Justice Society of America #1 review

Following on from this month’s New Golden Age special, the JSA get a fresh series. Except it isn’t a JSA we’ve seen previously – it’s a future gathering of…heroes?

A rum lot indeed. Enemies and legacies of villains of the original JSA. There are heroes too – Power Girl, the Huntress and Dr Fate.

OK, maybe not Doctor Fate.

The new members were recruited at the behest of Huntress who, in the 2050-set sequence that makes up most of this debut issue, is all about giving people second chances. And given there aren’t any spotless legacies pleading for JSA admission, these guys are her only bet. And they seem to be doing their best. I mean, look at Solomon Grundy helping Huntress pump a hood for information.

Unfortunately, while they wield considerable power between them, the latest version of the JSA can’t do a lot when caught off guard by a definitely not reformed bad guy with time on his hands

By the end of the issue, there’s only one survivor, and they’re off on a time travel trip to save the original Justice Society and thereby, somehow, save those who follow too.

So, that’s Bruce Wayne’s funeral, Jay and newly revealed daughter Judy Garrick, the cover image from All-Star Comics #58 and Golden Age Red Lantern

So, when did Per Degaton get hot? He always looked like a donkey in a ginger wig? But here he is killing JSA-ers while looking like he’s headed for Season 61 of The Bachelor. We saw him murdering every Dr Fate he could find in the aforementioned New Golden Age special, what’s his endgame? Surely he’s been defeated by the JSA enough times that his best bet is to work around them, not attract attention by murdering members across time.

It’s hubris, I suppose. Where would superhero comics be if villains didn’t think to themselves ‘This time…’

Writer Geoff Johns engaged me with his script, though I’d rather he’d set up the new series in the New Golden Age than simply set the stage for this 12-issue maxi series. Just imagine three or four short-ish story arcs across the year showing the scope of the latest, 2022, version of the JSA. A book to make the case for an ongoing while entertaining the heck out of us. As much as I enjoy Johns’ way with a character, and endless variations on the murder of heroes, the last few years have seen him go from one project to another without really finishing a story. DC Rebirth, Three Jokers, Doomsday Clock, Flashpoint Beyond, New Golden Age – does the phrase ‘neverending battle’ have to be taken so literally? Can’t the heroes just win the odd skirmish and take a breath?

And while I’m all for a bit of reformation, an entire JSA made up of villainous images? The 2050 media certainly isn’t impressed.

It was bad enough Black Adam joining the JSA and hogging storylines back when Johns was writing the JSA series 20 years ago without filling nearly all the chairs with the likes of Gentleman Ghost and Solomon Grundy (who has been known to reincarnate as a good guy, but he’s pretty darn mercurial).

Then again, we’re in a future that will likely vanish by the end of the series. I’m probably grumpy because I was hoping that the about-to-end Dark Crisis would gift us a proper Earth 2 with a contemporary JSA, but it seems that’s not going to happen. Ach, let’s be optimistic, maybe this series will wind up giving us an Earth 2 JSA to follow.

I do like this new version of Helena Wayne, who sees her late Bat-Dad as having been about not vengeance and fear, but hope and reconciliation. It’s a different spin, but a decent twist. I’ve never been a fan of time-lost heroes – sorry Karate Kid – but if a Helena Wayne Huntress has to be on the prime DC Earth, one secretly born to Catwoman ‘one year from now’ is one way to do it.

But it’s all so convoluted.

More positives. The relationship between Helen and mum Selina is fascinating. The hint of a romance between Power Girl and Dr Fate Khalid is intriguing. And baby Helena has an adorably furry nanny.

The artwork of Mikel Janín, once we get past the dull, muted cover image, is splendid, full of superb figurework and striking compositions.

A close-up, a silhouette, a vertiginous shot… Janín remains one of the top artists in comics today. Which is why I’m assuming he isn’t behind the Huntress redesign, which is as boring as heck, just a mix of purple and grey with no eye-catching accents or elements. And don’t talk to me about the way Jay looks on the cover!

Jordie Bellaire’s colours add to the overall somber mood, making the contrasting time tripping spread pop even more. I think that’s a panel each drawn by credited guest artists Jerry Ordway, Scott Kolins, Steve Lieber and Brandon Peterson, but what do I know? I rather like the black and white page, too, though editors Andrew Marino and Marquis Draper should have caught the dodgy punctuation of “veteran’s”

Remember the page introducing the new JSA members, above? I looked at the colourfully creative word balloons and thought ‘Rob Leigh’. And indeed it is DC’s most imaginative letterer working on this book.

