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World War II Comics: Done WrongNov. 14 2014
Adam Graham, Superhero and Detective Fiction Author
- Published on Amazon.com
This book collects Issues 11-14 of All Star Comics containing the Adventures of the Justice Society of America. The book begins (as all great Golden Age archive books do) with an introduction by Roy Thomas who sets the tone for the time. The four bi-monthly adventures were the first to be written following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the books reflect that as the Justice Society joins the war effort though in a different way from other heroes.
Beyond the general World War II storyline, another big item here is the introduction of Wonder Woman to the Justice Society. This happens in Issue 11 when all of the JSAers go to war. The Spectre (who is a ghost) decides to stay at home and Wonder Woman makes a guest appearance. She's appointed Secretary in the next issue (Issue 12) and actually takes part in the action in Issue 13.
Making Wonder Woman the JSA Secretary is seen as pure sexism. Reading it in context, it actually was a way to work the character into the book. There were eight members of the JSA and each had a six page adventure on their own set apart from the Justice Society meeting. To add another member to the JSA would mess with the format, so Wonder Woman couldn't be added to the regular roster without getting rid of someone else and the stories she does participate in have other JSAers absent. While I could think of some characters I'd be happy with swapping for Wonder Woman (Johnny Thunder and the Atom come to mind), apparently the writers weren't ready. Also, under the odd rules of the JSA once a character had their own comic, they were relegated to honorary member status which would have happened to Wonder Woman after Issue 13, but she stayed around with the Secretary gig. The introduction by Thomas indicates they were concerned how kids would feel about her being on the team and in a house ad they hinted at this somewhat awkwardly by suggesting that members of the Justice Society weren't too sure about letting Wonder Woman in and solicited feedback from readers. Overall though, I don't think it's quite the travesty that's been suggested.
As to the stories themselves, in issue 11, the Justice Society all enlist (save for the Spectre) and go overseas and win a ton of battles. In issue 12, the JSA now operating as the Justice Battalion (since they were too good of soldiers to serve in the regular military), they went on a series of missions against the Black Dragon Society. In Issue 14, Hitler has a mad scientist blast the JSA on rockets into space after draining all the oxygen from the room where the JSA are meeting in until they pass out. And the reason they didn't just wait until they died was...it was (something). Anyway, each planet in the JSA universe has intelligent life and each JSAer has a mission there and returns with a technology to help the war. In Issue 14, Hawkman develops food pellets to help the starving patriots in suffering European countries, as they bring food pellets that turn into turkey dinners.
The stories are well-intentioned and patriotic and there are some fun moments, but overall these stories feel a lot less connected than previous tales in the prior two Archive volumes. More importantly, I found the approach of some of these books to uncomfortable. While Timely (Golden Age Marvel) characters fought the war, they did so a single battle at a time-in a way that was relatively realistic but not something that would bring automatic victory to the allies, Superman protected the homefront and had a few forays into some moments but stayed at home and deferred to and honored the troops who actually went.
The Justice Society on the other hand tells Fantasy stories which are really hard to consider in the way history actually went, as Thomas pointed out in the intro. The message of All Star Comics #11 suggested the JSA was more awesome than the real soldiers who suffered defeats after defeat through most of early 1942. Issue 13 had the JSA bringing equipment from space that would have won the war in an instant. Issue 14 had the JSA bringing food overseas when the in reality, the patriots so often starved, and worst. This led to a feel that almost mocked the reality of what was really going on. It was doing the same thing as before the war but with a real enemy, it just doesn't quite feel right.
The book also includes some Hop Harrigan text stories, one of which is written from the perspective of a capture Japanese soldier and is therefore told in pigeon English leading to a tale in which Hop mentally tortures a suicidal captured Japanese prisoner. *sigh*
Overall, this is still the JSA, but I hope future volumes improve as this is a cut below the best comics of the era.