It’s May, and that means we’re approaching the premiere of Stargirl, DC’s next live action series. There are plenty of reasons to get excited for this latest small screen endeavor and one of them is that the Justice Society of America promises to factor in pretty heavily. Of course, if you don’t know who the Justice Society are, there’s no need to worry, I’ve got you covered. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that you already know some of the team’s members!
The most obvious question—and one that NO ONE should ever feel bad about asking—is what’s the difference between the Justice Society and the Justice League?
The simplest answer is that the Justice Society came first. The Justice Society of America, or JSA for short, is the oldest group in the DC Universe, predating the Justice League by twenty years. Consider them the elder statesmen of the DC Universe, especially since some of their heroes fought in World War II. That doesn’t mean they’re all boomers either. Although the Justice Society has some of the DC Universe’s oldest heroes, their roster also has a few teenagers like Stargirl and Black Lightning’s daughter Lightning. That’s right Black Lightning fans, Jennifer Pierce is a proud JSA member.
Readers first met the JSA in 1940’s All-Star Comics #3. The founding members were….
The Spectre: A supernatural spirit of vengeance.
Green Lantern: Alan Scott, the original Golden Age Lantern.
The Flash: Jay Garrick, the original Scarlet Speedster.
Sandman: A pulp-style mystery-man with a sleeping gun.
Johnny Thunder: A young man with a genie-like entity called Thunderbolt.
Hourman: A brilliant chemist who created a super-strength formula.
Dr. Fate: A sorcerer with a mysterious helmet.
The Atom: Al Pratt, a weakling who trained to become a formidable fighter.
Hawkman: A winged warrior reincarnated from an Egyptian prince.
Do any of those heroes sound interesting to you? If so, keep your eyes open when Stargirl premieres, because you might see cameos by some of them. The JSA enjoyed immense popularity during DC’s Golden Age of Comics, until they were slowly retired. Even when they weren’t being published, however, their legacy could be felt. The Justice Society was the birth of the comic book superhero team, and we wouldn’t have the Justice League without them.
In 1961’s Flash #123, Jay Garrick made a comics history-making return to team up with Barry Allen, the new Flash. This iconic story, “Flash of Two Worlds,” established Earth-Two, a concept that would change the Justice Society—and the DC Universe—forever. This established that DC’s legacy of characters resided on different worlds within one multiverse. Jay Garrick and his Justice Society teammates inhabited Earth-Two, while Barry Allen and the newer Justice League called their home Earth-One. This led to 1963’s Justice League of America #21-22, the first team-up between the JSA and the JLA. The team-up story revolutionized the comic book industry, and for years it became an annual tradition. The JSA was back, and fans couldn’t get enough.
One reason that readers seemed to gravitate to the Justice Society was because they were allowed to do things the Justice League couldn’t. Since their adventures took place on an alternate Earth, writers had the freedom to age the members up, and some of them got married, had children, retired, or even died! More surprising still, at least at the time, was that after the reality altering events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the JSA found themselves in the main DC Universe.
Although some of their history was changed, they were still World War II era vigilantes who had jumpstarted the age of heroes. As comics continued to be published in 1990’s and beyond, it was explained that the JSA’s powers and unique physiology had slowed their aging, allowing them to begin their career in the 1940’s, but still be in peak fighting condition in the age of smartphones.
Like most superhero groups, their roster has rotated over the years, but here are some of the characters you can expect to meet in Stargirl.
Starman: A privileged youngster who decided to fight for justice, armed with a powerful cosmic rod.
Stripesy: Starman’s sidekick and chauffer.
Doctor Mid-Nite: A physician superhero who happens to be blind.
Wildcat: A former boxer who decided to suit up to battle the underworld.
These characters either haven’t or have only rarely been seen in live action before, so you can probably see why fans are getting excited about Stargirl. Plus, these characters are just the tip of the iceberg. Other JSA members will likely be alluded to, including Jay Garrick, the original Flash. In many ways, the Justice Society is like a time capsule of DC’s Golden Age, only kept vibrant and relevant through generations of storytelling. They’re an important part of the DC Universe, and if you’d like to dive in and get to know them better, here’s a reading list for beginners that I put together for DCUniverse.com.
Or you could just watch Stargirl! There are tons of superhero teams out there, but the Justice Society are in a league of their own. As the elder statesman of the DC superhero community, they serve as an example for all of their peers. They are respected, and they are revered. In many ways, they are the architects of the modern DC Universe, and I can’t wait for the new generation of fans to meet them.
Stargirl premieres May 18 on DC Universe with new episodes up for streaming every Monday. Don't have DC Universe? Stargirl also airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW! Check out our official Stargirl page for all the latest news, articles and conversation about DC's newest TV show.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com and DCUniverse.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.