Before the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, before the Legion of Superheroes and the Doom Patrol and even before the Justice League of America existed, there was the Justice Society of America. The JSA was the first superhero team in comic book history.
First appearing in 1940, the JSA still inspires story arcs today in the pages of DC comics. This blog post examines the history and key appearances of the first American team of superheroes.
The JSA was the brain child of two comic book legends: editor Sheldon Mayer and writer Gardner Fox (Golden Age: Hawkman, Flash, Green Lantern, etc).
Although we take it for granted today that our favorite superheroes exist in a shared universe (or more precisely a shared ‘multiverse’, since it’s unusual for characters from different publishers to interact), this wasn’t always the case.
In the Golden Age, not only were most stories self-contained and standalone offerings, but the heroes and their fictional worlds were also self-contained. Superman did not meet up with Robin or Wonder Woman on a regular basis; at least not in the pages of his own book. That changed when Mayer and Fox gave us the JSA.
From a marketing standpoint, the idea made good sense. As Comics historian Les Daniels puts it: “[The JSA] was obviously a great notion, since it offered readers a lot of headliners for a dime, and also the fun of watching fan favorites interact”.
From the perspective of story telling however, the concept didn’t really come to be fully exploited until the Silver Age. It was then that the interconnected universe first began to be used for crossover events and the concept of heroes sharing a single universe was utilized to achieve greater narrative complexity. By this time, with team books like the Justice League of America selling well, the super-team concept was finally exploited and fully realized as bringing the best out of the serialized format the comic book medium offered.
Here it is, this classic comic gives us the team up of the century. The Sandman, the Atom, the Spectre, Hawkman, Dr. Fate, Green Lantern, and Flash. Also showing up are: Johnny Thunder and the Red Tornado (Golden Age versions of course). The comic book world had never seen anything like this. And, apparently, neither had the writers since they did next to nothing with the characters as a group instead having them all retell a past story of their greatest individual adventure. These early All-Star Comics stories are actually pretty weak. The team doesn’t even have a mission in this issue but they get better with time. All of this does nothing to take away from the iconic cover and historical importance of this book. And collectors very well know it, allowing for an 8.5 sold on Heritage Auction to go for $72,000.00 just last week on 08/01/2019.
Although the concept pf the multiverse was introduced by Gardner Fox in his 1961 Flash story “Flash of Two Worlds!” (Flash #123), this comic is the first mention of the JSA in the Silver Age. It’s also the first Silver Age appearance of Vandal Savage, rumored to be the villain in the upcoming ‘Suicide Squad’ movie. Like a lot of DC books, prices on the Silver Age key have been softening as of late. Right now an 8.0 is worth just over $300.00, while a 9.6 (due to scarcity) will cost you multiples of that. Best returns over the last year however have been on 5.5 with a positive + 38.2% rise in prices after 3 sales (last sale: 06/22/2019 for a mere $125.00).
This little known Bronze Age gem is a JSA key because it tells the origin of the group. Obviously more affordable than the original All-Star Comics, it’s nonetheless rare in graded condition where there are a total of only of only 159 copies on the CGC census. A 9.8 sold 06/08/2019 for $182.50 and before that a 9.8 sold on Heritage for $192.00 (auction completed: 03/10/2019). If you’re a JSA completist, you’ll want this comic in your collection.
Finally, I’ll end with the All-Star Squadron. Created by Roy Thomas, Rich Buckler and Jerry Ordway in 1980, when DC wanted to relaunch the JSA in the Bronze Age. Roy Thomas took charge of the program and gave us this comic as a spiritual successor to All-Star Comics. The stories were even set in the 1940s, but on Earth Two and the title lasted until the Crisis maxi-event, when Earth Two was destroyed by the Anti-Monitor. I remember buying a copy of this off the newsstands many years ago. I still have it, but today it’s worth a lot more than the 50 cents I paid. In 9.8 condition, you can still find a blue label graded copy for just over $50.00. Current FMV according to GoCollect.com is $55.00 since the last three 9.8 copies sold for, respectively: $94.05; eBay 03/13/2019; $35.00 ComicLink 4/1/2019; and $90.00 eBay 04/13/2019.