The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 19: DC Comics – More Justice Society!

Justice Society Of AmericaThe Justice Society Returns & The JSA All-Stars

These are both late ’90′s JSA stories that hold up pretty well today, though I wouldn’t say that either of them are essential to anyone other than die-hard JSA fans. Both of them are

The JSA return. Again.

“anthology” books, in that there is a storyline that begins and ends each book, with different creators working on smaller stories within the larger framework of the series. As with any such series, there is good and there is bad, but the strength of the creators (Geoff Johns, David Goyer, Michael Chabon, Howard Chaykin, Mark Waid, Michael Lark, etc) ensure that the hits far outweigh the misses.

KEEP

Justice Society Of AmericaThe Golden Age

Ok, it’s hyperbole time. This may be the greatest JSA story ever. Not only that, but I would probably put this in any “Greatest DC Stories Of All Time” list. It’s epic. It’s technically an “Elseworlds” (Readers of my blog will know that for DC, Elseworlds is just secret code for “Lazy writing”) story, but most of this is so close to

The guy in red is actually Adolph Hitler's transplanted brain in disguise. Whoops, spoiler alert!

regular continuity that it’s pretty easy to just consider this as a regular JSA story. If it isn’t continuity by now, then it should be. This story has everything you could want in a superhero comic book: Plenty of action, some tales of redemption, and the transplanted brain of Adolph Hitler. James Robinson and Paul Smith have created that rare superhero story here: One that gets better every time you read it.

Justice Society - The Geoff Johns Trades Part 1 (Justice Be Done, Darkness Falls, Return Of Hawkman, Fair Play, Stealing Thunder, Savage Times, Princes Of Darkness, Black Reign, Lost, Black Vengeance, Mixed Signals, Ghost Stories)

After the success of titles like Starman & Sandman Mystery Theatre, it was obvious that the comic book masses wanted more Justice Society. The Starman team of David Goyer and James Robinson started the new series, and quickly handed it over DC wunderkind Geoff Johns. When this series was on the stands, it was something I enjoyed quite a bit, and so I thought rereading it would just be a formality. Don’t get me wrong, I still liked it for the most part, and I’m keeping the run. But Geoff Johns bites off way more than he (or any one else) can chew, and the constantly growing cast of characters are tough to keep track of, even for jaded comic book fans. Plots start and stop with no explanation, and characters show up and then leave with very little reason as to why they were there in the first place. The hits (finally making sense of Hawkman’s origin, slowly turning Black Adam into the most tragic villain in the DCU, Stargirl’s transformation into one of the DCU’s premier teen heroes) far outweigh the misses (Dr. Fate’s constant bitching), and this stands up as a pretty decent mainstream superhero title. Ghost Stories wasn’t a Geoff Johns story, but it ended this version of the series pretty well.

Justice Society - The Geoff Johns Trades Part 2 (The Next Age, Thy Kingdom Come 1, 2, 3, Black Adam & Isis)

And we’re back. A few years ago, both the JLA and JSA books were cancelled, with new  versions of both comics starting back up almost immediately. In the JSA’s case, I’m not

Who is: Superman from Earth 22? Alex, I'll take: Reasons why nobody takes superhero comics seriously for a thousand!

really sure why a reboot was needed, since the writer for the new series was the same person who wrote most of the last one. Since one of the criticisms of the last series was that there were too many characters to follow, it only stands to reason that Geoff Johns brought even MORE characters into the mix. That being said, I would say that I enjoyed these trades more than the last 3 of 4 of his previous run, and Thy Kingdom Come is  definitely a worthy quasi sequel p to the landmark Kingdom Come mini it gets its name and concept from. Also, Dale Eaglesham’s pencil work is perfect fit for this book.

KEEP

Justice Society - The Liberty File/The Unholy Three

As I’ve written before, I don’t have a lot of respect for the “Elseworlds” concept. More often than not, it led to lazy writing as opposed to real storytelling innovation.

A bizarre alternate dimension where superheroes aren't quite so ridiculous.

