Comics in the Seventies: A Game of Pages


We still remember, we who were there

If you were to ask me the page content of the average, 2016, 32 page comic book (or ‘floppy’ as they are commonly called now), I would have no idea. Off the top of my head, I would guess twenty. That is, twenty pages of art and story, i.e., content, out of a thirty-two page package.

That’s not a good percentage but, believe me, it’s not the worst it’s ever been.

When it was first invented, in the Thirties, the American comic book consisted of 64 pages for a dime. Due to War-time paper restrictions, that package was successively reduced to (briefly) 56 pages, then 48 pages, before being reduced even further, in the Fifties, to its present format of 32 pages. All still for that original 10c.

When I first discovered American comics, in the early Sixties, comic books were taking that first, tentative steps into increasing their prices, gouging their customers for an extra 2 cents. At that point, the average DC comic consisted of approximately 24 pages of story and art, a full 75% of the package.

It took nearly the whole decade before the next increase was put through, this time to 15c, but the Oil-Inflation Seventies saw increase after increase, at intervals of eighteen months to two years. In the meantime, the companies desperately attempted to head off, or at least delay such increases, but cutting costs. Artists no longer drew originals on boards two-up, but were restricted to 1.5 up (i.e., twice, or one and a half times the size of the actual printed art).

Paper quality was cut, to cheaper, more porous stock on which lines and colours soaked in and ran. Steel printing plates gave way to cheaper and easier to engrave plastic printing plates, which blurred and distorted lines long before the print run was completed. And page counts were cut. Fewer pages, lower payments to writers and artists paid by the number of pages completed and bought.

DC had tried to get out in front of the curve in 1971, jumping their comics directly from 15c to 25c whilst increasing the size of the package, to 40 pages, the extra pages entirely devoted to content, in the form of reprints: those in Jack Kirby’s ‘Fourth World’ books were prime Golden Age Kirby and Simon material.

This plan was undercut by one of Martin Goodman’s last, shark-like tricks at Marvel. The plan was for everybody to increase the package at the same time, which Goodman did, but only for one month, cutting back immediately to 32 pages at 20c, far faster than DC, with its more sclerotic management structure, to react. DC struggled back to 32 pages at 20c, no reprints, but the content went down to 20 pages, then eighteen and finally, by mid-decade, seventeen.

There was another attempt on DC’s part to change the deteriorating status quo. In 1974, they went off on another bigger package run.

This was the year of the 50c comic, which was just coming in as I rediscovered American comics and started buying them again. Basically, it was a rerun of the 25c experiment writ large: for 50c, the reader got a squarebound, 100 page package, containing the standard 20 pages of new art, plus a massive wodge of reprints, varying as to the title in question. The enhanced Justice League of America was the first place in which I was able to read Golden Age Justice Society reprints.

It lasted a year, during which the price increased to 60c, before the experiment was carried off, and it was all back to the bog-standard floppy at eighteen pages. As an experiment, I enjoyed it, though it was very dependant on the choice of reprints.

The best of that era was, undoubtedly, Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson’s Manhunter, the new back-up in Detective. It lasted seven issues, six of them as a back-up strip to the Caped Crusader, and if it hadn’t been for the Fifty Cent Comic, I’d have never noticed it.

Detective Comics was in another sales trough in 1973. Julius Schwarz, the ‘Now Look’ Batman and the TV series had saved Bruce Wayne from cancellation in 1964, but the bubble had burst and, in an effort to drum up sales with a new approach, Archie Goodwin was brought in as editor (and writer) of Detective, which was down to a bi-monthly schedule.

Upfront, Goodwin went for unusual offbeat stories, by artists not normally associated with Batman, but for a back-up, he wanted a complete contrast: a brightly costumed, globe-trotting hero with a strong martial flavour. With the then-newcomer Simonson, Goodwin devised Manhunter as a seven page, very taut back-up, tacking the character onto the back of the Forties hero of the same name.

It was a massive creative success, as witness the number of times it has been reprinted since. In addition to buying the original run, I have had no less than three different collections. It won industry plaudits by the ton, and it stands up beautifully four decades on, in a way that the vast majority of Seventies comics just don’t.

It didn’t do anything for Detective‘s sales, however. A year on, and unhappy with management at DC, Goodwin relinquished the editorship and writing, and moved on to Marvel. Julius Schwartz, resuming as editor, had no interest in continuing Manhunter, and Goodwin was able to get agreement for his final issue to be a 20 page crossover with Batman, providing a definitive end to Paul ‘Manhunter’ Kirk’s story. It was that ending, so rare and precious, that made Manhunter the creative success it was.

Had I not seen, and been intrigued by the first Detective fifty center, I would probably never have seen the series. Goodwin’s first issue, with the debut Manhunter back-up, was the final 32 page floppy, and I was lucky to scrabble round and fnd a still-available copy, which was nearly as difficult to ensure as it had been in the Sixties.

No doubt I would have heard about it later, maybe bought one of the reprints at some point, but I have always found a deeper attachment to those series I have had to accumulate, in monthly instalments, the story-front creeping along, offering endless speculation about what might follow. Reading the whole thing at once, cover to cover, no delay at any of the cliffhangers, is never quite as enthralling.

So the year was up, the Fifty/Sixty Centers vanished and DC went back to floppies.

Seventeen pages was the nadir though. once upon a time, it might have almost been a luxury: throughout the Fifties, and well into the Sixties, most DC comics offered two stories per issue, both of around twelve pages in length. Its writers were veterans, long used to the professional demands of telling a clear, concise story, with a beginning, middle and end, in twelve pages or thereabouts, so seventeen pages ought to have been easily manageable.

But this was not the Sixties any more, and that generation of writers were no longer writing comics. Their replacements had been brought up, drawn in to the industry, by Marvel Comics, who concentrated on book-length stories to a greater extent, and on ongoing stories, in which the three unities were rarely within the same covers. The writers of the Seventies wanted to write comics like that. They had never had the training to produce short stories. They neither wanted to nor were capable of writing satisfying stories in only seventeen pages.

One writer was comfortable with the form, however, Denny O’Neil, who wrote perhaps my favourite page of comics from the Seventies.

It was a bog-standard Batman adventure of the era, drawn by Ernie Chan, and the villain was the Riddler. Batman frustrated him a couple of times, so the Riddler headed back to his new secret HQ, at Gotham Zoo. The page in question covered a single scene.

