Today, Patrick and (guest writer) Reid are discussing Justice League 42, originally released July 15th, 2015.
Patrick: Justice League 42 is all about gods – who are gods, who are not gods, who can defy gods, who can become gods, whose godliness can be taken away. But that’s the real difference between a ‘god’ and a ‘superhero?’ Is it physical abilities? Do our gods need to be able to destroy worlds? Do we need our gods to present pure morality? Do we just need to feel that our gods are in control and have a plan? Or maybe gods just need to come from an established pantheon? Whatever other qualities you want to ascribe to gods, I think the most important idea is that they matter in a way that mere humans don’t. Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok’s “Darkseid War” zeroes in a conflict so big and so “important” that we need to check in on the godliness of every hero and every villain.
This issue is so focused on the idea of gods that this is the first panel:
No image to accompany those words – just “the gods are coming.” There’s no indication who the speaker is, nor is there any hint of who might be hearing this statement. Most intriguingly, there’s also no way of knowing who the comment is referring to. The rest of this page (and the next page, which is also the title page), suggest that maybe we’re talking about Superman and Lex Luthor. They have just arrived on Apokolips and will almost certainly have to work together in order to survive the ordeal. But that’s not the story of this issue – in fact, except for these first two pages, we don’t see either of those characters again.
Which means that much of the middle of the issue is given over to characters that are already established “gods,” or “new gods” as the case may be. It’s like the barrier for participation in this story is godliness, and all of the gods know it. Darkseid is insistent that Superman is not a god, and our POV character from the Justice League is Wonder Woman, the God of War. And Diana even points out in her narration that she’s fought gods before, and identifies the Anti-Monitor as a god when he enters the fray.
I’m a pretty big fan of the Anti-Monitor – there’s nothing quite so editorially reckless as a character that can devour universes. But he also represents authorial power, with the ability to physically make and unmake worlds on the same scale as the writer of the story himself. I love that, while Diana calls him a god, Darkseid specifies that the Anti-Monitor is an “anti-god.” Now, is that cutesie wordplay or is Darkseid identifying a specific quality in Anti-Monitor that somehow prevents him from being labeled a “god.” I think that’s where our questions about what a god is become most important. All the other gods we meet have carefully crafted origin stories – even the newest god-character: Grail.
There’s actually a healthy chunk of this issue given over to fleshing out and legitimizing Grail’s lineage. Her mother his Myrina Black, an Amazon Warrior with a very specific quest to save humanity. Johns can get kinda wordy when he delves into origin stories — and this issue is no exception — but the depth of her character is also explored deftly by Fabok’s attention to detail in Black’s trophy room.
There’s some pretty normal stuff in here, like the suits of armor and the piles of god, but there are also details that suggest a much richer history for the character. What’s the stuffed leopard doing in the corner? How about those giant skeletons (one of which appears to only have one eye)? Or the motherfucking tank? She’s even got some trophies that seem like they’re write out the Batman playbook: that icy-looking tube that may or may not be holding one of her enemies and the glass display case that holds a superhero uniform would both be totally at home in the Batcave. This is also where Black explains that Grail exists with the expressed goal of siccing the Anti-Monitor on Darkseid. In one scene, Johns establishes Grail’s history and purpose.
The parallels between Black’s lair and the Batcave prove to be doubly relevant by the end of the issue, when Batman sits on Mobius’ throne and ascends to godhood himself. This is such a weird development for Batman, but it seems like Johns is simply fulfilling the base requirements for making Batman part of this story. He needs to be a god.
It’s worth pointing out that this is the last line in the issue, so both the first at the last lines of dialogue are making statements about gods. It’s thematically tight in a way I don’t always expect Johns writing to be.
Reid, how do you feel about Batman becoming an omniscient god? Do you think Johns is just trolling the audience with Bruce’s realization about the Joker’s identity or does he really have something there? Do you think we need to see the rest of the League embrace their godliness or are they close enough?
Reid: There is something kind of fascinating about Batman’s transformation to god. He has always been a mythic character — he exists among the gods, so-called and actual — of the Justice League. He has more than earned his place on a team with the enormously vast power sets of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern and that already elevates him above the “average” humans he is meant to represent.
What strikes me about Batman’s sudden ascension to godhood is that I think it is Johns’ treatise on what makes one a god as opposed to merely “super.” By seizing control of the Mobius Chair, Batman didn’t just become powerful or even more intelligent: he gained all of the knowledge. Ever. In essence, he has become knowledge itself, just as Diana has become War, or how the Anti-Monitor has become the Destroyer.
As for the contents of that knowledge, I’m hoping that the Joker tease remains just that. To be clear, I absolutely believe that Bruce has learned the truth, but as a reader I don’t ever want that same knowledge. But even without revealing it to the reader, what that revelation represents to Batman, to this arc, and to the mythology in general is incredibly powerful, and I think it’s the first step towards the other Leaguers having to contend with godhood themselves.
I’m still wrapping my head around all of the specifics, but I think you were right, Patrick, to suggest that Johns wants us to really consider the meaning of godhood within the world of superheroes, and I suspect that Batman may not be the last to have to contend with that balance. The story thus far has been incredibly Wonder Woman focused – a character who has been struggling with this dichotomy for some time. It would make sense for Lex, Green Lantern, and other human heroes to undergo similar transformations.
Overall, I really enjoyed this issue. The entire “Darkseid War” arc has been fast-paced, mythologically rich, and Fabok’s art manages to keep time with Johns’ runaway train of a script. In particular, his depiction of Wonder Woman is among the best I’ve seen, showcasing her strength, her resolve, and her deep concern that she must keep fighting despite being obviously outmatched. For an arc exploring such broad concepts and with such a vast cast of characters, it’s incredible how both Johns and Fabok have managed to make this a very personal story. From Grail to Myrina Black to Mister Miracle to Wonder Woman and beyond, this issue manages to give us the best of both worlds – it’s truly a thrilling read.
Some stray thoughts as I wrap up: I am incredibly curious about the Anti-Monitor’s past as Mobius, how it relates to the Chair (and by extension, Metron and now Batman), as well as how that status quo changed. I am wondering if Johns tight writing (which Patrick already referenced) will extend to incorporating Darkseid into this new, “forbidden” chapter of the Anti-Monitor’s mythos.
Reid is a Canadian writer and comics blogger with a deep love and history with DC Comics. He is the Editor and Lead Writer of Modern Mythologies.
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