Great stories are great stories, and should always be the top priority when putting together sequential art for a mainstream audience. When the strongest thing about your gimmick is the pitch, then it probably wasn’t that strong a gimmick in the first place. The Liberty Files, and it’s sequel The Unholy Three, are rare exceptions. In this world, the JSA are all secret government agents rather than costumed superheroes. The emphasis here is on telling a compelling espionage story rather than resting on the laurels of its high concept pitch.

KEEP

Next up: Legion Of Superheroes, Lex Luthor, and Manhunter!!!

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 16: DC Comics – Yep, still more Justice League

Justice League Justice Vol. 1, 2, and 3.

You can tell that when Alex Ross and Jim Krueger put out their ambitious Justice project, their goal was to produce the greatest non-Silver Age Silver Age DC story of all time. However, that honor goes to Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier, and although I hate to be flippant about a book that looks as good as Justice does, I really can’t help but put it in the “just ok” pile. It does have an interesting concept going for it:  DC’s supervillains get visions of their heroic counterparts destroying the planet, and team up to stop them.

Alex Ross’ art is as gorgeous as always, and seeing him apply his love of the DCU to the Silver-Age versions of these characters is a lot of fun. But while the story has potential, the plot is overly complicated with FAR too many characters to keep track of, and it quickly gets bogged down by it’s own cleverness. It doesn’t take long for it to become  a fairly straight forward simple punch ‘em up. The whole thing is entertaining however, and the only real awful moment of the series comes when Alex Ross decided to pick up a call from DC’s toy department, which resulted in all of his heroes wearing suits of armour for some godforsaken reason.

KEEP

Justice League JLA & JSA: Virtue & Vice

Thanksgiving, super-hero style!

Team-ups between the JLA and JSA have become fairly common over the years, to the extent that DC has made it canon that the teams spend Thanksgiving dinner with each other every year. Now, you may argue that someone who spends 364 days a year dressing up like a loon and fighting crazy people might want to spend the holidays with their actual families, rather than the same fetishists they spend the rest of the year with. You’d be mistaken however, and since the idea has produced some entertaining stories, who am I to judge?

Virtue & Vice is a pretty standard team-up book, but it’s a VERY well-crafted standard team-up book. Though it would never go on my list as one of DC’s truly influential or important graphic novels, it’s definitely one of the stronger JLA/JSA stories in the canon, and Carlos Pacheco’s penciling never looked better.

KEEP

Justice League JLA Vs. The Avengers

Every single superhero fights each other for no reason at all

There have been numerous cross-overs between DC and Marvel over the years, and for the most part they’ve been about as readable as a Tea Party manifesto. This four-part epic featuring comicdom’s two greatest supergroups teaming up for the first time ever, is one of the few exceptions. Quite simply, Kurt Busiek and George Perez put together the greatest cross-over story most fans could possibly hope for.

Note that I said “most” fans. The problem with a story like this is that you will NEVER please everybody, and as thanks for your efforts will probably end up pleasing no one. So although there are scenes here that caused “controversy” (“Superman is stronger than Thor.” “Is not.” “Is too.” “MOM!!!!”) at the time, Busiek’s emphasis on characterization ended up making this a home-run for me.

That’s not to say it’s without it’s faults. To say that’s it’s overly complicated and dense would be an understatement. Keep in mind, some pages feature dozens, if not hundreds of characters, with the characters often changing costumes multiple times in a single page. This book is NOT for the superhero rookie, and even I had a hard time keeping track of what any of the characters were trying to accomplish. Usually that would be a turn-off, but in this case  it simply served the grandiose nature of the story that Busiek was trying to tell.

George Perez is one of the most critically acclaimed artists in the comic industry, and while I’m not really sure what motivated him to produce what ended up being the best work he had done in 20 years, I’m glad that he did. Although Perez has done some fine work since this came out, I think this will end up being being a fine epilogue to an amazing career.

KEEP

Next up: The Justice Society!