Overall, Justice Society of America #1 is a quality production. The qualms I have weigh larger than they otherwise might because I’m aware this is a limited run. But if you’re a fan of time warping DC multiverse mysteries, you’ll like this.

23 thoughts on “Justice Society of America #1 review

  1. As much as I loved all things JSA (except human lantern in the last series), I distrust Johns’ work so much right now. Doomsday Clock was so dreary and i couldn’t last an issue of Three Jokers. For someone who reveres DC’s past so much, he drenches it with so much blood and unrepentant villainsbeing treated as heroes, something DC never did bbefore him. I’m going to have to work myself up to opening this book.

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      1. It was dreary as anything Johns has done since Didio was fired. Was he the one reining in Johns’ dark impulses? The future JSA is almost as tone deaf as ‘heroic’ Black Adam and Sinestro but that TV commentator might signal he’s finally seeing the line characters can’t cross without becoing unredeemable. Maybe. I’m in for now because I didn’t have the visceral bad reaction other recent Johns’ books have hit me with. It could still happen. I’ve realized as I type this that Johns leads the list by far for being the writer whose books I most often have dropped mid-storyline.

        And that Huntress outfit? First, that’s no Catwoman mask ever and what was wrong with just making the original costume show less skin? And I think Johns should have used an older Grayson instead of a living Selina since Helena’s mother’s death was the inspiration for her origin originally.

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    1. I wanted to respond to your later comment, but there is no “Reply” button there – seems it doesn’t allow too many nested replies.

      But you mentioned Helena wearing “Catwoman’s mask” when obviously she isn’t.

      I struggled over this, but I think it’s just ONE MORE thing Geoff Johns confused due to his preference for non-linear story telling. (I actually typed up a chronology for myself to try to keep track of what happened in what year.)

      The narration here refers to when Batman was murdered (“eight years ago” from “26 years from now”.) Helena then put on Selina’s mask and Bruce’s cape and found Frederic Vaux (this too is written in that standard Geoff Johns way where you have to parse the sentence a few times – she “found the man who empowered Dad’s killer”). And then she apparently killed Vaux, who was never seen again.

      We don’t see that. So we don’t see that original costume. Instead, this is not 8 years ago from 26 years from now, it’s simply 26 years from now, and Huntress, in her own costume, is strangling Falcone. We find out it’s Falcone many pages later, so it’s natural to mistakenly assume that splash title page was Selina 8 years from 26 years from now going after Vaux while wearing a mis-drawn cape and mask.

      Yup, that’s the level of effort I had to put into making sense of that page.

      Wasn’t Doomsday Clock worse? That book was mostly 9 panel grids per page, and each panel contained a few sentences of very detailed but usually irrelevant exposition about various often tangential characters who did, found or said specific things that caused other things to happen 10 years later which was 15 years before something that happened 17 years after something else….

      Geoff Johns can be difficult to follow.

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  2. I haven’t read it yet, so I can’t comment on the story, but I am curious, does this story take place on the main DC Earth (if there even is such a thing at this point) or does it take place in a reimagined Earth-2? You probably don’t know, as it seems from what you write here that it is not mentioned or implied in the story, but if it is an Earth-2 story, I would be interested in knowing how it came to be after the previous earth-2 was destroyed by Darkseid.

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    1. It’s not stated, but feels like it’s linked to the Tom King Batman/Catwoman romance, and there’s a character said to be the son of Jack Knight and the female Mist (they missed a trick not calling her Mistress).

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  3. This opening chapter was decidedly “meh”. Another Geoff Johns book filled with murdered heroes and glorifying the villains. On the plus side, no one’s arm was torn off and we didn’t have any Pantha heads bouncing across the panels so… plus? I guess?

    Given that sexy Degaton (is he ever gonna actually get named?) is involved there’s a good chance that everything is gonna get sorta reset before the end of the series. But is *this* what people were really looking for when they’ve been clamouring for a JSA series for years?

    And how many Helena Waynes/Huntresses have we got kicking around the DCU now. I’ve honestly lost count. Is the new 52 Helena out of the picture? What about the Helena Bertinelli version of the character? Is there an Earth 2 version any more?

    shrug

    As I said, it wasn’t really what I was looking for in a JSA book.

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    1. I’m relieved it’s not just me who was underwhelmed by this book.

