More Fun Comics – The First Original


New Fun Comics

Getting my hands on a DVD-Rom of More Fun Comics, a National Allied Publications/Detective Comics inc./National Periodical Publications Golden Age title published from 1934 to 1947, completes my collection of what I think of as the Big Four, that is, the four comics who contributed characters to All-Star Comics and the Justice Society of America.
That’s my angle of interest, but it must be acknowledged that More Fun has a historical significance of its own. As New Fun it was the first ever comic book to feature all-new material, and in issue 6 it offered the first published work by Cleveland teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, two instalments of Henri Duval, Swordsman of France, before creating Doctor Occult in issue 8. By then, the title had become More Fun, as of issue 7 and, finally, More Fun Comics with issue 9.
My DVD-Rom is more in the mould of Flash and All-American than Adventure, but like the two All-American publications books, the title did not survive the Fories, being cancelled with issue 127, by when the reason for my interest had long since gone by the board. It starts with issue 8, so let’s look at that to begin with.
Cover-dated February 1936 and published by More Fun Inc., headquartered in Missouri, issue 8 is a revelation. It’s the last of the original, larger-scale format, 44 pages with card covers. Comic books began as reprints of newspaper strips and despite the all-original boast, the comic is still trying to stick with that formula. With the exception of a prose serial, everything appears for one page only, laid out like a Sunday strip: four tiers, mostly square panels containing illustrations more suited to books that comics, no animation or attempt at movement, a mixture of B&W, limited colour and full-colour, funny strips and adventure ones, multiple genres. When I said this was all-original, that only meant that none of this stuff had been printed before: there isn’t an original idea in the entire issue, and nothing is remotely readable.
The next issue shrank to comic book size and expanded to 64 pages, with some series jumping to two pages, and some new features appearing. If you’re expecting to hear about these, you’ll have to find another blogger: I’m an analyst not an annalist.
It’s more-or-less a given that Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson used original art because he couldn’t afford the Syndicate fees for strips, and the young writers and artists he used were much cheaper. I’ve heard them described as rough, naïve, inexperienced and, reading between the lines, too untalented to make it on newspaper strips. Now I know they weren’t exaggerating.
None of this is of more than historical interest to me, except for an almost unbelievable letter of praise from a girl reader living in Newton Heath, Manchester, and there’s a lot of it to get through before we reach the meat of the run for me.
The change I had my eyes open for finally showed up in issue 31, May 1938. Gone was Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. Vincent Sullivan was now Editor, not assistant Editor. More Fun was now owned by Detective Comics Inc. And inside the front cover there was a full-page ad for a new title: Action Comics no. 1.
There was no immediate change. New features replaced old but More Fun stayed the same. Dr Occult was dropped but Seigel and Schuster’s Radio Car, a Police series, continued its irregular course. Old features drifted on, unchanging. But with every month that passed, DC, as I suppose we should now call them, were becoming more aware of what a hit they’d bought from Siegel and Schuster, and Bob Kane, enlivened by ideas from Bill Finger, was shaping his own costumed character. Unseen and unheard, there was a tide rising and it was going to overflow soon.
For now, e.g., issue 41, the mix was still the same, various miscellaneous adventure series, a couple of gag strips. More pages were in full colour, through these continued to be distributed haphazardly throughout the comic, favouring the front of the book. The biggest difference was that every strip got at least two pages and several as any as four, making for only a dozen different series.
Issue 43, cover-dated May 1939, was released alongside Detective 27, with plugs for the new action-adventure strip starting that month, the Batman. And Charlie Gaines had established All-American Publications and All-American Comics. And by issue 49, there wasn’t a single gag strip in the book.
But patience eventually pays off. The long life of the original More Fun Comics, little changed from the title put together by Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, ended in issue 51, cover-dated January 1940. in honour of that, let me list its contents. These were; Wing Brady, a Foreign Legion adventurer; Biff Bronson, an adventurer; King Carter, a globe-trotting cowboy adventurer: The Buccaneer, a sea-going adventurer; Kit Strong, a private detective adventurer, Lieut. Bob Neal of the Sub. 662, a Naval adventurer; The Flying Fox, an aviator adventurer; Detective Sergeant Carey, a Police detective adventurer; Sergeant O’Malley of the Red Coat Patrol, a Canadian Mountie adventurer; Bulldog Martin, an adventurer, and a single comic page starring Butch the Pup.
But the Buccaneer was ending. Its creator, Bernard Bailey would be drawing a new strip the following month, written by Jerry Siegel.

The white bits are not a costume

He’s there on the cover, with his green cape and hood, gloves and trunks, arms folded as he looks sternly down over a gang of crooks, The Spectre coming to turn More Fun around. Inside, he’s the lead feature, the first of a two-part telling of his origin as Jim Corrigan, hard-boiled Police Detective. The story’s familiar, as it should be given how often it’s been reprinted, but by the end of the episode, the ghost of Jim Corrigan is still wearing a tuxedo.
There’s one thing about the story that doesn’t sit all that well with me. Corrigan has blown out a party in honour of his heiress fiancee Clarice Winston to knock off some of ‘Gat’ Benson’s mob. Clarice is understandably angry with him for that. Corrigan’s hardly apologetic: indeed, he roundly tells her there’s only going to be one boss in this marriage, and that’s him. Clarice calls him a tyrant and a bully, but she still loves him.
Ok, it’s 1939, when marital relationships were looked on in a totally different light, and it’s hardly out of step, but it still jars modern sensibilities, or at least my modern sensibilities. But knowing more now of Jerry Siegel’s marriage and his personal history than I once did, I can’t help but sense a personal issue being worked on here. Jerry the mother’s boy, the nerd-before-there-were-nerds, who married against his Mother’s wishes, wouldn’t be the first writer to make his personal problems ‘work’ in his fiction.
The rest of the issue is unchanged, though I couldn’t help noticing that Bulldog Martin suddenly got a bottle of invisibility pills at the same time.
The other half of the story completes the tale with Corrigan’s revenge on Benson and his mob: dealing death with a glance, withering one into a skeleton, driving the rest out of their senses, you can already see where Michael Fleisher got his ideas from. Corrigan also revives Clarice from near death, breaks off their engagement rather woodenly, moves out of the apartment he shares with his best friend, all the time acting so strangely, and then sews himself a costume to wear as The Spectre. All these limitless super-powers and he gets out a sewing machine. It’s not the most favourable of signs.
Somewhat surprisingly, Corrigan gets the chance to relinquish his powers and receive eternal rest in his third episode, summoned to the edge of Heaven and getting an either-or offer from the Voice. Since he’s summoned in the split instant that a crooked Swami has fired a bullet at Clarice, who is proving impressively hard to shake off, Corrigan has no choice but to go for Option B: to be earth-bound, fighting crime until all traces of it are exterminated.
Only four episodes in and I have to say there’s a strange intensity about these early Spectre stories that just doesn’t come over in the solo chapters in All-Star Comics, which is self-evidently because those are written by Gardner Fox. Siegel brings a twisted perspective to Corrigan/The Spectre’s determined rejection of all human connection and an angry nihilism to the superficially charming Zor’s role as The Spectre’s evil equivalent.
I’m also intrigued that, whilst Corrigan and The Spectre are one being, the latter is already and constantly ’emerging’ from the former’s body, foreshadowing a significant development later in the series.

Half-helm only

The Spectre had obviously made a hit because in issue 55 he was joined by his partner in the supernatural, Doctor Fate. It’s a most odd first story as there is no origin, and whilst I knew this is held back some time, reprints had always centred upon Fate’s first meeting with debutante Inza Cramer. Here though, we start with Fate’s evil enemy, Wotan, targetting Inza to draw Fate’s attention, with the good Doctor – not described as possessing magic but rather the great secret of transforming Matter into Energy and Energy into Matter (what a gloriously meaningless attribute that is!) – not appearing until halfway.
So that was now two costumed heroes, both magical. Dr Fate took the cover for the first time in issue 56, continuing his battle with Wotan but overcoming him permanently (?), whilst the Spectre merely fought a gang of crooks. Elsewhere, More Fun was settling into a consistent run of adventure series, most of them veterans of the comic, though there was a new character, aviator Captain Desmo, who kept his face permanently concealed by flying helmet and goggles just as much as if he were a superhero.
And a new series, about Africa-based adventurer Congo Bill, facing up to a Phantom-esque villain called the Skull, started in issue 56. It’s a pretty basic adventure strip but it would last a surprisingly long time, hopping from title to until 1959, when, as we’ve already seen, it arrived in Adventure Comics, where Congo Bill was transformed into Congorilla.
The Doctor Fate strip also runs with a frenetic intensity. Gardner Fox just freewheels through each adventure, hurtling from one action to another, with very little evidence of a composed plot and a high-risk magical apocalypse threatened on every page. It’s gloriously goofy and gloriously weird. Both these strips burn in a way none of the other Justice Society members ever do. Though the basis of Fate’s power is still unsettled, now being an atomic force within him.
But the Gothic/Lovecraftian atmosphere of Fate’s series was fairly quickly decided to be a bit too intense for the readers, and this had to be dialled down. The first step, in issue 66, was to have the Doctor remove his helm and reveal a blond-haired handsome face: a human being, in fact, in response to Inza’s wish for someone she might love instead of a mysterious sorceror. Kent Nelson’s somewhat grisly origin, involving involuntary patricide, followed in the next issue.
At the same time, Congo Bill bowed out his short run in the comic.
Since their respective debuts, The Spectre had been the lead feature in More Fun and Doctor Fate closing things out. Now, in issue 68, the roles were reversed.
Despite Fate and the Spectre, More Fun had never wholly accepted superheroing.

The first time he was popular

Now the time was coming when this would change rapidly. Johnny Quick, a rip-off of The Flash in issue 71, Aquaman, a rip-off of the Sub-Mariner and The Green Arrow, a rip-off of Batman both in issue 73, all created by Mort Weisinger. In between times, Dr Fate got the toning down I knew was coming, getting rid of the supernatural and the eerie in favour of a half-faced helm that exposed his nose and mouth, and aiding his sudden vulnerability to attacks on his lungs. Only Radio Squad and Clip Carson survived the transition.
And Fate was not the only supernatural character to get toned down as issue 74 introduced The Spectre to Percival Popp, the Super-Cop. I have long read about, but never read, this comic relief character who was to dog Corrigan and his ghost for the rest of the series. Popp turned out to not be a cop but rather a private detective, determined to work side-by-side with Jim Corrigan. He was a short, skinny guy with a big nose, glasses and a shock of dark red hair. He could have been worse but he was bad enough: a comic relief character in January 1942?
The rest of the title was not at all impressive. Johnny Quick was crude. Aquaman and Green Arrow were as bland as their spells in the Fifties in Adventure, just cruder in style to begin with. And Doctor Fate had exchanged gothic/sinister tones for obsessive, pun-based wisecracking of a kind that makes Spider-Man look sophisticated.
The first history of The Spectre I ever read, as long ago as 1966, made mention of the time when the Avenging Ghost was permitted to resurrect Jim Corrigan’s body to life. I’d always been under the impression that this had preceded the arrival of Percival Popp, but in fact it followed it, by one issue.
Issue 75 saw Clarice Winston trying to re-enter Corrigan’s life. His cruel rejection of her in his origin is always held up as a key factor in that story but it leaves the impression that that was that for the lovelorn heiress. But Clarice remained as much in love with him as ever, and hopeful of getting married, and Jim still found her hard to resist. Now Popp, in his second apearance, took a hand in trying to put the two back together.

