Thursday, October 2, 2014

Justice League #34

The best team stories are the ones where different characters all have a different role to play in some way that's more sophisticated than whether their superpower is to communicate with sea life or run very fast. Justice League #34, "Unlikely Allies," is a fascinating phase deep into a very deep strategic game with several players representing several different sides. We can't actually see who has what planned, but in this issue, Geoff Johns gives us a glance at a few players' cards.

Aside from the classic heroes whose interests are presumably aligned, we have front and center Lex Luthor, who has been teased as a good guy in stories going back to the Sixties. This always ends with him turning out to be a very dark agent practicing duplicity or a self-interested party capable of serving the greater good when it serves his interests. We've seen the former in 1961's Death of Superman and Kingdom Come and the latter in Final Crisis, Injustice: Gods Above and many other stories. Since Forever Evil, it's been hard to decipher Luthor's game plan, but we know by the end of JL #34 that he is masking his true intentions and is allied with Owlman. This makes it more tantalizing to re-read the scene where he asks Wonder Woman to use her lasso on him but she does not, because he has apparently engineered that interaction very carefully to seem like a conflicted figure in order to keep her from actually using her lasso and discovering his deception.

That revelation, however, isn't the "bwah hah hah" revelation of evil that it might be in a simpler story. Owlman was possibly being forthright in Forever Evil when he proposed an alliance with Dick Grayson against the stronger members of the Crime Syndicate. While we can't expect the best of Owlman's desire to take possession of the super-powerful offspring of Ultraman and Superwoman, he may have some endgame in mind that is not entirely at cross-purposes with the Justice League.

What makes it credible that the moderately-evil characters in this ongoing story might be allied with the heroes is the looming threat of a purely-evil menace as discussed by Cyborg and seen in Justice League #34. The sentient ring from Power Ring, now fighting for control of Jessica Cruz, has indicated that its intention is to lure the being who destroyed Earth 3 to Earth 0 so it can take possession of Superwoman's child, the very same objective that Owlman has. It is unclear, though, how these three sides square off, except that it is unlikely that they are all aligned. Owlman probably does not crave destruction for its own sake, and would prefer to be as powerful as possible on some Earth or another. Luthor, no  doubt, would like that same outcome for himself, a vision that could place them into alliance or eventual conflict.

The spare information we have about the really evil characters is that some unknown character is helping the Anti-Monitor find worlds to consume, which is feeding him energy for an anticipated battle with Darkseid. Darkseid, the conqueror of Earth 2 and would-be conqueror from the DCNU's earliest stories, Final Crisis and countless previous works, has nonetheless been allied with our heroes against the Anti-Monitor in COIE. The win our heroes need to engineer may involve playing the two evil forces against one another. This story is likely to play out on a grand scale over the coming months, with tie-ins galore, certainly including Earth 2, likely the Green Lantern/New Gods Godhead miniseries, and possibly Multiversity, although in the past Grant Morrison stories have maintained separation from other plans other than a few minor points of tie-in.

The heroes see a deeper game, with Batman and Superman planning to snare Luthor, but perhaps not nearly as deep as the game really is. Johns is setting up one of his epic crossovers such as we've seen done – usually quite well – over the past 7 years. Among other mysteries that he's keeping secret is the identity of the character who is allied with the Anti-Monitor. Johns has a flare for going "big" with his villains, which makes me wonder if he'll bring Superboy Prime, one of his regulars from pre-Flashpoint, into this story, or perhaps Volthoom from Green Lantern lore, although he has also used characters as obscure as Nekron and Qull of the Five Inversions, and could possibly draw from just about any story in DC's past, but it is more Johns' style to use an existing character here, whether prominent or obscure, than present us with someone totally new.

The main upshot is that we are approaching a story on a grand scale and this issue is an important one on that path. The action scenes in JL #34 and even the revelation of Captain Cold's duplicity seem like minor sideplots while the grand design moves forward. We know, in the main, that good will prevail, but there could be some wonderful sound and fury along the way.


  1. Superboy Prime is an excellent guess for the Anti-Monitors herald character. I was figuring that it was likely Pariah or even Harbinger. But i feel safe to assume the character is one connected to COIE, so with a far off possibility of Psycho Pirate, I think Prime, Pariah, or Harbinger are the most highly likely candidates.

  2. Jonny, those guesses of yours, Pariah and Harbinger, are much more appropriate to the circumstance, as they were both in ancillary roles to the Monitor/Antimonitor in COIE. Serving as a helper to someone more in control doesn't seem much like Superboy Prime's style, although that's how he started off in Infinite Crisis. Pariah or Harbinger seem like the more conservative and likely guesses, but Superboy Prime would pack more punch, pun intended, as a reveal.

    Superboy Prime would also intertwine, possibly, with Morrison's Multiversity, because the last issue is set on Earth Prime, where Ultraa is supposed to be the only superhero. In 1985, Superboy Prime was introduced as the first superhero on a world which had only briefly had one before, Ultraa.

    I would add that I hope Superboy Prime stays in the dustbin of DC history, but Johns has used him again and again, and he seems like a vastly more commercial choice than Pariah or Harbinger. And this makes me wonder if in post-Flashpoint time, Superboy Prime would maintain a power advantage over Earth 0's Superman, as opposed to the famously "depowered" Byrne Superman. Maybe SBP and the main Superman would tie in power now, which would make SBP less of a threat.

    1. If it is Superboy Prime, I think it would be interesting to keep him as the only (or one of the very few) character to remember the pre-flashpoint DC. The character became very Meta, and Johns could play with him voicing many complaints fans like myself have about the New52 changes.

  3. Yes, SBP became almost pure fourth-wall material, with a thread from the DC Message Board appearing in a comic. More amusingly, when SBP said "You're ruining everything. You're ruining me." some fan opined that SBP was speaking to the writers.

    I don't know how many "dark" Supermen we need. We have the Earth 2 Superman/Bizarro, the Injustice: Gods Above Superman, Ultraman, and we just had Superdoom. I never much liked SBP. The Busiek "realistic" Superboy and the Pocket Universe Superboy were much, much more interesting variants on the original, in my opinion.