Comic Book Review – JSA by Geoff Johns Book Three

JSA by Geoff Johns Book Three
Reprints JSA: All-Stars #1-8, JSA Annual #1, JSA Secret Files and Origins #2, and JSA #26-31
Written by Geoff Johns (with David Goyer)
Art by Sal Velluto, Phil Winslade, Barry Kitson, Mike McKone, Adam DeKraker, Stephen Sadowski, Dave Ross, Wade von Grawbadger, Javier Saltares, Derec Aucoin, Rags Morales, and Peter Snejbjerg

In recent years, Geoff Johns’ writing has taken on a more epic tone with his lengthy runs on Green Lantern & Justice League as well as his place as the main man when it comes to company-wide events (Infinite Crisis, Forever Evil, Rebirth, Doomsday Clock). Twenty years ago he was the man who brought us great character-centered books like Stars and STRIPE & JSA. JSA, in particular, is an excellent example of how good early Johns was. He told stories based on the histories and legacies of his cast but also built new characters from the ground up. The result was something like the best of Claremont’s X-Men run, where personalities were clear and interpersonal conflict was some of the best stuff in the books.

This third volume in the effort to collect Johns’ full tenure on the JSA is a hodgepodge of things, kicking off with an eight-issue miniseries titled JSA: All-Stars, co-written by David Goyer. The conceit of the title is that the original JSA members on the team (Jay Garrick/Flash, Alan Scott/Green Lantern, Wildcat, and Hawkman) are abducted by the Injustice Society who are working for a new villain, Legacy. The Spectre informs the remaining team members they will need to make peace with their pasts to defeat Legacy. So the next six issues are spotlight stories about Stargirl, Mr. Terrific, Hourman, Dr. Mid-Nite, Dr. Fate, and Hawkgirl. These are a mixed bag and follow the expectations you might have for one-off back-up style stories. Highlights for me were Mr. Terrific and Dr. Mid-Nite’s issues because those are characters I know the least about. They are a couple of the best characters created in the late 90s/early 00s that were tossed to wayside post-New 52.

From there we have a few bits of errata from the JSA Annual and bits from the second Secret Files issue. These serve to introduce Nemesis, a new character using an old name and tied to the legacy of the Paul Kirk Manhunter character. In the 1970s, Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson put together a revival of a Golden Age hero as a clone created by the nefarious Council. In Johns’ story, Nemesis is one of a pair of twins who were a follow-up creation by the Council. There is a tease at the end of the annual hinting at the revival of an old JSA villain, but it’s not told in this volume.

The six issues of the JSA ongoing represented here are focused mainly around the introduction of Roulette, a new villain who runs a gambling house for supervillains. Her main attraction is pitting two heroes against each in a battle to the death, and our team gets teleported to her venue. There’s a fun side story that has Stargirl & Jakeem Thunder left behind in the JSA brownstone out of danger only to have the place attacked by a Joker-ized Solomon Grundy on Halloween. The magic in these issues isn’t the plot necessarily, but the relationship-building Johns is doing. That Solomon Grundy story has some excellent characterization between Stargirl and Jakeem, exploring the ideas of being a kid in the face of such a massive legacy. There’s also a lot about proving yourself to the grown-ups, getting them to see you as capable.

Black Adam is on the verge of becoming a team member, and Atom-Smasher isn’t having any of that. There’s some great back and forth about being a murderer, something Adam doesn’t shirk at, but Atom has struggled with since he killed Extant. Captain Marvel shows up to protest Adam’s inclusion in the team, and that brings in even more excellent character contrast. I am reminded while reading these issues of what a great character Albert Rothstein (Atom-Smasher) was. He was a character that had all but been relegated to the trash heap after being a member of the 1980s Infinity Inc. Johns takes him to many interesting places and fleshes out the character fully by the end of his run. Again, another great character lost to the oblivion of New 52.

I was a little disappointed with the angle taken on Hawkgirl. They put her in a love triangle between Hawkman and Sand that doesn’t feel very organic. It’s quickly resolved by #31, and I hope it doesn’t come back again. There are exciting stories to explore with Hawkman and Hawkgirl’s long-running legacy and the fact that this incarnation of Hawkgirl has no romantic interest in her fated betrothed. Shiera Saunders has some more interesting history to explore. She is a suicide survivor and a teen mother who gave her baby up for adoption. This is touched on a little in the All-Stars mini, but I think she is such an interesting character with more depth and relevance than anything DC brought to the table in 2011 when she was wiped from existence.

My biggest take away from this volume of JSA was how much DC threw down the drain to launch a reboot full of missteps and low-quality storytelling. The Justice Society is being brought back in the wake of Johns’ Doomsday Clock and Scott Snyder’s run on Justice League. I am hoping that we don’t just get the old school heroes but all of these wonderful legacy ones too, they add layers of history to the DC Universe and are fascinating characters to have in these stories.

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