The Justice Society of America. The world's first superteam, they first gathered together in All-Star Comics #3 (Winter 1940-1941). Born from the minds of Sheldon Mayer and Gardner Fox, the team brought together several pre-established characters from not just DC Comics, but also All-American Publications (Like the Jay Garrick Flash, Al Pratt Atom, and the Alan Scott Green Lantern), making it also the first inter-company crossover. The JSA would also be involved in the debut of Wonder Woman. However, at the time, she was portrayed as the group's secretary and didn't really participate in adventures with the rest of the team until late in the group's comic. Yeah, it was the 40s.
The JSA were rather popular in the 1940s, however that would be brief. Their adventures would seemingly end when superhero comics fell out of popularity in the 1950s, ending the Golden Age of superheroes.
However, it would only be a period of dormancy for the elder statesmen (and women) of superheroes. In the late 1950s, DC ushered in the Silver Age of Superheroes with the debut of the Barry Allen Flash. A few other Golden Age characters would be given modern updates for the time. The new Green Lantern became test pilot Hal Jordan who used his power ring as a member of an intergalactic police force. The new Atom would become Ray Palmer, a scientist who gained the ability to shrink in size thanks to a piece of a star. You'd think that with the space race being a thing at the time, they would have revamped Starman then, too. They would introduce an alien Starman in the 1970s, Mikaal Tomas, though. He's also one of DC's few gay superheroes.
And during that time, Barry Allen would get to meet Jay Garrick in the classic story "Flash of Two Worlds" in Flash #123 (September 1961). This revealed that Jay and the rest of the JSA were native to an alternate universe, giving birth to the DC Multiverse. I talked about the Multiverse a bit in my Crisis on Infinite Earths #1 review. The story got lots of fan mail from older fans excited about the possibility of the JSA's return, and younger fans who were curious about them. This would lead to the revival of the JSA, in the form of the revival of All-Star Comics in the 1970s, and annual team-ups between them and the Justice League from 1963 to 1985.
With the 1980s came Roy Thomas. Thomas was known by fans at this point for his work with Marvel Comics, writing X-Men, the 1970s Invaders series, and Avengers. He wrote the classic Avengers story Kree-Skrull War, and for everyone who watched Age of Ultron, he co-created the Vision. In 1981, Thomas came to DC. Thomas was a big fan of Golden Age superheroes, especially the JSA. As such, he essentially became the caretaker of the Golden Age heroes during that time, writing two series: All-Star Squadron (Which focused on the adventures of DC's Golden Age heroes during WWII, much like his Invaders work for Marvel), and Infinity Inc. (which focused on the JSA's children and heirs). During this time, All-Star Squadron #20 (April 1983)'s letter column featured the first appearance of the term "retcon".
So with that, let's take a look at a sampling of Thomas's 1980s JSA work, the first issue of the 1985 mini-series America vs. The Justice Society!
The cover is awesome. You got the JSA standing on a giant open book held by a large Batman, reacting to his accusing the JSA of treason. The cover of the trade to this recolors Batman and the book to grey, making him look like a menacing statue. It's a menacing cover and it gets the attention. I like that the cover shows exactly what you're going to get: Batman accusing the JSA of treason from beyond the grave. I like to think the members of the JSA used on this cover is not coincidental. Hawkman, Atom, Flash, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Superman, and Batman. They're JSA members that had counterparts in the Earth-1 Justice League.
Writer: Roy Thomas, Dann Thomas (Co-Plotter)
Pencilers: Rafael Kayanan, Rich Buckler, Jerry Ordway
Inkers: Alfredo Alcala, Bill Collins
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Letterer: David Cody Weiss
Editor: Roy Thomas
The story begins with a newspaper with a shocking headline.
A diary has been published that was believed to have been written by the then-deceased Earth-Two Batman, claiming that the JSA were allies of Hitler during WWII. The Earth-Two Superman angrily tosses the paper aside and addresses the rest of the JSA: Flash (Jay Garrick), Green Lantern (Alan Scott), Wildcat (Ted Grant), Atom (Al Pratt), Hawkman (Carter Hall), Robin (Dick Grayson), Wonder Woman, Dr. Mid-Nite (Charles McNider), Hourman (Rex Tyler), Dr. Fate, and Johnny Thunder. The team are hiding in their old headquarters in Civic City instead of their newer brownstone in Gotham, as they need to come up with a plan to fight these charges.
