Thursday, May 24, 2018

Super Blog Team-Up Takeover! Bring on the Bad Guys: Meet The Extremists!

We interrupt this regularly scheduled Super-Blog Team-Up for an nWo-style takeover featuring some very bad dudes from the DC Universe! Cue the music!

I was pleased & privileged to accept the return invitation to 'stand in' for the dearly (at least for now) departed Super Bloggers - and to mark the occasion, I thought I'd adapt an unused Where's The Trade? idea with a brief profile of some of my favorite comics 'stand-ins' - the bad boys from the planet Angor, THE super-villain team to beat in early 90s Justice League comics & cheeky Marvel villain analogs: The Extremists!  I'm amazed that, for a group based on such a throw away idea (analogs of 4 top Marvel villains -- and Dormammu), creators have been using some version or another of the Extremists in comics for almost 30 years!

Before I cover the publishing history of these true Harbingers of the Attitude Era, I invite you to check out the other late spring offerings from some fellow blasts from the #SuperBlogTeamUp past:
The Extremists 1st appeared in Justice League Europe #15 (June 1990) in the first of a 5-part story called 'The Extremist Vector' - but the roots of this villain team date back much farther than that.  In comics cover dated Feb. 1971, DC & Marvel - or maybe I should say Justice League writer Mike Friedrich & Avengers writer Roy Thomas - exchanged charming, naughty swipes at the competition with the introduction of a team of super doppelgangers in their respective books.  In issue 85 of the Avengers, Thomas debuted The Squadron Supreme, a team of alternate dimension JLA analogs including Hyperion (Superman) , Nighthawk (Batman), Lady Lark (Black Canary) & The Whizzer (Flash), among others.  This Squadron Supreme was a revised version of a villain team of JLA dupes Thomas introduced in the Avengers about a year and a half previously called The Squadron Sinister.  Meanwhile, in Justice League of America #87, Friedrich introduced a doppelganger Avengers in The Assemblers (later, the Champions of Angor, The Justifiers & The Retaliators - no one could seem to keep this straight), whose membership included Wandjina (Thor), The Silver Sorceress (Scarlet Witch), Blue Jay (Yellowjacket) & Jack B. Quick (Quicksilver).  Each team of analogs met, misunderstood, and fought their respective series' stars, before in each case parting as friends.

Though introduced together, the legacies of these analog teams couldn't have been more different.  Squadron Supreme went on to be featured in several guest-starring appearances, mini series, and trade paperbacks printed in human ashes, while the Assemblers never got a push - they slipped down the card, forgotten for almost 20 years.

The Assemblers: Not-Quicksilver, Not-Scarlet Witch, Not-Yellowjacket & Not-Thor
I didn't get into comics full time until after 1987, so I'm not sure what sort of reception greeted the Assemblers' big comeback to comics in the earliest issues of Keith Giffen/JM DeMatteis/Kevin Maguire's Justice League.  Shock? Surprise? Indifference? 'Who the @#*%!! are these guys?!'  But looking back, the use of Wandjina, Silver Sorceress & Blue Jay as antagonists to the League seems to have come a bit out of nowhere.  In the interim since their last appearance, it's revealed that the Asssemblers' home world Angor (no longer an alien planet, but an extra-dimensional analog for Marvel Comics' Earth thanks to the reality warping effects of Crisis on Infinite Earths) had been obliterated by the planet's nuclear weapons - and the trio of heroes (as far as we knew, the last survivors of their planet) take it upon themselves to rid DC Earth of their nukes, and save it from a fate similar to Angor.  The governments of Earth don't take kindly to this interference, and after a confrontation with the newly minted Justice League (soon to be International), by story arc's end the waning days of the Cold War status quo is maintained, Wandjina is dead (or at least very near death), Silver Sorceress & Blue Jay are taken into Soviet custody -- aaaand then things soon get really interesting for the survivors of Angor & the Justice League.

