Sunday, October 2, 2011


The typical narrative in comics fandom is that Crisis on Infinite Earths really messed up the Justice Society of America, as they were tossed into the bin of history for being "redundant" as compared to the JLA.

This is, like so much commonly-accepted bits of fan dogma, entirely wrong. While the fallout from Crisis did, in fact damage the JLA by writing them out in a terribly silly way made all the moreso by being so rushed, it was the ill feelings from how DC handled writing them out that rubbed certain creators the wrong way, and they made their displeasure known at every single available moment, and ultimately this became its own meme: Crisis sucked because it got rid of the Justice Society and isn't it a shame because the JSA were the very first super-team and thus important enough to stick around forever.

I too am surprised I made it through that paragraph without using the words "Geoff Johns" or "Alex Ross" either, guys.

Sadly, the notion of them being The First, And Thus Very Important became the overriding element in the team's makeup, and so it became damned impossible to do anything with the JSA except put them up on the mantelpiece and blather at length about how important they were without actually, y'know, doing anything interesting with them to justify their importance.

Mind you, there's plenty of intriguing things to do with the JSA (less so as real time passes) the notion of the super-hero Greatest Generation still trying to make a difference and fight evil while grappling with the passage of time and fighting alongside succeeding generation/their own kids (and no, the 9 million times the JSA fought Obsidian because he turns evil every alternate Thursday don't count) is healthy grist for the mill. If you wanted to make it a little darker, you could even have them grapple with the fact that some of the things they took for granted back in the day (the casual racism and sexism, let's say) aren't the rule anymore . . .sure, it would be a bit like if Roger Sterling was a superteam, but it could totally be a thing.

All-Star Comics was an attempt to do something with the JSA before they were legends. Or, well, more accurately it was part of an effort on DC comics to roll out a lot of new books all at once and hopefully cut into Marvel's market share. It . . .well, wasn't pretty, and probably taught DC that ambitious roll-outs like that are largely a matter of timing and must be handled carefully. Probably.

In any event, All-Star Comics didn't really fret overmuch about the JSA as icons, partly because they weren't icons quite yet at this point (having been confined to the annual JLA/JSA team-ups) and partly because the book's writer, Gerry Conway, can only write characters in one voice (in comics this is not as much of a handicap as you might think), and really, that's not it. There is a certain Marvel-style pacing that creeps into All-Star (no shock, given Conway had just come from Marvel and his other collaborators had come from Charlton fandom/pro-dom during a recent flourish/implosion that had happened at Charlton in the mid-70s) partly because of the pedigree of the writer and partly because they had 17 pages to do these stories in.

This is a rather important point, because for all we moan about decompression, these comics have a tendency to be so compressed as to be a bit jumbled. Plots bleed one into the other frequently, threads get picked up and dropped, and the whole thing can be kinda . . .well, hard to absorb, really, as you have a large cast all speaking in the same way and so much stuff happening all at once that the details can get, a bit fuzzy. For that reason we're skipping the usual recaps and roll calls. Those of you who are interested have the book already. Those of you who don't probably don't care.

And yet . . .I kinda liked these. The JSA is far more relatable when they're not being venerated as icons who seem remote and distant. Here, they're just another supergroup, not unlike the Defenders to the Justice League's Avengers.

But there were a million of those books even then, what makes this one so interesting?

Well, I think it's just that I liked Earth-2.

Earth-2 was a fictional offshoot, a parallel world in which, unusually for superhero comics, time was allowed to pass and some notion of organic growth had been allowed some rein (compare this with the current "freeze everything at one specific point" mania now)--this was before the top-down "everything is homogenized" kind of superhero books today and you were allowed to play around in the margins a bit more. Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman have all retired (in a great twist, Batman is actually the police commissioner) and the last few Justice Society members are fighting crime and dealing with a younger generation coming up--namely Robin, Huntress (Batman and Catwoman's daughter) The Star Spangled Kid (a migrant from another JLA/JSA crossover) and Power Girl.

Today, these stories are almost entirety known for Power Girl's introduction, which is a shame, as, setting aside the fact that Wally Wood obviously loved every moment of drawing her (seriously it is, uh, plain to see) she's not the strongest character, as she is intended to be a "liberated woman of the 70's," which, translated from the comic book-ese means she's a bitch on wheels who's constantly going on that despite being a woman, she's not to be taken lightly.

It gets a little grating, as it is very plainly trying so hard. Likewise, Huntress is a bit of a drip early on. Yet both characters really grown on you and were the real breakout stars of this relatively short run.

