JSA by Geoff Johns Volume 1 (2017)
Written by Geoff Johns, David Goyer, & James Robinson
Art by Stephen Sadowski et al.
Reprints JSA Secret Files #1 and JSA #1-15.
Three generations of DC’s superheroes are thrust together when the dark sorcerer Mordru sets out to kill the next Doctor Fate. Old vets like Alan Scott (the original Green Lantern) and Jay Garrick (the original Flash) join with Black Canary, Starman, Hourman, and others to usher in the newest incarnation of their old friend. From there they face a myriad of evil forces: Black Adam, the terrorist cult Kobra, and the reality manipulator Extant. Along the way, their bonds not just as a team, but as a family strengthen and they become one of the great highlights of DC Comics in the 2000s.
I love Geoff Johns’ work on JSA. So this will be a very biased review. I remember seeing the first issue on the rack at the comic book store across the street from my dorm in my freshman year. It was my first week at school in fact. Years later, I would work my way through Johns’ entire run via back issues and fall completely in love. Johns is a historian of DC and managed to incorporate so many different elements from various eras in such a flawless way. Is the JSA groundbreaking comics? No. But it is a classic and fun team book, and presented with the right balance of serious drama and light-hearted fun that DC’s movie wing should take note.
I covered the mini-series that featured the return of the JSA in the modern age previously. It was about seven years later when this ongoing kicked off, and it finds the elder members of the team dwindling in numbers. During 1994’s Zero Hour crossover, editorial used it as a chance to wipe many members out. However, out of that same event came James Robinson’s Starman series. Starman took a relatively B-tier old school DC character and handed his reluctant son the mantle in what proved to be what was arguably the best superhero book the company put out in the 90s. Starman served as the jumping off point for the JSA’s return, and in fact, while this collection has Johns’ name in the title, the first five issues are co-written by James Robinson & David Goyer. Johns would come onboard with issue 6.
Robinson and Goyer (yes the same David Goyer who co-wrote Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy) kick off the series with a five-part story that follows up a mini-series Robinson penned a few months prior that took place in the 1940s. A group of superheroes and masked men gather at “Valhalla” a cemetery that has become the home for many heroes who have passed on. They are there for the funeral of Wesley Dodds aka Sandman, one of the oldest characters who, before he died, sent a message to many of his former pals warning of coming evil. That evil is Mordru who crashes the funeral and reveals he’s after the heir to the helm of Fate. A team quickly forms, and in classic DC style, we jump around to the three different sub-groups as they track down leads on newborns who might be Fate.
Robinson starts, and Johns continues the trend, of using these story arcs to incorporate parts of DC’s history that have fallen by the wayside. They imbue them with freshness and a sense of importance, so we wonder why we haven’t seen these characters in so long. In these early issues, the defunct team of second generation heroes Infinity Inc is mined for a multitude of storylines. On the actual JSA team, we have Albert Rothstein aka Atom-Smasher, and some arcs bring back Hawkman’s son Hector Hall and Alan Scott’s twins Jade & Obsidian. Infinity Inc was an attempt to bring a New Teen Titans analog to the JSA in the 1980s but was abandoned when issues over continuity became questioned post-Crisis on Infinite Earths. Robinson and Johns essentially decide to ignore these tiny annoyances in favor of telling good stories.
JSA is not the most accessible book to just jump into without some background knowledge, but I would argue that if you love the feel of being in the midst of a world with deep backstory and history, this is wonderful. Along the way, Johns gives just enough exposition to fill in the unfamiliar reader, so you don’t feel lost. By the end of this collection, you’re bound to have favorite characters. My personal choices would be Star-Spangled Kid, Atom-Smasher, and Hourman. There are a ton of roster shakeups by the end, and that would become a trend of this series. There is always a core team, but with lots of interesting peripheral characters showing up for an arc or two. If you are a fan of this series and want to re-read it, then it’s a no-brainer that this volume and the upcoming second are must-haves. If you want to explore a forgotten corner of the DC universe, then JSA is a beautiful place to start.