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 investigation resumes with the second half of Justice #2.
The Flash arrives in the desert where Captain Cold had previously been and compares a “before” picture of some travel book with the mini-paradise that now exists. He quickly learns the language of the locals and discovers Captain Cold created the water. But what of the plants? The locals also mention a woman, but more on that in a moment. The locals refer to Flash and Captain Cold as “savior” and “gods.” Another says, “Take whatever sacrifice you require.” The situation is starting to take shape. Gratitude. Idolization. Offers of payments. This is music to a villain’s ears. The villains are making themselves popular with the peoples of Earth who already seem to feel they “owe them.”
Elsewhere, in a desert town, a woman controls a giant vine that spouts a variety of vegetables and fruits which are picked by a grateful crowd. The woman speaks to the plant, telling it to be revered as is fitting. She is Pamela Isley, better known as Poison Ivy, and is undoubtedly the woman mentioned to the Flash. She wasn’t a member of the original Legion of Doom. Finally, our first new recruit. I stop to reflect on what I already know about her.
Like those of many other villains, Poison Ivy’s story seems to change with each telling. At first I had heard she was just a normal lady with an immunity to poisons which allows her to use them in lipstick or perfumes without repercussions. Later, I heard she was becoming more plant-like herself. Here, she apparently has mental control over plants, enabling them to grow rapidly and even bear a variety of fruits from a single stalk. Some say she’s an environmentalist taken to extremes, believing herself to be nature’s protector. She’s mostly fought her nature versus city “sprawl brawl” in Gotham City.
Speaking of which, Batman arrives at the Gotham Cemetery expecting another showdown with the Riddler. This time he’s prepared and wearing heat-sensitive lenses to see through Riddler’s holograms. But his mind still races with questions over the significance of the doll and the reason Riddler chose a cemetery. Then, his lenses are immediately tested as the holograms begin again…only this time the henchmen wield sharpened question marks that look just like the hologram images. They throw them at Batman who thinks they’re just holograms. After the first impact he realizes his mistake and dives for cover. So I guess those lenses didn’t work too well; he could still see the holographic images.
Emboldened, the Riddler spouts out more riddles, some old and some new.
A question of identity. To be or not to be? Is that the question?
When you’re not wearing your true face, whose do you wear?
Why is there crime?
Where do we go when we die?
Why is there suffering in the world?
This world isn’t big enough for the two of us. Ain’t that right, pardner…
Batman takes out the henchmen with gas grenades and reaches Riddler who, in mid-clue, undergoes a coughing fit. Batman thinks the Riddler is strangling himself, but careful observation shows that his hands were not near his throat when the coughing began. Finally released, he asks again, “What’s wrong with me?” Batman uses the confusion to retrieve the computer CD from the Riddler and leaves the villains for Commissioner Gordon. He returns to the Batcave where Alfred brings him his dinner. Batman wonders if Riddler used the information from the disk while he had it.
Riddler is returned to Arkham Asylum, the secure hospital for the criminally insane, where a rambling Joker laments that some of his fellow inmates, Scarecrow and Poison Ivy, have had the dream and shared pieces with him. He obviously knows Riddler is having them too. Joker wants to know why he’s been left out. We also catch glimpses of a calm and possibly miffed (hard to read his facial expressions) Harvey “Two-Face” Dent and a sweating and worried Dr. Sivana, another evil genius and enemy of Captain Marvel. And is it just my imagination or is Bob Crane, dressed as Colonel Hogan from the 1965-71 television sitcom Hogan’s Heroes, helping escort the Riddler to his cell? Two quick notes about the villains before we move on. First, it’s hard to tell where the lights in Arkham are coming from, but both Two-Face and Sivana have a glow in their eyes that seems to be a reflection of the light. But Two-Face’s glow is centered on his pupil – much like the formerly crippled patient the Scarecrow injected his serum into earlier. Second, Sivana seems to be stressed. He’s covered in sweat. Perhaps he’s just awakened from a nightmare?
