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Graphic Novel Review: Justice Society of America: The Next Age by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, & Dale Eaglesham

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Geoff Johns is one of the hardest-working writers in the DC Comics universe. Especially now that the universe there contains 52 worlds, some of which have yet to be explored. But he’s the guy I’d definitely want taking me on the tour.

Johns has a gift of seeing the iconic heroes, a way of peeling down through decades of stories about them, to strip them to their bare bones. Once he’s hit bedrock, he rebuilds them in exactly the way they were originally created and somehow brings them into our world and our now in ways we haven’t seen before. He can take a hero that’s been around for generations and introduce him or her to today’s readers in a way that makes those readers think the heroes were just created for them now.

I’ve followed his runs on the Flash and Hawkman, and now in the pages of Green Lantern. But the greatest achievement Johns has ever done, in my humble opinion, was bringing the Justice Society of America to pre-eminence to comic book fans everywhere.

I loved his run on the previous volume of the book. I have all the copies in monthly magazine format as well as graphic novels. He’s lately reintroduced the JSA once again in Justice Society of America: The Next Age.

In this latest series, spinning out of the events of the year-long event known as 52, Johns once more brings his considerable talents to the re-envisioning of the JSA. The first graphic novel of the new series contains the first four issues of the new monthly title. We get to see old favorites (the Alan Scott Green Lantern, Jay Garrick Flash, and Wildcat – who has been one of my personal heroes for a long time) as well as get introduced to new heroes/heroines.

Johns revisits the JSA’s history to give us Cyclone, the super-powered granddaughter of Ma Hunkle, the original Red Tornado, a new Wildcat (with surprising twists), and even a new Steel (though we don’t get to see the culmination of that origin story in this graphic novel). All of these heroes fit perfectly with the old favorites Johns has lined up.

I’ve loved the JSA from the first time I saw them crossover from Earth-2 back in the pages of the 1960s Justice League comic book. Not all of those heroes were revamped and reintroduced to the world in what has become known as the Silver Age of comics. Mr. Terrific, Hourman, and Dr. Mid-Nite – as well as others – never found their way to Earth-1 except to visit.

In the early pages of this graphic novel, Batman tells Flash, Green Lantern, and Wildcat that the JLA wants to help the JSA rebuild. As Batman points out, the JLA has always been something of a strike force or weapon, while the JSA has always been about family.

It’s wonderful touches like that simple declaration that keep bringing me back to the JSA and to all of Johns’s work. I’ve never read a comic of his that I didn’t like. Story and character always work well in his scripts, and no one plays more fairly with the history of even the most long-lived heroes.

The plot in this graphic novels focuses on the rebuilding of the JSA with new blood while at the same time learning of the attacks against the families of heroes. The action is fast, violent, and bloody, with a number of deaths within the architecture of the story. Johns doesn’t take any shortcuts, and he makes the violence – so he says – as real as he can because readers want to feel like they’re living in hero worlds.

Johns’s words and Dale Eaglesham’s incredible artwork kept me turning pages, and wanting more when I’d finished. The story switches back and forth among several of the characters, and Johns conveys those different narrators skillfully. But he’s definitely aided and abetted by Eaglesham. The panels are beautiful to look at, and they push the story forward with exquisite pacing. With a book dedicated to introducing new characters to readers, there are a lot of dialogue sequences that could have dragged in the hands of a less skilled artist. Johns trusted Eaglesham enough to make it all work, and he does.

I enjoyed this graphic novel a lot, and I can’t wait for more. I hope that Johns and Eaglesham have a long stay on the title. I can’t wait to see what they do next, because they’ve opened up a ton of possibilities.

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