"During the days of World War II, a group of costumed mystery men gathered together to form the first and greatest super-team of all time."
Once upon a time, comics had no such thing as continuity. Yes, read that sentence again. All those comics on the stands? They didn't intersect with one another. They were being read by Depression-era kids, who weren't going to write to the editor and complain about how the current issue of the Flash was at odds with a story written three years before. There were no message boards.And then something wonderful happened.The comic book All-Star Comics, in 1940, was introduced as a standard anthology title featuring characters from other anthologies. However in the third issue (Winter, 1940), writer Gardner Fox introduced the Justice Society of America, teaming up the characters. Because it was mostly for less-used characters, any character who got his own series would have minimal appearances, so Flash and Green Lantern left when they got solo comics, Superman and Batman rarely appeared, and Wonder Woman was the JSA's secretary and didn't go on missions (until late in the Golden Age All-Star run). The comic was canceled with issue #57 (February-March, 1951) at the end of The Golden Age of Comic Books, with All-Star Western continuing the numbering.Over a decade later, superheroes were on the rise again and The Flash (the Silver Age Flash, a totally different guy than the one in World War II) discovered another world inhabited by the older Golden Age characters. Continuity had been invented by this point, so the explanation was, "All those JSA stories took place on Earth-2, which has its own version of Superman, and everything from, uh, circa-1955 on is from Earth-1, which has the Justice League of America. Superman versus aliens? That was Earth-1. Superman versus Nazis? Earth-2." Thus, every summer, the JLA and the JSA would team up, in some of the few multi-part storylines of The Silver Age of Comic Books. These were often titled "Crisis on Earth-Something", and involved the two teams responding to multidimensional disasters.The JSA's own series was briefly revived in the 1970s, with All-Star Comics returning with issue #58 (February 1976). Earth-2 was treated as having existed in real time, and all the characters had aged. New characters Huntress and Power Girl were introduced as younger superheroes, related to the early group. The series lasted to #74, and included the origin of the Justice Society (told in a special, not in the series itself). The comic was then canceled in the "DC Implosion" of 1978, and its six remaining stories were published in Adventure Comics; the last issue was #466 (December 1979).The next JSA-associated series was All Star Squadron, which started in 1981 and took place during the 1940s in the JSA's prime. It included all of DC's characters from that time period, focusing less on the Justice Society proper, and was followed by the post-Crisis Young All-Stars. Meanwhile, "modern" Earth-Two stories featuring the children and friends of the JSA, called Infinity, Inc., came into being, and lasted till the early 1990s.The Crisis on Infinite Earths left the JSA relatively untouched, but DC Editorial wanted to get rid of the JSA. So, in the best tradition of the Ass Pull: "Suddenly, the JSA were attacked by a spell cast by Hitler in the last days of World War II, which summoned the demons of Ragnarok to destroy the world. The JSA had no choice but to create a hole in time and space, and all go through the hole to fight demons." The JSA were caught up in a time loop fighting demons from 1986 to 1992, when they were released during the Armageddon:Inferno crossover. They had a flashback miniseries in 1991 and a short series in 1992 that was cancelled even before its first issue by more Executive Meddling.The Crisis CrossoverZero Hourbrutally killed off members Doctor Fate, Doctor Mid-Nite, Hourman, and the Atom (an act meant to both get rid of "embarrassing" older heroes and create some epic deaths for the big story), and wrote out Carter and Shiera Hall, the Golden Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl by merging them with the Silver Age Hawkman, Katar Hol. The second revival, simply entitled "JSA", brought the team back together with numerous new members, resurrected Hourman (who retired and entrusted the mantle to his son) and the Carter Hall version of Hawkman, and eventually fizzled after 87 issues and yet another Crisis Crossover. The current series, once again titled "Justice Society of America", takes the best of all previous incarnations with the young-meets-old theme, Nazi supervillains, and a return to universe-hopping adventure. There was even a second ongoing, JSA Classified, which turns the Character Focus to individual members on their own missions. Geoff Johns joined the team under this arc (along with a few other writers, all of whom had left by fifty issues in, leaving Johns alone as sole creative writer), and became one of the writers most associated with the name.The JSA, therefore, has basically become a team of veterans and mentors for other heroes, as well as the starting point for many heroes in training. This gives the team excellent dynamics: young vs. old, cynical vs. idealist, etc. While its heroes are not as popular as those who form the Justice League, they are respected and admired by all proper heroes in The DCU as pioneers of the principles they stand for. After adding Loads and Loads of Characters in the form of other Legacy Heroes, Johns finalized his decade-long run on the book.Following his departure, the writing chores were taken over by Fables scribes Bill Willingham and Matt Sturges, who split the massive roster in two. JSA All-Stars featured Sturges' team, led by Power Girl and Magog, while the original title held all of the important Golden Age characters. Sales suffered an expected drop-off with Johns leaving,but the book remained a major part of the DC Universe.James Robinson wrote several issues during a crossover with the Justice League, and then Mark Guggenheim became the regular writer. Fan reaction to his take on the characters was mixed, to say the least. His run ended when the New 52 relaunch took place and the title was cancelled.In the New 52, Robinson is back writing the team, with the second-wave title simply called Earth-2. The Justice Society again originates and operates in the titular corner of The Multiverse, however, the team is no longer tied to World War 2, with the characters being reintroduced as younger versions from a modern background, and with updated abilities and looks.See Characters Justice Society Of AmericaTropes used by the team include:
Aborted Arc: This is a bit subjective, but Johns and Goyer were clearly planning a major dust-up between the Department of Extranormal Affairs and the JSA. The Black Reign arc probably overtook it. Also, there's the business with the Council, which again was overtaken by Black Reign when Black Adam slaughtered them off-panel to court the support of Nemesis.