Dr. Mid-Nite suggests that perhaps this is someone posing as Batman. Wonder Woman thinks that whoever did this timed it wisely. A few months earlier, some of the JSA nearly wrecked the world thanks to falling under the influence of something called "The Stream of Ruthlessness". Dr. Fate thinks they should examine the "facts". Superman agrees, although he does wish the whole team was here. Another JSAer (It's not seen which one) shuts that down, saying that involving the younger JSAers like Power Girl makes no sense, as WWII happened decades before they were born. Also, the Sandman isn't there because he's still recovering from a stroke. The Original Man of Steel recounts how this mess all started. He was in his office at the Daily Star. On Earth-Two, Clark Kent became the editor of the Daily Star. He was hoping for an interesting story to print, and he must have wished on a Monkey's Paw or something.
A man plops a book on his desk, with Batman's logo on it. I would question that Batman would do something so...obvious, but considering the man loved putting a bat theme on things, it makes a bizarre form of sense. And besides, it feels like something a Golden Age superhero would do. The man is revealed to be a Dr. Nichols, a past associate of the late Dark Knight. Several months before he died, Batman paid him a visit. The Caped Crusader explains that he wants to entrust the old man with this journal in case he died. Nichols not just got a journal, but some spools from a wire recorder. Nichols was told to never read the journal or listen to the recordings. But if he died before this day, Nichols was told to turn them over to Clark Kent.
After he leaves, Kent examines the journal. The handwriting is indeed Bruce Wayne's, and he even has pasted in some photos. This was blogging back in the day, folks. Except no else read the entries. The journal starts talking about the rise of the superhero, beginning with Superman. The journal then recalls a 1940 adventure when a group of those early "mystery men" were recruited by a British agent to take on Adolf Hitler himself in Berlin. The madman was armed with the Spear of Destiny, an artifact that was believed to have stabbed Jesus Christ in the side as he hung on the cross during his crucifixion.
Hitler tried to convince the burgeoning JSA to betray their country and fight for him. He does so with his known oratorical skills (and I like to think that holding the Spear of Destiny helped).
Hitler sent some Valkyries to kill Franklin Roosevelt later on. Superman (who wasn't in Berlin at the time of the supposed recruitment of the JSA to the Nazi cause), stopped a long-range German bomber over Washington DC. One of the Valkyries attempted to kill FDR with her spear, but the Atom was able to stop her, getting injured in the process. Batman's journal claimed that he actually just stumbled clumsily into her path. The rest of the JSA then faked stopping the Valkyries, and believing that it was real, FDR gave them his approval. On that day, the JSA was born. Superman realizes this retelling is a twisted take on the real origins of the Justice Society.
The journal would go on to tell distorted versions of some of the JSA's early adventures, like an adventure to raise money for war orphans really being used to fund the Nazis, and the like. Batman's journal also tells the tale of the JSA rescuing some scientists from supposed Axis agents, and among them was an assistant named Per Degaton.
Keep an eye on him, folks. If you've read this story already, then yeah. The scientists were hoping to obtain a formula from the future that would help make the US bombproof. The Golden Age, everyone! It's so delightfully wacky. The formula worked at first, but the journal claimed the JSA sabotaged it so that it would fail later. This event would convince Batman to renounce his supposed oath of allegiance to Hitler. The journal then refers to the wire recordings, which Superman uses his powers to "read".
The recording is of President Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins, then-Secretary of Commerce and one of FDR's closest advisors. They discuss where the JSA are, as something bad is coming. It turns out to be the attack on Pearl Harbor. The night of the attack, Batman visited FDR secretly. He confessed his sins to the President, and became the President's mole in the JSA. A few nights later, the JSA disbanded for the duration of the war. You see, they disbanded so they could become an extension of the Armed Forces as the Justice Battalion. Batman's journal points out that the group stayed fighting the Japanese despite the Germans being the priority at the time, and Superman remained at home, as it were. This was because at the time, Hitler had the Spear of Destiny. If the JSA invaded Europe, he could use the spear to take control of them.
Superman is shocked, and thinks Batman had gone insane. It's not hard to believe so. At one point, Batman fell under the control of the Psycho-Pirate (Remember him from the Crisis reviews I've been doing? Same one). During his control, he went crazy and tried to arrest the JSA as outlaws. He did clear them when he went back to normal, but who's to say there may not have been lingering effects?
Superman continued to read, seeing distorted takes on various early JSA stories, including their battles against various supervillains, the Freedom Fighters' going to Earth-X, and their reunion at FDR's funeral. The Original Man of Steel can't believe it, but it's clearly written by Batman, even using his special left-handed script Batman used to help protect his secret identity. The twisted tales portray the JSA as rival criminals to the Injustice Society of the World. The journal even twists the JSA's retirement in 1951 due to a HUAC-esque committee, led be a Senator O'Fallon, demanding they unmask. Senator O'Fallon died not long after this, the journal insinuating that the JSA killed him so he wouldn't investigate their wartime activities. The 1950s would go on.
