Friday, April 6, 2012


Out of the Past
Credits: Len Strazewski (writer), Mike Parobeck (penciler), Mike Machlan (inker), Bob Pinaha (letterer), Glenn Whitmore (colorist)

Summary: The JSA discover their mystery guest is Johnny Quick, who is now an infomercial star. He reveals to the team that Ultragen recently sued him for exposing the dangerous side effects of their nutrition products. Suddenly, Dr. Midnight enters, divulging that Reggie, his patient and old friend, recently died after agreeing to one of Ultragen’s experimentations. He leaves with Wildcat and Atom to investigate the facility. Soon, they’re confronted by the Ultra-Humanite. Meanwhile, masked men arrive to steal Reggie’s body from the clinic. Johnny Thunder happens by, but is unable to stop them. When his genie appears, it’s greeted by a strange woman.

Irrelevant Continuity: Johnny Quick’s aging even more slowly than the JSA due to his speed formula. The modern explanation for how exactly a “string of letters and numbers” gives him super-speed is that he has a “meta-gene,” which is a madness that affected ‘90s DC, to the point that even Green Arrow was revealed as a metahuman. Johnny believes that the formula is a mantra that releases his fullest potential, which is the philosophy he teaches in his self-help classes.

Total N00B: The version of the Ultra-Humanite that appears in this issue is a man with red eyes, white hair, and vaguely ape-like features. I know that the very first version of Ultra-Humanite was human, but I don’t know of any story that changed him out of animal form. He also stutters habitually and I have no idea why.

Review: Hey, more coincidences. So, an old friend of the team just happens to agree to a risky medical treatment offered by Ultragen, the same company that’s connected to their old foe Ultra-Humanite, and located right next to their headquarters. Another associate, Johnny Quick, also happened to have a run-in with this company last year. And, only a few pages after this revelation, Johnny Thunder just so happens to be visiting Dr. Midnight’s clinic when it’s being ransacked by masked men, presumably working for Ultragen.

Now, if Ultra-Humanite was plotting these events out years in advance and specifically targeting people associated with the JSA, that’s defensible, but the story at this point is treating all of these events as random occurrences. Wild coincidences were common in the Golden Age, back in the days when every city only seemed to have one police officer and every newspaper one reporter, but a) those stories were often eight-pagers that had to cram in an excessive amount of plot, and b) the audience largely consisted of young children. I don’t think the audience of 1992 is so willing to suspend disbelief.

Overlooking that complaint, this is another chapter dedicated to slowly bringing more members in and building up the Ultragen mystery. Len Strazewski seems to be writing this story specifically for JSA fans, since most of the characters’ superhero names are never referenced, and we’re never told who exactly Johnny Quick is or how he’s connected to the team. (Is he a former member or just a friend? Is he another Golden Age hero, or did he debut later? Why wasn’t he trapped in the alternate dimension with the other heroes?) There’s also an assumption that the reader knows detailed JSA continuity, like the specifics of when Dr. Midnight is or isn’t blind. It’s easy to feel as if you’re not getting the full picture, but the story moves at a steady pace, the tone feels right, and of course the art is stunning.

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