DC Comics Universe and Justice Society Of America (JSA) Rebirth Spoilers follows.
JSA To All-Star Squadron To Infinity Inc. To Today! Primer For JSA Rebirth Via Retro Column!
(This column was originally published on August 7, 2003.
Images and links have been updated.)
Near Mint Memories: Through The Ages Towards Infinity…
Things don’t fall apart. Things hold. Lines connect in thin ways that last and last and lives become generations made out of pictures and words just kept. – Lucille Clifton
It seems appropriate to take the time now to look back upon the Golden Age and Modern Age influences on today’s JSA – Justice Society of America – series. The title has reached its 50th issue, has spawned two mini-series, JSA: All-Stars and Dr. Fate, and remains a strong seller for DC.
The history of the JSA is one marked by evolution and change, as well as legacy and tradition – themes worthy of exploration.
The Next Generation, Yesterday
Ever since those early-1960’s days when the talk of comics fandom was the revival of the “Golden-Age” Flash and soon after of the Justice Society of America, under the auspices of editor Julius Schwartz and writer Gardner F. Fox, we’ve wondered whether Jay (Flash) Garrick and wife, Joan, had any children of their long-standing union? whether Hawkman and Hawkgirl ever produced any little Hawkbrats (or even omelettes)?
In short: Would there be a second generation of super-heroes to carry on the noble traditions begun in one sense in ACTION COMICS #1 (1938), in another ALL-STAR COMICS #3 (1940), the first JSA.
The answer is yes.
Just as ardently, we wondered whether, as they aged according to something vaguely resembling “real time,” the JSAers would train others ? whether their own children or not ? to one day fill their boots and sandals.
Here, too, the answer is a resounding yes.
At first reading, its easy for one to attribute the above quote to more contemporary origins – possibly from writers James Robinson or David S. Goyer speaking to their revival of the JSA franchise in 1999. One may also think the above sounds vaguely like something current “it” writer Geoff Johnsmay have said or written about his own white-hot “new” JSA run with Goyer.
Well, you’d be wrong on either account.
The above was actually cropped from comic historian and veteran writer Roy Thomas 1983 editorial / letter page from the debut issue ofInfinity Inc. – a title focusing on DC?s “new generation of super-heroes,” at the time.
If the Golden Age era of comics and its champions are recognized as the heart of the current JSA, the spirit that pulls the Ages together and infuses today?s series with its characteristic charm is unmistakably more contemporary, and strongly influenced by the 1980’s – particularly Infinity Inc.
That series addressed many of the questions on fans lips about the Golden Age’s lineage. However, to understand what Infinity Inc., in particular, meant to the (re)interpretation of the Golden Age, and its significance for today?s JSA, one needs to look back to 1940, where “it” all began.
Two and a half years after Superman?s debut in Action Comics #1 – heralding the beginning of comic’s “Golden Age” (approximately 1938 to 1955) and ushering in a new “super-hero” genre – the first super-team ever debuted in the pages of All-Star Comics #3. That team, the “original” JSA, in 1940, brought many of the heroes of that time together – Hawkman (Carter Hall), Green Lantern (Alan Scott), the Spectre (Jim Corrigan), Dr. Fate (Kent Nelson), the Hour Man (Rex Tyler, later known simply as “Hourman”), Sandman (Wesley Dodds), the Atom (Al Pratt), with Johnny Thunder – banded together, initially, not to battle crime, but for camaraderie. These “mystery men” came together to share their (mis)adventures and regale one another with their lessons learned.
Clearly, the JSA began as a super-hero “club”, in the truest sense – a “boys only” club. Times changed for the team when Wonder Woman, who debuted in 1941, joined the JSA in All-Star Comics #11, and doubled as the team’s secretary.
Superman and Batman were mentioned as charter members of the team, but only appeared in the All-Stars series’ initial run in issues 7, 8, and 36 – doing so together.
Early in their All-Stars series, the JSA disbanded and reformed as the Justice Battalion – for the duration of the Second World War chronology – to allow team members to join the army.
For the remainder of the 1940’s the “super-heroes” of the JSA, with the likes of Superman and Batman, dominated the comic-book scene.
