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As the team faces Eclipso in the the pages of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, Adam Glass, producer/writer for TV’s Supernatural, joins other talents to take us on a journey revealing key battles between the World’s Greatest Heroes and mystical, hellish beings, including the Demon, Zatanna – and an object that could blackened the heroes’ very souls
First Sinner: What now?
Second Sinner: You know any Steely Dan songs?
First Sinner: Come on! Like Hell’s not bad enough as it is?
Plastic Man: I should kick the bucket more often.
A selection of Justice Leaguers past and present and their allies and associates have been scattered throughout the Nine Circles of Hell. They must each work in pairs to overcome the strange and oddly personal challenges they face. After each encounter they find a fragment of an object, but most of them have to no idea as to what its origin or powers are. They are teleported elsewhere once the fragment is in their possession.
“Fraud” – Batman and Plastic Man suddenly find themselves in front of an imposing gateway above which is written “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here”. Batman correctly deduces that they are now in Hell. This is confirmed by the appearance of a demon called Geryon who accuses them both of being frauds. Batman refuses to believe his accusations (“belief is the power of Hell, and those who have it cannot be harmed”) and forces Geryon back down.
“Anger” – Green Arrow and the Shadowpact’s Ragman awake to find themselves on the banks of the River Styx as the ferryman Phlegias delivers another procession of dead souls. Unnatural anger washes over Arrow and Ragman and their bickering escalates into violence. Arrow is eventually able to fight back and tells Ragman that he knows what he’s guilty of and it’s called “being human”. He then allows himself to merge with Ragman’s cloak so that he can fire an arrow that drives Phlegias back.
“Heresy” – Donna Troy awakes to find Bulleteer sat on top a large black vault with ranks of burning heretics trapped beneath it. The vault’s lid is thrown back into place by a beautiful demoness called Lilith. She accuses Donna of being a pagan and Bulleteer of being a non-believer. The women are unwilling to put up with Lilith’s insults and stand up to her. Bulleteer grabs a totem that Lilith had been clutching causing herself and Donna to vanish.
“Limbo” – Spectres of Jor-El, Lois, and Lex Luthor appear to berate Superman for not fully being any one person (Kal-El, Clark Kent or Superman), but he angrily retorts “You are right, I’m none of them… I’m all of them at once!!!” That illusion falls away and he finds the Red Tornado going through a similar conflict. Together they break out of Limbo, but are stopped by the judge Minos. Fortunately they have committed no sin so are immune to Minos’ power.
“Violence” – Hawkman and Etrigan find themselves in the circle of Hell reserved for violent sinners – they alone appear to know what object they are searching for. They are confronted by the fallen angel Char’rah who causes them see each other as their own arch-enemies. They fight, but Etrigan sees his opponent’s true face in a reflection and changes back to Jason Blood so that he can dispatch Char’rah with a simple spell.
“Greed” – Fire and Lobo find themselves on a plane filled with gold-plated sinners who struggle to roll massive sacks of money around. Their master Plutus, the “god of wealth”, causes gold metal skins to grow over them by accusing them of being hoarders and wasters. However, Plutus pushes his act too far by mentioning Tora’s death and Fire’s flame flares-up and melts her the gold constricting her. Plutus cowers away from them and Lobo snatches a totem he’d been clutching.
“Gluttony” – Booster Gold and Skeets find themselves with Oracle (Barbara Gordon) who recognises their location from Gustav Dore’s engravings of the Third Circle of Hell. She figures that the immobile gluttons who surround them are linked together in some form of infernal mental network. Barbara uses information hacked from the infernal network to direct Booster to an object inside Ceberus.
“Treachery” – Zatanna and Green Lantern John Stewart find themselves on an ice field and start to investigate, They are separated by visions/demons who accuse them of being traitors – Zatanna of betraying her friendship with the Batman and John of betraying the inhabitant of Xanshi. Like the other Leaguers the accusations are not strong enough to overwhelm them.
“Lust” – Supergirl finds herself lost amid a sea of endless wailing souls. She struggles against the tide until she discovers Wonder Woman who confirms that they have both been transported into Hell. A lustful image of Batman appears before them. It appears to Diana as Bruce Wayne and to Kara as Dick Grayson. However, the bat demon has mistaken their platonic love for true lust. It is easily frozen by Supergirl’s super breathe and then shattered by Wonder Woman’s punch.
