Review: Justice Society of America #52

The JSA is going to be going away soon.  Will they get a decent swan song or a gentle shrug-off?

Andy Hunsakerby Andy Hunsaker

Justice Society of America #52

There was a loud collective groan from DC fans at the news that the concept of the Justice Society of America, the super-team that preceded and inspired today's Justice League, would be given a rest in the big reboot, in the words of DC's Dan DiDio.  Of course, Mr. Terrific is getting his own #1 issue with a new look and, for some reason, a multicolored T on his face, and there's been talk that Karen Starr (notably not Power Girl) will be around somewhere, too.  Thus, we may not have to bid farewell to all the characters – just the notion of the JSA as a big public team of World War II era swashbucklers that endures to this day.

It's possible they'll show up as an underground society of masked marvels from back in the day, or perhaps the Justice League will inspire them to form this time.  Whatever the case, these last few issues of Justice Society of America are going to serve as the swan song for the classic iteration of the team, and the hope is that Marc Guggenheim and Tom Derenick will send them off with a bang, or some kind of fitting tribute.  We have a couple months left to see, but in the meantime, we've got Justice Society of America #52, which seems to open up a whole new can of worms that should, by all rights, require a few more issues than they have left to really get into.

Let's get the minor gripes out of the way first – I grabbed this book partly out of a sense of 'oh god, they're going away, I better savor the last gasp of the JSA' and partly because of 'oh, cool, they're titling the story Dr. Mid-Nite and the City of Evil!  Dr. Mid-Nite is my favorite JSA guy, and it's about time they feature him in a story that won't necessarily involve surgery.'  However, the good doctor isn't particularly featured – he's just part of the team that explores the underground cavern discovered by Mayor Jay Garrick, and even when Dr. Cross is given a little dialog, it's kind of just… wrong.  When they venture into the darkness, and Pieter claims his lenses work great there – which is just backwards.  The lenses don't help him see in the dark, they help him see in the LIGHT, because his vision has been twisted in that he can only naturally see in pitch darkness.  Here's hoping Doc's got more to do next issue, and that maybe Guggenheim re-reads Matt Wagner's Doctor Mid-Nite miniseries to get his schtick down.

Some of the dialog is just unfortunate, too.  While it's pretty great that Doc calls in the Challengers of the Unknown to help deal with the secret cavern mystery, having June Robbins say "It's been a while since we had anything to do" may seem like a cute meta joke about the obscurity of the characters, but it also makes the whole team seem pathetic right off the bat (although they get cooler later).  Soon after, Doc has another bit of wrongness, as they're all talking about going in past the big door, and he asks "What about the lock?  Can you, I don't know, pick it somehow?"  Then two of the Challengers give him gaping looks, and I can't tell if they're supposed to be thinking 'why didn't I think of that' or 'duh, you moron, we've just been talking about going in and that it only locks from this side.'  I'm guessing it's the former, but it sure comes off as the latter.  And the worst offense is when Hourman starts falling thanks to a booby trap, and Jesse Quick shows up to save him, saying "I've heard how 'time flies,' but 'Hourman dropping'… that's a new one."  Is that a joke?  Really?  That's just… utterly lame.

Now that that's out of the way, the cool bit is the resolution to the story arc focusing on Mr. Terrific somehow being robbed of his intellect, his defining characteristic.  It's been a mystery so far, but Michael Holt finally gets it out of the imprisoned Dr. Chaos, he realizes his enemy isn't some personal nemesis, but a guy he's never met before.  Richard Lusk is a psychotically devoted fan of the original Mr. Terrific who nonetheless manages to be racist (that's not fair play, pal) enough to hate Holt for taking up the legacy, and refuses to explain how he did what he did – going so far as to kill himself to keep the secret.  Once he's deprived of any means to regain what he's lost, we realize his defining characteristic is not his intelligence, but his drive, and thus, he sits down with a Captain Carrot & The Zoo Crew educational DVD to start the entire process over again, starting with relearning how to read.  It manages to be completely sad and pretty inspiring at the same time.

Another interesting possibility is the fact that the cavern the team is exploring leads to a lost underground city that dates back hundreds of years and looks to be of some kind of alien origin.  This is the kind of discovery that should take several issues to run with, but Guggenheim only has until the end of August to finish it out – two issues, if he's lucky.  There doesn't seem to be much in the way of build-up to any kind of triumphant exeunt for the team, so maybe there's something else to this city out of time.  Maybe the classic JSA characters will find themselves lost in this strange place and be unaffected by the Flashpoint changes, and when they emerge to find a strange new world that's never had a JSA, they'll reform it and be right back in the swing of things.

But that's probably just wishful thinking.  From the looks of things, Justice Society of America is likely going to end with a shrug, and that's just kind of a shame.  Let's hope Guggenheim proves me wrong.