Imagine a time before Grant Morrison’s revitalization of the Justice League. Remember the satellite, the fall, and the death of Metamorpho, leading to rise of the Big Seven and a distinct change in scope and quality of DC’s premier super team? Now imagine it all went horribly wrong.
What if only Metamorpho survives the crash, as he couldn’t get the shock absorbing fluid correctly mixed. Nuklon drowns in the mixture. Ice Maiden is poisoned. Fire’s body is mangled by the impact. What is left twisted is not the wreckage of the Element Man but his mind, warped with grief, anger, and guilt.
The DC Universe is a strange place at this time, as the fears and stupidity of man are escalating, or so it seems to those with eyes trained on the state of human sufferings beyond the violence portrayed on the nightly news. A conscious strain of ideas, called the Ideologues, have been given substance from the minds of humanity and grown immensely powerful due to the radiation emitted from television and computers unleashed by an unknown, malevolent force. They are independent of human thought yet capable of swaying minds to follow blindly along paths of theoretical concepts, grand and sweeping forces that take root in political ideologies, the undercurrents of morals and values in mass entertainment, and the strategies and maneuvers of big businesses. Villains are beginning to shout philosophical slogans as they rob banks and attack civilians. Corporations such as LexCorp are thriving while former terrorist organizations such as H.I.V.E. have claimed to have turned legitimate as they begin to flood the global market with technologies and merchandize, capitalizing on the demand for newer, faster, streams of entertainment. Philistinism and apathy are tearing the social structure of world apart, as the Ideologues run humanity towards a psychological ruin.
Not even the heroes of the DC Universe are safe, as Metamorpho makes a choice. Overwrought with pain and grief, the Element Man kidnaps Superman, turning his heart into a lead-lined prison, complete with a death-trap even the Man of Steel would not escape from. Inside the heart of the crushed man sits the epitome of good within all humanity, balanced on a fulcrum. The slightest movement would drop a hammer onto a vial of Kryptonite so potent it would kill Superman in a second. Superman does not break out of his cage because both, “A perfect nature has no need of choice, for it knows natural what is good. Its freedom is based on this knowledge.” Superman knows that Metamorpho will eventually do what is right, and that the heroes and humanity will continue to strive towards better things. But what ransom, you ask, for the Last Son of Krypton? No more Justice League. No more super teams. In his heartache Rex Mason has chosen a path of solitude for all heroes. His loss, he thinks, is a lesson for others and he will ensure. And so he make a public decree that if any super humans are seen working in planned conjunction, the vial will be broken, and Superman will be killed. No one, however, can know if Superman is dead or alive. He is, in fact, both dead and alive simultaneously within the minds and hearts of his friends and the world.
There are many who continue their work but on their own. Their choices influenced by the misfortunes and troubles in their lives. They continue to fight but lack the hope that remains in others. The hope in those who maintain their faith in what Superman stands for continue to work and together but in secret, and believe that Metamorpho still has the heart to keep Superman alive. These heroes are brought together by Kyle Rayner, and form the core of the new League. The story is narrated by Hal Jordan as the Specter who occasional participates in the action. Hal is far more interesting in his tenure as the Spector. In life all he wanted to do was to help people, yet his breakdown lead him to take this to the extreme of, ‘by whatever means necessary.’ In his remorse after sacrificing himself to relight the sun he is allowed to become the Spector to atone, but in his travels through the universe he leaves his selfish, bull headed cocoon and become empathic, yet shackled by grief, remorse, and self doubt in what he perceives to be the hugeness of the universe. He continually converses with Superman while he is imprisoned, and Hal is eventually spurred by these talks into action.
Kyle Rayner keeps the League together and keeps creations of his friends and proposed allies with him through his ring at all times. They are nearly sentient and act exactly as they would if they had decided to stay as a team. Each of these constructs are heroes that have turned Kyle down, so he copes with his despair in this manner. He is not deluded or crazy, but has so much faith in his friends that he can only see the best in them, and brings the creations about to remind them, and the world, of this fact. He travels the world gaining and losing friends in his quest to free Superman and show the world that it needs the Justice League.
Batman has been driven to being a complete loner after the death of Tim Drake, who perished when a cable snapped due to poor manufacturing. Bruce sees Metamorpho’s demands as completely coherent and separates himself from everyone except Alfred, who refuses to leave because he immediately understands his need to be with Bruce. Batman is no more, as Bruce becomes The Bat, striking quickly, silently, and more forcefully at every source of evil he finds. His grief has not taken him beyond his morals, but his ability to deal with any form of aggression or malice towards another human being is gone. He does not join Kyle’s Justice League because of this, and warns Kyle strongly against it.
Wonder Woman has placed her sword aside and is working as a peacemaker without violence. She has opened homeless shelters, battered women’s homes, and drug rehabilitation centers across the world. They are guarded and supplied by Amazonians, who maintain peace through the presence of their strength and compassion. She is roused to join Kyle’s underground Justice League when he reminds her that she can do just as much as a symbol fighting large threats while she maintains humanitarian operations.
Aquaman returns to Atlantis and maintains peace in the oceans, where cities have sprung like wild flowers thanks to his kind and level headed rule. He supports Kyle through the Atlatean ocean wide system of communication and refuge as he is able to deflect Metamorpho’s gaze through communication based solely on his ability to communicate with sea life, which has been developed into a sort of undersea internet. He was Kyle’s second ally.
Wally West is Kyle’s best friend and closest ally. Thanks to his ability to move at near light speed, he is able to work unnoticed in conjunction with Kyle. Having planned a falling out to trick Metamorpho, Wally went East and trained according to Batman’s routes, which he learned from Nightwing, over the course of 3 months. While he is not nearly as skilled as Batman, he has learned how to mask his movements and maintains connections and physical deliveries between the Justice League members. Kyle maintains a construct of Wally at all times because he needs to maintain the façade of their split.
J’onn J’onzz works quietly alongside Kyle in the guise of many different, average humans. He keeps his identity hidden from everyone, including Kyle but follows him and helps maintain order as well as advising Kyle. Only Hal knows what J’onn is doing, as they converse in a telepathic realm. Hal is unsure that anyone should be helping, and J’onn continues to maintain the hope that through the actions of the heroes Metamorpho will come to his senses and the problems in the world will subside. Kyle does not know where J’onn is, but hopes he is doing right despite his ‘lack of contact’.
Nightwing coordinates a small group of street-level heroes, including Wildcat, Sandman, Dr. Midnight, both Al Pratt and Ray Palmer Atoms, and others across multiple cities throughout the world. The JSA heroes are invaluable as their time under the Joint Un-American Activities Committee acts gives them insight into working covertly. They work to stop global crime syndicates that are being bolstered by the presence of the Ideologues such as Lex Corps, H.I.V.E., and Stagg Enterprises. He communicates with Wally and is working towards Kyle’s ends, yet maintains the appearance of being non-committal. He has not spoken to Kyle and actively refuses to, but Kyle is unaware of his co-ordination of this undercover aspect of the Justice League.
Elongated Man and Sue Dibney live in London and run a Private Detective agency, which is a cover for the search for Metamorpho and Superman, although Ralph takes any and all cases, brought to him. Sue is in contact with Metamorpho due to their history together, and is asked to report on all superhuman activity that may be in violation of his rules, but gives him slightly falsified information which keeps him unaware of their activities. Wally came to Ralph right away after the incident and told Kyle that they could be trusted to run this part of the League, but Kyle has not met with them in person.
Art by Stephen Garza, and you can find more of it on his Tumblr