WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Justice League of America #21 by Steve Orlando, Stephen Byrne and Clayton Cowles, on sale now from DC Comics.
Among many things, the current run of Justice League of America has been a love letter to DC Comics of the 1990s. While you might think of the '90s as an era of pouches, grimaces and dodgy anatomy, for DC it was a time of innovation and experimentation. The status quo was shaken up for such mainstays sas Superman, Batman and Green Lantern; new characters like Hitman and legacy heroes like Starman could have defining 60-issue runs; and the Justice League was entrusted to the weird Scottish bloke who wrote himself into an Animal Man comic.
Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s JLA was a cornerstone series of that period, and its influence can be felt in DC's current Justice League of America. The previous arc saw the return of the deadly Prometheus, once again attempting to end the Justice League, while the most recent issue introduces a new-but-familiar take on one of Morrison’s most underrated ideas of the era, Aztek.
The Ultimate Man
Aztek wasn’t introduced in the pages of JLA, but instead debuted in 1998 in his own title, Aztek: The Ultimate Man by Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and N. Steven Harris. There we learned he was raised by the Q Foundation as the champion of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl with the sole purpose of defeating the dark god Tezcatlipoca. Unfortunately, his series lasted just 11 issues, but Morrison moved the character into JLA, where he became a member of the team, until discovering that Lex Luthor had invested in the Q Foundation in order to have his own hero on the Justice League. After refusing to betray the team for Luthor, Aztek resigned.
Aztek returned to the title when the world was faced with the greatest threat it had ever encountered, Mageddon. A weapon of the Third World, Mageddon spread war wherever it went; its mere presence in a solar system would turn the inhabitants of nearby planets against each other until they wiped themselves out. Aztek learned that Mageddon and Tezcatlipoca were one and the same, and sacrificed himself to help Superman bring down the Anti-Sun.
The Ultimate Woman
The new Aztek introduced in Justice League of America isn’t actually that new at all, but it’s our first real look at her. In the JLA story “Rock of Ages,” several members of the team were catapulted into a future ruled by Darkseid, where the remains of the Justice League were all that was left of the resistance. Among the team was a young black woman who had taken the mantle of Aztek following the original’s death. However, we never learned much more about her. It seems that with the fluid nature of DC’s continuity these days, the old Morrison/Porter stories are again part of canon, which led to the introduction of the original Aztek’s successor.
The current run of Justice League of America reintroduced The Ray — another throwback to the '90s — and placed him in Vanity City, the home of the original Aztek. This newest issue sees The Ray return home to discover that things have fallen apart since he left, and Aztek blames for bailing. She explains that her name is Nayeli Constant, a software engineer from Austin whom the Aztek war helmet sought out after the death of its previous owner. Tezcatlipoca still lives, and Nayeli used schematics within the helmet to built herself a new Aztek suit to continue the fight begun by Curtis Falconer. Together, The Ray and Aztek take down a cult dedicated to the war god, and The Ray resolves to stay in Vanity to work alongside his new partner where he can do the most good.
With how much inspiration the current Justice League of America takes from the classic JLA run, confirmation that Tezcatlipoca, aka Maggedon, survived World War III is unlikely to be without meaning. If it still lives, then it wouldn’t be surprising to see it return to Earth to finish the job it started 20 years ago. Before then, the Justice League are going to have to deal with The Fable Queen and Chronos, so 2018 looks to be a big year of big threats to the Justice League of America.