The Matter Of The Justice League:
RB: Justice. Doom.
These are the central ideas at the root of Scott Snyder (and James Tynion’s) Justice League era. Justice represents our desire to rise above our base, animalistic, predatory nature. It is us ascending beyond what we were ‘meant’ to be and imposing a self-created ideal and structure, a vision of how things should be, as opposed to how they actually are. It is an embrace of (constructed) meaning.
Doom is ‘fate’, it is accepting our very basest nature and giving into it. It is embracing our predatory, ‘Survival of the strongest’ mentality. It is not rising up, but descending downwards, as represented by the following symbols for each:
On one hand, we have The Justice League representing Justice, and on the other we have The Legion Of Doom representing Doom. This tension of these binaries is the entire story.
What’d you make of this era, Vishal?
VG: The run, to me, felt more interested in the aesthetics of its story than the actual conflict it was exploring. Justice and Doom are names that go back to iconic Superfriends, and Snyder was clearly really excited to turn them into these “meaningful” concepts in the DC mythos. Taking what started as silly superhero names and turning it into an ideological war is classic Scott Snyder, and I don’t mean it as a dig! It’s the sensibility that lends itself to this massive expansion of the roster, this creation of the Justice League as a system similar to Justice League Unlimited from the mid-00s.
But the run feels more focused on the callbacks themselves than actually doing anything with them. Like, yes, he takes “Doom” and turns it into an ideology that Lex Luthor believes in, but it feels… unnecessary.
Beyond aesthetic inspiration, the clear focal inspiration for Snyder’s Justice League is the Avengers. Specifically, Jonathan Hickman’s run. The Totality is literally ripped from the Rogue Planet of Hickman’s Avengers, and the Justice-League-As-A-System premise is wholly pulled from it. This isn’t an accusation or indictment – Snyder said this himself. But I think by doing things the way he did, he ended up making a book that didn’t feel like it mattered. It just continued to exist while more significant books did more significant things.
What frustrated me the most, though, was Snyder’s constant tendency to go “And then it got worse.” Every arc, the villains either won or claimed that losing was a part of their plan. The Justice League was made to feel ineffectual, incapable of actually succeeding.
But enough of my impressions, how was this run for you, Ritesh? You’ve always been the more DC-minded of the two of us.
RB: I found it to be a thorough lesson in how not to do things, to put it bluntly. It fails big, and it fails in a lot of ways that are telling, I think. And those failures are more than just in comparison to better things like it, it just fails in and of itself, as a structure and mechanism of its own making.
Snyder made no attempt to hide the fact that this was a blatant attempt to build a ‘Hickman-esque’ story and structure (his words, not mine), and it feels blatant in a lot of ways. The fundamental premise is ‘The Multiverse is dying’ and the core characters are secretly dealing with this problem. That’s the crux of the run. It’s The Death and Rebirth Of The Multiverse. The run might as well scream it in your face as to what it’s drawing on, really.
Even those Justice/Doom insignias are an attempt to evoke some of that Hickman aesthetic and design magic with The Avengers, albeit lazily, because it is literally just The Hall Of Justice and The Hall Of Doom’s outlines as ‘symbols’. However, for all the laziness, I do like them, in all their cheap, corny fashion. But the key thing to note is that laziness, given that extends to the work’s supposed attempted exploration of those two ideas.
What I first want to touch on though is the sort of layers of influence, given that Hickman’s Avengers, the core influence here, is openly riffing on and working off DC iconography and influence. Like, that story is just a goddamn Legion Of Super-Heroes epic just hard-wired to suit The Avengers and MU mechanism. The Builders are The Controllers. Avengers World, Legion World. The whole damn thing is a Crisis-plot, but done as a grand, slow-building ‘epic’ rather than 12-issue event maxi. It’s why it culminates in Secret Wars, with those Alex Ross covers, going even more blatant on the DC iconography riffs as it draws on Secret Wars of the past as well.
So, in a way, I get why Snyder would need to respond or draw from that, because Hickman did the latest iteration of The Crisis story, and that’s effectively what Snyder is trying to do. One big ass Crisis story, in a post-Jonathan Hickman context, which means acknowledging or responding to Hickman in some way.
But here’s the problem: Snyder just isn’t very good at this.
VG: It’s a really weird thing to experience, a riff on a riff on a classic story. We’re used to callbacks and riffs on stuff from decades prior, but Secret Wars was only 5 years before Death Metal. Instead of feeling like Snyder was using the framing of Secret Wars to make something new, it really just ended up feeling like he wanted to do the exact same thing Hickman did. It reads as unoriginal, and honestly bugs me a great deal.
The most genuinely unique part of the run, though, is the “Batman Who Laughs.” Snyder’s obsession with this evil jokerized version of Batman genuinely took me out of the run at several points, because he just makes everything feel cheap. In Dark Nights: Metal, he was a believable threat on the promise that he would not come back after the event ended. Instead, he pervaded the entire story of DC until the next giant event, poisoning everything he’s connected to.
