With the Justice Society about to make their full-time TV debut on CW’s STARGIRL, it felt like a good time to look back at a favorite JSA tale I was happy to see re-released.
I may have said it before in these pages, but one of the things I miss most about today’s DC Comics is the loss of a sense of legacy and history, once one of the key qualities that differentiated DC from Marvel. The notion that certain characters and their beginnings, and really the whole age of the “superhero,” could be inextricably linked to a moment in time or historical era – well, I just always found that so appealing, with the notion that superhero mantles could be passed down from generation to generation. It made the DC Universe seem “real,” in the one way that Marvel didn’t.
The best example of that in DC’s roster was the Justice Society of America, the first and original superhero team, These were heroes of a time: The Golden Age. Whether it was adventures of them in their prime during World War II or as middle-aged heroes returning to action in the ‘60s, or senior citizens out for one last hurrah in the ‘90s, you could never separate the JSA from the era from whence they came. And so not surprisingly, in today’s DC Comics, which tend to be completely untethered from history, the Justice Society doesn’t have much of an impact, as just another team of redesigned costumes with familiar names.
Which is why I was so shocked and delighted to see this released in a trade paperback for the first time recently: AMERICA VS. THE JUSTICE SOCIETY, a 1985 miniseries so steeped in Golden Age and pre-Crisis continuity, it must seem like it’s in a different language to most of today’s current DC readers. But for those of us who speak the language fluently, it’s a welcome sight indeed.
Written by JSA authority and longtime custodian of the Golden Age characters Roy Thomas and drawn by a team of artists including Jerry Ordway and Rich Buckler, AMERICA VS THE JUSTICE SOCIETY cleverly serves two masters: Thomas spins a smart and intriguing mystery with the JSA’s lives hanging in the balance, which at the same time allows him to provide a complete history of the Justice Society’s career, from beginning to what was at that point the current day. And what was the mystery? The splash tells the tale:
A little backstory: at this point, Batman (the original 1940s edition, from Earth-Two, where this story takes place) has been dead for several years, killed in the line of duty serving as Police Commissioner of Gotham City following the death of his wife, his onetime foe Selina “Catwoman” Kyle. So when a diary is discovered after Wayne’s death which accuses the Justice Society of being Nazi spies during World War II, the team is taken into custody on charges of treason and forced to appear before Congressional hearings (which will allow Roy Thomas to tell his exhaustive history of the JSA in the form of witness testimony, a pretty ingenious device, I must say).
Adding to the tension and are the respective attorneys for the prosecution and defense, both secretly JSA members, though not themselves accused of treason: working with the Congressional committee as special counsel is Dick “Robin” Grayson, feeling he has to stand by the word of his departed mentor, while defending the JSA is Helena “The Huntress” Wayne, going against her father’s word to prove her teammates’ innocence.
It’s not just a courtroom drama, though – occasionally intruders liven up the place, such as when the Spectre shows up to rescue his teammates from this travesty of justice:
Admittedly, AMERICA VS THE JUSTICE SOCIETY isn’t for everyone: It’s really dense reading and as talky as any Roy Thomas comic ever was, and there’s not a lot of action. But if you love old-school pre-Crisis DC and are looking to get your learn on about the best superhero team there ever was, this is the book for you.