Justice League of America 135, “Crisis in Eternity!”/Justice League of America 136, “Crisis on Earth-S!”/Justice League of America 137, “Crisis in Tomorrow!” Written by E. Nelson Bridwell (Plot/Continuity) and Martin Pasko (Words), art by Dick Dillin (pencils), and Frank McLaughlin (inks), edited by Julius Schwarz.
From an unknown place beneath the surface of an unknown Earth, an advanced spaceship rises into space, vanishes, and reappears at the Rock of Eternity. It is piloted by the primitive-seeming King Kull, last of the Beast-Men, former ruler of Earth before humanity appeared and wiped out all his people. Now Kull plans revenge: he uses his ‘torpor-ray’ to slow down the Gods, save for Mercury, who speeds free, driven by the thoughts of Shazam, to gather a force of heroes.
Kull’s torpor-ray has even froze the Gods who power the Marvel Family, preventing Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. from intervening.
Whilst Kull plans genocide against humanity, on all planets but starting with Earths-1, -2 and -S, Mercury gathers various heroes from Earths-1 and -2, including the Earth-2 Batman, who has come out of retirement to attend a ceremony honouring Robin. Six Justice Leaguers, counting non-member Hawkgirl, and six JSAers are taken to the old inter-dimensional limbo base of the Crime Champions (see the 1963 team-up), where they are introduced to five heroes from Earth-S, all characters formerly owned by Fawcett Comics. These are the magician Ibis, Spy Smasher, Bulletman and Bulletgirl, and Mr. Scarlet and Pinky, the Whiz Kid.
Teams are chosen, excluding Johnny Thunder, who is sent on a special mission. Superman 1, Wonder Woman 2, Green Arrow and Spy Smasher travel to Earth-2, where Kull’s plan involves Atlantis, which rose from the waves several years ago (see the 1968 team-up). Superman and Wonder Woman defeat Queen Clea and the Blockbuster, whilst Green Arrow and Spy Smasher overcome Ibac and the Penguin, but not before Kull’s plan goes into operation.
A pink cloud is formed that starts sinking islands by subjecting them to gravitational waves. But Superman uses his super-cold breath to condense and solidify the cloud before throwing it into space where it is destroyed, colliding with a meteor.
Ironically, Earth-2’s Atlantis undergoes an earthquake and returns to beneath the waves again.
Fuming at his defeat, Kull promises dire things for Earths-1 and -S.
End of Part One.
On Earth-S, Batman & Robin, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Bulletman and Bulletgirl and Mr. Scarlet and Pinky face strange menaces that, in different parts of the globe, turn humans into rock, or ice, or steel, or diamond, or two-dimensional art, or water. A number of the heroes are partly transformed as well.
Meanwhile, boy newsreader Billy Batson reports on these events but no matter how often he says ‘Shazam’, he cannot transform into Captain Marvel. In addition, half of Earth-S is in complete darkness, half in unblinkered sunshine.
Batman and Robin, Mr. Scarlet and Pinky take on the Earth-2 Joker and the Weeper, who are robbing jewellery stores. With Dr Light and the Shade identified, the Hawks and the Bullets split up into male and female duos to defeat these villains, only to find that neither villain can switch the effects off.
It takes Robin to work out that Earth-S can only be saved by moving the two light and dark satellites together and crashing them into one another. This done, all ill-effects are reversed and Kull is left frustrated and swearing vengeance on Earth-1.
And Johnny Thunder arrives at the TV station, to meet Billy Batson, Mary Batson and Freddy Freeman, whose secret identities he knows.
End of Part Two.
On Earth-1, Kull plans to destroy the futuristic city, Tomorrow, using the gigantic robot, Mr Atom, and Brainiac. The Flashes, plus Mercury, run rescue operations on threatened bystanders whilst the Green Lanterns and Ibis (whose Ibistick is the equivalent of a Power Ring) try to penetrate the black radiation protecting the robot.
When people start flying off into space, they discover Brainiac’s ship, which they attack and destroy. This removes Mr Atom’s protective aura, but it is only when he seizes the Ibistick and tries to teleport Ibis into space that he is defeated: the Ibistick turns the order against anyone using it who is not Ibis.
Kull’s plan, to speed up Earth-1’s rotation and have everyone fly off into space, has been defeated.
The heroes regroup to attack Kull at the Rock of Eternity. But Kull uses some Red Kryptonite to turn Superman into a raging destructive force.
Back on Earth-S, Johnny T explains that Shazam has sent him to help the Marvel Family, though he doesn’t know how. He summons his Thunderbolt, only to discover that the Bolt’s magical appearance triggers the Marvels transformation into Cap and the rest, just like the magic lightning that Shazam has been unable to trigger.
