JSA #81 (2006)

JSA #81 (March, 2006)
“My Heroes”
Writer – Geoff Johns
Pencils – Dale Eaglesham
Inks – Art Thibert
Colors – John Kalisz
Letters – Rob Leigh
Assistant Editor – Harvey Richards
Editor – Stephen Wacker
Cover Price: $2.50

Going to take a look at a later issue of JSA today… and that’s thanks to reader, Peter Garcia Sanchez… who recently commented on my ancient Angel Love #1 post with:

Now, me… being the foremost fake-ass Angel Love historian on this here internet, sat dumbfounded… shaking my head while staring at this reply.  There’s just no way this can be real… right?

I almost didn’t want to believe it because… c’mon, I really should’ve known this!

So… is it true?  Have I been living in a fool’s paradise?  Well, we’re just going to have to read on and find out.

We open at the Dugan home in Nebraska.  Stargirl and her mother are watching news reports of some dangerous stuff going on in the world… and Courtney is getting ready to join her teammates in the JSA to deal with some of it.  In the basement, Pat Dugan and his son Mike are arguing… about something we’ll discuss in just a little bit.  Mom rushes off to grab her camera to snap a picture of Courtney before she heads off.  Courtney seems embarrassed, but gives a big ol’ smile regardless.  So, either she’s a ham… or just a good daughter.

Back in the basement, Pat Dugan is working on his S.T.R.I.P.E. armor, preparing it for a night out.  His son Mike (Courtney’s step-brother) is ticked off that he isn’t allowed to take up the S.T.R.I.P.E. mantle.  Pat tells him 13 is too young… which, ya know… kinda flies in the face of every DC sidekick ever.

We rejoin Courtney as she’s flashing back to her youth… her real father… and how her mom and Pat became an item.  This scene is also the entire reason we’re looking at this issue today!  Ya see, Courtney was given a locket with a picture of her biological father… and wondered why he never came to be with her.  Courtney’s mom, being a single-mother, had to work a couple of jobs to support them… and so, Court was kind of a latch-key kid.  Anyhoo, we see her watching various television shows… one of which is ANGEL LOVE!

Courtney recalls one night in particular where her mother came home a bit late… this time, however, she didn’t come home alone.  Enter: Pat Dugan.

They growed-ups dated for awhile… and Courtney fell back on cliche angsty teen-age behavior to get her mother’s attention.  This went about as well as it always does.  Pat and Mom would be married… and move from Beverly Hills to Nebraska.  Upon arrival in their new digs, Courtney discovered Sylvester Pemberton’s Cosmic Converter Belt in the moving boxes…

… and would become the all-new Star-Spangled Kid!

Back in the present, the Dugan men continue to argue.  Mike asks Pat why he was sent to Military School a couple years prior.  Pat cops to just not being able to give him the attention he needed.  Mike was acting out and becoming a delinquent… Military School was the only option.  Fair enough, right?  Well… when Mike came back, he found his dad busy trying to be a father to… another kid (Courtney, natch).

Mike stomps upstairs, and passes Courtney on his way… and tells her that her thighs look fat in her tights.  Hey, pal… that’s your sister… don’t be checkin’ out her business!  She freaks out (because she’s scared she looks fat… not because her brother just checked her out).  Pat tells her she looks fine… and the word “fine” is bolded.  I’m going to assume that’s just for emphasis, and he wasn’t stretching out the “i” or anything (fiiiiiiiiine).

Anyhoo, S.T.R.I.P.E. is switched on-line, and the pair’a heroes head out into the fray.  As they draw nearer to Philadelphia (the place where the hinky stuff’s going down) they hear a terrific BONGG, which knocks them for a loop… and also, temporarily deafens them!

Turns out the “bong” is emanating from the Liberty Bell… and, uh… Liberty Belle!

Ya see, Liberty Belle gets her powers from the ringing of the actual Liberty Bell.  Her powers kinda went on the fritz in the nebulous Infinite Crisis-y era… and so, she visited the City of Brotherly Love to give herself a jumpstart.  This… didn’t work as expected, and now she’s kinda stuck on the Bell.

