Or – “We Got Us A New Writer, So Don’t Get Too Attached To Anybody…”
We’re celebrating Thanksgiving here in the States, leading me to eat an inordinate amount of pie and some sort of green bean slorg as a way of recognizing that which is most precious for me. Before my tryptophan coma overcomes me, though, we’ve got a few minutes to talk about what’s going on with Jay Garrick and the rest of the premier comic book superteam. Last issue’s hours-long slugfest has left the JSA with many questions, but the really honest one that comes to mind is, why is it such an unavoidable rule of comic books that we have to have a big dumb slugfest to make things all serious-like? There should be scholarly works trying to figure out what it is that makes stories which have what I call the “Doomsday Effect”, the moment where you have to believe that the superheroes who are so very clever and resourceful always fall back on swift-and-blinding-violence when things get heavy, so compelling for writers…
Previously, on Justice Society of America: The Justice Society of America has been through a lot in recent years, including a fragmenting of the team due to differences in operating styles due to too much Alex Ross in their ranks, but even that hasn’t held the worlds first and finest super-team down. Last issue, the JSA was called to the city of Monument Point to handle what seemed to be a standard punch-em-up, but turned into a metahuman terrorist attack, a massive battle, and more collateral damage than most comic books are ever willing to discuss. Having captured the super-madman responsible, the Justice Society wants nothing more than to return to their normal lives (if you can call spending 70 years in a red jerkin and a hubcap helmet normal) but there are still a few potholes in the way of that desire. The Flash, Mr. Terrific, Doctor Mid-Nite, Green Lantern, Wildcat and Thunder (I don’t know if I remember the other team members… Is Doctor Fate still active?) have a tough row to hoe, if all the foreshadowing is to be believed.
We open with Superman arriving at the scene of the carnage, surveying things with what seems like a disapproving look. I fear for a moment we’re going to get the “What the hell, hero?” speech, but he quickly starts bantering with Thunder (“I thought you were, y’know, WALKING or something…” Heh.) and things go a different route entirely, as the Big Red S apologizes for not showing up to help. As they talk, the villain of the piece (a sweetheart named “Scythe”) is being held in a bank vault pending his removal to a detention facility, and Wildcat takes a moment to antagonize him. Because he’s Wildcat, that’s why. It works pretty well, honestly. Not so workable for me is the almost palpable sense of “THIS MEANS SOMETHING!” that hangs over our proceedings like Roy’s potato simulacrum of Devil’s Tower, and drags the whole issue down with it. Scott Kolins is made for this book, and his character work pulls the quiet moments out, but writer Guggenheim isn’t doing the JSA any favors with the melodrama.
At the same time as the main story, we see a flashback tale of The Flash and Green Lantern on active duty in Libya during Dubya Dubya Two, sent into shake up a secret Nazi laboratory and find something called “Project Drachen.” Seeing a young Jay and Alan is kind of neat, and I like their admission that they kind of dig busting up Nazi enclaves, but we’re then transitioned directly to the sight of Green Lantern in a hospital bed, paralyzed due to injuries suffered in last issue’s battle. Had we not seen Green Lantern killed on panel just a few months ago (the timestream got better), I might find this to be a staggeringly momentous event. The biggest and most powerful of the Golden Age heroes (at least since Clark got retconned forward) reduced to a scared octogenarian who can’t feel his fingers… The moment is shocking, sure, but it loses some of it’s power thanks to poor timing. The people of Monument Point arrive and we get our “What the hell, hero?” speech, and then a local politician is revealed to be the very man who chaired the House Unamerican Activities Commission back in ’51, who forced the JSA to retire under a Communist fog. The Senator explains to Jay what I figured out as soon as we started time-shifting: This is all related to Project Drachen! (Dum dum daaah!) See, Jay and Alan discovered that Drachen wasn’t a weapon, but a baby! When they wouldn’t kill the child, they set this all in motion and blah blah blah fishcakes… Jay decides to stay and rebuild the city as we fade to black.
Wow. Just… wow. The JSA series has been a bit questionable for a while now, what with long-form Nazi time-travel epics and some issues with consistency as to membership and characterization and such, but this issue really sets the stage for what is to come. Sadly (for me, at least) what is to come seems to be a lot of dreary melodrama and strung-together cliches as we once again deal with “the real human price of superhero activity.” Scott Kolins makes it a palatable read from a visual perspective, with strong heroes, a nasty villain, and a particularly Mr.-Burns-from-the-Simpsons take on Senator Eagin, he of the HUAC nastiness. If this goes someplace new and unheard of, I’ll be thrilled, but right now it’s just kind of dreary overall. Sure, it’s something we haven’t seen before, but I’m not sure that this is really the venue for paralysis, terrorism and the horrors of metahuman war and such. All in all, I’m not so much off-put or bothered as I am just disappointed in how familiar all these pieces seem, and I’m hoping that it gives our old heroes a shiny new coat of paint for their ninth decade. Of course, I was hopeful that Zero Hour would do the JSA justice, too. Look where that got me. Justice Society of America #45 is a new direction built of the ghosts of comic melodrama past, earning a disappointed 1.5 out of 5 stars overall. The sight of The Flash and Green Lantern fighting over whether or not to murder an infant could be challenging or it could be just kind of unpleasant, and we fell on the wrong side of the bell curve here…
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Has anyone ever solved anything with a big ol’ fistfight?