JSA Classified # 5

Reviewer: Kevin S. Mahoney
Story Title: Honor Among Thieves Part I

Written by: Jen Van Meter
Penciled by: Patrick Olliffe
Inked by: Ruy Jose
Colored by: Nathan Eyring
Lettered by: Nick J. Napolitano
Editor: Stephen Wacker
Publisher: DC Comics

The villain-centered story is enjoying something of a renaissance. Two of the Infinite Crisis prequel mini-series were mostly about a villain (OMAC Project) or teams of evildoers (Villains United). Even the Marvel-ous competition has gotten into the act. Their team of ne’er-do-wells trying to go straight has returned for a second run (New Thunderbolts) and their latest event had a hero and an insane heroine remake the universe (House of M), just like a certain formerly insane but recently reformed emerald oddity (Hal Jordan). It seems the drive towards better-written characterization has swung around from simply redefining and restoring neglected heroes to include their opposition as well.

The latest arc of the new JSA title almost completely neglects the team in favor of its foes. It seems the Wizard is under attack. An anonymous villain is continually assaulting his psychic self from the astral plane. Villain X’s purpose? He wants his freedom from the astral plane and he’ll manipulate the Wizard every which way to get it. Hey, maybe it’s Starscream? Wouldn’t that be an insanely wacky twist? The beleaguered Wizard has gone to ground after spending a few sleepless days and nights defending his imperiled self. The Wizard ends up at the doorstep of one of the few psychos who might help him through this, former teammate Cameron Mahkent, the Icicle. Together, he and Cam put together a team that can infiltrate the JSA brownstone, which theoretically holds the (ugh) Key to freeing their old comrade in arms from his unwelcome mental intruder.

The construction of the team (combined with a few JSA/Cosmic Key related interludes) is the entire plot proffered this issue. Even given the size of the team and their colorful trappings (seven members, three of them dead) that’s not much forward motion for a premiere installment. What keeps the book interesting is the riffs readers receive on each villain as he or she is recruited. Everything from Icicle’s mock legitimacy as a bad ass to Tigress’ businesslike approach to Grundy’s recalcitrance gets a shining moment. The impressions readers receive of this loose knit group of thugs are both entertaining and informative. A new reader would get up to speed on the demons that drive these psychotics quickly, and longtime fans of the characters would appreciate the care shown in their handling here. The rescue of a villain by other villains is a tough sell for a main plot, but there’s enough interesting interplay among the cast to distract readers from that point, at least in this month’s opening salvo.

The art in this issue succeeds in many ways. The settings in which readers find each recruit are all very different, specific, and well rendered. The battle choreography for the Tigress is especially evocative and well presented. The depiction of each character is consistent with some past appearance and there is an equal level of detail shown in each character; that sort of painstaking attention is certainly noteworthy. The only real flaws in the art involve legitimate artistic choices (which outfit to use for a villain, what layout to use for a scene) and those sorts of preferences vary from person to person. As a huge fan of the Starman series, I was disappointed to see the Raggedy Andy rendition of the Ragdoll instead of the sewn-together psycho portrayed on the issue’s cover. Also, the destruction of a certain inhabited building ought not to be relegated to the corner of one page, especially since the incendiary act is suppose to prove a point to the reader concerning the team’s newest recruit. But other readers might like one outfit better than the one I prefer, or even enjoy the deliberate understatement perpetrated by the penciller. Certainly the craftsmanship shown in this issue belies the title’s status as a spin-off series. There is a lot of hard work and talent on display here.