I can't really say these are great comics or essential comics or anything like that, but they are terribly interesting in that they had their own distinct identity while managing to exist in a shared universe, they were given leave to do their own thing and really play with the "parallel Earth" concept in a way that DC never quite fulfilled (whichever time they brought back the parallel Earths) and broadened the fictional universe in a way that allowed for a book to have its own flavor while still being part of the larger whole.

If only that was still a thing now, eh?


C. Elam said...

As surprising as it may seem, my major quibble with Crisis wasn't that it junked the multiverse but more the lip service I had to endure at the time that it would make everything Cohesive and Better when they just piled on even more confusion. But that is another story. The JSA was left largely intact, but the edict came down that they didn't want to see them in comics anymore. As you imply, they essentially wasted several prime storytelling years wringing their hands over the characters.

So it is perhaps surprising that I am OK if they were to just send the group out to pasture permanently by now. I mean, it's 2011 - the ship has sailed. Let's just appreciate their part in the history and move on instead of dragging them out of their paper graves.

The Marvel-style pacing and dialogue of all the books Conway launched as editor at DC in the mid-70s is striking. All-Star turned out to be more successful than most, for whatever reason. I don't think we can discount that it is "perfectly competent" as a reason, considering Conway also unleashed Secret Society of Super-Villains (never read this comic).

I have been toying with doing an issue by issue review of this run eventually, since I have a lot of affection for it and yet am also cognizant of its flaws. Hey, did you like how the Shining Knight just up and disappeared sans explanation? Man, that is my favorite.

I agree that these are only about middle-of-the-road in terms of quality. And yet? I find them easier to recommend to someone than some of the better books of the decade because it's relatively insular, everything you NEED to know is there, and it all wraps up semi-organically (quite by accident).

Kazekage said...

And hey, I see that meme is continuing even today. I just . . .I . . .man. I have no words. I find that I like Crisis as a story. As an initiative to clean up continuity, it failed utterly--y'know, just like all the others.

That said, Last Days of the JSA shitty comic, whether you liked the JSA or didn't.

I . . .you know, I kinda feel the same way. I'm kinda hopeful the new only-on-Earth-2-JSA might be good, but . . .given who's holding the keys and the two decades of the JSA being venerated as holy icons who must be taken off the shelf, I wonder if we wouldn't be better suited doing something else.

I've heard mixed things about Secret Society of Super Villains, really. They are really fast-paced comics, however, and I now understand why Firestorm stuck around now--he really was Spider-Man as done by DC.

Dude, you totally should, as you know more about the JSA than I will ever learn, really. And yes, I have no idea what the Shining Knight was doing there and re-reading it, it seems as though no one else did either.

They're . . .OK. The real curiosity for me is the irreverence for the JSA that's on display here and how, divorced of that, they're allowed to just, y'know, be superheroes.

C. Elam said...

I have a certain antipathy towards it as a story, but that owes more to its nuances and less to its goals. I actually think it works on certain levels, especially in the sense that it was a story that was given a certain gravity by building what had been established in the past. This makes it almost entirely unique as a crossover, I believe.

Well, uh, Last Days has nice art? (No, I can't defend it myself.)

As a longtime JSA booster, they lost me somewhere along the way. The more recent Justice Society title just cemented those feelings. I'm kinda to the point where, if they're inextricably tied to history, that is over 70 years ago now. I mean, c'mon fandom.

SSOSV is a trainwreck in comic book form, though this is not entirely at the feet of Conway. It switches direction at least three times, goes through a bunch of artists, and is a total jumble. Funny story: Carmine Infantino rejected the original first issue and made them re-do it from scratch! So, it's OK for cheap fun, but not worth a $40 hardcover that isn't even the whole run.

Oh, did you get the Firestorm trade, too? I bought it on a whim and liked it for what it was. I used to have some of those issues back in the day, but it had been a long time since I'd read that stuff. Yeah, it's very much a recombining of different elements, with a healthy dose of Spider-Man, to arrive at the final product.

It's very much an idea, if I can keep myself motivated. The Shining Knight thing kills me, since they spend issues building the mystery and then he vanishes as soon as he serves the purpose of getting them back to Camelot.

I interestingly find myself enjoying this run more collected than I did when I first assembled my single issue collection, and I am not sure why. Besides the nostalgia, I mean. It is clearly flawed in huge ways, and somehow this endears it to me even more. All the more reason to try to write about it someday.

Word verification - "jiveliff"

Kazekage said...

