Justice League 38

justice league 38

Today, Michael and Patrick are discussing Justice League 38, originally released January 21st, 2015.

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Michael: No one is 100% honest 100% of the time. We often present each other with “versions of the truth.” In Star Wars, Obi-Wan Kenobi told Luke Skywalker that Darth Vader had murdered his father. After Luke figured out that Vader was the daddy, Obi-Wan justified his actions as telling the truth “from a certain point of view.” People withhold information from one another for a lot of reasons, but typically it’s to protect someone else or to protect yourself.

Justice League 38 sees the third chapter in the “Amazo Virus” arc from Geoff Johns and new League artist Jason Fabok. Following up from last month, Batman has been infected with the virus during the battle with “Patient Zero.” Since Bats is the resident “normal guy” on the team, the virus infects him first by giving him super powers; specifically super-powered-echo-location. Batman surmises that he has manifested his subconscious desire to “become a bat.” I’d say he’s more of a suped-up Daredevil. Meanwhile, another C-list villain comes after Lex Luthor for the price on his head but is “stopped cold” by the Captain. (I’m sorry Patrick. No I’m not.) Luthor is still in the dark as to who specifically wants him killed and he reveals that Superman’s blood may be the cure for the virus. “I exposed you to the Amazo virus years ago.” At the height of the tension, Batman and the other infected Leaguers attack, revealing the virus to be sentient and controlling them all.

Yes Father, I will become a Black Canary

I really love the idea of Luthor on the League; I was on board with it from the get-go. Just like Batman, Luthor’s a guy whose secrets have secrets. He’s like The President of The United States (and pre-New 52, he was), there are so many things he’s not telling you in order to protect you. At least, that’s what he would claim. This arc has been advertised as Lex’s past coming back to haunt him. While it is clearly far deadlier, the Amazo virus outbreak could be equated to something like the recent Sony hacks, for Lex Luthor at least. All of Luthor’s dirty laundry is being aired, and so far he’s having a hell of a time working damage control for both his image and the city of Metropolis.

Luthor withholding the fact that he exposed Superman to the virus years ago is an act of self-preservation. Though he’s completely aware that Superman’s blood may be the only thing that can stop the Amazo virus, Luthor does not want to reveal more of his past dirty deeds than he has to. Superman’s blood-as-a-cure is Lex’s last card to play, and he’s desperate to find any other way besides it. Now that Superman knows the truth however, a whole other can of worms will be opened for Lex. “How did Lex expose Superman to the virus? When? Was he ever going to reveal this? Can the League trust him even remotely?”

I believe that at the end of the day, Luthor does indeed want to be a hero. The only problem is that his ego will always be bigger than his conscience. He wants the glory of heroism, and when he fails he takes it extremely personally and doesn’t want anyone to know about his failures. Take for instance, his sister Lena. He couldn’t cure her and make her walk again, so he basically shut her in like a modern day Rapunzel. That’s another way to look at Lex’s secret about exposing Superman to the virus: a failure. “I failed at destroying Superman AGAIN.” He doesn’t want the world to see the chinks in his armor.

Lex and Lena

The issue then ends with what seems to be an emerging collective consciousness of the Amazon Virus. My guess is that we’ll figure out the reason why when we find out the exact origins for how Lex created the virus itself. The last page has the reveal of the infected League members under the control of the virus. (Which visually gave me flashbacks to Blackest Night.) My fear is that the next issue will be less answers and more of a cliched mind-controlled superhero slap fest.

Jason Fabok is a great inheritor of the Justice League artwork. There are so many moments in this issue where I was seeing an impressive blend of the stylings of past artists Jim Lee and Ivan Reis, with a little Andy Kubert in there too. The man draws some great Batman action scenes. My only complaint might be with the depiction of Wonder Woman. It’s more of a complaint about her New 52 style, but she’s so drab with her muted blacks and blues.I want some color in my Wonder Woman!

