Saturday, April 05, 2008

Last week back issue honors went to Marvel's elder statesmen; the Invaders. This week we've got to give credit where credit's due. Before anyone else did super teams the good folks at National pooled their efforts together to give birth to America's premiere super team: the Justice Society of America! *fanfare*

Though the central element of our Invaders feature revolved around a contemporary spin on the characters - the New Invaders - it's DC that's led the charge when it comes to nostalgic properties. Sure, Marvel may have it's Captain America, but DC has built it's entire franchise around three Golden Age heroes who've become comics' most recognised icons: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman -- all members of the Justice Society in their time, I might add!

Long before the kind of streamlined editorial interventions you see in today's comics, I felt there was a strange irony to the big two companies. On the one hand, DC, with it's characters fractured across multiple Earths, managed to maintain it's sense of tradition and history without any sense of cohesion amongst it's titles (at least until the original Crisis); while across the street, Marvel's strength lay in it's modern references and sense of a singular reality. A world where Spider-man can clash with Dr. Doom, while the FF run maneuvers on Magneto - without need of a mystic séance!

Of course, today, the roles have well and truly been reversed.
Marvel finds itself fractured by autonomous concessions granted to "special" creators, while others lag behind on storylines, sometimes directly related to others. On the other hand, DC runs as tight a ship as you could imagine, casting the fullest illusion I've seen in decades. At the centre of this DC Universe -- the 1940's legends that began it all, and continue to make DC comics a pleasure to read.

Adventure Comics #40 (July 1939)
"The Tarantula Strikes" Larry Dean

The Sandman has to be one of my favourite of the 1940s mystery men. Though often forgotten as one of the earliest costumed characters, Wesley Dodds joins the likes of Bruce Wayne and Kal-El as one of DC's earliest superstars! Though quickly superceeded by colourful superheroic adventures, complete with youthful sidekick; the early adventures of the Sandman remain the most enjoyable. These first thirty-or-so issues of Adventure comics not only feature thick pulp references, but in the tradition of Diana Palmer, also feature a strong female influence that's come to be associated with the character ever since; Dian Belmont.

In this issue we take a look at the villainous Tarantula who would later be the basis for an early tale in the utterly engaging Sandman Mystery Theatre: a contemporary revamp that retold stories from the character's pulpish past.
A great piece of comics history!

JSA #51 (October 2003)
"Justice Eternity" Goyer/Johns/Kirk

While the Justice Society unite their forces against the tyranny of Mordru and his allies; David Goyer and Geoff Johns begin to sew the seeds of what would become a four year epic!

Black Adam's eventual descent into madness begins here as he rallies likeminded members of the JSA to a more violent interpretation of the cause. The murderous rampage against Kobra here marks but the first in many lives taken as Black Adam begins his march on his home nation of Kahndaq! This exciting tale not only brings Adam into conflict with the team that reluctantly took him in -- but eventually leads to the catastrophic events of 52! Who could've imagined that this death would spark a chain reaction leading to the mass genocide of millions of lives in Kahndaq's neighbouring Bialya? Only Shazam's shadow knows!

JSA #64 (October 2004)
"Night Terrors" Johns/Ordway

Intriguing is DC's ability to pass the mantle of it's hallmark characters, creating for them a true sense of legacy, while still respecting and utilizing those very characters who should rightfully have retired. It's a contradiction held fast by the stubborn grit of fanboys just like me, but with stories like these, I'm not sure I'd have it any other way...

Continuing in the steps of his mentor, Wesley Dodds, Sandy Hawkins becomes the clandestine mystery man, Sand! Believed dead after the battle with Mordru, Sand actually comes to be imprisoned in the Dreaming, forced to live-out the contrived role playing of the Sandman, defender of the Dream Dimension! The astral battle is waged here, as Hawkgirl and Dr. Fate attempt to rescue their lost comrade's mind, while the rest of the team fight desperately to capture his body!

JSA #65 (November 2004)
"Out of Time" Johns/Kramer

Of course, you can't have classic villains without at least a couple of memorable villains! Originally the woody foe of the golden age Green Lantern; Solomon Grundy has gone on to be a staple of battles across the DC Universe, many of which were with the Justice Society!

Take this issue, where Sand is officially reinstituted by this match-winning effort where he almost single handedly takes out the rampaging beast who cannot die! Even in moments as arguably insignifcant as this, there remains a weight that comes with the sixty years that came before. In today's disposable internet-age, many readers initially find themselves intimidated or frightened by this weight, but I hope these reviews help you agree, there's a lot of magic to be found in these timeless properties!

Hawkman #33 (December 2004)
"Earth and Sky" Gray/Palmiotti/Smith

Finally, a feature that propels a classic hero into the modern age!
Synonimous with the JSA is Hawkman; a character whose complex history saw the reveal of a cycle of reincarnation that keeps he and his counterpart, Hawkgirl, in a never ending revolution of unrequited love.

You'd think a deal like that would be a serious bummer, and while it's no doubt put a strain on the pair that led to Hawkgirl's flirtations with Sand, that doesn't mean they can't work out their problems with some Nth metal and a blunt (or spiked) object!
These retro-active heroes find themselves teamed with a retro-fitted hero - the Monolith - whose tale reveals a secrety history in the 1930s. A fabled golem, the creature is sworn to protect, and when Solomon Grundy escapes from government experimentation, he's there to join St. Roch's newest heroes in a pass over New York City! Ha-cha!

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