Or – “Y’know, I Loved Kingdom Come As Much As The Next Guy But, C’MON!”

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With this issue of JSA, it’s official… It IS just me. I’ve had long, involved conversations with the folks at work (including both my fellow counter monkeys, as well as several customers) and to a man, nobody but me is bothered by the amount of Alex Ross in the issues of JSA thus far. They DO agree with me that his covers are less attractive than the variants by interior artist Dale Eaglesham, but aren’t bothered by the obvious thumbprints of Mr. Ross all over the costume designs of Starman, Liberty Belle, Cyclone and Damage, no one is bugged by the incessant use of Kingdom Come characters, situations, and archetypes, and nobody else thinks Geoff Johns writes better without “creative consulting.” So, with one last blurb up top, I hereby table my whining as regards Alexander, and settle into the new JSA dynamic. This is the end of the first arc, so it oughtta be a doozy (with mebbe a fistfight or two). How does it stack up?

In the last few issues, the JSA has reformed and rebooted, with some founders, JSA1.jpgsome young guns, a few experienced heroes in new guises, as well as 90’s refugee Damage, brand-new character Cyclone, and the Starman from 2961 in attendance. Unfortunately, to undermine the new day dawning, we’ve also seen neo-Nazi schmucks (use of Yiddish intentional) reviving not only bad ideas, but bad superhuman identities as well. Under the direction of an unknown manipulator, the Illinois Nazis are killing off the patriotic superheroes and their families. (So which one was it that got Steve Rogers?) General Glory, Mr. America, Commander Steel, and Minute-Man (and their families) are gone, and now the villains are targeting the former Stripesy (stepfather of Stargirl) and Liberty Belle I (mother of Liberty Belle II, oddly enough). The multi-generations heroes of the JSA are done burying comrades, though, and I predict that some swastikas (and teeth) are getting broken today.

We kick off (no pun intended) our festivites with Vandal Savage. Caveman, immortal, raving nutbar… A man of many hats is our Vandal. Though he sent his lackeys to off the patriotic heroes, he saved for himself the visceral pleasure of killing the JSA founders and their families, including the heretofor-unknown son of Wildcat. With his pugilist father out of the picture, it falls to the untested and less-than-combat-skilled Wildcat Junior to face down the Ultimate Warrior (with apologies to Jim Hellwig). “So, show me, boy… is the son of the great Wildcat a coward, or a tiger?”

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I thinkin’ that’s a vote for “tiger.” A for effort, but I’m not sure that being a werecat alone is going to take down Savage, who has probably killed and eaten nearly every animal alive (and a few that are extinct). “Tomcat” and the man with a name synonymous with a crime engage one another, as the rest of JSA mobilizes to save the last targets of Vandal’s scheme. In Blue Valley, Nebraska, a team led by Power Girl engages some of the Nazi #$%@s, as we learn that Cyclone idolizes one of her new teammates. Not the Golden-Age Flash, or even Power Girl, but Stargirl, the youngest and most promising of heroes. “In high school, I started a club called the Junior Justice Society of America,” Cyclone remembers, “I talked about Stargirl for three hours at our first meeting. No one came the next week…”

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Again, it’s wonderful to see Courtney as one of the JSA veterans, even at her tender age, and watching her grow into a confident and powerful woman makes me proud as heck. In Philadelphia, the second squad arrives to defend Libby Chambers, the first woman to be called Liberty Belle, from more idiots who forgot who won World War II. In contrast to Cyclone’s bright and hopeful nature, we see Damage (former Young Justice, Freedom Fighters, and Titans member) in his full disfunctional glory. Recent experiences and injuries have made him short-sighted and angry, and also make him forget his surroundings as he single-handedly takes down the horribly-named Reichsmark.