No comment

But Clarice was becoming the victim of an artist who was draining her life, and who was having a sculpture thrown into the river, exactly where Benson’s men had thrown Corrigan’s cement barrel. To prevent his body being found, and blowing his identity, The Spectre sought and received permission to restore Corrigan to life.
And the first thing Corrigan did was seek out Clarice.
It was a touching reward for her faith and patience. Now his excuse for not marrying her was, you’ll pardon the phrase, dead in the water. Did he get engaged to her? No, you’d think he was engaged to Percival Popp, in both his existences, since the little man became co-star of the series two issues later.
The success of the Green Arrow took me completely by surprise. By issue 76, he’d claimed the lead story and, an issue later, took over the cover. Clip Carson was dropped as from the same issue.
It might be germane to ask, if Green Arrow had become the most popular character in More Fun, as he self-evidently had, why was he not drafted into the Justice Society of America? There are two answers to that: America had entered the War, paper was rationed, no new titles were to be launched for the duration, and had they topped any reader’s polls, neither The Spectre nor Doctor Fate had anywhere to go to make room.
More pertinently, Green Arrow – and Speedy – already had a team to call home, Detective Comics’ Seven Soldiers of Justice, aka the Law’s Legionnaires, denizens of the recently created Leading Comics.
More Fun was now firmly a superhero comic. Clip Carson had gone, leaving only the long-running Radio Squad to disrupt the line-up. The Green Arrow’s stories were no better or worse than the ones in Adventure in the Fifties, the main distinction being that the Emerald Archer only fires real arrows, with points not gimmicks. Aquaman deals with mainly realistic sea adventures, without the constant ‘finny friends’ business, but he’s the entirely human son of a famous submarine scientist who’s taught him scientific ways of living under the water. Johnny Quick, now enjoying some solid art from ‘Mort Morton’, is the best of the bunch.
As for the old stagers, the de-powered Doctor Fate is not a patch on the full-helmed version. There are no magical or super-scientific foes, just ordinary crooks. The series is energetic enough and Inza is doing a sterling job of showing that you really don’t need to hide your identity from your girlfriend, but it’s still pallid stuff compared to the beginning. And The Spectre has now resigned himself to a full-time role alongside the ridiculous Popp. At least we no longer have to suffer the incessant and tiresome demands of the Cliffland Chief of Police that Jim Corrigan capture The Spectre because The Spectre is behind everything. Obviously. Not that much of a relief, sadly.
The War came to More Fun in issue 84, on the cover at least and, in passing, in Green Arrow’s strip. The next issue was billed as a big change in Doctor Fate’s life as the Doctor became a Doctor, retraining as a physician. This made me think: once again, the histories I’ve read of characters have not been as accurate as they might. Kent Nelson has always been portrayed as an archaeologist, like his father Sven, who changed profession to Doctor to be more useful during the War years. When he was revived in 1965, he was back in the digging business. Incidentally, having jettisoned the lower half of his helm, Fate dispensed with his golden cape as well.
In fact, throughout Fate’s series to date, once Kent Nelson was revealed, there was not one word about his profession. And how could he go on digs when he spent all his time in that walled tower in Salem?
Incidentally, the story revealing Nelson’s new profession saw Fate meet a plastic surgeon blackmailed into creating new faces for crooks over a brother in a prison camp in Germany, exactly the same set up as the Green Arrow story in the same issue.
Though he didn’t displace the Green Arrow from the leading position, Johnny Quick did get onto the cover for issues 86 and 87. As for issue 88, The Spectre story had him, and Jim Corrigan, as just a ghost again. There had only been one additional story after issue 75 to specifically reference Corrigan as human again (and dating Clarice), but this was a definitive continuity-reversal.
There was one final story to reference Corrigan and The Spectre as separate, and this was the one in which they separated. Corrigan the human could finally pass the physical, and went into officer-training, to fight the Japanese, leaving the Spectre behind to keep helping out Percival Popp. But separation from his host had the unexpected effect of leaving the ghost invisible. In possession of all his other powers alright, just not visible. So the once-mighty Spectre, who could kill at a glance, was now the stooge. Thankfully, not for much longer.
The same issue did include a development I was glad to see, the re-entry of Inza Kramer, fiancee to that dashing young Interne, Doctor Nelson. Aww, so sweet. Clarice Winston must have been green. But that would prove to be Inza’s final appearance in the series.
A minor detail that intrigued me by this point was a succession of adverts for Prize Comics, and then Prize and Headline Comics. No such titles were ever published by Detective or All-American, and these turned out to be titles published by Crestwood Publications, who had the bright and possibly unique idea of advertising in their bigger rivals line!
With paper rationing starting to bite, in the form of an order to reduce usage by 10%, More Fun, which had been monthly since it established itself, was demoted to bi-monthly status for the duration. All this was to was was to delay the changes lying directly ahead.
In the meantime, a slip on the cover of issue 93 plugged The Green Arrow and Speedy, whilst the Aquaman story was, for once, worth reading. The Monarch of the Sea guards a delayed freighter bringing supplies to Murmansk. The twist is that it has an all-female crew and, whilst Aquaman and the Germans patronisingly underestimate the ladies, they perform with calm confidence and aptitude, needing no condescension. Oh, and the Captain turns into a red-headed babe in a backless evening dress when they arrive!

Even less comment

Little things: Johnny Quick’s stories had adopted a comfortable formula by which the Mile-a-Moment hero has to help someone by doing a job that would take a dozen men a month to complete, but do it in less than twenty-four hours. At the back end of his run and using only the most minimal talents, Doctor Fate was only now being referred to regularly as ‘the Man of Magic’. And issue 94 saw the debut of Dover and Clover, twin private detectives who made Percy Popp look competent.
Nevertheless, they quickly proved to be so popular that they shared the cover of issue 98 with Green Arrow and Speedy, who were quoted as claiming this was “Our Mag”. Not for much longer it wouldn’t be but this issue saw the final appearance of Doctor Fate, in a sadly stupid and unbelievable little escapade that was below even the standards his series had sunk to. Cover date July-August 1944: in All-Star Comics 21, cover-dated Summer 1944, the Doc and Sandman were active in their last Justice Society adventure.
Fate was not replaced, unless you count a one-page comic historical feature a replacement. Two issues later, More Fun reached its historical 100th issue, without fanfare, celebration or effort of note, though Johnny Quick got the cover and the lead slot and Green Arrow was bounced back to fourth slot.
More Fun used to be The Spectre’s comic. It was so for the last time in issue 101 (January-February 1945). And the Ghostly Guardian, or else the Dark Knight as he was so frequently called over four decades before Frank Miller’s first Batman story, made his last appearance in All-Star in issue 23, Winter 1944. Like Doctor Fate, the disappearances were virtually simultaneous, and the last story undistinguished. Both had been undistinguished for a long time.
The Spectre’s replacement was introduced in a five-page prelude in issue 101. Superman had long been human until he reached manhood. Now he had a career to be revealed as Superboy, though not the Superboy Jerry Siegel had envisaged, nor a Superboy Siegel had any part in, More Fun‘s line-up would now consist of Superboy, Aquaman, Green Arrow and Johnny Quick, plus the stupid Dover and Clover. Sound familiar? It ought to, for reasons we’ll shortly learn.
Anyway, Superboy’s full-scale debut didn’t merit him the cover, which went to the twin detectives, nor even the lead slot, which was Green Arrow again. It was a younger Superboy than we would get used to, somewhere around age eight, and a Clark Kent who didn’t wear glasses and acted like a normal kid. There was some way to go yet.
And there was no rush to exploit the new character, though he was mentioned on issue 103’s cover, as Green Arrow and Speedy once again call out Dover and Clover for trying to take over ‘their book’, only for the clueless crime-crackers to turn up again to point out Superboy’s in it. And they showed him on the cover of the next issue, with the crime-fighting archers.
Superboy might have started without Jerry Siegel, but his name was on it, alongside Joe Schuster, next time around. There were none of the familiar characters, no Ma and Pa Kent, no pretty redhead next door. They wouldn’t come until later, and in a different title.
Because, after issue 107, cover-date January-February 1946, More Fun underwent a wholesale change of direction, to emulate its name by becoming a comic comic. The regulars, Superboy, Johnny Quick, Green Arrow and Aquaman, were shipped out en masse, to, as we have already seen, Adventure Comics, where they would stay for over a decade.

Alfred Bester created this?

With issue 108, Dover and Clover took over the cover, and the lead slot, greeting Genius Jones, who had travelled in the opposite direction and dropped into place behind them. The rest of the comic was new, or rather old – old hat, that is. A parade of silly characters and silly situations, without any of the ingenuity or humour of the newspaper strips of the era, or any of the rich cartooning abilities of their artists. But the next month, for the comic had been returned to monthly status now the war was over, just in time for its great change, Genius Jones – a creation of Alfred Bester, my life –  had both cover and lead slot and the detectives were back at the back.
In fact, they were settling in to alternate cover billing.
Now it’s fair to say that, with the exception of Sheldon Mayer’s Scribbly and the Red Tornado, I get nothing from the Golden Age humour strips. Even Johnny Thunder was nigh on intolerable at times, when Peachy Pet took the lead. So from More Fun‘s change of direction to the end of the run, there is little to interest me. Nevertheless, I read each issue (semi-) diligently to check for anything requiring comment.
For the record, the line-up after the alternating leads consisted of Curly’s Cafe, Windy, The Gas House Gang, Rusty, Cabby Casey and Cunnel Custard, but if you want any more details than that, buy your own DVD!
That was until issue 121, which introduced Jimminy and his Magic Book, a fairytale adventure that got not merely cover status but two well-drawn stories inside. Genius Jones and Dover & Clover continued, as did Rusty, Windy and the Gas House Gang but everybody else was dropped.
There wasn’t much left. Howard Post’s art on Jimminy (whose other name was Crockett) may well have been the best ever to appear in More Fun, with a foreshadowing of Walt Kelly’s Pogo, but More Fun was heading for cancellation. Superman crossed the cover of issue 125, Cabbie Casey replaced Rusty in issue 126, and with issue 127, cover dated November-December 1947, with no less than five Jimminy stories and one final Dover & Clover, it was gone.
So ended DC’s oldest title and Genius Jones andDJimminy went with it. Depending on dates, Dover and Clover may have had as much as ten more appearances in them across other titles, but they ended up in deserved limbo too. And, in the absence of a DVD of either or both of Leading Comics and Star-Spangled Comics, that completes my adventures in the Golden Age.

A Spot of Adventure: The Bronze Age – Part 2


For 324 issues, Adventure Comics had been part of the Superman stable of titles. 200 issues of Superboy. 80 issues of the Legion of Super-Heroes. 44 issues of Supergirl. Now, editor Joe Orlando had two months to find a new star for DC’s fifth oldest title with any recourse to the Man of Steel’s offshoots. What would he do?
There would be ample time to think for, from issue 425, Adventure went bi-monthly, requiring only six issues per year, a sign that circulation was in decline, as it was elsewhere at DC, and in places you wouldn’t expect, like the Justice League of America. Orlando’s response was defiant: the new Adventure would become a mini-Showcase, home to all sorts of stories and ideas, ever changing, always springing surprises.
There were four stories in the first issue, no 425, only one of them continued, the others – one only two pages long – complete in themselves. They were miniature shockers, with twist endings and no comebacks. The exception, Captain Fear, was written by veteran Robert Kanigher and drawn by newcomer Akex Nino, first and most abstract of the wave of Filipino artists about to flood DC’s pages because they were insanely cheap, as well as stylish, quick and talented. Captain Fear was a native indian pirate Captain, where you could make images out.
The Vigilante was added in issue 426, along with The Adventurers Club, an anthology series drawn by the already brilliant Jim Aparo, who was already working for Orlando on The Phantom Stranger.

And then everyone was ditched for a three-issue run by the mysterious Black Orchid, created by Sheldon Mayer and Tony De Zuniga, backed up by Dr Thirteen, the Ghost Breaker, also drawn by De Zuniga. The Doc only stayed one issue, however, before being re-replaced by Captain Fear, now being written by Steve Skeates, who was in turn replaced by The Adventurer’s Club in issue 430.
As for the Black Orchid, the character was attractively drawn but the stories were functionally identical. A bad man is given the opportunity to repay his thefts by the Black Orchid, who turns out to be disguised as someone close to him. She can fly, is bulletproof and no-one believes it when they see her. Meanwhile, she has no name, no identity and no personality, just an enigma. Three issues were enough, and she was replaced by Adventure‘s most notorious ten issue run of all time.

This run, in issues 331-340, came about by the coincidence of three things: young writer Michael Fleisher, researching a projected six-volume History of Comic Books of which only two appeared, proposing a revival of the Golden Age character, The Spectre, just after Joe Orlando had been robbed in a street-mugging in front of his wife. Orlando, angry and resentful of his humiliation, was ready to approve a version of the character that went back to his roots as a vengeful ghost, bringing retribution to evil, and to take advantage of the recent relaxation of the Comics Code to permit a greater licence in what could be depicted..
I loved it at the time. The run was bloodthirsty, it’s most obvious single flaw masked in my eyes by superb, dramatic, atmospheric art from Jim Aparo. The most obvious flaw was that the stories were basically identical: unrelievedly evil characters with no personality or even a second note, commit brutal crimes: the Spectre kills them in even more brutal and inventive ways. That’s all.
I was just feeling my way back into comics again after a three year hiatus, still overawed by the changes there had been during my absence, stunned by artwork from the likes of Aparo. But for him, I wouldn’t have lasted anything like as long: the lack of variation would have turned me off. A few years later, a higher sense of morality would have had me more repelled than thrilled by Aparo’s depiction of death-by-supernatural-circumstance. Yes, you could argue that the Spectre’s vengeance bore no resemblance to ‘ordinary’ killing, and Fleisher reacted to criticism by arguing that his Spectre wasn’t doing anything the original hadn’t, and he’d been written by Jerry Seigel.
Leaving aside the comprehensive difference between Bernard Bailey’s art and Jim Aparo’s, I somehow doubt this: as early as the fourth episode, The Spectre animates an axe to chop Jim Corrigan’s would-be girl-friend Gwen Sterling into eight separate pieces in a single panel, just because she, under mind-control, has tried to kill him. We the audience know this ‘Gwen’ is an animated mannequin but the Spectre doesn’t. Not until after ‘Gwen’ is being labelled Parts 1 to 8.
The run was popular but also highly vilified for its violence. There’s no definitive explanation for its cancellation with issue 440, but piecing things together from various sources, the probable explanation is that Infantino, coming under intense criticism at conventions and fan-events, took the opportunity of the first small downfall in sales to kill the feature, so abruptly that three bought and paid for scripts were never drawn, just written off, not to appear for thirteen years.
The Spectre period featured several different back-ups, including the final Captain Feat two-parter, but the most significant was a loose serial starring Aquaman, back in Adventure after a gap of 150-odd issues, with art from the up-and-coming Mike Grell, an artist who gathered raves everywhere he went but always looks stiff and unnatural to me. More thrilling was an unused Seven Soldiers of Justice story from the Forties, newly-drawn and serialised in issue 438-443.
The Seven Soldiers serial may have outlived the Spectre but it was Aquaman who replaced him, for a dozen issues, a rather better, or at least more varied use of Aparo’s art, allied to scripting by another former fan easing his way into the industry, one Paul Levitz.

