All-Star Comics #3 (Winter 1940):

1)I expect that if you've only read one Golden Age adventure of the JSA, this is the one.  It's not bad, but this first issue is more like an anthology than a team book, per se.

 

2)Line-Up: The Atom (Al Pratt), Doctor Fate (Kent Nelson), the Flash (Jay Garrick), the Green Lantern (Alan Scott), the Hawkman (Carter Hall), the  Hour Man (Rex Tyler), the Sandman (Wesley Dodds) and the Spectre (Jim Corrigan), with gate-crasher Johnny Thunder and the Red Tornado (Ma Hunkle), to whom Hourman says "Why, we meant to inviite you but we heard you were busy!" All white guys, of cours,e but only to be expected in those less progressive days. Nowadays, things are much different, since when the Justice League was recently revamped, the founding members were just mostly white guys. That aside, I have no real beef with the membership except the inclusion of Johnny Thunder, a character I've always loathed. If they had to have a "comedy" character on the team, I would've much preferred the Red Tornado.

 

3)The JSA gathers for a dinner. Johnny Thunder crashes the party and offers the suggestion that they each narrate an adventure to pass the time. During the dinner, the Flash is summoned to Washington, DC, to meet with Madam Fatal the head of the FBI.

 

4)No origin is given for the team - they all just sort of seem to know each other, already. Johnny Thunder is aware of the meeting, but the Sandman later says that the meeting is a secret. Although knocking out everyone in the lobby actually seems like it be more likely to draw attention than discourage it.

 

5)Doctor Fate: ""The Spectre and I do not touch food." Just as well, Doc, I wouldn't want to see you try to eat with that helmet on.

 

6)Superman, Batman and Robin and the Tornado are described as being "busy".  I find I don't miss Supes and Bats from the team.

 

7)The art is generally OK - nothing exceptionally good or exceptionally bad.

 

8)The Flash tells how he battled some pirates. A light-hearted story, particularly his encounter with a shark. Comics are far too serious these days to have a scene like that in it.

 

9)Hawkman tells of his battle with some fire people. Moldoff draws his wings REALLY HUGE.

 

10)The Spectre tells of his battle with Oom the Mighty, the goofiest demon ever.

 

11)Hourman tells of his battle with jewel thieves who all dress as Hourman.  Amusing because in the end, everyone thinks Rex Tyler was posing as Hourman when he actually was Hourman!

 

12)We have a brief interval where the Red Tornado drops by long enough for it to be revealed that she tore her pants. The Flash is aware of her as a comics character.

 

13)The Sandman tells of his battle of a mad doctor who creates giants in a particularly creepy tale.  I notice alot of these guys, their girlfirends know their secret ID's, with out it being the end of the world.

 

14)Doctor Fate introduces himself thusly:  " I am not human...I never was a child...I had no youth. The elder gods created me just as I am now, and placed me here on Earth to fight evil sorcery!"  I'm pretty sure this is the only place I remember the character's provenance being set out in this manner. anyhow, Fate tells of his battle with an evil sorceror.  Probably the most distinctive art style on this one.

 

15)Johnny Thunder, having suggested story-telling, says he's too shy to do it, "So the editors have written a story about something that happened to me."  So, he knows he's a comic book character, too. Anyhow, his adventure is a text pice about some silly damn thing he did.

 

16)The Atom battles a gang of gold thieves.  Whenever I see the Golden Age Atom's original costume I wonder why the crooks don't all just laugh themselves to death.

 

17)Green Lantern tells of his battle with some racketeers.

 

18)Cliffhanger: The Flash returns with the message that the head of the FBI wants to meet with them all!

 

Overall: This first issue holds up pretty well, all things considered. I still find it a fun read.

 

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Dave Elyea said:

Or maybe other criminals figured out that, if the super-villains got out, the super-heroes would come back, and so they actively worked to foil the villains escape plans?

I'd pay to read that.

Which real version is this one?

The Baron said:


 Up next:  JSA Classified #1 and the rela origin of Power Girl!

