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Istar of Babylon (JLA ally) (DC Comics)

Istar


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

“Too late, she-witch ! Behold the Lady of Battle ! Behold Istar reborn !”


Context

“Planet DC” was an event in multiple Annual issues from DC Comics, in 2000. The gimmick was to feature new heroes from outside of the USA. Some were created with input from local talent.

Though most such characters have barely been seen since, they remain interesting when creating new stories in the DC Universe. Istar in particular soon returned in a cool Tim Truman Limited Series with interesting Ancient Babylonian myths and aesthetics.

This profile includes S P O I L E R S for JLA: Gatekeeper.


Background

  • Real Name: Professor Sala Nisaba
  • Marital Status: Unrevealed
  • Known Relatives: Istar of the Babylonian Malthusians (distant ancestor).
  • Group Affiliation: None
  • Base Of Operations: An unspecified American university (though one entry lists her as being back to Nabeul in Tunisia).
  • Height: 5’7” Weight: 138 lbs.
  • Eyes: Green Hair: Dark brown (dyed reddish-brown using henna)


Bridges to Babylon

There are apparently three different version of the Babylonian gods in the DC Universe. As often with ancient pantheons in super-heroes comics, unrelated stories over the decades showcased :

  • A version with “gods”.
  • A version where the same names and looks correspond to demons.
  • A version where the gods were actually space aliens.

Furthermore, the very term of “Babylonian gods” is fuzzy. It might or might not refer to the seemingly similar mythologies from the Sumer, Babylon and Assyria area.

The three sets of Babylonian gods known to exist in the DCU are :

1/ Space aliens

The original Istar, whence Sala Nisaba’s powers are derived, belonged to the space aliens set of “Babylonian gods”. Specifically, these were Ancient Malthusians.

After Krona’s Great Experiment, at least two sets of Ancient Malthusians left Oa. These evolved into different forms than the Guardians and the Zamarons. One set became the Controllers, and the other came to Earth to become the “Babylonian Malthusians”.

The “Babylonian Malthusians” claim that they are the actual beings worshipped by humans in the Babylon area in ancient times. Since the actual gods also exist, the situation may have been similar to what existed in the Marvel Universe between the Eternals and the Olympians.

The “Babylonian Malthusians” live in a pocket dimension with Babylonian-like aesthetics and creatures. It may have been built using super-science. Or it may have been colonised after the Babylonian deities started weakening.

It is mentioned that the Amazons, the Atlanteans and the Martians all fought the “Babylonian Oans” at various points in the ancien past, and barely beat time back. The agenda of the ex-Oans then was openly one of carnage and conquest.

2/ Deities

These showed up in Sandman. One of them, Ishtar — with an “h” — reportedly committed suicide rather than continue to weaken and degenerate from lack of worship. Since she’s the best-known Babylonian divinity, one assumes that if she passed away the rest of the pantheon is also dead, or extremely weak.

Why the Babylonian deities suffered so mcuh from lack of worship, whereas other pantheons — such as the Norse — didn’t wasn’t unexplained.

From a comment made by a Japanese god, it is possible that the Babylonian deities did not manage to magically claim enough symbols in which people do believe. This strategy of associating oneself with icons, using unspecified means, can apparently keep gods more vital even if no-one knows about these new associations.

3/ Demons

Demonic creatures named after the Babylonian deities were encountered and defeated by Madame Xanadu when they plotted against Earth. They had or could assume appearances based on ancient Babylonian art.

Babylon System

There may exist ties between two or more of these three sets of Babylonians. The Malthusian Istar could sort-of-reincarnate into her descendants – as happened with Sala Nisaba. Perhaps the Babylonian deities left behind weak aspects of themselves that transmigrated into the Oans and could later transmigrate into humans.

Or maybe the gods degenerated into the demons. Or perhaps the three groups above are but echoes, and the real deities just moved on to distant dimensions.

Besides, ancient Babylonian myths are poorly documented due to lack of primary sources (what little exist is chiefly fragments). As a result, modern research could easily be conflating completely unrelated things under one series of divine names.

