Justice, Society, and America on the Slippery Slope (JSA # 45-51)

Some final thoughts on how DC’s JSA comics addressed the early years of the ‘War on Terror’.  This third column will focus on how the Princes of Darkness storyline looked forward to what it would involve in the longer term.

 

JSA #41 – 51 (published 2002-3) can be taken together as a sustained study on the 'War on Terror' and the consequent long wars in the Middle East that America was just then getting embroiled in.  They use the conventions and tropes of superhero comics to discuss, albeit in a coded form, the issues facing everyone at that time.

 

We’ve already seen that JSA issues 41-42 give voice to the misgivings and anxieties that many had in the run-up to the intervention in Iraq, whereas issues 43-44 much more soothingly echo the reassuring ‘Cakewalk’ narrative of how the Iraq War would pan out.

 

On the face of it, Princes of Darkness, in JSA issues 45-51, presents a shrill and overblown ‘good guys vs really really evil guys’ battle. It could easily be read (and probably was intended to be read) as representing the existential battle for the survival of the entire civilisation that the War on Terror was being sold as.  Several factors encourage reading it in this way.  There's the context of the preceding storylines and also the real world context that these comics were produced in during the first months of the Iraq War. Then the whole storyline opens and closes with run-ins between the Justice Society of America and Kobra, the leader of a global terrorist network-cum-religious movement.

 

Of the three old DC villains that team up here, two of them very much represent the threatening darkness itself.  Obsidian’s super-powers are basically darkness and shadows made physical, and Eclipso’s whole schtick, his powers and his visual appearance, revolves around the eclipse of goodness by the darkness.  Rounding out the trio and providing leadership is Mordru, who wants to wipe out the Earth as we know it and instigate a new world order more too his liking.  For his part, Mordru’s very name derives from the words for death and murder in various European languages.  Johns’ is not known as a subtle writer and his sledgehammer symbolism is very much at work here. 

 

DO YOU SEE??

 

At 7 issues, the war with these Princes of Darkness is indeed somewhat overblown and shrill.  There are many very ‘superhero’ moments that are pretty cringe-inducing.  Despite the world being on the brink of total destruction, the hero formerly known as Sentinel makes a big thing about changing his name back to Green Lantern, as if that matters remotely to anyone at this juncture.  There are a few scenes of Carter ‘Hawkman’ Hall emotively referring to Hector Hall, a much older-looking man, as his ‘son’.  As no work was put into the comics to emotionally contextualise this weird relationship, it kind of freezes out the reader every time it comes up.  Hector Hall’s subplot, which finally comes to a head here, was the main bum note in the two storylines I’ve already looked at.  I’d found his adventures in Gemworld utterly without meaning beyond mechanically pushing the plot forward. 

 

So the story wasn’t snappy or satisfying.  In the words of The Baron: “All this sound and fury, but what does it signify?”  Possibly the attempt to reduce such a complex and murky endeavour as the ‘War on Terror’ to the simple good guys versus bad guys narrative peddled by the Neo-cons gets the better of the writers, and the story suffers as a consequence.    Certainly we don’t have the snappy encapsulation of two very different takes on current events that the storylines already examined in JSA #41-44 supplied. 

 

Still, the more I looked at these 7 issues, the more I began to see some complexity and enlightenment starting to peep through.  In art, truths have a way of bubbling up, even when they aren’t consciously intended.

 

Let’s backtrack a little to the 2 issues that covered the war in ancient Egypt with Vandal Savage.  Ra’s Deus Ex Machina intervention did wrap things up pretty suddenly and there was a whole half an issue left to fill once Vandal Savage was beaten.  The finest, and most evocative sequence in the run of comics I'm looking at occurred in issue #44.  It involved the method of ‘time travel’ that Nabu arranged for the team-members to get back to 2002.  They had to ‘sleep’ magically in mummy-style sarcophagi for thousands of years and count on Black Adam to awaken them at the right time, as he would live through those years and be a member of the team when it was time for them to ‘wake up’.