Well, it's Marv Wolfman in the 80's, so it was never gonna be subtle. But I always have had a spot in my heart for it for the grand scope of it and how they were willing to go in such a way as to prevent it from feeling so much like a foregone conclusion.

Bless him--Dave Ross tries his best, doesn't he? The ultimate problem I have with it is that you can imagine that everyone working on it is doing so while muttering under their breath "I don't want to BE here." And it shows.

Yeah, 70 years may just be pushing it too much. Without some la-la magic stuff you either have to move them be, like, the heroes of Vietnam and then it's not the JSA anymore. I don't really know how you make it work in this day and age without doing All-Star Squadron all over again.

I'm kind of intrigued by it, really--I don't know that the results were ever gonna be termed good, but I do love how experimental DC got with stuff in the 70's. Yeah, I am grappling with the same Value vs Money thing at the moment with the New Teen Titans Omnibus. Dunno if $45=for a little over 400 pages of even Wolfman and Perez at the peak of their powers can be justified, as I remember those books being "good," but not "$45 good." Then again, I bought that $50 Atlas Black Knight masterwork, so maybe I am just stupid with money.

I did not! However, I maintain that through some curious quirk of fate, you can sort of have read all of the early run of Firestorm by reading Who's Who. Seriously, Firestorm characters are 20% of the contents. I may pick it up if it's cheap, though.

Yeah, it's . . .odd. I re-read it last night trying to figure out where the hell he drops out of the story but he . . .just kinda does it

It is oddly endearing--I keep picking it up off and on myself. It has a real energy to it and it doesn't take itself too seriously, which is the problem nowadays, maybe.

C. Elam said...

I can understand that completely. I liked it more then than I do now. I kinda of wish the follow-up had been better planned, but that is all (murky) water under the bridge now.

The Ross/Gustovich art is the one truly exemplary aspect of that comic. I really wonder what that story was going to be like before it became a "get rid of the JSA, Roy" vehicle. Oh, did I mention it was originally supposed to be a JSA GRAPHIC NOVEL? 'Cause it was.

If you want to maintain the retro flavor, I think an All-Star Squadron type title is the only way to go at this point. Speaking as we were of Roy Thomas, he has a great concept on how to make a WWII book unpredictable that has been pitched for the All-Star Squadron, Invaders, and (believe it or not) Rob Liefeld's Allies. I think it may be part of the Anthem thing he's done with Heroic Publishing.

Mmmm, well let me say this about SSOSV. I would recommend it if you could get it at a reasonable price, since it is pure nonsense of the first order. I mean, the ORIGINAL premise is a Paul Kirk clone dupes villains into fighting Darkseid! I particularly have a soft spot for #4, which includes Jack from the Royal Flush Gang for no discernible reason except to get teleported away and a city-spanning punch-up between Kalibak and Gorilla Grodd. The series get less insane as it goes along, and therefore less intriguing to me. But - I like it a lot more than most super-villain themed books (and it serves as a template for most of them).

Yeah, I dunno about New Titans at that price. I mean, maybe? If you liked the material enough? That said, I think the Black Knight book justifies its existence based on the artwork alone.

You make a valid point! As someone who didn't follow the 1980s title, I was stunned to see how many characters it involved. The recent trade of the 1970s book does come with the "get it cheap" disclaimer, though it DOES include the story that only appeared previously in CANCELLED COMICS CAVALCADE.

My theory is entirely that Wally Wood said "To hell with that guy!" and just stopped drawing him.

I hear ya. I find I even enjoy it more than Roy's work with those guys, which I am sure is positively shocking to some people.

Kazekage said...

It's still nice to take down off the bookshelf from time to time and read it, which is good. That's all I can ask, really.

They really did try very hard, didn't they?!? It would have been nice to see what they would have come up with had it not been such a hard-line diktat, really. I would have loved to have seen the graphic-novel treatment, really, but I have a feeling a lot of stuff from that time Roy probably burned in a fit of depression.

What was the idea, anyways? I'd be curious to see how you could keep up the unpredictability, really, though I can think of a number of options you could work up to make for a good comic.

The initial premise does sound like a work of mad genius, really--especially with stuff just kinda happening for heaven only knows what reason. I kinda miss that in comics, really.

Well, I lost that battle. It was 600 pages, it turns out, and it had two years of (mostly) Perez art, so my will was nothing against it and folded like a cheap card table. The BK Masterwork is amazing--Joe Maneely's stuff was just awesome, and I love that the Black Knight issues are backed by the Yellow Claw run, which is just . . .demented. Racist, and very demented.

