DC Comics History: Justice Society of America (Late Golden Age)
By Deejay Dayton
Sep 7, 2015 - 11:52
The Late Golden Age was a good period for the Justice Society of America. In fact, it just kept getting better and better during this era. Some of the team's best villains were introduced in these years, which also saw major guest stars, Mr. Terrific, Wildcat, Superman and Batman.
All-Star 22 was one of a few Justice Society stories that dealt with issues, as opposed to villains.
A ghostly woman who looks almost exactly like the Blue Fairy from Pinocchio, revealed at the end to be the living incarnation of the Conscience of Man, sends the various Justice Society members through time, to learn about and spread tolerance.
Hawkman teaches cavemen the value of art, Starman heads to ancient Greece to fight against slavery, and Johnny Thunder has a similar task in the Middle Ages, dealing with serfs.
The Atom is sent to the Salem witchcraft trials, Dr. Mid-Nite to the French Revolution to save a noble, and the Spectre to the early days of the Industrial Revolution, to deal with Luddites.
It's a well-meant, if less than exciting story.
All-Star 23 introduces the Psycho-Pirate, and is also the final appearance of the Spectre and Starman with the team.
The identity of the Psycho-Pirate is a mystery for much of the story. He sends a letter to the newspaper, and challenges the various Justice Society members to stop crimes that are based on exploiting people's emotions.
The Atom gets a significant role in this story. Not only does he get shot preventing the "despair" crime, he also overhears a conversation that reveals the identity of the Psycho-Pirate, and exposes Charley Halstead, the paper's linotypist.
Halstead has little problem with having his identity exposed. From the speech he gives, one would think that he would have wanted people to know he was the Psycho-Pirate anyway. Despite not having any powers, he did have a great name, and would return a couple of years down the road.
Starman and the Spectre leave after this issue, but without any big farewell. This was done partly because of the failures of their own series, but also because for the next few issues, the line-up of the Justice Society was restricted to characters who appeared in the All-American line of comics: Flash Comics, Sensation Comics and, of course, All-American Comics.
To some degree, All-American was separate from DC Comics at this period, though the exact relationship between the two was never very clear. But now All-Star Comics would have the All-American symbol on it, instead of the DC one. The one book in which this would have a significant impact was All-Star, and the line-up of the Justice Society.
The Flash and Green Lantern returned to the team, and would stay members for the remainder of the run.
Some of the issues at this point were published far out of the order in which they were written. Two issues went to press with art errors that betray their origins.
Villains from the Void, from All-Star 26, is the first of these. The story deals with alien robots that come to Earth, devouring specific metals, but also gaining their properties.
In one of the pages of the Green Lantern story, he can be seen holding Starman's cosmic rod. At examining his hands in other panels reveals the grip, even though the rod itself has been removed.
All-Star 30 also has some playful choices to cover the art on the Green Lantern chapter. The story features Brainwave, his third and final solo outing against the team.
Disguising himself, he gets the Justice Society to submit to an experiment on dreams.
He uses the dreams to drive the various members insane.
It works on everyone, except for Johnny Thunder, who remains as weird as usual.
Issue 24 contains a story that sees Wildcat and Mr. Terrific guest. This would be the only story from the Golden Age that featured Mr. Terrific with the Justice Society. For many years, I wondered why this tale was never reprinted. Then I read it.
The incarnation of the Conscience of Man is back, to show the Justice Society how truly evil Germans are, and always have been. Had the story confined itself to Nazis, this might have been acceptable, but it reaches into German history to paint them as the most consistently evil people in Europe.
The story centres on a conscientious objector, who must learn the value of fighting against Germans.
Mr. Terrific, in his only Justice Society adventure, spends it in the 1700s, dealing with a German belief that duelling, and getting scars from it, are noble. I really have no idea if this has a historical basis, but it wouldn't really surprise me, as the Prussians were a militaristic people.