Much like how Aaron’s Avengers weakened the entire Marvel Universe by forcing connections where there shouldn’t have been any, Snyder’s Justice League weakened the entire DC Universe by centering it around Batman. The idea that Batmans from the Dark Multiverse are the real greatest threat to the DC Universe just… doesn’t sit right. Not even as a “Not my canon” sort of complaint, but it genuinely makes the whole universe feel like it doesn’t matter anymore.
But as frustrated as I am with “The Batman Who Laughs,” he quickly becomes meaningless, a simple messenger for Perpetua, the creator of all things. Ritesh, can you explain Perpetua a bit? Her presence is just a bunch of cosmic DC rewriting that I can’t seem to solidly grasp.
RB: Much like Aaron’s run is a lot of ‘answering questions that needn’t be’ and shrinking the world down, making it more insular, Snyder’s is the same. It, too, is obsessed with its own Unified Theory Of DC Mythos, and thus it gives you The Totality, which is linked to and connected to ‘The Seven Forces’ which are tied to our key JL leads and their mirrors on The Legion Of Doom. Everything is ‘simplified’ and ‘broken down’ into these digestible components, as is the entire universe, with us meeting the being that is The Hand Of Creation.
The Totality thing in particular felt like a very…John Byrne-esque move to me. I actually thought back to Byrne’s much-maligned and forgotten event Genesis from the 90’s, wherein he tried to, similarly, draw a Unified Theory Of DC out. And therein, he posited that a supposed ‘Godwave’ from The Source brought about everything, and it’s such this…’clean’ attempt to do DC Comics, that it breaks. It doesn’t work.
The magic of DC isn’t the ‘clean’ and simplified unification. DC isn’t a cohesive world. It’s a clashing, clawing cluster, a mad archipelago, a battle-world akin to Secret Wars, just various islands that were never meant to be together in one place. It’s all of that smushed together, and it’s about the sparks that fly, it’s about the contrasts and different emergent flavors from that. It’s seeing Guy Gardner and Mister Miracle and Blue Beetle in the same room. It’s kind of odd if you think about it. It’s like an odd meal from various cuisines put together, and that’s the room. When you try to ‘flatten’ it out into being this ‘singular’ thing, I think you genuinely rob away what makes it…well, it. Its definition is thrown out for some poor attempt at a clean substitute, and it’ll never be good enough.
Snyder’s work here ultimately feels like a Youtube video series of ‘The DC Universe Explained!’ but as comics, and that’s never terribly interesting comics, at least for my taste.
As for The Hand…now that is an ancient, old John Broome/Gil Kane idea from a GL issue, and remains an absolute favorite of mine. Broome was obsessed with the idea of Creators and Creations, Constructs and Manifestations, writing a magical hero, a divine hero, an agent of angelic power. And The Hand is an image that recurs across his work, thus being Hal Jordan’s go-to construct.
Someone like Grant Morrison understood that The Hand is not something to be revealed, and was better left as abstract and symbolic, representing the idea of The Creator rather than being a literal cosmic being for characters to punch or wrestle with. It’d be like if rather than doing The Coyote Gospel, we had a whole Looney Tunes vs The God plot with an Evil Coyote Who Laughs, which, I guess you could do that, but it’s not The Coyote Gospel is it?
But in any case, Grant kept the mystery and never saw a need to properly, cleanly ‘explain’ it all in literal in-universe lore and story terms. Everything was much more metaphorical. But then Snyder comes in and imposes an almost Johnsian Literalism on top of it all, so we get the reveal: Perpetua is The Hand Of Creation.
The idea of DC Ideas rebelling against their masters and the will of their masters could be cool, and y’know, it was pretty cool when it was done in Final Crisis. Here though? It’s just…try hard and kind of nothing. By the end of it all, it’s just a lot of Batman Who Laughs nonsense, which I think is fair to say, because at a point, Perpetua is straight up taken off the board, and BWL literally becomes The Ur-Antagonist.
VG: That sense of “Snyder missed Grant’s point” comes up right away, honestly – in Dark Nights: Metal very early on there’s a scene where we see the map from Multiversity, and then literally flip the map over. That’s what Snyder’s vision of the DC Universe is built on, the flipping of a physical map.
The whole thing feels like a major case of one-upsmanship. The Anti-Monitor was the big bad of Crisis? Well his mother is the even bigger bad of this run. Doctor Manhattan was the big bad of Doomsday Clock? Well the Batman Who Laughs merged with Doctor Manhattan powers to be an even bigger bad of Death Metal. It’s consistent and it’s tiring and it actively pushed me away from the run as a whole.
