Friday 7 August 2015

The Best of the Huntress: America vs The Justice Society #2 Review

Title: America vs The Justice Society #2
Story: Trial by Congress
Characters: Huntress (Helena Wayne), Robin (Dick Grayson), The Justice Society
Creators: Roy Thomas (writer), Michael Bair (artist)
Publication Date: February 1985
Available In: Print | Digital

Summary: Chapter 02 opens up with the Justice Society and Helena Wayne inside the courtroom preparing for the official hearings to begin. They let the media in and Helena Wayne begins her opening statement. The members of the committee also formally introduce themselves as Linda Valdez, a congresswoman from California, Jason Philips, a congressman from New York, William Hopkins, a senator from Missouri, and Richard Grayson as their attorney.

Helena Wayne requests that the media people remain seated at all times and Congresswoman Valdez agrees to the request, asking all news reporters to sit down and not walk all over the court room. The official hearings begin with the following accusations listed to be examined:

  1. Whether or not the Justice Society functioned as agents of Nazi Germany.
  2. Whether or not the Justice Society was involved in the sabotaging of the work on the top-secret bomb-defence formula that might of prevented the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour.
  3. The cover-up of that supposed sabotaging of the bomb-defence formula.
The committee starts off with the first accusation and questioning why the Justice Society didn't take out Adolf Hitler when they had the chance, effectively ending the war. Jay Garrick as the Flash begins to detail the origins of his first meeting with Batman along with Green Lantern. He also address his concern that they may not have known Batman as well as they thought if he managed to write a whole diary of falsehoods. The main points Jay addressed to the committee were their first run-in with the Führer in 1940 and their fight against the Valkyries over the skies of Washington DC, which the Justice Society defeated with the help of Superman. It was at that moment that then president Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided to assemble the group of superheroes that aided in the defeat of the Valkyries as agents for the US government, leading to the formation of the Justice Society. 

Following the Flash's account, Congresswoman Valdez asks a very important question: if the Justice Society opposed Hitler during World War II, why did they never include Latinos, blacks, or even any women as members of the Justice Society, effectively combatting Hitler's idea of a master race (basically extreme white supremacy)? Alan Scott as the Green Lantern takes this question saying that they never turned anyone down due to their race or sex, implying that women and people of colour were always welcomed to join them in the good fight, but few actually did during that time. Diana as Wonder Woman also validated Alan Scott's defence by saying that the formation of the Justice Society happened a year before she entered Man's World (which is true of the character's history--she first appeared in comics in 1941), and that the cultural climate at the time did not facilitate the inclusivity of women as superheroes.

Other members of the Justice Society like Hawkman are able to validate the accounts of the other two members, as well as discuss the reasons for the absence of other members like the Spectre who is actually a ghost. They also discussed their case involving Fritz Klaver (the main Nazi Spymaster) and how they ran into the Atom and Johnny Thunder during this mission. From there they described their next crime-related case involving the busting of a gang led by a man known only as Mr. X. 

Over time, some of the original Justice Society members became less active on the team as they took on more individual missions, and those members were subsequently replaced with newer superheroes. During one if his individual exploits, Alan Scott took on Dr. Fate's old nemesis, Wotan, who's assault resulted in the death of a child, which resulted in Scott's temporary resignation from the Justice Society in grief. It later turned out that Wotan's assault was actually accomplished with the help of another enemy of Dr. Fate's, Ian Karkull, a mad scientist who resented America for not recognising his genius. 

From there, Hourman gives his own testament of why he temporarily left the Justice Society, namely because he had become addicted to Miraclo, a drug he concocted to give him strength, speed, and stamina one hour at a time during his missions. In order to combat the addiction, Hourman developed a ray machine that allowed him to acquire his powers without addiction as a side effect. Hourman's place in the Justice Society was subsequently taken up by Ted Knight as Starman. 

As the hearing is being televised, Per Degaton is seen watching the broadcast in a dark living room in a house somewhere, hoping to see the Justice Society destroyed by a court of law. Senator William Hopkins at one point ridicules Hawkman, which prompts Helena Wayne to scold the senator for his behaviour. Hopkins then suggests a recess, but Wayne insists that the Justice Society members want no special favours and only want to be heard.

Dr. Mid-Nite decides to speak next and details how he ended joining the Justice Society in place of Alan Scott as the Green Lantern. He also discussed what really went down with the bomb-defence formula sabotage, namely that they had rescued some scientists that were being held by Axis spies just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour happened. The scientists in question had discovered time travel and were able to send people to the future and back. The Justice Society travelled to the future themselves to bring back data on how to construct a force field that would make the USA bombproof. The forcefield worked up until the sabotage occurred, but that was not on the Justice Society heroes themselves. Out of the scientists who discovered time travel, only Dr. Nichols was still alive and available for questioning. The other four scientists--Doctors Damon Everson, Malachi Zee, James Swanley, and Wilfred Doome--had already passed away. Mid-Nite also assumes Per Degaton (Dr. Zee's assistant) had passed away as well, unaware that he is actually still alive.

