- Posted by Johanna on June 3, 2007 at 3:12 pm
- Category: Superhero Reviews
- CREDITS: written by Paul Levitz; pencils by Joe Staton; inks by Bob Layton, Joe Giella, and Dave Hunt
- PUBLISHER: DC Comics; $14.99 US
When I saw this book, my first thought, clichéd as it is, was “kids today don’t know how good they have it.” Justice Society Volume 2 reprints All-Star Comics #68-74 and Adventure Comics #461-466.
When I got back into comics as an adult, these were key books for me to find, because my favorite character was the Huntress, and she made her debut in issue #69 of this All-Star run (circa 1977). After that title was cancelled with issue #74, additional stories made their way into Adventure, the most important of which was the death of the Batman of Earth-2, her father. Now, though, instead of hunting them down over years at conventions across the country, anyone can find them all in one package at a very reasonable price.
The book starts with Green Lantern Alan Scott trashing the Gotham City airport in revenge for his company going bankrupt. It’s a stunning idea that could have revealed more about the motivations of a superhero and the things one has to give up to work for the better good — but it’s only an excuse for the rest of the team to battle him and save the incoming aircraft. Anyway, it all turns out to have been manipulated by the Psycho Pirate (better known these days for the role he played in the original Crisis on Infinite Earths).
Instead of following up on Scott’s bitterness, the story is a springboard for the next issue’s clash, in which Police Commissioner Bruce Wayne attempts to arrest the JSA for reckless endangerment. To restrain the new team, he calls out of retirement Starman, Dr. Mid-Nite, and the Earth-2 Wonder Woman.
Reading that conflict in earlier years, it seemed like a ridiculously trumped up reason to pit hero against hero, that generation’s Civil War. Now, though, I find myself wondering what prompted those older heroes to set aside their costumes in the first place. Based on my experience, I found it all a metaphor for superhero comics … once upon a time, these folks found excitement in the game, but they reached a time when they put it aside to pursue more normal careers, contributing to society in other useful ways. Starman’s an astronomer, Mid-Nite continues his work in medicine, Diana Prince has had a lengthy stint in military intelligence. The idea that superheroes even could retire is an old-fashioned one, since we never see them do it today, when businesses try to keep all of their franchises alive forever.
It’s rather amazing how quick all these heroes are to resort to physical battle, regardless of their age or how much they supposedly trust their former teammates. It’s rather like some of the worse farces, where the whole thing wouldn’t happen if only the characters had said two sentences to each other ten minutes into the story. In this case, it takes them 15 pages and a guest-appearance by the aging Superman to realize that “hey, it’s all due to the Psycho Pirate again!”
Additional stories include a focus on Wildcat and the Star-Spangled Kid, the Huntress joining the team, who then fight the Thorn, and the Golden Age Huntress attacking the modern one for control of the name. (It’s a literal intellectual property battle!) Then they all save the world by sitting around and doing nothing. (No, really, that’s how they defeat the Master Summoner… by refusing to use their powers. This tale is remarkably incoherent in more than that way.) Sadly, all of these stories are not very good.
They’re representative of the era: copious expository dialogue, by-the-motions plotting, thought balloons reminding the reader of the what the character already knows, plenty of fight scenes contained within small panels and staged without the benefit of exciting visuals. The benefit of this style of work, though, is that the stories can still be read, decades later, even as the characters refer to events that happened in other titles. Continuity was becoming more important at this time, as dedicated readers valued the idea of a company universe over enjoying particular titles.
The introduction of former-fan creators into the business not only meant increased cross-book ties; they also brought more characterization, if by characterization you mean giving everyone one trait that they hit every story. For example, Power Girl is an angry feminist; Wildcat’s a scrapper who speaks in “dem”s and “dose; Dr. Fate is annoyingly mystical; and the Golden Age Flash is the tough-talking leader.
Bruce Wayne, for all that he’s a major supporting character, is not much of a presence. In his last story, he’s called out by someone he jailed for murder, someone who now has unexplained, far-reaching magical powers. For some reason, even though the bad guy wants Wayne, specifically, Wayne puts on his Batman costume one last time, walks up to the guy, and they both blow up. There’s a followup that tries to explain how the guy got his abilities, but the writer puts more emphasis on maintaining the Huntress and Robin’s secret identities than on crafting a sensible narrative.
That’s why I think this book makes it all too easy. Batman’s death is a terrible story. It doesn’t make any sense, it’s not true to the characters, it’s immensely forgettable. If one searched hard to find the comics that contained it, at least there was a sense of accomplishment that helped mitigate the disappointment at finally reading it. Now, though, a reader can flip through it in the bookstore and realize that the event — Batman dying and passing the torch to his daughter and son — is much more important than how it was told.
The book ends with the best story of the bunch: the tale of how the JSA went inactive in the 50s instead of bowing to pressure from the Un-American Activities Committee to unmask. Oh, and this volume also includes the creative credits missing from the first volume, which reprints All-Star Comics #58-67 and their origin from DC Special #29.