Justice #4

By Alex Ross, Doug Braithwaite, Jim Krueger, & Klein. Cover by Ross.

Overview

Justice was a 12-issue limited (or maxi) series (published bi-monthly) released in 2005-2007. It was conceived by Ross to be a “Superhuman war. The superhuman war.” Because I haven’t read this since it was first published, I wanted to reexamine this series. To read previous posts, click the link.

Synopsis

Lex Luthor addresses the world, declaring that he and his compatriots are now doing what the so-called superheroes refuse to do: helping. About the Justice League, Luthor says,

They’re monsters, really, to have allowed things to go on as they have. Someone has to change the way this world works. That’s what we’re about to do. That’s what we are inviting you to be a part of.

As he does this, members of the Justice League are attacked in their secret identities:

  • Bizarro flies off with Clark Kent, and he is later joined later by Solomon Grundy, Parasite, and Metallo as they pummel Superman, who calls for someone, anyone to help him.
  • Sinestro distracts Hal Jordan as a Boom Tube sucks the hero away.
  • Scarecrow causes Dinah Lance to hallucinate being covered in bugs, while Clayface assails Oliver Queen in bed.
  • Cheetah savagely assaults Wonder Woman.
  • Toyman uses museum relics to ambush Carter and Shiera Hall.
  • A sniper (Giganta) nearly kills Ray Palmer.
  • Barry Allen receives Superman’s distress signal and races off to help, only to discover he is outracing himself and unable to stop because of the drug Captain Cold slipped in his soup.

Reaction

First, the cover: we see Luthor and Brainiac framing Bizarro and Superman. It evokes the old Luthor/Brainiac team and highlights the connection between Luthor’s creation (Bizarro) and Superman’s past (Brainiac and Kandor). I certainly hope this was intentional.

Seeing our heroes attacked as shown with the constant droning from Lex Luthor is really effective. It shows that when properly prepared with the right intel, these villains could easily gain the upper hand.

Superman being taken first is also a good tactic, but I will admit, seeing him shown as basically helpless seemed a bit out of character, though still affective. After all, he’s softened up by Bizarro’s and Solomon Grundy’s assault, then depowered by Parasite, and then Metallo comes in for the kill — I guess at that point it makes sense to see Superman, with tears falling down his face, crying out for help. It’s just so weird to see Superman so vulnerable.

Green Lantern being tossed out into a black void by a boom tube was the least interesting attack because it’s not clear if Sinestro caused the boom tube or this was just a means to show that Darkseid is somehow involved in this plot (but given the subterfuge, it seems unlikely?). Likewise, Cheetah fighting Wonder Woman is no more interesting than any other time it’s happened. Also, seeing Diana want to call the Justice League just after the fight starts seems so out of character for her as well.

The others, however, are attacked in safe spaces, which is more horrific. This is epitomized by the scene with Dinah and Ollie, with the latter in bed, presumably naked (you know Ollie sleeps in the nude!), thinking he’s about to get lucky, but it’s Clayface going to smother him. It gives me the heebie-jeebies. Plus, now I’m very interested to see how (or if?) Ross and company put the genie of the revealed secret identities back into the bottle.

It was interesting to see different villains take on the heroes. For example, Toyman with the Hawks and the Batman villains with Dinah and Ollie. Speaking of, no Batman in this issue. Was his identity not revealed in the satellite breach? Or is that encounter shown in a future issue?

I will admit, I either didn’t know or missed some details until I read another synopsis of this issue, namely, that it was Giganta who shoots Ray Palmer (nothing about her indicates to me that she’s Giganta) and that Captain Cold spiked Barry’s soup, but at least the latter was telegraphed upon a reread. Regardless, I continue to be impressed with the building tension as this series progresses. Why did I remember this not being that good?

Private Files

We get not two but four files this issue on Bizarro, Solomon Grundy, Metallo, and Parasite. Interesting that it’s the villains who attack Superman, but they are the ones we see the most in the issue.

For Bizarro, I like how Bruce mentions the creature as being a result of “early cloning technology” given how long cloning has been around as a concept in comic books. It gives this world a history that’s not too steeped (although, how long ago did Bruce write that entry?), which I like. Also, I like the pointed comment aimed at Luthor at having created the “engine of destruction he always thought Superman was”.

