JSA Reread Part 8: Our Worlds at War

This is not a huge entry in the series, covering just an inconsequential event tie-in and a fairly slight two part story.  Those two issues, while not particularly important in themselves, do set into motion some much larger events to come.  The standard in comics, really.

JSA: Our Worlds at War 1

JSA Our Worlds at War 01

Johns, Saltares and Kryssing

Our Worlds at War was a crossover primarily centered on Superman and his ancillary characters. Villain Imperiex is trying to destroy the universe and trigger a new big bang to fix imperfections in the universe. He intends for Earth to be the epicenter of his recreation of the universe. President Lex Luthor (strange times) rallies the heroes of Earth to fight him, and Brainiac, off and save Earth and the universe.

JSA Our Worlds at War 02

This issue is far from essential to the run. It does have some interesting things going on, but it is really just fluff. It takes the legacy approach of the title and mixes it with the society. Basically every old or named for an old hero that is not on another team is called into action with the JSA. People like Iron Monroe and the Freedom Fighters. It also has the first JSA appearance of Power Girl. She immediately adds some pep to the team, another character that is just abrasive enough to cause some waves.

JSA Our Worlds at War 03

The JSA and about three or four more teams worth of characters are given the mission of going into space and stopping Imperiex’s Jupiter sized ship. When the get there, they find that the ship is powered by the planet Daxam, whose inhabitants have Superman like powers. So they split into several teams. The most powerful members cause a distraction while the unpowered characters go to shut down the ship and the Freedom Fighters attempt to free Daxam. Lastly, the magical characters try to find a way to send Daxam back where it belongs.

JSA Our Worlds at War 04

There really isn’t much more to say than they succeed. It does play up some ongoing character stuff. Atom Smasher doesn’t like having a former villain in Black Adam on the team. Hawkman is chasing after Hawkgirl like she was in heat. Dr. Mid-Nite and Black Canary are dating. There is another appearance by Nemesis. It is a fine tie in issue, but that is all it really is. The art is no great shakes either, but the sheer number of characters around in most issues makes it hard to judge the artist too harshly for it. This could not have been an easy book to draw. It does reinforce that the JSA are the keepers of superhero legacy. The opening pages are all the heroes introducing themselves and saying who they are carrying on for, or maybe just who they stole their name from.

 

JSA 26 Who Do You Trust

JSA 26-1

Johns, Morales and Bair

This issue, another sort of breather that is credited to Johns only, starts with Atom Smasher challenging Black Adam to an arm wrestling match. Smasher doesn’t like having Black Adam on the team, despite his approval from the senior members of the team. He doesn’t think villains are capable of reforming. Black Adam doesn’t consider himself a villain and doesn’t think he needs reformation. Atom Smasher is still a little lost from way back in issue #15 when he killed Extant. There to cheer Atom Smasher on is Star Spangled Kid. Those two are in some ways the heart of the book, Star being the good student and Atom the wayward one.

JSA 26-2

Elsewhere, Sand is showing the new curator, Alex Montez, around the museum area of the Brownstone. He is the brother of Yolanda Montez, who for a time was the second Wildcat, though she was unfortunately killed. Still, there is no piece of history from these characters that Johns won’t incorporate into the title. Alex is something of a legacy to. A crash in the conference room sends them running to find that Atom and Adam have smashed the table. After Sand gives them a dressing down, Star goes to show Hawkgirl the pictures of her new baby sister while Sand and Alex continue with the tour.

They find Wildcat and Hawkman retrieve Hawkman’s mace and chatting about Hawkgirl. Wildcat rushed to catch up with Alex. Sand pulls Hawkman aside and offers him the chairmanship of the JSA. Hawkman declines, telling Sand he’s doing a great job before flying away.

In the infirmary, Dr. Fate is again trying to rouse his comatose wife. When he fails, he retreats to his Tower to research a method of freeing her from Mordu’s curse. After he leaves, Dr. Mid-Nite has a talk with Sentinel about his recent physical. He is in suspiciously perfect health and Terrific and Mid-Nite think that his body is now composed entirely of the Green Flame that gives him his powers.

Star is with Hawkgirl, showing her the pictures of her new baby sister, when Hawkman flies up to the window with flowers for Hawkgirl. He won’t stop pushing her about beginning or continuing their relationship. Really, Hawkman comes off as a huge dick. Which makes sense for Hawkman. Meanwhile, Black Adam and Atom Smasher have finished cleaning up the table when Adam makes a comment about it being a poor use of their powers. They start to argue again, only for it to be broken up this time by the big red cheese himself, Captain Marvel.

JSA 26-3

Sand finishes with Alex, only to find Hawkgirl crying in her room. He tries to council her. Hawkgirl is in the strange position of being both the continuation of a legacy and the originator of it. She is both Kendra Saunders, Hawkgirl’s cousin and Hawkgirl reborn. All she really wants is for Hawkman to leave her alone and let her sort out her feelings. Outside, Hawkman is flying around trying to figure out how to make her comfortable when he flies to her window again (flying in her window whenever feels like is probably a bad way to go about that) only to see her kissing Sand.

