Tuesday 5 May 2015

Convergence: Justice Society of America #1 Review

Title: Convergence: Justice Society of America #1
Story: Society
Characters: Flash (Jay Garrick), Doctor Fate (Kent Nelson), Hawkman (Carter Hall),  Green Lantern (Alan Scott)
Creators: Dan Abnett (writer), Tom Derenick (artist)
Publication Date: April 2015
Available In: Print Digital

Summary: It's a regular day in domed Earth-2 Metropolis, and GBC's Alan Scott is on the air at MPSB radio delivering the news. At least what passes for news in a domed city. At one of the local hospitals, Jay Garrick pays a visit to his old friend, Dr. Kent Nelson, who is lying in a coma. He updates the unconscious Kent on his life and how hard it's been for him to adjust to old age. As a man used to always being up to speed, he's not happy that it takes him 45 minutes to get out of a bath or that arthritis makes it difficult for him to do the things he used to do with ease. Things such as climbing a flight of stairs, remembering names, remembering where he puts things, normal, standard stuff.

Jay also updates Kent on what the kids (Infinity Inc) have been up to, specifically the fact that they've been trying to find a way out of the dome with the rest of the Justice Society out of commission. Jay doesn't hide the fact that he doesn't like feeling useless and that he's even envious of Kent's position since he doesn't have to experience the losses that come with old age from a coma. He soon admits that this is selfish thinking and that he's being unfair. He then tells Kent that while the dome has taken away their powers (and even him from his friends), they've always stuck together and that he and the rest of the Justice Society heroes will still be there for him when he comes back from his coma.

Jay makes his way to his old friend Carter Hall's apartment, but rather than take the lift (which would be easier for him), he decides to take the challenge of climbing several stories of stairs. On the roof of the apartment building are Carter and his son Hector discussing the dome situation. Carter believes they may be permanently trapped under the dome, but Hector doesn't believe that anything is ever permanent. He takes note of the fact that even the worst crises they have faced have been temporary, never permanent. He then asks his father if the Justice Society will be ready with Infinity Inc for when the dome comes down. Carter says that the older Justice Society heroes have gotten too old for the good fight and that if there is still a future for Earth-2, that future now belongs to Infinity Inc. Hector then mentions an air quality project he's been working on and the analysis showed that the environment is being artificially sustained.

Jay makes it to the top of the building and Hector departs to let the two men talk. Both Jay and Carter discuss what it's felt like to experience life as ageing mortals in the one year that they've been living under the dome. They then question if--when this is all over--there will still be a Justice Society or if they will step back and let Infinity Inc take their place. They themselves have a hard time believing that the Justice Society will eventually come to an end, believing it would last forever. At that moment, Carter's phone rings, and it is Alan Scott on the other end. He tells them Kent Nelson has awoken from his coma!

Jay and Carter make their way back to the hospital where they meet Alan and see that his eyes are open. He only says three words: 'one last time.' The other three men are not sure what he means by that, but before they have the chance to ask for clarity, Telos comes online and announces his death match like he has in all the other domed cities. The old Justice Society heroes don't understand what is happening, but they notice their powers coming back as the dome comes down. They're not sure if they can even control their powers anymore having been out of commission for a year. The characters from the Qward Anti-Matter universe start attacking Earth-2 Metropolis, and the Justice Society heroes recognise the technology--they know what they're up against.

Kent gets up from his bed and utters the three words he uttered earlier: 'one last time.' He explains to his comrades that with his powers returned, he can grant them all one last thing before going down in their final battle: their youth. He warns however that in returning their youth, it will speed up the process of dying. He then asks them if they are up for it if it means fighting gloriously one last time. All three agree, and Kent grants them their youth. The more youthful Jay then states 'one last time, then. Let's make it count,' and the glorious Justice Society go to their final battle.

Review: What a magnificent exit for the classic JSA indeed! This was admittedly my favourite tie-in for Week 04, and that was largely because the issue focused exclusively on the Justice Society characters, filling the reader in on what life's been like for these old guys since the dome came down. I liked that the narrative explored the realities of ageing, something the older Justice Society heroes never thought about because their powers made them immune to many of its vulnerabilities. It explored common complications that come with old age such as arthritis, memory loss, and the loss of ability to do things that used to come with ease. It made the characters (especially Jay) feel more human and closer to home, especially since it explored the frustrations of ageing from a superhero's point of view.

For normal, non-powered human beings, many of these complications and declines in health are expected with age, but it's still frustrating nonetheless not to be able to do things one was able to do with ease. If ageing is a bit of a rough journey for regular people alone, imagine how much harder that must feel for someone who's not used to feeling their age? Writer Dan Abnett does an excellent job at exploring this question with the character of Jay Garrick who is the most frustrated by his new life's circumstances. He's used to being the fastest, most agile man alive, and it's unheard of for him not to be able to run, climb stairs, or get by without the use of a cane. It's such a radical change in his life, he found himself wishing he was in Kent Nelson's place so as to not have to feel the loss of mobility. He even acknowledged how selfish it was for him to think those thoughts. He later even forced himself to climb several stories of stairs to get to Carter Hall's apartment, and to prove to himself he still had it in him, effectively bringing home his complex feelings on his new reality.

