JSA by Geoff Johns Part 7
Reviewing JSA #73-87
Written by Geoff Johns, Keith Champagne, and Paul Levitz
Illustrated by Don Kramer, David Lopez, Jim Fern, Dale Eaglesham, Rags Morales, Luke Ross, and Jerry Ordway
The issues in this final batch are only partially written by Geoff Johns. Keith Champagne (normally an inker) and Paul Levtiz (an icon at DC by this point) cover a couple long arcs while Johns was writing Infinite Crisis (and Green Lantern and Teen Titans and the weekly 52 series and something else I’m probably forgetting). This also isn’t Johns’ final say on the Justice Society. He’d write the first twenty-eight issues of Justice Society of America, the follow-up ongoing to this one. Johns currently writes two JSA-related mini-series: Justice Society of America and Stargirl & The Lost Children. Because these are in a period of somewhat confused continuity right now, I don’t get the feeling he’s folding in everything that happened way back here in JSA.
The last major story arc Johns would write in JSA would be the three-part Black Vengeance. The story ties into Day of Vengeance, one of four mini-series serving to set up Infinite Crisis. In this story, Jean Loring, the ex-wife of the Silver Age Atom and the villain behind Identity Crisis, has been imbued with the corruptive power of Eclipso. She uses this to seize control of The Spectre who, without a human host, is raging out of control & exacting vengeance on anyone who crosses his path. The JSA took in Atom-Smasher, aka Albert Rothstein after he chose to leave Black Adam’s regime in Khandaq. However, Rothstein participated in multiple counts of murder, and some JSA-ers are not eager to bring him back into the fold.
A lot of subplots are happening here too. Billy Batson calls upon the power of Shazam when The Wizard beckons him to the Rock of Eternity for dire news. The Crimson Avenger is attacked by Spectre and Eclipso when she goes to take out a murderer. Stargirl is torn over the upcoming vote regarding Atom-Smasher’s status with the team. Black Adam shows up that night and convinces Atom-Smasher to return to Khandaq with him because something terrible is about to happen. That comes in the form of a titanic Spectre devastating the city in a hunt for the guilty, Adam and Atom.
The Spectre’s actions have wholly warped the nature of magic, causing Black Adam to temporarily lose the ability to say Shazam and regain his power. Jakeem Thunder and his Thunderbolt are pulled into the ballpoint pen that serves as the house for this magical genie. It’s a very action-packed and quick three issues. However, the highlight is the final part, issue 75, which focuses heavily on Atom-Smasher. Eclipso has animated the statues of the fallen members of Black Reign, the team Adam assembled to take back Khandaq.
Atom-Smasher must confront how many of his allies fell and how he could have saved them. Eventually, Atom uses his mass-increasing powers to grow to the same heights as Spectre in a kaiju-like battle that can never be settled with fists. Atom offers up his soul, acknowledging his crimes. Per Degaton, the time-traveling Nazi even shows up to gloat as this hero falls. It’s also an incredible moment for Black Adam, who realizes he’s the reason this young guy has fucked up his life and burnt his bridges with the people who were his family for so many years. It’s just a story oozing with so many great hero moments.
Johns hangs on for two more tie-ins. Issue 76 connects with The OMAC Project, a mini-series focusing on Max Lord’s covert plan to use a nano-virus to convert whomever he pleases into his mindless OMACs (Observational Metahuman Activity Constructs). I didn’t really find this issue to stand out, though I did love a small scene with Power Girl. She meets up with some of her fellow Justice League International teammates (Metamorpho and Fire) to mourn the murder of Blue Beetle at Lord’s hands in the mini-series. There are, of course, a handful of scenes setting up the conclusion to this run as well.