Philip said:

I hated the entire "Jean-Loring-as-Eclipso" storyline! I think that it existed because she suddenly was the main villain of Identity Crisis and DC wanted to capitalize on her newfound notoriety and boosted her to "cosmic menace" status. They just couldn't leave her locked up in a looney bin somewhere, could they? Jean went from determined attorney to nutjob to devoted wife to adulteress to repentant to obsessive nutjob to murderess to the third Eclipso in one demented lifetime!

I've read these comics differently to most people here.  Meltzer depended on such old touchstones for his story, that I didn't know who Jean Loring was when I read her apperances in the COuntdown to IC books.  I started reading DC again (in more depth than I had before) just after Identity Crisis hit, but didn't actually read Identity Crisis for a while after that.  Then, only while reading through old JLA comics did I see Jean had been nutso before.  It's funny how these ongoing non-stop stories, where ultimately everyone stays the same age, means that no-one gets away from the traumas that define them.  Once a nutso, always a nutso.  Same for poor old Hank Pym, but his woes have been well documented here.

Also it's practically a defining characteristic of the DiDio era that if anything works at all, it immediately has to be flogged to death.  So killing one old JL cast member in Identity Crisis had to be followed up with Blue Beetle getting his brains blown out as the first order of business.  Jean should have been retired for a while, but here she is. Likewise Black Adam had a super arc in 52 that was hard to follow up, but they had to bring him back into the picture ASAP afterwards.  In the case of both these villains you had diminishing returns with each subsequent appearance until no-one cared about them.

The Commander has written well elsewhere about the longer-term thinking that made the JSA appearances continue to be anticipated and enjoyed by the fans back in the Silver Age.  Schwartz was no dummy.

I wonder if Jean becoming Eclipso was planned earlier and that's why they killed off Alex/Eclipso so quickly? Or was it mere convenience?

I have said above that I admire some aspects of DiDio's stewardship of DC.  There is a lot of focus and direction around this period of the company.  Still, I think you give 'The Powers That Be' too much credit here, Philip.  Alex/Eclipso had his arc.  It was quite boldly but briefly sketched in, considering how little space there is in a teambook, and how short a period there was his popping up, and popping his clogs.  I just see a well-managed arc about a doomed anti-hero that ended with him dead, and his more recogniseable corporate property alter ego potentially free to be churned over a few more times.

Jean Loring being Eclipso is too crap an idea to be anything other than an ad-hoc, last-minute opportunistic attention-grab...

Jimmm Kelly said:

By this time I had stopped reading JSA--for reasons I gave before. I was trade-waiting, supposedly--although by the time I had the income to buy trades again, I pretty much had stopped caring about the JSA. So this is the first that I'm hearing that Hourman III had died. I never *choke* knew.

I can't imagine how it would be even possible for Hourman III to die in any way that would be relevant, given the nature of the character. He was really the last DC character whose series I genuinely enjoyed and treasured. Throughout my involvement with reading DC comics, even during the tough times when I had almost lost faith with the company, there would be one series that kept me interested and saved DC for me. And HOURMAN was really the last series like that.

 

Glad to hear the love for Peyer's Hourman. It really was something special. Too bad it has never been collected, when I'm sure lots of less heartfelt and less well-finished stuff has. It was only 24 issues, after all. It isn't even on Comixology which is a shame. That's probably the most likely place it will appear first, if ever.

Hourman III's death was pretty meaningless, beyond illustrating that old founding heroes had to be held onto long after their perosonalities and backstories had been hopelessly compromised with far too much continuity veeblefetzing. That a young virtually miraculous hero should die so that demented old Hourman I should live long past his sell-by date and shirk a good heroic death that he'd already signed up for, isn't much of a story. There's nothing in the drama of his send-off that makes sense. It might as well have been a coin-toss.

What's Peyer doing now I wonder?