“Inferno” – All the teleported heroes find themselves together in another part of Hell. Rag Man identifies it as Purgatory just before Lord Satanus, the cause of their misfortune, introduces himself from inside a bone cage. He admits that it was he who engineered their transit into Hell. The fragments they were collecting form the Hell Mask, a device of nearly universal power. Satanus had meant to use it against his jailor (his sister Blaze), but Plastic Man snatches the Mask. Its power threatens to overwhelm Plastic Man’s free will so he uses its power to force everybody to attach him. The intense attach destroys the Mask and for a moment it appears Plastic Man as well. However, Zauriel, the angel, shows that it is not yet Plastic Man’s time to die.
The Justice League and friends trip, stumble, and romp their way through the Nine Circles of Hell in a book that pays a surprisingly amount of homage to Dante’s Divine Comedy. The Hell shown in the DC Comics Universe differs at times from that shown in the Divine Comedy, but it’s the source that most stories eventually come back to. Now let’s get this out of the way – the chapters are in the wrong order. There are a particular order to the Circles of Hell and this isn’t them. Okay, it’s not a major point, but a surprising slip up given the amount of reference that some of these chapters have used. Admittedly this issue departs from the travelogue through the circles and instead has the heroes transported bodily into each of them simultaneously. I’d like to have seen the old order kept and there are a few oddities in interpretation – some of them know why they are there, other’s don’t.
The named demons are a mixed bunch. Some of them work better than others. The passive ones like Greyon and Phlegias are interesting enough, but are cyphers to anybody who hasn’t read the Divine Comedy (or played the computer game). Then again there are hosts like Lilith who engage with the action and become more interesting for it. Okay, so Lilith may be the most classically supervillain of the lot, but the twist of having the chains that bind her to her circle also being her costume was interesting. She’d probably make a great computer game boss, but seemed a little wasted in a one off chapter. I’m now trying to remember if she was much like her previous incarnation – the villainess in Peter David’s Supergirl series – but my memory isn’t that good.
This book has the feeling of a try-out or showcase product for new artists. It’ll be interesting to see how many of them are employed by DC on their post-Flashpoint titles. I’m not familiar with many of the names covered here and it’s only really Scott McDaniel’s art that I recognise. If it was a tryout issue I could understand the use of the known artist for the denouement. My thoughts on Scott’s art have mellowed over the years – his style works really well in fluid martial arts comics (e.g. Green Arrow or Batman stuff), but I’m less fond of it for stuff like Superman. This is a case where it worked okay, but I don’t think anybody could have done much with such a wordy conclusion.
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Fraud (Pages 1-7)
Page 2. “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here”. — The legend over the gates to Hell. Oddly those gates usually aren’t anywhere near Fraud which is actually the eighth and penultimate circle of hell.
Page 3. Dante ransacked Greek mythology, ancient literature, and practically anything he could get his hands on to populate his version of Hell. Geryon was originally a giant from Greek Mythology – it was his cattle that Hercules stole during the tenth of his Twelve Labours. In the Divine Comedy Geryon becomes a winged monster who carries Dante and his guide between two of the circles of Hell.
Page 4. Plastic Man was a petty criminal originally, a 1940s gangster called Eel O’Brian who had an accident with some chemicals and was transformed into Plastic Man. Butter’s speech is peppered with slang from the era: a “roscoe” is a handgun, “Brinks” is the company that operated armour cars, “dime for that” 25-years. His rocker however alludes me.
Anger (Pages 8-14)
Page 8. The Ragman is Roy Regan, a Jewish tailor from Gotham who inherited a possessed suit of rags from his father. It is a prison for evil souls – each patch on it was made out of a wicked man who has been consumed by the suit. Ragman had worked with Shadowpact since it’s inception.
Phlegias is the name of the ferryman (he’s name checked in a few pages). In Greek mythology Phlegias was the son of Ares and was tortured in the underworld for burning down Apollo’s temple. In DC Comics continuity he would be Wonder Girl’s half-nephew. In the Divine Comedy he was transformed into the ferryman over the River Styx.
Page 11. We are shown images of:
- Black Canary – Oliver’s wife who left him after he killed Prometheus
- Roy Harper – Oliver’s neglected sidekick who became a drug addict
- Conner Hawke – Oliver’s son who took over as Green Arrow following his death. He turned his back on Oliver after being reminded of just how many times he had been hurt by his father.