The Riddler approaches the Zoo entrance concealed by trenchcoat and hat pulled down. He’s frustrated, planning on fleeing, his body language is hunched, withdrawn, downbeat. In short, he is not a happy bunny. However, he is waylaid, by a boy aged about eight, trying to catch his attention. The Riddler is in no mood for such things and tells the kid to beat it, cram, but he blurts out that all he wants to do is tell him a Riddle.

Mr Nigma transforms in an instant. he’s down on his kness, level with the kid’s face, holding his shoulders and insisting, “Yes, please do! Please do!” “Do you want me to tell you the story of the bed?” The kid asks. “go on, go on,” the Riddler says, barely able to contain himself. “I can’t,” the kid says, with the kind of perfect cheesy grin of a little boy who’s come up with something funny all by himself and just has to share it, “It hasn’t been made up yet!”

The final panel shows the kid approaching his parents. “Dad, look what the nice man gave me,” he says. “A $100 bill?” the dad gasps. In the background, The Riddler is walking through the Zoo gates, but his body language is transformed. He’s striding out, head up and back, almost strutting.

It’s a magical page. In structural terms, it’s completely redundant and irrelevant. The story could be told with the other sixteen pages without the smallest of changes, and this scene would not be missed, nor any gap felt. As such, with only seventeen pages available, it could be described as poor writing.

And yet it’s brilliant, because it’s the only page of the script on which anybody does something human, that is not purely and simply a function of the plot. And this was from a very early point, at which I had not even begun to get bored with superhero dynamics and fights. Which is why I can remember each panel of that page, whilst I have no recollection of anything from any of the other sixteen pages.

It wasn’t tenable, however. Seventeen crappy pages with crappy stories and crappy art and the price going up five or ten cents a year, year-on-year. So DC shifted out Carmine Infantino as Publisher and brought in an outsider, Jeanette Kahn, a novice in comics but a children’s magazine publishing success.

Who, once she had settled herself into the Publisher’s chair, came up with a brilliant idea to move forward and secure comics’ future.

Bigger comics. With more pages.

It was known as the DC Explosion. It was planned as a massive uplift to the DC line, introducing new characters and new titles, but the heart of it was that, in order to avoid the awkward jump from 35c to 40c, DC’s comics would hurdle all the way to 50c, but for a 40 page package, of which the additional eight pages would all be of content: story and art, and all of it new: no reprints.

It wasn’t exactly original, except for the fact that the extra pages would be all new. Some titles would add them to the previous page count: the Justice League of America would escape the straitjacket of seventeen pages for the relative freedom of twenty-five, but other titles would add back-ups. Old characters unable to sustain series would be revived, new concepts and ideas would be tried with the support of the lead feature.

It was bold, it was exciting, it was one of the biggest fucking disasters mainstream comics has ever suffered.

Because the week the first titles of the Explosion were launched, the sales figures came in at Warner Brothers, and they were bad. Far worse than had been expected. The word came down from on high with the speed and force of a Jovian thunderbolt, and the word was No. No more forty page 50c comics, get back to 32 page floppies, and cut the number of titles. Including scheduled comics which never actually were published, almost half the entire DC line was cancelled in an afternoon, reducing the line to its ‘core’ titles. Everything remotely experimental vanished in a day. The bottom half of the line ceased to be tenable and went into the hole. DC, who had been big with publicity about it’s great leap forward, which had been building its stable of creators, suffered a massive blow to its credibility that the majority at the time thought it would never recover from.

Down the street, at Marvel, its recently installed Editor-in-Chief, Jim Shooter, had been sniffy about the whole thing anyway, dismissive of the idea that the fans would even notice an increase of eight pages, nearly half as much story again. Former editor-in-chief, Marv Wolfman, set about discouraging eager new talent from getting into comics: in five years time, there wouldn’t be any.

We know now that he was wrong, and ironically Wolfman would play a major role in leading DC and, in its wake, comics out of the slough of despond of what inevitably became known as the DC Implosion. Page counts went up, despite Shooter’s arrogance. So did paper quality, and costs, the latter being inevitable given that the only way of further reducing the cost of producing a 1977 floppy would have been to hire a hall and have people pay to sit there whilst the writer read the script and the artist did chalk-talk sketches on a blackboard borrowed from the local high school.

Yet in that era of desperation, when the death of comics was being predicted almost every other week, there were still comics of quality that prevailed over the conditions in which they were created. That was the era of Manhunter, and that was when good writers could come up with pages like the Riddler being made happy by a kid’s riddle he’d never heard before.

They didn’t even need seventeen pages to produce delight that’s lasted with me for forty years, proving yet again that there is something more to life than ‘never mind the quality, feel the width’.

