The Geoff Johns resurgence at DC is a surprising one, given the fact that he has been, at best, an ancillary figure on the publishing side for the past six years. “Doomsday Clock” and “The Three Jokers” aside, there is only a “Shazam” series that was frequently delayed and a few sporadic issues here and there to show for those years in the wilderness. His imprint, The Killing Zone, never materialized, and it appeared that he took some of those concepts to Image for “Geiger.”
But Johns is back, and he’s telling a large story that connects “Doomsday Clock” to his earliest work at DC, as well as attempting to tell a story that touches into the (perhaps never to be) future at DC. It is an ambitious move, and one that continues to surprise with just how well it is working.
At the heart of all of this is “Justice Society of America,” a return to a classic Johns title that is quite different than any of the books that have bore this name earlier. The 12-issue maxiseries feels like a purposeful misdirection, a playful move by Johns to subvert what we think the JSA really is. And, despite some serious misgivings that should spring up from a variety of factors, this works.
Written by Geoff Johns
Illustrated by Mikel Janin
Alternate sequences illustrated by Jerry Ordway, Scott Kolins, Steve Lieber, and Brandon Peterson
Colored by Jordie Bellaire
Alternate sequences colored by John Kalisz, Jordan Boy, and Brandon Peterson
Lettered by Rob Leigh
The JSA returns in this monthly series by writer Geoff Johns and artist Mikel Janin with Justice Society of America: The New Golden Age Part One! The world’s first and greatest superheroes return! Or do they? A long-lost hero from the JSA crashes into our era with a grave warning… but it’s too late. A mysterious and malevolent enemy has invaded the entire history of the JSA, and an all-new team must come together to defeat it. But what deadly secret does this messenger from beyond keep? Where are they from? And why is all of this happening now? Only the Time Masters know…
Much like “Stargirl: The Lost Children,” “Justice Society of America” spins out of the “New Golden Age” one-shot from earlier in November, which laid out an overarching story that, while important thematically to this issue, is not nearly as important to what is contained herein than it would seem. This story, about Helena Wayne (more on her in a bit) trying to reform the Justice Society and being hunted by Per Degaton in the process, is complete and clear from the start. In fact, the precursor to this from “The New Golden Age” had a lot of questions about alternate Earths and time travel due to some details that were purposely left out. This issue begins with a clear understanding of the story taking place in a potential future, with the as-yet unborn daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle.
The team that Selina assembles is one that is rich in JSA-connections and, more explicitly, in connections to both Johns’s work on the Stargirl television series and James Robinson’s “Starman.” Helena is assembling a new team that is mainly of reformed villains; Jack Knight’s son, Kyle, makes an appearance here as the Mist, taking on his mother’s villainous persona. Along with the Gentleman Ghost and Solomon Grundy, classic (and somewhat ageless) JSA villains, there are characters that are legacy versions of their evil parents: a new Icicle, the Harlequin’s Son, and Ruby Sokov, daughter of the Golden Age Red Lantern. Those last two characters are brand new Johns creations that will play out across his titles, and will tie into the greater mystery.
All of this is interesting, but doesn’t really feel like the Justice Society, which is something Power Girl reiterates to Helena. Power Girl and Huntress are another long-time DC pairing, but this version is new and has an interesting dynamic that is much more big sister/little sister than we’re used to seeing from them. This is one piece of the issue that artist Mikel Janin really shines through on. Janin’s Power Girl is living up to her Kryptonian heritage by standing as tall and majestically as Superman, but Janin draws her with suspicion and distrust throughout. She doesn’t approve of Helena’s plan, and while she is supporting her friend, she isn’t blindly buying in. Janin shows that without needing Johns’s script to assist.Continued below
Where Janin isn’t quite as successful is in making this story feel timeless through the illustrations. His work here is not as fluid and story-telling-forward as many classic JSA artists, and so the work can feel a little detached from the history of the title. This is furthered by a Jerry Ordway-drawn flashback sequence, and single panels from Scott Kolins, Steve Lieber, and Brandon Peterson, all of whom (save Peterson) would traditionally be a better fit for this title. However, because this issue is such a remix of those traditional Golden Age concepts, the style fits better as the story progresses, and by the end, feels like exactly the right artist for the job. But with the story involving a backwards time jump, this seems like it may be an issue going forward as well.
Janin’s art does do a nice job injecting a darkness and paranoia to the issue, which adds to the feeling of dread that grows as the issue progresses. Even when the full team is assembled, things don’t feel right. Helena is trying to make it work, but it may be beyond her. Janin is able to tap into that failure and set a stage where when the other shoe drops, it seems inevitable.
While many, myself included, were hoping for a classic JSA title, this actually is the more interesting way to go, at least initially due to the incredibly long gap between ongoings. If there had been a true JSA book at some point since the first Obama administration, the knee-jerk reaction to such a different interpretation wouldn’t be there. But it is because of that gap that the story works so well. Helena, like the reader, wants the JSA to return and thrive. Let’s hope that, after this maxiseries wraps, we can get an actual Justice Society ongoing.
Final Verdict: 8.2 – A strong debut issue for an unexpected title.