It goes without saying that Aquaman in this run was better by far than the repetitious, meaningless stories of the Fifties. The opening eight issues built up as a serial that saw Aquaman deposed as King of Atlantis, at first by the mysterious Karshon, supporting the King of the Sea’s regular enemies of his Sixties series, but ultimately by his trusted Counsellor Vulko. It was well-made but I couldn’t really get into it, not then or now.
In the wider context, the arrival of Jeanette Kahn to replace Carmine Infantino as Publisher saw Joe Orlando promoted to Managing Editor and Paul Levitz become ‘Story Editor’ on Adventure, at the age of 20. Meanwhile, the three-issue back-ups moved on from The Creeper to the Martian Manhunter, his first appearance in years and a dumb one as he just assumes his murdered fellow Martian has been killed by a Justice League member, on the grounds that it was obvious. And Denny O’Neill wrote this.
Worse still, this ‘three-parter’ turned out to have four parts, the last being published in a completely different title, World’s Finest.
And Aquaman’s run ended abruptly in issue 452 with news that his own title was being revived and that he would transfer back there. Unfortunately, this came one issue too late for Adventure to escape the stigma of hosting one of DC’s most hateful and sickening stories. Aquaman’s ongoing battle with Black Manta reaches an end that few have ever condoned, as his son, Arthur Jr., Aquababy, held hostage by the villain, was killed, drowning in air.
Yes, that’s right, a little kid, not more than two years old, murdered. Where’s the Spectre when you want him? That Black Manta was allowed to live and remain a viable character to this day is an obscenity. David Michelinie wrote this, Jim Aparo drew it and Paul Levitz took editorial responsibility.
So, guess who got wheeled out to lead Adventure for the next phase? Why, it was Superboy!
It was the same story as Aquaman:better than the Fifties but still not good. Superboy got a solo because the Legion were pushing him out of his title, a familiar pattern, but he was saddled with Bob Rozakis and John Calnan as his creators, a combination that spelt commonplace. Aqualad got his first solo series as the back-up but that was no better, going around threatening to beat up pacifists to discover the secret of his past.
The cycle was supposed to be three 11-pagers plus back-up, and one novel-length story, but this was comic book’s nadir, when novel-length meant only 17 pages in a comic, and nobody settled into writing or drawing the series. But Superboy’s tenure only lasted five issues this time before he was moved over to Superman Family. Adventure was going down the pan. It had no regular lead feature, and the name, Adventure had simply outlived its recognition factor after forty-plus years, lacking definition for its audience, who looked for characters first.
This latest wholesale change reflected the decision to add Adventure to DC’s line of Dollar Comics, 68 page comics costing $1, but featuring all-original material. The initial line-up, in issue 459, featured The Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Deadman, the Elongated Man and The New Gods, not to mention a very long editorial from Levitz about the values and virtues of the new comic, restoring the glories of anthology comics.
From this distance, the editorial reeks of desperation, as well it might since the infamous DC Explosion/Implosion was right in the headlights. The New Gods feature was already a foretaste of what was coming: this was nothing to do with Jack Kirby but instead was the completion of Return of the New Gods, an extension series written by Gerry Conway that, despite a few good lines here or there, is justly forgotten now.
Most interesting was the information that when this feature concluded, after two final chapters, it would be replaced by The Man from Neverwhere. But Adventure was about to be buffeted once more by the winds of change.
The intention was to have Flash, GL, Wonder Woman and Deadman as regulars, with shifting back-ups, but by the second issue, Green Lantern was on his way out, displaced by none other than Aquaman (again) because his solo title had been cancelled (again). The New Gods ended with Conway killing off Darkseid, but only for the first time: it would become something of a habit with him.
So to The Man from Neverwhere. But we all know that never appeared. Because the DC Implosion saw half the DC line cancelled in an afternoon, among them the revived All-Star Comics. It had been due to feature the Death of (the Earth-2) Batman in its next issue so, just like Return of the New Gods, Adventure became a home to finish things off.
Levitz moved on as editor, to the Batman titles, as he probably had to do, being the Justice Society writer, and was replaced by Ross Andru, who would soon be shaking up The Flash’s life in his title. This coincided with the final loss of Jim Aparo, after so many issues and features, the last of these being Deadman, which continued under Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.
One thing that immediately becomes obvious in reading this phase is a story-telling technique prevalent in 1979 but thankfully long abandoned. This is an attempt to generate immediacy and action by starting in the middle, in a desperate situation, sometimes only on the splash page, sometimes covering a page or two, before rewinding to the beginning to see how the whole thing was set up. This achronology is clumsy and incredibly irritating to read forty years on.
But the Dollar Comic idea didn’t last. None of DC’s attempts to sell bigger comics for more money ever lasted and with issue 466 it was done again. The Justice Society left on a high, the explanation for their retirement during the Fifties tied into McCarthyism, and they were going to be leaving anyway. But there was not a word of warning anywhere in the title of what would happen in issue 467.

Yes, everybody was out. Adventure was restored to its bog-standard 32 page size, and to monthly status at the same time, with Len Wein installed as editor and a brand new line-up of a revived Plastic Man, complete with Woozy Winks, demonstrating yet again just how hard it was to capture Jack Cole’s lightning in a bottle, and a brand-new Starman series, featuring a brand—new Starman, by Levitz and the legendary Steve Ditko.
The latter intrigued me. I never read it at the time, though I’m familiar with this version, Prince Gavyn, from the superb James Robinson Starman series around the turn of the century, so it was nice to see the building blocks being built.
Starman was actually quite decent space opera that I would probably have enjoyed a lot in 1979/80, whilst the Plastic Man revival did its best but, lacking the light touch of Plas’s creator, got bogged down in excess silliness rather quickly.
Still, DC had not given up on Jeanette Kahn’s dream of bigger, better comics, and with issue 475, Adventurer extended its borders (and price) again, jumping to 50 cents and junking eight advertising pages to bring the creative content up to 25 again. That required a third character and who do you think it was? Tall, blond, favours orange scales? Yes, it was bloody Aquaman again.
But only for three issues. Without warning, issue 478 had every series scattering to the horizon for their continuations, Aquaman back to World’s Finest, Plastic Man to Super-Friends, Starman to ‘a conclusion – sometime’. And not a word of explanation in the lettercol or elsewhere.
By now, it must be long obvious that Adventure was a dying title, struggling and gasping and desperate. There wasn’t even a lettercol in issue 479, which was taken over by Dial ‘H’ for Hero for the remainder of the series’ life, nor credits. The series was being written by Marv Wolfman and very clearly being drawn by Carmine Infantino.

Back in the Sixties, I vaguely remember reading one of the original Dial ‘H’ for Hero stories starring Robbie Reed, in which the idea was that if Robbie dialled letters that were equivalent to H-E-R-O on a mysterious telephone dial (no telephone attached) he would turn into new superheroes for an hour at a time.
The revival had two High School teenagers, Chris King and Vicki Grant, who discover two dials, one as a wristwatch, the other a necklace, and also turn into superheroes. Lots of superheroes. Streams of one-note superheroes with all the developmental space of a puddle. This is because practically ever character has been suggested by a reader in their teens (except the Silver Fog, created by Harlan Ellison, aged 46). In short, it’s a wildly jarring, screaming mish-mash of stock Infantino shots, and my how stylistically angular he’d got, and it’s horrendous to read. Oh, and just in case anyone comes up with a good character, DC owns them all. Just in case.
The sheer vapidity of the comic – three seven page stories per issue, is this Mort Weisinger making a comeback? No, it’s Jack C Harris as editor, which explains a lot – was DC’s attempt to grab a younger audience at the very time it’s older audience was taking hold of the industry, via the Direct Market. It was a killer. Adventure lost its last, tenuous grip on its audience, throwing away one that had shown some loyalty in pursuit of another that it hoped to create out of nowhere.
With issue 490, cover-dated February 1982, Adventure Comics died quietly, in its forty-eighth year, just ten issues short of its 500th publication. Apart from a mention of where Dial ‘H’ for Hero could next be found, there was no announcement of the cancellation. By turning it into a digest-sized publication, mostly reprint, the title was got to 500 eventually. There have been revivals since, but one of the oldest titles in the business had run out of reinventions, doomed by its failure to produce a character it could be associated with who could save its life.
Action could live off Superman and Detective off Batman. But Adventure could only ever eat its own tail: if it produced a charismatic, exciting, popular lead character, it would lose its star to a solo title in its own name. Ultimately, it was doomed. And it went.

A Spot of Adventure: The Silver Age – Part 1


It’s February 1958, though the cover date says April, standard comic book practice then and for decades to come to try to fool newstands, drugstores and Mom-and-Pop stores to leave the comic out on display for longer and longer, before tearing the strip with the title off the cover and returning it for credit. The new Flash had appeared in two issues of Showcase, both big sellers, but the management at National Periodical Publications (you didn’t shout the word ‘Comics’ too loudly in the Fifties) would require two more, this year, before trusting him to a series of his own. The Silver Age was struggling to be born but Adventure Comics and its editor, Whitney Ellsworth, was about to make their greatest contribution to the new era. He, writer Otto Binder and artist Al Plastino were about to introduce the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Appropriately for the time, it’s a bit of a jerky story. Three kids from the future, Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl, the latter two of which looking nothing like the incarnations we would become familiar with in the future, and all of which boast artificial super-powers that, at this stage, are not the inherent abilities stemming from their respective home planets, ‘tease’ (i.e., horrify) Superboy by knowing his dual identity, invite him 1,000 years into the future to join their superhero club, put his through competency tests in which they deliberately sabotage him, and all for fun. Remind me again, why did he join this bunch of creeps?
We only get to meet these three Legionnaires, although the group includes at least four other identified members, one of which is green-skinned and could possibly have been Brainiac 5. We also learn that, ten centuries on, feminism hasn’t arrived, since Saturn Girl is ‘only a girl’ (curl lip in contempt). Of such acorns do oak trees grow, however implausible, but if superheroes are on the way back, the idea’s a doozy.
There are still our hapless D-listers, The Green Arrow and Aquaman, to go through, and it was back to Superboy solo next month, But the Silver Age had visited and left its calling card on the table. The In-Between Age was doomed..
As this is a new run, I actually started reading the back-up stories, or enough of them to finally pick up on the patterns. Green Arrow’s stories are always about the arrows, and how the crime-fighting archers have to keep using different ones, whilst Aquaman is about him acting out of character for some secret purpose that gets revealed on page 5. And it was interesting to see that, when Adventure hit issue 250, one of a very small number of titles to do so, absolutely nothing was done to mark it.
Or did it? For that and the next six issues, Green Arrow gained a new artist, the King, Jack Kirby. No, it’s not particularly memorable art, or that distinctly Kirby, and apparently it was being inked by his wife, Roz, but it’s Kirby. And in issue 252, not only did Superboy encounter Red Kryptonite for the first time (but not its more antic aspects), but Green Arrow’s story was continued into a second part!
A major change arrived in that second issue. It was not Superboy teaming up with a time-travelling Robin the Boy Wonder but rather the introduction of the Silver Age staple, the letters page.
I was also pleased to see the occasional resumption of house ads, particularly the full-pagers devoted to new characters in Showcase, such as Space Ranger and Adam Strange, under the rubric ‘Adventures on Other Worlds’. But on the debit side, Aquaman’s series was now adorned with his own sidekick, his pet octopus, Topo. Don’t anyone tell Jason Mamoa about this.

