Review by Frank Plowright
With this volume we finally have an unfettered helping of the core JSA title, this content unimpeded by the need to include every associated Justice Society series, and the result is a massive leap in quality from Book Three.
Johns is still collaborating with David Goyer on the writing, so Goyer may feel justifiably peeved at his diminished credit, and they’ve now hit on the format that will see the series through. While there’s still time for the occasional shorter story, a very effective one here featuring the original Mr. Terrific, it’s the extended epic as exemplified by the five chapters of ‘Stealing Thunder’ that show the way forward.
It’s magnificently conceived from an opening Kirbyesque dream sequence drawn by Keith Giffen to the triumph against impossible odds. Johns and Goyer leap straight in with a world controlled by the Ultra-Humanite, who’s subdued all superheroes apart from the most powerful who’re his personal brainwashed protection unit. Although the Justice Society have a relevance, it’s a ragtag bunch of super powered folk led by Sand as seen on the sample art who take centre stage, attempting to add to their ranks by freeing others from the Ultra-Humanite’s control. What makes the series as a whole so compelling isn’t the action, although generally good, but the character interactions within that, which often surprises. For instance, as long as the Ultra-Humanite is the threat it makes sense for villain the Icicle to ally himself with the heroes, but this isn’t just some bit part surprise role. Goyer and Johns flesh him out fully to the point where his inevitable parting of the ways generates genuine sorrow.
Regular artist until this point Stephen Sadowski only draws one chapter here, with the bulk of the remaining art the work of Leonard Kirk, who’s really impressive, while allowing that he’s not handicapped as Sadowski was with a less than sympathetic inker. From the start Kirk has a magnificent eye for a dynamic viewpoint, and while his faces need a little time to solidify, he’s worked his way through all minor challenges long before this collection ends.
The concept of the JSA as a dynasty is reinforced by emphasising how long some of them have been around when there’s a visit to ancient Egypt, which ties into the ongoing disagreements between Black Adam and Captain Marvel, unable to believe he’s genuinely reformed. Black Adam’s journey over the course of the JSA title is ambitious superhero storytelling, showing a not always agreeable personality doesn’t always equate with ill intent.
First rank foes Vandal Savage, Kobra and Mordru provide the threats over the second half, but don’t quite match the thrill of the first half, although the character moments are equally good. The exception is the flawed comedy of one villain’s obsession with Power Girl, an early art job from Patrick Gleason.
Overall the quality’s good, though, and it improves with Johns finally flying solo in Book Five. If preferable, these stories can be found in slimmer paperbacks Stealing Thunder and Savage Times, or in the hardback JSA Omnibus Volume Two.