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by Mark Gillins

Justice League America #44

"CAN AMERICA WITHSTAND THE THREAT OF…
A GUY NAMED TORTOLINI?"

That's what made me pick up this old issue of JLA -- combined with the wacky cover, depicting a goofy looking man wearing slacks, a green button-up shirt and the star-helmet of the seemingly-pointless villain known as Brainstorm. In his hands is the crowbar that belongs in the hands of Crowbar, in his belt the sword of Cavalier and the gun of Sonar. He's wearing a dumb grin as unconscious JLA members lie sprawled about him (including the "tough" Guy Gardner!). I was searching through my comic book store's back issues for stories that had been suggested to me, and I couldn't help but chuckle when I saw this. I happily paid $1.63 for the comic book and upon reading it discovered that it was worth the cash.

The story is entitled "Pastiche". It's written by Keith Giffen, and penciled by Adam Hughes. Before we get into the story, I'd like to ashamedly admit that this is probably the oldest issue of Justice League America that I've ever read (start throwing the tomatoes!). I've never even read a comic book where Guy Gardner was still a Green Lantern! Despite my lack of culture in the semi-good old days (I've heard that the Golden Age is where the real stuff goes on), I enjoyed this issue a lot. The art was pretty good, and it, along with the great musty old smell of comics back then (due to the lower-quality paper), brought back a sense of my first collecting days (waaay back in '93, when the "Death of Superman" happened).

Well, the story focuses on this guy named Tortolini (that's his last name). He's a complete numb-skull who has pretty much dreamed of being a super villain for a while, and he apparently has won himself the weapons of a group of villains in a hand of poker. The opening page shows us a picture of this freak standing in front of a mirror, one eyebrow lifted, hands at his side, ready to make a move. "You talkin' t' ME?" he says (a la "Taxi Driver") just before he pulls out Sonar's gun and blows a hole through the wall of his apartment! He starts shaking like a weenie and makes a run out of his apartment, and that's when he encounters a group of men who appear to be with the FBI. They're after a notebook that Tortolini supposedly has that contains vital information on the JLA (he has no idea what they're talking about), and after our clumsy "villain" realizes that these men are NOT from the government or even mad at him for blowing a hole in his wall, he goes berserk.

The little man goes on a rampage, using the weapons he's had no training with, making a mess of the streets. The scene switches now to the 6 villains who were outsmarted by Tortolini in the card game.. every one of them upset at their losses. It is then that they notice the news report about the fight going on in the streets. The news team is misinformed, thinking that the villains themselves are attacking, not merely a man bearing their weapons. The JLA receives this message as well, and they take off to fight what they think is 6 semi-dangerous villains.

By this point, Tortolini is actually getting his enemies to retreat.. but they get one good shot at him that sends him flying back. He fumbles with getting his helmet up from covering his eyes, and he finds himself surrounded by the former owners of his toys. They retake their possessions -- just in time for the JLA to come swooping in and finding exactly what they expected to see!

The men are single-handedly taken down by the heroes (Brainstorm forgets to even turn on his deadly helmet!), and Tortolini walks away from the scene as an innocent bystander! With beads of sweat dripping down his forehead, he realizes that he DOES have the notebook that those men in black were after. Deciding it's not even worth it to try to get something for it, he hands it over to Martian Manhunter. A talk with Maxwell Lord shows us that the notes on the JLA had been compiled from their trash! A somewhat amusing conversation occurs between Max and J'onn (it's revealed in the notes the psychological links between J'onn's Oreo addiction and his upbringing on Mars!), it's decided that the JLA needs to be more careful about what they do with their garbage (the moral of the story, I suppose)!

This issue really cracked me up. Just before the JLA takes the call to action, Gardner is playing chess with Lightray. At first Lightray is surprised at Guy's knowledge that the game even exists, but after a quip about being cultured despite his appearance, Guy tries to jump Lightray's pieces! A one-sided argument between the two ensue (Guy is yelling, Lightray is watching) as Guy is told that the move is impossible in chess. Orion steps in and says, "You DON'T jump in chess." At this, Guy gets up and starts going off about how "Swishray" and "Oreo" don't even belong in the JLA and how they're going to be kicked out! He next goes whining to J'onn, who basically tells Guy to shut up and get ready for action. The dialogue between Guy and J'onn made me laugh a little -- J'onn pretty much talks to Guy like he's an idiot. It makes me with that Guy were in the current JLA so that J'onn could talk some more like that!

Orion is different, too! He's still the rough and tough New God, but he's not the complete Neanderthal that he appears to be in the current series. His interaction with Gardner is pretty funny as well. When Guy starts screaming his head off, ORION is the one to say, "Aren't you overreacting just a bit?"

The art is pretty good, the story is funny (I can tell this was one of those self-contained stories that is meant as a break from the bigger stories), great dialogue.. The only problem I noticed was the coloring. The drawings that were close-up on characters and things were smooth and fine, but shots from further away were kind of sloppy and not as pleasing to look at. I've noticed this in a lot of the comics from that time, so maybe it's just one of those things that can't be helped.

I enjoyed this issue quite a bit. I give it a 9 out of 10! I look forward to doing some more of Giffen's work in this column.. I think I know where to go for next month's topic!

All characters are ™ DC Comics
All scanned artwork is ™ DC Comics.
This article is © 1999 by Mark Gillins.

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