Sunday, May 31, 2015

I Reads You Review: America vs. the JUSTICE SOCIETY #1


PENCILS: Rafael Kayanan with Rich Buckler and Jerry Ordway
INKERS: Alfredo Alcala and Bill Collins with Jerry Ordway
COLORS: Adrienne Roy
COVER: Jerry Ordway
48pp, Color, $1.50 U.S., $2.00 CAN (January 1985)

Chapter One: “I Accuse!”

America vs. The Justice Society was a four-issue comic book miniseries starring the Justice Society of America (JSA).  The series was written and edited by Roy Thomas and penciled by Rafael Kayanan, Mike Hernandez, and Howard Bender and primarily inked by Alfredo Alcala.  Other artists featured in the series included Rich Buckler and Jerry Ordway.

America vs. The Justice Society was originally published by DC Comics between January and April 1985.  The series was set in DC Comics' “Earth-Two” (or Earth-2”) universe and involves an accusation that members of the JSA committed treason during World War II and then, conspired to keep their treasonous actions secret in the years following the war.

Earth-Two was a parallel universe to the mainstream DC Comics continuity.  DC established Earth-Two during the 1960s, as a way to explain how DC characters who had adventures in the 1940s could still be in their 30s in contemporary comics, with contemporary then being the 1960s.  Why was Batman still a young man in the 1960s when he had adventures in the 1940s?  Well, the Batman of the 1940s lived on Earth-Two.  The Batman of the 1960s lived on Earth-One, the modern or regular or mainstream DC Universe.  You can see how that created problems later on when Batman of Earth-One was still young in the 1980s.

In 1981, DC revived the Justice Society of America, the 1940s precursor of the Justice League of America, in the comic book All-Star Squadron.  Roy Thomas was this comic book's writer and he used the series to retell JSA stories that were published in the 1940s.  Of course, All-Star Squadron was now set on Earth-Two, which is where the JSA existed.  Confused yet?  Well, America vs. The Justice Society is a re-telling slash re-imagining of the events around the disbanding of the JSA in the 1950s.

[While visiting the DC Entertainment website, I discovered that America vs. The Justice Society was being reprinted in a trade paperback.  I decided that I wanted to read the series and found a reasonably priced set of all four issues on eBay.]

America vs. The Justice Society #1 (“I Accuse!”) opens on Earth-Two in late 1984.  The splash page features the front page of the Tuesday, November 26, 1984 edition of the “Daily Star” newspaper.  The newspaper's headline declares that the members of the Justice Society are traitors... at least according to the “Batman Dairy.”  Clark Kent, the editor of the “Daily Star,” received this alleged diary of the late Dark Knight (who apparently died in 1979) from Dr. Nichols (or Prof. Nichols).  According to Nichols, Batman gave him the diary a few months before his death.

The “Batman Diary,” recounts the origins of the Justice Society and also how the members allowed Adolf Hitler to convince them to join forces with him during World War II.  The diary also recounts how the Justice Society hid their crimes during and after war.  Although Kent tries to delay the release of the diary's contents, they are made public before Kent can verify if the diary is really authentic, beyond the fact that the handwriting in the diary does seem to be Bruce Wayne's.

Superman, Wonder Woman, Starman, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Robin, Wildcat, Atom, Doctor Fate, Johnny Thunder, Hourman, Dr. Mid-Nite, and The Flash – the members of the Justice Society gather in the team's old headquarters in Civic City.  There, these superheroes try to find a way to clear their names, while outside forces plot their downfall.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and The Sandman are the three most influential and famous comic books that DC Comics published in the 1980s.  In the last few years, DC has announced and published sequels and prequels to these seminal, event comic books (although the first sequel to The Dark Night Returns was published back in 2001 and 2002).  Batman: The Killing Joke, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and Crisis On Infinite Earths are probably the other big event publications from DC that fall behind the above “holy trinity.”  America vs. The Justice Society would certainly make my “Top 10” list of DC Comics' best of the 1980s.

Publishing in late 1984 and early 1985, the events depicted in America vs. The Justice Society were swept away by Crisis on Infinite Earths, which began publication not long after the final issue of America vs. The Justice Society was published, making the latter no longer relevant in terms of DC Universe continuity.

That's a shame.  America vs. The Justice Society is an exceptionally well-written comic book.  It is kind of like the Watchmen of Earth-Two, but as an old-fashioned mystery thriller.  Roy Thomas takes characters that he obviously loves puts them in a position in which they hugely vulnerable.  The members of the JSA may choose to cooperate with law enforcement, but that only makes their position more precarious.  Regardless of what good they have done, they seem confronted with the immediate now:  they stand accused of being traitors which puts everything they have ever done in question.

Thomas adds more tension by making their accuser a former teammate.  Thomas offers the notion that some JSAers may not stand for being prosecuted and persecuted for long (like Wonder Woman).  Also, a number of grudges held against the JSA by non-powered politicians, former allies, and mystery figures means that they will face more allegations and charges.  In America vs. The Justice Society, Roy Thomas adds mystery and suspense into the superhero genre, turning fantasy adventure into muckraking political theater.

I like the art presented in the first issue by Rafael Kayanan, Rich Buckler, Jerry Ordway, Alfredo Alcala, Bill Collins, and Adrienne Roy (and in later issues by artists Mike Hernandez, Howard Bender, and Carl Gafford).  It was old-timey and old-fashioned even for its time (1984).  The art takes a story set in 1984 and gives the graphical storytelling the atmosphere and vibe of the 1940s, which was the Golden Age of comics and of the JSA.  It is a pity that the printing process used for this comic book was crappy and made for an attractive comic book.  Hopefully, the 2015 trade paperback will offer better printing quality and this comic will look as pretty as it should.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux on Patreon.

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