The Doctor is In(consistent): The Modern Magic of Doctor Fate

Martin Pasko and Walt Simonson did more than just produce a superb story in First Issue Special 9, they turned Dr Fate into a viable modern-day character. Though it took DC until the Eighties before they began to take Fate’s possibilities seriously, there were multiple attempts during that decade to turn the master magician, the Lord of Order, into a viable feature.
Pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths there was a back-up feature in The Flash for eight issues, later collected in a prestige format mini-series together with the Pasko/Simonson story, then post-Crisis a four issue mini-series that killed off Kent and Inza Nelson and introduced a new Dr Fate, an ongoing series of forty-one issues, the longest run Fate had after More Fun Comics, which was effectively two series stapled together, the first (of twenty-four issues) featuring Eric and Linda Strauss, the second (seventeen issues), bringing back Kent and Inza Nelson.
All of this was separate from Dr Fate’s regular gig in the Justice League/Justice Society team-ups, where he was the most frequent participant from the JSA, and his involvement in the team’s second life in All-Star Comics and Adventure Comics.
If you’re thinking that all of this could easily turn out a mish-mash, you’re not far wrong. I have all these solo issues on DVD now, together with a much later solo mini-series which has very little relationship to these efforts to establish the character, which I’ll precis at the end.
For now, let’s look at how Fate fared in the back of The Flash in 1983.

DF - backup

There were two stories in this run, each of four instalments, the first written by Pasko, building on the factors he’d set up in First Issue Special – Fate’s connection to the Egyptian Gods, Kent Nelson’s position as host for Fate and Inza’s continuing inability to reconcile herself to the need to share her husband with something she couldn’t understand and her loneliness when Fate is away on missions – and the second was written by Steve Gerber, with Pasko, which expanded the story in the direction that was later to be taken with the character.
The episodes were all drawn by Keith Giffen, with inks from Larry Mahlstedt, in the clean, open, neo-futurist style he’d used on the Legion of Superheroes, which had brought him great acclaim. Giffen drew fantastic scenes and made superb use of colour overlays to add a psychedelic aspect to his art.
The second story picked up on a thread introduced by way of foreshadowing by Pasko. This was museum director Vernon Copeland, a handsome man in his (probably) fifties, with distinguished white hair at his temples. Copeland is new at his job, with an affinity for women his own age that leads him to brush off the flirting directed at him by his sexy secretary.
Vern wants to get Kent Nelson, noted archaeologist, to contribute to the museum, but in the only photo he has, Kent is almost completely obscured by Inza, who Vern thinks is absolutely hot.
Which is unfortunate because, when Vern calls in the Gerber/Pasko story, Kent is off being Dr Fate and Inza answers the phone. When Vern hears she was on the relevant dig with Kent, he enthusiastically invites her to lunch. He thinks she’s even hotter in person, whilst Inza not only enjoys flexing her own archaeological muscles, she finds Vern rather dishy. Some of that is a response to the obvious way that he’s into her, but an equal part of it is that he looks like Kent would, if Fate had allowed him to age to his real age. Suddenly, they’re kissing. At the very moment that Fate, reaching out to Inza, connects with her and sees. At least it’s Fate, not Kent. So far.
Of course, the whole thing is a plot to destroy Dr Fate by driving a wedge between Kent and Inza, until the former refuses to transform again. Fate is faced with two renegade Lords, one of Order, the other of Chaos, allied for their own ends. His only recourse is to draw Inza herself into the merge, giving him the power to defeat his foes, her her first insight to what it’s really like to be the Lord of Order, and both a true understanding of the gulf between their separate situations.
Where Pasko or Gerber would have gone with that, and with Vern Copeland, who’d already tried to separate Inza from Kent deliberately, claiming he didn’t deserve her if he neglected her, still set on pursuing our red-headed lady was not to be known. The back-ups ceased, Vern Copeland was forgotten, and the next time DC tried to activate Dr Fate, Crisis on Infinite Earths was over, and more than one superhero was undergoing change.

DF - mini

The path had been laid for the character’s most extraordinary transformation. Inza Nelson had been allowed, for a couple of pages, to share the transformation into Dr Fate and it was this aspect that J M de Matteis picked up on with a four-issue mini-series out to create a new Dr Fate. Art was by Giffen again, but this was the other Giffen, the one who’d rejected his clean, well-structured art for something fractured, angular and distorted, as influenced by the Argentinian artist, Jose Munoz.
I bought the mini-series at the time but didn’t enjoy it. Some of it was that it took away Kent Nelson, who’d been Dr Fate all the time I’d known him, a lot was down to Giffen’s art but as much of it was de Matteis’ construction of a new structural underpinning.
de Matteis was always into stories with a spiritual underpinning, drawn from Eastern philosophies rather than Western mythology, to which I always respond more instinctively. Building on the fact that Dr Fate, or rather Nabu, was now established as a Lord of Order, part of the eternal struggle between Order and Chaos that everyone ripped off from Michael Moorcock, de Matteis now introduced the idea that Earth cycles through four cosmic cycles, starting with an era of pure Order, passing through two ages of increasing Chaos influence and ultimately putting us now firmly in the fourth of these cycles, the Kali Yuga, the age of pure Chaos.
So, despite the battle between Order and Chaos having gone on for over half a million years Order has decided not to bother for the Kali Yuga. Why should they raise a mystical finger when all they need to is go for an extended tea-break and come back when it’s their turn again?
This defeatist attitude riles Nabu/Fate, who is the descended one because he was sent down to Earth to fight against Chaos and won’t give up now. As a result, he’s kicked out of Order and, effectively, defrocked. The fight is his own. And he’s handicapped.
Because Inza is dead. Later, it will be ascribed to suicide, to knowledge of the discovery that will not be made until the last issue of this mini-series but for now it’s fudged, it could just as easily be natural causes, despite Nabu’s spells that keep both Nelsons young. Either way, Kent has aged considerably (no, he doesn’t look like Vern Copeland, Vern is completely forgotten) and is only hanging around to assist Nabu in selecting a new Dr Fate. Nabu at this point is a wide-open mouth in Nelson’s stomach, with lots of predatory teeth, which is a sight you don’t want to see.
The choice falls upon Eric Strauss. The pattern is going to be the same. Eric is only ten years old but he’s going to be accelerated to manhood, exactly like Nelson. Only he’s not like Nelson in almost every way you could probably imagine. His Dad, who’s dead, was a big-time gangster. He’s being brought up by his stepmother, Linda Strauss, a somewhat skinny short-haired blonde, though you can tell very little from how Giffen draws her.
The relationship between Eric and Linda can only be classed as dodgy. Linda has feelings and, dare we say it, stirrings about her ten year old stepson. He’s so wise, so mature, an old soul, and besides she only married his Dad for his money, which doesn’t say much for her to begin with.
And then suddenly Eric’s a grown man, age undetermined but impliedly on a par with her, and whilst she’s outraged at what has been done to him, there’s a part of her that, to put it bluntly, can’t wait to get at him.
But the big reveal comes when Eric insists on having Linda with him when he transforms into the Doctor, whilst Nabu tries to insist she stay out of it. This is no mere misogynist gesture, because Eric realises the real and awful truth, which is that Dr Fate was always intended to be the merger of male and female (into a very male looking form but we’ll deal with consistency when anyone gives a damn). Fate should always have been Kent and Inza, but Nabu shunted the redhead aside so he could control Dr Fate himself, naughty naughty.
Cue therefore a complete meltdown from Eric, calling Nabu as evil as Chaos, the effective merger of him and her and Fate saving the temporary day. After that Kent dies peacefully but the now no-longer-Lord-of-Order Nabu takes over his aged body to act as trainer and advisor to Eric and Linda who, henceforth and forever, will be Dr Fate.
Actually, they won’t, but you know how these things go.

DF - McM

This was where Doctor Fate’s first ever ongoing series under his own name began. It’s written by de Matteis, but art duties have transferred to Shawn McManus, the artist of all the bucolic-looking, cartoon-like fill-ins on Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, most notably the homage to Pogo. McManus was perfect on those, his style involving rounded characters and perpetual broad grins suggesting we’re mere inches away from the top of the head falling off, but dare I suggest he’s not the best fit for a superhero supernatural series which is going to involve demons, as well as a very awkward psychosexual setup involving a twenty-nine year old woman hot to trot and a ten year old boy in the body of a twenty-nine year old man who is nowhere near the emotional maturity to handle jumping her skinny bones. The situation is not helped by McManus’s style on Linda’s short hair doing very little to make her look tempting (bring back Inza!).
The note being struck at first is predictable: it’s all about arguments. Nabu argues with Eric about his abandoning the connection that lets him advise them, Linda argues with Eric about the bombastic way he talks, he argues with her about being a weak part of the combination, oh it’s a happy little household indeed.
Meanwhile, an overlooked demon invader of hideous mien stalks towards Fate’s sanctum to be attacked thoughtlessly when actually he’s a non-bad demon who only wants to live in Earth in peace once Nabu talks to him, and is adopted as the household pet, Petey, shape-shifted into a dog. Since de Matteis is, and the humour definitely was Jewish, it’s highly appropriate for me to say, Oi vey!
This formulation would last exactly two years. I did have the run but I sold it, unhappy at too many aspects of it, from the jokey art to the mystical writing and some extremely glutinous combinations of the two. One major departure was that Fate’s golden helm was no longer a helm but Fate’s head, which may not have looked much different but was hard to reconcile to.
The panel to panel writing is even more irritating now. de Matteis was dialoguing Justice League International as a superhero sitcom and carries that over to this series. Not having re-read the JLI in a couple of decades, I wonder how I might feel about it now, but it’s tedious here thanks to the self-consciousness with which it’s laid on.
The constant bickering between Eric and Linda, both in propria persona and in the shared consciousness of the Doctor was repetitive in the extreme over the early issues, with Eric playing the bombastic card, the gothic language, the uncontrolled temper underlined by the fear of inexperience, and Linda trying to play an equal role. It was enough to drive anyone mad and Eric was a long way down the road already when, as early as issue 4, he lets Linda take over, producing a female Doctor Fate, and one with much bigger tits than she had, a fact rather blatantly highlighted on the cover of the next issue, along with her ass. Karen Berger is still editing this, isn’t she?
The first serialised story took five issues to get through, ending with a ton of metaphysical nonsense bound up in over-ripe smiles and the non-death and non-rebirth of the universe. I don’t remember it being so utterly awful back then, I may have been thirty years and more younger but I wasn’t that undiscriminating.
McManus started inking his own pencils in issue 7, in which Petey went back to Hell to fetch his demon girlfriend, a story that was literally unreadable, and that before the constant cutesy dialogue. We were only just half a year into the series and Eric was laid up with dysentery (who cares?) so Linda had to become tits-and-ass Fate again, painfully, only half as strong and with practically no knowledge of the magic side of things, that being Eric’s job. I am already being tempted to go and re-read Swing with Scooter.
Anyway, if you believe the story, Eric died in issue 9, and Darkseid turned up to loom ominously. Even though it was continued on the next cover, he wasn’t actually dead, although don’t start planning any parties because de Matteis is off on another of his spiritual ascensions. A new fetus is about to arrive on Earth that will be the first in a new order of Humanity, outgrowing gods, especially Order, Chaos and New. In fact, that’s why Order wants to speed through the Kali Yuga, to get rid of it before it gets rid of them. Darkseid offers to kill it in return for a half share in the Universe, whichever side wins.
So Darkseid goes to kill Dr Fate in the form of Eric, because Linda’s out of town. Eric becomes Dr Fate on his own but is Boom Tubed to Apokalips. Linda becomes Dr Fate on her own as well and goes to Apokalips to rescue Eric. Vel Semeiks and Mark Buckingham fill-in at the crucial moment. Eric-Fate and Linda-Fate hold hands and defeat Parademons. On Earth, Nabu admits that the energies he used to age Eric from 10 to 29 are killing him. On Apokalips, the Strauss’s defeat Darkseid by opening their love for each other in his heart (oh, now he’s raping Kirby’s creations as well).
Having won the day, Linda’s just about to take the exhausted Eric home when a soldier throws a spear at her. Eric jumps in the way. He dies. I told you not to start planning any parties. We are halfway through de Matteis’s run but don’t worry, it gets worse.
So, in the space of one year, a Doctor Fate intended to be the merger of male and female, animus and anima, is reduced to anima only, to play the weak female stereotype with a survivor incapable of handling the power and the responsibility. What is this, still the Fifties? Was Karen Berger editing this? No, she’d moved on, to better things (i.e., absolutely anything else) and left it to Art Young now).
Before that there was an odd story in issue 13, concluding the death of Eric story. McManus suddenly sharpened up his art whilst de Matteis provided a surprisingly excellent portrayal of Linda in denial-grief over the loss of Eric. She insisted on forcing herself to become Dr Fate, despite the absolute torture that represented, and going off to Limbo to bring him back, at which point the story nose-dived into what de Matteis had Linda call ‘cosmic platitudes’, though immediately afterwards she Understood. Having a Christ-substitute Guide drawn to look like de Matteis himself was the nadir.
Bringing back Fate’s oldest nemesis, Wotan, and guest-starring Justice League Europe resulted in a mish-mash with another glutinous ending, transforming the villain into a proto-saint by confronting him with the ultimate power, God as Love. You can go off redemption when it’s flung at you so relentlessly, like a custard pie to the face.
The basic problem is that I am completely out of sympathy with de Matteis’ spiritual beliefs, which are the core of the series. In real life I have ended up an atheist, a pragmatist, insistent upon actuality and fact, and the nebulous and, indeed, platitudinousness of de Matteis’ portrayal of a Universe where God is Love and everything is Love, and the pain and suffering of being human can be borne by recognising this Universe of Love is just wishful thinking to me of a kind to which I can’t respond. Or, to put it more crudely, it’s bullshit.
Anyway, the endgame starts in issue 17. Eric and his Guide pause at the edge of Nirvana because he needs to go back, via a convoluted past of people’s previous lives. This is because de Matteis is introducing Eugene de Bella, a slightly overweight, manically happy guy with a wife, a ridiculously beaming daughter called Faith, a de Matteis moustache and another baby on the way. This is the guy de Matteis kills off in a car accident in order that Eric can merge with his body and reanimate it, leading the depressed Linda to beam a truly mad smile that just hurts to look at, it’s such a harbinger of obsessive danger: “He’s alive!”
The story grinds slowly. Linda can’t become Dr Fate any more. An Anti-Fate is constructed by Chaos and takes two full issues of brooding before deciding to act. The Phantom Stranger drops in on Eugene de Bella to talk to Eric (and his sickeningly cute six year old) to unveil the plot that Eric and Wendy’s forthcoming child is the progenitor of the new humanity Order and Chaos were trying to prevent, and Nabu-as-Kent Nelson takes everybody to the reconstructed Fate’s tower in Salem, where the real helm and amulet have also been re-constituted, and Petey the demon and Jack Small the lawyer, who I’ve been trying to avoid mentioning, are sent into the amulet to bring out it’s occupants, the souls of Kent and Inza Nelson… Has this entire run, and its preceding mini-series, just been an elaborate bluff?
Four more issues to the end, four issues none of which were worth describing except the last one, which was in the form of a bedtime story told by The Phantom Stranger to Eugene and Wendy’s six year old heap of sugar daughter Rainie, who could give you diabetes just from looking at her and who, this you hadn’t guessed already? was the new seed of humanity. Along the way, Kent and Inza agreed to come back from their private heaven of normality in the amulet, despite Inza fighting every step of the way until she’s convinced to do so by her imaginary son, whilst Linda became Dr Fate one last time in conjunction with Nabu, got their asses soundly kicked and she died. Which was all right because Wendy de Bella was about to suffer a fatal cerebral haemorrhage and have Linda take over her body, just as Eric had Eugene (so the two could finally shag to their hearts’ content without it being seriously icky).
And everything ended with the cosmic smile that signalled nothing more than the urgent need to turn the page as fast as possible. This has to be the most appallingly sickening series I’ve read and I cannot believe I once actually bought all twenty four issues. Should a time machine come into my possession, I shall be going back to give my younger self a good shillelaghing for doing so.

