'Stargirl' re-introduces often-killed Justice Society — and kills them

By Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

May 28, 2020 — Stargirl has arrived on DC Universe and The CW, bringing with it the return of the justly legendary Justice Society of America.

The Justice Society is the oldest superhero team in comics, arriving in All-Star Comics #3 in 1940. Another milestone: The team combined characters from two different publishers, “sister” companies Detective Comics Inc. and All-American Comics Inc. (Eventually these companies would merge into today’s DC Comics.)

The publishing premise of the JSA was simple: The team starred second-tier characters who did not have their own self-named titles, in the hopes that the additional exposure would make some of them popular enough to be promoted. Once a character gained his own title, he’d be replaced in All-Star by some other under-exposed second banana. A good idea, even if they didn’t always stick to it. (Wonder Woman, for example, stayed with the team after getting her own title, probably so that it wouldn’t be an all-boys club.)

In the opening scenes of Stargirl, we see the Justice Society in mostly comics-accurate outfits, battling the Injustice Society, a supervillain team straight out of All-Star Comics. There are a lot of characters whizzing by, so let me break them down for you:

Stargirl will feature a new, legacy JSA with (from left) Rick Tyler (Cameron Gellman) as the new Hourman, Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger) replacing Starman as Stargirl, Beth Chapel (Anjelika Washington) as Dr. Mid-Nite II and Yolanda Montez (Yvette Monreal) as the new Wildcat. (Courtesy DC Universe)

The Good Guys

  • Dr. Mid-Nite (1941): Charles McNider, blind doctor. Can see in the dark. Has an owl named Hooty.
  • The Flash (1940): Jay Garrick, nice guy. The first Scarlet Speedster. Only his ice-punctured helmet is seen on Stargirl. Too bad John Wesley Shipp, who played a version of Jay Garrick on The CW’s The Flash, didn’t cameo.
  • Green Lantern (1940): Alan Scott, railroad engineer. The first Emerald Gladiator. uses a ring made from a magic meteor to fly, melt metals, walk through walls. We didn’t see him on Stargirl either, but we did see the green flame and light associated with the character.
  • Hourman (1940): Rex Tyler, chemist. Invents “Miraclo,” which gives him super-strength for one hour. Promptly advertises this to the underworld with his name. I’d bet a dollar that the Mirakuro on Arrow, which made people super-strong but also drove them mad, was inspired by Miraclo.
  • Sandman (1939): Wesley Dodds, wealthy playboy. Inspired by dreams to fight crime with a gas gun and World War I gas mask.
  • Starman (1941): Ted Knight, wealthy playboy and amateur astronomer. Invents the stellar-powered “Gravity Rod,” which allows him to fly, control gravity and shoot force blasts and blinding light. The Rod evolves into the Cosmic Staff, as seen on Stargirl. However, Knight doesn’t appear as Starman in the Stargirl pilot. Instead it’s:
  • Star-Spangled Kid (1941): Sylvester Pemberton, wealthy teenager too young to be a playboy. Fought crime in patriotic leotards in Star-Spangled Comics. Was accompanied by mechanic and chauffeur Pat “Stripesy” Dugan, thereby inverting the usual ages of the superhero/sidekick duo, which was their particular gimmick. The pair were members of another superhero team in the 1940s, the Seven Soldiers of Victory (the less said about that the better). But Pemberton joined the JSA in the 1970s as one of their second-generation heroes, eventually adapting Knight’s technology to fly and calling himself Skyman. It looks like Stargirl is going to conflate the Star-Spangled Kid/Starman legacies into one.
  • Stripesy (1941): Pat Dugan, mechanic. As noted, Star-Spangled Kid’s partner in the comics, Starman’s sidekick on TV. Invents robot armor S.T.R.I.P.E. in 1999 to protect step-daughter Courtney Whitmore, who is determined to be a superhero, first as the new Star-Spangled Kid and later Stargirl. S.T.R.I.P.E. is an acronym, standing for Special Tactics Robotic Integrated Power Enhancer in comics, Subatomic Tactical Robot Internet Pat Enhancer on TV. Drove a flying car in the 1940s called the Star-Rocket Racer, as seen on Stargirl. Lives in Blue Valley, Nebraska, which was introduced in 1959 as the home of Wally “Kid Flash” West.
  • Wildcat (1942): Ted Grant, professional boxer. Inspired by Wonder Woman to fight crime, adopts a cat-like costume and motif.

