Abstract concepts like evil are difficult to quantify in the same way that it’s difficult to quantify the appeal of boy bands. There’s nothing to count, measure, or touch. It’s like trying to determine the flavor of water in that the concept itself has no depth. But it’s a concept that is often at the center of many famous stories, going all the way back to the days of Greek mythology. In that sense, it’s fitting that the primary source of evil in DC’s latest event, “Trinity War”, has been Pandora’s Box.
Even in the DC universe, evil that takes form and substance is difficult to deal with. I’m sure Superman would much rather be punching Brainiac’s head off than having to deal with being poisoned by some ancient box that was literally shoved into his hands. Even for Superman, a tangible object imbued with pure evil is too much to handle. In that is a theme that has played out in many different ways throughout “Trinity War”. And as Justice League Dark #23 demonstrates, such an object is too much for even the entire Justice League to handle.
Like foolish hikers that chase after a bear that just mauled a herd of deer, the Justice League and the Justice League of America fight over possession of Pandora’s Box. And not surprisingly, they had no better luck at avoiding the influence of the box than Superman. It corrupts the likes of Wonder Woman and Shazam, two heroes that, like Superman, are supposed to be personifications of all things good. Yet this object that isn’t much bigger than a laptop corrupts Earth’s most powerful heroes to the point where a good portion of the comic consists of them fighting over possession of the box. It’s like Lord of the Rings if Hobbits had superpowers.
But “Trinity War” hasn’t just focused on ancient artifacts that can corrupt angels and demigods. Other sources of corruption have emerged within each respective league. Amanda Waller and the Justice League of America may not be as evil as a sinister ancient box forged by actual gods, but the corruption behind their heroics is every bit as damaging. Now Waller’s intentions have been exposed for both leagues. She organized the JLA to effectively counter the Justice League, right down to picking heroes with certain abilities that would match or neutralize certain members in the opposing league. She even had Firestorm learn to make kryptonite with his powers. What makes it all the more distressing to both leagues is that she did this in secret. And the JLA doesn’t take too kindly to this revelation. I doubt anyone would blame Green Arrow for threatening to shoot Waller with one of his non-boxing glove arrow.
This kind of hidden agenda is something that is only possible under the guise of corruption. However, it’s not the same corruption caused by Pandora’s Box. The entire conflict behind “Trinity War” has been fueled by suspicion and paranoia about how supremely powerful beings such as Superman can be controlled if they ever became corrupt. It’s a very real and logical concern for those who aren’t more powerful than a locomotive. And to an extent, Amanda Waller was vindicated at the beginning of “Trinity War” when Superman was corrupted by Pandora’s Box. Like Dean Rooney in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, she was right in the grand scheme of things.
Waller may claim ignorance in the face of hostility from both the Justice League and the JLA, but on some levels she has to know that she was right. Superman was corrupted and because of that, he may have killed someone. Even though it was revealed several issues ago that there is another sinister force working behind the scenes, it is still a clear manifestation of Waller’s concerns. If there was no plan in place to deal with a corrupted Superman, who or what could possibly stop him? He’s Superman and his power is nothing short of god-like. Yet he’s not a god in that he can be corrupted, as Pandora’s Box has shown. So why shouldn’t there be a plan in place to deal with him and his team of demigods?
While this recourse makes intuitive sense, it too is prone to corruption. And that’s exactly how it plays out in this issue. Each Justice League team fights for control of Pandora’s Box, getting corrupted along the way, until they eventually reach Madam Xanadu, who was imprisoned before she could uncover the secrets of Pandora’s Box. She is the one that finally reveals the source behind the power of the box. This also leads to the reveal of the sinister figure who has been manipulating all three leagues from the beginning. And at this point, he doesn’t even need to hide anymore. The damage has been done and he didn’t even have to do that much. Unlike Lex Luthor, this nameless figure works smart and lets heroes destroy themselves so he doesn’t have to. It may seem like a lazier form of evil, but there’s no denying its effectiveness.
This is the most telling message of “Trinity War”. In attempting to create a balance of power between the Justice League and the JLA, both sides became corrupted. Paranoia and fear created the circumstances under which Pandora’s Box could be so effective. It didn’t have to be an object of pure evil. It just needed to give these heroes the right nudge to start attacking one another. In doing so, the corruption ensured that they couldn’t figure out whom or what they were dealing with until it was too late.
Justice League Dark #23 offers a painful lesson about what happens when corruption blinds otherwise good people. Even superheroes with all their power end up playing into the hands of a skilled manipulator. The scale of the conflict and the potential for it to get worse help this issue up the stakes in “Trinity War” to extreme levels. It also shows that while kryptonite is Superman’s greatest weakness, corruption is the greatest weakness to every hero, no matter how powerful they are.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.
"PopMatters (est. 1999) is a respected source for smart long-form reading on a wide range of topics in culture. PopMatters serves as…READ the article