Thursday, July 19, 2012


J.S.A. No More?
Credits: Len Strazewski (writer), Mike Parobeck (penciler), Mike Machlan (inker), Bob Pinaha (letterer), Glenn Whitmore (colorist)

Summary: Kulak sends his minions to New Mexico to kill Starman, which inadvertently sends him on Kulak’s trail. In Gotham City, Kulak terrorizes the captive JSA. Johnny Thunder antagonizes Kulak into using up a large portion of his power, making him easier to defeat when Starman arrives. Later, Green Lantern convinces Hawkman to don his costume and lead what could be the final JSA meeting.

Irrelevant Continuity: Kulak explains that he was sent to ancient Egypt following his defeat in All Star Comics #2. He’s plotted his revenge against the JSA ever since. The Atom questions how both Kulak and Vandal Savage can take credit for being Cheops.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: While boasting about his total control over Hawkgirl, Kulak licks her shoulder with his gigantic tongue as she coos in ecstasy.

Review: I can see why this incarnation of Justice Society of America could be considered a lost classic. Not only was it cancelled to make room for the flavor-of-the-month guns, stubble, and trenchcoat heroes of the day, but it also features the early work of the legendary Mike Parobeck. Getting indignant over this book’s cancellation would virtually be a requirement for comics blogging, had it existed in 1993. Looking back at these ten issues, however, I honestly don’t see a great loss.

Parobeck immediately went on to do Batman Adventures, a title that suited him perfectly and brought him even more attention, so it’s not as if DC let his talents go to waste. Len Strazewski would return to journalism (and judging by his editorial at the end of this issue, I’m not sure if he ever felt totally comfortable writing comics.) The JSA survived and would have an ongoing series again by the end of the decade. Sure, no one wants to dedicate their efforts to a title that dies out by issue ten, but the cancellation didn’t seem to cause anyone any lasting harm.

The truth is, if the book had been drawn by any journeyman artist working for DC at the time, and didn’t have any juicy gossip surrounding its cancellation, I can’t imagine people talking about it today. I can’t say it’s a bad comic, but it’s a very straightforward superhero action comic with predictable plots and pedestrian dialogue. Strazewski’s affection for the characters occasionally shines through, and in those moments the book breezes past the “generic” marker, but too often he just assumes that the reader already cares as much he does. This issue, for example, halts the plot for over two pages to explain what Kulak the Sorcerer has been up to since… All Star Comics #2, cover-dated Fall 1940. Now, a flashback to Kulak’s days in ancient Egypt isn’t automatically a bad idea, but nothing in the story makes Kulak interesting enough to follow through this journey. The only reason the reader might care is if he’s somehow read this pre-WWII comic and wants to see how Kulak’s been resurrected in the ‘90s. (And his resurrection relies on another one of Strazewski’s writing tics, the massive coincidence. Of course Kulak’s tomb is uncovered by Hawkman and Hawkgirl decades later while on an archeological dig.)

The early issues gave me hope that Strazewski might be able to translate his enthusiasm for these characters into compelling stories that show why they’re special. The JSA can’t be great merely because they “came first,” they have to be able to exist as engaging, unique characters. Strazewski talks in his editorial about aging as just another obstacle for these brave men, who aren’t likely to give up after facing everyone from Hitler to the Ultra-Humanite. Okay, fine…where was that grit during this series? After ten issues, I haven’t warmed up to any of the cast. I do like the scenes that emphasize the friendships within the team, but individually, these characters aren’t strong enough to carry an ongoing series. The true star of this series is Mike Parobeck, and if I’m going to miss anything from this incarnation of Justice Society of America, it’s going to be those Parobeck splash pages.


The Estate of Tim O'Neil said...

If you're still casting about for "gone but not forgotten" DC series from the 90s I'd recommend you track down a run of HOURMAN by Tom Peyer and Rags Morales (back when Morales knew how to draw significantly better than he does now). It just comes in at the tail end of the 90s, but as another re-purposing of the JSA concept would probably be of some interest to you.

James said...

I've never realised until now how much Hawkgirl looks like Wolverine (particularly with the Byrne costume colouring). I used to think his cowl was fairly unique....

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