Sunday, July 5, 2015

JLA: World Without Grown-Ups #2

Story Todd Dezago
Kid Pencils Humberto Ramos
Grown-Up Pencils Mike McKone
Kid Inks Paul Neary
Grown-Up Inks Mark McKenna
Jason Wright Colorist
Digital Chameleon Separator
Cover: Humberto Ramo & Wayne Faucher, Mike McKone & Mike McKenna
Heroic Age Cover Separator
Special thanks to Grant Morrison

As with issue #1, the wraparound effect of this cover is lost due to the binding. This time around, McKone did the characters in the foreground — the entire Justice League of America battling large rock hands — and Ramos did the characters in the background. Superboy, Robin and Impulse are quite heroic on the front, while the back shows Metallo, Gorilla Grodd and the Joker. When these two issues were first collected as a trade paperback in 2000, Todd Nauck drew a new cover, which followed the basic principles of the two main covers.

I'm assuming there was no wraparound with this edition — I don't own it, and took this image from I really like how Nauck put the main heroes of this story in front of their mentors. And the group of cheering kids is a nice touch, as well. In 2010, this story was reprinted as a 100-page spectacular in DC Comics Presents: Young Justice #1, which uses the cover of issue #1, and is the only available digital format of this story.

This issue picks right up where the last one left off, with Billy Batson saying, "—zam!" In case you're confused, that was Billy completing the word "Shazam," which transforms him into Earth's Mightiest Mortal, Captain Marvel. Billy was afraid of what would happen when he said the magic word in a world without grown-ups, but he's finally summed up his courage to give it a shot. However, once Billy says "Shazam," he doesn't turn into Captain Marvel, and instead finds himself floating out in space. Even stranger, Billy sees two Earths, one with a smiley face of clouds, and the other looking rather plain and boring. Billy correctly deduces that one world is for the kids and the other is for the grown-ups. So Billy somehow steers himself toward the Adultworld in an attempt to contact the Justice League.

Meanwhile, on the Kidworld, Robin is still hanging onto Impulse's ankle over a large cavern. Impulse is hanging onto Superboy's waist, and Superboy is being attacked by some nearby trees that Bedlam has brought to life. Robin asks Impulse if he can do anything, but Impulse can't think of anything while he's stuck in the middle of this monkey chain. Robin tries to get a line out, but he can't get a clear shot. Impulse suddenly realizes that the trees attacking Superboy are the same ones from Nazi Dinosaurs from Venus. Impulse starts to explain the video game, when they're suddenly attacked by a large Tyrannosaurus rex wearing a Nazi jacket.

The dinosaur actually provides Robin the opening he was hoping for, and he throws his rope around the beasts uvula. The three boys are soon pulled to safety, and Robin orders Impulse to lift the dinosaur up with a whirlwind. Robin then sends Superboy on the dino, and he blasts it far away with one mighty punch. Superboy and Impulse cheer over their teamwork, but Robin says he hopes they can work together on purpose next time. The teen heroes then see the entrance to the cave has been decorated with tons of goofy signs directing them right to Bedlam. (And one of the signs features the lovable Captain Carrot.)

Inside the cave, Matthew Stuart, now Bedlam, is lounging on a beanbag chair, reveling in his wonderful birthday present, which can turn him into a knight, an astronaut, and anything else he can imagine. On two large screens, he monitors Adultworld and Kidworld. He was able to create the second Earth by "borrowing" the mind of the most powerful child, and the more people believe in his warped reality, the more power he accumulates. Bedlam turns his attention to the Nazi Dinosaur battling the intruders, and he suddenly gets a craving to play the actual game on his Playtendo. He has a brief internal struggle, which is put to an end by his large and silent purple companion. As more purple energy flows into the 13-year-old boy, Matthew agrees to postpone his fun until the heroes are dealt with.

On Adultworld, the JLA is trying to come to grips with Batman's discovery that their world is an intricate illusion created only hours ago. Billy soon arrives at the Watchtower on the moon, and for some reason, a handful of the JLA members don't know he's really Captain Marvel. Plastic Man and Green Lantern quickly capture the boy, but Martian Manhunter frees him and pulls him aside with the other heroes who do know his secret identity. Billy whispers the whole story to a select few, because it's somehow a bad idea to let Green Lantern know who he is. Anyway, once Billy mentions the weather anomalies in Happy Harbor, Rhode Island, most of the League immediately jumps to action.

On Kidworld, Superboy, Impulse and Robin realize the entrance to Bedlam's cave keeps getting farther away from them, no matter how much they walk/run toward it. Robin suggests they pause for a bit and consider the type of force they're dealing with — someone powerful enough to bend reality to turn the old Justice League headquarters into a twisted Tim Burton cartoon. At these words, a bunch of cartoon animals dressed as the JLA come rushing by. A terrified Impulse realizes he unintentionally created those characters by thinking about the Justice League and cartoons. When Superboy realizes their enemy is reading their thoughts, he begins to panic and proclaim their doom. He says this is like facing your worst possible villain, and as soon as he says that, the three heroes all disappear in a cloud of smoke.