Don’t believe it…

But we are really getting into some deep and, frankly, scary psychological terrirtory, especially with the Superboy story in issue 255, which sees some Martian Red Kryptonite split Superboy in two, one of them the Boy of Steel and the other a merely human Clark Kent. Clark goes criminally batty and Superboy ends up killing him in an explosion. That’s right, killing him, or rather himself, without qualm or regret. That’s seriously disturbing shit.
Kirby’s last Green Arrow, featuring the most identifiably Kirby art of his run, was a re-telling of his origin in it’s pre-Speedy form. In fact, the letters page, and several requests for who, what and why, seems to have inspired a sweep of origin recaps across the Superman titles generally, not to mention another ludicrous team-up in issue 258, this time with Superboy trying to inspire new-kid-in-town Oliver Queen to take an interest in archery… In time, practically half of DC’s characters would pass through Smallville during Superboy’s youth.
When I mentioned that Whitney Ellsworth was editing Adventure, I was surprised to see his name in the indicia, as I’d always assumed Mort Weisinger’s legendary possessiveness about Superman would not allow anyone else to be in charge. Weisinger replaces Ellsworth as of issue 259, reminding me that when Ellsworth was editor of All-Star, it was Julius Schwartz doing the work. I think Ellsworth was editor in the same way Stan Lee et al were editor-in-chief at Marvel: the overall boss but not the hands-on man. I think Weisinger’s hand was on the real controls all along. Now, it just became official.
One of those origin stories appeared in issue 260, as Aquaman’s origin was retold for the first time in eighteen years, or rather retconned, for now Arthur Curry was named for the first time, and he was revealed as being Atlantean, though not yet as the rightful king of that undersea world. Next issue, the Boy of Steel met a teenage Lois Lane at camp, sharing a cabin with Lana Lang and deploring the latter’s constant efforts to discover Superboy’s identity: Lois would never do that. All-in-all, it was a chance for the Boy of Steel to anticipate his adult self’s trait of acting like a dick to two women who love him.
By now, it was clear that the Legion hadn’t caught the imagination of Superboy’s readers first off. In fact, it took twenty issues for the teenagers of tomorrow to reappear, in issue 267, and they were still dicks, humiliating the Boy of Steel, driving him off Earth, imprisoning him. It was the same trio but this time all in the uniforms with which we would be familiar in the Sixties, except that Saturn Girl was brunette, not blonde.
Two issues later, Aquaman met Aqualad, an Atlantean expelled from Atlantis for being afraid of fish, cured his fear and ending up with the kid imprinting himself on the King of the Sea and adopting him as a surrogate father with no legal proceedings whatsoever.

For issue 270, the first of 1960, there was a sudden change as Green Arrow’s series was replaced by Congorilla, big game hunter Congo Bill who, by rubbing a magic ring, could transfer his mind into the body of a golden gorilla for an hour. Remember too that 1960 was the year the Justice League of America debuted, consisting of seven of DC’s eight adult superheroes. The only one to miss out was… Green Arrow. Is there a connection?
Next issue, Superboy met the young Lex Luthor, farm boy in Smallville, Superboy hero-worshipper and would-be scientific genius, and we see that Luthor becomes a Superman-hater after Superboy causes all his hair to fall out. Don’t laugh so much, there are sound psychological underpinnings to this rationale, I merely looks goofy. And increasingly the letters page is becoming a source of inspiration, with the kids raising questions that prompt stories being written to explain the answers. Weisinger certainly knew his audience.
After Robin, Lois and Luthor, it was inevitable that Superboy would meet a young Bruce Wayne when his parents, the great philanthropists and benefactors of Gotham City, decided to move to Smallville; well, wouldn’t you? Who wants to live in a plush mansion when you could live in a hick town? Bruce gets the hots for Lana who agrees to let him take her to the Prom if he finds out Superboy’s identity, which he does, being smart, only Superboy shows him film of the future where he’s Batman and they’re best friends, so he doesn’t. Funny how the Boy of Steel omits the bit about why young Bruce becomes Batman…
Both back-up series had a change of title is issue 277, to introduce their kid partners: Aquaman and Aqualad, Congorilla and Janu, with National announcing that, in response to many such requests, they were giving the first pair a two-issue run in Showcase to see if they could carry their own title.
Issue 280 saw the Mermaid Lori Lemaris become the latest Superman character to pre-empt her first meeting with Supes by turning up in Smallville years early. As usual, the story was 90% silly, the exceptions being the provision of an entirely sensible explanation for Lori’s Atlanteans having fishtails whilst Aquaman’s have two legs, and the instinctive effort of the jealous Lana to save the life of the ‘girl’ she fears as a rival. It was also announced that, from the next issue, the first of 1961, Congorilla and Aquaman would alternate as back-up, their combined pages giving the opportunity for thirteen page adventures.
This time, it took only fifteen issues for the Legion of Superheroes to return, in issue 282, with a new member, Star Boy (albeit one with super-strength, electrical vision and supercool breath, instead of mass controlling powers), as well as a cameo from the previously unseen Chameleon Boy. Unfortunately, the story was an excuse for Lana to cook up one of her least reputable plots to discover Superboy’s identity. Not even the sight of Lana in a most un-1961 short skirt and her frank admission that she loved the Boy of Steel kept him from acting like just as much as a dick to her. Just fly her off and snog her, you fool!
Congorilla’s brief run came to an end in issue 283, with the announcement that he was being replaced by the more Superman-oriented Tales of the Bizarro World. It was supposed to be just him but, come the day, Aquaman was sent swimming too. But three issues later I was hoping for one or both of them to return, as the Bizarro stories were stupid beyond belief. And they’re getting all the covers, too! The time between Legion stories was rapidly diminishing, with Sun Boy, the “Seventh Legionnaire” being introduced in issue 290.
And the big three of Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl were back after only three issues, this time introducing, wait for it, the Legion of Super-Pets. Yes, that’s right: Super-Pets. These were Krypto, plus Beppo the Super-Monkey, Streaky the Super-Cat and even the as-yet unnamed Comet the Super-Horse, pet and occasional lover of Supergirl (don’t go there, just don’t) who hadn’t even been introduced in Supergirl’s series yet (hey, every young girl is into horses, right?)

There was a letter of protest about the Bizarros in issue 296 which brought forth a stinging rebuke from Weisinger, about how Adventure‘s sales figures had rocketed to their highest ever since the feature began, and that every month they got 5,000 postcards with suggestions from ‘Bizarro business’. Yeah, but that still doesn’t mean the series isn’t crap.
Finally, the suggestion came up of a regular Legion series, alternating with the Bizarros. So, with issue 300, the day finally came when the Legion, 53 issues after their debut, took a permanent role in Adventure.
And I’ll be back in two weeks for the next instalment.

A Spot of Adventure: The In-Between Age


Most people agree upon the periods of the Golden Age and the Silver Age of Comics, though there’s room for argument as to the Ages that have followed. The Golden Age, from Action 1 to All-Star 57, covers the years 1938 to 1950, whilst the Silver Age starts with Showcase 4 in 1956. That leaves a gap that has never been tagged onto any Age, metallic or otherwise.
For the second instalment of my review of Adventure Comics, I’m calling the period in question the In-Between Age, and I plan to go up to 1958, for two reasons. One is that, although the Barry Allen Flash debuted in 1956, he only made four appearances in three years before finally being unleashed on his own series, in 1959. I’d call that the true beginning of the Silver Age, but before that, in 1958, National would introduce a new idea in the pages of Adventure that was as Silver Age as you could wish. This essay covers the years leading up to then.
We begin with issue 167. The Shining Knight was fallen casualty to the times, leaving Adventure with a line-up, front to back, of Superboy, Aquaman, Johnny Quick and The Green Arrow (still with the definite article). Superboy has the perky, red-headed teenage beauty Lana Lang trying to uncover his secret identity, just as his adult contemporary has Lois Lane, and Lana gets the idea into her pretty head that an ancient helmet brought home by her archaeologist parents gives her Superboy-esque powers. Instead of just taking her for a long, slow ride at the next hayride and enjoying some enthusiastic smooching, Superboy has to pretend the helmet works to keep her from getting the right idea about why a robber’s bullet just bounced off him. Silly boy.
Lana was a seeming fixture for a few issues but then dropped out, which was a shame because she brought an element of personality to Superboy’s strip. It was still a mostly domestic strip, calling for no great effort on the kid’s powers but without the pretty redhead it was empty.
Indeed, going into 1952, the comic as a whole was dull. Aquaman, who was clearly the favourite of the DVD maker who manages to come up with the Sea King’s story even when nothing else of an issue is available, tends to fight pirates, Green Arrow and Speedy can’t even come up with new trick arrows anymore, and only Johnny Quick comes up with an interesting read, mainly because it still hearkens to its Golden Age look instead of the bloodless DC art of the era.
I’ll mention the story in issue 181, which featured Joannie Swift, Queen of Speed. Joannie is a typist who accidentally gains the same powers as Johnnie when a list of equations she reads out duplicates his Magic Formula. Joannie turns out to be brave, resourceful, athletic, intelligent, in short bloody good at being a super-speedster. Johnnie only wants her to go away, at first to save her from injury because, being a girl, she’s bound to be a weakling, but, as soon as he realises she knows her stuff, a rather too revelatory reason comes out: Johnnie doesn’t want to turn out second best to her.
Of course, that fate will never happen because, inevitably, Joannie’s afraid of mice, which causes her to forget the Formula. So, instead of a skilful, brave, worthy foe of crime, using her potential to the fill, Ms Swift is condemned to go back to the steno pool, because she’s a girl. Sometimes this stuff can make you want to barf.

Johnny Quick

Meanwhile, a whole year of the DVD goes by with only two complete issues but with every Aquaman story. These are formulaic, uninspired affairs, six pages of nothing: no wonder DC struggled in the early Fifties. Piracy still turned up, but also silly ideas like Aquaman running an undersea hospital or an undersea fire service.
When full service resumes, for a while, in issue 201, there’s another delightful Lana Lang story, with Superboy thinking he’s blown his secret identity to her Dad, and so relieved to find he’s wrong, he welcomes Lana’s determined pursuit of his secret: just kiss her, you chump, she’d be a great girlfriend.
The American comic book package started off at 64 pages. Thanks to paper restrictions during the Second World war, it was reduced to 56 pages, and then to 48, all at 10c, irrespective of size. But with issue 205, Adventure Comics was reduced to the 32 page size that’s been standard ever since. Johnny Quick missed out, though he returned the following issue at the expense of Green Arrow. But his final appearance was in issue 207, sadly not on the DVD. Henceforth, Adventure had only three features, and if I say that Superboy is the pick of them, you’ll appreciate how dull it is.
There was a landmark story in issue 210, with the initially temporary appearance of Krypto, the Superdog, nearly giving Clark Kent’s other identity away again to guess who? This was the only story for that issue, whereas next time we only had the Aquaman so I can’t say whether it was that or its absent predecessor where Aquaman switched from yellow gauntlets to the green ones we know so well. Either way, he was back to yellow for issue 212, that is, when he was coloured at all in a bizarre approach that saw him monocoloured pale blue in the majority of panels. Nobody seemed to be able to make up their mind as green and yellow alternated. Meanwhile, Krypto returned in issue 214 to prove that stories of the Superdog were likely to be pretty stupid.

A typical Aquaman plot

The Superboy story in issue 216 had the Lad of Steel meeting Superman without time travel, but its twist was that the adult version was really archaeologist Professor Olsen. Rescuing him endeared Superboy to Olsen’s young son, Jimmy… And speaking of costume changes, Green Arrow started wearing a red cap as opposed to his usual green one in the occasional story.
Frustratingly, Superboy’s real parents, Jor-El and Lara turned up in issue 217, having escaped Krypton after all, preparing to take their son to their new off-world home. It’s a trick alright, from Superboy’s callous ignoring of the Kents to the con on death row who pieces together his identity as Clark Kent, even down to how the Els are only seen flying when Superboy is holding their arms, but this was a very rare two-part story and we only have Aquaman for issue 218.
One of the interesting aspects of reading Adventure during this period (it’s more fun than the two back-ups) are the in-house ads for DC titles of the In-Between Age. Lists and covers of all manner of titles unwanted and forgotten, a publishing era lost permanently. But the cusp of change is approaching. Issue 22 carries an ad for yet another new title, starring Fireman Farrell. He never set the world alight, and we know that the ad is full of lies when it describes the new comic as a response to all those reader letters requesting different subjects, requiring a new kind of comic to fit them all in. We know that the real reason was to try to control the losses, both in money and reputation, from the way nothing new was catching on. Fireman Farrell was the first subject, the star of Showcase 1. In six months time…
In fact, the Showcase ads are fascinating. No-one ever cares about the first three, overshadowed utterly by no 4. The second issue featured Kings of the Wild, three outdoor adventures. These adverts are a history lesson in themselves.
So they stop printing inhouse ads at all, and I don’t get to see 3, or 4, come to that. Has nobody any sense of responsibility to future generations?
Meanwhile, the Aquaman and Green Arrow strips are growing dumber. Aquaman no longer has to pursue pirates, not when his time can be taken up with nonsensical ‘stories’ about how he schools his finny friends to obey his instructions or how he apparently turns into an egomaniac except it’s all a secret scheme, whilst the Battling Bowmen go trading places with other archers or else emulate their own trading cards. Truly this was an age of inanity.
Superboy’s own series continued to be both silly and sententious, but the occasional nice moment came along. Taking advantage of the fact that a leaking special gas would give everybody amnesia for an hour, the Boy of Steel decided to reveal he was really Clark Kent to test if a secret identity was more of a burden than a benefit which, this being DC Comics in 1957 it self-evidently was a benefit. But there was a touching moment when Lana, the teenage pest so set on proving Clark and Superboy were one and the same, began to cry at the proof – because Clark was a dear friend and she would never see him again.
I had a surprise in issue 239, which saw Krypto’s return, for I had read this story before, a very long time ago. Not in Adventure but in a British Superboy hardback annual, reprinting this in black and white. The first in well over a hundred Superboy stories that I had previously seen.
And harking back to Lana’s genuine distress at the thought of losing her dear friend Clark, how does the Boy of Steel repay her in issue 240? By becoming as big a Superdick as his adult self and humiliating her in front of all of Smallville to conceal his secret identity. What did I say about this stuff making you want to barf?
Obviously Lana got over it by the next issue, in which Green Arrow and Speedy were joined by Queen Arrow, aka Diana Dare (any relation to Dan?), who temporarily hypnotised herself into acting out her deepest desire, namely to be told by her heroes that what they do is too dangerous for a girl. Once he joined the Justice League, did Ollie ever try that line on Wonder Woman?

