Disclaimer: Still don't own Justice League or the episode Hereafter.
The episode Hereafter deals with the Revenge Squad, a group consisting of Metallo, Livewire, Kalibak, Toy Man and the Weather Wizard, all intent on exacting their revenge against Superman for past defeats they've suffered at his hands. Who's the mysterious figure who saves the life of one of the League members?
Chapter 12, Better Now, by Collective Soul
"Let the word out
I've got to get out
Whoa, I'm feeling better now
Break the news out
I've got to get out
Whoa, I'm feeling better now"
I bowed my head in silence at Lobo's words, sadness teasing my senses as I realized that we did need Superman, that I needed Superman to be a part of my life. The balance of light and dark within the group was thrown off now, the emphasis towards heavy and dark rather than a meeting of the minds and of opinions as it usually was. No one else on the team had the innate goodness of Superman, the strong moral fiber that kept us upright, and the strength to keep said fiber an important part of the team. Flash was probably the closest in the honest, positive mindset department to Superman, but he simply didn't have the standing and innate strength to keep the group afloat in integrity, in believing in ourselves as a group regardless of the outcome.
We needed Superman.
Without a moral compass, we would be left floundering, each of us returning to our respective cities or, in the cases of some, like Diana, left adrift without the group and without a home to return to. An inkling in my brain alerted me to the fact that having Diana work beside me in Gotham was not as difficult to consider as it once was, the prospective becoming much more likely as time and our relationship continued on, strengthening and blossoming. If she truly wanted to understand Batman, she had to also understand Gotham City – its quirks and villains, its dark underbelly and citizens who continued to hope for a better city, better surroundings for their families and loves.
But right now was not the time to consider allowing Diana to function in Gotham as a super hero; it was a moment to reflect, to consider whether or not I truly believed my friend to be gone. I had worked tirelessly in order to discover him alive and well, and yet, there had been no conclusive results to support my statement thus far.
Head bent in sadness, I considered the fact that perhaps Superman was gone, that I would indeed have to make my goodbyes to my friend and give up the fledging hope that still lit my soul, a light on the turbulent, stormy seas of my feelings. And yet, a part of me refused to douse that light, to truly believe that the man I knew as both Clark and Superman would no longer be a part of my life. His obstinate beliefs, his silly smile, even that stupid 'S' – I would miss all of them if he never returned to our ranks again.
But my own obstinate nature had risen to the forefront of my brain, disavowing any idea that Superman was dead and instead clinging to the thought that there was still time, that I could still manage to find him, hale and hearty and alive.
As a group, we had formed a small semi-circle around Lobo, saddened by his words, but also angered that he believed, in his arrogance, that he was a superior replacement for Superman. I knew enough of the exploits of Lobo to know that he was not Justice League material; that he was little more than low-life scum, morally lost and physically endowed. These traits would not suffice to be offered membership into the League – they were the very things we so often fought against and Lobo would not fit into the League in any way, shape, or form.
Lost in my own thoughts, I failed to comprehend my surroundings, to realize that everyone was not accounted for in this little calamity playing out in Metropolis. From a nearby rooftop, a solitary figure took aim, his sights squarely on my face as he prepared to unleash his rifles, to use his advanced marksman skills in order to strike me down where I stood. Although no one was listening and none of us could hear the voice of Deadshot, he spoke softly in a flat, emotionless tone, "Bang. You're dead."
And then he fired.
I never noticed the projectile being launched at me, uncharacteristically lost in my musings, until it blew up, impacting with something that had reached out in from the smoke and fire and saved my life. Reacting immediately, I launched a batarang up at Deadshot, catching him in one of his wrist-rifles. It instantaneously short-circuited, causing a backlash of pain and energy to lance through the marksman's body and he fell backwards with a grunt, disappearing from sight.
I stared at the sight for a moment before realizing that someone had stopped that projectile from its intended target: me. And at that moment, I had no idea who my savior was.
Turning, I saw little but smoke and dust, but then a face appeared as the clouds dissipated.
Albeit, a Superman with a full-growth of beard and a costume that looked to have seen many better days, including a fur pelt lining the width of his shoulders and a broad stick at his back.
Relief coursed through me – the search was over, the lost had been found and I didn't have to find the courage to say goodbye to someone else. I could see the others mirroring my feelings of disbelief and a happy shock, but their expressions were filled with joy, with a growing awareness that the sadness was fading, that our team was again seven.
I simply stared, making sure that my facial muscles were taught, that I showed no hint of the thankfulness that raced through my body, threatening to cause my knees to tremble and my lips to curve.
The first to step forward was Diana, her face infused with a joy that was rare to her – she had rarely had to face death before and to find a friend pulled back from the brink of nonexistence was always a happy occasion. And Diana was seldom lax about allowing her true feelings to surface, about showing the positive and negative aspects of her emotions. She was the first to anger, to step into the breech and bring that rancor into a fist; but, I thought with a wealth of emotion, she was also the first to care, to love, and to openly show her affections. And she had chosen to honor me with that affection, that wealth of emotion that she carried in that power-packed body. And suddenly, I couldn't find the words to speak – I was the luckiest of men, to have a friend like Superman and a lover like Diana. Luckily, everyone else had no problems filling the silence, simply mistaking my stillness for the usual Batman penchant for quiet reflection and intimidation.