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: the geeky bit


Be warned: this is the seriously geeky bit.
One thing I intended to do when I began this latest series on the Justice Society of America was to look at the changing patterns of which members were used or ignored, and to try to draw any relevant inferences from that.
That aim got speedily lost in the analysis of the varying approaches to the stories themselves, and if I had maintained the kind of strict record I’d originally planned, that would have stood out as awkward and irrelevant.
Instead I’m going to bring that in as a separate essay, about which I’m going to warn you in advance that this is for the fanatics and those interested only in fascinating trivia, so read no further if that’s not your bag (genuine Sixties talk, maaaan!)
I’ve compiled for myself a table covering the twenty-three team-ups, and plotting who appeared when. Before I go on to discuss the results, I should make the qualification criteria plain. The table relates only to active appearances in a story, and not to cameo roles. Thus, in the later years, under Gerry Conway, where the meetings of the two teams became pre-planned social affairs,there are multiple instances of JSA members turning up for these get-togethers, but not actually getting in on the action. These are discounted.
A further example in Fox’s last story in 1968 where, at the end of the first part, virtually the whole of the Society turns up to the crisis of four members having ‘died’, but are ‘killed’ themselves within little more than a page: I have only included those members who featured throughout the issue. And again in 1970, there is a mass meeting of virtually every existing member, but I have only counted those who had an active role, of some kind.
So, what do the statistics tell us? For a start, we’re talking about a total of twenty-two JSAers: seventeen from the Golden Age, and five later additions, none of whom were available from the start. Of the Golden Agers, five became unavailable, either by death or by transferring to the Justice League, leaving twelve characters theoretically capable of appearing in all twenty-three stories. Statistics for the other ten have to be re-interpreted accordingly.
Most popular is of course Doctor Fate, the master magician, with fifteen appearances. Fate maintained a 100% record through the first four years of the feature, one of only two characters to appear in four successive meetings. Apart from an uncharacteristic ‘holiday’ from 1974-76, Fate was never excluded for more than a single year.
Only three other characters made ten or more appearances. Surprisingly, given his general lack of impetus, The Flash was second favourite with twelve appearances, and never absent for more than two years. Green Lantern, the only other character to appear in four consecutive adventures, follows with eleven appearances overall. It’s intriguing to note that his four year record (1969 to 1972) was both preceded and succeeded by three year absences.
The only other double figure participant, with a round ten shots, was Wonder Woman, who didn’t even appear for the first four years. With a better track record than her Justice League counterpart, the original WW was of course for many years the Society’s only female member, which underlies the frequency of her appeal.
Unsurprisingly, this quartet were consistently used, and each one appeared in one or other (or both) of the last two stories.
Behind them comes a group of four members with nine appearances each: Hawkman, Hourman, Starman and Dr Mid-Nite. Their stats are very interesting, as each character shows a smattering of semi-regular appearances, broken by a long period spent virtually in the cold.
Tradition did little to support Hawkman, formerly the permanent Chairman of the JSA, and the only member to appear in every Golden Age adventure. Hawkman started well, with four appearances in the first five stories, but then fell dramatically out of favour, with only one appearance in the next nine years.
Of course, when the JSA returned from limbo, Hawkman was one of four members who had been revived under Julius Schwartz. But where the new Flash and Green Lantern had been great successes, Hawkman and The Atom always struggled commercially, and given that the Golden Age Hawkman’s costume was virtually identical to his latter-day counterpart, I suspect he was kept off the scene so as not to divide the reader’s concentration. Certainly, he only returned to any kind of prominence once the Society had been restored in All-Star Comics.
Hourman, who had only appeared in the first five JSA stories, proved surprisingly popular at first. After featuring in the first team-up, he was not seen for three years, but then returned to make six appearances in eight years. Suddenly, however, he dropped out of favour, almost terminally, spending five years in limbo and appearing only twice over the last eleven years of the feature.
Starman and Dr Mid-Nite made their JSA debuts in the same issue, and were revived in the same story. There seems to have been a subconscious linking of the pair, since they appeared together five times in all over their nine shows. Both were reasonably frequent in the early days, before going AWOL, with the Doc getting only one story between 1972 and 1982 inclusive – odd, given that he was a major part of the All-Star revival – and Starman one shot between 1973 and 1981 inclusive.
Starman even gets name-checked in 1982 as having come back out of retirement: presumably based on the comment in All-Star that he was laid-up with a broken leg. Time may have run slower on Earth-2 for some of that period, but that length of recovery period is ridiculous!
That leaves nine Golden Age JSAers with serious attendance problems. Johnny Thunder does surprisingly well with six, mostly widely-spaced appearances, one more than Superman, who wasn’t even included until the seventh team-up, appeared four times in five years, then vanished after 1973, with only one show in the last twelve adventures.
The Earth-2 Batman is a case on his own. He’s the last Golden Age member to appear, in 1976, fourteen years on, and that’s his only active adventure. By a bizarre symmetry, his Silver Age career exactly mirrors his Golden Age participation: one adventure preceded by one cameo. Of course, two years later he was killed off, ending any chance of further stories. But it’s plain to see that DC did not want this version of the character around, unless he was being used in very occasional flashback stories.
Black Canary is a completely different kettle of fish. Though she takes part in only five adventures, this is out of the only seven for which she was qualified, before being poached for the Justice League. And indeed she appeared in many more team-ups, but these do not count as she was playing for the other side. I think we can be sure that if not for this, the Canary would be well up there in the top group: she was the Society’s ‘token’ female member after all.
Like Starman and Dr Mid-Nite, Mr Terrific and Wildcat are similarly bound together by their simultaneous debut, and it’s unsurprising that both should have made four appearances, twice appearing in the same story. Neither had made it in the Forties, due to their lack of overall popularity (or powers) and it was the same story now. Terrific was, of course, killed off in 1977 and though Wildcat’s popularity has gone on to increase exponentially, most of this development occurred post-Crisis: here, the Big Cat was not seen after 1975.
Then there’s the Spectre. The problem with the Spectre was that, by the time he was brought into his first team-up, the Julius Schwartz/Gardner Fox/Murphy Anderson revival of the character had re-purposed him as a being of almost infinite power, far stronger than all the Society and the League added together. As such, it was all but impossible to use him in a story without bending it out of shape. He worked well in the 1966 story, thanks to its (eventual) cosmic scope, but Spec’s situation was at right angles to everyone else, and when he was used again in 1970, it was as simultaneous deus ex machina and sacrifice, being ‘killed off’.
His only other appearance, as an even more bizarre ‘god in the machine’, came at a time when, like Black Canary, he had gone Earth-1, and simply further demonstrated how impossible it was to use him.
Which leave us with the two remaining founder members, the Atom and the Sandman. Now I mentioned in earlier essays that Wesley Dodds was clearly a favourite of Len Wein, who used him in all three of his stories, but it’s not until you look at the statistics that it becomes evident just how much of an anomaly this is. Sandman reappeared, ‘late’, in 1966. Wein was the only other writer to use him, and after that, Sandman was never seen again: not since 1974.