However, after more than decade of trailblazing, of righting wrongs, of making the world safer, the adventures of the JSA came to an abrupt end in 1951 with All-Star Comics #57. The times had changed. Tastes were different. Super-heroes had become passé. The Golden Age was tarnished, had become devalued, and… came to an end.
A New Silver Scene
In 1956, a renaissance was upon the industry. After a few year super-hero lull, DC decided to reinterpret its Flash franchise. Within Showcase #4, this new Scarlet Speedster (Barry Allen) was recognizable as “the Flash” in name only. Everything else had been reconstituted.
This Flash had accidentally gained super-speed powers, but willingly chose to adopt a heroic mantle and fight crime – inspired by the (mis)adventures of his favorite comic book character as a child – he chose the nom de guerre of ? the Flash!
So popular was the new Flash, that DC reinterpreted many of its Golden Age heroes into more contemporary adventurers for the time – including a new Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), an “alien” Hawkman (Katar Hol), a new Atom (Ray Palmer), and others.
Even the super-team concept was revived with the debut of the Justice League of America – JLA – in 1960.
The reinvention of the Flash marked the beginning of comics’ “Silver Age” (approximately 1956 to 1969), and relegated the preceding Golden Age to fictitious comic book inspirations for DC?s new heroic pantheon.
That is, until 1961.
What’s Old is New Again
The Silver Age Flash met his Golden Age counterpart in the classic Flash of Two Worlds issue of his self-titled series. In 1961?s Flash #123, Barry Allen accidentally bridged the “vibrational barrier” of his Earth and a similar Earth ? one where the JSA had been justice’s champion twenty years previous ? and came face-to-face with his comic-book-turned-flesh heroic inspiration, Jay Garrick, the Flash of DC?s Golden Age. The world that Barry had thought fictitious, to his surprise, was an actual parallel Earth.
Readers of the Silver Age Flash series were (re)introduced to their Flash’s scarlet predecessor, a hero so few knew or remembered. So enthralling was the “Flash of Two Worlds” tale that DC contrived further team-ups, between the Golden Age Flash of, a newly-named, Earth 2, and Earth 1?s Silver Age Flash, to meet fan demand.
These inter-Earth cross-overs extended past the Flash series. Each “Age’s” respective super-team – Earth 1’s JLA and Earth 2’s JSA – started their own contrived annual meeting tradition that began with 1963’s Crisis on Earth One in Justice League of America #21. From then on, the summer issues of the JLA title would feature a “Crisis” of some kind that would require a JLA / JSA team-up to avert disaster.
These annual team-ups also provided DC an opportunity to evolve the JSA mythology. In one such JLA / JSA issue, 1967’s Justice League of America #55, a now adult Robin (Batman’s protégé), joined the JSA – replacing his mentor, who had gone into semi-retirement from crime-fighting.
The JSA and JLA visited many Earths and met many heroes and villains over their popular twenty year summer cross-over tradition.
In 1976, during the “Bronze Age” of comics (approximately 1970 to 1979), the All-Star Comics series was revived – after an almost twenty-five year hiatus – to chronicle the further (mis)adventures of DC’s Golden Age heroes of Earth 2. It redebuted at issue #58, continuing the previous numbering system.
This All-Stars incarnation contributed to the rich revisionist history of the Golden Age. Second-generation heroines such as the Huntress (Helena Wayne, daughter of the Golden Age Batman and Catwoman), and Power Girl (Kara Zor-L, cousin of the Golden Age Superman) respectively debuted in costume, and the time-displaced Golden Age Star Spangled Kid (Sylvester Pemberton) resurfaced.
In 1977, in the pages of DC Special #29, the Untold Origin of the Justice Society was finally retroactively revealed. The team had initially come together to thwart Adolf Hitler’s plans to invade England. At the end of their successful adventure, the team stayed together for the greater good. Thirty-six years after All-Star Comics #3, readers finally understood how it was that Superman and Batman founded the JSA with the other Golden Age heroes.
The ongoing All-Stars series would finally come to an end in 1978.
Further, in 1979 ‘s Adventure Comics #466, it was also revealed that in 1951 the JSA was essentially forced into retirement during the proceedings of a U.S. Congressional Committee – for presumably engaging an agent from a hostile foreign power. The nature of the “engagement” was actually the foreign agent’s attempt to kill members of the JSA. Instead of unmasking to prove that they were “Good Americans”, Hawkman, speaking for the JSA, refused – and the team, literally, disappeared…
However, in true JSA tradition, the All-Stars pantheon would endure.
