JSA Reread Part 2

I originally expected to cover only issues 6 and 7 for this entry, but I realized that if I only covered 2 issues at a time it would take me more than a year to cover all that I want to cover in this re-read. So now, I am taking on issues 6-9, the first of which is an interlude issue with Black Adam and then the three issue Darkness Falls arc. My plan for the rest of this re-read is to try to cover one arc in each entry, though some of the longer arcs will require more. I have it planned out for 25 Parts total, unless I also decide to cover Johns issues on the re-launched Justice Society of America. So let’s get started on the first four issues of the Johns/Goyer collaboration on the JSA. After the first issue, drawn by Marcos Martin, the rest are drawn by Stephen Sadowski, with inking my Michael Bair and covers by Alan Davis.

JSA #6: Justice, like Lightning.

This is Geoff Johns’ first issue as co-writer and immediately we are introduced to the character his run centers on: Black Adam. I am assuming most of Black Adam’s arc is Johns’ doing because it is one the few that is not tidied up when Goyer leaves the book around issue 50. Also worth noting is that this issue is penciled by Marcos Martin, who is a tremendous artist. Just look at his work on recent issues of Daredevil or in Batgirl Year One.

The issue starts with the JSA holding a press conference to announce that they have reformed. The superhero press conference is one of the worst ideas in the world of superheroes. Not the idea that a team, like the JSA, would announce to everybody that they are back in business, but that anyone would show up to something like the ribbon cutting in this issue without realizing the obvious would happen. A villain will attack this get together. Every time this scene occurs, a villain will attack. And of course, it happens here.

Johns and Goyer aren’t subtle on this title. Just look at Sand’s speech. The earlier JSA “created a legacy. That legacy isn’t easy to live up to,” he says. That is the major focus on of the book. Sand just comes out and says it. Legacy and the struggle to live up to it or in some cases break free from it. There is another interesting line in that speech, “While others in our line of work are often in the shadows or adventuring beyond time and space, we keep our feet firmly planted on the ground.” While on the surface those are clear references to Batman (shadows) and Superman (time and space), it also foreshadows where the book is going. The next issue starts an arc called Darkness Falls, wherein the entire world is covered in shadow. After that, the team must fight the time traveling villain Extant, a battle the roams over all of time and space. This is a new beginning for this team, and those are the adventures they will have.

Then we get a page of character positioning. Hawkgirl hates the spotlight, Dr. Fate misses his wife, and Star Spangled Kid is a bit self-centered. After Courtney (Star Spangled Kid, soon to be Stargirl) cuts the ribbon, it moves inside the JSA museum. In the middle of the page are three panels highlighting heroes who have passed on. First is Mr. Terrific, the predecessor to the man from issue 5 that Sand offered JSA membership to. Then it’s Dr Midnight, who will join in the next issue and finally Hawkman, whose return is a big arc itself in a few issues.

Then Black Adam attacks. Remember what I said about subtlety or the lack thereof? After the initial wave of JSAers is manhandled by the near Superman powerful Black Adam, Sand opines, “there’s nothing I can do if Black Adam’s feet aren’t on the ground.” An obvious call back to the line in his speech about the JSA being grounded. While most of the team tries to fend off the enraged strongman, Hourman, Dr. Fate and Hawkgirl travel back in time to ancient Egypt to the point when Black Adam received his powers. Using a combination of Hourman’s time powers and Dr Fate’s magic, they channel the magic lightning bolt to the present to drain their foe’s powers. Conveniently, this happens just after everyone on the team had the chance to show off their powers.

Everyone is confused about Black Adam’s attack because they thought he had reformed. For those unaware, Black Adam had been an ancient hero, but now his powers are used by his villainous descendant Theo Adam, though Black Adam had regained control. Sentinel (Green Lantern, really) discovers that he has a brain tumor that may have caused his outburst. Then Agent Chase (of her own short series) from the DEO (Department of Extranormal Operations) shows up and takes custody of Adam, while her boss Mr. Bones thinks some cryptic thoughts about Hawkgirl.

