Batman: "I had my reasons. But I'm no happier than you that Ra's decrypted my computer files."
Superman: "Our sympathies are marginal."
Tower of Babel is a four Issue story arc in Justice League of America written by Mark Waid, and drawn by Howard Porter and Steve Scott. It was published in issues #43-46 between July and October 2000. JLA Secret Files and Origins Vol.1 #3 published in December 2000 serves as a prequel to the comic showing the manner in which Batman create those countermeasures and how it was hacked.
The plot begins with a series of incidents that target individual members of the JLA. J'onn Jonnz is infected with nanites that set him on perpetual fire, Plastic Man is frozen in liquid nitrogen, Aquaman becomes hydrophobic, Kyle Rayner/Green Lantern wakes up blind, Wonder Woman finds herself battling a doppelganger endlessly, Flash is sent into a epileptic frenzy, and Superman is exposed to Red Kryptonite that turns his skin transparent and his body unreceptive to solar radiation. Batman realizes that the culprit for this attack is Ra's Al-Ghul and his organization, but he also discovers that Ra's accomplice is...himself. Ra's, acting via Talia, hacked into Batman's secret files and stole a number of contingency plans designed to immediately take down the Justice League in case they went rogue. He did this without telling them and behind their backs. Ra's uses this confusion to launch his most ambitious scheme for global domination and cleansing, a modern Tower of Babel that globally disrupts the language center of the brain, making people communicate in gibberish, triggering a global catastrophe and civil war that would thin out the human population.
Tower of Babel has proven to be one of the most influential JLA storylines. The ramifications of the story greatly affected and transformed Batman's status within the DCU. It was subsequently followed up in stories like Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis.
It has also been adapted with some changes as Justice League: Doom, while parts of the storyline inspired episodes in Batman Beyond (Babel where the sound based villain Shriek uses a similar plot) and the Justice League three-parter Starcrossed.
- Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: A comic whose first three issues are full of globe-trotting and intense action and suspense ends with a scene where multiple characters talk in panels for several pages deciding whether to keep Batman in the League or not.
- Batman Gambit: Ra's Al Ghul pulls one on Batman and the entire League. Knowing Batman intimately he manages to deduce that the Detective's paranoia about being a Badass Normal in a group of superpowered beings would lead him to make contingency plans to take them out. He then hacked it and turned it loose, dividing the League internally and keeping them from foiling his latest plan. He also sent Batman on a search around the world after stealing the remains of Thomas and Martha Wayne, knowing that Batman would be so fixated on the theft that he would treat anything else, including League matters, as trivial in comparison.
- Big Bad: Ra's Al Ghul makes his first major appearance as a DC-wide villain whose resources and cunning makes him, alone among Batman foes, a League-level threat.
- Bittersweet Ending: The bad guy loses but Batman is thrown out of the League, and the final shot of the comic shows that Superman would have cast the vote to remove him from the League, upsetting their friendship in the process.Flash: "How well do you really know him? Or, I guess, more to the point...how well does he know you? Well enough to know better than any of us how you'll vote?"
- Body Horror: The Martian Manhunter on a perpetual state of fire, Plastic Man frozen then Literally Shattered Lives (and his "restored" state afterward not looking much better, and his teammates aren't even sure if they put all pieces of him together), and Superman's skin going transparent that he looked like he was flayed/skinned alive.
- Both Sides Have a Point: The debate in the League about Batman's actions in the final issue where some argue (Kyle Rayner, Wally West, J'Onn J'Onzz) that Batman does have a point about making these contingencies in case they go rogue, while others insist that it's a terrible betrayal by someone who is their partner to do behind their backs (Plastic Man, Aquaman, Wonder Woman). The comic believably underscores both the rational justifications for what Batman did, and the emotional consequences his actions unleash on his teammates.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: Batman's counter-measures against the League, which is intended to "non-lethally" incapacitate them amount to personalized torture chambers:
- J'onn J'onzz's body is covered with magnesium-laced nanites which catches fire on exposure to air.
- Aquaman is dosed with a modified dose of the Scarecrow's fear toxin to make him afraid of water, which he needs to live.
