My name is unimportant. What’s important is…I’m a detective.
WARNING: Not only does this article contain spoilers for the Justice issues reviewed, it attempts to deduce the plots and mysteries of future issues as well. If you wish to be completely surprised, you may not want to proceed.
After reflecting on the Legion of Doom from my youth and learning what I needed to know about the creative team behind Justice, it was time to begin my investigation proper by scrutinizing issue #1. Immediately, I am greeted by a succession of metropolis (with a small “m”) imagery – Oriental, Middle Eastern, European and American – all about to face atomic devastation while some bitter narrator watches with me. Superman rescues some reporter named Lois, or so he thinks as he underestimates the destructive scope of the threat. He seems less heroic, more overly contemplative than how I remember him. He communicates with his peers only to find them similarly ineffective – Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern. All try to help but do not appear up to the task. As the conditions worsen and his friends drop like flies (some literally), Superman flees helplessly into space as the Earth explodes…and some people wake up in horror. It was all a nightmare.
I take a break here to sort through what I’ve seen and get my thoughts in order. Who is this narrator, I wonder first. What do we know about this guy? Well, he’s obviously bitter and resentful of the superheroes. And his dream depictions of the Justice League of America reflect his contempt.
Superman is depicted as somewhat cocky: Making a wise-crack at an inopportune time; being shocked that he failed to save someone with an “I’m never too late” quip. And once he finally grasps the severity of the situation, he makes no further efforts to help anyone. He just flies further and further away from the Earth while checking in with his compatriots.
Wonder Woman is shown to be in Rome during the dream. She is depicted as a beautiful doll, but one of fragile porcelain cracking and breaking under the pressure. The narrator uses an analogy of the heroes being molded like a piece of clay. How fitting.
The Flash appears next in his home town and he, like Superman, is shown rather cocky Â– boasting of his success, saying “I did it” and “I saved everyone.” But Superman hears the shock in his voice and knows the boasts to be lies. Apparently, despite his seeming high opinion of himself (“I’m always fast enough”), the Flash, too, is unable to help. While he contained the explosions, the people still died. He failed.
The Martian Manhunter lies dead, his body frozen in a shape-shifting nightmarish position that both exemplifies his powerful abilities and reinforces his alien nature.
Green Lantern gets a softer treatment, personality-wise, in that he doesn’t brag. What he does show is a level of inexperience and ineffectiveness. Saving people one at a time or in small groups. His power is limited only by his imagination and we’ve seen him saving many, many more people than this at any given time. He could form a platform for all to stand on or a bubble to encapsulate thousands. Instead, here, he saves people individually, like a novice, and announces doubt and his own limitations.
And the heroes continue to fail:
Hawkman and Hawkwoman, their wings aflame, fall to their apparent deaths helpless to save even themselves.
Aquaman, his beloved ocean a graveyard behind him, unable to do anything but, perhaps, crowd control.
Green Arrow and Black Canary fruitlessly trying to find a way off a rooftop.
Batman trying to save children by leading them to the Batcave.
The Atom is referenced as shrinking himself to subatomic realms.
Then the team fails to save the Earth while a distraught Superman saves himself. The dream depicts the heroes as haughty, confused, ineffective…helpless. Still they are allowed their humanity. Many weep, Black Canary professes her love for Green Arrow, that sort of thing. But it’s clear that the narrator believes the heroes have let humanity down.
And what of the narrator himself? His resentment of the heroes, calling them “saviors” and “myths,” underscores perhaps a jealousy of their abilities. He sings the praises of humanity, the “forgers of the planet,” indicating that his respect is for the human potential which is overshadowed by the super-powered. Obviously he is a member of the former – a human with potential that’s upset that it isn’t enough anymore. His distain for the super-powered is tempered, albeit slightly, for those paragons that are human. Green Lantern, the Atom, and Batman all are referenced with a tinge of respect.
But I need more information, so I dive back into the narrative.
The nightmare, it seems, does not belong to one person but rather a group – Black Manta, the Cheetah, the Scarecrow, the Toyman – all villains. A coincidence? Hardly likely. This indicates the narrator, having also had the dream, is a similar villain. But the dream, apparently, is recurring and leaves the dreamers in obvious distress as it undoubtedly would me.
