Current Reviews


JSA #56

Posted: Monday, January 12, 2004
By: Jason Cornwell

Writer: Geoff Johns
Artists: Don Kramer (p), Keith Champagne (i)

Publisher: D.C. Comics

The Plot:
Returning to his homeland with his newly gathered group of former heroes, Black Adam is quick to show that he's not prepared to deal with the ruthless dictator that currently rules this region with anything less than in an incredibly brutal manner. As Black Adam and his group tear through the country's army, we see Atom Smasher is singled out by Black Adam to prove his commitment to the group by dealing with the dictator in a manner befitting the group's take no prisoners approach.

The Good:
It's not often that a writer gets to spend an entire issue developing the bad guys and their mindset that will essentially drive their actions, so this issue was a welcome surprise as I'm sure the ensuing confrontation that Black Adam's group has with the JSA will be more entertaining thanks in large part to this issue's closer look at its members. If nothing else the sheer savagery of Northwind during his sequence is more than enough to convince me that Hawkman and Hawkgirl are going to have their hands full when the two teams clash. Brainwave also looks like he's a force to be reckoned with, as during his scene we get a very powerful look at just how strong a hold he's able to gain over his victims, and it would also appear unlike some of his teammates he's not plagued by the any sense of guilt, as one almost gets the sense that he rather enjoys the carnage he's creating. The sequence that centers around Atom Smasher is the highlight of the issue, as out of all these characters he's the one I was most familiar with when he was a hero, thanks to his membership in the Justice League, and as such was truly thrown for a loop by the choice he makes when he's confronted with one of those scenes where ninety-nine times out of a hundred the hero stays their hand and remembers their heroic impulses.

The art of Don Kramer does a surprisingly effective job of conveying the graphic violence of the attacks that are made by Black Adam's group, as one has to actively cringe at the shots in the early going that show us the extremely gruesome looking attacks that Northwind is making on the soldiers. The art also manages to effectively convey Brainwave's sadistic pleasure as he sets up his victims so that they are pumping bullets into each other, and Atom Smasher's moment when he's forced to decide which side he's going to stand behind is quite effective without really showing us much. There's also a pretty solid scene where the art is called upon to convey Atom Smasher’s change of mood when he's confronted by a warehouse full of children, and the art does a very effective job in spite of the idea that Atom Smasher is wearing a full face mask where only his eyes are visible. There's a great looking cover to this issue, that makes lovely use of Eclipso's power gem to cast an ominous pall over the group.

The Bad:
I was a bit disappointed that while all the rest of the group gets an opportunity to show off under the spotlight, Black Adam himself is relegated to a run-of-the-mill scene where he smashes upwards through a tank, before following this up with rather unimposing display where he smashes open a wooden door. I mean clearly this issue is designed to introduce us to the members that make up Black Adam's group, and present a clear showcase of their abilities, but while he acts as the issue's narrative device, Black Adam is short-shifted when it come to putting on a display of what's he's capable of. Now I know he's likely the most famous member of the group and as such most fans, including myself, have a general idea of what he's capable of, but in my mind this issue missed an opportunity to remind the readers of just how formidable Black Adam is. I mean this is a character who could conceivably go toe to toe with Superman, and this issue treats him like a typical super-strong goon. The issue is also a bit weak when it comes to presenting Nemesis and Eclipso as equal members of this group, as unlike the rest they only receive a half-page where they are involved in a rather generic action sequence that doesn't really give readers a good idea of their abilities.

These Boots Are Made For Stomping:
An entire issue essentially handed over to the villains, with nary a single member of the present day JSA to be seen. On one hand this does feel a bit excessive, and to a certain extent there are scenes in this issue that could have been trimmed down a bit. However for the most part this issue does a pretty fair job of introducing us to Black Adam's group, and giving us a pretty good heads up on how far gone several of its former heroes are down the path of villainy. There's also a fairly interesting notion that these characters don't really see themselves as villains, and while Brainwave is a clear cut villain, the rest of the team are given moments where you can see a glimmer of something better beneath the surface, with Atom Smasher being the most notable fence-sitter up until the scene where he's forced to decide which side he's going to commit himself to. In the end I suspect the following chapters will benefit from this extra attention that was given to this group, and the scene that details Atom Smasher's choice is a very powerful moment, that left me genuinely stunned.

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