Friday, 14 August 2015

The Best of the Huntress: America vs The Justice Society #3 Review

Title: America vs The Justice Society #3
Story: Hostile Witness
Characters: Huntress (Helena Wayne), Robin (Dick Grayson), The Justice Society
Creators: Roy Thomas (writer), Howard Bender (artist)
Publication Date: February 1985
Available In: Print | Digital

Summary: Chapter 03 starts off with a testimony from Wonder Woman involving a Justice Society exploit with psychiatrist, Henry King, aka the Brainwave. During this mission, Wonder Woman led the girlfriends of the Justice Society heroes against Brainwave until the men showed up to finish the job. The altercation ended with the villain's presumed death. Following his survival, the Brainwave plotted his next move against the Justice Society which was subsequently averted by Johnny Thunder's intervention.

Wonder Woman's testimony is interrupted by Senator Hopkins who wants to know why the Justice Society had ceased to call themselves the 'Justice Battalion,' and why other heroes that appeared during World War II (like Black Condor, the Ray, Uncle Sam, and the Phantom Lady) had suddenly disappeared off the face of the Earth. Hawkman takes over and addresses why the 'Justice Battalion' name was dropped (namely to avoid confusing the general public), and what happened to the aforementioned 'vanished heroes' during the war. It turned out they actually originated from an alternate universe known as Earth-X where the war against the Axis Powers was lost. Following the war on Earth-2, they ended up on a third parallel Earth. Senator Hopkins has a hard time digesting this information, though Congresswoman Valdez at least accepts it as a possibility given the Spectre's impromptu appearance the day before.

Hawkman continues to name some of the other foes the Justice Society faced during the war such as the King Bee and the Mad Maestro, but Senator Hopkins is not interested in hearing those exploits since they are irrelevant to the reasons the heroes have been summoned to court. The senator goes back to the main things the Justice Society are being tried for such as the Justice Society swearing allegiance to Nazi Germany and sabotaging an experiment that would have protected America from Axis Powers bombings. The senator admits he would not believe any of the accusations himself had the diary been written by someone other than Batman.

During this portion of the hearings, Richard Grayson ruminates over the possibility that Helena Wayne may be right about her father's diary being a lie. He is also still uncomfortable with the idea of Bruce's otherwise good reputation being compromised if Helena Wayne is proven right. Feeling tired of waiting, Wesley Dodds (the Sandman) stands up to testify on behalf of the team despite being in ill health following a stroke. Starman attempts to get him to sit down and not compromise his health further, but Dodds tells him and each of his teammates to back off and let him speak. He confronts the committee on the fact that the Justice Society is being tried despite them trying to call it something else, and given all that has transpired, all members have a right to be heard. This earns the applause and admiration from the audience. Realising he's not strong enough to continue, Sandman decides to take a seat and Helena offers him some tea to soothe his throat.

Inside the main offices of the Capital Globe, a mysterious man named John O'Fallon is witnessing the trial of the Justice Society from a distance and reveals his own personal reasons for wanting to see them convicted: he believes they murdered his father and attempted to cover it up decades ago. In a hotel room in Washington DC, a shadowed Per Degaton shares similar thoughts. If the committee fails to convict the Justice Society of the crimes he feels they committed, he himself will take matters into his own hands.

The committee goes back to an earlier discussion about some of the Justice Society heroes leaving the team during the 1944-1945 timeframe. Sandman says he experienced his first heart attack during that time (despite being a young man) and was advised by his general physician to lead a quieter life to not complicate his health further. Dr. Fate states that it would take hours for him to explain to the committee the difference between the two Helmets of Nabu he's worn, but states the reason he left the Justice Society was to become an actual physician, which left him no time to function as a superhero. (He's right about that). Helena Wayne then asks Hawkman about the Spectre, and Hawkman explains Jim Corrigan had found a way to get his human body to join the army during the war while he got his ethereal self to fight crime, namely by scaring mobsters to death. Lastly, Starman states the reason he left the Justice Society was to marry his wife and fulfil a promise he made to her to leave the team when he did. He only returned to the team when his wife passed away.