The scene changes and, suddenly, we’re going voyeuristic in the undersea kingdom of Atlantis and appearing in the bedroom of a sleepless Aquaman and his family: wife Mera and son Arthur. Aquaman somehow senses an incursion of some sort into the oceans: an instinct that is soon verified by a school of sharks. Something large has appeared overnight, and Aquaman needs to investigate. This he seems to do with a mixture of duty and regret, preferring the life of a husband to that of a hero but performing the latter nevertheless.
The narrator appears again, in trenchcoat and fedora, in an American city at five o’clock in the morning. Perhaps trying to avoid the dream? His inner monologue is reflective; he is concerned that his actions will not be interpreted well among the people. Interesting for who I presume is a supervillain. He believes his future acts will label him a betrayer as if his past actions have not. A villain who does not see himself as a villain.
A man called Leonard is in a desert driving with a local and says something quite interesting. “We don’t want to save the world if that only means keeping it the way it was.” Then he fires some strange gun and creates a mountain of ice. This is Leonard Snart a.k.a. Captain Cold – a villain of the Flash. He reflects that his actions may help eliminate his nightmares.
The narrator and Leonard are not just attempting to save the world but are, in their minds, changing it for the better. Leonard tells his passenger to pass along the threat, “we’ve had enough.” This must be referring to the turmoil in the Middle East. This, coupled with his above referenced comment, creates an interesting conundrum. Is Captain Cold saying that if the radicals don’t straighten themselves out, they, the supervillain “community” will step in? Will the villains actually “police” others?
Aquaman finds the source of his concerns Â– a massive black orb on the ocean’s floor. The narrator knows what it is, and I realize it has begun. The first contact between hero and villainous plot. On cue, the villains, Black Manta and his henchmen, attack. Aquaman charges and defeats many, but Black Manta lashes out, accusing Aquaman of his sins from the nightmare. Black Manta has a trick up his sleeve and overrides Aquaman’s control of sea life forcing the sharks and even Aquaman’s giant seahorse stallion to attack him. But they stop short of killing him despite the fact that both Black Manta and the narrator desire to do so. Aquaman must be of great importance to their plans.
The surviving villains transport Aquaman’s unconscious body into the giant orb where they encounter the narrator who is revealed to be Lex Luthor.
The tale ends, for now, and I am left with numerous questions.
The trick to solving a mystery is breaking everything down into manageable pieces and arranging them into categories so that the answers to the small questions lead you to the answers for the larger ones. So I start by asking myself the first big question:
What is the Supervillains’ Plan?
What do we know so far? Well, we know that at least six supervillains are having a persistent, recurring nightmare that the world will end and the heroes will be unable to stop it. The villains have assembled to prevent the seemingly prophetic dream from coming true. How?
So far we’ve only been shown one item of significance, namely Captain Cold bringing a mountain of ice to the desert. This seems to satisfy the villain into thinking he has done his part. “There,” he says, “Maybe now I’ll be able to get a decent night’s sleep.” This seems to me to only be of superficial importance. Ice in the desert will certainly melt into usable, drinkable water but it’s still of finite help. The desert heat has not changed, and the ice will just eventually melt and evaporate. Without Captain Cold repeating this action periodically forever, this “noble” act is just a one time deal. How can that change the world? The answer is, in itself, it can’t. But this is only issue #1, and undoubtedly the plan will continue.
There’s also the matter of the underwater orb. From the visual imagery we have, the orb appears to be comparable to the city of Atlantis in size. How something like this could be built overnight I’ll discuss in a moment. But the seafaring villains enter the orb and, though the interior shots are limited, it appears that the orb contains a city complete with several skyscrapers visible through the windows. Having sprung up over night, it’s likely that the city isn’t too heavily populated which suggests the need for more people. Perhaps an isolated city for supervillains?