While this issue is primarily a cool down issue between big stories, it does seed a ton of story points for future issues. The most important of which is the introduction of Black Adam, who will play a major role in the series from much of its run. It also marks the first, but far from last, trip the team will make to ancient Egypt.

JSA #7: Darkness Falls

Now we start the second big story of this series. The threat was seeded in a couple of scenes in the first few issues, with Alan “Sentinel” Scott’s son Todd talking with shadows. Now we see what he was going on about.

This issue starts in medias res with Black Canary falling from a window. She is chased by shadows of her teammates, which eventually catch up with her.

Then it jumps back to earlier that morning and the apartment of Jade, Alan Scott’s other child. Johns and Goyer make sure you don’t miss this connection. Jade cuts her hand on a photo of her, her brother and her father and reminisces about the connection her and her brother share and wonders about how odd he’s been lately. So she calls her dad.

On the opposite page, Dr. Fate tries to connect with Hawkgirl, who is both his cousin and possibly his mother reincarnated. Very creepy, and it won’t get better. Echoing Jade cutting her wrist on the previous page, Hawkgirl’s scarred wrists are exposed. Her troubled life before the series is slowly explored during the time she is on the team and this is one of the first hints of her situation.

Fate’s and Hawkgirl’s talk is interrupted by a call to see a news report saying that all the shadows in Milwaukee had disappeared. While the team heads for the city, Sentinel info dumps all the back-story and set up for this arc. He just throws it out there.

Once they arrive at their secret underground bunker, we meet Star Spangled Kid’s step dad, who is the team’s mechanic and appears in only 3 or 4 issues of the series. His inclusion here seems like a bit of cross-pollination with John’s Stars and STRIPE book, where he is the co-star. However, it may have already been cancelled by this point. He takes a little guff from old friends and sets the team up with a plane, the Steel Eagle, which aspires to but never achieves the status of the X-Men’s Blackbird. Off they go to Milwaukee.

Why Milwaukee? Because that is the home of Jim Rice, Todd’s stepfather, a drunk who used to beat him. In his apartment, the team finds a shadow man sitting an armchair. As far as they can tell, it is the only shadow in the city. When Sentinel approaches, the shadow sucks him inside of itself; then it expands to cover the whole the city. The heroes try to protect civilians around the city, but the shadows slowly possess the heroes. Inside the shadow, a realm called the Shadowlands, Sentinel sees Jim Rice and the other part of the villainous duo Ian Karkull. There is the only editor’s note in the issue to explain Karkull’s history, referencing a story from 1941.

Outside the only three JSAers left who aren’t possessed, Atom Smasher, Black Canary and Star Spangled Kid, are captured. Obsidian (Todd) begins a classic villain monologue while Atom Smasher argues with him. Kid manages to free Black Canary, bringing us back to where the story started. Just before Canary is overcome by the shadows, a flash of light disperses them, revealing the new Dr. Midnight.

JSA #8: Shadowland

The first seven pages of this issue are introduction to this new Dr Midnight. Quickly we learn that he is an actual doctor, that he has a few light and shadow based gadgets, he can see in the dark and he has one of the best sidekick/pets ever: and owl. The owl is peeking in on Obsidian with the rest of the JSA, and feeding it back to Dr. Midnight via a tiny camera around its neck. It also features the first pairing of Black Canary and Dr. Midnight, which is the only real, possibly sexual, relationship that suns through the first year or so of the book.

Back with Obsidian, Atom Smasher tries to appeal to his shadow possessed teammates, but Obsidian tells him that they can’t help because they are currently living out their worst nightmares in their minds. Flash sees his dead successors come back to haunt him, Hourman is faced with an existential crisis; Hawkgirl relives an apparent murder she committed, etc. Obsidian proceeds to taunt Atom Smasher until Karkull returns with Obsidian’s fathers.

