What is the making of a god? That has been a somewhat puzzling question in the DC Universe for many years. The world does not lack for divinity, in fact it is positively rotten with deities. There are the New Gods, of course, but also the gods of Ancient Greece and Rome. There are demons and dark entities. There are even angels and ministers of judgment from what would seem to be the Abrahamic god, albeit often in a rather arbitrary and vengeful form. The underlying reality of these divinities, where they come from and what, if anything, underlies them is usually left unexplored.
In Justice League of America: Rebirth #1, writer Steve Orlando tackles another divine theme that has cropped up periodically over the last sixty years or so, the idea that the members of the Justice League are effectively gods on Earth. This trope is often brought up in comparison to supposedly more human heroes from the House of Marvel, but also periodically appears in discussions featuring the ethical responsibilities of super people in a mortal world. Batman seems to be calling out to the last theme when he assembles his team in this issue, saying he wants a band of humans rather than gods.
The plot of the issue involves only the assembly of the team, thus providing a coda to the four individually focused issues published so far. Batman never gets around to explaining what he means, providing an ongoing mystery for later issues. Thus, he never quite reveals why a team featuring the likes of Killer Frost, the Ray, and Lobo is less celestial than the one containing Aquaman, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter. To complicate matters further, his choice of headquarters, the Justice League’s original lair in Happy Harbor, Rhode Island, scarcely signals a complete repudiation of the past.
Given the weakness of the story, this issue is forced to rely on artwork, and Ivan Reis delivers with a spectacular sequence of images built around splash pages and large inset panels. This gives a sense of a sequence of moments, rather like a series of photographs in a non-fiction chronicle. But the work of Joe Prado and Oclair Albert on inks is just as important. This is a story of shadows, a work of darkness that promises secrets and treachery, subversion and deceit. In short, the kind of tale that harkens to the heyday of the Outsiders.
Should this have been OUTSIDERS: REBIRTH #1? It might well have been more truthful to the feel of the story, as well as easier to differentiate. Then again, with the main JUSTICE LEAGUE title languishing artistically if not commercially, the benefits of a little confusion may be exactly what DC is counting on.