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‘Justice League #17’ (review)

Written by Scott Snyder
Illustrated by Jim Cheung
and Mark Morales

Published by DC Comics


“Sh’anne, Sh’anne”


They are the words used by Martians, in a lost and forgotten age, to bury their regret on a sacred field of memories, before an ancient symbol for Unity.

With dragons.

Psychic, subterranean dragons.

All of which is the theme and the backdrop for this issue of the Justice League.

Or one of the themes at any rate, because that symbol, as we know by now, is only one half of the equation.

And Mars, we now know, is not the only planet where these themes have been decreed to play out.

It’s a destiny shared by two worlds, Earth and Mars, a common legacy contained in the secret history of the Universe, being spelled out for us by DC’s latest wonder scribe Scott Snyder.

I’ve been wondering aloud recently what’s become of Mr. Snyder’s scripting, given the events unfolding in this series. But for all that recent happenings have been momentous (to put it mildly), I can see now that the events of this issue are likely what Snyder has been waiting for most of all.

It’s good to have him back for it.

For all that Lex Luthor has always traditionally been a Superman villain, this series has been juxtaposing Lex and J’onn J’onnz, Martian Manhunter, since its inception. That didn’t make much sense at first. But those pieces began to fall into place with the recent revelations about the shared origins of humanity and the Martian race. And with this issue they more or less lock into position.

Because it’s not just the Universe and Mars that has a secret history. Our big green Manhunter has one too. One, coincidentally enough, that ties directly into the legacy of Perpetua, and all the events unfolding now.

Because of all the Martians who ever existed, it is our cast-away hero, from a race now long dead and gone, who was snagged as a young child from the depths of time, to be brought forward in captivity into earth’s modern-day continuity, where he was destined to meet and befriend a certain red-headed boy genius, just his own age…

J’onn’s abductors, we now know, were the mysterious Legionnaire’s Club, who’s work came somehow into the possession of Lex Luthor, and serve as the basis of Lex’s current, quite unhealthy view of the Universe. That is to say, the Universe as he believes it ought to be, one in which terrible Perpetua and her seven deadly forces of creation, have been reconstituted and re-instated to their proper place of ascendant glory.

A dream he seems well on the way to achieving.

All of which makes it exceedingly odd, when we discover at the outset of this issue that he has agreed to meet one-on-one with J’onn J’onnz, alone, on Mars.

It’s not the sort of play a master strategist would likely concede to, not coming from a position of advantage, though certainly Lex is arrogant enough to believe he can keep the upper hand. And there’s reason to believe he feels it’s a chance to take J’onn off the board.

Still, the set-up seems unlikely. And in the event of it, quite dangerous. In Snyder’s inimitable style.

As the script unfolds however it becomes increasingly clear, that it is this very moment that our series has been driving towards all along.

As a metaphor, the idea that Martians and humankind once shared a common ancestry, one which played a central role in the ancient secret history of the Universe, has great potential.

Not only does it allow for a story that brings Martian Manhunter into a far more central role in the DC Universe than he has so far enjoyed, it sets up a premise that goes right to the core of the paradox of human (and OK, probably also Martian) nature:

The idea that at our root, despite every appearance, challenge and division, we are all One – a unity that must by its very definition include each and every other.

The theme of the Other has been played on endlessly in comics, as in every art form, but in comics, in DC comics, one of the greatest examples of that is, of course, J’onn J’onnz and his Martian legacy.

And now, in a story that seems to be fixing to set itself up as the defining Justice League arc of all time, that character and that metaphor have become a central player in a story of the greatest threat in the history of the Universe, and its greatest oncoming crisis. A crisis that may only be averted in the end, if the hero of one ancient race and the inheritor of another, can find a way to overcome the differences that seem to set them apart, and choose unity over division, love over hatred, and the solace of common friendship over the bitter damage of regret.

It’s a metaphor for the ages. And the story, once again, of our time.

Too bad one of those people is named Luthor.

Therein lies the genius of our tale however, one which most certainly has many twists and turns yet before us. And all that it requires of us, is perhaps the greatest feat of suspended disbelief I have ever faced before in a comic story.

Sorry, but it needs to be said.

Humanity and the Martian race were once a single, horrifying, ancient, conquering race of titanic warriors fashioned by the original Queen of all universal Reality to serve Her will, a race that was sundered across time and space to live out as separate peoples on sister planets in a tiny Sol system, each for tiny slices of time in an otherwise untold millenia of infinite multiversal stories? …Really?

I mean hey, I get it – comics.

Suspension of disbelief is a stock-in-trade. Hell, as die-hard enthusiasts, as a community, we’re well practiced in believing at least ten impossible things before any given breakfast. And after all, we’re talking about a world with conquering psychic starfish, superdogs, red kryptonite, and the Rock of Eternity.

So, it’s not the wild, crazy nature of the thing I object to. It’s the fact that the shape of all the wild and all the crazy, seems to be almost entirely driven by the requirements of the story.

It’s a pretty intensive effort, one that’s hard to miss.  And one with pretty high revisionist stakes.  One that I’m not sure is going to suit everyone’s tastes.

But, once again, hey – comics. And does the medium deserve its shot at high art, just like every other artistic form in our culture? Yes. Yes, it does. Absolutely.

So, the only question left remaining is, can we go with it? Can we get behind it? Well, yes. We can.

For myself, I’m going to keep giving it that shot. Because, for sure, we still don’t know all of the story yet. And with a little more scaffolding on this puppy, it may just take on shapes we can still only be guessing at.

Who knows – it may be, that this tale of the mighty Justice League and their deadly foes winds up being more than just a fine, high-drama, redemption story for a certain lost, little green-skinned Martian, and a certain lost, little red-headed boy.

Or even, more than that, for all of us.

Maybe, just maybe, in the end, it’ll have something grand say about the whole of divine Creation itself, and all the buried, unheld, regrets, griefs and pains that have gone into making Her who she is now.

Could be.

I say, bring it on.

Next Issue: Hold on, what about that whole Imminent End of the Universe thing going on?


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