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