It’s curious to see the Batman express something near to fear in regards to Solomon Grundy. He mentions that his father was wrong when he told Bruce there was no such thing as a bogeyman because Grundy is that. Plus, Grundy is a zombie and be around after Bruce dies, giving this character a weight I hadn’t considered before. He also mentions Grundy’s strength as a rival for Superman’s. I knew Grundy was strong, but Kryptonian level?

Metallo’s entry is really just an origin synopsis, with no real commentary, which is a shame. I’m enjoying these glimpses into Bruce’s mind as he opines about these people.

I found Bruce’s comment about Parasite interesting: “… as long as Parasite lives, Superman is a threat to the world”. What an interesting way to state the danger inherit in Parasite, but that could apply to most of Superman’s enemies as well.

Justice #3

By Alex Ross, Doug Braithwaite, Jim Krueger, & Klein. Cover by Ross.

Overview

Justice was a 12-issue limited (or maxi) series (published bi-monthly) released in 2005-2007. It was conceived by Ross to be a “Superhuman war. The superhuman war.” Because I haven’t read this since it was first published, I wanted to reexamine this series. To read previous posts, click the link.

Synopsis

Brainiac compliments Aquaman as a remarkable being. He tells his captive that humanity yearns to be part of something and that he is bringing it the very thing it’s always wanted. He says,  “Mother Nature played a dirty trick on humanity when she gave it desires for things beyond this world’s ability to satisfy. I mean to change this. And you … are an important part of my plan.”

Martian Manhunter searches the sea for Aquaman, finding the same black dome that Aquaman found before. When he enters, he discovers an empty city. As he starts to explore, he is attacked mentally. He sees the city on fire — he knows this is a trap and tells himself that he is in a city under the ocean. Gorilla Grod tells him, “I know what happened on Mars”. Martian Manhunter cries out, “…WATER…!” as he sees his people burn around him. Through the fire Manhunter “sees” the Legion of Doom, but Grod tells him, “I’m stronger than you. … You’ll never be seen again.”

In some war-torn country, Toyman gives a young boy a prosthetic arm. Priscilla Rich arrives at a hotel hosting the Wonder Women Conference with a pair of leashed cheetahs. In her hotel room, she sacrifices one of her pets “so that the Cheetah can be reborn”. Later, Cheetah advances on a room full of women who are listening to Diana talk.

Meanwhile, the Justice League members watch the news as it covers the actions of their seemingly reformed villains.

In Arkham, Joker tries to get Riddler to give him a clue as to what’s going on, but Nigma refuses. Lex Luthor appears in Riddler’s cell, berating him for almost giving it away to Batman. He’s come to take Riddler away for the “announcement”, and Joker screams, “You can’t do this to me!”

On the JLA satellite, Red Tornado discovers that Manhunter is also missing. He then notices unusual activity in the sea around the tip of South America: the sea life have converged, pinpointing Aquaman’s location. It’s then that Red Tornado pulls his own head off his body, telling someone who arrived moments before that “Someone’s controlling my motor functions! … Why won’t you help me?!”

Grod then transmits to the Legion of Doom members, “The satellite no longer holds any secrets,” and proceeds to reveal the secret identities of the Justice League. Lex Luthor then broadcasts to the world:

I think it’s time we made a statement about the many ways we’re trying to make life better for the common man.

Reaction

This was an amazing next chapter with some truly spooky moments. I like that the cover reflects events in the book but differently. Given the build-up thus far, I didn’t expect the villains to “win” so decisively as they have (at least with three of our heroes — and the most powerful one — so far), symbolically shown by their raised arms in the background.

The creepiness of the issue is just intense! There’s the vicious attack on J’onn by a seemingly enhanced Grod. And that panel showing the the terror on Aquaman’s face as Brainiac says calmly, “You have no idea who it is who just killed you,” was the most chilling in the issue. Red Tornado’s bizarre self-mutilation as he implores whoever is there for help. And finally, the League’s secrets are revealed! There really are some great moments in this issue.

However, I did not care for the way the story was broken up. First, it makes for a choppy synopsis, which is why I chose to describe the scenes stitched together instead of a page by page breakdown. Second, to organize a story like this can be to increase the tension, but I found it mostly irritating and not really building the tension, at least not in a progressive way. Perhaps I’m just too impatient for the plot to move forward. Maybe this is why my memory of the series is tainted: the issues came out every two months and by the third issue (4 months) the mystery was still building?

