What is the nature of faith?  What does it look like?  If you dissected the brain of a believing person, what would you see?  What would the faith be in a test tube?  How would it appear on a microscope slide?  That is the question Bryan Hitch wrestles with in Justice League of America #4.  The answer he gives is a controversial one, even if only true for Kryptonians and their converts.

As the issue opens, the prophets of Rao are spreading across the Earth, bringing healing and joy.  The message of peace and harmony they preach seems unobjectionable.  The physical wellness they provide likewise seems to have no negative consequences.  But the methods they use to attain these salutary ends prove disturbing in the extreme.  Forced enlightenment via telepathic assault seems the most apt description.  As we have seen before, they resemble nothing in popular culture so much as the Priors of the Ori from Stargate SG1.

As it turns out, the violation is even more profound than it seems.  Batman’s investigations of a converted criminal reveals that the man’s neural system and DNA have been rewritten.  He has, quite literally, been programmed for joy.

Meanwhile, the story also follows Hal Jordan, who has been transported to ancient Kryptonian during the original reign of the god Rao.  The being he meets bears little resemblance to the glorious solar entity working its will on Earth.  Rao turns out to be a tired old man struggling to lead his people in a desperate war against a technologically superior invader.  He does not seem even especially imperious.  The god greats Hal respectfully and asks his help as a Green Lantern to achieve peace with his people’s enemies.  His benign appearance, however, is called into question as he proceeds to siphon life energy from several of his priests to fortify himself before the peace mission.

Meanwhile, on present-day Earth an examination of Superman’s blood deepens the mystery.  It turns out that he has many of the genetic markers of the converted, but in his case they were inherited rather than acquired. Something happened long ago to program all inhabitants of Krypton to worship Rao.

Grade

A-

Conclusion

The two streams of narrative, past and present, are beginning to converge. The mystery of Rao will be revealed when ancient Krypton meets modern Earth. And in that meeting will be revelations about gods and men and supermen.