With that I’ll hand it off to Patrick. Patrick do you agree that Lex wants to lock away his failures in a tall tower? Any thoughts on the sentience of the Amazo Virus? Also I’m pretty sure that Justice League is the only book that currently depicts Aquaman with the shaggy surfer hair and mutton chops. What’s up with that?

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Patrick: Hey man, Geoff Johns likes insisting that his version of these characters is the only version of these characters and to hell with everything else! Aquaman’s appearance is a good indicator of this, but the whole “look out, Batman has powers now!” thread of this issue veers into territory that weirdly familiar for anyone reading the issue of Batman and Robin that came out on the same day. Evidently, no one looked at the big white board and said “hey, are we giving too many of the Bat-family powers and playing it for shock value?”

I’m not really sure what to make of the sentience of the Amazo virus – Johns is keeping those cards pretty close to chest. All we really get is a short monologue spread out over the infected Leaguers separated word-by-word, and it’s not even a particularly articulate monologue. Amazo (and I’m just going to start referring to the collective disease like it’s a single character named Amazo) closes out the issue with the following:

You are on odd species. We are us. You believe you are the dominant species. You are incorrect.

It’s some halting awkward language, with an emphasis on identity. Look how many personal pronouns Amazo uses. Amazo wants the heroes to know that it understands “you” and “us” (or “we” depending on where were are the in sentence – it’s a sentient monsters virus, but it understands grammar) better than the humans and meta-humans it’s possessing. I love letterer Carlos M. Mangual’s attention to detail here, stiltedly cordoning off bizarre sections of this monologue in separate speech balloons. I particularly like the way he isolates “you believe you,” creating a kind of self-referential logic that make Amazo seem like it’s the Borg or the Agents from The Matrix or something like that.

you believe you

That all of this will likely lead to — as Michael described it — a “mind-controlled superhero slap fest,” is a little underwhelming. Johns is not always known for thoughtful endings (unless he’s, like, ending-ending a decade-long narrative), but he is a master-mythology-craftsmen, and the history, development, and evolution of Amazo is still a card he has left to play. So, while I’ll be less excited to tune in next time for the punches, I’m confident there will be some juicy secret history stuff to sink my teeth into.

But that’s all next time. There was plenty of stuff to enjoy in this issue without having to look to the future. Johns has been setting up Captain Cold as the average-Joe-we-want-to-believe-in, but now he’s actually delivering on Cold’s abilities, and Fabok draws the character as a confident bad-ass.

looking good captain cold

 

I don’t know if that armor is just what Lex gave him to shield against Amazo, or what, but the added bulk gives the character so much more presence on the page. Johns seems to be trying to inject him with the same kind of swagger, to varying degrees of success. It’s a nonsense-idea, but I like Lenny being able to catch bullets caught in his “cold field” – that’s a fun, surprising concept, and as evidenced above, looks cool to boot. I’m less moved by Cold talking about how powerful ice is, citing the glaciers as evidence. That’s such a pointless comparison. Sure, glaciers did carve out lakes and canyons and countless geographical features, but like: who cares? They were able to do that because a) they were huge and b) the glaciers moved slowly, relentlessly grinding against the rock and earth they were slicing through. It’s like Cold saying “if there were a million of me and we never never never stopped attacking you, you’d be so dead!” Sick burn, I guess.

As for the beating heart of this issue — and most of the series for the last year or so — I still don’t totally have a bead on Lex Luthor. Michael chalks up his actions to pride and embarrassment, but it still feels to me like Lex is being dishonest or secretive for narrative convenience. His past and his present are necessarily at odds with each other because Johns thought it would be fun to put a bad guy on the team. The resultant friction can be sorta fun, but, you know, it strains credulity. And when you’re talking spacemen and sentient viruses, you really need the characters emotions to be as credible as possible.

