Title: Trial by Fire, Part Two
Release Date: Late October 2003
Writer: Joe Kelly
Penciller: Doug Mahnke
Inker: Tom Nguyen
JLA Members: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Martian Manhunter, the Flash, Green Lantern (John Stewart), Firestorm, Manitou Raven, Major Disaster, Faith, and the Atom.
Guest Stars: Scorch, Dawn, and Vandal Savage.
Bad Guys: The Dakath.

So what happens?
The telepath who was forcibly reforming supervillains last issue has moved up to turning national leaders from enemies to friends. While peace in the Middle East is a laudable goal, doing it by mental manipulation just isn't good for people. The Martian Manhunter, who only recently lost his weakness to fire, agrees to try to hunt for the telepath, so he telepathically sets out to contact every mind on earth until he can find the guy! But something goes wrong, J'onn collapses and claims that he couldn't find anything.

Meanwhile, we get a bit of flashback to Firestorm getting rescued after the robot (or whatever it was) stole his powers while he was out on the surface of the moon. The Watchtower's sensors detected a human on the surface, Superman flew him inside at super-speed, and the rest of the JLA got to work saving his life. And Dawn tells Green Lantern that before Firestorm went outside, he seemed to be under a spell. Could Manitou Raven, the JLA's resident spellcaster, have something to do with this?

And back at the home that the Martian Manhunter is sharing with Scorch, the fire-generating supervillainess who helped J'onn get over his fear of fire, Superman accuses Scorch of somehow influencing J'onn to be unethical enough to consider leaving President Lex Luthor in his coma (from last issue, natch). Insulted and angry, Scorch tells Supes to get the hell out of her house if he's gonna talk to her like that. After Superman leaves, J'onn tells Scorch that he has "something extraordinary" to show her. He doesn't look a single bit trustworthy.

Elsewhere, Green Lantern and Manitou Raven get together and talk. They get a few things cleared up: Raven was glad Firestorm and Dawn have been getting along, because his wife needed some real friends in the present, and he's been working on a spell to identify the person who attacked Firestorm. GL had figured he could trust Raven, since Kyle Rayner trusted him with his soul while he was stuck in ancient Atlantis (way back in JLA #74), but felt he had to check to make sure. Everything's all hunky-dory until Green Lantern's power ring, without warning or explanation, switches on and creates a map to an undisclosed location...

When GL, Raven, Batman, Flash, Atom, Faith, and Major Disaster travel to the location shown on the map, they discover a huge, ornate palace in Nepal. And they discover a couple hundred of someone's elite soldiers melded into the rock of the palace. Nasty. Whose soldiers were they? The only guy left alive in the palace is immortal caveman/megalomaniac Vandal Savage, and he knows the name of the creature that has been plaguing the JLA...

But first, we take a detour to Kentucky, where Superman and Wonder Woman stop a bunch of mind-controlled Klansmen from setting themselves on fire. Wonder Woman uses the JLA teleporter to get to Nepal, while Superman plans to fly there so he can talk to the Martian Manhunter on the way. Supes asks why J'onn why his personality seems to be changing, why he suggested leaving Luthor in his coma, why he's snooping around in other people's minds without permission. J'onn says that, since he's no longer afraid of fire, he feels completely in control of his life, and no longer feels the need to repress his feelings the way he used to. He says he's not afraid of anything anymore, and this sounds unexpectedly ominous.

Back in Nepal, Vandal Savage tells the JLA that, even though he arrived after the rogue telepath's rampage through his palace, he recognized his style because he'd encountered something like it 20,000 years ago (Savage was apparently the caveman we saw at the beginning of last issue holding the bloody bag amongst the remains of the massacred cavemen and Guardians of the Galaxy). He tells the Leaguers that the cavemen called their opponent the Dakath, which in their primitive language meant "the Burning." Savage himself was the guy who finally figured out how to kill it, and he's kept and preserved the thing's skull over the millennia. It's a Martian.

The JLA take Vandal Savage (under comically heavy restraints that he'll probably be able to get out of in the first few pages of next issue) and the Dakath's skull up to the Watchtower. There, they discover Superman, merged halfway into the Justice League's meeting table and convulsing uncontrollably. Before the other members can go to Supey's aid, Manitou Raven warns them that the Dakath itself is in the Watchtower and intends to kill them all...

Cool Moments!
The Martian Manhunter shapeshifts into a very large tree while he's attempting to contact every mind on earth, which is a really neat effect; Scorch is very interestingly depicted--for one thing, she literally cries tears of flame; Vandal Savage's Nepal palace is plenty impressive, and his new beardless appearance really seems to work well for him.

Cool Quotes!
Manitou Raven, recounting some personal history about Dawn: "Back... in our clan, my wife was... unwanted. Can you imagine that? Too spirited. Too fierce. Too clever. 'The Goat,' they called her. We fell in love the night she burned my home to the ground."

The Flash, after finding the hundreds of slaughtered soldiers in Vandal Savage's palace: "Someone call Firestorm, tell him to play the lottery... He's the luckiest kid I know."

Final Grade: A

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