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 14 – DC Comics: The Justice League!

This one almost killed me. Seriously. It turns out that no other book demonstrates how good DC comics can be, but also the horrible depths that they can fall to the way that Justice League does.

So before I start I need to give you some Justice League context.

1960-1984 – The “Let’s All Be Superfriends” Years:

Putting all of their popular characters into one team along with a few fresh faces worked 

The JLA's first enemy: Telepathic Space Seafood

well for DC in the 1940’s with the Justice Society, and so DC decided to do it again in the early 1960’s to coincide with the resurgence of the superhero genre. The book originally starred Superman, Batman, Flash, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and the Martian Manhunter. This is important to remember. The line up changed over the years, with some members going away for extended periods of time, and some new blood joining. But the core premise was always that this was earth’s premier super team, and so it always had a core roster of earth’s A-List heroes. They did bring lesser known heroes onboard occasionally (Green Arrow, Red Tornado, Firestorm, Zatanna), but for the most part, this book focuses on big epic adventures, and didn’t spend a lot of time dealing with its heroes personal lives. Although this era is fondly remembered, I find that when I reread these stories very little sticks with me, and it comes across as a faceless blur of spandex.

 

1984-1986 – The “Why are there homeless people on the team?” Years.

The greatest Justice League tribute band in the mid-westAt the time, Teen Titans and X-Men were selling like crazy, and so DC attempted  to add some teen angst drama to its flagship book. The old JLA disbanded, and a new team was formed, composed of the 3 LEAST popular members of the old team, a spoiled trust-fund baby, an offensive Latino stereotype, and a homeless person. To no ones’s suprise, everyone hated it, and it didn’t last long.

1987 – 1996 –  The “Never met a cheap laugh we didn’t grind into the ground” Years:

And now the strangeness begins. There’s some context to note here. DC’s Crisis On Infinite Earths megacrisis happened in 1985-1986, and it really did a number on JLA continuity (If Wonder Woman is just becoming a hero now, how was she a founding member of the JLA? If Superman is a fairly recent hero, how was HE a founding member of the JLA?  If Hawkman is just arriving from Thanagar, who was the guy wearing wings in the JLA in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Questions, questions. ) For now, DC decided to ignore a lot of those issues, and rebooted the team again, this time calling it the JLI (Justice League International).

For this version of the team, they went for a combination of veterans (Batman, Martian Manhunter, Black Canary), recent A-listers who had never actually been part of the JLA before (Guy Gardner, Captain Marvel, Dr. Fate), and new faces who were a prominent part of the new universe that DC was creating at the time (Dr. Light, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold), etc. They also decided to make this book funny. Yes, funny.

Although the line up changed a lot, this was the direction of the book for much of the next decade, as well as of its sister books, Justice League Europe, and Justice League Task Force. Although there are some good stories from this decade, I found that the increasing focus on comedy, as well as the ever decreasing focus on having A-listers on the team, made the JLA pretty much irrelevant.

1996 – 2006 – The “Magnificent 7″ Years:

DC apparently agreed with me, and in 1996 decided to bring the band back together. So

The band reunites to play at Aquaman's wedding reception

now the JLA was Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, the new (at the time) Green Lantern, and the Flash (Not the original silver age Flash who was a founding member of the original JLA but his young partner who was originally Kid Flash but took over when his uncle died in the Crisis On Infinite Earths. Except for the fact that we just found out recently that he didn’t die and he’s now back.) After an initial mini-series by Mark Waid, DC brought Grant Morrison on board to write this new JLA. And it was epic. Huge battles, huge concepts, huge EVERYTHING. The only personal issues that the JLA faced in this book were the ones that had to do with the team. This remains a high benchmark for the concept, and remains my favourite incarnation of the league.

2006 – 2010. The “I’m sure we’ll figure it out eventually” years.

It’s no secret that the League has struggled creatively in recent years. Revolving creative teams, and revolving team rosters, have devalued the League’s effectiveness. James Robinson seems to be trying a lot of interesting things in today’s League, but I can’t say it’s doing much for me. That being said, the concept is still a sound one, and eventually the League will be on top again.

Which brings us to the books. Although there are MANY JLA trades out there, most of the ones I own have to do with the Magnificent Seven incarnation of the League. I’ve got a LOT of them, so I’m splitting this into several posts.

JLA - The Magnificent Seven Years as written by Grant Morrison (New World Order, American Dreams, Rock Of Ages, Strength In Numbers, Justice For All, Rock Of Ages, World War 3)

So as I mentioned earlier, this a League full of A-List heroes, tacking A-List threats. I have never been quiet regarding my criticisms of Grant Morrison’s writing, and so it was a great pleasure to discover just how much I still loved his run on the JLA when I reread it recently. I have never felt that Morrison was a character writer. I don’t mean concept, he’s great at those. I mean character. But character is a BIG part of why this book works so well, and I think that a part of it was that Morrison didn’t have to focus on it much. Because this wasn’t a book about how Superman gets through the day with Lois, and the Daily Planet, and all of that nonsense, Morrison was free to focus on loftier concerns (How does Superman deal with having every single hero on earth look up to him?) There are character moments here, but they all are related to how these characters deal with each other, not how they deal with their own private lives.

As I mentioned before, Morrison’s League dealt with universe-destroying threats on a daily basis, and this book remains a highlight in the history of the League.

KEEP

JLAThe Magnificent Seven Years as written by Mark Waid (Tower Of Babel, Terror Incognita, Divided We Fall)

Arguably the greatest JLA run of all time is done, and the question is, who do you get to take over? Mark Waid of course, and he knocks it out of the park.