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You’d think a team veteran like Grant would know better than to make a rookie mistake like that… Tom, for his part, is holding out admirably against the immortal caveman, but Vandal has a few tricks to spare, ripping open a gas pipe and trying to immolate the cat-boy with a gout of flame. “Caveman’s trying to start a fire,” taunts the boy, confirming that he is, indeed, his father’s son. “Start a fire? Who do you think INVENTED fire?” snarks back Savage, ignoring the rules of the JSA. What rules, you ask?

1. Never make a speed pun.

2. Don’t mention the word ‘green’.

3. Don’t ask someone to give you a break.

4. Don’t let Hawkman cook the brisket on Sundays.

Fifth and final, (and Vandal should know this after fifty frickin’ years), for the love of Mike, NEVER TURN YOUR BACK ON WILDCAT, no matter how incredibly sure you are that he’s dead…

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S’what you get for showing off, Savage. Ted & Tom’s interaction is already awesome, and I’m hoping to see a lot of father & son Wildcat in the future. In Philadelphia, Jesse “Liberty Belle” Chamber is down, thanks to her own teammate, and her new hubby Hourman is royally peeved. “Every ONE of you following in the Atom’s footsteps has NO idea what they’re doing!” Huh… Rick holds a grudge against Atom-Smasher. Who knew? Grant replies angrily that he’s NOT wearing his dad’s mask, but their spat allows Captain Nazi to swoop in and grab Damage. The worst supervillain ever (worse than Praying Mantis Man or Doctor Cyclops, even) rips away Grant’s mask, tsking that he’d make a good Aryan father, except for the face. C.N. offers to put Grant out of his misery, but Hourman and Liberty Belle hit him with the first blunt object they can find: The real Liberty Bell. (Isn’t that thing made of extremely brittle copper?) Damage and Cap’n Asshat fall, and Hourman suddenly sees the truth…

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I like this moment. Grant has been through a lot since 1991, and it’s good to see Rick and Jesse remembering how hard it is to be young AND super-powered, as well as trying to carry on a legacy while still being yourself. I seem to recall Rick trying to kill the android Hourman out of spite and jealousy once (wearing that gawdawful purple and red costume with the watchface on the front.) Wildcat tries to keep his kid alive while fighting a dangerous foe, barking out fighting tips, but Tommy just snottily asks if he’s got any other advice. “Yeah. Try not to bleed so much, smartass.” I hope they’re enjoying their interaction as much as I am reading it. Savage taunts that neither ‘Cat has the power to knock him down a peg, but Wildcat points behind Savage, and sagely replies, “That might.”

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Owie. Can you imagine how mortified those firemen must be? It’s not clear in the issue whether they MEANT to hit him, or whether Wildcat maneuvered him into the path of a speeding firetruck. I’m hoping the first, not least of which to save whomever’s house might have been on fire. In Philadelphia, Damage, Belle, and Hourman knock Cap’n History Channel into next week, while the Nebraska contingent overpowers their villains, as well. Wildcat declares it a knockout, and the team heads home for Miller Time. Once there, Hawkman, Green Lantern and Flash offer a long-time team member some well-and-truly overdue respect…

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Yeah, Kara! It’s about time she got to be something more than a punchline or the token brick. Downstairs, the Sandman and Obsidian have a very cryptic discussion about a “her” about whom Sandman has been dreaming, foreshadowing, I think, the next arc. Tom and Ted pal around a bit, with Tommy explaining that he’s never been in a fight because he was afraid his inner cat would come out and play unexpectedly. And Doctor Mid-Nite has to ask his only true intellectual peer for a consult…

