Justice League continues to set the standard for mainstream super hero titles. If you want excellent super hero action and adventure then this is the title for you. I am more than confident that Justice League #17 will deliver another strong read. Let’s go ahead and hit this review.
Story: Scott Snyder
Pencils: Jim Cheung
Inks: Jim Cheung, Mark Morales, and Walden Wong
Story Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin with J’onn at the Sh’anne Valley on Mars which is the holiest location on Mars. We see a drawing of the Justice half of the sign of Perpetua on a wall. We see a person off-panel holding a gun to J’onn’s head. J’onn says that he brought this person here because he trusts that person right now more than anyone else alive.
We flashback to thirty minutes ago. We see J’onn at the Sh’Anne Valley reliving his memories with his wife and child. Suddenly, the memories disappear and Lex Luthor walks onto the scene.
Lex says that his armor is protecting a field that nullifies J’onn’s telepathy and blocks his ability to shape-shift. Lex says that J’onn has five minutes and to start talking.
J’onn says that he wants to talk to Lex about the Legionnaires Club, the group of human scientists who captured J’onn when he was a child. Lex interrupts J’onn and says that J’onn has a trick up his sleeve. Suddenly, we see that Lex’s suit detected Jarro behind J’onn’s back and then Lex’s suit poisoned Jarro with a psychic toxin. (NOOOOOOO!!!!! NOT JARRRO!!!! YOU BASTARDS!!!!)
J’onn freaks out and says that he did not bring Jarro here to attack Lex. J’onn says that they need to move now. Suddenly, Quonars attack Lex and J’onn. Quonars are ancient creatures who next underground and feed off of psychic energy. J’onn was using Jarro to keep the Quonars away from them.
We shift to “years ago” with J’onn as a child being held captive by the Legionnaires Club. We learn that the Legionnaires Club is trying to speed up their research since they are at risk of the Blackhawks shutting them down at any moment. J’onn is introduced to a young boy with red hair named Albie. The young boy uses infrared ink on his shirt to send messages to J’onn without the Legionnaires Club scientists knowing about it. The head of the Legionnaires Club is Albie’s uncle.
We cut back to the present. J’onn and Lex have escaped the Quonars temporarily. J’onn says that he asked Lex here to ask Lex to help him find someone. A boy named Albie that J’onn was once friends with.
J’onn then recounts the events of Justice League Annual #1 where the Source Wall was shattered and Perpetua was reborn. Lex says that he has nearly raised Perpetua and that her plan for them is something glorious and true. That for the first time in his life Lex understands his role in the story of the universe and he welcomes it.
J’onn tells Lex that if he helps him then J’onn will go with Lex. J’onn explains that the Sh’anne Valley os the most sacred place for Martians. That they would come here every ten years. The Martians would take their most painful memories and regrets “sh’anne sh’anne” over and over. They would give the painful memories and regrets to the ground where the Quonars would feed on them.
J’onn says that this was a cleansing process so the Martians could move past the painful memories and regrets. Lex says that this sounds like a religion he could actually get behind. That dwelling on the past gets you nothing.
We flashback to Albie visiting J’onn in his tube where he is being held captive. Albie says that he did not take his pill so they can talk with their minds or physically if J’onn prefers. Albie says that his Uncle is trying to make some thing ancient by combining human DNA with Martian DNA. But, so far all they have created are the awful white monsters. Albie says that J’onn keeps giving the scientists bad cells. Albie says that even if J’onn gives the scientists good cells that he still will never leave. That neither J’onn nor Albie will ever leave this place. That the are all going to get killed or arrested once the Blackhawks find this place.
We cut back to the present with J’onn saying that the Martians always focused on the Justice half of Perpetua’s symbol by suppressing their dark emotions in order to try and reach higher. But, J’onn has now learned that the Martians were wrong. J’onn says that they actually need the painful memories and regret just like Lex needs hope and faith. J’onn says that if Lex continues on the Doom side of Perpetua’s logo then the Multiverse will end. Lex says that it is too late. That the Justice League cannot stop them.
J’onn says that he is not trying to stop Lex. That he just wants Lex to hear his Sh’anne.
We cut back the past with Albie and J’onn joining minds and imagining themselves as heroes flying around and beating up bad guys.
We then see J’onn back in his tube with the scientists and Albie present. Albie uses infrared ink to send the message to J’onn that he is sorry and that scientists are going to kill J’onn. Albie messages that he rigged the machine so that when the scientists push the button to kill him it will actually transport J’onn back to Mars. Albie tells J’onn that it is too late for Albie but that he wants J’onn to remember that not all humans are all bad. Albie starts crying.
