JSA #44 Review

Reviewer: Ben Morse

Story Title: “The Tears of Ra”

Quick Rating: Great

Written by: David Goyer & Geoff Johns

Penciled by: Leonard Kirk

Inked by: Keith Champagne

Colored by: John Kalisz

Lettered by: Ken Lopez

Editor: Peter Tomasi

Publisher: DC Comics

For nearly a year, there have been complaints levied in the once critically untouchable JSA. For the most part, criticisms of JSA have centered around the ever-growing cast (which currently sits at around sixteen members) and lack of attention being paid to characters when characterization was the benchmark of the series. Following the slightly disappointing “Stealing Thunder” and a run of hit-or-miss spotlight issues focusing on individual team members, writers David Goyer & Geoff Johns have built back up momentum for the title with an excellent four part story which concluded in last week’s #44, as they gear up for “Princes of Darkness,” the writing team’s final story arc which will wrap in issue #50.

The arc focused on the trio of Mr. Terrific (the JSA’s current chairman), Hawkgirl, and new member Captain Marvel. Paring the characters down to a manageable size was a smart move as Goyer & Johns were able to get back to quality character work without worrying about juggling a dozen faces at once. “Princes of Darkness” is set to feature the entire team for the first time in awhile (with a special focus of Sentinel, Flash, Hawkman, Wildcat & Dr. Fate), but following #50, Johns has stated that the roster will be shuffled, presumably to a smaller size.

Terrific’s inclusion in the storyline is a treat, as he is a great character and one that Goyer & Johns really seem to have a knack for writing. As the arc centered around time-travel, #42 allowed for a fun team-up between Terrific and his predecessor Terry Sloane, which pleased both new and old fans of the Justice Society. I will say that I would have preferred seeing Power Girl, who has been in the book almost a year now and even in her “spotlight” issue didn’t seem like a main character, in the spot of Hawkgirl. Kendra is another great character, but Johns has the opportunity to focus on her each month in Hawkman, not to mention the fact that she was just featured in JLA for several months. Thus far in her JSA tenure, Power Girl has been little more than wallpaper, only getting to have repetitive verbal spars with Wildcat. Hawkgirl has been established not only as integral to the JSA, but as a major player in the DCU, and though she does have a special connection to a certain aspect of the story, I would have been just as interested to see PG react to being thrown back in time, and to see her interactions with Terrific.

The real stars of the latter half of the arc have been Marvel and his nemesis-turned-uneasy ally, Black Adam. While the JSA creative team has certainly succeeded in re-establishing Marvel as a top rate character, Adam is the one who really gets to shine in #44 (and after months of fans complaining that the character is being overlooked).

#44 establishes more of the motives and what drives Black Adam in his extremely proactive and unforgiving approach to “heroics” than we have ever seen. Just when it seemed as if Goyer & Johns were going down the predictable root of having the “reformed” Adam go bad once more and turn against the JSA, with the glimpse into his past, his actions as of late as it relates to his choosing to mentor Atom-Smasher (who himself has become more proactive as of late) and seemingly plotting against the JSA from within, no longer seem as cut and dry. Goyer & Johns certainly have me questioning what exactly Adam is looking to accomplish and have made me care about the character; if he turns bad again now, after we’ve been allowed this glimpse into his heart, I will be more disappointed if he simply goes bad again, in a way that means I care about the character, not in the sense that I think it’s a cop-out.

The interaction between Marvel & Adam in the past contrasted to the animosity that remains between them in the present is heart-wrenching; you can see that the child-like Marvel truly can’t understand why a man who had called him “brother” (from his perspective) only moments earlier now refused to call him even a friend, and it is this way of looking at the world through both naïve and wise eyes at once that makes Marvel such an endearing character.

My only real disappointment with #44 was the villains, not who they were, but how they were used. The Metamorph was visually spectacular, thanks to Leonard Kirk, who has really come into his own on this title, but in the end was nothing more than a henchman. The real let-down is that Vandal Savage turned out to be such a minor threat in his first challenge to the modern JSA. Savage is a classic JSA villain almost on the same level as the Ultra-Humanite, not to mention a major player in the DCU; he is not the type of threat that should be easily brushed aside in the span of two issues. I wish the creative team had held off pulling the trigger on using Savage until they had a truly grand story planned for him, as they have done with Hawkman, Extant, Ultra-Humanite and others.

The final page definitely has me intrigued for “Princes of Darkness.” The Dr. Fate subplot that ran through the past four issues was very interesting, as well as a nice tip of the hat to older DC fans (though not too hard to follow for newer ones). The pieces are in place for one hell of a story kicking off next month and this creative team has shown time and time again that you can never guess where they might be headed next.