by Michael Hutchison
Art by Rick Blackwell and Bill Wiist
Story 1: "The Flip of a Coin"
22,300 miles above the Earth, in the JLA satellite, the Joker is
unburdening his soul to Captain Cold, asking why his longtime
feud with Batman had to end in death.
The infamous detective known as the Riddler deduces that the Batman
was too driven to end it any other way. The JLA calls the roll
and holds a meeting to discuss the activities of various adversaries.
Watching the satellite from the upper stratosphere is Superman, who coldly contemplates the irony that the most powerful man on Earth cannot risk landing for fear of running into a contingent of lawmen, all of whom have a chunk of Kryptonite supplied to them by that great benefactor, Lex Luthor. He is met by Wonder Woman, and they discuss a partnership. Superman needs someone to remove the Kryptonite; secretly, he desires her for a consort. However, Diana is too much of a man-hater and Clark is too untrustworthy for such a union.
The Joker reflects on his origins. Once a minor criminal, he reformed after his grotesque transformation and decided to always look on the bright side. Clowns, after all, never let personal tragedies affect their painted smiles. As a crimefighter, he'd tangled many times with the Batman, a mentally unstable vigilante who waged a reckless war against criminals with little thought for the innocent bystanders. At last, the Joker had trailed him to the Batcave and Batman had set his headquarters to self-destruct. As the two fought, the countdown reached zero and the cave buried Bruce Wayne forever.
In a Suicide Slum diner, Black Lightning and Black Manta meet under a truce and out of costume. Lightning, an ex-teacher disillusioned with educating today's youth, has become an embittered, elitist super-villain and a powerful drug dealer. Manta, an environmentalist and pacifist member of the JLA, tries, unsuccessfully, to persuade him to join his crew and turn his energies from crime to a life of undersea exploration where there is no racial hatred. Lightning agrees to meet Black Manta later at the corner mailbox should he decide to go. Manta confides to his assistant, Orm Marius, that he suspects Black Lightning will take the offer.
The Joker and his special forces team, the Royal Flush Club, warned of a suspected robbery at a posh opera house, encounter the psychotic shapechanger Elongated Man and his gun-toting wife, Sue Dibny. The vicious Ralph Dibny easily kills most of the Royal Flush Club, along with several patrons, while the Joker is trying to stop Sue. Finally, with only a second to save Queen's life, Joker flings a razor-sharp card at Dibny's long neck and decapitates him.
Aghast at taking another life, the Joker is discussing the case outside with Commissioner Gordon when he spots the Batman's figure on a rooftop. The Joker pursues Batman across Gotham City, only to discover that this is Dick Grayson, Wayne's protege, trying to carry on in Wayne's place. Realizing that Grayson's philosophy has not yet been poisoned by a lifetime of bitterness, the Joker convinces him to let Batman's sickness die with him. The Joker is content that not every confrontation must end in death.
In Suicide Slum, Manta has been waiting for a half hour at the corner with no sign of Black Lightning. He is about to leave when three members of Lightning's gang arrive to deliver the message: "No." Black Lightning's enforcer, Jose Delgado, stabs Black Manta in the stomach and leaves him to bleed to death on the cold cement of the slum, far from the ocean he loves.
Story 2: "A Toss Of The Dice"
In Lex Luthor's weapons facility, alarms blare and guards rush to the inner chamber. They arrive to find the Kryptonite disappearing from the massive locked vault. Those who try to intervene are smashed against the walls at a tremendous velocity. Seconds later, the vault is empty. Kryptonite also disappears from the Special Crimes Units around the globe. Superman has made his first ally: The Flash.
In Suicide Slum, Joker, the Shadow Enforcer (Shadow Thief), Professor Zoom and Earth's new Green Lantern, Sinestro, find Black Manta's corpse. The Joker calls an emergency meeting of the JLA.
Deep in the Atlantic, Superman attacks Poseidonis, boiling miles of the ocean bottom with his heat vision. He stops short of killing the king, Aquaman, ordering him to put Atlantis' forces at his disposal.
Wonder Woman receives an urgent message from her mother to return to Paradise Island. Diana rushes home to find most of the Amazons dead and her mother in Superman's clutches. After a ferocious fight spanning the entire island, Superman emerges triumphant. By holding Hippolyte hostage, Superman gains a headquarters and a consort.
On Mars is a high-tech penitentiary maintained by Lexcorp androids. The facility is shielded from the outside with tons of Kryptonite, energy-weapons and forcefields. All to no avail. Inside, the Phantom Stranger opens a dimensional doorway and allows Superman access to the prison. The renegade Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), J'onn J'onzz, Firestorm, Captain Atom and several other high-powered menaces are kept powerless in energy-absorbing cubicles. They all agree to join Superman in exchange for their release.