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Growing a new STEEL leg, eh? I wonder whatever could be happening there, he said, not looking at the spoilery cover for Issue #1. In a nice moment, Ted Grant explains exactly how the superhero legacy REALLY works. It’s not about bloodlines, or powers, or families, not the way Savage and his Fourth Reich idiots would presume. It’s about doing the right thing to remember someone who tried to do the same. Courtney, Jakeem Thunder, the new Mid-Nite and Terrific, none of them share any blood with their predecessors, but they’re out there anyway, because someone showed them a better way. As he speaks, we see Trey Thomas (the Mr. America who was murdered in issue #1)’s partner picking up Mr. A’s mask and costume, and trying it on for himself, to do exactly what Wildcat just described. It’s a nice moment, and goes well with a bit of writing that gets a tiny bit overwrought describing heroic ideals. Tom says he doesn’t want to ever be known as “Tomcat,” and Ted says there’s two Flashes and 3601 Green Lanterns, there’s no reason why there can’t be a second, Wildcat, and introduces his son to the team. And, ominously, in Gotham City…

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Aaah! Nura! That’s three of the pre-Crisis Legionnaires in four issues. Something is building out there, and it’s gonna get worse a’fore it’s gets better, I’ll wager. This issue was well-paced, balancing three storylines, but I have a nagging irritation about the content, feeling like another example of the “wait for the trade” mentality damaging the readibility of a single issue. There was a lot of action going on, and somehow I felt let down on the characterization side of things. Granted, it’s the big punch-out ending, but this is a running problem (moreso at Marvel than DC, but it happens at both companies) where a single issue just doesn’t read as balanced. As a story, it’s a nice capstone to the first arc. As a single issue, it feels like an episode rather than a story.

That said, it’s a pretty interesting episode, and well-done from a visual standpoint. The writing went a bit overboard with the sturm-und-drang of “this is what heroic legacies mean,” but not so much that it ruins the whole title. The addition of more new blood to an already huge team pleases me, as I like to see a sprawling cast. I’m an old-school Legion of Super-Heroes fan, after all. Balancing out the good with the bad, wishing that the variant cover was the primary one AGAIN, this issue scores a still-impressive 3.5 stars out of 5.

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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12 Comments

  1. Salieri
    March 29, 2007 at 11:39 pm — Reply

    Oh S***, some idiot hasn’t read “The Sandman”, so we’re stuck with Skeletor again. Great. Almost a decade of a character having been written well, thrown in Neil Gaiman’s face…

  2. Steve
    March 30, 2007 at 1:07 am — Reply

    Count me in as someone else who’s bothered by the amount of Alex Ross in the issues of JSA thus far. I always buy the more expensive and more attractive Dale Eaglesham covers and I am very bothered by the obvious thumbprints of Mr. Ross all over the costume designs of Starman, Liberty Belle, Cyclone and Damage, I am bugged as hell by the incessant use of Kingdom Come characters, situations, and archetypes, and Geoff Johns does writes better without “creative consulting” but lets face it, not by much. Get Alex Ross away from anything that isn’t retro. Give him a platform like Justice every year or so and his fans can be happy having an outlet and I can not buy it like I have every other of his projects since Marvels.

  3. Josh
    March 30, 2007 at 6:29 am — Reply

    So when does the Flash go all red motion?

  4. March 30, 2007 at 7:25 am — Reply

    Salieri: Have faith, my child. :) It is a known fact that, while Vertigo and DCU are considered separate and distinct universes by the Powers That Am at DC, Johns has a history of treating Vertigo concepts (ESPECIALLY Neil’s Vertigo concepts) with respect and care. Witness the return of Hector Hall (the “little ghost” Sandman in “The Doll’s House”), his search for lost Lyta and their eventual salvation (ever so subtlely done) by Daniel, the latest incarnation of Dream.

    Steve: Thou hast smitten the spike squarely ‘pon it’s skull, verily. Alex Ross does retro like no one else (and, admittedly, JSA is going to be a retro-esque title, with four characters who date back to the beginning of the entire superhero myth) but there’s little or no room for change in his conceptualization of the characters. Worst of all, what change there is tends to be a “back to basics” approach… I can’t tell you how much of what I’ve read of Alex is him, and how much is Johns (or Busiek or Waid etc), but I can tell you that after having read the dreadfully dull and bombastic “Earth X” saga, that his visual stylings have been stunning enough to compensate for his failings of plot. Again, it’s not that Alex’s work is inferior, it’s just that JSA feels “of two minds” since the relaunch, and those two minds aren’t quite on the same page. Johns and Eaglesham do VERY good work, after all… Why is every issue dressed with Alex’s art?