DF - Inza

I am at least pleased that this issue saw a complete sweep-out, de Matteis, McManus and Young getting the kick in the seat of the pants and being replaced by a completely new creative team, starting with editor Stuart Moore and going on to penciller Vince Garriano and, most welcome of all, writer William Messner-Loebs. This was going to be much better.
I was already a fan of Bill Loebs for his independent series Journey, which he wrote and drew, and it is one of the minor tragedies of my life that not enough people bought Journey to sustain it indefinitely. But Loebs was a refreshing mind, and a very left/socialist oriented one, to bring to bear on any subject, even when he was clearly writing beneath himself on superheroes, like the Wally West Flash and the new Dr Fate.
Because Loebs wasn’t just going to bring back Kent and Inza, oh no. There were a few twists immediately. Instead of being trapped in Fate’s tower in Salem, Kent initiated a merge, first of himself and Inza, then of the tower with a tall, thin apartment block in New York that Sven Nelson owned and Kent inherited. Which is now the last intact building in a neighbourhood that’s not so much run down as being actively decimated, a place for poor people, most of them not white, driven down by the underside of the Yuppie dream.
Meanwhile, the Lords of Order are abandoning Earth to its own fate except for one crusty old bugger determined to wreak revenge on the traitor Nabu and Dr Fate. Only this time, when Kent and Inza try to merge to defend themselves, only Inza makes it through the mix. We have a new, inexperienced female Fate again, one who will approach superpowers with non-male thinking who, in the meantime, defuses Shat-Ru by binding him into the (mummified) body of old Kent, from which he can’t escape without burning it up before he can escape. If you get my drift.
Loebs was taking the series in a unique direction. Inza as Fate thought as a woman, with the instinct to deal with her neighbourhood and the people in it. Doing things that were in themselves trivial, like repairing broken traffic lights and giving people new dresses, things that directly benefited people in ways they could see and feel, without their having to be hurt or threatened first. Kent worried, argued, feared. She wasn’t doing it right, which meant she wasn’t doing it the way he had, even as he was incredibly grateful not to have to be Fate any more.
But was Inza doing too much? Was she retarding people by making them too dependent upon her?
Garriano left after five issues, leaving Peter Gross to take over the full art job for an issue before Chas Truog spelled him. And Loebs dealt with the question of the use of power by having Inza Fate refuse to allow a young Policewoman die, shot in a bloody stupid accident. The energy this took was taken from the living, causing Inza’s elderly friend Mary to have a heart attack. Unintended consequences: even good things have them. And the saved woman understood who Fate really was.
And from there it was one step to taking a Master of the Universe, a man who openly didn’t give a shit for those who had no power, and stripping him of everything: power, money, empire and identity, and using those resources for public benefit.
It was glorious, on one level. All the rich shits should have that done to them, for simply stealing all the air for themselves, but at the same time it was the ultimate in Might makes Right, a level of power that no-one should have. Power Corrupts: What the Hell else is it for? as Howard Chaykin put it.
The path crossed for two issues with DC’s other 1991 Summer crossover, War of the Gods, something for which Dr Fate was well-fitted, En route, four Egyptian gods claimed to have blocked Kent Nelson out of the transformation on the basis that they’d find the inexperienced Inza easier to overcome but it didn’t work out like that.
Loebs then turned the screw by presenting Inza with a tragic outcome based on her not helping someone, causing a backlash where she tries to do everything. This brings Government and Big Business down on her tail because, you know, it’s wonderful that people are happier and safer and more content but they’re not smoking or drinking or doing drugs in the same quantities any more, and we can’t have that, fortunes are not being made out of weakness.
It’s a savage point, an extreme satire yet one that, in the world in which we reside, one of an unwanted truth. Kent has to go in to bring her down, and which point Inza’s swallowed by the Helm… Whilst we’re set up for the big reveal, Kent resumes being Dr Fate in his own way, with the half-helm of yesteryear before coming to the rescue of Inza, prisoner of a Lord of Chaos, because it is Chaos-Magic, not Order, that has infused her tenure, hence Kent’s exclusion.
And in the end, Dr Fate’s investment in people was repaid. When Inza, without chaos-magic or order-magic still defied the Chaos Lord, the neighbourhood stood with her to back her as she had backed them. All over the world, the currents of love and magic in every human being fuelled her. It was another retcon of Dr Fate, in its way as mystical as de Matteis’s gloop, but far more moving and impressive because it needed no gods, just humans to be human in their best way, to be ourselves as we can be. And no damned stupid smiles.
In a way, that was the end. Even though there were four issues left. After a weak fill-in, Loebs contributed a mini-arc of three issues dealing, with a fair degree of reality with the aftermath of what had just happened. There’s an instinctive groundedness to this coda that would permeate the best of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City only a few years later. Of course, being politically sympathetic never hurts.
The whole thing is a gentle easing down, a steering into the skid. There’s a calmness to it that you know can’t last because, after all, it’s only possible to be a different kind of superhero for so long until the novelty wears out and they want the same thing back again. Inza wrapped things up in swaddling clothes, and it was done.
Dr Fate was cancelled after forty-one issues, a decent enough run. For once, it was not cancelled because its sales had fallen too low, but because without a powerful new direction, and a creative team eager to explore it, it would have run itself into the ground, into cancellation, probably within half a year. Why do that? Let it rest in goodwill, and return when someone was fascinated enough to kickstart it again.
That was the theory. In practice, Mike Carlin exerted his influence to get the Justice Society finally killed off in Zero Hour: Crisis in Time, and the next Doctor Fate was no Doctor. The Doc returned as Hector Hall, and later Kent V Nelson, about whom I’ll write another time in a kind of coda to this piece, but this was the last time Kent and Inza Nelson played their signature role.
I’m very glad Bill Loebs put in that year and a half and Fate didn’t end on de Matteis and McManus. But in dozens of old comics the Doctor Fate who matters to me will always exist, in one form or another.

Infantino’s Follies 1: First Issue Special

1st collage

Back when I was writing about Showcase, I made the mistake of calling the mid-Seventies short series First Issue Special, which appeared round about the same time I was paying attention to comics again, a modern-day equivalent to DC’s longstanding try-out magazine.
I have now discovered that I was exactly wrong about that. First Issue Special was the brainchild of DC Editorial Director turned Publisher, former star artist Carmine Infantino, who conceived of it as exactly what it said in the title: an ongoing series of first issues, without the intent to run these as potential series.
At first sight, Infantino’s concept seems to have a spurious logic to it. This is the Age of the Collector, and there is nothing more Collectors like than a brand spanking no. 1 issue, to sell at a vastly inflated mark-up to readers excited by the series and eager to fill the most important gap in their longboxes.
But more than ten seconds thought is enough to identify the fatal flaws in the concept. Firstly, that a character created to appear only once and never again is highly unlikely – especially at the rates paid to writers and artists in the mid-Seventies – to have any of the depth or potential to attract readers with the required degree of passion. Secondly, that collectors only want to buy rare and precious no. 1s if there are actually nos. 2,3,4 etc. for them to get hooked upon. And thirdly, if a character proved to be improbably attractive to the readers, by the time you counted the returns and found you’d got an actual hit on your hands, six months or so had gone past, taking with it any momentum the character might possibly have carried with them.
Among the many bizarre and inexplicable decisions made by Infantino in that awful early to mid-Seventies period, First Issue Special must stand out as one of the most kack-handed of them all. The series consisted of thirteen issues, some of which being of quite high-quality, and one of which introducing a character who, a couple of decades later, came to play a substantial role in the DC Universe.
Now I, in my insatiable curiosity, have obtained a run of the series, and you are going to have to listen to what I’ve found out.
Almost inevitably, the first feature was Atlas, by Jack Kirby: who else but comics’ premier creation-machine? Atlas was set in the past, and based on the Atlas of myth, who would one day bear the weight of the world on his shoulders. Kirby’s version, very much in keeping with the supermythical, larger-than-larger-than-life approach he’d adopted for the New Gods and would follow with the Eternals, was a young man of prodigious strength, seeking, and in this incomplete story finding, the man who had killed his father and taken his mother into slavery.
Like others in the series, what we got was half a story and the pretence of a willingness to continue it if the readers desired. Atlas was revived as a foe for Superman by James Robinson in 2008.
It was five years since the great ballyhoo about Kirby leaving Marvel for DC, a contract negotiated by Infantino which, in the great old tradition of Siegel and Schuster, DC reneged upon in every possible aspect just as soon as they’d got him in the door. His five years were nearly up: despite his Fourth World titles, centring upon Darkseid, he’d never fitted into DC, primarily because DC had no intention of bending one iota to accommodate him and all the things he could have done. His contract would not be renewed, and he would return to Marvel in 1976 because he had nowhere to go. The Fourth World series had all been cancelled, The Demon hadn’t taken off, Kamandi, which he’d never intended to continue after two or three establishing issues, was cranking along. Things like Atlas helped fulfil his page quotas. There are times when you really, really wish people weren’t so fucking short-sighted.
Appropriately, the subjects of issue 2 were created by Kirby’s old partner, Joe Simon. This was The Green Team, sub-titled Boy Millionaires. It was a good thing it was only designed for one issue because it didn’t even merit that much exposure, though Simon clearly saw it as a viable series, God knows why. It was actually scheduled as a series and two issues prepared but the world was spared when it became one of the many unpublished comics sunk by the DC Implosion (which wasn’t all that bad after all, it seems).
The Green Team was yet another Simon/Kirby four piece kid gang, but one that showed that the well of inspiration was dry and stinking. The Green Team were four boy magnates whose membership qualification was having $1,000,000. They consisted of Commodore Murphy, shipping magnate, JP Huston, oil baron and Cecil Sunbeam, aka ‘Starmaker’, Hollywood film director. Oh, and Abdul Smith, black shoeshine boy, who got in when his bank made a computer error and added $5 of savings millions of times.
The boys were eager to fund exciting and innovative things. If this was such a good concept, why did Simon have to use up space by having five splash pages?
On the basis that no idea is so bad DC won’t try to revive it, especially during the New 52, the Green Team were retconned after Flashpoint. I doubt the effort was worth it.
Next up, for issue 3, was an idea that had nothing new about it at all, a one-off revival of Metamorpho: but it was a 1st Issue. It came about because Metamorpho’s creators, writer Bob Haney and artist Ramona Fradon, met for the first time at the 1974 San Diego Comics Convention. Reminiscing about the Element Man, both agreed they’d never had so much fun as when working on that title and wanted to repeat it: it filled an issue as far as Infantino was concerned.
I never read Metamorpho in the Sixties, and haven’t got round to catching up on it yet. So don’t ask me how it compares, but this one was a hoot. Haney and Fradon are having a whale of a time and if this was their general standard back then, I’m looking forward to reading that series. This was bouncy, fast, action-oriented but still with time for more characterisation than a year of Haney’s Brave and Bold’s.
Issue 4 was a Robert Kanigher creation, Lady Cop. Kanigher can be very professional or completely maniacal but as he wasn’t on a superhero, there was a reasonable chance of the former. Yes, and no. There was nothing egregiously stupid about the issue, and he was professional enough to set up an ongoing theme if the idea had ever been taken up.
Liza Warner is a blond secretary who cowers under her bed in fear whilst a serial killer, identifiable only by his cowboy boots, strangles her flatmates. After being praised for her precise recollection, Liza joins the Police force, though why she has to undergo training is the usual mystery because naturally she’s the perfect cop on her first day. Her boy friend doesn’t want her to be a working girl and will she ever forget the man who killed her flatmates, or find him and punish him? The art by John Rosenberger was unspeakably stiff and dull.
Liza was brought back post-Final Crisis to appear in two issues of the Ryan Choi run as The Atom, as the Ivy Town Chief of Police.

1st Dingbats

Jack Kirby supplied two more ideas, to wildly contrasting effect, for issues 5 and 6. The first of these was Manhunter. In the Forties, he and Joe Simon had created a character called Manhunter, big game hunter Paul Kirk, hunting the world’s most dangerous game, man, in a red costume with a blue full-face mask. This Paul Kirk had been transformed superbly only the previous year by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson.
Now Kirby adapted the same Manhunter costume to his present day style to create a warrior for justice, a Lion of the Shan, an organisation that always got its man. But the last Manhunter is growing old and needs a replacement, who is found in Public Defender Mark Shaw, whose name ought to be familiar. Shaw went into training to be worthy of the Manhunter’s electro-baton, not just his costume.
Kirby’s effort was again only half a story, however, with Manhunter setting out to bring down the big boss, The Hog. It hung in the air, never to be completed, because by the time Mark Shaw and Manhunter returned, the Hog was forgotten and Shaw was Manhunter. He was revived by Steve Engelhart for his first, year-long run on Justice League of America, initially as Manhunter and then as The Privateer. And Engelhart tied the Manhunters to the Guardians of the Universe, as the first Police Force, android pursuers pre-dating the Green Lantern Corps, corrupted by their own self-righteous sense of mission.
Kirby’s incomplete Manhunter tale is perhaps one of the smallest acorns planted by him to give rise to an oak of a concept, which DC has exploited many times since, but in comparison to issue 6’s Dingbats of Danger Street, it’s the Fourth World.
Simon and Kirby used to own the boy’s gang comics. The Dingbats were evidence not so much that the well had run dry as that it had been filled-in and concreted over with something the height of the World Trade Towers. Just the names – Good Looks, Non-Fat, Krunch and Bananas – and the villain The Gasser. At least this was a complete story, for a given value of complete.
Another existing character was revived for a one-shot next, Steve Ditko’s classic, The Creeper, with pencils by Ditko again, although the story came from Michael Fleisher.
As Ditko no longer inked himself, he was paired with Mike Royer, Jack Kirby’s latter-day inker, though Royer’s slavish devotion to the pencils did Ditko no favours. Ditko’s story-telling was as concentrated as ever but Fleisher couldn’t come up with anything more inspiring than one of Batman’s old Fifties villains, The Firefly, who was surely poor for that era to begin with. A first solo appearance in six years did spark a few guest shots but The Creeper has never been able to rise above cult interest.
Issue 8 provided something different, a feature that actually became a series. This was Mike Grell’s Warlord, Travis Morgan, who had been intended for a series all along and whose debut in First Issue Special was just to save anyone from coming up with a character for another month. This was one of only two First Issue Specials I bought in that 1975-6 period, and a lot of it is vaguely familiar, though I still find Mike Grell’s art to be awfully plastic and his poses unnaturalistic.
Warlord was plugged to start its own series two months later and it and Travis Morgan would be longstanding successes, as well as the basis of a long career for Grell. It’s based on the Hollow Earth theory as utilised by Edgar Rice Burroughs for Pellucidar. Here, Air Force pilot Travis Morgan, fleeing from Russian pursuit, unknowingly flies through the hole at the North Pole into barbarian adventures in the land of Skartaris.
A lot of people liked it, tremendously. After about seven issues of the series, I decided it was not for me, due to a lack of direction and muddledness about the stories.

