Monday, July 7, 2014

Society Dame: Justice Society of America #1

The Golden Age heroes known as the Justice Society of America had, for decades, been located on a parallel plane of existence known as Earth-2.  After the continuity-altering events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, however, all these parallel Earths were collapsed into one world with one long history of super-heroism.  Now, the JSA had been active around the time of World War II but faded from glory to allow a new generation of heroes like Superman and the Justice League to step up as modern day champions.

Black Canary--one of them, anyway--was a member of the Justice Society starting in All-Star Comics #38 and continuing on until that book was first cancelled in the early 1950s.  In 1991, DC released an eight-issue miniseries called Justice Society of America that sort-of picked up where the second run of All-Star concluded in the late '70s.

Justice Society of America #1 is written by Len Strazewski with art by Rick Burchett and a cover by Tom Lyle.  The issue is cover dated April 1991 and hit the shelves in February.  In the interest of full disclosure: Black Canary does not appear in the first issue of this miniseries but it's still a lot of fun so join me, will you?

"Vengeance from the Stars Chapter 1: Beware the Savage Skies" begins with the grand opening of the Mt. Pride Observatory in New Mexico.  The year is 1950 and the observatory is surrounded by reporters covering this momentous day for science.  But the press isn't alone; an angry old protestor barks and bellows messages of doom and gloom.  The old picketer warns the press liaison to "beware the savage skies," just like the title of this issue.

The press liaison passes the mic over to the observatory's new director, Ted Knight, better known as the costumed adventurer Starman.  Security moves in to eject the old picketer from the area, but Ted shows patience and compassion on the old man and asks what he's rambling about.  The picketer insists the end of the world is near and hands Ted a rolled-up chart before muscling his way past the cops and reporters.

That night, Ted returns to the observatory with the old man's star charts in hand.

Ted spies an unusual star formation that turns into a constellation of an ancient, beautiful woman.  The constellation then begins to move turns its stellar focus on the observatory.  The star-being smiles at Ted and destroys the lens of the giant telescope, causing damage to the observatory... and to Ted.

One week later, Jay Garrick, the scarlet speedster known as The Flash, runs to Mt. Pride to meet with Ted Knight.  Before Ted even hung up the phone, The Flash had sprinted across the country to the badly damaged observatory.  Ted confides in his friend that he made contact with something in space that he believes has shut down power stations all around the American Southwest.

Ted points Jay in the direction he thinks the star monster went, while revealing something shocking about his current state after the attack on Mt. Pride.

Jay is crushed to see his friend in a wheelchair and promises he'll help by tracking the monster to Boulder Dam.  When the Flash leaves, we discover that Ted Knight is a virtual hostage for a powerful man who lurks in the shadows, someone who has reduced the once great Starman to calling him master.  And the master has another servant, someone large who beats Ted at the master's whim.

The Flash arrives at Boulder Dam where he talks to the plant manager about the attacks on power stations.  Before long, the dam comes under attack from a giant barbarian-looking creature that seems to be composed of and feeding on electricity.

The Flash zips around the giant, dodging his stomping attacks and trying to lead him away.  He anticipates the giant using his club to strike, but not that the club will unleash a barrage of energy that knocks Flash off his feet.

The plant workers bring a truck loaded with cables for the Flash to grab and run around the energy monster.  With the workers holding the cables, Flash wraps them around the monster, trapping him in an isolated part of the plant.  At the workers' suggestion, the Flash tries to ground the monster by slamming him against one of the metal towers, draining his stolen power.

Meanwhile, back at the dark observatory, Ted Knight and his captors watch what looks like a young Walter Cronkite on CBS tell the nation about the crisis at Boulder Dam and the possibility of losing power across the country.  Ted cannot contain his excitement that Flash seems to be beating the energy monster, but his Master isn't concerned.  He dispatches Ted and his other servant to their individual assignments.  And the servant is revealed to be Solomon Grundy.  Left alone, the mysterious master uses Starman's Cosmic Rod to destroy the television set.

Back at Boulder Dam, Flash and the plant workers are rejoicing that the energy monster has almost grounded out and they'll be able to drain him completely any moment.  But then the monster changes shape from a barbarian man to a massive dog.  The dog monster pulls down the cables and frees itself from the trap.

The workers flee the seen in terror as local police arrive, but the monster is too powerful.  Flash runs around trying to save cops and workers as the dog causes more damage to the system.  He comes up with another plan to overload the monster's power, but before he can enact his scheme, the monster hurls part of the tower at some workers.

Jay Garrick is knocked unconscious as the power goes out from Boulder Dam all the way to Gotham City.  The issue ends with To Be Continued! Next: Black Canary.

Most of this story is one extended action sequence with Flash running around a giant energy creature and that could easily get boring and repetitive but it never does and that's because of Rick Burchett's outstanding artwork in this issue.  Without any of the snazzy visual effects that modern Flash artists use, Burchett keeps the pulse-pounding pace and intensity of Flash's battle expertly rendered.

I've talked about my affection for Starman in previous posts, so it's great to see Ted Knight in this story even if he has been laid low and reduced to a slave for the shadowy arch-villain of the story.  As a reader, we have to believe that Ted will either be rescued, or even better, he'll rise up on his own to resist his captors.

My favorite part of this issue, though, is how the civilian plant workers come to help Flash fight the monster.  It would be easy to characterize them as fearful in the face of such power, or just flat out ignore them, but Strazewski shows them as selfless and heroic in their own right.  It creates, by association, a sense of blue-collar-man-of-the-people heroism for Jay Garrick, and harkens back to an older, more communal time period that feels authentic.

This is a fun story and a great opening chapter for a series I'll be reviewing twice a week.  Come back this Thursday for the next chapter of Justice Society of America...

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