    I’ve long since accepted my place in the minority re: his work (It’s beautiful, brilliant, and well-designed, but it’s also static, over-rendered and overly realistic.) and while I have no right to make this assumption, nor do I know the man, statements made in the past (notably in the Wizard Millenium Alex Ross edition) by the artist make me think he sees two ways to make comics: The Way Alex Does It, and the wrong way. That’s just my pair of pennies, mind you…

  5. March 30, 2007 at 7:30 am — Reply

    Josh: I think since people stopped using the Carmine Infantino technique (multiple images and speed lines) and startes using the Carlos Pacheco (redshift, digital blur and lightning bolt power signatures) to show speed in single images.

    DC would probably write it off to the fact that Jay no longer has any ties to the speed force, but it still using his Metagene-granted superspeed, and that his power signature is now a little changed. I blame it on a different artist. :)

  6. Bruce
    March 30, 2007 at 7:46 am — Reply

    Of course they can’t call Tom by ‘Tomcat’ that was the Wildcat analog in Marshall Law: Super Babylon. ..Was’t it?

  7. Josh
    March 30, 2007 at 11:06 am — Reply

    I was alluding to Kingdom Come Flash with his Helmet since everything else about the JSA is pointing that way.

  8. March 30, 2007 at 12:08 pm — Reply

    Bruce sez: Of course they can’t call Tom by ‘Tomcat’ that was the Wildcat analog in Marshall Law: Super Babylon. ..Was’t it?

    It was, indeed, though it might be noted that a minor miniseries 15 years ago may not be a consideration in their thinking… The main reason not to call him Tom Cat?

  9. TomGrice
    March 30, 2007 at 1:43 pm — Reply

    As someone who personally knows Matthew, let me just say that while I respect him, 3 and 1/2 fricking stars? Are you reading the same book? This is what a team book should be! This is why we all read comics! The Dream Girl tease at the end? Outstanding! The interaction between all the heroes and villains in this book have been amazing! (Can I write a sentence without a slammer? NO!!!) The JSA is where people with powers go to learn to be heroes. They are the teachers, the role models, the backbone of the DC universe and they are knocking it out of the park.

    As for Alex Ross only being retro: with a bit of help he showed us the future of the DC Universe in Kingdom Come. He is the architecht and if he wants to use a bit of what he created I say more power to him. I love Geoff Johns and automatically pick up anything with his name on it (which can be a bit awkward in all honesty) but Kingdom Come is in the butter zone baby. I want to see more and have since it finished. Alex Ross created an entire universe and I think it should be tapped often and deeply! (hmm…naw, family post!)

  10. March 30, 2007 at 2:22 pm — Reply

    First of all, I killed Josh’s joke, and thus, I suck. Sorry ’bout that.

    Second of all, I have never met this “Tom” person, and he certainly doesn’t owe me money. (Okay, maybe I met him. Tommy is one of my fellow counter monkeys, indeed, the head countermonkey at Gatekeeper Hobbies in Topeka ((COME BUY STUFF!!)) and has been referred to as “The Earth-1 Matthew.” By me, the only one who thinks it’s funny, but it still counts.)

    And third, to the question of 3.5 for JSA: I’ve been somewhat laconic and “how do I feel right now?” about my use of the 1 through 5 star system, but recently, I’ve been trying to clarify for myself what the various ratings entail… Here’s my summary.

    5 stars: A comic of pure joy. This is a complete homerun, where I never lose the thread of plot, where the art never jolts me out of enjoyment of the story. A 5 star issue will have at least one “Hell, YEAH!” moment, a clear narrative, and awesomeness from start to finish. I’ve tried REALLY hard not to give this rating unless I’m completely bowled over. The review that will go up later today got the first 5 stars in a while.

