Your Guide to Infinite Crisis:

“Crisis of Conscience”

“Crisis of Conscience,” running in JLA from #115 to #119, was promoted as bridging the gap between Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis. While no small feat, the story certainly lived up to its billing. In fact, in terms of its relevance to the general DC Universe, it seemed far more important than the various Countdown to Infinite Crisis mini-series that had been more heavily promoted. Most obviously, only The OMAC Project had addressed the mindwipes revealed by Identity Crisis, and that mini-series had done so only tangentially. “Crisis of Conscience” was not only given the term “crisis,” but in many ways seemed a sequel to Identity Crisis, focusing on the result of those same mindwipes.And, though readers wouldn’t know it at the time, the storyline would have significance. The Justice League would disband, and the storyline’s conclusion would continue directly into Infinite Crisis #1. Zatanna, so important in Identity Crisis yet not a main character in that story, would get increased prominence. And questions would be raised about Catwoman that would change the character.

This is not to say that “Crisis of Conscience” was better than the various Countdown to Infinite Crisis mini-series. The OMAC Project was certainly better written. The art was quite good, though somewhat brighter and less detailed than, say, Jesus Saiz on The OMAC Project.

A serious problem, however, was that the temporal setting of the story wasn’t entirely clear. Batman appears prominently, as he does in The OMAC Project, and Hawkman appears prominently, as he does in The Rann-Thanagar War. While the storyline was being published simultaneously with the various mini-series, readers remained confused, wondering if the storyline occurred before or after The OMAC Project in particular. Batman was first shown to have figured out that he was mindwiped in DC Countdown #1, which flowed directly into The OMAC Project, yet the Batman of “Crisis of Conscience” makes no reference to events in that mini-series. Readers might have guessed that the two somehow occurred simultaneously, yet Batman would have had to be pursuing both cases at the same time and Hawkman’s presence would have required that The Rann-Thanagar War simply occurred before or after the storyline. During publication, however, readers could suspend judgment, hoping later issues would clear up any continuity difficulties.Those later issues really wouldn’t. As “Crisis of Conscience” continued, Wonder Woman would be shown, clearly responding to the events of the “Sacrifice” storyline amidst The OMAC Project, but not to that mini-series’s conclusion. As Countdown to Infinite Crisis gave way to Infinite Crisis itself, it was revealed that all four mini-series concluded at roughly the same time, making Hawkman’s presence in “Crisis of Conscience” simply impossible.

On the one hand, it hardly mattered. The thrust of “Crisis of Conscience” was the Justice League coming apart at the seams. The details weren’t as important, and fans were used to ignoring little incongruities such as this — for example, imagining old stories with Black Canary substituting for Wonder Woman after the latter was retroactively made to emerge later in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths.

But mainstream American comics fans, generally a meticulous and scholarly lot, were also notorious sticklers for continuity — and the whole Infinite Crisis event would revel in continuity. For such continuity-minded readers, it seemed particularly stupid for DC to make the blunders it did in “Crisis of Conscience,” given the level of attention that Infinite Crisis was designed to garner.

JLA #115
“Crisis of Conscience, Part One”
Geoff Johns & Allan Heinberg script; Chris Batista pencils; Mark Farmer inks; Rags Morales & Mark Farmer cover; cover-dated August 2005

“Crisis of Conscience” begins with Martian Manhunter in contemplation on Mars, his former home. It is a scene of little importance, except to separate the character from his fellow Justice League members.

As we cut to the Watchtower, the Justice League’s headquarters on the moon, the current incarnation of the team’s side group from Identity Crisis is in the midst of a confrontation. There, it was this group that started mindwiping villains, but time has past since those events were revealed in flashback. Zatanna, who actually performed the mindwipes, is still here. So too is Green Arrow, though he died and returned in the interim. The same can be said of Hawkman, who routinely played the conservative opposite of Green Arrow in their arguments in the 1970s. Black Canary is still here, though she didn’t die in the interim. Also present is the current Flash, Wally West, who replaced his predecessor, Barry Allen, who voted to mindwipe villains.

As we join the League, Hawkman and Green Arrow are arguing, though the terms have been raised. Instead of debating a political issue, they’re fighting about whether or not the they were ever friends. When Flash tries to calm Hawkman down, Hawkman points out that Wally West wasn’t present during the mindwipes. But it was Flash who called them… to tell them that he’s going to tell Batman, if they don’t, about how the League mindwiped the hero.

