For all the talk about “JSA All-Stars” being another pro-active, take-the-fight-to-the-bad-guys book, the reality is something much more interesting after eight months. With the shedding of Magog from the title (a character that DC seemed to have over-estimated the popularity of, considering his own comic is also cancelled), it’s turned into much more of a title where the younger JSA members work with mentors to get stronger. That’s a welcome change from “Magog’s Boot Camp” in the book’s debut, and it feels much more in line with the idea of the Justice Society in general.
Sturges also is starting to mine the nostalgia element that Geoff Johns used on the old “JSA” title to make it such a success. With the return of Parador, a country used in both “Infinity Inc.” and “Eclipso” a decade or so ago, he’s taking an old story element and bring it back to the front. The interesting thing here isn’t the actual plot of Paradorian deity worship and a strange new drug on the scene, though, but rather watching the characters interact with one another. Cyclone, whom ended up off to the sidelines almost as quickly as she was first brought into “Justice Society of America,” is finally getting a storyline, and while King Chimera is slightly more interesting in Sturges’ mind than most readers, I suspect, the bits of information we’re getting here help make him a little more palatable. Even the glimmers of information we’re getting about new member Anna Fortune are fun, and it’s a pleasant change to see Atom Smasher and Judomaster getting dialogue.
Freddie Williams II has probably his best art on the book to date, especially in the opening two-page splash decorated with faux South American tribal designs. In general his art looks a little smoother this month than on previous issues, and the pages flow well from one to the next. I did have to cringe at the Fidel Castro look-alike in the second half of the book (is it too much to ask that a Latin American general for once doesn’t have a big beard, smoke cigars, and wear fatigues and brimmed cap?), though, and Williams’ fight scenes feel more cluttered than they should be on occasion. But on the whole, it feels like an improvement here, too.
I almost hate to say it, though, but I’m growing tired of the second feature starring Liberty Belle and Hourman. I like the characters, and in general I think that Jen Van Meter, Travis Moore, and Dan Green are doing a good enough job. But with these ten page bursts, it’s feeling like this story has stretched on far longer than it should have; I suspect in collected form that won’t be such a problem. The best second feature model I think I’ve seen was how Greg Rucka broke down his “The Question” serial into a series of shorter stories that interconnected, so that there were regular breaks in the story. If Van Meter writes future second features for “JSA All-Stars” (and I hope she does, I think she’s a good writer) I’d like to see that approach on the title.
Still, overall, an enjoyable issue. “JSA All-Stars” early on looked like a book that was destined to take half of the JSA members out of my reading habits, but I think Sturges and Williams have turned this title around. In comics these days, that’s a pleasant surprise.