In the ever-evolving landscape of fandom, there are simply some things that should not have happened. In Retcon This!, we examine some of the more questionable aspects of our beloved geek properties.
Ever since the Avengers became bicoastal and the Justice League went global in the mid-eighties, the practice of splitting up superhero teams has become fairly commonplace in modern comics. Most of the major superteams in comics have at least two titles these days, and few readers have problems with them. DC’s decision in 2009 to split up the Justice Society of America, however, has done little more than undermine the great momentum the team had under Geoff Johns during the book’s highly successful 2006 reboot. Writers Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges had an interesting reason for splitting up the team, but it was never fully explored and was executed rather poorly in my opinion. Up until the split, Justice Society of America was one of my favorite comics on the stands, and I was actually quite interested in the events leading up to the split, but now there doesn’t seem to be much reason for the team being split in two, other than to milk an extra three to four bucks from the fans’ pockets.
Willingham and Sturges’ initial arc leading up to the split was compelling and exciting and gave a fairly acceptable reason why the team would choose to split into two distinct factions. During that arc, the team is infiltrated by one of their own members, bombarded by a huge group of villains, and their New York brownstone headquarters is destroyed. Midway through the storyline, new JSA member Magog rips veteran members Jay Garrick, Alan Scott, and Wildcat for their old-fashioned methods of crimefighting and overly trusting “open door policy” with regards to new members. The argument soon devolves into a fistfight between Magog and Wildcat and eventually resulted in each member having to decide which team they felt they best fit in with – the older, reactive team led by Jay, Ted, and Alan or the more aggressive, unilateral-minded team headed by Power Girl and Magog. The latter team was given their own book entitled JSA All Stars, written by Matthew Sturges, while the former team stayed on the main JSA book, penned by Willingham.
I understood the reason for this major shakeup of the JSA at the time. Since Johns revived the book, the team itself had gotten very large. They seemed to gain at least one new member with every major storyline, and dividing the team up gave each character a chance to share the spotlight. Also, the concept of a younger, more proactive JSA team was an interesting one. When JSA All- Stars debuted, however, I found it very disappointing. The first issue mostly dealt with training montages and some early mistakes made by the mostly inexperienced team as Magog tried to mold them into a cohesive unit. There’s nothing particularly wrong with writing the book that way, but I was expecting more of a team of badasses than a bunch of unsure kids getting whipped into shape by an ornery drill sergeant with a ram’s head helmet. In the first six issues, the All Stars find out who was behind the attack that destroyed the brownstone as well as why that particular villain had such an interest in Stargirl. With that particular mystery solved, I found no reason to stick with JSA All Stars and promptly dropped it from my monthly reading list. I kept reading the regular JSA book but soon lost interest during a long and rather pointless arc involving an alternate universe controlled by Nazis and the promise of yet another crossover with Justice League of America, which I also had lost interest in reading due to James Robinson’s lackluster writing on that book.
The most interesting aspect of Magog leading the dissention within the ranks of the JSA was that it led longtime DC fans to believe that this storyline would eventually lead to the chaotic place that the DCU became in the legendary miniseries Kingdom Come. That hope was dashed, however, when Max Lord killed Magog in a recent issue of Justice League: Generation Lost. That’s not to say that Magog won’t one day come back – these are superhero comics we are talking about, after all – but his death did put a damper on any hopes that Kingdom Come may actually be canon after all. Also, both the original JSA and the All-Stars seem somewhat cool with one another, despite the heated disagreement that spurred the scism. The married couple of Hourman and Liberty Belle chose to be on separate teams, and their marriage did not seem to suffer. Perhaps more animosity between the two factions of the JSA would have been a better justification of the split.
The splintering of the Justice Society was an interesting experiment, but it’s done nothing to increase the team’s image in the DCU and wound up turning off a lot of readers to the entire team, myself included. The time has come for DC to put this experiment to an end and reintegrate the team. The loss of Magog would definitely make it easier for the All-Stars to return to the fold, and any of them who still disagree with the team’s m.o. could form their own team that isn’t affiliated with the JSA. That may solve the problem of the team’s size while at the same time giving DC a chance to foist another superhero title on readers who may want to read more about the characters who want to carry on Magog’s ideas. Or, perhaps DC can take my friend and colleague Robert Eddleman’s advice and retire the older members, leaving them as mentors to the next generation. Regardless of how it’s all handled, something needs to be done to restore the JSA’s standing as one of the best superhero teams in comics.