It’s the story that either defines or destroys the Batman, depending on whom you ask. Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of JLA #46 awaits!
Writer: Mark Waid
Penciler: Steve Scott
Inker: Mark Propst
Colorist: John Kalisz
Letterer: Ken Lopez
Editor: Dan Raspler
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $2.25
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $4.00
Previously in JLA: The Justice League has been nearly destroyed, targeted by Ra’s Al Ghul with traps that attack their greatest weakness. It was a near-fatal event, made even more horrifying by the fact that the personal hells that the immortal madman used were gleaned from the files of Batman himself, emergency solutions should he ever need or want to attack his own comrades. Naturally, this revelation had led to some… tension.
For those who aren’t fully familiar with the ’90’s incarnation of the JLA, that sequence shows the normally calm and unflappable J’onn J’onzz full of pure rage, while Plastic Man, normally a fountain of humor and irreverence, shouts right in Batman’s stupid face. It was a shocking moment twenty years ago, and it holds its power here. As the League splits into teams, Superman demands an answer from Batman, who reminds him of the Agamemno incident, where members of the League had their minds switched with villains. Batman created his fail-safes soon after, but Ra’s Al Ghul took it one step further, targeting Bruce Wayne’s own primary weakness.
Wonder Woman and Plastic Man manage to defeat Ra’s’ plague bombs, while Superman, The Martian Manhunter and Aquaman engage the ancient crime lord himself. The Waynes’ remains are ensconced back in Gotham’s plains, and the Justice League meets for the most important vote since Barry Allen’s murder trial… the vote on whether or not to eject Batman from their ranks.
This is a very tense sequence, and the art is absolutely up to the task, showing us Superman’s discomfort, Aquaman’s anger, Martian Manhunter’s unexpected resentment. In fact, when Aquaman rightly calls J’onn out for having once kept files himself (in the ‘JLA: Year One’ series, also written by Waid), J’onn erupts, first flying off the handle, then voting to keep Batman, because he’d be a hypocrite not to. The younger Leaguers aren’t any less contentious, as Kyle Rayner worries about his predecessor, setting off an already-upset Flash.
Flash and Green Lantern split their vote, leaving Wonder Woman to vote, with some regret, for expulsion, leaving Plastic Man in a tough spot. Of the assembled Leaguers, his own failsafe literally shattered him, and it’s a credit to Scott and Propst that you can see his conflicted emotions and understand exactly the spot he finds himself in.
With the vote tied three-to-three, it falls to Superman, perhaps the Dark Knight’s closest ally, to make the vote, and as they enter the meeting room to tell him the decision, they find Batman already gone. We’re never told Superman’s vote, but the clear implication is that Batman knew that it was going to be for expulsion, and removed himself from the team preemptively. JLA #46 is a game-changer for this League, even taking into account the sort of things the team normally faces, a moment that (in ways both good and bad) has never really faded away, earning 4 out of 5 stars overall. This story has become one of the cornerstones of Batman characterization, but the real power of it comes in the League’s reactions to their teammates unintended betrayal, making for fine drama and a really great comic book.
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Whether you love it or whether you hate it, the creative team creates one of the most powerful Justice League conflicts of all, setting us off on two decades of "Batman only needs 15 minutes to plan" stories. It's really good stuff.