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Origins, Members And Role Of “Justice Society Of America” In ‘Black Adam,’ Explained

One of this year’s most awaited superhero entries, DC Extended Universe, aka DCEU’s 11th movie installment, “Black Adam,” is going to release on October 21st. The movie will be of seminal importance as it’ll feature the first superhero team in fictional history, the Justice Society of America, also known as the JSA. An animated teaser released in DC FanDome confirmed the members of this version of Justice Society to be – Doctor Fate, Hawkman, Atom Smasher, and Cyclone. The team is going to play a crucial role in the movie as well as in DCEU’s worldbuilding. We will explore their comics’ origins and impact on the superhero genre, and we will try to let readers know a bit more about each of the JSA members who will make an appearance in the movie. To better understand the importance of the JSA, knowing a brief history of their eventful existence in the comics is quite necessary.


A Few Good Men

JSA first appears in All-Star Comics # 3 (Winter 1940-41) of the Golden Age, created by legends Gardner Fox and Sheldon Mayer. The team initially consisted of eight members, namely Doctor Fate, Hourman, Atom, Hawkman, Sandman (not to be confused with Dream of the Endless), Flash (Jay Garrick), Green Lantern (Alan Scott), and Atom (golden age one). The JSA included honorary members such as DC Trinity, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. A gloom born out of economic depression, loss of faith, impending world war, and rising fascism possessed the mass and social conscience. To counteract this, Golden Age characters and superhero comics were created, and the JSA exemplified this perfectly. The JSA stories brought the heroes together to fight against the Axis forces, and Hitler was portrayed as their main antagonist. Along with the overarching patriotic theme, the JSA, like Superman, advocated for social justice. Yet subsequent years weren’t too kind to them.


Rollercoaster Progression

After the war ended, editors found it hard to keep JSA relevant or adapt it according to the changing times. As a result, the JSA series was cancelled almost silently just a year before the golden age officially ended. In the later JSA issues, the reason for their disbandment was shown in the comics’ commentary on Senator Joseph McCarthy’s “red scare tactics.” After getting manipulated by supervillain Per Degaton’s planted false evidence, the senator and the rest of the congress questioned JSA’s allegiance and suspected them to be harboring communist ideals. To ensure the security of the state, JSA is asked to reveal their identity. Unwilling to compromise their loved one’s safety and disgusted at this gesture, JSA disbands and ceases to operate. This political incident in comics, which influenced Marvel’s Civil War storyline, solidified JSA’s position as more humanistic than one doused with patriotic fervor.

The resurgence of sci-fi marked the late 50s to 60s era of comics, known as the Silver Age. Gardner Fox wanted to bring back the JSA, but in doing so, he wanted to reinvent those characters for contemporary sensibilities. Therefore, many well-known versions of fan-favorite characters like Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern and Barry Allen’s Flash came to be, along with numerous other revamped golden age characters. With new characters, a new superteam also took center stage, and a modern version of JSA, Justice League (March 1961), was created. With this, once again, confusion was created, and the importance of JSA was questioned when Justice League turned out to be a more popular, fan-favorite counterpart. To resolve this, the concept of the Multiverse was brought for the first time in fictional history (Earlier known only from a mention in Erwin Schrodinger’s speech) in DC comics. In The Flash vol 1 #123, both Jay Garrick and Barry Allen’s Flash meet each other for the first time and confirm that they belong to a different earth. 

The Justice League and JSA crossed over to their respective earths for several adventures through the 70s and 80s. By now, the sprawling infinite universes, dimensions, and parallel earths have made DC’s entire narrative platform extremely vast and intimidating. So much so that both new and even older readers found it impossible to keep track of characters and events through different eras. To reshape all of it, the absolute godfather of crossover events, “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” took place in 1985, which rebooted continuity, and brought all the characters within singular earth (which will be undone in the future). Even though DC benefitted from this decision, JSA again came under the axe contemporary editors tried to replace them with newer characters and titles once again. This propelled JSA to literal limbo as they were put out of DC continuity once again.

