NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for Justice League of America #1

It’s taken some time for the mysteries, theories, and drastic re-imaginings to subside, and the real leaders of the DC Comics “Rebirth” to emerge. No surprise: Batman is chief among them. So far Bruce Wayne has taken it upon himself to secretly spread his influence and agents throughout key areas of the DC Universe without anyone noticing (well, except Robin, who’s no longer around to tell anyone). That includes assembling a brand new team to defend humanity from danger – a new Justice League of America.

Calling on a mix of vigilantes, former villains, and cosmic mercenaries, this new Justice League was obviously going to be a volatile, and untested group. Still, you have to start somewhere, right? Well, the first issue following the JLA’s “Rebirth” shows just how unprepared the team really is… and they may have already faced the kind of loss that can end a superteam for good.

A New League For a New Purpose

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The first issue of the regular Justice League of America series begins with Batman and openly stated team leader (under the Dark Knight) Vixen a.k.a. Mari McCabe. After the sparks flying during the team’s first official meeting in their Happy Harbor headquarters, it’s no surprise that Vixen is skeptical, to put it gently. It’s a criticism Batman is prepared for, explaining that it’s a necessity in developing a different kind of superhero strike team from the godlike heroes of the Justice League proper.

In essence, the conflicting ideas, attitudes, personalities, and morality of the assembled humans, superhumans, and aliens is meant to send a message in itself. If the team can function together at all, then humans everywhere will see it as a form of teamwork and cooperation that they can truly relate to. Sending the message that “heroes are human” – a particularly Batman-esque idea – will only work if the the team actually can function. And that’s a responsibility that Bruce Wayne will be taking on himself.

For their part, the rest of the team is succeeding in acts of heroism, as Canary and the new Ray rescue civilians from a burning building, and Lobo wages war against unknown magma monsters as punishment for harming the nearby marine life (“The main man can’t stand ta see a dolphin cry.”). Unfortunately, the team sees their duties skyrocket when an alien invasion begins… led by a figure already known (and feared) by some heroes and readers.

New League, Old Threat (Re-Imagined)

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The supervillain known as Lord Havok will be best known to readers of DC Comics back in the 1990s onward, the leader of a parallel universe’s super-terrorist group known as the Extremists. In the original version of the story, he was a villain in a suit of armor who became superpowered alongside his cohorts when a nuclear weapon intended for their enemies detonated too close to home. The villains would go on to wipe out all life on their home planet, beginning with their home nation of the United States of Angor.

The recent DC events leading up to Rebirth – Convergence and The Multiversity – saw Lord Havok and the Extremists returned to DC continuity by the establishment of Earth-8, and his new mission to acquire a variety of weapons and gear heavily influenced by Marvel Comics. Apparently his search went better than was implied in Multiversity (though how connected this story may be to that world is unclear), since he tears through space onto the Justice League’s Earth with the Extremists in tow – and brandishing the powerful Lighting-Axe of Wundajin (an homage to Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir).

For obvious reasons, alien conquerors invading Earth is a serious step up from the house fires and intra-team dynamics. And as admirably as the League may fight, there’s no way to prepare for enemies of this magnitude – a lesson quickly learned by Ryan Choi, the most inexperienced of the new heroes.

Batman’s Team… No Matter What

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Credit where it’s due: The new Atom’s idea to shrink down into the circuitry of Lord Havok’s armor and break it from the inside out was an inspired one. Unfortunately, the armor’s defense mechanisms shock him into immobility, returning him to full size, and laying him, helpless, before an alien tyrant. Lord Havok is simply trying to save this world like he couldn’t save his own, by encouraging its people to accept a ruler and cast off the unpredictable chaos of freedom. And to do it, he’s prepared to make an example of the heroes arrayed before him. Beginning with The Atom.

It doesn’t matter how hard Bruce Wayne tries to stay ahead of Bane, or what lengths he goes to to keep those closest to him from safety. It’s only when the heroes stare blankly as Havok raises Ryan by the throat and prepares his axe that the level of failure really hits home. Not hero has gained a significant upper hand over an opponent, they’re failing to function as a team to compensate, and the weakest among them has been exploited as such in moments. It’s times like these that the leader has to take the blow.

Having taken responsibility for the team’s shortcomings, Batman raises his voice and his palms, and offers himself as the one to be made an example of by Lord Havok. It’s an irresistible proposition for the villain, and one readers can accept while knowing Batman has a plan of escape, or attack.

But with the next issue promising the “first blood” goes to Havok… who knows what Batman, and the League will need to sacrifice before they can rise to the occasion.

NEXT: Batman’s Secret Role in DC’s Rebirth Revealed

Justice League of America #1 is available now.

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