If there is one thing writer Bill Willingham can do well, its juggle a large roster of characters. It’s just a shame that, during his run on Justice Society of America, he can’t come up with any fresh, interesting stories for his cast to play around in.
“Merciless” and “The Boxing Match” sees the JSA battling against an old foe. As a matter of fact, in the hands of James Robinson, David S Goyer and Geoff Johns, this guy has been the team’s arch-villain, a big bad that has fought the team during some epic storylines.
In Willingham’s hands, said villain is a bit of a pussycat who engages each of the team members individually before eventually getting taken down with a whimper rather than a roar. On the plus side, Willingham actually does something with Mr. America, the most underutilised superhero in a high-profile DC book EVER (seriously, what does this character bring to the table?), but that’s not enough to stop the story and art (from Travis Moore) from being a ho-hum affair. So far, so predictable.
“Fatherland” is the culmination of Willingham’s earlier story arc, where Kid Karnevil (created by Willingham during his Shadowpact run) infiltrated the JSA. Mr. Terrific was maimed, the brownstone headquarters destroyed, the team divided (into the JSA All-Stars spin-off), and Obsidian was transformed into, er . . . an egg. Then stolen!
As it turns out, the egg is used to fuel a device called the “Darkness Engine,” which is used by Nazis to de-power all the world’s superheroes. Flash forward twenty years, and the American Reich controls the country and has thrown all the de-powered heroes into concentration camps, where they are regularly executed.
The fuhrer in this nightmarish world is, of course, Kid Karnevil (who is suddenly a Nazi?). Why not more deadly un-powered supervillains like Lex Luthor or Dr. Sivana?
Well, it's probably because Willingham didn’t create those dudes!
Of course, the heroes have a plan to set everything right, and Willingham sets up some “Escape from Sobibor”-style action, with Mr. Terrific, Deathstroke, Superman (minus an eye and looking very Nick Fury-ish), and a motley crew of freedom fighters taking the battle to the goosesteppers.
“Fatherland” throws up a few interesting scenarios (like what would happen if the Green Lantern Corp was suddenly stripped of its powers?), but this “Days of Future Past”-style story is hardly innovative. Instead, it's rather stale and unadventurous. Additionally, the JSA has already had a big dystopian future adventure during Geoff John’s “Stolen Thunder” arc.
Not only is “Fatherland” highly predictable, but the climax is also rather abrupt,--with the rematch between the JSA and the superpowered Fourth Reich team (which is amusingly filled with “Captains”) playing out over two pages. By far the best part of the story is the way Mr. Terrific deals with a future Nazi sympathiser. It’s a truly heroic, compassionate moment.
On the plus side, Jesus Merino’s art is great. He’s one of my favourite JSA artists--alongside Dale Eaglesham and Rags Morales. It’s just a shame he doesn’t have a story strong enough to do his illustrations justice.
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