JSA 26-4

That is where the issue ends, with Hawkman staring in shock at Hawkgirl and Sand kissing. While this story plays out pretty quickly, it never really feels right. Hawkman is consistently a jerk, but here he is just an ass, jumping to conclusions and getting jealous for no damn reason. He is the only one that comes out looking bad in this and the only one that does suffer some adverse consequences from it. The bigger story in this issue is the Atom vs Adam stuff. Johns lays it on thick, but these two have a very good reason to be fighting. Letting Black Adam, who shows no remorse for his misdeeds because he doesn’t consider them his, on to the team does not gel with Atom Smasher increasingly hardline take dealing with villains. He saw first-hand what happens when villains are allowed to go free.

 

JSA 27 Thunderstruck

JSA 27-1

Johns, Morales, and Bair

This issue starts right off the last one, with Hawkman seeing Sand and Hawkgirl kissing. It then shows the reactions inside, where Sand pushes Hawkgirl away. She was kissing Sand because she was looking to be in a relationship with anybody but Hawkman, who is pressuring her to get together again. Sand comforts her and agrees to tell Hawkman to back off.

After a quick interlude with Captain Marvel and Black Adam, where Atom Smasher punches Black Adam through the roof, Mr. Terrific and Dr. Mid-Nite prove their hypothesis about Sentinel just as the alarm, trigger by Black Adam’s forcible ejection, goes off. They rush to confront the problem. The all get to the Aviary to find Atom Smasher blaming himself, rightly, for causing trouble with Black Adam as the former villain and Captain Marvel, who is trying to calm him down, fight in the sky. Atom Smasher knows he messed up, that is what he does. He is possible the most earnest member of the team, he is a superhero because he wants nothing more than to help people. Not that the others don’t, but he is the one who grew up specifically wanting to be a superhero. After what he did to Extant, he’s forced to actually examine what it means to him to be a hero. He overreacts to Black Adam’s comment about getting glory for doing good mostly because he doesn’t want to think about whether there is any truth to it. He doesn’t want to accept that someone like Black Adam could reform because he didn’t give Extant the chance to do so. Maybe causing his death was not the right move, maybe Atom Smasher messed up and that is the last thing he wants to do as a superhero.

JSA 27-2

They all fight with Black Adam for a few pages before Hawkman shows back, drops his mace in the middle of the scrum and declares the fight over. Completely ignore Sand, the team leader recall, Hawkman takes control of the situation and takes Captain Marvel and Black Adam into the meeting room. It turns out that Captain Marvel was actually there to vouch for Black Adam and declare him worthy of receiving a second chance. After he leaves, Sand storms into the room. He confronts Hawkman about whether he wants to lead the team or not, but the rest of the team bursts in and demands they take a vote on the matter. After the votes a quickly tallied, the new chairman is neither Sand nor Hawkman, but Mr. Terrific.

JSA 27-3

Really, this is mostly a blow to Sand. Hawkman is not a huge player in this book, he was generally busy in his own Johns written book at the time, but until now Sand had been one of the biggest players in this title. A lot of that was due to him being the leader of the team; he was the team’s center. He fit in between the old hands, like Sentinel and Flash, and with the new guns like Star Spangled Kid and Hawkgirl. Now, he is just another cog in the machine. He is not going to leave the team, at least not for a good long time, but he is no longer as front and center as he has been. Mr. Terrific, though, now gets pushed up to the top rung. He is the team’s center.

So Star and Wildcat run out to get some pizza for the team and the others all congratulate Mr. Terrific, one of his T-Sphere’s flies in erratically. But It is not one of his, and it teleports all the team members present (Terrific, Mid-Nite, Sand, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Atom Smasher and Black Adam) away. The sphere flies away to a woman, Roulette, in an elegant dress and a massive tattoo up her side, who says it is time to place bets. Her limo is licensed in Nevada and it is clear that they are to be used in some sort of gambling scheme.

JSA 27-4

This issue is rather slight. Much of its real estate is taken up with a pointless fight with Black Adam. Still, some momentous things do happen, from Black Adam’s acceptance on the team to Mr. Terrific becoming team leader. It isn’t bad, but it really feels like more could have been done with the 22 pages of this issue. The fight with Black Adam is neither visually interesting nor is it narratively important. We already know that he is tough and that he has a temper, the big brawl is unnecessary. Still, it works as a slow paced stop after the epic heights of The Return of Hawkman.

Next time: Roulette.