Albie says that he wants to tell J’onn his real name. It is Alexander. Albie was short for L-B which meant L–2. Luthor number 2. Alexander Luthor. Luthor number 1 was Lionel Luthor. That Lex was instructed to tell J’onn that Lionel was just Lex’s uncle so that J’onn would trust him.
We cut to the present. J’onn says that Lex is Albie. That Lex can stop all of this. Lex freaks out and punches J’onn. J’onn says that the scientists took Lex’s memories. Suddenly, the Quonars appear on the scene and attack. Luckily, Jarro has recovered from Lex’s attack. (YAY!) Jarro attaches to one of the Quonars and takes control of it. Lex and J’onn hop on the Quonar and fly away.
J’onn says that after his escape that the Blackhawks came for Lionel Luthor and the other scientists. The Blackhawks erased Lionel’s memories. This left Lionel with nothing but a vague sense that he had once been part of something grand. This left Lionel the drunk and broken man that Lex knew.
J’onn says that Lionel left Lex a clue. A relic of Perpetua. The doorknob that Lex has been using. J’onn says that the Martian Keep wiped from his mind the memories that Lex told him to remember that humans were good and that Lex was good. J’onn says that they were both taught to forget the pain and regret. Bt, that those memories are who they are and allowed them to reach higher. J’onn asks Lex to come with him so they can do this side by side.
We see a portal open to the Hall of Doom and a portal open to the Hall of Justice. Lex yells, “NO!” and jumps through the portal to the Hall of Doom while J’onn jumps through the portal to the Hall of Justice.
We see J’onn landing in the Hall of Justice. Barry Allen and Batman are present. Batman asks if it worked. Batman then asks if Jarro is okay. (Batman does not ask if J’onn is okay. Just Jarro. I love it!) J’onn says that Jarro is okay. Batman repeats his question “Did. It. Work.” J’onn says that he does not know and that his only hope is that some part of what he told Lex got through to him.
We cut to Lex arriving in the Hall of Doom. Brainiac and Sinestro are present. Lex says that J’onn possessed nothing worth learning.
We shift to Lex alone in his quarters. Lex takes out the doorknob with the Perpetua logo on it. Lex begins chanting “Sh’anne, Sh’anne.” End of issue.
The Good: Damn, Scott Snyder came strong with Justice League #17. While we here at The Revolution have consistently championed Justice League as one of the best super hero titles on the market there still have been some out there who have not been as impressed. Most of the critics of Justice League focus on the belief that Snyder and Tynion have focused so much on grand cosmic plot-lines and DC continuity details that they have forgotten to deliver quality character work. I would disagree with that assertion. However, if there were any doubts about quality character work among some critics then Snyder certainly put them to rest with Justice League #17.
The star of this issue is Lex Luthor with Martian Manhunter performing the role of a strong supporting character. Snyder pulls off some amazing character work with both Lex and J’onn. Justice League #17 is one of the heavier character driven issues that we have gotten on this title since Snyder took over the reins to this franchise. But, what is so incredible is that even in a character driven issue that Snyder still pulls off some stunning plot development as well.
Before we talk about the excellent character work we must address the shocking plot development in this issue first. Snyder has the reader reeling by the end of Justice League #17 with the final scene of this issue. Justice League #16 brought some serious changes to J’onn’s continuity with the reveal of him being captured by Earth scientists and used to try and create Perpetua’s ancient army which apparently only lead to the creation of white Martians. This was a huge change to J’onn’s origin story.
Well, Snyder managed to top the reveal in Justice League #16 with an even larger change to a character’s continuity. Justice League #17 makes a massive change to Lex Luthor’s origin that is even more ground-shaking than the change made to J’onn’s origin. Justice League #17 forces the reader to look at Lex Luthor in a completely different light.
Lex Luthor is a character that has always appealed more to me when he has some nuance to his character. When Lex is presented as conflicted in his desire to do good versus evil I immediately find his character more compelling. A villain who wants to do good but tragically does wrong makes for much more interesting reading than a cartoonish villain who is 100% evil all of the time.
Lex’s character has always been predicated upon his hatred for aliens, in particular Superman, and his belief that humankind is superior. This has been a defining characteristic of Lex Luthor that has driven him to be the man that he is today. Snyder shockingly turns Lex’s defining characteristic on its head with the reveal that Lex was J’onn’s friend and that Lex wanted J’onn to remember that not all humans are bad. Imagine that. Lex being best friend with an alien and playing hero with his alien friend. Lex defying his fellow humans and rigging the machine holding J’onn so that it transported him back to Mars instead of killing him.
