Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Justice Society of America #45 review

Is there any buzz about this book yet? Because there should be. The new creative team of Mark Guggenheim and Scott Kolins came on board last issue and immediately changed the feel of the title. Out went the endless hero vs villain crowd scenes, in came a tighter team, allowing for more satisfying action and characterisation. Suddenly, the book had focus.

If you missed the beginning of Supertown, you should know that a new metahuman appeared and began wreaking havoc, the JSA turned up to defend humanity and a battle royal raged for hours. Before the heroes finally overwhelmed their foe, the city of Monument Point was devastated, and Green Lantern Alan Scott paralysed.

The continuation begins with a flashback to the Second World War, with Scott and Jay Garrick, the Flash, on a black ops mission in Libya. We don't find out what their ultimate assignment is until near the end of the story, as it weaves back and forth between then and now. The now segments see Superman arrive to begin helping with repairs, and apply his J Michael Straczynski Sad Face to the situation; and Molly Mayne Scott visiting husband Alan in hospital, accompanied by Jay.

Kolins' artwork really conveys the delicacy of GL's situation - hooked up to medical monitors, head shaved for examination, I've never seen him look so old, so fragile. It's easy to forget that the senior JSA members have been active for 70 years, given how many random energy blasts and spells have tweaked their physiology and frames, but there's no denying it here.

Jay is shaken by his oldest friend's plight, and furious when a senator summons him away from hospital, especially as said politician led the HUAC panel which accused the JSA of being traitors in the 1950s. As it turns out, America's Oldest Public Servant, Sen Eagin, has information Jay needs to hear about the super-villain who caused Monument Point to be razed, now codenamed Scythe.

Meanwhile, back in the past ... it turns out the black op is a little too dark for Alan, when it becomes apparent that the Nazi experiment they're meant to destroy, Project Drachen, is a baby (like GL, seven decades later, he's helpless, hooked up to monitors). Flash is more ready to follow orders, arguing that they're at war, and the two come to blows. By dint of wielding the most powerful weapon in the universe, GL wins and the baby lives. And guess who the tot grew up to be?

Yup,  apparently he's not just a random super-villain - Scythe matters.

Why that is, we don't find out right now, as the rest of the story concerns Jay's reaction to knowing that, albeit inadvertently and due to their humanity, he and Alan gave rise to the situation which destroyed Monument Point.

Yes, it's that old chestnut of hero feeling bad over the unavoidable lesser of two evils - as Molly points out earlier in the story, the JSA saved millions of lives. But that doesn't stop a crowd railing on the JSA, accusing them of not caring what happened while they were fighting Scythe, and it doesn't prevent Jay from being affected. He may not agree that the JSA is to blame, but that doesn't mean he'll turn his back on the city, and by issue's end he's resolved to remain, and rebuild. 

While Flash and GL have the spotlight, Wildcat, Lightning, Dr Midnite and Mr Terrific dance around the wings, doing what they can. The latter of the quartet continues last issue's fretting that he's losing his Terrific IQ, but keeps his fears from his friends. That'll end well.

I'm impressed with how quickly and thoroughly Guggenheim has found his voice with this book. He's not trying to emulate the hugely popular Geoff Johns JSA, but going his own way in order to better serve the characters and the readers. This means that rather than feeling like a desperate retread, the book boasts the freshness that heroes who were once so innovative deserve. 

And the art of Kolins is a big part of the JSA renaissance. He's going for a more painterly look than that used in his long Flash run (no pun etc), but because he's spent years as a continuity strip artist before tweaking his style, the illustrations retain a fluidity that, say, the art of Alex Ross lacks. But characters have a new strength to them, an intensity dialled up a notch when colourist Mike Atiyeh applies his enviable skills (click on image to enlarge).  
Flash and GL really look like they mean business in their military uniforms (I love Jay's Mercury cap doubling as a tin helmet), while Jay's rage looks set to boil over here.
The artistic mood suits a storyline with so many sombre aspects, such as the aftereffects of the Scythe attack, and the dirty war our shining heroes were once dragged into. It'll be interesting to note whether the tone lightens as the JSA bring new hope to Monument Point, which I don't doubt they will. 

