Saturday, 4 August 2012

Getting The Justice League Right

The original Justice League of America roll call was Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter, soon to be joined by Green Arrow. Batman, a masked avenger, and Green Arrow, a costumed adventurer, are non-super powered beings who do not belong in the JLA, although they could be consultants on crime in Gotham City and Seattle. 

Wayne operates as a vigilante from midnight till 4.00 am and as an industrialist/playboy/philanthropist in daylight, both in Gotham City. He has no time for JLA meetings or missions although there should be a secure communication link from Batcave to JLA HQ. Superman at least should continue to disapprove of his vigilantism.

(Alternatively, there are versions of Batman whose physical and mental training and technology make him a superhero, e. g., like Iron Man. An armoured Batman fights “Kent” whose superhero name is not used, at the end of The Dark Knight Falls.)

The six super powered beings form three pairs: 

two Greek myths (an Amazon and an Atlantean);
two cosmic forces (speed and light);
two extraterrestrial exiles (a Martian and a Kryptonian).

These are mythic figures of cosmic proportions. I think the aquatic ape would be more appropriate than Atlantis as an origin for Aquaman but merpeople, not necessarily fish-tailed, are also ancient myths.

The Guardians of the Universe, based at the Metagalactic Centre, should not be humanoid, although they may appear that way to the terrestrial GL, and should communicate only telepathically or tachyonically, but should not make physical contact over that great a distance. Their purpose should be to foster life and civilization, not merely to oppose “evil.” If they were active in the very early universe, then they cannot have originated here but must have survived from a previous universe where they learned how to overcome obstacles on the path to a mature civilization. There could also be a place for beings like the Marvel Universe Watchers who merely observe.

The Guardian’s base, Oa, should be a vast multi-dimensional artificial habitat, not a natural planet. The Green Lanterns, maybe one in every cluster of galaxies, should never meet en masse. Flash and GL personify the two aspects of the light speed limit. If the Guardians, influencing the early universe, fixed that limit, then combining Flash’s and GL’s powers might overcome it.

The Prestige Format mini-series, Hawkworld, provided a good basis for the later JLA member, Hawkman, but as with Kryptonians, there has to be a reason why Thanagarians exactly resemble white North Americans. Retaining the pairs theme, Hawkman and an angel who later joined the JLA are two winged beings. The Spectre and Deadman, if they become involved, are two ghosts. The hybrid genre of super heroes incorporates both sf and fantasy. Greek gods bestowed Wonder Woman’s powers and the Marvel Universe includes Thor. The Kryptonian god, Rao, might have populated Krypton with displaced terrestrials and sponsored Superman.

How do the scientifically explained Guardians connect with supernaturally explained gods? In Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, the universe generates anthropomorphic personifications of aspects of consciousness including Dream in whose realm gods begin. Thus, the physical universe is primary. If Rao pre-existed the Kryptonians not only in mythology but also in reality, then he is a different kind of superior being somehow generated inside the red giant star whose name he shares.

However, the Biblical God (or something like it) seems to be superior to local gods. Norse and other deities petition Dream for the key to Hell but the One God decrees how the key is to be used. This God (or one like it) had been challenged by the Original Darkness that was before the creation in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. This suggests Biblical creation, not scientific cosmogony. 

Either mythical or scientific cosmology makes sense as a fictional setting but they are not easily combined. Perhaps a joint meeting of the JLA and the Endless (Dream etc) could address this clash of cosmologies. Since Destruction abandoned his realm, there are, appropriately, six Endless to meet six superheroes. (I suggest that League membership should remain at the original six.) The joint meeting would most appropriately be held neither in JLA HQ nor in the realm of Destiny but in a teleportational/interdimensional link, an enlarged common space with Destiny’s timeless refectory at one end and the JLA’s technological meeting room at the other but with no easy passage between them.

In Neil Gaiman’s works, both mythical and scientific accounts of reality are true on different levels but how do these levels interact? Imagine: an sf-based character on an interstellar quest encounters, first, the vast space between the spiral arms of the galaxy, second, a supernova, third, a barbarian species armed with nuclear weapons by unscrupulous traders, and fourth, the black hole at the centre of the galaxy, but finally reaches an advanced civilization. Meanwhile, in another volume, a fantasy-based character on a magical quest encounters, first, an immense plain, second, a fire giant, third, a troll horde armed with supernatural weapons by the unscrupulous Loki, and fourth, a bottomless whirlpool near Jotunheim, but finally reaches Asgard.

In a third volume, the characters meet in an intermediate realm where they learn that their parallel quests were two sides of the same coin but that the alternative aspects of reality must be prevented from overlapping catastrophically. I do not know how this would work. My skills are analytic, not creative. But the conflict should be in the characters’ minds and perceptions, not in their physical reality. The World Serpent should not appear in interstellar space nor should cosmic expansion affect the Nine Worlds in the Tree. Two characters might find that they are one or might establish a spiritual link to be developed in subsequent volumes.

Roy Thomas had the original Justice Society of America merging with the Aesir and endlessly re-fighting the Ragnarok. Later writers returned the JSA to Earth. A better plan would have been for Dr Fate, working as a medium, to contact the JSA in the Viking hereafter and to relay their advice to the JLA and Titans.

A Justice League of the Environment could protect life:

plants (Swamp Thing and Black Orchid);
fish (Aquaman);
birds (Hawkman);
animals (Animal Man and Vixen);

and its material basis:

water (Aquaman);
air (Hawkman). 

These characters also form three pairs with Aquaman as JLA-JLE liaison. The JLE would be able to handle a re-match with one early group of JLA villains: alien invaders who, already adapted to live in a polluted environment, accelerated terrestrial pollution in order both to exterminate humanity and to make Earth habitable by themselves.

The JLE would be concerned only with Earth whereas the JLA, despite its anachronistic name, is cosmically significant. Its members represent sea life, the gods, the Guardians, two otherwise extinct species and motion. The Martian has smaller scale Superman-like abilities plus telepathy and invisibility and is a metamorph with, potentially, multiple identities. The most powerful version of Superman not only flies through space within the Solar System but also survives unprotected trips through hyperspace and the time stream. He is expected to survive indefinitely and to roam the galaxy after completing his terrestrial superhero career. Such characters were clearly destined for more than catching bank robbers and might form the nucleus of the Guardians of the next universe.

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