Writer Scott Snyder returns to solo writing duties on JUSTICE LEAGUE #17. After the events of last week’s JUSTICE LEAGUE ANNUAL, things have intensified. The Source Wall is broken, which freed Perpetua. The villains hold all the cards, which does not bode well for our heroes. This issue is a one-off interlude between that event and the massive battle to come.

Unexpected Encounter on Mars

JUSTICE LEAGUE #17 begins on Mars, in the Sh’anne Valley. J’onn has gone there to relive memories, and rendezvous with an unexpected person: Lex Luthor. He trusts Lex with being on this sacred ground, which is perplexing. Lex shows no such trust, disabling J’onn’s telepathy and shape-changing. He also notices Jarro and disables him with a psychic toxin. Unfortunately for Lex and J’onn, Jarro was actually preventing the nearby wildlife from attacking. Consequently, the Quonars — giant dragons — attack the two. J’onn explains his actions via flashback.

In his youth, a group on Earth kidnapped J’onn J’onzz. This cult of renegade scientists, the Legionnaires Club, wanted to unlock the potential of Martian-Human hybrids (as the Martian Elder told J’onn in JUSTICE LEAGUE #16). The lead scientist had a son, Albie, who tried to befriend J’onn. Meanwhile, the scientists tortured J’onn for his DNA.

A Shared History Revealed

JUSTICE LEAGUE #17 Page 1. Courtesy of DC Entertainment.

The Blackhawks were tasked with the capture of this group of scientists, and eventually, they caught up to them. In the last moments before the Blackhawks arrived, the leader told J’onn he’d free him. It was a lie, and Albie revealed that his father was actually going to kill him. Albie rewired the device to send J’onn back home and revealed his real name: Alex. J’onn realized that Alex was Alexander Luthor — a young Lex Luthor.

Back in the present day, J’onn and Lex team up to escape from the Quonars. They make their way to two exits, returning to their respective groups. J’onn hopes he’s reached through to Albie, the little boy in Lex Luthor.

Snyder Rewrites History in JUSTICE LEAGUE #17

Scott Snyder returns to solo writing on JUSTICE LEAGUE #17, on a solo story, an interlude before the war that’s about to happen. First, the Source Wall shattered. Then, the Legion of Doom absconded with Perpetua. These were definitely universal in their impact, but Snyder is doing more than that. Snyder is changing history. As hinted in JUSTICE LEAGUE #16, J’onn actually first visited Earth as a child, as he was abducted by Lionel Luthor and his Legionnaires Club. J’onn seems to have regained the memory and is trying to give Lex his memory back as well.

I’m honestly feeling very mixed about this decision by Snyder. I like the idea of not making Lex and his Legion of Doom simply evil characters, but giving Lex a heroic past as Albie is a bit inauthentic. Lex has gone through a few redemptive arcs, the most recent redemption led to him being a hero in ACTION COMICS and JUSTICE LEAGUE. Lex has also been a sympathetic character in other media — for instance, in SMALLVILLE, where the machinations of his father led him to be the man he is today. While those are all true, this version of Lex (post-Justice League membership) is not a nice person at all.

Lex Luthor is Redeemable? I Don’t Buy it… Yet.

JUSTICE LEAGUE #17 Page 5. Courtesy of DC Entertainment.

I understand Snyder is adding layers of depth to these characters, which is making it more than just white hats and black hats. It feels too early for Snyder to try and redeem Lex, however; it doesn’t make sense to his character arc. Lex has seen the future of humanity, and it is anarchy and chaos, and he wants to make it happen even sooner. Lex suddenly being a good little boy who helped J’onn seems like a bit of a drastic turnaround. The Albie revelation leaves me with a little bit of a sour taste. Luthor and the Legion of Doom have literally JUST broken the universe to achieve their aims.

I like the idea of a seed of good in Lex, but it feels a bit early in the dramatic story for it. Perhaps if this had happened much later in the series, perhaps in the middle of the war as a desperate attempt to end it, I feel that would be a stronger moment. It’s hard to predict the future, though, and Snyder has done a very good job so far keeping readers engaged and in suspense. As a result of Snyder’s decisions, I’m keeping an eye on this development. It’s an incredibly bold choice, and we’ll see if it pays off or not.

Cheung is Amazing on JUSTICE LEAGUE #17

Artist Jim Cheung took solo art duties on this issue, and his work is typically hyper-detailed and beautiful to look at. Jim has mastered that perfect blend of nice clean linework and heavy shading. He adds so much depth and dimension to every piece, from J’onn and Lex to the Quonars to the folds of Albie’s shirts. JUSTICE LEAGUE #17 is an absolutely stunning book visually.

A good example of Cheung’s detailed work is the Quonars, who appear quite a bit in this issue. The details Cheung puts in the Quonars — which includes the pebbling of their skin, detailed ridging in their bodies, and numerous minute teeth — are incredible. The close-up scenes, above all, are exemplary. Cheung’s rendering of the zoom-ins on J’onn and Lex, for example, is beautiful. Cheung took his time drawing meticulously intimate details, like scuff marks and ripped clothing. Jim Cheung is an incredible artist.

What’s Next for Lex and the League?

With all the things we learned about Lex and his history with J’onn J’onzz, what happens next? Will Lex really try to stop his plans for universal domination when he’s so close to achieving victory? Will Brainiac override him? How will the League deal with the consequences of J’onn’s actions? Will the human-Martian hybrid army rise?

Snyder has left us with more questions. A good writer does this to keep us invested, but I feel like the Lex/J’onn connection should’ve been saved for a later point. It undermines the arc that Luthor has been on, and it feels too early to do that. I rarely disagree with Snyder’s decisions, but this one feels like a mistake to me.

JUSTICE LEAGUE #17 by Scott Snyder, Jim Cheung, Mark Morales, Walden Wong, & Tomeu Morey
Snyder returns to solo writing duties, and gives us an interlude. The idea of J'onn revisiting his past is great, but trying to redeem Lex Luthor right after he blows out the Source Wall and puts the Multiverse on the brink of war is dubious and poorly-timed. This arc should happen much later. If Lex turns soon, it'll feel rushed and disingenuous, especially since he was a hero before Snyder's series.
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