Current Reviews


Justice Society of America Annual #1

Posted: Monday, August 4, 2008
By: Thom Young

Geoff Johns
Jerry Ordway (p) and Bob Wiacek (i)
DC Comics

I was a huge fan of the original Earth-Two when I was younger. For some reason, I have always been drawn to "alternatives to the status quo" ever since I can remember. Even though the majority of the characters on Earth-Two were the original National and All-American superheroes (or masked mystery men) from the Golden Age of comics, they were “alternatives” to me since I grew up reading the adventures of the Silver Age superheroes of Earth-One.

I still remember my first exposure to the concept of “Earth-Two.” I was seven years old and my next-door neighbor showed me a copy of Justice League of America (first series) #55. What I loved about that issue was that the central image on the cover was the Robin of Earth-Two, Richard Grayson, starring in "The Super-Crisis That Struck Earth-Two."

I called him “Bat-Robin,” and I was hooked from that point on. I couldn’t get enough of Earth-Two--particularly the Batman Family of Earth-Two. Thus, when Batman’s daughter, Helena Wayne, debuted as The Huntress in DC Super-Stars #17 (simultaneously with All-Star Comics #69) in 1977, I was smitten as only an adolescent with arrested social development can be smitten by a comic book character.

Anyway, I decided to pick up Justice Society of America Annual #1 because I knew Geoff Johns seemed to be heading toward the revelation that the original Earth-Two had not been destroyed in the 1985 series Crisis on Infinite Earths. For the past 23 years, the concept in which the DC Universe has been operating is that five universes--Earth-Four (Charlton Comics), Earth-X (Quality Comics), Earth-S (Fawcett Comics), Earth-One (Silver Age DC), Earth-Two (Golden Age DC)--had been merged into one “New Universe” at the end of that series.

Then, at the end of the recent year-long series 52, the concept of the multiverse was restored to DC Comics. However, for all of us old-timers who grew up with the original DC Multiverse, this new version was a pale imitation. Yes, there was a new “Earth-2” among the 52 parallel universes in DC continuity, but it wasn’t the same.

A good question, though, is “why wasn’t it the same?”

After all, it was a parallel Earth populated with all of the Golden Age characters from DC’s two precursor companies (National and All-American) as well as their offspring. It was essentially identical to the fictional Earth-Two that was supposedly destroyed (or integrated) in Crisis on Infinite Earths. What more could those old-time fans want?

I don’t know. That’s a good question. After all, these are just fictional worlds and all you have to do is enjoy the stories. It really shouldn’t matter that the new Earth-2 isn’t the original Earth-Two since neither is real. Intellectually, it shouldn’t matter.

Emotionally, though, is another story.

The supposed destruction of the original multiverse is something that bothered me a great deal 23 years ago. I’m really not that hung up on it now. After all, I’ve become emotionally distant and more intellectual over the years (which, I’m told, is not any better than being an emotional adolescent with arrested social development). I’ve been divesting myself of emotional attachment to comic book characters--though nostalgia does raise it’s bleary-focused head from time to time.

I guess that’s why the creation of a new Earth-2 that is essentially identical to the one that was lost in 1985 didn’t satisfy me--it didn’t satisfy whatever nostalgic emotions are still buried within me. For those old time DC Comics fans who haven’t turned themselves into Vulcans during the last 23 years, the “All-New Earth-2” must be like someone saying, “We’re sorry we killed your dog (or maybe, wife, for some fans), but here’s a dog (or woman) who looks just like your loved one. Take her with our compliments.”

Nevertheless, despite having made my peace with the destruction of the interests of my childhood 23 years ago, I was intrigued (and even somewhat happy) when Geoff Johns started hinting in the pages of Justice Society of America that the original Earth-Two was still in existence--but that it was somehow cloaked and mostly inaccessible to the characters of “New Earth” and, presumably, the other 51 “new universes” of DC’s All-New Multiverse.

The first such hint appeared near the end of Justice Society of America #2 when Mr. Terrific said, "I've been working on a theory involving superstring, dark matter and hyperspace for the last year and a half. Some scientists believe gravity is a weak signal from a parallel universe. I think Starman just proved them right." Johns didn’t have Mr. Terrific express the concept as precisely as he should have, but it’s clear that the allusion was to physicist Edward Witten’s “M-theory” in which the concept of supergravity interacts with two- and five-dimensional membranes that may represent barriers between parallel universes.

The issue in which Johns alludes to M-theory came out on January 3, 2007--the same week that 52 “Week Thirty-Five” came out (which was several weeks before the All-New Multiverse supposedly came into existence in that series). Of course, Mr. Terrific’s statements could be taken merely as foreshadowing the creation of the All-New Multiverse at the end of 52, but that assumption doesn’t work.

