The Justice League has got its groove back.
Not “Justice League” the movie — that remains terrible. And if you pay attention to entertainment news, you know that Warner Bros. has made a lot of personnel changes as a result of the “DC Extended Universe” movies faring so poorly. The next Justice League movie — if there is one — should reflect those changes.
But “Justice League” the comic book has exploded in a new direction that is genuinely exciting. That’s a high hurdle for a concept that’s been around since 1960. Heck, if you count the Justice Society of America, the League’s predecessor, the idea of a superhero team goes back to 1940 — just two years after the appearance of Superman cemented the idea of the superhero in pop culture.
And if you count the Knights of the Round Table or Argonauts to be superheroes, the super-team idea goes back even further!
Yet DC Comics writers Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV and Joshua Williamson have managed to find a new trick for this old dog. It’s a trick that was born of several recent series, but has deep, deep roots in DC Comics lore. So before we get to the recent “Justice League” No. 1 — yes, they started the numbering over — let me set the Digression Alarm to keep me on track. Here we go:
If you’ve ever wondered about how Hawkman flies, here’s a hint: It’s not the wings. When the Winged Wonder debuted in 1940, he was Carter Hall, a “wealthy collector of weapons and research scientist” who was actually the reincarnation of Prince Khufu of ancient Egypt. He was able to fly because of the discovery of “the Ninth metal — which defies the pull of Earth’s gravity!” (The wings provide maneuverability.)
This origin has been expanded time and again, with Carter Hall — now an archaeologist — discovering that he has been reincarnated through time ever since he was murdered in ancient Egypt. (Sorry about that, Carter.) He’s lived as everything from a fifth century British warrior called Silent Knight to a Western gunslinger named Nighthawk. Recently, he discovered that he also reincarnates through space as well as time, adding 1960s hawk-themed space cop Katar Hol to his oeuvre, as well as ... .
BZZZZZT! There goes the Digression Alarm! Talking about Hawkman is a rabbit hole that none have ever escaped. So let’s get back to …
The Ninth metal (which is sometimes called the “Nth” metal). Because it can do a lot more than just provide lift for the Avian Ace. For one thing, it gives the bearer increased strength and enhanced healing. Heck, the Hawkman of a parallel Earth (which no longer exists) had a son (Hector) who made a whole armor out of Ninth metal, which allowed him to do all kinds of things (as the superhero Silver Scarab), before he fathered a son named Daniel (with fellow hero Fury), who died (sorry, Daniel!) to become the avatar of dreams, taking the place of Morpheus, whom we all know from the award-winning “Sandman” series by Neil Gaiman, who created a whole family of anthropomorphized concepts, including ... .
BZZZZZT! Geez, how did I start talking about Neil Gaiman? Anyway …
While Ninth metal has always been associated with Hawkman, the recent “Dark Nights: Metal” miniseries made it a Batman thing. (Everything at DC eventually becomes a Batman thing.) In that series, the familiar DC multiverse expanded beyond the 52 parallel Earths we learned about in Grant Morrison’s “Multiversity” series, which expanded on the parallel-Earth cosmology created in 1961 by editor Julius Schwartz and writer Gardner Fox in the famous story “Flash of Two Worlds.” Yes, that particular multiversity was destroyed in the 1986 “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” but returned in a new form in ... .
In “Metal,” Batman has figured out that something terrible is going on, involving strange metals. In Snyder’s run on “Batman,” the Dark Knight was exposed to Electrum, Promethium and Dionesium. He uses Nth metal in his investigation, and finds he needs to be exposed to only one more weird metal to complete a circuit that will bring the Dark Multiverse in contact with the not-so-dark multiverse we enjoy, and we will all become slaves of a dark god named Barbatos who became aware of Bruce Wayne in Morrison’s “Final Crisis,” where he also learned of four tribes who are forever at war (bird, bat, wolf, bear), who are today epitomized by ... .
Anyway, Batman does come in contact with the last metal, called Batmanium (of course), because otherwise there’d be no story. That results in seven monster Batmen coming to Earth, who are funhouse-mirror versions of the core seven Justice Leaguers, and doing terrible things as our planet sinks into the Dark Multiverse. The League does, in fact, turn the tables on Barbatos and crew, returning everything to normal, but at a terrible cost: The Source Wall has been breached. (Sorry, Source Wall!)
