Wednesday, July 18, 2012

JLA Classified: Cold Steel #1 (2005)

One alien spaceship was pursued by another on the surface of Earth's moon. Genshi Mian, a white-skinned alien in armor, figured he and his partner were doomed. Tsaru Kar, the pilot, wished he would "Show some dignity." They were pursued by the Voruk, amphibians who resembled various terrestrial sea life like manta rays and large piranha. "Go on, you mud-sucking minnow. Twist all you want..." Laser fire clipped the JLA Watchtower, as Superman and the Martian Manhunter worked outside. Short work was made of the aggressors' bio-engineered craft, so they retreated. The two pale aliens were brought into the Watchtower to assess for harm. Both breathed in the same environment as humans, but their slender bodies had to remain in armor to tolerate even the moon's gravity.

The Martian Manhunter detected telepathy at play, as the aliens scanned the heroes' minds to learn their language. Tsaru fretted for her companion, but upon learning that he was alright, introduced herself. "My companion and I represent the Ghoji-in-exile." Tsaru did not believe in asking for help, but Councilman Genshi Mian had insisted, initially hoping to contact the defunct Green Lantern Corps. Instead, they explained how their peaceful but resolute Ghoji had refused to be enslaved by the Voruk, "the water-breathing filth that wrecked my cruiser." The Ghoji saw themselves as a peaceful, civilized people who neither made war nor were willing to submit to oppression. Despite torture and widespread destruction, "the Voruk got no labor out of us." After three years, the Voruk gave up, and instead deployed an "Infinity Coil" that basically put everyone to sleep for the last twenty years.

The Justice League debated whether they should get involved, and there were some questions about the aliens' veracity. The Martian Manhunter offered, "If you doubt my ability to detect deception in her, there's always Wonder Woman."

Pricess Diana approached Genshi Mian, and asked after his well being. "How do I feel? I found you, Wonder Woman, when I had all but given up hope. You will help us, won't you? You must!"
"Tsaru spoke eloquently on your behalf."
"I must trust to Shai-Tar. She cannot have guided us here to no purpose."

Wonder Woman wondered how the Ghoji could survive on a world whose gravitational field supported oceans, and Tsaru Kar explained that they were not native to Penumbra. "We were starfarers. Refugees. Over countless generations of wandering, we adapted to our weightless environment. Penumbra, hidden deep inside a nebula, was to have been our sanctuary. Our 'Paradise Island.'"

Tsaru Kar hoped she hadn't offended Wonder Woman by reading her mind again, but she was intrigued by her inherent contradictions. "Human, yet not human. A warrior who hates warfare. Your companions are beneath consideration. Simple, brawling savages. But I must say I find you... interesting. Almost like one of my own people."

"You underestimate my friends, Tsaru." Kar agreed that this was perhaps so, and to allow the Lasso of Truth to be used on her. "Without the ability to weave minds, I expect you must be cautious."

The JLA decided to make the trip by "gating" via a wormhole-type time/space structure. Above Penumbra, they saw a world trapped in stillness by the Infinity Coil. Aboard a Voruk craft, scientists warned Mhak-Lord Gordoruk that the coil was threatening a dimensional implosion, with no means of containing a collapse of reality if it device continued operation. Mhak-Lord Gordoruk literally bit the scientist's head off, demanding a fix. He had also continued patrols around Penumbra, and the JLA were soon under attack by a gunship. Wrapped in the emerald energy of Green Lantern, Wonder Woman flew through space to fend off lasers, until the ship could be routed.

The group arrived at a hidden refuge, where they were greeted by the sight of torture survivors who had been dropped into water to have their lower extremities gnawed off by the Voruk. Tsaru Kar insisted "Most victims died instantly, as was proper. These cowards chose to live with their injuries." Batman was silently revolted, as he watched the survivors walk on their hands with braces over their arms and chests.

Superman and Martian Manhunter discussed the effect of the Infinity Coil and how to deal with it. Aquaman confided his distrust of Tsaru Kar to Wonder Woman. "It's nothing I can put my finger on, Diana. Tsaru's attitude, maybe. Praising death as glorious-- then sneering at survivors as if they were morally defective. There's something sick about that." Diana had noted Batman's reaction, while the Dark Knight had snuck off to visit their topic of discussion: First the amputee Maiko, then Tsaru, who had followed him to the camp.

Councilman Genshi Mian mentioned the shield technology that protected their haven from the Infinity Coil, which allowed the JLA to develop a means of using same to permanently address the problem. Giant mostly humanoid mechanized vehicles were outfitted with shield protection, and each was customized to reflect the strengths of their individual JLA pilots. "The wire guidance system in Wonder Woman's missile launcher doubles as a delivery system for her magical lasso. Since Voruk vehicles are bioengineered, a direct hit should allow her access to the target's memory matrix. Each of us will be accompanied by a Ghoji technician, to provide information and damage control support."

Tsaru Kar objected. "My people are philosophers... artists... not axe-wielding savages!" Still, "I'll go with Wonder Woman, if she's willing. I'll show... how an honorable Ghoji conducts herself."

Counsellor Tarngiri had tried to warn Mhak-Lord Gordoruk that the Ghoji might have hired mercenaries, but he couldn't believe the "skinnies" would fight back or mingle with other species. Tarngiri had a number of issues with his people's leadership, and as they prepared to descend on Penumbra en masse, he wondered if this was his last chance to extend reason...

"Chapter One: The Hidden World" was by writer/painter Chris Moeller

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