We are reaching the end of this volume of JSA and Johns closes his period at the helm a few issues before the curtain drops on this iteration of the title. I don't think I'll be reading much of the Justice Society of America series that followed this one.  In some ways these comics are slick and entertaining comics of a type that I tend to enjoy, in that you have a stable creative team telling a long story with an interesting cast.  However, in other ways they are kind of heavy going.  I had to fall behind the Baron a few times because I couldn't dive into another round of sorrow and mutilation and self-loathing so quickly after the round before.

 

So my next few posts will be largely in the way of a summing up of the series as a whole.

 

Black Vengence part I-III

 

3)Atom-Smasher wants back in, and the JSA debates it!  After all them murders he done, they're debating it?

 

How dumb is this panel?

Where to start?  Keep in mind that Kahndaq has consistently been a stand-in for Iraq.  (Had Kahndaq been mentioned before as Adam's birthplace?  When were we given this name?)  Al's sins were largely committed as a result of Black Adam's 'war of choice' there to oust a dictator.  Alan Scott is making the first steps here towards a discussion regarding the rights and wrongs of Al's actions ("all them murders" as the Baron puts it.)  That's an important discussion, central to the moral conundrum that Johns is half-heartedly building this three-parter around.

 

Feckless Generation X-er Kendra immediately tries to shut him up with the line "It's not 1945 anymore.  Life's not black and white."  (Of course, there is the implied 'anymore' attached to the second sentence too, when you analyse what she's doing rhetorically.)

 

It's such a dumb argument on so many levels.  Kendra is implying that somehow the Americans of the post 9-11 world have it harder than the WWII generation.  That they have to shoulder the burden of carrying out morally distasteful acts for the greater good, whereas the good old Nazis and the Japanese made everything morally easy for the Allies.  That's just an awful line of argument.

 

The WWII generation had to deal with all sorts of tough, morally dubious questions, like firebombing and using the Atom bomb on civilians.  The 'greatest generation' even made terrible decisions regarding the hordes of destitute refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe, and the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent.  To say anything was black and white about that era (besides the newsreel footage) is to show utter ignorance of what they actually lived through, and to use that ignorance in an argument that involves obvious parallels with what the US was doing in the middle East at the time of this comic’s publication shows sheer imbecility.

 

The worst part of all this is that Alan meekly backs down and accepts her imbecilic line of argument.  He concedes her point that there is a difference between then and now.  I’m sorry, but the only differences I see is that truth, justice and the American way of life were in much more danger during the Second World War than they were in the first years of the 21st Century.  There’s something strange about how the Golden Age heroes are used throughout this series, and it is most stark during this ‘debate’.  Johns is perpetuating here the essentially dishonest arguments that enabled the interventions in the Middle East, and the forms they took

 

This is Colbert's 'truthiness' writ large, and used in the exact same context as he lambasted those media people in front of the President for in his famous speech.  This issue is almost contemporaneous with that comic turn, where Colbert accused the assembled media of not applying critical thinking or analysis to the issues of the day, and instead selling their public short by feeding them what ‘felt right’.

 

Johns, with his instinct for what 'feels right' and what comforts the powerful, is able to slip in this profoundly dishonest rhetorical line.  Although the 3 comics in this sequence do present an argument about the cost of Al’s actions, and conclude with him accepting his responsibility for his crimes and going to jail, they do so in a rather mealy-mouthed way, and manage to send out various dog-whistles along the way that actually, America took the right actions, even if they weren’t legal, and even if they involved unleashing violence. 

 

For one thing, despite the similarities between Adam’s and Al’s actions to the actual invasion of Iraq, in this comicbook version only the guilty got punished during the 'intervention', and the people of the ‘liberated’ country all love them.  That’s a considerably different scenario to what actually happened in Iraq, where for some reason those pesky foreigners weren’t so grateful.  Various reasons, actually.

 

Another thing is that these paragons of virtue in the JSA argue that even if they allow Al back into their exalted ranks, he will be hounded by lesser outfits like the ‘DEO or the UN’and forced to stand trial 'for war crimes'.  The DEO, under Mr Bones, has been portrayed in a particular light so far in this series, and it is being paired rhetorically with the UN here.  Mr Terrific is actually subtly asserting that the JSA should be above the law somehow: that might makes right, and that it is enough to be a 'good guy' and to mean well.

