Justice League of America 82, “Peril of the Paired Planets!”/Justice League of America 83, “Where Valor Fails… Will Magic Triumph?” Written by Denny O’Neil, art by Dick Dillin (pencils) and Joe Giella(inks), edited by Julius Schwarz.
It’s a beautiful, peaceful day in Metropolis as Superman streaks across the sky towards the Daily Planet building. But he goes straight through it, brings down a metal tower, and crashes into the subway, where he lies as if dead.
As soon as this is reported to the Justice League, Flash and Hawkman arrive to take Superman’s body to the nearest transporter tube to the JLA’s new satellite headquarters. Batman and the Atom await them, and start analysing what has happened to the Man of Steel, but Batman suddenly begins to choke, and collapses into the same state as Superman.
Deprived of Batman’s razor-sharp logic, Hawkman takes refuge in numbers and messages the trio of Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Black Canary, summoning them back from their special leave.
We are then taken to Earth-2. It is once again described as a parallel Earth, separated by its different vibrations, but now we are told that those vibrations have caused Earth-2 to run fractionally slower than its counterpart, so that it is now twenty years behind: therefore Earth-2 would appear to be in 1950. We are also told that the temporal fluxes between the two Earths are such that contact between the two is only possible for 21 days each year.
We then follow the Justice Society’s not-quite-human, not-quite-member, the Red Tornado, alone in space, feeling frustrated and sorry for itself. Detecting an alien spaceship, the Tornado assumes it is the forerunner of an invasion. If he can beat it, everybody will have to like him.
Unfortunately, he is quickly rendered inoperative, and taken aboard the craft. It is commanded by a being named Creator2, who has accepted a job to build a planet. For raw materials, he needs to destroy two other planets in a controlled manner, and he has selected Earths-1 and -2. All that is needed is to bring their vibrations into harmony and the Red Tornado is the perfect tool, being already attuned to the vibrational patterns of both Earths. A harmonising plate is inserted into his mechanical brain and he is placed at the exact midway point between the two Earths, slowing bringing their rates together.
However, it is not enough just to make the planets explode together, it must be controlled in a specific manner. Five of the crew are sent down to Earth-2 to place special explosives at strategic points. In case of interference from the Justice Society, they are equipped with strange nets to overcome their adversaries.
The first to intervene is Superman, who is paralysed in flight and crashes. The harmonisation has already gone so far that what affects him affects his Earth-1 counterpart.
The same thing happens to Dr Mid-Nite and, by extension, his nearest Earth-1 equivalent, Batman. And when The Flash tries to intervene to save Mid-Nite, he suffers a similar fate, causing his Earth-1 counterpart, on the Satellite, to collapse in his turn.
With three members down, the Justice Society calls in all its members for an emergency meeting. This includes everybody, even the Earth-2 Batman and The Spectre, with the exception of the adult Robin and the Red Tornado, whose absence doesn’t seem to be noticed.
But the situation is getting worse. The two Earths are sufficiently in harmony that they have flashes of vision, in which people from one Earth see themselves on the other.
On Earth-1, the absent trio finally arrive. Hawkman berates them for taking so long, and Green Arrow responds sarcastically. The Guardians have temporarily restored Green Lantern’s power ring to full power, and he sets off into space to travel to Earth-2, only to find the ‘doorway’ blocked.
But on the satellite, as the Atom explains what is the real extent of the danger, Black Canary comes to the erroneous, but understandable conclusion that it is because of her: she has transferred from Earth-2 to Earth-1, and there is no-one else common to the two planets.
The solution is obvious: in order to save the two Earths, Black Canary must cease to exist, must die.
End of Part 1.
The tension continues to rise as Black Canary insists she has to die, whilst Green Arrow bullishly refuses to accept it, the Atom is reluctantly starting to agree, and Green Lantern heads off into space to try to find a dimension where the Canary can be deposited in safety. There are only three hours left.
Meanwhile, on Earth-2, Creator2 has decided to pre-empt any further interference from the Justice Society by sending out more men with nets. Starman falls easily, but apparently does not have a Justice League equivalent to take with him, and the same occurs with Hourman.
In space, a shifting of the cosmic balance allows Green Lantern a sighting of the Red Tornado, and the realisation that he, not Black Canary, is the source of this problem. The Lantern tries to get to him to move him from his midway position, but another random shift blocks access. He is then paralysed when the nets trap the Earth-2 Green Lantern in a cage of wood.