Some superheroes, huh?

Issue 243 is the last complete comic for this section, the next three issues represented by one story only, two of them the simultaneously tedious and ridiculous Aquaman. The last of these is cover-dated March 1958, making its actual publication most likely January of that year. Two issues of Showcase thus far have featured The new Flash. Two more would appear this year. The Silver Age was cranking up for the off. The next issue of Adventure would see a change that I’ll explore in the third essay in this series.

A Spot of Adventure: The Golden Age


This third post about a Golden Age comic featuring characters who were members of the Justice Society of America will sadly be different to those I wrote about Flash Comics and All-American Comics. It’s nothing to do with Adventure Comics being published by Detective Comics Inc., rather than All-American Publications, and therefore falling under Harry Donenfeld’s purview instead of Charley Gaines. Rather it’s a fundamental difference in both the comic and the DVD.
This time, I’m not working from a complete run: Adventure was not cancelled nor turned into a Western title. Instead, it continued uninterrupted through the Fifties and well beyond, to 1983 before its first cancellation after 490 issues. The period I’m seriously interested in is the Golden Age era of characters like The Sandman, Hourman and Starman, beginning with issue 40 and continuing to issue 102, after which there was a radical change of content, with Adventure becoming a vehicle for Superboy, at first as a solo star and from 1959 as part of the Legion of Superheroes.
The DVD starts with issue 40 and its run over those sixty two issues is far from complete, neither in numbers nor complete issues. I confess to little interest in the post 1946 Superboy era. But I’ll run my eye over it and comment.
As a prelude to the first issue on the DVD, and cribbing shamelessly from Wikipedia, I’ll quickly summarise the pre-history. The comic started as New Comics in 1938, a humour comic. It was re-named New Adventure Comics with issue 12, before adopting Adventure from issue 32 onwards. It evolved into an adventure series, including stories about futuristic scientist-detective Jor-L, a year before Superman debuted, and arrived at a superhero series with the introduction of The Sandman in issue 40.
Which is where I come in.
The Sandman went straight onto the cover of Adventure 40, the pulp detective figure in business suit, cape and gasmask, exactly as we know him now… except that the suit is orange, not green, and the fedora green, not orange. The story, which I’ve seen before in reprint, is credited to Larry Dean but it’s actually by Gardner Fox and Bert Christman. Apart from a surprisingly slow and atmospheric sequence where Wesley Dodd (not Dodds) mooches round his house and leaves a doll in his bed before cracking open the secret tunnel to The Sandman’s lab, it’s not a good story, naïve simple, uninterestingly drawn. It’s just a start.
The rest of the issue is undistinguished. Tiny is a one-page cartoon about a tough-talking, tough-acting bulldog, Barry O’Neill an ongoing serial about some kind of crime buster and Federal Men an FBI story about G-Man Steve Carson that’s interesting only for being by Siegel and Shuster. These are all in full colour, but Jack Woods, a cowboy serial, offered two pages of monocolour, all red shades, like Victor and Hornet used to, before dropping to B&W, and Captain Deesmo, an aviator series, was B&W throughout. Don Coyote, a cartoon two-pager set in some vague and implausible Sixteenth Century Britain that looks like Camelot, was full colour, and dreadfully silly, but it was back to B&W for Bulldog Martin, a broad-shouldered amateur troubleshooter, and Socko Strong, a boxer. Back to colour for Skip Schuyler, Government Agent, and the rather more Terry and the Pirates-esque Rusty and his Pals, which was credited to Bob Kane. Last up was Anchors Aweigh!, starring Don and Red, two Navy adventurers.
In short, the line-up, as might be expected, was a bunch of adventurers in various genres, with art and stories crudely ripped off from newspaper strips. Nothing stands out as more than enthusiastic, or crudely energetic and, The Sandman aside, nothing is interesting except to see the likes of Siegel and Shuster and Kane on series that didn’t make them famous. Adventure 40 was cover dated July 1939, making it contemporaneous with Action 14, and two months after Batman’s debut in Detective 27. The next complete issue available is Adventure 70: long before then, I’m pretty sure neither Federal Men nor Rusty continued.

Next available issue, no. 48 is represented only by the six-page debut of Hour-Man, and not even from Adventure but its reprint in a 1974 Giant-Size Justice League of America comic I once had. Issue 51 is represented only by the ten-page Sandman adventure, by which time art is by Craig Fleishman and it’s all running, jumping and leaping. And issue 57 offers only an eight-page Hour-Man adventure, featuring his buddies the Minute-Men of America and introducing his recurring enemy, Dr Togg.
From Adventure 61 onwards, the DVD offers a solid run of consecutive issues, but these are no more complete. This issue was Starman’s debut, catapulted onto the cover to displace The Sandman, and of course expected to be Detective Comics’ next break-out star, to stand alongside Superman and Batman. Jack Burnley’s art distinguished the feature, being by one of the best Golden Age artists there was. The run consists of no more than the Starman series, not of itself a hardship, until issue 70.
Unfortunately, apart from all these Sandman and Hour-Man adventures we’re missing, the debut of The Shining Knight in issue 67 also goes by offstage.
From various reprints down the years, I was already familiar with a couple of the stories in this initial eight-issue run, so this was my first chance to really see Starman in solo action. The highlight is Jack Burnley’s art, intelligent, well-rounded and anatomically superior to everyone else around him. It’s too simplistic overall to be termed photorealism but it goes closer to that than any other comics artist of the era in its avoidance of exaggeration. The stories? I can be quite as enthusiastic about them. As short adventures, they’re usually competent at worst, and Starman’s wise-cracking is a foretaste of the likes of Spider-Man.
On the other hand, Ted Knight’s self-portrayal as a hypochondriac weakling is laid on with a fourteen foot trowel. That’s not so bad in itself, but it begs the question why his fiancee, Doris Lee, an attractive, forthright, intelligent young woman, puts up with him for more than one story, given that most people faced with such a weak wuss, convinced he’s got every malady under the sun whilst actually being physically hale, would have concluded that the only thing wrong with him was the absence of a spine and given him the very elegant pointed-toe sandal in the unmentionables.
Either that or concluded that he’s a hopeless addict forever racing off for his fix.
In contrast, issue 70 is a complete comic, with The Shining Knight appearing next after Starman. It’s my first solo story with the Knight, and interesting for that, but it’s a slapdash effort with a bits and pieces story, and I found it weird that Justin, museum assistant, talks natural American English when he’s in street clobber but slips back into ‘Forsooth’ language the moment he gets his armour on, and comments on it!

Though he’d been bounced out of the Justice Society by Starman, Tick-Tock Tyler is still around as The Hour Man, minus the hyphen. Bernard Bailey’s art is a bit more sophisticated when it comes to faces, and he’s drawing Hour Man’s hood as a tight-fitting cowl and eye-mask, which I’ve certainly never seen before, but the story’s a joke, with the villain a dwarf on a flying carpet who looks like a visitor from outer space, though he’s not. Maybe I’m not missing much?
The Adventurer theme of issue 40 hasn’t been abandoned completely, as the next strip is Steve Conrad, Adventurer, an ocean diver hired to find buried treasure who’s up against modern pirates. This was the last episode of a story, if not the story, I don’t know. It’s all very early Terry and The Pirates wannabe (as an irrelevant aside, has there ever been a more exciting title for an adventure strip?)
After a brief prose story with a twist ending, next up was… ok, I was wrong… Federal Men, though judged on its art, it certainly wasn’t Joe Schuster any more. And judged by the way the story didn’t throb with frenetic energy, it wasn’t Jerry Siegel either. It certainly wasn’t good.
I was surprised to see Paul Kirk – Manhunter as the next strip, especially as it’s nothing like the series as I have always known it. I discovered Manhunter as that classic back-up story by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson in Detective way back in 1974 – I had the privilege of reading it month-by-month – and later in a handful of Simon-Kirby reprints of the costumed hero original, but this Paul Kirk is by Ed Moore who, if he’s the artist, was the worst so far in this issue. Who and what Kirk is is never explained but he never gets out of street clothes and comes over as more of a private detective than anything else, certainly not a big-game Hunter.
Bringing up the back of the book is, thankfully, still the Sandman, but this is that brief period between the adoption of the yellow and purple costume, plus Sandy the Golden Boy, both accoutred with capes, and the arrival of Simon and Kirby. The dream theme is absent, the art crude and ill-proportioned – this guy can’t get legs right – and the story nondescript, lacking the manic energy of the business-suited Sandman stories.
It was interesting to see a complete issue, but the next eight issues on the DVD, not all consecutive, were back to single stories, Starman once more.
Interestingly, Manhunter replaced Starman for the cover of issue 73 (though we only get to see Starman’s story) and this is the costumed Manhunter, and what’s more it’s Simon and Kirby at their excellent best. And they cover feature again next issue before Sandman and Sandy take back the cover on a full-time basis, from which I take it that the determined push to build Starman into a Superman/Batman level star was already showing itself to be doomed.
Issue 78 switched things up with a Manhunter story, though it was taken from a reprint edition, not Adventure itself. This was vintage Simon/Kirby, all-out action, distorted figures, a truly ugly villain and a pretty girl. I’m not sure I’d want to read too many Manhunter stories all at once, but it was good fun.
It was back to Starman for issue 81, the last of the single story issues, and a change of artists with the story, a reprint from the Seventies, credited to Mort Morton Jr and Jerry Roussos. Given that it features a blind boy getting shot in the head and discovering he can now see, the new firm are clearly not an improvement.
There’s a gap next to issue 87, but that represented a sea change, as from hereon, with only a couple of exceptions, we get complete issues. Sandman kicked off the issue with a story I’d already seen in reprint, but next up was the oddball and little-considered Genius Jones, by Stan Kaye. It’s a crackpot cartoon about a boy genius who knows everything and gives answers at a dime a time. This was my first known exposure to the original and it had me goggling, unable to tell if it were genius or madness.

No, seriously…

The Shining Knight was still running, though his art was disappointingly poor. Starman was back as fourth feature, with only three pages to his name. Manhunter got a full share but with terrible art that was trying desperately to ape Jack Kirby with none of the weight of line or detail.
A terribly unfunny one-page cartoon, Jack Potts, gave way to Mike Gibbs, Guerilla, an all-purpose freedom fighter in Nazi-occupied Europe and the one last story to represent the pre-superhero Adventure. Apart from the independent female French resistance Agent, Captain Hwarti (what kind of French name is that?), turning up in Holland, the episode was little better than mediocre and of course it featured a dyke being breached, why would you think it wouldn’t?
Four issues later, paper rationing was cutting a bit deeper. Adventure was down to a bi-monthly status, plus a cut in pages, the cut being Mike Gibbs. The next issue available was no. 100, cover dated October/November 1945, making its actual publication date somewhere round the end of the War in the Pacific. Guerilla was back, in a story with a powerful anti-racism message all the stronger for being set in a War context, but Manhunter was gone now. I wish there were more issues to track these changes more accurately.
At least issue 101 was available, with a dreadful Sandman cover. The previous issue looked like Jack Kirby but wasn’t credited as such, but this story was just plug-ugly, an attempt to copy Kirby by someone with no capability whatsoever. Starman’s story suffered from weak art and dumb writing. We were a long way from the days of Woodley Allen, Doris Lee and Ted Knight’s hypochondria, leaving the stories perfunctory in the extreme and full of incidents like Starman escaping noticing by standing against a poster and ‘blending into’ a background composed of completely different colours from his costume.

Superboy as drawn then

And then, with a jump to issue 109, everything had changed, and I mean everything. In fact, it had happened with issue 103: Sandman and Starman cancelled, Genius Jones shipped out to Detective’s More Fun Comics and a complete line-up switched from that title to take over Adventure. It’s still the Golden Age, for a few years yet, but this is not the stuff I wanted the DVD for.
Because Adventure had become the home of Superboy, from now until 1969. Coming with the Boy of Steel were Aquaman (technically, the Earth-2 version, as would later be defined, with the yellow gauntlets), Johnny Quick, the formula-reciting super-speedster (also featuring in Action Comics) and the Green Arrow (who was also appearing in World’s Finest). The Shining Knight was the only surviving feature. Johnny’s adventure had a bit of vigour to it, but the new watchword was bland.
Frankly, Superboy doesn’t interest me at all, especially knowing how Jerry Siegel wanted to write the character, as a prank-player. The first few stories feature Clark and his schoolfriends, in little do-good stories, and young Kent is nothing like the klutz we expect. But I have to credit the Xmas story in issue 113 (cover-dated February!) as a touching little tale, involving neither crime nor villain, just the response of a community to the terrible misfortunes of a man who, for 32 years, has played a secret Santa to the town’s kids, and who needs the good offices of a Santa himself. It managed to be sweet without being sentimental: just a small-town America story that rang true.