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13 comments on “Justice League 38

  1. This is unrelated, but with no Futures End thread, this might be the best place to roll out my New 52 overall theory.

    DC is building from Futures End into a universe reshaping event called Convergence, wherein a giant-sized Brainiac/Brother Eye combination has stolen the secret location of Vanishing Point (a singularity where all time, space, and reality interconnect) and from Vanishing Point will be able to pit parallel DC realities against each other for his amusement. Sounds straightforward. I don’t think it is. I think it’s part of a secret plan built into the inception of the New 52 by Johns and Didio.

    Pandora appears to be at the core of all reality in Flashpoint #5, the moment the New 52 is born. She then appears hidden in one panel of each original New 52 #1.

    Brother Eye appears in OMAC #1, written by Didio, in the first month of New 52.

    A year later, in JLI Annual #1, Booster Gold vanishes from reality, and Brother Eye is referenced.

    In Trinity War, we learn that Pandora’s Box was not forged by Haephestus, but is itself a mystery to the Olympian gods. It seemingly appeared from nowhere long ago, when Zeus tricked pandora into opening it out of curiosity. It was found to be a doorway to Earth-3, the home of evil, and introduced the Seven Sins and the notion of evil into Earth-52’s past. This box appears to be a robotic skull with 3 eyes.

    In Futures End, we’re introduced to the enormous Brainiac/Brither Eye amalgam; He is enormous, robotic, and has 3 eyes.

    In Futures End: Booster Gold, we learn that Booster divulged the location of vanishing point to the new Brainiac-thing.

    Conclusion: Brainiac planted Pandora’s Box, a device of his own creation, in Earth-52 from Vanishing Point at some point forthcoming. Pandora, take some action from Vanishing Point during the climax of Convergence, redeeming herself, and altering the fabric of the universe once more, completing a ton of loose threads introduced as far back as Flashpoint 5.

    Eh? Eh? I don’t think it’s all coincidence. Particularly considering that the writer and editor mostly involved love the long game 🙂

    • There’s a lot of the DC uber-story that I’m not paying attention to at all these days – Futures End, Earth-2 and Worlds End are all just totally off my radar. I’m sorta surprised to see Pandora so wrapped up in where you think this is all going. For my money, I don’t think I’ve ever read a compelling Pandora story, which makes it incredibly hard for me to get interested in the idea of her redemption. BUT, I sure do like Vanishing Point, because that is some comicy-comicy bullshit and I love that.

      So, are you imagining that the New 52 closes off when we tie off Convergence?

      • Nah, I don’t think it’s closing off, but I think they’re gonna fold the best elements of post-Crisis, cartoons, and alternate worlds into the New 52 in a Zero Hour-like tweaking process that just refines the new universe. I expect to see post-Crisis JSA back for sure on a new Earth-2, what with the currently Earth-2 being destroyed.

      • Also, I’m probably way off on the Pandora thing… I just think it’s weird that she appeared at the core of reality (much like Vanishing Point) and that Pandora’s Box is a robotic skull with a third eye in the center of his forehead, when Brainiac uses robotic skull drones/spaceship and the Futures End Brainiac in Vanishing Point has a huge third eye in the center of his forehead. It seems very coincidental to me

        • Oh, also, I’m predicting Green Lantern will get a reboot; seems like it only survived New 52 intact so Johns could finish his run, and Venditti is saying things will be “very different” in GL after Convergence, so maybe either he or editorial requested a GL reboot to set them back in line with all the other non-Batman franchises.

  2. Also, a good guess as to what Pandora might so is to prevent the original planting of the box, creating a post-Convergence aspect to the universe of generally being less grim (which seems to have fallen out of favor with the internet)

  3. I think the story is moving a bit slow, but damn has Jason Fabok taken his art to a new level. I’ve liked his stuff since I first saw his Gothtopia issue of Detective Comics, but his Justice League work has been especially on point, and this issue was one jaw-dropping page after another. I mean, when I got to that page Michael posted of Batman blasting Patient Zero I think I literally felt my jaw unhinge. The scope, the effects, the detail — this is the best DC’s house style has looked in a while, and I don’t mean that as a backhanded compliment, I’m legitimately thrilled with the art on this book. Geoff scored huge by getting Fabok on this title.