The Source Wall was first introduced in Jack Kirby’s “New Gods” group of books, which gave us Darkseid, with whom you may be familiar. Or maybe not. But Darkseid is the boss of Steppenwolf, the Big Bad of “Justice League” the movie, and you probably know him, even if his CGI was pretty bad.
Anyway, nobody knew what was behind the Source Wall, but now we do: lots of Really Terrible Things. The Wall was protecting us, you see, from the larger multiverse, but now — as everyone keeps saying — it’s as if we were living in a fishbowl and we just got poured into the ocean. I think Aquaman said it first, and that guy really knows his fishbowl metaphors.
So now everybody is hip deep in Really Terrible Things from the Source Wall. The Green Lanterns are on the front line in their two books, fighting a losing war to keep the Really Terrible Things out. In “Wonder Woman,” the Amazing Amazon is doing battle with dark gods, one of whom just killed Zeus. (Sorry, Zeus!) But mainly, Brainiac — Brainiac! — was so terrified of what was coming that he recruited the Justice League and many of their enemies in a complicated plan to save Everything.
That happened in a four-issue, weekly series titled “Justice League: No Justice,” and it was a rip-snorter. Everybody from Deathstroke to the long-missing Martian Manhunter jumped into the pool, and the breakout character was — and I am not making this up — Starro the Conqueror. You remember Starro, right? He’s the gigantic alien starfish who was the villain in the very first Justice League story in 1960, one who conquers worlds by producing small Starros that latch onto your face and mind-control you. (This was 19 years before “Alien,” I’ll have you know.)
Anyway, the immediate problem was four giant “Omega Titans” who manifest the concepts Entropy, Mystery, Wisdom and Wonder (These! Are! Big! Concepts!), and went about destroying planets with what looked like really big trees. Fortunately Brainiac had a plan to beat them, somehow involving oddball characters like The Demon and Lobo. Unfortunately, Brainiac got himself killed before he explained the plan. (Sorry, Brainiac!)
Still — spoiler, I guess — the good guys managed to eke out a win, but only after the Titans destroyed the planet Colu. (Sorry, Colu!) That really upset Brainiac’s adopted son, Vril Dox, who was always a jerk, but is now a full-on bad guy. Brainiac 2.0, if you will. And he vows to ... .
BZZZZZT! Sorry, what Vril Dox is going to do isn’t pertinent. (Sorry, Vril Dox!)
Which finally — FINALLY — brings us to “Justice League” No. 1. It’s taken me so long to get here that “Justice League” No. 2 has already come out. (It’s published every two weeks, and will soon be joined by “Justice League Odyssey” and “Justice League Dark.”) Written by Snyder and drawn by the always delightful Jim Cheung (and others), “Justice League” takes all the bonkers concepts from “Dark Nights: Metal” and “Justice League: No Justice” and cranks them up a notch.
Like how? Like killing Vandal Savage, whose whole schtick is that he’s immortal. (Sorry, Vandal Savage!) Like expanding the core Justice League to include Hawkgirl, Martian Manhunter and the John Stewart Green Lantern. (Just like “Justice League Unlimited”!) And providing a Hall of Justice for them to work in, and a Legion of Doom to fight. (Just like “Challenge of the Super Friends”!) And a mysterious energy from the Source Wall called “The Totality” that’s threatening all life on Earth. (Just like … oh, wait, that hasn’t happened before!)
“Justice League” is big. It’s rowdy. It’s loud. And it’s fun. (Especially when all the other Leaguers compete to see who has the best “Batman voice.” Batman is … not amused.) So yes, the new, over-the-top “Justice League” comes highly recommended. And “Dark Nights: Metal” and “Justice League: No Justice” are also recommended, although not required.
Your final assignment is to practice your Batman voice. I know you’ve got one.
BZZZZZT! Oh, shut up.
Contact Captain Comics at CapnComics@aol.com. For more comics news, reviews and commentary, visit his website: ComicsRoundtable.com.