Tag Archives: Justice Society of America

The Golden Age #2-A New That Never Was

Hey, Legions of the Unspoken!  I must beg your forgiveness for the absence!  I have just changed jobs, and while I was finishing up at one, I was training at another.  While things ain’t settled just yet, I am attempting drumming up a bit of time to get back to satisfying all the urges I know all of you have built up for more 90’s comics in general, and more Golden Age in particular!

Before I get back to the good stuff, I’d like to encourage y’all to check out the Facebook page!  It’s really starting to take off, so get over there!  I’m able to post a few pics every day, so you won’t be waiting so long for your 90’s comics book fix!

When last we visited The Golden Age, things were starting to look bleak for our beloved Justice Society of America.  And I take no joy in this, kids, but it is going to get worse before it gets better.

Before I delve too far into what happens in issue #2, I want to take a step back and discuss what happened with The Atom in issue #1.  For those of you who may not be aware, The Golden Age Atom started out sans superpowers.  He was just a short guy who was in really good shape who could fight very well.  He adopted The Atom persona and superhero life because he was tired of getting pushed around by bullies larger than him.  Later, via exposure to atomically-powered villains or possibly radiation, he gained super-strength.  Before then, though, he has some issues with feeling inferior, and why wouldn’t he?  Think about it; he was already short, had gotten into the superhero game as an act of inferiority, and then he somehow gets into the JSA, where not only were there regular-sized crimefighters who were even more skilled, e.g. Sandman or Wildcat, but he also standing next to veritable gods such as Green Lantern or The Spectre!  Anyone would feel small, but a man who already felt small would probably feel like an amoeba.

That complex leads The Atom into a dangerous waters during The Golden Age, starting in issue #1…

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Of all the issues that fester inside The Atom, causing a young man’s head to swell, I think it is his youth that ultimately leads him astray.  Doesn’t that same cloud haunt most of our youths?  Remember when we were all headstrong, extreme, and excited?  Remember when all of our dreams were going to come true?  Remember the 90’s, Legions of the Unspoken…Remember the 90’s…

The Atom, unbeknownst to him, is being used.  What he does know is that he again has meaning, he again has purpose, he again is…big.  At least for now, under Tex Thompson’s New America.

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Before we move along, let’s not lose sight of the fact that Robotman is sporting the most grotesque smile this side of Pennywise the Clown that I have ever seen.  If one of us was in this crowd, you know  that we would have noticed that and headed as far away as we could before that facade shattered.  I don’t care if he has man in his name or not, no robot with such a smile can have good intentions.

Robotman and The Atom we know, but who’s that third guy?

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Daniel Dunbar doesn’t know it yet, but he is the key to one of the most heinous plots in superhero history.  I think we’ve all figured out by now that Tex Thompson is much more than he seems, though.

We’ve also figured out that our heroes, no matter how shiny their adventures make them seem, have blotches of gray all over them.   This can make them reprehensible to us, or it make them all the more heroic.  In the case of Jonathan Law, Tarantula, his gray is shattering the respect we had for him, especially as he denigrates and mistreats Liberty Belle, a favorite of many Golden Age fans.  What’s especially poignant, though, isn’t that Law is now dark and “gritty” for the sake of being gritty.  This is a natural evolution of the character.  It makes sense that Law would have a hard time writing after penning a book about the exploits of being a wartime mystery man.  That doesn’t excuse his actions or his spiral into the clutches of alcoholism, but it does make sense.

Starman’s descent into madness appears to have quelled some, also making sense.  As someone of above average intelligence who deals with some mental roadblocks of his own in regards to anxiety and the like, I have my good days and bad days, but after a period of thought, I usually come to terms with whatever fears and mood I am dealing with.  Starman is a genius beyond the genius level, and therefore, he is able to do the same.   Of course, I feel guilty about a lot of things, but exposing the world to an energy that gave folks super powers and gave those without superpowers who fought crime under masks the inclination to do so isn’t one of them.  Johnny Chambers listens on as Starman pours his heart out.

The Golden Age #2 - Page 8“I have the stars” is a line that stands out to me.  I clung to those words tightly during a confused adolescence that was at times bereft of companionship from my peers.  I clung to Ted Knight’s notion here that he could find comfort…not just solace, but COMFORT in the stars the way I had to find comfort in my comic book heroes, wrestlers, and baseball stars when I had no one.

