It was seventy-eight years ago today that the Germans surrendered unconditionally to the Allied forces and ended the war in Europe. Here's how the Justice Society of America met to celebrate that fateful day in my novel JSA: Ragnarok!
Jay was exhausted by the time he broke through the thick of the crowd and could finally see pavement between the bodies at 41st Street. Though the experience had been akin to wading through quicksand wearing lead boots, he wouldn’t have missed it for the world. But now he was looking forward to a quieter celebration with his friends. He glanced at his wristwatch and saw that he was running late. Well, he would take some ribbing for that, but now that the crowds had thinned, he needn’t be any later than he already was. He started to jog east and before he had gone ten steps, he was moving so fast as to be little more than a stiff breeze to those he passed on the street.
Two seconds later, he came to a stop across town, removing his hat in the revolving door of Schraft’s restaurant in the lobby of the art deco Chrysler Building on 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue behind a businessman whose nose was buried in the pages of the New York Times. Everyone had heard the news by now and the usually dour faces of the New Yorkers around him were all brightened by dazzling smiles.
The hostess lead Jay to where his party waited, chattering away about the wonderful news out of Europe, about the president’s wonderful speech, wasn’t everything wonderful?
“Do you have someone over there?” Jay asked.
The young woman’s smile was dazzling as she nodded. “Yes, my husband,” she laughed. “He’s infantry, somewhere in Italy, last I heard. I know he’s seen a lot of combat, but he tries so hard in his letters to make it sound like it’s no big deal, the silly lug. Well, I guess he’ll be coming home soon, now, don’t you think?”
Jay nodded. “Yes, I suppose he will. You must be very happy.”
Her hands fluttered before her like a pair of lost birds. “Oh, gosh, happy doesn’t begin to describe it. Were you…” she started to ask, her eyes darting to the lapel of his jacket, searching for the service pin that would have marked him as a veteran. But his lapel was empty. The red and blue costume of the Flash was the only uniform he had ever worn.
“Vital war industry, ma’am,” he said quickly, feeling defensive as he always did when the question of why an able-bodied young man like him hadn’t been in the military came up. Or even when it hadn’t. “I’m a chemist.”
And, he thought, a mystery man. He had fought his share of Axis spies and saboteurs. There were hundreds of Fifth Columnists and black marketeers who had been put out of business because of him. He had done his part for the war effort. Jay Garrick had no reason to be embarrassed by his status as a civilian.
“I see my party,” Jay finally said. “Good luck to you and your husband.”
“He’ll be home soon,” she laughed, saying it again so she could make herself believe it.
The elegant Rococo restaurant was still jammed with the lunch crowd. Men in uniform sat in groups or with their civilian friends and family, everybody just a bit louder than usual. The same giddy disbelief that infected the hostess was present in their faces as well and with even more reason. Maybe they were on leave or preparing to ship out. Surely things would be different now, they were thinking. The fighting was over. There was no reason to be sent back, no need to be deployed.
The members of the Justice Society of America were already seated, a dozen men and women at several tables pushed together against the far wall. To look at them, no one would suspect that this was anything but an ordinary gathering of friends, a group of young professionals meeting for a celebratory lunch on a momentous day.
Ted Grant was the one famous face at the table. Jay noticed men and women alike glancing in the direction of the one-time heavyweight champ, whispering and surreptitiously pointing out the celebrity in their midst to their tablemates.
Ted, never shy about attracting attention, rose to his feet, waving and shouting across the room, “Hey, Jay! Over here, buddy.” The broad-shouldered boxer was hatless, his dark curls falling where they might regardless of how much Brylcreme he applied, wearing a sport jacket over a black polo shirt.
Jay took Ted’s proffered hand. “Hi, champ. What a day, huh?”
“You said it! I hope you came through Times Square on the way over. Did you ever see anything like it?” Al Pratt enthused, the little man bouncing in his chair like someone a pot of coffee over his quota. At just over five feet tall, the red-headed Pratt was a compact bundle of energy, a combination of attributes that explained his costumed hero identity of the Atom, the Mighty Mite.
“It was inspiring,” Hippolyta agreed, the tall, dark-haired Amazon beauty the world knew as the warrior princess Wonder Woman. “An unusual affirmation of peace for your people.”
