Secret Origins #31: Justice Society of America

Ryan Daly and the Super Squad of Al Gerding, Kyle Benning, and the Irredeemable Shag review the origin of the Justice Society of America from Secret Origins #31.

Secret Origins Podcast Facebook page:

Secret Origins Podcast on Stitcher:

Let us know what you think! Leave a comment or send an email to:

This podcast is a proud member of the FIRE AND WATER PODCAST NETWORK.

Subscribe via iTunes as part of the FIRE AND WATER PODCAST:

“Premonition” (Theme for Secret Origins Podcast) written and performed by Neil Daly.

Additional music: “Battle Hymn of the Republic” by The Kings of Dixieland; “Charging Fort Wagner” by James Horner; “Battle Hymn of the Republic” by US Navy Band Sea Chanters Chorus; “Stars and Stripes Forever” by Jelly Roll Morton.

Thanks for listening!

21 responses to “Secret Origins #31: Justice Society of America

  1. a quick comment at the one hour mark,
    it makes me nervous that I am agreeing with Shag so often. however I think hes right about the JSA being better with out the Trinity. in The pre-crisis origin they felt forced in to the story.

    1. Don’t be nervous Bradley! You are right!!
      Check out my JSA action figure shelf! Such great heroes getting the job done! Superman and Batman need not apply!
      Shag's JSA action figure shelf!

  2. Great episode…
    Great coverage of a comic I’m not fond of. This was when I when I bought it proably one of the greatest dissapontments I had in comics reading. I’m a JSA fan from early on in my comic fandom. When I was first collecting, they were only my third favorite team. After X-men and New Teen Titans, who had on going books. post Crisis they were my favorite team once I “grew out” of those other two. I was buying this series from my Comic book store when it came out. I was excited,and then that ending. I wasn’t a huge fan of the art and then that ending. I thought for sure the team was going away and this was going to be the sad last we ever heard of them.
    thanks for the great eppisode

  3. Great episode! I almost questioned why of all the network guys, Shag got the call on this one (hello…EARTH 2 CHRIS…remember?), but I had no idea Firestorm Fan was almost JSA Jockey or something. You learn something new everyday.

    A few thoughts: I gotta agree, the original is better. I can appreciate what Thomas did with the Spectre, but the Spectre has plenty of iconic “WOW” moments in his history. Crisis on Infinite Earths #10 being one of those. But Al Pratt does not. And Thomas robbed him of that moment. Speaking of the Spectre, Bair is channeling Jim Aparo in Spectre’s mug shot in FDR’s file for sure!

    I miss Superman and Batman with the JSA. Yes, they were really only honorary members in the Golden Age, and only made two appearances. One was a cameo, and one was a full-blown adventure. But, in the Bronze Age, young creators were really exploring the ramifications of aging heroes on a parallel world, and seeing an aged Superman, and aged and eventually deceased Batman was one of the aspects about Earth-Two that really appealed to me. They could do things with those versions of the characters they would never dare do with the “main” versions. They still didn’t butt into the JSA’s stories every time, but when they did show up, it was special. I missed that.

    In this story, I missed that weird moment where Hitler unmasks Batman, only for Fate to magically make another cowl appear beneath. And then there’s Staton’s KA-POW splash of Superman tearing through that bomber! I first read the original in a DC Digest reprint. That boor book is barely holding together nowadays, I read it so much!

    I totally agree with you on Bair’s art. He does have an uncanny ability to sell an image that seems greater than it really is, under scrutiny. The tiny Atom has always bothered me. I seem to recall a “next issue” blurb or house ad that showed an even tinier Atom on the cover, but I may just be getting senile. But Green Lantern’s arms arm is way too short, and like you said, looks like Rex has been swiggin’ beer, as well as Miraclo. I do like his stuff overall, but it’s got a really nice veneer to it, overtop some sometimes shaky foundation.

    As far as the team not really working, well…they didn’t work as a team much really, until after the Spectre and Dr. Fate were gone…and they were even depowered before that. By the time the JSA started acting as a unit through a good portion of their stories, it was Flash, GL, Hawkman, The Atom, Wonder Woman, Dr. Mid-Nite, and Johnny Thunder, eventually replaced by Black Canary. That is a pretty great mix of skills, powers, and different costume dynamics.

