Title: The Tenth Circle, Part I: Suffer the Little Children
Release Date: Early May 2004
Writers: John Byrne and Chris Claremont
Penciller: John Byrne
Inker: Jerry Ordway
JLA Members: Superman, Batman, the Flash, Wonder Woman, the Martian Manhunter, the Atom, Faith, and Manitou Raven.
Guest Stars: People who haven't been identified yet.
Bad Guys: Crucifer, Grunt, and others.

So what happens?
Let's review some backstory first--not about the plot of this story, but about the creators of the story. Claremont and Byrne, years ago, had what were probably their greatest successes while working on the X-Men. They were responsible for stories like the Dark Phoenix Saga, and helped make "X-Men" the most popular comic book in the world. They're the highest-profile creators to work on "JLA" since the comic started. It doesn't necessarily mean they're the best creators out there--Claremont is a great storyteller and creates unforgettable characters, but he's considered a bit arrogant, he hasn't had a lot of success outside of "X-Men", and his dialogue has always rubbed me the wrong way. Byrne revamped Superman in 1987, and his work on the Fantastic Four and the She-Hulk is some of the best out there, but he's also known for having a little arrogance problem, and a lot of people dislike his style of art. And Jerry Ordway? Ordway's great. His artwork has a classic look to it, like it sprang direct from the Silver Age. He rocks the hizzouse, and if it weren't for Claremont and Byrne, DC would have his name above the masthead of this comic. So, to sum up, they've got three outstanding creators working on this storyline, and they've got high hopes for it.

But on to the story: We start out with a quick segment in which Manitou Raven is trying to use his "telling stones" to foretell the future, but for some reason, he can't get them to work. He feels this is very bad news and worries that something very evil is working against him. He is unexpectedly attacked by a horde of shadowy bats and disappears.

Meanwhile, in Gotham City, Batman is investigating a rash of child disappearances and murders. Apparently, it's happening nationwide, and they are all connected by a strange symbol at the crime scenes: an X inside a circle. The Flash runs across the same symbol while searching for missing teenagers in Keystone City. And in Metropolis, Superman runs across some robed figures herding a bunch of kids into a panel truck. When he intervenes, he is attacked by a superstrong guy called Grunt, then mind-controlled by a teenaged girl who's working with the cultists. They take Supes with them and disappear into the night.

Elsewhere, in the Florida Keys, a secret, unidentified group of four people are monitoring the situation and waiting for the right opportunity to act. Ooooh, mystery!

Meanwhile, the JLA has discovered that Superman and Manitou Raven have disappeared, and they also learn that many of the kids being abducted have minor superpowers. Who could be collecting all these kids, and for what purpose?

We finally get to meet the main bad guy when the cultists and Superman arrive at his castle, conveniently located outside Metropolis. His name's Crucifer, and he's a vampire! And just to make sure Superman is completely loyal to him, Crucifer puts the bite on him! Oh, crap!

Back at the JLA Watchtower, the Atom and the Martian Manhunter are trying to figure out whether Manitou Raven's telling stones give any clue about what happened to him. J'onn's enhanced Martian senses can't tell anything, and neither can Atom's scientific knowledge. However, Atom theorizes that magic may not be something he can measure with scientific equipment, so he shrinks himself down to take a closer look. And then he disappears, too! Damn, there's a lot of people disappearing in this comic!

Finally, we visit Faith's home in San Francisco, where she's accosted and abducted by Superman! He also reveals that Crucifer plans to use Faith's powers to end life on earth! Oh, no! An illogical plot by a comic book vampire! How can we hope to prevail?

Uncool Moments!
It's not really the fault of this issue, but I wish DC could decide whether Superman is vulnerable to vampires or not. This issue assumes that he is, because he's vulnerable to magic. But other comics I've seen said that he wasn't--since he gets his powers from the sun, any vampire who bites him gets blasted by solar energy and burns to death. It would be nice if they could resolve this once and for all...

Final Grade: B

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