Justice League: Origins of Doom
by Jerry Whitworth
The DC Universe animated film Justice League: Doom bears a rather significant distinction: it is the final work in the field of animation for writer Dwayne McDuffie. A visionary that was instrumental in the creation of Milestone Media and story editor for Justice League Unlimited (among many other accolades), McDuffie was a no-nonsense visionary, a brilliant mind in the fields of character development, plot, and script, and a kind and forthright human being. McDuffie died February 2011 due to complications from heart surgery. The film was his third such piece in the series of original animated features from DC Comics having previously written the adaptation of All-Star Superman and Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths.
Justice League: Doom is identified as a loose adaptation of Mark Waid’s JLA: Tower of Babel (2000), a story in which Ra’s al Ghul abducts the corpses of Bruce Wayne’s parents under threat of resurrecting them in one of the famed Lazarus Pits. Further, Ghul’s daughter Talia absconds with protocols Batman developed to incapacitate the Justice League should they for some reason go rogue. Ghul’s organization employs these measures and defeats the heroic group in hopes he could finally achieve his goal of wiping out humanity. Justice League: Doom deviates at least in that Vandal Savage will lead the charge against the Justice League. While employing a group he dubs the Legion of Doom, he enlists opponents for each Leaguer that have an intimate knowledge of their enemy and employ Batman’s protocols to destroy each hero.
Vandal Savage is immortal, alive since the dawn of man, a Cro-Magnon bathed in the radiation of a meteor that granted great intelligence and eternal life. Savage spent this life in personal pursuits of pleasure, known throughout history as such notorious figures as Cain, Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Vlad the Impaler, Genghis Khan, Blackbeard, and Jack the Ripper. He would form the Illuminati, topple Atlantis, raze Egypt during the height of its decadence, and act as a dominant guiding force in the Nazi movement, whispering in the ear of Adolf Hitler. Introduced in 1943 in Green Lantern #10, Savage would face the Justice Society of America as part of the Injustice Society and as an individual.
Savage’s Legion of Doom includes:
• Metallo: John Corben was an unscrupulous man involved in a car crash. Discovered by a scientist named Professor Emmet Vale, his life is saved when his brain is transplanted into a robotic humanoid. Relying on a Kryptonite heart to power the body and taking the name Metallo, Corben used his newfound abilities to steal, murder, and terrorize bringing him into conflict with Superman where the pair have battled repeatedly since.
• Bane: The son of revolutionary Edmund Dorrance (known later as the mercenary King Snake), the young child who became Bane was forced to live out his father’s sentence for his crimes when Dorrance escaped authorities. Spending his childhood in Peña Dura, a maximum security prison on the small Caribbean island of Santa Prisca (a prominent locale in international drug trade), Bane tempered himself, mentally and physically, into an unstoppable force. As an adult, Bane ruled the population of Peña Dura through fear, so menacing that the warden chose him to test a new drug called Venom which killed previous test subjects. Instead, Bane survived the drug trial and developed superhuman strength. Escaping prison, Bane came to Gotham City to test his abilities against its famous Batman, having uncovered the hero’s identity as Bruce Wayne through years of obsessively researching the hero. Bane would paralyze Batman in their first encounter but would fall to the Dark Knight in their next meeting. Bane would return repeatedly, sometimes as an ally and others as an enemy.
• Cheetah: Empowered by the ancient African plant god Urtzkartaga, anthropologist Barbara Ann Minerva is imbued with incredible powers as a humanoid cheetah. Enthralled with a thirst for blood and pleasure, Cheetah sought Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth, coveting rare artifacts as part of her former life in anthropology. The two would became frequent opponents ever since.
• Star Sapphire: Carol Ferris, president of Ferris Aircraft and boss to test pilot Hal Jordan (as well as oft times love interest), was chosen by the ancient alien race known as the Zamarons as their ruler and champion. The Zamarons, formerly the mates to the Guardians of the Universe that formed the Green Lantern Corps, sought to turn the power of love into a weapon. The result was the Star Sapphire, a jewel whose abilities matched (if not surpassed) the Green Lantern’s power ring. Bestowing the Star Sapphire to Ferris, she took the item as her name and her love was corrupted into a deep desire to destroy her love, the Green Lantern of Sector 2814, Hal Jordan.
• Mirror Master: A mercenary employing super-science mirrors capable of incredible feats that has frequently faced the Flash.
• Ma’alefa’ak: Twin brother of J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, Ma’alefa’ak was born immune to the Martian weakness to fire and incapable of telepathy. Where J’onn’s name translates to “Light to the Light,” Ma’alefa’ak is instead “Darkness of the Heart” as their mother, born with the gift of prophecy, foretold their future roles. Unable to be included in the group mind of his people, Ma’alefa’ak was shunned becoming a brilliant scientist while his brother J’onn become a prestigious peacekeeper in the Manhunters like their mother Sha’sheen. This underlining tension came to a head when Ma’alefa’ak made contact with the world of Apokolips. The twins’ father M’yrnn was researching the Life Equation, data the despot of Apokolips Darkseid sought for the Anti-Life Equation. Ma’alefa’ak and other Martians were kidnapped and dissected by Desaad, Ma’alefa’ak’s mind, body, and soul twisted into a disciple for the dark god. He was returned to Mars to continue seeking the Anti-Life Equation, raping the minds of Martians, including J’onn’s wife My’ria’h, with newfound powers granted him by his god. This crime is considered the greatest taboo for their people and Ma’alefa’ak, brought in after nearly killing his own mother, was stripped of all psionic abilities and implanted with false memories. However, the seed planted in him by Darkseid persisted and he would remember, developing the virus Hronmeer’s Curse which caused any Martian to burst in to flames if they linked their minds. All Martians on-planet died from the disease (including J’onn’s wife and daughter K’hym) save the two brothers. J’onn sought his brother at the planet’s core in his base of operations and buried him. Walking the surface of the barren planet for months, J’onn would be brought to Earth by the teleportation ray of Dr. Saul Erdel. Ma’alefa’ak would eventually get free and after years on Mars would sense his brother on Earth, following him, taking the name Malefic, and nearly killing the members of the Justice League.
