A Morrison-Era Hero Returns in Justice League of America #20

WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Justice League of America #20 by Steve Orlando and Hugh Petrus, now on sale.

The concluding chapter of "Surgical Strike" sees the Justice League of America band together to take down Prometheus, but at significant cost to the team. With Batman gone, the team had already begun to fracture, with the Ray succumbing to the villain's machinations and quitting the JLA, but even in victory the center cannot hold, as another member departs.

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But perhaps the most intriguing piece of this issue is the epilogue, wherein a mysterious figure observes the Ray's heroic return to Vanity City. Writer Steve Orlando has hinted that this was coming for some time, but here we finally see the return of Aztek, the god-and-tech-powered Justice Leaguer created by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar. But Aztek might no longer be "the Ultimate Man," for more reasons than one.

Prometheus Bound

The climactic battle with Prometheus takes up the first half of the issue, as Frost, Atom, and Black Canary escape the bad guy's explosive trap by shrinking down and hiding in Lobo's belly. It's as gross as it sounds. Meanwhile, Vixen faces down the man himself, as Prometheus demands she either destroy the totem that bestows her powers or watch as he executes members of the public being held hostage, in what he sees as a demonstration of the civic-minded heroes' inherent hypocrisy. A civilian creeps up and tases his ear off, giving Vixen and the League their opening to strike.

As with much of Orlando's run on JLA, there are significant echoes of earlier stories, although with a new twist. When Prometheus first introduced himself to the League in 1998's JLA #16-17 by Morrison and Howard Porter, he did so during a public tour of the League's Watchtower headquarters introducing new team members. In that story, Prometheus systematically took down the heroes one by one, until only Superman was left standing. He offers to free the hostages if, in the ultimate demoralizing blow against "Justice," Superman kills himself. Prometheus is defeated when Catwoman, who had been disguised as reporter Cat Grant, debilitates him by cracking her whip at his crotch.

There are multiple similarities in Orlando's story, with a few twists. Prometheus' divide and conquer strategy in "Surgical Strike" is a bit more subtle -- and ultimately more damaging -- in that it erodes the JLA's confidence in each other and cohesion as a team. He attacks them first with words. Prometheus's more action-oriented attacks are a bit less fancy than they were in Morrison's arc, but his motivation is actually a bit stronger. In Orlando and Petrus' telling, Prometheus is the supervillain equivalent of James O'Keefe, contriving traps to "expose" his enemies' hypocrisy and "open people's eyes" to the truth, his secret knowledge of the way the world "really" is. Like O'Keefe, the logic behind such schemes is flawed in a very particular way, and he mostly just ends up embarrassing himself.

The fight wraps, too, in a fashion somewhat more satisfying than the original (though, admittedly, less funny). As in Morrison's tale, salvation comes from a member of the crowd of hostages; here, though, it's not a hero in disguise, but an ordinary woman. This speaks to the series' themes of a JLA that works to uplift the regular folks of the DCU.

Interestingly, though, this Justice League of America has not yet taken a cue from its previous incarnations to add a non-hero to the cast, like Snapper Carr, Oberon, Catherine Cobert, or Sue Dibney. Ray's boyfriend Xenos could arguably be said to fill this role, but his place in the series seems to be a bit different from that of the other characters; he has less interaction with the team as a whole.

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