Much like Aaron’s Avengers, it feels like Snyder’s desire to use the Justice League book to go as big and bombastic as possible weakens the entire product. It feels like both creators thought that the only way to justify these books and their star-studded casts was to make them fight the biggest, baddest threats they could make up – bigger and badder than anything that already existed. Aaron made super-celestials and Snyder made the Anti-monitor’s mother. Aaron made the corporate Justice League and Snyder made the Batman Justice League. It’s tiring and pointless, and an absolute failure in how to make team books work.
RB: I think the other thing too is, much like Aaron, I don’t think Snyder is good at High Concept or Big Ideas. It’s like how Snyder’s like ‘Okay, 5th Dimension is Imagination? Well, we’ll do a whole arc to go BEYOND THAT called 6th Dimension!’ and like, sure, you can do The 6th Dimension, Scott, you can do that which lies beyond Imagination. But you gotta actually, y’know, have Ideas for that. You gotta have a concept that justifies your absurd escalations. Like, okay, what is the 6th Dimension? Let’s come up with a cool Big Idea. But the thing is… Snyder doesn’t. In the end, The 6th Dimension, that which lies beyond Imagination itself is… a room? Just… a bloody room that’s ‘The Control Room’ of The Multiverse or something? It’s just like… it’s escalation for the sake of escalation. It’s the ‘Only Lore, No Meaning’ idea made manifest. It’s how you get ‘The Batman Who Laughs becomes The Batmanhattan Who Laughs’. That’s the nature of its imagination. It’s the pretense of Big Ideas/High Concept, without actually having any or doing anything. It strikes me as lazy comics.
The best way I can put it is: Hickman’s X-Men is this genuinely Big Ideas/High Concept work, much like his Avengers, full of reframing the entire enterprise as an evolutionary tale of mutantdom against post-humanity, crazy tech-cults and the dreaded arrival of A.I for a real world and age of Neo-reactionaries and Roko’s Basilisk. It’s a text that shifts the metaphor from the ‘Model Minority’ to something more, and complicates, and brings a whole new era and vision. From aesthetic and stylistic ambitions to formal ideas, it’s a properly ambitious work, building on the kind Hickman already did.
Now, could you even begin to imagine Scott Snyder’s X-Men? Just take a second for me and try, and consider your response to that. That’s the difference and divide. Snyder is a lot of ‘This familiar old thing you knew…but BIGGER, BADDER, DARKER’, which I call his Black Mirror Approach. He’ll apply it to everything under the sun from the Speed Force (Still Force), the Visible Emotional Spectrum (Invisible Emotional Spectrum), the Multiverse (Dark Multiverse), or even America itself (Undiscovered Country).
But as you wrote and delineated on Snyder’s America: Black Mirror Edition in Undiscovered Country, it’s all just…shallow posturing and ‘wild’ and ‘crazy’ notions which aren’t actually that at all and says little of value. It’s the false assumption of Evocation=Examination as comics. Just because you evoke a thing, your work is not automatically examining that thing meaningfully. You actually have to do the work and consider things. And Snyder’s work, to me, never does. It feels rooted in a distrust of the reader (and an insecurity of the creator) and uses cheap shorthand and a lot of repetition of the old but scaled up, and by the end, it all just feels cheap? It doesn’t feel like it’s actually about telling an important story, as much as it’s concerned with seeming like it has. It’s like it wants to say ‘Oh I did my own epic…’ rather than care about the actual nature of the work itself.
Snyder’s Justice League feels like it’s a comic that wants to be One Piece, but ends up being Fairy Tail, to make a Shounen comparison, given the entire narrative bears striking parallels to Naruto, with Martian Manhunter and Lex Luthor having a retconned in backstory as Childhood Friends (which is later dropped and wasted, as J’Onn is cast aside). It’s a narrative that abandons the story of its supposed lead in J’Onn, leaping to Wonder Woman, who is perhaps Snyder’s weakest character on the League, despite Greg Capullo’s powerful depiction of her. It’s a story that fails to emotionally satisfy and payoff the things it sets up and claims to be about, and devolves into being yet another Let’s Fix The DC Continuity fix-fic. It’s frustrating, rather than fun.
And it’s all a bummer because I genuinely, really wanted to love this run. And I know so, so many people who did, coming off a dreadful decade of Johns Justice League comics. It felt like there was a thing to potentially be excited about again with the title, perhaps. I even went back and pulled this little bit from years ago, just as a display for how willing to fall in love with it I was when it began:
None of this thought was really needed, of course, as the run itself did not actually put as much thought or care about its notions as a younger me seemed to. So much of the run feels pointless, devoid of meaning. And in the end, all I’ll remember it for is its obsession with wanting to ‘top’ everything and everyone, to be The Biggest And Most Definitive Ever, to do more Batman Who Laughs, than tell a meaningful story about the DC characters that I felt anything about.
Both of these runs could’ve been so much better and had genuine promise, and it’s never not heartbreaking when that’s the case. But I think it holds even more true for these big corner-stole flagship teams. When they don’t click, something feels off about the line as a whole. The better they do, the more alive a line feels, for they are the breath of a universe.