James Robinson, David S. Goyer, et al. . DC Comics, $19.95 (254pp) ISBN 978-1-4012-0090-9

The Justice Society of America was the first superhero team, and this collection hearkens back to comics from the 1940s in both structure and setting. In classic superhero group story structure, the entire team gathers to hear about the latest Earth-shattering threat, then splits up to individually challenge bits of the menace, regrouping at the end to confirm the world has been saved. Set in the 1940s, each story is told by a different writer and art team, resulting in varying style and tone. The clear-cut mission of the past—a dedication to doing the right thing and winning WWII—has here been darkened. For example, Johnny Thunder, previously a happy-go-lucky guy who did his best at controlling a powerful genie, is now a self-doubting slacker who just wants to listen to the radio. The writers have set up this out-of-character take to make Johnny's eventual heroism more dramatic, but it may grate on those who prefer the earlier version. Certainly, the early stories lacked characterization, and the heroes needed to become three-dimensional. But having them squabble with each other just to demonstrate personality, as they do here, misses the point. The writers also show the heroes questioning whether an atomic bomb should ever be exploded, deciding the carpet bombing of Dresden was unjust and attacking members of the U.S. military. These out-of-date attitudes mirror another of this collection's aspects: the female hero team-up, which features gratuitous panty shots while other characters ogle them. This attempt at retrofitting today's jaded view of war and justice onto full-color heroes falls short. (Nov. 2003)