The Justice League is in hot water these days — the kind that even affects Aquaman. For the book’s current story arc, the writer Priest has introduced a rather pointed villain known as the Fan.
The Fan, inspired by their heroism, has been with the Justice League from the beginning, . He’s also listened to all their communications and studied all their personalities and methods, and now he thinks that he knows more about what the Justice League should be than the Justice League does. He’ll ruin their public image in order to get them to bow to his wishes — and it’s not hard to see the parallels Priest is drawing to actual toxic fan relationships to creators.
And in this week’s Justice League #39, the writer is dialing up that metatextual subtext even further.
[Warning: This post contains spoilers for Justice League #39.]
Thanks to the Fan’s control of the Justice League satellite’s teleportation system, some members of the League are still stranded across the globe, namely Aquaman, who was dropped in the middle of the largest desert in the world. The Fan shows up to murder some ruffians who’ve come across the weakened and dehydrated king, and deliver a bit of a classic villain speech.
But it’s who the disguise expert shows up as that’s really the surprise:
Welcome to comics, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman design! After delivering his speech and handing Aquaman a self-hydrating costume, the Fan teleports away — but it’s not the last reference to the many versions of these characters that real-life fans have latched on to.
The Fan kicked off his Justice League correction campaign with framing Batman for the assassination of a congresswoman — by killing her while dressed as Batman. In Justice League #39, Cyborg has the understandably difficult job of convincing a senate hearing to simply take the Justice League on its word when he says that this wasn’t the actual Batman. A senator draws his attention to the crowd gathered outside the senate chambers, made up of people claiming to be the real Batman.
And yep, that’s Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns’ Batman, with Jim Aparo’s Batman just to the right, and Frank Quietly’s Batman just to the right of that — and Batman: The Animated Series Batman (after the The Adventures of Batman & Robin redesign, naturally) with Tim Sale’s Batman just to his left.
Priest’s arc, drawn by Ian Churchill, forces the Justice League to confront realistic concerns of a public-facing, first-responder group that follows no particular government authority and wields fantastic power, all in the name of lofty ideals like heroism and justice. Putting Batman: The Animated Series’ Batman and Jason Momoa’s Aquaman into Justice League #39 both plays into the core conceit of the Fan as a entitled fanatic and provides a bit of a wink and a nod to readers.
After all, with all those Batmen in one panel, the odds that you’ll be reminded of one of your favorite Batman stories — or one of the stories you really wish had never happened — is pretty high. And it’s exactly that desire for control over his favorite heroes that motivates the Fan in the first place.