1st Dr Fate

Issue 9 was the only other comic of the series that I bought, and it is still one of my favourite issues of the Seventies. It featured Doctor Fate, long a favourite from the JSA, drawn in bravura fashion by Walt Simonson and featuring a reconceptualisation of the character that formed the basis of his portrayal for decades to come, by Martin Pasko. It was also the Doc’s first full-length adventure.
It’s still a real dynamite story, with fun-filled and fast-paced art from Simonson, but it’s significance is as the foundation of the modern-day Fate. Pasko entwined the Doctor’s abilities with the Egyptian gods and magic, fitting for Kent Nelson’s origins, and also introduced the notion that Kent Nelson and Doctor Fate were separate entities, with the later possessing the former’s body when he donned the helmet. Pasko also followed through on the logic of Inza Nelson, loving Kent, having difficulties with the unconnected Doc and what he did to her husband.
So much achieved in just one seventeen page story. A much treasured comic.
Next up, in issue 10, were the Outsiders. No, not Batman’s renegade team nor any forerunner of them, but an horrendous and inept bodge that purported to send a message of tolerance and respect for anyone who looked different, but which was buried under deliberately rancid and exaggerated art. This was another Joe Simon idea and it’s hard to know how to describe it without defamatory words. The Outsiders were a team of literal, and deliberate freaks, designed to be as repulsive as possible, and the story wasn’t a story but a circular confusion whose last page led you back to its first page so that it disappeared up its own… tail. Pass on, rapidly.
In contrast, Codename: the Assassin failed for a much more ordinary reason, terminal dullness. A Gerry Conway creation, with co-scripting by Steve Skeates, The Assassin was intended as an ongoing series, and had been billed as such in a house ad concerning titles coming from Conway’s little editorial stable. It’s a rip-off of Conway’s Punisher, with added telekinetic powers, and like Kirby’s Manhunter it’s half a story, ending on a cliffhanger with The Assassin about to fight two equally cliched supervillains.
Artwise, the style is horribly confused. Infantino designed the Assassin’s costume but it’s far from his better work. For economies’ sake, the art was given to Nestor Redondo in the Philippines, because he had never done superhero work before but, because he had never done superhero work before, it was handed to Al Milgrom to ink, and his heavy-handed style obliterates any trace of Redondo and makes the whole thing just look downright ugly.
In many ways, the penultimate issue, featuring a new Starman, again by Gerry Conway, sums up First Issue Special. Yet again it’s a cliffhanger, and yet again there was never any intention of resolving it. It’s Conway’s comments that I’ve relied upon in characterising this series as I did: he has been quoted as quoting Infantino soliciting ideas for next month’s First Issue Special, and complaining about how any even borderline-decent character could be created in such circumstances: barely any notice and as cannon-fodder.
Conway clearly didn’t put much effort into Starman. Allegedly, he was impressed by some mid-Sixties appearances of the Ted Knight version without, at the time, connecting him to the Golden Age version for which he had little but disdain. But then sloppiness and lazy plotting has been a hallmark of Conway’s superhero work since way back. This Starman is, naturally, the Mikaal Tomas version picked up and made into a much more viable character by James Robinson, to Conway’s latterday amusement, and general inability to understand why anyone should want to bother with a throwaway idea like that. That rather epitomises Conway for me.
And he was there again for the last of the series, Return of the New Gods. It was the first time anyone had tackled Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters since their various series had been cancelled and neither Conway nor artists Mike Vosburg were up to it. Conway introduced a new, conventional superhero costume for Orion and converted the series into a standard slam-bang attack by Orion, out to kill Darkseid. He over-egged the pudding by chucking in practically everyone, whether they did anything or not, and ended it with a stalemate. At least the story was complete.
Conway hoped for a series, which he got a year later, once Jeanette Kahn had taken over as Publisher. Afterwards, he regretted that the finale he produced – killing off Darkseid – was inadequate (didn’t stop him doing it again and again) without recognising that his determination to press the New Gods into a superhero mould was inadequate to start with.
But there it was. Issue 14 was to have featured the first full-length Green Arrow/Black Canary story but that, and any others ready to appear – of which I doubt there were any – would be distributed around their own series and back-ups: I cannot recall seeing the GA/BC story then or after, so who knows?
So that was First Issue Special. It had some bright spots and, on the age old principle that there is no such thing as a bad character (except for the Outsiders. And the Dingbats), some of the characters created as Infantino’s folly went on to better things in other people’s hands. Me, I forgive it all for Marty Pasko and Walt Simonson’s Doctor Fate which, in my opinion, justified the whole blinking lot of it!

1st starman

Breaching the Vibrational Barrier: 1985

Infinity Inc. 19/Justice League of America 244, “The Final Crisis”. Written by Gerry Conway, art by Joe Staton (pencils) and Mike Machlan (inks), edited by Alan Gold.

Following the events of Infinity Inc. 19, in which Earth-2’s superhero team consisting of the children of various Justice Society of America members arrive in the current Justice League’s headquarters in a Detroit Bunker at the behest of Commander Steel – Hank Heywood senior, the former All-Star Squadron member – summoned to attack an imposter Justice League, namely the Detroit team of Vibe, Steel, Gypsy and Vixen, the defeated team gather to re-plan their strategy. Now read on.
The beaten League make their way to the semi-destroyed Satellite headquarters of the old League, with Elongated Man gaining entrance for them. Vibe is still wingeing and displaying his basic ignorance, starting with the Multiverse. JLA leader J’Onn J’Onnz intends to seek aid from Earth-2 and the Justice Society.
Meanwhile, the Infinitors are growing disquieted over the growing lack of evidence that the ‘fake’ League were planning the insurrection Commander Steel claimed. Fury finds the Commander and Mekanique in a medical bay, carrying out an operation that functions as torture on Hank Jr., the modern day Steel. Fury tries to intervene but is knocked out.
Thanks to Zatanna’s magic, the repaired Transmatter is powered up and takes the League to Earth-2, from where they will return with Hawkman, The Flash, Wonder Woman, Dr Mid-Nite and Dr Fate. Before that, Commander Steel and Mekanique turn on and defeat the rest of Infinity Inc. The Commander rants obsessively about how his generation were forged in War, learning the clear distinction between Right and Wrong, but this generation, not having had that experience, are soft and shallow. The new Justice League let him down by not following his beliefs, but Hank Jr is going to be transformed.
The JSA and the JLA arrive unnoticed in the medical bay to hear this. The JSA attack. Commander Steel runs, shocked at his downfall, leaving the unfathomable Mekanique to defend his back, but runs into the JLA, who have revived Hank Jr and supplied him with his costume. Hank Sr wants to back down, not to fight any more, but Hank Jr wants to fight, to get everything out of his system.
Outside, the Crisis on Infinite Earths is building up to terrible heights. Destruction is approaching. The three teams head outside to help, leaving the two Steels to finish their fight, which Hank Jr wins, brutally, but with tears in his eyes.
* * * * *
That was the last of them. There have been team-ups between League and Society since but as these have all taken place on a unitary Earth where the two teams are heroes of different generations, they do not fall into this category. And even now, after a wait of years to finish this series, it’s still incomplete as the final team-up was a crossover with Infinity Inc., and I do not have that issue nor have I any intention of spending good money on any part of a series that I thought was crap.
So we come in in the middle, and leave without a real ending, everybody rushing off to the overpowering Crisis, which was of greatly more importance than this cliched story about the Generation Gap.
Because that, after all the fuss and bother is stripped away, is all it was. I’ve been critical of Conway who, after his early successes seemed to go to his head, was a very lazy writer, at least in his work on the Justice League. For no apparent reason, Hank Sr develops right-wing tendencies and a grudge against the younger generation, all of which he suddenly forgets when Conway has finished dumping on him: repent, oh repent ye, and don’t bother about plausible characterisation whilst you’re doing it.
Speaking of characterisation, Conway’s Justice League Detroit was a bust from start to finish and showed an astonishing misunderstanding of what DC’s premier team was supposed to be, but it was also rightly criticised in specific for the character of Vibe. Vibe was as obvious as the lights of an oncoming train in a tunnel. He was intended to increase the League’s diversity, be its first Puerto Rican member, which was a laudable ambition, but from the moment it was announced that he would be a break dancer, you knew the point had been lost. Of all the cheap and ignorant cliches that could have been applied to a Puerto Rican, that was the one they’d have all gone for on Family Fortunes.
Just by existing, Vibe was a nightmare – lazy writing personified – but as we’ve seen here, Conway compounded the damage by making him not just ignorant but, in a twisted way, proud of knowing nothing, and suspicious of any attempt to educate him as taking the piss.
On a final note, I bought these team-ups because I loved the Justice Society of America, ever since I first discovered them. Despite many series that have sorely tried my patience I still do, in that ten year old boy’s heart that went out to them. It can’t be denied that a great many of these team-ups, even in the Garner Fox era, demeaned the JSA, more so after 1972, when Len Wein made the team-up into a three-way, squeezing the focus on the world’s oldest superhero team. The originals.
I’m disappointed that there never was a volume 7 of Crisis on Multiple Earths., though if there had been it would have been the weakest volume of the series. At least my take on those tales that, once a year, breached the vibratory barrier for us kids of all ages has finally come to an end.


Breaching the Vibrational Barrier: 1984

Justice League of America 231, “Family Crisis”/Justice League of America 232 “Family Crisis – Part 2”. Written by Kurt Busiek, art by Alan Kupperberg, edited by Alan Gold.

An unknown narrator is viewing Earth-1 from another dimension. Someone called The Champion, who is from this Earth, is resisting him, drawing upon images of the Justice League. The narrator reviews the whereabouts of those who are elsewhere, Green Lantern, The Phantom Stranger, The Atom. He draws from them the image of the Satellite but sees the other members leaving it hurriedly to face some battle. Four other figures arrive: Superman, Wonder Woman, Supergirl and The Flash: the last two are not even members.
This quartet has been summoned by The Flash. The jury in his trial for the murder of the Reverse-Flash is assembling, he can’t become Barry Allen, he just needs someone sympathetic to talk to. But their talk is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of three people, strangers, civilians, who need their help.
Their arrival prompts the narrator to attack the JLA but before he can do so, the newcomers teleport the heroes off the satellite, directly to Earth-2, where the Justice Society of America are in battle with a bunch of winged monkeys. They are the narrator’s battle force, diverted here by The Champion. Whilst a policeman explains parallel worlds to a boy spectator and the narrator explains who is who, the battle rages.
Finally the monkeys are pulled to to be replaced by the head of the narrator, a bearded man who demands Earth-2’s absolute surrender. He is known to the three strangers, who argue about whether he’s flipped or not, until they’re interrupted by Superman demanding an explanation. The strangers are brother and sister Ian and Victoria Champion with their red-headed aunt, Meredith. They are the family of theoretical physicist Dr Joshua Champion, who disappeared into thin air three months ago. Earlier today, he appeared to them ethereally, talking wildly of power he’d discovered, that he was sharing with his blood-line, but simultaneously advising them they have to fight back.
Ian’s convinced their Dad is crazy, Victoria believes in him implicitly and Meredith is on the sidelines. But individually or collectively, they seem to be able to trace him with their feelings, though they were diverted to the JLA satellite, then here.
The teams split up, Superman, The Flash, Starman and Dr Mid-Nite to go with Victoria and Meredith in pursuit of Dr Champion, whilst the cynical and alienated Ian stays on Earth-2, wanting nothing more to do with it, whilst Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Dr Fate and the Earth-2 Green Lantern hang back to foil the narrator’s next attack. Which Ian, being flip, identifies as being the Pentagon.
Meanwhile, Superman’s team reaches the only city on the planet they reach, a dome-covered city of seven billion noisy inhabitants. They enter its command post, home to a computer like being known as the Commander, the narrator thus far, who stops them with hallucinations of each person’s dream. Except, of course for Dr Mid-Nite, who is blind, and who saves the day. The heroes discover the unconscious Dr Champion strapped to an operating table and free him, only to find themselves facing the inhabitants of this Earth. With Vicky and Meredith’s powers, they teleport away.
The Commander gloats. On Earth-2 the combined magics of Dr Fate, Green Lantern’s Power Ring and Wonder Woman’s lasso have contained the monstrous attackers. But by transporting away, the other heroes, and the Champion family, have placed themselves under his hypnotic control.
End of Part One

Dr Fate disposes of their eldritch opposition in the nearest pentacle – under the Pentagon – much to the amusement of Supergirl, whilst Ian Champion starts to have doubts about his opposition to the ‘family-unity’ opinions of his kin. Meanwhile, on Earth-1, the Monitor synopsizes the first part for his assistant, Lyla.
Superman’s team returns and immediately attacks, again save for Dr Mid-Nite. The internal struggle of the other three heroes are killing them, accelerated by the resistance of Supergirl and Co, until Dr Mid-Nite throws three Blackout Bombs, one for each. Superman airlifts them out but only into Wonder Woman’s magic lasso, allowing her to order them into complete inertia, to concentrate upon their inner struggle.
But in the meantime, the Commander has taken full control of Dr Champion. Vicky uses her powers to try and retrieve her Dad, but they’re not enough, nor with Meredith added. Only when Ian stops acting like a snotty brat and joins in does it become a fair fight, but even when the five unoccupied heroes add their mental strength it’s going the wrong way until the balance is tipped by the three remaining, recovered heroes.
The Commander is ejected back to his own dimension, never to return… until he takes order the eldritch stuff Dr Fate hid under the Pentagon. This time it’s Dr Champion who has the battle plan, to use his family’s ability to move across dimensions to create a rift through which the superheroes can force him. But the Commander’s resistance is still too great until he is distracted by a return look-see from the Monitor.
Rather than be imprisoned in one reality, the Commander blows himself up. The explosion sends everyone careering helplessly through the Multiverse until they finally slow down near the Crime Syndicate’s Limbo prison, from where Superman steers them home to Earth-1, the four JSAers moving on under their own steam.
And, as school isn’t back until September, the Champions decide to go on a tour of all the dimensions…

