WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Justice League #40
In possibly their darkest moment, the Justice League must decide who will live and will die. The Justice League are facing one of their most terrifying threats to date; a group of DC superhero super-fans. Like fans in the real world, these villains have their own idea about how the Justice League should operate. They’ve already made life pretty difficult for the League, with Batman forced to step down as team leader.
Now, in Justice League #40, the fans attempt to force the League to sacrifice all but their “legacy” members. Are the classic DC heroes really better than all their newer superhero colleagues…?
As is often the case, there are currently two Justice League teams. On the one hand, there’s the main group, based in the Watchtower. Their membership consists of iconic heroes like Wonder Woman, Superman, Aquaman, and the Flash.
And then there’s Batman’s team, a down-and-dirty group including reforming villains like Lobo and the former Killer Frost. Needless to say, the fans aren’t impressed, and they’ve decided it’s time to shut Batman’s team down.
Justice League #40 sees them kill two birds with one stone; they’ve also decided they want to take out the Watchtower, the League’s orbital base. “We think having the world’s greatest defenders headquartered on a space station is a pretty dumb idea,” one fan tells Aquaman. “Traveling 23,000 miles just for a meeting is stupid. Wastes time and resources, not to mention the risk involved in “beaming” heroes the world relies on.”
With the Watchtower going down, the fans use the Watchtower’s transporters one last time, beaming up both Justice Leagues. They rightly figure that only the most iconic heroes can possibly survive planetfall.
Christopher Priest turns this nightmarish scenario into a fascinating in-depth look at fan culture. The League members voice their opinions, and it frankly feels just like how fans would debate this kind of situation online. They toy with some pretty surreal ideas; Aquaman suggests the Atom could shrink down to fit into the fibers of Superman’s suit, while others could then be wrapped in Superman’s cape, for example. Little by little, though, the League become convinced only some of their members can survive.
A cold calculator since her Rebirth reboot, Killer Frost– sorry, Frost suggests deploying the Socratic method, choosing to save the heroes who will go on to make the biggest difference in the world. “The world loses them,” she argues, “they lose a legacy.”
Both the Atom and Aquaman are persuaded by her argument; to the Atom, it’s logical, while Aquaman is used to having to make sacrifices as former ruler of Atlantis. He knows that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Vixen, meanwhile, asks the painful question: “Are you honestly saying you’d sacrifice Batman to save me?”
Naturally, it’s Superman who brings an end to this particular discussion. There’s a sense that Priest’s story is an outright criticism of fan culture. So many fans would follow the logic of Frost and Aquaman; that the “big guns” are what matter, that these newer heroes, these redeemed villains, are less interesting and valuable. Why focus your comics on those characters? Why not instead just publish more Superman stories?
In that sense, Justice League #40 is an outright rejection of fan culture. The fans are wrong, for one simple reason: they’re deploying the kind of logic the best heroes would refuse to accept. As for which superheroes will actually survive the next chapter of the story… well, that remains to be seen.
Justice League #40 is available now from DC Comics.
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