      And I think you’ve just put the idea for Geoff Johns’ next prestige mini series out there – The Three (Or Maybe Four) Huntresses.

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  4. Martin, you wrote, “But it’s all so convoluted.”
    Agreed!!!
    On the one hand I give Johns credit for his ambition. He is 20-plus years older than when he first started writing the JSA, and it seems like he is more interested in writing these dense, inter-connected mini-series than juggling a few ongoings. Can’t fault him for wanting to do something different with his skills/career.
    It is also fascinating that it seems like he is intent on telling this single, over-lapping story involving multiple earths/timelines that started over a decade ago with Flashpoint and that he has been allowed to continue in recent years since his return to writing DC books. I’ve read other comics sites claim he is somehow washed up, but I don’t think so. His books all have to be selling for him to be allowed to continue on like this.
    But yeah, I do wonder if this is the best way to reintroduce the Justice Society of America to modern readers. I mean, maybe? Johns always loved to play with legacy, and now he is juggling multiple time periods as well. But still, I would have preferred a series that is not tied to any of the work Johns has been producing and stands on its own.
    Much of this first issue and The New Golden Age would be clearer if DC’s continuity were clearer. If the “rules” governing it were clearer. Are we supposed to take this “future” with Batman having a daughter at face value? Is this OUR Batman? Or is it another Earth? Or Hypertime? Pre-New52 this wasn’t all so confusing and you had a grasp of the general ground rules.
    Also, isn’t this origin for the new Huntress pretty much the same origin of the Huntress from the 1970s? Just tweaked a bit… So if that’s the case, that muddles things further, with some readers thinking this is the “classic” Earth 2.
    I would be shocked if the entire story is on another Earth. My bet is this is “a possible future” scenario with Huntress coming back to the main DCU’s past, and maybe it will be changed when Degaton is thwarted.
    It is nice to see Johns dip into Robinson’s Starman lore…
    Lastly, the release of this issue brought yet ANOTHER round of lame comic ‘news” site interviews with Johns. All puffy, not a lot of hard news (and I’m a reporter in my day job so I know what I’m talking about). Why is this 12 issues? What’s the end game? Are alternate earths involved? Why does Johns feel the need to include the Watchmen characters? I’m sure he would be cagey with some answers, but no one has asked any of these questions.

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    1. Brian, I suppose the references to Frederic Vaux were supposed to be little easter eggs for the reader. It certainly caused me to pause and ask myself if I was reading some kind of updated Earth 2 story. But then we get the inclusion of Khalid as Fate and Jack Knight’s son and that seems to place the story firmly on the current DCU (except years in the future).
      I get the Johns seems to be playing around with ideas that he likes to return to (legacies, etc) but in different ways than he has before. I suppose it’s cool that he’s trying to new things as a writer. But it’s not doing anything for me. It doesn’t excite me or pull me into this part of the story.
      His work on Stargirl, however, seems like a very natural continuation of the type of storytelling that he did on her original series. And it’s those kinds of story that resonate with me, so that’s definitely where my preference lies. 🙂

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    2. I agree, the puff interviews with comic creators at the likes of CBR are just a waste of time, solicitations with quite marks. I miss the day when creators would talk to fanzines and answer non-pre-approved questions. On the one hand, it’s great to get the masers in the comics, on the other, well, this is Geoff Johns, we should all live so long…

      The similarity of this Huntress’s ‘future past’ to the original Huntress’ story is a can of worms wearing Spandex, it can’t end well.

      I suppose there’s a small chance Dark Crisis will end with some clarity around DC’s timeline, but I’m not holding my breath.

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  5. I suppose the “convoluted nonsense” of JSA-related comics past has faded from memory? Black Canary, anyone? I have faith that this will all lead to something at least interesting, and hey: once the 12 issues is up, maybe someone else WILL get a crack at these characters after all? Look at me, of all people, choosing to be hopeful!

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    1. Oh, the Black Canary business hasn’t been forgotten, but I have tried! You make a fair point, but that was a two-part JLA/JSA team-up (or was it three) and even at the time everyone outside of Roy Thomas thought it a terrible idea; the current Geoff Johns story has been going on since Flashpoint.

      Thank you for the optimism, I’ll take it!

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  6. I haven’t really known what the Justice Society is, after Earth-2 of the 1960s. Like, why is Power Girl considered part of the the JSA? Seems she came along so much later. I know there were several Earth-2 series a number of years ago, where Supergirl and Robin crossed over here and became Power Girl and Huntress? I guess? Maybe that was entirely an Elseworld series. And how is Jade part of the JSA?

