Comic Book Review: Justice Society of America #29

Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges take over the reins of Justice Society of America with issue #29. I am curious to see if Willingham and Sturges can successfully follow Johns on this title. Normally, titles suffer once Johns leaves them. Flash took a precipitous drop in quality after Johns left the title. Teen Titans also took a sudden drop in quality after Johns left that title. Booster Gold also took a bit of a dip as well once Johns left that title.

Now, to be sure, Willingham and Sturges are talented writers. However, talent does not mean everything. When it comes to selecting a writer for a specific title it is more important to make sure that the title plays to the specific strengths of a writer. I am unsure that I would have tabbed Willingham and Sturges to pen a classic super hero team like the JSA. Let’s hope for the best and hit this review for Justice Society of America #29.

Creative Team

Writers: Bill Willingham and William Sturges
Artist: Jesus Merino
Colorist: Allen Passalaqua

Story Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10

Synopsis: We begin with the members of the JSA assembled around Jay Garrick. Jay is holding a heavy egg that is pure black. Jay says he found it lying on the floor. Mr. Terrific suggests that they have Obsidian look at it. Alan calls out for his son to examine the egg. There is no response from Obsidian. Mr. Terrific comments that Obsidian inhabits the brownstone down to its basic particles. Wildcat comments that this is a bad sign.

We cut to Mr. America and All-American Kid arriving at the JSA brownstone. We learn that All-American Kid is a legacy hero. The original All-American Kid was Mr. America’s teenage sidekick during World War II. Unfortunately, the original All-American Kid had a short career as he met his untimely death on a mission during World War II. The original All-American Kid was the great uncle of the current All-American Kid.

The Kid says that once he found out that his great uncle was a super hero that he began training relentlessly in order to become the new All-American Kid. The Kid could not resist the challenge of accepting the JSA’s publicized policy of welcoming legacy heroes.

All-American Kid arrives at his room where he learns he will be sharing it with another new recruit: King Chimera. King is a haughty jerk who does not want a roommate.

We cut back to the main meeting room where Alan is using his ring to examine the black egg. Alan says that his scans reveal that the black egg is Obsidian albeit in an extremely degraded state. Unfortunately, the light from Alan’s ring causes Obsidian considerable pain, so Alan has to stop scanning the egg and cannot do anything further to help without hurting his son. Therefore, Alan asks Dr. Mid-Nite and Mr. Terrific to take over trying to figure out what happened to Obsidian.

Suddenly, the emergency alarm goes off in the brownstone.

We cut to King Chimera showing off his powers to Mr. American and All-American Kid. Evidently, King Chimera can manipulate sound and light to create realistic illusions that can talk. Suddenly, they hear the emergency alarm go off.

We cut to all the JSA’ers converging in the monitor room where Magog, Wildcat and Flash are seeing what the emergency is about. We see video footage of some random villain named Tapeworm, one of Robin’s rogues, calling out Wildcat. Tapeworm says he will start killing hostages if Wildcat does not show up immediately. Tapeworm says that Wildcat must show up alone.

Wildcat is stunned and tells the other JSA’ers that he has never seen Tapeworm before. Magog says that the JSA needs to go in full force and crush Tapeworm quickly before any of the hostages can be harmed. Mr. Terrific then tells King Chimera and All-American Kid to stay behind in the brownstone while the rest of the JSA goes with Wildcat. Mr. Terrific says that he will also stay behind and continue examining the black egg.

The JSA’ers rush off to go stop Tapeworm. Mr. Terrific then snaps for the two new recruits to go to their room. Mr. Terrific says he does not have time to baby sit and needs quiet in order to concentrate on figuring out what happened to Obsidian.

We cut to Wildcat arriving on the scene and standing face-to-face with Tapeworm. Tapeworm says that he will start killing hostages if Wildcat does not do exactly what Tapeworm says. Suddenly, all the hostages disappear. Tapeworm is startled and asks where all the hostages went. Wildcat replies that the Flash whisked them to safety.