The 1st appearance of the Assemblers in JLA #87 can be found digitally, collected in color in the series of JLA Archives, vol. 10, specifically - or in the more recent JLA Bronze Age Omnibus vol. 1.  You can also find the story reprinted in black & white in Showcase Presents: The Justice League vol. 5.   It's typical early Bronze Age JLA - decent plot with good, if unremarkable Dick Dillin/Joe Giella illustration.  If you're reading this, you probably don't need my recommendation to pick up those early 'Bwah-Ha-Ha' Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire JLI issues, but I'll give it to you, anyway - they can be found in single issue format, trade paperback, hardcover omnibus & digitally - you really can't go wrong with these excellent comics.

4 top Marvel villains -- and Dormammu - the Extremists' template
About 3 years after the JLI's dust-up with the Assemblers, in 'The Extremist Vector,' a story plotted & laid out by Keith Giffen and illustrated by Bart Sears, Pablo Marcos & Randy Elliot, running through the title Justice League Europe #s 15-19, we learn a lot more about the destruction of Angor when the Silver Sorceress escapes captivity & returns to her home dimension.  There, she runs into what appear to be a few MORE 'only remaining survivors' (what is this - Silver Age Krypton?), The Assemblers' arch-enemies and perpetrators of Angor's World Destruction, the Extremists!  These are 5 bad dudes - and since the super-heroes of Angor were not-so-coy nods toward the Marvel Universe's good guys, then it only makes sense for the villains of Angor to be modeled after Marvel's bad guys.  So let's meet the Extremists!

This collection of mega-powered malcontents began as a team of ordinary, everyday industrial thieves.  But a botched bomb heist & run in with (because this is a Marvel-ous origin story) MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF RADIATION mutates these unnamed criminals into a stable of monster heels!  We've got Lord Havok - leader of the team inside his powerful, shiny suit of armor.  Imposing & bug-like in his massive shell, Havok is a reimagined Dr. Doom.  Gorgon is a flabby, brutish lech - metal claws for hands & thick strangulating tentacles growing out of the top of his head - the Dr. Octopus of the Extremists.  Tracer is quick, athletic, ferocious - and insane.  An alternate universe Sabretooth.  Dr. Diehard wields the forces of magnetism - so he could only be a Magneto analog (though he does carry Daredevil's 'Double D' emblem on his chest).  And the strangest-looking & most frightening Extremist is Dreamslayer, the Dormammu stand-in (they can't all be winners, I guess) with his stocking feet, tattered cape and energy ball of a head, who taps into some pretty serious magical power - so serious that he's able to pull the location of the DC Earth from the Silver Sorceress' mind, and with a quick teleportation spell, The Extremists discover a new world to conquer!  What follows is a series of confrontations with Justice League Europe, whose membership at the time included Captain Atom (team leader), Power Girl, The Flash, Rocket Red, Crimson Fox, The Elongated Man & Metamorpho.  In the long history of the League, its heroes had yet to meet such a sadistic, brutal group of villains as the Extremists. They killed - they didn't think twice about it.  They'd grown bored on their home planet - it's populace had been wiped out by the Extremists' emmployment of their planet's stolen nuclear weapons.  They loved to fight - the tougher the opponent the better.  The Extremists are DELIGHTED to meet some super-hero resistance on this 'new' planet.  Upon first meeting their foes, the JLEers are beaten handily - it's basically a squash match!  And things get pretty dark when the League is teleported to Angor, prisoners on a desolate world, leaving no one to stop the villains back home who've hijacked Earth's nuclear arsenal and hold hundreds (thousands?) of missiles in orbit - an all too literal Sword of Damocles - in place to force Earth's surrender.

