Monday, November 7, 2016

America vs. the Justice Society

I read the mini-series incarnation of AMERICA VS. THE JUSTICE SOCIETY back when it first out around 1985. Looking back, the fact that I managed to score all 4 issues at the time was a minor miracle since I was only 12 and had no guarantee of visiting the comic book store on a regular basis. So there are a lot of happy memories tied to this book.

That nostalgia, however, doesn't blind me to the fact that this mini-series has some issues. Cosmetically, it's all over the map with different artists, and the lack of continuity in this regard is a bit damaging. It does looks like there was a concerted effort by Howard Bender (penciller of #3 and #4) to emulate the layout style of Mike Bair (penciller of #2), since I cannot recall Bender laying out a page in this manner anywhere else. It's a good, valiant job, but Bender was already the THIRD main penciller on the book - to say nothing of pages by Rich Buckler and Jerry Ordway interspersed within the first issue.

A lesser problem, but one nonetheless, is that there is simultaneously too much and not enough going on in this story. Roy Thomas' goal in putting it together (as far as I remember) was to provided a review of the Justice Society's Golden Age exploits, and, to a lesser extent, their latter-day adventures as well. He does a pretty good job of this, though obviously the post-Golden Age stuff (especially the JLA/JSA team-ups) get less coverage. It's just a lot of ground to cover in only four issues. It gets a bit convoluted at times.

The "not enough going on" aspect is more or less a symptom of the fact that the driving force behind the mini-series is a Congressional hearing that looks and feels a lot like a trial. It's a bit far-fetched, but no more so than superheroes themselves. It's just a rather static set-up, and it's a testament to Roy Thomas as a writer that the book is as interesting and involving as it is. There are even some subplots that unfortunately get short shrift by the last issue. Again, just not enough space for everything.

One of the things that bothered me, then and now, about AMERICA VS. THE JUSTICE SOCIETY, was that it more or less ignores the developments with Bruce Wayne from the latter-half of the JSA's 1970s series and focuses instead on his vendetta against his former teammates. That got explained away, but Thomas either missed this development or chose to acknowledge it. It feels...strange, especially since the earlier comics were not even particularly old at the time.

There's also the little matter of the so-called "Batman Diary" that serves as the MacGuffin of the whole story. You see, Alan Brennert's "The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne" had appeared in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD less than a year earlier, and it was also built around a memoir written by the Earth-Two Wayne prior to his death. Even by comic book standards, it's kind of hard to swallow that Bruce Wayne wrote two such books, but there's no way they can be the same one based on their contents. It seems an extraordinary coincidence that the same plot device would appear in two wildly different versions in two different stories. It's enough to give you pause, though I do believe Roy was working on his story before the Brennert one saw print.

DC collected AMERICA VS. THE JUSTICE SOCIETY in a trade paperback edition not that long ago. I picked this book up since I've been in a bit of a JSA mood of late. Though it suffers in omitting Roy Thomas' dated but still vital annotations, it's a nice book and fairly inexpensive. It even corrects an error on the cover to #2, and while I may be the only person in the world who cares, it's much appreciated.

I had some trepidation in revisiting AMERICA VS. THE JUSTICE SOCIETY, but I liked it just fine. Of course, I'm a big fan of both Roy Thomas and the Justice Society, so that should probably be taken into account. YMMV.

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