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Stargirl: Must every Justice Society story be a tragedy?

“DC’s Stargirl” is taking flight with its story of a teenager coming into her own as a hero indebted to the past and looking to the future.

But there’s no denying the premiere episode hit like a punch to the solar plexus for those who love the first and greatest super-hero team, the Justice Society of America. In a harrowing sequence, “Stargirl” opened with the team assassinated by the Injustice Society of America.

As the Modern Age of Super-Heroes has soared in film, animated works and live-action TV, those who have followed the JSA for decades, hoping to see them take their place in the pantheon of champions, have been resoundingly disappointed.

In their scant few appearances, the Justice Society seems to have one power: dying.

Consider:

“Justice League”: “Legends” (2002)

The Justice League is transported to an alternate world where they meet the Justice Guild of America – Catman, Black Siren, Green Guardsman, Tom Turbine and the Streak, characters who bear an uncanny resemblance to the JSA, with good reason. This two-parter was meant to star the JSA, but DC Comics objected, and so the story was altered. It remains, by the final reveal, just heartbreaking. If you weren’t tearing up by Green Lantern’s anguished declaration – “They were real to me” – then you must be Sinestro.

Some JSA heroes – Stargirl, Wildcat, Mr. Terrific – did appear in “Justice League Unlimited,” as part of the larger team.

“Smallville: Absolute Justice” (2010)

In this story from Geoff Johns, the few remaining members of the Justice Society are forced out of retirement after one of their greatest foes, Icicle (Wesley MacInnes), goes on a killing spree, murdering Star-Spangled Kid and, later, Sandman.

Hawkman (Michael Shanks), Dr. Fate (Brent Stait) and Stargirl (Britt Irvin) team with Clark (Tom Welling) and his allies, but Icicle kills Fate in one of their battles, another example of how nerfed the JSA members tend to be on TV.

Hawkman and Stargirl made a few more appearances in “Smallville.” Hawkman ultimately died saving Lois Lane, perhaps to spare us Shanks’ Christian Bale impersonation.

At least they got the JSA brownstone right.

“Batman: The Brave and the Bold”: “The Golden Age of Justice” (2010)

Batman joins forces with the JSA – Wildcat, the Flash, Hawkman, Hourman, Dr. Midnite and the new Black Canary – to battle Degaton. This stands as the most authentic and satisfying version of the heroes, as champions of justice and mentors to the next generation of heroes.

The Flash, Dr. Fate, Black Canary, Huntress, the Spectre, Stargirl and Wildcat all made one or more separate appearances through this underrated series.

“DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” (second season, 2016-2017)

The Justice Society of 1942 New York was one unlike any imagined anywhere, consisting of Commander Steel, Vixen, Dr. Midnite, Obsidian, Hourman and Stargirl. Despite an impressive entrance (check out that video), it was all downhill for the team as the Legends took on a version of the Legion of Doom for the fabled Spear of Destiny. Hourman, Dr. Midnite, and Commander Steel all perished as the season wore on, and only Vixen, who had joined the Legends, figured in the climactic battle.

“Stargirl” (2020)

In Tuesday’s episode, Pat gives Courtney a tour of the JSA’s headquarters, giving all sorts of ideas to the teenager, and we move one step closer to a new JSA, but what a road to get there.

“Black Adam” (2021)

With Dwayne Johnson taking to the big screen as the mythical antihero, the JSA is set to appear, probably as antagonists. If the film does well commercially and critically, there is talk that the studio will spin off the JSA into their own film franchise. Considering how the JSA launched the concept of super-teams, that seems, as Terry Sloane might say, only fair play.

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