Wildcat's chapter is pretty weak, unfortunately. Set during the unification period of German, in 1896, it has a chemist develop invisible ink, which the evil Germans will use for spying, so Wildcat fights to prevent the generals getting the secret.
This story was printed shortly after being written, due to its subject matter. The war in Europe was coming to a close, and they wanted to get it on the stands before that happened. This pushed back some of the already drawn (with Starman) stories.
The extreme anti-German attitude permeates the Formula for a Lasting Peace on the last page.
Another story that went to print quickly was issue 27, "A Place in the World," which used a wounded soldier as the centrepiece for a story about dealing with people with disabilities.
As is often the case, the Hawkman chapter is the one to stand out, with art by Kubert.
Wildcat has his second and last appearance with the Justice Society in this story. His chapter deals with a deaf boy who can lip read, and who helps Wildcat bring down a gang terrorizing the neighbourhood.
Dr. Mid-Nite gets the most appropriate chapter, helping out a blind boy.
A well-meant, but less than exciting story.
Wildcat is treated as though he were a regular member in this story, and likely would have become one, had not the Flash and Green Lantern returned to the team.
All-Star 25 is the first issue to feature the big stars back in the line up.
"The Forgotten Crime" is a really complicated, but extremely entertaining mystery story.
The Justice Society meet an amnesiac with critical information about a twenty year old murder. They split up to search out the information behind the case, which saw Rob Victor kill Tim Kimball.
Aside from the mystery man who started this in motion, there is also a hooded figure with an interest in the case. By the end, the masks are off and so is the murder.
The apparent victim never really died - he's the amnesiac. And the man sent to prison is an innocent victim of the real murderer.
Often these issues contained stories that were so regulated by the format that they played out very slowly. All-Star 28 is one of those, dealing with paintings that come to life.
It's a decent idea for a story, and both the opening and closing chapters are good. But once again the middle is where the story sags. Kubert lifts the Hawkman chapter, but the none of the others stand out.
Considering that the Seven Soldiers of Victory were being more experimental with their team-ups, the seemingly unbreakable format of these Justice Society tales simply shows how well they must have been selling. No reason to fix it if it ain't broke.
Issue 29 features a villain from the far future, Landor, a visitor from the 25th century.
Landor is far less prepared than most time travelling villains, not expecting that he will need money to survive, and he quickly winds up looking like a homeless man. No one believes his story about being from the future, not even Johnny Thunder. But then Landor shows off his advanced scientific knowledge, making an entire building vanish.
Landor does manage to get his hands on Hawkman's belt, and with that potent weapon in his hands, is prepared to kill the entire JSA. The Thunderbolt is the one to alert the team members, and prevent Landor from succeeding. But at least the Thunderbolt has stopped being the solution to every issue.
All-Star 31 sees the Workshop of Willie Wonder get infested with an alien consciousness, and instead of making toys, Willie winds up making alien weapons.
The Justice Society gets contacted by others of his race, the Duna, warning them of the rebel Zor, and his connection to Willie the toymaker.
So the team splits up, fights individually, and comes together to defeat Zor. Same old same old, but this is the last issue before the series begins a climb to its greatest tales.
The Psycho-Pirate makes his return in All-Star 32, once again using emotions as the bases for his crimes.
Unlike the previous story, this one plays on the emotional foibles of the victims, rather than of the JSA members who work to stop the crimes.
The Psycho-Pirate gets sent to prison, and will remain there until the 1960s, where Charlie Halstead passes on his insights to Roger Hayden, who becomes the second Psycho-Pirate.
Issue 33 is the earliest Justice Society story I read, in a reprint in Super-Team Family, as Solomon Grundy single handedly takes on the entire JSA.
This was the first time a villain who had faced a Justice Society member in their own series went up against the team. Grundy breaks free of the energy and heads in search of Green Lantern. The story has an intriguing gap. Green Lantern opens the door to the meeting room, but by the time the other members arrive, he has vanished, and the place is a shambles. What happened, and where did Green Lantern go?