The Atoner: Black Adam, a former super-villain. Later reverted to form. Currently Atom-Smasher, who followed Adam in his descent back into villainy, is filling this role.
Author Filibuster: In issue 50 of the current series, Jay Garrick is being interviewed prior to being sworn in as mayor. One of the questions involves the way in which the JSA has abandoned the whole "legacy" concept, where the younger generation is trained by the older generation, despite the fact that this is not something that's really happened yet in the actual storylines. Jay's response of "I see no reason that JSA membership should be restricted to a certain pedigree" could easily be read as author Marc Guggenheim responding to reader complaints. It certainly breaks the fourth wall.
The original roster was was Flash, Green Lantern, Hourman (I'm Batman on drugs!), Sandman (I'm Batman with precognition!), Hawkman (I'm Batman with wings!), Atom (I'm Midget Batman!), the Spectre (I'm Dead Reality Warper Batman!) and Doctor Fate (I'm a Wizard, 'arry!).
Currently, this role is filled by Mister Terrific, the third-smartest man in the world (and therefore smart enough to know that "Working Out = Good"), Hawkman (who graduated to Conan the Barbarian with wings), and Wildcat, advertised as the man who taught self-defense classes to the JLA.
Big Bad: Mordru in the first half of the JSA series, and Black Adam in the second.
Big Screwed-Up Family: Most of the inner turmoil in the JSA has been caused by the original Atom, Al Pratt's kids. Atom-Smasher was Pratt's godchild, and more recently, Pratt's son Damage (it's a complicated story) betrayed the team by siding with Gog.
Butter Face: Way back in the early days of the JSA, Johnny Thunder was thrown back in time and was betrothed to a princess who always wore a veil...
Clothing Damage: Power Girl frequently suffers this, being Ms. Fanservice. Atom Smasher's mask is also unusually fragile, often tearing from a flung bottle or somesuch object.
Comedic Hero: Johnny Thunder and the Red Tornado in the original WWII comics. Both are still around and haven't changed much.
Cool Old Guy: What, you can't see it? The original members pantsed Hitler, for crying out loud. The whole flying, bend-steel-with-their-bare-hands thing is a bonus.
Cool Ship: Following the return of their ace pilot Atom Smasher, the All-Stars have recently gained one in the form of the appropriately named Star Eagle.
Darker and Edgier: While it's still early in his run, so things may change, Guggenheim's first issue has all the hallmarks of this, with plenty of violence, destruction, and the normally polite and in-control Jay Garrick referring to the villain as a "bastard".
Deadpan Snarker: Johnny Thunder's genie, the Thunderbolt, as well as Power Girl on occasion.
Depending on the Artist: Cyclone's costume is pretty hard to draw, so various artists raise or lower the slit on the side (or remove it entirely), alter the amount of strips on the leggings, change the size or colour of her emblem, and change how baggy or large the overhanging pouch is. Even her hair is subject to this, either having long bangs, or none at all.
Quite common for some other members of the team. Power Girl's costume is explained in-universe as having multiple variations after years of varying Boob-Window-sizes, and Stargirl is often shown looking more or less young and busty.
Divergent Character Evolution: Even though the Justice Society came first and the Justice League of America was just a Silver Age update of the Justice Society, because the Justice League was more popular, it was decided that the Justice Society needed to find a new core concept to differentiate it from the Justice League. Several different ideas were tried such as being an Alternate Universe equivalent to the Justice League, being a group of middle-aged superheroes, being a group of senior citizen superheroes, until finally, they found a concept that worked sales-wise: a multigenerational family of superheroes training the next generation.