The danger grows ever more near. There is another ‘ghost’ vision as the two planets see each other, but everybody is more solid this time. It causes a panic: the Earth-1 Hawkman saves an old woman in a wheelchair from careering into traffic, but is himself stopped when the net takes out his Earth-2 counterpart.
Black Canary grows ever more insistent that she must do something before it is too late. There are only thirty minutes left: the Atom says to give it twenty more before they decide anything.
On Earth-2, the only JSAers left standing are Doctor Fate and Johnny Thunder. Fate decides to risk all on a desperate gamble. He teleports them to a strange place of tombs and mausoleums to find the Spectre. A caption tells us that the reason why the Spectre is confined to this place cannot be given here but that it is indeed spectacular as everyone will see when it is revealed.
The Spectre himself greets his colleagues by reminding them that he cannot leave unless he is summoned as he has been here. The three magically powered heroes head for Creator2’s ship, but when it is in sight, the Spectre leaves his team-mates to attack the ship alone. He enters the netherverse where he stretches out his body and interpolates it between Earth-1 and Earth-2, keeping them apart.
Fate and the Bolt enter the ship, to Creator2’s disbelief. Fate is exhausted and the Bolt has to tackle the crew, but he is only a Grade-3 sorcerer and is not powerful enough to stop Creator2 from pushing the button that will bring the two Earths together. Doctor Fate has to summon his last reserves of strength to cause an explosion that destroys the ship, and everyone on it, except himself and the Bolt.
The explosion rattles both Earths and dislodges the harmoniser plate in the Red Tornado’s head. The menace is over. The two Earths begin to withdraw from each other, but the massive competing gravitational fields tear the Spectre’s corporeal body apart, sending him at last to his eternal rest.
On Earth-1, the Atom tells Black Canary the good news that the danger is over and she need no longer commit suicide. Green Lantern arrives back, having been telepathically brought up to date by Doctor Fate, but Green Arrow refuses to believe that the Spectre is dead: one day he’s be back.
* * * * *
Denny O’Neil really couldn’t write a decent team-up story, could he? Once again, there’s the germ of an interesting idea behind this story, and a technical freshness in producing a team-up where the teams do not meet but work on the shared menace from separate standpoints, but it’s handled so ineptly and half-heartedly that the result is frequently embarrassing.
Unlike the previous year, where the Justice League were clearly the cavalry, this time it’s a firmly JSA-centric story. It’s their Earth and their members who are directly attacked by the absurd and ridiculous Creator2 (who speaks like this: Ex-cellent. Villains with speech impediments should be avoided). All the Justice League actually do throughout this story is fall down helpless every time someone on the Justice Society is overcome.
The exception to this is Hawkman, who gets to save an old lady in a wheelchair from rolling into traffic, which is not much but is the most thrilling thing that gets to happen on Earth-1, and does little to make up for his otherwise demented performance throughout the rest of the story: flying into a blind panic when Batman is taken out, insisting that the lack of his razor-sharp brain has to be replaced by the two Greens and one Black (interrupting and negating the principles of the GL/GA series that had recently started: at least it was O’Neil’s own story it was spoiling). Then he shouts at them for not turning up the next instant, even though, as we will see, they are in practical terms as useful as a chocolate teapot. And he’s only on Earth because he’s fretting over having nothing he can do and even then he’s in a snit because nobody’s looking at him.
There’s an interesting twist in the idea of having Black Canary identify herself as being responsible, when in fact it’s nothing to do with her, but once the idea is raised, and with it the notion that to save the day she must suicide, it lies there flapping, with no development. It couldn’t go anywhere. What could they do, have a scene of the Canary trying to slit her wrists and Green Arrow shooting the knife of out her hands? It was pushing the envelope of the Comics Code Authority’s tolerance to even introduce the subject whilst scrupulously avoiding mention of the s-word.
The first part gives us another unfavourable comparison between Fox and O’Neil as writers of a superhero tea. Fox’s stories feature fights, endless fights, displays of power between hero and villain, because these are the point of the story. The fights are architecture, and indivisible to the story. O’Neil doesn’t think that way and can’t write that way: the scenes of various JSAers tangling with the aliens and being overcome by nets feel inconsequential, something conjured up to help fill pages. This sense that they are an imposition on what really interests the writer is multiplied when, in the second part, O’Neil can think of nothing better to move the story along than to repeat the same thing: aliens with nets, collapsing unrelated JLAers and another two page spread of duplicate populations staring at each other pop-eyed (and, incidentally, if Earth-2 is supposed to be twenty years behind Earth-1 at this point, why are all the fashions and hair-styles identical?)