The journal continues to recount the JSA's return to action in 1963, battling the immortal madman Vandal Savage. Then it would recount the grown-up Robin's joining the JSA alongside the Star-Spangled Kid and Power Girl, who was essentially Earth-2's Supergirl. Batman himself had pretty much hung up the cape and cowl by then. The journal then ends with the time Bruce Wayne, who had become Gotham's Police Commissioner since the death of Jim Gordon, tried to arrest the JSA while under the Psycho-Pirate's control. Not long afterwards, in 1979, Bruce Wayne would don the Batman suit one last time, battling a superpowered criminal named Bill Jensen. Jensen was given powers by a sorcerer named Frederick Vaux. Yeah, not quite the epic way of going out you'd expect a Batman to go out, huh?
Dr. Fate would use his magical powers to make the world believe that Bruce Wayne and Batman died separately so it could preserve his, Robin's, and his daughter Helena Wayne/Huntress's secret identities. Clark asks Jimmy Olsen, and demands he verify it. He apologizes for the diary being published, but the JSA aren't angry about it. He's just doing his job. Fate reminds Superman that the truth will come out, but the JSA do want to know why Batman would print all those lies about them and their early adventures. They don't have the time to plan a defense, as the army arrives
The army wants to arrest the World's First Superteam, expect for Superman. However, the Man of Steel tells them if they have to arrest the JSA, they have to arrest him, too. Robin also starts to demand his own arrest as well, but Superman convinces him to not do so, as they need someone to find out the truth, and since he was too young to be accused of treason in the 1940s, he in in the best position to find out what is really going on. But Robin is not alone. In the trees, the arrest is being witnessed by the late Batman's daughter: Helena Wayne, The Huntress.
After the JSA are arrested and carted off, Huntress reveals herself to Robin. The two of them discuss the diary. Robin is really confused. Bruce Wayne's word carries a lot of weight for Dick, but he does want to assume the JSA are innocent. He also knew Batman a lot longer than Helena did. Helena is convinced the diary is a lie, despite her being his biological daughter. Dick understands, but he refuses to be a part of anything that means defaming the Batman, even in the grave. Helena gives Dick a hug, and the former Boy Wonder hopes that he and the Huntress can still talk. So does she.
Another group is watching the JSA get carted off: Infinity, Inc. They were a team of young heroes composed of the JSA's children and heirs: Jade, Obsidian, Fury, Silver Scarab, Northwind, Nuklon, and the Star-Spangled Kid. They're shocked by it, but Star-Sangled Kid is optimistic they will be cleared. Obsidian suggests that perhaps the charges are true, but get a threat of a fat lip from Silver Scarab for it. Fury suggests they break the JSA out of jail, which Scarab is all for. Nuklon and Northwind would rather wait for the dust to settle. Northwind thinks that since the JSA willingly surrendered, they have a plan of their own. The Infinitors look to Star-Spangled Kid for advice, and he tells them to stay put, and he'll get them the best legal help he can afford.
News of the JSA's arrest spreads throughout the country, eliciting various responses. But one person is rather overjoyed by it.
He reveals he's the son of Senator O'Fallon, and he's the owner of a newspaper called the Capital Globe. He was convinced the JSA were evil, and killed his father to cover it up. Only the Capital Globe suggested this, and he's worked his whole life so he could own the Globe, and basically get back at the JSA for it. He yells at one of his reporters to dig up more dirt on the Golden Age Guardians. The reporter, as he leaves, wonder if maybe O'Fallon himself engineered this whole "Batman Diary" thing. O'Fallon gets another idea, and demands to speak with the Attorney General.
In Washington, a young woman wearing a purple 80s suit walks into a building where the JSA are being held. Her name: Helena Wayne, attorney at law, with a side of superheroing as the Huntress. A couple of guards accompany her to meet the JSA. She's going to be their legal defense for their trial. Hourman wonders why Dick Grayson isn't with her, as he's practicing law again. Helena explains that he's feeling pretty confused right now. Hawkman wonders what Helena plans to do for her defense, and she says she is willing to use her father's...troubles in his last days if she must.
Green Lantern notices his ring's power charge has run out. Hourman remarks that his dosage of Miraclo, the drug that allows him superpowers for one hour at a time, wore off hours ago as well. Wildcat punches the wall in rage, screaming that they're doing this to wear down and lock up or vaporize them. Dr. Midnight and Superman are able to calm him down.
