Comic Book Review: Justice Society of America #23

We have arrived at Geoff Johns’ final story arc on Justice Society of America. After this three issue Black Adam story arc concludes, Johns will leave the JSA with issue #25. That depresses me since usually when Johns leaves a title it usually suffers a serious drop in quality. At least, that is what happened to The Flash and Teen Titans.

At any rate, I am optimistic that Justice Society of America #23 will be a great read and that Johns will go out on a high note with the Black Adam story arc. After all, it is pretty hard to mess up a story involving one of DC’s coolest characters in Teth-Adam. Let’s go ahead and hit this review for Justice Society of America #23.

Creative Team

Writers: Geoff Johns & Jerry Ordway
Pencils: Jerry Ordway
Inks: Bob Wiacek

Art Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10.
Story Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10.
Overall Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10.

Synopsis: We begin with Jay, Alan, Hawkman, Wildcat, Mr. Terrific, Dr. Mid-Nite and Stargirl meeting together. Hawkman angrily hits the meeting table with his mace and yells that the others cannot kick him out of the JSA. Hawkman rants that he co-founded the JSA and that he has served as the JSA chairperson longer than anyone else.

Alan replies that it is not a permanent leave. That it is just a cooling off period. Alan re-iterates the fact that Hawkman did divide the team during the Gog event. Hawkman growls that the younger JSA recruits are tired of coddling criminals. Hawkman say that Alan can punish criminals with a “time-out” but Hawkman is done with that method of dealing with criminals.

Hawkman storms out of the JSA brownstone yelling that he is done. Jay tells the others to let Hawkman go. That Hawkman always returns. We cut to Faust hiding out from Black Adam. We see that Faust has Isis captive. Black Adam narrates that Faust lied to him about having failed to resurrect Isis. Faust says that it is a pity that he cannot create an enchantment to make Isis love him.

Suddenly, Faust sees one of Isis’ flowers sprouting from the stone floor. Faust realizes that Isis is trying to make a trail to lead Black Adam to Faust’s secret hideout. Suddenly, the wall explodes and Black Adam enters the room. Black Adam grabs Faust by the throat and says “I am not going to make this quick. That, I promise.”

Black Adam orders Faust to return Isis to him. Faust casts a spell that wakes Isis up out of her comatose state. Adam lets go of Faust in order to hold Isis. Faust then scrambles madly in search of the scarab.

Black Adam steps on Faust’s hand and takes the scarab necklace from Faust. Black Adam realizes that Faust used this half of the scarab to control Isis and to also imprison Black Adam in the temple of Abu Simbel.

Faust says that if Black Adam promises not to kill him that Faust will give Black Adam the second half of the scarab necklace and then no one will be able to imprison Black Adam again.

Faust returns Isis’ amulet back to her. Black Adam says that Faust’s head will sit at Adam’s throne. Isis retorts that she does not want Faust’s head. Isis says “I want something else.” Isis grabs something below panel as Faust appears to be in great pain. (What did Isis want? Faust’s junk?) Isis says that she no longer believes in mercy because this world is incapable of offering any.

We cut back to the meeting at the JSA brownstone. Alan, Jay, Mr. Terrific, Dr. Mid-Nite, Wildcat and Star-Girl debate over which of the new members of the JSA should stay with the team. They decide that they want Lightning, Cyclone, Judomaster, Wildcat v2.0 and Damage to stay with the team.

Amazing Man has left to form a team down south. Mr. America is working with the FBI, Citizen Steel is taking a leave of absence to be with his family, Magog is back working on his family farm and Starman has a job and other things to take care of right now.

Mr. Terrific states that all of the new JSA recruits have potential and that he does not think that who stays and who goes should be up to them. Alan disagrees and says that if they fail people like Damage and Magog like they have failed others like his own son Obsidian then the repercussions could be horrendous. Alan says that they do not need another Atom Smasher on their hands.

And right on cue, Atom Smasher enters the meeting room. Atom Smasher states that a couple of hours ago Faust showed up at Dr. Fate’s place a couple of cards short of a full deck. Atom Smasher says that Black Adam is back.

Wildcat quips that the JSA will handle this and that they do not need another temper tantrum like what Atom Smasher threw when he brawled with Damage at Al Pratt’s house. Atom Smasher says that he was just trying to show Damage the importance of Damage’s father’s legacy. That it was Damage who did not care and Damage who blew up Al’s house.