This concept behind the team has been explicitly abandoned by Marc Guggenheim.
Elseworld: There have been two notable JSA stories published under the Elseworlds imprint...
In The Golden Age, America's mystery men, including the JSA, return home after World War II and find themselves obsolete, unable to go back to catching bank robbers after spending years fighting Those Wacky Nazis. Unfortunately for everyone, though, the Nazi menace isn't quite finished...
In The Liberty Files, the Golden Age superheroes are reinvented as super-spies who fight arms dealers, Nazis, and aliens in the '30s through the '50s.
Energy Being: Although he was unaware of this at first, Alan Scott's body is now composed entirely of the green energy he's channeled through his ring for 70 years.
Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: The Wizard's first appearance. He'd been out of touch for years learning his magical powers. When he returned to civilization, he learned of the JSA. He could not conceive of intelligent super-powered people using their powers for good for altruistic reasons, and assumed the heroes were actually running an enormous scam, and he demanded to be cut in.
Evil Sorcerer: The Wizard (one of the JSA's longest-running villains), and others.
Face Heel Turn and Heel Face Turn: Atom Smasher does both over the course of the series, quitting the team for glad-handling super-villains and going easy on them (he'd murdered a villain to save his mother's life), then asking to rejoin them after realizing the life of a killer wasn't for him.
Fanservice: Power Girl's huge bustline makes her a recurring subject of "focus on bustline while she's flying towards us" angled shots, and she often suffers Clothing Damage. Unusually, however, the entire rest of the female cast tends to be either modestly-endowed (the three teenage characters) and/or full-clothed without even the form-fitting wardrobe normal for comics (Cyclone and Liberty Belle).
Flanderization: Hourman was initially an action-loving hero with many aspects, who took major issue with Atom Smasher's betrayal, and had feelings for Jesse Chambers. Fast-forward one year, and now his entire personality seems based around fawning over his wife Jesse, or screaming at Atom Smasher for betraying the team. Thanks to Loads and Loads of Characters, his few appearances in the book can only consist of just that.
Franklin D. Roosevelt: In the '80s, it was retconned that the JSA was founded at FDR's behest. Today, his fictional great-grandson "Lance" Reid, who has the power to blast beams of energy out of his hand, is actually a member. His powers, however, seem to derive from Gog, and not from any inherited presidential ability. (Which is a mite disappointing!)
FDR also had the distinction of directly founding the JSA's sister team (as revealed in an 80s Retcon and the 80s series of the same name), the All Star Squadron, a team composed of most active US-based superheroes during the war.
Genki Girl: Cyclone, possibly the only example in DC comics. Generally just a hyperactive, over-talkative motor-mouth who ends up with her mouth finally covered by another character at least twice.
He was actually committing suicide because his long-time girlfriend had died the year before, and because he knew that with the knowledge he had obtained, he was as good as dead anyway. Worse than dead, if Mordru's threats to him carried any weight. The warning to his former teammates was an act of friendship, not necessarily a plan to get them to reform the team.
And Mister America, after his entire family was murdered. He beats up the killer, stakes out the mastermind, loses (hard), and then runs from the Boston dockyards to Battery Park with an arrow in his lungs, jumps through a skylight and lands back first on the JSA's round table. His final words? "I can't let justice die."
Holier Than Thou and Hollywood Atheist: Both averted with Doctor Mid-Nite, a devout Catholic, and Mister Terrific, a staunch atheist, who are both heroically upstanding and BFFs. Score one for tolerance!
Humanoid Abomination: Johnny Sorrow and the King of Tears (which would make a great name for a rock duo, but I digress).
Idiot Hero: Johnny Thunder, a Golden Agedoofus who had a genie that had to make his statements come true after he said "cei-u"—and he often prefaced his suggestions to others with "say, you...!" Hilarity Ensues.
I Will Wait for You: Stargirl promises this to Atom Smasher during an interview with a reporter, as he goes away to prison for his war crimes. "No matter how long it takes".
Jerk Ass: Hawkman turned to this after a while, being grouchy and yelling at the younger members, then demanding leadership of the team during "Black Reign". Magog completely took this role later, suddenly developing an asshole streak a mile wide. He's an order-barking, gruff, grim, "killing the bad guys is OK" type who disrespects the entire team in his own inner monologues.
Legion of Doom: The Injustice Society of the World was the very second example in comics, consisting of many of the JSA's greatest enemies, including the Wizard, Vandal Savage, Solomon Grundy, and Per Degaton.
