By James Robinson (W) and Paul Smith (A)
DC Comics, $19.99
The Plot: After World War Two, most of DC’s golden age heroes (i.e. the original Green Lantern, Flash, Hawkman, Atom and Manhunter) have essentially quit from crime fighting. Meanwhile, a jingoistically patriotic hero (Tex Thompson, the Americommando) returns from the war to great fanfare, paving the way for him to gain great political influence. Behind the scenes, the forgotten heroes are falling to pieces as Thompson consolidates power. Think of a cross between New Frontier and The Watchmen.
The Positives: Paul Smith’s art is really strong throughout, which you wouldn’t think by looking at the cover. Robinson, who I assume is the same James Robinson who just delivered the worst Batman arc ever written, weaves a dense story in 200 pages (with some nice literary moments) that goes for the New Frontier feel. Except, The Golden Age came out more than a decade before New Frontier. Because it stars so many of the classic JSAers, it’s a pretty good place to learn about these characters who’ve become sort of also-rans in the DC universe. However, it is totally out of continuity as an Elseworlds title. And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that it comes recommended from my coworker John, who knows more about comic books (and owns more books) than anyone I’ve ever met.
The Negatives: Perhaps it’s hard to review this book fairly just because I can’t help but compare it to New Frontier and The Watchmen, but it is extremely similar to those books, which are two of my favorite comics stories ever. And, in that company, The Golden Age just doesn’t cut the mustard. For every bit of heady writing Robinson inserts, there are two overly cheesy lines – “A new dawn. I can almost feel its rays on my face.” – and the action bogs down under the abundance of narration boxes. The book has too many characters too, meaning none are fully established and the action scampers around like a goat on a rocky bluff.
Also, the plot just isn’t as good. Each of these three books deals with post-Golden Age heroes rallying to combat a mysterious threat. And of the three, The Golden Age has by far the silliest villain. SPOILER WARNING: Be prepared for Nazis and brain swapping, and possibly Hitler’s return. END SPOILER WARNING. Basically, you won’t see the big twist coming because it’s so laughably ridiculous. Except, it’s treated with the same seriousness of the rest of the book, so that the joke ends up being at Robinson’s expense.
The Grade: I’d like to be kinder, because I think this is probably a great read for some folks, but I just can’t give it better than a C+.