Saturday, 21 November 2009

Justice Society of America 80-Page Giant #1 review

DC is certainly pushing the JSA brand, what with spinning off a second team book, giving ongoings to the very popular Power Girl and, er, Magog, releasing an annual and, here, putting out an 80pp giant. It's asking a lot of the wallet, but this is a worthwhile entry if you've $5.99 or local equivalent to spare.

The cover's by Freddie Williams II and it's not this talented artist's best, with the characters looking like melting plastic action figures in a composition that lacks impact. The book is a portmanteau deal, comprising six shorts focusing on various members within an overarching story and while some outstay their welcome, it's good to finally have a spotlight shone on the likes of Amazing Man and Wildcat III. The framing sequence shows off Williams to better advantage (ignoring the fact he draws Lightning as an electric hedgehog), as he and upcoming JSA All-Stars partner Matt Sturges set up and solve, satisfyingly, the mystery that motivates the solo sequences, each of which illuminates the personality of a member. Let's take a look at them.

First off, Cyclone bids to cheer up the new Mr America with a tale of her grandma, Ma Hunkel, and Mr America's pre-predecessor, Tex Thompson, in 1939. It's an unexpected pairing, to say the least, and one that works. It's actually rather touching, so hats off to writer James Robinson. There's the odd moment that doesn't work in Neil Edwards' pencils, such as Mr America's amusingly large head when he gets out of a chair, but the overall effect is attractive, so much so that I'll forgive my personal bugbear, repeated panels. Wayne Faucher's inks are smooth and Rob Leigh's colours help bring things alive. I was going to whine about the flashback being in sorta sepia, then remembered that Calvin and Hobbes cartoon in which we learned that the world used to be in black and white. So that's OK.

Steel has his moment to shine as he faces the angst surrounding family members having been turned into metal statues awhile back. Along the way he gets to tackle the unimpressive threat of glass fellas apparently sent by old foe Reichsmark. He's aided by other JSA members in this story by Felicia D Henderson. Renato Guedes draws up a storm and, as in his short Supergirl stint, he makes superhero outfits look like actual costumes rather than painted skin. I like this approach.

Next up is Amazing Man, who joined the JSA in one of former writer Geoff Johns' recruitment drives, didn't do much, then left. I loved the original Amazing Man from All-Star Squadron, so was disappointed to see his relative - who shares his powers and attractive yellow and green colour scheme - disappear. Here mystical forces send him back to New Orleans, where he joins beleaguered residents cowering from a random dragon. Handicapped by having his property absorbing powers taken away by mercurial gods, he joins the regular folk to debate the nature of responsibility and faith. It's tedious stuff, but ends well as AM gets his powers back, along with a useful tweak - he can now pass on the physical properties he's absorbed to other people. I wonder if that means he could make Steel's family flesh again.

Wildcat III finally learns why he's able to transform into a werecat - well, to a point - in a story written and drawn by Jerry Ordway, guaranteeing quality. Just seeing the Golden Age Huntress (none of that Tigress nonsense here) again makes the short worthwhile, but we also get an insight into the Fifties lifestyle of his dad, Ted Grant, in a good-looking, clever tale.

We're next presented with a close-up on Cyclone as she teams up with Power Girl and Wildcat to fight the current Icicle in a story set before she joined the JSA. There's a priceless chat with Peege about their respective costume choices, if you ignore the fact that Maxine Hunkel assembled her costume with Stargirl's help after she hooked up with the JSA. Actually, you can excuse this given the overarching plot is to do with time-twisting dream logic and prophecies. Overall it's a smart, fun piece written by Jen Van Meter with gorgeous visuals by Jesus Merino and Jesse Delperdang.

The final vignette sees Damage trying to make sense of a headtrip that recaps his origins. Scott Hampton's art is deceptively complex and perfectly in synch with Zander Cannon's riskily intelligent script. Danny Vozzo's colours add a necessary dash of dream logic to a tale that foreshadows recent events in Damage's troubled superhero career.

All in all, this is an intriguing comic, both for what's on the page, and what's not. For there are definite hints that the interstitial (a posh word that's misspelled in the credits, and pointing this out virtually guarantees I'll have made howlers in this review) material was created to link a bunch of shorts that had nothing to do with one another. That would explain such things as characters apparently being in two parts of the JSA brownstone at once, the reappearance of Amazing Man, and the coming and going of Cyclone's witch hat, which the filler - in the technical, not insulting, sense - story puts down to the mysterious forces surrounding the building. Oh, and there are three separate editors.

Or I could be overthinking and, yep, it was all planned and all the disparities are indeed down to dream logic! Whatever the case, I got my money's worth with a special that provides some fascinating moments and pleasing art. The Sturges/Williams material alone bodes well for their new title.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for posting this very comprehensive review. I'm hoping to pick up this 80 pager today.

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  2. You're welcome, it'd be great to hear what you think after reading it, if you have time.

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  3. I stopped reading JSA ages ago when Johns was still writing it. I dropped it because it was blindingly obvious his Fury subplot, which had lasted five years, wasn't going anywhere.

    And neither was his Power Girl subplot! Remember that one? She was going to get mixed up with Amethyst and Gemworld. I'd be really interested to know what this origin-fix was going to entail.

    Anyway! Phew!

    I might buy this, thanks for the review!

    I like shorter tales that are actually supposed to tell a story.

    Unfortunately, I find all the characters in JSA an absolute snore-fest.

    And how come all the Infinity-aged characters are still supposed to be in their 20s? That'd mean their mums (like Liberty Belle) must have have them in their 60s!!

    IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE!!

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  4. Lordy, I can't remember any of that stuff!

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