“Stargirl” has arrived on DC Universe and The CW, bringing with it the return of the justly legendary Justice Society of America.
The Justice Society is the oldest superhero team in comics, arriving in “All-Star Comics” No. 3 in 1940. Another milestone: The team combined characters from two different publishers, “sister” companies Detective Comics Inc. and All-American Comics Inc. (Eventually these companies would merge into DC Comics.)
The publishing premise of the JSA was simple: The team starred second-tier characters who did not have their own self-named titles, in the hopes that the additional exposure would make some of them popular enough to be promoted. Once a character gained his own title, he’d be replaced in “All-Star” by some other underexposed second banana. A good idea, even if they didn’t always stick to it. (Wonder Woman, for example, stayed with the team after getting her own title, probably so that it wouldn’t be an all-boys club.)
In the opening scenes of “Stargirl,” we see the Justice Society in mostly comics-accurate outfits battling the Injustice Society, a supervillain team straight out of “All-Star Comics.”
The Justice Society lasted until 1951, when “All-Star Comics” changed its named and format to “All-Star Western,” signaling the end of the First Heroic Age in Comics. Unfortunately, by not moving into the ’50s, the JSA became inextricably linked to World War II. Over the years since, DC Comics has suffered conniptions in contriving ways to use characters who are tethered to the middle of the past century.
First, they were established as existing on a parallel world (1961). Then this: Shunted to limbo (1986). Mostly killed (1994). Replaced by younger versions (2011). Wiped from history (2016). Gah!
The answer “Stargirl” has found is to refer to the JSA’s heyday as “10 years ago,” but in a world of uncertain vintage — old cars, social norms and technology, existing side by side with modern fashion and architecture. I doubt you will ever hear a year mentioned on “Stargirl.”
Unfortunately, most of the JSA was wiped out in those early scenes. Which, come to think of it, is a fairly common occurrence. The team has appeared twice before in live-action shows, both times with an alarmingly high mortality rate.
In Seasons 9 and 10 of “Smallville,” Stargirl (Britt Irvin) was portrayed as a protégée of Sylvester “Star-Spangled Kid” Pemberton and survived. But Pemberton, Dr. Fate, Hawkgirl, Hawkman and Sandman did not.
In the second season of “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” JSA members included Commander Steel, Dr. Mid-Nite, Hourman, Obsidian, Stargirl and Vixen. Once again Courtney (Sarah Grey) survived, along with Vixen and Obsidian. The rest didn’t make it.
JSA Mamas, don’t let your kids grow up to go on TV!
Meanwhile, “Stargirl” promises to re-create its version of the Justice Society with a new generation, something the comics also did, briefly, before killing them all off. This second wave will be comics accurate, with Yolanda Montez (Yvette Monreal) becoming Wildcat II, Beth Chapel (Anjelika Washington) becoming the second Dr. Mid-Nite and Rick Tyler (Cameron Gellman) fulfilling his father’s legacy as the new Hourman.
And, thankfully, the JSA is returning to DC Comics, after having been wiped from history by Dr. Manhattan of “Watchmen” fame. (Yes, that really happened.)
Let’s hope DC avoids killing them off for a little while this time.