- Hal Jordan – Oliver’s best friend who he tried to kill when he was the villain Parallax
Page 12. Green Arrow alludes to parts of Ragman’s backstory. His father was killed by mobsters looking for loot he had accidentally come across. Ragman donned his costume to avenge his father’s murder, but he was unable to properly control the souls contained within until his friend Luria help him. It’s been suggested in Shadowpact that Ragman is attracted to the Enchantress, but he has done nothing about those feelings.
Heresey (Pages 15-21)
Page 15. The Bulleteer was created for Grant Morrison’s reimaging of the Seven Soldiers. She is Alex Harrower, a wife of a researcher who dreamt of turning himself into a superhero. His experiments with a liquid-metal skin killed him, but poor Alix survived and had to adjust to being part of the freakish low-end meta-human scene. She was part of the blink-and-you-miss it incarnation of the Justice League organised during the year that Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were absent (shown in 52).
In the Divine Comedy the Sixth Circle of Hell resembled a vast graveyard. Beneath each tombstone were those who had believed in some particular heresy. The stone that Alix and Donna dislodge is numbered MCMXVII which equals 1917 so this must be those heretics which believe in heresy number 1917 (there was a set of Papal Canon Laws issued in 1917, but I don’t know if that is the reference).
Page 16. In Jewish folklore Lilith was Adam’s first wife who was created at the same time as he was. As such she was his equal and was thrown out of Eden for refusing to be subservient to him. To the misogynistic medieval writers she was the “Mother of Monsters” and a dangerous example of a liberated woman. The DC Comics Lilith was the chief villain during Peter David’s Supergirl series.
Page 20. Alix mentions her backstory from Seven Soldiers: Bulleteer #1-4. She was a school teacher before her life was messed by her husband.
Page 21. Lilith has a tattoo – a snake or serpent – which is rather fitting for what happened to her successor as Adam’s wife.
Limbo (Pages 22-28)
Page 22. The Limbo of the Divine Comedy is an unusual place and was the medieval theologian’s answer to the question of where virtuous pagans go upon death. In their minds the great pre-Christian scholars, poets, and philosophers obviously don’t belong in Hell, but they are not Christian so could not go to Heaven. Thus Limbo was is invented as the semi-pleasant outer circle of Hell.
Page 24. The “Castle of the Great Spirits” is an allusion to a castle that stood within the Limbo of the Divine Comedy. Dante comes upon it and describes it as
We came unto a noble castle’s foot,
Seven times encompassed with lofty walls,
Defended round by a fair rivulet;
Within it live the noble non-Christians. As mentioned, these are those figures that Dante and the medieval Christians respected, but because of their lack of baptism or lack of faith had been excluded from Heaven. This included classical philosophers and poet like Socrates, Plato, and Galen.
This is the Red Tornado android and his human disguise John Smith. Shown on the left are his adopted family (wife Cathy Sutton and daughter Traya) and on the right are three androids created by the same man. The other androids are from the Red Tornado mini-series and are: the Red Torpedo (the female proto-type), the Red Volcano (the villainous bully), and the Red Inferno (the newest, younger looking android). Their creator (T. O. Morrow) appears on the following page.
Page 27. In the Divine Comedy Dante borrows the figure of Minos from Greek mythology for his judge of the damned. The original Minos was the favoured son of Zeus and Europa and served as his judge of the death. That Minos was the grandfather of the King Minos who built a labyrinth and put a Minotaur in it.
Violence (Page 29-35)
Page 29. Either Etrigan or Dante is wrong. In the Divine Comedy Dante describes the fourth circle of Hell as being Greed whereas Violence is the Seventh Circle. You’d have thought that someone like Etrigan would know these things. The pairing of the violent Hawkman and Etrigan is suitable for this circle, but it also works because Hawkman looks like an angel so you get that angel/demon split.
Etrigan tells us what the heroes are searching for – Dante’s Death Mask. How he knew about it isn’t mentioned, but so far the others have only picked up the pieces randomly. There is a real death mask of Dante - or at least a recreation of it – kept in the Palazza Vecchio, Florenece.
