From 1991, an unsold proposal for a DC Comics Justice League of America Elseworlds one-shot. Looking at it now with the benefit of 30 more years of experience—half of them as a DC editor who had to read reams of proposal submissions myself—I understand why it didn't sell: I opened with four boring pages of American history and backstory before getting to the actual plot. As an editor, I would have bailed on it by page two. I don't have any record or memory of the response to the proposal, but I'm sure it involved a polite, "Uh, no thank you."
The Justice League of America: American Dream
A Proposal for a Tale of ELSEWORLDS
AMERICAN DREAM Timeline
1890: The Sherman Antitrust Act—Intended to declare illegal every contract, combination, or conspiracy in restraint of interstate and foreign trade—is narrowly defeated in the U.S. Senate. While there is some call for government regulatory control over corporate America, the powerful industrial lobby is able to keep legislative action at bay.
Freed from government restraint, the strongest of the turn of the century corporations are able to achieve monopolies in their fields, beating out the competition or absorbing them through merger or acquisition. This creates a business environment made up almost exclusively of megalithic, multinational corporate giants. Since the corporations are so large and powerful, they are able to exert a certain amount of influence on government, but they do not control it.
The barons of industry are firm believers in the American way, the rights of the people, and the American dream: these were the conditions, after all, which created the climate that allowed them to rise to their own current levels of prosperity and power. They are not of a mind to stomp on these rights for others. Indeed, personal initiative is encouraged, and many small, independent businesses thrive in this environment: the giant corporations get many of their new advances from independent inventors, creators, and artists.
It’s not unusual for the corporations to buy out and absorb these small companies, creating the newest members of the (admittedly small) wealthy class. Through good old American hard work and an eye on the traditions of the Protestant work ethic, a small percentage of the population can rise to affluence. It’s not easy to achieve, but it does happen.
The age of giant, monopolistic corporations is the great economic equalizer of America. There aren’t many obscenely rich; but nobody is desperately poor. The vast majority of Americans are comfortably blue collar, but nobody has cause to complain.
With business and industry so influential a force in America, the 20th Century economy grows and prospers without pause, creating a need for a large and consistent labor force. This benefits the companies and the people: the companies provide full employment to the populace; the employed populace earns consistent wages that enable them to purchase the goods produced. It’s also a benefit to the companies to pay decent wages, treat the workers fairly, and provide them with good benefits. A happy worker is a contented worker is a good consumer.
So, America consists of a huge working class, a small upper middle class (middle management), and a tiny upper class, the owners of the corporations. On the other hand, full employment, and the standard of living it brings has also done away with poverty, homelessness, and most crime. Drugs are virtually unknown in America: it’s against the corporate interests to allow the drug trade to come to America and ruin worker productivity. Besides, the monopolistic liquor industry prevented Prohibition from being passed, which kept the mob, in the form of bootleggers, from gaining a foothold in the country, so they never turned to the drug trade as a commodity to replace illegal alcohol when Prohibition was repealed.
Another pivotal socio-economic event that never happened was the stock market crash of 1929. With the giant American conglomerates guiding and shaping the country’s economic growth, the overproduction of goods, tariffs and war debt policies that curtailed foreign markets for American goods (World War I was, in this reality, a series of small conflicts, mostly confined to Europe), and the easy money policies that led to overexpansion of credit and fantastic speculation in the stock market were not allowed to happen. Indeed, quite the opposite was the case and the American (and world) economy had never been stronger.
Other events of historic importance include:
1911: David Aldrich’s American Oil convinces the U.S. government to allow him to strike a deal with Czar Nicholas II to exploit the Russian oil deposits. This action not only benefits American Oil’s bottom-line, it also serves to shore up the czar’s shaky government, threatened by the growing power and influence of the Communist revolutionaries. The American Oil/Russian deal pumps vast amounts of money into the Russian economy. With this newfound prosperity, the socialist movement loses steam and, finally, peters out. The czarist regime (albeit with certain democratic reforms, including the seating of a parliament, or Duma) continues, uninterrupted. Communism never gains a foothold in the East, and, as little more than a footnote as a short-lived fringe movement, a future threatened by the Cold War and mutually assured destruction by atomic weapons is avoided as America and Russia remain the closest of political and economic allies and the countries which would otherwise make up the Soviet republics remain free. Also, without the Soviet model for state Communism, China never turns Socialist, and, by extension, the Korean and Vietnam wars don’t happen. China becomes a major technologically advanced economic power
1914 - 1916: The events in Europe leading up to World War I take place and hostilities break out. Prompted by its corporate powers, the U.S. enters the war in 1915 to protect its economic interests abroad and, along with Russia, Britain, and France, the Allies prove too powerful for the Central Powers and force a cease fire and negotiations that lead to an early end to the war. Germany survives the war in relatively good economic health; as a result, the depressive conditions that lead to National Socialism and Adolph Hitler’s rise to power do not exist. Germany does not arm itself and engage in the aggressions of the 1930s; rather they join in the general prosperity that sweeps through this world and become a partner in the economic growth of the world.