But the biggest, most glaring defect in this story is the treatment of the Spectre.
Firstly, it’s poor writing even for comics to have him appear as a deus ex machina: god in the machine, descending from stage clouds to override everything that has been established in the story from the beginning. But then there’s this business about the crypt. The Spectre is confined to a crypt. This is a surprise to everybody because, when his solo series was cancelled, he wasn’t confined to any crypt, he was just reading from the Book of Judgement like any other ‘mystery’ comic host. Why is the Spectre confined to a crypt? we can’t tell you, but it’s sensational, honest. Roughly translated as ‘we hope it will be if we ever think of it’.
In the letters page, well-known fan and future JLA writer Marty Pasko pinned that one down accurately. There was no reason, there was no story, it was just a cheap contrivance to try to throw some drama into a story badly leaking at all seams, and it’s internally inconsistent, because if the Spectre is confined to that crypt, and he can only leave it if he’s summoned by someone like Doctor Fate, what the hell was he doing attending the Justice Society headquarters for the mass meeting in part 1?
Incidentally, 43 year years later, we’re still waiting for that sensational explanation of why the Spectre was confined to that bloody crypt.
That is not all. The Spectre places himself between the two Earths to prevent them from colliding, and dies when the gravitational pull between them rips his body apart. We wait for him to reassemble because naturally he’s imbued every molecule of his body with a magnetism that draws them back from all across the Universe, just like he did in 1966. But this time apparently not. This time, his Get-Out-Of-Being-Spread-Across-The-Whole-Damned-Universe-Free Card has been left behind in that cheap crypt.
This time he dies, with tears of happiness and relief. Only Green Arrow doesn’t believe so and says so in a closing, valedictory, ridiculous speech that, instead rips open the contrivance: of course he’ll be back, this ‘death’ is an utter waste of time, complete nonsense.
There is another change in creative personnel this, Sid Greene having followed Bernie Sachs into retirement and been replaced by another veteran inker in Joe Giella. Superficially, there’s little change, but a closer study of the art quickly reveals the difference between Greene’s crisp, structural inks, which bring out the firmness in Dillin’s work as they did with Sekowsky before him, and Giella’s softer, less detailed look.
The effect, though subdued, is unhelpful: a decade later, the introduction of Giella to Joe Staton’s pencil’s in the revived All-Star would be disastrous in contrast to the clean, sharp inks of Bob Layton. Something of that is visible here, and it would not surprise me to discover that Giella had been erasing pencils, simplifying the images as he so blatantly would years later.
And we can’t leave without considering O’Neil’s new ground rules for the Multiverse.
When the Golden Age Flash had been revived in 1961, it was as an older man, greying at the temples, still fully powered and in shape (for his age), but an older man coming out of a dozen years’ retirement. Barry Allen’s age was never given, but if he’d read about The Flash when he was a kid, up to Flash Comics’ discontinuation in 1949, that would put Allen in his mid-to-late twenties, and Garrick somewhere around forty. Not too old to be a perfectly feasible elder statesman superhero.
Indeed, the same approach had been used on all the Justice Society: greying, lined, nostalgically enthralled to be in action again, though it’s intriguing to note that the last reference to that aspect had been in 1966, in the form of a passing reference by Sandman to having been out of the crook-catching game so long, no-one recognised him.
But what was enjoyable and realistic nostalgia in 1961 and the immediately following years was growing less plausible in 1970, when Jay Garrick, at the very best, was far closer to 50 than he’d ever been to 40. To an audience of youngsters only slowly becoming leavened by teenagers and the kind of older fan who would never let his attachment to comics go, the idea of superheroes old enough to be their grandfathers was inconceivable.
So it seemed a good idea at the time to contrive something to eliminate that older-hero aspect from the Justice Society, to tune them back to when they were more or less the same age as the Justice League. Twenty years were about right.
But it would have turned Earth-2 back to 1950, to when the Justice Society were still active anyway, wound things back past the existence of any retirement. And that’s when it fell through and big-time, because only the heroes, in complete isolation and in defiance of everything that had gone before, were wound back. Earth-2 stayed the same as Earth-1 (though hardly contemporary with Earth-Prime in 1970: not in Justice League of America that is. Maybe if you tried Green Lantern/Green Arrow.)
As for the post-Crisis canonicity of this tale, it’s another no, and we all feel better for knowing that.