At this point I’m very curious why they need Aquaman, plus, who was in the satellite with Red Tornado? The implication is that it was a member of the Justice League. Given that the villains are perhaps under some sort of control — illustrated by the glowing spots in their eyes over these three issues — maybe one of the heroes is as well (it’s a theory…)?

Little things I enjoyed:

  1. The exploration of Manhunter’s powers: “Martians … are not defined in physical geometry like the people of Earth. Mass and form are not concrete realities…. We don’t read minds. We share in other beings’ thoughts.”
  2. The single page showing Grod monitoring hero and villain alike. The final inset panel transitioning us to the following page was wonderfully done.
  3. The other single page showing the heroes in their civilian garb watching the news broadcasts discussing the change in their villains. The irritated skepticism on Ollie’s (Green Arrow) face is priceless!
  4. The city under the black dome that J’onn discovers has weather! Nice touch.
  5. The menace on Joker’s face after Luthor and Riddler leave.
  6. The fact that, despite the peril he’s in, Aquaman is able to direct the sea life to point the League in his direction. That’s bad ass!
  7. Finally, I love the image of the the large, bright, askew Justice League satellite over the Earth and, later, the small, silhouetted version after Red Tornado is attacked. I think those are wonderful artistic bookends in the issue.

Private Files

This issue features Martian Manhunter and Gorilla Grod, naturally. Batman first compares J’onn to himself and Superman (an amalgam of detective and superhuman) — I wonder if the character’s creators thought of that early on? Later in the entry, Batman comments about how fire is too common an occurrence for it to be a real reason for J’onn’s “hypersensitivity” to it, but his supposition doesn’t make sense to me: “Perhaps this is because his mass changes depending on the form he adopts”. I guess you can make some sort of connection between the variable nature of a Martian’s biology and the flickering nature of fire? But that’s a bit too poetic for Batman, I would think. If you have any theories, please let me know.

Grod’s entry is mostly a summation of the history of the character. The last paragraph, however, struck me: “His hunger for power is a reminder that crime is not merely the result of social inequalities”. It comes across as oddly political, both for Batman and for the author. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it.

Message Recall

I had one of those experiences years ago where someone direct messaged me asking about coming onto the podcast. This is someone whose work I had been following and enjoyed, but I was extremely surprised that they had reached out (and no, I’m not going to reveal who). My show was (is?) not well-known, let alone for the specific content this person was producing at that time.

So, I had to think about it for a while. I hadn’t done many interviews with people whom I have not already met or known, but after some thought, I decided to throw caution to the wind and take a chance! I responded with, “Sure! I assume you want to talk about the new —?” While I waited for the person’s reply, I started doing my homework: detailing who this person was, what they had been working on, and coming up with questions.

A day or two passed, but no response. I began to wonder: was the request a mistake? After all, there are other podcasts with “Longbox” in their title (let alone “Review”). Maybe this person meant to message that other podcast, or, just as likely, someone in their social media list who was before or after my name and they messaged the wrong person. Given that I never heard back, I assume the latter. I can only imagine that after I messaged them back, they thought, “Oh, shit! I contacted the wrong guy/show! What do I do?! If I say, ‘Sorry, I meant to send this to —‘, I’ll look like an asshole. I know, I’ll just pretend I hadn’t sent the message…”.

I don’t blame them for not responding. Who hasn’t accidentally sent a message you immediately wish you could recall and hoping the recipient hadn’t seen it? Still, it would have been interesting and probably a lot of fun had they responded and we did the interview (after all, more coverage is always a good thing). Oh well, maybe one day….

Justice #2

By Alex Ross, Doug Braithwaite, Jim Krueger, & Klein. Cover by Ross.

Overview

Justice was a 12-issue limited (or maxi) series released in 2005-2007 (published bi-monthly). It was conceived by Ross to be a “Superhuman war. The superhuman war.” Because I haven’t read this since it was first published, I wanted to reexamine this series. To read previous posts, click the link.

Synopsis

The Riddler has hacked into the Batcave computer via the Wayne Industries mainframe, and Batman arrives to retrieve the disk copy Riddler made of the information, which includes the Justice League satellite schematics and the Leaguers’ identities. As he chases Riddler, Batman tells Red Tornado that he will assist in looking for the missing Aquaman once he has the disk.

