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