Page 30. Char’rah appears to be a combination of spider’s eyes, eagle’s wings, serpent’s tail, and tiger’s head. It’s not a character I can find a reference to (beyond being a town in Afghanistan) so it may be entirely new. Hath-Set is the man who originally killed Hawkman and doomed him and Hawkgirl to continual rebirth. Morganna Le Fay is the woman who attacked Camelot forcing Merlin to bind Etrigan to his mortal host Jason Blood.
Page 34. It’s the old reflection showing the true image trope – as used in many a superhero/superhero battle including Superman and Wonder Woman’s battle in the Justice League episode “Paradise Lost”, another Hell/Hades themed story.
Jason Blood’s spell “Iudicabit pecatta vestra” is Latin for something like “your sins will judge you”.
Greed (Page 36-42)
Page 36. This is the Fourth Circle of Hell and is home to those guilty of greed – specifically two forms of greed: those who hoard too much money and those that squander too much (as the quote says)
In the Divine Comedy the inhabitants roll weights in circles with each sin processing in a different direction. The form that they are shown in this story is inspired by a woodcut (shown above) by Gustave Dore which shows the sinner’s boulders as massive bags of coin. Dore produced a portfolio of woodcuts which still influence how many of us picture Hell – even if we’re not aware of the direct relationship.
Lobo was briefly a member of the Justice League back in the JLI days – he was playing along with them while waiting for a bounty to turn up.
The quote “Pape Satan, pape satan. Aleppe!” is more Latin from the Divine Comedy (they are coming pretty thick and fast now), but it’s meaning is rather disputed. I’ll leave this one to wikipedia.
Page 37. Plutus is not technically Pluto (the Roman equivalent to Hades and the God of the Underworld), but writers often merged their attributes. The Greek version was a divine child, Dante’s version was a worf-man, but the version shown here is the old man from Dore’s iconic images.
Lobo’s relationship with Heaven and Hell was examined in the Lobo’s Back mini-series. After the Main Man was killed he was shipped off to the afterlife where he caused such a frickin nuisance that Heaven and then Hell kicked him out. The divine powers put him back in his original body and made him immortal so that he would never pass into their sphere again.
Page 38. Fire’s employees – this is the first time I’ve seen this mentioned in current continuity. Fire first appeared as a character called the Green Fury in a Super Friends spin-off comic. Her secret identity in that series was as an executive for the Brazilian branch of the Wayne Foundation. Her modern origin ignored that and made her a Brazilian spy turned supermodel. She ran an online website selling pictures of herself on fire in Formerly Known as the Justice League.
Page 39. Lobo killed his entire race, but his school teacher Miss Tribb escaped and he was contracted to hunt her down in Lobo: The Last Czarnian. The hit on Santa Claus was taken out by the Easter Bunny in Lobo: Paramilitary Christmas Special and the Triple-Headed Fish-God was Lobo’s sponsor during 52.
Gluttony (Pages 43-49)
Page 43. The Third Circle of Hell in the Divine Comedy is reserved for Gluttons. These sinners writhe in the mud and filth as they are pounded by rain and snow. It looks like Booster and Barbara have caught the place on a sunny day. Dante seems to have used the Third Circle to take some pot shots at his detractors and inserts a number of prominent Florentines amongst the gluttons (author’s perks I suppose).
Page 45. Oracle recognises this Circle from Gustave Dore’s woodcut Dante and Virgil among the gluttons (shown above). The Musse D’Orsay is in Paris, France and the name will be recognisable to Doctor Who fans as the place where the Doctor and Amy Pond took Vincent Van Gogh in “Vincent and the Doctor“.
Page 47. I don’t think Cerberus really needs much introduction. Like many of Dante’s characters he’s drawn from Greek/Roman myth where he was the guard dog which stopped the dead from escaping from the Underworld.
Treachery (Pages 50-56)
Page 50. Zatanna’s invocation “tel ereht eb thgil” is one of the first lines of the Bible: “Let there be light.”
Page 51. What John and Zatanna don’t realise is that they are at the very centre of Hell, the Ninth Circle of the Nine Circles. Unlike the rest of the usually fiery Hell this region contains a frozen lake called the Cocytus (another name taken from a river in Greek mythology), frozen beneath the lake’s surface are the worst of the sinners and the lake is kept frozen by the beating of Lucifer’s wings. This is the meant to be the bottom of the pit where the worst of the worst are imprisoned.