Martian Manhunter, returned from Mars, enters and asks what’s going on. When Flash says the Martian should get answers by reading their minds, he can’t. Green Lantern HalJordan then shows up, having been invited by Flash. Like Green Arrow an Hawkman, Hal Jordan had died and returned between voting on the mindwipe. But he had also gone bad before he died, and he had returned only recently — meaning that he wasn’t trusted. He quickly weighs in, arguing for telling Batman and running afoul of Hawkman, who tries to leave in disgust.

It’s Hal Jordan who tells Martian Manhunter what happened. “It was years ago,” Hal begins, “right before Ronnie joined the team.” First, Zatanna mindwiped The Secret Society of Super-Villains, which had discovered the League’s identities. Then, after Dr. Light raped Sue Dibny, the League had Zatanna, then new to the team, alter his personality. When Batman tried to stop the League, they mindwiped him to make him forget what he’d seen. As for Martian Manhunter, they had Zatanna put up barriers to keep him from reading the truth from their minds. While all of this was revealed piecemeal but at far greater depth in Identity Crisis, the detail about Martian Manhunter is new.

When Martian Manhunter responds with disapproval, Hawkman verbally strikes back by pointing out Dr. Light’s level of villainy. “If I’d known this was going to be such a pain,” he says, “I wouldn’t killed him then and there.”

Flash then interjects, and his comments help ground the storyline in continuity. “The rogues are already talking,” he says, alluding to events in his own title. “And Batman hasn’t answered his signal device since Doctor Light attacked the Titans,” he adds, referring to events in Teen Titans. Flash seems concerned that Batman might figure out before they can tell him.

Martian Manhunter says that Batman already knows and that he’ll deal with it. As we learned in DC Countdown #1, Martian Manhunter is quite right: Batman has figured it out.

The story then cuts to Belle Reve Prison, a metahuman detention facility in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. A woman named Deborah Camille Darnell is in a coma and has been for five years, having been put into one by the Justice League. Longtime readers will know that she was one incarnation of the Green Lantern villain named Star Sapphire.

As the guards look down on her, and one comments about looking under her clothes, red eyes appear behind them. The unseen figure wakes Star Sapphire, who immediately transforms into costume and seems hungry for vengeance.

Back in the Watchtower, Zatanna regrets the mindwipings she committed. Hal Jordan encourages her not to be too hard on herself, pointing out that she was new to the team at the time and would have done anything to impress these heroes. But she says she doesn’t know if she would do it again.

But then a distress call comes in. It’s Red Tornado, the League’s former android colleague who subsequently was revealed to have the soul of a magical air elemental. He’s calling from the League’s original home town of Happy Harbor, Rhode Island, and he’s in bad shape. A distress call from Raph Dibny in Opal City quickly fallows. We then see a fighting Red Tornado consumed… by animated tree roots.

The League arrives on the scene, finding Red Tornado near death. Suddenly, however, Black Canary coughs up black birds. Green Arrow’s bow sprouts thorns on its handle, causing him to drop it. As Green Lantern activates his ring, his words begin to stretch out, as if speaking in slow motion.

Standing there are Chronos, Felix Faust, and the Floronic Man, former members of The Secret Society of Super-Villains. Chronos has powers over time, Faust over magic, and the Floronic Man over plant life.

We then cut to Opal City and Ralph Dibny — the Elongated Man and wife of Sue Dibny, the culprit in Identity Crisis. He’s under attack by what seems to be elemental forces, and he’s straining to reach a bottle of Gingold, which gives him his powers to stretch. But Hawkman rushes in, saving Ralph. Outside, Zatanna and Flash take care of the collapsing building and nearby civilians. Apparently, the League has split into two teams to handle the two distress calls. But three villains from The Secret Society of Super-Villains are waiting here too, including Star Sapphire.

We next cut to Gotham City, where Catwoman is beating up Firefly, a Batman villain who wears a flamethrower, on a city roof. When Batman interrupts, she asks for praise for stopping a villain. Batman, however, asks her to hand over the diamonds she took from the villains before defeating him. As she moves closer, playing on their perpetual sexual attraction, she bumps into an invisible Martian Manhunter, who then reveals himself. It’s a humorous moment.

Martian Manhunter’s there to handle the problem revealed in the Watchtower, but he doesn’t get a chance. No sooner has Batman taken the jewels from Catwoman than Red Tornado’s dismembered body falls — followed quickly by Ralph and all the other heroes. The Secret Society of Super-Villains is hovering nearby, threatening Batman, Martian Manhunter, and Catwoman. And they call Batman “Bruce.”