They take off for the Rock of Eternity, free the Gods and capture King Kull.
This still leaves the enraged Superman to face. Captain Marvel faces him head-on, in the first ever fight between the Man of Steel and the World’s Mightiest Mortal. Except that The Big Red Cheese says his magic word, ‘Shazam’ just before they clash, and the shock restores Superman’s mind in time for him to save Billy Batson.
With Kull bound up in magic chains, the heroes depart to their separate Earths.
* * * * *
About the time this second three-part team-up began, DC’s distribution in Britain became as spotty as it had been in the mid-Sixties, when the only place to find comics was in newsagents, whose stocks would vary widely. I was able to get hold of the first part of this story, but no others: indeed, I did not read the rest of it until acquiring Crisis on Multiple Earths Volume 4, whereupon I found that I hadn’t missed much of anything.
Indeed, despite featuring the first ever appearance of Superman and Captain Marvel in the same comic, to be frank this adventure is the least memorable of all those published in this series.
With Justice League of America still in its scripting by committee phase (which would end two months after the final part with Steve Englehart taking over writing for the following year), this time round it fell to Martin Pasko to deal with the annual team-up. However, the oddly stilted credits – ‘Plot/Continuity’ and ‘Words’ – make it plain that the former ‘Pesky’ Pasko does no more than dialogue this mish-mash, and that the story itself comes from the late E. Nelson Bridwell, making his only contribution to Justice League history.
Bridwell, the formally very much put-upon assistant to the ogreous Mort Weisinger, was a very sweet-natured person by all accounts, and a solid if mostly uninspired presence both at editorial level and in his infrequent scripting. What he was though was a walking encyclopaedia of comics – especially DC. Bridwell was, effectively, the company’s reference system, able to tell you, in a blink, when even the most obscure of characters last appeared.
The fourteenth team-up automatically recalls Len Wein’s 1972 story by being only the second such event to run over three issues. It also echoes Wein’s subsequent effort by incorporating a third team, an ad-hoc collection of obscure characters previously published by a long-defunct company.
But where Wein’s three-parter was a story of great scope, using an anniversary as a springboard, and was an innovative idea in itself, Bridwell’s plot lacks such a binding plot. It lacks any sense of the epic as conjured by Wein, and it lacks the underlying logic, not only of the 1972 team-up, but the 1973 affair.
In both cases, Wein gives the story a simple, central force. In the first, Earth-2 is threatened: the League come to the Society’s assistance to rescue the long-lost Seven Soldiers – who, being from the Golden Age, are Earth-2 denizens themselves. The second story is of Earth-X: it’s peculiar status, it’s rescue: the JLA/JSA members arrive from beyond in a simple, logical manner, and the obscure Quality Comics sextet appear as an existing team, with a history, drawn together logically by their Earth’s circumstances.
In contrast, this story lacks any of those attributes. It begins in visual confusion: a scientifically advanced spaceship, piloted by a primitive barbarian using advanced sciences to capture Gods. Only two pages in and the story is whiplashing around genres.
The barbarian turns out to be King Kull, last of the Beastmen, a former Captain Marvel foe who wants revenge by wiping out humanity all across the Multiverse (though the term is at least a half decade away from being coined). He’s a creature of Earth-S (for Shazam). (He’s also a Robert E. Howard character name, the original of whom is being featured at Marvel, which is still undergoing the first flush of their success with Conan the Barbarian).
But, just as Bridwell offers no explanation of where Kull’s been since he last appeared, what he’s been doing, how he escaped etc., he offers no explanation of how Kull knows there’s a Multiverse at all, let alone why he’s chosen to wreak his vengeance initially on Earths-1, -2 and -S. The absence of a logic to the tale fatally undermines it.
The rationale of this story is to do what Wein did and find another set of past heroes who have a world of their own. Though Earth-S is the former Fawcett world, and Fawcett’s most famous – indeed virtually only famous – character is Captain Marvel, the story avoids using him until the perfunctory end. Why this is so is difficult to comprehend, though I suspect it had a lot to do with the infamous plagiarism case that DC brought against Fawcett over Cap, which ultimately resulted in his being forced off the market.
Instead, we get a half dozen seriously obscure third bananas whose sum total of actual powers consists of Ibis’s Ibistick and Bulletman and -girl’s flying helmets. Though I may offend some, I can only say that these characters are universally dull. And whilst suspension of disbelief is a necessary precondition of opening a superhero comic, that requirement is put under great pressure by the notion that someone in their right mind would choose to fight crime whilst call themselves Pinky. Narf.
