Friday, 31 July 2015

The Best of the Huntress: America vs The Justice Society #1 Review

Title: America vs The Justice Society #1
Story: I Accuse/Witness for the Persecution
Characters: Batman (Bruce Wayne), Huntress (Helena Wayne), Robin (Dick Grayson), The Justice Society
Creators: Roy Thomas (writer), Rafael Kayanan (artist)
Publication Date: January 1985
Available In: Print | Digital

Summary: Chapter 01 opens up with the Justice Society holding an impromptu meeting at their old Civic City headquarters instead of their main one in Gotham. Together, they discuss a press release from the Daily Star claiming to have a diary from Batman, exposing the team's allegiance to Hitler during World War II. Everyone, including Clark Kent (who by this point in his life is editor-in-chief of the Daily Star), are astounded by the fact that the Star printed the story. Clark begins to recount to his teammates how the diary came into the possession of the Star and what he actually read inside the diary.

In the first half of the first chapter, Bruce (through his diary) recounts the formation of the Justice Society under the US Government, and their exploits during the second World War in the early 1940s. He also documents the activities of the Justice Society during the 1950s, and the various villains they encountered during that time like The Wizard. He also recounted some of the Justice Society's adventures during the 1970s up until his death in 1979. Despite a mostly accurate recollection of the Justice Society's past, Clark Kent noted there were various fabrications as well, such as the Justice Society's allegiance to Adolf Hitler during the war, and using their heroic image to exploit others for their own personal gain. Both Clark and the Justice Society are disgusted by the whole thing.

Before the Justice Society heroes have a chance to subvert the uproar the diary would undoubtedly cause, the US Army shows up at their doorstep to apprehend them. Not wanting to validate the lies in Batman's diary, the Justice Society goes with the Army willingly, including Superman despite not being one of the accused in the diary. Just outside the building is Helena Wayne (as the Huntress) observing the whole thing from a distance, lamenting that her own father had betrayed the very people he considered his allies, and subsequently became her most valued friends. Not wanting to see her friends serve time for crimes they didn't commit, Helena decides to fully utilise her law degree and represent the Justice Society as their legal counsel, even if it means calling her own father a liar in his very grave.

Later that night, Helena meets with Dick Grayson who is on the fence about what to do in this rather complicated situation. On the hand, like Helena, he also values the Justice Society heroes as his friends. On the other hand, the person accusing them of war crimes is the same man who raised him as a child, Bruce Wayne. As such, he has a hard time doubting Bruce's word and decides to sit this one out. This upsets Helena who thinks Dick is an idiot to even contemplate her own father being a Nazi spy. She even tells him he must not have known her father as well as he thought to even consider that possibility. Dick explains himself better by stating he needs the positive memories of her father more, considering all that he did for him after he lost is own parents at the age of 8. Helena then apologises for her earlier remark and the two embrace in the woods. Dick asks that they still be able to talk when the whole thing blows over and she hopes that they will, implying she's already considering the possibility Dick will take her father's side.

The next day, Helena arrives in Washington DC to represent the Justice Society in the congressional hearing, and it is during this segment that we learn the Justice Society's side of the story as told by The Flash. The Flash validates which parts of the diary are true, and refutes which parts were fabricated by providing an accurate testament of the events that transpired during the war and after the war. This helps Helena prepare her arguments for the hearing. Just as they get ready to enter the courtroom, however, they learn from a news report that Richard Grayson will be joining the committee against the Justice Society. This revelation shocks both Helena and the Justice Society teammates alike. Richard is not happy about the way his position was outed through the mass media, especially since he wanted the opportunity to tell Helena himself. One of the senators on the committee tells him they didn't have time to wait because the story got leaked to the press. He also informs Dick that they have a witness amongst them who could validate the deceased Batman's account: The Wizard.

Review: Despite being nearly 50 pages long, there's really not a whole lot to say about this first chapter on the front of story since its primary purpose is to bring the reader up to speed on the earlier exploits of the Justice Society during the 1940s, and set up the premise for how the rest of the story will play out in the following chapters. As such, the reader is not required to know what actually happened in the Golden Age stories since writer, Roy Thomas, lays it all down for the reader to be able to follow on what comes next. If Thomas changes any details from that particular era of DC Comics, it is not presented in a way that would be noticeable to a reader in 1985 (and especially to one in 2015), nor distract from the overall story. Nonetheless, there are still some things worth bringing up about the setup.

First, there is the fact that the reader is presented with two different sides of the same story from two different JSAers: Batman and the Flash. Batman recounts the various exploits of the Justice Society that are public record, but in his diary, he adds 'new twists' to their tales that leaves his best friend, Superman, feeling horrified at the extent of the fabrications. When Helena Wayne enters the scene as the Justice Society's legal counsel, she not only represents the modern reader's point of view, but we also learn 'the real story' as it happened from the Flash.

While Thomas presents both versions of the story in a way that suggests the Flash's version is the only correct version, the reader is still left wondering why Bruce had turned on the very people he considered his friends and allies for a long time, and what his possible motivation was for doing what he did. It was known by this point in his respective history that Bruce had turned on the Justice Society just before his death in 1979, only for the team to find out his mind was being controlled by Psycho-Pirate. Given that previous account, Bruce betraying his friends a second time was hardly a surprise to the team.