The muscular bulk & reflective material in the design of the Extremists plays to Bart Sears' strengths as an illustrator
After enduring a surreal experience in a deserted theme park and finding their way home (& knowing they can't overpower the Extremists), the JLE must rely on wit, a little trickery, and a not-so-metaphorical deus ex machina in the form of Angorian Walt Disney-analog, Mitch Wacky to eventually defeat Lord Havok & crew - with a pretty startling swerve revealed along the way [Spoilers: all but one of the Extremists were killed with the rest of their planet's populace; the team the JLE has been fighting were theme park animatronics all along. Mitch Wacky came, he saw & he deactivated the technical tyrants with the push of a button].  This is really the first knock down, drag out deathmatch I can ever remember the Justice League having, and definitely the most soundly I'd ever seen them beaten at the time.  Arriving when it did in the wake of 'dark & gritty' depictions of action & angles in comics, and perhaps a little before things of that nature would become more commonplace in mainstream comics, 'The Extremist Vector' (and the Extremists) really pushed the envelope when it came to the use of violence in Justice League books.  The Extremists were the Justice League's 1st 90s villains - not only chronologically, but also in name (EXTREME!), attitude  - and in look!  These are Bart Sears/Keith Giffen designs and there's no doubt about it.  Sears is a master at depicting muscular bulk and shiny things - and the Extremists' appearance puts his talent for both on full display.  The members of the Extremists all have some sort of reflective element or detail in their outfits (in Lord Havok's case it's ALL reflective element) and they fairly pulse, or throb with muscular energy - even Dreamslayer, whose depicted a bit more - sinewy.  When comics fans think of early 90s artistic excess, I imagine those thoughts often land first on the work of someone like Rob Liefeld, but in my mind, you can get all that & more with Bart Sears' illustration at the time, and I think you see some of Sears' best work in the design of the Extremists.

'The Extremist Vector' is one of my very favorite Justice League multi-part epics - it's got a little bit of everything: awesome villains, high stakes, twists & turns - and provides a much needed signature victory for the young Justice League Europe team.

The nature of the JLE's victory over the Extremists should have made the extra-dimensional 'Outsiders' -- unavailable -- for further adventures - but avail themselves, they would, in issue #3 of Justice League Quarterly (Summer 1991), where in a story plotted by Keith Giffen & illustrated by Mike McKone, we get our best look yet at the planet Angor.  Thanks to Walt Disney-doppelganger Mitch Wacky's (with help from JLI's own Mr. Fixit, Kilowog) desire to crack the dimensional (and chronal) barrier into Angor's past in a crusade to prevent the Extremists' origins (and therefore the destruction of his home planet), we see just how closely the New York of Angor was intended to resemble the NYC of the Marvel Universe. True Believer, Angorian New York was THE hub of super-hero activity in that dimension.  At a meeting of the Assemblers (here called the Justifiers - blame Crisis), the creative team gets to poke fun at the Avengers, once again, with parodies of Iron Man, Hawkeye, the Wasp & Giant Man.  As if this issue were an episode of the Twilight Zone, Mitch Wacky's quest doesn't turn out quite the way he planned, and we get to witness, first hand, the violent births of Lord Havok, Dr. Diehard and their fellow hardcore stars.  Mike McKone's super-detailed work (here inked by Bob Smith) is always a treat, and the New York of Angor is an enormous spectacle of super heroic activity (and NOT just because Mitch, Kilowog and the JLI are reduced to the size of insects in this story).

Born in hellfire
Dreamslayer, alone, later returns to face the Justice League in the run-wrapping, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink epic 'Breakdowns' storyline, in which Keith Giffen & JM DeMatteis tie up any & all loose ends from their 5 years on JLI.  The lord of the Angorian Dark Arts possesses the body of JL boss Maxwell Lord - and conquers the much famed island of Kooey Kooey Kooey (a much more serious situation than it sounds) and it's up to Silver Sorceress to make the ultimate sacrifice to stop Dreamslayer's machinations - Dreamslayer's 2nd defeat & the death of the Silver Sorceress effectively closes out the original Angor/Assemblers/Extremists saga.

The above mentioned stories: 'The Extremist Vector,' Justice League Quarterly #3 & 'Breakdowns' are what I would consider 'essential' Extremist reading, but unfortunately due to circumstances, are unlikely to find their way into any trade paperback or omnibus collection.  Comics are a collaborative medium, however - and the efforts of talented creators like Keith Giffen, JM DeMatteis, Bart Sears, Mike McKone, Darick Robertson & others make these stories worth checking out in single issue format.