“Don’t ‘your people’ me, Lyta,” said Shiera Sanders, the auburn-haired young archaeologist throwing a conspiratorial wink to the rest of the table. “I saw you hugging those handsome young soldiers on the way over here.” She poked her boyfriend, fellow archaeologist and partner-in-crime-fighting Carter Hall in the ribs with her elbow. “She sure looked like one of the gang to me, don’t you think, Carter?”
As Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Carter and Shiera were an impressive pair in their hawk-faced masks and ten-foot wingspans. But even out of costume, they were an impressive couple. Jay thought of them as the Nick and Nora Charles of the mystery man community.
“Oh, no you don’t,” Carter said. “You want to rib an Amazon warrior queen, you’re on your own, darling.”
“A wise decision, my friend,” Hippolyta said, toasting the blond man with her water glass.
“Besides, I was merely congratulating soldiers of a victorious army, as one warrior to another.”
Jay drew out an empty chair between Jim Corrigan and Kent Nelson. “You’re a cop, Jim,” he said. “Aren’t you gonna break this up?”
Corrigan smoothed his short red hair with its distinctive white stripe at the forehead and grinned, “Sorry, pal,” he growled in his gruff voice, “but I’m off duty.”
On the surface, Corrigan looked no different than any other cop, down to his cheap suit, rumpled overcoat, and ever-present fedora. But Corrigan was different. He was, for all intents and purposes, a dead man, murdered by gangster Gat Benson only to have his soul bonded to the ethereal being known as the Spectre, the spiritual embodiment of God’s wrath. As much as Jim tried to participate in the camaraderie of his teammates, Jay could never quite shake the feeling that it was all an act. That beneath it all, Jim Corrigan was as cold and remote as his white-skinned, hollow-eyed alter ego.
Archaeologist and physician Kent Nelson was the JSA’s other mystic mystery man. Years earlier, he had become the disciple of the ancient Lord of Order, Nabu, and now wore the golden helmet that gave him the magical powers of Dr. Fate. Like Corrigan, Kent never really seemed to connect with his teammates. What was it with these magic men, Jay wondered, that made them so strange?
Of course, Johnny Thunder was a magic man, too. In a way. He did, after all, control the Badhnisian genie Yz, known as the Thunderbolt, but he was, in many ways, the most unpretentious of all the JSA. His mind was an open book and he led with his heart, almost puppy-like in his desire to please and be loved by his teammates.
Wesley Dodds, the millionaire playboy who masqueraded as the Sandman, and businessman Terry Sloane, the faultless Mister Terrific, were the opposite. Both men were handsome, successful, and charming and yet, with nothing more than their native skills and intelligence, had decided to put everything they had on the line to fight crime. At least Rex Tyler, the young chemist at Bannermain Chemical who went by the costumed identity of Hourman, had the advantage of Miraclo, an extraordinarily powerful steroid he had discovered, each dose of which gave him 60 minutes’ worth of super-human strength and agility. And then there was Alan Scott and his amazing power ring, granting him the power to do just about anything he could imagine as Green Lantern.
It was Alan who tapped his water glass with his knife, signaling for everyone’s attention. Gradually, the banter and small talk died down and all eyes turned to the blond young radio executive.
“I don’t think I need tell you, my friends, that today is a momentous day,” he said. “Many of us have been together since 1940, when FDR enlisted our aid to help the British repel a planned German invasion. After Pearl Harbor, we accepted the president’s commission to form a coalition of mystery men and women to protect the U.S. shores from the Axis threat and contribute in whatever way we could to the war effort.” Alan smiled, looking from face to face. “I think it’s safe to say that we fulfilled that commission with honor and distinction.”
“Hear, hear!” Ted agreed.
Jay stared down at the tabletop. “I’m proud to have served with each and every one of you fine people,” he said. “And, like all of you, I only wish I could have done more.” He looked up, straight into Alan’s eyes. “Overseas.”
Alan Scott nodded. “I know, Jay. I don’t think there’s a one of us here who wouldn’t have joined up if we could.”
“You did,” Jay said softly.
“Jay, I had my reasons. I left my costume and my power ring behind because I had something to prove to myself.”
“I know, I know,” Jay said. “There was every reason in the world for America’s mystery men to stay on the home front like we did, including the president’s request, and one very major reason for us to stay away from the frontlines.”
“Adolph Hitler and the Spear of Destiny,” Kent said.