But it was the case of the Earth-2 Atom that surprised me the most, for he, like The Spectre, appeared in only three team-ups, in 1963, 1965 and 1971. It’s true that the Atom, in the Forties, was never an outstanding character: his creators could barely draw, the writing was juvenile, he was never inspiring, and his Silver Age counterpart was, like Hawkman, struggling for sales, but the Golden Age Atom had racked up more All-Star appearances than anyone except Hawkman, and he was radically different, powers and costume-wise, to Ray Palmer, so why was he abandoned so very far back, not even granted the occasional nostalgic outing?
I don’t know the answer, but I think that the fact I never noticed his absence until creating this table  may underline the impact the bigger Tiny Titan had on the Silver Age readership.
Lastly then, for this section, we have the latecomers. Robin and the Red Tornado were added in successive team-ups by Gardner Fox, and going on to make five and four appearances respectively. The Tornado missed only one of the five adventures for which he was eligible so, like Black Canary, we can assume that figure would have gone up if he hadn’t been transferred to the JLA. Then again, he wasn’t heavily featured on the League’s side in later years, so perhaps that’s an unwarranted assumption.
Robin, however, just doesn’t seem to have taken, not even after he appeared in the All-Star revival. After the big fuss of him being the JSA’s first new member in almost two decades, he immediately disappears for four years, and after teaming up with his Batman in 1976, he was forgotten completely. Here I think the reason is simple: the character’s real name is …and Robin. Remember that it took giving Dick Grayson a brand-new identity on Earth-1 to even begin to remove him from Batman’s shadow. Robin is a subordinate character, by nature not as good as Batman.
The Star-Spangled Kid was also an intrinsic part of the All-Star revival, though he was handicapped by being portrayed as a whiny, self-entitled brat. He was eligible for two team-ups and appeared in one, putting him level with Batman. Then, just as the JSA forgot him, so did the team-ups.
Which leaves us with the Earth-2 Supergirl and Batgirl, Power Girl and the Huntress. These were a fascinating pair with a very relaxed and natural affinity and it’s perhaps my most serious regret about Crisis on Infinite Earths that it destroyed this pair, by making them impossible to exist as they were. Both made five appearances, four of them together, between 1977 and 1983, and would undoubtedly have been mainstays for years had things turned out otherwise.
Way back in 1963, in their first meeting since the Golden Age, Doctor Fate announced on behalf of the Justice Society that their revised by-laws stipulated a rotating membership of seven. Which, as I observed much earlier, was abandoned as early as the second team-up.
Looking at the rosters, that magical number of seven was only reached on three more occasions, the last of these in 1979 (ironically, the extra number was made up by Mr Terrific deceased). On three occasions, the Justice Society turned out more members for the team-ups (these three rosters occurring in a four year period from 1968 – 1972), which means that over two-thirds of the time, the JSA failed to reach its stipulated quorum.
Bearing in mind that, throughout the period these team-ups cover, the Justice Society had fifteen to seventeen members to call upon, and that, with the exception of the period from 1976 – 1979, they had no other outlet, it seems to fly in the face of the spirit of these meetings that the heroes of the Golden Age should be seen in limited numbers.
This is partly explained by the fact that, from 1972 onwards, the annual team-up involved some third force, making demands upon valuable space and attention, but this only emphasises the growing unimportance of this tradition as time went by.
The Society’s biggest line-up appeared, unsurprisingly, in Len Wein’s tenth anniversary spectacular, when twelve of the available seventeen were in on the action, but it’s interesting to note that the other two occasions when an extended line-up was in play were Denny O’Neill’s two efforts, in 1969 and 1970, and this in spite of O’Neill’s obvious discomfort with cosmic stories. O’Neill used eight JSAers in 1969. The following year is a confusing story, as every JSA member except the recently inducted Robin appears at JSA HQ in the first half, including the previously unseen Earth-2 Batman, but by my measure of only accepting those who play some active part in this, I count an active line-up totalling ten.
At the opposite extreme, the Society’s lowest representation was three members, ironically in 1973, the year after their largest roster. This was Len Wein’s Earth-X story, with six ‘new’ heroes to introduce and form the centre of the story. If, after handling 33 heroes the previous year, Wein felt the need for a much-less cluttered story, it’s hard not to be sympathetic.
In general, however, the Justice Society would bring four to six members to each meeting, although as the years wound on, even a sextet was too many.
Returning to that first line-up, I commented that the Society’s ‘lot’ selected six of the eight founding members, plus Black Canary, who had never worked with Dr Fate or Hourman before. Before she left for Earth-1, the Canary did get the chance to work with not only the two other founders, Sandman and The Spectre, but also Wildcat. Discounting Superman and Batman as honorary members only, the only JSAers the Canary didn’t work alongside were Wonder Woman and Mr Terrific.
And given that, between them, founder members The Atom, Sandman and Spectre mustered only ten appearances in total, it’s not surprising that this was the highest concentration of founders in the series.
At the opposite extreme, in recognition of the importance of the founding eight (ok, of five of them), or at least their greater popularity, there was only one adventure not to feature any founding members at all, Gerry Conway’s first effort in 1978, involving the heroes of the past, Indeed, only two of the four JSAers in action that year had even been Golden Age members, with the senior role undertaken by Dr. Mid-Nite.
Returning to the subject of paired appearances, it’s nice to note that the traditional friendship between Flashes and Green Lanterns was maintained by the JSA originals appearing together no less than seven times, and that on five of those occasions, Hawkman was also on board. At the opposite end of the scale, Mr Terrific and Wildcat, who guested in the same issue of All-Star, shared two of their four appearances in the same line-up.
And Doctor Fate and Hourman, who were linked in two try-out editions of Showcase, worked together four times in the first decade, but then clearly had a falling-out and didn’t appear together once after that.
Given that the Spectre’s Silver Age revival in Showcase was, apparently, intended to be a team-up with Dr Mid-Nite, it’s nice to see this echoed in phantom form by the Doc being present for two the the Ghostly Guardian’s appearances.
At this remove, there’s no practical way of determining how the Justice Society members were chosen for each story, except for the Fox/Schwartz era, when such tales were new, fresh and exciting, and the appeal of nostalgia was cleverly deployed. Once this period is gone, there seems to be no pattern: Doctor Fate was clearly incredibly popular, but no-one wanted to use The Atom or (except Len Wein) The Sandman.
But what explains the oddity of the 1977 JSA line-up of Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Doctor Fate and Power Girl being repeated in its entirety only two years later, with the additions of Mr Terrific and the Huntress?
Given the changes in writers, artists and even editors down the years, it’s not as if the John Tracy explanation might apply. For those unfamiliar with Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds, John was the middle Tracy son, assigned to Thunderbird 5, the space station. Though in theory he and Alan Tracy alternated duty, month-in, month-out, with John taking over Thunderbird 3 when at home, in practice International Rescue’s adventures only ever took place when John was on duty upstairs.
Indeed, John Tracy only ever played an active part in one of Thunderbirds’ 32 episodes, and that as auxiliary crew on Thunderbird 2. And the reason for that was that, every time someone suggested spinning things a little to involve John, Anderson would veto it, saying to leave him up in Thunderbird 5, because he was boring!
The Spectre was too powerful to be a team-player, the non-super-powered heroes perhaps too weak (but Batman?) and The Sandman maybe stood out too much for dressing formally when everyone else was in their underwear. But such patterns as there appear to be have little by way of conscious logic to explain them. The Justice Society of America lived by such things for a quarter century.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1970


