US: 2 Dec 2009
The notion within the comics industry that there is a new reader for every issue was for years detrimental to the story-telling process in superhero books and kept the genre largely mired in the childish and inane. It was one thing to recap quickly the story thus far, or run a brief text synopsis of the protagonist(s) above the splash page. But it was quite another thing entirely when the narrator of the book—and this is highly noticeable in early issues of Wolverine or The Punisher—would not-so-subtly work back-story into the narration: “I punish criminals because criminals killed my family. Thusly, in light of all the punishing I tend to do, I have therefore self-applied the name “Punisher”’.
Technically, a reader must suspend his or her sense of disbelief in order to enjoy superhero comics in the first place, so to extend this willingness to do so to clunky exposition is not much of an added effort. However, over the past decade or so, there has been a welcome trend amongst writers, one that attempts to minimize this awkwardness while simultaneously welcoming newcomers.
The first issue of DCs JSA All-Stars is probably the best example of this in recent memory. Writer Matthew Sturges and artist Freddie Williams II hit a very happy medium between keeping new readers in the loop while keeping long-time JSA fans from becoming bored. The amount of sheer action that takes place in this issue might almost be enough to make this distinction unnecessary. This reviewer, for example, found it difficult to nit-pick the presentation, for that is almost always going to be overshadowed when commie androids are getting pounded on. But Sturges and Williams do not attempt to rest on these particular laurels, as they clearly respect their audience’s intelligence too much for that sort of chicanery.
This off-shoot of the Justice Society of America largely consists of newer members along with a few veterans, and right off, the reader is treated to tensions and bickering that can occur within a new team. Although all are on the same side, each member is an individual personality unto him or herself. Thusly, the setting becomes reminiscent of the early adventures of Marvel’s Avengers: a realistic look at how even the best of intentions are not always enough to avoid in-fighting and basic human pettiness.
This tension is particularly clear right away in the dynamic of team leader Magog and fan-favorite Power Girl. In the opening battle against the Novyj Soviet, Magog and Power Girl find themselves at odds, barking conflicting orders to their soldiers. The battle comes off fine, but clearly, this needs to be addressed. The reader then gets to witness the extensive training that the team goes through, and along with that, the dynamics of how each team member relates to each other. Again we see the creative team doing a superb job of blending exposition and action into a rather seamless plot-line. The story is moving forward without leaving any readers behind.
There is little doubt that JSA All-Stars is a fun book. And not to rescind any of the above, but other than the landmark approach to presenting a new title being used here, the book does not have all that much more going for it. Williams’ artwork is of a very professional caliber, but there is almost a process of standardization that could be found in any of the other numerous superhero titles out there. Sturges’ dialogue does very well to move the story along, but that may be since there is not a whole lot to stop and savor. Hardcore fans of DC Comics and/or the JSA are probably going to pick this book up regardless, and they will not be disappointed. But aside from that core audience, the book may have trouble distinguishing itself from its many competitors.
However, if you are perhaps looking for a new team book to add to your pull list, or if you have a rowdy nephew or niece you need to keep quiet for a half-hour or so, grab a copy of JSA All-Stars #1. The book may not be earth-shattering exactly, but it is a very decent and rare example of pure escapism done intelligently.