Justice Society of America: Thy Kingdom Come (Part I) – A Graphic Novel Review

I’ve always enjoyed JSA, mostly because Geoff Johns has made a point to keep one foot in the past with the title while keeping the other foot firmly planted in the future.

With the Justice Society of America re-launch, the team has a new mission statement of making sure the world has better heroes, and so they are first tracking down legacy heroes and training them to deserve the mantle they’ve assumed.

Thy Kingdom Come is particularly fascinating because it reintroduces Superman from Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come series.  In expert juxtaposition, Johns makes a point that while the Earth-2 Superman thought Earth-1’s heroes weren’t heroic enough, the Kingdom Come Superman finds Earth-1’s (New Earth’s) heroes inspiring and invigorating.  Any writer will tell you that good writing means making use of unusual perspectives, and Johns does just this with KC Superman.

Furthermore, I love the KC Superman because he has an edge to him.  He’s damaged goods.  After all, he watched his world’s heroes demean and destroy themselves and did nothing until the (relatively) very end.  He wants a fresh start as well, a chance at redemption, and that makes him very compelling.

But among such heavy themes and dangerous adventures, Johns also brings about quite a bit of joyfulness.  Boxing matches between Wildcat and his son, fundraising at the local firehouse, and ski trips are just part of what makes this team such a delight to follow. 

Johns also mixes established, semi-established, and brand new characters in this book and gives each a chance to shine in an appealing and engaging manner.  To have characters over half-a-century old such as Flash and Green Lantern interacting with brand new legacy characters such as Wildcat II, Cyclone, and Citizen Steel brings an unpredictability that is missing in several other DC titles.  Throw in semi-established characters using familiar names like Hourman, Liberty Belle, and Starman, and you’ve got something exciting, amusing, and captivating.

For me, Justice Society of America continues to be a must-read and I really look forward to where the title is heading with its heavy referencing to Kingdom Come and multiple-subplots.

Justice Society of America, Vol. 1: The Next Age – A Graphic Novel Review

Geoff Johns gets it. He just does.

There’s really nothing else to say, but since this would be a weak review without more exposition, I’ll keep going.

In my mind, there’s no truer paradigm of the mainstream superhero than Johns’. If you want proof, read his entire run of The Flash; or, read his work on JSA; OR, simply read his JSA reboot, Justice Society of America: The Next Age.

The Next Age picks up right where JSA left off. Most of the fan favorites are still around, as well as some inspired choices for new teammates. Furthermore, Johns has found a new mission statement for the Justice Society of America, one that is trying to teach the new generation of heroes how to be just that.

Johns understands the superhero team dynamic. He understands the archetypes necessary for such a team to be charismatic. Johns realizes how to make us care about his characters, how to present edgy–but not gratuitous–stories, and, best of all, Johns comprehends how to manipulate pace, deliver great dialogue, and present captivating foreshadowing.

In The Next Age, the Justice Society of America round up some young heroes who may need some positive role models and training, deal with a mysterious entity killing off the bloodlines of other heroes, and are introduced to an element that forces Wildcat to get out of the ring and into the human race. Since monthly comic books are by nature serialized, it also sets up oodles of possibilities for the months to come.

Consequently, let’s not forget about artist Dale Eaglesham. I love comic books equally not just for their stories, but also for their art. It’s a visual medium, and Eaglesham renders heroic looking, but not hyperbolic, figures. He chooses gripping angles within his panels, and, like Johns, he seems to have an innate sense of what makes a superhero comic both tense and fun. The hardcover edition of The Next Age even offers some breathtaking pencil sketches from Eaglesham during the design process.

We can debate all day as to whether or not Johns is the best writer in the comic book industry, but as far as pure super heroics and team dynamic go, there is no one better, and Justice Society of America: The Next Age is proof positive of that.

CW’s Stargirl – A Few Thoughts

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Do I feel a little weird recommending a CW show featuring a twenty-year old actress playing a fifteen-year-old high school student? You bet. But, I’ve got my reasons …

Stargirl is a beloved character who primarily appeared in DC Comics’ Justice Society Of America. The JSA was DC’s original super team, a precursor to the Justice League of America. In the late 90s and early 2000s, they brought the team back with its original heroes from the 1940s. They were intent upon training new heroes to continue on the JSA’s legacy, and Stargirl was one of those new recruits.