Wildcat then smiles and says that he did not come alone. That he brought everyone with him. We see the entire JSA roster appear behind Wildcat. Tapeworm smiles and says that he knew Wildcat would bring everyone with him. Therefore, Tapeworm did the same thing. Suddenly, we see a ton of super villains come out of hiding from behind the rubble of the building that Tapeworm had attacked.

And with that we have a huge brawl between the JSA and the super villains. During the fight, none of the villains want to brawl with Stargirl for some odd reason. Flash narrates how looking back on the fight that it was obvious that the villains had planned meticulously for this showdown. That each villain had trained himself to take on specific members of the JSA. Flash says that the JSA is a hellishly powerful team, yet they were losing this fight.

We slide back to the JSA brownstone with All-American Kid and King Chimera hanging out in their bedroom. King asks All-American Kid to leave the room because King prefers to meditate alone. King closes his eyes and begins meditating.

Suddenly, All-American Kid appears to have his mind possessed. Kid stammers “I must…I need to…obey…” Kid then gets up and walks out of the room. Kid then struggles with himself and says that he must resist. Kid stammers that he cannot be controlled. Kid then stands up and says “Obey.”

We cut to Mr. Terrific studying the black egg. Mr. Terrific says that it makes no sense. Suddenly, we see All-American Kid enter the lab. He has a knife hidden in his hand behind his back. Mr. Terrific asks Kid to return to his room. Mr. Terrific promises to give Kid a full orientation once he is done with these tests.

All-American Kid then stabs Mr. Terrific in the back. All-American Kid says “Obey” over and over. We shift back to the JSA brawling with the villains. The villains continue to take down the various JSA members one by one. All the JSA members fall in defeat.

Jay narrates that it no longer became a question of the JSA’s victory in this fight. It became a question of their very survival. Jay says that their survival was very much in doubt.

We cut back to Mr. Terrific lying on the floor of his lab in a pool of blood from his stab wound. Jay narrates “Where we all going to die that night?” End of issue.

Commentary

The Good: Justice Society of America #29 was a solid debut issue for the new creative team of Willingham, Sturges and Merino. Is this going to be just like Johns’ JSA? No. However, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Willingham and Sturges crank out a fun read with this issue and display a good feel for the team dynamic and the different characters.

Justice Society of America #29 was a well paced and plotted issue. The writers move the story along with a clear purpose in mind. There is no wasted dialogue. There are no panels that feel like filler designed to stretch out a thin story. The writers present the reader with a new direction that has plenty of substance to it.

Willingham and Sturges manage to concoct an enjoyable blend of action and drama with this issue. The dramatic dialogue heavy scenes were nicely broken up by the lively brawlfest that takes center stage in this issue. The balanced nature of this story should give it broad appeal.

The action scenes were well done. There is certainly enough brawling in this issue to make your average action fan pleased. I am curious to learn why none of the villains wanted to fight Star Girl considering that she is not the most powerful nor the most dangerous JSA member.

The writers craft some solid character work and quickly display a decent feel for the various members of the JSA. It may take Willingham and Sturges a while to match Johns’ impressive feel for the members of the JSA. But, I have faith based on this debut issue that our new writers will quickly acclimate themselves to the distinct personalities of the JSA members.

The dialogue was nicely done. Each member of the JSA displays their own unique external voice. Willingham and Sturges also pick up on the team chemistry that Johns had taken pains to cultivate on this title.

From a technical standpoint, Justice Society of America #29 was a well-constructed read. This issue had a nice flow to it that made it an enjoyable read. The scene transitions were nice and smooth and contributed to the pleasant flow of the story. Jay’s narration served as a nice spine for this issue.

Willingham and Sturges wasted no time kicking off this new direction for the JSA. We immediately opened the story with a mystery concerning Obsidian, then our heroes were quickly pushed into the main action scene and the issue then ended with a rather dramatic hook ending.

The writers smartly understand that a new creative team must hook readers immediately in order to not hemorrhage readers during a creative team switch. Such a task requires the new creative team to not waste any time showing the reader what they can expect on the title from the new creative team. Willingham and Sturges succeed in that area with this issue.

Willingham and Sturges install several plotlines in short order with this issue. We are presented with the mystery surrounding Obsidian being turned into a black egg. We have the mystery surrounding why the group of villains in this issue have banded together. And, lastly, we have the mystery of who controlled All-American Kid and made him kill Mr. Terrific.