Before the All-New Multiverse had supposedly been created, Starman (Thom Kallor, the former Star Boy from the Silver Age version of the Legion of Super-Heroes) was already making claims about having traveled back from an alternative future via a parallel universe--the Kingdom Come universe, to be precise. It’s easy to chalk up these apparent anachronisms as just more sloppy mistakes from the writer who:
  • Doesn’t (or at least didn’t) know the difference between a galaxy and a solar system (in Infinite Crisis),
  • Doesn’t understand the impossibility of having a finite number of Green Lanterns (7,200 the last time I checked) patrol an infinite universe (in Green Lantern), and
  • Has photons travel through space at infinite speed, rather than being limited to merely 186,282 miles per second (in Action Comics #863).
However, until he actually shows me that he didn’t know what he was doing with Mr. Terrific’s allusion to “M-theory,” I’m inclined to give Johns the benefit of the doubt and believe he was planning the return of the original Earth-Two all along--and possibly the return of all five of the universes that were supposedly merged in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Then, nearly a year later, Johns picked up that plot thread again--this time well after the conclusion of 52 and the creation of DC’s All-New Multiverse.

In Justice Society of America #11, Jay Garrick and Wally West pulled a cosmic treadmill out of storage and decided to look for the original Earth-Two. Once they reach the correct vibrational coordinates for the original Earth-Two, they momentarily see Helena Wayne and Richard Grayson (as The Huntress and Robin, respectively) before everything goes black.

After that issue, I became even more certain that Johns intended to bring back the original Earth-Two. It raised my enthusiasm for Justice Society of America despite the problems I have at times with Johns as a writer. Unfortunately, my budget forced me to drop the title, but I vowed to buy the issues in which the original Earth-Two finally returned--and now it’s here: Justice Society of America Annual #1.

It does indeed appear that the original Earth-Two has been alive and well (but hidden from view) for the past 23 years (and its inhabitants haven’t aged a day). In fact, there’s a conversation in this annual between the original Kent “Dr. Fate” Nelson and the original Jim “The Spectre” Corrigan in which they seem to acknowledge that they have been hiding their universe since the conclusion of Crisis on Infinite Earths.

They seem to have shut off their universe from the rest of the multiverse in order to keep it safe from what the Spectre refers to as “the blood of the multiverse”--which could be an allusion to “The Bleed” that separates the universes within the multiverse (a concept that DC adopted from their Wildstorm line) or to the “blood-red skies” that accompany the cosmic crises that hit the DC universe/multiverse every so often (or perhaps its an allusion to both).

This annual picks up following the events in Justice Society of America #17 in which the god named Gog (a New Earth incarnation of the character from Kingdom Come) apparently gave the various members of the JSA “their heart’s desire” (yes, that old chestnut again). For Power Girl, he sent her “home”--or at least to what she thought was her home: the original Earth-Two.

I must confess that despite my belief that Johns was intending to bring back the original Earth-Two, I began to half expect (half dread, actually) that it was going to be revealed at the end of this annual that Gog either implanted a virtual reality in Power Girl’s mind or placed her in a “false reality” of his own creation. I’m now convinced, though, that this is indeed the original Earth-Two and that Johns (through Gog) sent Power Girl there.

However, in an admittedly inspired (but also somewhat disappointing) plot development, it would appear that the Power Girl whom we’ve followed since the conclusion of Crisis on Infinite Earths 23 years ago was never from the original Earth-Two. She still appears to be a Kryptonian, but just not one from the original Earth-Two universe.

Indeed, the Golden Age Superman who appeared in Johns’s Infinite Crisis series (along with his Lois Lane) does seem to have been the Superman of the original Earth-Two. However, our Power Girl was never the cousin of that Superman.

Instead, the Power Girl from the original Earth-Two seems to have spent the past 23 years (or several months in “comic book time”) looking for her cousin and his wife--the Golden Age Superman and Lois Lane. After failing in her task, that Power Girl conveniently returns (for plot purposes) to her Earth just in time to discover the Power Girl whom Gog sent from New Earth. It’s difficult to keep it all straight without a scorecard and knowledge of DC’s confusing continuity for the past 23 years--the continuity that Crisis on Infinite Earths was supposed to simplify.

Of course, once the two Power Girls meet, fisticuffs follow. After all, fistfights between heroes due to a comedy of errors is the clichéd convention for these types of stories.

Anyway, I must admit that I absolutely loved this annual . . . up to the final page. Until I reached the end of the issue, I was ready to give it four bullets because:
  • It features the return of the original Earth-Two (really, it does);
  • The dialog is well written (which has been a problem I’ve had with some of Johns’s scripts in the past);
  • There is no “bad science” or bad pseudo-science in the issue such as there often is in Johns’s work (because he had no reason to bring any science into this issue, fortunately);
  • There aren’t any sappy scenes (which is another problem I’ve had with Johns’s work in the past) even though there was the potential for sappiness when Power Girl thought she was being re-united with her long-lost friends--such as her best friend, Helena Wayne; and
  • Finally, it features great “old school” illustrations by Jerry Ordway and Bob Wiacek that help to create the sense of the late 1970s to early 1980s time period in which the original Earth-Two seems to be frozen.
Okay, so if it’s so good, what’s my problem with it? Why did I only give this annual three bullets?