Aquaman wakes up strapped to a table. He immediately realizes he’s not alone. There’s a spider monkey with some computer part plugged into his head. A speaker, whom we cannot see, refers to the monkey as “a lowly citizen,” “a servant,” and “a stepping stone.” Aquaman spots some decapitated heads and bodies of chimpanzees and gorillas. Finally, we see that the speaker is Brainiac, android scientist from space, dressed in a bloodied lab coat, wielding some type of sawblade and staring fixedly at Aquaman’s head. And he repeats something eerily familiar, “And all these toys they must be broken.” With that, the issue ends.
Let me start by bridging the gap between last article’s analysis and the story above. At the end of the last article, I was analyzing the preserved ear and eye that Batman found in the nesting doll the Riddler left behind at the nightclub. I said Batman’s then-interpretation of the clue, along the lines of “look and listen,” seemed redundant and unnecessary. I then said I thought there was another interpretation.
This is where I, regrettably but necessarily, diverge from my normal analyzing approach in favor of something I’ll call “hindsight detection.” There’s an analysis I feel compelled to make after the fact. I could have made this analysis in the last article as a “prediction” of what happened in the second half of the story but, truth be told, I didn’t see the connection then and I don’t much care for it now. But I’ll make it out of necessity.
After the Riddler escaped and Batman scrutinized the nesting doll and its contents, the story shifted to the desert. When we next return to Batman he’s tracked the Riddler to the Gotham Cemetery. Precisely how Batman did this we were neither shown nor told. That leaves me guessing that the nesting doll and the preserved body parts were the clues Batman used to make this deduction. Using my “hindsight detection,” I offer the following explanation:
The eye and ear had, as Batman noted, no traces of blood. They did have an odor of formaldehyde. This suggests the body parts have been embalmed. Briefly, in case you’re unfamiliar with embalming, it is a process, typically occurring in funeral homes, where the deceased is preserved (temporarily) by adding chemicals (including formaldehyde) into the body. This slows the body’s decay long enough to hold viewings and burial services without the unpleasant sights and odors of bodily decomposition. In the case of our story, the eye and ear came from someone previously deceased: Riddler did not kill anyone. Having parts of a naturally deceased body in a wooden container (i.e. the nesting doll) could be seen as representing a dead body in a coffin, thus suggesting to Batman that he look for the Riddler at the cemetery.
As I mentioned, I don’t much care for that explanation. In the last article, I mentioned that the Riddler referred to the nesting doll as a toy and then went on to explain to Batman that the voice in the dream told him that the toys “must be broken.” This implies the nesting doll is part of the overall master strategy and if that truly is the case AND the nesting doll clue is meant to lead Batman to the cemetery, then the cemetery would ALSO be part of the master strategy. Now this may be true as Batman’s inner monologue reflects on this. “Why a cemetery?” Batman wonders three times in the span of six pages. My problem with all this isÂ…nothing happens at the cemetery. Sure, Batman beats up and captures the Riddler and all his henchmen, but this could have happened anywhere. The Riddler didn’t point to a particular headstone or walk dramatically out of any particular mausoleum. Batman acknowledges that his parents are buried here, but Riddler doesn’t make any hints that he’s aware of that significance. It appears to me that the only significance the cemetery has is that that is where the Riddler chose to be. He could have picked a shopping mall, a junk yard or a dentist’s office, and I can’t see the dialogue or battle changing at all.
So, what explanation do I like? The first time Batman looks at the nesting doll he thinks “An identity within an identity.” I like that one. When Batman opens the nesting doll and we see the eye and ear, I had thought: “inner sight,” “clairvoyance,” stuff like that. Reflecting that the voice in Riddler’s dreams is telling him what to do, and later we see that the Riddler appears to be choking himself in mid-clue; well, that indicates to me that someone truly is controlling him somehow. It looks to me like someone heard what he was saying and tried to shut him up. The mastermind heard him Â– his “ear” is inside him. There’s probably an “eye” too. Someone’s watching and listening through the Riddler. An identity within an identity.
