Today, Scott and Shelby are discussing Justice League 20, originally released May 22, 2013. This issue is part of the Trinity War crossover event. Click here for our complete Trinity War coverage.
Scott: What is the greatest threat to the Justice League? For a group with the power to make neutralizing powerful villains and preventing catastrophic events seem routine, maybe they should be looking at one another as possible threats. It’s hard for the Justice Leaguers to believe that one of their friends could let power get to his or her head or, worse yet, actively be working against them, but that’s a reality they must face. Justice League 20 explores different types of threats to the Justice League, those present, pending, and merely theoretical.
Despero has infiltrated the watchtower and is looking for revenge on the Justice League. Unfortunately, all he finds are the new recruits- Element Woman, Atom, and Firestorm- who, while overmatched, get an assist from Martian Manhunter. MM literally blows Despero’s mind and then disappears, leaving the Watchtower hurtling towards a crash. Superman saves the day, but is crippled by the kryptonite ring on Despero’s finger- the same one stolen from the Batcave. Batman shows Superman to the secret room in his Batcave, and shows him Wonder Woman’s empty box- she has no kryptonite, only Superman can stop her if she crosses the line. Batman also has a plan for stopping himself, although maybe he should be more concerned with Atom, who, as it turns out, is actually a mole for the Justice League of America.
Geoff Johns packs a ton into these pages, and I’m glad to see that he’s giving about equal time to new and old Justice Leaguers. Element Woman and Firestorm each get their moments, but Atom, who serves as narrator through much of the issue, is the star. I’m impressed by how quickly Johns was able to turn Atom into such a sympathetic character. She reveals early on that she has a secret, and it turns out to be a dirty one- she’s spying on the Justice League for the JLA. She doesn’t want to get caught- and here she’s given the unenviable task of keeping her secrets hidden from the telepathy of Despero and Martian Manhunter- but she truly feels bad about what she’s doing after being around the Justice League and seeing how nice they are. The JLA won’t let her quit, so to clear her conscience she may need to come clean to the Justice League, which could make some of their “niceness” go away. This is all a prelude to the Trinity War, and it will be interesting to see who Atom aligns herself with in the coming issues.
Regardless of what you thought about the rest of the issue, you had to get a kick out of the few pages of sheer badassery displayed by Martian Manhunter, nestled into the middle of the issue. Firestorm had just finished explaining how the Justice League, with Martian Manhunter, had only barely been able to defeat Despero. It must have perked up Manhunter’s ears, er…gills? You see, last time they met, Manhunter was limited by the Justice League’s rules, but now, he’s free to mess with Despero’s mind as much as he wants. Which is, apparently, a lot.
What makes it even better is that Manhunter leaves immediately after destroying Despero. He doesn’t even want any credit, this is just a fun afternoon for him. While I enjoyed Manhunter’s appearance, the art during this section, as you’ll notice, looks completely different than the rest of the issue. The discrepancy can likely be attributed to the fact that three different pencillers- Gene Ha, Andres Guinaldo and Joe Prada- shared duties this month. I didn’t find the artistic inconsistency to be a distraction, but it is clearly noticeable when flipping through the pages of this book.
We already knew about the secret boxes Batman keeps hidden away in the Batcave, but I like how Johns revisits them to illustrate a fundamental difference in the way Batman and Superman approach the Justice League, and really, their everyday lives. Superman is shocked to see what Batman has stored, and it is pretty dark to think about the best way to potentially kill each of your friends, but it’s a necessary precaution for Batman. Superman doesn’t have to think this way because he’s the most powerful being on Earth. He doesn’t need to prepare for the worst or even plan for anything at all, he can just fly up and save a falling Watchtower at a moments notice.
So Shelby, any guesses as to what Batman put in his own box? I can’t figure out why Superman would need any special tools to stop Batman. Couldn’t he just make sure Batman isn’t wearing the kryptonite ring and then just tackle him. Apparently that’s the plan for stopping Wonder Woman. And how theatrical is it of Batman to make a Wonder Woman box if he knows there’s nothing to put inside it? Clearly he just did it so he could see the confused look on Supes face when he opened the box.
Also, what were your thought about the penultimate chapter of Shazam? Do you keep expecting Shaq to show up, or is that just me?
Shelby: Is it weird that my immediate reaction to Bruce’s box was, “Oh, he’s got a gun in there.” Like if Bruce somehow gets out of line, Superman is just gonna bust a cap in his ass instead of freezing him solid or sitting on him until he calms down. Actually, the one thing I can think of that Superman could use to casually disable Batman is his identity; maybe it’s just a picture of Batman sans cowl. The only reason he gives it to Superman is that he’s the one Bruce trusts the most to use his identity against him as a last resort only. As interesting an idea as it is that Wonder Woman really is invincible, I find I’m more interested in ridiculous speculations of what is in the other boxes. Does Aquaman’s have a fishhook? Does Flash’s have a huge joint to slow him down? Maybe Cyborg’s has a non-compatible power cord.
Things start to get a little tricky once you get the Martian Manhunter involved. He’s physically more powerful as Superman, is one of if not the most powerful telepaths the DCU has, and as far as I know his only weakness is Oreos. He also seemingly no longer has the moral compass he used to, and will use his powers however he sees fit; Johns has shaped him into a juggernaut, one I have a hard time believing can be stopped. At first I wondered how Atom could be a mole for the JLA without J’onn figuring it out. Then I thought maybe he did figure it out, which is why he went to the Watchtower; he knew he needed to keep Despero from reading Atom’s mind so her secret could stay under wraps. That begs the question, though; doesn’t J’onn just know everything? All of Amanda Waller’s scheming, all of Bruce’s useless attempts to … wait. Could it be that J’onn stole the kryptonite, gave it to Despero, and then stopped Despero? Is J’onn the puppet master manipulating The Justice Leagues Three into the Trinity War?
Despite my speculative imagination running wild, I find I am suffering from Johns fatigue. After a (in my opinion) somewhat lackluster conclusion to his run on Green Lantern, I feel Johns and I just need to take a break. His grand, sweeping, epic crossovers exhaust me, and the Trinity War has been bubbling on the back burner since Free Comic Book day last year. Even though the pieces are falling into place and the players finally taking the stage, I am having a really hard time mustering up the energy for it. Another reason for my apathy towards this event is I still don’t really feel any connection to the members of the Justice League. We talked to death the fact that this title has been an exercise in how teams fail, and for me the lasting effects are still there. I have a bigger soft spot for Element Woman, and that is largely due to a guest appearance in Sandman, though her getting a fish sandwich for Arthur is pretty adorable. As to the forthcoming conclusion to Shazam!, I’ll be sad to see it go. It’s been my favorite part of reading this title since it started. Hopefully, Billy will figure out a way to share his magic to jumpstart the rest of the Marvel — er, Shazam family. That would be a really fun way to wrap things up, and an easy way to lead into a Shazam! title, though I’ve heard no whisperings of such a thing. As the only representative of the magic that made the Trinity of Sin in the first place, I’m sure Billy will have an important role to play in the war to come. Maybe he’ll end up on Justice League Dark; oh man, Constantine would hate that.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?