NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for Justice League of America: Rebirth #1
It isn’t every day that a brand new Justice League is launched in the DC Universe, and even fewer ones that do so after being hand-picked by Batman himself. DC Comics fans knew that such a team was on its way to the DC Universe even before the full roster or reason for its formation was announced. In the end, it turned out be the much-marketed Justice League vs. Suicide Squad event that set the stage, with not one, but two former villains being selected by Batman to leave the Suicide Squad behind – and help kick off the Justice League of America: Rebirth.
Where the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Green Lanterns and more make up the planetary strike team of superhumans and demigods, the distinctly human heroism of one ‘supervillain’ in particular stirred something inside Batman. We may not call it hope, but the outcome was a new desire: to give the people of Earth a team of human heroes to look up to, and inspire heroism in their own lives. That team has been crafted by an impressive creative team led by writer Steve Orlando and artist Ivan Reis, and their name is the Justice League of America.
The selection of characters isn’t what most will expect, but in Issue #1 Batman assembles these wandering souls into a single, functioning unit. At least… that’s the idea.
Caitlin Snow – ‘Killer Frost’
The first member technically recruited to Batman’s new team is Caitlin Snow, also known as the supervillain Killer Frost. What’s a villain doing on a team of heroes? The origin story for Killer Frost has always been inherently tragic: brilliant scientist looking to save the world is betrayed by shadowy forces, turning her into a ‘heat vampire’ who needs to drain living things of their thermal energy to survive (thereby killing them). But kill them she did, which landed her a spot on Amanda Waller’s Suicide Squad – just in time for the Justice League vs. Suicide Squad event.
The two teams wound up showing their heroic sides when a third force intervened, and returned villain Maxwell Lord threatened to destroy the world and everyone on it. With Batman’s help, Killer Frost saved the day, willing to sacrifice her own life in the process. It was all Batman needed to see to realize Caitlin Snow was exceptional among those with ‘villainous’ powers, and after one last test from Amanda Waller (told in the pages of Justice League of America: Killer Frost Rebirth #1) Batman took her under his wing as the start of a new kind of Justice League.
In Justice League of America: Rebirth #1, Killer Frost accompanies Batman as he dusts off an old “relic” familiar to older DC fans: the Secret Sanctuary in Happy Harboy, Rhode Island – first home of the Justice League of America. It’s here where Batman confirms that this entire idea of a new Justice League was a result of Caitlin’s courage: if she could show such heroism if given a second chance, then the same should– no, must be given to others. Beginning with a Seattle songbird.
Dinah Drake – ‘Black Canary’
Killer Frost and Batman next head to Seattle, Washington in pursuit of the leather jacketed, fishnet stockinged vigilante bloodying and bruising criminals as ‘The Black Canary.’ As usually happens when two assertive, unapologetic badasses meet in a darkened alley, punches fly before words. The comic jumps into the action as Canary is tipping the fight in her favor, jabbing through Frost’s ice shields and unleashing Canary Cries to take her off her feet. It’s a testament to the combat skills Dinah Drake learned growing up in a dojo, since Killer Frost’s powers were recently shown to be strong enough to stop the entire Justice League (granted, that was with a boost from Superman’s sun-soaked cells).
Around the time Canary realizes that she started the fight, Batman intervenes to confirm that Killer Frost is there by his invitation. And in his efforts to build a new type of Justice League – one not based on godlike superhumans – he needs Canary for more than her fighting… he needs her attitude. As someone who tells it like it is and never apologizes for it, she’s the outsider conscience this team will need. It’s not the first time that Dinah Drake has been recruited into a covert strike team, meaning it’s a second chance for her, too.
And as strange a proposition as it may be, Batman requesting her presence is enough to intrigue her… not to mention the next member she’s supposed to recruit.
You read that right: Lobo. The cigar-smoking, chain-flinging, chopper-riding cosmic mercenary has found his way into Batman’s good books thanks to Justice League vs. Suicide Squad, where the Dark Knight took his head off to help return him to his senses. It was an extreme measure, but when you’re an unkillable Czarnian biker, it’s also the kind of move you have to respect. And respect it he did, before joining in on Batman and the Suicide Squad’s mission to save the world (although it was money owed him by Waller that drove him, not altruism).
Whatever his motivations, Lobo was a reliable juggernaut in the ensuing fight, more than capable of taking orders from Batman. And as much as he may have lacked in bedside manner or chivalry, the idea of ‘us vs. them’ was one he took to heart. So when the dust settled, Lobo showed his appreciation for Batman freeing him from Maxwell Lord’s influence by extending him a favor. Batman cashed it in immediately, having decided that with the heart and conscience of his new Justice League already in mind, Lobo would make the right kind of muscle.