 

Here’s the sequence:

 

 

 

Isn’t it a wonderful transition from an ancient foreign battlefield, back home to where you are loved and everything is how it should be; back home to the …er… bosom as it were, of your family and friends.

 

Perhaps it had more meaning for me because of what I brought to it.  I couldn’t help but compare it to what I’ve learned about the experiences of soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I’ve read a lot of great long-form journalism about these recent conflicts, but I’d have to recommend two great ‘documents’ on how the ‘War on Terror’ was experienced by the soldiers on the ground in the Middle East.  The Good Soldiers is a book and The Baker Boys is a compelling TV documentary, both about the Iraq campaign.  Both were by veteran reporters embedded with the US army, living with them over a long period of time.  Both described how their first homecoming from their first tour of duty is when the soldiers realised how much the experience has changed them.  Many of them were very young, many of them had lived through various traumas while away, all of them had spent long periods in stressful ‘battle-readiness’, had been involved in situations where lives were lost and terrible injuries occurred.  Whether they had been involved in inflicting or sustaining those casualties, or both, they had a lot to deal with. 

 

Some of what they have to deal with has been labeled 'Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder'.  The creators of JSA bring up that term in the very first scene of issue #41.  Hourman experiences a psychic shock when he has the precognition of Black Barax's attack that kicked all this off.  The writers refer to it as 'Pre-traumatic Stress Syndrome'.  So it is the comic series itself that is asking us to consider the negative psychological consequences of sending young people into battle. More pointedly, psychologists and commentators have begun using the term ‘moral injury’ to describe what these young soldiers are having to learn to deal with.  This means, for those affected by it, that their faith in justice and morality was essentially broken because of what they'd witnessed, did or failed to do while in the warzone, which leads to psychological problems in the long run.

 

 

Getting back to the 'homecoming' that the scene in JSA #44 evokes, it seems that their first leave spent at home was the first time the young soldiers fully realised how totally their experiences had changed them; changed how they related to their loved ones and communities, and changed the shape of their futures in many cases.  It seems that soldiers are more in danger of death and injury when they are home on leave, or home for good, than actually on the battlefield, for various reasons, so the homecoming is more problematic in reality than the cheery one of Mr Terrific, Hawkgirl and Captain Marvel.

 

Superhero comics are good at giving us the ‘best case scenario’ and the optimistic view.  It’s what Superman is all about, after all.  So I love that sequence of our JSA foot-soldiers welcome home.  Although it doesn’t quite reflect the reality, it’s moving and powerful as a vision of how the real soldiers must have imagined their homecoming to be:  waking up amongst the people you love and with all the stuff you’d left behind no more than a dream that doesn’t matter anymore.  It’s also useful as a comparison to measure against what homecoming really meant for so many young people who’d gone to foreign battlefields to serve their country during the ‘War on Terror’.

 

To the comic’s credit, it doesn’t just leave us with this glowing fantasia of the soldiers’ homecoming.  Captain Marvel, who has just returned from his own war in the Middle East, has a great final scene with Black Adam, whom the long years have changed into a harder and more cynical man than the idealistic, trusting ally Captain Marvel had left behind.  We had seen Black Adam’s first steps in this direction earlier in issue 44, where the young Adam executes Akh’ton in cold blood without a trial once Akh’ton had lost his powers.  Captain Marvel was shocked, but was told not to interfere as this was ‘a different time, a different place’. 

 

 

As another example of the wonderful poetic power available to superhero comic creators, it’s worth noting that Black Adam is Captain Marvel ‘s dark double.  Their costumes, origins and powers are almost identical.  Captain Marvel is a good-hearted boy who can magically change into a powerful adult.  Black Adam is someone who has reacted to trauma by making the ends justify any means, and has become corrupted.  On the more poetic and symbolic level, they are the same man.  Not only was Black Adam once as innocent and idealistic as Captain Marvel, but they both, in terms of this story, lost their innocence on that battlefield in the Middle East.  The execution of Akh'ton inflicts a moral injury of a sort on both of them.  On some level this comic is looking ahead to the questions that many many young soldiers would have to resolve for themselves as to whether ‘a different time, a different place’ is a good enough explanation for what they have had or will have to deal with.

