Sunday, April 25, 2010

JSA: Unstick in time?

I'm a stickler for context. When dealing with established characters and stories, I'm all about context. It's the context that makes them matter. It's why I don't like it when DC or Marvel touts the latest character revival or ongoing and then pull a bait and switch, either by creating a totally new character making use of the name or powers and treating them as if they are the same or just radically altering the originals past the point of recognizability. It's a big reason why I don't like DC's take on the pulp heroes or the Red Circle heroes after all their talk about bringing them into continuity. So, it may come as a bit of surprise and seem hypocritical that I propose the following: take the JSA out of WWII. Or, rather, take WWII out of the JSA.

This would solve so many problems that are inherent with the JSA and modern continuity. Plus, it's not as hypocritical as it seems. In the 1940s, the owners of National and All-American didn't think the readers wanted to read about the War, so for the most part the stories didn't center or involve the War. Incidentally, this tactic is about the exact opposite taken at every other comic company at the time. What this means is that unlike Captain America and the Shield, the War plays little part in the original history of the JSA. In fact, it doesn't really play a major part in their history until Roy Thomas' excellent All-Star Squadron.

Where the context of the JSA matters is that they are the older heroes compared to the JLA. They don't need WWII for that. If the current heroic age is about ten years long, then the JSA should be permanently be around 15 - 20 years before that, about the same relationship they shared when the JLA and JSA first met. Just as the main DCU is in an eternal now, the JSA's prime should then be in an eternal now minus a decade or two. Since the original JSA stories didn't center around WWII, this means that very little apart from Roy Thomas' All-Star Squadron books need to be thrown out. They still fought their big villains Brainwave, Icicle, Vandal Savage, Per Degaton, Solomon Grundy, Psycho Pirate, etc. It solves a host of other problems.

  • Wildcat's secret identity is that of a celebrity and most of his solo stories center around that but don't address why no one is surprised that he looks half his age. Now, as Ted Grant, he'd be expecting to look middle-aged.
  • Likewise, the JSA's spouses now don't need to look several decades older than their husbands.
  • Infiniti Inc. As the eternal now progresses, the Infinitors stay the relatively same age as the original Teen Titans meaning that the JSA had to have children later and later in life. This allows them to have had their children in their mid- to late-thirties as opposed to well into their senior citizen years.
  • Wonder Woman can be made into a member of the JSA again. She served with them, possibly Steve Trevor died. Regardless, she retires to Paradise Island and raises/trains Donna Troy and Fury. Returns to help the JLA no older than before.
  • A little time manipulation/time travel and we only have to have ONE Black Canary again.
  • Don't need as many "legacy" heroes as the originals are hardly senior citizens. Johnny Thunder, Dr. Mid-nite, Dr. Fate, Sandman, Starman and the Atom can return to active duty without a problem (after un-killing them)
  • Green Arrow & Speedy served with the Seven Soldiers... wait, what does that have to do with the JSA? Well, along with the JSA, I'd unhook the Seven Soldiers of Victory (and almost every character that made up the GA DC) as well. They'd still get thrown through time and rescued by the JLA & JSA. But, by making Green Arrow being only from a few years and not several decades earlier, it doesn't make him quite the man out of time with a complicated back-story while the rescue sets him up as still being the same age as the JLA and leaves the JSA as the team with the most experience.
So, what about WWII? What about heroes that were definitely tied to that era such as the Blackhawks, Steel, Spy Smasher and Minute Man? Remember Earth X and the Freedom Fighters? Originally, it was a place for the Quality heroes but with the added quirk that Hitler more or less won, WWII was never really over until after the help of the JLA and JSA. Instead of another Earth, they become THE heroes of WWII alongside the non-Marvel family Fawcett characters and WWII retcon heroes like Steel and Judomaster. If a story involves traveling to the time period or referencing it, they are the heroes of the time. The idea would also involve for the most part leaving them there. No referencing their final battles, seeing them as 90 year olds in the present or a host of legacy characters. Modern age appearances would be due to the nature of the characters themselves lend them to such for example Uncle Sam.

