It’s no secret that comic books have an impact on me. Sometimes they make me chuckle (Darkwing Duck), sometimes they make me gasp (Walking Dead), but rarely does a comic make me feel good for the entire duration of it. This was the case for Justice Society of America #50: the book that had me grinning for 46 pages straight.
The JSA is my favorite superhero team. Sure, I pine over the Doom Patrol and have fantasies about joining up with the B.P.R.D., but no one holds a candle to the JSA — not even the League. With the JLA, you’ve got the best of the best: The Fastest Man Alive, the World’s Greatest Detective and the Man of Steel. The JSA on the other hand, is mostly comprised of two groups: old people and kids — two forms of individuals who currently aren’t in their prime. With the world’s third smartest man and a grumpy senior in a cat suit, they’re not the most well known or supreme examples of super heroes. Despite that, the JSA excels in something that no other team comes close to: heart. Geoff Johns pushed this point home when he re-launched the title several years ago. The idea of lineage, family and honoring the past to preserve the future have been themes that continue to shine through every incarnation of the JSA and this 50th issue reflects nothing but the finest of these ideals.
This giant-sized issue is split up into several smaller “episodes.” First up is “Cornerstone,” a tale that follows the early histories of some of our favorite modern heroes and relates how the classic heroes of the JSA had inspired them to become who they are now. From Barry Allen coming across Golden Age Flash Comics to an insecure rookie Hal Jordan watching Alan Scott fly by his window, we catch these time-honored heroes in unseen moments of vulnerability. This story is drawn by the one and only George Perez, one of my top five favorite comic artists ever. His presence in this book helps create a wonderful link between heroes new and old. His form harkens back to a simpler comic era which influenced everyone so heavily.
Next up, we have “Infinitum,” a quick tale following the splintered exploits of various Per Degatons across the time-space continuum. Page after page, we see another variation rounded up by some absolute version of himself. It’s quick and simple, but it serves its purpose of setting up a story for future plotlines. Freddie Williams II’s (of JSA All-Stars) loose and less structured art style works perfectly for a narrative about alternate realities and time travel. The fluidness of the visuals mesh with such a surreal subject.
Following “Infinitum” is “Truth and Justice’” which visits the JSA in their post WW2 heyday. This story tackles the classic subject of the team disbanding in the face of government meddling. This is a crucial part of the team’s mythos, and is an event that’s been recreated countless times. But those examples never really dug deep into the events that unfolded. Watching the Un-American Activities Committee spew red tape across every corner of the JSA’s best wishes is both heartbreaking and infuriating. It was also great to further understand the nobility behind the JSA’s decision to retire, instead of them simply being offended or hurt. This episode is brought to us by Howard Chaykin, an artist who’s solidified himself in the retro story market. Even though I personally don’t think his style really matches with WW2 tales, constantly seeing his art there has fully linked him to that era for me, so seeing his work included in this anthology made me know exactly what to expect and was rather comforting.
Finally, “Inaugural” wraps up this special issue, bringing us back to the regular series’ current story arc. Immediately following their bare-knuckled battle with Dr. Chaos, Jay Garrick graciously accepts the role of mayor for the devastated city of Monument Point. This final episode serves to pin point the rebuilding of the JSA after their last devastating fight, which not only includes a new headquarters but spotlights on the recently added members. At the same time, we begin to see the problems Jay will be facing as a super human government member and discover new villainous mysteries, including the composite Per Degaton we were introduced to earlier. Mike Atiyeh takes over for Scott Kolins and does a wonderful job of keeping the current visual tone similar, while adding his own flair for soft tones and incredibly detailed faces.
I truly don’t understand why I haven’t heard more buzz or praise for Mark Guggenheim’s Justice Society of America run; I honestly feel the book hasn’t been this good in a while. Guggenheim keeps the spirit of legacy and respect alive, while adding an unexpected grittiness to its pages. The changes, including Alan Scott’s new costume (which is just beautiful) and the recent additions to the team (including a female Blue Beetle?!) have breathed a new life into the pages of a title that didn’t know it needed it. Overall this was an amazing book, which served both as a great acknowledgement of what has come and a look at the grand adventures that will be.