Atom Smasher not only can’t Damage live up to Al’s name, but that Damage won’t. Atom Smasher states that he wants back on the JSA for a chance to finally honor Al Pratt’s memory. Atom Smashers asks for the chance to do something good again.

We slide over to the Rock of Eternity where a very bored Wizard is hanging out. Billy bemoans how boring being the new Wizard is. Suddenly, Isis appears before Billy. Billy is thrilled that Isis is still alive. However, suddenly the roof caves in on Billy as Black Adam enters the scene and starts attacking Billy.

Billy and Black Adam brawl with each other. We learn that Isis told Black Adam to bring her to the Rock of Eternity. Isis begins reading the huge book of the Wizard. Black Adam states that Billy has grown soft as the Wizard. O the other hand, Black Adam is stronger than every since he has been fighting for his survival.

Billy says that Black Adam is always blaming others for Adam’s murderous actions. Black Adam then retorts “I take full responsibility for every life I have taken. And will take.

Black Adam states that if it were up to him that he would leave behind this world forever. Isis states that they will leave after they harness the power of the seven other deadly sins. The manmade sins that led to her own murder and the murder of her brother, Osiris. Isis says for that she needs to power of the Rock of Eternity.

Black Adam hammers away at Billy and pins him to the floor. Isis tells Black Adam to hold Billy down. Billy yells that the Rock of Eternity chose him. That the Rock will not allow Isis to take control of it. That it does not work that way. Isis stands over Billy and yells “Shazam!”

A giant lightning bolt blasts to the ground. When the smoke clears, we see the completed scarab necklace on the floor where Billy was lying. Isis wonders if Billy has been imprisoned in the scarab just like Black Adam was. Black Adam puts the scarab necklace on Isis.

Isis says that they shall consolidate the power of Shazam in the scarab necklace. Then Isis and Black Adam will cleanse the world of pestilence, famine, war and death. Isis tells Black Adam that there is much work to be done.

We cut to Fawcett City and see Billy Batson waking up on the side of a street. Billy stands up and says “Shazam!” and nothing happens. Billy is stunned.

We slide to the home of Nick and Nora Bloomfield, the adoptive parents of Billy Batson. Billy tells his parents about what happened to him. Suddenly, the JSA arrives at the door of the Bloomfield household. Alan, Jay, Wildcat, Atom Smasher, Power Girl and Stargirl enter the home.

Alan states that someone from this location triggered a JSA distress signal from Captain Marvel. Billy says that he sent the distress signal. Jay tells Billy that the JSA was trying to contact Captain Marvel at the same time as they got the distress signal. Wildcat asks Billy if he knows where Captain Marvel is.

Stargirl tells Billy that he does not have to tell them his secret. Billy answers that he should have told the JSA this long ago. Billy then says that he used to be Captain Marvel, the leader of the Marvel Family. The JSA’ers are stunned speechless.

We cut to Black Adam and Isis sitting on their throne in the Rock of Eternity. Black Mary stands before them. (I guess Final Crisis still has not take place yet. Either that or the DC editors have simply stopped caring about trying to make Final Crisis jive with the rest of DC’s monthly titles.) Black Adam asks Black Mary if she will oppose them or if she will join them. Black Mary answers that as long as Billy is involved then she is involved. Black Mary then says “And I promise… I’ll behave. Mostly.” End of issue.

Comments

The Good: Justice Society of America #23 was a better than average read. But it was not as good as what I was expecting. Having said that, any issue that stars Black Adam is going to be enjoyable in my book.

We get Johns’ typical measured pacing in this issue. Johns certainly does not show any interest in cranking up the pacing of this story arc considering the fact that it is only three issues long. Johns spends half of Justice Society of America #23 wrapping up the loose ends from the Gog storyline and then the other half of this issue to lay the foundation for the Black Adam story arc.

Justice Society of America #23 was well plotted. This issue was focused and moved forward with a clear purpose and destination in mind. This issue had an excellent flow and the scene transitions were nice and smooth as the scenes pleasantly rolled into each other.

The reader gets treated to a great bone-jarring brawl between Black Adam and Billy in the second half of this issue that helps to inject some excitement into the issue. This was a smart move by Johns in order to help balance this issue out since the first half was dominated by dialogue heavy dramatic scenes.

Johns produces some solid dialogue. It is not anything incredible and it is not Johns’ best work, but it certainly gets the job done. The best part of the dialogue was the well crafted and lively debate between Hawkman, Alan, Jay and Mr. Terrific concerning the direction of the Justice Society of America.