While the issue moves fast, a lot happens. Only months after the end of Identity Crisis, which wasn’t about the League’s mindwiping so much as what it suggested about the heroes as characters, those revelations seem to be coming to a head. Symoblic of that, The Secret Society of Super-Villains, the first to be mindwiped, have returned, apparently with their memories of the heroes’ identities restored. And, while it won’t be obvious until the end of the storyline, Catwoman’s presence might be accidental in terms of the narrative, but it’s also convenient — there’s a payoff.

Nonetheless, these positives are balanced by the fact that the storyline has a rather conventional, even superficial super-hero tone to it. This is all the more pronounced when one compares the story to Identity Crisis, which was far subtler and character-driven. For example, The Secret Society of Super-Villains, having revived as a team and having remembered the heroes’ identities, immediately attacks the League instead of recuperating and threatening their loved ones — as they might have done in Identity Crisis.

Both of these strains — the importance of the narrative and its generic superficiality — would continue throughout the storyline.

* * * * *

JLA#116
“Crisis of Conscience, Part Two”
Geoff Johns & Allan Heinberg script; Chris Batista pencils; Mark Farmer inks; Rags Morales & Mark Farmer cover; cover-dated September 2005

As the second chapter opens, The Secret Society is hovering in Gotham over Batman, Martian Manhunter, and Catwoman. The villains don’t miss a point to lecture, ironically asking Batman how he’d feel if his memories were robbed from him. They clearly have had those memories restored, complete with the heroes’ identities, but they don’t know that Batman has himself been a victim.

As Batman strikes at the villains, he tells Catwoman that this isn’t her fight — she can leave if she wants. Instead, she grabs the flamethrower of Firefly, who she defeated last issue, and starts firing flame at the villains. Though we don’t know who revived The Secret Society, The Wizard says that their benefactor wants Martian Manhunter for himself. Playing off Catwoman’s history as a villain, Felix Faust strikes at her and tells her to choose a side. As Batman tries to help Catwoman, the Floronic Man strikes him and douses him with what looks like plant spores. The villain is paranoid that the Atom is about, invading some villain’s body — another reference to the villains’ sense of being violated by the Justice League.

But Martian Manhunter has revived the fallen League members. Hawkman steps in to help Batman, bashing the Floronic Man in the head with the hero’s trademark mace. Matter Master strikes back, pulling Hawkman’s shield from his arm and slamming it deep into the hero’s shoulder. Matter Master lost his arm to Hawkman, and now he wants to make Hawkman lose his. As Star Sapphire confronts Flash and Ralph Dibny, Hal Jordan steps in to protect the pair with a force bubble. Going back to Hawkman, Black Canary uses her sonic scream to force Matter Master off, and Green Arrow pulls the shield out of Hawkman’s arm. No sooner has he done so, however, than Chronos makes a time-bomb arrow explode in Green Arrow’s quiver.

But it seems that the building is falling down, forcing Martian Manhunter and Zatanna to address the problem. The Secret Society has an understandable and particular hatred for Zatanna, and Felix Faust confronts her — only to be pounced upon by Catwoman. Faust cuts Catwoman’s upper chest, right below her neck. She sees the blood fall below in a magical sigil of some kind.

But the League has assembled, no longer separated. So The Secret Society disappears, apparently through their own magicians’ power.

The League recovers in The Secret Society’s absence. Martian Manhunter can’t use his telepathy for some unknown reason — revealed next issue to be the result of the villain Despero. Zatanna identifies the blood sigil as the Third Eye, which sees all — including their secrets and sins. Hal Jordan notices that Batman and Catwoman, typically, have disappeared.

In the Batcave, Batman is tending to Catwoman’s injuries. Martian Manhunter arrives. He’s still got his mission, after all, to deal with what he learned last issue about the League and Batman. When Batman dismisses J’onn, we see the rest of the heroes behind the Martian.

It’s Zatanna who makes the first move. She begins by saying that they know that he’s figured out what they did to him. “What I did to you,” she corrects herself. She takes responsibility and apologizes. She yearns to know what she can do to make it up to him.

“You can leave,” he says, much as he would tell Superman and Wonder Woman in the wake of the “Sacrifice” storyline.

Green Arrow doesn’t take well to being dismissed, focusing on the continuing threat of The Secret Society. Black Canary argues that they all need one another. But Batman’s not having it — Canary may talk of teamwork now, but the League certainly didn’t consult Batman when it was mindwiping people.

At this point, Hawkman steps up, justifying their mindwipe of Batman. “We took ten minutes from you,” he begins. After explaining how they did it to stop Batman from saving Dr. Light to go about killing Sue and Ralph Dibny. “So, what’s more important?” Hawkman asks. “Your ten minutes? Or your friends?

