JSA: Darkness Falls

Sometimes a comic does one particular thing so well that it doesn’t really matter what the rest of the story is like.

I’m starting to feel that way about these recent JSA comics.  The stories themselves are enjoyable, but not necessarily groundbreaking.  The villains are well-crafted  and the heroes are likable enough.  What truly stands out in my mind though, and indeed what makes JSA a unique comic, is its constant focus on past characters and events while simultaneously pushing the story forward.

The JSA is inherently an “older” group.  Comprised of heroes who earned their popularity in the 1940’s, it couldn’t have been easy to decide how to introduce these characters to a new generation.  After all, many had remained relatively stagnant for quite some time, popping up in other trades every once in a while but not really showing any major storyline progression of their own.

The simplest method of bringing these old-world heroes to a younger generation is to mix them in with a new crop of superheroes, those who are a bit fresher than the originals and whom this new generation can call their own.  This comic certainly does that.  We meet the new Star-Spangled Kid and Hawkgirl among others, people following in the footsteps of long-gone heroes.

This strategy, uniting the old with the new to appeal to a mass market, has certainly been done before, but JSA does it with a particular poignancy.

After all, how often do you see a random throwaway villain referenced some SIXTY years after his last appearance?

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While I’m not familiar with this particular character, I can appreciate the fact that the comics referenced an older villain.  It’s comforting to know that even after all these years, the comic world hasn’t forgotten these characters, even if they haven’t appeared in a comic for decades.

More recent characters are featured as well, with one of the main storylines centering around Extant, formerly Hawk of the duo Hawk and Dove.  Surprisingly, Dove makes a brief reappearance as well, after dying during the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline.

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Again, while I never knew all that much about Hawk and Dove, I enjoyed seeing their past stories drawn upon for this comic.  It’s a great way to introduce older characters to a new generation, giving readers a taste without bogging them down with incessant backstory.  These JSA comics give older characters new direction with these stories, while simultaneously breathing life into their past adventures.

In many instances, the comic doesn’t even outright explain the reference it’s making, which is my personal favorite form of storytelling.  In this scene, Wildcat is resting after an injury, and we catch him on the phone with a certain well-known femme fatale.

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There’s so much about this single panel that I love (and no, it’s not the naked man in a tub).  Ted Grant refers to the woman he’s talking to as “Selina”, which to a casual reader who’s unfamiliar with DC, would just seem like a random woman’s name.  Of course, it’s clear that he’s talking to Selina Kyle, none other than Catwoman herself.  This in and of itself is an interesting connection, but even more so given the fact that Ted trained Catwoman and taught her how to fight.  I loved that none of this was actually explained in the comic though.  Anyone could read this scene and have a certain degree of understanding as to what’s going on, but the scene will have deeper meaning for those who are familiar with past storylines.  I always enjoy moments in comics that are accessible to a broad spectrum of readers, and while certainly most meaningful for those who are familiar with character histories, such scenes can nevertheless be enjoyed by anyone reading the comic.

While the stories themselves were fun to read, it was these moments that I found most enjoyable.  The unification of old and new characters makes for a particularly compelling read, especially in a comic like JSA.  Many of these characters are so steeped in history that it would be shameful to simply gloss over their pasts and focus solely on future events.  Still, it would not be nearly as engaging if the comic was simple rehashing events from stories half a century old and adding nothing new to the fray.  JSA somehow strikes the perfect balance between the two, creating comics that feel modern while still paying homage to the past.

-Jess

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