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.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier – 1969


Justice League of America 73, “Star Light, Star Bright – Death Star I See Tonight!”/Justice League of America 74, “Where Death Fears to Tread!” Written by Denny O’Neil, art by Dick Dillin (pencils) and Sid Greene (inks), edited by Julius Schwarz.

Having concluded their case in Justice League of America 72, the JLA finally make time to listen to the Red Tornado (who turned up on Earth-1 the previous issue).
The Tornado’s story is of an attack on Earth-2 by an evil, living, thinking group of stars calling itself Aquarius. The living star was one of a group of twelve many eons ago, but was expelled due to its evil, and condemned to wander in a diminished state.
Finally, Aquarius came into sight of Earth-2, where Ted Knight observed it as an anomaly, through his personal observatory. Changing to Starman, Knight went into the heavens to challenge the potential menace, but Aquarius managed to seize the Cosmic Rod, and use it to give himself a humanoid body, and amplify his powers.
Starman fell to earth, badly injured, alerting his house guests, Larry and Dinah Lance. Dinah changed into her Black Canary costume to investigate what had done this to Starman, but found herself being ambushed by her hypnotised husband, to whom she gave a judo-toss.
Aquarius revealed himself himself, mockingly, and Black Canary signalled the JSA, bringing Doctor Fate, Green Lantern, Dr Mid-Nite, Superman and the Red Tornado to the scene.
En route, some of the heroes had to stop to deal with menaces responding to the power Aquarius was bringing to bear on the Earth. Green Lantern battles two neon sign ancient warriors, Dr Mid-Nite has to tackle a raging four year old with super-strength, and Doctor Fate faces up to some mystically charged weather. Thankfully, the kid is quickly restored to (bratty) normal.
Superman and Wonder Woman arrive late to the fray, having been held up by similar, unspecified, distractions. Aquarius explains itself in an emotional manner, fluctuates between anger and self-pity, bombast and tears. But when it comes to a fight, he is a match for the JSA. Their resistance infuriates him, and he uses the Cosmic Rod enhanced powers to destroy Earth-2, to sweep it away entirely.
All that remains are the half dozen JSA members, plus Larry Lance. At the last moment, Doctor Fate did two things. One was to encase them in a protective bubble, resistant to Aquarius’s powers. Though he rages outside, they live in the bubble, and whist they live Earth-2 is retained in their memories.
The other was to send Red Tornado to Earth-1 for help from the Justice League. That was thirteen days ago.
Aghast at their selfishness, the Justice League immediately promise their aid.
End of part 1.