Batman’s had it. He decks Hawkman. “My friends would never have done that to me,” he says.

It’s the crucial moment, depicted on the cover. And it’s far more interesting than the Secret Society.

Hawkman isn’t going to take this. He gets up, reaches for his mace, and promises Batman “ten minutes you’ll never forget.”

Green Lantern has to separate the two of them to keep them from coming to further blows. Batman can’t be happy about being restrained.

Batman then dismisses both Flash and Ralph Dibny, the latter of which clearly takes the League’s defense against Dr. Light personally.

Walking off in disgust, Batman suggests with a little pride that the League has other matters to attend to. After all, The Secret Society knows their identities.

Flash reacts first, but all head out to their loved ones before Martian Manhunter can finish a sentence. He’s left in the Batcave with Red Tornado’s dismembered android body. After all, he has no family.

So he teleports up to the Watchtower. He finds Despero sitting in the monitor room. It’s Despero who’s given The Secret Society back their memories.

The issue ends there, but a bit of explanation about Despero is necessary.

Despero wasn’t the first Justice League villain, but he did make his first appearance in the League’s first solo issue, Justice League of America #1. He was an alien powerhouse with mental powers. During Keith Giffen’s run on Justice League America, Giffen had Martian Manhunter defeat Despero by making the villain think he’d achieved his goals — destroying Earth and dominating the universe. Alan Moore had earlier used a similar idea with Mongul in his classic Superman story, “For the Man Who Has Everything.”

So now that Despero’s back, he’s got a vengeance against Martian Manhunter — one that’s not so dissimilar from The Secret Society’s complaint.

It’s a good issue overall, though the real action is within the League and between the League and Batman. The Secret Society comes off as throwbacks to a simpler era of super-hero stories: they still look silly and have silly powers, even if their vendetta has an edgy twist, courtesy of Identity Crisis.

JLA #117
“Crisis of Conscience, Part Three”
Geoff Johns & Allan Heinberg script; Chris Batista pencils; Mark Farmer inks; Rags Morales & Mark Farmer cover; cover-dated October 2005

The story’s third chapter opens directly following the previous issue, as Despero rants to Martian Manhunter inside the Watchtower. He points out that, after all his trying to destroy the League, it’s destroying itself.

As they begin to fight, they shift to communicating telepathically. In a couple panels, the villain recalls both his first appearance and how Martian Manhunter, during Giffen’s run, made him believe himself victorious. Martian Manhunter seems defensive, distinguishing between this and the League’s mindwipes. As Despero points out, he knows everything — including the mindwiping of The Secret Society, Dr. Light, and Batman. He also confirms that he has caused The Secret Society, and their memories, to revive.

Martian Manhunter tries to enter Despero’s mind and to contact the League telepathically, but Despero has taken measures to block both. Presumably, this is why Martian Manhunter’s powers were failing him last issue, after the fight with The Secret Society. As the pair continues the fight, Despero seems to have the upper hand.

Cut to Flash, who’s racing around checking on the heroes’ loved ones — including his own wife Linda Park and Ralph Dibny in Keystone City, Hawkman and Hawkgirl in St. Roch, Green Arrow’s son and sidekick in Star City, Black Canary’s allies at J.F.K. International Airport (as seen in Birds of Prey), and Hal Jordan’s buddies at Edwards Air Force Base.

His next stop is San Francisco, where he finds Zatanna meditating, trying to locate The Secret Society. As they start to talk about what she did, a vision of the Daily Planet building in Metropolis appears. He tells Zatanna to contact the League and races off to Metropolis, where Lois is busy talking with editor Perry White about news stories — including Firestorm’s recent kidnapping. (This is a reference to events in both Firestorm and Villains United #4.) Flash pulls Lois away into a janitor’s closet, where he tells her of the possible threat. (Lois says that Superman’s off in Geneva, which may be a reference to the Swiss headquarters of Checkmate, discovered during the “Sacrifice” storyline.) Then, suddenly, there is an explosion.

In the Batcave, Catwoman, with a bandage on her upper chest, is serving Bruce Wayne some tea — in a short monogrammed robe, apparently with nothing underneath. She says that Alfred told her that he checked on her twice, suggesting his personal concern for her. For his part, Bruce is working on repairing Red Tornado, and he’s almost done. Then, on his monitors, he sees an explosion in the Daily Planet building. Catwoman can’t believe he’s holding still and asks if he’s going to contact the League. “No,” he says, and tries instead to reach Superman. But Superman isn’t answering, leaving Catwoman to ask why. Though Bruce doesn’t say so, the reason is probably the recent rift between the two, as shown in the aftermath of the “Sacrifice” storyline. (As previously noted, this isn’t the only suggestion that this issue takes place after the events of “Sacrifice.”)