As a devout JSA fan, the CW’s Stargirl is a delight because they are not shying away from the JSA’s stalwarts whatsoever. Starman, Green Lantern, Hourman, Johnny Thunder, Dr. Mid-nite, Wildcat–they are all either seen or referenced. Furthermore, due to circumstances I won’t reveal, Stargirl takes it upon herself to create a new JSA. She starts with a new Wildcat, Dr. Mid-nite, and Hourman. I have to be honest, though Hourman is a ridiculous concept and perhaps even a troubling premise, he’s always been one of my favorite characters and seeing his incredible costume on the screen is fantastic. Additionally, I loved James Robinson’s Starman, and seeing Stargirl use the cosmic rod is deeply satisfying.

For me, however, the real joy of the show is Luke Wilson. Remember him? I’m not sure what happened to Wilson’s movie career, but he is every bit as good as you remember (if not better). Whenever I see him on screen, I think, “Wow. He’s probably a little too good for this.” Another great blast from the past is Amy Smart, whom I haven’t seen in a long time but is still charming and charismatic.

Finally, the show’s villains are a fresh take compared to the other CW DC shows like Legends Of Tomorrow, Arrow, The Flash, and Batwoman. They have real motive, real depth, and are played by actors with real talent. Collectively, they call themselves the Injustice Society, and if you think that’s kind of a dumb name, you can only blame the folks from 1947 who created them. You’ll see classic villains on this team such as Icicle, Solomon Grundy, Sportsmaster, Tigress, and Brainwave. For a DC fan, this is kind of a big deal.

The show isn’t perfect–there’s quite a bit of teen drama. The action tries very hard, but still looks a little too reliant on “good enough” special effects. And, while some of the actors are quite talented, others still have room to grow.

However, I think the costumes are extraordinary from top to bottom, especially since they’ve decided to go with the more classic “tights” approach versus leather and armor.

By the way, if the name S.T.R.I.P.E. means anything to you, you’ll be very pleased with Stargirl. I suspect this is where most of their special effects budget went.

So while it’s a little awkward for this forty-something to recommend Stargirl, I have to admit that it is a real pleasure to see fan-favorite DC characters brought to life both joyfully and authentically.

 

Earth 2: The Dark Age by Tom Taylor and Nicola Scott

If you’re unfamiliar with the DC Universe, Earth 2 is a parallel Earth, one similar to our own in many respects, but different in many others.  DC has employed this parallel universe concept for decades, currently claiming that their are 52 parallel Earths within the DC multiverse.

Once upon a time, Earth 2 existed during WWII and the original incarnations of modern day heroes, such as The Flash and Green Lantern, were still very much active.  From time to time, these heroes would travel to Earth 1, for all intents and purposes, our contemporary Earth.  It proved an opportunity to keep long revered versions of characters around while still focusing on modern incarnations – and it offered some great plot possibilities.  As a kid, I loved it when Earth 2’s Justice Society of America would crossover with Earth 1’s Justice League of America.

A few years ago, DC brought the Earth 2 concept back, but instead of it existing during WWII, it is a world where Darkseid invaded and destroyed much of the planet.  Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman died protecting that world, and now new heroes have emerged, heroes such as Jay Garrick and Alan Scott.  And though these were the original men to bear the mantles of The Flash and Green Lantern in the early 1940s, they have very much been updated and have little in common with their previous versions.  They are young, they are different, and they took some getting used to, but I have grown to appreciate them.

In this forth volume, The Dark Age, new series writer Tom Taylor pushes down on the accelerator and never lets up!  I picked this volume up at the library and meant to read a few pages before bed.  Before I knew it, I’d read the whole book (and stayed up later than intended).  It’s so good, I could not put it down.

For some reason, Superman, previously thought dead, is now in service to Darkseid and destroying anything and anyone getting in his way.  A new Batman has also arisen, more violent than his predecessor, but very much against the evils of Darkseid.  Dr. Fate, the Flash, Hawkgirl, and Sandman are still fighting hard, but now we’re introduced to a new Red Tornado, a queen of Atlantis, Jimmy Olson, and an alien that may turn the tide against the evil Superman.

The beautiful thing about Earth 2 is that it is not trapped in the endless cycle of its characters’ counterparts.  On Earth 2, anything goes, and Tom Taylor has taken full advantage of that fact.  Our heroes are pummeled throughout most of this book with nonstop action, yet Taylor still builds a captivating plot and introduces new mysteries.  Truly, this is one of the most exciting super hero books I’ve read in quite a while.