Also helping the new JSA run find its artistic feet is letterer Rob Leigh, with his attractively Art Deco eagle-topped plaques introducing team members. It's remarkable, how something so small can so definitively add to the attractiveness of the page. Leigh fills word balloons nicely, too!

Topping off the issue is a fine cover by Shane Davis, Sandra Hope and Barbara Ciardo - the Golden Age-style poster art smartly contrasts with Jay's situation, while hinting at the issue's themes.

With its splendid melding of ideas and execution, this looks set to be one of the best modern JSA runs. I hope superhero fans try it.

7 comments:

  1. Man,

    Now I might need to pick this up again after dropping it 2 months ago.

    I also picked up She-Hulks thanks to Gene's review.

    As always, thanks for pointing me to the good stuff.

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  2. And thanks to you for Supergirl's Comic Box commentary, I love reading your thoughts.

    I hope you enjoy JSA, I think you will.

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  3. This is the second positive review I've heard about JSA. Looks like both of Geoff's babies (Teen Titans being the other) are having a bit of a resurgence under a new pen. My monthly budget is full but I'm putting this along with the aforementioned teen book at the top of my trade 'n wait list.

    Solid and informative review.

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  4. Have you an Amazon Greed List? I love mine!

    It'd be good to know your opinion when you do get a chance to read JSA.

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  5. Wow, I don't think I ever disagreed with one of your reviews so vehemently.

    I found it rather horrible.

    "Scythe is German for Drachen"?

    Um... no. Scythe is English for "Sense" and "Drachen" is German for either "Kite" or "Dragon".

    The JSA does not consider innocent bystanders? Really? Really? Of all superteams? We're not talking about the Super Young Team or the Relative Heroes here.

    It feels like Guggenheim is shoehorning the JSA into a plot he was going to use on some other team.

    A very 90s, Doomsday like villain taking out the most experience team in the DCU. Like chumps. Without much explanation on what makes this villain so special. Remember that JSA: Our Worlds at War Special? "Casualties? We're the JSA!" - that kind of respect is not present in this run.

    Jay would kill a baby? JAY?? Who is that pretender with the hubcap on his head?

    And with Green Lantern in the hospital, shouldn't all hell be breaking loose on the moon according to what we learned 2 issues ago?

    There is no joy at all in this book. It's an absurdly grim and gritty JSA, fighting a generic villain, going down like chumps.

    And Kollins used to have such great energy in his artwork when he did the Flash. Now that the art is shot right from his pencils, it looks stiff and oddly unprofessional, better suited to a Bluewater horror title than DC's premier super team. Superman looked like a drunk.

    This was my last issue of JSA until this team leaves. And I bought every JSA related comic DC has put out since the late 80s. I am perfectly stunned that you enjoyed this. Everything about this book seems wrong to me.

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  6. Cheeers Pip, it's good to hear your viewpoint. I don't believe Jay could have killed a baby, but he was young, it was war, he was on a mission and maybe he thought he could.

    Ta for pointing out the poor German, it's not something I could pick up on.

    The moon business, God knows. I enjoyed the James Robinson set-up as a one-off wacko issue, but it never felt as if it would stick. And here we are two issues in and it's about to be written off. There was a reference to it, at least.

    Who says the JSA didn't care about bystanders? One angry fella.

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  7. I am with Pip on this one actually (sorry Mart), I've been reading 1 1/2 haf from okay to sub-par JSA stories. I think I am on the hook for 2 more months worth of pre-orders and if it doesn't get better by then, then I am out.

    I get tired of the,"If you weren't here none of this would have happened." Would the had preferred the JSA not show up, and have Scythe I dunno kill them all?

    And as old as Eagin should look, I think he got hit with some sort of ray to keep him younger as well.

    I also hate Mr. Terrific losing his intelligence. Nothing specific, I just don't like it.

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