The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 18: DC Comics – The Justice Society!

Before we begin, a brief history of the Justice Society. Well, maybe not brief. In fact, it’s actually going to be overly long and complicated, and it’s going to be so full of useless information that even my wife won’t be able to finish it. It might even cause bodily harm.  If you clicked on this link, you have no one but yourself to blame.

A ghost, a midget, and a reincarnated Egyptian pharoah walk into a bar...

The JSA was the very first super team, and were created in the 1940’s. They were originally a group of characters that National (now known as DC) owned the rights to, and they would team up occasionally to fight crime, Nazis, communists, the Japanese, Nancy Pelosi, and pretty much anybody that Eisenhower pointed them at. Originally the book was created to focus on National’s less popular characters (Hawkman, Spectre, Dr. Fate, etc.) and so bigger names like Superman, Batman, Flash, and Green Lantern were honorary members. Wonder Woman, despite her ability to bench-press a tank, was made the “secretary”, even though a super team needs a secretary about as much as a Chilean miner does.

This worked for about a decade, but when the public lost interest in super-heroes in the early 1950’s, the JSA went away. When the Justice League was formed a decade later, a lot of long-time fans wanted to know what happened to the JSA, and how the new versions of the Flash, Green Lantern, etc. related to the originals. And DC made the single greatest, and single worst decision that anybody involved in superhero comics ever made.

Retcon 1:

Batman and Superman finally admit their true feelings to each other. And there's some stuff with an alternate universe.

DC decided that the best way to deal with the different versions of their characters was to say that all of the JSA’s original adventures now took place on an alternate earth called “Earth 2″, and the reality that the 1960’s stories took place in happened on “Earth 1″. So now you had two Batmans, two Supermans, two Green Lanterns, etc. But if you’re going to come up with a great idea like that you must have everyone meet up right? So in 1964 DC published the first of many cross-over stories. For the next 20 years, DC would create endless amounts of alternate earths, with numerous versions of many of its characters. Great for long-term fans, not so great for newbies looking to read a DC comic for the first time and wondering why there were two Batman and one of them had a really hot daughter. During this time, the JSA proved quite popular, and so they were made the stars of their own book again, and a bunch of JSA side projects and spin-offs took place (Huntress, Power Girl, All-Star Sqaudron, Infinity Inc.). All of these took place on Earth 2.

Retcon 2:

Black Canary. AKA Earth Two Black Canary. AKA Earth One formerly of Earth Two Black Camary.

This one is pretty small, as it really only relates to one character. The Black Canary was part of the JSA in the 1940’s, but there wasn’t a version of her in the modern (1960’s) era. So eventually her Earth 2 character was brought over to Earth 1, where she would join the JLA and fuck Green Arrow silly. However, since it didn’t make sense that a character who was in her 30’s in WW2 was still in her 30’s in 1975, a slight retcon was created that would make her the daughter of the original Earth 2 Black Canary.

Retcon 3:

In 1985, DC decided to merge all of the different realities into one big uber-reality with an event called “Crisis On Infinite Earths”. In this new reality, there was a JSA in the 1940’s, and then many decades later, the JLA was formed. This was actually a great idea, except that DC didn’t take it far enough. What they should have done was literally start every title’s continuity over from scratch, and rebuild it from the bottom up. But they decided that

Crisis: This fixed/screwed up everything!

they would only do that with big characters like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and figure out the rest later. The problem with this was that those 3 characters are connected to pretty much every other character in the DCU, especially the JLA and JSA. According to the new reality, characters like Wonder Woman and Superman were just arriving on the scene for the very first time, so how could they have been part of the JSA in the 1940’s? Simple: According to the new retcon, they weren’t, although according to my comic book collection, they were.