As you might expect, Lobo is as pleased to see Dinah Drake recruiting him as she is disgusted to be given the job. And since “speaking her mind” is now an asset, she lets Lobo know that he’s an “ignorant, sexist, low-brained alien biker moron.” Instead of disputing the claims, Canary’s confidence in the gap between her character and his is enough for him to bite, spurred on by desire to prove her wrong.
Ryan Choi – ‘The Atom’
DC’s new take on the diminutive superhero Ray Palmer and his eventual successor, Ryan Choi actually began back in DC Universe: Rebirth #1 by Geoff Johns. The comic – which kicked off the start of the “Rebirth” entirely – introduced Ryan as Palmer’s teaching assistant, and one of the few to discover the real reason for the professor’s disappearance. Ryan discovers a video left behind by Palmer, instructing him to put on his remaining shrinking Bio-Belt and follow him into the Microverse. It leaves Ryan slack jawed and stunned, but in the pages of Justice League of America: Rebirth, he’s been putting the intervening months to good use.
Demonstrating the ability to shrink into digital devices and ride their connections to other systems, Ryan Choi returns to Palmer’s (vacant) lab to find not one, but two terrifying figures waiting for him. Batman, cloaked in darkness, and Lobo… being Lobo. The confusion is mutual, since Batman has arrived in search of Ray Palmer, The Atom, not his protege. Ryan reacts as you would expect a young man offered an invitation to a superhero team only to see it withdrawn, but it’s actually Lobo who speaks in his favor. Having spent their wait for Palmer observing the research and Bio-Belt updates Choi has done in the meantime, the kid’s smarts aren’t to be overlooked.
A hero who shrinks is a hero who shrinks in Lobo’s book, and recognizing his own youthful enthusiasm and willingness to leap into danger in the young man, he ‘ain’t asking Batman’s opinion.’
Ray Terrill – ‘The Ray’
Ryan Choi puts the idea that he’s not a full-fledged recruit to rest by making contact with the next in line. He definitely wins the award for best entrance of the issue, bursting out of a smartphone being used by Ray Terrill, a.k.a. The Ray. He’s less known to casual DC fans as the other members of the team (or possibly his father, the original Ray), but his most well known story is likely Grant Morrison and Jim Lee’s Mastermen, one of DC’s Multiversity series set in an alternate universe where Hitler and the Nazis won World War II.
As an answer to the new regime, the superhero team known as The Freedom Fighters emerged, comprised of heroes representative of the very groups the Nazis hoped to eradicate. The reason for Ray Terrill’s inclusion was stated to be his homosexuality (by Morrison, not the character himself), and the version introduced in Justice League of America: Rebirth keeps the character element intact. But his new origin is told in Justice League of America: The Ray Rebirth, detailing his life spent in darkness believing he was “allergic” to light.
It’s not a happy childhood, so when Ray finally decided to test the idea that light would kill him, as it did his father, he learned the truth: light “feeds” him, allows him to become invisible, generate light energy, and even form constructs. He’s easily the newest superhero in the group, which means Batman’s reasons for recruiting Ray, or even being aware of him are likely to be revealed in the future.
Mari McCabe – ‘Vixen’
There’s a good chance that most DC Comics fans will know Vixen by now, if not for her role in the modern era Justice League, then as a cast member of The CW’s Legends of Tomorrow. But Orlando is starting the character over from scratch for this series, while honoring the aspects of the heroine most know. Vixen, or Mari McCabe grew up an orphan in Zambesi, Africa, after her parents were both killed in connection to her family’s Tantu Totem, and the love of all animals that comes with it. But it was her beauty, not the totem that took her from Africa to the heights of America’s wealthy and powerful.
Mari would use her modeling career to fund countless charity programs, looking to save children from a childhood as harsh as her own. But when one child who had slipped through the cracks confronted her in Justice League of America: Vixen Rebirth, Mari dug out her mother’s totem to do some hands-on work. Connecting with all the animals of the world, and channeling their abilities as needed, Mari realized that her mother’s mission would now be her own. And in the debut issue of this new Justice League, Batman is seeing to her invitation personally.
It’s soon revealed that Batman has tried to recruit her to the Justice League already, but had little luck since Mari’s demands were numerous enough without a superteam. But Batman explains that the one thing his new League needs to succeed is a leader with conviction; someone who will never stop fighting if the cause is just. Simply put: without Vixen, there is no Justice League of America. And that is an offer even Mari can’t refuse.
So there you have it, perhaps the most human, and diverse roster of heroes that have ever worn the title of the Justice League of America. How well will their personalities gel? Will they pose a greater threat to eachother than their enemies? And how will this new team reinforce, or hinder Batman’s newfound optimism in those others have written off for good? We’ll see in time, as the Rebirth continues.
Justice League of America: Rebirth #1 is available now.