The JSA members listen to a news report about Solomon Grundy. This lists a variety of towns where Grundy has been spotted. The members them split up, each of them heading to one of these towns.
Now, even as a kid I thought this was odd. Why are they going to places that Grundy had already been in? Even more mystifying is the fact that Grundy then shows up in each of the towns again. I thought a lot about this when I was 10 years old, and came up with a solution.
These towns are arranged in a rough circle. The Society members were aware of that, and so they suspected that Grundy might continue to wander in a circle. So why do they split up? Well, because Grundy might cut across the circle at some point, which makes even more sense if the towns are arranged around the borders of Slaughter Swamp.
Even at 10 I was very concerned about logic and continuity.
Anyway, in each town the Justice Society members get involved in some other criminal situation, and succeed in stopping that, although Grundy consistently gets away. The most entertaining chapter has Johnny Thunder try to go out of his way to avoid hitting the town Grundy is in, but getting decoyed by hoods exploiting the situation, and winds up taking down a Grundy impersonator.
Doiby Dickles also appears in this story, as he was the one who came to the JSA headquarters to warn Green Lantern that Grundy was on the loose. Green Lantern went out to hunt for Grundy, leaving the headquarters empty. Grundy showed up and trashed the place before anyone else arrived.
The assembled JSA find Solomon Grundy as he is about to kill Green Lantern, and manage to overpower him. Johnny Thunder makes a casual comment that Green Lantern acts on, sending Grundy to the Moon.
The following issue introduced one of the Justice Society's most frequent foes, the Wizard.
The Wizard does not believe the Justice Society members are really heroes, thinking that they are villains with some really great cover. He offers them a reward of a million dollars for their activities, and when they turn it down, is convinced that they have some really major crimes in the works.
The Wizard challenges them to stop five crimes, showing up at each to try to stop them. He demonstrates some fairly impressive powers of illusion, and the JSA members have a hard time trying to stop him.
It's Dr. Mid-Nite who figures out that, if one cannot see the Wizard's illusions, they have no effect. Good idea to have a blind man on the team.
The JSA turn the tables on the Wizard, who appears to die by jumping into a pit, but the team suspect this is just another illusion. They're right.
All-Star 35 has a really great cover, and introduces a fascinating time travelling villain, Per Degaton.
The Justice Society find an ancient relic, referring to a case that they have no recollection of. Wonder Woman uses the Magic Sphere to reveal the story behind the object, which cover the bulk of this issue.
All manner of modern inventions start disappearing, having been un-invented. Per Degaton is the assistant of Professor Zee, who has developed a time travel machine.
Zee explains to Degaton how altering the past would alter the present, and Degaton comes up with his plan. He shoots Zee, and jumps into the time machine.
Although the team member have individual adventure in this story, they build along the plot line. Finding Degaton's base, protected (somehow) from the tie effects. The Atom learns that Degaton had changed a single battle at some point in history to bring all this about, but not which one.
Zee recovers from his shooting, and figures out that it was Alexander the Great's victory at the Battle of Arbela that was altered.
Before the JSA can stop Degaton, Green Lantern gets sent into the future, where he sees the other members of the Society struggling to survive in Degaton's world.
Finally they go back in time, stop Degaton from changing the outcome of the battle, which undoes all his effects. This means that not only do the Justice Society not recall the adventure, neither do Zee or Degaton, who winds up at the end just a he was at the start, a lowly assistant.
This would be a common thread in Per Degaton stories, returning to the start with no indication that anything had ever happened.
The DC symbol had been back on the cover of All-Star for a while now, and though the regular cast would remain drawn from the All-American heroes, issue 36 would be the one story to feature the two big DC heroes, Superman and Batman.
The story deal with Koehaha, the Stream of Ruthlessness. People who drown in the waters of Koehaha do not die, but come back with all sense of conscience removed.