Retcon 4 and up: Much of the next 10-15 years was spent trying to figure out how each member of the JSA fit into the new continuity, since so much of their histories conflicted with each other. Although a lot of it has been explained, some things still change regularly (Originally after Crisis Wonder Woman was NOT part of the JSA, but then it was stated that her MOTHER time-travelled to the 1940’s and became a member, and now they say that never happened. Gimme strength)

So now the JSA has a unique place within the DC character ranks, and has a healthy mix of original members, as well as the children and grandchildren of original members. It also has enough confusing continuity to choke a dead horse. I should also tell you that I’m more than a little surprised that you made it this far. Seriously. What were you thinking? Don’t you have stuff to do?

Justice Society – Justice Society Vol. 1 & 2

Power Girl's cleavage, and some old guys who fought Nazis or something.

Since the Justice Society’s appearances in Justice League of America were popular, DC gave them their own book within the pages of All-Star Comics in the mid 1970’s. This was written by Paul Levitz, who seemed to struggle with keeping the WW2 era charm and goofiness relevant among an increasingly modern era.

Although I enjoyed reading these stories again, I can’t say that there was enough to keep my interest and justify keeping them. Even some wonderful art by the likes of Joe Staton and others art wasn’t enough to keep these in my collection.

CULL.

Next up: More Justice Society!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 10: DC Comics – Green Arrow

Green Arrow is a character I’ve always liked, because for a long time he was of of the fewDC heros that I would say had any real character depth. He’s abrasive, passionate, and has numerous flaws. In short, he should have been published by Marvel. He’s never taken off from a sales perspective, and DC finally decided to smother their grandma with a pillow and killed him off in 1995.

5 years later, they brought him back . They enlisted Kevin Smith, who had a bit of a rep as a character saver due to his work on Daredevil, to do the deed. He concocted an extremely convoluted, yet entertaining epic that brought Oliver Queen back from the grave. It was a huge hit, and since then GA has been a prominent part of the DCU.

Green Arrow - The Longbow Hunters

This is often considered one of the great DC stories of the 1980’s. Keep in mind the context of the time. Year One, Watchmen, and Dark Knight had been huge successes, and so DC did numerous reboots that brought some of their characters back to their grim and gritty roots, even those that had never had grim and gritty roots. This brings us to Green Arrow, and The Longbow Hunters. GA and Black Canary move to Seattle, and even though she used to be a member of a group that saves planets on a regular basis, Canary gets kidnapped by drug dealers and GA has to save her, which isn’t so good for Black Canary, but did turn out to be pretty good for Gail Simone, who ended up making her career on fixing the damage done to Canary in this story. Arrow goes a little nuts, and there’s a lot of complicated spy stuff that isn’t very interesting, and this sets the tone for Green Arrow stories for the next 7 or 8 years.

When I compare this to some of the more recent Arrow stories, I can’t say that this is a very good book, though Mike Grell’s artwork here is stunning. For me, I prefer fun and cocky Green Arrow to angry and brooding Green Arrow. Not that I don’t want emotional conflict in my superhero books, but the GA stories around this time seemed to fit Batman much better than they did the Emerald Archer. Again, this might be more of a personal taste thing than anything else, but this incarnation of Green Arrow just leaves me cold.

KEEP, just barely due to the great art and the importance of the series.

Green Arrow –  The Kevin Smith Trades (Quiver/Sounds Of Violence)

So now GA has been dead for 5 years, and his son has been wearing the mantle of GA in his absence. Only problem is, he’s extremely boring. So DC decided to bring back the original, and got Kevin Smith and Phil Hester to do it.

To my surprise, there’s still a LOT to love about these trades. They require a pretty serious love of obscure DC continuity, and Kevin Smith uses every single DC character he’s ever heard of in an attempt to really bring Ollie back in style. Smith really had a knack for this character, and this arc would be the basis for Ollie Queen’s characterization for most of the next decade. There’s also plenty to hate here. Kevin Smith never met a word balloon he didn’t love to fill, and his inexperience with the medium is apparent time and time again. Every page is crammed with text and art, and the story is so busy that sometimes you forget to breathe. That being said it’s still a good “back from the dead” story, and Phil Hester’s art is what I’ll always think of when I think of Green Arrow, mostly due to his stellar work here.