The next item that the committee wishes to discuss is the wire recording between President Roosevelt and his advisor Harry Hopkins on the events that occurred between 6-7 December 1941, leading to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Wonder Woman offers to show the committee the events of 1941 using the magic sphere from Amazon Island, which simulates events that have already taken place. Congresswoman Valdez doesn't accept the offer since there is no way for them to validate the simulation as true, which upsets Wonder Woman. At this time, The Shining Knight and Robotman (in the body of Chuck Grayson) appear in court to give their testaments of the events of 7 December 1941. Their arrival in court had been arranged by Helena Wayne prior to the hearing as a back-up to the Justice Society.

Robotman explains that during the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, most of the Justice Society heroes had been captured by other enemies and most people were unaware at the time that they had been lying unconscious near a volcano in Hawaii. In the absence of the Justice Society, President Roosevelt had summoned Robotman himself, Plastic Man, Liberty Belle, and Johnny Quick to form the All-Star Squadron. 

In the dawning hours of 7 December 1941, Shining Knight had arrived at the volcano where the Justice Society heroes were lying unconscious, and ran into a woman known as Firebrand there. They were both captured by Per Degaton who was attempting to create his own empire as early as 1941, but circumstances forced him to return to the year 1947 where he resumed his life as Dr. Zee's assistant. After that encounter with Per Degaton, the Spectre had returned the Justice Society heroes and All-Star Squadron to San Francisco.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, the Justice Society heroes went off to take out the Axis powers, but with Hitler's acquisition of the Spear of Destiny and Admiral Tojo's acquisition of a stone that may have been the prototype for the Holy Grail, they were able to control magic. As such any heroes who had magic-based powers would immediately fall under their control, which is how the Justice Society heroes temporarily found themselves aligning with the Axis powers.

The last thing that gets addressed during this session of the congressional hearing is the reason for the Justice Society's disbandment during the war. The Atom explains that with the US officially entering the war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, the Justice Society heroes decided to fight in the war as US soldiers and not as mystery men. Their fighting as US soldiers was short-lived as they were subsequently captured by a new foe known as the Brainwave. After being rescued by the Green Lantern, the Justice Society reformed and Wonder Woman officially joined the team. From there, the Justice Society (as the Justice Battalion) smashed the Japanese saboteur gang known as the Black Dragons. They later assisted in feeding the European Underground in order to help them fight against the Nazis. 

After giving her testament, Wonder Woman decides to make her way out of the courtroom, but the guards refuse to let her out. At this point, the Spectre appears in the courtroom, upset that this congressional hearing is taking place. He offers to destroy Earth-2 in anger and offers to send the Justice Society heroes to other parallel worlds where they won't be persecuted. The Justice Society heroes kindly decline the offer, and the Spectre leaves just as quickly as he entered. Following this disruption, Helena Wayne suggests a recess.

In the chamber of the courthouse, Dick Grayson confronts Helena Wayne about the position she's taking against her own father. Helena explains that her father is still important to her, but she's also not going to allow him to destroy her friends in the Justice Society from the grave. If worse comes to worse, she will out her father as Batman to end this shit show once and for all. With that, she leaves Dick to stand in the room by himself. In another room, the Wizard prepares to make his move.

Review: If Chapter 01 is the setup, Chapter 02 is where the story really starts to pick up momentum. Not only does the congressional hearing officially begin in this chapter, but it delves deeper into the history of the individual Justice Society members and their exploits during World War II. It also explores how the individual members felt about their respective exploits as highlighted in the Batman diary, and what their gains and losses were during those missions. It not only reads like a real congressional hearing, but it also allows the individual characters to share what their own personal struggles were during those times and how they coped, effectively providing the individual characters with real human voices.

The only downside to reading the individual accounts of each team member is that you spend more time reading a lot of text and don't really get a chance to see 'the action' happening in the panels. With so much text to go through, 30 pages can at times seem like 50 pages, and there are times when you need to take a break from reading in order to catch your breath. While I appreciate Roy Thomas' thorough exploration of the Justice Society's exploits from the 1940s to avoid losing the reader, it can also start to feel overwhelming to the point of needing to take notes of everything that goes on in this chapter just to stay on track with what the Justice Society heroes are being questioned for. I actually found myself doing exactly that just to be able to write the summary and review for this chapter, namely because I wasn't sure what main points to discuss in order to keep this at a reasonable length. It is that thorough and the main reason it took this long to complete this review!

One interesting thing of note, however, is who the committee against the Justice Society is comprised of. In the four member committee, there is a middle-aged Latina congresswoman (Linda Valdez), a middle-aged black congressman (Jason Philips), and two middle aged white men: a senator (William Hopkins) and a US diplomat and lawyer (Richard Grayson). This is significant because one of the defining aspects of the pre-Crisis Earth-2 during the Bronze Age was a push for more racial inclusivity, not only on the superhero front, but also on the civilian front. The other reason this is significant is because the two racially diverse characters that are driving this narrative are members of the US House of Representatives, effectively giving visibility to two of the most underrepresented members of Congress in fiction. The fact that in narrative, Congresswoman Valdez addresses the same issue of racial invisibility in government-sanctioned institutions gives weight to this very issue, and in a way, even breaks the fourth wall. It also reinforces the fact that Earth-2 narratives in the Bronze Age often dealt with and addressed real world issues.