 

There is more dog-whistling regarding various facets of American foreign policy in the postscript issue that focuses on Al’s trial, but I’ll give that its own post.

 

So a dishonest ‘truthiness’ is being peddled here. 

(Continued below...)

(cont)

I’ve read lots of comics in my time, and it’s not uncommon to see various values being appealed to on behalf of the writer’s argument; Morality, common humanity, ‘the children’.

It’s strange to note that Johns consistently appeals to privilege.

In this case, if you’ve got superior force and want to use it, ‘here you go’. If you are personally largely unaffected by the consequences of America’s foreign policy actions and don’t want to think about them too deeply or question the morality of them, ‘here you go’. If you want to take comfort in facile comparisons with World War Two, ‘here you go.’ or half-baked 'cakewalk' narratives that make it easier to wage war on impoverished nations, 'here you go'. If you are in a position where you’d rather displace the blame for what has gone wrong onto a bunch of swarthy foreigners – ‘here you go’. (Think of virtually the entire Fifteenth Dynasty Egyptian court being at fault when the invasion starts to get ugly.)

And it’s not just in the realm of foreign policy that we get these appeals to privilege...

In a position where you don’t have to take sexual objectification seriously, nor worry about sexual assault as a real concern? – ‘here’s lady bits, and here's the use of rape as no more than a titillating plot device instead of a serious subject that should be handled properly.’ Live in a society that generally favours your gender? 'Here's a bunch of women who are somehow to blame for their rough treatment.'

Don't like discussions that imply your good fortune might be at the expense of indigenous peoples? 'Here you go'

Blissfully unaware that the general discourse is affected by the portrayal of minorities in mass entertainment and how the trappings of various stereotypes are deployed? ‘Here you go!’

It's all about knowing what side your bread is buttered on, I suppose...



Figserello said:

It's all about knowing what side your bread is buttered on, I suppose...

 

There's something wrong with me. I carefully read Figs' lengthy, well thought-out essay above, and then I see that sentence and think: "Aw, I could go for some bread and butter right now!"

JSA Classified #1 (September 2005): "Power Trip Part I of IV"

1)This story is written by Geoff Johns and is drawn by Amanda Conner, who is an OK artist.  Not an especial favorite of mine, but not bad.

 

2)The story is essentially a set-up for the revelation of the "true" nature of Power Girl's origin.  She remembers coming to Earth and being taken for Superman's cousin, then being taken for a fraud when it was proven that she wasn't. We get discussions of how her powers have been fluctuating, and she bemoans her lack of a life outside of super-heroing. Whilst saving a guy falling from a building, she sees Garn Danuth and fights him, only to learn that no one else can see him,. The JSA comes to see what's wrong, but she rejects their help and leaves.  Elsewhere a mysterious figure talks about his plans for Power Girl, and then addresses Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy!

 

Overall:  While I'm all for clearing up Power Girl's origins, so far this book makes her seem all whiny and complainy, and generally not very heroic.

POWER GIRL #1 (Ju'88)

JSA CLASSIFIED #1 (S'05)

I'm linking to the first Power Girl mini-series because it was supposed to anchor her to Arion, Lord of Atlantis, it was written by Paul Kupperberg who revised Kara's origin and was the co-creator of Arion which makes me suspect that he wanted to push his concept more. Indeed Arion would get his own mini soon after: Arion the Immortal.

DC kept Power Girl after the Crisis that killed Supergirl yet denied her being Superman's cousin, too. This story has her taking Supergirl's iconic cover shot and everyone was happy, except for Batman who proved that Power Girl was not Superman's cousin nor was she Kryptonian. But he could not prove that she deliberately misled them and Superman never questioned that part. But Kara felt like a fraud because she did not know the truth about her origins. Her intentions were good but she never felt truly accepted. She was the person who lied to Earth's Greatest Hero.

