Justice League of America 55, “The Super-Crisis that struck Earth-2!”/Justice League of America 56, “The Negative Crisis between Earths 1-2!” Written by Gardner Fox, art by Mike Sekowsky (pencils) and Sid Greene (inks), edited by Julius Schwarz.
In China, bandit How Chu is tied to a stake, awaiting execution, when a black sphere appears out of the sky and merges into him. He gains immense strength and invulnerability to bullets and escapes to continue robbing. In Chicago, stenographer Claire Morton is dreaming of jewellery during her lunch hour when a black sphere merges with her: she smashes the windows and steals the gems. In London, businessman Horace Rowland is striding towards the bank to complete a profitable business deal when a sphere lands near him, and he picks it up out of curiosity: he breaks into the vault with great strength and steals the cash. Lastly, ex-fielder Marty Baxter, invalided out of the game due to arthitic pain, is disconsolately watching baseball when he too is merged: full of anger, he sets out to destroy the stadiu,.
Rapidly, all four people adopt costumes and start a crime rampage.
All this, we learn, has taken place on Earth-2, where the Justice Society are meeting to welcome their first new member in 19 years. This is Robin, the former Boy Wonder, now fully grown and inducted into the JSA as an (implicit) successor to Batman (who is not present: though semi-retired, he takes on special cases and is off on one at the moment).
Robin’s first mission is to assist the JSA against these four super-powered crooks. The Sports-Smasher beats Wildcat and Robin into a pulp. Wonder Woman is beaten by Gem Girl’s ability to manipulate jewels to assist her. Hawkman and Mr Terrific are brought down by the Money Master’s ability to manipulate external objects and floor them, whilst Hourman tackles How Chu, but is left buried by his ability to conjure up whirlwinds.
The defeated JSA return to their meeting rooms to find Johnny Thunder, who’d been late, waiting for them. Directly he hears what’s been going on, Johnny T sends his Thunderbolt to capture the four super-crooks, but half an hour later, the Bolt returns, beaten and bruised and unsuccessful.
Crestfallen, Johnny sends the Bolt to Earth-1 to bring back some Justice Leaguers, in the hope they have some new ideas. The Bolt returns with Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern and Green Arrow, all of whom are similarly dishevelled, and none too pleased at being snatched off their Earth. It seems they have been struggling against similar super powered foes and didn’t like being interrupted. However, they agree to stay and see if a joint action can bring any results they can take back to Earth-1.
By chance, it is revealed that the Thunderbolt, being less dumb that Johnny Thunder, has checked out what the black spheres are. It appears that they were creatures from another Universe. They, and it, had reached the peak of evolution and, when their Universe began to fall back, flung themselves into Earth-2’s Universe, hoping to connect with creatures that can help them survive and grow further.
Unfortunately, for the black spheres, only four of them made contact with humans and, unfortunately for everybody else, a chemical reaction between the two has turned the humans evil. What’s worse is that, at the moment, the black spheres are dormant in their hosts’ bodies. When they awake to full sentience, they will be unstoppable.
End of part one.
Suddenly, Robin has a brainwave. Only four black spheres may have connected with humans, but all the others may have left radiation that they can use to enhance their own powers. The four fastest heroes team-up to find, mark and mine sites, eventually gathering enough radiation to energise four heroes. Because they have powers already, these are Earth-2’s Wonder Woman and Hourman, and Earth-1’s Flash and Green Lantern. And because each of them will be vulnerable to the evil effects of the radiation, each is accompanied by other heroes.
Superman and Robin accompany Hourman to Rome, where Marty Baxter is carrying on his destructive course. As soon as he comes within the villain’s influence, Hourman turns against and fights his colleagues. He is beating them when Robin realises that Hourman has unnecessarily avoided his blow when on the banks of the Tiber: bodychecking his team-mate into the river, he confirms that the black spheres are affected by water, and Superman brings the irradiated hero down.
