With the somewhat lackluster JLA collection that preceded this one on “the shelf”, I was unsure what to expect going into this next trade. I’ve read the previous volumes in this series, so I knew the gist of what was to come: The Justice League of America from Earth-One crosses paths with the Justice Society of America from Earth-Two to prevent imminent destruction of their worlds. It’s a fairly standard formula, but it’s worked in the past, so I was curious to see what this round of stories would bring.
After reading them, I find myself torn.
This volume collects a number of crossover stories, but the main focus lies with two in particular. The first begins in the comic’s 100th issue, consisting of a three-issue storyline uniting the JLA and the JSA on a quest to locate the Seven Soldiers of Victory, the only individuals capable of preventing Earth’s demise at the hands of a nearly unbeatable villain. The second finds heroes from the JLA and JSA united on a new version of our world, Earth-X, in which the Nazis won World War II and rule America.
The basic ideas behind these stories are good. There’s plenty of intrigue to keep the reader entertained, and they’re more involved than your standard “fight the bad guy and immediately win” trope. Unfortunately, I found something lacking in these issues, particularly the “Seven Soldiers” story arc. The JLA and JSA members split up into seven groups, each on a mission to locate one of the Seven Soldiers, who have been scattered throughout various points in history. As a history fan, I enjoyed this element of the story and relished the chance to find small historical factoids peppered throughout the comic.
Sadly, there were seven groups each off on their own adventure, and each of their respective stories had to be told. The individual stories were good, but their inclusion dragged out the larger plotline. Each side story was essentially the same: travel back in time, locate the missing Soldier, fight a historical figure well-known from that time period, and be magically zipped back to the present. One or two I could handle, but seven nearly identical missions dragged out the story, and when its culminating scene finally occurred it felt rather anticlimactic, given such a lengthy build-up.
While reading these stories, I couldn’t help but notice similarities to the previous Justice League of America comics I had just read. Early on in the trade I witnessed both Robins commiserating over their unfair treatment by other League members:
Luckily, the complaining and random arguing occurred less here than in the last collection. Still, I can’t help but wonder why so many of the characters were portrayed as angst-ridden teenagers. These are supposed to be the defenders of our world, yet they’re often arguing like children.
On the flip side, I was happy to see that the women in the JLA and JSA were continually shown as strong and independent. Black Canary has stood out time and time as a character who isn’t afraid to stand up for herself.
It makes me happy to see such characterizations included in these comics, especially given that essentially all of the comic book writers at the time were men. It might do people some good to go back and read some of these earlier comics the next time they claim the medium devalues and objectifies women.
And we certainly can’t forget Wonder Woman, in all of her no-nonsense glory:
She means business, and doesn’t bother pausing to blush or giggle at the random (though well-deserved) compliment from Batman. Again, this may not be a seminal point in feminist history, but moments like these cement my belief that I may have been wrong to judge comics as possibly demeaning to women. These characters are presented as strong and self-sufficient, and often more capable and focused than their male counterparts. The writers are going out of their way to depict women in a more equal light, and for this I commend them, as many other forms of media took a long time to follow suit.
I was happy to see that the trade ended on serious, thought-provoking note, rather than the typical “happily ever after” finale. In this issue, Sandman is distraught over having wrongfully imprisoned his former sidekick, believing him to be a mindless beast. Once he learns that he was wrong, he is shown dejectedly walking away from the group, as Batman poses the following questions:
I enjoy the inclusion of such existential questions, if only because they lend a more serious, reflective tone to the comic. The stories feel much more human with inclusions such as these, and I enjoy them infinitely more than the standard “bad guys lose, good guys win, everyone’s happy” tales. There seems to be a slight shift towards this form of storytelling, and I can only hope that as the decades continue, the comics begin to adopt this more in-depth, moralistic approach to their stories.
Overall I enjoyed the stories in this comic. Some felt a bit lengthy and drawn-out while I was reading, but I can appreciate them for what they are. The comics aren’t perfect, but they’re entertaining, and they show a move towards more complex character development that I quite enjoy. As each character develops his or her own distinct personality, I’ll be interested to see how members of the JLA and JSA interact with one another, and what problems may arise as a result.