Breaking the Vibrational Barrier – 1977


Justice League of America 147, “Crisis in the 30th Century!”/Justice League of America 148, “Crisis in Triplicate!” Written by Paul Levitz and Martin Pasko (147), Martin Pasko (with an assist by Paul Levtiz (148), art by Dick Dillin (pencils), and Frank McLaughlin (inks), edited by Julius Schwarz.


Having captured the Psycho-Pirate on Earth-1 in All-Star 68, the Justice Society enjoy a breather on the Justice League’s satellite, a get together extended when Green Arrow’s boxing glove arrow switches off the transmatter cube, much to the annoyance of Wildcat. Power Girl seems very taken with a much younger Superman who isn’t actually her cousin and the Star-Spangled Kid is snottily jealous over it.
This scene is interrupted when a gigantic hand penetrates the satellite. It grabs ten heroes, five from each team – Leaguers Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Black Canary, JSAers Doctor Fate, Hawkman, The Flash, Green Lantern and Power Girl – and drags them 1,000 years through time, to 2977, the time of the Legion of Superheroes. The hand belongs to their sorcerous foe, Baron Mordru.
Mordru, present in his spirit form, is disappointed. He did not want more heroes, he wanted to seize those three mystic talismans, the Green Bell, the Silver Wheel and the Red Jar, which govern the imprisonment of the League’s old foes, the Three Demons, Abnegazar, Rath and Ghast.
In order to regain his place as master of the planet Xerox, Mordru plans to release the Three Demons. But the whereabouts of the three artefacts have not been known since the Justice League satellite exploded some time in the past millennium. Mordru has located them and imprisoned five Legionnaires as hostages to force the rest of the Legion to retrieve the artefacts. When they failed to return, he tried to snatch them from 1977 but failed.
The historical heroes attack him but are easily overcome and Mordru threatens to kill them, though he is surreptitiously persuaded by a spell from Doctor Fate to send eight of the heroes after the Legionnaires, keeping Green Arrow and Black Canary in a mystical hourglass round his neck, to drown in sand if the heroes don’t move fast enough.
Hawkman, Superman and Doctor Fate rescue Sun Boy and Wildfire from a planet of shape-changing aliens that worship the Silver Wheel. When Doctor Fate mocks up stars to cover the snatching of the wheel, the aliens switch to worshipping stars instead.
Batman and the two Lanterns succeed where Brainiac 5 and Princess Projectra have failed to persuade a planet to give up the Green Bell, whose ringing drives off the space Dragons that menace the planet: the Lanterns sculpt the shape of the Dragon’s natural enemy into the planet, creating a space Scarecrow.
And Power Girl and the Flash enter another dimension where the Red Jar, in its vault, is guarded by one of a number of strange frog-like aliens, who are actually all mothers sitting on eggs, and the one they have to deal with has actually mistaken the vault for her real egg, and hops off as soon as her actually baby is produced.
By now, we’ve learned that Mordru has no intention of keeping his word about releasing the prisoners, but the Flash and Power Girl refuse to hand over the Red Jar until this happens. As Mordru turns to the three artefacts, the heroes attack him, but they’ve forgotten all about Green Arrow and Black Canary, who are still in the hourglass and have to back off.
So Mordru releases Abnegazar, Rath and Ghast, but when he orders them to destroy the Thirtieth Century they refuse to acknowledge him as their master and turn on him. The Twentieth Century heroes are disappeared, except for the Arrow and the Canary, whilst the Three Demons plan to destroy the artefacts so that they can never be imprisoned again.
End of Part One.


A bunch of Legionnaires attack the Three Demons fruitlessly: the artefacts are destroyed. Under the Demon’s spell, the Legionnaires take Mordru’s spirit form to unite it with his physical body. What this might do to Green Arrow and Black Canary concerns them, but in the short run the hourglass is upturned, saving them.
The Demons turn to taking over the Thirtieth Century, but for the first time ever, their plans diverge.  Abnegazar wants to make peace, to join in with the harmony of the planet, Rath wants to take it over, exploit its power and Ghast to restore Earth to its original form, when only they existed.
The Demons are split, but they are too equally matched in power to destroy each other, so Abnegazar takes five Legionnaires as his proxies, to fight for him. Rath and Ghast reverse the dismissal of the JLA/JSA back to their own time and drag them back to 2977, the JSA serving Rath and the JLA under the dominion of Ghast.
The three teams start a three-cornered battle. Meanwhile, at Mordru’s tomb, Green Arrow and Black Canary are about to be buried when Green Lantern 1 turns up to rescue them, and turn them into puppets of Ghast as well. Another battle with the Legion rages.
