Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Smells Like Team Spirit

[Looks like I published a draft of this accidentally. Enjoy the finished product!]

The Justice Society of America was made up of the highest-profile superheroes under what became the DC umbrella. Later, so was the Justice League of America. The third of DC's three long-lived teams, the Teen Titans, tended to be more of a niche group, being composed largely of junior partners. Other teams have come and gone, and some (like the Doom Patrol and the Outsiders) have had multiple incarnations, but the JLA, JSA, and Titans have permanent spots in DC's lineup. Still, why does DC need them?

In dramatic terms, each was organized as a social club, with only the Justice League being structured enough to have regularly scheduled "monitor duty" and signal devices. As it happens, though, each team corresponds to an heroic generation. Nowadays, from oldest to youngest, we have the Justice Society, Justice League, Outsiders, and Teen Titans. (The generational divides were easier to see when the two youngest teams were the no-modifier Titans and Young Justice.) This reinforces the social-club idea, but by the same token, it's a little unsettling to think that groups of ultra-powerful costumed vigilantes would just "hang out." I'm sure there are psychological and sociological underpinnings, as with Watchmen's Minutemen, but outside of hijinks in Justice League International and the "Teen Titans" cartoon, I can't say DC has really made a point to explore them.

With the Infinite Crisis-related dissolution of the Justice League, the opportunity exists for the Justice Society to get back on top of the superhero world. The JSA could even take in former Leaguers, as it did with Black Canary II. Unfortunately, in the wake of InfC, the Leaguers aren't really in a position to get the band back together. Superman, Batman, and Green Arrow may not be speaking to each other; Wonder Woman, Flash, and Atom may be in limbo; and Aquaman and Green Lantern have enough to handle undersea and in space.

Granted, it would be clever of DC to let the JSA "take over" for the League on what might look like a permanent basis. One could argue that the JSA was the most powerful team fielded during Crisis on Infinite Earths, which was during the "JL Detroit" period. I've said it before, but at no point during COIE was the original Justice League -- the team whose multiple-Earth adventures inspired Crisis, remember -- reunited, even superficially, in the face of almost certain extinction. The opening pages of Crisis drive this point home by showing both the League's evil counterparts (no "Crime Syndicate Detroit?" Now there's a missed opportunity!) and the gutted JLA Satellite.

The "One Year Later" books therefore have the chance to emphasize and clarify the role of the Justice League in the larger scheme of things. The current situation, with a Justice League having to reinvent itself from the ground up, may be unique in that the world already has an established Justice Society. When the League first formed, the JSA had disbanded. The JSA was in Limbo (literally) from 1986-92, and when it returned, the League had long been established. When the JSA was revived in 1998 after disbanding again in 1994, the League was still there. Now, the current JSA is in a position to fill the League-sized void, and DC may well let it for a while.

Not forever, to be sure. I imagine various JSAers and Teen Titans working with Batman, Superman, and other expatriate Leaguers separately, but "matchmaking" with each of them in attempts to get the League back. At the risk of recycling another old thought, it would also be nice if the reorganized JLA had its roots in Mark Waid's new The Brave and the Bold.

It would be a little silly for me to spend a lot of time on a dream-team JLA, not least because we don't know who will be around to join. However, for the bulk of its history, the JLA has been DC's all-star team. '70s Tom might not have been a regular reader of the heroes' solo books, but he always liked seeing everyone in Justice League of America. '80s Tom appreciated the unique post-Crisis membership of the Giffen/DeMatteis League; and early '90s Tom respected Dan Jurgens and Gerard Jones' attempt to fuse together the JLI and classic League. Of course, late '90s Tom was positively giddy over the Morrison League, but I doubt we'll see anything like that again.

In restating the JLA's purpose, DC can also address the need for a Justice Society and Teen Titans. I haven't read JSA or TT in about a year, mostly because I was getting the sense that regardless of their stated purposes, they existed pretty much as legacies. The "reunions of names" took its cue from the Morrison JLA, and for a while both teams got by on the novelty of seeing Jack Knight or Tim Drake carrying on their respective traditions. The Titans also benefited from saying openly that they were a social group set up to handle the angst of being a teenaged superhero.

