I’m changing the title of this one to “OMG, DC” because I don’t actually have anything bad to say about this post’s topic. It’s one of the best DC stories ever written and, tragically, one of the least-read.
Justice League Quarterly was an early-90s title released (as you may have guessed) four times a year between 1990 and 1994, lasting 17 issues. Each issue usually contained multiple stories centred around different characters: General Glory in one story, Fire and Ice in the next, Global Guardians in the third, et cetera. The writers, artists, and quality varied.
Occasionally, as in the first few issues, a story would take up the entire 80-page book. Justice League Quarterly #3 was one such story. Entitled “When You Wish…” it was a tale written by the polarizing (yet popular) Keith Giffen and concerned current JLA members Silver Sorceress and Blue Jay.
Silver Sorceress and Blue Jay were introduced in 1971 as an homage to Scarlet Witch and Yellowjacket, members of Marvel’s Avengers team. Seemingly one-off characters, they languished for 16 years until Giffen brought them back as villians in his 1987 Justice League reboot, later joining the roster of Justice League Europe.
One of their more notable contributions to Justice League history was the introduction of the Extremists in Justice League Europe #15. The Extremists were a team of super villians (also based on Marvel characters) responsible for the destruction of Silver Sorceress and Blue Jay’s home planet. These Extremists were later revealed to be robots, but the original flesh-and-blood Extremists factor heavily into “When You Wish…”
Blue Jay and Silver Sorceress, along with their mysterious benefactor Mitch Wacky (a Walt Disney-like character), hail from a planet called Angor, which is threatened by five petty criminals turned mutated freaks: the Extremists. Luckily, Angor is stuffed to the gills with superhero types, many of which have banded together to form a superhero team called the Justifiers, who live by the helpful saying “The stronger you are, the more responsibility you get.” (If only there was some way to make that saying more concise…) Despite the sheer volume of Marvel-inspired heroes flying around, the Extremists destroy Angor in a nuclear holocaust that wipes out the planet’s entire population.
“When You Wish…” concerns Mitch Wacky’s attempt (with Kilowog’s help) to time travel back to Angor to prevent the industrial accident that would create the Extremists in the first place. Problem is, when they show up on Angor they’re about the size of a mouse in comparison to the rest of the population:
So they find a life-sized robot version of Mitch Wacky and pilot him to Justifier headquarters to try to convince the team to stop the nuclear test that would give the Extremists their powers. Easier said than done:
Eventually the Justifiers realize Mitch Wacky’s a robot and tear him apart, with Mitch and Kilowog later escaping in one of Iron Ma- I mean, Tin Man‘s rocket boots. Meanwhile, members of Justice League America and Justice League Europe have arrived on Angor to stop Mitch from carrying out his plans. They’re too late, and watch as the Tin Man’s boot flies past them en route to the nuclear testing facility, where the future Extremists are also currently heading. Mitch and Kilowog arrive only moments before the fate of Angor is sealed:
How this situation resolves itself I won’t say, except that it’s one of the most heartbreaking moments I’ve ever encountered in a comic book, and the non-stop humour in the preceding 45 pages makes it that much more effective.
The twist is also mind-blowingly awesome. Like, Memento awesome. Like if Justice League Quarterly #3 had been more popular, Keith Giffen would’ve eventually joined the ranks of Alan Moore and Frank Miller (though he would probably be too comedy-focused to get to that level regardless of circumstance.) I may be overstating the case, but Giffen’s writing here is the best it had ever been or ever would be.
The plot-resolving moment at the nuclear facility isn’t the end of the story, however. The Leaguers still need to get back to Earth. When they arrive, they discover (again thanks to Kilowog’s mechanical ineptitude) that they’ve landed in their own pasts instead of present day:
And it’s here that “When You Wish…” hits its grace note. The current League stumbles upon a meeting of the original Justice League. Among the original Leaguers assembled is Barry Allen, who died several years earlier in Crisis on Infinite Earths, and Hal Jordan, the most famous member of the Green Lantern Corps.
Wally West (the current Flash) and Guy Gardner (the team’s current GL) have opposite reactions to seeing their mentors:
It should be noted that this is the first time Barry Allen has appeared in non-flashback continuity since his death. In a few years he’d be appearing constantly (the Flash title got pretty heavy into digging up “lost” Allen stories from the past) but this was the first glimpse Wally West (and readers) had gotten of the man since he disintegrated into nothing in the pages of Crisis on Infinite Earths #8.
This leads to an exchange between Captain Atom and Wally West that conveniently reflects on the plot of “When You Wish…” but is still pretty touching regardless:
Of course, this is a Giffen plot, so when the team finally arrives back to the proper year, they’re even smaller than before (they ride a dog to safety).
There’s a ton of tiny character moments throughout the story that act like icing on the cake: Power Girl’s rage over Catherine pro-canine tendencies, Guy Gardner never failing to be a jerk, Elongated Man burning Captain Atom, the Justifiers’ attempts to create their own torturous backstories, and that single frame where an anonymous flying hero verbalizes his bravado for an audience of none.
You can buy Justice League Quarterly #3 on eBay for $1, and my local comic shop gave it to me for the same price. It’s worth every penny.