Superboy finds himself alone in a construction yard, where he is soon attacked by a teenage version of Metallo. But this time, Metallo is made entirely of kryptonite, making things a lot harder for the Kid. Impulse, meanwhile, appears in a jungle, where he comes face-to-face with a young Grodd. Impulse starts to laugh at the baby version of the classic Flash villain, but Grodd soon grows to enormous size, chasing Impulse up the Empire State Building. And Robin is in Arkham Asylum, where a teenaged Joker engages the Boy Wonder in a deep, depressing conversation. Joker points out how hard it is trying to live up to Batman's standards. And he causes Robin to doubt how he can keep up with his super-powered friends.

But when Joker says Robin must be out of his mind, Robin realizes that his enemy is merely making his own thoughts a reality. So Robin thinks up an escape route — a cartoonish black hole to stick his hand through to find Superboy. Robin has Superboy "tag" him in, and he's easily able to defeat Metallo. Superboy quickly figures out the trick, and tags out Impulse, taking care of the giant Grodd for him. Robin reunites with Superboy, and they both worry about how Bart can deal with Li'l Joker. But they had no reason to worry, since Impulse drove Joker nuts by asking the question "why" a million times. Robin tags Impulse out, and soon the three heroes are back in reality, ready to face Bedlam once and for all.

On Adultworld, the JLA and Billy Batson arrive at Happy Harbor, where they quickly find a purple glowing cave. Billy can feel the evil magic resonating from it, and all the heroes are soon attacked by gigantic hands made from the ground (just like on the cover). In Kidworld, Impulse, Robin and Superboy finally get inside the old Justice League headquarters, which mostly looks the same. Robin points out the old JLA shield, and Impulse thinks they literally used it as a shield to protect them from attacks, which sounds pretty stupid to him.

Impulse then finds an old storage room, and Robin and Superboy realize it should be on the other side of the mountain. Superboy gently reminds Impulse they're not there for sight-seeing, and they move on in their exploration of the twisted version of the old headquarters. They next find the old meeting room, which includes a large portrait of the old team — Aquaman, Hal Jordan, Black Canary, Martian Manhunter, and Barry Allen. Superboy wonders aloud whether the three of them will ever be like those legendary heroes. He and Robin then move on, beginning to suspect that Bedlam is stalling by creating this maze. Bart, however, becomes transfixed with this rare photo of his grandpa, and he spends an extra few seconds staring at it.

We return to the JLA, still battling the giant rock hands. Billy slips away unseen, and investigates the purple cave himself. The League soon finds out where Billy has gone, and they join him in the cave to find Captain Marvel in some sort of suspended animation. J'onn J'onzz telepathically links Billy and Captain Marvel and learns that Marvel was enveloped in purple energy after returning from an exhausting adventure the night before. Bedlam then used Captain Marvel as a nexus through which to focus his magic — forcing the 13-year-old imagination of Billy combined with the wisdom of Solomon to dream up an entire second world. Martian Manhunter tells the rest of the League that they are currently residing inside Captain Marvel's dream. Green Lantern suggests they just wake Marvel up, but Plastic Man worries about what will happen to them when he stops dreaming.

Impulse, Robin and Superboy finally come face-to-face with Bedlam, who tells the heroes he'll soon be calling himself God once everyone accepts this new reality and make him invincible. Bedlam chastises the heroes for being such adults about all this, and he vows to crush them. Impulse wonders who the big purple guy behind Bedlam is, and Superboy demands to know where the grown-ups are. Bedlam simply says he sent them away with his imagination. He then admits he probably can't imagine a proper way to defeat the three heroes, but he does say it would be easier to tap into their imaginations to let them defeat each other.

Bedlam taps into Robin's mind to create a kryptonite robot to battle Superboy. And from Superboy's mind, Bedlam creates a trap for Impulse that won't let him move or vibrate away from. And from Impulse, Bedlam makes a ninja to fight Robin. At first, Robin thinks his deathtrap is pretty lame, but he soon realizes that Impulse also made Robin's thought go fuzzy, making it impossible for him to focus on the battle. But once again, Robin is reminded that all they're fighting is the manifestation of their thoughts, so he encourages the others to think of nothing. Robin's plan works, and all the deathtraps disappear. Bedlam congratulates Robin for fighting through a muddy mind, but he points out that Impulse is having a hard time thinking of nothing. Poor Bart breaks out into a cold sweat, telling himself to think of nothing over and over again, but it doesn't work. The room is soon filled with Nazi Dinosaurs and psychotic clowns. Impulse apologizes to his friends, and Robin questions whether he's really on their side.

Batman finally arrives at Happy Harbor and tells the JLA that it's not a matter of waking up Captain Marvel, but of what they're willing to believe. Although Captain Marvel's imagination is maintaining the reality, the details of the dream were planted there by someone else. Batman suggests they link their minds through J'onn's telepathy to influence Marvel's dream and combine the two worlds. Wonder Woman asks whether this would work, and Batman admits there is the chance they could inadvertently erase themselves from existence.