The twenty-second and penultimate JLA/JSA team-up took place in the midst of great change, change that diminished the whole event. The two-parter is a fill-in, occupying a two-month bridge between the last Justice League story and the first of the new phase demanded by writer Gerry Conway, the soon-to-be-derided Justice League Detroit.
Conway was unhappy that, in the new DC-has-continuity era, so many of his plots were having to be altered to accommodate what was going on in ‘his’ characters’ own series. Green Lantern is sent into space by the Guardians for one year: not available. The Atom’s turned into a permanent six inch barbarian in the South American jungles: not available. The Flash is out on trial for murder: not available.
So Conway demanded, and got, a Justice League team consisting of characters over which he had complete control. The conditions for this were set up in his last old League story, an invasion from Mars that brought back J’Onn J’Onzz, and picked up on in the forthcoming issue 233 with a new Justice League.
But a JSA team-up was due, and something had to be done. So a junior writer and a semi-cartoonist artist were brought in to create a story that could not have the remotest relation to anything else, without using any of the characters Conway had picked out for his Martian Invasion story. I thought then, and think now, that if you had to farm out the annual team-up to fill-in creators, then it wasn’t worth doing any more. I didn’t know then that was was exactly what DC intended, once the Monitor stopped his endless round of cameos and got serious with Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Given the limited options at hand, Busiek did well to find as many as two actual JLA members, and had to resort to making up the numbers to a quorum by dropping in The Flash – under suspension since his admitted killing of The Reverse-Flash – and Supergirl, not then nor ever a member on account of both Superman and her own ultra-feminist ideals. With only four to play with on the Earth-1 side, Busiek could then only use for JSA members, amongst whom was the near-ubiquitous Dr Fate.
Busiek and Kupperberg’s work is an odd mixture of the simplistic and the overfussy. The would-be conqueror from another dimension was an unbearably trite concept, and both the Commander himself and Dr Russell Champion were standard cut characters, neither of whom were helped by Kupperberg’s cartoonist tendencies. On the other hand, the various stages of the plot were not well served by writer and artist’s tendencies to go into unneeded details. And the idea that Superman, with his x-ray vision, could be conned into flying into Wonder Woman’s magic lasso was a flub of major proportions.
In the end, a lot of the story stood and fell on the Champion family. Vicky, who looked to be aged about 12, was a stock character from a Lone Pine book, the daughter who believes absolutely in her wonderful father. Her brother Ian, who looked to be about 18 in his leather jacket but who was still at school, was the designated spoilt brat, resisting agreeing with his family at any point until he does, and how he could judge distances with his hair permanently brushed over his right eye is anybody’s guess.
Meredith, the Aunt, was given no room to become a person. She was drawn as a nice-looking but far from spectacular redhead whose age was indicated mostly by her knee-length skirt and knee-length boots, and given how old Dr Champion looked, with his luxuriant grey hair and grey beard, even if you made her somewhere around thirty, she had to be at least twenty years younger than her brother. The one panel in which she was given an individual moment suggested she was unmarried, her ambitions small, friends, children, a lover she can rely on.
The odd things was that, both then and now I liked her, and not just for the red hair. She felt more real than most comic book characters, even in the very sketchy outline that was all she was allowed to become.
So, rather than a story in the grand old tradition, this was a story on the outside of tradition. Knowing what comes, it is very much a penultimate effort, of no significance. To the best of my knowledge, none of the Champion family ever appeared again. Then again, when you go off exploring the Multiverse just when it’s going tio cease being a Multiverse at all, perhaps there’s a logical explanation right there.
Nevertheless, with a bit of spit and baling wire, this team-up could have been re-written for the post-Multiverse, single Universe era.

JSA Legacies: No. 14 – Wildcat

Wildcat 1

Wildcat’s is an interesting story to reflect upon. He was a Forties also-ran, who was twice elevated to Justice Society membership, only be be immediately rejected through no fault of his own. Discounting the Trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, he was the last JSA member to be brought back in the Silver Age. He appeared more often with Batman in Brave & Bold than he did in JLA/JSA team-ups, yet from the All-Star revival in 1976, his status has grown and he has been an ever more central figure in the Justice Society, to the point where his absence has become unthinkable.
It’s a bit like Green Arrow’s career path, as explored on here at length not long ago, except that the Big Cat has never at any time been made over: his time finally came, and when it did, it stayed.
Wildcat was created in 1942 by writer Bill Finger and artist Irwin Hasen, for Sensation Comics 1. Sensation was dominated by Wonder Woman, but Wildcat’s series was consistently the second most popular in the anthology. Wildcat was Ted Grant, whose father Henry had intended for him never to be afraid of anything, and who had been trained in all sorts of sports discipline. But Henry Grant’s death had left Ted penniless, unable to go to college. Whilst searching for something he could do, Grant stopped two muggers attacking a man in an alley: the man he saved turned out to be Heavyweight Champion ‘Socker’ Smith, who took Grant under his wing, and started him in a boxing career.
Grant turned out to be a natural fighter and his career began to take off, leading eventually to a match against Smith. Their crooked managers, Flint and Skinner, sought to fix the fight by slipping a drugged needle into Grant’s glove, but they misjudged the dosage and Smith was killed. The managers pinned the blame on Grant and tried to kill him by running the Police van off the road, but though the Police were killed, Grant survived. He went on the run, trying to clear his name. After hearing a kid talking about his Green Lantern comic, Grant was inspired to create his own masked identity. He became Wildcat, dressing in a dark, blue-black bodysuit, incorporating claws on his hands and feet, and a pullover headcowl and eyemask shaped like a panther-esque head.
Having solved his own case, Grant found himself keeping up his Wildcat identity, especially after he was landed with a comic relief character as early as his third adventure. This came in the form of Hiram “Stretch” Skinner, a lanky American yokel with improbably long arms and legs, check suit and straw boater, who had come to the big city to become a ‘dee-tec-a-tiff’, and became Wildcat’s partner to all intents and purposes.
Wildcat got his first chance at JSA membership alongside stable-mate Mr. Terrific in All-Star 24. Like the Defender of Fair Play, Wildcat was to join the Justice Society, and his headshot appeared on several issues worth of Junior JSA Certificate adverts, but Charlie Gaines’ insistence of having Flash and Green Lantern back prevailed, and the Big Cat became a mere guest on the first appearance.

Wildcat in the Forties

But he was not forgotten. The Atom was about to be dropped from All-American, leaving a slot open, and the Feline Fury was chosen to replace him.
His first case as an honest-to-goodness member was written at the request of a national Children’s Charity, who had requested National to feature a story promoting tolerance towards disabled children. Thus the JSA deliberately set out to elevate such youngsters’ sense of worth by involving them in cases where their attributes were of service. Some see it as patronising, from a modern perspective, though I disagree: each of the six children featured are given the chance to act, to demonstrate to themselves as much as others that a disability in one area does not incapacitate them in everything. Each impresses their community and overturns prejudices.
A laudable story, but one with unintended consequences for Wildcat. Naturally the Charity wanted to see the story as soon as possible, so it was advanced into All-Star 27. But this left two complete JSA stories featuring the Atom – and three once someone discovered that the original story for issue 24 was still unpublished. National were not prepared to pay extra to have Atom figures pasted over with Wildcat, nor to chop and change membership between the two over such a short span, so the Tiny Titan stayed, and the Big Cat went back to the bench. These days, he and Mr. Terrific are treated as having been Reservists.
Eventually, Wildcat’s series was cancelled after Sensation 90, and he disappeared until 1966, when he appeared in the fourth JLA/JSA team-up. After that, he didn’t appear again until 1972, when everybody turned up, but a Wildcat character did team-up with Batman four times in Brave & Bold.
This Wildcat is a bit of an anomaly, like the Earth-1 Spectre of Joe Orlando and Michael Fleisher. There was never any reference to the Justice Society, whilst the Batman involved was fairly clearly the Earth-1 Batman, so the status of this Wildcat is by no means certain. On the other hand, Brave & Bold was edited by Murray Boltinoff and written by Bob Haney, neither of whom held much truck with continuity. Indeed, the Multiverse did come to include an Earth-B originally proposed by fans as the only logical home for any story edited by Boltinoff, so we may as well not pay this version any attention.
But everything changed in 1976, when All-Star was revived. For no apparent reason, given that he had made so few appearances with the Justice Society, Wildcat was part of the initial line-up, alongside Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and Doctor Fate.
Maybe it was just so he could be presented as a contrast to the feminist Power Girl: Wildcat has, ever since, been portrayed as a tough guy, with a streak of chauvinism (though as time has gone by, a certain amount of self-mockery has crept in, as if Grant knows very well the impression he’s creating and is playing the part to a larger degree). But the constant clashes between the two were a running feature of the series. Wildcat even took centre stage towards the end of the run, suffering brain damage after being cut by one of the Thorn’s thorns and needing emergency surgery. Though he recovers from this, he was written out in the penultimate Adventure episode, feeling his age amongst the JSA’s new younger members, and deciding to open a gym and start training the next generation of superheroes.
From here, Wildcat went back into obscurity again, with the JSA only represented in All-Star Squadron. But, as Crisis loomed and Roy Thomas lost his battle to completely undercut everything it was devised for by retaining Earth-2, the time came for a genuine Wildcat 2, in, where else? the pages of Infinity, Inc.

Wildcat 2

Thomas had thinking for some time of bringing forward a feline superheroine. Originally, she was to have been Canadian, but when the character first appeared, as a teaser in an Infinity,Inc promo, she was riding a motorcycle (rather like Wildcat used to) as La Garra, a latina.
Then, with Crisis looming, he decided instead to make his new heroine Wildcat 2. She was Yolanda Montez who, it transpired, was Ted Grant’s god-daughter, being the daughter of another boxer, “Mauler” Montez. Yolanda had cat-like attributes, having retractable claws in her hands and feet, and took up the Wildcat costume in tribute to ‘Uncle’ Ted. Wildcat did not approve, until he learned it was little Yolanda behind his mask, at which point he gave her his blessing.
The transition seemed to be permanent, especially when, during Crisis, Wildcat 1’s legs were crushed in battle with a possessed Red Tornado 2, leaving Grant confined to a wheelchair forever.
Grant even appeared in a wheelchair at the start of The Last Case – ludicrously in full costume apart from legs bandaged from hip to foot, but he was mystically rejuvenated to deal with both the fatal attack on Hitler in 1945, and the charge into the Gotterdämmerung limbo, where Wildcat fought forever.
But Yolanda didn’t last. Her post-Crisis appearances were few, and, along with Doctor Midnight 2, she was killed off in an attack on Eclipso in his own series in 1992
Wildcat 1 returned to action in the open-ended Justice Society of America series. He and the Atom teamed-up to rebuild their private lives, by opening a ‘training facility’ (or Gym, as Grant nostalgically put it). It was touching to see how concerned Al Pratt was for his buddy, and the fear that Grant’s legs might go out again at any time, but the rejuvenation was proof against that happening again
The series was, as we know, short-lived, and in Zero Hour Wildcat was one of those pushed to the brink of death by being re-aged. Like Doctor Mid-Nite 1, he required a heart operation but, unlike McNider, Grant survived. But it was clear that he would never be a superhero again.
Yeah, right.
The next sighting of Wildcat was in a three-issue series that he co-headlined with Batman – the first time Wildcat appeared under his own name (and other than a mini-series in which Grant co-starred with Catwoman, the only time). The series started badly, with Wildcat fighting against Batman foe Killer Croc, who beat and killed him inside two pages. This, however, was Wildcat 3, coming and going in those few panels.
This hapless lug was Hector Ramirez, an ex-Marine who’d trained under Grant and wanted to succeed him as Wildcat. When Grant refused, Ramirez stole a costume and went out as Wildcat, only to be captured and forced into a series of underground fights for illicit betting. This ‘origin’ of Wildcat 3 is more or less as long as his entire career on the comics page, but the details were related by a completely fit and healthy Ted Grant, who’d obviously made the best ever recovery from a heart attack there has ever been in the world. And he didn’t half look bad for someone bordering on being seventy, especially when he got into costume and ended up fighting Batman.
An explanation was not long in coming. In JLA 28-31, Grant Morrison brought the officially retired Justice Society back into action, for the first team-up between the two teams since 1985. It was a great and glorious romp, worthy of inclusion in such a prestigious series, and it surely contributed to the full-scale revived JSA series a year later. It introduced JJ Thunder, it gave Hourman 3 his first meeting with the JSA, and it included a welcome addition to Ted Grant’s career.
Much is made throughout the story of the fact that someone is going to die. Morrison also foreshadows things by bringing Hyppolita into the action on the JSA’s side, meeting Wildcat for the first time in decades (it would be retrospectively provided that Ted and Hyppolita had an affair in the Forties), and her asking how Ted has remained as active as her when he isn’t immortal.
It’s a damned good question and, when Wildcat proves to be the sacrifice, letting the villain explode his heart rather than that fate happen to The Huntress or Hyppolita, it’s a moment of shock for the reader as well as Ted’s team-mates: there have been so many JSA deaths in recent years. Everybody gathers rounds, mourning, until Wildcat is forced to admit it’s getting embarrassing.
Yes, Grant is alive, and the secret he’d been keeping for decades is finally out: the Afterlife has a cat-flap (brilliant line!). Or rather, Wildcat’s had nine lives since an incident in 1945, and he’s only used up a couple: come on, he didn’t get to look this way through clean-living only.
The nine lives thing was never played up much, and Grant remained his tough, wiseguy self throughout the JSA and Justice Society of America series that followed. By now he was an elder statesman of the JSA, by virtue of having survived, a central figure in all incarnations to come.
And as an elder statesman, and an undefeated Heavyweight Champion of the World, Grant has also been a trainer to more than one younger hero. That he helped trained Dinah Lance, the second Black Canary, was long-established, but Wildcat went on now to be revealed as a mentor, and occasional lover, to Selina (Catwoman) Kyle, and a trainer to none other than Batman (one of the few people who can see that left hook coming).
At one point, in the 2000s, it was decided to remove Grant’s nine lives, by having the Crimson Avenger 2 pursue him for framing an innocent man, and kill him enough times in quick succession so as to leave him only his last life, but even this has been reset so that Grant permanently has nine lives, meaning that he can only be truly killed if someone kills him nine times in quick succession.
Grant still remains the Wildcat, but post Infinite Crisis another successor, Wildcat 4, was introduced and thrived far better than Yolanda Montez or Hector Ramirez before him.

Wildcat or Tomcat?

