Wednesday, February 11, 2009

JSA: Ghost Stories

For some reason, my local library seems to stock quite a lot of Justice Society of America (JSA) trade paperbacks, more so than any other superpowered team. Not that I mind. I quite like the JSA and the fact that I can read their adventures for free (albeit completely out of order because it depends what my library has available at the time) is a huge bonus.

In the past, the JSA has generally played second fiddle to the Justice League of America (JLA). And it’s obvious why. The JLA has the big three - DC’s Trinity - of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, three of the best-known superheroes out there. Even the JLA’s other heroes, like Flash and Green Lantern, are reasonably well known. True, the JSA have the original heroes that bear those names, but the JLA versions tend to be considered the "real" and "official" deals.

Yet, recently, the writing on JSA has been so much better than that on JLA. Geoff Johns (together with Dave Goyer and James Robinson) has been the one that brought the JSA back to greatness with his brilliant grasp of heroic characters. Sure, he is somewhat bloodthirsty - he seems to like to add decapitations and limb-removals wherever he can - but otherwise he’s a wonderful writer.

Still, enough about JSA in general. What about this trade paperback collection of issues 82 to 87 of the continuing series?

Well, at first I was worried because this collection is not by Geoff Johns but Paul Levitz. Levitz is now DC’s president and publisher but many years ago he was the old school writer of the Justice Society in All-Star Comics and Legion of Superheroes. So I shouldn’t have been too concerned because, although not as good as Johns, Levitz still provides an interesting story that whips along. And, although the art is not consistent, the three artists in this collection are good. Jerry Ordway is a fine artist, Rags Morales is the JSA mainstay and provides lovely looking rounded figures and what can I say about George Perez? He’s one of my all-time favourite artists who conjures up absolutely beautiful artwork.

Perez opens this collection with a sort of lost story concerning the Earth 2 JSA that also links in with Infinite Crisis and 52. The flashbacks are drawn in an old style and look marvellously retro. This sets up the idea that the Gentleman Ghost (GG), one of Hawkman’s - and the JSA’s - old foes, had stolen information about the JSA years ago.

Admittedly, this little fact isn’t really picked up in later chapters, most of which are drawn by Morales. I suppose it’s to explain how ghosts from the JSA’s past are resurrected by GG. These ghosts go on to haunt the various members of the JSA of the present and, although the focus is on stalwarts like Jay Garrick (Flash) and Alan Scott (Green Lantern), all the characters are given a moment or two to shine.

Creepy ghosts appear aplenty to plague the heroes and at the end of this collection, the army of spooks even go as far as somehow destroying the JSA headquarters. GG's past, before he became a ghost, is explored and eventually the JSA confront the ghost at the Tower of London and then Windsor Castle.

Although a lively, engaging story there are a few faults. GG's olde English accent is way off - he sounds more stereotypical Irish than English. The ending is both rushed and seems a little cobbled together. Wildcat is able to hit and hurt GG because he's descended from English nobility? Wildcat?!? He was one of the few characters that didn't appear much in this story until right at the end. Relocating the action to England also didn't help, especially when Stargirl has to go off to get Green Lantern. And if GG is from England, why does he haunt the Justice Society of America?

So, it's not the best superhero story ever or even the best JSA story of recent years. But, as a self-contained story, it's still pretty entertaining. And, although it would've been nice if the art were consistent (and even better if it was all done by Perez), the artists on this book are all good. The quality of the book is okay, with lovely glossy pages, although the only extras you get are the original covers. So, overall, a Fine grade.

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