If you're like me and haven't checked in with the Justice Society of America in a while, JSA #50 may be a good place to step back on board. Marc Guggenheim celebrates the the big Five Oh with a four part story establishing the history of the JSA, what they mean to the world of heroes in this day and age, and bringing a new an souped-up version of an old villain back into play to make their lives difficult.
The first piece features art by the legendary George Perez with Scott Koblish, showing us portions of the origin stories of the big guns of the Justice League – Superman, Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, etc. – and how they were influenced by the prior existence of the JSA. Jonathan and Martha Kent design young Clark's future costume with a bit of their flair, Bruce Wayne studies darker costumes like Dr. Mid-Nite and the Sandman, Hal Jordan gains self-confidence after seeing Alan Scott in action, and Barry Allen catches sight of a Flash comic featuring Jay Garrick and finds his calling. It's a touching nod of respect to the past.
Part the second features ominously cool art from Freddie Williams II and the building threat of a new, bald and bearded Per Degaton, who is skulking back through various timelines and absorbing other versions of himself to amass even more power. Those other versions of him all react the same way, believing the new guy's presence to be impossible, and refusing the offer to cease to exist. Of course, the new guy ain't giving them a choice. Evil.
Part three gives us Howard Chaykin art, which I imagine is an acquired taste, and a flashback to when the original JSA was being put on trial by the House Un-American Activities Committee – essentially when they fell victim to the Communist witch-hunts. Perhaps my recollection of JSA history is hazy or confused by all the Crisis-style continuity shifts, but I'd thought the JSA had faked a vanishing act and then disbanded rather than reveal their identities and subject their families to that kind of inflammatory Congressional inquisition. Or maybe the vanishing act wasn't faked, and that explains how so many of them are still relatively young and spry despite being grown adults in the 40s. In this story, however, they simply refuse to reveal anything and walk off, claiming they're just going to carry on doing what they do. Somebody'll have to explain that to me, but what Guggenheim gives us here is a solid foundation of what this team believed in from the get go, and how they justified the sketchy legality of what they do – it's their mission statement, in effect.
Which leads right into the fourth part, which is set in the current day, and Jay Garrick, the original Flash, is being interviewed about how the JSA's mission statement is currently perceived – namely that they're supposed to be mentoring legacy heroes. That's a term new to Jay, who insists that young heroes don't have to have the namesakes of an older one to deserve some mentoring from old hands. In fact, they'll even take in someone as lamely named as "Darknight." There's actually a character named Darknight now. Oookay. Red Beetle, I can handle. Darknight, not so much.
This is a busy day for Mr. Garrick, as he's apparently putting aside the classic colander hat to step into the role of mayor of Monument Point, which is the JSA's new adopted hometown complete with headquarters, outside of Washington D.C. It's Inauguration Day, which also sees the mysterious reappearance of the original Dr. Fate Kent Nelson out cold with a huge ankh scar on his face, an ominous warning from that old senator who grilled them during the witch-hunts that if they stay in MP, classified bad things will happen, and then Big Bald Per comes a-calling with an ominous warning for the future.
The dynamic art of Tom Derenick shows us the range that Degaton's new powers boast, including instantaneous reversion of a huge swath of the area to pre-historic times, turning Hourman into a baby and Wildcat into a withered old man. The big bad also has a bombshell to drop on Jesse Quick that's bound to mess with her head for many issues to come.
It's hard to dislike the JSA, as there's a big sprawling family atmosphere about them, complete with nostalgia, young up and comers who leave a lot of their grim and gritty to others, and more often than not, they wind up punching Nazis. Their huge cast and guys using the names of more famous heroes might make for some confusion with new readers, but this is the history of the DC universe here, and damn if it just ain't some good fun to get to know.