Tom Bronson is actually Ted Grant’s son, one of two children Grant fathered out of wedlock at different times. Initially, Bronson was the son of a one-night-stand, without any resentments towards his absent father, though subsequently, Grant’s relationship with Bronson’s mother has been expanded upon. However, Bronson turned out to be a metahuman, capable of turning into an actual black-furred, long-tailed Wildcat. Despite his reservations about being a superhero, and the fact that the Wildcat name was firmly taken, Bronson entered the new ‘training-system’ JSA, and Grant was more than happy that they both be Wildcat, given that both Flash and Green Lantern had other heroes operating under their names, without any confusion whatsoever. However, Bronson increasingly was referred to as Tomcat.
Whether that name has stuck, or if Bronson was still Wildcat 4 became irrelevant in the New 52. All Wildcat’s have been swept away, and there has been no sign so far of another reappearing. Given the popularity Ted Grant achieved over the years, I would expect him to be brought back in Earth-2 at some point, but I’ll stick with the down-to-Earth guy I’ve been reading for almost fifty years.

JSA Legacies: No. 8 – Hourman

Hourman 1 by Murphy Anderson

Hourman was created by writer Ken Fitch and artist Bernard Bailey and made his début in Adventure Comics 48, appearing in that title until issue 83 in 1943.
His real name was Rex ‘Tick-Tock’ Tyler, a mild-mannered, indeed timid chemist who created the amazing Miraclo pill, that gave him super powers – strength, speed, agility, limited invulnerability – but only for an hour at a time. Tyler initially advertised his services to those in need of help via a newspaper advertisement signed ‘The Man of the Hour’ but after adopting an acrobat’s costume, shortened his name to Hourman. In the early days, his name was often given as Hour-Man or The Hourman.
Tyler’s costume consisted of a yellow hood and eye-mask, with collar and yellow cape, long-sleeved black top and trunks, yellow leggings and red and black boots. Around his neck he wore an hourglass on a chain: each time he took a Miraclo, he would flip the hourglass, whose sands would then measure how much of his hour was left. Very much later, the hourglass would be retconned to contain frozen tachyons instead of sand, to be a gift to Rex Tyler in childhood from Hourman 3.
There has also been confusion at different times over how often Rex can use Miraclo: sometimes it’s only once every twenty-four hours, sometimes he can’t take a new pill until an hour after the previous one has worn off.
Hourman was the final founder member of the Justice Society but appeared in only five adventures, the third lowest count of any of the Forties members, taking leave of absence after All-Star 7. For decades, it was assumed that he was dropped because his series had been cancelled but, although Hourman was indeed the first JSA member to be lose his strip, this did not happen until 1943. The actual reason has now been identified as being Detective’s enthusiasm for their new Starman character, who they believed to be a winner. Detective wanted him to get full publicity immediately via All-Star. One of the Adventure alumni had to go to make room for him, and Sandman was the more popular. No reason was given at the time for Hourman’s leave.
Rex Tyler did not return until the first JLA/JSA team-up in 1963, after which he made sporadic appearances over the next twenty-three years. He was paired, improbably, with Doctor Fate for two issues of Showcase, the second of which introduced his intended wife, actress Wendi Harris.
Hourman did make a brief reappearance in the All-Star revival, coming in to help the active JSA when it was under pressure, but, because of his unfamiliarity with the new security systems etc., he was the weak link that enabled the new Injustice Society to capture JSA HQ.
It was not until the Eighties, through Roy Thomas, that Hourman began to have more attention. Indeed, from that time forward, most of Rex Tyler’s appearances focused, to one extent or another, on the fact that his powers were chemically-dependent, that Hourman was a drug addict. His leave of absence was attributed to his first concerns about Miraclo’s addictive properties.
Different shifts were tried to ‘detoxify’ Rex Tyler. Miraclo was redesigned to be non-addictive, a black light ray was used to activate residues of Miraclo in Tyler’s body, and in the Nineties Justice Society of America series, Tyler’s ‘hour of power’ was linked to the then-widespread ‘metagene’ theory (that superpowered people shared an unpredictable gene that responded to crisis conditions by providing an infinite variety of superpowers) which Rex became able to access by repeating, in mantra fashion, ‘Man of the Hour’.
More recently, the tone of such (retrospective) stories have undergone a subtle shift, following James Robinson’s Elseworlds JSA story, The Golden Age, which reorients Rex Tyler’s addiction as being to ‘The Life’, i.e., to being a superhero.
When Crisis on Infinite Earths was proposed, Roy Thomas began negotiating to keep Earth-2 (under a ‘This all happened before the Crisis’ rubric). When this was denied, as being a glaring inconsistency in the whole project, Thomas rapidly created new versions of three JSA members who would disappear, one of whom was Hourman.
Hourman 2 was introduced in Infinity, Inc. He was Rick Tyler, son of Rex and Wendi, who started his career by using his Dad’s Miraclo to save people trapped in a burning building. Rex opposed Rick following in his footsteps, but Rick rebelled, demonstrating his rebellion by designing a brand new (and horrible) Hourman costume in purple and white, without a cape, and with a massive H design and a clockface on the chest, though after Hourman 1 had gone into limbo following Crisis, he switched to using his Dad’s uniform.

Hourman 2 – will you look at that costume?

Unfortunately, Rick had underestimated the extent to which, over the years, Rex had refined and re-refined Miraclo to his own DNA. Their genetic connection enabled Rick to be powered up, but his use of Miraclo carried with it a terrible price, as it led to his contracting an advanced form of leukaemia, which took Hourman 2 off the scene for many years.
As for Hourman 1, Rex’s end came in the JSA’s final battle against the Extant in Zero Hour when Extant used his ability to manipulate time to accelerate Rex Tyler’s metabolism until he died of old age. However, that was not the end of the story.
Without an Hourman, the way was open for DC to create Hourman 3, the first and only one of the Hourmen to get his own series. Hourman 3 was introduced in the 1998 crossover series, DC One Million. Hourman 3 was neither robot nor android but rather a machine colony artificial being from the 853rd century (the conceit was that this would be when Action Comics 1,000,000 would be published) where he was a member of Justice Legion A, who guard the Solar System. Hourman is able to control time. The Tyler connection is maintained as he is built to incorporate the Miraclo-enhanced DNA of Rex Tyler.

Hourman 3 – toy-style

Justice Legion A visit the Justice League to invite them to the forthcoming 853rd century celebration of the original Superman ending his 15,000 year self-exile in the Sun. Much excitement takes place, at the end of which Hourman stayed in the 20th Century and joined the Justice League. Not for long because, within six months, he had moved on to the reformed Justice Society in JSA.
Hourman’s powers were never fully defined. For a time, he was possessed of the Worlogog, the ultimate map of space and time. Believing this was too much power for anyone, he first restricted himself to access to it for one hour per day, then returned all but a fragment of it to its creator, Metron of the New Gods. Otherwise, he could see through time, move through it, and summon a timeship, which took on whatever shape he wished, to take others through time.
The solo series only lasted 25 issues, with Hourman 3 adopting the name Matthew Tyler, but mainly being known simply as Tyler, and Hourman left the JSA after issue 16, when he (temporarily) let the Extant escape through indecision, and decided he needed time to properly train himself.
This opened the door for Hourman 2 to return, in issue 33. Off-stage, Rick’s ongoing battle with leukaemia had been cured by Hourman 3 (later retconned to be a disguised Amazo, long-standing JLA foe).

Hourman 2 in revised garb

Rick had redesigned his father’s costume by inverting the colour of the hood and cape to black outside and yellow inside, and added ‘time gauntlets’ that were the gift of Hourman 3. One gave him a dermal injection of Miraclo to invoke his powers, the hourglass of frozen tachyons gave him occasional prophetic visions an hour into the future, but it was the other gauntlet that gave Hourman 2 the most original, and affecting power.
For Hourman 3 had removed Rex Tyler from the timeline in the instant before his death, setting him up in a pocket dimension known as the Timepoint, which Rick could access to talk to his father about tactics etc. The Timepoint existed for one hour, and time passed only when the gauntlet was used to access it. Rick was given a final hour with his father, to use sparingly. Who among us would not wish that blessing?
But the Timepoint became an issue when Hourman 2 was mortally wounded in battle. Ingeniously, he teleported to the Timepoint, forced his gauntlets onto his father and sent him out, back into life. This froze Rick until his father could return, with expert medical aid.
So Hourman 1 was thrust back into life, a life in which he was given the chance to ask Wendi’s forgiveness for his neglect of her, and admit his failings and regrets, and to discover that she had never ever fallen out of love with him, as Rex had believed.
And when, with Hourman 3’s aid, Rex got back to the Timepoint, with the JSA’s ace surgeon Doctor Mid-Nite 3, the story suddenly went into high gear.
Rick was repaired and saved, but it took the remainder of the Timepoint’s hour, leading to Rex being summoned back to his death. Rick intervened, determined to take his father’s place and sacrifice himself. Father and son fought over who was to die for the other and the story ended with both supplanted by Hourman 3, who took Rex’s place and experienced his death, allowing both Rick and Rex to return to life.
Rex went into retirement, with Wendi, determined to repair Hourman 3. Time traveller Rip Hunter observed that Hourman 3 was absent for a subjective year, but in actuality the machine colony Hourman never reappeared.
Rick continued as Hourman 2 with the JSA, forming an attachment to Jesse (Jesse Quick) Chambers that, when the series was rebooted as Justice Society of America, she had become Liberty Belle 2, and the couple were happily married.
Since the New 52, there has been no sign of any Hourman, though I’d put money on a new version of Rex Tyler being planned eventually. Maybe in an hour’s time?

JSA Legacies: No. 6 – The Spectre


SpectreAs I said in the introduction to this series, The Spectre was the last of the original Justice Society of America to have his role taken up by another, in 1999, in Day of Judgement. As we shall see, neither of the subsequent Spectres ripped up any trees, so that any review of his career will be, almost exclusively, of Jim Corrigan, the first, the classic Spectre.
Back in my fanzine days, I wrote an article on this subject, for Arkensword, in which I satirised the disparate phases of the Spectre’s career as being impossible to turn into a consistent, logical continuity, only to have a flash of insight a few years later that would have tied everything up into a continuing story. Sadly, not only had fanzines more or less disappeared by then, but Crisis on Infinite Earths had taken place, wiping out the very events that I was suddenly able to link.
The old stories still exist, and in that respect, The Spectre’s story is still one of conflicting decisions as to directions, status and power, with only the single common factor of Jim Corrigan to connect them.
The character was created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Bernard Bailey for More Fun Comics 52, though some sources credit Siegel only. Yes, that Jerry Siegel, writer and co-creator of Superman. It’s hard to believe that someone who could conceive of Superman should not have had other, lasting creations, but only the notorious, and short-lived Funnyman would come after the Spectre, who would be even more powerful than the seminal Man of Steel.
Jim Corrigan was a hard-boiled New York Police Detective who’d just brought down half of ‘Gats’ Benson’s mob, and who had heiress Clarice Winston agreeing to marry him, though Corrigan made it clear that he would be boss. But the couple were kidnapped on Benson’s orders. Corrigan was dumped in a barrel of wet cement and thrown into the river, where he died. Clarice was shot.
Corrigan’s ghost left his body, ascended towards Heaven, but was sent back by a Voice that told him his work on Earth was not done, and that he must return and combat Evil. The Spectre returned to Earth and quickly defeated the mob. Benson died by looking into the Spectre’s eyes. The Spectre then restored Clarice’s soul to her body before, as Corrigan, breaking off their engagement brutally, without telling her he was now a ghost.
Corrigan returned to the Police, changing into the Spectre when he was needed. At first sight, his costume appeared to be in colours of dark green and white: dark green cape and hood, pulled up and shadowing his eyes, gloves, trunks and moccasins. But the white wasn’t costume, it was his bone-white ‘body’.

The Golden Age

The Spectre was initially very popular, appearing in the first two issues of All-Star as well as becoming a Justice Society founder-member in issue 3. He appeared in issues 3-23, although only in cameo roles in issues 11 and 21. In the former, the JSA disbanded to join the Armed Services, a course denied to the Spectre because, as a ghost, he’d never pass the physical! In the latter, he simply sat out the action whilst Doctor Fate and Sandman were shoe-horned back in for final appearances.
At first, the Spectre was a figure of great horror and menace, feeding into little boy’s imaginations by sending crooks to grisly and imaginative deaths. Just as Doctor Fate had been softened, this aspect was soon eradicated, and the Spectre fought all sorts of supernatural menaces, where he could cut loose in a fair fight.
Unlike with other members, changes in the Spectre’s series were not taken up in All-Star. The first of these came when the Voice authorised The Spectre to restore Jim Corrigan’s body to life. Corrigan now acted as a host from whom the Spectre would emerge to fight evil. This new status was quickly superseded when Corrigan joined the Army and went to fight overseas, leaving the Spectre behind, but as a ghost that was invisible and intangible.
This was where the series hit the skids, as the Spectre now played straight man to Percival Popp, the Super-Cop, a bumbler who improbably solved cases, thanks to the Spectre doing all the work for him.
Yet in All-Star The Spectre remained as he had been all along, a ghost playing on level terms with the other super-heroes, none of whose powers – among those who had them – were a thousandth as strong as his.
It was an awkward mix all along, achieved by conspicuously ignoring the total discrepancy, and pretending desperately that it all worked. The classic example of stretching disbelief beyond all plausibility came in All-Star 13, when a gang of Nazis incapacitate the entire JSA by sucking the air out of their meeting rooms. Even the Spectre – a dead man who doesn’t breathe – was knocked out because he hadn’t been given time to prepare his lungs for no air.
(It’s been argued that this story was planned to feature Doctor Fate – who dropped out to allow Wonder Woman a crack at the action – who was vulnerable to an attack on his lungs but that editor Mayer insisted on the Spectre because he preferred him. Or maybe because the Spectre had already stood down for Wonder Woman two issues earlier, and it was someone else’s turn).
The Spectre’s JSA membership ended after issue 23, when he and Starman were dropped as legally unavailable, a consequence of the All-American/Detective rift, but his final More Fun appearance in issue 101 came almost immediately. He was not seen again for twenty years.
The Golden Age revival was in full swing at National by 1966, with the Justice Society already settled into annual team-ups with the Justice League, and Julius Schwartz having already tried pairing JSA members – seemingly at random – in issues of Showcase and Brave & Bold. That randomness applied to the notion of featuring The Spectre with Doctor Mid-Nite: indeed, if the eventual portrayal of the Spectre was planned at that stage, the notion he needed to work with a man who could see in the dark becomes positively bizarre. Instead, the Spectre featured alone, in issues 60 and 61 of Showcase, once again by Fox and Anderson.