Elsewhere, Dr. Crane (aka Scarecrow) is curing patients with debilitating illnesses, allowing people “who were told they would never walk again” to “have left their beds and wheelchairs”, and he has done so anonymously.

Batman nearly captures Riddler at a nightclub, but the villain gets away and leaves the detective a clue: a preserved eyeball and ear inside a nesting doll.

Flash comes across the result of Captain Cold’s ice mountain, which has since melted and created an oasis. A witness tells Flash that there were others who helped, one of whom was Poison Ivy, who is elsewhere growing a fruit-bearing plant to help feed the local population. After she has done this, she mentions the “arrival of the Fall,” as tears stream down her face.

Batman traces Riddler to Gotham Cemetery and confronts and captures him there, but not before Riddler nearly straggles himself. He then declares, “What’s … wrong with me?” Riddler is taken to Arkham Asylum, where the Joker demands to be a part of the villains’ plan.

Aquaman awakens to find himself strapped down and unable to break free. It’s then that Brainiac tells him, “I need to understand you, and know you.” Brainiac holds up a bone saw, saying, “…I’m just trying to get inside your head.”

Reaction

The cover is striking. First, you have the white background — a color that is not normally associated with Batman, who is the central figure. Second, there are the countenances of the Justice League, with their heads turned down, perhaps in judgement? Guilt? Martian Manhunter, however, is looking straight at us, though with shaded eyes (given that he appears to be the focus in the next issue, is this Ross’s sly way of indicating that?). What are they hiding? This idea of concealment is accentuated by Riddler’s cloak and the light emanating from within it — it’s a lovely dichotomy: light is usually associated with truth, but he conceals it under a darkness, smiling as he looks upwards — usually a sign of hopefulness — in direct opposition to the Justice Leaguers. Just lovely work.

Speaking of Riddler, I love Ross’s version of him with that long, black overcoat and a green light shining from within it — he is the living embodiment of the riddle he leaves for Batman in the nesting doll! Plus, he now has a “light-based hologram generator” (the source of the light under his coat I suppose) that spewed out question marks with enough candle power to blind Batman in order to escape. Speaking of riddles, much of the issue has Batman pondering what Riddler is telling him, as well as what we “hear” Riddler saying to others. I shall have to remember to look back at this issue as this overall mystery unfolds to see how the enigmatic clues tie into it.

Then there’s the capture scene with Riddler straggling himself. He seems to be under some sort of influence — does this mean the other villains are as well? Cold and Ivy made the oasis, and Crane cured people, yet Brainiac is going to cut open Aquaman’s head to get at his brain (and why? Something to do with Arthur’s telepathy?)? (By the way, this is slyly foreshadowed just two panels before the final page with a chimpanzee’s[?] head on a tray in the background with the top part of its skull having been cut off and showing the brain.) I continue to love the slow build of the mystery and seeing the villains (for the most part) acting out of turn.

Finally, the tears. We see Poison Ivy crying, presumably about the forthcoming end of the world, but the Legion of Doom is trying to save the world — does she not believe their plan will work? Or is it because she knows that no matter what they do, even if successful in preventing the world’s destruction, people will suffer and die…? It potentially raises Ivy to a new level, at least in terms of empathy for other people. Also, in the previous issue we see Superman crying in the vision the villains keep having. Is this to be a recurring motif?

Private Files

This issue features Riddler and Brainiac (of course Bruce wouldn’t have a file on himself…). I love the revelation (at least it was to me) that Riddler’s compulsion  is possibly driven by his father’s demand that he speak the truth regardless of consequence. I think that elevates the character to something more than just a themed rogue for Batman.

Also regarding Ross’s designs, showing Brainiac with those electrodes or nodes or whatever as being embedded in his skin is brilliant. It accentuates the alien quality of the character compared to his Silver Age appearance. The whole mad scientist visual is a bit new and forced to fit the plot, if I’m being honest. And I’m not sure why Bruce (Ross) wants to have Brainiac embody artificial envy, greed, and hatred, as if the artificiality is somehow worse or more than “natural” envy, greed, and hatred?

I forgot to mention that the trade paperback collection I have are missing these Private Files, which is too bad because if you only have the collection, you are missing out on the pencil sketches of these characters by Ross. It makes me want to see Ross do a black and white series with just his pencil work, it’s that good.