Throughout the 90s, fans’ love for JSA had revived them, but the attempts at a prolonged run kept failing as either the series got canceled, or JSA was killed off or forced to retire unceremoniously, resulting from editor bias. Things changed for the better at the turn of the new millennium as writers James Robinson, David Goyer, and Geoff Johns steered the JSA in a new direction. Newer characters and legacy heroes were introduced to the roster, and characters were written to suit modern sensibilities. The older group of veteran heroes took the job of mentoring the younger generation, and the JSA HQ became a shelter for rootless characters across the Multiverse. The JSA/Justice League adventures started again, and multiple spin-offs were announced. This run, combined with Geoff Johns’ own JSA titles, truly brought the golden period of JSA, as their popularity skyrocketed quickly. Despite all these bad decisions, continuity acted as a nemesis, and another DC line-wide reboot, ‘New 52,’ erased JSA out of existence in 2011. Finally, as New52 ended, with ‘Doomsday Clock’ released in 2017, writer Geoff Johns brought them back for good, and with several new related projects getting released recently, it seems their stay this time will be permanent.


Previous Appearances

Although “Black Adam” will bring JSA to the silver screen for the first time, they have appeared in live-action and animation multiple times through the years. Animated series, namely “Justice League Unlimited,” ‘”Batman: The Brave and the Bold,” “Young Justice” had appearances of JSA characters like Alan Scott’s Green Lantern, Jay Garrick’s Flash, Dinah Drake’s Black Canary, Carter Hall’s Hawkman, Ted Grant aka Wildcat and others. The animated movie “Justice Society: World War II” showcased golden age JSA adventures and was a part of the most recent DC animated universe. In live action, JSA appeared first in CW’s series “Smallville” and later in “Legends of Tomorrow.” The most significant appearance of the JSA in live action, however, took place in DC’s ‘Stargirl’ series, which has both old and new generations of JSA sharing space and is itself a JSA series all through.


Members Of Justice Society of America In Black Adam: Explained

The “Stargirl” series did a great job of introducing JSA in live action to prepare the audience for their first silver screen appearance in “Black Adam,” and both these projects were overseen by the best JSA writer of DC, Geoff Johns. Originally, Hawkgirl and Stargirl were considered as part of the roster of Black Adam, but to give their characters adequate space and treatment, they were removed. We will briefly discuss the JSA members the audience will meet in “Black Adam.”

Doctor Fate: Considered to be DC’s strongest mystic arts defense, Doctor Fate, aka Kent Nelson, made his first appearance in comics in ‘More Fun Comics’ #55 in May 1940. The character was part of the JSA’s original roster and was created by Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman. As a teenager, Kent Nelson had ventured into the ruins of Sumeria with his father and accidentally awakened the mage Nabu. Kent’s father passed away from a poisonous gas trap, and Nabu, feeling responsible, raised Kent up. Later, it was revealed that Nabu is one of the mystical near-omnipotent beings named Lords of Order. He trained Kent in all forms of mystic arts and provided three talismans. Helm of Fate, which is the source of infinite mystical powers and a vessel to contain the spirit of Nabu, Amulet of Anubis granting powers of necromancy and dimension holding, and Cloak of Destiny, protection from other spells and any physical attacks. A master sorcerer and one of the wisest members of the JSA, Kent Nelson used the power of Fate to battle otherworldly threats and to maintain the balance between order and chaos. The spirit of Nabu tried to possess Kent’s body while in command and, in the process, tried to rid him of humanity, resulting in the often emotionless, amoral state of the bearer while donning the helm. The closest comparison that can be made with Marvel’s Doctor Strange is that Fate appeared almost three decades earlier and, in turn, inspired the creation of Doctor Strange. In the movie, Pierce Brosnan plays the role of Kent Nelson, also known as Doctor Fate.