While we're on the subject of invisibility, it was actually interesting to me that Thomas addressed that issue when you consider the reality that these characters were published during a time in US history where exclusion of people of colour and women was considered normal, even law in some cases. As such, most creators working for DC at the time were not aware of the subtle ways they participated in institutional sexism and racism through narrative. Ironically, this awareness of female invisibility as heroes in narratives was actually the reason Wonder Woman was created by Charles Moulton Martson in 1941.

Just as interesting is Wonder Woman saying that the cultural climate at the time wasn't ready for a female superhero when you consider that American women during this time actually took over all of the male-dominated jobs to keep the American economy going in the absence of the men who went to war. So women were actually pretty active during the war in male occupations, and even assisted in the American war effort. I would argue that the cultural climate was pretty good for the inclusion of female superheroes during the 1940s, and more did actually appear during that time (like Liberty Belle, Black Canary, and Firebrand) despite institutional sexism often rearing its ugly head. The fact that Thomas was aware of those earlier prejudices in comics meant that he wanted to develop the modern Earth-2 narrative in a way that was more inclusive of diverse groups of people and compensated for that largely racist and sexist past.

One criticism I am going to make with this chapter though is the characterisation of Wonder Woman, which unwittingly reinforce sexism. While this is the Golden Age Wonder Woman who was active during the second World War, she was also--from her very first appearance--never (to my knowledge) characterised as the type to threaten violence against a respectable figure of authority. So it felt really out of character for her to 'lose it' when the senator on the committee implied she was a liar. I felt that her sudden mood change from calm to angry reinforced the 'women are irrational' stereotype, especially considering that none of Diana's male comrades (the Spectre notwithstanding) where similarly characterised. They maintained their calm even when the committee doubted their accounts and implied they were all liars as well. I also think that Diana's upbringing as an Amazon often gets used as a shorthand for characterising her as irrationally violent by writers at times, which I think misses the point of the Amazons being advocates of wisdom.

The other nitpick on this front is the senator referring to Diana as 'Mrs. Trevor' instead of as Wonder Woman, effectively defining her through her relationship to her husband--something he doesn't do with the other JSA members who are male. While it was known by this point that Diana had outed herself as Wonder Woman, it was still very sexist of the senator to refer to her by her married name instead of the identity she arrived as.

Some may argue that the senator being written as sexist makes sense within this context since he is a product of his own patriarchal socialisation. However, it is also worth noting that Diana is also never written as actually correcting the senator with something along the lines of 'with all due respect senator, I am here as Wonder Woman and would appreciate it if you granted me the same respect that you are granting my fellow comrades this morning.' As such, I am going to assume a brain fart on Thomas' part for not catching this difference in treatment between the sole female member of the Justice Society and her male teammates.

The other thing worth addressing in this second chapter was how completely random the Spectre's appearance was prior to the recess. In fact, I'm not sure it's clear what his role in this second chapter was supposed to be since he only showed up to threaten the destruction of Earth-2 for holding this incongruous hearing, and to offer the Justice Society heroes new places on other Earths in the multiverse. When the JSA heroes said 'thanks, but no thanks,' he was all 'okay, bye bye' and just disappeared again. I'm not sure if his presence was meant to validate the committee's concerns addressed in the Batman's diary, or to help invalidate the Batman's accusations of the Justice Society being traitors. It seems that both are likely under the current circumstances.

The last thing worth addressing that I feel heightens the conflict for this miniseries is the Grayson vs Wayne sub-story arc that sees both of Bruce's heirs on opposite sides of the conflict. The page where Dick confronts Helena about making Bruce look like a fool is one of my favourites in this comic, namely because it shows how greatly conflicted Helena is by the whole situation. Whereas Dick is more certain of his place in this hearing, Helena is made uncomfortable by the thought of needing to out her father as Batman as a last ditch resort for proving the innocence of the Justice Society, and effectively revealing her identity as the Huntress as well. Artist Michael Bair does an excellent job at conveying Helena's dilemma throughout this second chapter, but executes it best in the second to last page. In court, Helena maintains a calm and neutral presence, but inside she is burning with anger and frustration over her father's role in the Justice Society's current predicament. This latter part is best accentuated with the sharp glare she gives Dick Grayson during the recess for his cowardice in this troubling situation. The fact that she said her own father did mean something to her before correcting herself with 'does,' seems to indicate some loss of respect for her father after this latest betrayal.

Though not without some problems, this is mostly a solid second chapter from Roy Thomas, even if it can be at times overwhelming to read. There are a lot of great character moments throughout this chapter, and the rising conflict between Dick and Helena helps to keep the conflict interesting and not entirely one-sided in favour of the Justice Society.


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