    Great assemblage of guests! Al and Kyle obviously know their Golden Age stuff. Both have great shows on the subject. And we’ll forgive Shag on his anti-Earth-Two bias. Well, you guys can forgive him, I won’t. But we have that ongoing Crisis debate between us. 😉


  4. I got introduced to the JSA through the JLA crossovers, but one year earlier, picking up Whitman reprints of 159-160, which was a pretty rad story for an 8-year old reader, with cowboys and dinosaurs. That one picked the cast to avoid any direct duplication, which probably made it less confusing.

    I’m not sold on the idea that the JSA is better without Superman and Batman, not at all. Since the postwar 50’s JSA is ‘my’ JSA, the one that did most of the crossovers, the Superman and Batman legacy characters-Power Girl, Robin-as-solo-hero, and Huntress are some of my favorite JSAers, and it’s obviously impossible to even have those characters in a 50s context when you take away their foundations. So I’m with the ‘bring back Earth-2 classic’ solution to the JSA.

    I liked the legacy-DCU from the 80s and 90s, but it really doesn’t work any more. Another two decades separating WWII from the present means that the timeline falls apart unless we insert a ‘middle generation’ in the late 60s-early 70s of the universe. Maybe rebirth will do just that, but I doubt it. Just not enough characters that I think they’d be willing to have set in a non-modern context to fill up that generation of history.

  5. My first encounter with the JSA would have been one of the JLA/JSA crossovers in the 70s, though i don’t recall exactly which one. I do recall seeing them in a house ad for The Amazing World of DC Comics, their in-house fanzine, and wondered who some of them were. Some, like Flash and Green Lantern were obviously counterparts to the JLA heroes. The first JLA/JSA crossover I actually owned (vs read via friends) was #159 and 160, with The Lord of Time and the historical characters (Jonah Hex, Enemy Ace, Miss Liberty, Viking Prince, and Black Pirate). I had a lot more after that, including the murder mystery that Shag mentions. Prior to that, I had read All-Star 58 and then more around the time Huntress appeared (and the Adventure Comics stories).

    The JSA always seemed cooler, with that 40s look (which was mostly maintained, in the Bronze Age) and pulpier aspects. Also, they were allowed to age and had a longer history, which made them a bit more intriguing than the JLA. Also, they fought Nazis, which is always cooler. I still want my Invaders JSA crossover, though.

    One thing about the first part, when Flash name drops The Phantom Empire; if the robot really looked like something out of that serial, it would look more like this:

    By the way, if you’ve never seen a movie serial, check out this one (available on youtube). It’s a hoot, with kids riding around with capes and buckets on their heads, advanced underground civilizations, and Gene Autrey, who has to perform his radio broadcast each day or lose his Radio Ranch (which causes more than a couple of cliffhangers. It’s a weird mix of a singing cowboy b-movie and Flash Gordon.

    Personally, I preferred this story as the DC Special, from Levitz and Staton (and Layton). Staton’s art was more dynamic and the story isn’t that fundamentally different. That said, Bair captures the 40s look of things, which many artists of the period couldn’t. Bair is young here and would get better and better as the 80s progressed.

    Re: Operation Sea Lion and William Stephenson. Sea Lion was largely called off because the German’s weren’t able to control the air, with their failure of the Battle of Britain, and, they really didn’t have the sealift capability. If they had actually attempted landings, they would have had a tough time of it. They didn’t have the amphibious capability of the USS or Britain; but, they had air power and a decent naval gunfire depth. A lot would turn on the RAF ability to intercept German air support and then attacking the landing forces and naval support, and the Royal Navy driving off the German ships (or sinking them in a pitched battle).

    William Stephenson was known as Intrepid; and, one of his key roles, at this point, was a propaganda campaign designed to counter the isolationist movement in the US. Stephenson was also instrumental in the choice of William Donovan being put in charge of the new OSS. Prior to that, intelligence activities were the purview of Army and Navy Intelligence, while the FBI handled counter-intelligence. This would, eventually, lead to the CIA. he also created Camp X, which was a training ground for agents going into occupied territory.

