Longbox Literature is a column that focuses in on the greatest comic tales of (not too) long ago that every comic fan, new and old, should read.
Title: Justice League of America: The Nail
Writer: Alan Davis
Penciller: Alan Davis
Inkers: Mark Farmer
Colorist: Patricia Mulvihill
Letterer: Patricia Prentice
Publisher: DC Comics (Wildstorm)
Release Date: 2000
Back in the day, my buddies and I would read Marvel What If…? comics and debate whether or not some of these things would really happen if such small events would change. It seems like every What If…? started with something mundane happening (like Peter Parker stepping on a piece of gum in Central Park) and it always ended up with something extraordinary as the result (like a black hole opening up in the center of the Earth). We didn’t know the term back then, but we were talking about the Butterfly Effect…which I guess was the main driver behind the series. We’d joke that if Tony Stark forgot to brush his teeth one day, it would somehow lead to the Celestials splitting the Earth in half and feeding it to Galactus like a cantaloupe. Of course, we were exaggerating for the most part; even in the non-canon What If…? books, things still mostly happened within reason. Fast-forward a few years, and enter Alan Davis with JLA: The Nail from DC, wherein a simple nail changes the entire world.
Warning: this article contains minor spoilers and plot point – if you want to remain unspoiled, feel free to skip ahead to the last paragraph, and come back and read the rest after you have read the comic.
The Nail that the title is referring to, in the literal sense, is a nail stuck in the tire of Jonathan Kent’s truck on the day he and Martha were destined to find baby Superman. They end up not going out, and not finding or raising Superman, and the JLA is formed without him as the heart of the team (or, the Nail which holds it together, if you will), and everything goes straight down the tubes. Perry White is a complete jerk, Lex Luthor is the mayor of Metropolis, Jimmy Olsen is an even bigger tool than usual, Oliver Queen is a paraplegic (no big loss – I hate all archer heroes), Hawkman is dead and the Kents end up running a halfway house for super humans on the run.
Oh, and Superman is now Amish.
All of this was because of a nail…or was it? Mr. Davis could have just as easily have called this story Martha Kent’s Biological Clock Ruins The Universe, because it’s really Martha that causes all of this. Sure, there was a nail in the tire, but Jon was willing to fix it so they could still take their trip to Metropolis, and perhaps stumble onto one of the most important super beings in the DC Universe along the way. But noooooo, Martha just wants to do the nasty, and she wants to do the nasty right now! Does anyone say “do the nasty” anymore? Geez, I’m getting old…
Anyway, JLA: The Nail is my second favorite Elseworlds title, right behind Kingdom Come. Alan Davis’ mastery of facial expressions is unmatched, his characterizations are spot-on, and the story is full of twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat. If you have not read this book, I urge you to go out and find a copy; it could be the best comic you read this year. Just make sure you read it with classical music playing softly in the background – remember, this is Literature.