Wednesday, September 23, 2015

All-Star Comics - Hanging It Up!

The Justice Society of America returned in Armageddon: Inferno and soon had their own title to celebrate that fact. It was intended as an ongoing series, but low sales quickly transformed it into a ten-issue maxi-series of sorts. Featuring thought-provoking scripts by Len Strazweski and clean animation-style artwork by Mike Parobeck and Mike Machlan, this series featured a group of vintage heroes suddenly returned to a world which at once remembered them afresh but still seemed to have little place for them.

The ads for the revival were particularly attractive and for this comics fan just what the doctor ordered. I'd spent many years away from DC, largely because of a desire to focus on Marvel but also seeing the post-Crisis DCU as not really the DCU I cared about. The repudiation of the JSofA had stung, and I figured any comics company that didn't need those stalwart heroes didn't really need me. Their return marked my return too.

In the first issue the team is greeted with cheers by fans who remembered the olden days full of glory. They are given a proper celebration as they return to the world, but they are slowly losing the magic which had reinvigorated them in the Valhalla dimension they'd been trapped in for many moons. They were visibly older, some older than others. They were heroes looking at the end of their careers and trying to find a way to still be useful.The collapse of Sandman of an apparent stroke seems only to point out that the days of vigorous heroism are over.

But by the end of the first story time has passed and Flash and Green Lantern have found a purpose and they seek to find out which of their old teammates might agree with them.

By the end of the second issue the Atom and Wildcat have rejoined the fold as a battle against an unscrupulous genetics manufacturer named Ultragen gets underway.

Dr. Mid-Nite is drawn back into the battle and joins with Wildcat and Atom as the the villain is revealed.

That villain is the Ultra-Humanite, revived in a new form, one of his/her own making and now the Humanite plans to use the genetic might of Ultragen to gain control of the world.

But the team, with the assist of Johnny Quick's daughter Jessie are able to fend off the threat.

Johnny Thunder returns but is quickly shot repelling enemies and to help him the team heads to Badhnesia to find the missing Badhnesians, the people who gave Johnny his Thunderbolt so long ago.

Instead they find an island tailored to the rich and powerful and built for pleasure and fun by a former Nazi who seeks to find power by suppressing the poor and weak to support his enclave of one-percenters. The team messes up his plans.

Then a threat from the East turns up when Hawkman and Hawkgirl uncover a menace from the distant past who is able to turn everyone in the world, including their most trusted associates against the Justice Society. All the acclaim they'd had gotten since their return turns to disdain and loathing.

The team has to stand up for itself and even battle other "heroes" who turn up to bring the defamed Justice Society to heel. By this time Starman reenters the fray as does, in a limited way, the recovering Sandman.

The ultimate menace of the ancient sorcerer Kulan Gath is revealed to one and all and the reassembled original super team wins the day as they ought.

The final scene is one for the ages as the Justice Society of America is called to order officially for the first and only time in this highly entertaining run. Their attempt at retirement is ended and they are again the heroes we have come to admire and respect and depend upon.

The late Mike Parobeck really wins the day here, with his open style full of verve and life. His work was a refreshing break from the norm of the time which featured overwrought work by limited craftsmen who hid their weaknesses behind fields of crosshatching and distracting detail. Parobeck and the inker Mike Machlan go the other way, offering a strongly designed page which is light and inviting. 

Len Strazewski presents a number of these stories as critiques on modern media and the way in which television in particular corrupts the society. The corrosive nature of advertising is a theme through many of the stories and the villains are often depraved but ready to apply modern techniques of the marketplace to make their schemes seem beneficial. Written before the onslaught of the internet, these cautionary aspects seem at once quaint and insightful and even predictive.

Strazewski writes a heart-warming series here, one rich with character and sensitive to the perspective of heroes who are near the end of their game. When I first read this series in 1992 I was just beginning to feel the gentle fingers of middle age and so had only a glimmer of recognition of what the team felt. Now as I read it again I am myself nearing retirement but like the heroes in these stories feel strongly that I have many good years left yet.

This series has never been collected to my knowledge. It certainly deserves to be. 

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  1. Some nice images there, Rip. It just shows what a mistake that Crisis On Infinite Earths turned out to be, and yet DC still hasn't learned its lesson, what with its constant rebooting of the characters. I lost interest in DC's output long ago - I just don't recognise the characters anymore, even if they do have the same names as the ones I read as a youth.

    1. All you can count on is change with them. If you like a title or a character, don't get too attached because in two years they will either die or be transformed. It's become rather dull.

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  2. Having Flash and Johnny & Jesse Quick on the same team seems sort of redundant – but I’m sure Strazewski made it seem fresh. This looks like a great run. Thanks Rip – Superb job yet again.

    1. Jesse Quick was in the tradition of Power Girl and Huntress from the 70's series really sparked the idea of legacy heroes which informed the JSA series of the late 90's. I was most impressed by the specific tone of Strazewski's writing,

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  3. I really enjoyed this series and Parobeck's work on The Fly for the Impact line. I think many of the kids in my classes would enjoy both series. Given the reprint of America vs. the JSA ( which was pretty but tedious), anything seems possible; perhaps they might both be collected.

    1. That would be nice. I had to work my ass off to get to my back issues to read the series again. I'm getting too old for that crap. :)

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