The Legion of Doom dates its origins back to the television program Challenge of the Super Friends. The group originally was going to be named the League of Evil and feature Dr. Sivana as their leader as Captain Marvel was intended to be added to the Super Friends roster. The villainous group was largely going to be made up of enemies of Marvel, Flash, and Batman and would have included Mr. Atom, King Kull, Beautia Sivana, Joker, Penguin, Poison Ivy, Gorilla Grodd, Heat Wave, Abra Kadabra, Captain Cold, Cheetah, and Sinestro. However, Filmation had the rights to Shazam! and most of Batman’s characters leading to using mostly Superman villains in the line-up. Now named the Legion of Doom, the group was headquartered in a flying base known as the Hall of Doom (bearing a strong resemblance to Darth Vader’s helmet) generally docked in Slaughter Swamp just outside Gotham City. Led by Lex Luthor, the group had among its members Brainiac, Bizarro, Toyman, Solomon Grundy, Riddler, Scarecrow, Cheetah, Giganta, Captain Cold, Gorilla Grodd, Sinestro, and Black Manta. The group would prove to be very popular, appearing infrequently on television (recently on Batman: The Brave and the Bold) and several versions appearing in the comics, most recently in Teen Titans. The iconic Hall of Doom maybe even more everlasting, often imitated or adapted in appearance in animation (recently in Young Justice) and comics (such as in Final Crisis).
Groups of super-villains were not exactly uncommon, several groups like the Monster Society of Evil, Injustice Gang, and Super Foes pre-dating the Legion. One group in fact was very similar to the premise of the Legion of Doom that appear in Justice League: Doom. The Anti-Justice League, introduced in Action Comics in 1975, was formed by the Queen Bee with each member specifically selected to capture a member of the Justice League with the element of surprise. Her group included Brainiac, Clayface, Sinestro, Gorilla Grodd, Ocean Master, Merlyn, Chronos, and the Harpy. While her effort was mostly successful, she made the mistake of saving Superman for last who turned the tables on the villains. The alien conqueror Agamemno followed a similar line of thought in Mark Waid’s Silver Age (2000) event as the alien contracted Lex Luthor to form an Injustice League to trample Earth’s heroes with Penguin, Sinestro, Mr. Element, Black Manta, Catwoman, Chronos, Dr. Light, and Felix Faust. Luthor would repeat history during Grant Morrison’s JLA run in 1997 when he reformed the Injustice Gang with the Joker, Circe, Mirror Master, Dr. Light, Ocean Master, and Jemm as each was one of the hero’s greatest enemies.
Likely the most well-known villain group in comics was the Secret Society of Super-Villains. Initially presented as the Brotherhood of Crime, it was a cast of agents that operated under orders from Darkseid to help him conquer Earth until the super villains turned on him. The concept was tweaked where the group initially operated as a rotating cast of villains to secretly further Darkseid’s goals until they learned the truth and broke out on their own as a work-for-hire organization (a sort of Suicide Squad or Mission: Impossible but as soldiers of fortune). Characters such as Lex Luthor, Wizard, Gorilla Grodd, Funky Flashman, Manhunter, Captain Comet, and Silver Ghost sought to run the team. Ultimately, the group disbanded but returned on occasion as a more traditional group of super-villains including under the Ultra-Humanite and as part of Despero’s plans in JLA: Crisis of Conscience. The group inspired the so-called Society created leading in to the event Infinite Crisis as a union of all active villains with a distinct “no scabs” policy. The concept of the Society is also reminiscent of the animated series Justice League Unlimited where many of Earth’s heroes banded together as a rotating cast custom made to face threats to the planet and an organization headed up by Gorilla Grodd of villains to counter this development.
Vandal Savage has also organized groups in the past to battle heroes. In Mark Waid’s JLA: Year One (1998), Savage brought together Solomon Grundy, Clayface, Eclipso, and the Thorn to face the League in its first year. However, in the pages of Devin Grayson’s Titans (1999), Savage formed an anti-Titans group called Tartarus. Using the psychic Omen, he assembled a group of villains each with the capability to eliminate a member of the Titans. In the television series Young Justice, Vandal Savage leads a group of villains called the Light which seem to be some amalgamation of the Secret Society of Super-Villains, Kingdom Come’s Mankind Liberation Front, and Marvel’s the Cabal. The group includes Lex Luthor, Ra’s al Ghul, Queen Bee, Ocean Master, Klarion the Witch Boy, and the Brain. In Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Kru’ll the Eternal was an amalgamation of Savage and Captain Marvel villain King Kull whom, in the comics, formed a group of villains including Brainiac, Joker, Penguin, Blockbuster, Queen Clea, Mr. Atom, Ibac, Dr. Light, Shade, and Weeper to eliminate humanity on Earths 1, 2, and S (the destruction of multiple Earths reminiscent of Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, though that tale featured the Crime Syndicate).