JLA: Act of God

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Note the naked superheroes in the top right corner.

JLA: Act of God was a 2001 DC Comics Elseworlds storyline by Doug Moench about heroes everywhere losing their powers and learning to live with it. This story was somewhat different from other DC Elseworlds which normally recast the heroes in completely different times and places, rather being set in a copy of the then current DC Continuity (similar to the What If stories at Marvel).

One day, all the heroes and villains are shown going about their business. Superman is fixing a dam, Green Lantern is battling a supervillain and so forth. Then suddenly a large mysterious purple energy wave sweeps over the planet causing everyone to lose their powers except for normal crimefighters and tech-based heroes (or so it is claimed, the story is pretty inconsistent about it. Read about it down below). After very little investigation, nobody can figure out how it happened and the world begins to adapt. Mostly.

Superman becomes despondent, seemingly traumatized over the last disaster he was unable to prevent as his powers were fading, and is seen doing nothing but moping all day, to the point that Lois leaves him, causing him to go mope with Wonder Woman, until she finds . . .God. . . and becomes a stock broker. Green Lantern can't get over his defeat by Sonar and, after months of rampaging around his apartment, begins channeling his aggression into a boxing bag looking for a rematch. The tech-based heroes, consisting of Steel, Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, each in turn lose their tech or have it stolen. Supergirl (Linda Danvers) tries joining the police force, but is frustrated with all the paperwork that comes with fighting crime "by the book."

Eventually, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Flash, and Supergirl all decide to go to Batman, concluding that the Badass Normal school of crimefighting is the only option they have left. And thus a new generation of heroes is born.

This story has come under criticism for accusations of Character Derailment (Superman's endless moping, Wonder Woman's turn to Catholicism), Plot Holes (like why Green Lantern's ring doesn't work if tech is still functional), and the event itself which is basically a giant A Wizard Did It due to it depowering a large variety of heroes who got their powers for different reasons from different sources.

Tropes used in JLA: Act of God include:

  • Age-Appropriate Angst: While the rest of the non-powered heroes spend practically the whole story whining, Billy Batson, an actual kid, actually acts his age (and still has more maturity than several of them).
  • Author Appeal: Doug Moench apparently really, really likes Batman, considering that he practically turns into a Mary Sue and how many characters gush about how great he is, to the point where it feels like an...
  • Author Tract: The slightly-more-subtle-than-D-Day message of this comic is "superpowers bad, Badass Normal's good."
  • Author Avatar: The Martian Manhunter. His praising the Batcave as reminding him of something out of pulp fiction (Had he even been there previously?) makes this painfully clear. Plus he's the most philosophical about what happened.
  • Babies Make Everything Better:
  • Black Dude Dies First: Steel, who also fell victim to The Worf Effect, since right before he dies a reporter is explaining how he's the most powerful hero left. During the original release of the series, this seems to have been the moment when most readers said "This Is Gonna Suck."
  • Broken Aesop: For all the claims that the superpowered superheroes were being struck down for their arrogance, it's Batman who is by far the biggest dick on the superhero side.
    • Also, there's a comment about Supergirl's actions as a superhero was an abuse of power, acting outside the law, only to disregard this and comment about how inefficient police work is and how much more effective she was as a superpowered vigilante and how she should go back to being a vigilante. Then it breaks that aesop because standard police work (like forensics) did more to uncover what happened to The Atom.
  • Brought Down to Normal: Every powered character in the DC Universe. Only Badass Normal and Powered Armor heroes are unaffected and the Powered Armor heroes all get their tech damaged or stolen eventually.
    • Weirdly, this only applies if "normal" strictly means human. Superman and Martian Manhunter don't have any superpowers, technically speaking; their abilities are "normal" for their species. The same goes for Aquaman, except possibly for his ability to breathe air (which he does not lose).
  • Did Not Do the Research: Doug Moech has had no experience with anybody involved with this story besides Batman, and didn't bother to actually research any of them before writing it. It shows.
  • Derailing Love Interests:
    • Lois Lane. Big time. The story suggests that Lois can't love Superman without powers, even though in this continuity, she fell in love with Clark Kent before learning he was Superman. This suggests that Moench is basing his characterization of Lois off of either the Silver Age comics or the movies. What's worse is, if the story needed Lois to leave Superman, it could have easily been justified by his behavior.
    • Of course, if you take into account the ending of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (assuming you consider it canonical) and the (however brief) relationship between Lois and Superman Clark in Superman II, then this still doesn't hold water.
  • Deus Ex Machina:
    • The story's repeated Title Drops is the closest it comes to an explanation of the Black Light Event. In other words, the story's friggin' title calls its divergence point a Deus Ex Machina.
    • Deus Angst Machina: Mostly for Superman and Green Lantern.
  • Driven to Suicide: Diana was thinking about suicide after a week of praying and nothing happening. She was stopped by Clark. Oh yeah, she was also pregnant.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Superman, of all people, went to the bottle after losing his powers.
  • Empty Piles of Clothing: The cover of Book 2 (pictured above), though it's because everyone took off their costumes rather than the usual Inferred Holocaust of this trope.
  • Epic Flail: Justice's double sided 'Scales of Justice' has one spiked flail on each side of a foot long pole. It looks... awkward to actually use in battle.
  • God Is Evil: When you seriously consider how many people were killed, traumatized and ruined by this so called, 'Act Of God', this is an honest conclusion you could come to.
  • Goo-Goo Godlike: Superman and Wonder Woman's child was born with superpowers.
  • Informed Flaw:
    • The superpowered beings' "arrogance." It's frequently brought up that they deserved to lose their powers because they held themselves above everyone else because they had power... which doesn't make any sense because they used their powers to save people.
    • Not to mention, many of these characters lived secretly among normals bearing humiliations that they could have easily addressed in their heroic identities. And, as Linkara pointed out, Wonder Woman even once worked as a fast food employee when she needed work, with no shame. Hell, people like Superman and Martian Manhunter don't technically have superpowers. Their abilities are based entirely around their species, making them essentially "normals" already.
    • Depowered Superman praises the group of former League members who join Batman for "risking [their] lives without any powers", implying that the Justice League never faced anything dangerous to them when they had powers.
  • Jerkass Gods:
    • Considering the only explanation we get for why all the superheroes' powers are gone is that God did it to teach people who constantly used their powers to help people a lesson that doesn't make sense, he comes off as a very selfish jerkass.
    • Even worse is that people died to learn a "Lesson of humility".
  • Lost Aesop: Is the moral of the story that powers leads to arrogance? You're only a real super hero if you don't have super powers? You should work inside the system? It's never really clearly told. (And no, the aesop is not "Never let Doug Moench write an Elseworlds story ever again.")
  • Meaningless Meaningful Words: The heroes (read: Doug Moench) tried to sound deep but ended up sounding strange and confusing.