Unlike Ishtar (the deity), Istar (the Oan) does not present a rich sexual symbolism. Historically, Ishtar is chiefly the goddess of the power of female fertility and sexuality. She rules over birth and exhausts her numerous male lovers until they die.

Istar seems to just have the other half of Ishtar’s divine sphere — as the maiden of battle and lady of violence. Perhaps Ishtar was originally just a goddess of fertility, and acquired her warrior goddess aspect in Babylonian myth due to confusion with the alien warrior Istar.


Powers and Abilities

Sala is a competent and resourceful archaeologist-adventurer. She has considerable mental acumen – but no whip.

Her Istar form displayed superhuman agility, speed, strength and fighting ability. She also wielded an extraordinarily sharp scimitar. It seemed that she could meet any mortal fighter on at least equal martial terms, and was about as strong and durable as Spider-Man. The stubborn Lady of Battle is regenerative, and seems very difficult to kill.

She could also make an electrical detonation erupt from her magical weapons, but this seems to require exceptional effort.


History

Sala Nisaba is a Tunisian citizen, who finished her education in an American university. During art classes, she briefly met with American artist Kyle Rayner. Ms. Nisaba became a professor of archaeology, specialising in the Middle East.

Sala was highly driven in her quest to save endangered archaeological treasures. She never hesitated to embark on illegal digs or to conduct research in war zones and restricted areas. Along with her faithful aide Assan, she got into more than her share of trouble. But she always made it through.

After more than five years of research Sala, Assan and a British colleague located the mystical site of Kurnugi. The site was in a restricted zone on the Syrian frontier. Though they evaded patrols for a while, the three academics were eventually arrested and the British man killed.

Kurnugi the Hellmouth

In Babylonian myth, Kurnugi is the entrance to Hell. It feature prominently in the Ishtar myths as they were understood some years back. Kurnugi was closed off by the goddess when she waged war against Hell for having taken the body and soul of her husband. During this campaign Ishtar was assisted by Ninurta, bearer of a sacred ring.

This version of the myth is now believed to be incorrect, as researchers developed a better understanding of it. In the DC Universe the error likely is the product of the myth having two versions – one about the actual gods and one about the Oans.

The soldiers were then dispersed by Green Lantern, whom Sala immediately recognised as Kyle Rayner. Rayner could not explain what had just drawn him to Syria, but as Sala explored the site he soon had his answer.

Sala and Assan discovered an ancient sealed gate and Rayner recognised the Green Lantern symbol on the seal. This led Prof. Nisaba to correctly hypothesise that the mythological Ninurta had been a Green Lantern. Minutes later Sala, Assan and Kyle were attacked and captured by Gala demons sent by Pazuzu, the demonic lord of air. They were dragged into the Babylonian afterworld.

War in a Babylon

The beings they encountered there were the Oan version of the Babylonian gods. These recounted the tale of their arrival on Earth. They also told how a rift later appeared among their ranks, and how they murdered the cousin-husband of one of their own, Istar.

Armed with her sacred Ringstaff, and arming her mortal friend Ninurta with an early prototype of the Green Lantern ring, the vengeful Oan Istar locked her murderous people into a spirit plane.

The Lady of Heavens then drifted away to North Africa, living among mortals and taking a number of lovers. Likely using Oan genetic science, she made herself inter-fertile with humans and had a number of children. Among her descendants was Sala Nisaba, who despite being many generations removed from Istar held the highest amount of modified Oan genetic material.

Still trapped in another dimension, the Babylonian Oans schemed for millennia. While they could not get out, creatures like their servant Pazuzu (apparently a demon of non-Oan origin) could slip through the wards erected by Istar. He could thus reach Earth.

Imprisoned alien blood gods seek vengeance !

Over the centuries Pazuzu and his ilk recovered many of the artifacts associated with Istar. These included her scimitar and even the Ringstaff. But that was in vain. Nobody but Istar could activate the Ringstaff. Furthermore, the wards could only be manipulated through both the Ringstaff and Green Lantern energies, such as those of Ninurta’s ring.

