Author's Note: This is set in the DCAU, just after the Justice League episode "A Better World, Part 2." That one ended as five members of the Justice Lords of a parallel Earth had just been depowered and captured, thanks to a device invented by Lex Luthor; one he had used as a bargaining chip in getting a full pardon from the United States government. For quite some time I've been wondering: "Just what happened to those depowered characters after they were defeated?"
Several months ago I typed out a list of four possible answers to that question, along with notes on some of the potential drawbacks to one answer or another. Some ideas crossed my mind for interesting follow-up tales involving one or more of the Justice Lords, but before I could write such a story, I would need to decide what the League actually did with those guys after capturing them. Unable to make up my mind at the time, I shoved the problem aside for awhile.
Recently I was pondering the question once again, and it finally occurred to me that it might be interesting to write a story showing exactly what happened when the seven founding members of the League were arguing about the problem!
This is a three-chapter story. I've already written all of the second chapter, and a rough draft of the third, but I plan on letting a few days go by between installments.
Passing Judgment on the Justice Lords
Chapter One: Send Them Back Where They Came From?
After Lex Luthor had earned his presidential pardon by depowering five Justice Lords, the League had acted quickly to keep their captives isolated, transporting them up to the Watchtower and locking them into holding cells before any authorities down on the ground could try to make the arrests themselves.
Batman had wanted an immediate discussion of what to do with the Lords, but Superman had overruled him, saying, "After what we've been through, I think at least some of us can use several hours of rest before we reconvene tomorrow to reach a decision. Twelve noon, Eastern Standard time. Until then, we'll take two-hour shifts monitoring the cells to make sure the prisoners don't go anywhere."
Now it was 12:01 PM, all seven of the League were seated around a table, and it was time to get down to brass tacks. Shayera was hopeful that they could wrap it all up in ten or fifteen minutes and then she could go back to convalescing. Being blasted by the grimmer and grittier version of John Stewart had not done her internal organs any good.
Superman wanted to establish clear nomenclature first. "I propose using the word 'Other' to mark the differences between ourselves and our nastier namesakes. For instance, 'The Other Superman' or just 'Other-Superman' will mean the Kryptonian guy we have locked away."
Batman nodded. "Now there is something I should share. My counterpart—or Other-Batman, if you prefer—said that forty-eight hours after he sent us home, he would open up a portal to our Watchtower again in case we had anything or anybody we wanted to send back through. He seemed to be of the opinion that if we couldn't defeat the rest of the Justice Lords within that timeframe, we probably never would. We still have almost thirty-six hours to make a decision."
"I'm still not happy about leaving him operational," John observed.
"For the first time in my life, I was up against a man who knew all my moves and weak spots as well as I do," Batman said bitterly. "He is also the only person who really understands how his portal generator works. Those things did not give me a strong bargaining position. What he finally agreed to was that he would open the portal to send all of us home, and that he would never again support an invasion of our world. My side of the bargain included two key elements: First: We would not try to capture him within the next few days if he behaved himself. Second: We would, in fact, return home to tend to our own back yard instead of spending a long time trying to forcibly rearrange the way things are done on his world. Since the only Justice Lord left running free over there is the one without superpowers, I believe things will work themselves out after the downtrodden masses realize there is no longer a Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, or Martian Manhunter to stamp out the fires of dissent."
"Given that we couldn't return home without his portal generator, and he might be able to destroy it in an eyeblink if he felt too threatened, your deal may have been the best we were going to get," J'onn J'onnz conceded.
Wonder Woman asked, "Did Other-Batman know what we'd do to his friends?"
"Highly unlikely," Batman responded. "At the time, even I didn't know our Earth's Lex Luthor had already invented a power disruptor. Clearly, their Luthor never did; I suppose he was too busy campaigning for the White House. My counterpart probably expected us to try temporary measures to gain the upper hand—and he may have thought that if we won, we'd simply boot some temporarily-subdued Justice Lords back through the portal so we wouldn't have to worry about them any more."
"What do you mean by temporary measures?" Flash asked.
"If need be, you could have zoomed toward Other-Superman with a chunk of kryptonite clenched in your fist. If he didn't realize the danger in time to fly away, you'd have him helpless. Then we might trap Other-Martian Manhunter in a ring of fire. If those two were sidelined, the odds would be heavily in our favor as we attacked the remaining Justice Lords. Then we could worry about ways and means of keeping them all subdued in the long run. Keeping Other-Superman in a room flooded with red solar radiation would be a start."
Shayera blinked. Batman had rattled off that plan so quickly, you'd almost think he was reciting something he had worked out in his head long before this mess began. Ways and means of quickly taking down any given member of the League in a worst-case scenario? Plans which he took it for granted that his counterpart had also formulated soon after joining the Justice Lords?
Not that there was anything wrong with that! She had done much the same as part of her intelligence-gathering mission, although she hoped duty would never require implementing those ideas.
As a career military officer, Shayera understood the value of having a wide range of contingency plans drafted out for scary problems which might never arise. That way, if one of them did crop up suddenly, you could reach into your files and dust off the right plan for quick guidance. No need to start sweating blood in the frantic attempt to develop an intelligent counterstrategy from scratch while brave soldiers were already dying.
