Review by Frank Plowright
Black Reign may be considerably shorter than the preceding Princes of Darkness, but it packs an equal punch.
Since his reintroduction in The Return of Hawkman Black Adam had become the most compelling character in the JSA. Noble, imperious and near-immortal, a thousand years before Christ he’d ruled a nation, and while allying himself with the JSA he’s become increasingly frustrated at 21st century justice. Seeing a villain commit the most heinous crimes, then survive to be jailed, only to escape and commit even greater atrocities doesn’t segue into Black Adam’s way of thinking, and the actions of Kobra in Savage Times cemented his opinions.
Kobra was dealt with during Princes of Darkness, during which Adam gathered other like-minded individuals. In their company he deposits himself in his former kingdom of Kahndaq and rapidly cuts a swathe through the forces of its current despotic ruler to declare himself once again in charge. There are no natural resources rendering Kahndaq desirable, so the world has ignored the atrocities occurring there.
While some within the JSA can see the justification of Adam’s actions, others see nothing other than the substituting of one tyrant with another. Chief among them is Hawkman. The ethical debates rage back and forth throughout the narrative, and as in the real world there are no answers, but compromise is reached. It accounts for Black Reign also being found in the second Geoff Johns Hawkman collection.
A clever piece of plotting recurring throughout much of JSA is the connection between Black Adam, Doctor Fate and Hawkman dating back through the ages to the Egypt of 1600 B.C. It comes into play again in Black Reign, as with the other two at odds Doctor Fate discovers it’s not only Mordu that’s been manipulating him. Another 1940s JSA member is deposited in the 21st century, and a good turn of plot also sees a surprise villain in Kahndaq.
The art is shared between Rags Morales and Don Kramer, with the latter the continuing JSA artist into the following volume, Lost. He restores Hawkman’s 1940s style of mask, delivers several memorable images spotlighting the giant-sized Atom Smasher, and while occasionally crowding his pages a little his storytelling is never compromised.