Congresswoman Valdez suggests a recess at this point, which the rest of the committee members agree to. The committee suggests the Justice Society heroes be escorted, but Dr. Fate declines the offer and uses his own magic to give his comrades the privacy they need. In another room in the Capitol, Helena Wayne meets with Dick Grayson to confront him about his behaviour during the hearing, and Dick asserts he's sticking to Bruce's story. Helena is appalled by his inability to proceed in this hearing objectively and Grayson throws that accusation back at her, acknowledging her own personal stake in this conflict. Helena justifies her position on the grounds that she will not see the Justice Society wrongly convicted of treason as a consequence of her own father's irrational distrust of them and tells Dick he knows this as well. She further states that if she outs her own father as Batman, the committee can look over his record and make up their mind about what kind of person he was.

Dick is appalled that Helena would be willing to tarnish her own deceased father's reputation as a way of protecting the Justice Society, especially since as a deadman, Bruce has no way of recovering from that damage. Helena states that no man is ever entirely good, not even her own father, and further asserts that she would not be defending the Justice Society if some part of her thought they were guilty as charged. Dick goes on to tell her that maybe the real reason she won't see her father's side of the story is due to her own membership into the Justice Society, and the subsequent loyalty she has to the team as a consequence of that. He goes on to further suggest that she may have some daddy issues that are surfacing during this hearing. Helena defends herself stating that maybe her father had a reason for writing all those lies, or he may have been 'losing it' in his final years. Dick asserts that he'll be sticking up for Bruce until the end and leaves an angry Helena to ponder that.

In another room of the Capitol, the Justice Society heroes are seen playing cards and sharing their reactions over the court hearings. Out of the entire group, Superman is feeling the most conflicted, believing he should've heat-visioned the diary when he had the chance to prevent what's happening now. Following this brief break, the court hearing resumes with Wildcat's testimony on his whereabouts during the war, especially since he hadn't become a member of the Justice Society until much later. It turned out that Green Lantern and the Flash had resumed their places on the team, and both Wildcat and Mister Terrific (Terry Sloane) had not been invited to join following a case they worked on together. He then goes on to detail some of the Justice Society's other exploits during this time like 'The Forgotten Crime' and a fight involving some metal-eating extraterrestrial robots. He also acknowledges that he helped the Justice Society sometime in 1946 on a special assignment involving soldiers who had become handicapped during the war.

Johnny Thunder speaks up next and details more of the team's exploits during the war, starting with a case involving a type of paint from Atlantis that made paintings come to life upon use. Other exploits involved a run-in with a time traveller, another run-in with the Brainwave, an alien named Zor, the original Psycho-Pirate, and Solomon Grundy, whom Green Lantern defeated by stranding him on the moon. Following Johnny Thunder's testimony, Senator Hopkins decides to change the pace a bit by bringing in a non-member of the Justice Society to testify: the Wizard. The Wizard makes his dramatic entrance and Helena Wayne expresses concern over the Senator's decision to invited a known criminal to testify against the Justice Society. The Wizard addresses Ms. Wayne's concerns by stating that he is only appearing in court as a US citizen, not as a villain. In another room, Senator O'Fallon further reveals that he facilitated the arrangement for the Wizard to appear at the hearing with Senator Hopkins. He hopes the Wizard will force the Justice Society to reveal how his own father died.

The Wizard begins his testimony by validating Helena Wayne's concerns that he is indeed a villain, hoping that this would present him as more honest than the Justice Society heroes. He then introduces himself as William Asmodeus Zard (leading to his initials W. I. Zard) and he started out as a gunman before becoming the Wizard after learning the magic arts in Tibet. Once he learnt what he wanted, he was able to teach himself black magic, which led him to magically slay his Tibetan master. At some point the Atom has an outburst and Helena Wayne defends her client by stating that the Wizard's track record presents him as a monster, which justifies her client's discomfort. The Wizard rejects the accusation stating that he is no bigger a monster than the one they all fought during World War II: Adolf Hitler.

The Wizard admits to having been fascinated with Hitler as an individual to the point of assisting him at one point. It was through the Wizard that Hitler obtained the magical Spear of Destiny that allowed him to control magical beings, including the Justice Society. He therefore confirmed that the Justice Society did pledge allegiance to the Third Reich. This leads to an outburst from the Flash, though Helena asks him to remain calm until the Wizard finishes giving his testimony. The Wizard concludes that upon the US entering the war, he secluded himself in a European castle to study more magic. He claims that during that time he attempted to become a hero as well, but his efforts were stopped by the Justice Society not liking the competition.