The reader is amazed to see Lex acting in a manner that is so contrary to his character. Snyder’s retconning of Lex’s origin also impacts Lionel Luthor. Making Lionel become a drunk and broken man as a result of the Blackhawk’s mind wiping was a brilliant move. This helps to fit this retcon into Lionel and Lex’s established past in a seamless fashion. This retcon ads such new depth to both Lionel and Lex’s character.
Lionel transforms from a generic stereotype into a more tragic and interesting character. Lex absolutely transforms from a bit of a stereotype and a one-dimensional megalomaniac into a far more complex and intriguing villain. Lex coming to grips with this new information makes him a more conflicted and tragic character. This helps give Lex more depth to his personality and makes him a far more compelling and interesting character. I am now far more invested in Lex’s character.
I am glad that Snyder is taking the slow burn approach with this change to Lex’s origin. Instead of having Lex immediately accept what J’onn has told him we see Lex predictably reject J’onn in anger. Snyder then shows the reader Lex practicing the Martian tradition of Sh’anne in order to purge his painful memories and regrets. This was the perfect way to have Lex respond to this new information. This will allow Snyder to play with a conflicted Lex Luthor as Lex proceeds forward with his plan to unload Perpetua on the Multiverse.
I am curious to see if the seeds that Snyder plants in Justice League #17 eventually take root within Lex and provide for a surprising turn for Lex’s character. Seeing Lex performing the Sh’anne ritual and refusing to accept and embrace his painful memories and regret immediately made Lex’s character more tragic and sympathetic than ever before. I hope we see Lex struggle with this conflict quietly raging inside of him before he eventually joins the side of the heroes.
This now leads us to Snyder’s incredible character work in Justice League #17. Snyder does a brilliant job with J’onn and Lex. Each man has a well defined external voice. Each man has a well developed and unique personality. Snyder is able to seamlessly blend J’onn and Lex’s origins together and create some incredible chemistry between these two men. J’onn and Lex work so well off each other and absolutely captivate the reader’s attention.
Snyder’s decision to forever link Lex and J’onn’s origin stories together is a surprise to the reader. But, after further reflection, the reader can see where Snyder has been hinting at a connection between these two characters for a long time. When Snyder took over this franchise, he had a fascinating scene in Justice League: No Justice #1. It was a quiet scene between just J’onn and Lex.
In that scene, Snyder positions Lex and J’onn as the two most integral characters to this new direction for the Justice League franchise. Snyder has J’onn mentioning how Lex has his mind shielded from him. J’onn mentions who Lex is now playing the role of villain turned hero. Lex mentions that J’onn has been gone playing lone wolf for a long time and wonders if J’onn is up to the challenge of being the leader of the Justice League. J’on expresses his concern that this grand adventure before them involving repairing the Source Wall will change what kind of people they will become at the end of their quest. Lex agrees. Lex then threatens to kill J’onn if he ever tries to read Lex’s mind.
At the time, I thought this was an excellent scene that simply helped to reintegrate J’onn back into the Justice League which we had not seen all during the New 52. The scene also helped to show the weight of being leader of the Justice League being placed upon J’onn. This scene was also a quiet moment that showed Lex displaying a bit of a heroic side in wanting to save Earth and Lex not trusting Brainiac. At the same time, Snyder showed the ruthlessness of Lex and his hatred of aliens in threatening to kill J’onn if he tried to read Lex’s mind again.
Now, after Justice League #17, that scene in Justice League: No Justice #1 takes on new meaning. Justice League: No Justice #1 was the beginning of Snyder’s run on the Justice League and the foundation for this entire epic story involving the Source Wall and Perpetua. Snyder already knew what he had planned for these two men even at the beginning of his run on this title. This scene in Justice League: No Justice #1 showed the importance that these two characters were going to have down the road in this epic tale.
This scene also served as a beautiful contrast to the scene with Lex and J’onn as children. In Justice League #17, Lex gladly offers to allow J’onn into his mind so that they might communicate and play together. This contrasts sharply with the older Lex threatening to kill J’onn if he attempts to read Lex’s mind. These scenes serve to highlight the changes that these characters have been through and how both Lex and J’onn are in store for even more surprises going forward.
What also made the character work so fantastic in Justice League #17 was the incredible emotion that Snyder injects into the story. The emotion in Lex and J’onn is palpable. The reader gets a strong sense of the anger and confusion in adult Lex. We feel the acute pain and sadness of young Lex as he has to say goodbye to J’onn. The reader feels the pleading of J’onn as he desperately seeks to rekindle his connection with his old friend in Lex Luthor. The emotion pours off the page and envelops the reader making this issue such an immersive experience.