With the Red Tornado to guide them, the Justice League head into space, towards the crossing point to Earth-2. As they near it, they pass the entrance to the Anti-Matter Universe, a place of great danger.
Ahead of them, Aquarius is growing frustrated at his inability to penetrate Doctor Fate’s bubble. Inside, Fate is reaching the limits of his powers, which have kept everyone alive without air, food or drink, for nearly a fortnight.
The appearance of the Justice League confuses Aquarius. He retreats to take stock, but leaves a secret command behind. Thus, when Doctor Fate, with a sigh of great relief, dissolves the bubble, everyone is affected by the post-hypnotic command to attack the newcomers as enemies. So, when Superman approaches Superman for the first time, expecting to have so many things in common, he is punched in the face and a battle begins.
The two Superman battle as equals. Green Lantern easily captures his counterpart, whose ring is out of power, and sends beams in search of Aquarius. Flash and Atom defeat Doctor Fate. Fate’s magic accidentally ties up Wonder Woman. Batman knocks out Dr Mid-Nite. All the League find it easy to overcome weakened puppets, except for Green Arrow. He pins Black Canary down with his new ‘stickum-shaft’, showering her with sticky threads, but is knocked out from behind by Larry Lance, who takes his bow and aims a non-gimmick, razor sharp arrow at him.
Meanwhile, Green Lantern’s beams have found Aquarius. He uses the Cosmic Rod to repel them, send them back as a lethal ball of multi-coloured energy. But his control over the Cosmic Rod is not as good as he thinks and the bubble wobbles towards the nearest person, the trapped Black Canary.
At the sight of his wife in danger, Larry Lance wars with the hypnotic commands to kill Green Arrow. He frees himself and throws himself into the path of the ball. It explodes, killing him.
The explosion breaks the Justice Society’s conditioning. With their release, Earth-2 is brought back, its occupants unaware that they had ceased to exist for 13 days. But as one world is restored, another, private world has ended: Black Canary’s husband is dead.
Her Green Lantern tries to comfort her, to promise that they would get Aquarius, but the Canary pushes him away, she doesn’t care. Bitterly, Green Lantern tells his counterpart that, instead of all the glory and prestige, that is what they are there for: to prevent things like that from happening.
A funeral is arranged by the heroes. It is gatecrashed by Aquarius, mocking and laughing. Wonder Woman stays behind to take care of the Canary, and the Red Tornado is warned to stay behind too. Everybody else heads off in hot pursuit towards the cross-over point to Earth-1. Doctor Fate warns that letting Aquarius bring Earth-2 magic into Earth-1’s Universe could destroy everything.
In the corridor between Universes, they are halted by a barrier created by Aquarius. The two Lanterns struggle through, but their team-mates are held in suspension. They turn their attention to Aquarius, hurling abuse at him, calling him names. The unstable star turns to attack them and they slip through the gap into the Anti-Matter Universe. Their rings protect them, but not Aquarius, Whilst they flee to safety, he is destroyed dramatically by the contact.
Larry has been avenged, but that is not enough for Black Canary: Earth-2 holds too many memories for her. She asks Superman to take her to Earth-1, where she can establish a new life for herself.
* * * * *
Suddenly, they were all gone. Sachs retired, Sekowsky elevated to editorship, Fox cut loose after nearly thirty years because his style of writing was no longer in fashion, and because DC had finally, fitfully, clumsily woken up to the fact that Marvel’s approach had somehow to be absorbed, imitated, applied to characters who had never before been imagined in that fashion.
Denny O’Neil had taken over Justice League of America the previous year, immediately after the previous JLA/JSA team-up. Like Dick Dillin, his arrival was a consequence of Carmine Infantino’s elevation to Editorial Director. Infantino promoted artists to editors, not just from within. He had head-hunted Dick Giordano, who’d been responsible for some fresh and vital titles and characters at lowly Charlton Comics, and who’d introduced some new, young writers and artists into the business, people whose only access at DC would have been by guided tour.
O’Neil, who wrote under the preposterous pseudonym Sergius O’Shaughnessy, was at the front of these. He was brought over by Giordano (whose term as editor only lasted a couple of years, conditions for change being not as flexible as he’d been led to believe) but he quickly became Julius Schwarz’s ‘go-to’ guy for change. With Neal Adams, O’Neil helmed the transformation of Batman back into the terrifying creature of the night he’d originally been, and with the same artist, he transformed Green Lantern by pairing him with Green Arrow and leading him through dark-tinged, street level adventures set against the real background of America at the turn of the decade.
And under Schwarz, he was brought in to transform the Justice League, to lead it away from Fox’s hyper-busy plots and functional dialogue that could be mouthed by anyone, interchangeably.
The problem was that O’Neil had never seen himself as a writer of superheroes. He’d grown up intent upon a career as a reporter, working the crime beat, in the tradition of fearless crime-reporters: hard-boiled, hard-living, hard-drinking. Though he would go on to be one of the foremost writers and editors of comic books, at DC and Marvel, over the next four decades, at this end of his career O’Neil was still close to his hard-boiled roots. He found it hard to take the more fantastic elements of superheroes seriously: the urge to satirise lurked close to the surface.
Unfortunately, despite O’Neil’s ability as a writer, his two attempts at Justice Society team-ups are amongst the weakest published. I’m sorry to say that the next one was even worse than this, and this one was dull.
I do, however, have a sentimental attachment for the second half of this story, which I did not find until August 1970, over a year after its original publication. It was one of the last few handfuls of comics I bought in those dying months of growing out of them, and I spent ages wondering about the first half of the story, which I did not read until several years later.
There’s the germ of a decent story in the concept of a living star, and O’Neil deserves credit in being the first to write the annual team-up around a genuine earth-shattering threat, as opposed to super-sized hero vs crooks whose primary purpose is to rob. The story was irretrievably lost, however, from the moment that O’Neil decided to portray Aquarius (we are so in 1969 here) as a manic depressive of galactic proportions.
It’s compounded by the fact that Dillin chooses to paint Aquarius with the same broad brush strokes as O’Neil, at least in the first part of the story. Squat, grotesque, cartoonish, ugly in the sense that he looks like an amateur’s idea of a villain, Aquarius is impossible to take seriously.
And, as a subsequent letter column pointed out, nothing happens. I appreciate that the idea was to abandon Fox’s plot-centric approach, but O’Neil handles the action aspect of his story with great clumsiness. Starman falls through a skylight, Black Canary judo-tosses her husband, Superman and Wonder Woman get rapidly beaten down by Aquarius and the rest of the assembled Society makes a full-page charge into the action, only for Aquarius to dissolve Earth-2 into non-existence.
Actually, to be fair, that’s not the only action. There are the odd battles that five JSAers, rushing to the rescue, are forced into having, including Dr Mid-Nite’s utterly embarrassing face-off (or should that be navel-off?) with a snotty four year old. Which, incidentally, is down to Schwarz’s long-running approach of having covers drawn depicting exciting and vivid scenes for writers then to incorporate into stories hopefully inspired by the concept: sometimes, as here, the only way to shoehorn the cover in was as a complete irrelevancy.
These little battles are filler, pure and simple, and badly organised and sloppily conceived filler too, since there are five JSAers racing to the scene but two of them get to get there without their hold-ups being seen or even defined in any way.
There’s an equally sloppy approach in the second part. O’Neil’s followed the format of the last couple of years in allowing the Justice Society almost a free run in the first half, but this is definitely back to the bad old days as the Justice League come steaming in like the cavalry.
There’s a major incongruity right at the start. It’s been established from the start of the Multiverse that Earths-1 and -2 occupy the same physical position in space, but by vibrating at different rates, are invisible and intangible to each other. The physical crossover from one to another has been by some form of retuning of vibrational rates, usually glossed over by the use of magic by Doctor Fate or Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt.
Now it’s apparently shot off somewhere into space, outside the Earth’s atmosphere, to become a physical transition point: a wormhole in space leading between Universes. The term had been around since 1957 but it hadn’t entered public consciousness by 1969.
The ‘action’ in the second half consists of the short battle between the League and the hypnotised Society, which is not only one-sided, but sloppily executed. O’Neil has Batman big up Dr Mid-Nite as his closest equivalent in the Justice Society – apart from, maybe, Robin the Grown-Up Wonder or, like, possibly Batman? – and then proceeds to floor him with one punch, whilst Hawkman’s presence in this story is a complete puzzle: he’s there, you occasionally see him in panels, but he speaks not, nor does he wave an ancient weapon, not even in his section of the battle, against Wonder Woman, since she gets taken out by friendly (magical) fire.
But the true point of this story, and the only place in which it comes alive, with horrible irony, is in Larry Lance’s death. Remember that death, of actual, named, recurring characters, was exceedingly rare in 1969, and even that of such a minor character as Lance packed an emotional charge far beyond any possible today.
Lance died a hero, sacrificing himself against the constraints of his own physical weakness and Aquarius’ hypnotic commands, to save his wife from death. But it’s not in that moment that O’Neil gave his readers pause but in what followed: Black Canary’s slow, fearful, three-panel approach to her husband’s body, in which the urgent wish to believe it hasn’t happened is incarnated in Dillin’s every line, her utter rejection of all thoughts of justice or revenge, her complete lack of care about anything but the enormity of what has happened, the Earth-2 Green Lantern’s internally directed bitterness at the cost of failure in what they do, the ‘job’ stripped down beyond the trappings to the bedrock duty to keep what has happened to Dinah Lance from happening.
It’s a determination that fuels the ending. The Green Lanterns escape the trap that captures everyone else, but Alan Scott refuses to rescue their colleagues. A duty has settled upon him, one that he’ll trust to his counterpart to share, but in an unstated manner this has become personal between him and Aquarius. And the two are oddly dispassionate about what they know is a killing mission: Aquarius is not to be allowed to live.
This thin line of genuine emotion carries and sustains the issue to its end.
Although that end is both risible and disturbing. Already in his term as JLA scripter, O’Neil had presided over the League losing two members for the first time. Wonder Woman had lost her powers under Sekowsky, and resigned, whilst J’Onn J’Onzz had been written out as an old-fashioned, outmoded, no longer relevant character, sent off is moving fashion, but consigned to limbo all the same (all together now: There Is No Such Thing As A Bad Character).
This left the JLA short-handed, especially in the distaff branch. The two most prominent Earth-1 heroines after Wonder Woman were Hawkgirl and Batgirl, and they couldn’t possibly be considered League members, being merely weak, female impersonations of the ‘real’ characters. The only viable option, it seemed, was to dust off Black Canary and move her over to the big Earth.
It’s a decidedly ignoble reason for killing off Larry Lance, just to get Black Canary to announce she wants to go to Earth-1 now, please, to run irretrievably away from the memories of her love, her parents, her friends, everybody she’s ever known. It’s a classic case of trauma, of making decisions when the mind is disturbed and shrinking from an unwelcome situation.
In short, it’s unhealthy as you can think, and what does Suiperman say? Just jump up into my arms, little lady, and let’s be off.
I mean, bloody hell, has she no family at all? Has Larry no family that mourn him? (If he did, not one of them got invited to the superhero funeral. And no religion, it might appear, since one of the Supermen officiated, instead of any minister). Doesn’t she want to take any clothes with her (any civilian clothes, I mean)? Any personal possessions? Cosmetics? Spare fishnets? Clean knickers? (Ladies, I am led to believe, set great store by such things). Absolutely nothing.
One thing we can’t ignore is that, after several years of ignoring the question, Schwarz finally decides to include the Golden Age Superman in the Justice Society’s line-up. How much of this was due to the potential confusion between two characters who were functionally identical (Superman never ceased publication, and there is no ‘official’ demarcation point where his several series stopped featuring the Golden Age version and started featuring the Silver Age one), and how much was down to the baleful influence of Superman’s editor Mort Weisinger, who resented Schwarz featuring the Earth-1 version in the JLA can’t be known.
But Weisinger’s star was entering a decline now, and so Superman of Earth-2 re-emerged from whatever limbo he occupied, especially to fight his Earth-1 counterpart, a fight between two equally matched versions that ends in stalemate and mutual knock-out. Latter-day readers will be surprised to see that the two Superman are identical: no simplified S-shield, no signs of aging, no grey temples, nothing to distinguish between the two at all.
Given that throughout the whole Sixties, the point of the Justice Society was that they were older, that they had come out of retirement, that they had a history, this approach was incongruous, but O’Neil would return to it, at greater length, the following year.
As for post-Crisis validity thankfully there is none.

