Retcon This! – The Splintering of the JSA

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.

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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.

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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.

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Who ARE these people!?

Ben Gilbert is an avid comic and movie fan, father of two amazing kids, and husband to one awesome chick. He resides in the hills of East Tennessee and still doesn't quite know what he wants to be when he grows up.

Comments (3)

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  1. John-Michael (Batman25JM) says:

    Yeah, splitting the team didn’t work out so well. I mean, it was a cool idea, especially since the team had gotten so big. However, after the split neither book really did anything for me. The All-Stars were made up of a bunch of characters that I don’t really care about and one I love (Stargirl) while the main team kept all my favorites (Jay, Alan, and Ted), but the story wasn’t good.

    I dropped JSA All-Stars when you did. After getting the answers to who attacked the JSA before the split and why they did it, I didn’t feel the need to read anymore. I did love the art in the book though.

    As for the main team, that future Nazi story was awful. I purchased the entire arc, but I haven’t read all of it. I don’t know that I will either. I stuck with the book until after the JLA/JSA crossover because though I was hating JLA I couldn’t bring myself to drop it and I needed JSA to complete the arc.

    They should just reintegrate the teams. You’re right that there really isn’t a reason to have them separate anymore.

  2. david page says:

    The funny thing is I like All stars and despise the main book at the moment

    oh and may magog stay dead and rot in limbo for all eternity…

  3. lordd3r3k says:

    You’re right Ben, after they kicked Magog off the All-stars there was really no reason to keep the team divided since he was the one they drove them apart in the first place.

    Though as for his “death”, remember, we’re dealing Max Lord. We can trust what we see when he’s involved.

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