Now, onto the next matter at hand – the nightmare. At least six self-styled supervillains (Black Manta, Cheetah, Scarecrow, Toyman, Lex Luthor and Captain Cold) are sharing a prophetic nightmare. Is it just happening to these villains? In all likelihood not. Is it just villains? Well, our views of the populace are limited in this issue, but we’ve seen Aquaman and family, and they don’t seem to be experiencing them. While that’s hardly enough information to make a definitive statement, let’s consider this: Luthor expressed concern that his actions will label him a betrayer. This fact suggests that the general populace will not understand his future actions. They presumably would understand if they, too, shared the nightmares and were thus able to see his actions in that context. So what we know seems to imply that the nightmares are occurring to only a few, and those few are supervillains. That seems too specific to be coincidental or random, which implies an intelligence is behind the nightmares. More than likely, that intelligence is a supervillain him or herself. None of the villains we’ve seen so far have that capability. Assuming the Legion of Doom in this series contains at least those 13 members from the television series, we at least have some suspects to consider. But let me address one more issue before I name names.
The last concern for now is technology. In the course of this issue we’ve seen the following:
Black Manta demonstrated a new power: the ability to mentally control sea life and at a level stronger than Aquaman’s natural and well-honed abilities.
An entire city within a dome, capable of withstanding the pressures of the ocean, is constructed, as Aquaman put it, “while we slept.”
Lex Luthor, and presumably the other villains, have the ability to travel from the land to this underwater city that serves as their headquarters.
Without knowing any details, Lex Luthor seems to have a purple glow emanating from beneath his trenchcoat suggesting a power suit of some kind.
We should also consider the possibility that the source of the nightmares is technological rather than mental.
This brings us to the second key question we must strive to solve:
Who is(are) the mastermind(s)?
What makes me think there’s a mastermind? Let’s review. Why are the villains banding together? They’re trying to prevent the Earth’s destruction? How do they know the Earth is in danger? The nightmares. And we’ve rationalized that the nightmares are most likely artificial.
Now let’s consider the opposite. What if these dreams are somehow naturally occurring? How would the villains learn that others are experiencing the same nightmares? How would they find each other? How long would this process take? Probably by the time they realized there was a common nightmare, they’d all be insane from the mental stress. It’s most likely, therefore, that someone gave them the dream then contacted them soon after to get them together. That means someone is manipulating the villains. But who?
It’s got to be someone with access to highly advanced technology.
Lex Luthor is an inventive genius with a multi-billion research company, LexCorp, under his thumb.
Brainiac is an android from an advanced planet with decades of galactic information at his disposal.
Gorilla Grodd is from an advanced hidden civilization capable of hiding themselves from the populations of Earth for possibly centuries. As an added bonus, he has powerful mental abilities.
Toyman is another inventive genius able to design weaponry capable of defeating Superman.
Throughout this issue, Lex Luthor appears to be the man coordinating the others. That makes him the obvious choice, which is why I don’t believe him to be the mastermind. He is extremely familiar with the dream which could mean one of two things: he’s experiencing the dream first hand or he’s familiar with it by helping design it. Throughout his pages of narration and dialogue, only once does he admit to having the dream. He says this to Black Manta at the end, and it’s possible he’s simply lying in order to further manipulate him. But I have to believe that if Lex Luthor had access to technology capable of manipulating dreams, he’d go straight after Superman or his business rivals. I have trouble imagining him using this to create an alliance with people he refers to as “demons” and “aberrations.”
While Toyman is a genius, the technology that we’ve seen seems, at least to me, way out of Toyman’s areas of expertise. Mental control of sharks, dream manipulation, underwater cities. This is too many advances for one man. Once he made one breakthrough, he’d use it immediately. He would not set it aside and quietly work on another. I’m not leaning towards him either.
Brainiac and Grodd are something different. Both are outsiders to Earth’s civilizations coming from space and an isolated community respectively. Both are geniuses who would opt for allies to accomplish their goals. Both are manipulators and strategists. And both have access to a wide variety of advanced technology. I lean slightly towards Grodd simply because of his telepathic abilities. But the ability to send a detailed dream to only a few people that happen to be spread around the world seems a little too difficult even for him.
We must remember, however, that the mastermind does not necessarily have to be a member of the Legion nor does he/she necessarily have to be a pre-existing villain. Virtually anything goes in a comic book world.
I end this analysis noting that the investigation will obviously need to continue. But don’t worry; I’m on the case.