Malthusian Superheroics: Chris reviews JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA

Fellow Savage David Uzumeri is at the Toronto Fan Expo and he's liveblogging Marvel and DC's panels. Friday's DC panel featured a discussion of recap pages, with Len Wein positing that "we used to work under the theory, which I don't think is true anymore, that every issue is somebody's first issue" and Didio affirming his anti-recap-page position. Earlier this year Didio said he thought "the writers should be able to introduce readers to the ongoing story within the issue itself."

Let's take a look at that then, shall we?

Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges and Jesus Merino started a run last month in JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #29. JSA is a book with a sprawling cast of legacy heroes a concept Willingham and Sturges embrace, keeping nearly all of former writer Geoff Johns's bloated team around for their first issue. There are thirteen Society members on the cover, fifteen on the opening page, and by the end of the first sequence twenty one members total, including two introduced in this issue. Soon, the team follows a distress beacon and are ambushed by a mysterious team of twenty one villains, who appear to be part of the "Global Ultra Society of Dread" and have "trained themselves to take on specific members of the JSA."

Fortunately, no JSAer attempts to fight someone not specifically trained for them, and the GUSoD correctly guessed which of the Society's two dozen members would show up for the fight. Meanwhile, one of the new members sneaks up on Mr. Terrific, stabbing him repeatedly in the back for some reason.

Taken as the twenty ninth (or really, the one hundred and somethingteenth, given the previous JSA series and recent annuals and Kingdom Come one-shots) issue, this book borders on coherent. A less charitable person would question why Willingham and Sturges open their run by apparently killing the Society's most prominent black member while writing out Jakeem Thunder and Amazing Man. One might also question why they turned Obsidian, the team's only LGBT member, into an inanimate black egg. But that isn't my primary concern.

Where this book utterly fails is accessiblity to that fabled reader for whom this is their first issue. Sturges and Willingham have a sizable following from their work on Vertigo's Fables family of titles, and this issue was heralded as a "New Era." It stands to follow that JSA #29 is designed to be a jumping-on point for Fables fans and curious readers alike. And yet, the first issue is crammed full of forty characters, over half of which are never identified by name.

It's one thing not to name cannon fodder villains, though by implying each one was handpicked to counteract a Society member should make them more significant. Even as a dedicated superhero nerd, I can't identify many of them, and my list of characters in this comic includes such luminaries as "Metal Dude from Flash(?)", "Luchador Guy" and "Extreme Legolas".

Even more crucially, half of the Society members aren't identified. Stargirl, one of the only characters with a plot throughline besides "stand around then get ambushed" is repeatedly addressed by friend and foe alike, but "Stargirl" -- or even "Courtney", her government name -- appear nowhere in JSA #29. Power Girl, Society chairperson and star of a new ongoing series, isn't named either. She gets two lines: "What's wrong, Alan?" and "Bring it, cupcake!"

This week's JSA #30 somewhat addresses this issue by having people refer to Stargirl by name, and someone appeals to "Pee Gee" as their leader, though the context of the panels makes it so that it appears as if "Pee Gee" is a pet name for Alan Scott. If DC's comments about being concerned about things reading better in the trade, it's possible by the end of these six issues, every JSA member will be named, and perhaps even given a distinguishing characteristic.

In this week's issue, the Global Ultra Society of Dread is dispatched with the help of Doctor Fate, who one can infer is a new Dr. Fate, I guess? I either missed or blocked out the story that introduced this new Fate, but I can only assume there's a good reason Willingham and Sturges introduced a twenty-second member to the team in this issue.

I know that this sort of questioning can be intellectually dishonest, and I don't know how much a recap page crammed with dozens of headshots and names could've helped. But at least it would allow people to Google the names of the characters. Even as a longtime DCU follower, this book is AWFUL to try and follow.

I can only imagine what some poor soul brought in by Willingham and Sturges's names must be going through.