Justice #1

Hero Cover

By Alex Ross, Doug Braithwaite, Jim Krueger, & Todd Klein. Cover by Ross.

Villain Cover (not in my collection)

Overview

Justice was a 12-issue limited (or maxi) series (published bi-monthly) whose first issue was released with an October 2005 cover date (published on August 3). It was conceived by Ross to be a “Superhuman war. The superhuman war.” After having completed my look at the 52 weekly series, Justice was the first series I thought of to do in a similar fashion, partly because it was only 12 issues and that I have not read this since it was first published. I recall being a bit frustrated with the series, perhaps because, besides the beautiful art, the package as a whole doesn’t hold up, but I don’t recall specifically why. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll discover a new appreciation for the series. Please join me, won’t you?

For more information about the series, there are two archived interviews with Alex Ross about the conception of the series, his viewpoints about the characters, and the process of making these issues. You can find them here (as long as the Wayback Machine maintains them anyway):

Synopsis

Metropolis is attacked, and Superman does his best to save Lois and others, but he quickly discovers the destruction is engulfing everything. He calls the Justice League, and they tell him similar things are happening all over the world. Eventually, Earth explodes, with a grieving Superman flying out into space. This, it turns out, is just a shared dream that the world’s supervillains are experiencing, repeatedly.

In Atlantis, Aquaman receives a message from some sharks that he intends to investigate. Elsewhere, in an Arabian desert, Captain Cold arrives and creates a mountain of ice. He tells his companion, “Tell everyone. … show them what I did here. … Maybe now I’ll be able to get a decent night’s sleep.” Back in the ocean, Aquaman is attacked by Black Manta who seems able to control the ocean’s creatures. Aquaman is soon rendered unconscious and delivered to the Legion of Doom’s headquarters where Lex Luthor tells Black Manta, “You’re the first to arrive.”

Reaction

Justice came out after the treasury specials Alex Ross and Paul Dini did in 1998-2003, with JLA: Liberty and Justice being the final one. I was excited to read this series, it being the first of a “regular” (bi-monthly) comic book that Ross worked on that featured the “classic” (i.e., late Silver Age or Super Friends) versions of the JLA and their villainous counterparts. I’d say this first issue started out very strong, especially with the harrowing world destruction scene, though the constant “voiceover” by Lex Luthor got to be a bit much. However, it does provide the beginning of an explanation as to why he and his cohorts are (or will be) doing what they are and it’s to save the world when the superheroes cannot! Whether this turns out to be true remains to be seen. I don’t know, because I don’t recall any of the details about this series (it was 17 years ago!).

I particularly enjoyed the four pages between Aquaman and Mera. I would read a series based on this interpretation of the characters. Plus, I love the lighting provided by the  pink jellyfish. Aquaman mounts a giant sea horse, letting us know that we are squarely in the Super Friends mode of the JLA, which I’m ok with.

I found the two-page scene with Captain Cold confusing at first — why does he make that mountain of ice? What does it have to do with what he tells his passenger?

“I want you to tell your people that we’ve had enough, okay? We don’t want to save the world if that only means keeping it the way it was.”

But it does set up an intriguing conflict: if the villains are trying to save the world, at least as they see it, what will the superheroes do?

It was disheartening to see Aquaman go down so quickly (he doesn’t come across as a very intelligent fighter, more reactionary) — it kind of reinforces the criticism that Aquaman is the lame superhero who talks to fish. But they do need to get the plot moving.

The “reveal” of Lex Luthor on the last page is not surprising if you read the narrative boxes throughout the issue, but at least it’s at a page turn in the issue unlike in the collected edition, thus spoiling the reveal.

Having read this issue for the first time in 17 years, I have to say I really liked it. It’s a good setup with some great art. Braithwaite’s layouts are varied and I like the backgrounds and details thrown in. Ross’s figures, inking, and coloring are great too.

The issue ends with some notes on various characters from Bruce Wayne’s private Batcomputer files and a character spotlight by Ross. This issue it’s a file each on Aquaman, Black Manta, and Lex Luthor, with the latter two are black and white pencil sketches that show us different aspects of each. It’s funny, it’s almost like Ross and company want to do a Legion of Doom centric comic book. I wonder how this will play out throughout the series.