Yellow gauntlets

Twenty issues or so onwards, not all of them available, enables me to give a bit of a reasoned assessment of Adventure in this form. Superboy’s series is definitely not what I expected from my exposure to the character in the early Sixties. There’s no Ma and Pa Kent, no Smallville and precious little villains. Instead, Superboy uses his powers to help his friends, sometimes in the face of rich boy cheating from Orville Orville, or just genuinely to help against misfortune. There’s not even any melodramatic disasters going on. It’s decidedly low-key and, except as a change of pace, undramatic.
The Green Arrow is just bland. He’s definitely The Green Arrow at this point, and as far as Oliver Queen is concerned, there’s a near total absence. Neither Oliver nor Roy have any personality, and we practically only see them out of costume when they’re just about to change into it. And the era of the trick arrow hasn’t started yet: there’s the occasional use of the boomerang arrow and little else. You really couldn’t imagine this guy becoming the Ollie Queen we’ve know since 1969.
Aquaman is similarly drab, but what do you expect from two characters created by Mort Weisinger to be knock-offs. Again, though the blond stiff is described as the Monarch of the Sea, we’ve a decade to wait for the introduction of Atlantis, and this Aquaman just fights sea-style menaces, most often the pirate Black Jack. Between them, Aquaman and The Green Arrow don’t have enough personality to fill a thimble. Oh for the relative depth of the All-American characters.

The Green Arrow: never on Adventure’s cover

Johnny Quick, however, is head and shoulders above the rest, though his slot at the back of the comic suggests he wasn’t as popular as he deserved to be. The very idea of speed automatically makes the series more vigorous, even if some of the science is more than dodgy, and the stories are jam-packed with incidents. And to that some Kubert-influenced art from Mort Meskin and Johnny Quick makes continued reading worthwhile.
Though the Shining Knight would go on until issue 166, he disappeared from Adventure after issue132 due to a profusion of ad pages, which even started appearing in the middle of stories as opposed to between the various features. I hate to say it, but a lot of those ad pages featured art better than Sir Justin was getting! The chivalrous hero was back in 137, after two missing issues, with his occasional sidekick, the Bronx boy, Sir Butch of Beeler’s Alley. And by issue 143, he was enjoying the best art of his career, though not yet from the young Frank Frazetta, but rather Ruben Moreira.
To be honest, the is-he-or-isn’t-he? of whether there’ll be a Shining Knight story is the most interesting thing in this phase of the title, no disrespect to the still-entertaining Johnny Q. For instance, in issue 149, he’s bumped for a five-page tale of the life of author Jack London.
Adventure hit issue 150 with a cover date of March 1950 and no fanfare or special features, although I couldn’t help but be amused to discover Johnny Quick’s villain – a man who hypnotised people into believing that he could walk through walls – being named The Spectre. Nah, buddy. And Frank Frazetta made his debut (?) on The Shining Knight: nice art, and the first to make a flying horse’s wings look realistic.

The Shining Knight’s last adventure in Adventure would be in issue 166 but that’s yet another issue that isn’t included on the DVD. Since I bought it for the Golden Age issues, for those up to and including 102, and since issue 164, the nearest to that point, is cover-dated May 1951, three months after All Star 57, the generally acknowledged end of the Golden Age, I’m treating this as the terminus point for this post. It’s same as ever, no Shining Knight to go out on, Superboy, Johnny Quick, Aquaman, The Green Arrow.
There’s the best part of 330 other issues on the rest of the DVD, extending to the final issue of the run in the early Eighties. When I get round to those, it’ll be a whole other story.

Uncollected Thoughts: Justice League


justice_league_poster_1

The first thing is, getting to East Didsbury from Reddish on a Sunday afternoon. That wasn’t as bad as you might think: the 203 was late, naturally, but I had time to buy the paper and more or less get straight onto the 23A. On the other hand, this Cineworld, being newer, bigger, flasher than dear old comfortable Stockport is an arsehole. You can’t buy your tickets from a human being, it’s got to be a machine and mine is fucked up. Still, the one I am led to for a second go, by a human being, coughs up my ticket and doesn’t even ask for proof of age  over my senior person concession.

Having said that, Screen 4’s bigger than anything I’ve recently been at in Stockport, plus it has banked seats. I’m about two-thirds of the way up, in an aisle seat. The background music is Take That (one of Mark Owen’s: I am very well-trained) to be followed by Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’. No disrespect to anyone but the leap in quality is immeasurable.

I’m one of five when I sit down, which is a massive improvement on Monday but still a disappointment for a big budget film on a Sunday afternoon on it’s third day. Half an hour of trailers etc. later (yup, Karen Gillan looks just as good and, hey! a new Ardman/Nick Park: one for 2018 already), we have swelled to an unmanageable 28, the unmanageable one being the two-year-old toddler sat almost directly in front of me.

Oddly, for there is literally nothing here to spark such a recollection save the day of the week, I’m transported back to a Sunday morning a great many years ago, when my Dad took me to the Cartoon Cinema for a non-stop round of Warner Brothers cartoons, all Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. They were on a loop. You came in when you arrived, you left when you recognised when you came in. I had a whale of a time, as you can imagine. What on earth’s brought that back I can’t possibly imagine, but I haven’t found that memory for a very long time.

The film? Oh yes, this is supposed to be about the film, isn’t it? By my tally, this is the fifth time I’ve been to the cinema this year, and they’ve all been films based on comics. Four superheroes, two each DC and Marvel. For the life of me, I don’t know how to respond to this film, nor how to rank it even among this year’s quintet.

It really is strange how much I feel nothing about this film, and I the oldest in the cinema, certainly the only one actually on this planet when Brave & Bold 27 was published, somewhere maybe round the time my Dad took me to the Cartoon Cinema. I’ve waited a lifetime to see this film. But, well, no.

Actually, it started slowly, introducing the cast, one-by-one, with special reference to the newcomers: Aquaman, The Flash, Cyborg. It was ponderous to say the least, and in my head i also gad the word ‘portentous’.

But after that, any kind of critical appraisal drained off, and I just sat and watched it. It did not disappoint and it did not enthrall. The performances were decent: no-one stood out as either terribly impressive or terribly awful. It was neither slow-paced nor fast-paced (although the Zack Snyder tradition of ultra-slow motion to show just how clever the CGI stunt is has not merely gotten old, it’s whiskers are completely white).

The story was neither a coherent progression nor a series of disjointed fragments, though it leaned in both directions. It was neither too short nor too long, but that doesn’t mean to imply it was the right length, just that it felt you could have taken scenes out and put other scenes in and the film would have neither suffered nor improved by it.

It was just what it was, a film without any personality whatsoever. I didn’t enjoy it, I didn’t hate it, I wasn’t bored by it, I… got nothing from it, not even the sense of something rotten and malodorous to the core that pervaded Batman vs Superman. It was just bland. And it was still better than Batman vs Superman.

There were a number of things in the film that I could comment upon viz-a-viz their relationship to the original source, but I can’t be bothered, except in one case. The villain, Steppenwolf, was taken from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World series’ (there was even a one-off mention of Darkseid, one of the most awesome characters ever created: guys, when you get to the one that brings him in, you gotta be aiming and reaching a galaxy higher than you’ve been doing to date). The film revolved around one of Kirby’s most potent symbols, Mother Box. But it perverted it, reversing its purpose 180 degrees. Don’t do that again.

And so it was. The film ended up not even being ‘Meh!’ or being a waste of time. Stick to TV, DC, when it comes to films, you have no idea.

JLA Incarnations 5: The Bad-Ass League… and after


The Fifth Incarnation of the Justice League will always be automatically associated with Grant Morrison, and rightly so, but it was actually created by Mark Waid, in a mini-series, Justice League: A Midsummer Nightmare, with art from Fabian Nicsieza.
In truth, it wasn’t a very impressive story, being dependant upon the logic defying concept that the villain is able to brainwash the hero into not only forgetting that he or she is a superhero, but even that said superhero does not even exist. It’s difficult enough to pull off with one character, but with seven simultaneously credulity is strained unmercifully.
Nevertheless, seven heroes – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, The Martian Manhunter and Aquaman – had collectively forgotten who and what they were, but eventually remembered and set everything right again, after which they decided to reform the Justice League.
It’s terribly weak for a writer like Waid, and it was impliedly airbrushed from continuity in the JLA Incarnations mini-series, but it did what was required: it restored the Justice League, and it reset it with the ‘Big Seven’ that Helfer and Giffen had been unable to utilise a decade earlier. Their adventures would be published under the stream-lined title of JLA.
It wasn’t quite the original Big Seven of Brave & Bold 28. There was no Barry Allen nor Hal Jordan, and their places were taken by their heirs, Wally West and Kyle Rayner. And the Big Three had all been revamped, post-Crisis. And the Martian Manhunter’s history had been substantially tinkered with. And Aquaman had lost a hand and replaced it with a pike.
But this is comics, and we should know by now that it is the mask, the symbol, that is the core of being. The Justice League was back, with a vengeance.
And vengeance it was. This was the Big Seven, the legends, the mightiest of the mighty, and Morrison’s intention was to demonstrate that at every turned. The League met in the Watchtower, on the Moon, issuing forth to guard the planet against the worst that could be thrown at it. Conspicuous power demanded conspicuous menace. To confront it, Morrison plunged headlong into fast-paced, balls-out action, with rapid-fire dialogue. If these were the Over-men, then they wuld be the Over-men to the hilt.
Yet the underlying theme was not the fascistic impulse from which superheroes spring. Instead, Morrison hinted at a paganistic Pantheon; heroes as Gods – not in the religious sense of a being to worship, but rather the Aspects that overcame ordinary human strengths.
The continuity problems that had dogged the League since the late stages of its first Incarnation were dealt with largely by ignoring them. The JLA existed above and outside the DC Universe, increasing the pantheistic element. Or rather it was that the League’s battles rarely spilled over into the wider Universe.
Though the writers and their writing styles were poles apart, Morrison’s JLA was the closest DC had come to the glorious years of Gardner Fox and Julius Schwarz. Superheroes were big, they were fun, they were exciting. Though one wrote from innocence and the other out of a sly knowingness, Fox and Morrison made the League feel important, feel like the pinnacle.
Morrison even managed to fit in a Justice League/Justice Society cross-over, even though the Justice Society didn’t actually exist that year!
It was fun, it was ballistic, but it wasn’t to be forever. Including a couple of fill-ins, Morrison and his artist Howard Porter produced 41 issues before handing the reins over to Mark Waid, a superb choice. Waid had shone himself with the brilliant 12-issue series, JLA:Year One, creating a new post-Crisis, post-Zero Hour foundational myth for the original League. But after Waid finished his run, the inevitable set in.
Unlike past Incarnations, there’s no way to separate the Morrison/Waid JLA from the rest of the run. This title was the League’s third series, and despite changes of direction or form, the League it depicted was one thing, whole and entire. So all the other stories in the 125 issue run belong in this Incarnation.
It was the same old story: a running out of steam, an unwillingness or inability to create the excitement and thrust of the Morrison template, a changing litany of writers, a chaning of moods. There was the same old dilution of the brand, with spin-off titles and themes. At first this had been benign: JLA:Classified, begun by Morrison himself, a non-continuity series telling stories that might belong to any part of the League’s mythos, bound by nothing in the main title. But then there was the 12 issue parallel Justice League Elite, featuring a ‘black ops’ team that took a proactive as opposed to reactive stance to villains, and aimed to kill rather than imprison them.
The momentum drained away. A fresh start was needed, which meant killing the series and killing the JLA. By now, widespread editorial control, expressed in company-focussed stories was beginning to reassert itself. Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis had opened a can of worms with its revelation of mind-wiping  and memory-tinkering by the original League, included the robbing of ten minutes of Batman’s life (warning: never do this to a high-functioning sociopathic paranoid!)
Batman’s response to the rediscovery of his memories was one of several strands woven together to set-up Infinite Crisis, an 20 year sequel to the original. Things fell apart, the centre could not hold and, despite Green Arrow’s attempts to keep it going, the League fell apart under the weight of its own contradictions.
It would be back. It would aways, never fear, be back.

