By: Geoff Johns (story), Doug Mahnke (pencils), Keith Champagne (inks), Andrew Dalhouse (colors)

The Story: Luthor and Caulder see who can out-mad scientist the other.

The Review: Thank heavens one title at least is spared the Futures End treatment this month. It’s aggravating having to read issue after issue of comics without any certainty that it even matters. It reminds me of when I used to create marketing presentations for products still in the R&D stage, always aware that at any moment the design could be dropped and all my work wasted, always torn between necessity and pointlessness.

Anyway, my point is Justice League offers a very much appreciated break from Futures End in addition to all the new tidbits of troubling information about Caulder. While he insists that his work with the Patrol and their ilk is noble, Luthor exposes past experiments, not only on the unfortunate Karma and Scorch, but on Celsius and Tempest (who went into hiding), a former “war veteran,”* the “Negative Twins” (indicating Larry’s only the latest product of Caulder’s Negative work), and even Caulder’s own ex-wife. Even more disturbing is the accusation that a virus Caulder once cured was one he introduced himself.

Perhaps in the past, we’d be inclined to believe Caulder’s claim that Luthor set him up, but we’ve gotten pretty intimate with Luthor in the past year and he seems credible when scoffing that such doings are beneath him. Not so much when he says, “I am one of the world’s greatest heroes,” though. It’s not his near-lethal blast at Caulder; it’s the persistent feeling that his desire to protect the world isn’t coming from the right place. Naturally, Clark comes closest to putting his finger on it. All those jobs, technology, and funds Luthor provided to Metropolis did not arise out of a sense of civic duty or altruism; they came about to indulge his own ego, and he wants to do the same to the world.

But that’s for later. For now, he has the same aims as the League and they’re willing to take him in on a “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” basis. I’m also not sure Clark’s right in saying they don’t need Luthor; now that the Anti-Monitor has his eye on their planet, they’ll need all the genius they can get.**

Clark’s also overlooking the fact that it’s Luthor’s insight into the Power Ring that gives Bruce the inspiration to bring Jessica Cruz under control. Where Clark speaks correctly is the assertion that “[Luthor’s] not you, Bruce. Not even close.” While Luthor’s ready to scramble Jessica’s brain to shut her down (and Caulder’s on the verge of an impromptu lobotomy), Bruce wades directly into her line of fire and talks her through her fear:

“Only criminals should be afraid of me. And you’re not a criminal. You’re a victim… The darkness will consume you, Jessica. But you can find strength if you face it… If you stand up to it… Even if you embrace it.”

It’s the gentlest, most compassionate gesture a hero can make to someone in her position, and all the more unexpectedly perfect because it comes from the goddam Batman. It’s nice to see that Johns still has his gift to sell these kinds of moments with utter conviction, making them worthy of memory, not derision.

We don’t see much of the fight between the Patrol and the League, which is disappointing, but perhaps for the best. Mahnke can draw a superb tableau of battle, glorifying even the Patrol to look like a match for the League, but there’s a static quality to his figures that cuts their energy. He’s really at his best drawing close-ups on characters, relishing every expressive detail in their faces. With Champagne’s glossy inks and Dalhouse’s amazingly dimensional coloring, Mahnke’s art instantly conveys the drama taking place before you. You look at the art and you know it’s important.

Conclusion: A solid issue built around a fantastic moment.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Whom do you suppose Luthor’s referring to?

** The Anti-Monitor isn’t working alone, apparently, as he’s informed of the Power Ring’s location by someone he calls “child.”

– The Patrol is an arm of A.R.G.U.S.? With Amanda Waller in charge, that’s not too surprising, is it?



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