His League is of a slightly smaller scope than Morrison’s is. He’s using continuity more than Morrison did, and character interaction is slightly more front of mind in his run. Which brings us to “Tower of Babel“, the highlight of his run. Not only is this one of the great JLA stories, it’s also one of the best Batman stories of the modern era. Although Waid’s run wasn’t very long, it’s still holds up extremely well as a worthy successor to Morrison’s arc.

KEEP

JLAThe Magnificent Seven Years as written by Joe Kelly (Future Imperfect, The Golden Circle, Obsidian Age Vol. 1 & 2, Rules Of Engagement, Trial By Fire)

At the time, Joe Kelly had a well-regarded run on Superman, and so I guess it made sense to throw him the League. But he had some pretty big shoes to fill. Although I remember thoroughly disliking his run when it first came out, upon rereading it’s obvious that was just a reaction to some of the small changes Kelly made, as opposed to his run overall. It turns out that this was a solid run, with a bigger focus on character development than either Waid’s or Morrison’s. Of course, the highlight here was the incredibly ambitious Obsidian Age arc, a sprawling epic of time travel, death, and betrayal, with some beautiful art by Doug Mahnke. Probably the biggest misses here are the new characters that Kelly brings into the team. They never really gel with the existing cast, and didn’t seem to serve any real storytelling purpose other than for Kelly’s own ego.

KEEP

JLAThe Magnificent Seven Years – The Rest. (World Without A Justice League, Tenth Circle, Pain Of The Gods, Syndicate Rules, Crisis Of Conscience)

Crucifer is upset because he's in the worst Justice League story ever written

Joe Kelly was the last regular writer on this version of the JLA, and the rest of the run was a rotating cast of different creative teams. Most of this was absolute crap, with the worst of the bunch being a truly awful excuse for a vampire story by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, who seemed bound and determined to make you forget how much you loved their X-Men run when you were a kid.

Crisis Of Conscience, Syndicate Rules: KEEP. World Without A Justice League, Pain Of The Gods, Tenth Circle: CULL

 

 

JLA – The Magnificent Seven Years : Odds & Ends (JLA: Earth 2, Superpower, Age Of Wonder, World Without Grownups, Secret Origins, A League Of One, JLA Year One)

Because this version of the Justice League was so popular, DC pumped out an endless amount of one-shots, mini-series, and tie-ins. Most of these were wretched, and are covered in my next post. But there were a few that actually still hold up well today. Age of Wonder was one of many Elseworlds JLA titles from this era, and honestly the only one worth a damn (Justice League as Steampunk scientists: Hooray!). Although Year One, and Earth 2 still gets a lot of praise, A League Of One was a pleasant rediscovery, and I would go as far as to say that it’s one of the best Wonder Woman stories of the past decade.

KEEP

Next up: Lots of really bad Justice League stories!

The Great Comic Book Cull of 2010/2011 Part Four: DC Comics – Batman & Friends! Part Two!

Sweet Jesus, no more.

Don’t get me wrong. I like good Batman stories. Well, I should considering I own hundreds of them. But I’m really tired of reading about Batman growling at every person he meets: “you’re not equipped to do this job”, and “get out of my town”, and “put a coaster under there”.

So here’s more stories about Batman being an asshole.

Batman & The Phantom StrangerBatman & The Phantom Stranger

Two mysterious assholes, on a quest of some sort.

This is a fairly disposable one-shot featuring Batman with another of my DC faves, the Phantom Stranger. It’s a pretty standard magic mystery, but Arthur Ranson’s pencils put it in the keep pile for me.

KEEP. Barely.

Batman & Punisher – Batman & Punisher Vol. 1 & 2

These are two one-shots that DC/Marvel did about 15 years ago, teaming up two of their most popular heroes. For the most part, I’ve hated the DC/Marvel crossovers I’ve read, but this is a rare exception, in that it’s a story that I would deem as indispensable if you’re a Batman OR Punisher fan. The first one involves the Punisher teaming up with BatAzrael, during the brief time that he was playing the role of Batman in Gotham City. I remember not liking this as much as it’s sequel, but upon reread it actually stands up very well. Barry Kitson does his always bang up job on pencils, and Dennis O’Neil does a nice job of character work here.

The second volume is still the highlight here, in that it’s still the ONLY work John Romita Jr. has ever done on DC characters, and the only time he’s ever done Batman professionally. This book still stands up as a really great action story, and the two page spread of Frank Castle punching out Batman gives me chills. After making fun of him earlier, I really need to give Chuck Dixon credit here for an extremely well-written story. This is better than it has any right to be.

KEEP

Batman & Superman - World’s Finest

This is a 10 year old story that still stands up well today. The premise as written by Karl Kesel is that one of their first missions together, Batman and Superman accidentally let a bystander die, and so every year on his death they get together and remember. During the course of the story, we see how they deal with seminal moments in their history: Superman’s death, Batman’s back breaking, Robin’s Bar Mitzvah, etc. Well written story that takes advantage of how diverse each character is.

KEEP

Batman, Superman, & Wonder WomanTrinity.

This is Matt Wagner’s version of the first meeting between DC’s BIG THREE. You can tell how seriously he took this assignment, and throughout the book you feel that this was supposed to be his Final Crisis, or New Frontier. Sadly, this never comes close to those lofty goals, though his pencils look great. Part of the problem is that while this is supposed to be a team of equals, Wonder Woman is written as the junior partner throughout, and in fact spends much of the story in chains. The other problem is that Wagner really doesn’t add anything new or interesting to the mythos. It’s just a decent story, with great pencils.

KEEP. Yes, I’m keeping it. I love the man’s art.

Whew. I’m done. No more Batman. Well, until I hit the J’s, and then we’ve got lots of stories about Batman being mean to the Justice League to look forward to. He’s such a dick.

Next up: Batwoman to the Brave & Bold!