Back in Metropolis, The Secret Six is busy attacking the Daily Planet building and contemplating other attacks upon super-heroes’ loved ones. Lois Lane, melodramatically enough, is hanging from a flagpole outside the building. Flash is trying to help her, but Chronos makes the speedster move in slow motion. Lois barely has time to react before Matter Master liquefies the flagpole, causing her to fall.

Cue Superman, who’s always there to catch her. She’s all smiles, cracking jokes even. After putting her down, Superman heads back up to confront the villains. Hal Jordan steps in, as does Green Arrow, then Hawkman and Black Canary, who uses her sonic scream to crack Chronos’s clock. Freed, Flash leaps out of the building and onto The Wizard. As they fall, wrestling with The Wizard’s magic gemstone, Superman grabs them both. Felix Faust strikes Superman, but Zatanna makes short work of the villain.

The Secret Society’s been defeated, but the real conflict’s only just started. As Green Arrow begins explaining to Superman how they mindwiped the villains, Superman volunteers that he already knows but has said nothing. Batman told him that he too was mindwiped by the League, Superman adds. Batman has quit the League, Superman says — which is new to us, at least formally. And Superman adds that he’s himself tempted to follow suit and quit.

As the debate starts, Zatanna cuts it off to deal with the present situation. Whatever the right or wrong of mindwiping the villains, they have their memory back now — though the League doesn’t yet know that it’s Despero who did this.

“Then the question is… / …what do we do with them?” asks Superman.

“We vote,” says Hawkman, pointing at Superman and at the reader, the rest of the League behind him and the villains at his feet.

The story’s pace doesn’t slacken in this third issue, though it still has its highs and lows.

The Secret Society is as hokey as ever, even if they’ve figured out that they should be attacking the heroes’ loved ones instead of the heroes themselves. Why they start with Lois Lane, risking the wrath of Superman, and why they do so in a frontal assault on the Daily Planet, can only be chocked up to their adherence to old-fashioned super-hero tactics. Apparently, they haven’t read Identity Crisis. One can perhaps forgive the writers for this, however, given that these particular villains have been on ice for a while. Still, one never feels the threat of The Secret Society as one ought to — a fact reinforced by how quickly the League disposes of them in this issue, despite The Secret Society’s apparent easy victory in the first chapter.

As before, however, the real drama is interpersonal as the heroes deal with the fallout of the mindwiping. The scenes with Batman and Catwoman in the Batcave, while comparatively quiet, are far more interesting than the fight scenes. That said, the exchange with Superman at the issue’s end is all too brief. While nothing this issue matches the confrontation with Batman in the previous issue, the final page promises that the heroes will have to wrestle with the issue of mindwiping once again.

Without getting ahead of ourselves in terms of narrative, it’s a serious issue. If you don’t mindwipe the villains, what do you do? Imprison them, knowing they’ll escape and come after your loved ones? Or do you, as Batman might, take the hardline stance that one must be willing to sacrifice one’s secret identity in order to wage a war on crime within moral limits, including the sanctity of life and one’s mind?

It’s this that the next issue promises to address, however superficially.

JLA #118
“Crisis of Conscience, Part Four”
Geoff Johns & Allan Heinberg script; Chris Batista pencils; Mark Farmer inks; Rags Morales & Mark Farmer cover; cover-dated November 2005

DC offered two issues of JLA in September, trying to get the storyline done before Infinite Crisis #1 came out in mid-October. Thus, both issue #118 and the concluding issue #119 carried a November 2005 cover date.

This penultimate chapter begins in the Watchtower as Martian Manhunter smashes through the wall, then heads down to Earth with Despero in hot pursuit. The Martian comes crashing down, apparently in a conveniently empty construction site. Despero’s still preventing the Martian’s telepathy. The villain lifts the green hero, letting his fingers press into the Martian’s cranium, lifting up the shape-shifting hero’s skin in a rather creepy way. Things look bad for the Leaguer.

But then Despero’s skewered by a metal construction rod, thrown by Aquaman. Apparently, Martian Manhunter and Despero have landed in San Diego, Aquaman’s turf.

