume behind glass because it smells funny, and Robin yells at him to stay away from it. Bart obediently zips to Robin's side just in time to hear Robin make a startling announcement — according to the computer, the JLA Watchtower doesn't even exist. But the computer is able to pick up something — a faint broadcast from Fawcett City. Young Billy Batson is reporting on the damage caused by the unsupervised kids and asks where the Justice League is. Impulse asks if Billy is talking about them, and Superboy says he is now. Robin, though, is thinking where he's heard the name Batson before.

Back in Adultworld, Superman confers with President Bill Clinton, who is eager for some kind of lead, since there is no protocol for what to do when half the world's population vanishes from the face of the Earth. Superman promises the president they'll find a solution, while the other members of the Justice League begin looking into any villain that could have caused this, including Mr. Mxyzptlk and Darkseid. Flash asks the League to start figuring out where they're not looking. And in the Batcave, Batman is wrapped up in Clinton's use of the phrase "vanish from the face of the Earth." This gives Batman an idea, and he begins inspecting the dust in his cave.

Somewhere dark, Matt Stuart has begun calling himself and his new world Bedlam. And he's created the perfect throne room for a 13-year-old boy, filled with toys, junk food, nudey magazines, video games, movies, music, and a big stack of Impulse comics. The purple figure from the artifact is standing silently over Matt, who gloats about how he was able to think up a whole world by using the most powerful child's mind as a conduit. And the more people believe the new reality, the more imagination they feed Bedlam with, making him even more powerful. Matt makes himself a New York Yankee, then a race car driver before imagining what his parents would say if they could see him now. But the thought of his mom and dad distracts Matt for a bit, and his eyes lose their purple glow. The mute creature next to Matt notices this lapse in focus, and hits the child with a blast of energy to "correct" the situation.

Meanwhile, in Fawcett City, Impulse, Robin and Superboy have traced Billy Batson's signal to the WHIZ radio and TV station. Billy sees the heroes, and mistakingly calls Impulse Kid Flash. Impulse grumpily says he gets that a lot. Robin pulls Billy aside to talk to him privately, revealing that he knows Billy is Captain Marvel. But Billy is worried about what will happen to him if he transforms into an adult. He worries all the adults could be dead, and he'd die as well if he turned into Captain Marvel. Impulse asks Superboy what they're talking about, and Superboy teases him, saying they're talking about how Impulse is really fast, but not too swift. The weather service satellite in the station then picks up a major anomaly originating over Happy Harbor, Rhode Island.

Back in Adultworld, Batman informs the JLA on the Watchtower that he's ran several carbon dating samples, and has found that everything is only 17 hours old. Their entire world, down to the minutest detail, is an elaborate illusion. Batman says the kids weren't abducted, the parents were. The League begins to panic a bit at this news, but Superman and Green Lantern are hopeful the younger heroes left behind will get the situation under control. They have full confidence in the Teen Titans, Robin, Superboy and Wonder Girl. But Wally begins to panic when he realizes they have Bart.

On Kidworld, Superboy realizes that Happy Harbor is the site of the former JLA headquarters, and the temporary base of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Impulse rushes over there and back, telling the other heroes they need to go see it. Robin again asks Billy to help them out, but he refuses. So Robin angrily shoves Superboy and Impulse out the door, saying he was wrong to think Billy could help them. They arrive at Happy Harbor a short time later, and find the landscape resembles some kind of twisted nightmare. The ground suddenly gives way under them, and Robin catches hold of Impulse's ankle, and Impulse clings to Superboy's jacket.

Back at WHIZ station, a scared Billy Batson realizes that Robin was right. And even if he is afraid, it's his responsibility to try to save the world. So Billy boldly opens his mouth and says, "Sha—"

Wow. Wow wow wow. This is a wonderful, monumental issue. It has an epic scope, but never allows itself to be weighed down in tragedy. It is downright hilarious, yet never lets the goofiness eliminate the seriousness. Todd Dezago found the perfect tone that made Impulse so successful and will make Young Justice amazing. I love how he started off by showing each of the main heroes fail in different ways, only because of their youth. It did a good job of establishing their personalities and setting up the whole point of this story — these boys must prove to their mentors and themselves that they can get their act together when it matters most.

Dezago naturally did an amazing job with the chemistry between Impulse, Superboy and Robin. And I was really impressed with how Matthew Stuart was handled. So many 13-year-old boys become big brats, and they don't even know why. I know, because I had a similar phase when I was 13. I thought everything Bedlam did was very natural and fitting. Not to mention a bit frightening. An all-powerful angsty tween most certainly would doom the entire planet. And did I mention how wonderful it is to have Humberto Ramos back? His style was meant precisely for these type of stories.

The Justice League Unlimited episode "Kids' Stuff" is vaguely similar to this story. In the cartoon, Morgaine Le Faye's son, Mordred acquires a very powerful artifact and banishes everyone older than himself to an alternate dimension. But that's about where the similarities end. The Justice League cartoons really didn't have any teenaged heroes, so they had to get a bit creative in solving this problem. But it still is a really fun episode, though.

There are no editor's notes or advertisements in this special miniseries, so I'll see you next time, when we conclude our epic tale with JLA: World Without Grown-Ups #2.

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