By: Super Mark
Film-maker and comic book historian Michael Uslan had this to say about super-heroes: “The ancient gods of Greece and Rome and Egypt still exist, only today they wear spandex and capes.” I believe in the theory that comic books are essentially a modern-day mythology. If you really think about it, the two are not that far apart. They are gods among men, watching us from above from their satellite headquarters 13,000 miles from above the Earth in geo-synchronous orbit not unlike the Greek gods of Mount Olympus. And if we are to subscribe to this analogy, then “Justice” is the comic-book version of Homer’s Iliad.
“Justice” is a twelve-issue epic mini-series written by Jim Krueger, with art by Alex Ross and Doug Braithwhite, whose previous collaboration has produced “Earth-X” (which was basically Marvel’s answer to DC’s “Kingdom Come”, thus proving that awesomeness begets awesomeness. Call me biased, but I love Alex Ross. He is the greatest thing that has ever happened to comic books since the invention of the speech bubble. Not only is he unbelievably at what he does, but he loves what he’s doing; he’s the ultimate fanboy living the ultimate fanboy’s dream. This glorious fountain of human talent has helped produce wonderful like “Kingdom Come”, “Marvels” and “Uncle Sam,” along with countless other covers that have had the good fortune to be blessed by his awe-inspiring brush-strokes.
I would be remiss, however, not to include Doug Braithwaite in my praises. Braithwaite draws the outlines for Ross to paint over. Like I said, this is not the first time these two have collaborated, having worked together in Marvel’s “Earth X” series. Thus, the two prove that it is possible to improve on perfection.
“Justice” does not take place in the mainstream continuity of DC Comics, but rather works as a stand-alone story that fits right in our collective consciousness of what the DC Universe is all about. Whether you read every comic book you can set your eyes on while you’re at the local comic book shop, or if you watched every episode of Super-Friends when you were a kid, then “Justice” is for you. In fact, it’s every bit as epic as “Crisis on Infinite Earths” or “Challenge of the Super-Friends” ever was, if not even more so.
Although the Justice League and the Legion of Doom take a starring role in this story, there are even guest appearances by the Teen Titans, the Metal Men, Doom Patrol, the Green Lantern Corps, and even the Legion of Super-Heroes. Essentially, it’s starring everybody, guest-starring everybody else, and with special guest appearances by everybody else I forgot to mention.
The story is sandwiched between two sides of a heated debate, if you will. On one side, you have the villains, and on the other you have the heroes. Not only do they illustrate what motivates the characters, they both set the stage for the story and wrap things up quite nicely.
The villains’ perspective is shown first in the prologue, by who I assume to be Lex Luthor, because the argument is very Darwinist; that and it seems to be directed specifically at Superman. If it isn’t Luthor, then it damn well should be, because Luthor is a self-titled humanitarian, constantly boasting that he could have cured cancer if he weren’t so obsessed with destroying Superman.
Earth’s destruction, which Superman, Batman, and the rest of the Justice League are powerless to stop. One of my favourite scenes is Superman flying away as the Earth explodes, tears streaming down his face as he finds himself the sole survivor of yet another doomed planet. Even though Armageddon turns out to be just a prophetic dream, it’s rather compelling to see that if anything truly catastrophic were to happen to the planet, he’d be the only one left alive. This adds a tragic side to the Last Son of Krypton that I hadn’t fully considered before.
The prophetic dream of Armageddon is never explained in the course of the story. Whatever it may be, it is the driving force of the Legion of Doom as they combine their forces to … help people? Captain Cold creates an oasis in the middle of the desert from his freeze gun, Poison Ivy uses her manipulation of plants to provide food for a city, and Toyman creates prosthetic limbs for unfortunate children amputees. The greatest criminal masterminds of our time appear to be acting in concert to achieve more good than the JLA ever could.