Hawkman and Green Arrow and tracking the Flash against How Chu, until the Flash goes bad. However, Green Arrow that notices that the Flash preferred to cut, dangerously, across the path of one of his trick arrows rather than run through a wisteria field: the heroes are tipping their colleagues off as to their weaknesses, and the black spheres are allergic to wisteria blossom.
Wildcat and Mr Terrific are shadowing Green Lantern as Horace Rowland is now robbing in Scotland (complete with steam trains and gorges). But when the Lantern uses a power ring glove to punch Wildcat up into a tree, it breaks off a branch that floors the Emerald Gladiator: wisely, the two heroes grab branches and beat the crap out of him.
Finally, Wonder Woman, with Johnny and his Thunderbolt for company, trails Gem Girl to the villains lair. As soon as she turns bad, the Amazon Princess knocks Johnny out and actually starts fighting her opponent, until they inadvertently smash a water-cooler, which wakes him up. Gem Girl flees as the Bolt discovers that the black sphere people have been simply reflecting his magic back at him.
Nervously, Johnny tries to clear the air with a joke, a terrible joke, but Wonder Woman giggles. Encouraged, he tries another (equally bad) which renders her helpless with laughter: it is a major, major black sphere weakness.
Having incapacitated Wonder Woman, Johnny advances to find all the villains together with the Bolt warning him that the spheres themselves are about to wake up. Fortunately, Johnny has not exhausted his stock of cheap gags, creasing up the villainous quartet until the Bolt can drive the spheres out of everybody’s bodies, to their death.
Almost immediately, heroes arrive from all over with water, wisteria and wood, only to discover that they’ve been outdone by, er, wit. Kindly, they don’t let on to Johnny that he hasn’t saved the day all alone, not that he’d notice as he’s so busy writing out jokes for the Justice League quartet to take back to Earth-1 to overcome their black spheres…
* * * * *
It’s Johnny Thunder again, isn’t it? Don’t tell me you hadn’t noticed. At least it’s the real Johnny Thunder this time, in all his… glory… and not some purple jacketed imposter.
Having run out of old Justice Society members to bring back, Fox and Schwarz went to the opposite extreme and inducted a new JSA member for the first time in almost two decades. In doing so,they acknowledged a point that the previous year’s team-up had rather fudged – that the whole Golden Age revival to this point had fudged – which was the question of whether there were also two of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.
So now we know there were, which opened up a smaller but, for those interested in the minutiae of continuity, absolutely fascinating can of very exclusive worms. Batman exists in the Justice Society (though it is noticeable that he can’t be bothered to turn up to celebrate his ward’s graduation into the big time). And if Batman exists on Earth-2, Fox and Schwarz can introduce Wonder Woman for a first active adventure.
Needless to say, there is little (or in Wonder Woman’s case, no) time spared to explore the differences between the Earth-2 edition and the standard model. The Earth-2 version is staider in her fashion tastes, preferring to retain those laced Grecian sandals than revert to red and yellow boots. However, it is Robin who is the sartorial highlight, choosing for some incredulous reason to retain the design of his costume but kit it out in Batman’s colours, whilst retaining his yellow cape and insisting on a symbol of a bright red R superimposed on a headless bat.
The story is astonishingly simple compared to previous editions of the team-up. Villains rob. Villains beat JSA. Villains beat Thunderbolt (offstage). Thunderbolt hauls in four JLAers to make it into a team-up before Fox goes into typically talky ending to explain what’s going on. Heroes supercharge some of their number to try to compete. Each one goes evil and, in Marvel fashion, turns on their team-mates. However, in Fox fashion, each drops a clue as to how they can be beaten and Johnny Thunder saves the day (he actually does, you know: the others didn’t get there in time).
What bulks the tale out is splitting the action into four fights each time, with each fight taking rather longer than most JLA/JSA encounters have previously done, in which we see the growing influence of Marvel again. Bigger art, more fights, heroes turning upon one another (albeit via a perfectly reasonable alien influence, they would never have done that normally). The Sixties were beginning to catch-up to DC.