While those thoughts flashed through her mind, Superman was trying to get the conversation back on track. "It didn't happen that way, so let's stick to the current problem. We've got five prisoners who once conquered a world. What shall we do with them?"
Still hopeful that this meeting wouldn't drag on and on, Shayera said, "I supposed we would send them right back where they came from. That's where they committed most of their crimes. Now that they won't find it so easy to thumb their noses at local authorities, I'm sure someone will be eager to prosecute them."
"It might be hard finding an unbiased judge and jury," Superman observed. "If every citizen of every nation on that Earth was living in fear of the Justice Lords for the last two years, how are you going to select a panel of jurors who will all swear they have no personal grudge against any of the defendants, and no strong preconceptions about their possible guilt? Anyone who did say that would probably be lying through his teeth. It could turn into a regular monkey court."
Shayera shrugged. "Not my problem! If zillions of people hate them and want revenge, it's because the Justice Lords earned that hatred fair and square. Let them face the natural consequences of their own mistakes."
"We probably shouldn't trust Other-Batman to hand his old buddies over to the FBI, but that's no biggie," Flash said cheerfully. "Superman and me can carry the prisoners at super-speed to some handy jail. Leave notes pinned on their chests explaining that these Justice Lords don't have their powers any more, so they can stand trial for their crimes. Then we zip back through the portal and let the people on that side clean up their own messes."
"I would feel much better about that approach if we knew more about the ways in which their world deviates from our own," J'onn J'onnz said. "How many fanatical supporters did the Justice Lords accumulate during their two-year reign? Could those supporters rescue them from captivity? On the other hand, what about lynch mobs getting to them first, and killing the Lords before they ever stand trial? There must be a lot of anger bottled up."
"All good questions," Wonder Woman conceded.
Shayera had trouble with her friends' shared assumption that it would somehow be a bad thing if the Justice Lords died quick, messy deaths at the hands of justifiably angry civilians. The Thanagarian attitude towards such extreme offenders was different. Of course Thanagar had a court system too—but everyone knew the price of high treason. If you staged a coup meant to take over the government, and ultimately failed, then your death was guaranteed after the defenders of the old status quo finally got the drop on you.
Someone might go through the motions of giving you a fair trial before carrying out the automatic execution.
Or they might not bother taking you alive in the first place. "The would-be tyrant and his cronies died while resisting arrest" was quicker and more efficient, without changing the end result in the slightest. In such extreme circumstances, a villain's abrupt death would not be listed as a tragedy in the history books.
But she knew her friends in the League disagreed with that approach.
"Let's suppose a best-case scenario as far as the justice system is concerned," John Stewart said. "The five depowered Justice Lords get a fair trial in a federal court over yonder. Their guilt on dozens of charges is proven six ways from Sunday. They get convicted and sentenced. Held in a maximum-security area for their own protection. No abuse from guards or other inmates. Maybe they avoid capital punishment by agreeing to cooperate with the legitimate authorities; answering all sorts of questions. Or maybe they end up on Death Row."
Batman nodded. "Very well. For the sake of argument, we'll say it all happens strictly by the book. Civil rights are respected, and so forth. What are you leading up to?"
"How long do you think they'll actually stay in prison?" John looked around the table, waiting for a response. No one spoke immediately; some of the others just looked confused. So he elaborated on his point: "If our counterparts have what are basically our own backgrounds, then some of them have powerful friends who may come looking. For instance, I suspect my counterpart was still considered a member in good standing of the Green Lantern Corps. What if the Guardians on Oa get worried after they haven't heard from him for a few months, and find they can't call him long-distance via his ring, so they send somebody to check? What if he's rescued from durance vile and provided with a replacement ring?"
"You don't think anyone checking up would see fit to leave a fellow Green Lantern in a federal penitentiary—if that was where they found him serving a long sentence?" Wonder Woman asked.
"In our universe, they would probably take the time to scan the court records and decide he'd been justly convicted," John conceded. "But in that other universe, who knows? I've always believed that if I tried to make myself a dictator with this ring, the Guardians would catch on fairly quick and take it away from me."
Flash was catching on. "But Other-GL was doing that for two years, and his Guardians never lifted a finger to stop him!"
"Exactly. That's what worries me. Maybe his Guardians are more hard-nosed than mine when it comes to putting 'law and order' above 'free will.' Or maybe not. What if they are simply more . . . preoccupied . . . than the bunch I know, and never had a clue what he was doing on his home turf?"
"Preoccupied? How so?" Wonder Woman asked.
John grimaced. "I can imagine a few ways for it to happen. Who knows how many differences there are between our universe and that one, especially as you get further and further away from this solar system? What if the Other Guardians are facing some horrible problem thousands of light-years away, bigger and scarier than anything I ever saw or heard of? Maybe they just can't spare the time to monitor what happens on every backwater planet. In that case, if a Green Lantern found a way to contact them, saying he'd been mugged and needed a new ring in a hurry, they might just issue him a spare with a full charge as fast as possible—without bothering to check his story. Then my counterpart uses it to break out of prison, recharges it every day with the battery he still has hidden somewhere, and he's back in business!"