Two other characters that explore the realities of ageing are father and son Carter and Hector Hall, the Hawkman and Silver Scarab respectively. In particular, Carter and Hector's characters serve to expose readers to different perspectives on the same crisis. Carter who is older, more experienced, and has fought in more world-altering crises than Hector ever has, isn't entirely optimistic about the dome situation. To be more specific, he doesn't believe this is a crisis they will get out of like the previous ones, and feels the dome is a more ominous presence. Hector who is younger and relatively new to the superhero business (within his respective history, he has been active as a superhero for only a year), strongly believes that if they've triumphed over crises in the past, they'll overcome the dome situation all the same. He especially notes that if every major crisis they have faced (including multiversal ones that resulted in the destruction of whole Earths) has been temporary, the dome situation will also be temporary.

Another thing of note is that Carter throughout this issue finds himself asking if the Justice Society is really over and if Infinity Inc (his son's team) is really the future of Earth-2. He realises the Justice Society--as great as the team is--cannot last forever, and that there is now a newer generation of superheroes available to replace them. The fact that he says the older Justice Society heroes have since forgotten how to use their powers in the one year they lived without them seems to really emphasise the finality of their 'Golden Age.' It's this feeling of replaceability and that their 'time is really up' that drives home the fact that Carter is--at the end--a mortal man, a reality his unique powers cannot avert.

Another major theme I  enjoyed with this issue was the exploration of friendship and family amongst these older heroes and the strong bond that they feel towards each other. Undoubtedly, my favourite scene in this first chapter was Jay visiting Kent in the hospital. While regrettably my favourite Doctor Fate was in a coma for all but the last two pages of this issue, it was really sweet seeing Jay visit his old pal at the hospital like true best friend would, and spoke to him as though he was family. In fact, the Justice Society has always been more than a superhero team that also happened to be a group of friends. The Justice Society was really a superhero family.

These old men and women have been together since the 1940s, they stuck together in a time of war, they continued to fight the good fight when threats came to their Earth, and they were always there for each other during personal crises. The Justice Society heroes epitomised what it meant to be a good, functional family. It really is the durability and the history that these characters share with each other that makes them truly unique amongst DC heroes. It is also the reason why these versions of the characters are ultimately, in my opinion, irreplaceable.

While DC has 'newer,' 'younger,' and 'edgier' versions of these classic heroes in the New 52, they really don't hold a candle to the originals because of the lack of togetherness, and especially a lack history between them. These characters were quickly and haphazardly forced together into a team without granting them the time to establish more meaningful relationships with each other. They just got together to fight against threat, after threat, after threat, after threat because they had to, not because they really saw something in each other. That spark is truly missing from the newer versions of these characters.

Additionally, the newer versions are so underdeveloped as individual characters that when placed next to the older, more established versions seen in this Convergence mini, they really do feel like tabula rasae. In contrast with the older versions that have more established, individual personalities, their own unique voices, the newer versions really do feel like they have the same attitudes, the same personalities, and the same voices as every New 52 character. In addition to a lack of age diversity (something the original Justice Society had), there is a similar lack of distinct personalities, distinct voices, and distinct raisons d'êtres for each of these characters. There's really not much about these newer versions that truly stands out, and they do feel truly generic as evidenced by their characterisations in the main Convergence book that they star in. Believe me when I say I'm definitely going to miss these older characters when Convergence ends.

On the subject of older, more established characters, one thing I did find myself asking throughout this first issue was where the rest of the Justice Society members were, especially since all of their children (the Infinitors) are all stranded in Metropolis. For example, Hippolyta Trevor (Fury) is in Metropolis, but where are her parents, Diana Prince (Wonder Woman) and Steve Trevor? Not only is Wonder Woman a founding member of the Justice Society, but she's also the most prominent female member of the team. Additionally, where is Shiera Hall (Hawkgirl)? Her husband and son (Carter and Hector) are present, but she is nowhere to be found.

Other members who were missing in action in this issue were Al Pratt (The Atom), Ted Grant (Wildcat), Rex Tyler (Hourman), and Charles McNider (Doctor Mid-Nite), all of whom were still active in 1985. Terry Sloane (Mister Terrific) was already dead by this time, so his absence was of no surprise. But if the entire Justice Society was summoned to Metropolis for an emergency meeting (according to Helena Wayne in Detective Comics at least), where are the other members hanging out? Can we expect to see them in issue #2? I guess we'll have to wait to find out, but I do hope we see the whole ensemble for the big finale. It just wouldn't be the complete Justice Society making the final stand without the rest of the members.

Overall, this issue is truly worth getting, not just for the nostalgia factor, but also because it is a genuinely well-crafted story. It's very character-driven, the characters themselves are written with care and respect, and it explores themes such as ageing and the importance of human relationships. I cannot stress enough how much I would love for Dan Abnett to take over the Earth-2 franchise for the current continuity. He does understand the appeal of these characters and he excels best at exploring the humanity of these characters. I think even he could develop the newer versions into far more interesting characters than any of the writers who have left their mark on Earth-2 thus far in the New 52. I really do think he can!

That said...we finally get to the last book left for me to review for Convergence Week 04, and that is the second generation Earth-2 superhero team Infinity Inc, written by one of my favourite comic book talents, Jerry Ordway, and artist Ben Caldwell!


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