Johnny Quick  Chambers is in that awkward spot where he wants to help a good friend, but he just doesn’t know how.  He also doesn’t want to offend him, but he just thinks this is a crackpot of an idea.  I never understand why superheroes are such skeptics.  Johnny has seen Green Lantern, The Spectre, and many other beings powered beyond belief in hundreds of different ways, but the idea that Starman pulled this radiation to Earth and it resulted in the spawning of crimefighters with and without powers is ridiculous to him.  The Spear of Destiny sounds more ridiculous!  Then again, maybe Johnny is just too much of a realist to believe such a thing.  One way or another, he is trying to do be a good pal, and he is doing a decent job of it.

Daniel Dunbar is trying to find meaning in his life.  In issue #1, his life fell apart, and while you didn’t see it here, I am sure that each member of the Legion of the Unspoken picked a copy!  He faces a big test soon, and he ponders his future the way any young man on what he perceives as the precipice of greatness would.  Of course, his future isn’t what he thinks it shall be…

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The Golden Age beckons us all, and it even beckons those who say that its embrace no longer holds sway over them.  The siren song sounds so sweet that it can even entice the most nobly stalwart of the heroes, especially when combined with the stress of a semi-fascist government inquiry and the resignation of his friends due to the besmirchment of their reputations by said inquiries.  It can even entice Alan Scott, Green Lantern.

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Of course, our heroes are not the only ones having to adapt to a new age.  The villains of The Golden Age are not held in some sort of stasis that enables them to elude the tendrils of societal changes and the grasp of aging.  Sportsmaster is back in the game for noble reasons of his own, even if his admirable catalyst puts him into action  of the criminal variety.

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Green Lantern’s fight against Sportsmaster sans ring is one of those moments when one is reading an epic that doesn’t stand out during the first read, but it gets better and better upon repeated readings.  I just can’t help but feel for Sportsmaster here, engaging in criminal activity in an effort to find his daughter and unable to defeat Alan Scott, even when the Golden Age Green Lantern is bereft of his magic ring.

I understand that these guys, Sportsmaster included, are the bad guys, but every now and then, I simply cannot help but feel sorry for them due to their horrendous Won/Loss records.  Even when victory seems certain for the villains, the valiant heroes conjure a way to find a win.  This time however, thanks to Green Lantern not having his ring and Sportsmaster possessing a gun and a desire to win at any costs, Sportsmaster gets the better of Green Lantern here, although Green Lantern isn’t killed.  I hope Sportsmaster goes on to a happy life with his daughter!

Tex Thompson continues his crusade for an American hero as he and his team conduct their experiment on Daniel Dunbar.  I don’t think I am spoiling anything by saying nothing good can come from this.   I mean, I don’t recall the piece of culture where folks staring at mushroom clouds from bunkers worked out well for anyone.

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That’s right folks, they nuked Daniel Dunbar.  Nuked him.  For most folks other than the Hulk, that would result in death, for Daniel Dunbar it doesn’t seem to…

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So now what I referred to earlier as ominous is now goddamn terrifying.  No one should trust Tex Thompson, no matter how much he waves the flag and spouts off rhetoric that sounds good, one should be able to discern that he is rotten to the very core.  It saddens me how often folks in our reality fall for this nonsense, but it saddens me even more when heroes I admire, such as The Atom and Johnny Thunder, fall victim to the same inanities.

The interaction between The Atom and Johnny Thunder (and Johnny Thunder and everyone) is proof of just how much James Robinson loves and understands these characters.  Johnny Thunder barges in, not thinking of protocol and security, and when he finally sits down with The Atom, The Atom has some harsh words for him.  Of course, perhaps that is because The Atom has come to play the Johnny Thunder role in Tex Thompson’s New Order, as he has been relegated, unappreciated, and perhaps only merely tolerated…

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The Atom’s youth, arrogance, and eagerness are now manifesting in disgruntlement with the administrative bureaucracy he now finds himself utterly enmeshed in, and he finds there is nothing he can do about it.  He’s wrong about one thing, though; it is now Daniel Dunbar getting most of the accolades and glory…

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Dynaman is alive, real, and perhaps we’re all damned, regardless of the bright colors and amazing powers!  His powers seem limitless, although there does some to be a caveat to that…

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The crowds gobble up every word, as they always seem to when they should be questioning the subject most.  That’s life, I suppose, and at least Paul Smith makes something so upsetting to me look so beautiful.