Of course, you know from the beginning that they’re up to no good. While the Legion of Doom wins the hearts of world, beneath the surface is a spider web of plotting, deceit, and betrayal. Their true intentions are revealed when they execute synchronized attacks against all the heroes. This reminded me of the Godfather, insofar as the villains publically keep up a legitimate pretence while they do terrible things from behind the curtains. With their secret identities revealed, the Justice League is caught completely unawares. You actually feel that the danger posed to them is real, and you’re left genuinely wonder how they’re going to get out of this one. What really strikes this point home is how the super-villains are portrayed. Throughout the ages these characters have been portrayed in various different fashions, but here they are at their most disturbing, fearsome, and intimidating.
I was very appreciative of the fact that it took no less than four super-villains to bring down Superman. Whereas most of the Leaguers were assailed by one or two of their individual nemeses, it took the combine powers of Bizarro, Solomon Grundy, Parasite and Metallo to subdue the Man of Steel. He is essentially the tank of the Justice League, and the Legion of Doom have sent their tanks after him.
Of course, we’re only one-third of the way into the story by this point, so you know that they have to survive this attack somehow. In the second act, the Justice League are rescued by their reserve members, shining a well-deserves spotlight on characters like Zatanna, Metamorpho, the Metal Men, and Doom Patrol. Chief among these is Captain Marvel, a personal favourite of Alex Ross, who rescues Superman and proves himself to be every ounce as awesome of a superhero as the Man of Steel.
Despite everything that’s happened to them (their secret identities revealed, their loved ones in mortal danger, their base of operations blown to smithereens, and their trusted allies turned against them due to a mind-controlling Nano virus; it’s pretty bad) the Justice League regroups and formulates a plan to beat the Legion of Doom at their own game. To this end, the heroes gear up in spectacularly designed suits of armour that have never been seen before in previous media. This was incredibly thrilling for me to see. Not only was “Justice” serving up to the mythology of the characters, but it was adding something completely new and forever memorable to it.
It was incredibly fun to see the Justice League turn the tables around and outsmart the Legion of Doom. My favourite example of this is Superman wearing the Metal Man Lead as a suit of body armour, complete with a giant “S” on his chest. During battle, a frustrated Parasite tears the Kryptonite from Metallo’s chest and tears Superman’s armour from his body … only to discover that the man inside the armour isn’t Superman at all, but Captain Marvel.
Aside from working superbly as a team, each member of the Justice League has their own chance to shine individually. Superman flies into the sun to purge the Nano virus from his body. Batman, using Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth to keep the mind-controlling virus at bay, brutally interrogates Captain Cold; and considering he can’t lie due to the lasso, you know he’s not bluffing. Captain Marvel rescues the Man of Steel from the brutal trashing mentioned earlier. Green Lantern gets into a bare-fisted brawl with Sinestro after their ring charges are depleted. The Flash gives Captain Cold a sound beating. Aquaman makes the Black Manta face his own hypocrisy. The Atom shrinks to a sub-molecular level and punches Giganta in the eye.
Luthor and the rest of the Legion of Doom posed some serious questions in the first two volumes. After the dust has cleared and the world is safe once again, in the end have the villains been proven wrong? It’s hard to say that we have been given a straight answer, but maybe the answer is meant to be elusive.
Batman gives his altruistic counter-argument in the conclusion. And who better to offer the counter-argument than the Dark Knight? He says this: “Perhaps there exists a possible benefit when hardship is also accepted as part of human life.”
Essentially all the heroes have been forged in the fires of hardship and adversity. Superman is the sole survivor of his people, as is the Martian Manhunter. Without the deaths of Bruce Wayne’s parents, there would have been no Batman. Wonder Woman’s amazon sisters were slaves before they established Paradise Island as their home. Green Lantern gained his ring from the death of Abin Sur, and the Flash received his powers from a freak accident. Despite these tragedies, or indeed because of them, they still manage to rise above it, and they come back with the strength and will to make a difference. Ultimately, Lex Luthor is missing the point. As heroes, they do not save us the trouble to face adversity, but rather they inspire us.
This book is an absolute must-read for anyone who’s into super-heroes.