Review: Justice Society of America: Monument Point trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, July 09, 2012

Writer Marc Guggenheim once took one of the worst eras in Flash history and crafted from it five issues of pure genius that not only redeemed the series, but remain eminently re-readable even after the fact. This is an important fact to establish when approaching Guggenheim's Justice Society of America: Monument Point, the final pre-Flashpoint Justice Society collection, which sadly falls short of Guggenheim's earlier DC Comics work.

Though the circumstances seem the same -- Guggenheim gets to write the end of a cancelled series -- they are not the same necessarily. If anything, Guggenheim had a greater lead-time on Justice Society, such that reader expectations must be necessarily higher; at the same time, there's no telling just how close to the DC New 52 premiere that Guggenheim was told he had to wrap things up.

Where Guggenheim fumbles a bit, consciously and on-screen, he can be entirely forgiven -- matter of fact, in the chaotic run-up to the New 52, Guggenheim can be forgiven entirely. But it remains that Monument Point is filled with dull and even uncomfortable moments, surely not the pre-Flashpoint send-off that most readers would want for the Justice Society. A reader might as well stop with Bill Willingham's Justice Society: Axis of Evil or Geoff Johns's Black Adam and Isis than continue on to where the title, essentially, peters out.

[Contains spoilers]

Monument Point starts with a great fiftieth issue for Justice Society, complete with a story drawn by George Perez about the Justice Society's influence on the Justice League, and a detailed story of the Justice Society versus McCarthyism with Howard Chaykin. The book begins well, and possibly if Guggenheim had been able to actually write his story of Flash Jay Garrick as mayor of Monument Point, this would be a different review.

Monument Point has its problems by the second issue, however. Most of this is taken up by Blue Devil, Dr. Fate, and Green Lantern journeying to another dimension to save Lightning's soul -- which they do. Suspense is nonexistent here -- Lightning's life is not narratively important enough to matter either way, and the conflict is entirely removed from the struggles of the rest of the Society; this could be the Shadowpact rescuing a comrade just as easily as members of the Society. Flash's political dealings are the more important of the chapter, but they're the B-plot against a lackluster A-plot.

The book's final three issues involve the Society seeking out the ancient city buried under Monument Point. This, again, isn't necessarily specific to the Justice Society, aside from warnings of disaster from time-traveling foe Per Degaton. At one point in Guggenheim's previous Justice Society volume, Supertown, one character strongly suggested that Monument Point's secret had to do with Flash and Green Lantern's actions during World War II, including their dilemma over killing a super-powered German infant; this portended fascinating things for Monument Point, but ultimately the "secret" is simply a giant "god" who feeds on the heroes' powers and rampages through the town.

Perhaps the book's biggest missed opportunity is that Guggenheim doesn't send the Society off to Valhalla to fight the god D'arken for eternity, just the same as writers did for the Society around Crisis on Infinite Earths. Guggenheim's Flash: Full Throttle was so suffused with shout-outs to DC continuity, it's a greater surprise that he didn't do this than if he had.

Throughout the book, there's aspects that just seem off. Jesse Quick fares poorly, as Guggenheim gives her one stupid decision after another that ends up freeing D'arken. Guggenheim uses the villain Scythe again, a poorly-defined stereotypical "terrorist"; that Guggenheim suggests prejudice among some of the older Society members would be an interesting long-term story, but in one or two scenes it just makes the heroes seem creepy. As well, Guggenheim offers an intriguing plot where Mr. Terrific is targeted because his skin color differs from the original Mr. Terrific. In a video message, however, Terrific's tormentor comes off as such a buffoon -- and artist Tom Derenick's art is far too cartoony both here and in much of the book -- that it steals away a lot of the story's impact; the plot seems dumb, not devastating.

When at the end of the book Guggenheim abanons the story and just has Terrific reappear, his fleeting-intelligence problems solved -- with a wink and a nod to the audience that he just "got better" -- I cheered; in the swift run up to the New 52, there's nothing wrong with Guggenheim cutting corners for the story's conclusion especially since he acknowledges it.

There's a nice couple of moments toward the end, especially a scene with former Checkmate allies Green Lantern and Mr. Terrific, and some of the art's more distorted aspects go away when Jerry Ordway takes over (though sadly we lose the sketchy, pencilled tone that Scott Kolins and Derenick had both used on the book). Unfortunately, however, Justice Society of America: Monument Point just lacks verve -- it is not much of a Justice Society story and certainly not much of a concluding one.

Justice Society (and its JSA predecessor) has at times been one of the best series DC Comics has been publishing, and certainly at times on the top of my reading list. Unfortunately, however, as with other top series (Catwoman, Checkmate, and JLA all come to mind). it probably should have been put to pasture much earlier than it was. We'll let this iteration of the Justice Society go now, and hopefully a return to greatness is on its way with James Robinson's New 52 Earth 2.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Our look at the last days of the pre-Flashpoint Justice Society continues later in the week with our review of the final Power Girl collection, Old Friends, before our review of the first (and only) DC New 52 Mr. Terrific collection next week. Don't touch that dial!
Collected Editions 2014 Comic Book Gift Guide
Get the Collected Editions scoop before anyone else -- on Facebook!

6 comments:

  1. I had been wondering if the later (i.e. post-Johns) issues of Justice Society were worth reading, but sadly it doesn't seem like they are. worse yet, I'm not yet convinced that Robinson's Earth-2 is the path for a return to greatness. So far, it feels more like the early issues of Marvel's Heroes Reborn debacle.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I don't hold this arc's poor quality against Guggenheim because it seems he had a lot of long-term plans for the book that didn't come to fruition, but that tacked-on death at the end felt like a desperate attempt to give the story some meaning and impact.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I don't hold this arc's poor quality against Guggenheim because he clearly had long term plans for the team that didn't come to fruition, but that tacked-on death at the end felt like a desperate attempt to give the story some meaning and impact.

    ReplyDelete
  4. @Don K - your musings on the post-Johns, pre-DCnU JSA are perhaps a little harsh. As CE hints, any fan of the Flash family will get a real kick out of seeing how Jay tackles the task of mayor, for example. It's a real shame Guggenheim didn't get a chance to fully explore the seeds he had planted for this book, but that doesn't mean what is available is not worthy of attention. It won't be for everyone, but I am not sorry I picked it up.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm a little sorry I picked it up -- I'm glad you enjoyed it, Moby, though I don't think Don's that far off. The trade is useful because it helps me line up other references to Alan Scott or Jesse Quick in James Robinson's Justice League, but it really wasn't that good and I don't feel I got much out of it, and I don't expect to read it again. Kind of like the second volume of Superman: Grounded, that feels a little bit like wasted money to me, though I bought it and I have it and if I hadn't bought it, I'd always have wondered what happened in it. So maybe this one is a "recommend to borrow from the library."

    ReplyDelete
  6. Borrow from the library is exactly what I did for this one and other than that first story, it was a sad, sad end to what was a great run (counting both volumes).

    ReplyDelete