Classics Revisited by Jonathan Bogart
I wasn't there when it came out. Indeed, I didn't seriously start collecting comics until about a year and a half ago. But it still remains my favorite series of all time.
Wait. I lied. I was there when it came out; at least I was there when the final issue made its way to the English-magazine section of the department store called Cemaco in Guatemala City. It was the first comic I had bought since curiously picking up a handful at age ten, only to throw them in the trash bin a few months later. (I've mostly recouped that loss since. I still have to find The Death of Captain Marvel at a decent price, though.) It was the comic that got me seriously into comics, though I wouldn't start buying them reguarly for several more years. It was Justice Society of America #10.
When I was a kid, I remember flipping through books like Jim Steranko's which retold the history of comics. The pictures they showed were poorly-reproduced, but they filled my young imagination with heroes, adventure, and derring-do. I remember being surprised that Green Lantern had a different costume from the one in Superfriends and the SuperPowers toy. I also remember seeing the costume of a hero called Dr. Mid-Nite and thinking it very cool.
So when I saw that odd, caped Green Lantern and Dr. Mid-Nite on the cover of this comic, shelved back in there with Time, Newsweek, and Good Housekeeping, I knew I had to get it. It cost seven quetzales—roughly $1.25 at the time, and it seemed like a fortune to me. A few weeks later, after persistent hunting, I found #9 in a different store. And that was it.
I read those two comics over and over again. The Justice Society of America vs. Kulak, a bizarre Egyptian sorceror and hypnotist who had last fought the JSA in All-Star Comics #2. Featuring characters who became my immediate favorites (and time hasn't dulled their appeal) Johnny Thunder and his Thunderbolt (these two issues are their finest in a fifty-five-year partnership), Carter and Sheira Hall, Dr. Mid-Nite, Wildcat, the Flash, Starman, and of course, Alan Scott. The one, only, and greatest Green Lantern.
(This, by the way, is why I find the Hal vs. Kyle thing so ridiculous. The answer is obvious: it's Alan!)
I didn't know at the time what a genius Mike Parobeck was. I didn't know how different these comics were from the rest of stuff being published at the time—and today. I didn't know that this truly was something special. But I cherished it just the same.
When my family moved back to the United States and I started attending college, I found some comic shops nearby and began rooting through the back issues. It took nearly half a year, but I finally accumulated the entire ten-issue run of Justice Society of America. Here is the breakdown, for those interested, and for those who aren't, why are you reading this?
Issue #1—The Justice Society of America returns to the land of the living and are attacked by a strange monster. Superman saves the day, and the Sandman has a stroke. Later, the Flash and Green Lantern mop up a group of mutant terrorists.
Issues #2-5—The JSA regroups as first Wildcat and Atom, then Dr. Mid-Nite and Johnny Thunder, join Alan and Jay in investigating a suspicious genetic-experimentation plant, only to find their old villain, Ultra-Humanite, behind it all. This arc is also notable for introducing Jesse Quick to the world at large, as well as guesting Wally West (the Flash) and Johnny Chambers (né Quick).
Issues #6-7—The JSA battles a Nazi leftover who is making Badhnesia an island paradise … at the cost of the lives of the unfit. It introduces Kiku Thunder, the current owner of the Thunderbolt, and features spotlights on Dr. Mid-Nite and Wildcat.
Issues #8-10—The JSA fights a mysterious wave of hatred and paranoia that they trace back to the sorceror Kulak, who is reaching the masses with his own late-night talk show. Hourman, Wes Dodds, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, and finally Starman rejoin the group as the Justice Society battles white supremacists, Guy Gardner, angry mobs, undead thugs, and an Egyptian sorceror who just can't stop mugging for the camera.
And that was the run. The cancelation was announced in #6. It didn't even last a year. A year later, a revival was impossible; of the whole crew, only Wildcat and the Flash were still the same.
This series was something special. Not only because it was the Justice Society's first regular series since the mid-70s (All-Star Squadron, Infinity, Inc. and Young All-Stars, good as they were, were not really JSA series), but because it offered the public something that had been lacking in comics: a sense of cleanness, brightness, and good old-fashioned fun. Its humor was not bitter, as JLI's was turning, and not degrading, as Lobo's was and is. These were heroes one could respect and love, heroes in every sense of the word. The comic did not avoid real-life situations—in fact, it handled such real-world themes as the generation gap, divorced families, genetic experimentation, racism, the impact of the West on Third-World countries, and the cultural toilet that is television—but it was neither heavy-handed nor unduly grim. When the JSA went into action, they were the best. When they sat around and talked, they were still the best. Snappy patter of years gone by fill the action sequences, there is not a single gritty grimace in 220 pages, and none of the verbose, posturing super-villains seem as dangerous as the ideologies they preach.
Finally, there is the artwork. Mike Parobeck, may he rest in peace, was indefatigably brilliant. The thought and care that Len Strazewski put into the script pales next to the clean, sharp artistry that flows from Parobeck's pen. I will always think of the JSA as he drew them: old, but vital, with smiles on their faces and determination in their hearts. Clean, upstanding, and handsome. This is the oldest and first superhero team in comics. This is the Justice Society of America.
Someday I would like to write for comics, and I'd like to write it all. The only characters I will not write are the Justice Society of America. They deserve far better than I could give them. They deserve this series.