 

Black Adam is central to the Kobra terrorist subplot which frames the Princes of Darkness storyline.  In the Princes of Darkness Prologue in issue 45, terrorism comes under discussion, and Black Adam refers to the Kobra followers who gather outside the courthouse where Kobra is being tried as an ’insurgency’.  Kobra is allowed to go free because his followers outside the court are all rigged with explosives to kill themselves and others if he doesn’t.  (Again with the Human Bombs!)  So the Kobra issues that start and end the Princes of Darkness storyline keep the focus on terrorism and the fight against it, and ‘frame’ the battle against the trio of main villains as a metaphor for the fight for 'national security'.  The Kobra plot is resolved in issue 51, when Black Adam and his breakaway ‘Shadow Justice Society’ visit Kobra at his secret base and executes him without trial - a targeted assassination.  For long-term followers of the comic, the drama here is in the assistance Adam receives from a character called the Atom Smasher, who has been a young JSA team-member up to now, and who has fallen under the influence of Black Adam.

 

Atom Smasher has earlier tried to argue with his team-mates that this was the way to go, but they insisted that, as their name should attest, they stood for the rule of law, that the path he was recommending was ‘a slippery slope’.  This extra-judicial execution is an echo of the killing of Akh’ton, but is now much closer to home.  It now involves the willing participation of recent Justice Society of America members and will have grave repercussions going forward.  It could be argued that the creators have their cake and eat it too, in that they give the readers the vicarious satisfaction of killing your enemies without bothering with any of that legal nonsense, whilst still setting up extra-judicial killing as something that is anathema to American principles of Justice and Society.  Still, it’s clear that the text as a whole is showing Atom Smasher’s choices as the first steps on a slippery slope that will lead to his ruin.

 

Note that the Justice Society of America is shown to be in danger of being corrupted from the inside.  Black Adam is from the Middle East and began his fall (Captain Marvel’s fall, Atom Smasher’s fall) on a battlefield in the Middle East. Black Adam was waiting for Captain Marvel when he returned from the fight against the despot Vandal Savage.  It is being hinted here that dangers await in the Middle East that will follow you home.  These comics are saying that what America was then preparing to embark on overseas won’t stay ‘over there’ in ‘a different time ... a different place’, and will come back to trouble the whole society in the long run.  Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition, ‘enhanced interrogation’, drone killings, vast levels of waste and misery.  The whole Princes of Darkness storyline is a veiled warning of what happens when good people start to believe they can do bad things and still be good people. 

 

As shrill and overblown as most of Princes of Darkness is, and notwithstanding how simplistically evil the three baddies are, the self-critical themes of ‘moral danger from within’ and ‘good people turning bad’ are embodied in the three titular Princes themselves.

 

Eclipso began in comics as a good man who periodically transforms into the Eclipso villain and then back again.  This is reiterated here, where we see the curator of the Justice Society museum Alexander Montez enact his plan of vengeance against Eclipso by ‘becoming’ Eclipso and supressing the villain down into his psyche through elaborate comicbook jiggery-pokery.  The new Ecliipso’s leer hints that maybe ‘beating evil by becoming evil’ may not be the most moral choice, nor the best route to ‘happily ever after’.

 

Obsidian was created as a hero, and had many adventures as such until abandonment issues with his father and mental instability, apparently inherited from his mother, caught up with him, and he became a villain – another good guy turned bad.  In our story, the threat from Obsidian was finally neutralised by compassion and love.  Now there’s a thought!

