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April 13, 1999

Comix

JSA FOREVER!

by Chuck Miller

Why do I love the Justice Society so much? Because they were the original super-team? Because of my deep sense of history and tradition? Maybe. But I think it's really because... they're just so COOL!

I remember when I first encountered the JSA, early in my super-hero reading career. I had been a fan of the Justice League for a few months, and when the summer came, it was time for the annual JLA/JSA team-up. I thought, "Who are THESE guys? Hey... there's a DIFFERENT Green Lantern. And he looks really cool! And a different Flash! And he looks cool, too!" The way it worked in those pre-"Crisis on Infinite Earths" days, the JSA, who had started their careers in the early 40s, lived on "Earth 2," a world similar to, but different from the JLA's "Earth 1," where the heroes got a later start and formed a League instead of a Society. Thanks to the Earth 1 Flash, who found a way to pierce the "vibrational barrier" between the two worlds, both teams got together and started teaming up for a grand adventure once a year.

In the "real" world, our world-- once called "Earth Prime" in the comics-- the JSA was the brainchild of writer Gardner Fox. The team debuted in All-Star Comics #3 and battled Nazis and dictators from the future and evil aliens from Mars, emerging triumphant each and every time. Over the years, most of DC's heroes were members -- Green Lantern, Flash, Wonder Woman, the Sandman, Dr. Fate, the Spectre, Black Canary, Starman, Johnny Thunder, etc. While the roster was generally limited to characters who did not have their own magazines, Superman and Batman made a couple of brief appearances, too. Nothing could stop the JSA -- except for poor sales. When the superhero boom went bust in the early 50s, the JSA finally closed up shop. The new kids on the block, horror and crime comics, did what Per Degaton, the Ultra-Humanite and the Injustice Gang could never accomplish. The JSA was no more. They made their swan song in "All-Star" #57 (Feb./March 1951). The title was renamed "All-Star Western" with issue #58, and the JSA was history.

When superheroes became the in thing again in the mid-50s, writers at National Periodical Publications (later just plain DC) came up with new, streamlined versions of the Flash ("Showcase" #4, 1956), Green Lantern, etc., leaving the "old guys" to languish in limbo -- but not for long. In the classic "Flash of Two Worlds," Barry Allen-Flash accidentally crosses the barrier to Earth 2, where he meets Jay Garrick-Flash. The old dude was a hit with fans both young and old. For the kids, he was a "brand new" Flash. For older readers, he was a welcomed bit of nostalgia.

It was inevitable that the rest of the JSA should return, which they did in "Justice League of America" numbers 22 and 23, the first of many annual crises, "Crisis on Earth 2."

In the mid-70s, the JSA tried the first of their many unsuccessful comeback attempts. The adventures of the aging Earth 2 heroes began anew in the revived "All-Star Comics" #58. The title lasted only a year or two before folding. In the 80s, a slightly more successful run began in "All-Star Squadron" #1, which returned the heroes to their World War II milieu and chronicled a number of "untold" adventures. The All-Star Squadron itself was a JSA splinter group with the distinction of being one of the only superhero teams you couldn't refer to by their initials (Why not just call them the "Super Hero International Team?"). This title lasted longer than the earlier "All-Star" revival and spawned a spin-off, the rather dismal "Infinity Incorporated," which recounted the lackadaisical adventures of a hastily-created group of descendants of the original JSA. It would be unnecessarily complimentary to call the stories and art "uninspired." This project, like "All-Star Squadron," was conceived and written by Roy Thomas, who, bless his heart, has a deep and genuine affection for the Golden Age heroes-- but just can't write worth a flip. I really feel for him, because his heart's in the right place, but...

Anyhow, both of those titles bit the dust in the 80s. After the "Crisis on Infinite Earths," the decision was made to put the JSA away for good. Death would be too ignominious a fate for these legends, so in another Roy Thomas-authored spectacular, the heroes were consigned to an immortal limbo in which they would spend the rest of eternity in an epic battle with a fire giant who was out to destroy the earth. And so we bid a fond farewell to our Golden Age heroes...

... for a while. In the early 90s, the JSA returned. Released from their eternal battle during the "Armageddon: Inferno" miniseries, they returned briefly to their own title. "The Justice Society of America," with beautiful art by the late Mike Parobeck, lasted less than a year. Our heroes were out of work again. In the "Zero Hour" miniseries, they went so far as to kill off Hourman, Dr. Mid-Nite, and the original Atom in a gratuitous and undignified battle with a villain called Extant.

This left us, once again, bereft of most of our superannuated superheroes. Jay Garrick still showed up pretty regularly in the pages of "The Flash," and Wildcat popped up now and again. The Sandman, well past retirement age, made some appearances in the new "Starman" title (as does the original Starman). The Golden Age Green Lantern, now called Sentinel, could be found here and there. But the JSA was once again in limbo.

Until now. Yep, DC is gonna try again with an all-new JSA, starting in June. To pave the way, DC recently did a "Golden Age Week," a multi-part extravaganza presenting yet another untold tale of the JSA's wartime doings. And the current JLA storyline, "Crisis Times Five," featured the first JLA/JSA team-up in many a year. Of course, there are only three members of the old JSA who are still active -- the Flash, kept vital by the "speed force"; Green Lantern (Sentinel), who had 50 years knocked off of his age in a story too complicated to go into here; and Wildcat, who, despite being past 80 and having no magical backup, still inexplicably prances around like the Batman on a good day.

The new JSA will be written by James Robinson, who has done such a wonderful job on "Starman," and will feature the aforementioned old-timers, along with new versions of Hourman (who reminds me of the old Red Tornado, in that he's an android with a REALLY silly-looking outfit), Dr. Mid-Nite, The Star-Spangled Kid, Hawkgirl, and possibly the Sandman.

Let's hope it WORKS this time. The world needs a JSA. Anyhow, I need one. Even if it only lasts a few issues, I'm sure it's a ride I will enjoy...


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