So let’s revisit the Riddler’s clues from the last article and add the new ones to them.
What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with you?
Riddler asks the first question again after his coughing fit ends and this time, it seems, somehow sadder. Batman answers “You’re a criminal, Edward. You’re a thief.” But, to be fair, Batman hasn’t had the time to reflect on this as I have. What’s wrong with Riddler? If my above analysis is right, the Riddler’s being manipulated and controlled. Big brother is watching him and can silence him from a distance. “What’s wrong with me?” He knows something is wrong. “What is the cause of crime?” Is he directing Batman to ask himself why the Riddler’s doing what he’s doing? He mentioned the dream and a mind giving him orders. Is he asking Batman for help?
What’s the cause of crime? Why is there crime? Why is there suffering in the world?
In the last article, I answered these questions with ‘want’ and ‘need.’ I don’t see anything in the latter half of this issue to change my answer. However, it is worth noting that Riddler asks another question in the same vein, “Why is there suffering in the world?” The answers to the former question can certainly be applied here as well.
Nesting doll; preserved eye and ear
I think I beat this horse to death earlier.
A question of identity. To be or not to be? Is that the question? When you’re not wearing your true face, whose do you wear?
The concept of identity seems to be running rampant through this issue. Riddler downloads information on the heroes’ secret identities, Batman refers to the nesting doll and “An identity within an identity,” and now this series of questions.
“To be or not to be” is, of course, a reference to William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, but, in that play, it does not reflect as much on the concept of identity as it does on existence. The question in the play is as a contemplation of suicide. Perhaps in the context of this issue the Riddler’s asking whether the secret identities should continue to exist. Captain Cold and the Scarecrow, while undoubtedly doing their deeds in partial costume and/or villainous style, were, for the most part, unmasked. Is he signaling that the costumed villains are abandoning their colorful identities in favor of regaining their original identities? Or perhaps he is suggesting that the same will happen to the heroes now that he has their identities on the computer CD.
“When you’re not wearing your true face…” The literal opposite of a true face would be a false face. A reference to masks? It is interesting to wonder how the heroes and their secret identities are viewed by the villains. In the television series Lois and Clark, one of my favorite lines by actor Dean Cain as Clark Kent is something like, “Clark is who I am, Superman is what I can do.” The theme there was that the true face was Clark; Superman was the identity he created so Clark could save people. With Batman, however, it is the opposite. Batman is the true identity; he pretends to be Bruce Wayne – foppish, carefree, somewhat dim-witted, disinterested playboy because it protects Batman. But what do the villains think? Granted they don’t know who Batman is, but would they view a costumed vigilante as the true face or the false one?
Where do we go when we die?
If Riddler is speaking metaphysically, the answer could be Heaven or Hell or Limbo. I’m having difficulty seeing where those types of answers could be leading.
If he’s speaking physically, the answer would be a cemetery or funeral home. This could be meant to reinforce the cemetery focus that Batman dwells on, as I’ve said previously, wondering why the Riddler chose this battleground. Maybe it’s simply meant to be symbolic. Death is often used as a metaphor for permanent change. The villains do appear, at least to the general population, to be changing. We, the readers, know better of course.
This world isn’t big enough for the two of us. Ain’t that right, pardner…
This seems to be an allusion to the Western movie cliche of two gunfighters deciding to settle their differences once and for all. In those movies, this takes the form of a showdown. Maybe that’s what the villain’s are ultimately planning. The ultimate confrontation that decides everything once and for all. We should note that a showdown typically ends when one side dies.
Now let’s revisit our other two questions to see if anything else in the story has shed more light on them.
#1: What is the Supervillains’ Plan?
Captain Cold’s act of creating ice in the desert has been taken to a new level when Poison Ivy used the water to help create an oasis. Further, she traveled to another city and commanded the plants to bear fruit for the masses. The people respond as you might expect, with immense gratitude and the willingness to sacrifice for their saviors.
