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Retro Comic Review:
JSA: The Liberty Files #1-2 By Matt Martin
DC Comics Ė Dan Jolley, Tony Harris (w); Tony Harris, Ray Snyder (a)
I am such a sucker for this book. 1) I love Batman. 2) Iíve always felt that Nazis make the perfect villain for almost any story, since thereís absolutely nothing redeemable about them, so thereís little to no chance of a face turn down the road for the Nazi bad guy (as opposed to the number of villains gone good during the Ď90s, like Venom and Sabretooth). 3) Thereís something inherently cool to me about Elseworlds. Probably the fact that theyíre alternate reality stories that neither disrupt the narrative flow of the regular DC Universe books (i.e., Batman and JSAís stories didnít go on hiatus to tell this story as a crossover) nor carry on for more than a couple of issues.
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At the same time, I have some very real issues with most Elseworlds books. Primarily, it seems to me that every time DC produces a title under the banner that involves more than one character, the story will inevitably revolve around Superman and how the DC Universe could never have reached its current incarnation without him landing in Kansas and being raised by the Kent family. The earlier mini-series The Nail dealt with it. Mark Millarís upcoming Superman: Red Son mini is dealing with it. And JSA: The Liberty File deals with it.
The Liberty Files begins as a complete riff on the film Casablanca. However, rather than have Peter Lorre intercept Nazi documents and stash them in Rickís Cafť Americain, Jack the Grin (i.e., The Joker), a schizophrenic smuggler, hides out in Hassanís, a bar in Cairo. As in Casablanca, Nazi agents are in hot pursuit of the stolen papers. However, The Liberty Files introduces the superheroic to the mundane via the use of special agents of the United States government known only as The Bat, The Clock and The Owl (Batman, Hourman and Dr. Midnite), dispatched by their commanding officers to ascertain whether or not the documents contain evidence of the existence of the long-suspected Nazi super-man (yup, there it is: Superman).
The problem with the book is two-fold. For one thing, the two-issue prestige mini reads like it was written to be a four issue standard mini-series. Each issue seems to be split in half, with two separate conflicts that resolve themselves independently of each other. Granted, the events string along sequentially towards the end, but when The Bat and company catch up with Jack the Grin halfway through the first issue, it just feel like the issue should close afterwards, rather than make a jarring jump to the next portion of the story.
Secondly, the resolution of the story is entirely too sudden. Iíve come to expect that basically all Elseworlds specials, regardless of what character they deal with, typically end with some sort of twist. Thatís part of the fun of it, when you realize, for example, while reading The Nail that the title refers to the absence of Superman. But I found myself stopping right before the conclusion to check and see how many pages were left in the book, because I couldnít see any way that the writers could logically conclude the story in such a short span of time. Granted, itís a conclusion that Iíd been expecting since I learned the super-manís name, but it was still unsatisfying.
In the end, JSA: The Liberty Files is a fun read because of the homage that it makes to a classic film or two and because Elseworlds specials, if written at least competently, are usually amusing in a fanboy sort of way. However, I have a strange feeling that marketing played a role in the pace of this story (prestige issues can be set for a much higher price point that standard issues) and itís sad, because the format works to the detriment of the narrative, in my opinion.