The Extremists would improbably turn up again, causing trouble for Supergirl in Peter David's 90s series - I was impressed with David's adherence to previous Extremist continuity; the inclusion of guest star (and former JLE member) Power Girl to help Supergirl/Matrix tackle the temporarily revived conquerors in a handicap match was a nice touch.  The Extremists would also be recruited to job for the (Old Teen) Titans in DC's water-treading 2015 event, Convergence.  These were both decent enough outings - Leonard Kirk's depiction of the Extremists in Supergirl was fairly on model, but he & Convergence: The Titans' Ron Wagner just weren't able to capture the malevolent majesty of the Extremists the way Bart Sears & his JLE inkers were (Chuck Wojtkiwicz came close in a Justice League storyline I won't be mentioning here).

Leonard Kirk's Extremists were pretty much on model in Peter David's Supergirl
. . . aaand there have been other iterations of the team: Dreamslayer returned with a hodgepodge of Z-list nogoodniks in the latter days of the JLI era - but without the pretty essential gimmick of being tied to top Marvel villains, without the polished chrome and faint whiff of atomic radiation, the New Extremists had none of the charm of the originals & disappeared after a minimal amount of appearances.  Even other dimensional versions of the OG team, as seen spinning out of 2007's DC Countdown into their own mini-series Lord Havok & the Extremists (considered hailing from Earth-8, if you keep track of that sort of thing) or in the recent DC Rebirth Justice League of America title lacked the proto-90s savage beauty, wonderful melodrama and down right love-to-hate-themness of the old Angor gang.  I DO give writer Steve Orlando credit in those latter JLAs for imparting a 'til now unseen nobility in the characters of Lord Havok & Dreamslayer - and all said these latter interpretations attest to the staying power of the Extremists concept.

Despite their dastardly deeds & vile characterizations, the Extremists have somehow slithered their way into my heart - yet I find it baffling that this team, based on a 45-year old throwaway idea still gets some play in whatever passes today for the DC Universe.  While no where near as significant as the similarly 'analogous' Squadron Supreme, I'd argue the Extremists' legacy & relevance have (thus far) outlasted those of the Assemblers/Justifiers/Champions of Angor/Retaliators - and it's unusual to have the heels of a particular concept outstrip the babyfaces that way - but the Extremists are compelling foils & even with only one major grudge match with the Justice League under their straps - while they might not have the drawing power of a Despero or Starro or Injustice League, I'd still put them up there in pantheon of the League's greatest foes (cruiser weight division).

And speaking of vile bands of interdimensional rogues, like the Extremists, there's another such group that it's impossible to keep down - and that's the Super-Bloggers!  Please stay tuned for the return of that infamous confederation this summer!


Redartz said...

Excellent post! Very informative. I've never heard of the Extremists, but definitely loved the Giffen\Maguire Justice League. Now there is another story added to my "must find and read" list.

Martinex1 said...

Excellent post! Always nice to find out something new about comics; I didn’t follow the Justice League at this time so was not aware of this homage to the Marvel villain class. I wonder how the creators settled on the five Extremists. Doom seems an obvious choice and Sabretooth was off-the-charts popular at the time. But the others - though definitely classic and top tier -are a bit surprising to me. I really like these type of secret crossovers.


marksweeneyjr said...

The reading pile never ends, does it?!

marksweeneyjr said...

I've wondered about that Marvel villain selection process, myself - if I ever get the chance to talk to Keith Giffen, I might ask about it!

Thanks for reading!

Edo Bosnar said...

Oh, man. Fascinating post, although it almost makes my head hurt. I knew about the Assemblers, but I never knew a team of Marvel-analog villains was spun out of that whole idea.
Since I was not reading comics at the time (in the 1990s), I have to ask: did Marvel take the bait and create a team of villains based on DC baddies? That is, did the Avengers take on a diabolical pentavirate (thanks, Mike Myers!) of analogs of Lex Luthor, the Joker, Cheetah, Sinestro and, I don't know, Darkseid (or Mordru)?

marksweeneyjr said...

Not to my knowledge - but what a wonderful idea! And that line-up you cite would be a great template for a Marvel group of DC villain analogs!

Gotta think of a good group name, though . . . the Aggressors? Agrivators? The Legion of Gloom?

Ramior said...

Well there a team of Super Villain who appear in the Squadron Supreme maxie series of the 80's named the Institue of Evil :

They was pretty good, but lack of the charisma of the Extremist.

Also they have been an Lex Luthor Analogue named Burbank.