    I got Kyle’s reference to the Bismark. seriously, guys, watch the movie Sink The Bismark; great film. It’s also a pretty darn good book, from CS Forrester (author of the Horatio Hornblower novels).

    In regards the Valkyries; this is a truer connection than Marvel’s use of the Norse myths. The Germans were big on Teutonic Myth iconography and the occult, as stated, and this jibes pretty well with Nazi rallies and propaganda. If they had a mystical weapon, this is how I see it being manifest. Roy did similar things in the debut of the Invaders, with Teutonic gods (revealed to be aliens, under a Nazi spell). It fits with Nazi ideology.

    The ending strikes me a bit too much of Phillip Wylie’s Gladiator, where (SPOILER) Hugo Danner rails against his fate and is struck down by a divine bolt of lightning. It’s why I’m not much of a fan of magic in adventure fiction. I would have preferred more technological aspects; but, that’s just me. I do think Mike Mignola does a pretty good job of mixing science and the supernatural, especially with Nazis, in Hellboy, and it was a staple of the pulps (and, by osmosis, Indiana Jones).

    As for a swan song for Roy; well, it’s what he had been working towards; but, I don’t feel he added much to Levitz’s original story. It seems like a letdown, which is how I often felt about his secret origins stuff. It didn’t have the strength of All-Star Squadron or the first year of Infinity, Inc. I felt the same way about The Last JSA Story. It wanted to be epic; but, kind of fell flat. It just seemed like he wasn’t able to make the characters his own, whether due to reverence for what came before or editorial directive. By contrast, with the Invaders, he was able to do what he liked (especially since the characters hadn’t really teamed up, apart from covers).

    1. Okay, somehow, that went from a link to a photo of The Phantom Empire, to the Phantom creeps. Different goofy robot. Actually, that one lives up to the serial title; it’s kind of creepy.

  6. Now that I’m over the hurt for not being invited onto this episode*, I feel like I can comment.

    The cover is terrible. Sorry, but there it is. As was mentioned, why they didn’t just do a new version of the classic ASC #3 cover is beyond me.

    I thought the original origin as presented in DC Special #28 was so good that seeing it mangled here really bothered me–at the time of this issue’s publishing, and still now. It just doesn’t work the same without Superman and Batman and all the accompanying beats. Again, poor Roy.

    Like the issue that will follow, this is making the best of a bad situation. You guys did your best trying to make it interesting, and I’d rather listen to this show again than re-read the book.

    And yes I do love Myrna Loy!

    (*I’m kidding of course. I’m not over it.)

  7. Ahhhhh the one issue I missed after committing to collecting the entire run (from #5 on). So I never even had a chance to see the stray Valkyrie fanny.

    Anyway, for me the JSA was a subset of the All-Star Squadron first, and not the Golden Age heroes I was most interested in, probably because Roy Thomas liked to play with the others. Except Atom, I really loved Al Pratt in ASS. And Dr. Fate. And… ok ok, I loved them all.

    Not a popular opinion apparently, but I loved Last Days of the JSA, but after that, these heroes didn’t really get their due for years. I was out of comics during the Johns days and the latter-day JSA series, but read the Lyle and Parobeck series. I like the JSA as older mentors showing up in other series, but as a team? I dunno, I always kind of wish their adventures would take place in the 40s or even 50s.

  8. Can’t add too much to the suggestions for JSA stories, other than All-Star Squadron, which made excellent use of the era and many of the characters. Also, I would add the Justice Society Returns trade, which collects the mini-series that set the stage for the JSA comic.

  9. Great episode!

    Thanks for ruining the cover for me, especially the rotund Hourman reveal. Actually thanks for ruining the inside art for me in just the same way!

    My first JSA was also the Mr. Terrific murder. But I must have known about Earth 2 from somewhere before that (maybe a Flash crossover) because I knew the concept. I just didn’t know about everyone on the team then. That was also my first Power Girl story.

    I have always loved the JSA without Superman and Batman. They have enough stories to tell. Surprisingly, I don’t mind WW being part of it.

    I can remember reading this story and just being wide eyed at the Spectre just ripping through the German navy. That’s some serious Kaiju mojo going on there. Too bad the bloom is off the rose later in the white pages conversation with God.

