Gardner F. Fox, the man most responsible for the adventures of the Justice Society of America, was a prominent science fiction writer as well as a comics scribe. In fact, if pressed, I wouldn’t know which area of his writing influenced the other more. He wrote some of the best Atom stories I read while growing up, mixing in history and science in equal doses.
I digress only because Justice Society Strange Adventures is such a hybrid of backgrounds. The author, Kevin J. Anderson, is a well-known science fiction and pop culture writer himself, and one of the “characters” in the graphic novel is Jack Williamson, one of the most prominent science fiction pulp writers ever.
Furthermore, the story is set during World War II, involves Hitler’s control of the Spear of Destiny that kept the powerful members of the Justice Society from taking the battle to the German and Japanese armies, and has retro science-based tech as weapons. Anderson even weaves in Hugo Gernsback, noted editor of Amazing Stories science fiction magazine, as a bit player.
This graphic novel is chock full of history, pulp wonder, and the JSA during World War II, and it was a delight to read. I enjoyed the mix of characters, especially seeing Wildcat and Atom in the thick of things because they are a couple of my favorites since they have no powers. There was an annoying habit of constantly referring to each other as “big guy” and “little guy.”
I also liked that two of the most powerful members, Green Lantern and Starman, were paired up and defeated rather handily. Finding out that Starman (Ted Knight) was a reader of pulp magazines and a fan of Jack Williamson’s was a blast and felt exactly right.
I missed seeing Rex Tyler (Hourman), Jay Garrick (Flash), and Terry Sloane (Mr. Terrific) jumping in on the science investigation that runs through the story, but I know you can’t have everyone involved. However, they were some of the heavy hitters – especially up against an enemy that has cutting-edge tech and reanimates the dead.
Barry Kitson and Gary Erskine’s art is an absolute eye feast. There are a lot of splash pages, double pages, and detailed panels that just explode. I stopped even during the frantic moments of the story’s pacing just to go back and admire everything they did on so many levels. I loved the aerial battle scenes, and the resurrected cyborg soldiers were deliciously creepy.
I also enjoyed the special “origin” story of Johnny Thunder and the Thunderbolt, as well as the background of the villain. All of it played into the legacy left by the JSA as well as the science at the time.
I don’t know if this was a one-time gig for Anderson and company to feature the JSA at this time, but I’d definitely love to see another science flavored tale from out of the past. Especially if they again feature those retro pulp-inspired covers!