Analysis #5: Reviewing the first two-thirds of Justice #3.
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.
The stories in issue #3 jump back and forth a lot with no tale having more than four consecutive pages before cutting to another story. Where appropriate I will try to consolidate individual tales into a single section. Also in this analysis, I will review and analyze roughly the first two-thirds of the issue (20 pages) before the two major plot points occur. I will handle the remainder of the issue in the sixth analysis.
Issue 3 begins with Brainiac having dismantled Aquaman’s communicator/homing device. This seems odd to me. Not that it isn’t a prudent and possibly vital step to take, but shouldn’t it have happened a long time ago? According to Batman and Red Tornado’s conversation last issue, Aquaman has been missing for some time now, and his belt was definitely on his person in the last issue. So why haven’t the heroes been able to hone in on him before now? It must have been shielded or disabled previously. So what are we seeing here? Why disassemble it now? There can be only one possibility. He wants the technology. But for study or for immediate use? My hunch is for immediate use since it took priority over his plans for Aquaman. I’m not sure if there’s any kind of How-To supervillain handbook, but I’d guess that leaving a conscious superhero alive while you fiddled with less important things is a big no-no. So the technology took precedent. I find that interesting.
Brainiac, like many villains, seems to like hearing his own voice. He admits envy over Aquaman’s relative remarkability. One can only assume he means Aquaman’s mental abilities. This is puzzling to me, too. If Brainiac is the technology supplier to the other villains, then he helped Black Manta with his ability to control sea-life. If he has that technology, he could install it in himself. He could have the abilities he’s envious of. But he doesn’t. Does that mean that the technology comes from elsewhere? Or maybe it’s a misinterpretation of the technology. In Issue #1 when the sharks attack Aquaman, Aquaman asks Black Manta how he was able to control them. Black Manta’s answer was, “You don’t deserve an explanation.” That’s not an admission that the power is his. The narration, which we now know was Lex Luthor, says, “I am tempted…to allow them to consume you….” Is Luthor controlling the sea life?
The story switches to J’Onn J’Onzz (a.k.a. the Martian Manhunter), who confirms that Aquaman has now been missing for weeks and that all their technology has been unable to find him. We saw last issue Superman using his vision powers apparently to no avail, but the Martian Manhunter (J’Onn from here on) must have his ideas as he morphs into a dolphin and heads into the ocean. He senses many things and we get a better understanding of his abilities. J’Onn is a detective, like Batman, and his senses enable him to gather clues: echoes of Aquaman’s thoughts, a sense of betrayal, remnants of Aquaman’s blood, and an ambiguous sense that he (J’Onn) is somehow being watched. Fittingly his mind races through these thoughts as he passes some aptly named brain coral. And like a good detective, he follows the trail to its end. He finds the orb.
Gorilla Grodd is monitoring at least a dozen view screens but stares fixedly at J’Onn. He is talking to Brainiac, who isn’t in the room incidentally, commenting that Black Manta is not capable of fending off J’Onn and that he (Grodd) will handle him personally. Again I don’t like what I see. Grodd is talking to Brainiac and it appears he is even responding to Brainiac as we watch. I say this because Grodd’s speech is broken into two separate speech balloons. This might have been done simply for artistic reasons: preventing a single large balloon from taking up too much space in the page full of view screens. Alternatively, it might have been broken up because there was a pause in Grodd’s speech— a break in which Brainiac responded. If so, we don’t hear Brainiac’s half of the conversation. Is Grodd wearing an earpiece? My instincts tell me they’re communicating telepathically. But as I said last issue, Brainiac’s an android. He can’t do that, can he? That’s when I notice the “coincidence.” But I’ll save my thoughts on that until the end.
I take a quick inventory of what the villain’s view screens show. There are a number of shots of supervillains including Bizarro, Lex Luthor, the Scarecrow and the Cheetah. There’s also Dr. Sivana in his cell (as seen last issue) and Captain Cold riffling happily through stacks of bills. The Flash and Green Lantern are also shown, as is the meeting room of the Legion. There’s some doctor fitting a young boy with a prosthetic arm, which I’ll examine in a moment. But there’s another screen that’s worthy of note: at least six more Brainiac androids looking like they’re in storage. Brainiac has spare bodies. Or are they spare? If the bodies are autonomous, the heroes are going to have a serious problem. Apparently the villains are okay with this situation or Grodd would surely have had a fit by now.