An example: In the first issue of the current series, we are introduced to Mister America, a legacy hero whose gear consists of nothing but a Domino Mask, a cape, and a silly little whip (and clothing!). A Golden Age villain tries to destroy his legacy by killing his family. When he finds out, he strangles the assassin with the silly little whip... which suddenly no longer looks silly.
An even better example: The JSA got side-swiped by an evil wizard, who stole two characters' superpowers, brainwashed a third guy, and put two superheroes in the hospital. Thus, the team that eventually took him down consisted of an octogenarian super-speedster, three people with the power of flight (not fast or high, either—just flight), a gang of college students taking orders from a recruitment poster, a guy whose powers were related to drug abuse, two superpowered teenage girls, a boy recovering from major surgery, a boxer in a catsuit, a mechanic in homemade Powered Armor, and a cowboy on a motorcycle.
And don't forget that two of the team's strongest members (Black Adam and Atom Smasher) had just undergone Face Heel Turns and left the moment before the wizard arrived.
Loads and Loads of Characters: Membership includes all the Golden Age heroes, and all their descendants, and all their Sidekicks, and all their sidekicks' descendants... and that's not even getting into all the reserve members.
This go more and more derided by fans, who were practically begging the new writing team to drop the roster by several characters by the time Johns left the book. Of course, the new writers promised to not only keep most of the team around, but add one new character each.
The team split with JSA All-Stars sought to avert this, but each team still had one new character on it, with a standard plus-size team roster still fighting for space. Once All-Stars was cancelled, the cast of that series (minus Damage, who was killed during Blackest Night, and Power Girl, who left to join the new JLI) rejoined the JSA proper.
Mama Bear: Power Girl starts to become this to Stargirl sometimes, once absolutely snapping at Captain Marvel for butting-in on their conversation about Atom Smasher's potential defection, coldly telling him "Whatever it is, Big Red. I think you better save it."
Magical Seventh Son:Johnny Thunder got his powers from being the seventh son of a seventh son, born on the seventh hour of the seventh day of the seventh month of 1917.
Married In The Future: In the final issue of the Extant saga, the narration is provided by a future Stargirl who implies she is married to Atom Smasher.
Never Found the Body: Alan Scott in the final issue of Guggenheim's run. A funeral is held and Jay seems to think he's dead, but since the issue even states outright that no body was found, is anyone buying it?
This may or may not have been invalidated by the Time Crash of Flashpoint, but we won't know for a while yet.
Not That Kind of Doctor: Doctor Fate. Averted by both Doctor Mid-Nites, who actually are medical doctors, to the surprise of other heroes.
Out of Focus: Happens a lot considering there's so many members of the team. Dr. Fate and Jakeem Thunder would be gone for arcs at a time in the previous run, and the current one features about 20-odd characters, about 10 of whom get to say something once an issue, and even fewer who get major parts. This led to some bizarre situations where characters were introduced and then put Out of Focus, not saying or doing anything for another few issues!
With the team split, Atom Smasher disappeared for over six months real-time, and Jakeem has been mentioned as not being on either team.
Overprotective Dad: Jay Garrick tends to be this around Stargirl—he confronts the "is sixteen, but in an adult's body" Captain Marvel about his relationship with her, and suggests that a firefighter talking her up in another issue consider the age difference. The whole elder trio later forces Atom Smasher to let Stargirl down once and for all. Courtney does not appreciate any of these moments.
Justified in-story: Jay's only (adopted) child died very young, and so he sees all of the young heroes on the team as his children, with Courtney as the youngest.
Put on a Bus: Doctor Fate in the previous run would vanish constantly searching for his wife, both to reduce the ponderous roster and to bring a major powerhouse out of the fight. Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Amazing Man, Magog and others have all done the same over time. Amazing Man has now finally been fully put there to clear out the roster a bit.
The team was Put on a Bus following the Crisis on Infinite Earths, when they decided to disband after the merging of the Earths but were called to alter the outcome of the Norse gods' Ragnarok in order to prevent Adolf Hitler from retroactively destroying the universe in 1945, which caused the team to remain trapped in a never-ending fight cycle until several years later in Armageddon: Inferno.
The team was Put on a Bus again when the DC universe rebooted in August 2011, before reappearing in Earth-2 as part of the second wave of new titles. Of course the new JSA seen in that title starts from the beginning and portrays the founders as young men and women, meaning most of the younger legacy heroes (especially those who joined recently) are likely out of luck.
