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Back to the Past, Ahead to the Future

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The Justice Society and the heroes of DC’s Golden Age made James Robinson a name for himself, and he revitalized the characters for a whole new generation. Now, the two are reunited. 

The Golden Age wasn’t James Robinson’s first professional comic book work. He had several Terminator miniseries and an arc on Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight to his credit by that time. But that miniseries established him as one of the best writers in comics. It wasn’t just a job, it was an announcement—a new comic book bard was on the scene.

The plot of the series essentially boiled down to that of a Z-grade B-movie, but the execution of it was spectacular. The Golden Age was an “Elseworlds” story set in the years after World War II. The Justice Society was retired, many have become addicts, divorced or insane. A threat sneaks up on America that is so insidious that even if all the greatest superheroes came out of retirement they would not be able to stop it.

Many such deconstructions of the superhero have been compared to the master—Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen. But this was a case where the comparison was favorable. Robinson created a taught drama, a suspenseful thriller so richly constructed that you’d think it really was Alan Moore that wrote it. Aided by the underrated Paul Smith on art, Robinson developed even the most minor characters in fully round out concepts and created an ending that was at once exciting and satisfying.

As a fan of the Golden Age characters, I picked this series up sight unseen with not a lot of hope for a good story. I left the series with having Robinson enshrined in the pantheon of my most favorite comic book creators.

Robinson moved on to the now legendary Starman revival, and when the time came to bring back the JSA, there could be no other author other than him to do the job.

Robinson re-reintroduced the JSA in a series of one-shots that he co-wrote with David  Goyer in 1999. The pair was handed the reins to the new JSA ongoing series which debuted several months later.

This stint with the JSA only lasted five issues before Robinson left and was replace by the then relative unknown Geoff Johns. But Robinson was essential to establishing the style, tone and reasoning for the series. This wasn’t you father’s or grandfather’s JSA. This was set in present day and only three members of the 1940s group were in the cast. It became a book about legacy, about the tradition of being a hero. And the revamp was so successful that the series has survived until today.

Robinson went on to Hollywood, where he wrote and directed the comic book-themed crime caper Comic Book Villains and, notoriously, wrote the script for the critically lambasted League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film adaptation.

This week, Robinson returns to the classic heroes that made him famous and that he writes so well. Unfortunately, it is not a permanent return, as he is writing a tie-in to the Blackest Night event starring the JSA.

The plot ties into the legacy theme Robinson started 10 years ago. The deceased JSAers have risen from the grave to attack their present day namesakes.

Of course, being what it is, I doubt there will be any long-term changes to the group or any unexpected new directions to come from this series. But it is one of comics’ very best writers taking another shot at characters he writes so well. That should be enough to raise this above the usual level for these event tie-in miniseries.

Also out this week:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Willow:

Dark Horse’s “One-Shot Wonders” program, where it publishes reader-friendly, stand alone issues of its best series for new readers to try out, is still going strong, and probably will be into the new year. This week alone, there are two entries into the special event, and the one-shots feature two of the company’s hottest prospects.

The first features one of the most popular characters from the very popular Buffy the Vampire Slayer series. This one-shot features Buffy’s sorceress best friend, Willow and promises to show us what happened to Willow in between the last episode of the TV series and the first issue of the comic book series. Wondering how she got so powerful? Some the answers are found here.

Joss Whedon (W), Karl Moline (A), Dark Horse Comics, $3.50. One-Shot.

Archie #604:

Remember the brouhaha a couple months ago about the whole “Archie getting married to Veronica” thing? The one that was in all the papers? Remember the confusion and bemusement of your non-comic reading friends when several months after that the reset button was hit and Archie was now marrying Betty?

Well, this issue marks the end of the whole particular storyline, and says it will tell us what the aftermath of the whole thing was. Will he choose Veronica? Or is it Betty? Neither? Both? I guess we’ll find out here, and, supposedly, the answers will astound us. I’m voting for a return to the status quo. However, if Cheryl Blossom appears in the issue at all, all bets are off.

Michael Uslan (W), Stan Goldberg (A), Archie Comics, $2.50. Ongoing Series.

The More Than Complete Action Philosophers!:

For those who haven’t read Action Philosophers!, it might only be known as the series that launched Fred Van Lente’s career. For those who have read it, it will be remembered as a tongue-in-cheek, artistically adventurous ride through the world of philosophy. Everyone from Plato to Aristotle, Ayn Rand to Carl Jung had Van Lente’s and artist Ryan Dunlavey’s irreverent eyes applied to them.

The nine issue series has been collected into a three volumes of trade papaerbacks, but fans who like their cartoon biographies of famous philosophers all in one volume are in luck. This collection reprints all of the bios from the nine issues in chronological order and features four new stories that you will not be able to find anywhere else.

Fred Van Lente (W), Ryan Dunlavey (A), Evil Twin Comics, $24.99. Collection.

Wall-E #1:

Let’s face it, Pixar is pretty much money in the bank. Take the film Wall-E for example. The first half hour was essentially dialogue free as we followed a trash compacting robot around a completely polluted and abandoned Earth. Not exactly something that you think would make a good movie. But that early part is one of the best parts of the film and set the tone for the charming and funny film that would follow.

This new ongoing will act as a prequel to the film and show Wall-E as he wandered around doing his job in the years before E.V.E. arrived. So, if you liked the early part of Wall-E, then this series is for you. It was a great feat for Pixar to accomplish, it will be even tougher for comic book creators.

J. Torres (W), Morgan Luthi (A), BOOM! Studios, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

Angelus #1:

Danielle Baptiste was once holder of the Witchblade and is now possessed by the spirit of the Angelus. Based on root words alone, you might think that would be a step up. But that would also mean that you didn’t know much about the Witchblade universe.

Not that being Angelus is a bad thing. It’s just that the possessing force wants complete control and it takes a strong will to keep it in check. And other people want the power the Angelus brings for themselves, which brings on a bunch of constant battles. Add to that a set of unresolved issues with her girlfriend, Finch, and you have one busy and dangerous life.

This miniseries follows the “War of the Witchblades” event and spins Dani off into her new identity.

Ron Marz (W), Stjepan Sejic (A), Top Cow/Image Comics, $2.99. Six-Issue Miniseries.

Hellboy: Bride in Hell:

The other big name property that is joining Dark Horse’s “One-Shot Wonders” program this week is the one that could be viewed at the company’s greatest success—Hellboy. Created way back in 1993 for Dark Horse’s now-abandoned “Legend” imprint, the Demon with the Stone hand has been a success in films as well as comics and shows no signs of stopping.

The issue finds Hellboy searching for a teenage girl, meant to be the sacrifice to a demon named Asmodeus. Seems pretty straightforward until you realize nothing Hellboy is involved in is ever as easy as it seems.

If you need another reason to pick this up, Hellboy creator Mike Mignola reunites with horror legend Richard Corben on art. The last time these guys got together, they were nominated for an Eisner. So you can be assured that the issue will be good.

Mike Mignola (W), Richard Corben (A), Dark Horse Comics, $3.50. One-Shot.


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William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer and daughter Vanessa. He also is a comic reviewer for PopMatters, has written for Comic Foundry magazine and is the comic book movie editor for Film Buff Online. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

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