As always, Nicola Scott’s pencil’s are exquisite.  She uses clean lines, dynamic angles, and fluid pacing.  Furthermore, at one point Barry Kitson helps out with the pencils, and the transition is nearly seamless.  I’ve followed Kitson’s work since the mid-1990s, and he’s never been better!

One thing that drives me away from mainstream super hero comic books, especially those by DC or Marvel, is that no matter how much things change, they will always stay the same.  It’s a necessity to the serialized business.  Parallel universes give publishers and creators the chance to really cut loose and provide unpredictable stories.  Earth 2 is a prime example of how such stories can be successfully executed, and The Dark Age is my favorite installment to date.

 

 

Earth 2: The Tower Of Fate by James Robinson and Nicola Scott – A Book Review

There are two things I love in my graphic novels: world building and a true sense of danger.  Earth 2 has both in droves.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of Earth 2, it is an earth much like our own, but it’s just a little bit different.  In the “silver” age of comic books, Earth 2 remained in a perpetual World War 2 where the original versions of characters like The Flash and Green Lantern were still active.  That Earth 2 eventually merged with our “modern” earth in the mid-eighties and those characters aged appropriately (sort of), and so they were very old, active super heroes who referred to themselves by their original name predating Justice League of America, which was Justice Society of America.

DC Comics (sort of) rebooted their universe a few years ago, now calling itself The New 52.  The idea is that there are 52 worlds in the DC Universe, each with different versions of our well-known heroes. Of course, this provided the perfect opportunity for the Justice Society of America to go back to their original, young ages, but DC took it even a step further.

On this Earth 2, the world is set in modern times.  However, it has been widely defeated by Darkseid and his minions of Apokolips.  Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman kept it from being completely overrun by Darkseid, but they died doing so.  Now new heroes have emerged: Hawkgirl, The Flash, and Green Lantern, but they are not the “golden age” versions of the characters, or really any version of the characters for which you’re familiar.  And while that’s initially jolting, it’s ultimately refreshing.

I say that because this is a dangerous world. Our three supreme heroes have already died.  No one is safe, danger lurks evermore from Apokolips, and because it’s not the “main” version of these characters, anything can happen.

And this is a true world.  James Robinson, the author, takes us to several locales throughout the planet and builds plot points at each.  This is not a Justice Society of America story, for there is no Justice Society of America yet and there may never be in this title. This is an Earth 2 story.

The Tower of Fate is really about introducing Dr. Fate.  The volume gives glimpses into Terry Sloan, Mr. Terrific, Hawkgirl’s origin, Steppenwolf’s recruitment of Fury, but those are just glimpses, morsels to be played out later.  Dr. Fate’s origin is the only plot that really reaches a conclusion within the book.

James Robinson, the author, earned my undying loyalty with his seminal run on Starman.  With that being said, his plots are strong. He’s taking this title in very interesting, unique places. However, that is not to say he is without fault.  At times his dialogue is flat-out corny and obviously serving to progress the story, not the characters.  But, let’s keep in mind this is only the second volume and the story’s groundwork is still being laid.

The art by Nicola Scott is astounding.  It’s beautiful.  It’s pure.  It’s amazing.  If you love this medium, you will love Nicola Scott – there’s no other way to put it.

Furthermore, I don’t know who designed Dr. Fate’s updated look, but it’s the coolest Dr. Fate yet.  He truly looks like an otherworldly figure, but a figure with roots in ancient Egypt nonetheless.  And though we got only but a brief look, I adore Mr. Miracle’s revamped uniform.  Like Dr. Fate, he’s always had a cool costume, but now it’s just a little more modern, a little more dangerous, a little more awesome.

Earth 2 is not perfect, but it’s a really enjoyable read.  It’s a blast to see familiar characters with fresh updates, the artwork is wonderful, and there is always a sense of urgency and peril.  This is a book about an entire world of characters, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.  You should pay Earth 2 a visit.

 

JSA: Ghost Stories – A Graphic Novel Review

What can I say? I love the characters utilized in JSA. Sure, Ghost Stories isn’t as great as some of the other collected editions of this series, but it’s a nice read and it’s fun to have Paul Levitz writing the final arc before Geoff Johns restarts the title as Justice Society of America. Best of all, we get to see the classic artwork of George Perez and Jerry Ordway, as well as fan-favorite Rags Morales.