Because the issue doesn’t contain a complete story.

Geoff Johns is not a Postmodernist. His stories follow the Aristotelean structure codified by Gustav Freytag--and that’s fine. Even though I enjoy Postmodern literature, it doesn’t mean that I don’t also enjoy Modern or conventional approaches to storytelling. Whether he consciously thinks about it or not, Johns crafts stories that generally follow Freytag’s five-part dramatic structure of:
  • Exposition
  • Rising Action
  • Climax (or Turning Point)
  • Falling Action, and
  • Dénouement.
Unfortunately, this annual only gives us the first three.

The exposition is our re-introduction to Earth-Two and Helena “The Huntress” Wayne’s discovery of Power Girl as she falls from the sky and forms a small crater in a Gotham City street.

The rising action is Power Girl’s attempt to re-integrate herself into this universe that she believes is hers and that she thought she had lost forever. Her efforts include helping Helena Wayne punish The Joker (kill him) for all the misery he caused her family and friends over the years--which includes The Joker’s attack on District Attorney Harry Sims before Helena could reject his marriage proposal (because of her romantic love for Richard Grayson), thus dooming her to remain faithful to a man she doesn’t love rather than deal with the scandal of dumping her supposed fiancé because he’s a comatose invalid.

Okay, the bits about killing The Joker and Helena having romantic feelings for Dick Grayson--a man whom she was essentially raised to consider her half brother--seem a little weird. Some readers might even consider them an indication that this universe is not the return of the original Earth-Two.

Keep in mind, though, that the Golden Age Batman (Helena’s father) used to kill criminals in his first few cases (and he used to carry, and shoot, a handgun). Additionally, when I was younger, I always wanted Helena Wayne and Richard Grayson to become a romantic couple. They aren’t biological brother and sister; they were just both raised by Bruce Wayne. Also, Dick Grayson is about 20 years older than Helena, so they didn’t actually grow up together as if they were brother and sister.

Anyway, getting back to the dramatic structure of this annual:

The turning point is when the actual Power Girl of the original Earth-Two shows up and starts pounding on our very confused Power Girl from New Earth--sending her running through the streets in retreat with the Justice Society chasing her down for trying to infiltrate their ranks (they think she might be Matt “Clayface” Hagen or some other super-villain in disguise).

That’s it--no falling action or dénouement to close the annual. Essentially, it ends with . . .to be continued in the pages of Justice Society of America. To get the conclusion of the story, readers must buy the regular on-going series.

If Johns and DC really wanted to give us the sense of an old school annual from the 1970s, they would have wrapped up the story in this one issue. Oh, there could be plot threads that could weave back into the regular series, but this issue should have had a stand-alone story with a beginning, a middle, and an end--or, more precisely, it should have had the five parts of Freytag’s dramatic structure. I wouldn’t mind knowing that there is to be a “sequel” to the story in the on-going title as long as this annual had actually had a complete story in it.

There really aren’t any wasted pages in this annual (the way there are in the Avengers titles I’ve looked at that Marvel is currently publishing), so perhaps this annual should have been expanded from 36 pages of story to 64 or 72 pages of story (which is what DC’s original 80-page “Dollar Comics” of the late 1970s had).

I would have also accepted having this story continue into either another annual or a Justice Society of America Special--much like the way that Jim Starlin wrapped up his Warlock Saga in Avengers Annual #7 and Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2 in 1977.

This annual should have ended with the Justice Society and our Power Girl coming to an understanding of what had happened--perhaps through the intervention of Dr. Fate and the Spectre, who seem to know what’s actually going on. The set-up for the sequel in the ongoing series could have involved either Power Girl trying to get back to New Earth (again with Dr. Fate and the Spectre’s assistance) as well as Kent Nelson and Jim Corrigan’s concern for the safety of their universe now that Power Girl and Gog know that they survived Crisis on Infinite Earths.

I know the trend with Johns’s work in the Action Comics Annual’s has been to either tease storylines that are going to appear in the ongoing series or wrap up storylines that were never conclude in the ongoing series the way they were supposed to have (“Last Son”). However, in Action Comics Annual #10, Johns and Richard Donner gave us a wonderful 14-page story (“Who is Clark Kent’s Big Brother?”) that had exposition, rising action, turning point, falling action, and dénouement while also setting up plot threads that could be explored in the ongoing series--so I know Johns is capable of wrapping up a story in an annual while also using it as a springboard for further stories later.

Thus, a one-bullet reduction from me for an incomplete story. Otherwise, this is a good issue for those who are planning to continue following the story in the on-going title. Unfortunately, due to budgetary constraints, I don’t know if I’ll be able to do so.

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