The villains are, at least on a small scale, swaying public opinion in their favor. While the heroes confine themselves to protecting the population from danger, the villains are providing them with food, water and medical advances. Protection versus helping. If the battle is to be fought in the court of public opinion, who will win? Can the villains hope to win over the entire world through these acts?
I feel confident enough that I can start listing some specific tasks in this category, so let me take my first shot at the supervillains’ agenda. Let me emphasize this is just a draft generated through guesswork. I fully expect to get some of this wrong and to be missing a good bit more.
#1: Unite several supervillains through dream manipulation – The Mastermind
#2: Use the villains’ powers/technologies to help the needy and sway public opinion – Captain Cold; Poison Ivy, the Scarecrow, (maybe others)
#3: Download the files from the Batcave computer – The Riddler
This last one raises the interesting question of what the villains think/hope to learn from this file. Batman tells us earlier that it contains the JLA satellite’s schematics and their heroes’ secret identities. Do the villains know all of this? Are they looking for just one or the other? Or maybe they’re looking for something else entirely?
Oh yeah, there’s one more item.
#4: Kidnap Aquaman so Brainiac can operate (or something) – Black Manta, Brainiac
Around Brainiac’s laboratory, we see several things to indicate that Brainiac is experimenting with primates. At least three different kinds (spider monkey, chimpanzee and gorilla) have been subjects. But it’s not the primate bodies he’s tinkering with; it’s their brains. Apparently, he is now ready to try his hand at humans. Or rather superhumans, which brings me to question #2.
#2: Who is(are) the mastermind(s)?
As he experimented up the evolutionary scale from spider monkey to superhero, has Brainiac stopped at non-super human? Are any of the human villains under his control?
Or is it the opposite? Brainiac repeats the phrase the Riddler said he heard in his dreams. “And all these toys they must be broken.” Brainiac is an android. Does he dream? Can he be affected by the nightmares? And what if he does experience them – and this goes for the other Legion alien, Sinestro, too – why would he care? Why would Brainiac or Sinestro wish to save the Earth? Neither have any allegiance to the planet, and both have enemies here. I’d think they’d wake up from the dream smiling that their enemies had failed and died. So even if Brainiac does experience the dreams, it wouldn’t have the desired effect on him.
I see two possibilities. Either Brainiac is familiar with the dream because he helped create it, or someone got to him through some other method. Brainiac is an android. Toyman builds and programs robots. It would be difficult, but I think it’s within the realm of possibility that Toyman could reprogram, and therefore control, Brainiac.
Is that why Brainiac seeks to control primate brains? Could he be trying to find a way to take control of the human that had taken control of him? Or am I just letting my imagination run wild?
Let me retrace my steps and revisit what Brainiac has already done. He’s experimented with primate minds. Spider monkey. Chimpanzee. Gorilla.
Grodd is a gorilla. I wonder if he knows what Brainiac is doing. If I were a superpowered gorilla and saw Brainiac experimenting on controlling the minds of primates, I’m not so sure I’d jump at the chance to join his team. Of course we haven’t seen Grodd yet, so everything is mere speculation at this point. But the fact that Brainiac has moved on to humans suggests he knows all he needs to about gorillas.
Oh, and one final note about Brainiac. This issue had no appearances or references to the giant underwater orb, although it makes sense that that is where Brainiac is holding Aquaman. Brainiac’s presence reminds me of a rumor I had heard. Brainiac once visited Superman’s home planet of Krypton before it exploded and absconded with a memento – the city of Kandor which he stole by shrinking it down and storing it in a bottle. So here’s a guy with the ability to shrink and transport cities. If he can do that with Kandor, maybe he could have brought the city-sized orb into the ocean and simply enlarged it, making it seem that it was built overnight.
I think the odds that Brainiac is the mastermind have improved this issue.