Back in Metropolis, Hawkman articulates the case in favor of mindwiping the villains again. He’s got no compunctions, and he argues that it’s better than sending them to the Phantom Zone, Superman’s null dimension, where they’d have to “spend eternity in limbo.” Besides, he adds as Zatanna tries to interject, Zatanna’s much more skilled than she was when they did it the first time. It’s time for a vote.

A nice double-page spread shows the assembled League, silent for a moment in the wake of Hawkman’s renewed call for a vote. The fractures are clear. These are characters with different personalities, and they’re just not always going to agree.

Hal Jordan and Black Canary vote no, as they did the first time. Green Arrow votes yes, reversing his previous vote, shocking his former lover Black Canary. As he points out, he’s got loved ones now that he didn’t then: Connor, his son, and Mia, his new sidekick Speedy. Flash, who became the de facto conscience of the DC heroes in the pages of Identity Crisis, votes yes, though he knows it’s wrong. He recalls what his wife has been through in his own title, particularly her loss of her pregnancy at the hands of the new Reverse-Flash. Superman, naturally, votes no — he even gives a brief speech about how they can’t punish others for their choice to have secret identities. Hawkman, of course, votes yes. That means it’s tied, with Zatanna casting the deciding vote.

But Zatanna, who had tried in vain to speak earlier, doesn’t like how they’re all speaking of her in the third person, simply assuming that she’d do it again. And, she says, she won’t. She tells Hawkman that her past mindwipings were mistakes and abuses of her power. What’s more, she quits the League, vanishing in a puff of magic smoke.

Back in San Diego, Aquaman knocks Despero into the water and uses his telepathy with sea animals to make sharks attack the alien. Martian Manhunter’s telepathy is strong enough to talk with Aquaman, and the Martian warns the seafaring hero that Despero will try to take control of his mind. Aquaman’s defiant, knocking Despero up and out of the water. Talking with Martian Manhunter the latter formulates a plan: they must take out Despero’s mind, using their combined mental powers. As Despero comes at them again, they try exactly this.

We then cut to Paradise Island, where Zatanna’s talking with Supergirl. Zatanna loves the peace and quiet, but Supergirl (who only recently rejoined the DC Universe) complains that the island has neither boys nor trouble with which to amuse herself. They meet Wonder Woman, and Zatanna leaves Supergirl in order to talk to Wonder Woman alone.

Diana doesn’t want to give advice, and the two talk about her recent killing of Maxwell Lord. (If the previous issue implied that it occurred following the “Sacrifice” storyline, this issue clearly does.) Zatanna justifies the killing as the act of a warrior, but Wonder Woman points out that Superman and Batman have judged her anyway. Zatanna points out that she’s on the outs with Batman too, in her case over mindwiping him. Wonder Woman suggests that neither of them wanted to use their powers in these ways, but they may have to do so again — if only to protect the very heroes now condemning them.

We then see the League, captured villains in tow, arriving at the Watchtower. They’ve apparently decided to let Martian Manhunter cast the deciding vote, and they’re busy arguing about how he’ll vote and whether he even has the power to substitute for Zatanna and mindwipe the villains in her place. They seem to have learned nothing from Zatanna’s outburst, and are now treating J’onn as impersonally as they did Zatanna. They seem not to have wanted to give him a vote in order to involve him; rather, they seem merely interested in resolving the tie.

The League doesn’t find J’onn, of course. What they find instead is the wreckage caused by his fight with Despero. Green Lantern’s ring, Superman’s x-ray vision, and Flash’s speedy investigation all confirm that no one’s inside the base.

In the Batcave, Batman answers Catwoman’s questions by telling her that the League did to him what she’s heard it did to The Secret Society and Dr. Light. Close to her, he says he can’t trust his own thoughts as if it’s a reason not to get involved with her. Resting her head lovingly on his shoulder, she tells him to trust his feelings instead.

An explosion interrupts the tender scene, however. It’s Martian Manhunter and Aquaman with orange third eyes on their foreheads, indicating that Despero’s controlling them. We don’t even get to see the outcome of their fight with Despero — a fact that enhances the surprise.

As Despero himself appears, Batman attacks Catwoman and she defends herself. The reason is soon apparent: an orange third eye is appearing on his forehead. Despero has him as well.

It’s a pretty good issue, all things concerned. Despero is slightly better as a villain than The Secret Society was, though he only adds to the amount of mind-control depicted recently occurring in the DC Universe, which lessens the effect of stories where it really counts, whether of Superman in “Sacrifice” or of Superboy during “The Insiders” (running in Teen Titans and The Outsiders). It seems that campy villains have been replaced by cheap mind-control.