James Robinson also remembers all the heroes you don’t, such as little known Quality Comics hero, Captain Triumph.  No, not the Triumph who appeared during Zero Hour (although don’t worry folks, we are gonna get to Zero Hour and his adventures sooner rather than later!), but an old hero who hadn’t resurfaced in some time when James Robinson resurrected him here!  Of course, James finds a new and believable spin for him, and then Paul Smith does the best job drawing an annoying ghost I have ever ever seen.

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 While Gallant is pestered by a metaphysical annoyance, Paul Kirk is more than annoyed by the killers after him.  Life for Manhunter is constantly being on the run.  The folks willing to off an entire homeless shelter (including the padre who ran it) aren’t going to just up and quit just because they don’t get their quarry the first try.  Their motivation must also be more than cash as well, because it seems unlikely hired killers would be so messy and careless.

What the killers did not count on was Paul Kirk finding some assistance in an unlikely place.  Just as they swoop in for the kill, one of Tex Thompson’s castoffs returns to help.  He doesn’t know it yet, but Bob Daley is about to set events into motion that will keep the most nefarious plot from coming to fruition…and it all starts at what appears to be the most frigid gas station on the planet.

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I think other than the amnesia, we have all felt like Paul Kirk here and yon in our lives.  We have all felt chased and hounded.  We have all felt something gaining on us.  Something just around the corner, and we have all been too afraid to ask for help.  Thankfully for most of us, trained killers weren’t after us, but this is a nice moment to remind us that sometimes the only thing separating our heroes and us is the fact that they are on the printed page, while our pain and fear are not contained within thought bubbles and balloons….

And it would appear from the looks of things, we have much to fear…and so does the JSA…

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Hope you enjoyed this look at The Golden Age #2!  Next week, we have Hex for the Holidays as Emily Scott brings us a look at Jonah Hex:  Two Gun Mojo!  Then be back here for The Golden Age #3!

When Something Awful is Beautiful: The Golden Age #1

Hey there, Legions of The Unspoken!  I hope you enjoyed Emily’s entry last week as Punisher temporarily became a black man!  Check it out right now if you haven’t!  I find that story to be that perfect amalgam of 90’s silliness and 90’s coolness (which sometimes are one and the same) that excited me then and excites me now!  Of course, the fact that Punisher is the main character certainly won’t hurt it in my eyes since, as you all well know, Punisher is my favorite character.

What you may not know is how much I love the Justice Society of America.  Punisher is my favorite character, but the JSA is easily my favorite superhero team.  Bar none.  The difference between the JSA and second place IN MY HEART is the difference between a Martin Scorsese movie and the local community theatre performing Raging Bull.  I have to admit I’m incredibly interested in an awful local community theater production of Raging Bull, so if any of you have any videos of that, send them my way.

Of course, if you’re an elder member of the Legion of the Unspoken, (and we appreciate you greatly if you are), you know how much I love the JSA because you read my earlier article about how much I love the Strazewski/Parobeck 90’s Justice Society of America; The Golden Age, though, ain’t about that JSA.

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Already you can see stark differences between the world of the JSA with which we are familiar and the world here.  The dark tones of the cover, the burning image of a Life Magazine cover featuring the JSA, and even the embossed cover would lead you to believe that this ain’t your Daddy’s JSA.  It isn’t even the JSA we had loved a short time prior.

Of course, this is an Elseworlds tale, which is basically a tale involving DC’s characters in a different light that won’t affect continuity.  I think the Elseworlds tale most non-hardcore comic book fans are familiar with is Batman/Dracula:  Red Rain, where Batman becomes a Bat-Vampire, but anyone who only knows that comic is missing out.  DC put out some fine tales under this banner and even centered their annuals around the imprint in 1994.  We got to see everything from Superman landing on Earth and getting adopted by the Waynes instead of the Kents to Samurai Robin!  Ok, some of it was better than others, but most of it was fun and really good.  Very little of it ascended to masterpiece status, though.  The Golden Age is one of those exceptions.

Since this isn’t your JSA, and this JSA story takes place in a non-canonical situation, what exactly is it?  It’s the story of what happened to the JSA in a post-WWII world.  It’s the story of what happens when folks grow from the impudence of youth into the responsibility of adulthood.  It’s about the difference between your early to mid-20’s and your mid-30’s.  It’s about the difference between 1940’s America and 1950’s America.  It starts out, however, about the disappearance of the JSA, and the prominence of the lone “mystery man” that America still seems to care about.