After twenty years…

The Avenging Ghost’s return after two decades was grand and grandiose. It was also National’s first-ever retcon, explaining what had taken the Spectre off the scene and kept him confined for so long. Jim Corrigan is now a Captain of Detectives in Gateway City, unchanged but for a streak of white in his otherwise red hair. He is guarding a young heiress whose fortune is missing, and reminiscing that the Spectre could have found it easily enough when, during a séance, he feels the Spectre emerge from his body, as he used to so long ago.
The ghost’s freedom is short-lived and he is soon forced back into Corrigan, but not before sending him to find a man named Paul Nevers, a bank-robber who has suddenly developed superpowers. Corrigan found himself fighting the urge to shoot Nevers, which he thankfully resisted. This enabled the Spectre to confront the evil Asmodus, his counterpart, who had ascended to Earth to roam and spread evil. But the powers of Asmodus and the Spectre were too balanced, and ended up cancelling each other out, imprisoning them in their respective hosts until Asmodus’s host died, thus releasing the Spectre. If Corrigan had shot Nevers, it would have sealed the Spectre in himself and leave Asmodus free.
Naturally, the Spectre defeated Asmodus and, next issue, his master Shathan (no prizes for guessing…). But, contrary to Schwartz’s expectations, the Spectre did not sell. Indeed, reaction to him was decidedly mixed. Schwartz tried again, dropping the Spectre into the 1966 JLA/JSA team-up,  and throwing him into Showcase 64 as well.
The team-up, the first to see the two teams mixed, was a weird story. People – heroes, villains, ordinary people – were being switched at random between Earths 1 and 2, and two ad hoc teams battled powerful, brutish behemoths that had traded places. Meanwhile, in space, the Spectre encountered a traveller from the Anti-Matter Universe, before observing Earths 1 and 2 on a collision course in warp-space. He places himself between them, hands on one Earth, feet on the other, outdoing Atlas and holding them apart… for a time.
In part 2, the mystery of the switching people is resolved by Ray (The Atom) Palmer turning off a machine on page 2. The heroes gather for a crazy battle against the Anti-Matter Man (if I tell you that this is appearing in the year when the Batman TV series was at its peak, can I get away with not explaining any more?) and the Atom 2 resolves everything by shrinking the Spectre down to an inch and restoring him to full size, which naturally causes a cosmic explosion that blows both Earths back into their rightful places (without so much as mussing anyone’s hair) and scattering the Spectre all over said cosmos. However, he draws all his molecules back and reforms himself. Mark that point.
It was the same old problem, but exacerbated by Schwartz and Fox’s decision to increase the Spectre’s powers to near-Messianic levels. The character could not be a superhero: by default he became an embodiment of good, to be pitted against embodiments of evil. Some fans identified the unsustainability of this concept immediately. At least one perceptive fan decried the absence of the underlying horror that would justify this approach. Indeed, Fox sought to place the Spectre’s magic on some kind of pseudo-scientific basis: the worst of both worlds.
Nevertheless, after a year’s delay, the Spectre was launched in his own series, with an opening issue by Fox and Anderson, but only one. This suggests to me that the story was an inventory issue, done for another Showcase try-out if needed.
The rest of the series was produced by diverse hands, including issues drawn and written by the newly popular Neal Adams. There were few good stories. New writer Steve Skeates did address the Spectre’s massive levels of power, unwittingly foreshadowing the next version in issue 9, when the Spectre casually killed two crooks and Corrigan blew up at him that it was completely unnecessary, given the extent of the Spectre’s power.
The Voice agreed, setting the Spectre to learn by reading cases from the Book of Judgement. In short, the Spectre was reduced to being host in his own series. Not that it lasted long: the book was cancelled after issue 10.
This was where things started to get complicated.
The Spectre received a farewell run-out in the 1970 team up, Justice League of America 82 and 83, during which the two teams never met, but tackled the same problem from opposite ends. There was a glaring error in the first part, when the Spectre sat in on a JSA meeting: presumably artist Dick Dillin had been given a list of this year’s featured JSAers, but no hints as to the second part.
Because the climax of the story involved Doctor Fate holding a séance to summon the Spectre from the crypt in which he is magically imprisoned. Once free, the Spectre interposes himself between Earths 1 and 2, again on a collision course, and saves the day by bouncing them both off his body (hello? Gravity? Momentum? The population?). This time, the competing gravitational stresses tear the Spectre apart, killing him. Notwithstanding that he was already dead, that being the whole point of him.
This time, the Spectre was gone for four years. He would return in very different form in a series running in Adventure 431-440.
After being the long-term home of Supergirl, Adventure was floundering around looking for a new vehicle. Then editor Joe Orlando was mugged at knife-point, in front of his wife, by two street thugs. Orlando seethed with impotent fury and decided to let it out with a hero that went further into violent retribution than usual. Novice writer Michael Fleisher was peddling a revival of the Spectre that took the character back to its earliest roots, and Orlando signed him up, with Jim Aparo on art.
Jim Corrigan was once again a ghost. An avenging ghost, drawn to crimes committed by irredeemably nasty criminals and avenging them by, in turn, slaughtering the slaughterers, in bizarre, horrific and terrifying fashion. A man turned into a candle and melted. Another turned to sand. A woman turned into crystal, tipped over and shattered. An evil hairdressers cut in two by his own scissors, grown to monstrous size. A man turned into wood, fed through a band-saw, and stacked.
It was an immediate success. It was gruesome and I admit that I was fascinated by it, but within a few issues it was stale. The stories were formulaic: bad guys kill, in nasty fashion, Spectre investigates and kills in even nastier fashion. The only ‘imagination’ on show was the latest graphic retribution.
The series was controversial from the off. Fans raged against it at Conventions and in fanzines. Fleisher, disingenuously, defended himself by pointing out that all these methods were drawn from the Spectre’s original stories, as if that somehow legitimized them, or as if Bernard Bailey was ever remotely as graphically detailed and gruesomely realistic as Aparo.
The run was cancelled after issue 440, swiftly enough that three bought and paid for scripts were left undrawn. Orlando sought to claim that it was nothing more than the usual commercial decision, but many years later, in a libel trial brought by Fleisher, it would be demonstrated that, though the book had suffered its first dip in circulation, it was still selling well above the level for cancellation. It’s generally accepted that the dip was just the first available excuse to end a series that was causing National a lot of grief.
I’ve listed several killings performed by the Spectre, but to me, this is the most significant example. Fleisher, in his first issue, had introduced another heiress, Gwen Sterling, who was attracted to Corrigan but, this time round, was allowed to learn that he was a ghost. That did not dampen her enthusiasm for him. Then, in Adventure 434, the villain captures her and sends a mannequin-Gwen to kill Detective Corrigan. When she tries to bury a hatchet in his head, Corrigan turns into the Spectre, animates the hatchet and chops the mannequin into seven separate body-parts in a single panel.
Only after doing so does he discover that this is not the real Gwen.

How NOT to treat your girlfriend

The cancellation did allow the run to end on a kind of ‘high’. In issue 339, Corrigan pleaded with the Voice to be allowed to relinquish this life, and the Voice reluctantly agreed to restore him to life. He just didn’t tell Corrigan, who only discovered he was human again when he got shot leading a raid. In this series, even God was a miserable bastard. It didn’t keep Corrigan from turning up at Gwen’s with his arm in a sling and greeting her with a passionate kiss (we are left to assume that he spent the night shagging her brains out, though to be fair it was thirty-five years since he last had any).
The next issue, Corrigan was murdered by gangsters, and the Voice resurrected him as the Spectre again. Like I said, miserable bastard.
Not only was the Adventure run so completely inconsistent with the Spectre’s previous run, but it displayed a total disdain for everything that had gone on before. Why was Corrigan a ghost again? How had the Spectre survived the two Earths? What about that crypt?
Orlando was dismissive: Denny O’Neill got him into that crypt, Denny O’Neill can get him out again: these are the adventures of the hitherto unsuspected Earth-1 Spectre. So was this The Spectre 2, twenty-five years early? We only had Joe Orlando to tell us that, and he also approved Fleisher writing an exchange in which a reporter is sarcastically called Clark Kent, and a naïve cop asks if he’s really Superman. On Earth-1?
No, if this Spectre was the Earth-1 Spectre, then it was a designation of temporary convenience, a substitute for thinking. What followed was erratic. On Earth-2, an invisible, intangible, Messianic Spectre interceded with the Voice to restore to life six JSAers killed in the 1975 team-up. The raging ghost Spectre clashed with Doctor Thirteen, the Ghost Breaker, an Earth-1 character. Jim Corrigan appeared in a single panel of All-Star 70. Then the Messianic version encountered Superman, the Earth-1 version in DC Comics Presents and Roy Thomas would explicitly state, but not convince anyone, that there was only one Spectre, and he’d moved to Earth-1.
It was not until Alan Moore brought the Spectre into his ongoing Saga of the Swamp Thing that the ghost finally was assigned a role that befitted his stature, though, sensibly, Moore didn’t try to explain past history beyond a cheerfully cynical John Constantine comment that the Spectre had been “up and down the occult league table more often than a whore’s knickers.”
This occurred in Saga of the Swamp Thing Annual 2, in part a codification of DC’s dead and their hierarchy. The Spectre was found guarding the road to Hell, charged with not letting the dead return. Since Swampy’s mission is to rescue Abigail Arcane’s soul, this threatened a confrontation: even the unjustly condemned must remain where they are put, insists the Spectre. But what of Jim Corrigan asks Swampy’s companion, the Phantom Stranger? The Spectre laughs, applauds the Stranger’s impudence, and allows them onwards.

“He’s opening his eyes”

Moore would use the Spectre again in the conclusion of his ‘American Gothic’ storyline in Swamp Thing, which would overlap with Crisis on Infinite Earths.
It’s very difficult to distinguish which comes first. The Spectre’s intervention in Crisis 10 is the actual end of the Multiverse: he confronts the Anti-Monitor at the Dawn of Time and their struggle shatters the Multiverse from its outset. It not merely ceases to exist, it has never existed. A timeless moment later, reality restarts, this time as a Universe, and the Spectre winds up in a psychic coma until it’s all over, so that he doesn’t overshadow everybody else.
It’s different in Swamp Thing. Swampy has failed to prevent the Brujeria from sending the bird to the chaoplasm beyond Hell, where it will summon the Ultimate Darkness, excluded from Heaven’s light since the very beginning. Instead of stopping the bird, the Spectre lets it pass, hubristicly relishing the opportunity to further the glory of God by confronting and defeating what is summoned.
But no-one understands the immensity of what is coming: the Spectre is flicked away like an annoyance: beaten, unhooded, crying for forgiveness, broken.
This leads directly into the truly awful Last Days of the Justice Society Special, the JSA’s intended last ride, that leaves them magically rejuvenated and eternally fighting Götterdämmerung in limbo, but the story is set up by the Spectre. Eager to redeem himself, he follows a source of magic that threatens to undo the entire Universe: it is Hitler in 1944, wielding the Spear of Destiny (a mystic talisman, supposedly the spear used to pierce the flank of Christ on the Cross).
Unfortunately, when Hitler hits him with the Spear, the Spectre starts to shrivel backwards out of existence. In desperation, he brings a message to the JSA (in 1985, when they are somewhat older and weaker) and sends them into battle to preserve the effects of the Crisis whilst he blinks out of existence.
So ended the Spectre, and with him all the confused, irrational choices of the preceding thirty-five years.
You’d think that we’d now get The Spectre 2, wouldn’t you? It’s the perfect moment. But instead it’s a new series, written by Doug Moench, and it was the same old story: Jim Corrigan – check: murdered by gangsters – check: returns as ghost – check. It’s The Spectre 1, this time from the ‘beginning’. His powers have been diminished, so much so that even transforming from Corrigan to Spectre was painful. And Corrigan was now a private eye, running a kind of occult detective agency in collusion with DC’s premiere fortune-teller, Madame Xanadu.
The series lasted 31 issues, plus a final appearance for this manifestation in Neil Gaiman’s The Books of Magic, a four issue Prestige format series that was, in part, a codification of DC’s magical characters and hierarchy. The series introduced Timothy Hunter, a fourteen year old who has the potential to become the greatest wizard in the world: many people believe him to be the source for Harry Potter, though Gaiman pooh-poohs the idea.
At long last though, in 1992, a new and more faithful series of The Spectre began, written by former theology student John Ostrander and drawn, bar a few fill-ins, by Tom Mandrake. It was the most thoughtful, complex, intelligent and interesting treatment the Spectre had ever received. It stayed true to the basic shibboleths of the character and his history, but broadened and deepened them immensely.
Corrigan was redefined in himself as a harsh, brutal, Thirties cop, son of a Hellfire preacher. He is sent back because he doesn’t trust God’s judgement, only his own. He is charged with not merely combating evil but with understanding it, though his own wilfulness blinds him to this latter command. The Spectre is also re-defined as an entity in itself, an Angel who rebelled alongside Lucifer but repented, and was set to be the manifestation of God’s wrath.
Alone, the Spectre lacks compassion: he must be bound to a human to gain understanding. And Corrigan, faced with nuanced moral issues, must slowly learn to forgive himself, and to come to trust God and desire peace.
The series went into heavy territory. The Spectre still drew Clarice Winston back from the dead but this time we see the dreadful damage done to a soul passing towards peace and then forced back against the strongest tide into its body. Azmodus returned as a prior host to the Spectre, who became corrupted by the power.
Most daringly, the Spectre, who is the Spirit of Vengeance, responding to blood that has been spilt unwarrantedly, pronounced on a fictional evil nation, Vlatava, killing everybody in it, bar two.
The Spectre (volume 3) ran for 62 issues and, though selling healthily, was cancelled for the sole reason that, as with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, the creators had completed their story. Corrigan came to terms with himself at long last and sought lasting peace. He was allowed to lay down his burden, his old bones were buried, and he went to his reward in Heaven.
Clearly DC had not intended to dispense with the Spectre, but in a period when individual creative forces were being allowed their head, Ostrander and Mandrake had ended their story both logically and satisfyingly. And the company was now free to exploit the gap with the long-delayed The Spectre 2.
This was the subject of 1999’s crossover series, Day of Judgement, in which Etrigan the Demon has the hostless Spectre bound to the demon Asmodel (not Asmodus, this time), who uses his powers to unleash the demons and the dead on Earth. The only way to fight this is for a host to take the Spectre. Corrigan refuses, having found peace, but another volunteer, in Purgatory, was found to assume the Spectre’s mantle and wrest his powers from Asmodel.
The identity of The Spectre 2? Improbably, in fact, unbelievably, it was Hal Jordan. Hal Jordan, the former Green Lantern 2, Jordan who had turned renegade as Parallax and who had sacrificed his life to save Earth, and who now wanted to redeem himself of his sins. Psychologically and spiritually an ideal candidate, except that, well, this is Hal Jordan, Green Lantern. A science fiction character of forty years standing, a hero who uses technology, a servant of an alien race of judges, a spacefarer, a man with exclusively science-based foes. In short, as completely removed from the supernatural, the mystic, the ethereal as it is possible to be. He’s the new Spectre?
But he is. And he’s going to wear his Green Lantern costume under the Spectre’s hood and cape. A demonstration of commitment to his new role, yes indeedy.