1917: As an outgrowth of the negotiated peace in Europe, the League of Nations is created.
1929: The leaders of American Industry band together for the first meeting of what will, in years to come, be known as The Council. The Council represents the entire spectrum of American business, and its purpose is to informally arbitrates territorial disputes between its members: if two or more member industries seek to enter into competition in the same or similar fields, the Council decides how the territory will be divided. The Council’s decision—voted on only by non-interested members—is final and accepted by all.
1939: Several small, local conflicts erupt in Europe, instigated, it’s discovered, by German munitions manufacturers seeking to create a wider market for their product. The League of Nations steps in and negotiates peace. Germany is “unofficially” sanctioned by their American business partners and lose much of their influence and affluence as a result.
1940: Japan had been stockpiling weapons for years and attempted to conquer other, more industrially advanced Asian nations. They are unsuccessful in their quest for conquest but do find some prosperity in defeat as a source for cheap manufacturing labor for foreign corporations.
Thus, by 1973, the time of AMERICAN DREAM, the U.S. has grown to a prosperous world power dominating the global economy of a world that shares in its peace and prosperity.
And the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA is the country’s most popular television program, starring the metahumans of America as fictional super-heroes.
AMERICAN DREAM Cast
In a prosperous America, where crime is virtually unknown, what’s a super-powered individual to do with super-powers? They’re certainly not needed to fight what little crime is...so they turn to entertainment and commercial endorsements. Who better than Barry Allen, endowed with super-speed, to endorse running shoes? Frozen foods pushed by Tora Olafsdotter... miniaturized electronics by Ray Palmer...
A metahuman has to earn a living.
In the same vein, there’s ample opportunity for metahumans in show business, a fact exploited by the Edison Kinetoscope Company, America’s entertainment conglomerate. What better way to produce low budget adventure films and television programs than with actors who possess their own powers?
Green Arrow: Once America’s biggest box office draw, starring in a series of successful movies based on the legendary Robin Hood, actor/expert archer Oliver Queen—under contract to the Edison Co.—was tapped to star in TV’s THE JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, a science fiction series now in its fifth season about a group of super-heroes living in a world unlike this reality, where crime is rampant and alien invaders routinely threaten Earth.
The Flash: Scientist/independent inventor Barry Allen gained super-speed when he was doused with a mixture of chemicals struck by lightning. Barry exploited his super-powers in order to earn money to support his research, not wanting to work for a corporation. He started doing commercial endorsements and was then hired by the Edison Co. to appear in the JLA show as FLASH.
The Atom: Scientist Professor Ray Palmer gained his powers to shrink as a result of his research into miniaturization for electronics giant RadioScope Electronics of America. Prof. Palmer gained public exposure when REA convinced him to utilize his newfound powers to host a TV science program on physics. Ray quickly came to like the spotlight and, when he was offered the part of the Atom on JLA, he decided to try his hand at acting and even greater popularity.
Fire: Brazilian born model/actress Beatriz Bonilla DaCosta gained the power to become a being of living green flame when she was exposed to Pyroplasm, a powerful organic energy source, during a modeling session outside the American Oil facility developing it as a future energy source. Beatriz was hired to appear in JLA because of her abilities.
Ice: Tora Olafsdotter was a member of a small tribe of ice-people who had been living in seclusion in the mountains of Norway. When her tribe was discovered by explorers, Tora (who has never seen an “outsider” before) elected to return to the outside world with them to see the world beyond her tribal home. Her beauty led her to offers to act and model, which led to her landing a role in JLA.
Aquaman: The half-breed son of an Atlantean woman (Atlantis exists as an independent nation, involved in world trade through exploration for American Oil and contractors as undersea farmers for Consolidated Foods, among other pursuits) and a surface man, Arthur Curry starred as a circus act before signing to appear in JLA.
The cast of THE JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA is rounded out by non-super-powered actors, including:
The Martian Manhunter: The seven-foot-tall strongman actor John Jones doused himself in green body paint and donned the costume of the Martian Manhunter, supposedly a man from Mars stranded on Earth who joined the JLA to fight crime.
