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Not enough contemporary stories are told about the early careers of Golden Age heroes. While “year one” era Batman is practically its own genre, this may be only the second modern age collection to tell a story about the JSA that takes place when the original All Star comics were being published.
It sounds like it could be interesting. There are elements I love here: Johnny Thunder wants to be a pulp writer and chronicle the exploits of the JSA. Sci-Fi author Jack Williamson is a prominent character in the story (and writes a very good introduction to this collection!) The antagonist is a mysterious Renaissance man who reanimates soldiers recovered from the killing fields of World War II – and arrives in a zeppelin, no less.
Good general premise, good setting and a team of characters that has been shown to (in the right hands) be able to be one of the most interesting and beloved groups of characters in modern comics.
Unfortunately, it falls flat.
It’s not terrible, mind you, just mediocre. There are several major problems with how it’s carried off.
First of all, JSA books should be character driven – this is a group of diverse individuals with drastically different powers and histories (even early in their history.) Unfortunately, Kevin J. Anderson (whose writing outside comics I’m not familiar with) takes the “Golden Age” mentality a little too far. When they aren’t flatly explaining the plot, the characters insist on spouting inane one liners. It’s cute at first, but there’s only so many times I can hear Wildcat and The Atom call each other “Little Guy” and “Big Guy” before I start cringing every time I see they’re in a scene together. I get that the book is an homage, but it’s heavy handed.
The character interactions are made a little stranger by the roster. Yes, the Star-Spangled Kid was around in the 40s, but there’s no explanation for why he’s hanging with the JSA here. Various characters seem to pop in and out of meetings and show up in battles after unexplained absence without ever so much as a nod from their teammates. There are a couple times where, while sitting around a table in the same room, people are misplaced from panel to panel. Small example, maybe, but it seems like the creators weren’t sure how to handle the large team.
The scenes that follow Jack Williamson are the better ones, as he shares some enjoyable interactions with his publisher and Johnny Thunder. What doesn’t make sense is how he gets entangled with the violent conflict in the story – it would have been better for the two plot-lines to run parallel and reflect each other thematically instead of becoming directly (and awkwardly) entwined.
Lord Dynamo, the villain of the piece, comes off as a little flat. He has potential, but his premise (and this is listed on the back of the book) of offering to use his extensive knowledge to end the fighting in Europe “if the society meets his demand to relinquish their amazing powers and abilities” is cliche and the idea that “to save the world, these legendary heroes must make a great sacrifice” is not for a moment believable. Of course he’s evil and of course they’re just going to end up hitting him and his cronies in various ways.
There are a few good spots, luckily scattered throughout the volume so it never gets too tedious. Apparently Starman is a fan of Jack Williamson’s work (and other pulp sci-fi) which is a nice nod to the 90s Starman’s passionate collecting of nostalgia. There is another moment with Williamson where he asks Johnny not to touch a painting, which I couldn’t help laughing at. Johnny is given a nice intro here with Williamson being skeptical of his campy origins – “Johnny, did you just make up those countries?”
The art, by Barry Kitson and Gary Erskine, is serviceable at its worst and wonderful when it’s great. Sometimes it was hard to enjoy the moments that were accompanied by the aforementioned cringe-worthy bantering. There are also times when it feels a little stiff, but many of the pages were excellently crafted.
It’s nice that the covers were included here – their pulpy novel style is great. They’re reprinted without copy so you can really enjoy them.
It’s possible that my disappointment with this volume was partially because I had such high hopes for an early continuity JSA story.
It isn’t the worst story – it’s readable and if you find a copy for cheap it’s good for an hour of your time.
It’s just not as good as it could have been.
Not at all. I’ve placed it between the two All Star Archives that bump into WWII, and it’s got some moments that make for a recap of the JSA’s activities during the war (talk of the Spear of Destiny and foiling the Nazi plans on the home front), but I’m sure those same things are explained well enough in modern age stories. Maybe worth picking up if you’re a huge Johnny Thunder fan… but I’m not, so I don’t know if the portrayal of him is even fair.
Pick up some JSA Archives! They’re more fun anyway – and real history! It was the world’s first super-team, after all!
Besides the Golden Age JSA material, there was a small JSA ongoing in the bronze age that’s worth reading – it starts with Justice Society Volume 1. Or the Modern Age ongoings starting around 1999 collected in JSA Vol. 1: Justice Be Done. But I’d also like to point you towards The Golden Age, a much much better ode to this era of comics heroism. It was published as an Elseworlds, but I have a feeling that even it will have more effect on continuity than this miniseries.