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.
My mother is an Italian who knows how to cook. That has taught me a lot about life and detective work. Mysteries are sort of like meals. The keys to finishing a good meal are pacing and endurance. Never bite off more than you can chew. Each issue of this series Justice is like a great meal in itself. The key to finishing meals of this size is to periodically push yourself away from the table to give yourself time to digest. That’s how I have to proceed – by segmenting the issues, and my analysis, into smaller batches. In this installment, I’m stopping about half-way through the issue and will pick up the rest in the next article.
Issue #2 begins in Gotham City with the Riddler having figured out how to hack into Batman’s computer, namely by breaking into Waynetech’s offices and using Bruce Wayne’s computer. That same computer identifies Mr. Wayne as heading his way, and Riddler prepares for the confrontation. However, it is not the millionaire playboy who bursts through the door but rather Batman. Riddler, luckily, thinks this was a trick perpetuated by Batman and flees ignorant of the fact that he had just stumbled upon the answer to his undoubtedly most asked riddle.
I noticed something odd about the Riddler. It was the same oddity that Lex Luthor had during the last issue, namely a colorful aura. But where Luthor’s was purple and subtle, Riddler’s is green and vibrant, casting a spotlight underneath him. Two villains with similar glows emanating from under their trench coats is too coincidental for my taste. It suggests they came from the same supplier, which also implies the Riddler is definitely in the Legion, not that we didn’t know that already.
Riddler flees without leaving a single clue as to where he’s going. That’s not like him, and I assume he wasn’t expecting superheroic resistance this early. But he definitely was expecting it eventually as he starts assembling a Russian nesting doll clue the moment he enters the van.
Batman pursues in his own vehicle and mentally chews himself out over the close call. Then Red Tornado, the android member of the Justice League of America, calls to discuss the disappearance of Aquaman. The absence is apparently now of noticeable length although no mention of the specifics are mentioned. It could be hours, days, weeks or even months for all we know. It’s clear that the authors of this tale don’t intend to help us keep track of the passage of time. Anyway, Batman offers a few suggestions for tracking him down before refocusing on the mission at hand…and telling us just how bad the situation is. The Riddler has on his computer CD the schematics of the JLA Satellite and the heroes’ secret identities.
Batman disables the van easily enough, and the race continues on foot into a Batman-themed nightclub, but not before the Riddler gets back into game mode and spouts out some clues:
- What’s wrong with me?
- What’s wrong with you?
- What’s the cause of crime?
At least I think they’re clues. They seem more like philosophy.
The scene changes to a hospital in which a doctor treats a young girl. The medical staff, surrounded by a green mist, cowers on the floor while crows flock near the window. The doctor says words like “frighten” and “phobia.” All signs point to this being Jonathan Crane, a.k.a. the Scarecrow. (Why aren’t the Riddler’s clues this easy?) He injects the girl with a greenish liquid, her pupils glow and, suddenly, she’s able to walk again.
Here’s another technological advancement worth noting. In the first issue, Black Manta demonstrates a new power – the ability to command sea life at a level surpassing Aquaman’s. Now the Scarecrow, a psychiatrist and chemist, has a serum that repairs damaged tissue. He did not invent this; this is way out of his area of expertise. The villains are not just uniting; they’re being supplied with fantastically advanced technology which they’re using to help people.
Batman catches up to the Riddler in the nightclub, and the fight begins but doesn’t last long. Hand-to-hand is not the Riddler’s strength; that’s why he has henchmen, and they quickly join the battle. But the nightclub is also full of Batman-idolizing patrons who join in the fracas. The tide turns quickly back to favor Batman. Riddler opens his trench coat revealing his secret weapon: a hologram projector which emits a blinding green light peppered with question marks. By the time Batman’s eyes readjust, the Riddler is gone. However, he leaves behind his trademark clues, which I’ve listed below with those additional ones he spoke during the fight scene:
- “All these toys must be broken. That’s what he said. I felt him in my mind. It’s all part of the dream.”
- He leaves the nesting doll, its tinier figures sprawled out, but the largest one closed.
- Inside the doll is a preserved ear and eye. Batman notes the absence of blood and the odor of formaldehyde.
It is time to reflect on what we’ve been shown so far, and I will pick up the remainder of this issue in my next article. I will expand on the two main questions from my previous analysis, namely:
#1: What is the Supervillains’ Plan?
#2: Who is(are) the mastermind(s)?
Let’s start with number one:
#1: What is the Supervillains’ Plan?
In the first issue, we learned that the villains are having a dream of a coming Armageddon; one which the heroes are helpless to stop. Luthor’s narration in that issue suggests that his goal is to avert the disaster by teaming with villains he disdains. So far, we’ve seen two villains performing seemingly altruistic acts:
- Captain Cold created a mountain of ice in the desert (which I’ve described in my last article and will expand upon in the next article, adding information presented in the second half of Issue #2),
- The Scarecrow is injecting serum into paralyzed patients that somehow allows them to regain their lost mobility.