The Spectre 2 – never forget your roots

The Spectre (volume 4) was written by J M De Matteis, and was concerned with spirituality. Jordan’s intent was to change the nature of the Spectre, to remake him from an agent of Revenge into an agent of Redemption. It did not work. It might have worked once, in an earlier time, but comics were still sliding towards ever more acceptable death, destruction, violence and graphic depiction, and this Spectre was swimming against a powerful tide.
The series was cancelled after 27 issues, but its true end was in JSA 60-62.  Jordan’s insistence on being the Spirit of Redemption weakens the hold the Spectre has on all the evil souls banished to Hell. Led by the Spirit King (for more details of whom, see the forthcoming Mr Terrific essay), they return to Earth, and can only be sent back by Jordan abandoning Redemption for Vengeance.
All this was a prelude to the Green Lantern: Rebirth series that restored Hal Jordan, but it also dovetailed into DC’s plans to have the Spectre cut loose: raw magical power, without a host.
This was the subject of the Days of Vengeance mini-series, one of several preludes to Infinite Crisis. Vulnerable without a host, the Spectre was seduced by the Jean Loring Eclipso (be fair: he hadn’t had any since that one night with Gwen Sterling, thirty years before) into seeing magic itself as the cause of Evil.
The Spectre set out to eradicate all magic, all its practitioners and, when this had been achieved, himself. In the end, he was challenged by Nabu, the last of the Great Ones of the Ninth Age of Magic. It was a sacrifice for Nabu: his death finally drew the attention of the Voice to its errant angel and the Spectre was bound, once again, to a human host.
This too was an existing character, Gotham City Police Detective Crispus Allen. Allen had been introduced in the police procedural series Gotham Central, focussing on the policing of a violent city like Gotham with a quasi-legal vigilante continually interfering. A long running sub-plot had entangled Allen with a crooked CSI named Jim Corrigan (no relation) but before Allen could get proof, he was shot in the back and killed by Corrigan. The protesting Spectre was forced into Allen’s body in the morgue, and he became The Spectre 3.
As the Spectre, Allen reverted to the classic costume, the only difference being that the Spectre now bore Allen’s moustache and goatee beard. His period saw a return to the character’s roots in vengeance for blood taken unwarrantedly. Allen did not, at first, want to be the Spectre, and was granted a year to think about it (corresponding with 52) and only reluctantly, and with no seeming control over the Spectre’s taking of blood, accepted the job, even though it required him to execute his own son.

The Spectre 3 – the price of power

It was in many ways a resurrection of the Fleisher/Aparo series, with less structure and a deeper but more perfunctory depiction of evil and decadence. It ended in Justice League of America, in James Robinson’s ‘Rise of Eclipso’ storyline: The Spectre’s old enemy lures him into a trap, cleaves him in two with a sword and takes the Spectre’s powers.
It’s an ignoble end, the more so because the new 52 intervened to wipe away all that has gone before. You will be little surprised to learn that already a Police Detective named Jim Corrigan has been lured to his death, and returned as The Spectre. The wheel turns on.

JSA Legacies: No. 5 – Doctor Fate

Doctor Fate 1, by Alex Ross

In contrast to the previous subjects in this series, Doctor Fate’s history is much more simple. Even though DC’s Master of Magics is, courtesy of the New 52, into his seventh incarnation, more than even Green Lantern, those characters have progressed linearly, with only the briefest of overlap as the Helm of Nabu is passed on to its next wearer.
Doctor Fate was created by Gardner Fox and artist Howard Sherman for More Fun Comics 55, published, in contrast to the other heroes so far, by Detective Comics. He was not the first magician in comics, but instead of lounge suits, or turbans to indicate his mystic character, Fate wore a full-face golden helm, with gold cloak, epaulettes, high-waisted trunks and boots, over an azure long-sleeved top and leggings.
The good Doctor was not, at first, given a secret identity. He was Doctor Fate and that is what he was: a mysterious figure composed of magics, gothic and Lovecraftian in adventure and voice – the latter emphasised by Sherman’s eccentric lettering – until Detective abruptly had him take off his helmet at the end of More Fun 66, revealing to his companion, red-haired debutate Inza Cramer, that he is a man named Kent Nelson.
Nelson’s origin proved to be somewhat disturbing. Aged 12, Kent had accompanied his father Sven Nelson on an archaeological dig that uncovered a lost pyramid in Egypt. After their superstitious bearers had fled, the Nelsons entered the pyramid alone. Kent opened a sarcophagus, releasing a poison gas that killed his father. The sarcophagus contained a mummy, which gave its name as Nabu, from the planet Cilia, who had come to Earth in ancient times. Nabu placed Kent in suspended animation, raised him to adulthood, taught him great magical powers and sent him out into the world to fight evil as Doctor Fate. Creepy or what?
And it was not long before DC further softened Fate’s spooky series. For no given reason – save that Detective Comics, having a former peddler of soft porn and an associate of several mobsters for an owner, wanted to avoid any attention from the bodies already accusing comics of being unsuitable for children – Fate abruptly put aside his helm for a half-face version exposing his nose and mouth, dropped the magic except for flight and invulnerability, and starting talking like a good ol’ red-blooded American boy instead.
Doctor Fate, though owned by Detective Comics, was a founder member of the Justice Society, published in All-American’s All-Star. He appeared in issues 3-12 and 14-21 before being dropped from the line-up with no ‘onstage’ explanation. The Doctor lost his place as a consequence of war-time paper rationing, forcing All-Star to cut its page-length and the JSA line-up. Doctor Fate, and his fellow victim, Sandman, were supposed to bow out in issue 20, in which they only appeared in the opening and closing chapters, but they were inexplicably revived the following issue, to the extent that they appear to have been inserted into a story already drawn.
All this did was to postpone the inevitable three months, and to make Fate’s final All-Star appearance almost simultaneous with his last appearance in More Fun 98. Only three other JSA members in the Forties would make fewer appearances.

The half-helm Doctor Fate

It was almost twenty years before Nelson returned. Doctor Fate did not appear in either of the Justice Society cameos in The Flash 129 and 137, these being based on later All-Star issues, so his return came in Justice League of America 21 where, for no apparent reason, he chairs the first new Justice Society meeting, even though once-permanent Chairman Hawkman is present.
Unlike Hawkman or Atom, Schwartz and Fox brought Doctor Fate back in his original helm and with his magics intact, although he spoke the same bland dialogue as everyone else. If anyone was concerned at all these seemingly random changes, they would have to wait twenty years for the explanations.
As we’ve seen already, Doctor Fate was a minor character in the Forties. But, from his return in 1963, the Master Mage grew in strength, becoming one of the more popular JSA members when it came to the annual team-ups and in years to come, when DC made their first attempt to remove the JSA from the Universe, the only Forties member to be retained.
This came about somewhat slowly at first. After the new Atom, Schwartz had announced an end to the creation of new adaptations. Instead, he started on a short-lived programme of reviving the original Golden Age heroes themselves, testing for a market for old glories. The first beneficiary of this was Doctor Fate, teamed with Hourman for two memorable, if commercially unavailing, issues of Showcase, drawn by Murphy Anderson. The pairing was eccentric – a man of magic and a man of science – but the stories were fun, and the second unveiled the new Psycho-Pirate, who now literally manipulated emotions.
Apart from that, Fate would appear in the annual team-ups. After Fox left Justice League of America, writers such as Denny O’Neill and Len Wein would start to develop Fate’s speech towards the mystic and melodramatic again. But it would not be until 1975, in First Issue Special 9, written by Martin Pasko, and drawn by Walt Simonson, that Fate would be simply, yet radically redefined. It is probably the most significant story in the Doctor’s whole career.
It was Fate’s first ever full-length story and whilst Simonson brought his signature visual flair to the issue, marrying Fate’s exercise of his powers to the Egyptian Ankh, a link that would remain forever, Pasko deftly reconstructed the Doctor as two separate entities: Doctor Fate as the intangible entity within the Helm (later specified as Nabu himself) and Kent Nelson as his frequently unknowing human host. All portrayals of Doctor Fate since have derived from this story.
Pasko also introduced another element that would be of growing significance, and that was Inza Nelson’s discomfort with the life forced on her: decades spent alone, friendless, in a windowless magical tower in Salem, kept young by Fate’s magic but, by that very token, unable to come to terms with the continual disappearance of her husband and the abiding fear that he may never return.
For the moment, the redefined Doctor Fate continued in the revived All-Star, and in the subsequent JSA Origin, coming almost forty years after their début. Fate was a prominent part of this series.
After the JSA’s continuation run in Adventure was cancelled, the emphasis in All-Star Squadron took matters back to the early Forties. Roy Thomas used this period to cram in as many retcons as he possibly could, as we saw with The Atom 1, and this extended to Doctor Fate. The good Doctor was, in 1942, confirmed in his half-helm phase (which Thomas preferred), but a later story provided a simple explanation which made good use of Pasko’s story: Nelson simply put the Helm of Nabu aside the first time he found something in the Helm trying to take him over.
Thomas couldn’t resist returning to this theme later, when Nelson was forced to return to his old helm, and the powers it represented, to battle the sorceror Kulak: during the battle, the helm was wrenched from his head and donned by Kulak, only for the latter’s third eye to reflect upon himself and send him tumbling through an infinity of dimensions.
A footnote promised a story that would detail how Nelson recovered the Helm of Nabu just before Justice League of America 21: no such story ever appeared.
Finally, in America vs. the Justice Society, Thomas also explained away Doctor Fate’s resignation from the JSA as being a consequence of Nelson’s growing conviction that he could do more for the War Effort by (magically) retraining in medicine and becoming a military doctor.
By this time, Crisis on Infinite Earths was in preparation for its 1985 publication. Before that, there was one final, and significant, Doctor Fate series to contemplate. This appeared as a back-up in The Flash 305-312, two four part stories, one written by Pasko, the other by Steve Gerber, both drawn by Keith Giffen in the ultra-polished style that had made his name on Legion of Superheroes.
Both returned to the theme of Inza’s inability to accept the life she led. She found herself the object of fascination of a certain Museum Director, to the extent that, at the very point Fate was battling for his life and desperate for the anchor and escape that Inza provided his host, she was enthusiastically kissing the guy. Fate’s enemy sought to have Nelson doubt his love, and refuse Doctor Fate, a plan that came close to fruition, and to causing Inza’s death. But a furious Nelson saved Inza’s life by drawing her into the transformation into Fate with him, giving her for the first time insight into what it meant to be Fate. It seemed strange that this moment should be left dangling, but it was not forgotten. The mysterious Museum Director, on the other hand, was.
As I’ve already indicated, after the Crisis the Justice Society were shoveled into a limbo they were not supposed to return from, saving only two of its junior, 1970’s members (which, sadly, did not include the original Huntress, but the Crisis had painted DC into too many corners there). Doctor Fate too was preserved.
At first, it seemed that Doctor Fate would simply be folded into the new DC Universe. His first appearance, unlikely as it seemed, was in Super-Friends 2, a limited series focused on selling toys, which may or may not have been in continuity, and whose major distinction was art by Jack Kirby. Indeed, the series was partly created to enable Kirby to redesign all his Fourth World characters of the early Seventies – Darkseid et al – and thus qualify him to receive royalties on all their future appearances, a generous gesture by DC in a different age from now.
And, in the pages of Legends, Doctor Fate would help found the newest Justice League, and feature prominently in its first half-dozen issues. All these appearances, it should be noted, were of Doctor Fate, and not Kent Nelson. And, after forty-eight years, they were a farewell to Fate’s oldest and longest identity.
It was not the first time it had been done since the heyday of Julius Schwartz: in the run-up to Crisis, Roy Thomas alone had three times come up with new figures to take old names, as we will see. Now it was the turn of writer J M DeMatteis with Keith Giffen (using his drastically different angular new style) to introduce the new and unexpected Doctor Fate in a four-issue mini-series.
It fed from that last back-up story in The Flash. When Kent and Inza had merged, they had become aware that they had always, from the very beginning, been intended to form Doctor Fate together, but that Nabu had excluded Inza so that he could control Fate’s powers. Distraught at the waste of forty years of her life, Inza committed suicide. Kent, devastated, rejected all of Nabu’s spells, growing old overnight. He had agreed to assist Nabu in finding the new Doctor Fate, after which he would be released to die and join Inza.
We were then introduced to an extremely odd couple, Eric and Linda Strauss, related by marriage. Eric was the 10-year old son of a prominent mobster, and Linda was the guy’s 29-year old second wife and Eric’s stepmother. The two had a strange affinity, that rather disturbed Linda (as it should!), but the upshot was that these two were to be the new Fate. Eric was accelerated into manhood, his father died and the two were free to freely (and creepily) associate, both in real life and as Doctor Fate 2.
The mini-series was followed by an ongoing series, written by De Matteis but drawn in a very bucolic fashion by Shawn MacManus. In keeping with the times, dominated by the interpretation of the JLI as a situation comedy, much of the new Doctor Fate was played for laughs, in among the superheroics, with the Strauss’s stumbling in their new role(s). Kent had died, but his aged body lived on, occupied by Nabu as the pair’s advisor, whilst a dog-like demon from Hell named Petey became the pair’s ‘pet’ and their gangling, clumsy lawyer neighbour Jack C. Small got very curious about them.

Doctor Fate 2 – the Linda Strauss half

But De Matteis had a serious story in mind, which played out over the first 24 issues of the series. As early as issue 5, Eric fell ill (with a cold) and was unable to merge, leaving Linda to become a decidedly female Doctor Fate alone. This was featured in Fate’s second and final Justice League adventure, to much confusion and sly glances from the increasingly juvenile male members (sic). But the situation suddenly developed tragic dimensions: Linda-Fate was drawn to Darkseid’s realm of Apokalips, the still sickly Eric transformed into a male Doctor Fate to come to her assistance but, in getting Linda-Fate away, Eric-Fate was killed.
And without Eric, Linda could not handle the full energies of Fate alone. It became a race against time to find a new Doctor Fate, before his uncontrolled energies were unloosed. In the meantime, De Matteis – who was always prone to the glutinously spiritual – had introduced a treacly sweet little girl with cuddly parents who were going to die early, but she’s going to become a new messiah and need parents to guide her until then: to round his story off, Eric and Linda were reincarnated into those parents to protect the horribly smiley little creature, and Petey and Jack ventured into Fate’s Amulet of Anubis, where they found the spirits of… Kent and Inza Nelson, and son.
The Nelsons had not died after all. Nabu had housed their spirits in the amulet where they could enjoy a full, normal life, including children, the life that Fate had denied them, but which they were now being called upon to leave. Though Inza in particular fought against acceptance, at last the Nelsons agreed to return, and become Doctor Fate once more.
Bill Messner-Loebs took over Doctor Fate with issue 25 and immediately threw a new spanner in the works. Rehoused in rejuvenated bodies, and merging the Salem tower into a New York brownstone in a run-down area, the Nelsons set out to resume as Doctor Fate 1. Unfortunately, Kent didn’t make it through the transformation, leaving Inza to perform alone as Doctor Fate 3.

