There’s a battle raging at DC Comics.
It’s been fought for decades, and it is still going on today. It’s about whether to honor the past and use it as a guidepost to the future or whether it should be wiped away like writing on a chalk board. It’s about nothing less than who gets to be a hero.
It’s about the Justice Society of America.
They are the first and greatest super-team. Others say the members are old farts who should be forgotten.
In 1994, DC decided it needed to clean up its continuity – again.
Now these days, DC seems to reboot their universe every three years or so – I expect “The Even Newer 26 – Because We’ve Run Out of Ideas for 52 Books!” any day now – but once upon a time, it was still a big deal.
The miniseries “Zero Hour: Crisis in Time” was intended as a sequel to “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” the groundbreaking maxi-event of 1985 that ran a full year. In that epic, writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez took on DC’s multiverse and streamlined it into one universe.
And here was the odd thing. If there was ever an opportunity to eradicate the Justice Society – who had spent the Silver Age on Earth 2, trotted out for yearly summer team-ups with the Justice League – this was the place to do it.
From a crass company point of view, the Justice Society was just the rough draft of the Justice League. That was the team the company was – and still is – banking on.
Yet Wolfman, despite killing off countless worlds and heroes in the “Crisis,” did not.
He addresses the point in his preface to the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” trade:
“Why did we kill all the JSA heroes? We didn’t. No JSA hero died in the Crisis. It was my policy not to kill any hero who was created before I was born. It was a silly rule, but I stuck with it for better or worse.”
It actually was an ingenious move: The Justice Society of America was now a part of Earth 1. The implication was that they inspired and trained all the heroes who came after them.
Yet the years following “Crisis” weren’t so great for the team. They were banished from the DCU to fight Ragnarok, seemingly for eternity. They returned to the DCU in another “event,” “Armageddon: Inferno.” Their short-lived monthly in 1992 was cancelled by an editor who didn’t believe DC should be publishing a comic book about senior citizens. But cancellation apparently wasn’t enough of a punishment.
“Zero Hour” was allegedly an attempt to snip those loose story threads left by “Crisis” – and it became quickly apparent that one of those threads was the Justice Society, whose very presence seemed an affront to the company that had profited so much by them.
Dan Jurgens was something of an It Boy in the company. He could write, in theory, and he could pencil, and he had killed off Superman just a couple years earlier to great sales. The company turned its hatchet man on the Justice Society.
In the convoluted mash of a story that passes for “Zero Hour,” the villain Extant – who was first Hawk and then Monarch and is maybe a future version of Waverider – it’s all very nonsensical – is unraveling time in the future and the past.
But even as Dr. Fate transports the team to the “Vanishing Point” outside time to confront Extant, Hawkman and Hawkgirl are ripped away – and combined with another Hawk-hero to create a single Hawkman.
It was incomprehensible then. It’s incomprehensible now. This was a hero reboot that led to nothing but headaches for the company.
Meanwhile, back to our regularly scheduled massacre:
At the Vanishing Point, Extant fries the Atom and blows apart Dr. Fate.
“You’re nothing!” he sneers at the team. “Old men – long past your prime! But various rejuvenation spells have kept you young beyond reason – until now!”
With a release of his fingertips, Extant transforms the assembled heroes into old, feeble men. Only Green Lantern’s ring saves him from becoming instantly geriatric.
Hourman and Dr. Midnite race forward. Extant grips their faces and curses them. “You’re already old. Now, for every second that passes – you will age another five years!”
Hourman dies immediately. For some reason, Extant can’t attack Green Lantern directly, but he can run the charge out of his ring.
Having revealed himself as another version of Waverider, Extant transports the heroes back to Earth – he has more important things to do!
Wildcat has suffered a heart attack. Starman resigns. Green Lantern realizes he can recharge his ring.
“But why?” he wonders.
Umm, because there’s a time-powered egomaniac who just murdered or gravely injured your best friends?
He turns his ring over to Kyle Rayner and tells him he is now the only Green Lantern.
And Flash, the first speedster, perhaps the strongest moral compass in the DC Universe and certainly the most decent hero, rips his insignia off his shirt. He is finished.
Just like that, the Justice Society is dead.
Oh, also dead: Dr. Midnite.
He died off-panel.
Ex-Green Lantern and Ex-Flash are informed of his passing by a physician.
Listen, there’s a lot of story here and there are a lot of Golden Age careers that need to be snipped: DC can’t spare a panel to some blind physician who fought crime.
“Zero Hour” is the worst Justice Society of America story ever told. It is a story with no grace, no honor, no respect. It took the first super-team, treated them like victims and tried to consign them to oblivion. Jurgens wrote this story in the most disrespectful, offensive manner possible.
Yet proof that you can stack a pile of shit 100 feet high and something good can still grow from the ground, “Zero Hour” introduced in just a few panels the sons of Starman. Jack Knight would ultimately go on to become the Modern Age’s Starman, and writer James Robinson would tell years of exciting, suspenseful, heartfelt stories – the kind Dan Jurgens couldn’t come near on his best day – that appealed to masses of modern-day readers while drawing on the rich history of the Golden Age.
His work would lead to an indisputably successful “JSA” spin-off title in 1999 that would launch the career of writer Geoff Johns. It would prove, for a time, that the Justice Society still had fans and to a cynical company that there was still indeed some gold left in the Golden Age.
In the pages of “JSA,” some of “Zero Hour’s” damage would be undone. The rightful Hawkman would regain his wings. The team would face down Extant again and save the original Hourman. Sentinel would reclaim his ring and his power as Green Lantern. Most importantly, the Justice Society would continue to fight tyranny wherever it arose.
It’s important to remember how times can change, how it only takes one talented creator to break a tide of stupidity.
These are sad days for the Justice Society. The team was apparently obliterated by the last universe reboot “Flashpoint” in 2011. There’s something now called “Earth 2: Society.” I don’t know who these posers are, but they’re not the Justice Society.
And if anyone ever needs a reason to know why the Justice Society is needed, why it’s always needed, here’s the best, the most concise answer, from “Justice Society of America” No. 1, published in 2007:
Because the Justice Society is family.
Because the Justice Society takes heroes and makes them better.
“Zero Hour”? Its impact became negligible in just a few years. Of the many books and heroes it attempted to relaunch – Hawkman, Fate, R.E.B.E.L.S., the Legion of Super-Heroes, Extreme Justice – only Starman would stick.
“Zero Hour” is at best a footnote. It marks the lowest point in the Justice Society of America’s fabled career. They deserved better. We deserved better.