Justice Society of America – A Review

Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Dale Eaglesham

Publisher: DC Comics

Price: 2.99

Release Date: December 20, 2006

The other day, I walked into my comic shop tell him that I have to get caught up on doing some comic book reviews. “You like DC comics?” he asks. “Yeah,” I said. “JSA’s the best comic out,” he tells me. So I go home and end up IM-ing a buddy who forwards me the link to a blog that photoshops comics (we were particularly giggling over the rendition of issue #7 – the conclusion – of Civil War). He then tells me I have to pick up JSA #4 (because, of course, his favorite villain is in it). So I decide that maybe I ought to get caught up on this once again re-launched title.

“The world needs better good guys.”

Steeped in DC continuity, the team itself is a continuation of the very first team of superheroes, which had their first meeting in All-Star Comics #3 (published by then National Publications way back in the winter of 1940/41). The original members were Doctor Fate, Hourman,, the Spectre, Sandman, the Atom, Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman. Basically, these were all of the heroes who not quite popular enough to sustain their own series (though as they did, they were placed on honorary status). The team has seen many incarnation, as Super Squad, the All-Star Squadon, (Infinity Inc, has its roots in the JSA), and continues as a mix of some of the original members as well as some of the children of others.

I’ll spare you any suspense about the tenor of my review: I’m wondering when Geoff Johns will get tired of my love letter reviews about his books. From Green Lantern: Rebirth to Infinite Crisis to his recent run on Action Comics, Johns has been delivering the goods. He has an obvious love for this team and these characters. Mr. Terrific might be the best super-hero character DC has going right now (evidenced by the fact that he’s pulling triple duty right now: JSA, JLA, and Checkmate). The slightly mentally off-balance Starman is in close second.

Johns, like Kurt Busiek and Mark Waid, gets what makes comic book super heroes work. In the case of the JSA, the on-going theme is the idea of legacies and traditions. It is every bit about family carrying on their mission of being symbols and fighting injustice. Though gripping, the opening story line seems awfully dark and violent (the Ennis/Ellis-ation of comic books) as a villain seeks to cut off the branches of the family tree of the original members of the team.

However, the first issue demonstrates the great pacing we’ve come to expect from Johns, introducing the core cast of characters and the story arc (that doesn’t have that “stretched to six issues for eventual trade paperback feel”). It sets up the mystery of the plot while having the story of the recruitment of who will make up the eventual team.

The JSA has a mission of responsibility. They have a long history behind them, most of it good, some of it not so good. But they unite around the ideal of what they could be as a missional community. The simple truth is that heroes haven’t always lived up to their ideal, but despite that fact, they come together to live out what they were called to do. With respect to the past, they acknowledge their mistakes and with their eyes on the future, they set out to train those who will carry on the work in the next generation(s).

Somehow in the re-launch–and the break Johns took from the book, by-passing the opportunity to reach the milestone of issue #100–the book went from being good to being great. The depth of story-telling, excellent detail of the art – it is close to the pinnacle of what super-hero comics should be: plot and character driven, while well-paced, and well-drawn. Plus, the covers are magnificent and I’m waiting for a poster to collect them all.

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Action Comics – A Review

“Last Son” – Number 844
Written by Geoff Johns and Richard Donner
Art by Adam Kubert
Published by DC Comics
Price $2.99

I have never been much of a Superman reader for the simple reason that it’s tough to make me care about Superman. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve put in my time trying to care about him, it’s tough for storytellers to find interesting ways to deal with him. I followed the Man of Steel and the rest of John Byrne’s re-boot run. I loved Alan Moore’s Man of Tomorrow story. I even casually tuned into the stunts that tried to garner attention to what should be DC’s flagship books: Superman’s death and resurrection, his Red/Blue phase (granted, it’s no clone of Spider-Man storyline, but still), even his wedding to Lois Lane.

However, when all is said and done, Superman is basically this all-powerful figure who has it all and does it all. Not much can hurt him and he seems to do the right thing all the time. His fights have to be big to be interesting and he’s barely relateable as a character. His problems are “uptown” problems. Which is why I was intrigued by the possibilities of the current story line.

Geoff Johns (Infinite Crisis) and Richard Donner (Superman II, whose mythos pretty much defined Superman Returns) come aboard to give us “Last Son”. Like the coming together of Superman’s wedding timed to coincide with the then wedding of Lois and Clark on the popular television series, we once again find ourselves with a jump on point for people returning to the book after Superman Returns. Because of the history ret-conning of 52, we have a lot of continuity shifting in the Superman mythos (Pa Kent is alive, a de-aged Jimmy Olsen) as we try to reconcile the various Superman interpretations (ignoring the current television incarnation, Smallville, apparently).

In “Last Son,” a new child of Krypton arrives and Superman struggles to figure out what to do with the child. This story appeals to the strength of John’s writing: characterization. There are elements of Superman that this story draws out that are quite relateable: his sense of feeling alone, isolated, a minority trying to live among a people not his own; him trying to relate to a(n emotionally) distant father; Superman wanting to have a family and a connection to the history of his people; him wanting the ties of community; and most importantly, the thrill of being a new dad. What is rife with potential excitement is the same thing that makes it rife with the potential for disaster: where Donner goes, General Zod, the defining villains of the Superman movies can’t be too far behind.