In the end, I think this one retcon would allow the undoing and uncomplicating a host of other retcons from over the years. It would allow the original JSA be the JSA again as you don't need countless explanations and legacy heroes to make up the team (though it does mean undoing some senseless deaths along the way). And, they'd still serve as the previous generation's team of heroes and inspiration to the modern heroes which is the important context they provide.

Green Hornet Year One #2: This continues the separate paths that opened the eyes of Kato and Britt Reid to the injustices of the world while also depicting the events that lead them to have the persona of Green Hornet be of a rival gangster. There's a lot of wonderful layering of the story as we see the idealism of justice of young Britt being challenged by the face of real violence and brutality just as Kato sees the difference between the honor of the ideals of martial skills and the way of the samurai against the backdrop of the horrors and modern warfare. There's real meat to this story, providing in depth characterization and motivations of all of the characters.

Doc Savage #1: The Doc story wasn't all bad. Most of the bad notes were dictated by the First Wave "bible" ie Renny being the ugly one, the total mix-match of science and technology (Monk is talking about quantum physics, but Doc flies a blimp from Africa?). None of the aides look quite right, Ham looks too vintage in manner of dress as opposed to best dressed, Long Tom has brown hair and looks fairly normal, and the torn shirt seems to be treated as Doc's uniform as he never bothers to change to a fresh shirt. The plot and storytelling seem fairly solid though, a very pulpish threat and beginning and introduces the individual characters quite well. If DC had lead with this instead of a mini-series whose second issue hasn't come out yet. How is a mini-series late by issue 2? Throw out everything dictated by the First Wave bible, and you'd have a solid Doc Savage adventure story that doesn't really contradict much of the Doc canon.

The Avenger was worse than I even thought it would be based on reading prior reviews. Other than the character names, the story and art completely miss the boat on the character. It has less in common with the source material than the FF and X-Men movies did with the comics. Honestly, it takes deliberate work to depart that far from the source material without just creating a whole new character by the same name. It left such a sour taste in my mouth, that when The Spirit relaunch from the First Wave imprint showed up in my bag, I returned it and told the store owner no more First Wave books. Instead of being a built in buyer, they made me decide to actively avoid the whole line.

Leonard McCoy: Frontier Doctor #1: John Byrne's work on the Star Trek and Angel related projects play to his strengths as a storyteller. His best stories tended to be the more science fiction and horror ones, even when doing superheroes such as the Fantastic Four and Alpha Flight. His art has changed, grown far more organic in its depictions. He has a wider range of body types and faces, but his figure work has also become a bit looser and less iconic looking. With his books for Angel, he explores the genre of horror that did so well with the overlooked Blood of the Demon. With the first issue of "Frontier Doctor" we get those exploration sci-fi stories that he did with the FF so well. The first issue is a stand-alone that takes place some time in between the original series and the first motion picture. It's a slightly older McCoy (and Kirk) doing medical work in the vast reaches of space. The story has a feel of one that could easily take place in the original series, provided they had the budget and ability to do the fx. The only discordant note of the whole thing is when the nature of using computer technologies to produce the inks and colors shows its hand ie, you see the computer enhanced backdrops in some scenes that throws you out of the narrative due to their obviousness.

Other natter:
Probably the funniest thing coming out of the new Rawhide Kid mini is that in an interview, Zimmerman references Blaze of Glory and then talks about how the new mini is an homage to The Magnificent Seven indicating he doesn't realize that whole point of Blaze of Glory was to rip off that classic Western. Can count on Zimmerman trying to write Rawhide Kid as being more stereotypical gay than Jack of Will & Grace not being nearly as humorous.


Rip Jagger said...

Your focus on what a good comic book should be is relentless. Thanks for sticking to your guns.

Here's a little something for you.

Rip Off

emb021 said...

First Wave.

Your comments on Doc Savage #1 are short and to the point, but obviously you had the same issues as I did.

Having gotten Spirit #1, I can say you didn't miss anything. As a longtime Spirit fan (since getting the old KSP Spirit mags in the early 80s), I wasn't happy with their changes. Not as radical as they did with The Avenger or Doc, but enought to hurt my enjoyment of it.