"A disturbing picture." Wonder Woman sighed. "I hadn't thought of this before, but what if my counterpart, languishing in a prison cell in her home dimension, finds a way to send a distress call to Themyscira? Amazons would do whatever it took to rescue a sister who was the helpless captive of mortal men. It could even cause a war." She considered that for a moment and then qualified her position. "Unless their gods ordered the Other Amazons not to interfere, but we sure can't count on that happening."
"And all this assumes we trust Other-Batman not to have a change of heart and spring his buddies somehow after we're not looking!" Flash said suddenly. He looked over at their own Dark Knight. "I mean, seriously, Bats, is there any maximum-security facility on Earth where you, starting as a free man on the outside, would find it impossible to somehow sneak in, extract at least one prisoner, and make a clean getaway?"
Batman didn't respond right away. Shayera had expected him to just say "No" and leave it at that, but apparently he felt the question deserved a more thoughtful answer.
After a full minute, Batman said carefully, "I rarely need to penetrate such places, so I have to speculate about the ones I've never visited. But I can't think of any prison where I'm positive I would fail in the attempt if I didn't have metahuman accomplices to help. At a very rough estimate . . . odds might be at least sixty-forty in my favor, since I wouldn't even try until I had done my homework and believed my plan was as good as it could get."
"Thanks; that's what I was afraid of—" Flash stopped talking as Batman cut him off with a raised palm.
"Those would be my chances, but we're not really talking about me; we're talking about my counterpart. My tactics would be limited by my refusal to kill. His might not be. If he convinced himself that a few human lives were regrettably expendable in the pursuit of a 'greater good,' then I'd say his chance of succeeding in a ruthless commando-style raid, using high explosives and anything else he thought he needed, would be a near-certainty."
"Well, that just made me feel warm and fuzzy all over," Flash muttered. "But getting back to my point—what really worries me isn't just the idea of Other-Batman breaking his powerless friends out of prison. It's the idea that after he got them back, he might study their brainwaves and biochemistry and stuff and find a clever way to reverse the effects of Luthor's power disruptor."
Shayera said, "Even if nobody finds a cure, we're talking about members of at least four different species who all got zapped by the same weapon. Can we afford to gamble that none of them will just naturally feel the effects wearing off over time? Remember, if Other-Batman simply leaves his portal generator unplugged for the next thirty years after we've send his friends back, we'll have no way to check on what they're up to!"
"I hadn't thought of the possibility of their powers being restored," Superman confessed. "Perhaps I just have more faith in Lex Luthor than you do." He winced. "And there's a sentence I never thought I'd hear myself say!"
"We all know what you mean," Batman assured him. "You're talking about your confidence in his scientific genius; not his moral fiber. Speaking for the television cameras, he boasted that those powers were permanently removed by his invention. Luthor wouldn't risk getting egg on his face if he thought there was even a one percent chance the claim wouldn't prove true."
Superman nodded. "But Flash and Hawkgirl raise a frightening point. Yesterday night was that gadget's first field test. Nobody knows anything about long-term effects. Especially when we're dealing with such a motley assortment of targets as a Kryptonian, a Martian, a Thanagarian, a human with a power ring, and an Amazon whose powers were magical gifts from Greek goddesses."
John Stewart was scowling. "I'm going to feel awfully dumb if we turn the Justice Lords over to the authorities on their world, promising it's safe to treat them the same as any other captured criminals, and then a few years from now Other-Superman is back to his old self. Or, if we never heard from that Earth again, I'd always wonder if we were just an irritating road bump for those fascists before they picked up right where they'd left off!"
"Lack of opportunity for follow-up seems to be a big problem here," Flash suggested. "Do we all agree we shouldn't just send them back home if we're bound to completely lose track of them afterwards?"
"I agree," J'onn said heavily. "The risks are too great, and we must assume that our ability to intervene again would be nonexistent."
The others chimed in. Soon it was clear that the idea of simply dropping the whole problem in the hands of the Other-USA (or any other government of that Earth) had been unanimously rejected.
Author's Note: When I went back and double-checked, I found that we don't actually see Lex Luthor saying 'those powers were removed permanently' in his press conference at the very end. However, we only saw about 25 seconds of that press conference, so it stands to reason that he said a great deal more than the few sentences we heard before the final credits started. I choose to assume that he did make such a claim, somewhere along the line.
For what it's worth—right after Luthor used his device, the good Superman said to his nasty counterpart, "It's called a power disruptor. And yours are now gone." In context, I sure didn't get the feeling that Superman meant: "Temporarily gone, but don't worry! Give it a little time and you'll get them back!"
Given that Lex Luthor is not exactly known for his gentle, merciful way of dealing with enemies, I figure if he designed something that could successfully remove Superman's powers at all, along with those of any other super-powered entities who have occasionally annoyed him, he'd do his best to make the effect permanent for any and all possible targets. (Whether or not he succeeded in that goal, however, is very open to argument, since the cartoons never provided us with any long-term follow-up on the fates of the Justice Lords whom he had zapped.)