Hawkman: The origin of Hawkman has been changed, rebooted, and altered so many times that it is one of the most convoluted things in the comics, period. However, the “Black Adam” version will keep it simple with the original and most well-known version of the character, Carter Hall. The character was created by Gardner Fox and Dennis Neville for the comic book “Flash Comics” #1, that came out in 1940. In ancient Egypt, Prince Khufu, a pharaoh, discovered the cosmic-natured Nth metal and used its anti-gravity property to make wings and shapeshifting weapons. Priest Hath-Set, the mortal enemy of Khufu, killed him and his beloved Chay-ara in the temple of Horus using an Nth metal dagger. The Egyptian curse of Horus and Nth metal’s unknown properties binded the souls of Khufu and Chay-ara, making them forever entrapped in a rebirth cycle till the end of days. The curse makes all their reincarnations destined to die at the hands of different incarnations of Hath-Set. Their twentieth-century counterparts are the archaeologist’s Carter Hall and Shiera Saunders. They remember their past lives and uncover the Nth metal artifact, fall in love, and start operating as superheroes as Hawkman and Hawkgirl, taking the hawk motif of Horus as inspiration. Another founding member of the JSA, Hawkman, is often depicted as the muscle of the group, earning the title of Savage Hawkman for a reason. During Geoff Johns’s JSA run, Teth Adam, Prince Khufu, and Nabu interacted with each other in ancient Egypt. It remains to be seen whether that takes place in the movie as well. Aldis Hodge portrays the character in the movie.

Cyclone: Maxine Hunkel, aka Cyclone, activates his wind manipulation power as a metahuman after being experimented on by evil scientist T.O. Morrow. Maxine first appeared in Alex Ross and Mark Waid’s masterpiece ‘Kingdom Come’ for a single panel, 10 years before making her JSA debut in JSA vol 3 #1 (2006) by Geoff Johns and Dale Eaglesham. She is a legacy hero, as her grandmother, Abigail’ Ma’ Hunkel, aka Red Tornado, was the first female superhero in comic book history. Ma Hunkel also appeared in the very first issue of JSA and later became a caretaker of JSA headquarters. Depicted as a cheerful, brilliant, and talkative person, Cyclone was one of the first young generation recruits of JSA. Quintessa Swindell, who’s going to portray her in “Black Adam,” took dance lessons to prepare for the role.

Atom Smasher: Albert Rothstein, aka Atom Smasher, made his comic book debut in 1983 in All-Star Squadron #25 by Roy Thomas and Jerry Ordway. He was raised by his godfather, Al Pratt, whom we also know as Atom, the Golden Age Atom. Rothstein is the grandson of a supervillain named Cyclotron, who, to make amends, sacrificed his life for good. Therefore, to clear himself of the stigma of belonging to a villainous heritage, he wants to prove himself at any given chance. A conflicted hero, Atom Smasher, shares a relationship of frenemy with Black Adam, who considers Al as a brother he never had. Metahuman genes grant Atom Smasher the powers to increase physical density, size, and strength. To uphold uncle Al Pratt’s legacy, Rothstein looks up to his idols from the Golden Age, whom he has also joined as a member of JSA. Actor Noah Centineo will play him in the movie.


The Importance Of These Overlooked Legends

The current state of the DCEU is especially rocky, as there is hardly any continuity to grab onto, the Trinity has been depicted as heroes who take lives, and the Justice League has turned into a no-show since 2017. It is the perfect setup to introduce JSA, a group of wiser veteran heroes with high ideals and experience who will nurture the younger generation in the right way. JSA members share the familial bond, passing on the mantle as a legacy, providing characters and readers a sense of belonging, uniting generations of heroes, all of which is something many popular teams like Justice League or Marvel’s Avengers can never boast of! With the success of ‘Black Adam, future spin-offs can happen, and we surely can’t wait to have a WW-era JSA team-up movie in live action. The concept of super-powered individuals coming together for a common cause and crossovers was unprecedented in fictional history, even in myths. They were archetypes, following which tons of other characters were created in the comic book industry. It should be said that without JSA, not only comics, but much of the fictional world would also become unrecognizable. Having them direct the course will be a small gesture of gratitude and appreciation, something they deserve so, so much more of.  


See more: How Will Black Adam Reshape The Future Of DCEU


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Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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