I’ve been fascinated by the Golden Age heroes of DC’s Earth-2 since the very early 70s, when I first “met” them in this oddball “crisis”:
The Green Lantern, the Red Tornado and the sombre Dr. Fate were clearly more colourful than their E-1 counterparts- and they had a rogues gallery of unfamiliar villains too!
When they were granted a new continuing series in the mid-70s, they became firm favourites:
I followed them in All-Star Squadron and Infinity Inc. in the 80s where they withered, aged and were finally shipped off into Valhalla. But in the next decade, these antiquated avengers had shaken off perceived irrelevance through their sheer four-colour bravado and effervescence.
The Justice Society Returns from 1999 was a relaunch for the team, after an appearance with Morrison’s JLA. This maxiseries begins and ends with two bookends and mimics the format of All-Star Comics, with individual chapters but here in the form of single-issue revivals of antique titles.There is also a greater similarity with early issues of the JLA where pairs or triads of heroes team up across the globe.
So, “Time’s Keeper” begins with a mysterious visitor for Hourman in his 1919 childhood, who gives him an hourglass. We flashforward to 1943 and a Nazi occult ceremony that summons Stalker.
Yes, the Levitz/Ditko 1975 take on Elric returns as a destructive avatar of chaos, able to transmogrify disciples of his own and in the image of the god who empowered him. I was strongly reminded of the Avengers/Juggernaut/Exemplars storyline, also from 1999…
The JSA gathers in an impressive two-page spread and the story climaxes with an exciting conflict in Washington DC. It then spins off into various chapters:
All-American Comics- GL and JY at the Yalta Conference. Johnny, who was always a goofy stooge for his Thunderbolt genies seems to something akin to global learning difficulties- but this is never explored.
Adventure Comics- Starman and Atom at Los Alamos, where the mighty mite has a struggle with his self-worth, counterpointed with ominous hints of a breakdown for Starman. This foreshadows The Golden Age and Starman.
National Comics-Flash and Mr. Terrific witness the death of the Americommando in Dresden and Terrific has a crisis of conscience.
Sensation Comics- Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl meet Speed Saunders at Iwo Jima. ( I like how the heroines are dubbed Polly and Sherry here).
Smash Comics- Hourman and Dr. Midnite appear to be on Gruinard Island, as Tick Tock Tyler’s hophead personality is explored. The story ends on a silly note as Hooty the owl is revived from near-death with a Miraclo pill.
Star-Spangled Comics- Sandman, Sandy, Stripsey and the Star-Spnagled Kid team up in New York City and meet the obscure master of disguise , the King. Sandy the Golden Boy’s transformation into a “creature in a velvet cage” is foreshadowed.
Thrilling Comics: Sea Devils/Haunted Tank legend Russ Heath illustrates an adventure in Angola for Hawkman and Wildcat. The JSAers team up with Kirby’s Manhunter Paul Kirk and the Tigress ( the GA Huntress, Mrs. Menace) against a Lovecraftian monster.
All-Star Comics 2: “Time’s Arrow” introduces Atom’s new look, based upon the late Cyclotron. There’s a second two-page panorama of JSA members, this time with Manhunter, Tigress, SSK and Stripesy.
The heroes travel to Antarctica,where Stalker is attempting to extinguish the sun. Terrific and Atom play key roles and Dr. Occult sacrifices himself ( but will be restored by his gal Friday, Rose Psychic) Hourman’s hourglass from #1 devolves Stalker and its mystery donor turns out to be the android Hourman of the future.
We get glimpses of the MacFarlane Hourman ( one of my favourite unpopular designs); the Last Days of the JSA; Zero Hour and the JSA revival. The maxiseries thus sets up the “legacy” theme that will characterise the team until the New 52.
The elegiac tone of the series fits well with the indulgent “miserablism” of Goth icon, Starman. But the concluding installment , with its Nazi occultism, time travel and snowy wasteland face-off reminded me very much of Morrison’s Zenith Phase III a decade earlier.
The tpb is rounded out with two shorts from the always-engaging “secret Files and Origins” specials DC released in the 90s. “Scenes from the Class Struggle at JSA Mansion” always intrigued me. At a gala, circa 1941, we see two factions have formed: the literal socialites at one table- the Hawks, Fate,Sandman, Starman, Midnite and arriviste GL.
At the other, the blue-collar members: Flash, Atom, Hourman, Johnny Thunder and ex-cop Spectre ( who used to share a bedroom in a rooming house). It’s a really interesting idea but of course a discordant note of modernity. Atom jeers “let’em sip with their pinkies out and gripe about their butlers!” Dr. Mid-Nite then gets his comeuppance for bringing an owl to dinner.
“History 101” features a lesson in the team’s heritage for the new Star-Spangled Kid ( aka Stargirl) from Sentinel (aka Green Lantern). There are glimpses of the Thinker’s Thinking Cap; Harlequin’s glasses; the Paul Crane Robotman body and a photo of Doris Lee in Starman’s costume.
This cross-dressing moment actually happened in All-Star Comics 15, 1943. When the Brain Wave first captured the JSA, Wonder Woman rounded up their girlfriends, who then impersonated the heroes!
The modern story is little more than a vignette of memorabilia, however.
While this isn’t the 70s JSA I enjoyed most, nor even the Parobeck version of the early 90s -and the tone is too portentous and introspective for my liking- it was good to see the original super-team reunited against an arcane figure from comics’ Bronze Age. This collection is also an interesting selection of late 90s comic art styles.
Still to come: The World’s Greatest Comics Magazine
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