Thursday, July 30, 2009
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Yesterday, I posted my guess as to who is the leader of the Black Lanterns. Because the San Diego Comic Con is ongoing, new information comes out by the day. In this post, I wanted to compile a humble collection of brief, but telling, quotations about where the series is going, particularly regarding the identity of the "big bad" -- or, if it's a more appropriate label, the big "dead". In addition, some facts from the comics that seem to point to that entity's identity:
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Even though the first run of the Justice Society finished before my Dad entered high school, some of the earliest comics I bought featured the JSA. DC enthusiastically reprinted Golden Age stories in the Seventies, and though I often found the art to be smudgier and less fun than Silver Age artwork, I was familiar with the Justice Society, and yet I felt like an outsider to their world. With new Justice League comics coming out every month, I knew the names, home cities, and powers of the JLA members by heart, while the limited volume of JSA stories coming my way left many of the Golden Agers a bit foreign to me.
Newer stories of the JSA (Seventies Revival and onward, including many Elseworlds of high quality) gave me more and more to read about them, but the original was still strange to me -- until lately. In the last few months, I have read the great proportion of all DC superhero stories from the very beginning up through early 1941. Armed with this new familiarity, I'd like to review the original JSAers, from their debuts up through the first two JSA stories.
Sandman: With a debut barely after Batman's, millionaire Wesley Dodds was one of the original masked crimefighters in comic books. The Sandman character obviously did not have the endurance that Batman has enjoyed (no billion-dollar movies lately). With the benefit of hindsight, it is probable that the awkward suits worn by the Sandman and the even-earlier Crimson Avenger were a creative mistake in the eyes of readers. Indeed, both the Crimson and Sandman switched to colorful tights a few years later, but by that time, there was no catching up to the popularity of the Caped Crusader. And yet, the early Sandman stories were marked by a cinematic flair, with the last panel often showing panache and humor not easy to find in comics of the era. Another part of the winning formula of Batman that was not utilized by Sandman was the character-flawed secret identity. While Bruce Wayne was famously vapid and without focus in life, Wesley Dodds was gallant in his own skin, and often began or finished cases out of costume. His galpal Dian Belmont was a fixture in his stories, creating a Girl Friday formula that never caught on for the most successful superheroes, but added style to the Sandman. His adventures started off as standard detective fare, but soon after he became the oldest charter member of the JSA (debuting 6 months before any of the rest), he was involved in science fiction plots, in one story saving the planet from destruction, a feat that neither Superman nor Batman had on their resumes at that point in time.
The Flash: DC's second superhero with science-based powers was the first to be revived when Barry Allen visited him in 1961. Jay Garrick was also the third-most popular DC character in the early going, winning a solo title that ran over 100 issues. The Flash's stories were more light-hearted than that of most superheroes -- if one sets aside the pure slapstick of the Red Tornado and Johnny Thunder. And yet, many early Flash villains die at story's end, and Jay Garrick is not always without blame. Ironically, the Flash is the first superhero to be regarded as law-abiding, buddying up with the police when his four antecedents were all vigilantes who often (but easily) evaded arrest. Barry Allen's costume fixed the conceptual flaw of giving a character that runs really fast a loose helmet.
Hawkman: The combination of reincarnation, anti-gravity, shirtlessness, and ancient weapons are four facets I might never have thought to combine. But Hawkman, arguably the first flying superhero, got the job done with brutal efficiency. Executing his opponents left and right, Carter Hall differed from Batman in always setting out on a case with just one weapon instead of a beltful, and yet he always chose correctly. (If you're going to get a good whack at an opponent's head, a scimitar does just as good a job as a mace, I think.) The suggestion of a sex life with Shiera was pretty close to the surface, so overall, Hawkman was a pretty raucous series featuring a lot of action and drama with very little humor.
Johnny Thunder: Although he was possibly the most powerful "hero" to date, Johnny Thunder was pure comic relief, because he didn't know that he had power at first, and didn't know how to control it when he figured it out. While he fights crime at times, he more often is trying to win over his erstwhile girlfriend Daisy Darling, and wins a boxing championship along the way. The slapstick tone would arguably disqualify him (as well as Ma Hunkel's Red Tornado) from consideration as a superhero, but by landing a spot on the JSA (which thereby acquired his slapstick nature, at first), he is remembered that way.