All in all, these are some pretty interesting plotlines that the new creative team have hatched in their first issue. Willingham and Sturges managed to get me interested in all three mysteries.

I like both of the new legacy characters in All-American Kid and King Chimera that Willingham and Sturges unveil in this issue. I loved the origin of the original All-American Kid. Having the original Kid getting killed very early in his career during a mission in World War II was a neat twist. This was actually a realistic take on the non-powered teenage sidekick character that dominates the Golden Age. It has always seemed silly to me that you would ever see unpowered teen-age sidekicks fighting in World War II battles.

Willingham and Sturges play off that common perception and hit the reader with a sucker punch when they have the current Kid point out that quite often it is always 18 year old kids who are sent off to die in wars. That was a well played moment and helped to correlate the non-powered teenage sidekick with the newly drafted eighteen-year old soldier. It certainly made me re-examine the way that I view teenage sidekicks.

King Chimera is an interesting character that has plenty of potential. King Chimera has neat powers that offer some diversity to the power sets already present within the JSA. King’s powers are creative and present Willingham and Sturges with plenty of possibilities in how to utilize them.

I loved King Chimera’s attitude. I am naturally attracted to arrogant characters that agitate their team members. King’s attitude make him a smart addition to the JSA.

The Justice Society of America is such the good ship lollipop with the way all the characters get along with each other. Damage has been the only disruptive element on this team and even he has simmered down compared to what he was like when he first joined the team. A character like King Chimera is vitally necessary to serve as the gadfly to mix things up a bit with the other members.

Willingham and Sturges end Justice Society of America #29 with a great hook ending. Yes, we know that the members of the JSA who have fallen in defeat to the villains are going to somehow mount a miraculous comeback. And, yes, we all know that Mr. Terrific is most assuredly not dead. But, the fact is that the ending was still dramatic and attention grabbing. This ending succeeded in getting me excited to come back for the next issue.

I loved Jesus Merino’s artwork. Merino’s art is nice clean and classic super hero art that makes this a pretty issue to look at. Merino is adept at delivering dialogue heavy scenes that require good emotional expressions by the characters. But, Merino’s artwork truly shines when it comes to the action scenes.

Merino deftly handles the large cast of heroes and villains in this issue without the story ever seeming overcrowded or cramped. Merino also pulls off a wonderful job choreographing the fight scene. Merino’s double page splash shots are simply gorgeous.

The Bad: I have no complaints with this issue.

Overall: Justice Society of America #29 was a fun debut issue for the new creative team. Obviously, Willingham and Sturges are going to bring their own style to this title; but they clearly are still going to respect Johns’ run on this title and try and build off what he has done.

I would certainly recommend giving Justice Society of America #29 a try.  This issue is a great jumping on point for new readers.  Long-time fans of the JSA should not panic over Johns leaving this title.  Willingham and Sturges appear to have plenty of interesting ideas in mind with this title.
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Rokk

2 Comments

  1. Great review Rokk! Willingham and Sturges really had to start of their run on this title with a massive bang, if they were to turn heads and repel the negative reactions to Johns' exit. I believe they succeeded in that endeavor.

    I hope they keep it up, and I really hope that Mr. Terrific is not really dead. That would be two black guys in a week (Superman #690: Steel). Just kidding!

    Lastly, I do not see the reason why you should not give the book a higher story rating if you have no complaints. I would at least give it an 8. Beyond that, what's up with the forums these days man?

    Anyway, keep up the good work!

    Kozmik.

  2. Rokk, great review. I was on the fence on whether to purchase JSA after Johns left, and your review pushed me over. I was certianly not disappointed as Willingham and Sturges have crafted what looks to be an exciting story.

    I noticed an interesting little "easter egg"- pardon the pun in the story. It's at the very first time where Mr. America and All-American Kid meet King Chimera. King Chimera is lying down on his bed reading a few books. If you look very closely, one of those books is the "Fables Reader", which is of course Willingham's main title that he writes for Vertigo. You have got to love that kind of subtle prompt for his other work 🙂

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