The personal scenes still drive the reader’s interest and carry the story. The debate over whether to mindwipe the villains again is particularly interesting, implicitly begging the reader to take a stance on the issue. The coldness with which they treat both Zatanna and Martian Manhunter, treating both as little more than props, is also revealing about the way the League functions — and about how their relationships are falling apart.

But it’s the personalization of Zatanna here that really steals the show. Her refusal to be used as an inanimate mindwiping tool by the League is a wonderful narrative twist — and a powerful symbol for how Zatanna is treated as a real person here. Her conversation with Wonder Woman, and the parallels between their situations, is also powerful in terms of its implications for their characters.

JLA #119
“Crisis of Conscience, Conclusion”
Geoff Johns & Allan Heinberg script; Chris Batista pencils; Mark Farmer inks; Rags Morales & Mark Farmer cover; cover-dated November 2005

As the final chapter of “Crisis of Conscience” opens, it’s all-out war with Despero.

Its starts in the Batcave, as Despero and his three mind-controlled Leaguers confront Catwoman. Despero tells her that the League’s “conflicting emotions have left their minds fractured and vulnerable.” And he says that the former villainess is “fighting on thewrong side.” She’s not seduced, however, and hits the button on Batman’s computer that contacts the League. Because the DC Universe is newly sexual after Identity Crisis, Despero promises to make Batman “do things” to her — things “he never even knew he was capable of.”

But the rest of the League has arrived, and they immediately go to work, swarming Despero. But Despero strikes back, adding Black Canary to the list of those he controls. She uses her sonic scream against Hawkman while a mind-controlled Martian Manhunter takes on Superman. Green Lantern Hal Jordan attacks Despero, but the villain reminds Hal of his own villainous past — and how the League doesn’t yet trust him. Soon, Hal is added to Despero’s list of controlled Leaguers.

All hell has broken loose in the Batcave. Catwoman battles a controlled Batman. Hawkman battles a controlled Aquaman. Superman battles a controlled Martian Manhunter. Flash flees a controlled Green Lantern. And Green Arrow dodges a controlled Black Canary, whose sonic blast destroys the case holding the costume of Jason Todd, the second Robin who died on duty at the Joker’s hand. Despero himself joins the fray, ripping off Hawkman’s rings, then slashing Flash’s legs.

Above the cave, Alfred feels the shocks before Superman is tossed up from the cave and into the mansion itself. As Alfred attends Superman, a mind-controlled Batman leaps up and into the cave, threatening Alfred. Hawkman intervenes, battering Bruce and calling for him to regain control of himself, but Batman defeats the winged hero.

Despero leaps up into the mansion. Superman pushes Alfred out of the way as Despero strikes, crashing into Superman. The rest of the League is either controlled or defeated. But then Red Tornado jumps into the fight, having been rebuilt by Batman in the Batcave in earlier issues. The controlled members burst up from the cave, facing Red Tornado as Superman resists Despero’s control, vowing (after the events of “Sacrifice”) that he’ll never be controlled again.

It’s Zatanna who turns the tide. Arriving, she uses her magic first to freeze Despero in his tracks, then awakens the controlled Leaguers. As she explains what she’s done, Batman doesn’t seem to believe her — as if wondering whether she’s done something to his brain in the process. She says that Despero was only “an excuse for killing each other.” Promising to attend to the Secret Society, she disappears again.

The battle’s over, but not the damage.

Catwoman hands a wounded Alfred to Batman, then departs, seemingly annoyed by Batman having been mind-controlled. Superman offers the League’s help, but Batman merely says they should all leave. Hal Jordan promises to take the frozen Despero to Oa, home planet of the Green Lantern Corps, for imprisonment.

As for the League’s future, it’s Superman who asks the question and Hal who answers it: “there is no League.” He says that Despero only “took advantage” of the existing lack of trust. Batman and Wonder Woman have left, while Hal himself, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Red Tornado, and Hawkman aren’t active members. The existing roster is down to Superman, Flash, and Green Lantern John Stewart. Flash then voices that he’s out, given that his wife has recently given birth to twins (in his own title — specifically, in Flash #225, Geoff Johns’s last issue as writer). As the League departs outside the mansion, apparently unconcerned about being seen and thus blowing Batman’s identity (a bit of revenge, perhaps?), Superman tells Martian Manhunter to count him out. But the Martian, who has been a member of almost every League’s incarnation over the years, vows to rebuild the team — and Superman says he’ll be there when Martian Manhunter does.

What follows may be considered a series of epilogues, though not labeled as such. They are, in many ways, the most compelling portions of the storyline.

