Monday, 28 June 2010

Once Upon a Time in the DC Universe

Liberty's silhouetted arm reaches up into the sulfurous night sky above the city that never sleeps, its skyline brightly etched in the swirling waters of the Hudson. The red beacons atop the Brooklyn bridge blink as a tug boat trails a plume of smoke below.

So begins DC's 'Legacies', an old man looks back on his life long obsession with the mysterious masked men of Justice, his bookshelves crammed full with old newspaper articles, photographs, cuttings from magazines. He introduces himself as Paul Lincoln, a once upon a time street punk growing up on the hard streets of Suicide Slum. Together with his friend Jimmy they earn their keep making collections for Moran, a gangland boss running protection rackets on local business'.

Paul has a conscience and a heart and isn't so sure, but his friend Jimmy sees only the quick lucrative buck and a path leading out of the gutter where the have not's huddle round burning oil drums to keep warm. In this era of mobster rule we see the first costumed avengers swing into action, determined to clean up the city, to bring back law and order and give back hope to the honest man.

The two boys have their first run in with this new breed of hero when the masked Crimson Avenger bursts in on Moran's hideout with guns blazing, and again whilst helping to move illegal booze from a warehouse down on the docks when the Sandman and the Atom drop in, leaving the boys a calling card. It is at this point that the two boys choose their separate paths. Jimmy continues to follow a life of crime but Paul is enthralled by the mystery and daring do of these fearless vigilantes of justice, and it isn't long before a group of them team up to form the Justice Society of America.

So begins a new day, the dawn of the Golden Age. Written by Len Wein, and drawn and inked by the superstar father and son team of Andy and Joe Kubert, by the second issue we reach the end of the Golden era and the disbanding of the Justice League in the cold war era. Pulled before a special congressional hearing into un-American activities the members of the JSA are asked to remove their masks and reveal to the world their true identities, but they refuse and in a blinding flash they vanish from the building.

I've loved this series so far, the artwork has been great, very atmospheric, giving the reader a tangible whiff of prohibition America. It would have been nice if the friendship between Paul and Jimmy had been fleshed out a bit more and I was reminded of Sergio Leone's gangland movie epic 'Once Upon a Time in America', the four hour long tale of Jewish youths growing up on the streets of New York to become prominent crime figures.

Only in the evocative Kubert rendering of life on the streets, the colours and attention to detail opening a portal between now and 1984 when I sat uncomfortably watching as the haunting soundtrack of pan flutes hard wired itself indelibly into my brain.

Still from the film - Once Upon a Time in America

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