Friday, October 17, 2008

"It was a Dark and Stormy Night..." (DC)
JSA Strange Adventures #1 When: October 2004 Why: Kevin J Anderson How: Barry Kitson

The Story So Far...
In a world where the fantastic powers of the Justice Society of America make even the most bizarre science-fiction story appear pedestrian, the tastes of the masses are changing!

Circulation of the Amazing Stories pulp magazine is falling in a 1940's America concerned with the threat of Nazi violence, and the exploits of the nation's greatest super powered heroes. In an effort to save his business, budding editor, Hugo Gernsback, calls upon his most popular writer to work with a little-known author, whose submissions have been rejected for years.

As a member of the JSA; Johnny Thunder has had a ground zero vantage point of the team's greatest exploits, experiencing them from behind the might of his mystically charged Thunderbolt! His latest submission is yet another tale of personal triumph, when only he and his Thunderbolt have the keys to defeating the mysterious monster menace of Morgauth!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Wonder Woman 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Spectre 7 (Omnipotent)
Speed: Flash 7 (Lightspeed)
Stamina: Spectre 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Spectre 7 (Malleable)
Fighting Ability: Hawkman 6 (Warrior)
Energy Power: Spectre 7 (Cosmic)

- The JSA are: Green Lantern, Starman, Hawkwoman, The Spectre, Dr. Mid-Nite, Dr. Fate, Mr. Terrific, Hawkman, Atom, Flash, Wildcat, Hourman, Wonder Woman, Star-Spangled Kid, Sandman, Dr. Occult, Johnny Thunder, and The Thunderbolt.

During the Golden Age of superheroes in the forties, many of the heaviest hitting heroes united to form a powerful syndicate of heroism called the Justice Society.
Among the well-known founding members were; Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Sandman, the Spectre, Dr. Fate, Hourman, and the Atom.

Despite an ebb and flow through time that has seen the team maintain varying degrees of activity, they have endured to the modern day. Extending the JSA's lifespan is a new legacy policy which allows a new generation of new members inducted by relation to former members, be they by blood, or by spirit.

- Morgauth is a hellish tentacle beast from the darkest depths of occult imagination. The extent of the lovecraftian creature's powers are uncertain, but it's resistance to magic appears to extend even to the might of The Spectre, whose powers only appeared to make the monster grow larger in their only confrontation (in JSA: Strange Adventures).

Math: JSA Ranking: Hawkman (#31)

What Went Down...
"It was a dark and stormy night...," recounts the pencil of Johnny Thunder.
At the mysterious Hotel Necro the JSA are locked in mortal battle with an immortal creature of infernal origins! Dr. Fate and Starman do their best to stem the creature's writhing tentacles as it bursts from every orifice of the hotel!

The Spectre grows to towering proportions to bathe the Hotel Necro in the glow of his wrathful arcane energies! Dr. Mid-Nite delivers a grim prognosis, unable to sense any ill effects felt by the creature. To the contrary, Morgauth bursts from the bondage of the hotel architecture, seemingly invigorated by Spectre's blast!

The Green Lantern joins Starman in an aerial assault on the bustling monster, but their energies, founded in strange science, appear to have no effect on the creature raised from a runestone.

From the ground; the Sandman attempts to turn the tables to no avail, using his custom gas gun to try to give the nightmare creature a bad dream of it's own. All the while Hawkwoman, Hourman, the Star-Spangled Kid, Flash, Mr. Terrific, and Wonder Woman all grapple with the growing sprawl of animated tentacles!

Wildcat's blows bare a brutish charm as he battles the snarling tendrils with old fashioned fisticuffs. On the verge of running out of luck, the champion brawler finds himself surrounded, only to be saved by the pint-sized might of the Atom!

From the neighbouring rooftops above Dr. Occult clutches his mystic disc and compells it's energies to strike at the beast. Instead, the mortal man summons only the wrath of Morgauth, whose giant tentacle reduces his vantage point to firewood! Only the highflying intervention of Hawkgirl saves his life!

Meanwhile; Johnny Thunder was receiving a helping hand of his own from Wonder Woman and her indestructable golden lasso! Her rescue leaves Johnny Thunder able to cite the mystic command, "Cei-U," calling forth the mighty Thunderbolt!

Johnny directs his friend to the menacing monster, whose weak point proves to be it's gigantic central eye! The Thunderbolt streaks directly into he beast, reducing it to slop with his triumphant emergence!

The Hammer...
Well, of all the tangled tales to tie into... We're tempted to call this one a shared victory for the entire Justice Society, but it would be not without some contrivance. Technically Thunderbolt deserves the win, even though the story is told from Johnny Thunder's perspective, and we could assume the already admirable efforts of the JSA deserve more than a statistical assist credit. This isn't the only layer relevant to our on-going statistical tally, however...

