"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Comic Books, Film
they are more confident in their mission than before, mirroring the growth and scale of the main group. If you can call the two groups related, of course. Before, their actions in secret were not too big, not too much. The biggest thing they did was accomplish them in secret. While that is a betrayal, it’s not a damning one. It’s a couple of hurt feelings as we saw. There was discovery and, then, everyone moved on, not really caring about what they learned. Now, though, the actions taken by the group in secret are much larger in scale and call into question their morality. While a lot of comics seem to be taking inspiration from Nextwave: Agents of HATE, this one seems to go back to an earlier influential Ellis work: The Authority. It has struck me lately that those two works have dominated the past decade-and-a-half of superhero comics. First, with widescreen kicksplode violence. Then, with the irreverent-yet-serious reinvention of characters, boiled down to a core few characteristics that lead to hijinks and comedy. The latter is in vogue, but the former is where this comic seems to be. Positing the traditional heroes in a position with heinous villainous actions are the only moral thing to do. What’s difficult to do is to reconcile what happens here and what happens elsewhere. How does one view the characters as the same? Is it possible to be the villain in private and the hero in public so easily for all involved? This issue touches on that through the twisted viewing where we see what truly counts as immorality in their eyes: deviation from the mission. They are not acting to save themselves (though they are), they are acting to save others, like always. But, seeing that she has a different goal that will, ultimately, be at odds with theirs, they are forced to take action again, albeit one familiar to superheroes since forever. They fall back into traditional roles for a brief moment or two… except, again, in a private, dark manner. This is not open and through proper channels, it is secretive and done in private, with no one else to know that it happened. Things continue to slowly escalate even when there is no pressing danger. When there is a crisis, they must take terrible action; when there is no crisis, they must take terrible action in preparation for the next crisis. While not necessarily more subtle than The Authority, the more long approach undertaken allows for a more subtle exploration of what it means to be a villainous hero. With each new line crossed, does the next become easier? Is there a line that won’t be crossed? So far, no. And, while there has been that escalation, there hasn’t been a constant attempt to one-up what came before. It’s not like doing one morally compromising action immediately leads to another. It’s a bit more organic, thankfully. Of course, the real question that I have is how long this will last and if it will end with the usual moralising that tends to accompany these types of stories (though, was thankfully absent from The Authority… for those first 12 issues, at least). There already was an attempt at moralising with this group when they were first exposed and, as I said, it was less about morality than hurt feelings. I wouldn’t mind moralising, except it always seems to masturbatory. “You saved the world… BUT AT WHAT COST???” you can see the cover proclaiming with pointed fingers and sunken heads of shame. Emphasis on the second part of the sentence, ignoring the first part. After all, being a superhero is an exercise in crossing a line of legality – and morality (after all, the choice to use violence at all is a moral violation for some). The lines that pen in so many heroes seem arbitrary. The Authority pushed things to a somewhat logical conclusion: us and them. The team protected “us” from “them.” The “us” in that case was the people of their world. The “them” is the other that means harm. It may be another country, it may be another world, it may be god… if harm will come to “us,” they undertake any action to prevent it. It’s not about morality, it’s about the pure definition of what a superhero does. It’s been fascinating to see the Illuminati come to grips with that reality. Doing anything called for to save the planet, even destroying other planets. After all, both would be destroyed, so why not save their own? Taking the larger view, it’s all meaningless/random except when you make the somewhat arbitrary definition of “us” with everyone else being “them.” It seems that the end point might be the expansion of “us” to include every Earth as they, somehow, overcome the multiverse wide decay that results in the Incursions. There’s a hint of that here when they view the final glimpse of the Black Swan’s past and it seems to be the killing of alternate Reed and Tony that pisses them off. That she doesn’t share their goal is the real sticking point, but the transition from killing alternate Tony to our Stark looking grim, asking what they’re going to do about it. That is the look of a man ready to do anything to protect “us.” With each issue, the doubts seem to recede further into the background and
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