Justice Society: World War II

A little over a month ago, I was excited to learn there would be a DC animated movie featuring the first ever super hero team from comics, the Justice Society of America. I’ve discussed the Justice Society a few times here and I’ve enjoyed many of their incarnations in the comics from their earliest appearance in 1940 up through their more modern appearances in the 1990s and early 2000s. This new movie promised to return the Justice Society to World War II to punch some Nazis.

Justice Society: World War II

The story opens with President Franklin D. Roosevelt learning about the Justice Society from Colonel Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman’s long-time romantic interest. Trevor suggests these heroes could make a real difference in the war effort. We then jump ahead to what appears to be the present day. Barry Allen, the Flash who first appeared in the Silver Age comics, is having a picnic with his girlfriend Iris West when a fight breaks out between Superman and Brainiac. During the fight, the Flash attempts to stop a speeding Kryptonite bullet from hitting Superman. In the process, he speeds up so much he appears to go back in time to World War II, into the middle of a battle where the Justice Society is involved. The only thing is, Barry has never heard of this superhero team and the whole concept of superhero teams is alien to him. Still, the Flash from the modern era earns the trust of the heroes of the past and they begin following leads to a Nazi invasion of North America. The climactic scenes involve a battle between Nazi-controlled sea-dwelling kaiju-like creatures and the Justice Society.

Over the course of the movie, plenty of Nazis are punched or dispatched in other ways. At the risk of a minor spoiler, Barry learns that he didn’t travel back into the past, but to an alternate Earth. In the comics, this was a pretty typical conceit used to bring the Justice Society and Justice League together for an annual team-up. The best character arc involves the romance between Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman, which then pays off in the story involving Barry Allen and Iris West.

I was pleased to see that the early Justice Society was well represented. Hourman, Hawkman, Jay Garrick’s Flash, Black Canary and of course Wonder Woman are all present and accounted for. That said, Hourman and the original Flash were the only two Justice Society members we don’t see as familiar, regular characters again in the Silver Age and beyond. I would have enjoyed seeing at least a couple more of the early Justice Society members such as Alan Scott’s Green Lantern, the Sandman, or Al Pratt’s Atom. I also think it’s past time for the original Red Tornado, Ma Hunkel, to get a little more of the spotlight.

That all noted, I was pleased to see Wonder Woman depicted as the leader of this Justice Society incarnation. Wonder Woman’s first appearance was, in fact, in the back of an issue of All-Star Comics featuring the Justice Society and she was soon made a member. However, she was relegated to the role of secretary and rarely went on actual adventures. So, giving her the spotlight was nice.

Although I liked several elements of this movie, I didn’t think it quite lived up to the quality standards of earlier DC animated films. It’s tricky to give people good character development in large team-up pieces like this, but the script writers managed it in movies like Justice League Dark and Teen Titans: The Judas Contract. Aside from the parallel romance story, the characters weren’t explored much at all. Also, the climactic battle just seemed a little too big and over-the-top like what we’ve come to expect in the DC live action movies. I wanted to see the Justice Society punch Nazis. Somehow, a battle with a gigantic shark-octopus hybrid felt a little anti-climactic.

It was nice to see the Justice Society get the spotlight in an animated film and I hope they get a chance to appear again. I also hope they can get a stronger story and more time for less-familiar characters to show us what made them as cool as more modern heroes.

In the meantime, I’m in the process of sharing my debut comic book over at my Patreon site. We’re taking a break for the weekend, but we’ll be back with a new page on Monday. Even if you haven’t subscribed, you can see the first two pages for free. After that, you would need to subscribe. To learn more, visit https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers

Bombshells

While visiting Bisbee, Arizona a couple of weeks ago, I found a fun figurine of Batgirl with something of a steampunk makeover in a boutique called Va Voom! I walked around the shop two or three times and finally decided she had to come home with me. I also decided I had to know whether she had a formal appearance in the comics. As it turns out, she did. She was the star of DC’s Bombshells Annual #1.

For those not familiar with DC’s Bombshells, the comic was set during an alternate World War II and imagines that many of the DC Universe’s female superheroes have gathered together to fight for the Allied cause. Among the Bombshells are familiar heroines such as Wonder Woman and Supergirl. Batwoman, who I remember discovering in reprints of vintage Batman comics, also takes a major role here. The team is spearheaded by Amanda Waller, who readers of Suicide Squad are sure to recognize. I’m sad to say the comic has ceased publication, but the last three years are widely available in collected graphic novels both in print and ebook editions.

The Batgirl story in this world actually opens in the swamps of Louisiana during 1941. Killer Croc has gone in search of the Batgirl of the swamps and he succeeds. What’s more, he discovers she’s a vampire! The action moves to West Point in 1941 where Amanda Waller is talking to a new recruit named Francine Charles. Waller sends Charles on a mission to recruit Batgirl to the Bombshells. When she asks why, Waller tells her Batgirl’s story.

We learn that Barbara Gourdon was a French girl living during World War I who loved tinkering with machinery. Her mother has fields of lavender and her father is a police officer. He buys her an airplane and she learns to fly. She ultimately falls in love, but disappears when she must save her lover. It’s up to Francine Charles to learn how the ace pilot became a vampire and to see if that vampire can be recruited to the Bombshells.

At the beginning of the summer, I talked about “superhero fatigue.” In that case, I spoke primarily of finding nothing but superhero movies at the cinema. One place I rarely suffer superhero fatigue is in my local comic shop. There are many fun and innovative titles on the shelves and I see the superheroes I grew up with being taken in new and interesting directions. Superhero fatigue in the movies has much to do with the fact that we’re seeing stuff that happened 20 years ago or more in the comic pages!

I love the idea of a feminist superhero team like the Bombshells. After reading Annual #1, I picked up the entire first year of collected stories and was impressed by the writing and the artwork. I love the exploration of characters who received too little page time back when I read comics more regularly many years ago. In the Batgirl comic in particular, I liked how they gave her a lavender bat costume like she had in the Adam West series, but also created a good reason for her to have that costume.

I also liked how Batgirl took a dark turn and became a vampire. The opening scenes in the Louisiana swamps with Killer Croc reminded me not a little of Marcella DuBois’s debut in my own novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order. What’s more, Marcella is one of my own characters who I’ve explored in an alternate timeline. That version of Marcella appears in Straight Outta Tombstone which has just appeared in a nifty trade paperback edition. I have a feeling Marcella would be right at home with Amanda Waller’s Bombshells

You can learn more about Vampires of the Scarlet Order at http://www.davidleesummers.com/VSO.html

You can learn more about Straight Outta Tombstone at https://www.amazon.com/Straight-Outta-Tombstone-David-Boop/dp/1481483498/