Monday, July 22, 2024

Curse of the Kingbutcher is an Emotional Gut Punch in Justice League of America

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*deep breath*

Oh, boy. This issue, man. This issue. Leading up to Justice League of America #10, we’ve seen a much more human Justice League forming and dealing with increasingly complex, real-world problems. When Steve Orlando started this series, he indicated that his Justice League were going to dig into and look at the problems that can’t be fixed by punching. We’ve gone from examining fascism, anarchy, family dynamics, the exploitation of poverty, and personal autonomy so far. And with each story, Orlando has dug the team in a little bit deeper. Let the conflicts between them fester just a little bit more. Let them grow a little bit more.

For me, it feels like this is finally coming to a head with part one of Curse of the Kingbutcher. The themes of fascism and anarchy are laid out in bald strokes, only now we have a literal Lord of Order, and a mysterious, chaotic force known only as the Might Beyond the Mirror. And how Orlando explores this story is devastating.

We open with probably one of the most emotionally draining segments of a comic book I’ve ever read. I’d mentioned in a previous issue that I live with multiple chronic pain conditions. Our issue starts with a man who had suffered for years with fibromyalgia finally being granted his wish of a cure.

Look. If you haven’t lived with a chronic condition, there are just some things you won’t understand. You won’t understand going to bed in pain, and waking up to be greeted by that same pain… if it let you sleep in the first place. You won’t understand the constant fatigue and limitations, and the sheer, unrelenting press of time that rolls over you every day because this what you’re going to likely be dealing with for the rest of your life.

This poor man’s near euphoric state is perfectly understandable to me, and what happens to him next is devastating. The Might Beyond the Mirror cured him, but the Lord of Order, the Kingbutcher is there moments later, and callously rips that cure away.

To be honest, I’m tearing up typing this. To have a cure, and have it long enough to realize you aren’t in any pain, to let that hope and elation flare up that you’re finally getting something good in your life, only for it to be cleaved away by someone who couldn’t give two shits about you… it’s unbelievably cruel.

In previous DC dealings with Order and Chaos, we’ve usually seen the dichotomy of “order good” ala Doctor Fate and “chaos bad to wild card” ala Klarion the Witch Boy. With the Might Beyond the Mirror, we’re being given a different glimpse of Chaos. And a rigid and unfeeling look at the Lords of Order.

To quickly recap the issue, we see Batman holding a team meeting and reiterating that he was right about Makson. Ray is still smarting over that. He’s upset he was wrong, but he’s also deeply troubled that Batman can believe the worst about someone. (To be honest, there’s a potential career as a Blue Lantern in Ray’s future.) The meeting is interrupting by a breaking news story about Ray’s hometown of Vanity City, aka the most depressing city in America.

It turns out the Might Beyond the Mirror has been granting several wishes. And the Kingbutcher has been showing up just as quickly, ripping the dreams away from the people they’ve been granted to, and Vanity City is suffering for it.

The team arrives, and we meet the new mayor and one of Ray’s best friends, Caden. He explains what’s happened and reveals he’s a “wisher” as well. Cue Kingbutcher’s entrance. He gives a longwinded speech about the Lords of Order and claims they’re trying to help everyone live their lives free of outside influence. And if that means hurting a few humans, then so be it. The Might Beyond the Mirror is unknown, and Order doesn’t trust it.

Ray is, unsurprisingly, not okay with this. There’s a brief skirmish before Kingbutcher decides to show Ray and the League the other side of wishes being granted. He zaps them to Philadelphia and shows Ray his estranged mother. With a brand new family she wished for.

I do want to quickly say that we don’t necessarily know if his mother is a wisher, or if this is a long-term manifestation of her having wished for a new family after Ray and his father, and had finally built one. Either way, it’s a devastating blow, and I hope Ray can bounce back from this.

We see the Justice League trying to bargain with Kingbutcher, telling him they’ll be responsible for the wishes granted. Kingbutcher has spent much of the episode sounding more like an uncaring entity of destruction, but it’s in the issue’s final moments when he raises the stakes of “what happens when a wisher wishes for something less noble?”

Who is the Might Beyond the Mirror? And who in this situation is crueler? The chaotic force granting wishes that will be taken away? Or the force of order who carries out the deed?

There’s no right and wrong side here. Yes, there’s a very real possibility that the Might is plotting something nefarious, or that it will grant a wish to a very dangerous wisher. But that’s also what chaos is. It’s the absence of order, and instead of the Lords of Order trying to work WITH the Might, or to find out who or what it is, they’ve chosen to rip the dreams and wishes of a city full of depressed and vulnerable people right out from under them.

But I’m also deeply biased with this. Why do I or someone else who is suffering, have to sacrifice even more for the greater good when heroes like the Justice League can sweep in and “punch” something and go back to their shiny lives? And this is probably what Orlando has been trying to reconcile all along. How does a superhero deal with this, and a situation that leaves the victims behind still in suffering?

Why do they get the glory and the heroism when I have to be the one left behind to suffer?

Fanfinity Rating: 9/10

Justice League of America #10

Writer: Steve Orlando

Pencils: Andy MacDonald

Colors: Hi-Fi

Letterer: Clayton Cowles

Images courtesy of DC Comics

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