Issue 77 ties into Day of Vengeance again, with Air Wave showing up. Air Wave is one of those characters that was always confusing post-Crisis. His real last name was Jordan, so when Crisis merged Earths 1 and 2, they made him a cousin of Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern. I think. Then we have this Air Wave, the son of the original, I guess. The writers of Green Lantern never seemed to consider any of this worth exploring, so they never did. Well, Air Wave shows up as his powers are going haywire; he’s sensing that something is coming for the Earth. In an unexpected turn, New Cronus from The Return of Donna Troy mini-series and Troy herself pops up. She’s headed to the center of the universe, where The Rann-Thanagar War is taking place (another mini-series that was setting up Infinite Crisis). This issue wasn’t even friendly for people who regularly read JSA; you had to be caught up on a half-dozen other stories in other books to understand what was happening here.
Issues 78 thru 80 compose the storyline “Lost & Found,” which sends the JSA to the former site of the Tower of Fate in Salem, Massachusetts. Hourman is convinced this place holds the key to rescuing Jakeem Thunder from wherever he was pulled. They find the Helm of Nabu but no Hector or Lyta Hall, so Sand dons the helmet. Meanwhile, Mordru has found a way to break from his prison in the Rock of Eternity, which has fissures cracking it up from the Spectre’s attack. Mordru escapes and knocks out half the JSA while the other half journeys into the 5th Dimension, where the Thunderbolt came from.
My favorite moment from this is in issue 80, where Hector & Lyta have been fighting their way across a snowy mountain, sent there by Mordru. Hector is dying, Lyta is struggling to carry him, and she calls for help. Lyta begins to remember a moment from another comic where she saw her and Hector’s son, who they thought died as an infant, becoming something grander. She calls for help from this entity. That comes in the form of a golden door that opens, and standing in the light that blazes out of it is a shaggy figure silhouetted. DC fans knew exactly who she was talking about and who that figure was: Dream of the Endless. In Neil Gaiman’s run, he concluded it by having Morpheus pass and Daniel Hall’s soul taking up the mantle. The comic shows us Hector and Lyta’s dead, frozen bodies at the end, but we know they are in the realm of Dreams with their son for eternity now.
Johns returns for one last story before working on the new title. In issue 81, “My Heroes,” we get a tale from the perspective of Courtney Whitmore, aka Stargirl. She reflects on how she came to be a hero, her relationship with her stepdad, and her crime-fighting partner Pat Dugan/STRIPE. It becomes clear in retrospect that Johns is attempting to put some pieces for the Justice Society of America series that was to come. Jesse Chambers seeks out Rick Tyler/Hourman for comfort as her mother, Liberty Belle, finds her powers raging out of control. The focus is very much on family so in the third act, when The Shade shows up from Opal City with sad news for Courtney, it hits much harder. She comes to see Pat not just as the guy who married her mom but as her dad who cares about her.
The rest of the issues are a decompressed story about the JSA post-Infinite Crisis dealing with the return of Jim Craddock, the Gentleman Ghost. The story arc teases appearances by the Golden Age Batman and some others discarded when the original Crisis happened. But mostly, this is a detailed origin for Craddock, going back to his childhood and showing how he became the spectral villain he is today. The JSA brownstone is demolished, and the team sets about to rebuild. The reader is teased about the relaunch coming that fall.
I really enjoyed rereading these issues, specifically the Johns-written ones. Of all his work, JSA was where he shined the most. I was so happy to see him returning to the characters in the current mini-series. However, Johns has changed quite a bit as a writer, becoming slightly infamous for delays on his books. Those delays caused a title like Shazam to sputter to a rushed finish, a sign of the writer admitting defeat that he just couldn’t keep up. He recently shared the writing credits on Flashpoint Beyond with two other talented writers.
Johns’ focus on DC’s film & television production arm was ultimately bad for his comic writing. He may have gotten out of certain habits & structures and hasn’t been able to reclaim them. I was also extremely disappointed when I read about Johns’ exchanges with Ray Fisher, who played Cyborg in the Justice League film. Fisher had input for his character, a Black man, and was told to accept the script, written by white men, and stop complaining. For someone who has written some of my favorite modern DC stories, it makes me extremely ashamed of the writer. The defense provided by Johns’ representation was not sufficient, and he should do far better. His stories portray a world and characters that would be ashamed of Johns’ behavior.