Istar fights fish-men under water

Thus did Pazuzu magically attract both Sala and Kyle at the right spot on the same day. The demon then kidnapped them and brought them in so they could be forced to break the locks. The Babylonian Oans forced Sala to touch the Ringstaff and turned her into Istar. They then used possession by minor demons to force Rayner to use the ring.

Although the door was opened, Rayner soon broke free from the possession. Furthermore, Istar (apparently a fusion of the original Istar and modern Sala) broke free thanks to the commotion caused by Rayner.

She fought off the other Babylonian Oans, giving Rayner time to free and evacuate Assan. Professor Nisaba then recovered Rayner’s ring, threw it to him and used the Ringstaff to close the underworld from the inside.

Now trapped on the same spirit plane as the rest, she went deeper into the underworld to throw the Babylonian Oans off her trail. Meanwhile Rayner flew Assan to safety, and swore he would came back with the JLA.

Fire on Babylon, part 1

Due to time distortion, Sala/Istar spent months — if not years — in Kurnugi by the time the JLA could intervene. On one hand, she was smart enough to learn how to survive, and knowledgeable enough to identify the creatures. On the other, improper nutrition and the constant assaults of creatures sent after her by the Oans weakened her.

Istar allied with the diminutive magician Bes and his vaguely gnome-like people. This occurred after they saved her from a giant river monster.

Meanwhile, Rayner had the gate to the Babylonian Hell opened by Doctor Fate. He, Superman, Batman, Aquaman and Wonder Woman went in. They eventually found Sala. But she considered she now was responsible for Istar’s legacy and refused to leave Hell without having defeated Nergal and his ilk.

Initially, the JLA hesitated to get involved in local politics. But they, Istar, Bes and the gnomes were assaulted by Nergal, his armies and his monsters. During the clash, Superman had to destroy the Ringstaff – the one known mean to return to Earth.

Fire on Babylon, part 2

Bes then took the Leaguers and Istar on a trek in the mountains, to investigate possible means to return to Earth. Istar supported the plan. She wished to briefly return to Earth so she could come back with modern weapons and medical supplies to equip the gnomes.

In the mountains, the adventurers found Anu. Anu told them how to power a transdimensional  ritual using local mystical artifacts. Istar and Leaguers went on quests, and all succeeded in securing the relics. Eventually, the gate was opened and the evil Babylonian Malthusians were destroyed.

Sala decided to return to Earth after all.

Gatekeeper no more

It is likely that she has continued to operate as a warrior and heroine in the Middle East.

To our knowledge she was only seen once since, when a vast force of mystics was assembled in Gotham. Their goal was to take out the Sins (aka the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man) and reconstruct the shattered Rock of Eternity. She was listed as “Sala” rather than “Istar”, likely due to a continuity mistake.

As the Deadly Sins rampaged, Istar was possessed by Greed and pillaged jewellery stores. But Nightshade (Eve Eden) of the Shadowpact soon exorcised her.


Description

Sala’s usual baseball cap has an Amnesty International  logo on the front. It helps hold her huge queue.

Even in her mortal form, the beautiful Professor Nisaba sports an heroic figure.


Personality

Sala is headstrong, observant, courageous and clear-thinking. She has a good sense of humour and is quite vivacious, but is utterly dedicated to saving archaeological artifacts and knowledge. In many ways she is akin to Indiana Jones, and her first name may be a minor reference to Indiana Jones’ friend Sallah in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Istar seems to be a fierce and heroic warrior, fighting evil and protecting innocents. She stated that she was “mostly” Sala, though the balance between her and her ancestor’s heritage is unknown.

As time went by, she became more warlike and felt increasingly responsible for putting an end to the menace of her “fellow gods”. This was apparently a result of her two halves integrating. She had no inhibition against killing. But she seems to have little compunction toward heroically sacrificing herself either, being very goals-oriented.