Page 52. It was revealed that Zatanna had betrayed Batman in Identity Crisis. The younger Zatanna and Justice League had tried to alter Doctor Light’s personality, but they were discovered by Batman. They knew that he would absolutely object to their course of action so Zatanna altered Batman’s memory. Paul Dini later revealed that Bruce had trained with Zatanna’s father and that the younger Zatanna had feelings for Bruce.
Page 53. John Stewart’s hang-up was an incident during the Cosmic Odyssey mini-series. He was working with the Martian Manhunter to save the planet Xanshi from a doomsday weapon. John’s arrogance stopped him from realising until it was too late the the doomsday weapon was painted yellow and thus invulnerable to his ring. Xanshi was destroyed and John has had to repeatedly deal with the guilt of that failure.
Lust (Pages 57-63)
Page 57. In the Divine Comedy Lust is the Second Circle of Hell and contains those sinners who gave into desire over reason. Their inability to guide their own actions is represented by the maelstrom which throws their spirits around uncontrollably. This is pretty much how Supergirl and Wonder Woman find the place – except for the corpse like visage of the souls here. (Which is something I always find odd – its the mortal body that rots not the immortal soul so why do people think that ghosts and spirits should look like corpses?)
Page 58. Wonder Woman continuity? I give up! She mentions Paradise Island and she’s friendly with Supergirl, but she is also wearing the JMS costume.
Page 61. Both Wonder Woman and Supergirl have feelings of a sort for the two Batmen. The unacknowledged attraction between Diana and Bruce Wayne was touched upon in Joe Kelly’s JLA run, but they both realised that any relationship between them would soon degenerate into a hellish mess. Supergirl and Dick Grayson are currently both members of the JLA and James Robinson has been building a big-brother/little-sister dynamic between. The key for this story is that while both woman have some level of hidden desire for these men they have not acted upon that desire and thus are not counted as one of the lustful sinners imprisoned in this particular part of Hell.
Inferno (Pages 64-70)
Page 64. Inferno isn’t a particular place in the Divine Comedy rather it is the name given to the entirety of the Nine Circles and to the first book of the Comedy. For Dante the Divine Comedy was a journey through Hell, then Purgatory, and then Heaven before coming back into the real world.
The label tells us that this is Purgatory. The medieval Christians did not believe that souls went straight to Heaven. Souls were judged upon death and the obvious sinners went straight into the Inferno, but those who had been saved were shunted into Purgatory where they would wait until Judgement Day when they would finally be called into Heaven.
You can see Power Girl stood at the back when the heroes arrive, except she wasn’t shown in any of the preceding chapters. Is there a lost chapter showing her and Zauriel (who shows up later)?
Page 65. The brother and sister duo of Lord Satanus and Lady Blaze are the bastard off-spring of the Wizard Shazam and an unnamed incubus. They plagued Superman and each other for years until Lord Satanus was driven from the earthly plane, seemingly destroyed, by the Spectre’s uncontrolled actions during the Infinite Crisis. They reappeared in the Reign in Hell mini-series as the joint rulers of Purgatory. In DC cosmology Purgatory is a province of Hell proper (“Ninth Province of the Infernal Domain”). Reign in Hell showed a Hell made up of Nine Provices which mirrored the pattern of land-masses on Earth.
The ruler of Hell is part of the Infernal Dominion, the shadowy pact between a single soul/demon and the very fabric and nature of Hell. At the start of Reign of Hell the Dominion is held by Neron (Lucifer having long since gone off to have his own adventures). Satanus and Blaze rise up against Neron and recruite the souls of Purgatory to their army. Hell was plunged into an all out civil war which drew in a host of mortal heroes and villains who aligned themselves on one side or another.
In the end Neron lost his head and Satanus was victorious. Satanus thought himself secure until he was weakened by Black Alice. That allowed his sister to imprison him and take single control of Hell. It would seem that Satanus is still on the losing end of that arguement.
Satanus alludes to Ceasar’s Battle of Alesia. This occurred in 52 BC in Gaul and featured the defeat of the Gaul Vercingetorix and the victory of Juilus Ceaser’s Roman Republic. It was the war that led to the Roman final conquest of Gaul.
Page 69. Plastic Man has previously proven to be almost indestructible. In Joe Kelly’s JLA run he was atomised thousands of years in the past and it was only when the JLA got back in the present that they were able to find the scraps and reconstitute him. He’s also survived posing as Big Barda’s dress.