 

By the way, the story even includes another shadow-powered villain.  The Shade, a villain from James Robinson's Starman run, turns up to give assistance to Stargirl and Captain Marvel's boyish alter ego, Billy Batson, just when they need it most.  It isn't the Faustian deal that we keep seeing being played out in these JSA comics, but it is another instance of the little accomodations with the darkness that recur again and again in the series.

 

Finally, Mordru is an out-and-out bad-guy of long standing, which no-one will dispute. However, thanks to the over-plotted machinations of Goyer and Johns in this series, he re-enters the material plane by undermining the morals of a good man and then taking over his body.  Hector Hall is overcome by evil from within just as much as Eclipso and Obsidian were. 

 

Strangely, in the case of all three ‘Princes of Darkness’, the Justice Society ends up taking ownership of them, which is perhaps another reflection of the theme of good people taking on some qualities of evil to fight evil.

 

Obsidian is taken into the care of his father and sister, both Justice Society members.  Eclipso, as mentioned, ends up trapped within the psyche of the Justice Society museum curator – who is already showing signs that the evil Eclipso persona will eventually overtake him.  Finally, Mordru is strategically hugged by the Jakeem's Thunderbolt genie and sucked into Jakeem’s pen when the genie’s master recalls him.  Going beyond that, he is then embedded and imprisoned within the Rock of Eternity, a huge floating rock that serves as the home of Captain Marvel’s mentor, the wizard Shazam, as well as Captain Marvel’s own occasional abode.  Talk about taking your work home with you…

 

Taking on the qualities of evil to fight evil is a complex and thought-provoking theme.  However, these being ongoing comics, you can bet that each of these villains would spring up again sooner or later, like badly kept secrets, to trouble and torment the ‘good guys’.

 

At first blush, Princes of Darkness seems to be a simplistic and jingoistic take on the 'War on Terror' as a battle between the good guys and all-consuming, darkness-inducing, really, really bad guys. The Kobra terrorist scenes are used as framing to tell the slower of their readers that this is really all about Al Qaida and the 'War on Terror'. They even name-check hot-button terms like 'insurgency' and 'Weapons of Mass Destruction'.

 

However, a different message keeps breaking through.  We’ll leave this extraordinary sequence of JSA comics with a little juxtaposition.  The Golden Age Flash gives his explanation as to why the followers of Kobra have to go around blowing things up, and causing so much pointless misery:

 

 

Elsewhere, Black Adam gives his 'reply':

 

 

Just beneath the surface of these comics, prescient forebodings and deeper moral insights on the problematic aspects of the ‘War on Terror’ and its possible costs are going on. They are a wonderful demonstration that what is repressed and denied will always find a way to bubble to the surface and return.

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Once again, a very interesting piece, Figs.  I've really enjoyed reading these immensely. It's obvious that you've put alot of thought and effort into them.

First, let me apologize for not commenting on your threads, Figs, though I have been reading both them and the JSA issues.  I keep thinking that I have something profound to say but it always looked ridiculous in actual print.

On the matter here, I thought that it was meaningful that the JSA can't end the threat of the Princes of Darkness, only contain them and in Eclipso's case badly at that. That makes Black Adam's stance seem more valid (one can only wonder what he would do with the Joker and, of course, Batman would try to stop him). The argument has always been "Killing Evil only Begets More Evil" either by corrupting a hero's values or allowing a greater evil to take its place. Mordru wanted to rule a world of his design, one without heroes and, more importantly to his logic, without heroic legacy. His ultimate fate, to spend his advanced years battling costumed teenagers and always losing, may be his most fitting punishment. Or being locked in their basement while they frug around him! ;-)

The new Eclipso may think that he has the best intentions by trying to turn the Split-Face Terror into a hero but his primary motivation was vengeance, not justice. On such a weak foundation, his plan could only collapse. Add to that the fact that he injects black diamond bits into his bloodstream turns him into a power junkie.