Just as horrified by the events that transpired was Bruce's own daughter, Helena Wayne, who has an unwavering trust in the Justice Society. Bruce's ward, Dick Grayson, was equally perplexed by the situation at hand, but ultimately, his unwavering loyalty to Bruce brought him to his dead mentor's defence. I really enjoyed how Thomas explored the differences in perspective between the two adults that were raised by Bruce Wayne. Despite being his biological daughter, Helena was not quick to take her father's side because of his known past betrayal of the Justice Society, and the fact that there was a villain involved in her father's strange behaviour at that time. She therefore assumed that this situation was no different from the last, and was determined to dig out the truth at nearly all costs.

Dick Grayson by contrast had a hard time accepting that his own mentor could fabricate such a magnificent lie against a group of people he also considered his allies, and was therefore determined to protect his mentor's honour at all costs. In contrast with Helena who had Bruce as her biological father, Dick felt greatly indebted to Bruce for looking after him after his parents died and raised him like his own son. Considering how differently his own future could've played out if not for the fact that Bruce showed him compassion at a very young age, it's easy to understand Dick's conflict in this matter and why he doesn't feel as compelled to disprove Bruce's claims like Helena is.

While heroes being pitted against each other is hardly a new concept to the modern DC Comics reader (especially with how often it's done these days), the difference here lies solely in the execution. Whereas modern comic book writers often pit heroes against each other for shock value, (and often without any real build-up or believable circumstances), here Thomas avoids taking shortcuts in writing and actually presents legitimate reasons for the interpersonal conflicts. Dick and Helena, for example, are not being pitted against each other for the sole purpose of adding a shocking texture to the story, but because it boils down to their own personal experiences with Bruce Wayne--the man at the heart and centre of the conflict. Despite being raised equally by the same man, they both bring very different life experiences to the same conflict, and one feels more indebted to Bruce than the other. The Justice Society heroes feeling distrustful of Bruce isn't happening out of the blue either since he did turn against them before when he was being controlled by Psycho-Pirate. The fact that the diary itself is not a forgery only gives the Justice Society heroes more reason to be on the edge. The drama created all across the board actually feels organic and the tension is actually felt.

On the subject of Bruce Wayne being made to look like the villain in this story, wouldn't this count as adding a shocking texture to the story? Well, yes...it does. However, Thomas also presents the possibility that Bruce was in fact onto something big when he was still alive and even casts doubt that things are not what they appear. The first hint of this is the fact that Bruce wanted his diary to go to Clark Kent specifically, indicating that he wanted this diary to fall into very trustworthy hands. Who besides Wonder Woman is more trustworthy than Superman? Bruce clearly knew the repercussions his diary could have on the entire Justice Society, the mass media, and the general public had this book fallen into the wrong hands. So prior to his death, he made sure the book ended up in the possession of the person he trusted the most.

The other hint to this as well is the fact that Bruce purposely wrote the diary with his left hand to protect his own identity (and subsequently the identities of his ward and daughter as well), knowing the kind of uproar the American media would make of this diary. It is also confirmed by Clark that Bruce often did write with his left hand as Batman for this very purpose. It therefore can be assumed--on this note--that Dick knows this as well since he grew up learning Bruce's craft and knows his handwriting pretty well. The only discrepancy here is that it appears (in one panel) that Bruce wrote from right to left (as opposed to the standard left to right) when he wrote the diary. Whether or not this was an artist error or done on purpose isn't really known, though considering Bruce's left hand is supposed to be 'Batman's hand,' the former is far more likely. Despite that minor discrepancy though, Thomas does (nonetheless) set up his story in a way that both makes you question Bruce Wayne's motives for betraying his friends the way he did, but also gets you to think about where all this is leading to. This being Bruce, he's always about the bigger picture, and there is always a reason he does what he does, even if it looks questionable as hell. That is clearly the case here.

While Thomas does a superb job at bringing the reader up to speed on what the remainder of the story will centre on, there is, however, one more significant detail that stood out to me in this first chapter that sucked me out of the story a bit: the origin of Bruce's diary seeing print in the Daily Star. If Clark Kent is the editor-in-chief of the Star, wouldn't he have the final say in what sees print at the end of the day? If he didn't approve for Bruce's diary to be printed in his own paper, who else at the Star had that kind of authority to make it see print?

It couldn't have been his wife, Lois Lane, since she would never publish a story full of falsehoods to the general public in the first place (*coughGeneYangcough*), least of all if it came from a man she considers her friend and ally. It couldn't have been Jimmy Olsen either, since he's a photojournalist with absolutely no authority over publication. It also couldn't have been Perry White since he was never EIC of the Star on Earth-2. The previous EIC, George Taylor, was retired by this point and had no personal stake in the story. Lastly, it couldn't have been Bruce Wayne since he was already dead by the time this narrative took place. So, who at the Star actually had enough pull over Clark Kent's authority to print the story? It's one thing if the story got leaked to a different newspaper, but the paper Clark Kent himself is in charge of? Not possible.

Aside from that one detail that makes no sense to me, as a whole, this first chapter is a pretty straightforward read. It presents the readers with a summary of the Golden Age stories that are relevant to the story being told in this miniseries, it sets up all of the main conflicts that will be addressed in the subsequent chapters, and establishes who the main players are going to be.

★★★★★

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