While these are both acts that have obvious benefit, neither actually appears to apply to the perceived problem at hand: averting planetary destruction caused by missiles. Providing people in a desert with a limited source of water and curing a few invalids won’t have any perceivable impact on a war, will they? Let me go one step further by pointing out that neither villain is providing the people with the means to solve the problems. Captain Cold didn’t give the Arabic people his gun so they could make more ice. Scarecrow didn’t give the doctors the formula for the serum. They have both stepped in and performed a service that no one else could repeat. I find that very interesting.
Apart from the immediate benefit to those specific people that are being helped, what have the villains actually changed? There’s only one thing: public perception. Captain Cold wore parts of his costume when he created the ice mountain. (We can forgive him for not wearing a parka in the desert, I suppose.) Scarecrow used fear gas and crows to hold the medical staff at bay while he performed his humanitarian acts. These are not altruistic acts by anonymous philanthropists. The villains are helping and making their presence known simultaneously. They’re affecting their image for the better.
But to what end?
#2: Who is(are) the mastermind(s)?
The Riddler is also experiencing the nightmare. He reveals that the dream contains a component about which we’ve not been shown previously. Riddler describes a male voice saying that all the toys must be broken. Was this voice unique to the Riddler? Is the mastermind behind the nightmare telling each participant what he wants them to do? Are the villains like pawns in a game of chess?
Obviously the reference to toys makes me reassess the likelihood of the Toyman being the mastermind. But let’s look again at the technological aspects.
- Riddler’s got a hologram generator,
- Manta’s got some kind of mind-control device,
- Luthor has something that glows purple that we haven’t seen him use yet,
- Scarecrow has a serum that cures paralysis.
I could see Riddler’s and Luthor’s equipment as possibly stemming from the Toyman. But a cure for paralysis? That just seems unlikely to be a breakthrough from a man who designs weapons out of toys. Add to this the ability to create dreams and a domed city that appears overnight and I have to stand by my original opinion. I don’t think it’s the Toyman.
And now it’s time to add a third major category to my analysis.
#3: What do the Riddler’s clues mean?
The Riddler, true to form, has left us a variety of verbal clues so far, and I want to dedicate some time to trying to decipher them.
What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with you?
These two clues go rather hand in hand, and it probably has value to address them simultaneously. So what is wrong with the Riddler and Batman? Well, generally speaking, they’re both extremes – SUPERvillain and SUPERhero, respectively. You could say both are abnormal in the sense that neither can truly be considered normal (although in a comic world, this may not be the general population’s perception). In the Riddler file presented at the end of the issue, Batman uses the word “compulsion” when describing Riddler’s persistence at offering clues. “Obsession” comes to my mind when I think of Batman’s never ending war on crime, so “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder” or OCD could be another possible answer. How any of these possibilities relate to the story at hand, however, is currently beyond me.
What’s the cause of crime?
My first thought is that different crimes have different causes. Murder, for instance, can be caused by anger or hate or fear, theft by greed or envy, rape by lust. In that sense, maybe the Seven Deadly Sins could be the answer although, to be nitpicky, Riddler didn’t ask what the causes of crime were. ‘Cause’ is singular which necessitates a singular answer. Sin, perhaps, is too easy an answer. Is there a term that could describe all seven sins? Well, after several minutes of thinking, the word ‘want’ came to my mind. You want money or power or fame. ‘Desire’ might be a better word for it. Or perhaps ‘need.’ Poverty, chemical addiction, compulsion – these are needs that must be fulfilled, itches that must be scratched.
The seemingly altruistic acts we’ve seen the villains do so far play on this: the need for water in the desert, the desire to walk again. The villains seem to be satisfying these needs – in a controlled manner, as mentioned earlier. Sort of like a drug dealer’s “first one is free” policy?
When Batman first spots the doll, he narrates, “A mystery within a mystery” and “An identity within an identity.” When Batman brings the subject up, Riddler retorts, “It’s not a doll, Batman. It’s a toy. And all these toys, they must be broken.” This, and the sentences that immediately followed, seem to indicate that the voice in the dream wanted him to leave the nesting doll; that it had to be broken which further implies it is part of the overall plan. But the more I wrestle with the doll’s meaning, the less it seems to me that that truly is the case. I sense the Riddler’s own ideas here. Let me add the final clue thus far.
Inside the doll is a preserved ear and eye. Batman notes the absence of blood and the odor of formaldehyde.
Batman comments on the body parts saying, “There’s something he wants me to see. Something he wants me to listen to.” But this seems almost redundant for a clue. Batman has fought the Riddler time and time again and knows his methods well. Already we’ve seen Batman analyze the tidbits of data he’s gathered just in chasing Riddler this far. Asking him to scrutinize the Riddler’s clues and actions, in essence saying “pay attention to what I say and do,” is unnecessary. Batman’s a detective who already knows he must do this with the Riddler.
So I’m going to proceed on the assumption that the clues have another meaning entirely…which I’ll attempt to deduce in the next article. I’ll meet you there.