But it’s noticeable that Power Girl alone among the JSA has some mental resistance to Rath, like the JLA have to Ghast. That is attributed to her (and their) greater youth and stamina, though it doesn’t appear to do anything for the Legion.
At first, the JLA and Power Girl use their freer will to let the Legion beat them, but a more permanent solution is needed. The League theorise that just because Rath controlled the JSA, Ghast assumed he needed only the same amount of magic to control the League. So they plan to get themselves knocked out, and let the JSA and the Legion fight each other to a standstill, so that the Demons have to face each other directly again.
The plan succeeds. Abnegazar and Rath turn on each other, the latter forced to relinquish his hold on the JSA. Doctor Fate, first to recover, leads an attack that is thwarted when the two Demons destroy each other, leaving only Ghast. His body energized by the release of magic, Fate summonses the fragments of the JLA satellite from all across the Universe,, forming these around Ghast. Infused as they are with the magical residue of the three artefacts, the satellite imprisons Ghast again.
With the menace defeated, the JLA and JSA can return to their own time.
* * * * *
At the back of Crisis on Multiple Earths Volume 4, collecting this and the two previous team-ups, there’s an amusing piece about the changes that DC was going through in the years represented by these stories: about how DC’s comics, in their slow-moving, monolithic manner, were turning towards extended stories, told over a series of issues.
What this means, without mentioning once the cause of such a development, was that DC, over a dozen years later, was finally trying to emulate Marvel and pretend to a continuity.
It didn’t last long: in the following year, the much-ballyhooed DC Explosion/Implosion would reset the base form back to single issue stories that could still be read in more or less any order you chose without making any difference to their sense.
This essay is amusing in that it has almost no bearing on any of the three stories from this period. Indeed, the article makes much of the fact that these Justice League stories are completely uninfluenced by anything else happening to the heroes at the time.
The closest we come to any such concern is in the 1977 team-up. By the time this story saw print, the Justice Society had been active in their own series, in the revived All-Star, for eighteen months, at first under Gerry Conway, then for the past half-year by a young Paul Levitz. Thus we can commence the team-up in the most unusual fashion possible, without any semblance of a Crisis, on any Earth you care to mention.
It’s the beginning of a new phase for the JLA and JSA. From here, their joint adventures will almost invariably start as social events, as the two teams gather for the fun of it, and not at the behest of conveniently spaced menaces.
But the idea that the team-up now had to involve a third force was cemented in place, and in the absence of any other teams from the past, Julius Schwarz opted to go for a team from the future, in the ever-popular Legion of Super-Heroes. It was surely inevitable at some point.
Although Justice League of America now had a permanent writer in Steve Engelhart, spending a year at DC doing his balls-out best as a ‘Fuck You’ to a Marvel Comics that he believed had shafted him, Engelhart was not to write this team-up. Whether this was because he had no interest in doing so, or was not trusted, I don’t know. But with the young Levitz also writing the Legion, it made perfect sense for him to play a major part in the story, along with Pasko.
As for the discrepancy in the credits for the two issues, Levitz has admitted that due to over-committing himself as a young and eager writer, he was not able to do more than kibbitz on the second part. So at least we know who to blame.
The story is interesting in its first part, despite some early sloppiness. Dillin’s pencilling is appalling on the first page: for those unfamiliar with the character, the Psycho-Pirate is neither ten feet tall nor as immobile as a cigar store Indian, but that’s how he’s drawn. Wildcat’s punch-drunk slurring was part of a Levitz plot, but Power Girl’s strident feminism has gone out of the window at the sight of Superman’s muscles and the Star-Spangled Kid’s adolescent whininess over the fact she doesn’t fancy him in the slightest was tedious then and soul-destroying now.
Thank God therefore for Mordru’s millennium-crossing hand, though we might want to gloss over the miraculous manner in which all such devices infallibly bring back a perfectly balanced mix of heroes from each team.
These minor issues aside, the first half of the story sets things up well, until its conclusion. We can overlook the League being effortlessly superior to the hapless Legion – they’re only children, after all – and we can perhaps ignore the patronising way in which two planets are tricked into surrendering their artefacts. Well, maybe we can ignore the planet of shape-shifters and their primitive worship, but I for one find it less easy to accept a race of other-dimensional frog-types that are so amazingly dumb that they can mistake a metal vault for an egg: you know, their baby.
And there’s yet another demonstration of the failure of superheroes to remember anything, ambushing Mordru whilst he’s still got his hostages under complete control. Whilst it’s plausible perhaps in the Legion and, to a lesser degree, the Justice Society, how the hell can the Justice League forget Green Arrow and Black Canary?
