FINAL CRISIS FLASHBACK: Libra & Human Flame

Thu, June 5th, 2008 at 1:37pm PDT | Updated: September 16th, 2008 at 11:53pm

Comic Books
Brian K. Eason, Guest Contributor

"Final Crisis" #1 on sale now
DC Comics' much anticipated "Final Crisis" is finally here, courtesy of Grant Morrison and JG Jones with Alex Sinclair. Being not only the third part in DC's auspicious Crisis series -- following "Crisis on Infinite Earths" and "Infinite Crisis" -- but also a Grant Morrison comic, the miniseries naturally comes with excitement, mystery, adventure, a great love of the Silver Age, references to the obscure and forgotten, and many, many questions about all the above.

CBR's FINAL CRISIS FLASHBACK will endeavor to answer those questions, providing readers with supplemental background and greater understanding of what Morrison and DC are depicting in each issue of "Final Crisis."

FINAL CRISIS #1

Grant Morrison has immense affection for the Silver Age of superhero comics, as demonstrated in his hugely acclaimed work on "All-Star Superman." Similarly, Morrison's love of the obscure is evident in his megaseries "Seven Soldiers of Victory," which featured revamps of such forgotten or underused DC characters as Shining Knight, Frankenstein, Guardian, Mister Miracle, and Klarion the Witch Boy alongside Zatanna and Bulleteer (a reimagining of Fawcett's Bulletman and Bulletgirl). Therefore, it is not surprising that Morrison's "Final Crisis" would include particularly obscure characters from the Silver Age. In the first issue, we are treated to two such characters: Libra and the Human Flame.

Libra art by Stephane Roux

In June of 1974, in the pages of "Justice League of America" #111, writer Len Wein and veteran JLA artist Dick Dillin introduced the villainous Libra. As one might imagine, Libra was named after the astrological sign of the same name. In astrology, Libra represents the scales of balance and is associated with the Greek Goddess of Justice, Themis. Like his mythological counterpart, DC's Libra carries a set of scales that appear to be the source of his powers.

In Libra's first appearance, he formed the first incarnation of the Injustice Gang, consisting of the villains Chronos, Mirror Master, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Shadow Thief and Tattooed Man. In this issue, we discovered that Libra constructed the transmortifier, a weapon shaped like a set of scales that gave him the power to steal half the powers and energy of any target. Libra used the transmortifier to steal half the powers of the Justice league, including Superman, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Batman, the Flash (Barry Allen), Hawkman (Katar Hol), and Elongated Man. Libra then turned his weapon against the galaxy in an attempt to steal the energy of the entire universe and become a god. However, Libra was instead diffused into the universe, spreading across space.

Notwithstanding a small cameo appearance in the non-canon "JLA/Avengers" in 2004, there have been no further appearances, nor any explanation of who Libra was or what became of him, since that initial story in 1974. As to why this mystery character was brought back for "Final Crisis," we have to look no further than Grant Morrison's April 15, 2008 interview with CBR's Jeffrey Renaud, in which he said"

Libra came from my favorite ever run of 'Justice League of America' and he's never been used again. He was a character who had stolen all the powers of the Justice League, but then couldn't handle it and ascended to some kind of screaming godhood where he became a million transparent body parts spread across the sky. So I thought if I was doing a thing about the New Gods, he'd be an interesting guy to bring back because I needed a masked mystery man to start a new recruitment drive for the Secret Society of Supervillains, because they become almost a terrorist sect. Under Libra's guidance, they start doing quite bad things, even to superheroes' wives and families, crossing the line. So there's that element to the story and I needed a masked guy, who people didn't really know that well. And I remembered Libra and the fact that he is connected to this ascending to godhood thing tied him in really quite nicely. What's really going on under the hood will be revealed later in the series."

"DC Universe Special: Justice League of America" reprints the original Libra and Human Flame tales, and "Justice League of America" #21 reintroduces them to current continuity - both on sale now

Along with Libra, Morrison chose to resurrect a character known as the Human Flame. While Libra had been merely obscure, the Human Flame has been, up until now, a completely forgotten footnote in DC Comics' history. The Human Flame first appeared almost 50 years ago in "Detective Comics" #274 (December 1959), in a backup story featuring J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter. Born Michael Miller, the Human Flame was a common criminal who decided to start using a "crime suit." We were first introduced to Mike as he explained the workings of his device to fellow criminal, Joey. The Human Flame's crime suit did more that emit flames; the suit could also produce "artificial lightning."
The Human Flame ran afoul of the Martian Manhunter on his first outing as a costumed villain, but due to his fire-based powers, he is able to render the flame-vulnrable Manhunter ineffective. The villain began to deduce the hero's achilles heel when the J'onn burrowed beneath the Human Flame and, using the piece of earth as a platform, lifted the Human Flame to a high altitude where the lack of oxygen snuffed out the fiery weapons. After this, the Human Flame and Joey were arrested and Joey mocked the Flame for foolishly believing that something as basic as fire could be the great Martian Manhunter's one weakness.

As with Libra, Morrison was happy to address his choice of the Human Flame, in the same April 15, 2008 CBR interview:

"With The Human Flame, I wanted a Martian Manhunter villain, and I couldn't find a really good one. Then, looking through the old 'Showcase Presents' books, I discovered this stupid guy called Mike, who declared himself to be the Human Flame. And he wore a homemade costume with six nipples that shot flames. So I just thought this is a great way to start this book because the idea is that Libra gives all the villains a very simple choice, he says, 'Follow me and I'll give you your heart's desire.' And that's it. And some of the villains naturally say, 'Prove it.' So the Human Flame is one of the first to fall in with Libra and he says, 'If you can get revenge on my old enemy, who has had me stuck in jail for the last five years, I'll follow you anywhere.' I needed a small-scale dumb guy, who could make very big waves and open the book with a shock moment and the Human Flame fit the bill."

Now that Libra and the Human Flame have returned to the DC Universe in the pages of "Final Crisis," Libra has come to offer the members of the latest incarnation of Secret Society of Super-Villains their fondest wish and, in the case of the Human Flame, it's the death of the Martian Manhunter. As we saw in "Final Crisis" #1, it appears that Libra has delivered -- whose wish will he grant next?

Now discuss this story in CBR's Final Crisis forum.

TAGS:  final crisis, grant morrison, libra, final crisis flashback, dc comics

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