The Bad Guys

Jordan “Icicle” Mahkent (Neil Jackson) is the leader of the Injustice Society on Stargirl. (Courtesy DC Universe)

  • Brainwave (1943): Henry King. Psychic powers, including telekinesis and telepathy.
  • Dragon King (1981): Real name unknown. Mixes science and magic.
  • Icicle (1947): Joar Mahkent. Uses a “cold gun” to freeze air and objects. His son was able to generate cold organically (like Marvel’s Iceman). TV’s Icicle seems able to do the same. His first name has been changed to Jordan.
  • Solomon Grundy (1944): Reanimated corpse. Super-strong but nearly mindless.
  • Sportsmaster (1947): Lawrence “Crusher” Crock. Uses sports-themed gadgets.
  • Tigress (1947): Paula Brooks. Tiger-themed. Vicious. Often depicted as married to Sportsmaster.
  • The Wizard (1947): William Zard. Mystical powers, primarily illusions. Surname is Zarick on TV.

 

The Justice Society lasted until 1951, when All-Star Comics changed its named and format to All-Star Western, signaling the end of the First Heroic Age in Comics. Unfortunately, by not moving into the ‘50s, the JSA became inextricably linked to World War II. Over the years since, DC Comics has suffered conniptions in contriving ways to use characters who  are tethered to the middle of the last century.

First, they were established as existing on a parallel world (1961). Then shunted to limbo (1986). Mostly killed (1994). Replaced by younger versions (2011). Wiped from history (2016). Gah!

The answer Stargirl has found is to refer to the JSA’s heyday as “10 years ago,” but in a world of uncertain vintage — old cars, social norms and technology, existing side by side with modern fashion and architecture. I doubt you will ever hear a year mentioned on Stargirl.

Unfortunately, most of the JSA was wiped out in those early scenes.  Which, come to think of it, is a fairly common occurrence. The team has appeared twice before in live-action shows, both times with an alarmingly high mortality rate.

In seasons 9 and 10 of Smallville, Stargirl (Britt Irvin) was portrayed as a protégé of Sylvester “Star-Spangled Kid” Pemberton and survived. But Pemberton , Dr. Fate, Hawkgirl, Hawkman and Sandman did not.

On Stargirl, Courtney’s step-dad Pat Dugan (Luke Wilson) will accompany the new superhero in S.T.R.I.P.E., a robotic super-suit. (Courtesy DC Universe)

In the second season of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, JSA members included Commander Steel, Dr. Mid-Nite, Hourman, Obsidian, Stargirl and Vixen. Once again Courtney (Sarah Grey) survived, along with Vixen and Obsidian. The rest didn’t make it.

JSA Mommas, don’t let your kids grow up to go on TV!

Meanwhile, Stargirl promises to re-create its version of the Justice Society with a new generation, something the comics also did, briefly, before killing them all off. This second wave will be comics accurate, with Yolanda Montez (Yvette Monreal) becoming Wildcat II, Beth Chapel (Anjelika Washington) becoming the second Dr. Mid-Nite and Rick Tyler (Cameron Gellman) fulfilling his father’s legacy as the new Hourman.

And, thankfully, the JSA is returning to DC Comics, after having been wiped from history by Dr. Manhattan of Watchmen fame. (Yes, that really happened.)

Let’s hope DC  avoids killing them off for a little while this time.

Find Captain Comics by email (capncomics@aol.com), on his website (captaincomics.ning.com), on Facebook (Andrew Alan Smith) or on Twitter (@CaptainComics).  

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...Does the DVD out of the 5th season of the FLASH CW series include all four? episodes of the. 

" Crisis On Infinite Earths " crossover which ran this year? I didn't see the TV broadcasting.

Emerkeith Davyjack said:

...Does the DVD out of the 5th season of the FLASH CW series include all four? episodes of the. 

" Crisis On Infinite Earths " crossover which ran this year? I didn't see the TV broadcasting.

I doubt it. I recall when the "Crisis On Infinite Earths" crossover happened that the producer said there won't be a DVD with all parts in one place.

I don't understand why they can't make it happen. Likewise, I never understood why we never got a DVD with all the Law & Order/Homicide: Life On the Street crossovers, or the Ally McBeal/The Practice crossover, or the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit crossovers with other Dick Wolf Universe shows. 

...Thank you:-(.

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