Or – “I Thought The Legion Had A Lot Of Characters…”

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I gotta tell ya, it’s good to see Ving Rhames getting work… I haven’t seen him in anything since the remake of ‘Dawn of the Dead.’ This issue of Justice Society of America is part four of the apparenly endless “Thy Kingdom Come” storyline, and I gotta tell ya: I admit to having a lower tolerance for Alex Ross than most, but I have to wonder if even his most hardcore fans are onboard for this one. Kingdom Come is a fine story, but if it suffered anywhere, it was in its’ desire to throw as many legacy characters into the plot as possible with limited character development. With no less than five new members this issue, another familiar face returning and a roster that already has 18 members, is JSA giving us too much of a good thing?

JSAC.jpgPreviously, on Justice Society of America: When Starman was forced to create a collapsar during a mission, the JSA found themselves with a new/old member: the Earth-22 version of Superman. The Once And Future Big Blue Boy Scout seems to be trapped on New Earth (Ugh.) much to the consternation of Earth-2’s Power Girl, who finds him to be a painful reminder of her own Kal-El. With the Countdown to Final Crisis in full swing, the Justice Society seems to be one of the only teams who aren’t of a cloistered bent, actively seeking out and recruiting new members. So far, they’ve accumulated a new Wildcat, (#3 in a series, collect ’em all!) Cyclone, (the grand-daughter of Ma Hunkel, the original Red Tornado) Citizen Steel, (grandson of Commander Steel, a.k.a Steel, the Indestructible Man) Damage, (the biological son of Al Pratt, the original Atom) and the aforementioned Starman (Thom Kallor, formerly of the Legion of Super-Heroes, about which more can be seen here.)

The festivities kick off with the return of one of my fave-rave JSA’ers, the Grant-Morrison-created Jakeem Thunder.  J.T. and his animated pink thunderbolt arrive at the new JSA headquarters to absolutely no fanfare whatsoever, which seems to chap young Jakeem’s hide.  “I think I liked the old brownstone better,” grouses the modern-day Aladdin to his cohort.  Thunderbolt agrees, and as they round a corner they run into…  four complete strangers.  “Who the @#&# are you?” cries Jakeem, and T-bolt amusingly repeats the same thing.  Ancient djinns cursing out loud is funny in the same way a drunken baby is, you don’t want to laugh, but you still can’t help but snicker a little.  Wildcat III, Damage, Starman and Citizen Steel are all sitting at the  ready, not for an attack, but for yet another Wildcat-in-a-boxing-ring scene.  I think they’re contractually required to have one every fifty pages in this book, actually.  Star-Thom is enthused to see them, introducing himself in his inimitable manner.  “I’m from the FUTURE!  WeeeOOOOOeeee!”  Heh. 

While Jakeem meets the new kids (same as the old kids?) Wildcat squares off with the new Judomaster, who kind of confuses me.  I assume she’s the same girl who appeared in ‘Birds of Prey’ a couple of months ago, wherein she was pretty effusive and even made ribald jokes with Huntress about Big Barda’s (R.I.P.) “Mega-Rod.”  (Sure, it’s kind of funny, but it’s no Giant-Size Man-Thing.)  Here, she’s not proficient in English, and her powers seem to operate completely differently, keeping even Wildcat’s finely-honed combat skills at bay.  This continuity problem bugs the hell out of me (TOM WELLING PRIME PUNCH!) but we quickly jump away to see the other three original JSAers (Hawkman, The Flash, and Green Lantern) discussing how their last batch of recruits aren’t rookies anymore.  (Hasn’t it been like ten minutes in DCU time?)  Either way, they seek out their new batch, starting with one awesome and honestly long-overdue addition.

“Back in the ’40’s, nearly every African-American mystery man kept to the shadows…  until Markus Clay’s grandfather, Will Everett stepped into the spotlight.”  Amazing Man is one of my very favorite DC characters, even though he was retconned in by Roy Thomas, with a cool power, a great costume, and now (finally!) a great history to match.  The JSA remembers Will Everett’s days as a pioneer of civil rights, and his rightful place in DCU history as one of the most important figures in the fight for civil rights, and then we cut to the new Amazing Man in New Orleans.  When Superman-22 and Power Girl arrive to recruit him, A-Man is happy to help, so long as THEY pitch in helping to clean up some of the debris from Hurricane Katrina.  It’s an intriguing opening…  Here’s hoping they don’t make him a pious “issue-driven” jerk-hero.

