Title: The Tenth Circle, Part III: The Heart of the Matter
Release Date: Early June 2004
Writer: John Byrne and Chris Claremont
Penciller: John Byrne
Inker: Jerry Ordway
JLA Members: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern (John Stewart), the Martian Manhunter, the Atom, and Faith.
Guest Stars: Alfred Pennyworth, the Doom Patrol (Robotman, Negative Man, Elasti-Girl, and Niles Caulder), Nudge, Vortex, and Grunt.
Bad Guys: Crucifer.

So what happens?
Another issue, another awkward flashback. This time, we're with Batman a while before he went out and got shot in the previous issue. Alfred, knowing he's going out to investigate vampires, give Bats an old Pennyworth family heirloom: a silver crucifix.

Elsewhere, the Atom awakens after getting his little butt whupped last issue to find himself in some sort of crystal prison. A few of the yucky green monsters that attacked him enter the room, but this time, they're wearing clothing, speaking English, and worshiping him as a being from another world! Curiouser and curiouser...

And at the castle of slightly foofy vampire Crucifer, Faith is being held captive. She manages to telekinetically untie the ropes holding her, but Crucifer himself enters the room. She attacks him, but his vampiric influence, combined with deluded young cultist Nudge's telepathic powers, allow Crucifer to subdue Faith and put the chomp on her neck!

Meanwhile, while the four unidentified and secretive superpeople who have been shadowing the JLA discuss stuff (Oh, okay, it's the Doom Patrol. The original Doom Patrol, including all the members who are supposed to be dead), it turns out that Batman didn't really get shot last issue--the bullet just went through his cape and he played possum. Tricksy, tricksy Batman! After he punches out the Gotham City police detective, the two cultists turn out to be full vampires, and they transform into bat-hybrids and attack! Batman is able to stake one of them, but the other gets away. Batman returns to the detective, discovers that he's been bitten but not turned into a vampire, sticks Alfred's cross against the detective's neck, and apparently cures him. That Batman sure am smart.

And then it's time for another flashback, as Nudge tells fellow deluded young cultist Vortex about how she met Grunt, who is not a deluded young cultist but is, in fact, a big four-armed gorilla. Grunt was in a circus freak show, when Nudge, a teenage runaway, saw him beating the stuffing out of a bunch of roustabouts, and felt called to go up to him, grab him, and tell him to settle down. Nudge gets hired at the circus as a fortuneteller and Grunt's trainer and later discovers the circus owner selling Grunt to Elasti-Girl and Robotman. She uses her powers to get them to take her along, too. When they get to the Doom Patrol's hideout, Grunt freaks out when he sees Negative Man, but Elasti-Girl grows to giant-size and gets him under control. Nudge and Grunt are held at the Doom Patrol's headquarters for a few weeks until they manage to escape.

With the flashback safely over, Superman and Wonder Woman arrive at Crucifer's castle, where Crucifer orders Supes to attack Wondy. A big battle erupts between Wonder Woman, Superman, and some vampire minions, but Wondy manages to grab a sword and throw it into Crucifer's chest! But swords aren't wooden stakes, so Crucifer pulls the sword out of his chest and runs Wonder Woman through! Oh, don't worry--I'm sure it just looks like it killed her, thanks to her, umm, cape...

Uncool Moments!
The dialogue is still lousy. And far too much of this story seems to be taken up with introducing all the people who are going to be in the new "Doom Patrol" comic instead of putting together a good, coherent, concise Justice League story. And where the heck are Plastic Man, Major Disaster, Firestorm, and Manitou Raven?!

Final Grade: C

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