Home > Weekend Asides > Weekend Aside: “JLA / JSA: Virtue and Vice”

Weekend Aside: “JLA / JSA: Virtue and Vice”

January 17, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

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Written by David S. Goyer & Geoff Johns
Art by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino
Buy it on Amazon.com

Important Stuff First – I hopefully don’t have to tell you about the disaster in Hati. Please consider donating what you can to try and alleviate some of the suffering – here’s the link to the American Red Cross’ donation page.

The end of the “golden age” of JLA is often cited as, quirkily enough, the “Golden Perfect” arc, Joe Kelly’s first major storyline as writer. After that, the dilution of the JLA began in earnest, as Kelly added a pair of characters of his own creation to the League while removing J’onn and Kyle from the Morrison-era lineup (Aquaman had been written off towards the end of Waid’s tenure). While I’m a big fan of his last couple of stories (“Trial by Fire” is particularly great), and I liked that he brought the book more in line with the animated series by using John Stewart as resident GL, the series was obviously declining in importance from its prior ‘straw that stirs the drink’ status. Around the same time, the JSA had come far enough along in its revival (with Geoff Johns ably taking over co-writing duties from the departed James Robinson) that the market was there for a return engagement between DC’s two biggest teams, this time on equal terms. Set up by a neat little story in a “Secret Files and Origins” special, this prestige format special was the result.

The story is set amidst the two teams’ annual Thanksgiving dinner (Johns evidently liked the idea so much that he repeated it the next year in JSA #54), and begins with a focus on Superman and Sentinel (Alan Scott, the Golden Age GL), the “big guns” of each team, catching up as the teams gather.

Following an amusing get-together, the teams are called away to deal with a minor threat that’s attempting to attack a UN conference attended by President Lex Luthor (a concept we’ll see explored shortly in Justice League), and upon returning to the JSA Brownstone, things get going properly as members of both teams begin to first act oddly and then precipitate the escalation of the situation into a full-blown conflict.

The teams quickly are taken down from within, understandable as the traitors are a veritable murderer’s row culled from the two teams’ roster: Power Girl, Captain Marvel, Green Lantern, Plastic Man, Doctor Fate and the teams’ respective field commanders, Mr. Terrific and Batman.

Fate promptly banishes most of the remaining heavy hitters to his own towers, and Terrific hijacks the teleporters to send the remnants of the main rosters to an even worse location: Limbo, where the JSA had once been trapped for nearly 50 years. It’s revealed that the Seven Deadly Sins – demonic avatars of humankind’s worst impulses normally held prisoner by Captain Marvel’s patron Shazam – are loose, and have possessed the traitors.

It falls to Dr. Mid-Nite to both treat the casualties (J’onn has been incapacitated by severe burns, while Black Adam has had his powers stolen from him by Captain Marvel) and rally the reserve members into fighting back, even as the madness of the deadly sins begins to spread across the planet and their normal prison, the massive Rock of Eternity, appears above Mount Rushmore.

As things get worse for the main team members in their alternate realities, the renegades stir up even more trouble and then journey to the White House to swear loyalty… to Lex Luthor. This is too much for the reserves, who launch a two-pronged attack on the Rock of Eternity and the Oval Office, only to find longtime JSA foe Johnny Sorrow guarding the rock… and that Luthor is merely a “shell” for the JLA’s oldest adversary (… that isn’t a starfish…), Despero.

Despero explains how he joined up with Sorrow, freed the Sins and infected both the teams as well as Luthor before awesomely putting on the torn-up American flag as a cape and engaging Mid-Nite, Canary and the humorously outraged Green Arrow. However, Despero gloats for too long, as the trapped team members manage to rally and return to Earth.

The League re-unites and manages to free first Batman and then Captain Marvel, whose revival also causes Shazam to be restored from Sorrow’s imprisonment and restore the remainder of the Sins to their prisons, freeing the remaining heroes and allowing, well, the whole point of the book as Despero and Sorrow prepare to take on the combined forces of the JSA, JLA and the reserves:

The various energy-wielders manage to contain Sorrow, and then Sand drops the Rock of Eternity on Despero. Even THAT isn’t enough to finish him off, but Sentinel and Kyle bring the captured Sorrow before the weakened alien despot and tear off Sorrow’s mask, exposing Despero to Sorrow’s deadly gaze. This is finally enough for Despero to be chased out of Luthor’s body, and a grateful Luthor offers to rebuild the JSA’s HQ (a move that was weirdly never followed up on in the regular series – reading the JSA TPBs of that time period, it seems as though they’re just always based out of the old brownstone) as reward.

This special got a ton of praise at the time, and it’s easy to see why. Johns and Goyer handle the large cast well, giving just about every team member a moment in the spotlight while nailing the “voices” of everyone at the same time (being the regular JSA writers made it easy, I suppose), while the art is spectacularly bold and vivid. The creators also managed to work in rewards for anyone who knows the history of the characters involved; Mid-Nite is Black Canary’s ex, who she rather cruelly dumped for former lover Green Arrow, and that tension sparks up once they’re all in the same room. Atom is Hawkman’s best friend, and he’s almost always on Hawkman’s shoulder. The easter eggs even cover things like Renee Montoya making an appearance alongside then-partner Crispus Allen; at the time of the series, the two had just been paired up in Gotham Central.

In fact, the creators even worked in an easter egg to something that didn’t exist: on the wall behind the cops is a promotional poster for “Batman versus Superman”, which was one of Warner’s ideas for rebooting their DC movies at the time. Goyer, of course, would have a major role in the eventual Batman films, co-writing both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (he also directed Blade 3, but you can’t win ’em all).

The final product may “only” be a super hero story, but it’s executed about as well as one can be, and utterly, gleefully unapologetic about the fact that these are superheroes, which is always great (this is not a book for those who complain about capes and tights dominating the comics landscape). And as a capper to the JLA’s golden age, it’s a must-read.

Hmmm… I used the term “Golden Age” quite a bit in this, didn’t I…? That gives me an idea for next weekend….

Next Time: Despero makes his Justice League debut in the GL-focused “Hearts and Minds.”

Categories: Weekend Asides
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