With the coming of the new JSA spin-off title, JSA ALL-STARS, we all knew which way the wind was blowing. And I guess it was an obvious move, what with the JSA ranks having risen to such ridiculous numbers that even Legionnaires are now passing judgment. Factor in too that new scribes Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges want to make an instant mark, and so we get the splintering.
JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA: THE BAD SEED collects issues #29-33 of the series, and this is a run in which I choose to give Willingham and Sturges a pass while they get their feet wet. The Bad Seed arc starts out innocently enough as the JSAers learn that Obsidian, who handles security of the JSA's brownstone headquarters, has been compressed into this egg-shaped thing and thus nullified. Then the JSA-ers go out in the field on what they believe to be a routine mission. But they walk into an ambush and fall prey to a mass meta-villain attack. Things spiral way out of control from that point. Cue the betrayal from within and the vicious death of a Justice Society member.
It's a toss-up between Brian Michael Bendis's the Hood and Mark Waid's (as filtered thru Geoff Johns) Magog as to whom I despise more. It might be Magog, and it's killing me that this arrogant twerp has got his own series going. Magog's jarhead background asserts itself as Magog begins to hoo-ha about the JSA being more of a social club than it is a disciplined paramilitary unit. Too, he's never been shy about tossing around commands, even though he's still one of the new kids on the block. It turns out, though, that several other JSA-ers share his philosophy, and so what we get - and this so soon after the Kingdom Come debacle - is a team divided AGAIN. It's hard to believe I can loathe Magog even more. But the teamwide cracks surface out of his relentless criticisms.
There's something deliberate behind the mass attacks. Someone behind the scenes has put bounties on each of the JSA, and it's sort of neat that you can gauge the power level and street cred of a JSA-er simply by the amount of bounty placed on him or her. Green Lantern rewards the most. There is a whole mess of fighty fights in these issues, and new artist Jesus Merino handles the composition really well. All the characters, heroes and scums, look dynamic going into action.
The narrative devices applied here aren't new, of course - the team tearing itself apart, the shocking fatality, the traitor within - but the writers keep things suspenseful and gripping and kept me engaged throughout, which is all I ask, really. My two favorite members are showcased. Jay Garrick tells the tale and is in the middle of most of the action. And there's a mystery surrounding Star Girl, specifically why is it that the hired super-villains refuse to harm a hair on her head. We get three new recruits, the one I'm most intrigued about being the haughty, illusion-casting King Chimera. From the moment you set eyes on the All-American Kid, you can't help but see him as a Bucky clone. And there's a nice bit with the new but not-quite-as-powerful-as-people-think Dr. Fate who ends up having to bluff the bad guys with the magical might he's not sure he has. "What manner of foul thing shall I summon to conquer thee?" he threatens the mob of super-villains. "To what dimension of pure pain shall I banish thee?" he thunders. "How am I doing so far" he asks the Flash in his normal voice. He gets the okay sign.
We don't find out why Star Girl is left alone by the bounty hunters. We don't learn the identity of the mastermind. We do learn the identity of the traitor within. And we do get a clear running demonstration of how the JSA has gotten so large that there's hardly any time for individual character development. The side characters get pushed even more to the side. I don't give a bleep that Mr. America and Lightning are relegated to the background, but when promising, likable characters like Judomaster and Cyclone have scant time to be onscreen, I regard that as bad juju. At the end of this trade Liberty Belle utters the words we've been expecting and halfway dreading: "We need to split up." Now I have to pick up two JSA titles. I really hate Magog.
3.5 stars out of 5 for this one. I could've been talked into rating it 4 stars, because I truly love the JSA, but for Magog being such the center of attention (it's like the ghosts of Waid, Ross, and Johns have possessed our new writers). In future stories, I'm expecting bigger, better things from Willingham and from Sturges, who's just packed up his bags for the JSA ALL-STAR book.