    4.5 stars: A book just like the one above, but with one or two reservations. A 4.5 star book will also have the “Hell, YEAH!” moment above, but may distract me with convolutions of plot, or art that throws me, or perhaps a continuity issue that distracts me, but not for long.

    4 stars: An excellent comic that gets it’s point across, maybe with a few of the standard questions, or a moment that doesn’t quite work for me. I tend to use this as the general threshold of “here’s a pretty damn good comic I read this week,” or a book that brings it consistently every month. A 4 star book will have at least one moment, plot point, or concept that is out of this world, either completely new, or a new take on an old thought.

    3.5 stars: An above average comic, that entertains me, but things are left unanswered at the end, or perhaps there’s a clarity problem with story or art. This is still top-of-the-reading pile material, Tommy, and many weeks 3.5 is the top score. The specific reasons why JSA #4 got 3.5 stars: Great art, good character moments, but the supervillains were annoying sketches, Vandal Savage is a good solid heavy, but right now I feel like he’s overexposed. The Wildcat Junior reveal is stunning, and beautiful, but it’s dragged down with more heavy-handed “ZOMG! Teh Kingdom Come is comign true! OH NOES!” reverance. The steel skeleton gets big ups, the Nazi villains get big downs. A 3.5 star book, like all grades above it, MUST HAVE a big mark-out “Hell, YEAH!” moment (as seen here in the form of Savage hit by firetruck AND Jesse hands Grant his mask).

    3 stars: If a book has no big mark-out moment, this is the highest score it can rank. A 3 star book is still an above average effort, but usually is held back from greatness for some reason. Maybe the dialogue rings flat, or one of the characters is written in a manner that doesn’t ring true. Perhaps a big reveal falls flat because of excessive promotion (Black Panther and Storm in FF, for one) or perhaps the storyline feels like its been done. In any case, this is a good, but not great comic book, and we see an awful lot of those.

    2.5 stars: This is what I consider to be the mean average for a comic. It’s not great, but certainly it isn’t bad. This is the solid C of my grading, a book that is competently done, but doesn’t sing out in wonderment. There may be things I absolutely hate in this book, or perhaps the art is inappropriate to the emotion of the characters, or the dialogue inappropriate to the beautiful art. Either way, a book like this can have major flaws, and still equivocate them with moments that work.

    2 stars: This is the point where the flaws overwhelm the good bits. Art that’s bad, not just inappropriate or strange in places. The characters may act completely stupid, or the plot my labor under it’s own pretensions, or worse, may be cliche and stupid. A 2 star book is the level at which you CANNOT have a “Hell, YEAH!” moment, because that would push it back up to 2.5. A book like this tries, but doesn’t succeed.

    1.5 stars: A book at this level disappoints me in some way. Perhaps I expected better, perhaps a plot twist destroys what was an enjoyable book, perhaps it just isn’t very good. This kind of book could leave you going “WTF?” or worse, “Who cares?” once you’ve finished reading.

    1 star: This book probably left you angry when it was done. A comic like this generally is the one you regret ever having bought in the first place. It’s as rare an occurrance as the 5 stars, in it’s own way, but much more disappointing. Whatever flaws there are completely overwhelm the good, if indeed there was any for you.

    .5 stars: Civil War: The Return

    Again, all opinions are mine, and thus, may be subject to argument. Just not here. :)

  11. Stephen
    March 30, 2007 at 3:02 pm — Reply

    I think Matthew summed up the Major Spoilers rating system quite well. And I would also agree with Matthew’s asessement of this issue. I read it last week, and going back over this review, I constantly wondered if I had missed something – turns out I didn’t and a 3.5 is good enough for me.

  12. March 30, 2007 at 9:19 pm — Reply

    *slams Stephen’s fist* SPOILER TWIN POWERS! ACTIVATE!

    Form of: ETERNAL ADOLESCENT!

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