During her appearances, Kyle was attracted to Sala and Sala seemed ready to reciprocate when they left for Earth. Since this never was mentioned again, we can surmise that Sala was perceptive enough to quickly dump Kyle.


Quotes

The Lady of Battle

Rayner: “Sala ?!”
Istar: “Yes — mostly ! Get to Assan ! I’ll hold them off !”

“I am Istar ! Goddess of battle ! Lady of death !” (ZZZAAK !)

“I have taken more than Istar’s name ! I have accepted her duties ! Her blood and power runs through me ! Even if I did not, I would have to help ! The people of Kurnugi need me.”

“Sidiri’s place – the ‘ale house at the world’s edge’. A curious aspect of the Mesopotamian theological system, but an aspect nonetheless. The gnomes sometimes chance coming here to provision themselves.”

“Never mind me ! Save the winged disk !”

Sala Nisaba

“I have been on many digs in my life, Jack, and seen many strange things.”

“No. Army or no, I am going in. I have not come this far to be turned back by a handful of uniformed bandits.”


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

Istar

Dex: 11 Str: 09 Bod: 07 Motivation: Responsibility
Int: 08 Wil: 06 Min: 12 Occupation: Warrior
Inf: 10 Aur: 08 Spi: 12 Resources {or Wealth}: 004
Init: 031 HP: 045

Powers:
Bomb: 12, Invulnerability: 10, Jumping: 02, Lightning: 15, Regeneration: 02, Running: 08, Sealed systems: 05, Swimming: 04

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • Both Lightning and Bomb are Minor Marginal and Fatiguing ; both likely require one of her signature artifacts.
  • Bomb has No Range, and inflicts electrical damage.
  • Lightning has Autofire.

Skills:
Acrobatics*: 11, Artist (Artist): 03, Medicine (First aid): 03, Scientist (Research): 05, Weaponry (Firearms): 03, Weaponry (melee)*: 11

Advantages:
Alter Ego (as Sala), Area Knowledge (Middle East), Attractive, Confidant (Assan, her Egyptian aide and probably a PhD student), Familiarity (Art history, Controllers lore, World history), Expertise (Archaeology, Middle-Eastern histories, Middle-Eastern mythologies), Iron Nerves, Language (A number of Arabics, Ancient Babylonian and probably several ancient Middle-Eastern languages), Lightning Reflexes, Scholar (Babylonian lore), Sharp Eye.

Connections:
An unrevealed American university (Low), Kyle Rayner (Low).

Drawbacks:
MIA toward Stubbornness, MIA toward Saving Archaeological Knowledge.

Equipment:

  • Sacred Scimitar [BODY 20, EV 05 (10 w/STR, 12w/Martial Artist), Sharpness (EV): 05, Limitation: Sharpness is only active for Istar or her descendants]
  • Sacred Ringstaff [BODY 06] – since destroyed.

Professor Nisaba

Dex: 03 Str: 02 Bod: 03 Motivation: This Belongs To A Museum !
Int: 06 Wil: 06 Min: 06 Occupation: Archaeologist
Inf: 06 Aur: 05 Spi: 07 Resources {or Wealth}: 004
Init: 020 HP: 045

Skills:
Acrobatics (Climbing): 03, Artist (Artist): 03, Medicine (First aid): 03, Scientist (Research): 05, Weaponry (Firearms): 03

Advantages:
Area Knowledge (Middle East), Confidant (Assan, her Egyptian aide and probably a PhD student), Familiarity (Art history, World history), Expertise (Archaeology, Middle-Eastern histories, Middle-Eastern mythologies), Language (Turkish, a number of Arabics, Ancient Babylonian and probably several ancient Middle-Eastern languages), Sharp Eye.

Connections:
An unrevealed American university (Low), Kyle Rayner (Low)

Drawbacks:
MIA toward Stubbornness, MIA toward Saving Archaeological Knowledge.

Equipment:
Sala usually packs a semi-automatic pistol and a hunting knife while in the field.

By Sébastien Andrivet

Source of Character: Planet DC and the JLA: Gatekeeper LS comics

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