That's why she's so direct and enjoys action all the time. She lives in the moment because she has no past. She says that her powers are mystical in nature because that is what the Spirit of Arion told her and because Batman said that she wasn't the last daughter of a doomed world. She says that she no longer cares about her past but she's lying to herself. She is afraid of finding out. She desperately wants to be Superman's cousin. That would validate her existence. It would stop the silent accusations, even from Ma Kent! Without that, she will never be truly happy.

That's why she has no personal life. She doesn't feel like a real person nor does she feels that she deserves one.

It's also why she dresses in a very low cut, skintight outfit. No one questions her motivations. Her past doesn't matter. She is all style and no substance. She is the Busty Brawler and the Well Endowed Enigma. It's a distraction to the public and to herself. The staring and the leering fuels her anger and makes it external instead of internal. She demands to be treated as a person not a sex object because that's what she's missing inside: a sense of self-worth.

Cool. Interesting stuff, Philip.

ARION THE IMMORTAL #6 (D'92)

Thanks, Baron.

Paul Kupperberg would return to his Atlantean mage in Arion the Immortal #1-6 (Jl-D'92) with Kara showing up in #3 and #6 wearing her "Atlantean" outfit!

That's a great summation of what's going on with Powergirl, Philip, at the level of her character and motivations.  It all makes sense and it's a good sympathetic reading.

Still, it's funny how it's usually the women who get this shakey, undefined handling.  Appearing at the same time was 'The Return of Donna Troy', which was a big whoop amongst a certain subset of the fans, and the prelude to some appearances in the next few issues, but like this Powergirl series, it didn't really clear things up that much regarding an already overly complicated backstory, or make things more streamlined.  Wonder Woman herself is another character that kept getting knocked around, conceptually speaking.  There were three or four restarts just around this time for her.  Supergirl was just bursting on the scene in the pages of Superman/Batman.  This would be the umpteenth reboot of the character, and was popular in the short term, but extremely problematic in the medium term, and she had to be redefined considerably once Loeb, Turner and Joe Kelly had done with her.

Kendra the Hawkgirl was pretty well-handled since her appearance in the early issues of JSA, and she was something of a star to a generation of kids due to her membership of the Cartoon Network Justice League cartoon.  Her and Hawkman's appearances and development are largely missing or downplayed from the JSA series once they get their own series, and it's noticeable, because Powergirl doesn't really provide a good replacement. In the comic they seemed to make a point of showing Kendra as a young woman with normal-sized breasts, which was nice, and lasted up to when Howard Chaykin took over drawing her in the post-IC Hawkgirl series, funnily enough.

Still, this was a very ingrown, convoluted-continuity-loving and weirdly backward-looking era for DC.  Here is how Kendra's story ended up, according to the DC comics database:

Hawkgirl began a turbulent relationship with Red Arrow, but past relationships, parenting, and being unable to express their feelings to each other caused problems. Eventually, the relationship dissolved and Red Arrow left the Justice League. [Given for context]

Hawkgirl then became 100% Kendra Saunders as a result of Shiera Hall's soul leaving Kendra's body and moving on to the afterlife. Shiera hoped her passing on would finally remove the curse of Hath-Set.

Blackest Night

Kendra and Carter were briefly reunited, and she was about to tell him something, when she was stabbed in the back by a spear by the recently resurrected Sue Dibny. Before having her heart removed, Kendra finally told Carter her feelings. She and Carter were then transformed into Black Lanterns. When Hawkgirl was subsequently resurrected by the White Lantern and removed her helmet, it was to reveal the face of Shiera Hall, all trace of Kendra having apparently been erased.

Oh dear!  Shiera who?, I would say and a good portion of the readership that had come along since ....1992(?)  would be in unison with me.  That's just an idiotic place to take one of DC's few female breakout stars of the previous decade.  Another example of the senseless 'churn' that was going on at this time, of sensationalised deaths and resettings and layering of complex continuities on top of each other, to create something that was quite inaccessible to the non-initiated.

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