Even though it made this issue slow, I am glad that Johns spent the time to deal with the fallout from the Gog storyline. There was certainly plenty of dangling plotlines to address considering how fractured the JSA became near the end of the Gog story. Johns did an excellent job dealing with both sides of the argument between Hawkman and Alan Scott.

Hawkman is one of my all-time favorite JSA’ers so I am sad to see him leave the team. Johns always writes a good Hawkman. And Johns certainly makes Hawkman a bad-ass hero with giant balls of steel. It is refreshing to read a character that is so unabashedly hard-core and conservative in a sea of heroes that are more often than not PC characters that are all basically ideologically identical. Diversity is the most valuable aspect of a team title and Hawkman definitely brought some diversity to the JSA.

Johns does a fantastic job creating tension between Hawkman and the other founding JSA members in Alan and Jay. Johns manages to effectively give the reader a fair representation of both sides in this argument. I can understand Hawkman’s anger in this situation just as easily as I can understand Jay and Alan’s belief that the JSA can inspire heroes to possess a strong moral compass.

This clicks well with the message of the Gog story that modern heroes must break this path of becoming darker and more violent. It has gotten to the point where on many comic books the line between hero and villain has been blurred so much that the reader can barely differentiate between the two.

Johns plays the debate between Hawkman and the other JSA’ers nicely into the debate about which new members should stay on the team. I liked Alan’s point that the older members of the JSA do share a great responsibility in not failing the younger members like they did with Alan’s own son Obsidian.

Johns continues to echo the main theme from Kingdom Come that ran through the Gog story arc that if the younger heroes go down a path of violence and darkness that it will have been so because the older heroes shirked their responsibility of properly training the younger heroes. And the best way to lead is not by words but by actions. And Alan and Jay clearly have the proper moral fiber to lead by action.

Johns continues to play this theme out as with the scene with Atom Smasher. Alan properly points out how the JSA cannot afford to have another Atom Smasher on their hands. The ensuing debate between Atom Smasher and Alan was perfect.

I have always liked Al ever since he first appeared as Nuklon back in the pages of All Star Squadron #25. Johns demonstrates that part of properly training the younger heroes is to allow for redemption once a young hero admits their mistake and genuinely wants to prove their worth as a member of the Justice Society of America.

It is quite an interesting dynamic that we have between Damage and Atom Smasher. These “brothers” are forever linked to each other by the original Atom, Al Pratt. Al is Pratt’s godson and Grant is Al’s actual son. And both Al and Grant have been problem teammates.

However, Johns is beginning to show us a divergence in these two characters as Atom Smasher now desperately wishes to honor Al Pratt’s memory. On the other hand, it is clear that Damage not only will not honor Pratt’s memory, but that he actively refuses to honor Pratt’s memory. Placing these two “brothers” on the roster together should lead to some rather dramatic and explosive moments.

And speaking of Grant, Damage is a cool character and I hope he stays on the roster. With Hawkman gone it is going to be vital that there remains a person on the roster that will stir the pot a bit and get tensions rising. And Damage seems to be just the character to fill that role as team agitator.

I am glad that Isis is back and better than ever. I liked her in 52 and have been eagerly awaiting her return ever since her “death.” The best part of Isis’ return is that she is not longer all about peace, love and happiness. Isis will certainly no longer be a mollifying force on Black Adam. Instead, Isis appears to be the catalyst that is driving Black Adam’s current campaign for power.

And speaking of Black Adam, it just does not get much better than the pointy eared man in black. I can never get too much of Black Adam. And Johns always delivers a fine version of Teth-Adam. We certainly get an appropriately violent, smug, arrogant and imperial Black Adam in this issue. It is nice to have Black Adam back to his normal self and causing headaches for our super heroes in the DCU. I have to admit that when Black Adam goes up against any of the DCU heroes that I find myself rooting for Black Adam to win.

Johns ends Justice Society of America #23 with a great hook ending. The reader learns that Black Adam and Isis are making a serious power play with the move to consolidate the power of Shazam within the scarab necklace. With the power of Shazam all to themselves they would then be able to rule the Earth.

