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Comic Book / JLA: Act of God

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Note the naked superheroes in the top right corner.

A 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 Comics).

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 (except Green Lantern, who loses his connection to his ring despite it being technological). Nobody can figure out how it happened, as all the magical heroes have gone missing, 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 converts to Catholicism and gets a job as 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, The 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 contains examples of

  • Age-Appropriate Angst: Billy Batson, an actual kid, is naturally frustrated when he doesn't turn into Captain Marvel when he yells "Shazam!".
  • Angst: This story focuses on the angst of all the superheroes after they lose their superpowers.
  • Author Appeal: It's evident that the story really, really likes Batman, considering how many characters gush about how great he is.
  • Author Avatar: The Martian Manhunter serves as one for Doug Moench. His praising the Batcave as reminding him of something out of pulp fiction makes this clear, not to mention his rant about how the heroes' loss of their powers was "deserved". Plus he's the most philosophical about what happened.
  • Author Tract: The overall message of this comic is "superpowers bad, Badass Normals good."
  • Babies Make Everything Better: The ending, with Superman and Wonder Woman's kid.
  • 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.
  • Broken Aesop: There is an underlying implication that the superheroes were being punished for their arrogance. Even though people like Superman and Wonder Woman are fairly humble in normal continuity (not to mention all the characters who are nothing but humble, such as Captain Marvel), while Batman in this story is ego tripping and denigrating the contributions of his formerly powered friends even as they kiss his ass. This requires the aesop not to apply to Batman, because he's the single most arrogant person in the story.
    • 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 than vigilantism.
  • 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.
  • Character Shilling: Clark outright claims that Batman "has always been the best of us" because he never got superpowers. Nevermind that he's not the only Badass Normal and other heroes have abilities besides their powers. Under Lost Aesop and Broken Aesop we discuss what the moral of the story seems to be as the other heroes try to figure out where to go from there, but it seems the real point Moench was trying to make was "Here's why my favorite is a million times superior to everyone else!" Between everyone talking about how great he is and his teaching them how to fight his way being their only hope for getting back in the game, the story pretty much outright worships him for being better than all those arrogant powered heroes because he alone has figured out how to do the same job as a normal human from the minute he shows up, ignoring the facts that (A) there are a lot of non-powered heroes, and the powered ones have all been depowered at times before, so it's not like Bats is the only one who has the courage to fight without powers, (B) it's not like the powered heroes ever did see themselves as superior to the rest of humanity,(C) Batman uses as many high tech devices as anyone considered to have "powers" because of their tech, (D) Batman is only able to do most of the things he does because he's rich.
  • Derailing Love Interests: Lois Lane breaks up with Clark due to him no longer having powers. This is done so he can get into a relationship with Diana.
  • Deus Angst Machina: Mostly for Superman and Green Lantern, but Wonder Woman also gets it pretty bad.
  • 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 title calls its divergence point a Deus ex Machina.
  • Driven to Suicide: Diana contemplates suicide after a week of praying and nothing happening... while also pregnant. Clark shows up in the nick of time to stop her.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Superman turns 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: Done inconsistently with the main characters of the story violating of the rules of the black light event. Metahuman powers go away, magic-users vanish, tech remains the same, right? Well, in that case, Superman and Martian Manhunter should be completely unaffected (as they aren't Metahumans, but extraterrestrials whose powers stem from their inherent biology. Martian Manhunter's powers are normal for Martians, Superman's are normal for Kryptonians under a yellow sun; they don't have powers by their races' standard). Magic-powered Wonder Woman should have vanished instead of being depowered. Green Lantern should be unaffected, since the ring is alien technology.
  • Meaningless Meaningful Words: The heroes 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?
  • Only Sane Man: As noticed by Linkara, Billy Batson, of all the other superheroes, is the only one to act realistically and even maturely over all this situation. Keep in mind Billy is twelve!
  • Out-of-Character Moment: In part 3, Wonder Woman is seen in a Catholic church, praying to the Christian God for a sign/answers as to why she's lost her powers. Being a servant, avatar, and occasionally member of the Greek pantheon, there is absolutely no way she would be doing this.
    • Martian Manhunter describes their lost powers as "Abnormal" seeming to include himself. This makes no sense since his telepathy and shapeshifting are natural abilities for his species. Without those traits he should consider himself disabled.
  • The Plot Reaper: The real reason why the magical superheroes have simply vanished: they'd be able to explain what's going on.
  • Power Loss Depression: The story has every single superpowered hero becoming complete wrecks after losing their powers. Particularly sad cases are Superman who becomes drunk and homeless after his relationship with Lois ends; Wonder Woman who nearly commits suicide; and Kyle Rayner who obsessed with Sonar, a villain Kyle failed to stop when his ring was deactivated.
  • Recycled Premise: Depowering supers was part of the premise of the Genesis Crisis Crossover just a few years prior, and the Black Light bears more than a passing resemblance to the Godwave. None of the characters comment on this, despite the similarity to the still-recent Genesis event.
  • Returning the Wedding Ring: Lois gives Clark back her engagement ring because she (in this universe, at least) only ever loved him for his powers.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Why did the event happen at all? It's implied it really was an act of God, but no definite answer is ever given.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Wally West does this halfway through his training under Batman. When he comes back, Bruce just tells him to pick up where he left off.
  • Sudden Humility: The basis for the plot is this trope, as applied to anyone with superpowers.
  • Suddenly Shouting: This:
    Linda: Alcoholism is a disease which-
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Batman takes about thirty levels in arrogance. Which breaks the already Broken Aesop about humility even harder as the story takes his side.
  • Twilight of the Supers: Everyone with superpowers not based on tech loses them, no explanation given.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Superman is holding back a broken dam when he loses his powers and the dam breaks, flooding a nearby town; the townspeople immediately start chewing him out as if he did it on purpose, despite the fact that he's clearly injured and disoriented.
  • Useless Without Powers: The comic depicts all superheroes with powers as being like this. For example, Superman becomes a moping depressive after he loses his Kryptonian powers. However, some former superheroes, like Supergirl, still try to help out as Badass Normals.
  • 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, Starfire 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 in itself,note  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?:
    • A group of supervillains attacks with stolen super technology. Sure, Batman's little crew stopped them at the end, but there is nothing stopping other villains from trying this again. With all the more potent tech heroes either killed or just giving up entirely after one loss, what's to stop other villains from trying the same thing. The biggest super-tech bad guys on Earth are still around and Batman's small team alone isn't nearly enough to stop them all.
    • No one questions any cosmological changes to the universe from the Black Light event when divinely-connected characters either lose power or suddenly disappear. Similarly, no one expresses any concern regarding the other alien races several of the members come from, or even the fates of the Atlanteans or Amazons as a result of the event.
    • Despite Superman being chastised for failing to finish saving people from breaking dam in the beginning, none of the other heroes are worried about the fact that none of them are equipped to address larger scale natural or technological disasters afterwards.
    • No government officials get involved in what would be a society changing event and the sudden loss of the world's greatest defenders.
    • Since it's never stated if the Black Light event affected the New Gods, they have no mention, despite the fact that an Earth with only Badass Normal and tech-based superheroes would be the perfect target for Darkseid. It's especially baffling when you consider that Orion has been part of the Justice League, yet he doesn't even get a mention.
  • Wolverine Publicity: It's 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 (which at times HAS included Powered Armor).