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The dichotomous juxtaposition of the Atomic Bomb, the JSA, and the other mystery men of the era is perfectly encapsulated by Paul Smith’s art and James Robinson’s words.  This series was my first elongated exposure to Smith’s work, and I was a fan from the first page.  I was more familiar with Robinson’s work at this point, but I was still blown away.  Many folks love his Starman series and rightfully consider it a masterpiece, but I think that the love and reverence for that series, no matter how richly deserved, sometimes crowds out the love and reverence that should exist for this series.  Perhaps that’s because Starman was an ongoing while this was a four-issue mini-series.  Whatever the reason, it’s a travesty.

I really enjoy the idea put forth about the “mystery men,” as superheroes were called then, vs. THE BOMB.  Few instances in history are as jarring or as brutal as the unleashing of atomic weapons on Japan at the end of WWII.  The JSA, All-Star Squadron, and their superhero compatriots at various publishers must have seemed silly in an instant to many in our world, as their brightly colored costumes clashed with the newly grey overtone of a world where tens of thousands of non-combatants could die in an instant, and the world itself could be destroyed in a torrential downpour of radioactive fire.  That’s our world, you know?  Now imagine how useless many of the superheroes would have felt in a world where they and the bomb existed.  After all, what’s the point of being a super strong person or being able to glide on wings if a Head of State could turn all of that ability into a mushroom cloud in an instant?

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That’s harsh, except for The Flash.  I’m a huge fan of The Golden Age Flash.  There’s something about his happy-go-lucky attitude that endears him to me.  Even a quickly darkening world can’t diminish his smile.  I think it is because he always comes across as though he thinks of himself as “Jay Garrick, Flash”, rather than “The Flash”.   It’s something Jay Garrick DOES, not something Jay Garrick IS.  The difference is subtle, yet powerful.

The others seem to be going nuts, growing old, growing mean, or all three in Johnny Quick’s case.  Hawkman is mostly on the going nuts side, but I find Mr. Terrific’s tale to be the most depressing thus far, as Terry Sloane literally emblazoned Fair Play across his chest as a mantra, only to turn his back on it in the name of capital gains.  Johnny Quick just seems to be growing old, and as we all might when growing older, gets increasingly tired of who he is without knowing what to do about it.

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And I bet you are asking,  “Who’s Tex Thompson?  What’s all this Americommando nonsense?”  But a less casual superhero fan might also be asking, “Why didn’t the JSA just go end WWII?” They’re both valid questions, and they’re both equally important to the tale.

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So despite having been ineffectual stateside in the eyes of Johnny Quick and many other heroes, Tex Thompson, the Americommando, apparently saved the USA and the rest of the Allies during WWII by killing Parsifal, who negated super powers.   Parsifal is a cool name, and again, Paul Smith does a fantastic job making him look ominous, but not necessarily powerful.  Of course, as evidenced by the inability of the American superheroes to enter into the Second World War, sometimes being able to keep others from being powerful is the most effective power of all.

The heroes we have seen thus far, save Flash, have all been mired in insanity or vice.  Most of the heroes we will see in the rest of the issue will be the same.  One example to the contrary, however, is Alan Scott, Green Lantern.  As a paranoid post-WWII era is emerging, Tex Thompson does his best to stoke the fires that fuel the Second Red Scare.  Alan Scott is standing by his employees, and even in post-emerald days, he remains a noble gladiator dedicated to those depending on him.

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Even Green Lantern is cracking under the pressure of this era, and how could he not be, as he intends to stand by his men while Tex Thompson spews forth nonsense like this:

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James Robinson does a great job painting a time when America transformed from a nation fighting against fascism to a nation that had been frightened into accepting witch hunts and book burning.  It was a quick turnaround, no doubt exacerbated by the Cold War, the Korean War, changing social post-war mores and the like, and Robinson paints it as the scary time it had to have been.

Possessing radical viewpoints myself, I too often feel as though I am stymied and stifled for my beliefs (I’m a Libertarian Socialist/Anarchist), but what I face is nothing compared to the 50’s, with government committees looking into what people believed, what organizations they had belonged to, and how that could impact America.  Regardless of beliefs, people have the right to possess them without the government infringing upon them, and many people were deprived of these rights during the 50’s.  This is very well documented, as is the impact the climate had on our beloved comic books, with Congress looking into the impact comic books had on juvenile delinquency.  This social climate first led to comic book burnings and the manipulation of children to turn in comic books and boycott establishments that sold “questionable” material.  Eventually, the industry would self-censor by forming the Comics Code.  I suggest reading a book called The Ten-Cent Plague and also taking a look at the 1950’s volume of American Comic Book Chronicles.