But this is as nothing to the second part. Rich Buckler’s cover for it is sadly indicative: a shapeless, ill-conceived ring of heroes fighting each other. Because whilst the idea of the Three Demons, after all eternity, ceasing to think alike is interesting, the decision to conduct their fight by proxies, one team per Demon, leads into a dull fight-by-numbers stodge, with no clear line of development, and a very convoluted attempt to elevate the League above its guests, at the expense of the Justice Society.
I’ve mentioned before the tendency to slight the JSA in these team-ups, making them out to be inferior to the League. At the beginning of this series, that was at least explicable, given the unconscious imperative that the star should star, but the longer things went on, the more the Society were treated as equals.
But there’s no trace of that in the issue to which their scripter barely contributed. On the contrary, the JSA are under Rath’s complete domination, no leeway – except for Power Girl, because she’s young and has more mental strength. And why does the League have so much freedom of mind? Because Ghast foolishly assumed he could take them over with the same amount of magic as Rath had used, and this was foolish because the JLA were so much younger and inherently mentally able to resist.
That this is arrant bullshit that should never have been considered for an instant is further emphasised by having it come from Black Canary, who, let us remind ourselves, was actually a member of the Justice Society and is therefore considerably older than anyone around her in the Justice League, oh yes, and Power Girl, but has all the mental acuity of the superior beings of the League…
Astute followers of this series will, I hope, have already started muttering about the twenty-year rule, that Denny O’Neill conception that made the Society almost exact contemporaries of the League. Though this notion was never officially abandoned, it should henceforth be disregarded. In the pages of All-Statr, the Justice Society have gone back to being veterans – implicitly so under Conway, explicitly under Levitz, who had approached taking the series over by working out exact ages and biographies for each participant.
It’s a peculiarity of this year’s event that, although it occupies one issue fewer than its predecessor,  it is almost a third again as long as the Earth-S story. That had appeared in the year when the mainstream American comic book had reached probably its lowest ebb as a physical entity. Rising prices throughout the Seventies had been ever more frequent, but would have been far more common if the industry hadn’t conspired to do the comic worse and worse to cut expenses.
Thus, by 1976, the standard DC comic consisted of only 17 pages of art, as opposed to the 22 of the Sixties, and a three-issue team-up only added up to 51 pages of story, including splash pages and recaps.
To counter this, DC had decided to jump some of its titles, Justice League of America included, to a Giant-size. It wasn’t the 100-page Spectaculars of 1974, but then again it did not include reprints. With 32 pages of story in #147, and 34 in #14, this story topped out at 64 pages overall. And whilst the additional space suited the three-team format, we can perhaps be a little more generous to Pasko and Levitz, if we bear in mind that neither had great experience at plotting their stories out to this length.
Engelhart would return for an explosive two-part finale in the next two issues of Justice League of America before getting out of comics ‘for good’, after which Gerry Conway would take the series over until its end, writing, in the process, more issues than even Gardner Fox. The Justice Society would go back to All-Star Comics 69, and an explosive end to their current plot-line.
Future team-ups would not be as dire as these last three (actually one of them would be even worse, but I am prejudiced about that story and if I am to be objective about it, even my virulent loathing of it allows me to accept that it was less of a mess). Though the Justice Society’s future publication history was not to be stable, they would not find themselves wholly reliant upon two issues of Justice League of America for their sole exposure.
Ironically, in inducting Hawkgirl into the League as a formal member at last, Steve Engelhart had used the phrase ‘traditions arise as a matter of inertia’. Fifteen years on, the fans still loved the annual JLA/JSA team-up, and looked forward to it every year, and Julius Schwarz gave the fans what they asked for.
But it was patently obvious that the writers, whose nostalgia for the comics of their youth extended only to the early adventures of the League, had so much less interest in coming up with unusual, entertaining and exciting adventures for a wide-ranging group whose line-up changed dramatically ever year and for whom they were not prepared to go through the work of animating as people.
The ‘third team’ notion had been conceived as a Special Event, but it had become a mandatory factor, a substitute for real thinking about how to write a story about teams of heroes representing different generations.
Inertia had taken its toll, but inertia was the most powerful force now sustaining the series. It had happened every year for years, and therefore it would continue to happen every year, in the same manner that The Mousetrap‘s longevity on the English stage secures its infinite future: by being the longest-running play in History, it continues running.
Though I am sure that nostalgia affects my judgement, I don’t think that I am wrong in saying that once the Justice Society came back, in their own right, their team-ups with the Justice League should have been retired, gracefully. The heart had gone out of them, and with the heart had gone the life. The best had been done. But there were still years to pass through.
On the subject of post-Crisis viability, naturally this story could have happened, with only the tiniest of adjustments.