Justice Society of America v.3 #1
“The Next Age, Chapter 1”
Writer: Geoff Johns
Pencils: Dale Eaglesham
Inks: Art Thibert
Colors: Jeromy Cox
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover artists: Alex Ross (regular edition) & Dale Eaglesham (variant)
Editor: Stephen Wacker & Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US/$5.50 CAN
Ever since the Silver Age of Comics, stories featuring the Justice Society of America and its members have been about preserving tradition, about remembering where the modern icons of super-hero pop culture of today came from in the first place. That was true of Gardner Fox’s JLA/JSA stories in Justice League of America in the 1960s. It was true of Paul Levitz’s JSA stories in All-Star Comics in the 1970s. And it was true of Roy Thomas’s All-Star Squadron in the 1980s. I loved all of those stories and still do today. In this relaunched series, writer Geoff Johns balances the fondness of the heroes of yesteryear with an accessible script and a slightly darker edge. This debut issue has its flaws, but this gathering-of-the-troops chapter has a solid foundation in characterization. Given my affection for the characters from DC’s Golden Age, I was surprised to find how interested I am in the new, younger members of the team.
Whereas the Justice League of America is about bringing together the world’s greatest heroes to fight the most dangerous threats to mankind, the Justice Society, though equally powerful and honorable, is about maintaining longstanding legacies of heroism. At the urging of their colleagues in the JLA, the three surviving members of the original Justice Society set out to recruit new members, young men and women with connections to their past teammates. What they don’t know is that someone else is also seeking out new faces carrying on old heroic traditions, but for far more sinister ends.
Eaglesham faces a daunting task here, as the script calls for the depiction of a large cast of colorful characters, both in the main story and in flashback. The penciller does an excellent job of reinforcing the personalities of the new players who are incorporated into the title team. Damage’s rage and instability shines through in his eyes, and we even get a hint of the physical scars (symbolic of the damage within) around the edges of his eyes. Maxine Hunkel’s enthusiasm and awkwardness shines through not only in her eyes but her body language. Starman’s appearance — exuding raw strength and power — makes for an interesting contrast to his childlike character.
One distracting visual component of the book — mentioned by critic Johanna Draper Carlson earlier this week — is how the new Liberty Belle draped herself over the form of Hourman. These two characters seem to be defined by their sexual desire for one another. One could almost think their powers are dependent on constant contact with one another. But this isn’t a fault with Eaglesham’s artwork. Johns’s script defines these characters by their new and passionate relationship for one another. Hourman and Belle are a walking, costumed Public Display of Affection, and it ends up being rather irksome rather than endearing.
I think the character that intrigued me the most was the new Starman. This incarnation of the character has been hinted at in Kingdom Come and James Robinson’s Starman series, and there are small but not subtle indications here that would seem to confirm that this is Star Boy from the Legion of Super-Heroes after having travelled back in time from the 31st century. He’s damaged goods, a hero who’s gone a bit crazy and regressed to something of a childlike state of mind. It’s really an off-the-wall character to be included in a rather straight-laced super-hero book. The connection to the Legion will no doubt prove to be lots of fun for longtime DC readers such as myself. However, knowledge of the link to the Legion isn’t necessary to appreciate Johns’s characterization.
The new Starman is representative of all of the new members recruited in this issue. Damage and Maxine (soon to be named Cyclone, if memory serves) are just as fragile as Starman, and that seems to be the elder heroes’ purpose in their selection. It would seem that these junior heroes will be not only guided by the more experienced heroes, but healed as well.
Some might not react well to the introduction of a new hero with a familiar name in this issue only to see him killed off (I assume) in the same issue as his first appearance. Johns clearly uses this death for shock value and to establish what’s at stake for the JSA. I don’t have a problem with it because the character concept is dated, not updated, and it’s a minor property from comicdom’s past. I enjoyed seeing the retooled character, and Johns’s narration brings the character to life quite well and quite quickly.
Where this book goes somewhat awry is in its effort to go grim-and-gritty with these classic characters (or newer versions thereof). I admit I’m intrigued by the plot, but I’m far more interested in the characters. The murder investigation plotline reminded me a lot of the sort of tone that was dominated in Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis. Now, I thought the intent at DC these days was to veer away from that darker, harsher atmosphere, and with this book, I think the publisher should. So many of the characters here are about hope, energy and just plain fun. Maxine Hunkel is perfectly representative of this lighter feel, and I’d honestly prefer more of that than the darker fare that’s borderline cliche today. 7/10