Suspended Animation Suspended Animation
by Michael Vance & Dr. Jon Suter

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July 21, 1999

Reviews in this issue:  

For Better or Worse - The Justice Society Returns


For Better or Worse

Since the advent of The Yellow Kid, a market has existed for reprints of comic strips. Supermarket racks teem with compilations of Beetle Bailey and Family Circus; patrons of bookstores encounter larger anthologies. Frequent reprinting of older anthologies provides a barometer of the continuing interest in continuity strips such as Doonesbury and Lynn Johnston's For Better or Worse.

Polls consistently give high ratings to Johnston's fictional Pattersons, a family akin to the cartoonist's own. The characters age in real time and encounter the hilarious and dark sides of life. Death and violence have touched characters close to the Pattersons, but not the family it-self.

In 1995, the infant April was rescued from drowning by Farley, the family's aging sheepdog, who died as a consequence.

Some readers were aghast; others applauded the realism. Consistent readers shouldn't have been surprised. Johnston foreshadowed the event thoroughly. Two recent anthologies make this clear.

In "Starting from Scratch" (McMeel and Andrews, 1996), Farley sired a litter of pup": including Edgar, whom the Pattersons adopted. Prior to that, we find allusions to Parley's age and physical deterioration. The book ends with Parley's death and burial.

In a shrewd effort to capitalize on public interest, the publisher has issued "Remembering Farley, reprise of sequences from his birth onwards. Readers can follow his growth from tiny puppy to aging hero. (This reader found an earlier and forgotten reference to Farley's age.) Effective closure is provided by the inclusion of strips from the summer of 1995 which depict the oldest child's first visit to Parley's grave.

Those who own the original For Better or Worse anthologies may not want the repackaged "tribute," but this format does allow a view of Johnston's consistent skill at characterization and plot development.

If aging humans are allowed to die in the next few years, it, will be interesting to see how the public reacts. No comedy strip has allowed a major character to die onstage.

Reviewed by Dr. Jon Suter


The Justice Society Returns

Anyone with the slightest interest in DC Comic's oldest team of super heroes, the Justice Society of America, will want the latest series based on their adventures, The Justice Society Returns.

This is a complex package. There are two issues of All Star Comics that provide the beginning and ending episodes. There are also seven separately titled issues that contain the "in-between" parts of the story. (All-Star was the venerable title in which the justice Society appeared from 1939--1951.)

DC uses the original All-Star logo and its original corporate logo. The story structure also resembles that of classic Justice Society stories. The seven separate issues have different artists, another homage to the past.

For the separate issues, DC has revived titles familiar to Golden Age comics collectors: Adventure, All-American, National, Sensation, Smash, Star-Spangled and Thrilling. (Some of those were published by Quality, a firm acquired by DC in the 1950's.)

There are too many artists and writers involved to mention, but the writing is generally good. Some of the political ideas are more typical of the late 1990's than the mid-1940's.

There is more variation in the art. The best art is in National and Star- Spangled. I also give National credit for its effective use of Mr. Terrific, a very obscure character.

The narrator of the series is Hourman but he does not dominate. A strength of the series is an exploration of the relationship of weaker members of the Justice Society to the "powerhouses" such as Green Lantern or Hawkman. The treatment of Johnny Thunder, Atom, and Mr. Terrific adds considerable depth to their characters.

I had almost forgotten DC's experiments with sword and sorcery characters in the 1970's. Most lasted for only a few issues, particularly Stalker. That character becomes the major antagonist for the series.

This elaborate package is a prelude to a massive reworking of the Justice Society. Other attempts have not worked well, but I hope DC can set it right this time.

Reviewed by Dr. Jon Suter


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