Obsidian, the product of good and evil, sanity and madness, magic and science and yes order and chaos though mental not cosmic, may be the most tragic and dangerous of the three. His family wants to cure him, treat him, make him better and return him to what he was and in time they appear to succeed but the threat of remission is always there. They cannot guarantee that he will not regress in some form or another or quietly plot against them with another old enemy for the sins committed against him but real and imagined. Indeed, he's soon given free run of the JSA HQ which is just begging for trouble!

Villains don't believe in LEGACY. Mordru certainly did not. He wants no successor. He wants to reign supreme forever. Kobra did not either. His was the last word: One leader, the rest followers, there was a power vacuum that no one was prepared to fill. Desired to fill, yes but unprepared.

I suppose that once you hit the slippery slope of vengeance, power and megalomania, you set yourself up for failure because you can only fall.

Thanks Bob. They did take a bit of work.  I read those issues and what they were saying just popped up on my second reading, more or less instantly, like those 3D pictures were supposed to do.  (Though they never worked for me!)

 

But then commuinicating what I'd noticed took a lot of effort. 

 

Also, I had to track down all the stuff I'd read and learned in passing over the last 10 years and verify them as quotes and facts before including them in these posts as hyperlinks.  That was kind of fun, but also work, inasmuch as lying on the sofa looking stuff up on a tablet is work.  The long sustained folly of the 'War on Terror' is an interest of mine, so it was good to have an excuse to read up on it in a more systematic way.

 

In March this year, the US pulled out of Iraq after ten years.  The Australian army is moving out of Afghanistan this year, too, after its longest ever engagement on foreign soil, so it's a good time to look back and take stock of how it all began.

 

In the more recent interviews with experts who work hand in glove with the veterans and soldiers serving in those places, they've said that the soldiers are aware that the 'supporting the troops' stuff is largely only lip-service from the public, most of whom are pretty much unaffected by the wars, and that they feel that what the public really feel for them is disdain. 

 

I never supported these wars, but as a tax-payer in Britain and Australia, and as an Irish citizen (which counts because the Allied forces stopped over in Shannon airport) I have some responsibility for keeping the soldiers 'over there' fighting for whatever it is they were fighting for.  I figured I owed them at least the consideration of a few blog posts discussing, in a roundabout way, the whys and wherefores, and what the conversatoin semed like at the time.

 

It's big stuff that people shouldn't just try to sweep under the carpet, now that the times have moved on.

I like the way you read these comics, Philip.  The script for a monthly comic usually takes about a week, and the art usually takes about a month, so I often feel we don't give them enough consideration, considerring how much time was put into their production.

 

That makes Black Adam's stance seem more valid (one can only wonder what he would do with the Joker and, of course, Batman would try to stop him). The argument has always been "Killing Evil only Begets More Evil" either by corrupting a hero's values or allowing a greater evil to take its place.

 

I think there's a sort of fallacy at work here.  Superheroes aren't real, of course.  Like anything in a work of art they stand for things out here in the real world.  If they were real, then yes, just killing some megalomaniac, who flys around in public telling eveeryone how evil they are and proving it by killing swathes of people every time they come out of the house, isn't a bad idea.

 

Out here in the real world though, villains aren't so obliging, and even when they are, just executing them extra-judicially has all sorts of negative consequences.  Or trying to kill them rather, as this is the real world we are talking about.  Once human error and human presumption come into the picture, a lot of innocent people are going to go down in the crossfire.

 

In a superhero comic, just killing Kobra isn't as problematic as trying to kill real-life evil terrorists.  Here's a story that appeared in the papers just today.  Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland was a result of a similar approach to 'evil terrorists'.  In the real world, the legal system, faulty as it is, is the best one we have for trying to ensure we don't end up killling the wrong people and making a bad situation worse.

 

So, in some ways, a superhero comic is a blunt instrument for trying to examine these moral and political problems.  There's a lot of harm in making Black Adam's solutions anologous with tackling threats to society in the real world.  On the surface reading, these comics really do fall down on that score.  Kobra just walking out of a court, while the good guys sit on their hands?  What's that saying about the law?  Flash's explanation of Kobra's followers motivations is so foolish as to verge on knavery. Maybe that's what motivated Kobra followers in the DCU, but to suggest this is anologous to what motivates real-life terrorists...? 

