I read the original Justice Society comic once in reprint form. It wasn’t much of a team. Various DC heroes all gathered and told stories of their solo adventures, implying a team that never really did anything but sit around a table swapping stories with each other. The closest the book came to a unifying narrative was the fact a newcomer was being introduced to everybody, and that newcomer was one Johnny Thunder.
Years later, Johnny would have a successor named Jakeem.
In many ways, Johnny and Jakeem could not be more different as characters. For starters, beyond the basic racial difference between the two is how the two were treated as characters. Johnny Thunder started off as a more comic relief figure. He was a simple, maybe not particularly bright man who could summon a Badhnesian hex bolt. “A what?” you may be saying. Johnny, seventh son of a seventh son, was a lucky fellow who landed during a stint in the United States Navy on the (fictional) island nation of Badhnesia. A genial sort, he was rewarded for service to that nation by the natives with the power to summon a hex bolt by (slightly mispronouncing) the fellow’s name as “Say you.” Once summoned, the hex bolt was basically a genie in the form of a pink sentient lightning bolt. The hex bolt, or thunderbolt as it was often called, would then follow Johnny’s orders to save the day.
At least, that was the theory. Johnny being not very bright, the thunderbolt often followed his instructions to the letter and wasn’t above doing so in a way to make his master look outright foolish. The thunderbolt also wouldn’t or couldn’t (depending on the story) act on its own without explicit instruction. Johnny being kinda dumb meant the adventures were more for laughs than anything else, and though he never really let it slow him down, Johnny originally didn’t get much respect.
That lack of respect extended to the readers of his comic when a new character appeared in one of his stories for the first time and stole the spotlight from Johnny. What character was that?
But Johnny was a member of the JSA and was part of that team’s revival when the Justice League used to visit them on Earth-2 in the annual Silver Age crossover adventure. Aside from a single story where Earth-2 Johnny lost the thunderbolt to his criminal Earth-1 counterpart, the pair were members in good standing in the JSA. Yes, Johnny still wasn’t very bright, but the other heroes treated him as a worthy equal all things considered.
But like most of the JSA, Johnny got old and when he got old, he appears to have contracted Alzheimer’s disease. The thunderbolt was by then more or less stored inside a fountain pen, and while out signing autographs, Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick accidentally gave the pen to a young autograph seeker.
Enter Jakeem “J.J.” Thunder.
Jakeem was originally shown as a young street kid with a knack for swearing. He called the thunderbolt accidentally at the exact right time. It seems the thunderbolt came from the 5th dimension, just like Mr. Mxyzptlk, and another such thunderbolt was looking to cause more problems. It was Grant Morrison’s take on the classic JLA/JSA team-up with Captain Marvel (his name is not Shazam) along for the ride. Jakeem eventually figured out he could order his thunderbolt to fight the other one, and due to some magical stuff, the two thunderbolts were combined into a new entity that Jakeem could summon by saying its name backwards, pronounced as “So cool.” Jakeem, like Johnny before him, had to give the thunderbolt instructions if it wanted him to do anything, but that largely worked.
By the by, how powerful is the thunderbolt? Well, it really is basically a genie. Not long after his first appearance and the merging of the two thunderbolts, Jakeem started visiting the now largely out-of-it Johnny Thunder. Jakeem found Johnny more lucid than usual one day and handed the pen over for old time’s sake. It turned out there was a reason for that lucidity, namely that Johnny’s body had been stolen by JSA archbaddie the Ultra-Humanite, who did a lot of body swapping, and once in control of the thunderbolt, the Humanite used that power to make himself master of the world with all but a handful of the Earth’s superhumans as mindless slaves. He did that with just a simple wish or two. It really is only due to the inherent goodness of folks like Johnny and Jakeem that this doesn’t happen.
As it is, normally the person who loses his body to the Ultra-Humanite is basically dead. That didn’t happen with Johnny. Once the power had been rightfully returned to Jakeem, Johnny’s spirit merged with the thunderbolt and took on his general appearance and personality.
As it is, Jakeem hasn’t been seen much since Blackest Night, but Johnny is back, alive and somewhat well, in the Rebirth setting. But who knows where Jakeem ended up.
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