Black Canary: Actress Dinah Lance Queen (wife of show star Oliver “Green Arrow” Queen) co-stars as martial artist Black Canary.
Blue Beetle: Ted Kord was a screw-up who lost every job he ever held until he stumbled into modeling when he was discovered by a photographer while working as fries manager (second shift) at McDonalds. Modeling was ideal work for Kord, as it was hard for him to mess up while standing stock still for a camera. JLA producers hired him for his looks, as a draw to female viewers.
Snapper Carr: Teenage rock singer Lucas “Snapper” Carr was hired to co-star as a non-costumed player in JLA, boy buddy to the heroes, comic relief, and to serve as a character who could bring some human identification to the show.
AMERICAN DREAM Plot Synopsis
(Note: Despite of the seriousness of the story of AMERICAN DREAM, it will be told in much the same style and tone as the regular JUSTICE LEAGUE books, playing heavily off the interaction between the different characters, complete with the patented JL banter.)
1971: The Ryker-Dunne Transportation Group believes it has found a new area of potential profits for the mega-corporations of America: narcotics.
While the likes of cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, barbiturates, are not unknown—and are, as in our own reality, regularly used for medical purposes—there is little, if any, tradition, of recreational drug use in the country. Outside of alcohol and marijuana (both regulated and taxed by the liquor and tobacco monopolies), the U.S.A. is pretty much drug free, the illegal drug trade kept outside the country’s borders. The corporations long ago recognized that stronger drugs would be a danger to worker productivity and, therefore, corporate profits. At least to the profits of the companies not involved in the production, marketing, and distribution of the drugs.
Ryker-Dunne has seen how the drug interests—both legal and illegal, depending on the country involved—outside America have garnered huge profits from drugs. Narcotics are addictive; addicts must continue purchasing the product, until it either kills them or they’re rendered incapable of funding their habits; but by that time, a new generation of addicts have arisen to take their place. And only a certain percentage of the population will try drugs and risk addiction in the first place, which means it will affect only that portion of the population and not drastically erode the worker class. So, it makes no sense to the board of Ryker-Dunne that America’s corporations have let this source of potential riches go so long untapped. If, as they and the rest of the country’s corporations have always believed, “the business of America is business” the corporations are failing themselves by ignoring this lucrative market.
The CEO of Ryker-Dunne brings their proposition to the Council. As the country’s transportation company, R-D would be involved in the distribution end of the new trade; it would have to be another Council member—Wayne Pharmaceuticals—that would have to process and market the narcotics, as befitting its position as America’s drug monopoly. Wayne Pharmaceuticals CEO, Dr. Bruce Wayne, flatly and absolutely rejects R-D’s proposal, as does the rest of the Council's member corporations. They want nothing to do with the narcotics trade and the myriad of social and economic ills it would bring to America.
Ryker-Dunne is determined to go ahead with its plans regardless of the Council’s decision. They will, if need be, manufacture, package, market, and distribute this new product by themselves, becoming the first corporation in history to defy a Council decision so boldly and dramatically. Ryker-Dunne realizes this will destroy their legitimate operations in the United States, but this new market will more than offset that loss, plus they continue to operate their overseas transportation holdings. In order to avoid legal retribution, Ryker-Dunne abandons the U.S. entirely, setting up its new corporate headquarters in Bogotá, Columbia. The poor, financially starved Columbian government is happy to have R-D set up shop there.
1972: The renamed Ryker-Dunne Leisure Group begins full-scale operation of its new “product.” Distribution of the drugs is no simple matter, not with the corporations and U.S. government using every method at their disposal to keep them out of the country. R-D is forced to create new transportation, marketing, and distribution networks. These involve smugglers and bootleggers (a system similar to the drug trade of reality), so-called “pirate” advertising (utilizing illegal broadcasting systems), and street gangs, groups of youths recruited and paid by R-D to sell their product on the streets of America’s cities. Such gangs—as well as the crime and violence their existence creates—never existed before R-D instigated their creation and, suddenly, America is gripped by something it had never before experienced.
Crime. Drugs. Street violence. And a government which, never having had to deal with such things, unable to face up to them now that they’ve hit as if out of the blue!