Helena reminds the JSA that there are two charges against the JSA that this congressional hearing are interested in. One is treason, and the second is sabotage of the bomb defense system mentioned earlier in the issue in 1941. This hearing is also just an inquiry to see if there are any grounds to try the JSA for treason in the first place. Flash tells Helena the real story.
At the time, the Flash was a much younger man, battling criminals in his native Keystone City. After showing some hoods what for, a policeman tells the Fastest Man Alive that Gotham City's police commissioner wants to talk to him. He arrives at Gotham, and finds Green Lantern waiting for him, alongside a couple of other men, with one being Commissioner Gordon. And Batman is on his way.
The diary did get this part right. According to Flash, after they were recruited by "Smythe" on their secret mission to Berlin, they first went to Scotland. There, they dealt with a Nazi named Helmut Streicher, who had set up a hidden base there as a back-stop for a Nazi invasion. The three heroes wrecked the base, but he was armed with an advanced giant robot which creamed them. When they woke up, they found themselves in the presence of Adolf Hitler himself, armed with the Spear of Destiny. And he was planning to kill them with it. However, Hourman and Dr. Fate would save the day, thanks to their being late for "Smythe"'s summons. Gives new meaning to the phrase "fashionably late", huh?
Hitlen then uses the Spear to summon some Valkyries, and they headed out towards Great Britain. The future JSA members headed out to stop them. Hitler took the opportunity to order an invasion fleet from occupied France to attack England. However, Dr. Fate prepared for that. He arranged a little "welcoming committee" in the form of Hawkman, Sandman, and the Atom.
Wait, is that Wonder Woman's lasso Atom is holding in that panel? Anyway, they also had the Spectre on hand to help. Yup, the embodiment of God's Vengeance wanted to smash some Nazis. The nine heroes were able to chase the Valkyries to Washington DC. It was a tough fight, not helped by a German experimental super-bomber sent to attack the Capitol. However, the JSA would get more help in the form of the Man of Steel.
The Atom got injured battling the Valkyries, but the man is a scrapper. One of the Valkyries managed to reach the White House. She tried to turn President Roosevelt into Norse shish kabob, but the Atom came to save the day, taking the blow for the President. Roosevelt was impressed by the work of these costumed "mystery men", and as such, convinced them to work together. Superman was the one who gave the JSA its name.
Jay then clarifies the second charge: Sabotaging the bomb ray. He says the diary is correct in the JSA saving a group of prominent scientists from some agents, but they were Nazi agents, not Soviet. In fact, the diary offered no proof they were Soviet. You'd think Batman would have included proof. Jay has no idea why the bombproof ray failed on its second attempt. Even the scientists weren't sure how it failed. After the project was scrapped, the Brain Trust went their own separate ways, all working on their own time travel-related inventions. But their paths would cross the JSA's in later years.
Yeah, you read that right, a Dr. Doome. No wonder he became a supervillain. A police officer walks in and brings in a TV, saying the JSA are going to want to see this. A newscaster reveals that the Congressional committee that is investigating the treason charges has got their own legal counsel.
Yup, Dick Grayson. The ward of Batman. And since Helena Wayne, Bruce Wayne's daughter, is the lawyer for the JSA...yup, we got some family drama coming in. Meanwhile, Grayson is furious at Senator Hoskins, the committee's chairman. He wanted to tell Helena this himself, but the story got leaked, and they had to cover it quickly. Grayson agreed to do this because if the JSA are guilty, he wants them to get punished. This was why the committee wanted him to be their legal council. The story ends with Senator Hoskins revealing that also has a surprise for Dick. They have a man they intend to use as their chief witness, the man who convinced Hoskins the JSA committed treason. And who is this man?
It's the Wizard, former member of the Injustice Society of the World, and raging egomaniac. He's all too happy to help put the JSA away.
This issue was rather enjoyable. We're seeing the JSA going though something that to them, must be horrific: Their names dragged through the mud and their service to the world during WWII being questioned. And even worse...it's done by one of their own, a former member that is long dead. I can imagine that this must have been a shock to those who were following the JSA at the time.
We also get some family drama being set up with Robin and Huntress (both children of the Batman) being on opposing sides of the issue thanks to their legal work. As a nice treat, we get to see a twisted take on the beginnings of the JSA, as well as a recap of some of their history. It's a thing through this mini-series. But it does serve a purpose here, as the JSA is trying to clear its name. This allows us to see the "real" history of the Golden Age guardians.
The artwork is done by multiple artists, but I didn't really see much of a difference between them. It's enjoyable art. If you want to read this story yourself, it was collected in a trade in 2015.
Next time, we join Daredevil as he reaches his rebirth...