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:48-50)

We tend to cling to a narrow definition of family. The simple biology of blood does not necessarily make one family. For many, a circle of close friends can be more family to than blood kin, as they are family you choose for yourself. With the myth of Superman already percolating with messianic imagery, an overlooked theme to his story is the power of adoption. The potential of being adopted into a family after thinking yourself alone. The opportunity to find belonging and maybe even a sense of identity and purpose.

Grafted into a family, natural born, or choosing a missional community as family – family is family, in every sense of the word. They will be far from perfect, and suffering their faults will often be a pain, but that doesn’t negate the idea of what families should be about. Family should be about community, about support.

Let me comment on the art. I might be committing fanboy heresy, but I was not a fan of what Adam Kubert is doing here. It is too stylized for my tastes (which I thought of Bill Sienkiewicz. art during his New Mutants run, so guaranteed I’ll think him a genius ten years from now). His faces are particularly odd, as if incomplete or rushed. While the layouts and overall visual storytelling was great, the fact that every stray line had to be inked proved distracting.

I’ll admit, my big fear is that this storyline will be an end-around throwback to Superbaby tales. Putting that fear aside, this will be one of those rare Superman runs that I will follow. With any luck, it may rekindle my interest in the character, I’m sure what the creators (or at least the corporate machine behind them) ultimately want. We’ll see, but I’m cautiously optimistic.

If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.

Green Lantern: Rebirth

written by Geoff Johns
art by Ethan Van Sciver
published by DC Comics

Click to enlargeThere are times when it’s hard to find spiritual connections with whatever media that I am dealing with. Let’s face it, some things make it difficult to find God (maybe that’s the point) or at least don’t easily lend themselves to pointing to Christ. That is not the case with Green Lantern: Rebirth. Rebirth is literally the story of redemption.

First, let me tell you a story. There was once a hero named Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern, a member of an intergalactic police force called the Green Lantern Corps. In the DC universe (the home of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash, and the Justice League), next to Superman, he was the hero most admired. For decades he was a beacon of light.

He knew no fear.

Then, a terrible tragedy struck. He was unable to prevent a villain from destroying his home city. This senseless tragedy drove him quite mad. He even took to calling himself Parallax and tried to re-write history to his will. Eventually, he ends up sacrificing himself in the comic book cross-over “event”, Final Night.

Click to enlargeSince part of the super-hero credo says that dying means never having to say good-bye, Hal Jordan returned. His soul was merged, read: trapped inside, the “hero” called the Spectre, God’s spirit of vengeance.

[Look, a Green Lantern movie is in the works, so pay attention.]

This, by the way, is the trouble with comics: I have to explain nearly a decade’s worth of continuity in order for you to understand/appreciate this storyline. It makes it hard for new readers to jump aboard. However, that’s what this series is about: addressing the entire history of this character in order to give it a fresh start.

Two sentence review: Geoff Johns is in peak form and this makes me wish I had more money to spend on collecting the other books that he writes. The art is spectacular.

Click to enlargeThere are so many spiritual connections in this book it was hard to choose a focus. By one view of redemption, Hal Jordan starts off as a Christ figure. He sacrificed himself to save the cosmos (in Final Night) and then bore the brunt of God’s wrath (as the Spectre). And that’s before issue one even starts. Green Lantern: Rebirth is definitely one of those “event” books that explores the inner demons of the character and explores what really makes him a hero. Literally, the character’s inner demons as all of the Green Lantern’s, past and present, engage in a battle against the enemy within. An impurity of men’s souls that calls itself Parallax, the living fear. This corrupting nature brings with it a cycle of destruction, warping man’s sense of right and wrong, and spirals into a pattern of fear, violence, and death. This taint leaves men vulnerable to the Spectre (the embodiment of God’s wrath). The need to deal with this taint is one view of how redemption works.

Click to enlargeYou see, there is an inherent problem with that view of redemption. It is a very individualized view of how redemption works. In that view, the individual has to realize their taint and do something about it or face God’s retribution (and the Spectre is about retribution, not redemption). It leads to a shallow reason to seek redemption and find faith: they become about getting said individual’s own butt into heaven. There is a broader way to view redemption, also presented in this comic book.

Hal Jordan faces that very choice of redemption schemes, and basically goes through a re-thinking of his faith. He has the chance to get his butt into heaven (by going towards the light as he nears death). Instead, he is literally “born again.” Better put, he is made whole. He joins in God’s mission to be a blessing to the world. That is what redemption is all about.

Hal Jordan finds redemption in Green Lantern: Rebirth. He is restored, but that doesn’t mean that his sins have been forgotten. Explained? Yes. Forgotten? No. He has a lot to prove, to regain the trust (even the admiration) of his peers. However, being made whole again, he has the opportunity, a lifetime, to live and work out his newfound faith.