“And Tojo and the Holy Grail,” Corrigan added.
“You know what would have happened to us if we had gone anywhere near Berlin or Tokyo,” said Wesley. “If we had fallen under the influence of either those relics, the Nazis and Japanese would have turned us completely around to their side. Our presence at any front would have been a disaster for the war effort.”
“Well, the good news is that the war in Europe’s all over but for the shouting,” Alan continued.
“And,” Rex Tyler said, “while the reasons for it are hush-hush, the news out of the East is starting to look promising. My contacts in the scientific community say there’s something in the works that’s going to make the Japanese think twice about keeping up the fight for much longer.”
“From your lips to god’s ear,” Ted muttered.
“This for real, Rex?” said Al, grinning from ear to ear and practically bouncing out of his seat.
Rex nodded, looking from face to face around the table. “For real and about as top secret as it gets.”
“Well, I’ve got some news from contacts of my own in the government,” Alan said. “According to my sources in the O.S.S., yesterday the Russians were able to confirm through dental records that one of two charred corpses they had found in a shell crater in the garden of the Reich Chancellery in Berlin was that of none other than der Fuhrer himself. There’s no doubt about it friends, Adolph Hitler is dead.”
Johnny’s eyes went wide. “Wow!”
“Now there’s news to drink to,” said Wesley, looking around for a waitress.
Hippolyta sat back in here chair, her eyes dark. “If ever a monster deserved so hideous a death,” she breathed.
“And may he rot in hell,” said Kent.
Corrigan nodded grimly, his eyes blazing fiery red for the briefest instant. “Count on it,” he said.
Jay shuddered. If anyone would know, it was the Spectre.
“Hard to believe,” Carter said. “Feels like we’ve been fighting forever.”
“I don’t see us stopping anytime soon,” Rex said. “The war in Europe may be over and the Japanese on the run, but the JSA will always have more work to do.”
“Sure,” said Johnny Thunder. “The forces of evil ain’t surrendered, have they?”
“No,” Alan agreed, “but a lot of that evil’s been because of the war. The profiteers, the saboteurs, the spies, they’re going to be gone and there’s going to be a lot less of a need for us.”
“The profiteers and crooks aren’t going anyway. They’re just going to shift the way they do business,” police detective Corrigan said.
“Personally, I wouldn’t mind easing up a bit,” Shiera said.
Carter raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Not thinking of hanging up your wings, are you, dear?”
“Of course not,” she said. “But we both have careers outside of those costumes, charming as they might be. And don’t tell me you haven’t missed going out on an archeological dig. Just imagine, a day at work that didn’t include beating up people.”
Ted grinned. “For me, that is a day at work.”
“We’re not all professional boxers, my friend.” Wesley folded his arms across his chest and nodded thoughtfully. “But Shiera has a point. No one can accuse us of shirking our duty after all we’ve been through. Maybe we didn’t serve on the front lines, but I’ll bet we’ve come under as much fire as any platoon of G.I.s. And I for one could sure go for a little R&R. On top of having a company that I’ve left in the hands of others to run, I’ve been hoping to spend more time with Sandy, teach the lad there’s more to life than putting on a costume and fighting.”
“Wait, what are you talking about here?” asked Jay. “What about the JSA?”
Terry made a calming gesture. “The JSA is fine, Jay. I think what they mean is that now that the war’s winding down, we can all take it a little easier, that’s all.”
“Exactly,” Alan said. “No one’s talking about disbanding. But we’ve all been ignoring our civilian sides for the sake of our costumed identities. All I’m suggesting is that we take a break. Catch our breath, catch up with our lives. We’re not all as fast as you, Jay. Most of us can only do one thing at a time.”
Jay nodded. “Okay, sure,” he said, but the idea of taking it easy made him distinctly uneasy. Maybe it was just nerves, he decided. After all, he had been on a war footing for over three years and he wasn’t exactly the slowing down kind to begin with. Jay Garrick didn’t catch up with his life; he ran circles around it and then sped ahead, full speed all the way.
But Alan and the others were probably right. So, he would join in the party, celebrate the news out of Europe and enjoy himself. Let the world take care of itself for a while.
And he would try, really try, to ignore the gnawing suspicion that it wouldn’t, that there was another shoe hanging yet unseen over their heads, just waiting for them to relax to drop.