A Squadron Supreme
In 1981, at the beginning of the “Modern Age” of comics (approximately 1980 to now), DC retroactively introduced another element to DC?s Golden Age mythology, with the creation of the All Star Squadron.
Essentially, the story retroactively takes place in 1941, a year after the JSA initially formed. The President of the day, Franklin D. Roosevelt, ordered the JSA to “mobilize every one of this nation’s costumed heroes – men and women – into a single, super-powerful unit – a sort of All-Star Squadron” reporting directly to him, in response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. That first arc, although published in the 1980s, was very faithful to the spirit of the Golden Age, and spawned a further Earth 2 title.
Infinite Possibilities I
With the heavy workload of doubling as the core of the All-Star Squadron, and undertaking their own JSA business, the industry’s first super-team remained prolific and iconic – a heroic tradition revered on many an Earth. On their own Earth 2 world, many of the JSAers’ sons, daughters and godchildren, yearned to assume their (god)parents? mantles or fight crime by their sides. The JSA was split on the issue of allowing their loved ones to join them in their dangerous line of work. Hawkman, the JSA’s Chairman of the time, cast the deciding ballot that denied JSA membership to their kin. Like most youth would, they rebelled at this perceived rebuke and founded their own super-team, Infinity Inc.
The Silver Scarab (Hector Hall, the original Hawkman’s son), his future wife Fury (Lyta Trevor, daughter of the Golden Age Wonder Woman), Northwind (Norda Cantrell, the first Hawkman’s half-human / half-bird-man godson), Nuklon (Al Rothstein, godson of the Golden Age Atom), teamed with Jade(Jenny [or Jennie – depending on your source] Lynn Hayden) and >Obsidian (Todd Rice), the original Green Lantern’s children, to form one of the most influential second-generation super-teams in DC history – in 1983.
The team’s initial second-generation nucleus was complimented by “established veterans”, that had left the JSA, such as the Huntress, Power Girl, and the Star Spangled Kid. Keeping with the second-generation theme, the first incarnation of Infinity Inc. also included Golden Age villain progeny in the form of Brainwave Jr. (Henry King Jr., son of the Brain Wave, and later revealed to be the nephew his teammate – the Star Spangled Kid).
In later issues members would leave and others would join. However, a cruel fate met many of the team’s next wave of second-generation heroes. The new Hourman (Rick Tyler, son of the original Hour Man), a female Wildcat (Yolanda Montez, goddaughter of the original Wildcat), and a female Dr. Midnight (Dr. Beth Chapel, protégé of the original Dr. Mid-Nite) all eventually met their demise in the DCU.
Perhaps the team should have been referred to as the Doom Patrol or Suicide Squad as opposed to Infinity Inc. – a team name denoting long life.
In another twist of irony, of the new wave of Infinity Inc. members, the reformed criminal Mr. Bones never met the grim reaper, but most resembles death brought to life.
The future would not be kind to Infinity Inc. – the team would have to endure some significant changes as a result of an upcoming Crisis.
A Crisis like No Other
As we?ve established, for a good portion of its publication history, DC titles took place in a multiverse. The JSA occupied Earth 2, while the JLA resided on Earth 1. The infamous 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths changed all that. The multiple universes were destroyed by the Anti-Monitor leaving one amalgamated universe with one Earth with more super-heroes under one single sun than ever before. Many of the Golden Age adventures of the JSA were now part of this new Earth’s past – its history.
However, it was clear that this new cornucopia of super-heroes on one Earth posed some problems for DC.
While a Golden Age Flash and a Silver Age Flash were two different characters, and posed no significant continuity problems, the Golden Age Batman and Silver Age Batman were essentially the same character – as was the case for two Supermen and two Wonder Women.
So, after the Crisis, the JSA had existed, but had never included a Superman, a Batman, or a Wonder Woman. They were written out of history, only to exist in DC?s “Modern Age” – or so it would seem.
Superman was relaunched and reimagined in 1986 within comics’ great John Byrne’s much-loved and much-maligned Man of Steel mini-series – Superman was now the sole survivor of the doomed Planet Krypton.