Helena Wayne steps in at this point to invalidate the Wizard's testimony as a pack of lies, though the committee reassures her that they are not holding the Wizard's word against the the Justice Society with more weight than those of her clients. The Wizard is asked by the committee to sit down until he is needed for further testimony. Both Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen express contempt for the Wizard as he sits down in front of them. Wonder Woman speaks again to also invalidate the Wizard's testimony as an attempt to whitewash his own criminal record, which is also public record. She then goes on to discuss one last villain the Justice Society faced during the war era, and that was Dr. Zee's assistant, Per Degaton.

Per Degaton had murdered his own boss in order to steal a time machine he invented. He used the time machine to travel back in time to alter history and appoint himself dictator of the world. The original timeline was eventually restored when the Justice Society travelled themselves to the point in time Degaton altered and undid the meddling he did there. With the divergent timeline erased, everyone--including Degaton--was made to forget that alternate history, and Degaton's residual memory of that timeline was interpreted as a dream. This would not be the only time Degaton would try to alter history as he tried this again more recently by stealing some Cuban missiles from Earth-Prime (the real world with no superheroes) to blackmail President Roosevelt on Earth-2 in 1942. With the help of both the All-Star Squadron and the Earth-1 Justice League, the Earth-2 Justice Society was able to defeat him once again.

Wonder Woman goes on to challenge one point mentioned in the Batman's diary: if it was true that Batman dissociated himself from the Justice Society after renouncing his allegiance to Hitler, why then did he rejoin the Justice Society along with Superman for a case involving the Stream of Ruthlessness in 1947, two years after the war ended? Additionally, she calls attention to the fact that the Wizard at one point formed his own Injustice Society, in which he and a group of other villains attempted to take over the country, which in itself proves treason on behalf of the Wizard than anything the Justice Society may have done. If not for the fact that the Justice Society intervened, the Wizard's plan may have succeeded.

When Wonder Woman mentions the first case the Black Canary (Dinah Drake) assisted the Justice Society with (involving a fairyland and an evil ruler named Lorelei), Senator Hopkins expresses disbelief and states some of these missions are too far-fetched to be true. She then challenges the senator's position by asking him if the Justice Society's missions are more far-fetched than the existence of an Amazonian princess, an extraterrestrial survivor of a doomed planet, and a power ring that grants special powers to a man? Would the senator believe their cases more if they only talked about street-level busts like the time the Justice Society stopped some delinquents from a life of adult crime?

Wonder Woman goes on to detail the Wizard's second attempt at forming a new Injustice Society, this time with the Fiddler, the Icicle, the Sportsmaster, and the original villainous Huntress, Paula Brooks. The Harlequin (Molly Mayne, later Alan Scott's wife) was also briefly a member, but betrayed the Injustice Society with the arrival of Black Canary. It later turned out she was only interested in attracting the Green Lantern's attention. Following this mission, Black Canary was made an official member and replaced Johnny Thunder. Wonder Woman confirms that the original Black Canary had passed away, but does not mention that her daughter (Dinah Laurel Lance, the second Black Canary) had immigrated to Earth-1 to join that world's Justice League.

Senator Hopkins orders for the Wizard to be returned to his prison cell, which prompts the latter to make his magical escape. His escape, however, is foiled by Dr. Fate who uses his own magic to bring him back and contain him. At this point, both Congress people Valdez and Phillips suggest ceasing the court hearing, but the senator refuses to end them until someone provides undeniable proof that the accusations as documented in the Batman's diary are indeed false. Helena Wayne then asks the senator to reconsider his position as the Wizard offered no proof himself that he was in Germany during the second world war and that he attempted his own escape just now. The senator interrupts Helena and ceases the session for the day.

Superman asks Helena her professional opinion on whether or not the Wizard's testimony hurt or helped them. She believes his attempted escape only helped their case and further believes that Hopkins may be in the pocket of newspaper tycoon, John O'Fallon, who has his own personal axe to grind with the Justice Society. She is aware of O'Fallon's belief that the Justice Society may have caused the fire that killed his father in the 1940s, and may be the real reason Hopkins wants to continue the hearing.

The chapter ends with an elderly Per Degaton destroying his television set in his hotel room in Washington DC, and deciding to take matters into his own hands after the Wizard botched his chance to help convict the Justice Society.

Review: Oof. The length of this one was tough trim, but even then, it's still pretty lengthy! Fortunately we only have one chapter left to review after this one. Yay!