Green Arrow – No such thing as a bad character: Part 2 – Three Comics


There’s no such thing as a bad character.
People who don’t read mainstream comics on a regular basis don’t understand how utterly malleable the characters are, although a comparison between the Adam West Batman of the Sixties and the Christian Bale Batman of the Noughties should open some eyes. It’s down to the fact that the companies own the characters. No-one, especially not their creator, has any effective control over them – as witness the manner in which Jerry Seigel and Joe Schuster were forced off Superman by an editor who persuaded management that only he knew how to handle the Man of Steel. Anybody, literally anybody, can write a character: as long as they are not already being successfully sold, they are available to anybody who has an idea for the use of them.
The classic example was the transformation of the Swamp Thing by Northampton born, bred and based Alan Moore, in his first series for American comics. Moore took over a somewhat moribund, clichéd character whose uninspired adventures were heading towards cancellation, and literally reversed the character’s story and origin, transforming Swampy into something utterly new, fresh, inspired and full of potential.
In slightly less deliberate form, this was what happened to Green Arrow at the beginning of the Seventies. It was down to two people and three comics. The people responsible for making the Emerald Archer interesting for the first time were writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams, and this was achieved through The Brave & The Bold 85 (August/September 1969), Justice League of America 75 (November 1969) and Green Lantern 76 (May 1970).

The first of these, The Brave & The Bold 85, was drawn by Adams, but was written by the veteran writer Bob Haney, and was surprisingly produced under the editorship of Murray Boltinoff, a very conservative figure with almost a terror of doing new things. The title had been through several phases since the mid-Fifties but, since issue 74, had been a Batman book, featuring team-ups between the Caped Crusader and a different guest star every issue.
Adams had already begun using the series as a way of changing the look of Batman, moving the character away from the camp and bloodless daytime version of the Sixties towards a sleeker, darker version that hewed closer to the roots of the character. In 85’s “The Senator’s Been Shot!”, Adams produced a new and radically different costume for the Emerald Archer.
Gone was the plain tunic and the dull hat. The new version was much slicker (it was Adams, of course it was slick) and vivid. There was still a hat, but it tapered towards the forehead. There was an undertunic with a loose-folded neck, topped by a laced jerkin, bare arms with leather bands, slick pants, leather boots. It was vivid, it was interesting, and it came with a blond moustache and goatee beard.
That was the most striking element. Remember that this was a time of massive social and cultural upheaval, and that beards and moustaches were very much the symbol of the young, the disaffected, the ‘scruffy, dirty’ hippies. It was a visual move immediately creating associations Green Arrow had yet to display, associations that would arise naturally from the sympathies and concerns of the new, younger generations of artists and writers just beginning to enter the comic book industry and displace the veterans of the Forties.
It also Oliver Queen’s secret identity wide-open, especially given the very tiny domino mask he sported, but like Clark Kent and his glasses, the bowman got away with it.
The story itself was no great shakes. Millionaires Bruce Wayne and Oliver Queen attend a fundraiser at which the beneficiary, Senator Cathcart, is gunned down. The Governor asks Bruce Wayne to fill his place in Congress to see Cathcart’s anti-crime bill passed. Concerned about which of his identities is more important, Wayne confides in a psychiatrist (who happens to be the Senator’s son).
At the very same time, Oliver Queen is experiencing an identity crisis, and consults the same psychiatrist about the same issue. Unrealistically, the guy concentrates his efforts on trying to help his patients quickly instead of mentally tallying the decades of fees he’s about to earn from two such extremely disturbed individuals. The two heroes team-up to bring in the would-be assassin, Wayne fills in until Cathcart recovers. Notably, along the way Queen relies on skill and accuracy, and not on gimmick arrows.