Spectre: It's worth noting that Jerry Siegel followed up Superman by creating, less than two years later, a character who was even more powerful! When a policeman was killed and returned to life (yes, this was before Will Eisner's Spirit) comics got a hero so powerful that they hardly knew what to do with him. His stories usually lack drama as to whether or not he will succeed and more about taking you into the psychological terror of the criminals who earn his unstoppable wrath. I was as pleasantly shocked as any contemporary reader when one of his cases facing mortal mobsters suddenly threw him face to face with Zor, a wizard who was nearly his equal (and much more comfortable with his powers). I knew Zor from the opposite end of DC history, Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers, which banishes Zor to an unenviable fate after he'd earlier tangled with Zatanna. When the Spectre encounters yet more supernatural foes who give him a challenge, he acquires (from God?) the Ring of Life, and easily one-ups them. As an indication of the weak sense of continuity of the time, he actually acquires the Ring of Life in two different stories, both times as though it were for the first time. Oddly enough, Jim Corrigan tailored his "uniform" with physical materials in its first appearance although it was later shown that he was easily capable of doing just about anything at will.
Hourman: I always thought Hourman was a great concept, especially the look of the character. Indeed, he was one of the spotlight characters in the JSA revival decades later. But he was unheralded in his first run and essentially kicked off the team (given a "leave of absence") for one simple, regretable reason: The early Hourman stories weren't very good. The continuity was jaw-droppingly inconsistent (Rex Tyler's own boss was revealed as a master criminal in one issue, but was back as though nothing had happened in the next). The sense of aesthetics, aside from the art, was terribly flawed: Hourman called himself publicly the incredibly un-heroic name 'Tick Tock Tyler' even though it was supposed to be a secret that he was Rex Tyler. I cannot explain the logic of revealing one's last name while trying to maintain a secret identity. Of course, it's even less logical that you would choose a name that reveals your one weakness. And as what was likely the death blow for the character, he became the head of an army of boy assistants, the Minute Men of America. Sounded like a good idea at the time? Hourman debuted the same month as Robin, the Boy Wonder, so sidekicks were in vogue. But he lost popularity quickly, and I think it's for the reasons I have listed.
Doctor Fate: Although a cool concept, Doctor Fate started off as a poor man's Spectre, appearing in the same magazine (More Fun Comics) with fewer pages per issue. Although he was a magician, he often used magic to produce science (eg, nuclear radiation). Unlike the Spectre, he always matched up against enemies whose power rivaled his own, who usually attacked him first and put him on the defensive. Every story involved his platonic female associate Inza, who was defined as the embodiment of real-world existence countering Doctor Fate's purely aethereal operations out of a tower in Salem, Massachusetts. While the Kent Nelson identity came later, he was said early on to be "not human... never a child", having been a creation of the elder gods. I'm glad the elder gods liked primary color uniforms.
Green Lantern: Alan Scott, soon to be the fourth hero to win a solo title, launched a concept that has stood the test of time. The atrocious costume (justified in his first story as something no one could forget) was an inevitable casualty of the Silver Age reboot. But the Green Lantern, whose power came mysteriously from outer space by way of China and an insane asylum definitely looked powerful. Charging into fights with his broad chest and throwing punches that were apparently powered by the ring, the first Green Lantern didn't create artistic constructs to fight with -- he just blasted injustice away. He also vied with Hourman as the first hero to have his signature weakness overused as a plot device. I don't know how many gangsters in the real world would try to use a wooden club on the head of a guy who was bullet-proof, but in GL's world, the idea seemed to come naturally. He was the first superhero to appear unambiguously by name ("a superman" may be a common noun) in the pages of another's story (providing the inspiration for the Red Tornado, who appeared in the same title, All American Comics).
Atom: There's never been a faster track to the top. Al Pratt only appeared in costume the month before he was included in the first meeting of the Justice Society. The first Atom story is not in any sense a superhero story: It is simply the story of a small college student who trains his physique and is rewarded by humiliating those who teased him. In summary, the Charles Atlas ad drawn out to six pages. But he begins to fight crime with a mask one issue later and goes about his task with determination -- after all, he's trying to impress a girl.
I always hated to come into a story late. Getting to know the JSA from their original stories gives me the feeling of at last being an insider to a great lineup of heroes who appeared in some of the first comics I ever owned.
A fan's not a fan if he's not giving opinions, so to list my favorite JSAers, on the basis of these original stories alone, I would name the Spectre, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and Sandman -- probably in that order. While Green Lantern is perhaps the most like modern superheroes in his manner of operating, the other three capture some of the cinematic elements of their time -- noir, adventure, romance. These stories can come alive today and take the reader on a trip back in time to the era that first needed, and therefore created, superheroes -- and lots of them.