Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Justice Society of America - A Celebration of 75 Years Omnibus

Ever since I first read a story with them in it back in 1980 with the JLA/JSA/New Gods crossover, I have been in love with the Justice Society of America.  I went back and purchased every issue of JLA that featured the JSA; I went back and purchased every issue of All-Star Comics revival series from 58 through 74, as well as the continued stories in the Adventure Comics run.  I was more than disappointed when the Crisis on Infinite Earths did away with Earth-2 and the original JSA - quite frankly, they've never been the same since (although there have been some good incarnations along the way).

This year (2015) marked the 75th anniversary for this super-team, who originally made their debut in 1940 in All-Star Comics No. 3. Sadly, DC Comics did very little to celebrate this momentous occasion.  They released the America vs. the Justice Society trade paperback, which was nice to see.  And they released the 75th Anniversary compilation hardcover.  And that was it.  Such a disappointment that the super-team that basically started it all (as there were no "super teams" prior to the JSA's debut in 1940) receives so little attention. But, alas, I suppose I should not look a gift horse in the mouth, and I should be grateful we did get the little bit that we did!

This nearly 500-page hardcover collection reprints in vivid color some of the important moments in JSA history (while noticeably leaving others out). For whatever reason, the very first appearance of the JSA in All-Star Comics No. 3 was not reprinted here - instead, they collection opens with All-Star Comics No. 4.  This is followed by All-Star Comics No. 37 (featuring the Injustice Society) and All-Star Comics No. 55 (featuring a space-faring sci-fi adventure of the JSA).  Missing is the last issue of the original run of All-Star Comics, which ended with issue 57.

Next up are issues 21 and 22 of Justice League of America, which not only re-introduced the JSA to the mainstream DC Universe, but also began a long tradition of JLA/JSA annual team-ups that eventually included other teams, such as the Legion of Super-Heroes, the Freedom Fighters, the Seven Soldiers of Victory, the heroes of the Old West, the New Gods, the All Star Squadron, Infinity, Inc., and others.  Some of those team-ups are also included (although it is only one issue, and not the entire story) - Justice League of America issue 30 ("The Most Dangerous Earth of All," which introduced the Crime Syndicate of Earth-3), issue 47 ("The Bridge Between Earths"), and issue 82 and 83 (which did feature the complete story).

The trip down memory lane continues with the story from Adventure Comics No. 466, "The Defeat of the Justice Society." DC once again skips over some very important stories in the JSA history, such as the issues of the All-Star Comics revival series in the late '70s, which introduced not only Power Girl to the Earth-2 universe, but also brought back Star-Spangled Kid and introduced Batman and Catwoman's daughter, the Huntress! DC also skips over the first two stories of the JSA in Adventure Comics, which featured the all important Death of the Batman! Why these all-important tales were excluded is beyond me. The story in Adventure Comics No. 466 is set directly after the events of Justice League of America issues 171 and 172 (which featured the annual JLA/JSA crossover and resulted in the death of the original Mr. Terrific at the hands of the Spirit King). It is basically a flashback tale, as told by the Huntress to Power Girl, regarding the JSA's disappearance following the demand by the Combined Congressional Un-American Activities Committee that the members of the JSA unmask and reveal their true identities.

The next story is the All Star Squadron preview insert tale that was published in Justice League of America issue 193. This was definitely an important moment, and a particular favorite of mine, as it not only brought back the Justice Society in full-force (following their cancellation from the Adventure Comics run some years previous), but it introduced a whole slew of other Earth-2 heroes and was set in the JSA's original time of 1940s (during World War II).  Written by Earth-2 writer extraordinaire, Roy Thomas, this series ran a total of 67 issues (with 3 annuals) and even survived, albeit briefly, the game-changing Crisis on Infinite Earths.  In fact, the last issue of this series (no. 67) is featured next in this collection, featuring a re-telling of the first case of the Justice Society.

The remaining stories featured in this 75th Anniversary collection are all post-Crisis.  The last issue of the Justice Society series (which only made it 10 issues, but was definitely the best of the post-Crisis attempts to keep the JSA alive) from 1992, as well as the last issue of the All-Star Comics mini-series in 1999, which revived the team once again, setting the stage for a new generation of JSA-ers (and marking the team's start as a generational team, with many legacy characters as members). Then there is JSA no. 25 (2001), which features the return of Hawkman, and Justice Society of America no. 10 (2007), which deals with the Kingdom Come Superman's appearance and Power Girl's adjustment to the fact that she comes from a pre-Crisis reality (yeah, I know, it starts getting quite convoluted here if you don't know the story).
The book ends on a rather dour note, with Earth 2 issue 6 being the final reprinted issue.  Earth 2 is the title that came out post-Flashpoint (which was another universe-changing event that re-booted the entire DC universe yet again).  This series features some re-imagined characters from the Justice Society era; however, they are much darker, more violent, and as of yet, have never formed a team called the "Justice Society."

What IS nice about this collection are the tributes written by two influential comic creators, which are interspersed between the various eras.  Part I (1940-1951) is written by Roy Thomas; Part II (1961-1975) is written by Roy Thomas; Part III (1976-1989) is written by Roy Thomas; Part IV (1986-2011) is written by Ivan Cohen; and Part V (2011 and beyond) is written by Ivan Cohen.  These are some great reflections on the history of this team and how it impacted comics, characters, and the creators themselves.

The Justice Society truly is (in my book, at least) the quintessential super-hero team that has defined all other team books.  They have always been (prior to the Flashpoint change) more of a family than a team, and the generational aspect of it in the post-Crisis series really added to this familial element.  Seventy-five years is without a doubt a long time for a team to endure, and while this new Earth 2 incarnation of the characters may be a severe departure from the original team, I do hope that the writers eventually realize what makes the Justice Society so successful and return to that formula, so that the JSA will be around for another 75 years!

RATING:  9 cries for justice out of 10 for keeping the dream alive, albeit short a few truly important memories that would have made this book perfect!

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