Wonder Woman, in turn, was reinvented in a new ongoing series in 1987, launched by comics’ legend George Perez. In addition, a character called Miss America retroactively assumed the role of a now non-existent Golden Age Wonder Woman with the JSA. However, in 1998, “a” Wonder Woman was retroactively reinserted into JSA Golden Age lore in the form of a time-displaced Queen Hippolyta – who assumed her daughter’s Wonder Woman mantle even before her daughter had, in fact, been “born”! This bit of revisionist history occurred during John Byrne’s run on the Wonder Woman title and left many questions lingering about the original Miss America character / continuity “fix”.
Batman did not undergo any substantial retread, outside of having his Golden Age roots upturned – which meant that the Golden Age Robin was erased from JSA continuity as well. The Dark Knight’s two ongoing titles, Batman and Detective Comics respectively continued to chronicle his Gotham City adventures, but now in DC?s brave new “modern” world.
Not so Infinite after all
With the changes post-Crisis, Batman no longer a Golden Age icon, Superman and Wonder Woman reinvented as Modern Age myths, what would happen to the Infinity Inc.?
Huntress had presumably been the daughter of the Golden Age Batman and Catwoman.
Power Girl was supposedly the cousin of a Golden Age Superman that no longer existed.
Fury had been the daughter of the Golden Age Wonder Woman and her military husband General Steve Trevor (retired).
Well, the lives of the three heroines changed dramatically as did the history of Infinity Inc. – to a degree that writer Roy Thomas never anticipated.
Huntress ceased to exist. However, the character was reimagined years later with only the nom de guerre in common with her pre-Crisis counterpart. This new Huntress was never a part of Infinity Inc.
Power Girl became a time-displaced heroine of Antlantean origin, and was revealed to be the granddaughter of the fabled Lord Arion – the Immortal. However, writer Geoff Johns, as part of his current JSA run, has started a chain of events that seems to disprove this theory. Time will tell.
Fury (Lyta Trevor) became the biological daughter of a retroactively contrived Golden Age Fury (Helena Kosmatos), who in turn was a founding member of a “new” Golden Age offshoot of the All-Star Squadron, called the Young All-Stars. In addition, as part of the new continuity, Lyta Trevor would be raised by adoptive parents – an Admiral Derek Trevor, and his wife Joan Dale Trevor, the super-heroine… Miss America.
The path that fate had set Infinity Inc. founders Hector Hall and his lady-love Lyta Trevor upon had many twist and turns – including death by Egyptian curse for Hector, a detour to the Dream Dimension and his stint as “a” Sandman, and a seemingly final separation with Hector embracing death, and Lyta embracing life on Earth – apart.
While not in the same “league” or as popular as DC?s other “next-generation” teams – like the JLA or Teen Titans – many of the core characters that were introduced throughout Infinity Inc.’s 53 issue, 1 Special, and 2 annuals run, endure as some of the most memorable and powerful heroes in the DC Universe today.
A Short Eternity
In 1986’s the Last Days of The Justice Society of America, the presumably final tale of the JSA was chronicled. In it, many of the now elderly JSAers were conscripted to foil an insidious plot by Adolf Hitler – in a timeline that had been rewritten somehow and chronicled the success of Hitler and Earth’s premature destruction. That revisionist history’s wasteland world was tearing reality asunder and threatened to supplant the “new” post-Crisis Earth.
Dr. Fate transported himself and his fellow JSAers from the “modern age” back to 1945 to restore the timeline and ensure Hitler’s defeat. The JSA prevailed, but only by being transplanted to Limbo and engaging the mythological Norse fire-demon Surtur.
The battle to permanently stave off the end of the world would need to be waged for an eternity – thrusting a now virtually immortal JSA into a presumably never-ending battle with the Norse fire-lord.
In typically dramatic All-Stars fashion, the veteran JSAers finally returned from Limbo in 1992’s Armageddon Inferno mini-series. These heroes – a little older, presumably wiser, and clearly fatigued from their long battle – were nonetheless ready to re-enter the world and fight for justice side-by-side with the DCU’s more contemporary heroes.