Nor are these characters a team. They’re billed on the cover of #135 as “Shazam’s Squadron of Justice” but inside they’re lined up as “The Legendary Heroes of Earth-S” and after that, no-one even tries to pretend they’re anything more that just a collection of nobodies.
The story itself, after that, is just routine hero vs villain, a series of encounters that slowly fill up the pages. Naturally, the heroes split up into teams selected to provide a mixture of homeworlds, and go off to guard each of the three target worlds. Heroes always split up into mixed teams, it’s a cliché, but on this occasion I find myself irritated by it.
They none of them know what to face, so how are the teams selected? How logical is it to send heroes who are strangers to a certain Earth to deal with it’s local conditions? Why is Ibis wasted by being sent to Earth-1 with the Green Lanterns, whose powers not only duplicate each others but also his? The same thing with the two Flashes and Mercury. When you’ve got heroes with duplicate powers, why do they go together instead of providing maximum diversion of power in unknown circumstances?
Why do the two adult/teen combinations work together? Why do the two married flying couples go together? Why, when they separate, is it in gender roles as opposed to marriages? Why is Hawkgirl here at all, since she’s not a member of anything except her marriage? Does Bulletgirl have, incredible as it may seem, even less personality than all the other Fawcetts?
The problem with this year’s team-up is that it is an unfocused and amateurish effort, a throwback in style by more than a mere decade, to when the whole point of superhero comics was costumes and powers. It lacks any foundation in plausibility, it’s poorly executed and as a consequence, it offers nothing to establish itself in the reader’s memory. The one with the Fawcett characters: oh yes: what actually happened in that one?
The two things that could have made the story at least a little memorable are both fudged. The appearance in action, at long last, of the Earth-2 Batman, is a non-event, his age, his experience, his breadth of knowledge, these things might as well not exist.
But the biggie is that long-awaited meeting between Superman and Captain Marvel, the inevitable capper to the story, the climax that keeps the reader eager to reach the climax, the clash that is paraded on #137’s cover. Superman, under the influence of some left-over piece of Red Kryptonite, being whipped back into existence for the first time in half a decade, is on the rampage, Captain Marvel flies to confront him and…
Nothing. Seriously, nothing. Cap says “Shazam”, turns back into Billy and the shock clears Superman’s head. It screams cop-out, it screams manipulation and bad intentions. It suggests that Julius Schwarz, having tried to attract readers with the prospect of Captain Marvel, bottling out of offending their sympathies by having the Big Red Cheese defeated – because, come on, this is 1976, the Bicentennial, and Superman is not going to be beaten here. Not by a character who did beat him where it counted, in sales, and who was only brought down by an immoral court action that prevailed through DC’s greater financial resources.
Bish, bash, bosh, Superman’s ok, Kull’s chained up, everyone goes home, nothing to see here, please move along. This is a second successive story that ends abruptly, with no proper conclusion, just the need to shuffle everyone off the page in badly-paced rapidity.
But Bridwell’s not the only creator involved in this. To him, as plotter, much of the blame must be assigned, but Pasko does nothing to alleviate the drabness of this affair. Though a perceptive and frequently critical letterhack, and despite his long career in comics, he really isn’t that good a writer. Maybe he felt less commitment to this tale, not having created it, but his scripting is the equivalent of an actor phoning it in.
It’s unbearably lazy too: at the start of #137, Pasko decides to have the Green Lanterns read out the synopsis to one another instead of, you know, thinking of something plausible. But, of course, there’s the wink, the nod to the fans, for Ibis comments that they are talking exposition, so the reader can be let in on the joke. Except that they are talking exposition and no amount of ironic self-commentary disguises how cheap the device is.
With McLaughlin swathing everything in sheets of black ink, Dillin’s art begins to seriously deteriorate. The thick outlines convert everything into cartoonish shapes, and start to exaggerate Dillin’s repetitive poses. Nobody is able to fall naturally. Arms, and legs, are flung out stiffly, people land on their arse with one leg in the air every time they fall.
We are a long way now from the grace of Sid Greene or the crisp detail of Dick Giordano.
At least Pasko remembers to refer to the Justice Society’s own series, in the revived All-Star, though except in Batman’s off-handed reference to the ‘Super Squad’ element of that series, there is no other point of contact. And three of the JSAers in action aren’t even in action with the team in its revived form. Continuity is not, as yet, a DC speciality.
Once again, it’s immediately obvious that this story is impossible to justify in a post-Crisis setting. It’s barely possible to justify it pre-Crisis.