Justice Society of America #29
“Fresh Meat: Part 1 of The Bad Seed”
Writers: Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges
Artist/Cover artist: Jesus Merino
Colors: Allen Passalaqua
Letters: Rob Leigh
Editor: Mike Carlin
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
I’ve been a fan of DC’s Golden Age heroes and new characters following in their footsteps for a long time, ever since I was a kid and first learned of the “Earth-2” heroes active during the Second World War. Geoff Johns, the previous writer on this series, approached modern stories about the first super-hero team by focusing on their legacy, reviving Golden Age character concepts and breathing new life into them with younger characters, and I enjoyed the concept. Now this series has new writers, and one would expect a new approach. To my surprise, we get more of what Johns brought to the book, only Bill Willingham and Matthews Sturges don’t execute it as well. They take the concepts and wield them like sledgehammers. Everything about this plot is loud and urgent without any kind of buildup. The story unfolds awkwardly as a result, and the characters often speak or act in ways that just don’t make sense. Furthermore, while artist Jesus Merino seems to handle the expansive case of characters fairly well, his art lacks any truly distinct style.
There’s a lot happening in the Justice Society brownstone today. Two new teen crimefighters — the All-American Kid and King Chimera — carrying on the tradition of Golden Age heroes join the team, while others investigate the appearance of a mysterious, black egg that’s shown up in the headquarters all of a sudden. If that weren’t enough, a super-villain is running amok in New York, calling out Wildcat for a no-holds-barred fight. The senior hero heads out to meet the challenge, but of course, he’s not alone. Unfortunately, neither is the lesser-known villain, and he and his friends are more than ready for the members of the Justice Society.
Jesus Merino is perhaps best known as penciller Carlos Pacheco’s inking partner on many of his DC Comics projects, such as the JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice graphic novel and Pacheco’s run on Superman. Merino’s been breaking out as an artist in his own right recently at DC, but unfortunately, comparisons to Pacheco’s work are likely unavoidable. It turns out that Merino’s work is quite unlike Pacheco’s. On the other hand, his style here at best never seems to go beyond simply standard genre art. Surprisingly, his art lacks the clean lines that he brought to Pacheco’s pencils. It’s quite dark in tone, even when the overall atmosphere of the storytelling isn’t that dire. He handles the crowd scenes fairly well; the double-page spread in which the villains are revealed is attractive. The mechanics of the art are acceptable, but Merino’s work lacks the smaller touches that could set it apart. For example, the younger heroes don’t look all that much different from the elder heroes.
In this script, the writers have the villains announcing their strategy to the heroes. We see Stargirl wondering aloud why no one is fighting her while doing nothing to aid her teammates, who are being trounced. We see the heroes invite what seem to be two completely unknown would-be members into their home without so much as background check. If that weren’t enough, the writers opt to introduce the latest in a series of big super-villain teams fairly soon after the concept was used and quickly discarded in other DC Universe titles in recent years. There are just too many elements here that just don’t make sense. Maybe Willingham and Sturges wanted to hit the ground running and offer an exciting plot to the audience, but it’s one that ignores characterization and a certain degree of logic.
When Geoff Johns wrote this title and the one that preceded it (JSA), there were those that criticized that he resorted to shock value too much and that his scripts were too immersed in past continuity (sometimes those complaints were merited, while at times, they weren’t, in my view). The blurb on the cover for this new issue proclaims that “a new era begins” here, but that’s really not the case. Maybe Willingham and Sturges are trying to ease their readership through a transition, opting to offer more Johns-like plots at first, but it doesn’t seem that way. It was recently announced that the team will split in two, leading to two separate JSA titles, and we’ve already recently seen that team-schism approach during the “Thy Kingdom Come” story arc. Maintaining the same direction wouldn’t normally be a problem, but the new writers charge ahead so quickly that there’s little in the way of interplay among the heroes, leaving just bull-headed action. 4/10
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