First Impressions – JSA LIBERTY FILES: THE WHISTLING SKULL #1 (of 6)

JSA Liberty Files: The Whistling Skull #1 (2012) Cover

The old DC universe ended more than a year ago, yet that apparently isn’t stopping the Justice Society of America. Despite the fact they really shouldn’t exist anymore. The JSA Liberty Files have added a new entry to its records, featuring The Whistling Skull and others in a new miniseries.

Anyone who follows my inane ramblings will know the Justice Society of America is my personal favorite superhero team. There’s just something to be said about the sense of legacy in these old characters that lends a kind of reconstructionist weight to the otherwise silly genre. Which is why I was kind of sad to see the JSA being written out of existence in DC’s recent reboot, with the versions replacing these characters (good though they may be in their own right) being a start from the beginning. Heck, Earth 2 has yet to come close to having the characters form a proper “Society”, Justice or no.

But it seems the conceat isn’t quite played out just yet, as we now have JSA LIBERTY FILES: THE WHISTLING SKULL #1.

Created originally under the Elseworlds label in 2000 by Tony Harris and Dan Jolley (the former co-writing this miniseries), the JSA Liberty Files began as two seperate two-issue tales involving JSA characters, re-imagined as covert government agents during WWII. Similarly, THE WHITSLING SKULL follows a similar set of agents, also in the WWII era.

After a flash forward to presumably the near-final battle (where all the characters appear), we’re introduced to the two primary players in this drama: the titular Whistling Skull (William, no last name given), and his partner Knuckles (Nigal Singleton). The one wears a ghastly mask and ensemble making him look convincingly like a corpse, the other wears basically a gimp suit. The two have a “Of Mice and Men” relationship, except with less meandering around California looking for work and more helping people. These Englishmen travel to Switzerland, investigating a string of disappearances in a small town.

Given the opening sequence, this adventure will eventually see them joining forces with Hourman, Dr Mid-Nite, and a guy I think is supposed to be an Elseworlds version of Wildcat. Somewhere in there, fighting a giant robot in Japan comes into the picture.

Two more things to note. The Skull seems not only to be a legacy character (during a period before such characters would show up in regular continuity), but also has a kind of link to the experiences of previous iterations of the Skull. Exactly what the nature of this connection is and why it exists will be the topic of another day. The other noteworthy aspect of the book is the pair’s contact in the village, a native who is obviously and conspicuously an invisible man. He’s got the bandaged face and gloves attached to nothing and everything. Which makes this series feel a lot like Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Before I forget, the art for the book was provided by Harris himself, who fans of James Robinson will recall as being the main artist for the nineties Starman series. So first we get a twelve-issue series for the Shade, and now this. It’s like the Justice Society and everything involved with it was most pissed off about being excluded from the New 52, and are every opportunity to leak across the gap.

Because that’s a lot of what this feels like. While a retooling of the old ways was surely called for, I never agreed with the decision to restart the entire DC universe. Say what you want about Marvel NOW, at least it’s shifting things around in increments, and without violently discarding the decades of history its accrued. And those decades of continuity included that one time Spiderman crossed over with the cast of Saturday Night Live.

So let’s get to the bottom line. Do I like this miniseries? I’ll admit I’m slightly out of my depth with the Whistling Skull, being unfamiliar with whatever old character he’s based on, assuming he isn’t an original character. On the one hand, I do love me some JSA and I can never get enough of these old heroes in their element. On the other hand, due to the comic industry writing for the trade, if I choose to follow this miniseries I’ll be at it for the next five months. Then again, I cannot pass up a chance to support the old properties.

In summation, if you’re a fan of either Starman or the JSA, I can recommend this series. I can also recommend it to fans of the old pulp-style adventures. For everyone else, though, it’s alright to skip it.

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