    Or, maybe it’s just understood that JSA means any team you want, from any time frame on any earth!

    I see several others are asking the same questions. It’s natural that people would.

    So many false starts – a JL team went back in time and had a very superficial adventure with the JSA during Scott Snyder’s run (pre-Death-Metal); and then, the JSA has appeared in Dark Crisis (playing less of a role than everyone would have liked). It’s never a bad time or bad way to bring back a JSA.

    Of course, the Justice League has always had changing rosters. So maybe it’s only fair that the Justice Society wouldn’t stagnate either. But somehow, it does seem its roster should remain the one from the 1940s, doesn’t it? Isn’t that what people want? If Sitting Around The Round Table is the Classic Scene that is always depicted Everywhere, well then isn’t that the team that everyone knows the fans want and expect?

    Anyway, did people notice that Selina tossed Helena the Flashpoint Snow Globe?

    And surely there was also some Watchmen in there, but I’m not sure I spotted any direct references. Indirectly, though – the Harlequin’s Son, Michael Mayne, apparently was an actor who played Carver Colman who himself was an actor heavily featured in Doomsday Clock interacting with Dr. Manhattan. (I’m reading the DC wiki, I don’t memorize this stuff.) I do hope Johns in turn gives us an actor to play Michael Mayne, either 12 years ago or 31 years from now! Why would he stop at two actors?

    Anyway, it’s intriguing, and though I’m always more than a little skeptical about Geoff Johns in general and his love of time-skipping in particular, I do always love Janin’s work, so I’m looking forward to the series.

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    1. I did notice the snowglobe, it was pretty in yer face. I’m trying to pretend it’s not happening, else Geoff Johns might try to meld Citizen Kane into the Batman continuity.

      I’m fine with Peege being part of the JSA, she’s been with them since her debut, before going onto other teams. Was Jade not a member in the Johns series previously? Who can keep up!

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  7. The art is great at least. Unfortunately the notion of beginning a new JSA title after over a decade with NO (real) Justice Society and a story engulfed darkness seems…idiotic? Is that the word I’m looking for? Yes.
    I finally got The New Golden Age and was crestfallen by its wrongheadedness (though not surprised as I’d read reviews, including yours). I may comment here with a mini-review but probably not, as it would be an evisceration or more honestly an autopsy for what was a corpse of a comic book.
    I question the rationality of bringing the JSA back in a maxi-series in which the thrust seems to be based around pointless retcon characters. Johns became so successful and powerful that no good editor is able or willing to metaphorically cuff him around the head with a “No, Geoff, don’t do that it’s stupid.” or “Don’t you think exhuming Alan Moore’s Watchmen and playing with the remains is both ill-advised and rather pathetic?” It’s like Roy Thomas writing a sequel to Maus.
    Still, as I said, great art. Um, except for Sexy Per Degaton. There’s been over two decades in which too many characters look like the result of some sinister eugenics experiment with few real people in there. If Adolf Hitler was the villain in a revived All-Star Squadron the artist would probably make him look like some mimbo from Love Island. Creeeepy. Everyone’s so concerned with superheroines being covered up and “practical” (while not commenting on mighty-thewed superheroes) they don’t notice this pernicious crap.
    Ach. I’m sure you’ll be delighted with this depressed comment. Sorry!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the delightful comments, and mini-reviews are very much appreciated. I suppose Johns gets away with mad stuff because his stuff sells to nutters like me.

      Isn’t it surprising the New 52 never gave us Sexy Ma Hunkel?

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  8. My poor Pee Gee! It’s interesting, probably only to me, how it weaves the older version of Helena with this future Huntress. However, I’m curious how she’ll deal with the current JSA and how the various timelines will come together.

    It’s my first live JSA so this is all really new to me!

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  9. Well, this isn’t the JSA I was looking for, and I was planning to wait for ULTRA, but I couldn’t resist. And… I enjoyed it. I like the idea of Helena bouncing from era to era in JSA history, rallying the team to combat Degaton (if that’s what she’ll be doing). That said, I don’t know if this series is on classic-ish Earth 2 (as I suspect) or in the regular DCU, and I guess we might not know that until Dark Crisis is over?

    And I totally agree that, despite Michel Janin’s many other merits as an artist, Helena’s costume is boring, and Jay’s goggle & chinstrap look is a mortal sin.

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