The bigger change was to come in Justice League of America 75, though first we had to see GA in issue 74 where, confusingly, he is back in his old tunic, clean-shaven, and still carrying a quiver of trick arrows. This is understandable given that this issue is not merely the second half of the annual JSA team-up, but also a direct continuation from the much earlier issue 72.
It’s to writer O’Neil we turn for the next stage of the revision. O’Neil had replaced Gardner Fox on the JLA with issue 66, and and been engaged in shaking off the stodge and trying to develop something with some relevance to the problems of the time. Julius Schwarz had installed him to change things, whilst Dick Dillin, himself new as at issue 64, was the penciller.
The story, which continues on from JLA 74, is co-narrated by Green Arrow and Black Canary, the former Justice Society character, as two people whose lives have suddenly been uprooted and who are seeking new paths, or, to put it in a bit more practical fashion, haven’t got a home to go to. The juxtaposition was a foreshadowing of a pairing that, on-off, on-off, has lasted until the end of DC’s pre-New 52 Universe.
The Canary is alone because, in the previous story, her husband Larry Lance died, saving her, and she’s asked to be brought from Earth-2 to Earth-1 to escape memories of him (and also to fill the role of token female member of the JLA following Wonder Woman losing her powers and stepping down). Green Arrow is alone because a crooked businessman named John Deleon has forged documents ‘proving’ that Oliver Queen has fraudulently manipulated municipal bonds, causing Ollie to lose his fortune.
The story itself featured the various JLAers being confronted by mysterious green duplicates of themselves, vicious, destructive, free from conscience, each representing the uncontrolled and selfish parts of their personalities. The Leaguers have to overcome their evil sides to win, which, given Green Arrow’s identity crisis, leads to his giving in to his duplicate’s claims that Ollie never was a crime-fighter, just an attention seeking thrill-hunter who wanted to feel good.
Fortunately for all concerned, this scene takes place in front of a jewellery store looted by the duplicate, and owned by an elderly couple of self-effacing, scraping along, hand-wringing citizens, whose pathetically brave acceptance of the fact that they are not worthy of attention from such an important person as Green Arrow passively-aggressively guilt-trips Ollie into being what he must, i.e., a superhero who defends the weak from predators (good intentions were not being portrayed subtly in 1969).
After having his look transformed, Green Arrow now had his personality transformed (if you can call the establishment of one after nearly thirty years to be a ‘transformation’).
O’Neil would continue to feature Green Arrow and his new, loud, social crusader personality in almost every issue of Justice League of America after that. The old GA, sans beard, sans new costume would make a cameo appearance in World’s Finest 189 (also November 1969, but clearly out of chronological order), but it was not until O’Neil and Adams came together as the new creative team on Green Lantern that the butterfly truly emerged from its cocoon.


Beyond their shared viridescent names, there seemed to be nothing in common between Green Lantern – wielder of a ‘magic’ ring controlled by his thoughts that could do pretty much anything – and Green Arrow – a guy who shot arrows. But this was part of the point of the pairing. It was just as much a radical re-examination of Hal Jordan, the inter-galactic cop, the straight arrow (sorry) beholden to alien lawmakers, as it was of the new Ollie Queen, the socially conscious, radical, indeed anarchist, concerned with moral as opposed to legal justice.
The pair clashed immediately in an infamous manner: Green Lantern, returning from attending upon his bosses, the Guardians of the Universe, drops in on Star City to visit his close friend, Oliver Queen. He finds a mini-riot going on, a dozen or more angry young black men (this was an era when it was impossible to find a black man at DC who didn’t have the adjective ‘angry’ spot-welded to his description) hurling garbage at an older, lone, well-dressed white man. GL automatically shields the law-abiding citizen, only to find garbage being thrown at him by Green Arrow.
GL is shocked to find GA defending such obvious crooks, but GA lets him in on some not-so-obvious information. The white guy is the Landlord of the building, the blacks are tenants, and this is a slum. When GL is taken inside, he (and the reader) gets an eyeful of just how ill-maintained, dirty, disease-ridden and rackety these people’s accommodation is, because the Landlord is ripping them off. Just as GL’s world-view is rocking, slightly, along comes an elderly black man with a question that will crack the Man Without Fear in two: he’s heard how Green Lantern works for the blue skins, and he does a lot for the white skins, and on some planet or other he helped the orange skins and the purple skins, but could GL tell him why he’s never done nothing for the black skins?
That moment, which is a false but, in the context of the times, unavoidable question, sets in motion a landmark series, as O’Neil Adams as the pair were known) took the two heroes on a roller-coaster, Easy Rider kind of ride to discover the real America, continually forcing the chosen issues of the times through the debate between the conservative, law-oriented Lantern and the volatile, liberal, prepared to take the law into his own hands Arrow.
The two even argued about music, with Ollie taking a shine to ear-bleeding rock music, and Hal staying loyal to the Dixieland jazz his creator John Broome favoured.
Although the duo shared logos on the cover, the comic still remained Green Lantern officially. It made noise, it made waves, but it didn’t make sales increase, especially not when Adams began to display the first signs of a preference for completing his art to his satisfaction rather than to deadline. Superheroics returned to the forefront quite quickly, though seen through the prism of the O’Neil Adams-led Age of Relevance. Black Canary became almost a third star of the series, slipping into the foreshadowed role of girlfriend to GA, whilst maintaining her status as an independent, strong-minded female, of course.
The most notorious issues of the series saw the first return of Green Arrow’s sidekick, Roy Harper, in issues 85-86, but not as Speedy. This time the issue was drugs, and Roy turned out to have become a heroin addict, largely as a consequence (he claimed) of being abandoned by Ollie. He also developed the superpower of going cold turkey in a single page, under the anxious eye of the Canary, but the story was still notable for being the first time DC defied the Comics Code Authority and went out without the Seal (as had Marvel, a year earlier: together, the two stories forced the CCA to re-write the Code to permit reference to drugs-taking – as long as it was in the cause of pointing out that it was A Very Bad Thing).
And then Adams did blow the deadline, forcing Green Lantern 88 to go reprint. The delayed story went into issue 89, but the sales had tanked too much, and the series was abruptly cancelled. One final, completed story, which would be a landmark issue for Green Arrow over twenty years later, was chopped into three and run as a back-up in The Flash, but that was it.
The transformation had worked artistically, but not commercially. When the Green Lantern series resumed as an ongoing back-up in The Flash, it did so with the Lantern only. For the time being, Green Arrow went back to back-ups, alternating every issue of Action, and to featuring with the Justice League. At least he got to turn up a bit more often now.