Justice Society of America: Thy Kingdom Come Part Three

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I’ve reached the conclusion of the “Thy Kingdom Come” storyline, and as expected, Geoff Johns didn’t disappoint.  Keeping up the pace he set in the first two volumes, Part Three finishes off the story with the perfect amount of poignancy and finality.  I always wondered how the story would end, particularly in reference to Superman from Earth-22. After all, this is the Superman who watched all his friends die in Kingdom Come, and I wasn’t sure if this story would keep his happy ending in tact or retcon something else entirely.  His story, coupled with everything else going on in this trade, is wrapped up quite nicely, and created an overall satisfying story.

With the JSA divided, the group splits up; the doubters return to their headquarters, while those who believe in Gog’s power continue to follow him across Africa, watching him perform miracles.  Cracks begin to show through in his gifts though; Sand no longer has nightmarish visions of crimes, leading to a young boy’s death; Dr. Mid-Nite can see, but he’s lost the ability to detect invisibly dangers to the human body, which helped him save countless lives.  As the heroes try to come to terms with these new limitations, Gog’s true goals begin to shine through.

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Gog demands that his followers bow down and pray to him, saying that he will never forsake them as long as they preach his word. At the same time, we learn that Gog is literally rooting himself to the Earth, and if this is completed, he will destroy the planet if he ever chooses to leave.  The JSA is reunited as they battle Gog, trying to figure out a way to defeat him while also keeping him from fully bonding with the planet.

Luckily, it was earlier revealed (amidst Starman’s newly gained lucidity) that his star suit is in fact a map to the multiverse and that it, coupled with his ability to generate trans-dimensional black holes, lets him journey from one universe to the other.

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With the help of Earth-22 Superman, the pair transport Gog to the Source Wall, where they reunite him with other gods and entrap him within the wall itself.  Starman returns to Earth, where Gog’s gifts have been reversed: Damage’s face is  disfigured again, Dr. Mid-Nite is blind, and Starman is koo-koo for cocoa puffs (I must admit, this last one made me happy. Sane Starman was just so boring.  I much prefer his incoherent ramblings).

While Starman returns to this world, Superman chooses a different path, and with Starman’s help, returns to his own world.

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Interspersed throughout the panels of our Earth’s heroes dealing with the aftermath of Gog are images of Earth-22 Superman.  I was happy to see that they line up with the events of Kingdom Come perfectly; Johns chose to keep the original story in tact, and I applaud him for it.  Instead, we simply get a two-page spread of wordless panels, in which Superman’s future is laid out. We see as far as 1,000 years into the future, in a world where Superman is still alive (though considerably older) and has lived a full, long life.  Words would have been an unnecessary addition to this part of the story, and I’m happy with the ending’s simplicity.  It feels a fitting end for Earth-22 Superman, and reflects the timeless legacy he has already developed in less than 100 years.  His story is (hopefully) complete; I’d hate to think what another writer might try to do to this finished story.

As for the rest of the JSA, we leave them to process everything that’s gone on.  Magog still exists, the last remnant of Gog on Earth, with no explanation given as to why. I can only guess that he’ll play into a future storyline, likely reflecting the events that occurred on Earth-22.  While “Thy Kingdom Come” is technically finished, there is definitely more to this story.

I’m continually surprised by how much I enjoy reading about the JSA. At first glance, I’d think I wouldn’t find it all that interesting; a bunch of old-school heroes uniting to “teach” the new generation, a generation mostly consisting of heroes I’ve never heard of before.  Yet somehow it works.  The combination of action and down time feels real, and makes the characters much more likable.  I’m sure Johns’s writing has something to do with it, as each character has their own distinct personality, even if it isn’t showcased very often.  I finish this trade reluctantly, hoping I’ll get to read more about the JSA’s exploits soon enough. I’m sure they’ll pop up as side characters in other trades coming up on “the shelf”, but I’m going to miss reading about these heroes’ everyday interactions. I suppose that’s the highest praise you can give to a story: that it’s so good that you don’t want to leave.  I just hope I’m not away for long.

-Jess

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Justice Society of America: Thy Kingdom Come Part Two

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Geoff Johns continues to impress me.  His run on Justice Society of America has grabbed me since his first issue, and he continues to write an engaging and well-crafted story here with part two of the “Thy Kingdom Come” storyline.

Picking up where “Part 2” left off, the JSA is still trying to decipher exactly who this mythical “Gog” is and what it is he wants. the team  battles a man who is infused with Gog’s powers and uses them to kill false gods.  This man is soon replaced by a being the JSA  never could have imagined.