Throw on top of Black Adam’s audacious grab for power the fact that Billy has now lost his powers and you definitely have the recipe for an exciting story. It appears that Johns might be positioning the Marvel Family characters in order to perform a little clean-up work stemming from Winick’s terribly botched re-imagining of the Marvel Family. And the Marvel Family definitely needs some cleaning up. Hopefully, by the end of this story arc Johns will get the Marvel Family on the road to recovery.

Jerry Ordway and Bob Wiacek provide for some solid artwork. To be sure, Ordway’s style of art is decidedly old school. It is clean and very easy to follow. However, this style of art may not appeal to many younger modern comic book readers.

The Bad: Justice Society of America #23 was slow and parts of this issue became just a bit too talky. I don’t mind dialogue heavy scenes, but at times it seemed that the reader got dialogue for the sake of dialogue in order to burn panel time. All in all, Justice Society of America #23 was simply not as exciting as I was expecting. This issue felt like it was missing that something special that makes an issue a fun and stirring read.

I am not crazy about the potential roster for the JSA once Willingham and Sturges take over this title. I hope that there are several last minute changes to the line-up. I would have liked to have seen Amazing Man, Citizen Steel and Magog stay with the team. And, personally, I would have junked Cyclone and Lightning.

What really completely ruined Justice Society of America #23 for me was the inclusion of Black Mary in the final page. I hate Black Mary. Her character was practically unreadable over in Countdown. And I could only tolerate Black Mary in Final Crisis because Morrison wrote her as Desaad and not Mary.

There is nothing about Black Mary that even remotely interests me. She was a bad idea from the start and having to get another heaping helping of her character does not interest me in the least bit. Black Mary was not a compelling character in Countdown. Nor was she in Final Crisis. And I do not expect her to be so now in John’s current story arc.

I was thrilled when Morrison turned Mary back to normal over in Final Crisis #6. I was hoping that this meant I would never have to read Black Mary’s character in another comic book. Unfortunately, that is not the case. And this is due to more stellar, poor work by DC’s editors. Even though Final Crisis has concluded, we are still getting stories on other DC titles that evidently take place prior to Final Crisis.

Judging by Mary’s costume this story looks to be taking place during Countdown. And that title ended almost a year ago. This simply emphasizes to the reader that Final Crisis truly have no impact on anything in the DCU at large. And even worse, that the DC editors had no intention of ever trying to give the illusion that Final Crisis affected other monthly titles in DC’s stable.

I am also worried that Johns is going to mess with Morrison’s brilliant and logical excuse for Mary’s sudden and poorly executed heel turn. By having Desaad possess Mary, Morrison largely absolved Mary of much of the stain of Black Mary’s actions. However, I am afraid that Johns is going to write Black Mary as acting of her own free will rather than being possessed by Desaad.

Overall: Justice Society of America #23 was a solid set-up issue for the Black Adam story arc. However, this issue was not quite as exciting as I was expecting and the inclusion of Black Mary into the story killed much of my interest in this story. Having said that, JSA fans should enjoy this issue and I still have faith that Johns will exit this title on a high note.

6 Comments

  1. A pre-Countdown pre-Final story? Oh I hope not. But it would explain why Hawkman is around when his status would be in doubt after FC7.

  2. Yes, she is going for Faust’s junk. In the page you have earlier in your review, he is sitting beside Isis, putting on his clothes as thinks about not being able to make her love him, and her unmoving body is shown to be crying. The very unpleasant implication is that he could get everything else he wanted from her.

    And I believe this is supposed to be post-Countdown and pre-Final Crisis.

  3. Definitely pre-FC. I think we’ve been told that most books are pre-Final Crisis until March and possibly later.

  4. I read Hawkman’s “time out” bit as referring to the newbies (such as Magog), and not an OG like he is.

    I completely agree about Black Mary…that was a horrible idea from the get-go and the only thing I really like about FC was the retcon involving Desaad.

    The Marvel Family works because HEROES don’t have to have feet of clay. As brilliant as The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen are, they don’t work without “innocent” stories such as the Marvels to contrast with. I don’t ever want to read The Big Red Cheese Returns, unless it’s literal (Billy back as Cap).

    The one thing that I think should be kept is Freddy saying “Shazam.”

    I’m ranting a lot lately…. ^_^;

  5. “That table is handmade.”

    “I Know! I made it!!”

    Did like that bit. Johns does write a good Hawkman.

  6. The original avengers didn’t become popular until they recast it with B-Listers.

    This book was wonderful a little corner of sanity in a messed up Marvel Universe.

    I too hope Quicksilver sticks around

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