Reviews

Frustrations Boil Over: "Justice League of America #7"

Jack Fisher

Add escalating tensions between two superhero teams to the mix and the final product is akin to Sherlock Holmes meets Wrestlemania. That is the backdrop for DC’s Trinity War and in Justice League of America #7


Justice League of America #7

Publisher: DC
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke
Price: $3.99
Publication Date: 2013-10
Amazon

In every great mystery, there are a certain number of dead ends and red herrings. Like trying to navigate Lower Manhattan blindfolded, the heroes will inevitably butt heads with people who stumble into the crossfire and the villain will grow bolder and probably get a few laughs out of it along the way. Add escalating tensions between two superhero teams to the mix and the final product is akin to Sherlock Holmes meets Wrestlemania. That is the backdrop for DC’s Trinity War and in Justice League of America #7, those tensions become more volatile than the Hulk in a traffic jam.

The first few issues of the Trinity War crossover focused having the Justice League, the Justice League of America, and Justice League Dark converge in a central conflict. Now that conflict is moving in many different directions, so much so that keeping up requires a certain level of multi-tasking. That may be well-suited for typical sales representative at Goldman Sachs, but for a comicbook. Pandora, the one who first set things into motion by confronting Superman with her evil box, has not gone to the opposite end of the spectrum and sought out Lex Luthor for his help. It shows that she’s growing increasingly desperate or has a very flawed definition of insanity.

Pandora’s role is somewhat secondary in this issue because both the Justice League and the JLA are focused on uncovering the truth about Dr. Light’s death. Unlike the unfettered brawl that defined Avengers vs. X-men, both teams managed to contain themselves long enough to agree that there are other forces at work behind this conflict. The very first issue of Trinity War revealed this and now each team is seeking answers from a different source. And both sources end up being a dead end or a red herring. At one point, both leagues seem to be getting frustrated and ongoing mistrust between both teams isn’t helping. At times it feels like Harry Potter trying to work with Lord Voldermort.

One source involves certain members of each league tracking down Dr. Light’s dead soul with the mystical resources provided by Justice League Dark. Yet even though Dr. Light probably was in the best possible position to know the truth, he told them nothing. And they only found this out after spending nearly two pages trying to enter the house in the first place. It was supposed to be comical, but came off as a bit of a waste that didn’t add much to the narrative. And maybe that was the point. It showed that the sinister forces they’re up against is smart enough to make them waste time.

Another group of leaguers follow another lead with Dr. Psycho and while this ends up being a red herring, it’s not a dead end and it actually does provide something more to the story. It also provides some brief but intense action that nicely conveys the desperation and frustration the three Justice Leagues are feeling at this point. The artwork nicely details the corruption Superman is still struggling with as a result of his encounter with Pandora. It also nicely describes Martian Manhunter not holding back when probing Dr. Psycho’s mind. He’s able to surmise that Dr. Psycho was in Kahndaq when the Justice League and JLA clashed. However, he was not the one controlling Superman. And for the first time, the Secret Society is mentioned, finally putting a name on the sinister force that has been tormenting the leagues.

This alone is an important clue to the mystery, but it quickly gets lost by another revelation that seems ill-timed yet not out of place. It has been hinted at before that the JLA has had a spy keeping tabs on the Justice League. Well that spy finally comes clean, also revealing these covert activities were why the JLA knew that the Justice League was in Kahndaq in the first place. It fills in one significant blank, but it has no emotional weight. Some of her teammates are dismayed, but nobody seems all that upset about it. There’s no angry outburst or anything. It lacks the emotional weight that was so apparent in the first few issues when everyone was concerned about Superman. Without that emotional weight, the mystery loses suspense. It’s like Bruce Willis stopping for fast food in the middle of a Die Hard movie.

While this revelation didn’t carry much weight, the momentum of the story remains intact. The Secret Society has been revealed and another group of leaguers has caught up with Pandora. They manage to catch up with her just before she can give Lex Luthor her box. But in the process, Wonder Woman takes it and now she endures the same corruptive force that Superman experienced earlier. In a ways, this reflects the frustrations of the three leagues boiling over. Wonder Woman already knows what the box is capable of because she saw what it did to Superman. But since the Secret Society has been several steps ahead of them and they keep hitting dead ends, they have no choice but to confront the most immediate threat. And in doing so the DC universe now has two of its most powerful figures, Superman and Wonder Woman, corrupted by a force they don’t understand.

The mystery and the desperation of the three Justice Leagues were what made this issue compelling. The tension between each team is still there, but it wasn’t quite as volatile as it was at the beginning of the story. This issue did fill in a few blanks. It just didn’t do so in a way that felt coherent. It was like a dance routine where the song started skipping in the middle of the act. Never-the-less, Justice League of America #7 successfully maintains the momentum that Trinity War has established. The challenge is making sure it doesn’t lead to anymore dead ends.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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