I'll see if I can pick it up on the cheap. My bent is more toward the Ostrander era than the early days, but All-Star has really made me curious about this weird Marvel-esque drive there during the late 70's early 80's and it'd be interesting to see how that plays out.

I . . .kinda do as well, with the exception of Infinity Inc. I have an odd soft spot for that book.

C. Elam said...

Amen to that, huh? Will people feel that way about their collected FEAR ITSELF in 25 years? Somehow, I doubt it.

If it weren't so damned pricey, I'd recommend Alter Ego #100 for some insight into those days. I suspect the original graphic novel plan would have centered more around the FDR funeral, especially since there was a hint about it in America vs. the Justice Society.

The idea is pretty clever. If it had been All-Star Squadron, he was going to KILL OFF Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the rest who were off limits. Oh, and have FDR assassinated in 1942. This monkey wrench into both comics history and real history would then begin an alternate reality where nothing was certain anymore. Could've been great or terrible, but we'll never know for certain now. The Invaders pitch was to kill off both Captain America and FDR in 1942. I dunno how this would've worked for the Allies, but I believe that spun off those pitches. It ultimately evolved into Anthem. That's the tagline he created for the All-Star Squadron incarnation at the top of the page.

Well, if it works for you, I can't blame you! I have a dozen volumes of All Star Comics Archives on MY shelf. I thought they paired Black Knight with Yellow Claw, which is...fascinating, I am sure. And Maneely is the best, isn't he?

Y'know, I sorta liked John Ostrander essentially blowing up Firestorm and putting it back together as some weird new thing. That MAY have been the first thing he did with Tom Mandrake, and that panned out pretty well for both of those guys.

It will be interesting to compare them when DC does that All-Star Squadron Showcase next year. I think the first couple of years of that book are pretty good, but in retrospect, what came afterward grew more and more needlessly complicated. And of course, Infinity Inc. spun off in directions that pretty much made it its own thing. That was a good thing.

Kazekage said...

Will people feel that way in two years? I already can't wait for it to be over.

I've had a look, and honestly, I am totally tempted about it once I get through the massive NTT Omnibus which is . . .massive.

That's . . .actually a pretty cool idea, really. No reason why WWII has to go in quite the same direction as regular history does, because superheroes pretty much change the game, don't they? Also--every time I hear the name "Anthem," I think of Rush. Not that you needed me to tell you that.

I've been reading it this afternoon it's . . .very much like All-Star Comics, in a way. Yes, Black Knight is backed with Yellow Claw and lordy, what a heady mixture that is.

. . .which he did, like, several times over during Firestorm if I remember right. That and Ostrander's early Hawkman issues are some of my most beloved cult hits from that time.

They're making one? Damn, I'm gonna have to pick that one up, I think, as I too remember the early issues being really good before it all got a bit muddled. And yeah, I really liked that Infinity Inc eventually found its own way, and was in a sense, the inheritor of that JSA irreverence in All-Star Comics.

C. Elam said...

There was and is a thought process that Roy Thomas is bitter, but I've reached that the conclusion that this isn't the case. Rather, he's decided that he has no need to censor his opinions about his career (he's turning 71 next month!), and he expresses them good and bad. A/E 100 is especially revealing in that respect.

And considering the "Roy is obsessed with continuity" meme that has developed over the years (unfairly, to my mind), I WISH that All-Star Squadron proposal had been approved. He was capable of outside the box thinking, and I bet that would've been fascinating to see him go off on tangents without parallel Earths.

Yes, it's not been solicited yet, but it's scheduled for April according to Amazon. Considering Roy has mentioned more than once his desire for such a collection to be published, I tend to think it really will happen.

Kazekage said...

I wouldn't say that at all, really--he did a Black Knight comic for Marvel a few years back that was frankly amazing, and didn't have any of his usual tics on display. I'm kinda curious to see what he has to say now--given that I've been following Jim Shooter's reactions to the New 53 stuff over on his blog, it's kinda nice to get an insider's perspective.

He's . . .not, really. Again, I go back to the Black Knight issue, and there weren't really any big continuity circumlocutions--it was just a very solid story with a bitchin' twist at the end. I think the fact that he was so well known for his love and facility with Golden Age characters just happened to be the a double-edged sword.

I'm looking forward to picking it up. I'm glad to see that DC is doing more esoteric Showcases like this (I can't believe they did the Trial of the Flash one) now.