Snyder’s dialogue is brilliantly crafted. Lex and J’onn have excellent unique external voices. The dialogue between the two men feels earnest and genuine. Within the dialogue Snyder is able to play with the themes of Hope versus Regret. Justice versus Doom. These are core themes that have run through Snyder’s story since the very beginning.
Snyder is able to take Perpetua’s symbol of Justice and Doom and continue to seamlessly engrain it as the main theme of this story. I love how Snyder has J’onn realize that in order to rise up through hope in order to attain justice that a person must first accept their painful memories and regret. The universe is composed of many opposing forces. Some positive and some negative. But, the universe needs all of these opposing forces in some degree in order to exist.
The concept of embracing regret in order to use it to create hope and follow the path of Justice gives more depth to the heroes’s journey. That even a hero is composed of all that is both good and bad within them. That we are formed by our negative experiences as we are our positive experiences. And that our negative experiences can still be a foundation for hope that sets us on the path of Justice. That negative experiences do not condemn us to a path of Doom.
Justice League #17 is also a beautifully plotted and paced issue. The story moves forward at a measured pace that builds in intensity at the moment where it is revealed that Albie is Lex Luthor. Each scene organically unfolds into the next one. The structure of this issue is perfect. And the shocking reveal about Lex is beautifully timed and delivered. There is such an excellent rhythm to this story from start to finish.
Snyder’s plotting continues to amaze. Snyder is able to construct such an elaborately detailed story containing a large cast of characters and numerous plot-lines. On top of that, Snyder is able to make some large changes to DC’s continuity in such a natural and logical manner.
This is not the case of a writer clumsily or awkwardly shoehorning a retcon into continuity. This is not a writer who views continuity that they did not create an irritant standing in the way of their “genius” story. No, Snyder respects the established continuity and weaves the Legionnaires Club and the changes to Lionel, Lex, and J’onn into the established DC continuity in an organic fashion.
I also liked the use of the Blackhawks in this story when dealing with the Legionnaires Club. By employing an established DC franchise like the Blackhawks, Snyder is able to more firmly anchor his new creation of the Legionnaires Club into DC’s continuity. Plus, the Blackhawks are such a cool DC franchise. It is always great to either see the Blackhawks or at least get a reference to them.
Now, I have spent all this time talking about the plotting, dialogue, and the character work on this issue. However, Justice League #17 is not devoid of action. To be sure, this is not a rousing action packed issue. The focus of this issue is not on action and adventure. This is a character driven story that focuses on the origins of Lex and J’onn. But, Snyder realizes that he has to have at least some action in this issue to keep it lively.
Snyder’s use of the Quonar to provide some action helps keep the issue from being nothing but dull talking heads scenes. The use of the Quonar as creatures who feed off of painful emotions and regret was a smart move and allows these actions scenes to seamlessly and logically fit with the rest of the story. These action scenes never break the flow of the story or feel out of place.
All right, now we all know that Lex and J’onn are the stars of Justice League #17, but I just could not pass up taking a moment to talk about the true star of the Justice League franchise: Jarro! That’s right! Jarro is one of Snyder’s most brilliant ideas. Jarro made his triumphant debut in Justice League #10. I love this character so much. But, what makes Jarro work so damn well as a character is Batman’s relationship with Jarro. It is just fantastic.
We have already had Jarro refer to Batman as his “dad” over in Justice League #11. Now, in Justice League #17, Snyder makes a point of having Batman immediately ask if Jarro is okay once J’onn arrives back at the Hall of Justice. Now, keep in mind that J’onn looks roughed up and has just narrowly escaped hungry Quonars. Does Batman inquire about his longtime Justice League teammate? Nope. Batman only has eyes for his little baby, Jarro.
What makes this even better is that Snyder writes such a delightfully rude and taciturn Batman who barks blunt dialogue at his teammates. Just like Batman did when J’onn arrives back at the Hall of Justice. Snyder’s Batman is a proper asshole. Which is exactly how I like my Batman. So, to see such a gruff and tough character like Batman show genuine concern and attachment to Jarro is both hilarious and absolutely fantastic. I love this pairing. I hope that Jarro remains Batman’s “son” for the foreseeable future. This is just too good of a gimmick to give up.
Jim Cheung, Mark Morales, and Walden Wong all combine to deliver plenty of solid artwork. The art does not blow me away at any point in this issue, but it gets the job done.
The Bad: I have no complaints with this issue.
Overall: Justice League #17 was a huge issue. Snyder continues to amaze me with his work on this title. At this point, Snyder is putting on a clinic and demonstrating why he is the best comic book writer at the present. I would definitely recommend hoping aboard Justice League if you still have not started reading this title. Justice League continues to set the standard for mainstream super hero titles.