KEEP

Green Arrow –  The Archer’s Quest

For the follow-up to Quiver, DC enlisted well-known novelist Brad Meltzer, to write his very first DC story. Since then he’s written numerous arcs for DC, but this may still be his best. It’s essentially a love letter to Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams famous “Hard Travelin’ Heroes” Green Arrow/Green Lantern stories of the 1970’s, and remains one of my all time favourite Green Arrow arcs. It’s a story that really shows off how many shades of grey that the character has, and is must reading for any DC fan. Phil Hester is still doing the pencils here, and still knocking it out of the park.

KEEP.

 

Green ArrowThe Judd Winick trades (Straight Shooter, City Walls, Moving Targets, Heading Into The Light, Crawling From The Wreckage, Road To Jericho)

So having guys like Kevin Smith and Brad Meltzer write your books is great when you’re trying to create interest in a character relaunch, but when it came time to finally get a permanent writer for Green Arrow, DC went to Judd Winick. Winick seems to be one of the most hated writers in comics. Now, you should take that with a grain of salt, as the same people who call for a writer’s death are also the same people who are buying every book that writer is involved with. It makes no sense, but that zombie-like habitual buyer is part of the reason why comics is in such a state of flux right now.

Now, I happen to like Winick’s writing for the most part. I find him to be an extremely character focused writer, and as such he comes up with occasionally unconventional scenarios for his characters, and his story arcs tend to focus on the emotional after effects of superheroics, rather than the actual superheroics themselves. To that end, Winick created a rich supporting cast for Ollie here (His son Connor, the new Speedy, a great new villain in Brick), and spent several years building up the notion that Ollie Queen had an extended family in the truest sense of the word.

Now, if you went to an average comic book message forum, you’d probably get a lot of people who disagree with me. Why? Because Winick puts his grown up characters in grown up situations. That’s it. It’s that simple, and the fact is that many superhero comics fans are only fans of a certain type of comic, which means that anything that challenges their narrow definition of what comic books are must be hated and feared. Probably the biggest controversy of his arc was that he gave Green Arrow’s young sidekick the HIV virus. This was an extremely gutsy move on Winick’s part, and to this day it’s stands out for me as a great example of character development. It added a lot of layers to both that character and to Green Arrow proper,

Now, that’s not to say the run is perfect. It loses steam near the end of the series, and the art is very inconsistent in places (though seemed to get better when Scott McDaniel took over the penciling duties. But all in all this was a good run for a mainstream superhero book.

KEEP

Green ArrowYear One.

Although GA is one of the most interesting characters in the DCU, he also has one of the least interesting origins in the DCU: He was rich, got stranded on an island, and then when he got off the island he became a superhero. So by that logic the cast of survivor could apply to be in the Justice League. Andy Diggle and Jock attempt to salvage something interesting out of it, but to no avail.

CULL.

 

 

Green Arrow & Black CanaryRoad To The Altar, The Wedding Album, Family Business, A League Of Their Own, Enemies List

So imagine you are an editor at DC comics. You have lots of popular characters, but lots of those characters can’t actually sustain their own books. Two of your writers have spent the last several years rebuilding two of these characters from scratch, and brought them to the point where they both have successful books that are also critically acclaimed. So what do you do? If your answer is “Cancel both books and completely fly in the face of the last 5 years of characterization and have those characters marry each other and then start a new book with the two of them that isn’t remotely as interesting as the books you cancelled?” then you should be in charge of DC Comics. Yep, they married Green Arrow and Black Canary (yes, technically they didn’t cancel Birds of Prey until later, but the removal of that character from the series was the first real nail in the coffin of that book), the two characters least likely to actually settle down in a monogamous relationship in the DCU. Batman and Superman would make a better couple. But they did it, and so it was Judd Winick’s job to salvage the baby from the bath water. While I’ve read MUCH worse, and this wasn’t a horrible series by any means, it also wasn’t great, and from the beginning of the arc the whole thing screamed “EDITORIAL MANDATE”.  I’m keeping the first arc that features the wedding, but getting rid of the rest.

The Wedding Album: KEEP. All others. CULL

Next up: Green Lantern!