I stood in the back of the group that had now cluttered around Superman, hovering, asking questions, and trying to fully comprehend that the Man of Steel was now back in our midst, alive and well.
"I'm fine," he told us, "very glad to be home."
Flash turned his face back towards me, trying to nonchalantly wipe at the welling of tears in his eyes.
"Flash?" Superman asked, voice filled with concern.
"Something in my eyes," he answered with a quaver to his tone.
"Yeah, tears!" exclaimed Green Lantern, laying a hand on Flash's shoulder in a gesture of comfort and connection. "It's okay, man, we all feel the same way."
From the darkness, I watched the tableau play out in front of me, the collective lifting of spirits as the hero we had so recently honored was returned to us. Flash's lips were wobbling, Green Lantern looked infused with a lightness I had rarely seen in the militaristic bearing, Hawkgirl look questioning, J'onn, stoic but somehow beaming, and Diana simply radiated her pleasure at the return of Superman. Lobo, like me, stood quietly on the fringes of the happy reunion, taking the scene in.
"Superman," Hawkgirl asked softly, touching the pelt across his shoulders, "How can you be…?"
"Alive? Toyman sent me to the future. And Vandal Savage and I fought some giant cockroaches and…it's complicated," he finished, shrugging his shoulders and looking into the happy faces staring back at him.
Diana stepped forward, eyeing his chin hair askance. "I love the beard," she said affectionately. "Keeping it?"
"Not a chance."
So pleased was I to see Superman again, to know that I had believed correctly that he had not died, I barely felt a tinge of jealousy at Diana's eager welcome to the man many believed she cared so deeply for. I, however, knew better, especially with our actions of late.
All I could think of was that this moment was necessary, was right, that the seven of us were together again, heroes coming together to save the world and defend the weak. This wasn't a moment for petty rivalries and the bitterness of jealousy, but for remembering, to realizing that I had been right to assume his existence, no matter the time period that he had landed himself in.
From behind Superman, J'onn stepped forward, placing a hand on Superman's shoulder and telling him, "You were greatly missed, my friend. By all of us."
Collectively, they turned to look at me. I crossed my arms over my chest and tried my damndest to look stern and forbidding, utterly emotionless in the face of Superman's return. Body erect in every line, I stared back at them all, particularly Superman, a hint of disbelief in his expression obviously thinking about me missing him in any way. I had a feeling though, that behind his disbelief, he knew that he had indeed been missed, by all of us.
"Don't let him fool you," Diana told him with a teasing look in my direction. "Your death hit him as hard as it hit any of us."
"Really?" Superman questioned in an incredulous tone.
"No," I told him baldly. "I never believed you were dead in the first place."
Diana simply looked at me, knowing the more accurate truth than what I had painted, but choose to keep quiet, to let the moment pass and revel in the togetherness of the seven once again.
"I guess that's sort of a compliment," acknowledged Superman, his expression stating that he didn't know quite how to process my declaration.
And then Lobo moved forward, putting a giant arm around both Superman and Diana's shoulders, and pulling them close to his greasy body. "Isn't this great? The whole team together again, all eight of us."
Before any one else could step up to the plate and combat his statement, Superman glared at the bounty hunter. "Count again." He swiped Lobo's hand from his shoulder and said, "You're fired."
"What?" Lobo bellowed, beady red eyes glaring at the man who had just rejected his entreaty to join the Justice League.
"You're not Justice League material, Lobo. Go chase a bail-jumper. I don't care what you do, just clear out." Superman stood steady in the face of the anger staring back at him, returning the intent look with one of his own, clearly not allowing Lobo to gain the upper hand.
"This is the thanks I get? What a stinking rip!" He jumped up into the air, landing on the motorcycle that suddenly appeared under him, descending from the skies. "Next time you lollipops need help, don't bother asking the Main Man!" And with that, he revved his engines and raced off into the skyline of Metropolis, out of our sights and out of our lives.
"We didn't ask you this time!" J'onn yelled after him, clearly irritated the by arrogance of Lobo and the power that he had tried to assume with the 'death' of Superman.
"Guess you'll want to get cleaned up and find a new set of clothes?" Green Lantern asked Superman.
"Not yet," he stated boldly, "we've got a job to do. C'mon, I'll explain on the way." And with those words, he lifted himself up into the air, the rest of us following his lead as we had done so often before, relieved to have him back in our midst.
We were seven.
Next story: Nice & Cozy - what were Batman and Diana up to during this episode? Let's find out...
Also, should I add another chapter? I'm undecided. Chapter 13, anyone? All Bats and Wondy.
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