2nd Quest: Skyward Sword

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword currently holds that place in the series of disappointing recent game. Every game that has come out since Ocarina of Time has been there at one point or another and the only one likely to avoid it is A Link Between Worlds, unless there is a sudden flood of backlash for it being too like A Link to the Past, a truly crazy complaint. Playing it recently and thinking about in the context of the rest of the series, maybe Skyward Sword does deserve to be where it is. Wind Waker didn’t when it was hated for its beautiful cartoony graphics. Twilight Princess didn’t when it was hated for being too like Ocarina and having half-baked Wii remote waggle features. But Skyward Sword kind of does. That is not to say that I think Skyward Sword is a bad game, though I know many who would make that argument. I actually enjoy it more than the majority of the series 3D entries and more than all but one of the handheld games. However, looking strictly at how Skyward Sword plays it is hard to get around that fact that while it may be a very good game, it is not a very good Zelda game.

Skyward_Sword

Skyward Sword undoubtedly does some things badly or perhaps more accurately doesn’t do them at all. Unlike most of the rest of the series, Skyward Sword’s world is not connected. There is the Sky, where Link lives. It covers the whole of the area, but it is also completely separate from the rest of the game. Then there are the three areas beneath the clouds, which are again completely separate zones. In practice, this isn’t much different from most of the 3D Zeldas. Most of those games’ areas are discreet from each other as well. They, though, have the illusion of being connected. The hub of Hyrule field in Ocarina of Time really helps make the rest of the world feel as though it is all one place, but really it is not much more connected than Skyward’s Sword over world. That illusion, though, matters. That the world of Ocarina feels whole matters, as does the fact that Skyward Sword’s doesn’t.

It is also stiflingly linear. It is a timid game, afraid that the player will go the wrong way or get lost and is absolutely desperate to prevent that. That is how the game ends up with Fi, a good idea of a character that is completely tiresome in practice. She constantly interrupts play to remind players of every simple thing. Constant, unhelpful interruptions. The one time that the game allows the player to choose their path it is hampered by the only game breaking bug in a Nintendo game that I can recall. Linearity is not itself a bad thing, but it flies in the face of pretty much every other game in the series.

SS Lizalfos

Those are problems, especially for a Zelda game. Fortunately, the game does pretty much everything else excellently. Skyloft, Link and Zelda’s floating home, is the most alive Zelda town in the series to date. It is not a particularly big town, but the characters are all pretty well drawn. Zelda side characters vary from fun but underutilized to horrifying monstrosities, but the residents of Skyloft manage to avoid those pitfalls. They can certainly be weird, it wouldn’t be Zelda if they weren’t, but almost all of them have little quests that fill out their characters. The supporting character highlight is Groose, the single best such character in the series. Yes, better than Midna or Impa or King of Red Lions. Groose is amazing. NAd while he initially feels like a villain, he actually goes through some true character growth by the end of the game. All around, Skyward Sword has the best storytelling in the series. Maybe it is because Twilight Princess, which also had a cinematic feel, hewed so closely to Zelda traditions while Skyward Sword is something more original. While it feels less real than most worlds in the series, Skyloft does feel more alive; it is a strange combination.

The dungeons are excellent as well. That is the part of the game where Fi actually shuts up, not constantly reminding players of their goals or repeating instructions on how to use the delving skill. The dungeons are both inventive and really well designed. They are generally challenging, even the first one is no cakewalk. What really adds to the great dungeons are the dense outside areas. The almost feel like dungeons themselves. Of course, that creates its own problem. It all the areas are like dungeons then the whole game is work. There are no cushy areas to just charge through, ignoring your surroundings. Every step through the world is a fight. It is often fun, but it can be tiresome. It throws off the rhythm of the game. Instead of more adventurey areas followed by intense dungeons, it is all intensity. The outside areas are more adventurey, but they are still difficult. I can’t say any part of the game is a breeze.

skywardswords

The biggest reason for that is the game’s crowning, though often derided, achievement: the sword fighting. It is not quite perfect; there are some kinks in the system. For the most part, however, it works wonderfully if the player takes the time to learn how it works. Flailing quickly and wildly about the screen is not the answer. The combat is more deliberately paced. You must read the opponents cues, much like something out of Punch Out!!, and attack at the open areas. Every enemy is now an obstacle, not something that a quick flick of Link’s sword can eliminate. Again, it makes even the easier areas a bit of a chore at times, but the when facing one of the more in depth fights, like those with Ghirahim, the sword fighting absolutely sings. It makes the game.

SkywardSword

I haven’t yet mentioned the graphics and sound, which are amazing. There are lots of alternate uses for items, including fun stuff like bomb bowling. The upgrade system is not exactly an achievement, but it is inessential and harmless. The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword does a lot of things well, but those are not things that the series traditionally focuses on. It is just a kind of weird game. The freedom of exploration or at least the illusion of freedom, which best games in the series excel at, is not a part of this game. It is a fairly linear string of puzzles and dungeons to clear. Skyward Sword is a great game; I can say that without reservation. But it really isn’t a good Zelda game. It feels like a strange offshoot, not a main entry. Maybe it is a misstep for the series, but it is still an excellent game in its own right.