While Black Adam takes place in the DC cinematic universe, it’s the Justice Society who make their big screen debut rather than the Justice League staging their comeback. The DCU has two major teams who swear by “justice,” and from the outside it’s hard to tell them apart.
Even Black Adam doesn’t do the best job of introducing audiences to the JSA, and explaining what makes them so different from the JLA. Inverse is here to right that wrong. Here’s all you need to know about the Justice Society of America, their significance to the superhero genre, what sets them apart from the more mainstream JLA, and what the presence of the JSA could mean for the future of the DCU.
JSA, the World’s First Superhero Team
The comic book industry exploded in the 1930s, with superheroes being the most popular genre. In 1940, publisher All-American Comics — one of several that preceded today’s DC Comics — published All-Star Comics, a series envisioned to be an anthology of comics from both All-American and another publisher, National Comics.
The premise for All-Star Comics changed with the third issue, All-Star Comics #3, which united an ensemble of the publishers’ various heroes as one team: Doctor Fate, Hourman, The Spectre, The Sandman, The Atom, The Flash, Hawkman, and Green Lantern. Together, they were the Justice Society of America, or JSA.
Strangely, the JSA doesn’t fight bad guys in their debut comic. Stemming from the series’ anthology format, the issue merely has all the superheroes recall their solo adventures over dinner. While it sounds dull, the book was an exciting prospect for readers. As Les Daniels wrote in his 1995 book DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World’s Favorite Comic Book Heroes, All-Star Comics “offered readers a lot of headliners for a dime, and also the fun of watching fan favorites interact.”
The Justice Society are the first true team of superheroes, paving the way for everyone from the Avengers and the X-Men to the Teen Titans.
Rise of the Justice League
After World War II, the popularity of superhero comics waned until they found a second life in the 1960s. By this time, National Periodical Publications had formed from mergers of National Allied Publications, Detective Comics, Inc., and All-American Publications. NPP would later change its name to DC Comics.
In March 1960, under orders from editor Julius Schwartz, writer Gardner Fox introduced a “new” Justice Society in the pages of The Brave and the Bold #28. Instead of resurrecting old characters, DC roped in seven of its most popular characters: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter.
Hoping to appeal to a post-war readership, Schwartz opted to call the new team the Justice League, evoking the popularity of sports among children. The Justice League of America was a hit with readers, spinning from The Brave and the Bold into its own comic book series. It’s been rebooted several times and still publishes stories today, and it’s been the source text for popular cartoons and movies.
Why weren’t heroes like Superman and Batman in the original JSA, you ask? In the JSA’s “team rules,” published in All-Star Comics #5, there was the stipulation that no JSA member could star in their own comic. Batman and Superman were already big-name figures when the JSA was founded, which disqualified them as members.
The JSA vs. The JLA
Crossovers between the JSA and the JLA, starting in Justice League of America #21 in 1963, represented the expansion of the multiverse in comics. It proved so popular with readers that these crossovers now occur on a regular basis.
So all these characters have met before. Philosophically, however, there are differences that separate the JLA from the JSA. In the canon of the DC Universe, Batman himself said, “The Justice League is a strike force. The Justice Society is a family.”
The Justice League is made of the world’s best heroes operating in their prime. The Justice Society, by contrast, features elder superheroes who take it upon themselves to train younger, lesser-experienced heroes — usually relatives, descendants, or sidekicks working to inherit their mantles — for a long career.
The League is meant to always have a tight roster, while membership in the JSA can balloon to much bigger numbers thanks to all the mentors and trainees. In that respect, it’s much like Marvel’s Avengers. There’s room for everyone, whether they’re a veteran hero or just starting.
How Black Adam and the DCEU break JSA tradition
Black Adam and the DCEU get a few details right about the JSA.
For starters, the JSA in Black Adam does feature elder heroes — in this case, Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) and Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan) — training the younger Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo). Cyclone and Atom Smasher take their mantles from their respective grandparents, who operated offscreen as superheroes before them.
The membership of the JSA in Black Adam is also pretty accurate. Both Hawkman and Doctor Fate were founding members of the JSA, while Cyclone and Atom Smasher were in Geoff Johns’ Justice Society of America published in the late 2000s.
But the DCEU is still making up its own JSA rules. First, there’s the obvious fact that the JSA forms after the Justice League, even though the JSA was the first superhero team. The membership is also considerably smaller than in the comics, though that doesn’t preclude new members from joining in the future.
Bizarrely, Black Adam also frames the JSA to more closely resemble the MCU’s pseudo-militaristic Avengers. The JSA exists as the film’s muddled metaphor for Western powers acting as a world police force who recklessly operate in foreign lands.
What the JSA means for the DCEU
While the future of the Justice League is unclear, at least until The Flash reboots the timeline in 2023, the JSA represents a wealth of possibilities for the DCEU.
Unlike the Justice League, the JSA is meant to introduce new superheroes to audiences. There’s really no shortage of possibilities for the JSA as a feature film franchise, with all kinds of solo and team-up movies leading to a theoretical, standalone Justice Society of America movie.
The box office performance of Black Adam will determine if more movies featuring the character are made. But it could also determine the fate of a cinematic Justice Society franchise where all kinds of veteran heroes take younger proteges under their rather literal wings. Simply put, Black Adam could be a new beginning for DC.
Black Adam opens in theaters on October 22.