Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why it's Good the JSA is Gone

The Justice Society of America is one of my most favorite series in comics. I thought for a long time that if I ever needed to drop all my other comics - the JSA would be the one title I'd still keep getting. Through Geoff Johns' tenure on the title, I just feel in love with the series and characters. I eagerly went back and read all I could about the history of the JSA. I love older pop-culture, as I always feel like I'm learning something about the people of the time, based on what they used for entertainment. I got books collecting the issues of All-Star Comics, where the JSA first appeared. The Justice Society of America was essentially the JLA of the 1940s. The grouping of heroes like The Flash (Jay Garrick), Green Lantern (Alan Scott), Hawkman, Doctor Fate, Hourman and others seemed like a whole never level for comics - the idea of a shared universe between all of these dispart characters.

I even loved lesser known characters like Johnny Thunder, who along with his magic genie Thunderbolt where on the team more for laughs than anything else.

The JSA eventually gave way to the more modern title of Justice League of America, which revived the concept in the 1960s by teaming the likes of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and others together. The JSA where gone, but not forgotten - as the older version of the Flash from a parallel Earth meet his successor. This lead to a revival of the JSA, active again on Earth-2. There began an annual tradition in the JLA comic for the JLA and the JSA to team-up.

The JSA continued to grow in the background of the DCU, with titles like JSA All-Stars, Infinity Inc, and other titles. It wasn't until during the late 90s that, during Grant Morrison's legendary run on the JLA, that a team-up between the JLA and the JSA saw the reformation of the team -- the older generation now tasked with mentoring a new generation of heroes. James Robinson launched the series to incredible success. The JSA suddenly where no longer hanger-on characters in DCU books -- they where becoming an intrinsic part of the DC Comics landscape. Geoff Johns came onboard and began writing alongside Robinson. Eventually Johns took over the title himself.

The JSA exploded with even more legacy-characters when Alex Ross came in to help with ideas of a quasi-sequel to the legendary Kingdom Come mini-series.

Eventually Geoff Johns left the title - which sadly began a decline for the series. It had happened before, when Johns left the JSA in the hands of Paul Levitz - which resulted in an unpopular arch featuring the Gentleman Ghost, and saw the series end and put on hiatus. The JSA came roaring back with a new #1, with Alex Ross onboard -- but after 26 issues Johns again left the series.

There where some valiant efforts by the likes of Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges as new writers, but the decline in quality was readily apparent. It only got worse when Willingham and Sturges split the team up between the older group, and the younger JSA All-Stars team. Sturges and Freddie Williams II started off strong enough for a new series, with exciting new energy -- but it quickly became clear that both the writing and art where wildly inconsistent. Later issues became some of the worst JSA Comics I've ever read. (I'm talking about the New Gods story arch) It was just horrible. Willingham, on the regular title, at least was telling a coherent story about an alternate world Nazi-controlled America, but it was still underwhelming and depressing. He eventually left the title, and Marc Guggenheim and Scott Kolins took over.

Like before - Guggenheim and Kolin's new arch showed lots of promise, but quickly became too sprawling for Guggenheim to handle. He did begin an interesting plot, where a battle between the JSA and a villain nearly destroy the city of Monument Point. The JSA decide to help rebuild the city, essentially adopting it. Jay Garrick is unwittingly made Mayor, and Alan Scott faces a great personal tragedy when he's paralyzed during the battle - but makes a stop-gap measure by creating a suit of armor to protect his paralyzed body. Again, it was all good -- but the focus and quality of the series still waned.

DC is now rebooting the DC Universe, and the JSA concept has been retired for right now. I believe two issues of Guggenheim's JSA run remain - so I hope me manages to wrap up the series well enough.

The reason I think this is a good move by DC isn't just because of my disappointment with the stories since Johns departure. Another good writer would eventually have come along and brought back the magic of the series. Yet I think it's the connection to the JSA, which is built upon World War II heroes, that has been holding DC back. The mental tether of connecting modern heroes to WWII era heroes was a lot easier to do in the 1960, or 70s. There was ultimately only a 20 to 30 year gap, which just meant the characters where older. As more and more time progressed, elements like magic, limbo, and reincarnation kept the characters alive in the modern day. There is now a 66 year gap between the end of World War II, and 2011. As a fan of the JSA, I could still manage to stretch that mental tether - even if a lot of the legacies not based on magic no longer make sense. (Unless the original Black Canary gave birth when she was in her 70s or 80s, it just doesn't become plausible that her daughter, the modern-day Black Canary, would be around now in her 30s.)

So I'm strangely OK with the JSA ending for the time being. I still think, down the line, DC Comics can bring the JSA back again - but a new dynamic would have to be established; if the WWII connection had to still exist, either time-travel, or parallel dimensions would have to be involved. I think it could work -- a few choice characters like The Flash, Green Lantern, and Wildcat could be interjected into the modern day -- and the rest of the team could be filled with heroes taking up the mantle of grandfathers, or great-grandfathers. Or, on a more simple route we could have the JSA reintroduced in the pages of Justice League (which Johns is writing), and re-introduce them the same way that was done in the 1960s, with an alternate dimension! Yes, yes - the DCU Multiverse got way too confusing because of multiple dimensions; but writers and creators these days have been a lot smarter by not abusing multiple dimensions too much in stories.

For now I'm willing to wave goodbye to my favorite group of Superheroes. We'll probably see them again, in one form or another -- but I really do believe their absence will prove to be good for the DCU in the long run.

1 comment:

  1. I have a review of the whole series here:

    I agree with you, a lot of uneven writing and art, and maybe a non-World War II reboot is a good idea