Redemption Equals Death: Atom Smasher, to make good for all the people he'd killed and the dark path his life had taken, offers his own life to the Spectre so that he'll leave a city full of people alone. He dies of a heart attack, but is brought back thanks to magic lightning by his older-brother-figure, Black Adam.
Special honors must go to retired non-powered superheroine Abigail "Ma" "The Red Tornado" Hunkel, who despite being in her '80s and considerably overweight, ably fights off supervillains with a frying pan.
Retcon: the team's various changes inflicted on it after Crisis on Infinite Earths forced the removal of the Earth-2 Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman from the roster retroactively, among other changes.
There was an instance where Jakeem Thunder, trapped in the spirit world, wished for help and his genie summoned the ghosts of dead JSA members. Amongst them was the Earth-Two Batman, who was a member of the original JSA. It has been established that the Golden Age JSA was still formed in the original Earth-Two. Not to mention Golden Age Wonder Woman and Kal-L...
The JSA has now been completely removed from the history of DC's main Earth, with it being established that Superman was the first superhero to appear.
Re Tool: The series went from a pretty standard superhero series with a "Golden Age heroes and legacy characters" theme into a massive line-up of dozens of legacy characters, with the entire point now being to teach the new generation, rather than that being a side goal.
Rogues Gallery: The Injustice Society of the World, as well as a few other recurring foes like Roulette.
Rule of Funny: Everything that Roxy says or does seems to be based on what would be funniest and/or most socially inappropriate at the time.
Screwed by the Network: The early-'90s series, because DC editorial believed that no one wanted to read about senior citizen superheroes. David Goyer and Geoff Johns later proved them wrong.
Sdrawkcab Alias: It once took the JSA an entire issue of All-Star Comics to realise that evil Professor Elba and kindly Professor Able were one and the same. Not exactly their finest moment.
Shout Out: When the JSA All-Stars were looking for a team name, Judomaster suggested Kagaku Ninja Tai Gatchaman, to which one of her teammates even mention G-Force (Americanized version of the anime).
In the first storyline for JSA, the team goes up against Mordru and begin shifting into different realities. One of them is a anthropomorphic animal world home to the "Justice Critters". Starman in this world is a fox, making him "Star Fox".
Ship Sinking: Stargirl & Billy Batson (thanks to different editors) and Stargirl & Atom Smasher (thanks to a plot twist that toyed with Stargirl's emotions, and later a Romantic False Lead in Anna Fortune).
Stalking Is Love: In the first issue of JSA All-Stars, Johnny Sorrow seemed to have this for Stargirl. Eventually, it turned out to be B.S., and he was using her for a magic spell.
Stripperific: Played straight with Power Girl, but utterly averted by the rest of the female cast. In fact, the JSA may be the least Stripperific team around (the worst you get is Cyclone's long socks- and possible lack of underwear- and Stargirl's bare midriff).
Suddenly Sexuality: Mocked like all hell. When writer Bill Willingham took over the JSA title, there was a great amount of concern among fans about how this would affect Todd (as Willingham is a Republican). Some fans even feared that Willingham would "cure" Todd's sexuality. In Justice Society of America (Vol. 3)#40, Willingham attempted to address this concern in a humorous way by having the newly restored Obsidian announce that his homosexuality has been cured, only for him to quickly renounce this claim, telling the readers, while breaking the fourth wall for a brief moment, that he was only joking and that he was still gay.
Sweet Polly Oliver: The original Red Tornado, Abigail "Ma" Hunkel, was a hefty housewife with a mean uppercut who dressed up as a male superhero to clean up her neighborhood and keep her kids safe. She's still around as the JSA's museum curator, though she doesn't do the crossdressing bit any longer (except when she plays Santa).
True Companions: Due to blood ties, legacies, life-long friendships, and the various generation gaps, the JSA is one big family.
Will They or Won't They?: Atom Smasher and Stargirl appeared to be Like Brother and Sister at first, with him playing the older hero she looked up to. Other stories have shown them as married in the future, and she showed tremendous amounts of grief towards his betrayal and temporary death. Recent comics flat-out state that they're in love with each other, but the elders forced them to call it off. Then they announced their love, but need time apart after a mess with Johnny Sorrow. Just call them "Colossus and Kitty, Version 2.0".
The Worf Effect: Green Lantern Alan Scott is becoming a regular victim of this. Happened at least once in JLA's run when Blackbriar Thorn stabbed him through the heart and almost killed him. Happened again in two consecutive storylines when the Nazis killed him (sending Jay Garrick into a rage) and again in Marc Guggenheim's first issue as writer when the unknown super-terrorist broke Alan's neck in five seconds flat (sending Jay Garrick into a rage).