Justice League: Forever Heroes (2014)
Reprints Justice League #24-29
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ivan Reis and Doug Mahnke
Justice League: Injustice League (2015)
Reprints Justice League #30-39
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Doug Mahnke and Jason Fabok
Last week, I shared the big Justice League event of the time, Forever Evil. While that event was happening in its mini-series, the main Justice League book changed a bit. The heroes readers were familiar with were caught in a pocket dimension prison, so the Justice League comic devoted its pages to telling the origins of the villainous Crime Syndicate. For the unfamiliar, the Crime Syndicate are villainous versions of classic DC Heroes. They are:
Superwoman (Wonder Woman)
Johnny Quick (The Flash)
Power Ring (Green Lantern)
Deathstorm (Firestorm) and The Grid (Cyborg) are added to this story arc. We briefly glimpse their Aquaman analog, but he apparently dies during the journey from Earth-3 to Earth-0.
I have to say, I love these issues because the Multiverse has always been such a fun concept for me. Exploring variations on familiar characters helps to understand the core characters better. Right off the bat, Johns delivers the origin of Ultraman. In other incarnations, he’d been an astronaut given powers by accident in space, but here he is firmly an antithesis to Superman. Kal-Il is born on Krypton and rocketed by his parents to Earth after they kill many other Kryptonians to get to this single rocket. He’s sent to Earth, knowing he will dominate the weak humans there. They also want him to get revenge on the being responsible for destroying their world. Kal meets the Kents after crashing into their home, lasers off Jonathan’s hand in front of the drug-addicted Martha, and tells them they will raise him until he is an adult or they will die.
This is intercut with Ultraman on Earth-0, helping to establish his team’s dominance of the world. He laments how Earth coddles the weak, referring to disabled people and other minorities. He crushes up and snorts Kryptonite to enhance his powers. The moon is also used to block sunlight which depowers Ultraman. It’s a mix of satire and action that works well with Crime Syndicate characters. Their world is so ridiculously exaggerated as an opposite to Earth-0 that you can’t play it too straight or look ridiculous. You have to deliver an evil Superman whose evil is so over the top it reminds us of how good the real deal is.
The stories in Forever Heroes also reintroduce the Doom Patrol. I know the team has had a surprisingly popular HBO Max series, but that is based primarily on Grant Morrison’s iconic run in the 1990s. The Doom Patrol we see here is a part-continuation of ideas Johns laid the groundwork for in Teen Titans and using the New 52 as a chance for a fresh start. Johns pulls characters from Paul Kupperberg’s incredibly divisive 1980s run, which sought to lean into comparisons with X-Men. Johns kills these characters off in just a couple pages so that he can introduce the more familiar heroes later. I don’t know how to feel about this. I would like to see someone try and rehabilitate lesser Doom Patrol characters instead of just using them as quickly disposable cannon fodder.
The best story here is the origin of Owlman, who is, in reality, Thomas Wayne Jr. Year prior on Earth-3, young Tommy concocted a plan as a child to kill his parents, who he saw squandering the family fortune. His little brother Bruce is coerced to go along, and the family finds themselves walking down a dark alley one night. The parents are killed, little Bruce balks, and a third shot rings out, taking him down. Tommy congratulates his hitman, the family butler Alfred Pennyworth. The story traces the parallels between Batman and Owlman, mainly that both came to mentor Dick Grayson in their respective worlds. Earth-3’s Grayson, who operated as Talon, was disgusted when he learned how Tommy came to control the Wayne fortune and went off alone. He’s later killed, so Owlman sees Earth-0’s Dick Grayson as an opportunity to correct his mistakes.
After Forever Evil, the one who saved the day was Lex Luthor, with help from some other villainous characters. When the Justice League is restored, they have Luthor & Captain Cold added to the ranks in a collection of stories I was pretty entertained by. I don’t know if I’d just resigned myself to this book’s messy style and how it has no lingering ramifications almost a decade later, but I found these stories fun. This book has two arcs: Injustice League and The Amazo Virus.
In the former, Batman and Superman are not ready to trust Lex, but circumstances force them all together. The League is trying to flush out what remains of the Secret Society of Supervillains that organized under the Syndicate, and Superman brings Shazam onto the team. It’s concluded that the power ring worn by well, Power Ring is the key to helping understand what the Crime Syndicate was on the run from. Unfortunately, that object got left behind and is now in the possession of Jessica Cruz. Cruz is a paranoid survivalist in Portland, Oregon, that spends most of her days locked up in her apartment. The ring preys on those who are weak-willed, and so she is caught up in its corruptive control.
Niles Caulder of the Doom Patrol shows up to offer to help separate the ring from Jessica, but it’s going to be messy. This allows Johns to pen some slightly tweaked origins from familiar Doom Patrol faces Robotman, Negative Man, and Elasti-Girl. I get the strong sense that Johns had the possibility of writing a Doom Patrol ongoing in mind, but as editorial decisions were being made, that was never going to happen. I do think Jessica Cruz is the best new thing introduced in Johns’ run; she’s very different from previously Green Lantern in many aspects. Written by other people, she’s sort of hit or miss, and as of late, she’s been incredibly sidelined after enjoying her own title alongside Johns’ other Green Lantern from this era, Simon Baz.
The second arc, The Amazo Virus, is just a variation on a recurring League villain. Amazo is typically an android with the ability to mimic the powers of League members. Luthor has made a virus using the android’s bio-organic components, unlocking latent metahuman DNA in the infected. This results in Metropolis being forced into quarantine as people develop powers they cannot control. Even Batman gets infected and grows literal bat wings, and uses echolocation. It’s not the most fantastic Justice League story ever told, but it’s fun and has some entertaining twists.
It was at this point that Johns saw the writing on the wall. New 52 had been a big disappointment, so DC editorial was pivoting again with Rebirth. This would mean Johns’ next arc on the book would be his last, so he decided to take almost every plot thread he’d been laying out there to wrap everything up. That story would be The Darkseid War.