Wonder Woman: Two "Gods" humbled by an act of God... with no one else to turn to. But together will our humbling be canceled or doubled?

    • Doug Moench is prone to doing this in all his works.
  • The Plot Reaper: The real reason why the magical superheroes have simply vanished: they'd be able to explain what's going on.
  • Sudden Humility: The basis for the entire plot is this trope, as applied to anyone with superpowers.
  • Took a Level in Arrogance: Batman.
  • Variable-Length Chain: Very noticeable when the "Scales of Justice" has the chain on one side go from about a foot to at least six feet so Linda can twist and hit a guy.
  • A Wizard Did It:
    • There is no Meta Origin that encompasses all or even a majority of the DC Comics superheroes, making it highly unlikely that any phenomena could depower all of them. For example, Superman, Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman all have innate abilities (caused by how their DNA is made up, no less) that are somehow stripped. This wouldn't be such a bad thing, normally, but there is serious inconsistency; a few characters that have ties to mysticism (and could probably explain the whole thing) have conveniently vanished, while characters who get their powers from the gods, like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, or are mystical in nature, like Red Tornado, just lose their powers. It's even inconsistently applied with regards to tech heroes. Booster Gold's future tech keeps working while Green Lantern's ring, which is explicitly a technology made by Sufficiently Advanced Aliens, stops working. Hank Henshaw is somehow still able to use his powers, despite the fact that the only reason he can be Cyborg Superman is the result of a superpower that allows him to inhabit and control machines. The list goes on.
    • The story later implies that God (Yes, that one) caused this whole mess in order to teach the DC heroes a "lesson of humility" or something like that. The same God directly responsible for creating, powering, and directing several of 'em.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • So many characters never have their story arcs resolved, and both the Amazons and the entirety of Atlantis (which includes Aquaman's wife) are never even mentioned in the story.
    • All sorcerer types are inexplicably erased from existence.
    • Was it limited to Earth? Did the New Gods also lose their powers? Was that why they were never invaded by Darkseid? If so, then if technology still works, he could still conquer the planet.
  • Wolverine Publicity: Its not really a JLA story but at the time, Grant Morrison's extremely successful revival of the Justice League made anything with JLA in the title sell well.
  • Writer on Board: It seems the primary purpose of this story is to exalt Badass Normals like Batman who don't need powers to take down criminals. Not that any non-powered heroes outside of Batman's crew ever show up, while tech-based superheroes all screw up or are killed. And apparently "tech-based" heroes are solely the ones that wear Powered Armor, completely ignoring the vast amount of technology that Batman uses.