    Can’t wait for all the JLA stories coming up!

  10. Top show, with excellent honorary members helping out. I agree with everyone who says the original was better – that DC Special is one of DC’s finest, and didn’t need a tweaked version. The heck with it.

    Batman and Superman are best as simple cameos (I nearly typed ‘I agree with Shagg’ but I know he gets tired off is acolytes following him), dropping in occasionally. But this story? Bah. I suppose we’re lucky we didn’t get flaming Neptune Perkins, Flying Fox and Arn Munro in there.

    My first encounter with the JSA was in JLA #21/22, inherited from a neighbour – just magical stories. The team is privileged to have had several distinct, excellent periods, from the return of All-Star Comics to All-Star Squadron, the minis and JSA under Robinson, Goyer and Johns. The Johns Justice Society Book had a few good new characters eg Cyclone and Tomcat (Shagg would realise that he’s HOT!), but all that Kingdom Come stuff was awful. I fear for what the upcoming revamp will bring.

  11. Alright, since I was specifically called out on the episode for my opinion on the use of the Valkyries, I’ll give it.

    First, for those of you that don’t know me (and don’t know why Kyle wanted my opinion), a little explanation. I am a Heathen, which means that I am a member of the Asatru religion and worship the Norse Gods. Since this is a reconstructionist religion, it means that I have done a good amount of reading on the subject.

    That being said, I have a couple of problems with the use of the Valkyries in this story. The first one is that, while they were warriors, the primary purpose of the Valkyries was as “Choosers of the Slain”, so they wouldn’t have been the ones out in the battle, but the ones there after everything went down. (Quick bit of trivia, only half of the slain went to Valhalla. The rest went to Fólkvangr, Freyja’s hall.) It would have made more sense for the Einherjar (those warriors already taken to Valhalla) to appear and do battle.

    The second problem I have is that, by using the Spear of Destiny to summon and control the Valkyries, it is stating that Christianity and it’s magic items are that much more powerful than the Norse deities. Taking a group of warriors that answer only to Odin and making them obey someone who just happens to be holding the Spear is just too much. Of course, I’m aware that most people aren’t even aware that my religion actually exists, but just try picturing this happening with Shiva instead and thing how Hindus would react.

    Lastly, as Jeff stated above, the Nazi’s did use a lot of Teutonic/Norse iconography in their rallies and propaganda. However, this is similar to the KKK using Christian iconography. No one in their right mind thinks that all Christians are white supremacist douche bags simply become that group subverted the symbols. It’s not the same with Asatru, since just wearing a Thor’s Hammer (as I do) is seen by some as saying that you support the Nazi cause. Comics like this don’t help that image, even if that’s not the intention.

    All that being said, I really enjoyed the show and thought the discussion of who should be in the origin story was very interesting. Looking forward to the next one.

  12. Another great episode Ryan and you did very well to handle the Batman/Superman debate – you could feel the tension in the podcast as Shagg threw the first “punch” in this debate 😉

    My first introduction to JSA characters was through thir being mentioned in their legacy characters’ series – Joan Garrick became a supporting character in Messner-Loebs “The Flash” and there was an anniversary one shot in the 1990s Green Lantern series No. 19 which referred to Alan Scott’s disappearance (this included art from the original artist Martin Nodell). The first comics featuring the teams that I bought was the 1990s miniseries. This led to Armageddon: Inferno which brought the team back and the 10 issue series by Strazewski and Parobek, which was an excellent series – I see on Amazon that this will be reprinted in trade paperback before Christmas 2016, as well as The Last Days of the Justice Society (which I assume will have additional material as Amazon appears to be selling this for $16.99).

    I read the origin from DC Special 29 as it was part of the Justice Socity Trade Paperbacks which reprinted the All-Star Comics of the 1970s and had beautiful Brian Bolland covers. Listening to the amended tale from your recap in this episode, I would agree that the original sounds far better than what was presented in Secret Origins.

    All in all, another good tale, and am looking forward to the JLA episode in 2 weeks time.

  13. Another great episode. I will never be able to unhear “Kylo Benning” so thanks for that.

    Really the major question left after this episode ended is “When will Shag be starting up his Valkyrie Booty Podcast?”