The Great Comic Book Cull of 2010/2011 Part Five: DC Comics – Batwoman to Black Adam

I’ve gotten a few comments commenting on how little I’m culling, as opposed to keeping. I actually culled quite a bit of Batman, probably half a shelf worth, but right now I’m finding that most of the stuff I’m reading still holds up as worth keeping. I’m trying to downsize my collection, not eliminate it, much to my wife’s dismay.

BatwomanElegy

This the collection of a short run that Greg Rucka & J.H. Williams had on Detective Comics last year, focusing on my favourite lesbian that dresses up like a bat. Sorry, Jody Foster, you’re just going to have to keep reaching for the stars.

J.H. Williams has become one of the most unique and interesting artists in comic books today, and it’s a thrill to see him on a smaller profile book like this. Even if Greg Rucka’s script wasn’t good (it is), I’d keep this just for the art. One of the the best DC books of recent years, and I’m hoping that the new upcoming Batwoman series can keep the momentum going.

KEEP.

Birds Of Prey - 11 Assorted Trades.

One of the most successful DC “female” comics.  The concept is this: Barbara Gordon (Quick history: She used to be Commisioner Gordon’s daughter. Then his niece. Then his stepdaughter. Then his daughter again. She also used to be a librarian. Then a congresswoman. Then a librarian again. Somehow in the middle of all this she found time to occasionally be Batgirl, but then Joker shot her and showed her dad/stepdad/uncle naked pictures of her. She’s also now a parapalegic, which I think was the extra cherry on that particular day’s shit sundae. Now she’s called Oracle and works as an IT analyst/information broker for the superhero set.) decides to start sending her own agents out on specific missions she designates. Initially this is limited to Black Canary, but eventually other heroes (Huntress, Lady Blackhawk, etc) join in.

Chuck Dixon was the first writer on this series (orginally a series of minis), and the first two arcs of his run are collected in trade. These trades are decent, and worth keeping if only for Gary Frank’s pencil work, but the misogyny is running high in places. They take every opportunity to showcase Black Canary in skimpy, revealing outfits, and much is made of her horrible taste in men, and how she has very little control of herself around smarmy, overbearing assholes. That being said, it’s a good start to what would become a cult fave among superhero fans. Things went along at a decent pace for about 60 issues, until Gail Simone came along. She almost instantly revitalized the series, to the extent that for a while this was my favourite DC book.

The next 40 issues are a clinic in how to rebuild a character. Simone takes Black Canary from being a B level also-ran, to an A level world-class hero in just a few years. By the end of Simone’s run, Canary is one of the world’s greatest martial artists, and was soon made chairman of the Justice League. Also, this is one of my favourite martial art comic books, and there is more kung-fu asskickery in one trade of this series than a thousand Jackie Chan movies.  

This series isn’t perfect though. The art is inconsistent, especially in later trades, and you can tell that certain editorial decisions (like marrying Black Canary off) don’t sit well with Simone. She left the book soon after, and it didn’t take long for DC to cancel it. Thankfully that’s been rectified, and Gail Simone and Ed Benes are back on the book that they made famous.

KEEP

Black Adam - The Dark Age.

One of the best recent examples of character building that I can remember is DC’s 52 series. They took several forgotten or underused characters, and spent an entire year rebuilding those characters, and giving them new purpose. It stuck for the most part, and several of them have gone on to their own series. Black Adam is a prime example of how well this worked, and between 52 and it’s follow up World War 3, Adam had been set up as one of DC’s great villains. This mini dealt with the aftermath of those series, and shows Adam trying to regain both his power and his lost love. Peter Tomasi is one of DC’s stronger contemporary writers, and he crafts an emotional, and effective tale. Black Adam is such a sympathetic character that you can’t help but cheer for him, even when he’s beating the crap out of your favourite heroes. Kudos also to the great Doug Mahnke for his ever improving artwork here.

KEEP

Next up: Booster Gold. Yes, that’s his superhero name. Hey, I just review ‘em, I don’t write ‘em.