JLA Incarnations 2: Justice League Detroit


I’m no fan of Gerry Conway as a writer. To me, he started off with a clear and precocious talent, but rapidly preferred to write regular series in which his tendency towards sloppiness could be mostly overlooked. The end of the first Justice League and the career of the second were, to me, characteristic of his work. And there is a strong element of the change being made for Conway’s personal convenience.
From 1980 onwards, from the success of Wolfman and Perez’s New Teen Titans, with its first successful merger of Marvel-style dynamism and conflict with DC’s traditional, classic style, the company as a whole began, at long last, to take seriously the parameters of a DC Universe/Multiverse. Given the amount of time Conway had spent at Marvel (where he had been editor-in-Chief, albeit for about three weeks), this was a natural move. However, it was to have unwelcome consequences for him in respect of the Justice League.
Where, once upon a time, a Batman, Superman, Flash etc. adventure involving a serious departure from the DC status quo would be explained away as happening at a different time than the rest of the company’s stories, the adoption of the principle of a Universe denied this convenient explanation. What affected a character in their home mag now HAD to be contemporary.
With Conway also leading the Justice League in the direction of longer-term continuity, it became irritating and frustrating to him that he was having to adjust his plans around developments in a character’s own series that made them unavailable to the League for various periods. The classic example of this was The Flash: with his title planned for cancellation in the forthcoming Crisis on Infinite Earths, Cary Bates commenced a long storyline based on the Flash being tried for the murder of the Reverse-Flash, which took the Scarlet Speedster out of the picture.
Conway began pushing for a radical change to the Justice League, a membership consisting only of characters under his control. In 1983, this was agreed, and Conway set to bringing about the end of the first Justice League, along with artist Chuck Patton.
In some ways it was a typically Conway ending, superficially dramatic as the League repels an invasion by White Martians, preceded by the return of the Martian Manhunter from an exile that had started back in 1969, when he was considered to be an outmoded, unnecessary character (repeat after me: There is no such thing as a bad character). It’s a close-run thing, with the League taken by surprise, despite having had opportunities to learn about the planned invasion at an earlier stage.
Aquaman, who had been through several painful experiences, with an enemy killing his infant son, his wife Mera leaving him to return to her home dimension and being effectively deposed as King of Atlantis, blows up at his team-mates, who have all allowed personal concerns and demands to distract their attention, thus exacerbating the crisis. When he demands they commit themselves to full-time activity with the League, they refuse. So Arthur invokes a previously unknown provision of the League’s charter, enabling any of the founding members to irrevocably dissolve it if they believe the League is no longer serving its true purpose. Thus the first Justice League ended, not in action or drama, but as a bureaucratic exercise.
So Aquaman forms a new League, comprised only of heroes who are willing to commit themselves to full-time existence as JLA members. These consist of himself and J’Onn J’Onzz, the Elongated Man and Zatanna, plus four new, young, untried characters. These were Steel, an updating of Conway’s short-lived World War 2 Captain America-lite, Vixen, an intended debutante whose career was wrecked by DC Implosion cancellation before she even appeared, Vibe, a break-dancing Puerto Rican who was every bit as racially stereotypical as you’d imagine, and Gypsy, a barefoot fifteen year old orphan who could turn invisible.
With the League’s Satellite HQ having been (conveniently) destroyed during the would-be invasion, the new League needed a new base. In keeping with its stated ambition to be nearer to the people it existed to protect, the new team found itself being gifted a base, courtesy of Steel – or rather, the original Steel, Conway’s first creation, grandfather to the new Leaguer.
This consisted of a converted industrial bunker in Hank Heywood’s home town of Detroit. Which of course led almost immediately to the Second League being dubbed Justice League Detroit.
The problems with Justice League Detroit were manifold. It’s adoption of a base in an Industrial Bunker in Detroit imposed an unwanted mundane aspect upon the League, and created a sense of limits by associating them specifically with one American location. Filling half the team with new, untried, indeed somewhat amateurish characters created a whole new dynamic that Conway thought lent an additional dimension to the series, but which the audience rejected as simply inappropriate for the flagship team of the DC ‘Universe’.
And the series’ credibility was irrevocably holed within a few months of its start when Aquaman, who had made such a song and dance of the League having to be comprised of full-time, committed heroes, dedicated solely to its purposes and eschewing all personal considerations, Aquaman, who had dissolved the first league when it had refused to completely ignore personal commitments, Aquaman left the Detroit League to try to get back together with Mera. His wife.
To put it bluntly, the Detroit League was an attempt to rip-off the dynamics and atmosphere of the X-Men, without any understanding of what made the X-Men appeal in the first place, and even less understanding of what was the appeal of the Justice League itself. The DC web-site indicates that the Detroit League appeared in only 34 comics in total – and that includes retrospectives live the the actual JLA Incarnations series.
With sales dropping, and Crisis on Infinite Earths starting up, without a Justice League worth the name of it, DC decided to cancel the series. After 257 issues, for the first time since 1960, there was no Justice League of America.
That wasn’t quite the end of Justice League Detroit. The DC Universe started without an active JLA, but it still existed in theory. DC wanted to launch a new Justice League, and chose to do so on the back of Legends, the first of the annual crossover events that would demonstrate to the world that DC did have a functioning, coherent Universe, so there. But to launch the Third League, the Second had to be definitively exorcised.
So, as part of the crossovers associated with Legends, Justice League of America was restored for a four-issue mini-series, extending its numbering to 261.
Legends was based on the premise that a demagogic orator, G Gordon Godfrey, had successfully turned the American public against superheroes, leading to a Presidential Order banning their operating. It was an interesting theme, with two basic flaws: the first that it was far too obvious that Godfrey was actually the New God, Glorious Godfrey, a minion of Darkseid, and secondly that as the entire creative staff were Americans who’d gotten into the business because they were superhero fans, not one of them could conceive for a second that anyone might have the remotest doubt about how wonderful they are, so were unable to create any conviction over the fickle public turning its head.
But in the meantime, long term League foe Professor Ivo was stalking the four junior members of Justice League Detroit, one per issue of the ‘mini-series’. The ‘mini-series’ did not feature Conway: instead it was written by J M De Matteis, who would be heavily involved in the next incarnation, with art from Luke McDonnell.
Fates split on strict gender lines: the boys were killed, the girls fled. With a heavy heart, the Martian Manhunter officially shut down the League.
The ground was cleared.

JLA: Incarnations 1.


JLA Secret OriginsHaving written so many words by now on the legendary Justice Society of America, I thought it might be a pleasant change (for me at least) to write something on the Justice League of America for once. After all, but for the personal prejudice of Julius Schwartz, the League would have been a new incarnation of the Society, and the course of comics book history may have run very differently.
As for the title of this series I’m unashamedly stealing it from the excellent and mystifyingly-uncollected 2001 series written by John Ostrander and drawn by Val Semeiks and Prentis Rollins: seven extended issues telling new adventures whilst defining the various eras of the JLA.
By now, in the post-Flashpoint, New 52 Universe, the Justice League is in its seventh distinct incarnation since its debut in 1960. The original Justice League of America series ran for 261 issues, and three succeeding JLA series have each run over 100 issues, not counting any of the increasing number of spin-offs from the basic team concept. The League has changed to reflect the times, but it remains DC’s leading light, the centre of the DC Universe in whatever form it’s currently taking, the central point for the DC Universe’s greatest heroes.
By 1960, Julius Schwartz was probably the hottest editor at National Periodical Publications. Four years before, he’d agreed to take on the task of reviving the 1940s hero, The Flash, although on condition that he be allowed to throw away everything that had been done and start afresh with a new version: new character, new origin, new costume, new approach. The new Flash was a big success, though it took four try-outs over three years before an unconvinced management finally accepted that they had a hit on their hands. Schwartz was then invited to do the same for Green Lantern, who only needed two try-outs.
But before any decision was taken on giving the Hal Jordan version his own series, Schwartz was asked to revive the Justice Society of America.
Schwartz didn’t like the name. Though he’d cut his editorial teeth on the JSA in All-Star Comics, Schwartz had never liked the name Society. Societies were where you got together to drink beer and eat chowder. It did not suit a team of superheroes fighting crime and saving the world. So he changed it to League.
A League was bigger, better, stronger. It suggested strength in togetherness. The kids would understand it instantly, given all the stuff they read about Baseball Leagues and Football Leagues. So they would happily flock to the Justice League.
The JLA made its debut in Brave & Bold 28, the first in a three issue try-out. Brave & Bold had been around for several years as a title featuring derring-do adventures by historical figures, but it had lately been converted into a Showcase-style try-out magazine, alternating monthly. It was never as successful in this guise, not spinning off series the way Showcase regularly did, but it hosted the Justice League and they went massive. The team went straight into their own title, and within a year was the best-selling title in the industry. Somebody boasted of that to rival publisher Martin Goodman, who got back to the office and demanded his cousin-editor create a team book as well. Stan Lee called in his best artist, Jack Kirby. The rest of that story is history.
The League made its debut fully-formed, leaping straight into the action against Starro the Conqueror, an interstellar starfish. The founder members consisted of the big three, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, Schwartz’s new Flash and Green Lantern (even though Hal Jordan had only appeared in his two Showcase try-outs so far), Aquaman, who’d been hanging around since the 40s without making an impression, and Joe Samachson’s J’Onn J’Onzz, the Martian Manhunter, who’d been introduced six months before Barry Allen,. but as an SF character, not superhero.
And where the Society had had Johnny Thunder, the League found itself landed with ‘Snapper’ Carr (first name not given for over twenty years). Snapper was the Justice League mascot, a hip-talking, jivey teenager whose nick-name came from his habit of snapping his fingers when he was excited, which was all the time. In reality, Superman would have drop-kicked the lad into a volcano inside three hours, but Snapper lasted until issue 77.
Initially, the League based itself in a secret cave sanctuary, near Snapper’s home town of Happy Harbor in Rhode Island State. In contrast to the JSA, the League did not have a permanent chairman, the post rotating through all its membership from meeting to meeting, nor did it operate with a fixed line-up: the League could add new members without having to push anyone out. Green Arrow, another 40s back-up, joined in JLA 4, the new Atom in issue 14 and the new Hawkman in issue 31.
For the first twenty-five issues or so, all the Justice league appeared in each issue, although Superman and Batman tended to fade into the background, playing minor roles. This was for the same reason the World’s Finest team had been excluded from the Justice Society: Mort Weisinger and his proprietorial hold on Superman. However, after National Publisher asked Schwartz why Superman didn’t appear much in the Justice League, and Schwartz gave him an honest answer, Weisinger was told not to obstruct Schwartz any longer.
But after the first Justice Society team-up, with the League eleven strong (counting Snapper) a new policy came in, with the League operating on a fighting weight of five to seven members each issue, making occasions when the entire League were called in a little more special.
Perceptive fans quickly determined that the League seemed to be split into a Big Five (Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkman) and a lesser six (Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, Atom, Aquaman and Snapper Carr), with appearances weighted in favour of the Big Five.
The induction of Hawkman was the last change for the Justice League for several years, retiring inkers aside. Mountain cave secret sanctuary, Fox plots, an unchanging line-up.
Meanwhile, the comics landscape outside DC was changing rapidly, with Marvel’s growing influence and sales potential. DC’s style became badly outdated as a generation of writers, who’d been in the business for nearly thirty years, found themselves developing concerns as to their future, lacking any kind of employee stability. In the end, the writers were dispersed and dispensed with, in favour of young turks, fans enthusiastic about getting into comics, about bringing their concerns into what had been a purely commercial craft, wanting to turn it into art.
The Justice League monolith was in drastic need of updating, which it got from new writer Denny O’Neil.
In tandem with Schwartz, O’Neil took the JLA through its first transition to a new phase. Out went the Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman and Snapper Carr, along with the cave Sanctuary. In came Black Canary, transferring from Earth-2 and the Justice Society, to fill the need for a female JLAer (the only other possibilities being Batgirl and Supergirl, entirely too derivative, and in breach of the rule against duplicating powers).
And, to firmly initiate the second phase, the Justice League took to the stars, transferring its HQ to a Satellite in geosynchronous orbit, accessible by teleporter tubes (the Atom would have never made it that far by telephone!)
The satellite headquarters, the implied sense of gods overlooking a planet to which they were infinitely superior, changed the dynamics of the team. Alan Moore defined it superbly in Saga of the Swamp Thing: ‘there is a house above the world, where the over-people gather’, though it was Green Arrow who articulated it first, long years after the fact, resigning from the League to deal with what he saw as the more important matters, at street level.
But, despite the change in HQ’s, and the increasing removal of the League from the human level, this still remained the same League, defined by the same members, entrenched in its uninterrupted existence.
Neither O’Neil, nor his successor Mike Friedrich, were entirely comfortable with the League, as evidenced by a sales decline that saw the title cut back from DC’s standard eight-issues-a-year format (applied to all titles using a single, as opposed to multiple pencillers) to bimonthly. The series was then taken over by writer Len Wein, who reinstated the basic Fox/Schwartz feel, this time with personalities and character. The last quarter of his run saw Justice League of America published as a 100 page Giant, 20 pages of new material and 80 of reprint, but after a year of that experiment, the comic was reduced to 32 pages again, but for the first time with a monthly schedule that it has followed ever since.
Wein also presided over a changing membership, inducting both the Elongated Man and, as a second transferred from the JSA, the new Red Tornado, as well as offering membership to his mystery-book character, the Phantom Stranger. Whether the Stranger actually joined or not was left to each individual’s own interpretation.
After Wein, the Justice League entered its first nadir, without a permanent writer. Cary Bates, Elliott S! Maggin and Martin Pasko tag-teamed for the next couple of years, producing professional but uninspired work that was far from what would normally be expected of DC’s flagship title.
This period ended when former Marvel writer Steve Engelhart, committing himself to DC for twelve months, was assigned Justice League of America, having been the long-term writer of The Avengers. Having the advantage of extra page-length due to the comic being promoted to Giant-Size, Engelhart added a degree of dynamism, character conflict and Hawkgirl as a member, sinking the old duplicate power rule. However, Engelhart had specifically limited himself to one year, after which Gerry Conway took over as scripter for the remainder of the first Justice League of America series.
Conway, who added further members such as Zatanna, and his own creation, Firestorm, proved to be the League’s longest-lasting scripter, equalling Gardner Fox’s eight year stint, though writing more stories, due to its increased schedule, though there is little from this period that lifted itself above the mundane.
But it was Conway who was responsible for the end of the first Justice League and the establishment of its second incarnation, the short-lived and much-maligned Justice League Detroit.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1982


Justice League of America 207, “Crisis Times Three!”/All-Star Squadron 14, “The Mystery Men of October”/Justice League of America 208, “The Bomb-Blast Heard ‘Round the World!”/All-Star Squadron 15, “Master of Worlds and Time!”/Justice League of America 209, “Let Old Acquaintances be Forgot…” Written by Gerry Conway (Justice League of America) and Roy Thomas (All-Star Squadron), art by Don Heck (pencils Justice League of America, inks 209), Adrian Gonzalez (pencils All-Star Squadron), Romeo Tanghal (inks JLA 207), Sal Trapani (inks JLA 208), Jerry Ordway (inks All-Star Squadron) edited by Len Wein.