- Plastic Man is traumatized by being shattered into pieces after being frozen in liquid oxygen.
- Green Lantern is hypnotized during his sleep to make him blind while wearing his ring, preventing him from using it.
- Wonder Woman is implanted with a VR device that forces her to fight until she dies of exhaustion and/or heart attack.
- The revelation that their co-worker had planned to torture them painfully to incapacitate them surprisingly doesn't go well with the Justice League, as Ra's Al Ghul counted on.
- Continuity Nod: When Kyle Rayner reflects on Batman's plan for counter-measures against the League, he argues that had such plans existed when Hal Jordan seemingly went rogue as Parallax, then many people would still be alive.
- Crazy-Prepared: Batman cites the case of Agamemno hijacking and possessing the Justice League as justification for creating counter-measures to take out the League in case they are possessed. Martian Manhunter admits that he himself made some plans early on but never to the extent Batman did.
- Curse of Babel: Ra's grand plan is to unleash a literal modern tower with neurotransmitters.
- Cutting the Knot:
- All the anti-League contingencies have some level of complexity to them...except Plastic Man, where he was just shattered into pieces.
- Realizing that the post-hypnotic suggestion used against him revolves around his ring, all Kyle had to do was remove it to undo the hypnosis and start seeing again.
- Deteriorates Into Gibberish: As Ra's activates his tower, the languages of people around the world descend into gibberish. The League escape it thanks to Martian Manhunter's telepathy.
- Didn't Think This Through: In making contingency plans against the League should they turn rogue, Batman never once factored in the possibility that they could be hacked as a means to take out the League entirely. He kept the files on his computers while ignoring the fact that a few villains know his secret identity and have resources to access it.
- Easily Forgiven: Martian Manhunter, The Flash and Kyle Rayner are willing to forgive Batman for his actions but the other members of the League are not.
- Karma Houdini: Despite plunging the world into chaos, and turning the League against each other, Ra's Al Ghul escapes, though the League note that his plan failed and his organization faced a major setback.
- Lotus-Eater Machine: The contingency against Wonder Woman uses a self-contained VR technology.
- Manipulative Bastard: The Secret Origins prequel issue shows how Batman managed to create weaknesses to take out his team-mates. He mostly partnered and buddied with them (by his standards) to get them to let their guard down. Mostly learning from Kyle Rayner how important his sense of being an artist was, and how much he would be handicapped by going blind.
- Never My Fault: While Batman admits he's responsible for Ra's Al Ghul hacking his countermeasures he never once apologizes or believes it was wrong of him to have done so behind the backs of his fellow League members.
- Reality Ensues: Even among the people willing to forgive Batman for making the contingencies, it's clear that their trust and friendship with Batman has taken a critical blow. Just because they understand why Batman did what he did doesn't mean they have to like it, especially as Batman exploited their trust to figure out how to counter them.
- Round Table Shot: Used in the final issue of the League's conference table as they vote on Batman's fate.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: A classic one from Superman to Ra's:Ra's Al Ghul: "God-powerful aliens. A child with a magic ring. So much wasted potential. So much they could do to remake an endangered Earth."
Superman: "Agreed. Why don't we start by taking you out of the picture?"
- Team Killer: Batman proves to be one. His plans decommission the League and could have killed them had he wished so. The reason he was able to do so was because he was able to win their trust and gain psychological insight into them.
- This Is Unforgivable!: Plastic Man's torture at Batman's plan is so awful that he is not willing to consider bringing Batman into the League again, despite their former good relationship:Green Lantern: "C'mon, man, he brought you in."
Plastic Man: "Yeah, yeah, he did. I owe him. I know that."
Green Lantern: "Then.....?"
Plastic Man: (pause as comic shows flashback to his brutal treatment) "Get him out of here."
- Wham Shot: The final panel has the League going back to the conference room where Batman was kept waiting as they decide on whether to keep him or not. Batman isn't around because he knew fully well that Superman wouldn't allow him to stay and he didn't want to stay to hear his expulsion.