Obsidian then rails against both of his dads with ideological rantings. Nothing is left as subtext. From the juxtaposition of Nature and Nurture, which this story comes down on the side of nurture, to Obsidian flat asking Sentinel what he thinks about the legacy he’s left, with a wife that has committed suicide and a son who has become a super villain.

As Obsidian moves in for the killing blow, Canary and Midnight arrive. They free their non-possessed teammates and manage to break Hawkgirl free from the shadows. Atom Smasher manages to corner Obsidian, but despite Obsidian’s taunting about him being weak, he is unable to kill him to save his friends. So the team beats a hasty retreat. Karkull then reveals that he has been playing Obsidian from the start and tries to take him down. Obsidian then turns the tables on him and absorbs his powers. He then uses it to cover the whole world in shadow.

This issue is mostly rising action. It is the team beaten, and held at their lowest point. Their enemies appear triumphant. There are some moments of thematic worth here, though. Like Sentinel realizing the failures in his legacy and Atom Smasher thinking he’s found some of his own with inability to kill Obsidian, his best friend. The middle issue is tough, since the first issue generally establishes the conflict and the last one ends it, but in the middle, it is only rising action.

JSA #9: Black Planet.

Now that the entire planet is covered in shadow, everyone on the planet is going crazy. Because not only is the world dark, but also people are forced to face their inner darkness as well. Sentinel tells the rest of the team that by staying together they can pool their willpower and overcome their dark thoughts. So he leaves them to deal with their possessed teammates and the other possessed inhabitants of Milwaukee while he deals with his son.

Star Spangled Kid and Hawkgirl manage to free Hourman, who slows down Flash enough for them to free him as well. Dr. Fate manages to shake free of the possession on his own. Atom Smasher, with Rice hanging around his neck, seals the rest of the shadow people, including Sand, behind a wall of cars. Rice wants to know why Sentinel doesn’t need to be in contact with anyone else to stave off the darkness and Atom Smasher tells him it is because he is already living his greatest nightmare.

The central conflict of this issue is the conflict of this whole arc. It is Sentinel facing his mistakes and the truth of the legacy that he has left behind him, all in the person of his opposite powered son. So they have one of Johns patented shouting philosophical debate/fights. Obsidian feels as though the world has cheated him, with some pieces of a good point. He was the son of the superhero, but he was raised by an abusive drunk. He did not inherit his father’s light-based powers, like his sister, but instead powers of darkness and well as his mother’s mental problems. Not an actual good point, but enough of one to see why he wants what he wants. Sentinel is facing his most immediate legacy, his son, turned from being a hero (just before this he had been a member of a particularly forgettable JLA team) to a villain. And not an ambiguous villain, he has turned evil for evil’s sake. For the reasons mentioned above, as well as for the obvious symbolism (light vs shadow) and because he is actually crazy. It is not the most spectacular fight in this series, but it is a warm up for later, larger stories.

One interesting note is that Alan is only effective against Obsidian after he recalls his time as Green Lantern. Due to supposed reader confusion, he was going by Sentinel at this time, instead of his original name, Green Lantern. In a series about a character’s legacy, being forced to use a different name is problematic.

In the end, Alan is unable to save Obsidian, though he does stop him. Obsidian flees back into the shadow dimension, taking Jim Rice with him while Alan goes off to break the news to his daughter. The team is kind of down here. They saved the world, but they didn’t save Obsidian On the flight home Flash utters a disgusting sentiment about people being born bad, but it does not seem to be one endorsed by the book. Idly some members of the team wonder what Wildcat got up to in their absence.

Which segues to the two-page coda of Wildcat sitting in the bathtub, possibly attempting to engage in phone-sex with Catwoman only to be disturbed by an attack by the all-new Injustice Society.

I don’t feel that this title is completely up to speed yet. Some characters very important to the run have yet to be introduced and Johns has not yet found his footing. However, this is still a solid arc that sets up plenty of future stories. Yes, there will be more intercalations with Obsidian and Atom Smasher’s willingness to do kill to save people will again be tested.

Next time: Wildcat stands alone, JSA v Kobra and Sins of Youth.

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