JSA by Geoff Johns Book One

By Geoff Johns, James Robinson, David S. Goyer, Scott Benefiel, Stephen Sadowski, Derec Aucoin, Marcos Martin, Michael Bair, Buzz & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7490-0 (TPB)

After the actual invention of the comicbook superhero – for which read the launch of Superman in 1938 – the most significant event in the genre, and indeed industry’s progress was the combination of individual sales-points into a group. Thus, what seems blindingly obvious to us with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was proven – a number of popular characters could multiply readership by combining forces and readerships. Plus of course, a whole bunch of superheroes is a lot cooler than just one – or even one and a sidekick.

The Justice Society of America was created in the third issue of All-Star Comics (Winter 1940/1941), an anthology title featuring established characters from various All-American Comics publications, by the simple expedient of having the heroes gather around a table and tell each other their latest adventure. From this low-key collaboration, it wasn’t long before the guys – and they were all guys (except Red Tornado who only pretended to be one) until Wonder Woman premiered in the eighth issue – regularly joined forces to defeat the greatest villains and social ills of their generation.

Within months the concept had spread far and wide…

And so, the Justice Society of America is rightly revered as a true landmark in the development of comic books, and, when Julius Schwartz revived the superhero genre in the late 1950s, a key moment would come with the inevitable teaming of the reconfigured mystery men into a Justice League of America.

From there it wasn’t long until the original and genuine returned. Since then there were many attempts to formally revive the team’s fortunes but it wasn’t until 1999, on the back of both the highly successful revamping of the JLA by Grant Morrison and Howard Porter and the seminal but critically favoured new Starman by Golden Age devotee James Robinson, that the multi-generational team found a concept and fan-base big enough to support them.

It didn’t hurt that the writers – all with strong Hollywood connections – were both beloved of the original concept, but also knew what mass-market action audiences liked…

Officially concentrating on the efforts of current fan-fave Geoff Johns, this initial volume (available in trade paperback and digital formats) re-presents JSA #1-5, from August 1999 to October 2000, and also includes the conceptual works of his collaborators David S. Goyer & James Robinson which all germinated in a prequel tale from JSA: Secret Files #1.

The majestic drama opens sans fanfare with Robinson & Goyer’s ‘Gathering Storms’ – illustrated by Scott Benefiel & Mark Propst – from JSA: Secret Files: detailing with great style and remarkable facility (considering the incredibly convoluted continuity of the feature) how the last active survivors of the original team reconvened after losing most of their membership to old age, infirmity or enemy action. Veteran champions Wildcat, Flash and Green Lantern/Sentinel unite with youthful inheritors of the old team’s legacy to continue the tradition, train the next generation of heroes and battle one of the oldest evils in the universe…

It all begins with the death of the Sandman, octogenarian Wesley Dodds, who beats the odds one last time to thwart an unstoppable ancient foe and warn with his dying breath those surviving comrades of the immense peril to come…

The story resumes in the premiere JSA issue with ‘Justice Be Done’ by Robinson, Goyer, Stephen Sadowski & Michael Bair. At Dodds’ funeral, a horde of death-demons attack the mourners after the hero known as Fate is murdered, and the assembled mourners – legacy heroes Sand, Stargirl, Hourman, Atom Smasher, Starman and Obsidian, plus Black Canary, Wonder Woman (in actuality, her mother Hippolyta who was an active Nazi crusher during WWII) and the aforementioned trio are sent on a tripartite mission to rescue three babies; one of which is the new incarnation of the magical hero Doctor Fate.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to all, a wild card has been introduced with the unexpected return of another departed comrade in the guise of a new and deeply troubled Hawkgirl

Although deeply fixed in the vast backstory of the DC universe, the story is quite accessible for newcomers and continues in ‘The Wheel of Life’, as mystery hero Scarab offers his assistance as arcane forces hunt the imperilled newborns.

The heroes are all at odds with each other as the mystery villain behind everything comes out of the shadows, precipitating a chase across myriad times and dimensions and an offer of assistance from two long dead heroic ‘Old Souls’

The resultant chaotic ultimate showdown in ‘Ouroboros’ then re-forges the multi-generational team into a force ready and willing to tackle anything. This is a fabulously engaging superhero-rebirth saga: wonderfully compelling with a frenetic pace that keeps the reader barrelling along. The struggle against the sinister big bad villain is pitched perfectly, with plenty of clues for old-timers and enough character illustration to educate and satisfy those who have never heard of “the Dark Lord…”

With the revival and reintroduction of new iterations of Hawkgirl and Doctor Fate achieved, the saga looks inward with ‘Grounded’ (illustrated by Derec Aucoin & Bair) focusing on the history and new powers of the latest Sandman whilst introducing a new Mister Terrific to the team, and casting plenty of foreshadowing of horrors yet to come…

Geoff Johns’ tenure begins as co-writer with Goyer and the official public relaunch of the JSA in ‘Justice. Like Lightning…’ (illustrated by Marcos Martin & Keith Champagne). As old guard Flash, Sentinel and Wildcat assume the role of mentors for both current and future champions, the ceremony is disrupted when they are attacked by a demented super-human named Black Adam (a magically empowered superman, usually harassing the agents of do-gooding wizard Shazam!).

The bombastic battle serves to introduce more very far-reaching plot threads as the new incarnations of Doctor Fate, Hourman and Hawkgirl thereafter journey to ancient Egypt to solve the mystery of the Black Marvel’s madness, before the second major story-arc of the series begins.

In ‘Darkness Falls’ (Sadowski & Bair), Sentinel’s troubled son Obsidian – haunted by his own powers – seemingly goes mad and attempts to drag the world into a supernatural realm of dark despondence. Naturally, there’s more to the mess that might first appear, and when a new Doctor Mid-Nite appears, it’s not long before the ebon tide begins to turn in a war for ‘Shadowland’

The epic concludes in a savage battle for the ‘Black Planet’ after which Wildcat takes centre-stage for a magnificent solo duel against the entire Injustice Society in ‘Wild Hunt’ – the best Die Hard tribute ever seen in comics…

Beginning with ‘Split’ (illustrated by Bair & Buzz), the next extended saga pits the team simultaneously against serpentine super-terrorist Kobra and time-bending villain Extant (who killed many of the original JSA team in crossover crisis event Zero Hour). forcing the still largely untested new squad to divide its forces between a world in peril and a continuum in meltdown.

‘The Blood-Dimmed Tide’ (Goyer, Johns & Buzz) concentrates on the anti-Kobra contingent but their swift victory is spoiled when the sole survivor of the other team appears, repeatedly bringing them into battle against Extant in ‘Time’s Assassin’ and ‘Chaos Theory’ before a spectacular conclusion is won in ‘Crime and Punishment’, wherein reality is stretched beyond its limits, the gates of the afterlife are propped open and more than a few dead heroes return…

Complex and enthralling, these super shenanigans are the very best of their type: filled with wicked villains and shining, triumphant heroes, cosmic disaster and human tragedies, and always leavened by optimism and humour.

As such they’re simply not for every graphic novel reader, but if you can put yourself into the head and heart of a thrill-starved 10-year old and handle the burden of seven decades of history, these tales will supercharge your imagination and restore your faith in justice…
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