A Midsummer’s Nightmare” — Justice League

[amtap book:isbn=156389338X]

All across the world, people are developing super-powers, and the established super-powered beings are nowhere to be found. Called “sparks” and the phenomenon “sparking”, it is turning the world into a super battleground as gangs of sparks battle for turf. Its a dream of some, of having super-powers, that is turning into a nightmare for the entire world.

Description: Perry White, the editor of the Daily Planet, has his best reporter, Clark Kent (Superman), assigned to the story, but even Kent is having trouble with it: for some reason, he is feeling out of sorts, disassociated with himself. He’s not alone: comics artist Kyle Rayner (Kyle Rayner) is behind on his artwork assignments, his imagination failing him; student Wally West (Wally West) is habitually late for class; corporate suit Adam Curry (Aquaman) feels he doesn’t belong as vice-president of a company; and instructor Diana Prince (Wonder Woman) surprises herself when one of her students suddenly “sparks” and Diana equally as suddenly displays super-strength in defending the other students from her “spark” student’s accidental rampage.

But the worst off is Bruce Wayne (Batman): he knows something is wrong, terribly wrong, especially when his parents show up, triggering dread images of the dark alley in which his parents were brutally murdered. He knows that he is living a lie but he needs something to help him break out of it. Something, or someone, and that someone is Superman, having broken out of his own nightmare at the sight of the globe atop the Daily Planet building destroyed, triggering his own memories of his past. Together they seek out their fellow Justice League members. Wonder Woman and Aquaman are easy to locate, but before any more can be found, a crisis arises needing the power of the short-handed team to confront, a crisis that four are ill-suited to face.

But not six: Green Lantern and the Flash have independently discovered themselves, and come to aid of their fellow Leaguers, surprising them. That leaves on the last member of the Justice League, the Martian Manhunter: he’s trapped in his own dream of life back on Mars, with a family, but that dream is rudely shattered.

Together, the question is, what is going on? The whole problem seems like a dream turned nightmare, and, to the Justice League, only one person could do such a thing: Doctor Destiny, one of the Justice League’s oldest opponents, capable of turning dreams into reality and vice versa. But why would he let the seven members of the Justice League awaken from their dream, and why was he leaving hints about his whereabouts in their minds?

When the Justice League finally locates Doctor Destiny, they discover that the true author of this nightmare is Know-Man, a prehistoric man transformed by a Controller into a being destined to become a powerful anti-war weapon. Over the centuries and millennium, Know-Man became convinced that a potential threat faced the entire world, one that only a planet full of super-powered beings could face and defeat. This, then was his solution: using Doctor Destiny’s dream powers to make Know-Man’s dream a reality. But a planet where everyone possessed super-powers without the training or ethics to use them properly is a dream that soon turned into a nightmare.

And that nightmare reaches out to encompass the Justice League, severing them from their connections to the people around them. Each is trapped in their own nightmare of isolation, except for the Martian Manhunter, who was already isolated: Doctor Destiny, before he fades away like a dream upon awakening, releases the Manhunter, who uses his telepathy and connection to the others to free them. All together again, they manage to restore the world to its normal state. Know-Man leaves, being so powerful that even the combined might of the Justice League cannot stop him, informing them that they just doomed their world and it would up to them to protect it when the time comes.

Commentary: In a world where superheroes exist, it would be natural dream of many to have such powers themselves. But having superpowers is not something to be taken lightly, especially here, where people are granted them almost randomly. Most, it seems, succumb to their baser desires and use them for their own self-interest, fighting and robbing, instead of using them heroically or even just casually. Very few, with only one or two exceptions noted, are willing to use them as true heroes.

That is because there is a common theme among most heroes, in that they received or were led to obtain their powers through some sacrifice or trial that grounds them and grants them a sense of responsibility in using them. In that, Know-Man was wrong in trying to grant superpowers to everyone without a corresponding self-limitation on their use, so in trying to save the world, he was dooming it to a period of chaos from which the most likely result would be a fragmented dictatorship run by the most powerful beings, where those who still had not developed super-powers, or those with limited super-powers, would be the slaves, unless Know-Man would step in as overall dictator of the world, something that would naturally follow from his present actions. Either result would, in effect, ‘destroy the village in order to save it.’

One more thing: one wonders what Dream of the Endless would be thinking of people using the power of dreams to recreate reality: isn’t that one of things he is supposed to control? He is a part of the DC superhero universe, as seen in another JLA storyline.

History: The story collection was originally published as a limited series as “Justice League — A Midsummer’s Nightmare” and was written by prominent comics writers Mark Waid and Fabian Nicieza, with a foreword by Grant Morrison.

Note: The global threat that would require a planet-wide collection of superheroes would eventually be determined an ancient doomsday machine named Mageddon, a threat so vast that it took an army of super-powered individuals to combat it. Mageddon was created by writers Grant Morrison and Howard Porter in the World War III story. The Justice League would use an adaptation of the Amazonian Purple Ray, accessing the biological morphogenic field that unites all life on the planet to allow every human to experience a temporary evolutionary advance, granting them super-powers, thereby creating the planet full of super-powered beings Know-Man wanted to create himself.

Recommendation: Definitely recommended. This story is what the revamped Justice League is all about, discovering the ability to work together as a team (even the notoriously team-denialist Batman) despite their varied personalities, level of experience and abilities. Actually, it is a very well-structured team that cover most of the wide range of superhero abilities. There are four strong warrior heroes (Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter), a skills-based, gadget  hero (Batman), ranged heroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern), martial heroes (Batman and Wonder Woman), psychic heroes (Martian Manhunter, Aquaman and Wonder Woman), a speedster hero (Flash) and what I call wild-card heroes (Batman, Green Lantern) that do things outside the normal range of heroic abilities.

One of the most interesting group dynamics is Flash and Green Lantern. Green Lantern (Kyle Raynor) is the rookie here, paired with the veteran Flash (Wally West) by age even though the Flash has been a hero for much of his teenaged life and all of his adult life. They seem to enjoy the disparaging banter between them in this book.

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