Back to the 90’s!  Or back to the 50’s, I suppose!  I mentioned Paul Smith’s art being beautiful, but I have to say that it carries an especially peculiar air of beauty when things get grisly for our heroes.  Take Robotman, for instance, who is struggling mightily with his humanity.  I imagine it is hard to be a human trapped in a robot’s body.  Imagine how odd it must be to sense, but not truly feel.  Imagine being able to recall what it was like to be hungry without having to eat.  Imagine how everyone treats you like you like you are a robot, when you are actually a person just like them.  It would probably make you snap, and then you’d probably snap some people like Robotman does here.

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Paul Smith’s somehow beautifully depicts this moment of Robotman snapping.  Some folks draw so beautifully that the visceral nature of certain images gets lost in a sea of aesthetic appeal, but Paul Smith somehow manages to turn his refined beauty into an amazing depiction of brutal ugliness.  The blood on Robotman’s face following this farce of a fracas appropriately looks like tears after he breaks these mooks, along with possibly breaking what is left of his humanity.

Need more proof Paul Smith can bring the beautifully horrendous like no one else?  Take a look at the bizarre hallucinatory dream Paul Kirk, Manhunter is having as, in the irony of ironies, he has become the hunted.  Oh, and this dream occurs just before he wakes up to everyone in the shelter he is in GETTING BLOWN AWAY.

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It should not be, but it is a little funny when that priest gets it, as though he was going to wade into this firefight with a rosary and a shrill rebuke and reflect bullets.  I admire his bravery, but it seems like his best bet would have been to stay put; as a general rule, one cannot negotiate with a cadre of folks brandishing Tommy Guns.

Again ,though, I beg you take heed when I point out just how sparkling yet depraved these scenes are.  Madness, fear, and paranoia have never looked so amazing, and somehow, they are also more poignant now that they are beautiful.

Speaking of sad yet beautiful madness, we also see Ted Knight, Starman, in this issue.  Ted blames himself for everything.  He blames himself for the superhero explosion, but he also blames himself for influencing Einstein to create The Bomb.  Johnny Chambers goes to see out favorite Cosmic Rod inventor, and since he goes during the day, he does not like what he sees.  How could anyone enjoy talking to the world’s foremost mind in a state so neurotic?

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Of course, had Johnny Chambers come to see Starman at night, when he thrives, the picture would have been harrowing and frightening in a different way, as Smith and Robinson get across what it is to be a frenzied, driven, and highly intelligent man who can only break free of his neuroses at certain times.

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The Golden Age isn’t shining so brightly, and that’s what makes this a masterpiece.  Often, works that take a darker spin on beloved characters fail due to contrivance.  We see character flaws, but they are flaws that make sense with what we previously know about a character.  In The Golden Age, James Robinson had a grip so tight on these characters that you can almost hear them gasping to breathe as he chokes wonderfully depressing tales out of them, as he forces them to acknowledge their own dark sides, making these characters seem real.  Combine that with beautiful, yet starkly real depictions from Paul Smith, and I find myself unable to put this book down.

 I believe that a man who ran fast for years would be tired of it as he faces the 35th year of his life.  I believe that a genius who created a rod to harness the energy of the stars themselves has a weird bipolar nocturnal, and that the desperation over the negative impact of his genius weighs him down just as much as the elation over the positive impact must lift him up.   I believe in Alan Scott’s troubles and worries as he presides over his broadcasting business in the best and most noble way he can.

But we are barely scratching the surface here!There’s still so much more to tell you about issue #1!  What happened to Libby Lawrence, Johhny Quick’s ex-wife?  Where is Hourman and what is going on with his powers?  Why is The Atom working with Tex Thomson, and what are those experiments the government is doing on Al Pratt. The Golden Age Atom?

I tell you what, Legions of the Unspoken, what say we pick up with The Atom’s story next week, with Golden Age #2!  Be here!

FRIDAY FOLLOW-UP!!! JSA HOUSE ADS and PIN-UPS!!!

Thanks for joining us here for the Friday Follow-Up!

Today we will be looking at some awesome but random images of the Justice Society of America!  I am also including the cover of the first appearance of Power Girl because I love her and the Super Squad!  I wish they would have stayed together longer, just her, Robin and the Star-Spangled Kid.  Alas, they did not, although Infinity Inc. did feature two of them prominently.  As if I wasn’t already being good enough to you, I found a sweet pin-up of the JSA by my favorite artist of all time, (except Kirby), George Perez!

As it is, enjoy your Friday, enjoy your weekend, and enjoy some great JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA!!!!!

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