  14. I might have encountered the JSA through house ads, but I don’t specifically remember one prior to 1983’s DC Sampler spread covering the introductory team-up with Infinity Inc. In truth though, I think I may have actually bought All-Star Squadron #24 before then, based on how awesome The Tarantula looked on the Jerry Ordway cover. I recall being intrigued by all the unfamiliar/variant versions of super-heroes in roughly the same time period as my beloved Raiders of the Lost Ark. I don’t know if the term “Earth-Two” appeared in that comic or elsewhere, but I do know that I immediately found it confusing and distancing. It reminded me of the pre-Starlin Adam Warlock stories that took place on a Counter-Earth exactly opposite of ours orbiting on the other side of the sun, where Dr. Doom was a good guy and comic book stories were stupid and sucked and didn’t matter. Even as a kid, I was perfectly happy reading “imaginary” extra-canonical stories in more fanciful settings or with more final finales, because they could be enjoyed as pure entertainment. This alternate universe stuff bugged me though, because it was supposed to be an actual destination anchored to continuity, but it was just some unnecessary variation on the “real” core Earth that couldn’t be as liberated as a fairy tale or a “What If…?” Oh goodie, stories about funky old-timey super-heroes who were mostly inferior niche market versions of the DC icons with ugly costumes. I didn’t know the word “analogue” back then, so I couldn’t have noted how at least the Squadron Supreme/Champions of Angor allowed pan-company interactions and commentary while still ultimately being dopey loser surplus characters, which made them more purposeful than the JSA.

    Even Post-Crisis, it took me a while to see any value in DC trotting out its World War II characters, since that period was forty years gone and already well-trod by nostalgia projects, not to mention readily available black & white pictures still running routinely on UHF (even as afternoon Million Dollar Movies on VHF.) Frankly, DC didn’t have Captain America among their WWII ranks. Tin Pan Alley Hat Flash and color blind Green & Purple & Black & Isn’t There Some Yellow In There Too Lantern didn’t cut it. But I did kind of like how they died again and again in violent ways in the Last Days of the Justice Society of America Special.

    It took the ’90s to finally start turning my opinion around. That’s when I started seriously investing in the DC Universe, and when the concept of generational heroes took root in their continuity. Writers like James Robinson grounded the JSA in the pulpy thirties and tumultuous post-Depression forties, revealing their heroes as coming from a hardier, more pragmatic stock than those squeaky clean tight asses from the Silver Age that I never warmed to. They were now from the “real” Earth, with decades of experience and experiences that set them apart in a good way from the second generation of DC heroes I wasn’t overly enamored with as I was plunging into the third/fourth generations via the Titans, the Supermen, the New Bloods and Zero Hour. Not a one of them was Captain America, but they were all closer to being Cap than baby boomer Hal Jordan or even the sainted dead Barry Allen.

    I don’t particularly care for Superman or Batman being considered founding members of the JLA, and they have a strong claim on the “Magnificent Seven” concept, so I could care less about their being removed from the JSA Post-Crisis. My only regret is that as with the five member JLA, the lack of the World’s Finest just meant elevated prominence for Green Lantern & The Flash on both teams. Imagine how much more distinctive and interesting the JSA would have been with Hawkman or Wonder Woman or Dr. Fate at the fore? Maybe then I’d genuinely admire the JSA instead of simply respecting their place in the DCU and liking various members to vary degrees. Heck, I might have even bothered to buy this issue of Secret Origins instead of skipping it!

  15. Another great episode.
    As much as I like Superman, I am often not happy when he is in a group simply because his power levels and power set, variable as it has been over the years, really makes it seem unfair to the others. Batman, well I’m pretty tired of this crazy-prepared Batman always wins nonsense. I really miss the Caped Crusader over the Dark Knight, but for some reason when he is on a team, despite being just another rich, powerless mystery man, he overshadows the others due to fan expectation. I guess this means I agree with Shag. I prefer the JSA without Supes and Bats, but oddly enough I do like Arnold “Iron” Munroe of Young All Stars, so I suppose that means that Golden Age (or Earth 2, if you like) Superman, early in his career, I can accept.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *