Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1974


Justice League of America 113, “The Creature in the Velvet Cage!” Written by Len Wein, art by Dick Dillin (pencils), and Dick Giordano (inks), edited by Julius Schwartz.

On Earth-2, the Justice Society and their guests, the Justice League, are stopping a bank robbery by the Horned Owl gang. But as they leave, a strange alarm comes from the Sandcar, putting Sandman into a panic. Something has happened that shouldn’t have: he jumps into his car and races away.
The heroes follow him to Wes Dodds’ mansion, where Hourman shows them how to access Sandman’s hidden laboratory, by moving a giant hourglass. In the lab, Sandman, gas mask removed, is bleakly surveying a scene of devastation, where someone, or something, has escaped from a glass cage.
Reluctantly, he explains a burden that he has carried alone for many years. His captive was Sandy Hawkins, formerly his sidekick, Sandy the Golden Boy.
The Justice Society are shocked. As far as they were aware, Sandy Hawkins left York City years ago, but this was just Sandman’s cover story. What really happened was that, shortly after the War, Sandman tried to construct a new anti-crime weapon, the Silicoid Gun. But when this was tested, it exploded. Sandman was dazed, but Sandy was transformed into a massive creature, made of silicon, with blazing eyes. Sandy threatened to go on a rampage, take over the world, until Sandman put him to sleep with his gas gun.
Since then, he has kept Sandy a secret and a prisoner, in these luxurious surroundings, permanently sedated to prevent him from rampaging again, whilst Sandman sought a cure for him.
His pride, and his shame kept him from telling the rest of the JSA, and seeking their help. In the meantime, he was so disgusted with himself, he tore up his yellow and purple costume and reverted to his former business suit and gas mask.
Now he needs the combined assistance of the assembled JLA/JSA to stop Sandy and recapture him.
The heroes divide into three groups, following Sandy’s trail. Superman 1, the Elongated Man and Hourman prevent Sandy from doing more than delay a high society wedding (complete with overbearing and undoubtedly Jewish Mother of the Bride), only for Sandy to turn to sand and ooze away.
Batman, The Flash 2 and Wonder Woman 2 catch up with Sandy on a backyard baseball field, but when the Flash tries to deprive him of air, Sandy simply lets himself go with the whirlwind.
Sandman and Green Lantern 1 catch up with the monster Sandy at Machismo Beach, where they confront him. Sandman attempts to gas Sandy into unconsciousness, but in the open air his sleep-gas disperses. Sandy raises his hand as if to strike, but doesn’t. Sandy is then zapped from behind by the rest of the heroes, who have seen an opportunity to strike whilst the monster was distracted.
Suddenly, the beach is subjected to an earthquake. Superman, borrowing Wonder Woman’s indestructible lasso of truth, tunnels underground to sew up the fissure and fuse it shut. He then traces its path, to deal with any damage it has caused, but there is none. And its path goes through the sites where the heroes have fought the monster Sandy.
The heroes are debating why this should be so when, with rusty vocal chords, Sandy starts to speak. He explains that the first signs of the earthquake released him from his cage and that, aware of its course, he followed its path, absorbing the vibrations with his silicon body, to prevent damage.
He also explains that he is not a menace, that the megalomania was just a short-lived phase. For all the years of his captivity, he has been harmless, but too sedated to be able to tell his old friend.
Sandman is horrified at what he has done. He begs forgiveness, but it is not Sandy’s forgiveness that he truly needs, but his own.
* * * * *
After a three-part story and a two-part story, Len Wein became the only writer to pen a one-part team-up, which was almost his swan song on Justice League of America: his last script was the following issue, thus preventing a minor synchronicity.
The rationale behind this one-off was down to Justice League of America‘s sales. Like the majority of DC’s most popular series, it had for most of its history been published on an eight-times-a-year basis. This was DC’s standard practice with a title being drawn by a single artist. Characters like Superman and Batman, who were being drawn by multiple artists, could be issued monthly, but to avoid deadline pressures, series like The Flash and Green Lantern, dependant upon Carmine Infantino and Gil Kane respectively, only appeared eight-times-a year.
Basically, the title would skip every third month throughout the year. Justice League of America was actually sufficiently popular to be elevated to the very unusual nine-times-a-year, starting in 1965 (skipping every fourth month), but the additional issue (which would directly follow the annual JLA/JSA team-up) was an 80 Page Giant, featuring nothing but reprints from the early years of the title.
By 1974, DC’s Age of Relevancy was firmly dead, but it had left its mark on sales across the line. Justice League of America‘s sales had dipped so far that the series had been cut back to bi-monthly in 1973. DC had tried to make the best of the series by expanding it to the 100 Page Giant format, with issue 110, showcasing the usual 20 page new story but supporting it with 80 pages of reprint, including old Justice Society and Seven Soldiers reprints.
Whichever way it was presented, the fact remained that the Justice League now only appeared six times a year, and it did not make commercial sense to devote a third of the year’s output to the Justice society.
The limited space required a limited scope: it would be hard to successfully menace the planet and having it sorted by two teams in only ten pages, which is why Wein chose to tell a purely personal tale, and one of the earliest continuity patches to be applied to the careers of the Justice Society.
You’ll remember that I commented, in 1966, that the Sandman had been returned in his original garb, of business suit and gas mask, rather than the yellow and purple look associated with the Simon/Kirby years on the feature. (He’d also returned with the Sand-gun, but the less said about that, the better). That was his only substantive appearance since the Forties, having otherwise had nothing more than a couple of cameos.
On the other hand, the Sandman was obviously something of a favourite with Wein, who had used him in both his team-ups to date, and in the original manner, with his gas-gun. Wein’s story filled in a necessary hole, bridging the gap between the yellow-and-purple, Sandy the Golden Boy era and the restored original costume.
As for the story itself, it’s an entertaining, well-constructed piece, but its major flaw was the same that affected the Red Tornado: the Sandman was an Earth-2 character, who appeared at best once a year, in a crowd of others. The story ended on a cliffhanger of sorts: could Sandy’s silicon form be transformed back into a human body? Could Wes Dodds’ self-belief ever be repaired? With the exception of one, very-belated and completely overlooked back-up story in 1982, this issue would not be addressed until long after Zero Hour, let alone Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Needless to say, the story would have functioned equally well in the DC Universe as it did in the Multiverse, leaving it perfectly valid post-Crisis.
One last thing to note: Doctor Fate is absent from proceedings for only the third time in twelve outings. Now that’s popularity.

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