A One-Part Crossover Extravaganza: “Return of the Justice Force”

“Nobody stays dead for very long in comic books.” — Michelangelo

Written by: Marty Isenberg

Original Air Date: May 8, 2004

Teaser Narrator: Michelangelo

Characters and Concepts Introduced: The Justice Force: “Stainless” Steve Steel, Metalhead, Battling Bernice, Doctor Dome, Zippy Lad, Joey Lastic, Ananda,

Gargoyles episodes I could make comparisons to: N/A

The Beats:

  • Michelangelo is reading an old Justice Force comic that ends in a cliffhanger: the apparent death of Justice Force member / token woman Battling Bernice, who had recently returned to the team after a long absence.  Despondent about finding out the resolution, and unable to obtain a copy of the sought-after book in the city, he and Casey convince the turtles to all go to Northampton and attempt to find the book, issue #137 of Justice Force, there.
  • The turtles–“disguised” as cosplayers–and Casey are browse through Steve’s Comics. Michelangelo talks to the owner, Steve, who tells him that there was no issue #137 and that Bernice died during the battle depicted in issue #136.
  • Steve’s Comics is suddenly attacked by small dome-headed robots. As they fight them off, they notice that the comic book’s staff is also fighting. With superpowers. The Justice Force, it turns out, was a real team. The battle ends with one of the two workers, outed as Justice Force member Metalhead (not that one), taken by the dome-headed robots.
  • The remaining Justice Force member, Stainless Steve Steel, identifies the robots as domeoids and states they they could only be controlled by former Justice Force member Dr. Dome. He takes the turtles and Casey to his mansion, where the rest of the surviving Justice Force–Zippy Lad and Joey Lastic–have already been assembled.
  • Michelangelo asks about Battling Bernice and her year-long absence from the team, referenced in his comic book. Steve can’t provide an answer, but he mentions that he suspects it had something to do with Dr. Dome.
  • Domeoids attack the mansion and kidnap Zippy and Joey. Fortunately, Donatello placed a tracker on the two heroes, allowing the turtles to follow them.
  • The turtles, Casey, and Steve follow the domeoids to their headquarters.  They infiltrate the base without alarming the robots, but not without escaping detection.
  • As they’re about to free the captured Justice Forcers, Dr. Dome arrives at the base inside a giant domeoid,  frees his former teammates, and accuses Steve of kidnapping the Justice Force.
  • As Stainless Steve Steel and Dr. Dome are about to get it on, accusing each other of the team’s kidnapping, Michelangelo stops them and appeals to their better natures.  The gesture is interrupted by the arrival of more domeoids.
  • As the turtles and the Justice Force realize that Dr. Dome is, indeed, not after the kidnappings, they are joined by a new arrival, a woman dressed like, and physically quite similar to, Battling Bernice.  The woman isn’t Bernice, however, but Ananda, Bernice and Dr. Dome’s secret daughter, who used the powers she inherited from her father in order to frame him and ensure that the Justice Force destroyed itself, as revenge for allowing her mother to die.  The jig being up, she sics her domeoids on the two teams.
  • As they fight Ananda’s forces, Michelangelo recommends that they spread out their attacks in as many directions as possible in order to split her focus as she controls them. The tactic succeeds and Ananda is defeated.
  • A sobered Dr. Dome appeals to Ananda, telling her that Bernice died doing what she loved, and he is more than willing to be a father to her, if she wants him to be. Ananda accepts.
  • The Justice Force and the turtles part ways, but not before they make Michelangelo an honorary member of their team.

Continuity and Mythology Notes:

  • This episode is an adaptation of “Return of the Justice Force”, featured in TMNT (Vol. 1) #15, and which was written and drawn by Peter Laird.
    • One character from the original story does not make it here: Justice Force member “Captain Deadbolt”, whose story is described as such: “You know how Cap had that ability to lock his body into immovability in any position–an’ nothing short of a tank could budge him? Well, during a John Travolta look-alike contest back in ’77 he froze up like that…hasn’t moved since! Still don’t rightly know whether he’s alive or dead.”
  • Michelangelo uses a remote-controlled action figure of Silver Sentry, who was introduced in “The Unconvincing Turtle Titan.”

—-

Of all the stories TMNT adapted from the cartoons, there are some there are some that are unquestionably rendered worse in translation–“City at War” currently looms large as the most notable one–and there are a bunch where choosing between the adaptation and the original story is a matter of preference, since their respective strengths and weaknesses lie in different areas. There is one story, however, which I feel is unquestionably improved by the adaptation, and that is this one.

It’s worth noting that the changes made here are more substantial than those we usually get. It follows the main strokes of the original story for the first half, as the turtles and Casey travel to Steve’s comic book store, are besieged by domeoids, and find that someone fitting the M.O. of previous Justice Force member Dr. Dome is kidnapping members of the old Justice Force.   However, while that original story had Dr. Dome indeed be behind everything, in an attempt to coax Battling Bernice out of hiding, the story here is more complex, dealing with a love triangle, a secret pregnancy, a death, a surprise fatherhood reveal, and a more complicated set of motivations for everyone involved. It’s surprisingly heavy stuff for the series, and that it’s handled as gracefully as it is feels surprising, given past attempts. As such, it marks a turning point in the series: after this point, the series becomes far more comfortable in its skin, and becomes more capable of both telling the stories it wants within its limitations and of stretching those limitations past its existing boundaries.

Random Thoughts:

  • Adding to this episode’s feel is the way it subtly plays with unreliable narration, which gives the story a fair bit of ambiguity that isn’t really resolved. The comic book version of events at the start gives one account, positing the existence of a love triangle between Stainless Steel Steve, Battling Bernice, and Dr. Dome, with Dr. Dome pining for Bernice and Bernice pining for Steve, but it’s never made clear just how much of that, is actually an actual historical account, and how much is speculation / invention. Steve Steel, for example, claims that Dr. Dome’s affection for Bernice was unrequited, but this does not seem to fit with the fact that they clearly got together in some capacity at some point.  The issue also posits the existence of a secret, although it’s not specifically stated that it’s the secret that is eventually revealed.
  • On that note, it’s hard to know what to make of the fact that Michelangelo considered the Justice Force to be fictional, particularly since superheroes are a thing that exist in this world.  Does the world at large think the team is fictional? If people are actively keeping the truth of their existence hidden, then why publish comic books, and comic books that appear to be, to a degree, based on real-life events?
  • It’s also hard to know what to make of the fact that Michelangelo apparently had no way to know that there was no Justice Force #138, and that no one but Steve could tell him so.  On that note, I’m curious about the comic book itself. Was it actually published concurrent with the team’s adventures? Was the book Mikey was reading published while the Justice Force was active, or was it published or reprinted in the present?  If it was created afterwards, how does that fit with the idea that the Justice Force was not widely known to be real?
  • We’re told forty years have passed since the Justice Force disbanded, which suggests several things. One,  it means that the Forcers are likely in their mid-sixties or even seventies or eighties, which makes their various age-related aches and pains quite realistic.  It also means that Ananda, who is depicted as a generic female superhero, looks way younger than her forty years, and should look noticeably older than Bernice did when she died, if she was in her twenties or thirties. The only way she could look as Bernice did when she died is if Bernice had a very late pregnancy when she was herself in her forties.

 

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2 Responses to A One-Part Crossover Extravaganza: “Return of the Justice Force”

  1. Stephen says:

    Hey Ian, great post. Good to have you back!

  2. Ian says:

    Thank you! As you might surmise, my commitment to these has waned something fierce, but I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things and return to posting with some more regularity.

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