Still, a world with a Justice League may find it difficult to justify a Justice Society. I'm not saying that the JSA should be subsumed, ABA- or AFL-like, into the JLA; and I don't necessarily want the group disbanded. However, it may be time for the JSA to also embrace its "social" underpinnings. It is arguably just as exclusive a club as the JLA; and perhaps more so, due to the legacy element. James Robinson's Starman, which did a lot to birth the current JSA, really explored these aspects of generational superheroics. To me that is the JSA's strength, even if it doesn't lend itself to a steady diet of combat.

However the JLA is reorganized, DC should make sure its members will be sticking together for the duration. The Giffen/DeMatteis Leagues lasted five years, and the current title has made it through about nine. Unfortunately, the team's history also includes a few short-lived rosters, not all based out of Detroit. The potential for a 21st-century Justice League is limitless, and I'm eager to see what DC does with it.


Anonymous said...

I think one can say that the Morrison league stayed together till Obsidian Age after that the formation seem to have changed quite often (even tough most of the big guns remained), it never felt like it was the same league.

I like your idea of having JSA in the center for while as well as using Brave & the Bold to later lunch a new league, but I'm pretty sure a new league book is being lauched in June or July. It's certainly no acident that the first arcs stabilishing the new status quo on Batman and Superman will be ending in June. Hal is off course available and from what Busiek has said Aquaman isn't. Flash and Wonder Woman will probably be launching new titles around the same time as th League so I guess they're probably out. That doesn't take in account how IC will affect their relationships, but I'm guess by the end of IC Bruce/Clark friendship will be stronger than ever (Also, if I had any hand in the writing, I'd make Dick and Roy team-up and cornering Bruce and Ollie so they stop act like big jerks and went back in-character).

What I really want from a new JLA is a concept that makes it go back to be the flagship DC title. I think Morrison concept could only work with Morrison, Waid gave it a try and dropped after a little over a year and the book was directionless till Johns arc (Busiek's was great fun but it had the feel of a filler). Through most of the current JLA run, I always had the feel it was to isolated, it seems to ignore everything that happens in the solo titles and also have zero impact on them. It works very well while Morrison was using the format to tell his stories, but after that the limitations become pretty obvious (just check the Joe Kelly nightmare, I'd take the Detroit league any day).

Also by the cover of Birds of Prey march issue the team will have 5 members (not counting Barbara), which I guess means it's now officially another team.

Ragnell said...

I think the notable point of the Obsidian Age is that is where they exchanged Kyle Rayner for John Stewart. Now, I like John Stewart, but up until that point Kyle had been the most common viewpoint for the readers, the youngest/most enthusiastic member of the team, and the social glue of the group. He filled that "baby brother role" that brought just a hint of family to JLA. Everyone was protective of him, and everybody (including Batman and the Flash) enjoyed having him around. And he, eager to learn, watched each and every one of them closely, absorbing every bit of good and bad he could. The rest of them, aware of this, were motivated to inspiration. He filled the same role as Courtney, only slightly better because of the shadow of Eemrald Twilight. It added a certain urgency to Kyle's development. Because the last GL had gone bad, and here was the new one, a being of ridiculous power, obviously taking every cue from every hero around him. It was vitally important that he fall in with the right group of people, and get the right instruction.

I like John Stewart, but he doesn't have the personality to fill that role. He's far too mature, and works better as a mentor-character. Wally couldn't take it, despite his similar age, because he is too experienced to need a mentor.

But DC sacrificed that dynamic, hoping to get the JLU dynamic. They didn't realize that it wouldn't mess. The JLU team had a completely different dynamic than the comic book team. Once they took out Kyle, a character who had a key role from the beginning of that relaunch, and who was always present in that role (unlike say, Wonder Woman or Aquaman, who were fine additions to the team but not social necessities like Kyle so they could leave for entire storylines if necessary), they lost the dynamic.

When they lost that dynamic, the book lost steam.

Mark "Puff" Anderson said...

I bet we're about to see a "Big Top" iteration of the League ala the JLU cartoon, which is cool with me as long as they give the focus characters, whoever they will be, enough page time for characterization.