If you’re a long term reader of this blog, you will probably have already picked up on the fact that I am a fan of the Justice Society of America, the first ever superhero team, whose DC Comics roots go back to the early 1940’s.
You’d have thought that, after two long series, I’d have exhausted the number of interesting things that can be said about the JSA, but that is to seriously underestimate the fanatic.
I’ve recently purchased the Graphic Novel Crisis on Multiple Earths Volume 6, the penultimate in a series that represents a generous slice of comic book history, by reprinting a near quarter-century of team-ups between the revived Justice Society and their modern counterparts, the Justice League of America.
Starting in 1963, the two teams met each year, in the summer issues of Justice League of America, to tackle all manner of menaces affecting not just one Earth, or even two, but on several occasions even more Earths, until the annual tradition was swept away by Crisis on Infinite Earths, in 1985.
These were the years of the Multiverse, that sprawling, inchoate, accidental creation that underpinned DC’s history for a quarter century, when the Justice League were the heroes of ‘our’ world, Earth-1, and the Justice Society were the heroes of another world, Earth2, that forever similar-but-different alternative to the established way of things, an annual window into a world of other.
Whilst I liked the post-Crisis idea that the two teams could be the heroes of different generations, could meet and mingle without the whole construction of a reason that involved a translation between realities, this is the JSA of my heart, of my youth, in much the same way that the original Justice Society were to the generation of fans that included Roy Thomas and Jerry Bails
So I’m going to take the opportunity to look at each of these team-ups, year by year: the writers and artists involved, the changing style of superheroics, the change in emphasis from plot to character, the changing JSA line-ups, the context of each year’s team-up..
The series will necessarily be incomplete, barring a sudden acceleration in DC’s publishing schedule to bring out Volume 7 considerably sooner than expected. I don’t have the original issues for the final three team-ups, but we’ll get to that when we get to that.
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For now, let’s remind ourselves of what preceded the historic meeting of the heroes of two worlds in 1963
Showcase 4 (1956): Editor Julius Schwarz and writer Robert Kanigher create the new, soon to be deemed Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen, for whom his predecessor is a comic book hero. A new, unsuspected era begins, leading inexorably (at least in retrospect) to the Multiverse.
The Flash 123 (1961): Schwarz and Jay Garrick’s creator, Gardner Fox respond to intense reader interest by reviving the Golden Age Flash. To do so, they adopt the SF cliché of parallel worlds. The story, which also revives three Golden Age villains, is a massive success. Though there as, as yet, only two un-named Earths, the Multiverse and all it implies is born here.
The Flash 129 (1962): Fox and Schwarz produce the inevitable sequel to ‘Flash of Two Worlds’, bringing Jay Garrick to Barry Allen’s Earth and pitting the Flashes against two of Barry’s Rogues Gallery. As a teaser, to test the audience’s reaction, they lead off the story with a flashback to the last JSA story, from All-Star 57, showing six more Golden Age heroes in cameo.
The Flash 136 (1963): Having had a positive reaction, Fox and Schwarz give the JSA another cameo in the third Flash team-up, back on Jay’s Earth, this time in-story. An old JSA foe, Vandal Savage, captures all the JSA line-up that imprisoned him after All-Star 37, but the team are freed by Barry-Flash. At the end, they muse about getting back together, to prevent things like this happening again.
This might have been thought of as another teaser to the audience, but Fox and Schwarz were already ahead of the enthusiastic response: a meeting between teams past and present had already been written and drawn before The Flash 136 hit the newsstands. It would appear just two months later, in Justice League of America 21: “Crisis on Earth-1!”