Questions of Time
The one-Earth one-timeline status quo would be further streamlined almost a decade after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, in 1994?s Zero Hour: Crisis in Time. Many of the newly-returned JSAers met their ultimate end in the series, with few Golden Age veterans enduring unscathed – those who survived were left to deal with their own changes and mourn their fallen comrades.
The introduction of Hypertime by DC during its 1999 The Kingdom event – a follow-up to their immensely popular 1996 Kingdom Come mini-series – complicated matters further by now seemingly allowing for the existence of parallel timelines.
Does this render the events of the Crisis of Infinite Earths and Zero Hour moot? Not necessarily.
Further, the vintage Green Lantern, Golden Age Flash, and original Wildcat all have been de-aged, through various means, and are subequently younger than they naturally should be. However, they are still much older than many of the DCU’s currently active iconic super-heroes – i.e. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the third-generation Flash, and even older curmudgeon Green Arrow.
Infinite Possibilities II
The relaunch of the JSA title in 1999 brought with it a renaissance of that franchise, and also set in motion a methodical reintegration of Infinity Inc. members into the contemporary DCU.
Al Rothstein, the first Atom’s godson, evolved into Atom Smasher and was a founding a member of the new JSA.
Hector Hall, Hawkman’s son, was reinterpreted as the inheritor of the Dr. Fate mantle – the focus of the new JSA’s first adventure – and has undertaken a quest to find his missing wife Lyta.
Todd Rice, the first Green Lantern’s son, turned his shadow powers against the JSA, making Obsidian one of the group’s arch-enemies.
Clearly, the JSA’s contemporary rebirth brought together DC’s first generation, its 1980’s next generation, and today’s current generation into one of the most impressive super-hero assemblages of all time.
However, at the core of the team – its heart – remain the first Green Lantern, the vintage Flash, a somewhat continuity-clean Hawkman, and the original Wildcat.
These Golden Age veterans have teamed with an equally iconic Captain Marvel, and a new crop of recognizable yet different heroes – a reincarnated Hawkgirl, a contemporary Mr. Terrific, a new Dr. Mid-Nite, Stargirl, Jakeem Thunder, and “familiar” heroes brought back from the grave, like the second Hourman and the second Dove, plus others – making the journey ahead all the more interesting.
The future looks bright for those who enjoyed the earlier adventures of Infinity Inc., whether long-standing fans or new converts – those back issue bins can be quite the gold mine.
Norda Cantrell, Hawkman’s godson, is poised to return as Northwind, teamed with fellow Infinity Inc. alumni, Brainwave (sans the “Jr.”), and Atom Smasher – presumably for nefarious reasons as foreshadowed many months ago in JSA #40. This “team”, working with Teth Adam (or Black Adam of Shazam / Captain Marvel infamy), appears to be the main foil of the JSA in that book’s cross-over with the Hawkman title for the upcoming “Black Reign” arc.
I can’t wait.
For those keeping score, Infinity Inc. alumnus, Jade, continues to be a strong presence in DC’s current Green Lantern title, and has also recently joined the Outsiders team. She can be seen most months in one or both of those titles.
In addition, Mr. Bones can be seen popping from book to book in the DCU in his role as the Head of the Department of Extranormal Operations (DEO) – a government-sponsored super-human monitoring agency.
Infinity may really be forever.
The Reading Rack
For the inquisitive among us – many of the Golden Age and Silver Age comic books that I discussed have been remastered and compiled within various DC Archive Editionhardcovers.
The referenced Bronze Age and Modern Age titles may be more accessible in contemporary comic book shoppes within back issue bins or discount areas.
Zero Hour: Crisis in Time, Kingdom Come, The Kingdom, and Man of Steel have all been collected in trade paperback form – a new printing of the Man of Steel trade paperback will be available this October (2003).
DC has also begun to compile the aforementioned JLA / JSA cross-over issues of the first Justice League of America series in trade paperback form – Crisis on Multiple Earths – Volume I is currently available with Volume II to be released this coming October (2003).
The ground-breaking Crisis on Infinite Earths maxi-series has been compiled in both hardcover and trade paperback forms.
If you?d like further information on JSA continuity, I suggest that you look here. For now, my history book is going back on the shelf.
I hope you enjoyed our inaugural journey.
Tags: All Star Squadron, DC Comics, DC Universe, Demythify, Infinity Inc., JSA, Justice Society, Justice Society of America