In Justice League of America #2, Brian Hitch tries a new art form. Given that he is already the writer and pencil artist for this book, as well as a collaborator on the ink work, that is a very impressive undertaking. It is especially brave considering that this is kind of expression with which he seems to be unfamiliar, the sermon of moral exhortation. Many people don’t realize that such forms of rhetoric are, in fact, art, but they possess all of the cultural aspects of an art form, including bodies of theory and interpretation, appreciative and knowledgeable audiences, and infrastructures of presentation and preservation. They can even become “meta,” in the parlance of self-aware and self-referential creativity. And that is what Hitch has attempted in this issue. He tries to preach a sermon about sermons. Unfortunately, as all too often happens in any kind of amateur sermonizing, never mind meta-sermonizing, he comes off as heavy-handed and overbearing.
The story picks up where Justice League #1 left off, with the appearance of Rao, god of Krypton. In fact, he was the personification of Krypton’s sun. He has come to find the last survivor of Krypton, Superman, and beg forgiveness. Rao had left his planet and people to explore divine errands in space, and was thus absent when the disaster struck his homeworld. Now he has found the last Kryptonian and will make amends for his failure by lavishing love and healing on Superman’s adopted world.
Clark, in Hitch’s characterization an intensely emotional and seemingly unstable personality, readily embraces his deity, becoming the Herald of Rao to a suffering earth. Rao’s prophets, who have an uncanny resemblance to the Priors of the Ori from the Stargate television series, fan out over the planet, delivering physical and mental relief to the sick, dying, and pained. Batman objects. His characterization is more traditional than Superman’s, albeit on the extreme dark end of the spectrum. He rejects hope as an illusion, finds the charity of a god suspicious, and is fundamentally offended at the spectacle of the evil and guilty being afforded healing as readily as the innocent and deserving. Aquaman is likewise skeptical, saying his people long ago stopped believing in their historical god, Poseidon. Now, that is rather problematic, seeing that one of his partners on the Justice League is the God of War in the same pantheon as Poseidon, so probably he means the Atlanteans stopped worshipping Poseidon as opposed to stopped believing in him. He further says he personally does not believe in gods, which makes you wonder if he thinks Diana is an illusion. But once again he, and Hitch, is likely only being slippery with language.
Indeed, Diana is a very big problem, along with Hal Jordan and Barry Allen. They seem to have disappeared in the midst of Rao’s ascension. In this, Batman’s suspicions would seem to have reason. As the story closes, Diana awakens, to discover herself surrounded by the ruins of a devastated Olympus. It would seem that Rao is a jealous god.
Hitch narrows the focus of his story, leaving aside the questions of alternate universes and timelines and the Infinity Corporation to deal exclusively with the coming of Rao. It is certainly a big enough topic for a book. But if his plots and are interesting, his themes are heavy-handed in the extreme. Suspicion of religion saturates this issue like a miasma. Worse, his characterizations continue to be extreme, with a brutal Batman, hysterical Superman, and icy Aquaman bearing little resemblance to the heroes with which we are familiar.