OK, pretend you’re a time-traveling fascist … one whose many schemes to rule the world have all been thwarted by one heroic band of adventurers.
You’re trapped in the time stream. How do you while away eternity? What do you do for fun?
You travel across the years to watch how your foes die again and again.
It’s like the ultimate Netflix binge for super-villains. And it’s the creepy premise of “JSA” No. 59, “Time and Time and Time Again,” cover date May 2004, as Degaton drops in on Justice Society members to torment them with hints about their futures.
Or just to watch them suffer.
Did I mention the creepy part?
Writer Geoff Johns delivers another superb stand-alone tale. I’ve previously covered how he made Wildcat a bad-ass, demolished Thanksgiving with the Justice League and saved a Golden Age Great for Christmas.
This is no one-off to be dismissed. It builds on plots brewing in the book for months and drops several two-ton anvils about what is to come that are only apparent in hindsight.
If Johns didn’t have a plan, he sure had some ideas of where he wanted to take the DC Universe – and we get those hints through a madman who started out as a lowly lab assistant and then worked his way up to time-busting megalomaniac. You won’t find that career path at DeVry Institute.
The World War II villain narrates the issue with controlled contempt, adding to the bleakness of the tale.
In vignettes that cut across time, he offers his condolences to Dr. Midnite over the death of his protege – who will die in the next issue; he tells the Flash that he walked on his grave – but that Jay died like a man; he knows the JSA will be interfering with his plans again – “but not without shedding some blood and tears” (starting almost a year later in “JSA” No. 68); and he torments the original Hourman with the possibility of saving his son’s life.
No one is happy to when Degaton pops up, but only one being has the power to get him to skedaddle. When he spies on the reunited Hector and Lyta Hall in Dr. Fate’s tower, their son Daniel – the new Dream, in a rare mainstream DCU cameo – tells him to get lost.
Degaton reminds him: There are no happy endings, only endings.
But in perhaps Degaton’s most haunting time jaunt, he warns Hawkgirl – who has died in so many incarnations over the years – that her next death will be worse than anything she has ever experienced.
“Your will was there. I saw it in your eyes myself. But it broke just like your bones.”
For fans, this was a prophecy that would not be explained until the horrific events of Johns’ miniseries “Blackest Night” in 2009. There, the reanimated corpses of Ralph and Sue Dibny savagely attacked and ultimately rip out the hearts of Hawkman and Hawkgirl. Johns was dropping bread crumbs for that series even five years earlier in “JSA.”
At the close of the issue, Degaton savors Stargirl’s heartbreak as Captain Marvel dumps her. The JSA is understandably skeeved about a seemingly grown man dating a 16-year-old, and Captain Marvel can’t – he won’t – reveal his secret identity to the team.
She’ll cry all night long, Degaton tells us. And when the sun finally breaks, he’ll go back in time – and watch it all over again.
“If I can’t hurt them the old-fashioned way – I’ll watch life do it for me.”
Because that’s how super-psycho voyeurs roll.
While Ethan Van Sciver provided the cover, guest artist Sean Phillips gives a striking interpretation of the Justice Society. He seemed made to cover the Golden Age greats and I wish he could have stuck around. Check out his rendering of the Flash.
I swear I read this story at least twice a year, and every time, I’m amazed at the mix of characterization and foreshadowing.
Go on. You have all the time in the world.