So, in an effort to avoid ever sticking to a single theme for this blog, today’s post is another one about comic books from the 1970s and how plot elements that seemed to make perfect sense as a small lad are actually kind of terrifying when looked at through adult eyes. It’s a direct sequel to yesterday’s post, so go ahead and read that one first if you have a moment.
If you haven’t, the short version is that the JLA – that’s Justice League of America, emphasis on the Justice – solved a tricky computer problem by kidnapping a pregnant alien and keeping it locked up on the JLA Satellite. You could easily argue that the laws of Earth don’t apply to aliens, or that they don’t apply to objects in orbit, but there’s still a high WTF factor there.
Anyway, I got curious as to whether the Dharlu situation – that’s the alien in question – had ever been resolved, or whether this had just been a one-off thing that had been forgotten.
Here’s the thing about comic books, though: nothing ever really gets forgotten, and the Dharlu does show up again. The first time is only about a year later, in Justice League of America #141, cover dated April 1977. This is the second half of a story featuring the Manhunters, a group of androids who were the precursor to the Green Lantern Corps but who got decommissioned for pursuing their goal of Galactic order with just a tad too much zeal. If you made it through that sentence without just closing this page and finding something else to read, my hat’s off to you.
Context: At one point, the Manhunters trap The Flash and Wonder Woman on the JLA Satellite, surrounded by an energy field that will kill them in a few minutes. The Flash could disrupt it, but he’s injured. Fortunately, Wonder Woman remembers that there are actually THREE people on the satellite:
Let’s take a moment here, and consider the origin of the Amazons, Paradise Island, and technically Wonder Woman herself. While I’m not sure if it had been explored as of the time this comic was written, the Amazons were originally slaves. They revolted against their captors and escaped, eventually finding Paradise Island and building a world Free Of Man’s Tyranny. So, here’s Wonder Woman admitting that she knew that the JLA was, well, keeping a woman in chains, which is just a little off but whatever. At least she’s finally busting it out, even if it’s just because it happens to be able to sub in for the temporarily-incapacitated Flash.
I’ll skip the bit of the comic where the Dharlu does, in fact, save the day, because it really isn’t important and we should get right to the point where Wonder Woman apologizes to the poor gal for her involuntary confinement and bids her a tearful farewell OH WAIT.
Nope, it’s back in the freezer for you. But we feel just super bad about it and we promise to get it all fixed soon, just as soon as those parts we need to keep the JLA computers running arrive.
I can’t find any references to the Dharlu after this point for quite some time. The next time it shows up is actually in an issue of Detective Comics, during the time when DC had started publishing “Dollar Comics” (64 Pages! No Ads!) in an attempt to get newsstand space back from magazines, whose higher profit margins were displacing comics. Yes, Virginia, there was a time when you didn’t need to walk into a specialty comics shop and face the judgemental eye of…of…well, of someone who would write long blog posts about the horrible things that the Justice League used to do to aliens.
A little self-inspection might be useful on my part, here.
Let’s get back to Detective Comics, issue #489, dated April 1980. Dollar Comics were almost always made up of several short stories, sometimes to keep less-popular characters in the imagination of the comics audience, which explains why there’s an Atom story in the pages of a comic more typically associated with the Bat-family.
Short summary: The Atom is on “monitor duty” in the JLA Satellite, which is a polite way of saying that the JLA was off on important business and had no use for a guy whose power was… ah, heck, let’s just let the Omnipresent Comics Narrator cover it.
Not an AWFUL power, but yeah. It’s going to get you stuck on monitor duty a lot, at least until Batman drops something that rolls under the fridge again.
Anyway, the JLA computer is having problems, so Ray shrinks down to go inside and check it out. Let’s not fuss about the details, because they would drive you mad and we’re mostly here to talk about alien slave girls.
Anyway, the problem with the computer is immediately evident:
It’s got a bad case of aliens. Specifically, the Dharlu has finally given birth, and now there’s a whole bunch of tiny purple guys floating around inside the computer and causing problems. I know the feeling, really. I frequently have computer issues that could easily be blamed on tiny purple guys clogging up my RAM.
Now, this is only a five page story, so I’ll just sum up the next three pages as a kind of mediocre fight scene. The Atom’s powers don’t exactly lend themselves to cinematic action sequences, and it’s mostly him running away so he can get out of the computer and back to normal size.
Then he purges the Dharlu babies into outer space and all’s well again. Note that, while he escaped from the computer by growing back to full size, he felt the need to shrink back down again so he could push the “Run Program” button. At some point, Ray, we need to have a talk about your obsession with being the size of an action figure.
We also need to talk about these charges to AmiAmi on your JLA-issued credit card.
To the best of my knowledge, that’s the end of the Dharlu Saga. It’s not a happy ending, but I guess there’s a tiny positive note? She’s still locked in the JLA computer, but at least her kids got out to make their own way in the universe – and there was never a story where the baby Dharlu grew up and came back to get revenge for their mother, so I guess some things in comics CAN be forgotten.
That was over a thousand words to say “comic books are weird”. I need to find more productive things to do with my life.