by Spencer Irwin and Michael DeLaney
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Spencer: No two people experience the same piece of media the same way. That’s actually the entire foundation of what we do here at Retcon Punch — we exist to examine the different ways our various writers interpret weekly comic books. Two books released by DC this week dive into this theme as well — Adventures of the Super Sons 2 explores how the same stories led two members of the Gang down very different life paths, while Justice League 7 finds three very different people reacting to some harsh truths about the universe in very different ways. Both drive home the same point: our natures and preconceived notions often have as much to do with how we interpret media as the actual media itself does, for better or for worse, no matter what the creators’ original intent may be.
Adventures of the Super Sons has, from the very beginning, revolved around the power of stories — after all, the entire series has been framed as a story being told by a grandfather to his grandchildren. Issue 2 specifically zooms in on the origin of the Gang, framing them as latchkey kids essentially raised by television, specifically by tales of Earth’s heroes.
There’s probably a cautionary tale to be told here about relying too much on media to educate and guide our children, but Peter Tomasi and Carlo Barberi don’t learn too hard into it. In fact, Joker Jr. later says that their entire culture is designed to celebrate Earth and its heroes — for whatever reason, Rex Luthor just doesn’t see it that way.
Tomasi never elaborates on why, because there really isn’t a why. Maybe Rex just likes an underdog. Maybe he too feels ostracized for his intelligence, as Lex did. Maybe he was just born rotten. Ultimately, all that matters is that what Rex took away from the adventures of Superman was that Lex Luthor was right.
While there’s two flashbacks to the Gang’s youth on the Cygnus System in this issue, one told from Rex’s point of view and one from Joker Jr’s, Barberi, interestingly enough, approaches them both from the same angle. He doesn’t treat either as more “real” or “fake” than the other — both are indistinguishable from not only each other, but also the rest of the issue. We know Rex is in the wrong, but his reading feels as valid to him as any truth.
This plot is interesting to me because we currently live in a world where media is, rightfully, coming under more scrutiny for promoting harmful messages, but also where many perfectly harmless properties are being overtaken by toxic fans who seem to completely misinterpret their message — just look at anything from My Little Pony to Rick and Morty to Star Wars. While Retcon Punch may celebrate the many different ways one can interpret art, Super Sons 2 reminds us that sometimes a story can do everything right, and still be interpreted in repellent ways. It’s a danger inherent to the process of creation.
In Justice League 7, meanwhile, Scott Snyder and Jim Cheung take “creation” literally, giving Vandal Savage, Lex Luthor, and the Flash all glimpses into the Totality and the blueprints to all creation contained within. Each initially comes to the same conclusion — that there’s something cruel and rotten inherent to the creation of the universe and the Totality’s plans for it — but these facts eventually lead each man to take wildly different actions. Savage tries to hide the truth of the Totality from his tribe, his desire to protect them eventually twisting into a desire to rule. Luthor embraces the Totality’s darkness, deciding that “doom” is the only logical, natural direction for mankind.
The Flash, though, is a much more hopeful, honest, and open person. He shares what he learned with his friends, because that kind of knowledge is a burden that should not be bore alone, and together they come to the conclusion that, even if the universe and all of mankind are meant to be dark and twisted, even if they’re standing in the way of the natural order of things, they’ll continue to stand for the ideas of justice, peace, and freedom, because that’s just who they are.
In real life, none of us have seen into a Totality and glimpsed the blueprints of the universe; what we learn about life and mankind and the world we learn through our experiences, and those experiences lead us all to many different conclusions. I can understand why many think that life is suffering, and that the universe is cruel, but I also agree with the Justice League; if that’s the truth, than it’s a truth I’ll fight against with everything I have.
What both Justice League 7 and Adventures of the Super Sons 2 ultimately have in common is that they’re all about the “death of the author.” Sure, the Totality wanted the universe to be a dark and predatory place, but that doesn’t mean the Justice League has to accept that. Sure, the stories of Earth’s heroes are about goodness and hope conquering all, but Rex Luthor sure saw them differently. For better or for worse, we bring as much to the media we consume as the creators themselves do, and once that work leaves its creators’ hands, it’s up to us to find meaning in them; sometimes that can be divine, sometimes it can be horrifying. I think what this truly drives home is the importance of critical thinking and empathy, together in concert. Learning to analyze media is a skill that carries over directly to real life, but if that savvy isn’t tempered and balanced by empathy and kindness, it could end up more dangerous than helpful.
Michael! Given the themes I’ve been discussing, I’m eager to hear your take on these two issues. What did you get out of them?
Michael: Spencer, I think that we are coming at this from the same place, at least as far as Adventures of the Super Sons is concerned. My major takeaway from Adventures of the Super Sons 2 was that notion of toxic fandom, with a little bit of hero worship added in for good measure. Despite growing up on Cygnus, where Earth’s heroes are lauded as ideal champions and role models, Rex Luthor instead focuses on the villains of Earth, modeling his entire reality off of Lex and his cohorts.
Not only do you have the deviation of Rex fixating on the villains, but you have him take his hero worship a step further by acting on that infatuation by remodeling himself and his “friends” after them. As far as we know Rex’s fellow Cygnans haven’t taken it upon themselves to literally become the Justice League. He’s cosplaying for evil!
Spencer already posted this image above, but what struck me most about Rex’s villainy was how intent he was on making Joker Jr. a credible Joker — IE completely insane. JJ explains to Robin how Rex killed his parents to make him go mad — his own personal Killing Joke, if you will. And while Rex may not have succeeded in making an evil, insane mini Joker, he did make one that is just as unpredictable. I’m of the mind that you can never trust the Joker in a team setting, which is true here, as JJ is the one that ultimately helps our Super Sons.
If I see a link between The Adventures of the Super Sons 2 and Justice League 7, I suppose it would be that both orbit the age-old philosophical debate of “is man (the universe) good or evil?” Rex Luthor would argue that evil is the ruling force in the universe, as he was inspired to craft an entirely new identity around the concept. Add to that the anguish that he puts JJ through, as well as his nonchalant execution of The Puppeteer and you’ve got a member of the “man is evil” camp.
Both Rex Luthor and Lex Luthor seek to rewrite the universe in their image — Rex with the Hybercube and Lex with The Totality. Lex of course is also a firm believer in “man is evil,” as his lust for power and disregard for anyone not named Lex Luthor would attest to.
However I see a difference between Rex and Lex in that Rex is emulating his “hero” while Lex is seemingly doing bad guy stuff because he’s a bad guy. I’m easier to forgive Rex because he’s a child but Lex? I’d like a little more depth in my Luthor please.
Justice League 7 is clearly more representative of the “is man good or evil” debate than Adventures of the Super Sons 2 is, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it has more depth. Ever since Scott Snyder ventured beyond the purview of Gotham City he has gone for Justice League stories that are epic in scale but fairly empty once you scratch beneath the surface.
If you’re going to present the argument that the Legion of Doom firmly believes that the universe is cruel and evil while the Justice League believes that the universe is good, it might be nice to see some concrete examples. Rex Luthor’s cruelty is put on display, whereas both the heroes and villains of Justice League 7 simply spout vague rhetoric. Sinestro is basically doing his best Darth Vader as he fights John Stewart: “Give into the Dark Side, it is your DESTINY.” The conflict comes to an end because the League used what is essentially their “Care Bear Stare.”
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 Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?