There's no way around this simple fact; reading the latest issue of "Justice Society of America" is not a terribly pleasant experience. That's not because Bill Willingham, Jesus Merino, and Jesse Delperdang did a bad job, though. Rather, it's a deliberately downbeat, less-than-happy story where the Nazis have taken over the planet and imprisoned or killed all the heroes. With this being the third chapter in a five-part story, it's the moment where our heroes are going to be at their lowest, beaten down the most by the villains. So if you're looking for a cheery, uplifting story? "Justice Society of America" is not your first stop this month.
That said, I'm struck yet again by how much Willingham manages to evoke the same feeling that the old "JSA" series had under Geoff Johns and David S. Goyer as writers. He portrays the heroes not only as a group of calm and competent people, but as an extended family that cares about one another. You get the impression from start to finish that this is a story about strong, intelligent characters who always have a plan even when their chips are down. It's a downbeat story, but Willingham gets around that somewhat by always leaving the spark of hope alive even when there's no good reason for it to still exist. This issue shows how the world changed since the Nazis unleashed their Darkness Device that stole the powers of everyone on the planet, and how the heroes, villains, and average people alike reacted to that sudden shift. It was nice showing all different sides to the event, and how some even rejoiced in the shift while others found themselves trapped, or worse. It's a holistic view of the event across the planet, and while the main focus is on members of the JSA, Willingham keeps in mind the other heroes that were also affecteddd.
Merino and Delperdang provide the art, and while I'm a bit more of fan of Merino when he provides both pencils and inks (there's a certain smoothness that Merino's inks bring to the final product), it still looks good. Under Delperdang's inks it's a slightly more angular, harder-edged look, perhaps a better fit for Willingham's grim story. But you still see most of Merino's hallmarks as a result of the mixture of the two artists; the strong facial expressions (especially the nasty grin on Kid Karnevil's face), the good body language, the steady and solid pace of the panels across each page. Travis Moore provides a good fill-in art for "Justice Society of America" when Merino isn't available, but it's nice to see Merino back for this storyline.
"Justice Society of America" isn't a terribly happy comic right now, but knowing that it's a deliberate sequence of events, I'm still more than ready to stay on board. Since the spinning off of half the team into "JSA All-Stars," I've found "Justice Society of America" to be a book that has clarity and a level of interest about it that have been missing for a while. It's nice to see the book back on stable footing once more.