Finding Love in a Hopeless Place-The Justice Society of America

To enjoy the Justice Society of America as much as I did at the time I did is to be almost as big an anomalous anachronism as they are.  I suppose on the surface, a WWII team that was still active in the 1990’s seems silly, but somewhere in that silliness lay magic.  Even beyond that silliness, within the JSA was sternness beyond reproach.  I respected and revered the JSA for reasons that I did not and still do not fully understand.

Part of my adoration has to be their connection to WWII.  I recently wrote a guest blog for www.longboxgraveyard.com  about the All-Star Squadron, another title I love that features the JSA.  In that article, I talked about my reverence for WWII, both as a young man obsessed with the maps in the encyclopedia that told the story of WWII, and I am also an ardent antifascist (to the point where you can find me on twitter as @theantifascist), which enables me to identify with the brave men and women who stood up against blatant oppression and repression so that the world might be a slightly freer place.

Another reason for my reverence is my unrelenting passion for things I get interested in.  As was noted in the first entry here at The Unspoken Decade, I must learn everything I possibly can about anything I am into.  I must know the history, and I must know it fast.  When it comes to superhero comic books, they really do not get much more historic than the Justice Society of America!

Of course, no amount of obsession with history could have made me more interested in the JSA than, say, A FUCKING FANTASTIC COMIC!  Which is what the Justice Society of America comic released in the 1990’s totally is in every possible way.  Don’t believe me?  Choke on this, hater.

Maybe if Hawkgirl and Hawkman fly around that monster long enough they’ll defeat it.
Maybe if Hawkgirl and Hawkman fly around that monster long enough they’ll defeat it.

I recall vividly the very first time I laid eyes on a copy of this series.  I was in Springfield, MO.  My Dad had just killed himself. (BUZZKILL,)  We were in town for the funeral, and needless to say, I was quite distraught.  I did my best to keep it together, and all things considered I did a good job.  I was about a year into collecting comics at this time, and to make a shitty situation better, my parents (Mom and Stepfather) had promised to take me to a “big time” comic book store.   Despite the pallor of the trip, I could not help but be excited for this.  Our town had a great comic book store, and in hindsight I love it even more than I loved it then, but I was enchanted by a bigger store with more back issues.  My local store was also a used bookstore, and most of the space was dedicated to the books.  While my 13-year old self occasionally wandered into that section to snicker at the double entendre titles adorning the romance books, I hungered for what I believed a “real” comic book store to be like.  Now that I think about it, what the hell could that even mean?  Did I think Goddamn Stan Lee and Frank Miller were gonna be playing catch with an NFL Superpro football or something?  I haven’t the slightest.

We would not get to that comic book store until the very end of the trip, in what was a hilarious horrorshow that I will save for another article, but during our sojourn, we stopped at several convenience stores in Springfield.  These stores were like magic to me because unlike the backwoods gas stations we had down south, these stores had COMIC BOOKS!  Of course, I was mesmerized at every stop, and I always found some excuse to go in and gaze at the comics.  That’s where I was first introduced to the greatness that is Mike Parobeck’s art.

We finally get the answer to the question of who would win a fight between a balding guy and a guy with bad haircut.
We finally get the answer to the question of who would win a fight between a balding guy and a guy with bad haircut.

(We finally get the answer to the question of who would win a fight between a balding guy and a guy with bad haircut.)

 

I was, and still am, a giant Guy Gardner fan.  He’s still one of my favorite Green Lanterns, mostly because he is the only character in superhero history that got super powers who isn’t all the way good or bad.  He’s an asshole, but he isn’t evil.  He’s like a cop who actually plays by the book, but that same cop likes letting everyone know just how good he is, how bad they are, how lucky they are to know him, and you get the joke by now.  Of course, that cop-stache ain’t going to go well with that do.

Speaking of Guy’s haircut, I find it sort of spectacular he had that haircut because it is the sort of bad haircut most assholes had, but just two years later, this haircut was all the rage.  Even I had one, although all pictures of said haircut have been destroyed…

But the point is that the cover with Guy drew me in, and then I couldn’t really stop staring at it.  I actually got in trouble for looking at it when we stopped at a gas station at night under a street light for the few seconds we would be there.  I just could not stop looking at it.  Then, I read it.  Then, my life changed.

 

Justice Society of America V2 #9 - Page 15
If anyone ever tries to tell me folks with rings that do anything they will fighting each other isn’t cool as hell then I will refer them directly here and immediately accept their apology and firstborn in restitution.

I just loved it.  I loved the art, but I also loved how much I cared about folks much older than me.  I had heard of the Justice Society prior, both through comic book cards and through the issues of All-Star Squadron I had thumbed through at the flea market.  I was interested, but this was the first time I was captivated.

Len Strazewski does a tremendous job of getting Green Lantern over immediately as not just a formidable ringslinger, but he also makes him cool.  Like, he is cooler than the cool grandpa you wish you had.

Justice Society of America V2 #9 - Page 18
Alan Scott, Golden Age Green Lantern, calls Guy Gardner a Looney Tune, then dispatches him like one. That’s how it’s done!

The dialogue is also spot on.  Some folks have denigrated it as “old-fashioned,” but imagine that, some guys who fought in WWII talk differently than other folks in the 1990’s.  I don’t find it to be “old-fashioned” at all, though.  I think it is straight-forward, as people of that era often were.  These are folks who just do not mince words, and that happens to be a massive part of their appeal to me.  The JSA came to me during what was a rather tumultuous time in my life, as referenced earlier.  Their strength and matter-of-fact attitude helped me feel and stay safe in a world that for me was changing fast.

I loved that comic so much, that the comic book part of the trip was grand.  I had found a treasure in a bad part of my life in a place I never thought I’d find it.  Of course, that just meant that the next day I would find another issue of Justice Society of America in a different gas station!

Justice Society of America V2 #8 - Page 1
Only bad thing about this cover is you can’t see the cool eye logo they wear on their hoods.

I felt like some sort of Texas oil man who had struck two gushers in as many days!  My good fortune was much needed at this time, and again, I just read it over and over again. I loved the introduction of Jesse Quick.  The idea that these identities would be mantles to be passed in legacy was sacrosanct to me.  I wanted to believe in such a thing, especially at this time.  I wanted to believe in legacy; even if I hadn’t, the Justice Society of America would have convinced me otherwise anyhow.   There isn’t a damn thing this series gets wrong.  For Christ’s sake, look how it starts!

 

Nice Sign, #8...
Nice Sign, #8…

The JSA has returned in all of their glory!  This is from Issue #1, and the splash page is beautiful.  Mike Parobeck did such an amazing job with all of these guys, and really on everything he touched.  I also don’t want to underestimate the coloring in this book.  The colors pop in a way that matches the never-say-die attitude of these members of The Greatest Generation.  Many times over the course of this title, the JSA triumphs seemingly with just their grit and determination!   Strazewski and Parobeck do a great job of making almost everything they do inspiring.  Even a subplot about Wildcat and The Golden Age Atom wondering if they are too old or too depowered to help, they inspire.  When Hourman struggles with addiction to Miraclo, the drug that gives him his power, his struggle inspires.  This title never loses sight of the fact that the JSA were a beacon of hope to many in the DC Universe, starting with Superman practically worshipping them in issue #1; the guest appearance that really hammers home the relationship of hope and legacy, though, is the appearance of The Flash in #5.

(Ultra-Humanite looks like a cross between an ape and a sad old man.  That Hulk Hogan hair just isn’t working in this picture.
Ultra-Humanite looks like a cross between an ape and a sad old man. That Hulk Hogan hair just isn’t working in this picture.

Despite having been overwhelmed by the Ultra-Humanite, and despite being seemingly outclassed, the JSA tackles and defeats Ultra-Humanite en masse, with a joviality and determination that could be reserved only for the best of friends!

Wildcat can't believe it's not butter.
Wildcat can’t believe it’s not butter.

I love how their camaraderie may be their best weapon.  Their ability to fervently believe in each other and always have each other’s backs makes saving the world not just cool to see, but it comes across as cool for them to do.  Basically, they are the most effective and fun-having extended family since Full House.

For real though, no matter how dire the situation, and no matter how serious the threat, the JSA never loses their swashbuckler attitude, and why should they?  No matter what the threat was, if I was the fastest man alive or if I wielded the magicks of the Lords of Order then I would also constantly be having the time of my life as well, although I’d be slightly more selfish than these guys.  I’d totally use those magicks to make a giant pie that I would then shove into the “face” of a planet.  I’d also do the world saving stuff, but I am just too much of a scamp to never indulge the great interstellar pranks I could do with, say, a power ring.

Unfortunately, the fun and adventure in this title would not last long.  Despite good sales, the brass at DC decided that the JSA didn’t fit into their plans.  Len Strazewski (who I am interviewing on my radio show, Compton After Dark on 5/4 at www.vocnation.com) thinks that Mike Carlin is the man primarily responsible, but whoever it was very short-sighted, as the JSA still had lots to offer.  I find it very telling that unlike other titles that were canceled at this time (many of them canceled for much worse sales than JSA had) got twelve issues to fill out their stories.  This instance of Justice Society of America only got ten.  Black Condor got 12!  Primal Force got 12!  Black Canary got 12!  All of them, and I like all of them and plan on bringing y’all articles on each one of them in the future, had worse sales than JSA.  Why cut this title two issues earlier than was the standard paradigm at the time?  I have no idea other than what Len says, which is that there was enmity against the title within the front office.

Enmity or not though, the Justice Society of America goes out with a bang!

Justice Society of America V2 #10 (1993) - Page 1
I love how angry they all look. They must know they are being cancelled. Especially nice is how angry Sandman is able to look DESPITE WEARING A MASK.

 Since issue #1, we have been dealing with a sub-plot involving everyone’s favorite ornithological archaeologist couple, Hawkman and Hawkgirl.  They’ve been in Egypt, unearthing some sort of bizarre GIANT MUMMY.  Caps are there just to let you know how giant it is.

Unfortunately for the Hawks and the rest of the JSA, this mummy is actually Kulak, a little-used Spectre villain who showed up here to plague the JSA!  The fact that Kulak, former high priest on the planet Brztal, had hardly been used since the Golden Age prior to this is some sort of insult to everything great about comic books.  He uses magic, has a GIANT EYE as his symbol, and went toe-to-toe with The Spectre!  Naturally, he has everything it takes to essentially enslave the Hawks and have Carter Hall turn the entire world against the rest of the JSA!  He also had the ability to be super creepy as he intimates doing the nasty with Hawkgirl.

Justice Society of America V2 #10 (1993) - Page 6
I wish the panel where Hawkgirl holds that whip and moans while Kulak licks her with his oversized tongue was more suggestive

Sadly, for the last time, we see the JSA’s indomitable spirit enable them to rise to the occasion and defeat a foe who had them badly on the ropes, and once again some of the members who possess the least powers are the ones that rally the team and remind them all that no matter what the odds are, they can prevail; at least, they can prevail provided they are fighting Wotan or the Ultra-Humanite, but against the powers of a DC Comics editorial mandate they are helpless.  Of course, they really didn’t get to fight too fairly.  Can you imagine a DC Editor telling Dr. Mid-Nite no?

Justice Society of America V2 #10 (1993) - Page 15
Golden Age Green Lantern is very whiny considering he has a magic ring that can do ANYTHING while Dr. Mid-Nite is just a blind guy who can see.

The Hawks get freed, and the JSA finds a way to save the day.  Everything feels really rushed, and I wonder if it is because the cancellation came on quickly.  I will definitely be asking Len on my show May 4th about that!

This series came to me at a time in my life when I really needed something like this, and I could not be more thankful.  That having been said, this book would be wonderful to me no matter when I would have discovered it.  Good story, great art, and a sense of spirit that few comic books ever have.  This book is inspiring without being preachy about it; there’s a sense of pride and determination that I took away from it.  I think many others do too.

I am going to leave you with the last shot of the book and the comments Len made in the last LetterCol in JSA.  Even in their last moment, the JSA seems so regal, as though even though they know that this book is going away, nothing will ever really dampen the legacy they built.  No matter what the company that owns them does with their name and with the characters, the Justice Society of America will always persevere, and no enemy will ever hold them down for long, unless that enemy is the Golden Age Green Lantern arch-enemy Sportsmaster.

sportsmaster
He is evil and good at sports? So that makes him, who, Barry Bonds?

Don’t forget to listen to my radio show, Compton After Dark, Sunday, May 4th, 2014, as we will be interviewing the writer of this book, Len Strazewski!  It’s at 11:30 PM EDT on http://www.vocnation.com!  Enjoy the pinup and Len’s thoughts below, and join us here at The Unspoken Decade next week when we tackle Darkhawk!  Not literally.

 

jsalastjsalastlen

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FOLLOW-UP FRIDAY!!!!!! Oh the places you’ll go!! Traveling with Danny the Street-By Angel Hayes

After sharing the creation of Danny the Street with you I thought it would be only fitting if we follow him through his travels together.

We’ll follow him as he travels with the Doom Patrol. Bringing them along, being their HQ, pulling them out of danger, and even following them into the mind of Crazy Jane.

He begins his adventure surviving The Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E. by gathering the Doom Patrol to defeat their hate agenda.

doompatrol

Nothing says Christmas days like explosions

 

After the battle has raged on Sara invites us to Danny the Kitchen. Where we can once again see that awesome literal subtext

dannythekitchen

No McDonald’s on Danny the Street. 

After this Calder has the best idea in any comic of all time. To have your headquarters on a psychics defying traveling sentient street.


DPHQ

No headquarters was ever so stylish

Danny the Street becomes Doom Patrol’s home base. Bringing them some softness in their existence as outcasts.

dorothyanddanny

 

He compliments Dorothy in the nicest condescending way possible.

During this time, the Doom Patrol has a well earned respite. Jane’s new personality comes out, and what follows are two of my favorite pages in Doom Patrol.

Doom Patrol V2 #46 - Page 11

Doom Patrol V2 #46 - Page 13

 

Danny knows places no one else does. Places where the mind quiets and Robot skin feels

Moving along,

Every fabulous adventurer starts somewhere. It would not feel like a long journey with a friend unless I show you where Danny’s started.

Doom Patrol V2 #62 - Page 17

Doom Patrol V2 #62 - Page 18

 

What Danny has been we have now seen. What he can become and where he can go however…

Doom Patrol V2 #62 - Page 19

Doom Patrol V2 #62 - Page 20 Doom Patrol V2 #62 - Page 21 Doom Patrol V2 #62 - Page 22

Danny the World….

Today, I do not have the time to show you all of Danny’s travels, but anywhere at any time the lanes of traffic may shift, the dark alley may become bright, the coldness we associate with concrete will warm, and we will smile.

Doom Patrol V2 #63 - Page 25

 

There is a better world…It’s known as Danny.

Bona to Vada,

Angel Hayes

On the Street Where You Live…-By Angel Hayes

Welcome back, lovely readers.

Last time we spoke there was blood everywhere and cheesecake on the corner. Now I implore you to follow me in the way-back machine from 1994 to 1990.

Follow me to meet up with our ever ostracized….Doom Patrol.

Doom Patrol V2 #35 - Page 1

Welcome to where all that you can think you may will into existence

Doom Patrol (v2) #35 – Down Paradise Way – 1990 – Vertigo Comics

The covers of Doom Patrol V2 comics are a singular art. If you thought my passion for holographic covers were impressive (and/or unnerving), we have only just begun.

il_570xN.581475884_5wne

The Carpenters know that life is just entropy. Much like the Doom Patrol.

There is nothing quite like Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol.

Much like the way breezes feel best in the spring and rain doesn’t bother you if your day has no obligations, it can only be experienced not explained.

The grotesque but colorful covers give way not to a magical land, but one of pure will. Imagination is not king here. He is God. Gruesome, uncaring, and ultimately what all beings are capable of.

Phew. Let’s take a breath.

We open on a rather plain looking lady for the cover we’ve just be traumatized by.

Doom Patrol V2 #35 - Page 2

She looks like LADY SCIENTIST or LADY WRITER off of the flash cards from Careers the Board Game.

She’s searching for Danny. And as luck would have it, Danny appears!

Doom Patrol V2 #35 - Page 3

We can all identify Paradise by hobos with booze in their hands.

What an amazing splash page.

Featuring literal subtext (a true weakness of mine) as Danny responds with, “Hello, Sara.” Amazing choice of colors by keeping mundane elements such as the concrete and brick their normal colors. It makes the surreal fantasticism pop out and right into our already charmed hearts.

I starred at this page for no less than eight minutes when I first encountered it. Drinking in the lines, the focal points, the curves of the light posts, the unexpected joy brought to life via whimsy in the bittersweet atmosphere of a back alley city street.

We continue as Sara and Danny catch up much like old friends tend to do…except with Danny, it’s way more fucking badass.

danny speaking capture

Danny is the ultimate texter.

Welcome to Danny.

A being whom I consider to be one of the most wonderful things ever willed into existence. The nostalgia of walking where you had once been. The melancholy that follows when the places your memories were made have been destroyed. All of this makes perfect sense with Danny. Much like Lovecraft’s The Street, he sees all and feels all. He experiences it with you, just like the sadness you feel for lost and forgotten places can permeate your mind.

Also, Berlin is always Divine.

We now switch from the fabulous Danny. To our homegrown outcast heroes, the Doom Patrol themselves.

They’re moving out, and like everything and anything in Doom Patrol stories Robotman, Cliff Steele, just doesn’t get it.

Robotman

Kids who want two front teeth for Christmas have nothing on Cliff.

Robotman is a straight man’s straight man. So straight even his skin is steel (rimshot).

He’s our human throughout Doom Patrol even though he’s a robot….I PROMISE IT WILL ALL MAKE SENSE.

The chief (who is like professor X with no need for mental abilities because he has a gun and beard that could kill bears) decides it’s time for the Doom Patrol to swap HQs. He has important beard-related/destroying-the-world-sometimes-saving-the-world things to do, and this old warehouse isn’t cutting it.

Cliff is understandably pretty angsty and upset about his metal can body that he is continually being promised an upgrade for. Sounds like he’s stuck in the cell phone contract cycle.

The next page features Joshua Clay (Tempest) and a small extra from Planet of the Apes known as Dorothy.

We see a setup room to test her abilities ala danger room (X-Men rips off of the Doom Patrol a lot. They just decided Scott Summers was better than a robot who was a race car driver – tsk tsk.)

dorthory

 Dorothy makes Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends look terrifying.

Dorothy’s special abilities allow her to take beings from her own mind and pull them into reality. She has difficultly controlling the manifestation of them. The Good, the Bad, and the 3am Acid Trip all come out.

Let us get out of this nightmare and move on to a dream.

Doom Patrol V2 #35 - Page 9

I told that you’d know Paradise by the booze in the hobo’s hands

This is the beauty of Danny the Street. A sanctuary for the lost, one with opinions and an understanding of the human condition. Danny swept up the downtrodden and provided them with happiness. Paradise is reached when the ones who have nothing can be happy and healthy. Danny the Street is paradise for all of those who find him.

Now that you’ve got your smiling faces on just like Doom Patrol I’m going to slap that smile off your adorable face with a shift in tone.

Doom Patrol V2 #35 - Page 10 Doom Patrol V2 #35 - Page 11

Don’t we all want that button in our kitchens? Never mind – Do NOT Want.

First of all, what a shift in tone (feeling that slap?). Our surrealistic focal points and dancing hobos have no place here. Rigid lines and flat colors rule the panels here making the oppression complete. Normalcy is the only thing allowed here.

Also bonus points if you figured out that he stabs her with a stylized heretic’s fork.

This is something Doom Patrol pulls off like no other. These are the events so weird no one else wants to even look upon it.

Let us meet the benefactors of our strange events that will come to pass.

nowhere

Oh, that’s where I left the surrealism…in the basement, of course.

Mr. Jones introduces us to The Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E.

Mr. Jones has already proved to be easily provoked and full of terrible. Surely, those that follow him would look like evil K-9s with elf shoes and purple trench coats.

These guys gave me many a nightmare as the series went on. They are exactly what I would destroy first should I ever will them into existence.

Let’s check in on our philanthropic outcasts, shall we?

groupsupportA alchemist’s dream, a robot, a man in a wheelchair, a split personality disorder patient, and an ape girl….Well, I tried to make a joke but this is the saddest group therapy ever.

Doom Patrol is getting out their feelings and trying to figure out where to go from here. Rebis (formerly Negative Man) is chill and Crazy Jane can’t decide what she feels in between all the turmoil inside her.

We go over the plans; Dorothy needs to pee. Moving on.


Doom Patrol V2 #35 - Page 15

Doom Patrol V2 #35 - Page 16

This is what I imagine all normal suburbanite dinner parties that I don’t get invited to are like.

The Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E.’s speaking patterns are horrifying. You can hear them being telegraphed out. Horrible thoughts gargled with cruel intentions, words of hate pumped out with ease.

Not even wifey’s googly eyes can ease the terror and that is what googly eyes are for.

Something about the nonchalant mixing of the transmitted hate speech and yellow wallpaper with tulips makes the back of my spine contort. It also makes me not trust all bed and breakfasts.

Back to my family and yours, the Doom Patrol.

Doom Patrol V2 #35 - Page 17Doom Patrol V2 #35 - Page 18

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are really just here to show off Crazy Jane’s Amazing Room. Hence why they’re small.

Crazy Jane is helping Rebis indulge in vanity, and Cliff, well, he just wants something to happen.

Back to Mr. Douchebag Jones

Doom Patrol V2 #35 - Page 19

I can’t overstate how amazing it is that Danny the Street is a Transvestite. 

So like most things angry privileged “normal” people can’t stand, Mr. Jones aims to destroy Danny the Street.

Let’s talk about that amazing and foreboding last panel.

Not only do The Men look intimidating the color contrast of that evil laughter and the misaligned placement of it. Gives me the willies. The overbearing shadows they cast and the perspective of them looming over us is enough to make me want to close my eyes. The shadows they cast are weapons just as powerful as the dark thoughts they stir in my mind. The steam rises off of them to show they are not just weapons of hate, but purely logical machines of it.

Phew. Let’s turn on the lights.

Things cheer up over the next two pages to show Danny the Street’s Perpetual Cabaret!!!

caberet

Phantom Limb’s Uncle. Complete with Shiny Suit.

Every is well with the cabaret until someone is said to have been killed. KILLED ON DANNY THE STREET! Our only sanctuary is desecrated.

pooreddie

 

My heart breaks. 

Sara, our resident lady scientist/writer, needs to find out who shattered her world. Wandering out to protect Danny she finds what we all fear.

The niggling doubts that say we are different and our differences make us weak. That normal is the only acceptable route for existence and life.

The force of doubt and hatred that is

THE MEN FROM N.O.W.H.E.R.E.

Doom Patrol V2 #35 - Page 23Nothing cute or witty. Just terror.

Their intimidating words, the looming figures like boogeymen who never leave our closets or our panicked late night thoughts.

We see them face to face. With all the industrial terror behind them ready to replicate.

 

They appear to try and destroy Danny the Street. The being of benevolence, the lonely place we stumble upon when we are trying to find ourselves, his lights always shining through our darkness.

Sara manages to warn Danny while escaping their ill-aimed shots. He must quickly try and escape; however….

Doom Patrol V2 #35 - Page 25

This is normal for the Doom Patrol.

Where is a street to hide?

-Angel Eena