Writer: Steve Engleheart
Artists: Tom Derenick(p), Mark Farmer(i), I.L.L. (c)???
Yep, I was actually interested enough to buy the conclusion to JSA Classified. I’m really surprised at just how interested I was. I actually had to ask for it at the Phantom of the Attic when I couldn’t locate the finale on the shelves or in the back issue boxes. I chalk this vigorous scavenger-hunt to Steve Engleheart’s superb writing skills and the unusual combination of Tom Derenick and Mark Davis actually working together extremely well to produce an attractive final product.
As you know, Amos Fortune has employed the Sportsman, the Wizard and the Gambler in a scheme that humiliates the JSA, gives the miscreants money as well as revenge and in the case of Fortune power. The villains have set up an arena where their abductees go into a cage fight against Wildcat, the only super-hero who actually can predict which punch Batman will throw. So far, he has defeated the Flash, Green Lantern and guest-star Vixen. This concluding issue pits him against the Star-Spangled Kid.
This looks to be an obvious one-sided fight, but Engleheart does not let his story fall to the obvious conclusion. Engleheart brilliantly characterizes Courtney. In fact his characterization is better than that written by Geoff Johns. Frequent readers know of my lack of love for Geoff Johns’ writing, but in this instance I mean no disrespect. Johns created the new Star-Spangled Kid, and I enjoyed practically every issue of Stars and STRIPE.
Engleheart gives Courtney intelligence and heroic experience that evolves from Johns’ original happy-go-lucky teenaged daredevil. Derenick and Davis also extrapolate from Courtney’s original Lee Moder design. Derenick’ and Davis’ Star-Spangled Kid looks lank and lean, when contrasted against Wildcat who has been hulked up on Amos’ astral energy.
The superior characterization of the cast does not begin and end with the Star-Spangled Kid. Engleheart briefly contrasts the hyper Wildcat with a much mellower pussycat at the end, and this characterization for Ted Grant is better than anything I have seen since the pre-Crisis. Engleheart simply knows how to write for super-heroes. He distinguishes them without having them betraying their characteristics or their status as heroes. He gives each one something special to make them unique.
Engleheart makes this three-part story count for something other than just entertainment. He uses the tale for worldbuilding. He strengthens the friendship between Gypsy and Vixen and gives female super-heroes in general a much-needed spotlight that presents them in a favorable light mostly unseen since the pre-Crisis. The plot’s not bad either. It’s witty, dramatic and suspenseful with smart execution of Amos Fortune’s comeuppance. Engleheart in addition also gives an implicit reason for why the story had to take place with the heroes seen.
Despite some caveats regarding the portrayal of astral forms that still persists with this issue I highly recommend all three parts of this JSA: Classified story, and for once the ending culminates in a magnificent crescendo rather than an off-key triangle chime.
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