Off to the side, Courtney notices Liberty Belle’s daughter, Jesse Chambers (Jesse Quick).  She compares their relationship to the one between she and her biological father.  While Courtney (claims to) feel nothing but hate for her old man, Jesse still loves her mom.  Courtney takes this as evidence that Jesse’s a better daughter than she is.

After another tremendous BONNNGG, we shift scenes to Opal City.  There’s a terrible electrical storm going on, and the Shade is saving some citizens from being crushed by a falling statue.  Shade, of course, claims that he’s actually just concerned with saving the statue itself.  In a nearby apartment building, we see Courtney’s biological father watching news of everything going down in Philly.  Just as he hears that Stargirl is approaching the Bell… the TV loses reception.  Moments later, the building is struck by lightning.

Back in Philly, Stargirl approaches Liberty Belle… and the Liberty Bell.  She takes Libby’s hand and calms her down… by telling her that she’s gotta stick around, if only for her daughter’s sake.  Daughters need mothers, and all that jazz.

After one final explosion… everything stops.  Pat looks on from a distance and wonders aloud where his “daught–” is.  Then, from the smoky horizon, two silhouettes form… Stargirl and Liberty Belle emerge, no worse for wear.

Pat pulls Courtney to the side and gives her a halfhearted lecture.  Sure, it was a dumb thing to do… but, it’s the kinda thing heroes do… and what’s more, it worked!  They chat some more, with Courtney trying to impart on Pat that he’s a good dad, no matter what Mike said earlier.

Then… the Shade arrives on the scene, with bad news.  Her father’s apartment building wasn’t just hit by lightning… it collapsed.  Her father… is dead.

Stargirl then does that thing where she pretends not to care… after all, why should she?  It isn’t long, however, until she breaks down crying.  She turns to Pat and asks why she can’t not care…

… he replies that it’s because she is a wonderful daughter.

Well, I’ll be a sonuvagun… Angel Love is mentioned here!  Huge thanks to Peter for the tip!  If there are any other Angel Love mentions/appearances that I don’t know of… please let me know!

Before we get into the story of the issue… I do wanna say, I really dig the idea of Angel Love being a television show in the DC Universe… I can see it sorta being in the vein of Degrassi Jr. High or something… heck, they deal with some of the same issues!  Drug abuse, unplanned pregnancy, estranged families, sick parents… if only Ed Koch was the mayor of Toronto, we’d be pretty close!

And since it’s really tough to reconcile Angel Love within the wider DC continuity… it having been a TV show might just be the best way to make it “fit”.  It all happened… it was just on TV.  Here’s a better look at that panel:

Now the story itself… perhaps a bit heavy-handed… maybe a little melodramatic… but, I gotta say… I loved it!

I’m definitely a sucker for this kind of story… and the evolving dynamic between Stargirl and Pat Dugan has always been a great one.  I like that they share this closeness, especially in light of their frostier relationship early on.  The panel where Pat, without thinking, refers to her as his “daught–” was especially telling.  After all they’ve been through together, there’s no doubt that they’re “family”.

The Liberty Belle stuff was really just a means to an end, I feel.  Going into the next volume, Jesse would abandon her “Jesse Quick” persona and take up her mother’s Liberty Belle mantle… so, this is likely just a faciliatory (that’s not a word!) measure to connect this to that.

Back to Pat… I guess there’s still the question as to whether or not he’s a good father (to Mike).  That’s kind of a toughie, innit?  We can tell there’s a definite affection there… Pat cares about his son, certainly… buuuuut, he’s kinda just in the background, no?  It’s been awhile since I read this Infinite Crisis era JSA… so, I dunno if this leads anywhere or not.  It’s Johns, so I assume it does.

Speaking of fathers, good and otherwise… Courtney’s biological Pop gets popped in that Opal City electrical storm.  I think her reaction to this was… the right one.  I’d never say that someone should or shouldn’t react a certain way… but, this just felt like the right way… for her.

The art here was phenomenal… as we’ve come to expect from Dale Eaglesham.  He’s definitely up there on my list of top artists.  From dynamic action to incredible emotion… just as close to perfect as it gets!

Overall… so very happy to have revisited this issue, and even though I only did it to search out the Angel Love mention, I loved the actual story as well.  This issue is available digitally.

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