 

And then there is the fallacy of seeing these vigliante episodes as personal actions.  In this case, the team is called the Justice Society of America.  On one level, what is being discussed are the dubious choices America as a nation was then getting involved in: the right to make war not as a response to an attack, but to pre-emptively launch wars, which is illegal under international law, or launch attacks in countries where you haven't declared war.  These comics try to keep at arms length what America was then engaged in.  First by having Black Barax do what America was then preparing to do, and then by having swarthy foreign 'probationary member' Black Adam  be the one who embodies all the wrong choices.  But still, it is political choices, rather more than personal choices, that are being discussed here.  Which again makes the superheroes a poor analogy if not used carefully.

I suppose that once you hit the slippery slope of vengeance, power and megalomania, you set yourself up for failure because you can only fall.

Well, it works for some people.

I think what Black Adam is showing is that you can't make these dubious, illegal moral choices, even if they are 'pragmatic', and still call yourself a hero or a superhero.

Then there is even the legal execution of baddies.  Obsidian shines a light on this.  Wouldn't he have had a fair old death toll by the end of this storyline?  You are right that it looks very like he'll return to his old ways sooner or later.  Shouldn't he just be killed now?

 

But think about Alan Scott's laughably pompous and self-aggrandising announcement that he is now and forevermore 'Green Lantern'.

 

What kind of a beacon of light would he be if the first thing he did was to kill his own son, that he totally let down and bears some responsibility for?  That would be a huge failure on his part just out of the gate in his new persona.

 

Related to this: wouldn't kiling Obsidian be a terrible punishment for his family to bear and live with going forward?  Wouldn't the end of the story be an awful downer if that's how they had to deal with Obsidian?  And why should they be punished in a real way for the crimes of their beloved relative?

 

The Joker has no relatives: he's nobody's child or brother, and that's another reason he falls down as an anology for how we should punish bad guys out here. Batman is very much somebody's child and that is very much the real reason he doesn't want anyone to die, no matter their character.  The comics acknowledge that, in Batman's commendable heroic attitude, but they also erase it, in how the Joker is portrayed.

Figserello said:

.... they've said that the soldiers are aware that the 'supporting the troops' stuff is largely only lip-service from the public, most of whom are pretty much unaffected by the wars, and that they feel that what the public really feel for them is disdain.

The difference between the current war and my war (Vietnam) are oddly minor. We are propping up unpopular and corrupt leaders against insurgents, and capturing and recapturing the same territory. One major difference between the two wars is that the "All-Volunteer" military causes the burden to be borne by an even smaller sub-set of the public than it was in Vietnam. Following the Vietnam war, the draft laws were rewritten to have everybody eligible for the draft. Unlike in Vietnam, a college student would be inducted after completing the current semester. This may sound worse but actually it is better. If all strata of society are thus affected, 10-year conflicts like Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq would either not happen in the first place or be a lot shorter. This, in my opinion, is the reason why they decided to use Reserve and National Guard forces to supplement the regular forces. Because this was inadequate, many of these people have deployed four or five times. As for supporting the troops, it doesn't translate into the public demanding less burden on those troops, more support for their physical and emotional injuries, or hiring of them when they need jobs. Many companies consider them damaged and/or crazy like they did the veterans of my war.

Flash's explanation of Kobra's followers motivations is so foolish as to verge on knavery. Maybe that's what motivated Kobra followers in the DCU, but to suggest this is anologous to what motivates real-life terrorists...?

This reminds me of the "they hate us for our freedom" fib. Anyone who points out that our enenies start out with some legitimate grievances is taking the chance of being accused of supporting those enemies. For various reasons in the past we have taken actions that directly or indirectly harmed other countries and are then surprised that they aren't happy with us. Being human, everyone on both sides overreacts, resulting in what we call terrorism, counter-terrorism, and world history.