This edition gives us a bit of an insight in the Gentleman Ghost, and while I’d never really felt the urge to learn more about this villain, I didn’t mind it. There was some confusion as this arc takes place during DC’s One Year Later event, so we don’t know some of what they’re referring to. Such things are being revealed in the 52 storyline taking place even as I type.

Anyway, I read comics for enjoyment and so I’m willing to set little frustrations like that aside and simply take pleasure in Ghost Stories for what it is. It’s always pleasurable to see art by Perez as well as Ordway.

Boys Will Be Boys … But Will They Be Men?

Let me first say this from the outset: I have no problem with little boys.  Believe it or not … I once was a little boy myself.  So this article isn’t going to bash little boys or demean them in any way.

However, it is going to be tough on grown men who still act like they are little boys …

Yesterday, President Trump said, “It’s a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something you may not be guilty of.  This is a very difficult time.”

I can’t know President’s Trump heart and soul, but this quote struck me as misguided.  Taken by itself, the single quote isn’t awful, though I would argue that it would be scary for anyone to be guilty of something they may not be guilty of.  I’m sure many can relate to this fear.

But what President Trump is actually saying is that it’s a scary time for young white men to be accused of something for which they may not be guilty.  Logic dictates that this must have been his true message.  I think we can all agree that young black men have been found guilty for centuries when they were actually innocent.  We could in fact argue that most minority men have endured this hardship as well, no matter what the race, creed, or color.

By that rationale, false accusations is not anything new for any young man who isn’t … well … white.  Therefore, I think I stand on solid ground when I say that President Trump’s subtext was meant to specifically refer to young white men.

As a middle-aged white man, I’m here to offer a bit of news.  Men, if you behave yourselves, if you take others’ feelings into account, if you are polite, if you keep your hands to yourself, and if you act as a general gentleman, you have nothing to fear.

My personal opinion as to what President Trump is insinuating is that it’s a scary time for young men because they no longer get to do what they want, when they want, to whom they want without fear of consequence.

There’s an old saying that I’ve heard time and again: “Boys will be boys.”

I often hear this cliche whenever a little boy is almost being held accountable for bad behavior.  I say almost, because when it’s time to serve an actual consequence, the phrase “boys will be boys” often arrives in its stead.

Broadly speaking, it’s hard to make little boys behave.  I recognize that.  It takes routine, boundaries, and actual consequences.  For many adults, that’s an ongoing fight they just don’t want to have.  As a result, though, little boys are conditioned to believe they can do what they want, anytime they want, without much fear of getting in trouble.  And, as children, that’s fine.

The problem, however, is that these little boys can potentially grow into men who can’t break this bad habit.  I’d like to think that with age comes maturity and responsibility, and for most this is true.  With the #MeToo movement’s revelations, though, it’s clearly not the case for all.  We’ve had too many men using their power — whether it be political power, financial power, or physical power — to commit atrocities against others.

Sadly, it appears that for some, hearing “boys will be boys” throughout their childhood may have led to a lifelong motto.

I wish all little boys grew up to be men — real men.  Responsible men.  Loving men.  Kind men.  Compassionate men.  Disciplined men.  Ethical men.  Inspiring men.

Obviously, I wrote this article not only in response to President Trump’s quote, but also because of the ongoing saga between Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh.  I admit this is a very difficult situation due to the fact that both of them, under oath, swear that they are 100% sure of what they are saying.  They are both credible, intelligent, respected individuals.  Yet both of them also have glaring inconsistencies in their accounts.  Like with President Trump, I can’t look into their minds to know who is telling the absolute truth.  But I do know this — no matter how much time has passed, no matter how many details can’t be remembered, no matter how esteemed the accused, we must insist upon a society that makes men and women feel safe to seek justice.  We cannot shame victims into remaining silent.  We cannot, by default, give sexual abusers all of the power.

Therefore, I must disagree with President Trump.  His idea of a scary place is all wrong.

A nation that refuses to give victims the benefit of the doubt, a society that encourages men to objectify and abuse women, a government whose leadership is primarily comprised of powerful white men willing to turn a blind eye towards sexual misconduct, and a country where men prefer to behave like little boys … that’s a scary place.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)