The presence of characters like Dr. Occult and Star-Spangled Kid have raised certain questions about the situation of the story in DC history. With only the most unique exception, we analyse characters from alternate universes as part of the potential of their key-universe counterparts, so it's effectively a non-issue.
Strange Adventures could, however, very easily be interpreted as an untold tale from late in the pre-Crisis (or Earth-2) JSA; if not a stand-alone story.

Whew. If you found that paragraph utterly asinine, more power to you!

I like the Justice Society! I like the Golden Age!
I can't claim to be any kind of expert on the intricate histories of all these heroes, but there's an instant asthetic that makes them instantly recognisable, and delightful. It has come to my attention, however, that there are shade of ignorance that can radically change the interpretation of what these characters are.

If you've been reading the Infinite Wars of late you know that October is all about monsters and spooks, and that before that, we'd been paying quite a lot of attention to the meeting of Mortal Kombat and the DC Universe [ie; Dark Kahn]!

It's been an interesting interpretation that the T-rated departure for the blood soaked franchise is an admission that the appeal of the series skews toward a younger demographic. It's quite possibly true, but at the very least, I've found, the MK audience has a far less exposed palate with which they taste the fictional domain. For many, brightly coloured characters like Captain Marvel and Green Lantern were bitterly received, with no notion of the irony.

This trend might cast a lot of aspertions toward MK fans, but to look inward, it probably also reminds us how important perspective is to understanding, and appreciating, some of these most beloved relics of comics' Golden Age.

A regularly recurring subject has been the asthetics of "darkness" read as both adjective, and abstracted noun. The word's use as a buzzword in mass media has ensured fans of all walks of entertainment have their own shallow expectations of the word. It's fair to say even in comics there is a widespread misconception about what darkness might entail and how it applies to the DC Universe.

For the original heroes of the thirties and forties -- a certain amount of thematic darkness was retained from it's pulp predecessors, before being sanitized and reprocessed as post-Werthem goo. Heroes like Batman, Green Lantern, Sandman, and many others of JSA fame, all tackled macabre and horrific tales in their early adventures. While the debate is an evolving one, these World War II era characters also shared a moral compass that has come to accept certain extremes of violence, in the case of some, prosecution by murder.

In recent years DC comics has gone to great lengths to give it's characters and universe a hard edge of consequence. Despite being well recognised for their accessible materials for children, the publisher has managed to avoid being as conservative with it's sacred cows, placing violent stakes on the threats they face with a conceptual drive that has fairly justified them [see; the totem of justice].

Wonder Woman's penchant for swordplay and fatal brutality (breaking Maxwell Lord) garnered much more attention than the genocidal mass murder of three million undertaken by Black Adam. These hero-driven events say nothing of the controversy stirred by novelist Brad Meltzer's 2004 mini-series, Identity Crisis, which set the tone for the DCU with the rape of a beloved supporting character and a string of murders.

Attentive writing has really been on DC's side for the past decade as they've rebuilt the DC Universe as a cohesive entity. It's fair to say of most comics that they challenge the shallow nature of "darkness" as defined by gimmickery and trinkets, benefitting so from a language and precedent developed over seventy years. The emotional, psychological, conceptual, and ethical are all on display.

What is darkness? I think it's all these things.
I do hope, however, that fans of both Mortal Kombat and DC Universe can come to accept certain grounds of perspective. The DCU deserves full credit for the luxuries it is afforded by it's extensive network of titles, characters, writers, artists, and decades of history. This perspective is communicated through it's properties in ways the uninformed may not appreciate, but do not diminish.

I cannot communicate adequately the particulars of what it is about these antiquated heroes that is so charming and valuable. In meeting the much younger, less exposed audience it really has brought this home.
I suppose what I'm musing is that it's a misconception that does them the disservice. These characters in their long lives possess so much of the same make-up that their many descdents have - and then some!

At the same time, the great charm of a Sandman or Starman might just be the quaint simplicity that encompasses their character. They are the among the purest superhero concepts, summed up by their design and place in the world.
The popularity of retro-modern in the mid-00's really captured that and while it might have been better done in Detective Comics or JSA at the time, it's still very evident in Strange Adventures.

Suffice to say, there is still much to ponder, and more spooks and monsters to see as the month progresses. [EDIT: However, Mike fell ill after writing most of this entry, and consequently the month may be condensced upon his return.]

The Fight: 4 The Issue: 4

To the best of our knowledge JSA: Strange Adventures has not been collected, but you'll find plenty more on offer in the Infinite Wars Amazonian Gift Shoppe! Collections featuring most issues reviewed previously on the site are all on offer and by using purchase links provided you not only benefit from Amazon's services, but also help sponsor future entries in the Infinite Wars!

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