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JSA: The Liberty Files (Justice Society of America (DC Comics)) Paperback – April 1, 2004
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The first generation of superheroes arrived just in time for World War II. To that era Jolley and Harris return, but not quite, for they conjure a world subtly different than even standard comic-book reality. Batman is called in to help two other costumed crime fighters apprehend Jack the Grin (i.e., the Joker), thought to be carrying plans for a German superweapon. The mission is accomplished, and the captured document indicates that the Nazis have a "super-man." Fortunately, Uncle Sam also has a superman--namely, Superman, though he is top secret. He has a secret, too: the reason he was sent, or, rather, expelled, to Earth. The action stays hot and heavy, through WWII and into cold war H-bomb espionage. Batman and peers encounter several horrifying supervillains, capped by their most dangerous opponent ever. This Batman is a domineering, rather paranoid good guy in a dangerous world that Harris' active compositions and sharp lines, colored in dark shades lit by explosions, make more exciting than, to date, Batman movies have been. Ray Olson
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Top Customer Reviews
THE LIBERTY FILE and THE UNHOLY THREE spotlight members of the Justice Society of America, except that, instead of conventional superheroics, these mystery men are re-imagined as U.S. espionage agents operating abroad during World War II (although they still don their costumes whenever it's time to throw down). No surprise then that these stories play out more like an international spy thriller.
THE LIBERTY FILE: It's 1942, and, in Cairo, Egypt, the Bat finds himself on an espionage mission in which he's forced to team up with two agents, Charles McNider and Rex Tyler, codenamed the Owl and the Clock, respectively. Their target is the albino smuggler Jack the Grin, who had intercepted a Nazi communique which just may contain the specs for a new German prototype weapon. This, Jack the Grin promptly puts up for bidding. As the Bat and his team seek to capture the homicidal albino, an old rumor resurfaces: that Hitler had found a Super-Man, whose addition to the German ranks, if true, instantly tilts the war in the Fatherland's favor. From Egypt to Switzerland and back to Egypt, the Bat, with the help of his allies (which would include a revenge-minded Mr. Terrific), races against time to avert ultimate disaster from befalling the Allies.
THE UNHOLY THREE: 1948, and the war's been over for some years. The Bat has re-assumed the mantle of Gotham City's dark guardian and is busy spanking freaky wrongdoers like Two-Face. But when American operatives begin to be horrifyingly tortured and eliminated in Berlin, the Bat gets pulled back into covert government field work and is re-united with his old pal, the Clock. However, the third member of their "Unholy Three," Terry Sloane (Mr. Terrific), has had a falling out with Bruce Wayne years ago and won't be coming. But a near-indestructible rookie agent named Clark Kent will. In fact, because of the metahuman nature of the mission, Kent will be the one giving orders (and can you guess how long that lasts?). So off they go to Berlin, where they mean to hunt down their primary suspects: the super-strong Steel Wolf and the brutal ex-KGB interrogator, the Parasite. Then it's on to Chernobyl, Russia for a final confrontation with the Wolf and the Parasite's shadowy superior. But when the danger is revealed to be the most powerful being on the planet, the Unholy Three find themselves pitifully undermanned.
DC's Elseworlds stories rock! For the most part, I relish these "imaginary" offerings, not all of which come from the Elseworlds label. Because when they work, brother, they work. The appeal of Elseworlds is that it gives us wish fulfillment on top of wish fulfillment. THE LIBERTY FILE and THE UNHOLY THREE are well-constructed dark fables, indulging in plenty of wartime skullduggery and mayhem. It helps tremendously that the same artistic team is on board for both story arcs. Dan Jolley and Tony Harris handle the well written storytelling. Tony Harris also provides the pencils, with fine inks by Ray Snyder, resulting in some very gritty and noirish artwork. It all meshes.
So, a couple of changes. One of the staples of Batman's character is that, however grim he gets, he will NOT take a life. But, in this wartime setting, the Bat feels no compunctions against killing. And it's always fun to re-introduce his relationship with Superman. In this instance, Bruce Wayne is the very experienced operative, whereas Clark Kent is the fresh-faced newcomer. Here Bruce had actually developed a deeper camaraderie with Hourman, Dr. Mid-Nite, and Mr. Terrific. When Clark comes on board late in the game, Bruce treats him as the odd man out and with much condescension and skepticism. Also, keep a close eye on these pages as Jolley and Harris provide quick, askewed takes on other JSA members (for example, Dinah is still the Canary, but in the sense that now she's a chanteuse at a smoky night club). As well, familiar villains are shown in a different light. The Scarecrow, in particular, comes off as even more frightening and unstoppable (he's an undead but fanatical German operative, you see).
There's a nice twist each at the end of THE LIBERTY FILE and THE UNHOLY THREE, both of which I didn't see coming. I almost want to gripe that the big reveal near the end of THE LIBERTY FILE doesn't quite play fair with DC Comics' longtime fans as a key character involved wasn't even created until 1955 and certainly hadn't been around in 1942. But, then, on second thought, this IS Elseworlds, where anything can happen.
Jolley and Harris nicely balance the two elements of wartime intrigue and superheroics. In tone, it definitely feels more like an action film noir. The writers are careful to downplay the superhero elements, as the normal superhero names metamorphose into espionage code names (the Bat, the Clock, the Owl...). The costumes aren't that garish (other than Superman's colorul threads). The costumes worn by the Bat and the Clock aren't nice and clean. They look serviceable and even as if they smell a bit, from endless hours of being sweated in. And, the intense action, when it takes place, is mostly in the shadows. And, because an Elseworlds story owes allegiance only to its own continuity, people die here. And stay dead (Unless you're the Scarecrow. Who's undead). Anyway, the deaths and vicious murders of several of these sorta familiar DC Comics characters are shockingly depicted. In an Elseworld story done right, the stakes seem higher, the story seems more real. JSA: THE LIBERTY FILES is done right. The only thing that never changes, it seems, is that in whatever reality, the Bat flaunts large, brassy ones.
Last riff on Elseworlds and other "imaginary" stories. Every now and then, the mainstream titles, especially the longrunning ones, get pretty stale. Elseworlds injects new life into these characters and also happens to unearth some pretty riveting premises. Off the top of my head, Elseworlds titles I'd readily recommend are the atmospheric Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (Elseworlds),Justice League of America: The Nail (Justice League of America) and its sequel Justice League of America: Another Nail (Elseworlds), and John Byrne's Superman & Batman: Generations, An Imaginary Tale (Elseworlds) and Superman & Batman: Generations 2, An Imaginary Tale (Elseworlds). And Absolute Kingdom Come and Superman: Secret Identity, although not from the Elseworlds stamp, are simply cannot-miss reading experiences. And if you hanker for more JSA of this flavor, then take a peep at Darwyn Cooke's Absolute DC: The New Frontier and James Robinson's JSA: The Golden Age (Elseworlds). See ya in the funny pages.
As always, Harris's deep dark lines make the characters (and the action) pop off of the page. His stylized realism is a perfect match for the setting and tone. There are some artist who I love to re-envision established characters; Harris is definitely near the top of the list. I do have to agree, in civilian ID, most the characters look the same, but this is minor and doesn't slow down the book's momentum too much.
There are some minuses. Like the bulk of DC's "Elseworlds" books, the writer usually tries to cram too many established elements into the story and reintroduce too much. The Mr. Terrific element seemed pretty forced and useless, as did the Red Tornado towards the end. Other than that, the story set a pretty dynamic pace, and upped the ante in every chapter. Twists and turn abound.
This is a great read whether your a mainstream comic fan or not.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
LF is during WWII, GA is after WWII.Read more