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This being is the real Gog, and he quickly rises from the earth where he’s been laying in wait for millennia.  This being puts the entire team on edge, as the Superman of Earth-22 says that on his Earth, Gog was the precursor to a being named Magog, who would soon wreck havoc on the world and lead to the destruction of superheroes.  Believing they may suffer the same fate, the JSA watches Gog closely, certain that he is going to incite a war or cause untold damage. Instead though, Gog’s motives seem to be selfless and kind.  He provides those he encounters with their very hearts’ desires: returning Dr. Midnight’s sight, letting Sandman get a good night’s sleep, and even reversing Damage’s battered appearance.

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Gog appears to be a gift to humanity, leaving a garden of Eden in his wake, and improving the lives of everyone he meets.  The group is soon divided though, especially after Gog makes Power Girl disappear.  Nobody on Earth knows where she is, and when Power Girl wakes up, she realizes that she is on Earth-2, her home planet that she long thought to be lost.

Unfortunately, cracks begin to show in Power Girl’s world, just as flaws show through in Gog as well.  Power Girl realizes she doesn’t belong on Earth-2, as that universe had already provided itself with a replacement P.G.  Gog’s actions seem noble, yet they also cause problems, and soon every member of the JSA has taken sides.  Before an all-out war can erupt, Gog returns life to a fallen soldier, giving him a name that is all too familiar.

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Magog’s creation seems to confirm Superman’s fears, implying that this creature is going to spell the end for the JSA as well as all other superheroes.  The comic closes with Magog’s appearance alongside Power Girl looking for help on Earth-2, hoping to find a way back to our universe.

This is a surprisingly well-written comic. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, seeing as how Geoff Johns wrote it.  I’ve been consistently impressed with his writing, and particularly his means of crafting a well-thought out story.  I’m enjoying the progression of the story, especially as Gog’s first appearance conflicts with what the JSA had been expecting. I like watching them wonder if maybe they were wrong, as some of them follow this apparent messiah blindly while others hold back, still wary of his power.  There are obvious religious allusions within the story, but Johns doesn’t hit you over the head with them. Instead, he allows the story  to exist in its own right, while also allowing the reader to infer what they may.  Given Johns’s penchant for crafting incredibly stories, I’m confident I’ll enjoy the concluding trade.  I almost hesitate to write that, as I’m sure the time will come when I read something of his that I’m not a fan of; still, he’s wowed me so far, and if the lead-up story is any indication, this comic will have one hell of a finale.

-Jess

 

JSA: The Return of Hawkman

I can’t even figure out where to begin with this trade.  There’s just simply so much going on that it’s almost overwhelming.

The point of the storyline is to reintroduce Hawkman to the continuity, but in order to accurately explain the context, the trade collects quite a few issues prior to Hawkman’s return.

As the trade opens, we see the JSA facing a new challenge: having to battle against an old foe, long thought dead.

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Truth be told this portion of the story is all build-up, providing a base on which to build Hawkman’s return.

Eventually, to defeat this old enemy, Flash must run at the speed of light, an act that somehow tosses him back into ancient Egypt, where he meets an old friend.

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Flash is informed of a prophesy that states Hawkman will return in the present day to play a key role in a future battle.  He is given a golden glove to give to the resurrected Hawkman, and returns to the present.

While all of this is happening, we start to see an imbalance in Kendra Saunders, the new Hawkgirl.  Confused and scared, she flees the JLA and encounters the angel Zauriel, who informs her of some rather distressing news.

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We learn that Kendra’s soul died after a suicide attempt, but that Shiera’s soul inhabited her body after this.  The Kendra we have known since her first appearance has been Shiera after all.

Just as she learns this, Kendra is whisked off to Thanagar, when the residents are being oppressed.  It is up to Kendra to resurrect Carter Hall so that he may liberate the Thanagarians.

Again, this is all build-up and backstory.  Hawkman doesn’t even make his big reappearance until a bulk of the way through the trade.

When he appears though, it’s pretty epic.

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Carter and Shiera fight and ultimately save Thanagar, which was all well and good, but I found their relationship to be far more intriguing.  Kendra has not fully accepted that she is actually Shiera, and Carter tends to lay his feelings on pretty thick.  He is constantly professing his undying love and devotion which, let’s be honest, would be pretty difficult to swallow.

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Luckily, Kendra isn’t too timid to voice her concerns. She puts Carter in his place, telling him to stop with the “but we’re soulmates” schtick.  She has her own issues to work out, and dealing with the supposed love of all her lives is not high on her list.  While I can feel for Carter because I know they actually are soulmates, I’m glad to see that Kendra is portrayed in a more realistic light.  With all of these earth-shattering realizations crashing down on her at once, it’s nice to see that she doesn’t just fall into the arms of this newly appeared man, and that she’s instead choosing to be on her own while she works through all of these changes.

The whole point of this storyline seems to be to reintroduce Carter and Shiera Hall back into the continuity, with a unified history connecting the previous versions noting their connections to Thanagar and Ancient Egypt.  The story combines elements from all of these to make a single, cohesive history for the characters.  I found it to be clean enough to make sense, while still remaining true to the many versions that have preceded it.

Once again the JSA comic exists as a means of reintroducing classic Golden, Silver, and Bronze Age characters to a younger audience, reimagining their stories while still providing a bit of history for the characters.  The comic serves a key purpose in the continuity, allowing readers to learn about past storylines without having to track down countless back-issues (a nearly impossible task at times).  These JSA trades are an invaluable addition to the comics universe, introducing readers to a host of older characters who may not be present in other comics, but who nevertheless serve a key role in the overall continuity. This would be a great jumping off point for anyone who doesn’t have much knowledge of Hawkman lore, and like all the other recent JSA trades, a great place to start gathering information on these older characters’ histories.

-Jess

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

JSA: Justice Be Done

I’m starting to gather that every once in a while, DC will revamp a set of characters in order to make them feel fresh and exciting, as well as to introduce older characters to new readers.  The reemergence of a JSA publication is the perfect blend of old and new, paying homage to the Golden Age heroes while welcoming new heroes to the fray.

The trade opens in the modern day.  Doctor Fate has died, and Wesley Dodds (aka Sandman) is trying to find the infant who will inherit that title.  Elderly and worn, Wesley gathers the first clues needed to find the child before falling to his death, a fate he welcomes with open arms because it will reunite him with his departed love, Dian.

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Saddened by this sudden news, the aging members of the original JSA gather together, looking to continue the work Wesley started.  Sentinal, Flash, Hyppolyta, and Wildcat vow to do what they can to solve this mystery, but not before paying their respects to their fallen friend.

While at his funeral, they are met by an attack of undead warriors, forcing them to realize that they are not the only ones who are trying to solve this puzzle.  Joined by newer allies, many the descendants of original JSA members, the group splits off into three factions, all hoping to discover the identity of the baby who has been chosen to become the new Doctor Fate.

Although he’s eventually found, the members of the JSA are stopped before completing their mission, watching as the child is taken away by a powerful foe determined to take the Doctor Fate mantle for himself.

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Mordru is a truly powerful enemy, easily defeating the members of the JSA.  Tracked to Fate’s base, the JSA members must work together to stop him while simultaneously saving the baby.

Through the skills of The Star-Spangled Kid (a plot point undoubtedly  included to lend credibility to her even being in the JSA), the child is transformed into the new Doctor Fate, a being far more powerful than Mordru himself.

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Easily defeating Mordru, Fate and the rest of the JSA return to their world, vowing that a new Justice Society is needed.  Everyone who fought in the battle is invited to join, with everyone except Hyppolyta (who says she will remain on reserve status) accepting.

It’s a time of changes for these characters. Not only are older mantles being adopted by a younger generation, but the well-known heroes are facing their own evolutions as well.  The most notable change occurs for Sand, who has gained the ability to transform his body into sand and travel through Earth’s tectonic plates.

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These changes help bring a fresh face to the JSA.  Rather than reading about the exact same characters from sixty years prior, our heroes are allowed to adapt and evolve so that they feel new and exciting.  The pairing of old and new here felt extremely well done, with the older generation having much to teach, and learn from, the younger one.

I enjoyed these opening issues for a rebooted JSA.  The story was engaging, and I appreciated the fact that I understood the references they made to the comics of old.  Granted, there were plenty of characters I wasn’t overly familiar with, and so these references were a bit lost on me.  Still, enough context was given that I understood their role, even if I didn’t feel a wave of nostalgia for their reappearances.

There are additional JSA trades ahead of me on “the shelf”.  With the basic group already set up at the end of this first trade, I have a feeling future issues will simply deal with the JSA facing off against any number of threatening foes.  It’s what the original JSA did, and it’s a role the group will inevitably continue.  Here’s hoping the blend of nostalgia and progression continues in those stories as well.  It’s a key factor that makes this comic feel far more significant.

-Jess