The issue’s focus then turns to the aforementioned doctor who’s crediting the remarkable prosthetics to the Toyman – though that’s not who this guys is. But, as I’m starting to see all too often, this doctor has lights in his pupils. Then his story is reported on by a guy named Jack Ryder to a wide variety of superheroic viewing audiences. The first screen shows three young ladies in a café. I’m not positive who they are, but if the “GC” in the corner of the newscast screen is meant to represent Gotham City, I’d guess the ladies are (from top to bottom) Barbara Gordon, Helena Bertinelli and Diana Lance (better known as the Birds of Prey team of Batgirl/Oracle, the Huntress and Black Canary). Beside them is Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow. On the next line is a super-scientific hologram television in what seems to be an archaeology room suggesting the man is Carter Hall (a.k.a. Hawkman). Beside him is a red robot stretching as he looks for a Doc Magnus. Doc Magnus is the inventor of the robot super team known as the Metal Men, and this red robot is Mercury. The bottom row has three panels, the first showing two kids. The boy looks to me like Billy Batson, child alter ego of Captain Marvel, which makes me think the girl must be Mary Batson (better known as Mary Marvel). The next panel shows three members of the original Doom Patrol: the bandaged Negative Man, wheelchair-bound Niles Caulder and Robotman Cliff Steele. The last panel looks like the office of the Daily Planet with Lois Lane, Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen. The man with the cigar could be Perry White. Oh, and Jack Ryder, by the way, fights criminals himself as “The Creeper.”
Back to J’Onn, who enters the orb recognizing it as not being from Earth. The interior appears to be a city – one which appears Earth-like but feels alien. J’Onn also senses the lack of human mind traces. This city has never been inhabited. Then, despite having turned invisible, he is assaulted by a mind and telekinetically slammed into the street.
At the Hotel Meredith, which is hosting a conference honoring the empowerment of women with special guest speaker Wonder Woman, Priscilla Rich enters with two cheetah companions. She is dressed in cheetah skin long coat, hat and shoes. She heads to an isolated room, which she fills with candles. In some type of ceremony, she sacrifices her feline companions and draws their spirits into her. After apparently making an outfit from their remains, she positions herself outside Wonder Woman’s lecture. I notice her pupils seem to be glowing as well.
Brainiac dismisses Aquaman’s assertions of future victory by comparing humanity to computer inconveniences like viruses and bugs. It’s humanity’s lack of design Brainiac seems to find distressing. But he senses within humanity a desire to be part of something bigger and sees himself as bridging that gap through his experiments.
J’Onn is telepathically assaulted by Gorilla Grodd, who forces him to experience the burning destruction of Mars. J’Onn realizes the assault is mental and tries to focus on his true surroundings and the ocean that will protect him. His mind probes back seeing a merging of the imagery Grodd is forcing on him (burning environment) with images of the Legion hall and its members from Grodd’s mind (many we’ve seen but adding Solomon Grundy and Sinestro). Sensing the invasion and J’Onn’s attempt at escape, Grodd threatens him again. J’Onn makes his way into the water but is still under Grodd’s assault.
Back in Arkham Asylum, Joker prods Riddler for more information about what’s going on, which Riddler dismisses with a curt, “He doesn’t want you.” Joker seems uninterested in the identity of the “he.” But Lex Luthor teleports in a flash of purple – so that’s what his technology does – bearing the Riddler’s formal gear. Luthor acknowledges the Riddler’s divulgence of too much information, (comma) which cements in my mind the theory that Riddler’s being controlled and his choking was done by someone in the Legion. But they need to leave, Luthor tells Riddler, because “it’s almost time for the announcement.” Joker, feeling victimized over his exclusion, apparently decides it’s time to leave the Asylum and get involved himself.
This is where I’ll stop and begin my analysis. Let’s begin with the second major question:
#2: Who is(are) the mastermind(s)?
In this issue we see something interesting: a portion of a conversation between Brainiac and Grodd regarding J’Onn and his arrival at the orb. Brainiac is apparently concerned over J’Onn’s pending arrival. How Brainiac knows of this is a mystery worth considering. We never get a good look at the laboratory that Brainiac and Aquaman are in, but the room is dark and there is no indication of any view screen. Further, Grodd’s view screens, at least the ones we saw, did not have this laboratory on them either. Brainiac and Aquaman are shown together in this laboratory before and after this snippet of conversation so it seems unlikely Brainiac left the room to have this conversation. Aquaman is shown vowing to get free and, if he had been present for Grodd’s conversation, he’d have heard J’Onn was approaching and surely commented on it. Granted, all of what I’ve reasoned is mere speculation but it leads me to some interesting conclusions.