Black Canary and Green Arrow, caught breaking into Star City's Diamond Exchange by Deadshot and Terra Man, are engaged in a shootout when the two villains disappear in a rush of wind. The two heroes are smears on the wall, killed by high-speed impact.
In New York, a gang of super-villains (Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, Fire and Ice, and others) are robbing banks and joyriding in the Bug. Wotan, Brainiac, Dr. Light and Trickster arrive to end the crime spree. The JLA members are close to victory when the Bug is whisked away in a blur of red and blue.
The Bug, carried by Superman, makes several stops: in Suicide Slum to pick up Black Lightning and the Thorn; at Arkham Asylum to snatch the Huntress, Blue Devil, Hawkman, Zatanna and Atom; and at Belle Reve to free dozens of villains who pledge allegiance to Superman. The Bug touches down at the Isle of Supremacy (previously titled Paradise Island), and Superman announces that they have enough firepower to make the next move.
The Joker, Professor Zoom, Sinestro and several other JLAers are comparing notes with the President in the White House when Joker receives a hysterical call from Felix Faust over his signal device. Superman and the other powerhouse villains are attacking the JLA satellite! Faust's broadcast is suddenly cut off. Sinestro forms a power bubble and Joker instructs him to get them to their HQ as fast as possible. As they race from the Oval Office, they see that it won't be difficult; the Satellite is coming to them. The JLA Satellite, still intact due to its force field, hits Washington with tremendous force. The US Capital is destroyed; the President and half of the JLA are dead. The war has begun
Story 3: "The Road Not Taken"
The Joker is sifting through the remains of the Satellite and the White House, trying to find the bodies of his people. Sinestro returns from containing the tremendous dust cloud and reports that Superman is attacking other installations around the globe.
Superman and his army launch high-speed attacks to destroy the United Nations Building, the Louvre, various LexCorp installations, the Daily Planet building, the Professor Zoom museum in Central City and Ra's al Ghul's fortress in the Middle East. Superman commandeers WGBS and gives Earth 12 hours to surrender to his authority or face a second wave of attacks.
The remnants of the JLA and as many other heroes as can be found meet at the Brotherhood of Victory Tower in New York to discuss a way to beat Superman. Joker realizes that Superman is the spearhead of the movement; without him, the other supervillains will quit. He sends the remaining heroes out to find any means of stopping Superman.
Chronos, T.O. Morrow, Time Commander and Lord of Time attempt to retrieve Hitler's Spear of Destiny from 1945 but run into Rip Hunter, Time Marauder. Sinestro tries to fly to Krypton for more Kryptonite but is ambushed and murdered by Captain Comet. Lex Luthor prepares to distribute red sun-powered energy weapons when the lab he's in is destroyed by the Metal Men. As the Metal Men leave the scene, the mortally wounded Luthor slips a tracer onto Lead's body. The Joker finds the tracking device and calls the heroes together to track Superman to his lair.
Superman is awaiting the deadline from his throne on the Island; when Firestorm questions the plan, Superman severely beats him. The villains realize that they are only pawns, and many secretly hope to escape or switch sides.
The heroes finally attack the Isle of Supremacy. After a long battle, the Joker realizes that they cannot defeat Superman by force. He orders all heroes to stop fighting and approaches Superman.
The Joker confronts Superman with the fact that there is no way for Superman to win. If he wanted material things, or the heroes' deaths, or most anything, he could have gotten it long ago. What he wants is respect and awe at his superiority, and that is something he cannot have through force. Indeed, he cannot even keep his coalition of villains at his side, as many of the villains have run off or switched to join the heroes. Angered, Superman kills the Joker, who doesn't even try to resist.
The remaining heroes stand united before Superman and proclaim that he will have to kill every single one of them, and still the world will not follow him. Superman kills several of them, but flies off in frustration. A few of the heroes want to track him down and make him pay for his crimes, but Professor Zoom counsels that it will be almost impossible to capture Superman without his permission.
At the funeral for the dead, as the Joker is being lowered into his grave, the villains approach and assemble around his casket. They each drop their weapon or insignia into the grave, a symbol that they have grown sick of their petty criminal lives after seeing a man with no powers who saved the world.
Superman watches the funeral with his telescopic vision, pondering the fact that the entire world is honoring the weakling Joker and not him. From his vantage point on a mountaintop, he pulls a lead box and opens it, exposing himself to the Kryptonite within. He wonders if he made the wrong choice in trying to dominate the Earth instead of protect it. As he is succumbing to the rays, his superhearing picks up an airliner in trouble. He wonders whether he should catch it.