In any case, just like before, the individual Justice Society members continue to give their accounts of their exploits during the second world war, though admittedly it starts to feel a bit repetitive by this third instalment. A lot of that has to do with the fact the committee members themselves tend to go back to the same questions over and over again, and each time that a member of the Justice Society gives their testimony, it's never good enough for Senator Hopkins mostly. I get that writer Roy Thomas is presenting a real world texture to the story by writing this the way a real life court case would go, but by the third instalment, you kind of want to start seeing the story to pick up pace a bit.

One thing that helps to break the cycle in this third chapter is the Wizard who brings the opposing point of view to the Justice Society's version of the story. Regrettably, that 'breaking of the cycle' is short-lived because his side of the story is immediately invalidated by the fact that he was planning his own escape the whole time.

While repetitiveness is definitely one of the major weaknesses of this chapter, it is balanced out by the fact that there are great character moments throughout this chapter. Two of my personal favourites are the ones for Wonder Woman and the ongoing conflict between Helena Wayne and Dick Grayson. I liked that Wonder Woman was better characterised in this chapter than in the last, and I especially enjoyed her challenging the committee on their willingness to dismiss the Justice Society's testimonies while never questioning the equally fantastical contents of the Batman's diary throughout. It was definitely one of her shining moments in this chapter when she asked the committee 'if Batman says X thing is true, then why does pubic record show that Y is true?'

The fact that Wonder Woman asked the most legitimate questions during this one session may have tipped Helena off on the fact that Senator Hopkins (the member of the committee who dominated the conversation) may have more of a personal stake in this hearing than he's letting on. Exactly how she suspects John O'Fallon's involvement with Hopkins, however, isn't exactly explained. Considering that O'Fallon hasn't made his presence known, nor has Hopkins ever hinted at O'Fallon's involvement, how exactly does Helena know to suspect O'Fallon's stake in all this of all people? The Justice Society heroes certainly never brought him up, and Helena doesn't exactly indicate just how far into the Justice Society's past she looked into prior to signing on as their legal counsel. At best, O'Fallon's status as a media tycoon may put him on Helena's list of suspects of people influencing Hopkins' actions, but he's also not the only enemy the Justice Society has to try and take advantage of the situation.

While we're taking about Helena, one of the major driving forces in this story continues to be her conflict with Dick Grayson who refuses to think of Bruce as anyone other than the honourable man he always knew him as. Even when there is evidence to suggest there is no validity to the lies being presented in Bruce's diary--and even Dick himself knows this--he continues to decide to look the other way at the fact. He even shifts Helena's own questions back to her when he brings up her own personal stake in this conflict. His actions, however, speak more to cognitive dissonance than a genuine belief that Helena has something against her own father. I really like how Thomas effectively conveys Dick's internal struggle with the truth and how this contrasts with Helena's confidence that everything written in the diary is a lie. It really does get you to view Helena as the more objective party in this hearing despite having a personal stake in this conflict as well.

One character I wanted to see more of in this chapter is Dr. Fate since he's barely spoken a word since the mini started. Not only is Kent Nelson one of my favourite JSAers, but I do think he could've helped put some more momentum into this chapter since he's one of the snarkiest members of the team. If he genuinely thinks something is bullshit, he will flat out say 'something is bullshit' and talk about why it's bullshit. I definitely would've enjoyed seeing him put Senator Hopkins in his place, but I can also understand why Thomas avoided going this route with his character. He is, after all, not facing a common foe but a committee for a congressional hearing. Had he snarked at them at any point during the hearing (however valid his snarking may have been), it could've compromised the Justice Society's public image in a highly televised court case.

One major head scratcher in this issue that is admittedly not on the writer is the initialling of the Wizard's name. How exactly does a name like 'William Asmodeus Zard' get initialled as 'W. I. Zard?' To be more specific, how does the first letter of his middle name suddenly change from an 'A' to an 'I' if they're not going by the second letter of his first name? I even looked up the character to see if it was a typo on Thomas' part, but it turns out that this his how the character's middle name is actually spelled. So I guess this one falls on Gardner Fox, the original creator of the character? Not sure what the logic here is, but it did suck me out of the story for a minute.

Despite no major progress on the front of story, the third chapter nonetheless continues to do a fine job at exploring the Justice Society's earlier history. The best parts of the chapter are the character moments that we get, along with the ongoing conflict between Bruce's two heirs over the truth surrounding the mysterious circumstances of Bruce's diary. It does help to keep the chapter from being 30 pages of pure exposition (which can be overwhelming) and provides interesting insight into the individual characters (both hero and villain) as complex human beings.

★★★★☆

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