The main villain in the story lures five former college friends to the stream, ensuring they get immersed in it. His goal is simply to have them ruin their own lives.
The Atom and Johnny Thunder are unable to make it to the meeting, so Superman and Batman take their places. Johnny actually puts an ad in the paper, requesting Superman to fill in for him.
Each of the affected men turn their occupations into their obsessions, taking extreme and criminal actions. Though the heroes defeat them, they know the men are not truly responsible for their behaviour.
When the effects of the waters wear off, the men crave more, and head back to Koehaha. The JSA members follow them, finding the man behind it all. The villain dies in an explosion that seals the stream away, and Dr. Mid-Nite works on a cure for the victim.
Superman and Batman do not return for any other Justice Society stories until the 1960, and the Stream of Ruthlessness is brought back for the big storyline that launches Infinity Inc.
And the hits just kept on coming.
All-Star 37 features the Injustice Society of America. The first time a group of villains, all of whom had already appeared, joined force to battle a team of heroes.
The Wizard puts the group together, with former JSA villains Brainwave and Per Degaton, as well as two Green Lantern enemies, The Gambler and Vandal Savage, and one Flash foe, the Thinker.
The Injustice Society arrange huge jail breaks all across the country, and put together a criminal army. On top of this, they have also replaced a number of officials with straw men, under their control.
While the Thinker does face off against the Flash, neither of Green Lantern's enemies wind up taking him on solo.
Vandal Savage defeats Hawkman, and the Atom faces the Gambler. The Atom does wind up finding the headquarters of the Injustice Society, but get captured while doing so.
Wonder Woman and Johnny Thunder only get passive roles in this story. That's pretty much always the situation for Wonder Woman up to this point, sitting around at headquarters while other heroes go into action. They both get captured by the Wizard's forces.
The Wizard put the Justice Society members on trial, but to his surprise, the Thinker pronounces them innocent. That's because he is being impersonated by Green Lantern. The JSA members take on the Injustice Society en masse, and defeat them.
The Wizard flees, but get taken don by the Junior Justice Society.
An excellent tale overall.
The last story from this era sees some big changes for the Justice Society. Instead of having a different artist on each hero's individual chapters, the story gets divided artistically into thirds.
While the story does contain sequences that see individual heroes in action, this is worked in to the larger plot, rather than being the meat of it.
The story begins as each of the Justice Society members gets killed. Black Canary, who had just taken over the Johnny Thunder strip, sees him killed, and brings his body to the JSA headquarters, where Wonder Woman is sitting around minding the farm.
Together, the two women gather up the rest of the Justice Society corpses and bring them to Paula Von Gunther's lab on Paradise Island, where they use the Purple Healing Ray to bring them back to life.
To draw out the villains, the team members re-enact their death scenes, which bring Nero, Genghis Khan, Captain Kidd, Attila the Hun, Cesare Borgia and Goliath back to their murder scenes. Each of the historical figures turns out to be made of wax, which explodes, taking out the JA member again, although not killing them.
The guard at the a museum turns out to be the one behind this. The wax figures had never actually come to life, he had been using gas to drug the JSA members into believing they had.
Black Canary, disguised as a wax figure of Lucrezia Borgia, rescues the team members, and the guard falls to his death.
The story ends as Black Canary attends a Justice Society meeting. She is only there as a guest, but Wonder Woman suggests that he might become a member.
This also marks Johnny Thunder's last appearance in All-Star. And just as Black Canary took over his spot in Flash Comics, she would do the same thing in the Justice Society.
The Justice Society of America continue in the next period, 1948 - 1951: End of an Era.
Justice Society of America: All-Star Comics 22 - 38 (Fall 44 - Dec/Jan 47/48)
DC Comics History: Justice Society of America (1948 - 1951: End of an Era)
DC Comics History: Justice Society of America (Late Golden Age)
DC Comics History: Justice Society of America
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Preview: Justice Society of America #43