First, Zatanna visits Belle Reve Prison, where The Secret Society has apparently been transferred between being taken as captives aboard the Watchtower in the previous issue and the League’s appearance in the Batcave in this one. The Wizard chastises Zatanna for making them forget who they were along with the League’s secret identities. But Zatanna, at least to the villains and after her conversation with Wonder Woman last issue, defends her actions. And she makes them forget once more.

In the Batcave, Batman is looking at a portrait of Selina Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman, on his monitor. He hears Martian Manhunter breathing, despite his being invisible. In response to the Martian’s prompting, Batman explains that this was about her. Catwoman “was part of theoriginal Secret Society,” Batman explains. She was “one of my most aggressive enemies.” But then, she suddenly became “an ally. Of sorts.” While he thought she’d reformed, he now suspects that her personality was changed much as Dr. Light’s was.

Later, in the Watchtower, Martian Manhunter is talking with John Stewart and considering various prospective members. He regrets Blue Beetle’s death (in the pages of DC Countdown #1), wishing he could be a part of the new League, and he regrets not listening to Beetle (also in DC Countdown #1). He contemplates the recent crises, as seen in all four Crisis on Infinite Earths mini-series, and wonders if someone could be behind them all.

That’s when the monitors indicate that Superman has teleported into the headquarters. As Martian Manhunter shares his suspicion of a conspiracy behind recent events, he turns and sees that it’s not Superman — though the monitor system thought it was and we see the edge of a red cape. Before Martian Manhunter can tell readers this man’s name, the entire Watchtower is destroyed in a massive explosion.

A note tells us that the story is “to be continued in Infinite Crisis #1.” Indeed, the opening pages of Infinite Crisis #1 show us Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman examining the wreckage of the Watchtower. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

It’s a good issue, though the super-human threat is again the weakest element. For all of Despero’s threat, he’s certainly defeated quickly enough by Zatanna, who seems to have almost unlimited power. While the destruction in the Batcave and in Wayne Manor is fun to watch, there doesn’t seem to be any sense of this destruction having lasting effects. What’s more, the sense of mind-control being diluted certainly continues here: Batman’s criticism of Superman for letting himself be mind-controlled holds little weight when Batman himself succumbed to Despero while Superman resisted.

Despite these problems, the epilogues are each wonderful. It’s wonderful how Zatanna first regrets her past actions and resents the League using her as a tool, then reverses herself and does the mindwipes on her own, without League approval. While Wonder Woman’s influence on Zatanna changing her mind isn’t spelled out here, the possibility adds a lot to the overall tapestry that DC is weaving here. As later appearances of the character would make clear, she certainly benefited from this storyline, which gave the all-important but marginalized player in Identity Crisis some confliction and some interior space.

The suggestion that Catwoman’s personality has been altered makes perfect sense. That character certainly did make such a shift, though it had more to do with shifting writers and editorial policies towards the character. Geoff Johns’s issues of Flash that tied intoIdentity Crisis showed that the League not only mindwiped various heroes, sometimes making them dumber as they did Dr. Light, but actually tried to turn villains into heroes. And the “Hush” storyline inBatman showed Batman and Catwoman having a relationship, including his revelation to her of his identity, only to have Batman summarily end it. The suggestion that Batman fears that Catwoman’s personality has been changed makes sense in light of all of these past elements, in some cases even potentially making sense of them. It would be a suggestion that later issues ofCatwoman would explore.

The last few pages, of course, are powerful largely for their relationship to Identity Crisis. The unknown character who destroys the Watchtower would be a major mystery going into that major crossover.

Again and again, it’s not the action of “Crisis of Conscience” that’s memorable — it’s the implications for the heroes themselves. It’s the personalities, the stuff of Identity Crisis — even if it’s here been crammed intermittently with less satisfying super-hero fisticuffs.

Read the Rest

“Your Guide to Infinite Crisis” attempts to spell out and outline the whole of this sprawling, complicated crossover. It has several other installments, organized by the narrative thread under discussion:

The OMAC Project

Day of Vengeance

Villains United

The Rann-Thanagar War

The Return of Donna Troy

Crisis of Conscience

PowerTrip

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In 1996, while still an undergraduate, Dr. Julian Darius founded what would become Sequart Organization. After graduating magna cum laude from Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), he obtained his M.A. in English, authoring a thesis on John Milton and utopianism. In 2002, he moved to Waikiki, teaching college while obtaining an M.A. in French (high honors) and a Ph.D. in English. In 2011, he founded Martian Lit, which publishes creative work, including his comic book Martian Comics. He currently lives in Illinois.

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