WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for Justice League of America #24 by Steve Orlando, Neil Edwards, Daniel Henriques and Andy Owens, on sale now.
UPDATE: Writer Steve Orlando has taken to Twitter to set the record straight:
Folks it’s ray Palmer— Steve Orlando (@thesteveorlando) February 14, 2018
Oh well! Read on to see what could have been...
The current series of Justice League of America has delighted in shining the spotlight on lesser-known and neglected DC heroes, from founding member Lobo through to the eyebrow-raising return of Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III's Promethea. This has given the book much the same feel that the League had had between the Detroit era and Grant Morrison and Howard Porter's JLA, which represented the return of the "Big Seven" -- a wild assortment of characters whose adventures have real stakes, who can change and evolve since they don't have their own ongoing series to run.
Writer Steve Orlando's early arcs appeared to be modeled fairly strongly in the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire Justice League run of the mid-eighties (though, it must be said, with far less Bwa-ha-ha), but now it seems he's shifted gears toward the '90s and early '00s, reintroducing not only Promethea but Grant Morrison and Mark Millar's Aztek.
Now, though, if the hero standing beside Batman on the last page of Justice League of America #24 is who we think it is, Orlando and company have pulled off the most unexpected '90s flashback of all.
Is that -- could that be -- Marvel vs. DC's Access?
After an extended absence, the Dark Knight returns to the team he founded with a dire warning about "the next world waiting to be saved." Beside him is a character who is not named, but is clearly important -- he shares Batman's dramatic entrance, after all.
Batman's declamation about "another world" seems relevant, and looking at that costume, fans of a certain age might immediately exclaim, "Holy crap, is that Access?" There was actually some debate at CBR as to whether this was in fact the case. And while the evidence is not conclusive, it is compelling.
First, since really all we have to go on is one image, let's look at that costume:
Take away the shoulder pads, roll up the sleeves… the costume is damn close.
While he's standing beside Batman, the reveal doesn't rely on the reader knowing who he is, suggesting the creative teams knows this is something of a deep cut. The reveal is "Batman's back!" with "And who's his friend?" coming second. Access would certainly fit the mold of a character a.) whose appearance would be a shock and surprise to those who recognized him, justifying his place on the page, and b.) who hasn't appeared in so long -- who has so few appearances overall -- that many, perhaps most readers would be left clueless.
Contrast this with the Aztek reveal. The original Aztek didn't make a huge splash, but he did have his own short-lived ongoing series and featured prominently in several JLA arcs by major creators, which live on in perpetuity thanks to trade paperbacks and digital sales. And so when Orlando debuted the new Aztek, he did so first with a cameo in shadow, then a full-issue feature.
As for Access? His history is short... and complicated.