Bedlam, meanwhile, is absolutely thrilled that by giving life to Impulse's thoughts, he has created tons of cooler monsters than he ever could have thought up. Poor Bart can only watch helplessly as all his favorite video game monsters are destroying his friends. He imagines having to dig graves for Superboy and Robin, but then he imagines Max Mercury pouring molasses on his head and telling him to slow down and think. A desperate Robin calls out for Impulse to do something, and Superboy reminds him they only have one life — unlike Bart's stupid video games. But Impulse realizes this actually is just like a video game, and he shouts out the word, "Reset!!!"

Just as pressing the resent button ends the game, Impulse's command caused all the monsters to disappear. Bedlam tries to create more monsters, but Impulse keeps interrupting him by saying "reset" again and again. Robin and Superboy notice that the big purple guy is also looking worried, and they encourage Impulse to keep it up. Bedlam screams and yells at Impulse, but Bart is too quick with his steady stream of resets. The 13-year-old villain begins to lose confidence in himself, and as the purple guy shrinks and shrivels away, Matt Stuart collapses in an emotional, exhausted heap. Robin convinces Matt that he's tired of all the trouble and confusion, and just wants to go to sleep. Once Bedlam is subdued, the Justice League appears, having successfully merged the two worlds back together, and Billy Batson back with Captain Marvel.

Some time later, the D.E.O. arrives to take away the catatonic Matt Stuart and promises to keep him in their care until they can assess the extent and potential threat of his abilities. The rest of the heroes are celebrating their victory, and Impulse asks Max if he's still grounded. Batman prepares to take Robin back to Gotham, but when he sees how sad Superboy and Impulse are to see him go, he decides to let Robin hang out with his friends a little while longer. Robin rushes back to Impulse and Superboy and tells them he thinks they really can take over for the JLA one day. As the Junior Justice League, Robin says, they seriously rock! Impulse cheers, and Superboy is also happy, but he says the name Junior Justice League "just hurts." The boys then eagerly return to the party, and Superboy reminds his friends not to look at Wonder Woman's "eagle" when talking to her. Bart doesn't understand, and Superboy says he'll explain it to him later. Amidst all the celebration, though, nobody  notices the glowing eye coming from the forgotten Red Tornado robot.

Too much fun! This issue, and whole story put together, was simply amazing. Impulse, Robin and Superboy each had a chance to shine heroically and comedically. And since this is an Impulse blog, I am especially happy that Bart was able to use his love for video games to ultimately save the day. It was absolutely perfect. I did find it a little odd, however, that Impulse's worst-imagined villain was Gorilla Grodd, someone he really hasn't dealt with directly. But when I really think about it, I'm not sure who else it could be. Kobra and Savitar don't really feel appropriate, and President Thawne would only provide an emotional battle for Bart, but none of the physicality that the scene really demanded. It is kind of telling, though, for Todd Dezago to use Gorilla Grodd in back-to-back Impulse stories.

My only real complaint with this story was how only half of the Justice League knew Billy Batson's secret identity. This led to some very awkward exchanges of Billy pulling several heroes aside to whisper to them, or only communicate telepathically to Martian Manhunter, while the other heroes sat off to the side, wondering aloud what was going on. What's so bad about having Billy just tell everyone who he really is? Especially in a crisis of this proportion!

Another slight complaint I have has nothing to do with the story, but rather the title. Truthfully, this is a Young Justice story through and through. The JLA are merely the guest stars. But I guess DC thought this story would sell better if they put JLA in the title. I would have called this Young Justice: World Without Grown-Ups, even though the Young Justice series hasn't started yet. But that didn't stop DC from creating Young Justice: The Secret #1. So I say call it what it is.

The Young Justice episode "Misplaced" is directly based off this story. It is cut down quite a bit to fit it into one episode and have it tie in with the over-arcing story of the show. Impulse isn't in the episode (he wouldn't join the show until the second season), and as a whole, the episode is much more serious than this story. Instead of showing kids celebrating and causing juvenile trouble, the episode focuses on the older teenagers responsibly and depressingly taking care of the much younger children. While the comic only lauded to the rioting on the Adultworld, the episode actually showed us that, and how the villains were able to take advantage of the chaos. Bedlam is replaced by Klarion the Witch Boy, who was only creating an insanely over-the-top distraction for his fellow super villains. And ultimately, it's Doctor Fate who saves the day, although Captain Marvel did play a big part in the story by being able to switch back and forth between the two worlds. All in all, it's a pretty fair adaptation, although it lacks the heart of the original. Instead of being an amusing and touching story about young teenagers learning to grow up, the animated series used this story merely as a diverting backdrop against which to tell a much larger story, thereby weakening the idea of a world without grown-ups to a mostly irrelevant piece of the puzzle.

Next time, we'll finally get to the bottom of the Black Flash story in The Flash #141.

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