Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Home Again!
Credits: Len Strazewski (writer), Mike Parobeck (penciler), Mike Machlan (inker), Bob Pinaha (letterer), Glenn Whitmore (colorist)

Summary: A mystery man sends a colossal monster to attack the Justice Society at their public retirement party. The monster is stopped by Superman, much to the JSA’s disappointment. Following the battle, Sandman suffers a stroke. Several months later, Flash and Green Lantern respond to news reports of the New Order’s assault on a nuclear plant. They easily defeat the modern foes and are inspired to come out of retirement.

Irrelevant Continuity: So why are the JSA spry fifty-somethings instead of aging seventy-somethings? As Clark Kent helpfully explains to Lois Lane, “They were rejuvenated in a magical dimension…some of it must have stuck!” A footnote points to Armageddon Inferno #4, which honestly sounds like a made-up name for an early ‘90s crossover. Later on, the Flash remarks that some of the rejuvenation is wearing off, but he still feels “a bit younger than what the calendar says, though.”

I Love the ‘90s: I’m predicting no shortage of pop culture references to the early ‘90s, given that generational shifts and modern culture shock are bound to be recurring themes in the title. This issue opens with a mulleted child remarking to his grandfather that trading cards are worth a lot of money now. We also have a reference to the “ninja reptiles” heroes must face these days, a villain named after Saddam Hussein's favorite weapon, and not one but two instances of Green Lantern exclaiming “NOT!”

Total N00B: I’ve been reading comics for around twenty-five years now, and this is my first encounter with Johnny Thunder, who only appears in the background of this issue as a normal looking schmoe in a Jimmy Olsen suit. A helpful text piece by Mark Waid in the back describes him as “not the brightest man who ever lived…Johnny could nonetheless hold his own…by calling out the magic command ‘Cei-U’…and summoning to his side the mighty genie known as Thunderbolt.” So…he’s a dummy with genie powers? Was he the JSA’s wacky sidekick back in the day?

Review: So, DC’s Justice Society of America #1, released the same month as the debut issues of Image titles like Shadowhawk. There’s no spine-shattering here, but one old guy has a stroke while his friends are bummed that some young hipster, Superman, is upstaging them. There’s definitely a culture clash going on here, but the creative team is trying to face the issue head-on.

Instead of just tossing in a few cutsey references to early ‘90s fads, Strazewski and Parobeck take things a bit further by pitting the JSA against a thinly veiled parody of Marvel’s X-Force -- an x-tremist pro-mutant organization called the New Order. Their leader, Cain, is a Parobeckized rendition of the Liefeld-era Cable (the only real difference is an eye-patch, which he apparently doesn’t need), and he’s surrounded by a stable of throwaways that could’ve easily stood in the background of any Mutant Liberation Front group shot. Some of the villains are straight out of the Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe, like an unnamed Feral parody (apparently he or she’s a dog, so that makes it totally different). His or her teammate Scud is an amalgam of Scalphunter and Harpoon of the Marauders, and one member named Ammo has a gun-arm reminiscent of the Daredevil/Punisher villain Bushwacker. Bushwacker was originally introduced as an ally of the Marauders, plus Ammo just so happens to be the name of another villain created by Ann Nocenti and John Romita, Jr. while on Daredevil. I have a hard time believing that any of these were coincidences.

Knowing now that the early ‘90s style has largely been dismissed as a joke, while Mike Parobeck’s art has retroactively been declared the high-water mark for superhero cartooning makes this issue an odd artifact. Not that the creators knew that they were eventually going to win some imaginary credibility award, but they are clearly aware that they’re swimming against the mainstream tide and perhaps vainly attempting to keep a classical hero style alive.