Grodd alerted Brainiac to J’Onn’s approach. This seems reasonable as Grodd seems to be on, let’s call it, “monitor duty.” But why alert Brainiac? As a heads up, maybe? He isn’t shown alerting Black Manta, who must also be present if Brainiac suggests sending him to fight J’Onn. Grodd could have alerted all the villains at the same time. Lex Luthor’s shown on Grodd’s screen, too. Why doesn’t Grodd tell him? It seems that Grodd just informed Brainiac. Why?
I mentioned during the summary of events that I thought the conversation between Grodd and Brainiac was happening telepathically. If true, this could explain how Grodd notified him and responded without Aquaman hearing the conversation. I also mentioned a “coincidence.” I noticed the little red light bulbs on Grodd’s head are exactly in the same position as Brainiac’s little red light bulbs are on his head. And we saw last issue that Brainiac’s been experimenting on gorilla brains and calling his technologically-enhanced spider monkey a “steppingstone.” Has Brainiac gotten to Grodd? Has he installed some kind of device in Grodd’s head to allow him to communicate through some type of mechanical-telepathy? Does Brainiac control Grodd? Grodd is a powerful telepath. He could be the source of the dreams. He’s got most of the villains on his view screens, including Dr. Sivana who, I noted last issue, looked like he had just woken up from a disturbing nightmare. Is Grodd the source of the dreams?
Grodd has to be under Brainiac’s control. Grodd has the ability to monitor all the villains. He absolutely would want Brainiac on that list. If I were allying myself with a wide variety of supervillains, I’d keep a close eye on them all. So a non-controlled Grodd would spy on Brainiac and see what he’d been up to. Once Grodd saw the monkeys Brainiac had been working on, that alliance would be over in a heartbeat. Grodd would not sit by idly while Brainiac learned how to exert control over gorillas. So Brainiac must be in control of Grodd, which could make Brainiac the ringmaster. Except…
How did Black Manta control the sea life? As I said earlier, if Brainiac knew how to do that, he’d have no need of Aquaman, would he? Did Grodd control the sharks? I don’t think that’s within his power either but I suppose it’s possible.
The details will have to wait but it seems fairly clear that Brainiac is the mastermind. Grodd would be a controlled second-in-command. Luthor is probably experiencing the dream and serves as the villain’s point man. That only leaves the constant references to toys to deal with. Is Toyman the puppeteer, pulling all the strings?
#1: What is the Supervillains’ Plan?
#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, the Toyman, (maybe others)
#3: Download the files from the Batcave computer – The Riddler
#4: Kidnap Aquaman so Brainiac can operate (or something) – Black Manta, Brainiac
In this part of the issue, we get some more insight into what Brainiac wants with Aquaman. In their first scene, Brainiac confesses being envious of Aquaman. We must assume it’s his mental abilities that Brainiac wants. He ends the scene stating his desire to take those abilities. In the next scene, Brainiac’s focus shifts from taking to giving. “I’m only bringing you the very thing you’ve always wanted,” he says. Design. That, he says, is what’s wrong with humanity. Their existence is accidental whereas his was by design. He admits his hatred of humanity for that very reason. But instead of eliminating what he hates, he seeks to modify it. “What to do with humanity,” he wonders. He is going to bridge the gap between accidental existence and design. But how?
Apparently there is some sort of announcement to make as well. It involves, at least, Lex Luthor and the Riddler. They’ll be more on this in the next installment but let’s add what we know so far to the agenda.
#5: Make an announcement – Lex Luthor, the Riddler, (maybe others)
#3: What do the Riddler’s clues mean?
While I don’t yet have anything specific to add to specific clues, there is one important incident I want to mention. Lex Luthor teleports into Arkham Asylum, specifically into the Riddler’s cell. He says, “We were tempted to leave you here. You almost gave it all away to Batman.” This reinforces the importance the clues have. I’ll have to continue scrutinizing them as the story unfolds. Starting next analysis, that is.