the last time I read Justice Society, which is surprising given that in its JSA incarnation, at least, this was one of my favorite titles (JSA: Stealing Thunder remains a classic -- and hey, DC, how about a JSA by Geoff Johns omnibus?). But the book's quality lessened in my opinion in Johns's switch from JSA to Justice Society, and my experience with writers Matt Sturges and Bill Willingham's work (Fables notwithstanding) and tepid early reviews of their run on this book made me slow to pick up this newest volume.
I finally read Justice Society of America: The Bad Seed in the lead-up to the Justice League/Justice Society crossover The Dark Things, and what I found is that I liked Bad Seed better than I thought I would. That Justice Society splits into two titles at the end of this story still seems like one Justice Society title more than DC Comics needs, but the reason for the split actually makes a lot of sense. Willingham and Sturges manage to create warring factions with the Justice Society without making any of the team members caricatures of themselves. I felt Willingham's writerly persona came through perhaps a bit too much, but otherwise Bad Seed is surprisingly compelling.
Where Bad Seed works is in the conspiratorial attack against the Justice Society. The team is targeted by mysterious villains far earlier in the book than they realize, and the true intentions of the bad guys kept me guessing throughout. Mid-way through the book, there's a great sense of locked-room paranoia as the team interrogates one another to find the traitor among them (the tone is good, even if the traitor is obvious). Power Girl, Flash Jay Garrick, Jesse Quick, and others at moments do seem frightened, as if panicked, and this is a great shift for a team that starts the book almost overly self-assured.
Though there are plenty of ways in which the Justice Society fractures in this book, Willingham and Sturges represent the two sides most directly in the conflict between Wildcat and Magog. Magog is a relatively new (and therefore somewhat outcast) militaristic Society member, and Wildcat is the tough-as-nails, often gruff, former-heavyweight senior member -- in short, they're a lot alike. One could argue that Magog is a 1990s comics caricature, and the writers present Wildcat as overzealous in his attacking Magog, but it worked for me; they are enough the same as to convincingly show the Society turning against itself, whereas I didn't think the writers could convince me.
Especially when JSA became Justice Society, Geoff Johns injected a certain Normal Rockwell ethos to the stories; we saw the team help out at a fire station, for instance, and go with Stargirl to the dentist. This is well and good and different from other DC Universe titles, but it seems to stretch suspension of disbelief that an "actual" superhero team could get away with it for long. In that way, the Justice Society's split in this book feels rather natural; Magog expresses the audiences own misgivings about the direction of the Justice Society, and I do appreciate the way this plot puts focus on the title's incongruity.
The writers also consistently remembered that Power Girl is the Justice Society's chairwoman and presented her as in charge, which is a plus; as well, I liked their use of the new Dr. Fate (maybe hearkening to both writers' considerable work writing supernatural characters), and their portrayal of him as an inexperienced but ultra-powerful sorcerer learning the ropes.
Bad Seed's let-down, perhaps, is the villains themselves. The Justice Society fights a random assortment of villains from the silly, like Willingham's Tape Worm, to the powerful Eclipso whom the writers unfortunately also write as silly and cowardly. This "villain blitz" plot seemed cribbed whole cloth from a similar story Willingham wrote in Robin: Days of Fire and Madness, using many of the same villains, and one character even identifies Tape Worm as the villain "who fought Robin." Anyone who read Willingham's Shadowpact: The Pentacle Plot will recognize the team's traitor right away, and Kid Karnevil plus Tape Worm is a bit too much.
I like when writers use reoccurring characters amongst their work -- Greg Rucka does it to good effect between his Huntress, 52, and Question stories -- but Willingham's here seems gratuitous. There's so many more Justice Society-specific villains that this team can fight than Tape Worm, and Kid Karnevil is a rather incongruous choice; as compared to Rucka, Willingham does not seem to be telling large-canvas stories so much as plugging (or reusing) his earlier work, and the instances were so glaring as to take me out of the story.
That aside, however, I liked Justice Society: The Bad Seed. It has not the scope of Geoff Johns's JSA: Stealing Thunder, but there's nothing specifically embarrassing, for instance, to be found in this book; artist Jesus Merino remains consistent throughout, with some heavier inks toward the end that makes his work look like Howard Chaykin's (if you like that kind of thing). It might be a while before I pick up this title's spin-off book, JSA: All-Stars, as I'm not a big fan of Freddie Williams's art, but I'm in for Justice Society: Axis of Evil -- in part again because of Justice League: The Dark Things, but I'm looking forward to it more than I thought I would.
[Contains full covers]
What do you think of the new direction for Justice Society? Like it or hate it? Going to keep reading?