Justice Society Of America #3

by

Or – “A Book You Can’t Judge By It’s Cover…”

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Okay, I’ll say it. The Alex Ross covers for Justice Society have been bad. Really bad. And this month’s is creepy beyond creepy, with Maxine Hunkel looking remarkably like a young Olympia Dukakis, holding down her dress like Marilyn Monroe (showing a pretty adult amount of leg, hip, thigh and an apparent lack of supportive undergarments), with her hair floating up in the air. And while I understand that Alex Ross=Ratings, making the Dale Eaglesham covers (which have all been superior compositions, actually REPRESENTING what’s inside the issue, an archaic notion, I know) the hard-to-get variants is a bizarre and questionable decision. Having the cover artist bear no resemblance to the artist inside is an old, infuriating comic industry trick, and when Eaglesham is a pretty spiffy artist in his own right, it seems somehow insulting to him. Anyways, issue #3 is here, and the mysterious malefactor is about to tip his hand… let’s see how the JSA kids deal.

JSA1.jpgLast time around, we met some of the new kids (Maxine Hunkel, Starman VIII, the new angry, scarred Damage), as well as saw the beginning of a new plot against old-school members of the All-Star Squadron. Mr. America and his entire family were murdered, and super-powered Nazis (some of whom look VERY familiar to readers of Kingdom Come) attacked the Heywood family reunion, preparing to kill the remaining family members of the bloodline that spawned Commander Steel, Steel of the Justice League Detroit, and young Nathan “Buckeye” Heywood, former brilliant athlete, now angry young one-legged man. Also of note, Stargirl dragged new member Maxine Hunkel off to the JSA’s costume room (a brilliant and completely believable concept) to help her find a new look and nomenclature. The duo shoots down codenames like Hurricane, Tornado, Zephyr, and Red Hurricane (“If you want to sound like a drink on the T.G.I. Fridays menu.”) before finally settling on her new nom de guerre, borrowed from her aunt and uncle, the Cyclone Kids.

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Heh. Cyclones have been known to eat trailer parks as well, I suspect, but the name and ensemble work for me, with two exceptions. The candy-stripe socks are cute, but she needs something other than her gym-class trainers to protect her feet. Also, the green dress really bags on her, she needs a belt or some sort of sash at the waist to break up the endless fields of green. Other than that (and the fact that she’s apparently going commando on the Ross cover), I’m liking this costume. Back at the Heywood family reunion, the evil nazi superteam The Fourth Reich has begun their killing spree, women and children first. I hate Illinois Nazis.

Luckily, Hawkman is there, knocking Swastika’s teeth down his throat (and isn’t a Nazi called Swastika a lot like naming your band “Lotsa Guitars?”) and hamstringing the ridiculously named Baroness Blitzkrieg. Unfortunately, that leaves Reichsmark free to transform Nathan Heywood’s mother into some sort of metallic substance. Nate attacks him out of sheer reflex, but the freakish mutant laughs, claiming that his metallic shell is made out of the very metal that made Heywood’s great grandpa into Commander Steel. Close to being throttled, Nathan responds the only way he can… with a crutch to the throat.

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I’d have stabbed the bastid for that mustache alone. On a related not, I’ve been trying to figure why I keep finding Nathan Heywood’s face familiar, and suddenly, in the middle of this battle, it dawned on me where I’ve seen that face (and hairline) before. Ladies and gentlemen? Alex Ross!

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That’s actually pretty cool for Alex, and makes you want to learn to draw well so you, too, can get the acclaim, the cash and your face immortalized in ink. I know *I* wouldn’t mind having a superhero who looks like me (other than Herbie Popnecker, I mean) but I don’t know if I’ll ever have the kind of influence that Alex has in the industry. Bygones… As Reichsmark falls at the hands of the just-in-time Hawkman, Captain Nazi (presumably NOT the one that Jason Todd killed) swoops in, grabbing the statue of Commander Steel that the Heywoods have as their reunion centerpiece…

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Isn’t that whole statue thing a little weird for a simple family reunion? At my reunions, we’re lucky to get a fruit plate. Also, it seems the mysterious mastermind behind the attacks knows Hawkman, and has been around long enough to know about his resurrections, as well. It’s starting to look like the obvious choice is the right one, isn’t it? By the time the paramedics arrive, most if not all the Heywoods are gone, leaving one little girl, and the metal-encrusted Nate as survivors. The paras have no idea how to help him, but Hawkman has revived, and knows a doctor who WILL know. Over in Brooklyn, Ted Grant (Wildcat) is still in the middle of an awkward, painful, and stilted reunion of his own, with his previously-unknown son Tommy. Tom repeats again that they have nothing in common, and brings up Ted’s OTHER son, Jake, and the events that led to what I’m presuming is Jake’s death.