1973: The Council and government has tried everything to fight R-D and its drug trade, but the lure of the forbidden fruit of drugs has proved even more popular than the Council feared (and R-D hoped). Never before confronted with the intense stimulus of the new flood of drugs, a significantly larger percentage of the population have taken to narcotics. This creates a greater competition between street gang/distributors for customers (R-D doesn’t care which group sells their product in any particular market; it’s economic Darwinism as far as they’re concerned, with the survival of the best distribution channel), which leads to greater violence. The gangs—all from the working class—are seeing, for the first time in generations, that there is actually more to be had than the corporations led them to believe. They’re not, as previously believed, stuck in the gilded cage of the working class; they can do better, have everything the corporate owners have always had!
Plus, the more people who use drugs, the greater and faster the decline of worker productivity, leading to a weakening of the economy and the rise of crime perpetrated by the growing number of unemployed and unemployable drug addicts.
The story begins at the height of the socio-economic decline. Part of the government and Council’s attempts to combat rising drug use is an extensive public relations campaign, many featuring the superhuman stars of the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA television show. But a bunch of TV commercials aren’t going to stop junkies from drugging, nor frighten off the rising drug dealing aristocracy, so the Council ups the ante...or at least attempts to give the illusion that that’s what they’re doing.
To that end, the Council attempts to portray the members of the JLA as a team of real super-powered crime fighters using their powers to combat the drug trade. Raids are staged for the express purpose of filming the JLA in action, sending them up against actors portraying drug dealers. It’s hoped that by showing these “real life” slices of life on the tube, the average citizen will find their anti-drug messages credible. The Council isn’t about to send them up against real criminals with guns, though: the stars of the JLA are too valuable a commodity to risk.
Eventually, they do have to up the ante somewhat, going after the source of the drugs, although they still resist risking their high-priced stars in the line of duty. So, the police stage raids against the real criminals and the superheroes step in when it comes time for the cameras to start rolling for the evening news. There’s freedom of the press in America, but the corporations are doing their damnedest to run a scam on the press in order to nail the bad guys. And the JLA, media creations that they are, are going along with it.
But then things start going wrong.
First, one day, while waiting in the wings for the cops to soften up a situation enough for them to enter the scene, the JLA accidently gets in the middle of a shoot-out as some of the dealers slip through the police net and try to escape. They attempt to make a move against the bad guys, but botch it terribly, resulting in Black Canary being badly wounded. For the first time in their anti-drug crusade, the JLA gets a glimpse of the reality of the situation. This war is for real!
Then, while the JLA is preaching the “Just say no!” gospel to America, all the time playing it safe by playing acting their anti-drug involvement, celebrity/spoiled brat Snapper Carr has himself gotten involved in drugs, which have spread like wildfire among the rich and famous in Hollywood. And, on another raid, while the JLA is once again waiting in the wings, Sbapper keels over, dead from an overdose.
This opens the eyes of the cast of the JLA: while they’ve been playing at these roles, real people have been dying out there. And here they are, with super-human abilities that can really influence the situation. So, do they can continue play acting...or do they really do what the world thinks they’ve been doing all along and fight the horror that’s eating away at the country?
The JLA takes the next step on their own: on their next “raid,” they go in before the police, taking on the drug dealers themselves. They nearly botch the operation, but that’s only because they’re not accustomed to having to fight for real, just against stuntmen on TV. But they’ll learn!
Naturally, their corporate bosses aren’t happy about their risking their lives like this. The JLA are more than just people... they’re dollars and cents in the corporate cash register! But they’re also human beings and they’ve got it into their heads to do something about what’s going on and help their country get back on its feet. Their initial attempts may be somewhat inept, but they’re working on it and they’re getting better at it. The actors of the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA are becoming real super-heroes!
They attack the problem every way they can, hitting the dealers at the street level; striking against the illegal pirate broadcast stations that advertise and glamorize drugs to the populace; working against the smuggling routes that bring the dope into the country...but the real threat is down in Bogatá and in the corporate halls of Ryker-Dunne Leisure Group. Eventually the JLA will go confront that threat and bring down R-D. But it will be too late. By the time this happens, drugs will have insinuated themselves in America and the demand will be great enough that there are any number of groups ready to step into R-D’s shoes and take over production and distribution. Once the box has been opened and the monsters released, there’s no getting them back inside.
On the other hand, some vaguely positive things do come out of the situation: the government has seen that the power of the corporate monopolies played a major role in the current disastrous conditions that have gripped the country. Had the monopolies not been allowed to become so powerful in the first, their squabbles and differences would not have led to the dire consequences the nation now suffers. The Congress and judiciary decide to act and break up the monopolies to insure nothing like this ever happens again.
And, the world has gained the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, a group of true super-heroes to help clean up the mess that the super-companies have created.