    • Yeah, I agree. I also see it as downtime before the mandated start of Convergence in April, which Johns is using to give more characterization and interaction time to Luthor, and he won’t unload all his Darkseid War plans until we’re back from break.

  4. Ok, on the JL 38 analysis itself:

    First, I certainly wouldn’t call the shaggy Aquaman Johns’. In fact, throughout both the Johns/Reis Aquaman and JL runs it was that team who defined the current Aquaman look that everyone else uses. Here, Fabok is just weirdly reverting to Jim Lee’s “shaggy muttonchop” Aquaman from the first six issues of JL (which take place 5 years in the past, so it’s an inconsistent move). My guess? Jason Fabok just really loves Jim Lee a lot (who seems to have taken on cover duties again) and Ivan Reis not so much. My taste is entirely opposite that, but whatever.

    I also wouldn’t be too hard on Johns for awkward plot similarities to Tomasi. Johns plots way way way in advance (check out the time gap between the 4-page Jim Lee spread in New 52 Free Comic Book Day 1 by Jim Lee and the near identical spread by Reis in Trinity War part 6; Or Johns’ JLI Annual 1 now coming to fruition in Futures End/Convergence), whereas Tomasi seemed to be placing Carrie Kelley into position as Robin, only to drop her like a bad habit when editorial okayed a Damian resurrection within the past year. I can’t see Johns dropping a presumably outlined-in-advance plot to cater to a last minute editorial decision in a book with a smaller reader base.

    Also, I don’t so much considet Johns as putting bad guys on a good guy team as much as challenging the notion of what a good guy is: Are things really that black and white? He’s often gone out of his way to make characters like Black Adam, Sinestro, or Captain Cold relatable, sympathetic, or situationally an ally. In general, if Luthor decides to do goid but for egotistical recognition, is he not still doing good? If a big company donates to charity for the betterment of their public image, would we really prefer that they help out for the right reasons or not at all? I think the recipients of the charity would entirely disagree.

    • Was the first arc of Aquaman in that “5 years earlier” time frame? I thought the flashbacks to The Others (aka, the period during which Arthur never wore a shirt) were his New 52 past. The trench was present-day, if I recall correctly. Also, I really have no idea what Aquaman is being drawn like anywhere else right now (haven’t read his solo since that Swamp Thing sorta-cross over).

      You know, it’s always weird how certain themes seem to pop in cycles. I was close to mentioning this in the write-up, but the way Amazo speaks looks and feels almost exactly the same as how the Symbiote speaks in the most recent issue of Guardians of the Galaxy (also out this last week). Those are different publishing houses, so I can chalk it up to weird coincidence, and ultimately, I’m not really looking to blame someone. But I also can’t help but notice the similarities between “Batman with powers” and “Damian with powers.”

      Yeah, but come on – Cold, Black Adam, Sinestro and Lex Luthor are bad guys. They can certainly be motivated to do good things, sure, but like, they’re criminals, thieves and murderers — and not even repentant.

      • The Trench arc in Aquaman was current, but I don’t remember him having the sideburns then. I’ll have to go back and look. I remembered that being the same design that Reis used later in his Justice League issues.

        And that is true about each of those characters all being villains to this point, but Luthor has never successfully killed Superman; Yet, he did successfully save his life. He was granted a pardon by the government, therefore having actually paid his debt to society. I think, thematically, there’s a real opportunity for Luthor to put on a white hat. Of course, in the long run, he’ll revert… he IS Lex Luthor after all. But, I expect Johns to play him as hero much longer than most expect (See: Superman/Wonder Woman shipping plot)

        • It would be before… The Trench is his first encounter with then in the Marianna, and then The Trench is used against him during Throne Of Atlantis. But they’re both within the “present” timeframe of the New 52, Aquaman Vol. 1 was just published before Throne Of Atlantis. Whereas the Jim Lee shaggy Aquaman that Fabok is weirdly reverting to was from a “5 years earlier” storyline

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