I think what Black Adam is showing is that you can't make these dubious, illegal moral choices, even if they are 'pragmatic', and still call yourself a hero or a superhero.

I don't think Black Adam calls himself a hero.

After reading the article on the Military Reaction Force, which I can't say shocked me given that period of time, I was struck by the reason for its dissolution where there were questions over "the adequacy of its command and control structures." If I may use a very serious real-world example as an analogue, it's similar to Captain Marvel's role in the JSA. A main point of his membership was to watch over Black Adam, to be his control much like Black Adam and his team have no such controls and thus they feel that they can act as they see fit with no outside interference.

In regards to the Freedom Fighters, they originally were on Earth-X, a world taken over by the Nazis, so they were fighting for their lost freedom. In these issues, they are fighting to preserve the freedoms they have, maintaining the status quo not out to radically change it or change it back.

Thanks for the insightful comments, Richard.  In discussing the political choices that these comics tackle, I was trying to emphasise what they might say regarding those citizens who had to carry the greatest burdens of those choices ie the military.

 

I think what Black Adam is showing is that you can't make these dubious, illegal moral choices, even if they are 'pragmatic', and still call yourself a hero or a superhero.

I don't think Black Adam calls himself a hero.

There are layers in that simple statement.  Some people believe they can help save their society and country by behaving in an unheroic way.  I think heroic used to mean brave and strong and good in a fight, rather than morally and ethically unimpeachable.  I think these comics ask lots of interesting questions, and Black Adam is there at the heart of most of them.  Is this the series where he becomes a very interesting and compelling figure?  How was he handled in the Shazam series?

 

Ultimately, I think superheroes as we understand them are quite fragile figures.  They break when put under too much pressure.  This storyline really pushes them out of their comfort zone. The superheroes here seem helpless and ineffectual when faced with Black Adam's pragmatic 'solutions'. 

 

I referred to Captain Marvel's 'fall' above, and I don't think I overstated it.  He seems to have nothing to offer Black Adam by way of corrective to his dark double's view of the world during their conversation after the battle with Vandal Savage.  He is speechless and put in his place.  The world of these awful grown-up decisions is no place for a boy.

 

(But then most of our soldiers tend to be incredibly young...)

 

It occured to me that these comics are where Captain Marvel really did begin his fall, which he never recovered from in the DCU as was.  Black Adam (Billy's dark double) rose to kingship of his own realm and a starring role in 52, - a person of consequence - whereas Captain Marvel really stumbled from this point on, as far as the comics I've read with him in it go.

 

He lost his mentor shortly after this, and ends up guarding the Rock of Eternity, which drives him mad, being constantly tormented by the seven deadly sins.  Then he is helpless as the hopeful promise of Black Adam's new family is ripped apart and Captain Marvel himself isn't around at all for Mary Marvel when she goes off the rails, not once, but twice in succession.   

 

In Final Crisis, Superman isn't assisted by this broken Captain Marvel, but by an alternate one, who has stepped out of the pages of the CC Beck comic of the forties.  (And the disabled fellow is the acting Captain Marvel when Final Crisis hits the fan back in the DCUniverse, not BIlly Batson, anyway. 

 

(Similarily his only critical success in this period was in Jeff Smith's out-of-continuity mini-series.)

 

What happened to him by the end of the old DCU anyway?  He left, not with a bang, but with a whimper, I'd guess.

 

Superheroes can't take too much of this pragmatist BS before they stop being superheroes, and Billy Batson would be particularly ill-equipped to go there.  And this JSA series kind of illustrates that...

BTW this is the podcast I meant to link to regarding the disdain that serving combatants attribute to the public's attitude to them.  It's a very enlightening discussion on a worthwhile topic.  The link above features only a little clip.

 

(It's from Late Night Live - a great radio programe if really in-depth discussions on an eclectic rage of topics is your thing.)

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