Saturday, November 1, 2014

Loping Into Sequel: Justice Society Of America: Thy Kingdom Come Volume 1

The Good: Moments of intriguing groundwork for the plot and characters, The artwork is good
The Bad: Aimless plot, No real character development, Bloated cast of characters, Nothing truly stellar in the artwork.
The Basics: Beginning the sequel to Kingdom Come, Justice Society Of America: Thy Kingdom Come Volume 1 barely gets around to establishing the premise before the book ends.

Like many, many people who are fans of the graphic novel medium, I argue in favor of the idea that Kingdom Come (reviewed here!) is one of the best graphic novels ever produced. In addition to absolutely beautiful artwork, it tells a decent story and is one that is worth returning to multiple times. So, when I learned there was a sequel to Kingdom Come being written, I was naturally excited. My excitement turned somewhat toward apathy when I saw the first volume of Thy Kingdom Come on the shelves a few years ago and discovered that it would not have the same artistic style as its predecessor. The reason for that became immediately clear when I began reading Justice Society Of America: Thy Kingdom Come Volume 1; it is set in the ordinary, mundane, universe of DC Comics post-Infinite Crisis (reviewed here!).  I was motivated to give the series a try, though, when I found the latter two volumes of Thy Kingdom Come dirt cheap on a recent vacation, my wife picked me up Justice Society Of America: Thy Kingdom Come Volume 1 as a birthday gift so I could start reading the sequels. I have discovered I have an affinity for second-string superheroes, but the way the Golden Age superheroes have been resurrected in the modern day as groups like the Justice Society Of America has, traditionally, left me cold. So, my interest in Justice Society Of America: Thy Kingdom Come Volume 1 was very much more for the story than the team the story was about. Unfortunately, Justice Society Of America: Thy Kingdom Come Volume 1 wanders into its principle story and as a reader, it is frustrating to go through the “filler” that starts the book before the volume truly begins. In other words, whatever Justice Society Of America volume preceded this one could have included the first two chapters from Justice Society Of America: Thy Kingdom Come Volume 1 and stuck the remaining four chapters in the next book. I suppose DC Comics made more money this way, though.

Following an attack by Captain Nazi, the Justice Society Of America is cleaning up the loose ends. Chief among them is Nate Heywood, who was wounded in the attack on his family. At the same time, though, he was infected by a metal that reinforced his entire body, replaced his blown-off leg, and gave him virtual invulnerability. An outing to help clean up the remnants of the Nazis operating in New York gives Nate the confidence to continue being a super hero, now under the name Citizen Steel. Jesse Quick’s story is then told as she explores the transition she made growing up as a speedster to become Liberty Belle as part of the new Justice Society Of America. Liberty Belle and her husband Hourman are drawn into a conflict with Zoom as he lures Damage back over the Georgia state line and holds the supervillain hostage.

Justice Society Of America: Thy Kingdom Come Volume 1 actually gets started with a chapter devoted to Power Girl. Kara Zor-L is the last survivor of an alternate universe Krypton living in our universe and still wrestling with the consequences of Infinite Crisis and the way her native universe’s Kal-L passed judgment on the heroes of our universe. So, when the Justice Society under her leadership goes to put out a fire, ostensibly begun by raw energy flowing out of the body of the murdered supervillain Goth, she is suddenly faced with a real conundrum. In putting out the fire, Starman creates a small, temporary, black hole and as he collapses it, a Superman from another universe comes through. Starman, in a lucid moment, declares that this Superman is from Earth-22 (as the Kingdom Come universe is designated in the 31st Century). Briefly incarcerated by the Justice Society, the new Superman breaks out of his cell in order to save the life of a teenage girl who is in the middle of a suicide attempt. After his identity is confirmed, the alternate Superman confesses to Power Girl how his universe went so wrong, but he admires the motives of her Justice Society. While Kara’s Justice Society tries to recruit new members, a new adversary stalks godlike supervillains and starts eliminating them!

Even though it has been a while since I read Kingdom Come, what struck me most problematic about the basic plot of Justice Society Of America: Thy Kingdom Come Volume 1 (when it finally settled on one!) was that it seemed like the Justice Society was intent on replicating the same mistakes of the alternate-Earth’s super heroes. For sure, writer Geoff Johns repeats enough that Kara Zor-El’s Justice Society is working to keep superheroes in check and makes sure they learn from their own mistakes, but the recruiting effort of new heroes seems like metahuman eugenics and makes the DC Universe suddenly populated with a ridiculous number of super heroes (the final chapter mentions that there are over three hundred metahumans working in the Armed Forces). As a reader, not invested in the Justice Society, there is something instantly problematic about a book with thinly-defined characters by the dozen who are recruiting more members for their team. As little as I enjoyed the first two chapters of the book (mostly because they are non-sequitors to what follows), they at least explored characters fairly well. After reading them, I had a pretty good idea who Nate Heywood, Jesse Quick, and even Damage, were.

The last half of Justice Society Of America: Thy Kingdom Come Volume 1 is just scattershot on the character and plot fronts. The plot meanders as little crises pop up and the Justice Society deals with them, while the new team works to find its limits (the Wildcat father and son have a brief, pointless, boxing match, to test their abilities). But with the very thin thread of a villain killing off supervillain “gods,” the rest of Justice Society Of America: Thy Kingdom Come Volume 1 is padded with character bios that introduce several new characters who leave the reader with no emotional investment in them. Children of former superheroes are approached by members of the Justice Society for consideration for membership and . . . meh. It’s not much of a story. And the volume does not satisfactorily address why the Justice Society feels it needs more members at this particular time. Instead, there is a generic “let’s hunt down children of former superheroes” sensibility (outside Judomaster kicking some serious ass without any sense of regulation).

Geoff Johns might be building something with Alex Ross with the Thy Kingdom Come storyline, but it is not teased in a satisfactory or interesting way in Justice Society Of America: Thy Kingdom Come Volume 1. The book is drawn well-enough (not quite up to the platinum standard of Kingdom Come, but with vibrant enough coloring and clear lines to not be unpleasant to look at, but it is hardly an artistic or conceptual masterpiece.

For other works with the Justice Society Of America or super hero teams, please check out my reviews of:
Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Volume 2
The Brave And The Bold: Volume 4 – Without Sin
Justice League: Generation Lost Volume 1


For other graphic novel reviews, please check out my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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