We then cut to the new Mr. America, investigating the death of the New Olympians, former associates of Batman villain Maxie Zeus and current decomposing corpses.  Seems the “god-slayer” has struck again, and he’s not, as I suspected, related to the Death of the New Gods…  More on him later, as we cut to the home of Jefferson Pierce (aka Black Lightning, another hero finally getting a bit of respect) as he discusses his daughter Thunder’s career with the Outsiders.  I’ve always been a bit troubled by Thunder’s shoe-horned existence, but now, we see Jeff with his wife (!) talking about his other daughter (!!!) and her powers, gaining an electrical charge every time she touches anything electronic.  Okay, I officially hate this.  It seemingly ignores every Black Lightning story written since 1976 for the sake of introducing another legacy hero.  It’s made all the worse by Cyclone suggesting that she call herself “Lightning” to accompany her sister’s “Thunder” code-name.  Oh, goody.  More Alex Ross-isms…  I hate that her “costume” is apparently going to be being naked and yellow with lightning-hair, and I hate the constant “ZOMG!  KINGDOM COME IS COMING TRUE!!!  HIDE THE GOOD SILVER!” 

And it only gets more annoying, as Hourman and Liberty Belle investigate the New Olympians slaying, and see “G-O-something” carved in a wall.  Oh, joy.  Frickin’ Gog.  I honestly didn’t see this plotpoint coming, even with the solicits, because, frankly, Gog is a sucking void of a non-character.  He’s like Cable without the depth that Rob Liefeld provides…  Does anybody smell sarcasm?  In any case, we mercifully cut away to the last recruit, Lance Corporal David Reid, (as Stephen points out, a dead ringer for Buster Crabbe, the original ‘Flash Gordon’ on the cover) as the founders arrive to personally induct him into the Justice Society.  He has some sort of mystical artifact of power on his arm, and an eye-in-a-pyramid tattooed on his arm that J.R. “Bob” Dobbs would love.  When Corporal Reid asks why he’s important enough for them to get involved, Green Lantern explains that it’s because of his great-grandfather, and who he was.  “My great-grandfather?  My great-grandfather was Franklin D. Roosevelt.”

Uh…

‘Kay.  That’s either brilliant, or rock-f’ing stupid enough to masquerade itself as brilliant.  Alan, Jay and Carter tell him that FDR founded their team, and that he is, thus, their most important legacy.  His design is pretty spiffy, though, even if his powers and fatigues remind me of the ever-gawdawful Gauntlet over in Avengers: Initiative.  Meanwhile, back at the brownstone, Wildcat’s inability to hit Judomaster is interrupted by the entrance of a bloody Mr. America (new whipping boy for the entire DCU, apparently) asking if anyone has ever heard of Gog, as we fade to black…

Overall, it’s not a bad issue, but it’s not as awesome as I expect from JSA.  This is a title for which “merely interesting” is a step way down in quality, and this is one of the issues where it really shows.  On the plus side, Lance Corporal Reid is intriguing, the return of Amazing Man is well-done, and seems very cool, and more Mr. America won’t upset me.  On the other hand, as much as I like seeing a new Judomaster, (And what’s with all the Charlton heroes dying? And have you noticed how many of them are being replaced with girls?) I’m concerned about the inconsistencies in her character, and I’m frankly “Meh” on every single aspect of Jennifer Pierce, ‘Lightning.’  Away from the distractingly flashy art of their creator, characters like Cyclone, Lightning, and Gog lose a lot of their lustre, showing the seams of their Frankenstein-like cobbling from other, existing heroes.  Still, the art by Dale Eaglesham is excellent, as ever, covering up a multitude of sins, even as the story sags a bit in the middle.  There’s a lot of interesting things floating in the stew here, but the basic blandness of the broth makes for a somewhat ‘blah’ total package.  Justice Society of America #12 ranks a disappointing 2 stars out of 5.  Still, if you can trust Previews, there may be a panacea for the lack of action coming up quick in the rear-view mirror.  I make a point of trying to explain the excellence of Johns & Eaglesham’s JSA to customers at the store, and issues like this make it very difficult to support my point.

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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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15 Comments

  1. February 15, 2008 at 2:01 pm — Reply

    Right next to Ving? None other than Buster Crabb… as much as you hate Alex Ross, you gotta admit he does put real life people (living and dead) into interesting roles.

  2. davek
    February 15, 2008 at 3:25 pm — Reply

    I like the new Amazing Man outfit, for no other reason than I think superheroes need more hats.

  3. February 15, 2008 at 3:30 pm — Reply

    Ving’s worked recently. Wasn’t he the big, scary (and gay) fireman in “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” … ?

  4. February 15, 2008 at 3:32 pm — Reply

    I so miss enjoying the JSA comic. It was my favorite book.

    JSA, not The Justice Society Of America. JSA Classified is as close as I can get to that old enjoyment right now. The Justice Society Of America just seems to be trying to hard to set something up, to make some odd story point. Sadly, I don’t know what that point is, and I’m not sure I care anymore.

  5. Mark I.
    February 15, 2008 at 6:54 pm — Reply

    Ving’s also playing Mother’s Milk over in “The Boys,” no?