Structurally, Fox once again rings the changes. The action, this time, takes place wholly on Earth-2, and for the first part, the Justice League are literally out of sight and out of mind, until page 20 of 23. The overwhelming prominence of the Society, and the fact that the League are in exactly the same state as them, deprives the move of the suggestion it might once have had of the JSA being inferior.
And Fox is careful to split the heroes chosen to be infected with the black sphere radiation equally among the teams, although by this point there are nearly twice as many JSA as JLA.
It should be noticed that, with this team-up, Dr Fate loses his perfect record, and that Mr. Terrific doubles his previous number of missions with the Justice Society. Twice in three years: unfortunately, this was not the beginning of a new lease of life for the Man of a Thousand Talents, the Defender of Fair Play: he would appear in action only twice in the next decade, the second of these very briefly before his death. But that’s a matter for another day.
This story is also a good illustration of the attitudes that Americans have towards those lesser beings who fill out the more unimportant parts of this planet. As an English citizen, I obviously look with a critical eye upon money magnate Horace Rowlands. True, he is introduced in bowler hat, rolled umbrella and briefcase, and it’s only when he gains super-powers that he acquires a florid top hat and a monocle (none of the villains fare well on costumes, except for Gem Girl, with her mini-dress, kinky boots and utterly chic little hat).
But as Horace, he’s an accurate picture of a City-based businessman of the time, and at least he doesn’t have a double-barrelled surname, and I for one have seen dozens of incredibly more insulting portrayals down the years in American comics.
Though I do have issues with the idea of England sending its as yet unstolen gold into Scotland on trains travelling on wooden trestles across deep gorges in the Scottish Highlands that are far to the north of cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh that might have security facilities better than the Bank of England for gold bullion. Gorges, incidentally, in which primroses grow and apple trees offer bright red apples of a shade not even a supermarket has yet produced.
But you can’t complain about that when you’ve got the question of How Chu (and yes, that gag is also in there). How Chu is a Chinese bandit, which is an almighty cliché in itself. In 1967, China was a Communist country, saving only Nationalist China on the island of Taiwan. This much is, apparently, recognised when we meet How Chu about to be executed by Chinese Communist Soldiers.
However, once How Chu makes his black sphere inspired escape, he dresses something like a Mongol warrior from the days of Ghenghis Khan, and robs ancient Chinese merchants on the Silk Road from Lanchow to Kashgar (so, not Taiwan, then). The Silk Road, of which there are many, was a trading route from the west into China, dating back to the First Century BCE. The Chinese merchants (on a 2,000 year old road) in Communist China, are being chauffeured in an ancient, black 1930’s car of a kind usually only found in very early Terry and the Pirates adventures, before Milton Caniff started doing research. These merchants, in Communist China, are carrying bags of gold and are dressed in mandarin suits of bright collars, in which they stand, hunch-shouldered, their hands concealed in their great, wide, drooping sleeves, whilst wearing little skull-caps on shaven heads.
Nearly a decade later, Paul Levitz would become the first Justice Society writer to exploit the fact that Earth-2 was a different planet, likely with a different political history. It’s possible that, in a subtle manner, Fox and Schwarz may be prefiguring his efforts by presenting a China that had never known a Mao Tse-Tung. But I doubt it.
It was all so long ago, and in another country, and besides, the wench is dead. And yes, it was a kid’s comic. But it is emblematic of the total disregard for accuracy as to conditions in other countries that typified mainstream America than and, sadly, now.
I nevertheless enjoyed it in 1967, and the fun it brought me burns still in my memories, meaning that I can specify its flaws, and still forgive it those failings, because a part of me lives in this story still.
And a shout out must be made about the horribly dull titles for this pair of issues.
Unfortunately, this is one of those that could very easily be adapted to fit the post-Crisis canon. It sorta works that way, doesn’t it?