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Wildcat’s a tough ol’ bird, so to speak, but he’s obviously torn and more than a little bit hurt by this turn of events. Unfortunately, he seems to be agreeing with Tommy’s stance in the whole matter. By this time, Hawkman has made it back to headquarters, carrying Nathan to Doctor Mid-Nite (“He gon’ let it all hang doooown… Doctor Mid-Nite! Doctor Mid-Nite!”), the one man who might help. Green Lantern is appalled to see that a second family has been attacked, but a sudden off-panel voice informs him that this is not TWO attacks, but the latest in a series of attacks. Much like Hawkman’s sudden appearance last ish, another former chairman is back from wherever he’s been, with tidings that bode ill.

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Sanderson Hawkins, formerly known as Sand, has taken over both the mantle of Sandman, and Wesley Dodd’s recurring nightmares, through methods unknown. It’s interesting to note, also, the design elements that evoke Morpheus the Sandman, a character who came AFTER Wesley by several decades, but who is probably the Sandman with whom more readers are familiar. It’s a nice touch, and also serves to make The Sandman imposing and frightening. Sandman gathers the troops, and explains that Mr. America and Commander Steel are just the tip of a homicidal iceberg.

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Oh my gawd. I thought I was the ONLY one who remembered General Glory II, who appeared exactly once in an issue of Justice League Quarterly. The loss of Minute-Man is more horrifying, as he is one of the original Fawcett heroes from the forties, and had one of the more distinctive flag costumes around. Courtney and Jesse are understandably horrified that their parents seem to be next on the list, and the whole team leaps into action, save Mr. Terrific and Dr Mid-Nite, who are keeping watch over the fallen Mr. Heywood. Doc points out that Mr. America has brought them the one clue that they need. He came to the JSA brownstone because he knew that the evidence was still in his lung: a stone arrowhead. Uh oh… Old-school villain. Knows Hawkman’s longevity. Uses archaic weapons. Hates the JSA. As Wildcat prepares to leave Tommy’s home, he is knocked senseless by a bony fist, and suddely two plus two equals… Vandar Adg of the Bear Tribe. Or as Tommy would say…

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Vandal’s still got it for a man who supposedly died irrevocably not five months ago in JSA Classified, and explains that while the Nazi scum get to wipe out all the patriotic heroes, the families of the ORIGINAL JSA members are his to kill. Tommy tells Savage that he doesn’t want to “do this,” as Savage draws his knife, but Savage isn’t listening. Tommy thinks that he’s overdue for a fight, as the fight in eighth grade mentioned last issue was a long time ago. “I told Dad I wasn’t anything like him,” thinks Tommy…

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And ANOTHER Kingdom Come alumnus makes their DCU debut. It’s all new and exciting now, but it better be going somewhere. The overwhelming Kingdom Come references are building towards something, obviously, but if it doesn’t have a satisfactory denoument, it’s just going to seem self-indulgent on Alex’s part. The reveal of Savage is both logical and infuriating, the first because it’s entirely in-character with what we know about him, the second because it comes on the heels of his “death” in JSA Classified and his villainhood in the Secret Six miniseries. A lot of DC’s big villains are suffering from overexposure in the Brave New World (cases could be made for Giganta, Luthor, Doctor Psycho, Black Mask, and The Red Hood in this category), so adding Savage to the list won’t hurt anything, but it’s disappointing that the mystery was this by-the-numbers.

This issue serves as a nicely-done origin for the new Commander Steel (although writer Geoff Johns has gone on record as saying he won’t be “commander” as this was an actual military title awarded by the President to Grampy Heywood back in the day), had some nice continuity touches and emotional content. The “family” aspect of the JSA is in full-force here, but something still feels a bit out of balance. I don’t know what it is, but I feel like there’s something we still don’t know yet, and I’ll be disappointed if Johns doesn’t give us a little more. Still, it’s a well-drawn issue (Courtney and Jesse’s facial expressions at the prospect of being orphaned are first-rate), and the dialogue is excellent. The timeworn evil Nazi gimmick, the slightly disapoointing Vandal Savage reveal, and the (admittedly subjectively) displeasing regular cover only shave a tiny bit off the issue’s total rating, netting it 3.5 stars.

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