Having Mike Parobeck do a Rob Liefeld parody undoubtedly adds some novelty to the issue, but it’s a testament to his artistic skills that the New Order characters still look as if they belong in this world. Everything Parobeck draws in the issue is clean, attractive, and instantly comprehensible. Parobeck originally entered comics as something of a John Byrne clone, so it’s fitting to see him joined by one of Byrne’s best inkers, Mike Machlan, for the series. I don’t know how I would’ve responded to this comic at age 12, but since I wasn’t totally brainwashed by the fads of the era, I’d like to think I would’ve recognized the obvious talent that’s on display here. I was fully onboard with the debut of Batman: The Animated Series a few months after the release of the book (and I think it’s important to remember that Parobeck hit on this style of cartooning independent of Bruce Timm’s work on the cartoon), so I know I wasn’t a complete moron back then.


thinkingcog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
thinkingcog said...

I must admit I never read JSA, I missed it as a kid cause the comics culture where I live wasn't the greatest (it's still not truth be told). But we did get Parobeck's Batman Adventures and I adore them

I'm not sure what your view on Batman is but after JSA I would love your take on those old Batman Adventures issues if you're taking suggestions on anything to cover.

Love the site! Keep up the great work!

G. Kendall said...

Yeah, I'm definitely a fan of the Batman Adventures series. I've considered different ways I might review it on the site, but I don't know how well it lends itself to an issue-by-issue review series.

Jason said...

"Bushwacker was originally introduced as an ally of the Marauders ... "

Hm, are you sure? That doesn't sound right to me. He was killing mutants at around the same time as the Marauders' debut doing the same thing ... but I don't recall anyone mentioning a connection between the two.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure Bushwacker was an anti-mutant bigot, while the Marauders were mutants who killed certain other mutants. I don't believe Bushwacker would've worked with the Marauders.
Bushwacker was originally allied with the CIA during Nocenti's Daredevil.

The Estate of Tim O'Neil said...

Regarding Johnny Thunder - he was more or less a sidekick, albeit a sidekick who could sometimes summon and insanely powerful immortal genie to do his bidding.

The thing is: all he needed to do to summon the genie was say "Cei-U." But (at least initially, and for years thereafter) he DIDN'T KNOW what the magic words were. His adventures usually followed the same formula of Johnny being a complete idiot, falling into some kind of trouble, and wondering why the Thunderbolt was so undependable when he kept getting beat up all the time. And then invariably before the story is over he just HAPPENS to say something along the lines of, "Say, you guys . . .", at which point the genie shows up and fixes the problems. As far as Golden Age high concepts go, it's not bad, but it got REAL repetitive real fast.

S said...

"while Mike Parobeck’s art has retroactively been declared the high-water mark for superhero cartooning"

It has? When the heck did that happen? I've never even heard of the guy before this post.

Anonymous said...

Too true. Too true.
He did art on Batman Adventures and Justice Society, neither of which are considered utmost classics of the genre.
Nothing against Batman Adventures, in and of itself.
Justice Society was short-lived and little remembered.
That's not the most prestigious career.

G. Kendall said...

Even though they never appeared in the same comic, Bushwacker claimed in his first appearance that he was being paid by the Marauders to kill mutants. Years later, when he appeared in Punisher War Journal, he mentions again that the Marauders are paying him to kill mutants (this is the story that opens with him killing a mutant artist at her exhibit.)

As for Mike Parobeck, both CBR and Newsarama run tributes to the guy literally every year on the anniversary of his death. I don't think Jack Kirby even gets that. His run on Batman Adventures used to show up on those "Best of the '90s" lists, back when people made such things.

Matt said...

I've never heard of him, but after seeing his art here, I have to say the guy is REALLY good. I usually either go with manga style artists like Madureira, or Image alumni like Capullo or Silvestri, but lately I find myself being drawn to old school guys like Curt Swan, Mike Sekowsky, etc. and Parobeck definitely has that old school feel.

Not that I've stopped liking all the old stuff I used too, but that my tastes have expanded.

kerry said...

Parobeck's pretty well-regarded. He was sort of the patron saint "gone before their time" comics artists before Wieringo passed away. Appreciation for his work definitely increased once we were out of the Lee-Liefeld era and people were able to look back with some objectivity.

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