  6. February 15, 2008 at 7:10 pm — Reply

    Jacin B is right.

    Also, why is Mr. America whipping the Black half of the issue cover???

  7. Randallw
    February 15, 2008 at 9:26 pm — Reply

    I too looked at FDR’s grandson (lance?) and immediately thought

    “oh a soldier who checked out an alien crashsite and had to stick his hand in an alien weapon” Then I checked for his name, lance/gauntlet. Hmm.

    anyway something else I just noticed. You called him A-man. For a second I thought you were mentioning Absorbing man, but no it’s Amazing man. You say he’s a retcon, well gee which came first Amazing man or Absorbing man.

  8. February 16, 2008 at 12:41 am — Reply

    Absorbing Man came first in real time…

  9. February 16, 2008 at 1:57 am — Reply

    “Also, why is Mr. America whipping the Black half of the issue cover???”

    Blame Alex Ross!!!

  10. Sanlear
    February 16, 2008 at 8:37 am — Reply

    “I gotta tell ya, it’s good to see Ving Rhames getting work… I haven’t seen him in anything since the remake of ‘Dawn of the Dead.’”

    You missed out on his version of “Kojak” I see. :)

  11. Baal
    February 16, 2008 at 9:19 am — Reply

    Has Alex Ross been involved with anything for years that actually creates new things? Here he’s feasting on the bloated corpse of Kingdom Come, he’s defiling the public domain elsewhere, and he’s doing something with the Invaders traveling through time for Marvel. Is the man capable of original thought anymore?

  12. February 16, 2008 at 9:58 am — Reply

    “You missed out on his version of “Kojak” I see. :)”

    The key words were “*I* haven’t seen him in anything…” :) It should be noted that I wouldn’t watch an Adam Sandler gay panic movie if you paid me by the minute. As for Kojak, I completely forgot that ever happened…

    “Has Alex Ross been involved with anything for years that actually creates new things?”

    Well, in Alex’ defense (Yeah, I know, it scares me, too) he’s become enough of a superstar that he can really pick and choose what interests him, drawing/writing what he wants. Every creator has habits and formulas that permeate his writing, and I understand that. I’ve just gotten tired of Ross being trumpeted as the future of comics. Certainly he’s a talented artist, but the finished work is just so… static. My co-worker Dusty likes to point out that his work is superior because he draws what superheroes would REALLY look like. I can see that argument, but, honestly, is that what we read comics for? If you want to know what real-world superhumans would look like, there’s always Monday Night Raw.

    In point of fact, Alex Ross is what the aforementioned Raw would call a ‘novelty act.’ His art is different than anything else on the stands, and will stand out in a crowd, drawing your eye to his comics and covers. The same could have been said in the past of people like the late Alex Toth, the uber-talent Gil Kane, and even Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko in their later years, some pretty good company indeed. But his art sells mostly because it’s unique, and his writing only sells because his art does.

    I like to play a game called “What’s your creator’s favorite childhood comic?” In my case, it should be obvious, as in Stephen’s (though I’d like to hear guesses. :) ) In Alex Ross’ case, I suspect he was strongly moved by “Secret Wars,” as most all of his writing over the past decade has been about huge groups of characters, each one smartly designed to make them identifiable trademarks, all swirling about in a huge earth-shattering plot with little regard for anything other than the ‘Hey!’ factor. “Hey, it’s the 3-D Man! Hey, that’s the Gargoyle! Hey, Nighthawk has no eyes!” And all the stories end with what Eddie Izzard calls ‘that certain “Oh…” kind of feeling,’ trailing off into incoherence and leaving our trademarks… er, characters, ready for marketing to the public as action figures and posters.

  13. February 16, 2008 at 12:02 pm — Reply

    Randallw…
    The retro-con of Amazing Man is from the old Bill Everett (creator of Sub-Mariner) character Amazing-Man, who was published by Centaur back in the late thirties, early forties.

    Roy Thomas did not make a straight retro-con (the Will Everett/Amazing Man first appeared in All-Star Squadron #23, 1983), as we understand it today, but more a homage to the original character and his creator.

    A-Man was simply a quick way of getting Amazing Man’s name out, kinda like “Cap”.

    The original Amazing-Man was known as John Aman, a name that should be familiar to readers of The Immortal Iron Fist.

  14. Josh
    February 16, 2008 at 1:05 pm — Reply

    Why do they let Alex Ross co-plot Justice Society? JSA was such a better book. Let him paint the pretty covers and design a character or two. Stop letting him contribute to the actual writing.

    I miss JSA.

  15. February 16, 2008 at 11:31 pm — Reply

    Justice Society of America gives me a headache. As someone who is barely involved in DCU, this title was my primer as I eased myself into the ‘other’ side. This title has been stagnant the last couple of issues with just new team members being added. Members that I could care less, and wait now it’s been hijacked by Gog … lame.

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