Another year has come round and the Justice Society prepare to transport to Earth-1. Doctor Fate, Green Lantern, Starman, Power Girl and Huntress arrive first and go on ahead of their team-mates. But on the Justice League satellite, it is the Earth-3 Crime Syndicate who appear and attack Superman, Hawkman, Aquaman, Firestorm and Zatanna.
The battle is brief and the victorious Syndicate steal a rocket to descend to Earth-1. They discuss evening the score with Per Degaton, an Earth-2 foe of the JSA.
Who, meanwhile, have found themselves in the interdimensional limbo prison the Syndicate have occupied since 1964. The bubble was designed to defeat equivalents of Green Lantern and Superman, but not of Starman or Doctor Fate, whose powers eventually free the JSA. But instead of landing on Earth-1, they find themselves on Earth-Prime, in a New York devastated years ago by some kind of holocaust. Green Lantern’s ring detects the emanations of Degaton.
Back on the satellite, the JLA come to, rescue each other and repair the satellite. Rather than pursue the Syndicate, they transport to Earth-2, to discover what’s happened to the JSA. But their headquarters are in ruins, neglected for years: forty years to be precise. Outside, Earth-2 is ruled by the fascist hand of Degaton: the appearance of the League causes the frightened population to scream for Degaton’s police.
After a brief battle, the victorious JLA decide they must go back to 1942 to find out how this has happened. They arrive at a pristine JSA HQ just as five costumed characters open the door: they are complete strangers to the League but we know them as five members of the war-time All-Star Squadron.
End of Part One


On Earth-2 in 1947, Per Degaton dreams of being an Emperor, ruling a coliseum in which, at his order, the superheroes of the Golden Age battle each other, until his employer, Professor Zee, stumbles into the stadium, shouting to the heroes that Degaton is their enemy: they turn upon him and he wakes up, sweating.
But the dreams has unlocked Degaton’s memories of his previous battles against the JSA, battles lost in time-loops that left them as never-happening. Determined not to fail a third time, Degaton arrives at Zee’s laboratory, where his Time Machine is (again) ready for its maiden journey. Shooting, and this time killing, the Professor, Degaton prepares carefully for conquest.
He travels forward to 1982, via a slight sideways lurch caused by a timestorm, which takes him to Earth-Prime, where superheroes are only comic book characters. Returning to the timestream, Degaton discovers the timestorm pulling him into limbo, to the Crime Syndicate’s prison.
Anticipating an attack, Degaton protects himself then offers the Syndicate a deal: do his tasks and he will release them. The Syndicate agree, and Degaton transports everyone to Earth-2 in October 1962 – the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
By having the Syndicate steal the Russian missiles from Cuba, Kruschev cannot remove them in accordance with President Kennedy’s ultimatum, nor does the young statesman believe the Russian Premier’s implausible tale of flying strangers in colourful costumes taking the missiles away.
Degaton tows the missiles away with the Time Machine, intent on threatening Earth-2 with them. The Syndicate try to attack him but he is once again prepared, and returns them to their limbo prison.
Meanwhile, on Earth-2 in 1942, three members of the All-Star Squadron, Johnny Quick, Liberty Belle and the new Firebrand, get back to New York from San Francisco just in time to tackle Nuclear the Magnetic Marauder. With the aid of fellow members Robotman and Commander Steel,  Nuclear is overcome.
The quintet decide to hold an informal meeting. With the JSA enlisted in the Services as civilians, Hawkman has authorised them to use JSA HQ, but as Belle unlocks the door, they find five costumed strangers inside.
End of Part Two


Naturally, the two sides believe each other are interlopers/enemies and fight, until Superman silences everyone with a shout. Calmed down, explanations are exchanged.
Once everyone is up to date, a phone call summons the Squadron to meet President Roosevelt at the White House. The League accompany them, and FDR takes the idea of them being from a parallel Earth in his stride: there are more important things to worry about. Using future technology, Degaton issues a video ultimatum to all the world leaders, warning them that he has the already-sought nuclear weapons and will demonstrate one the following day.
History is supposed to be unchangeable, and the League know Degaton didn’t win in 1942 on Earth-2. But given the presence of the timestorm, maybe he could…
Meanwhile, the JSA are touring the devastation of Earth-Prime New York, dealing with its deformed and animalistic inhabitants, until they find one old enough to tell them what happened in October 1962, and how the fearful Kennedy finally pushed the button, leading to nuclear destruction. Doctor Fate correctly deduces that somehow Degaton was behind the missing missiles.
Back on Earth-2 in 1942, the heroes convene at Degaton’s observation point, above the Atlantic Ocean. A nuclear missile is detonated and the 1942 heroes are astounded at its unprecedented force. Suddenly, a bubble appears in the middle of the blast zone, containing the JSAers en route from Earth-Prime 1982. The heroes rescue them, the Squadroneers seeing some familiar, if aged faces.
Degaton, in his bunker, is content if not pleased. The bomb did not destroy the heroes but it has demonstrated his power to the World Governments, who will have to surrender to him. Then he will crush the hated Squadron.
End of Part Three


Fifteen heroes from two worlds and different times gather and trade explanations, then return to the White House in time for Degaton’s second broadcast, in which he demands that all the world’s governments cede complete authority to him. Given the destruction Degaton can rain on America, Roosevelt decides that, unless the heroes can prove to him that all the missiles are gone, he will resign the Presidency to Degaton.
The heroes split up (at last). Superman, Doctor Fate and Robotman track down Degaton’s space satellite only to find Ultraman defending it, the Syndicate having apparently agreed to assist him again. Despite Ultraman using Kryptonite (which enhances his powers) the trio render him unconscious and out of the fight.
In the Pacific, near Japan, Aquaman, Starman and Liberty Belle destroy three missiles in a hidden base of Degaton’s, despite opposition from Superwoman.
In the midwest, Hawkman, the Huntress and Johnny Quick find three more disguised as grain solos and dismantle these whilst battling Power Ring.
Degaton fulminates against his three failed minions, but he still has the most impregnable base of all, and if he can’t conquer Earth-2, he will destroy all of them.
End of Part Four.


Nine successful heroes return to the White House to remind each other of the stakes in play, not only here but on Eath-Prime. Two teams are still out there.
In Geneva, Firestorm, Power Girl and Commander Steel enter neutral territory to neutralise Degaton’s next little missile nest, succeeding despite the efforts of the Syndicate’s Johnny Quick.
With all twenty-seven rockets now accounted for, everything turns on Degaton’s next move. His headquarters has been identified, in a daring location very near Washington, but the final team is currently working on saving Earth-Prime, and the risk of new paradoxes is very high…
What Zatanna, Green Lantern and Firebrand have done is to go to the JSA’s scientist friends, Professors Everson and Zee, who are working on trying to build the Time Machine. Zee is astonished to hear about the bumbling, ineffectual Degaton (who has not reported for work today).  Between them, Green Lantern and Zatanna complete the machine and use it to travel ahead to 1962, and cross to Cuba on Earth-Prime. They are there to see the sky tear open and the Syndicate emerge.
But back on Earth-2 in 1942, the remaining heroes converge on Degaton’s secret base, on the banks of the Potomac, underneath the construction work going into building the future Pentagon. They not only take out the would-be dictator, whose men surrender abjectly, but the Huntress prevents Owlman from escaping too.
Then, on Earth-Prime, the last trio battle the Syndicate and defeat them. Degaton tries to run, to get back to 1947 in the Time Machine but Zatanna halts him. Whilst the others send the Syndicate back to their limbo, the smashing of Degaton’s plans has the same effect it always does. History reverts, everyone returns to their rightful place in time and space, all memory of the incident fading as it is, once more, contained within a timeloop.
The All-Star Squadron return to New York. Degaton goes back to work in Zee’s lab with the same words as always, the Syndicate in their timeless limbo, and the JSA turn up on the satellite for the annual get-together. Only Power Girl seems disturbed by anything, enough to let Firestorm get his arms round her at last.
* * * * *
Surprisingly, for the longest team-up story ever, involving five issues, two series, two creative teams, three super-hero teams, three time-eras, three parallel Earths, a reference to an earlier team-up and enough real and counterfactual history to stuff a chicken with, this story is actually surprisingly sensible and straightforward. It is, of course, another Degaton story, to add to the one from All-Star Comics 35, and the one Thomas had already written for All-Star Squadron 1-3, which means that any literate comics reader knew how it would end from the moment Degaton’s name was mentioned by the Crime Syndicate.
I’m not going to pick this effort apart to the extent I have been doing in respect of recent stories, because there is less to complain about. Despite the fact that neither Gerry Conway nor Roy Thomas, for different reasons, impress me as writers, and despite the fact that, without ragging on him in the unmerciful way so many did, I don’t like Don Heck’s art. Despite the fact that, after complaining about the growing elephantiasis of the recent three-parters, this is actually a five part story. Because, for once, the writers have given themselves an adventure of genuinely epic proportions, and even though the latter part is just a series of missions intended to keep all the fifteen heroes visible, this time the space is a necessary element of the story’s breadth.
What I will say is that, yet again, the Justice Society play the minor role in all of this. When these team-ups began, this was due to the fact that, as guests, the JSA were not allowed to outshine the stars, but once the team-up was opened to a ‘third force’, gradually the Society slid into becoming the junior members of any such threeway. They became staid, old hat, the emphasis now shifting to the newbies.
This is further emphasised in 1982 by the fact that the ‘third force’ not only has its own series, but that the story involves that series in a crossover. The tone is struck by the story having twin opening episodes, one in each series, showing how the League and the Squadron come to their first meeting from both directions.
The Society, who lack a series base of their own, are second banana in both introductions, a point emphasised subsequently by having the majority of the story based in 1942 on Earth-2, the Squadron’s home turf. The JSA start off by being diverted into imprisonment, from where they go on to discover the devastation that’s affected Earth-Prime, but their adventures are not merely a sideshow, a parallel track, but a wholly uninteresting and uninvolving one: they fight deformed humans and killer vegetation but it has no ultimate purpose other than to spin wheels until they can be integrated into the main story, which is not until three issues of five have gone by.
Another of the key instances affecting the later team-ups  is the limited number of slots available for the JSA, and the consequent rigidity of roles. Involving a ‘third force’ led to the situation where numbers had to be rationed (especially as the changing mores of the superhero comic demanded more emphasis on character rather than plot, a development welcomed by the inrush of fans-turned-writers and -artists, who had no concept of the strict professionalism of their forerunners.)
What was worse was the continuing insistence on exact matches, so that there had to be the same number of Leaguers and Squadroneers as there were JSAers, an artificial, rigid structure that added to the sense of formularisation.
This reaches a kind of nadir here when the heroes break up into teams. Five from each team dictates five missions, each with an exact spread of teams, further compounded by there being exactly five Crime Syndicate members, spawning one villain per mission. The natural fluidity of life is dispensed with,and it’s impossible not to envision the authors ticking boxes.
And again, how do you choose teams? What, for instance, was the rationale for putting both magic-wielders together and pairing them with the incongruous Firebrand? Is there an internal logic to this or is it all done by the equivalent of dealing out Happy Families cards?
Having raised that, I have nothing else to say than to applaud Conway and Thomas on a decent story, done decently, though I can’t pretend that I warm to this adventure as I do to those of Fox and Wein, which fill my criteria for the kind of League/Society team-up I want to read. I have problems with the writings of each, but Conway’s laziness in construction is barely in evidence, whilst Thomas’s frequently sterile obsession with past continuity is, for once, put almost wholly to the service of the story instead of being allowed to accumulate in lumps, tripping up everyone all over the place.
In terms of post-Crisis viability, the main story could be almost wholly retained as a purely time-travel adventure, although the Earth-Prime element would have to either be deleted or else in some way absorbed into the single timestream. And if it were not, where would the Justice Society fit in?