Doctor Fate 3 – Inza Nelson

Loebs’s series reflected his socialist leanings, a background that encouraged Inza to explore her own, female instincts towards the use of power, which was more proactive, more devoted to improving people’s lives and much less directed at thumping people magically.
Kent, at first happy to cede a role he’d never really enjoyed, grew concerned about Inza’s handling of the role, which in turn led to words and a temporary separation. As things grew more complicated, Kent constructed a version of his second period costume: half helm, blue and gold top and jeans, with minor magics to assist him, to aid Inza and to draw out the Chaos Lord who had created this situation by blocking Kent from the merger and feeding Inza Chaos-derived magics. In keeping with Chaos’s lack of rationality, this had all been done out of nothing but fun and malice.
Loebs’s run lasted a further 16 issues, including a couple of fill-ins. When he moved on, there was no-one with any clear vision of what they wanted to do with Fate and so, though the series was still selling above the cancellation level, DC decided to end it rather than start a half-hearted new phase that would quickly decline.
The Justice Society were back by this time, though their short-lived series had come and gone without the Doctor. It was rumoured that it had been cancelled politically, as bad for DC’s image. Whether this was true or not, the JSA’s next appearance was in Zero Hour where their ranks were decimated and the team finally disbanded. Doctor Fate was at that fateful fight, in male form at the last, but The Extant used his powers to split Fate into Kent and Inza, and age them to a point where they were too frail to undertake the transformation.
The next Doctor Fate did not actually use the title, simply calling himself Fate (The Doctor is Out). Jared Stevens was a smuggler and mercenary hired by the Nelsons to retrieve Doctor Fate’s accoutrements – the helm, cloak and amulet – from Egypt. When he delivered them, the Nelsons were attacked and killed by demons. Stevens tried to defend himself with the amulet, which exploded, scarring his right side: he wound up with a red ankh tattoo over his eye, the rags of the cloak wrapped around his arm, and with a dagger and ankh-shaped throwing knives instead of the helm.

(Doctor) Fate 4 – Jared Stevens

It was all part of DC’s new ‘Dark Side’ strand, part of the ongoing, increasing trend (I cannot say progress) towards ever more adult situations and stories, adult here being taken in its limited definition as more bloody and violent. As (Doctor) Fate 4, Stevens was now an Agent of Balance, not of Order, but basically he was a demon-hunter with the kind of knife that featured in the Hollywood film Jagged Edge, which was what counted. He lasted five years and two series: 22 issues of Fate and 12 issues of The Book of Fate for which he was retconned into a grave-robber who had the powers of Fate forced onto him by an incredibly aged and all-but-mad Kent and Inza, looking to dump their lifelong burden onto someone else’s shoulders. Neither series was particularly likeable and by the end of The Book of Fate, Stevens was formally abandoned by every occult force that mattered. It was an ideal set-up for the next stage.
James Robinson’s extremely successful Starman series, which had also come out of Zero Hour, had fueled demand for the return of the JSA, and this time DC were willing to accede. Robinson’s concept for the new JSA series involved a considerable modification of the team. It would still include the few surviving originals, but it would develop into a family, with first, second and third generations of heroes, welcoming, assisting and training new legacies.
Robinson and his writing partner David Goyer built the JSA’s return about the funeral of the original Sandman, and the off-stage and off-handed murder of Jared Stevens by The Dark Lord, a figure who was disposing of magically powered characters, intent on seizing those of Doctor Fate, who was due to be reborn. The ad hoc JSA protected the newly-borns who, it was prophesied, included the next Fate and succeeded in enabling the chosen one to be immediately accelerated to manhood and to take on Fate’s role: Doctor Fate 5.

Doctor Fate 5 – Hector Hall

When the new Doctor Fate removed his helm, he was immediately recognised as the former Infinity Inc. member the Silver Scarab, aka Hector Hall, son of the Golden Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl. Doctor Fate 5 was actually Hector’s third identity, having spent some time as Sandman 3 (as we will see). His costume revived the azure and gold look, with the resolutely Egyptian addition of a ceremonial gold collar.
Doctor Fate 5 did have his own five issue mini-series at one point, but the Hall version spent most of his time in and with the JSA. This version of Fate was racked by Hall’s insecurity and doubts. He obsessively searched for his lost wife, Hyppolita (The Fury) Trevor, which blinded him to an assault by the Dark Lord, who had been revealed as Mordru, the Legion’s sorcerous foe a thousand years hence. This led to him being put through an Intervention inside his amulet, by Nabu and all the previous Fates: the Nelsons, the Strausses and Stevens, plus Kid Eternity, who was thrown in for reasons too complex to go into now.
It was only a temporary success, and Nabu once more took control of Doctor Fate before Hall, again, fought his way back, collecting Lyta en route, but completely ignoring her story as played out over many issues of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.
This on-going emphasis on Hall’s inadequacies did nothing to establish him or Doctor Fate as a vivid character again, and it came as no surprise that Hector Hall was, in the end, swept away very easily. In Day of Vengeance, one of the forerunners to Infinite Crisis, The Spectre (as we will see) went wild and tried to destroy all magics. Hall and Lyta were imprisoned in a dimension inside the helm of Nabu, where they froze to death in snowy mountains, their spirits at the last being taken by the new Dream (of the Sandman mythos), who was based upon their son Daniel Hall (later, again, later).
For the remainder of the struggle against the Spectre, Nabu himself incarnated the Helm, cloak and amulet, until, by cornering the Spectre into killing him, he forced a resolution to the crisis in magic.
But the helm needed a new master, to enable a Doctor Fate 6. After passing through various hands, it came to its new host, homeless and severely depressed psychologist, Dr Kent V. Nelson, a distant grandnephew of Kent Nelson himself. The younger Nelson was introduced in a mini-series written by Steve Gerber, but sadly Gerber died before completing its final instalment. Four other writers wrote separate four page endings, and the younger Nelson, in the traditional costume, but without the gold trunks, went on to join the latest incarnation of the JSA.

Doctor Fate 6 – Kent V. Nelson

How this latest Fate would have developed remains unknown, as the New 52 threw out all this old continuity, none of which has now ever happened. A brand new Doctor Fate is in the process of emerging, in Earth-2: Doctor Fate 7 is Egyptian and so far is only known as Khalid. All I can say is that that seems to be a very unsatisfactory end to a long career.

The Justice Society of America – Appendix 2: The Post-Crisis Era

jsa_newThe Justice Society of America circa 2010

But you can’t keep the JSA down.
After Crisis, DC directed that there should be no further mention of the team, nor the members who had vanished into limbo. But the JSA were too woven into the fabric of the DC Universe, even as it was being remade, to be ignored, and here and there they were referenced, most notably Jay, in Flash (now featuring the third Flash, Wally West). And in 1990, they were back.
It was just a one-off, a make-work project designed to employ a group of artists hired for a larger project that was running late. There would be an eight issue mini-series, set in 1950, an undeveloped part of the JSA’s history, and it would be the team’s first ever appearance under their own name, after half a century.
The mini-series was a great success, a simple, straightforward, highly entertaining story, and it sold well enough to make management reconsider their decision over the JSA. The fans had never stopped asking for their heroes back. So a hastily-conceived, otherwise undistinguished mini-series was used to pull the JSA from limbo, which was followed by an ongoing series, which depicted them as decidedly senior, but healthy and fit, and working out their place in the modern world.
Unfortunately, it only lasted 10 issues, but whilst not a top seller, it’s been claimed ever since that it was cancelled for ‘political’, or ‘image’ reasons as early as issue 3: apparently, senior DC editor Mike Carlin objected to the series as he believed it gave the wrong impression for DC to be publishing heroes created for the grandfathers of their readers.
Whatever the truth, it is noticeable that the JSA next appeared in Zero Hour, a crossover series that destroyed and recreated the DC Universe again, in a (vain) attempt to get its history under control: the series was edited by Carlin, and the JSA was destroyed. Heroes died, just about everybody had their anti-ageing immunity stripped, and the survivors disbanded forever.
But you can’t keep the JSA down.
One of the series spun off Zero Hour was Starman, written by British-born James Robinson. Ted Knight, having retired, hands his costume and Cosmic Rod to his elder son, David, who is killed within a week. Younger son Jack, reluctant, sceptical, is forced into the ‘family business’, and the series – one of the very best of the late Nineties – explores his coming to terms with and understanding of ‘The Life’.
Add in a nostalgic team-up between the latest incarnation of the Justice League and the surviving members of the still-retired JSA, and the momentum was there for another JSA revival. It was spring-boarded by a gloriously nostalgic special JSA adventure set near the end of the War, but the new series involved a reformed JSA in the present day, becoming a three-generation team, from the elder triumvirate of Flash, Green Lantern and Wildcat (who’d grown steadily in prominence since the Seventies) to the teenage new Star-Spangled Kid. To echo the Justice League’s current series being officially title JLA, this series was headed JSA.
In terms of longevity, this was to be the Justice Society’s most successful series, running 87 issues, and only cancelled in order to make way for a new series, with a redefined purpose. For the most part, JSA was a very-well made series, but in time it failed to hold my interest, thanks to a growing antipathy towards the work of its principal writer, Geoff Johns. Just as Roy Thomas’s All-Star Squadron had primarily been about his personal focus on filling in gaps in the Golden Age stories, with little consideration for the demands of a simply entertaining story, Johns seemed to be perpetually concerned with refitting and repositioning old characters for use in the modern era, again without concern for the idea of writing stories about them that had no more purpose than entertainment.
JSA‘s cancellation, and reincarnation as Justice Society of America was a consequence of DC’s Infinite Crisis/One Year Later/52 sequence, between 2005 and 2007. Infinite Crisis was a twentieth anniversary sequel to Crisis, and involved destroying and recreating the DC Universe again, this tine reintroducing the Multiverse – in a limited form – including an Earth-2, with a Justice Society looking uncannily like the late-Seventies version of the team.
Unfortunately, having reintroduced the Multiverse, DC had little idea what to do with it, and the idea languished, practically unexplored, until the 2011 reboot, The New 52. There was a one-off, deliberately inconclusive visit by the JSA to the new Earth-2, but beyond that, nothing.
Meanwhile, the latest JSA series was perhaps the biggest success to date, spawning two spin-off titles. One, JSA Classified, told out of sequence stories that could come from any part of the team’s history, featuring any number of characters from the JSA’s milieu (one early story centred on the latest version of the Injustice Gang, still featuring The Wizard). The other was a straight parallel series, JSA All-Stars, splitting the by then somewhat crowded team into two, on philosophical and age grounds.
The emphasis, initially at least, was even further on the JSA as a family, training the next generation(s) of ‘legacy’ heroes. It was still Geoff Johns to begin with, so I drifted away again. My Justice Society clearly belonged to the past: let the future take care of itself.
Justice Society of America did last 54 issues, but like its predecessor, was cancelled with the next reboot of the Universe. But there was no place for the Justice Society in a New 52 Universe in which superheroes had only appeared five years earlier: no Golden Age, no war heroes, no nothing.
But you can’t keep the JSA down.
In 2012, DC introduced a new series, Earth-2. It’s set on a world parallel to the New 52 Earth, where the big three were killed fighting off alien invasion. Now, new heroes start to appear: Jay Garrick, Alan Scott, Al Pratt, gaining the same powers as the original, but with radically different origins, and radically different (and utterly horrible) costumes. They haven’t formed a JSA yet, and when they do I shalln’t be reading, for The New 52 is a universe too far, and these new characters have nothing, only the names, to tie them to old favourites. If they become the JSA for a new generation of readers, if a new generation of readers actually exists any more, let them prosper.
The JSA has lasted seventy years so far. They’ll no doubt be there to celebrate their centenary, by when I doubt that many of us who found the fascination will be there to cheer. They were the first superhero team. They’re likely to live forever.

The Justice Society of America – Appendix 1: The Glory Days of Earth-2

It was 1956. At an editorial conference at National, over what the kids might want to read next, some unidentified voice suggested they may be ready for superheroes again, and suggested reviving The Flash. Julius Schwarz, editor of the newly-created Showcase, National’s official vehicle for introducing new concepts, agreed to do so, on condition he could start afresh with a new character: Jay Garrick had been ‘done’, he was ‘boring’.
Schwarz was given the go-ahead. He lined up his best artist, Carmine Infantino, to pencil, and enlisted Robert Kanigher to write an origin. Police Scientist Barry Allen, working late in his laboratory, is knocked down by a cabinet felled when lightning struck the lab. He receives a bath of an unpredictable mixture of electrified chemicals. The next day, he realises he has the power of super-speed, just like his old comic book favourite, The Flash. With a radically different costume, he sets out to fight crime.
The new Flash was an instant hit, although it would take four try-outs over three years before hesitant management would be convinced to grant him his own series, starting with issue 105, picking up the old numbering.
Schwarz would go on to helm a similarly popular new version of Green Lantern and, subsequently, less commercially successful new versions of Hawkman and The Atom. Before these two, however, Schwarz was instructed to bring back the Justice Society.
He did not exactly do that. He put together a superhero team, including his new Flash and Green Lantern as well as the Trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman (albeit with Weisinger’s influence restricting the use of the first). But Schwarz had never liked the name Society for a superhero team: too soft, too social. He wanted something bigger, stronger, something in the kids’ minds, like all the Football and Baseball Leagues in the news. So the revived team would instead be the Justice League of America, who have been National/DC’s premier team ever since.
They were also crucial to comic book history in an unexpected way: according to the official story, Jack Leibowitz played golf with rival publisher Martin Goodman, and boasted that the JLA was their best seller. Goodman returned to the office and instructed his editor Stan Lee that they had to put out a team book. Lee conceived of the Fantastic Four, and the rest was Marvel Comics.
In the meantime, a growing number of readers wanted to know about the Golden age versions of these new heroes: older fans with a nostalgic hankering, younger fans curious to see what older brothers were talking about, or just intrigued by the fact there was another Flash out there: what was he like?
There was an obvious story in this, and Schwarz turned to Gardner Fox to write this for Flash 123 (even though Flash was John Broome’s book). Their explanation was the familiar SF trope of parallel worlds: Barry’s Earth and Jay’s Earth occupied the same position in space but vibrated at different rates, rendering them invisible and intangible to each other. When Barry accidentally tuned in to the vibrations of Jay’s Earth, he found himself in Keystone City, and meeting an older Mr Garrick, in retirement, greying at the temples, but still fit, active – and able to get into his costume when three of his old villains posed a threat.
The story was a massive success, and a sequel, in which Jay visited Barry’s Earth and helped him against his villains, was immediately scheduled for Flash 129. This time, Schwarz and Fox teased their audience with the Justice Society. The issue began with a flashback, as Jay remembered his last outing before Barry’s visit, namely All-Star 57. The audience loved it and wanted more so, for the third team-up, back on Jay’s Earth in Flash 136, the story was built around the disappearance of each of Jay’s old JSA comrades. The villain was Vandal Savage, newly released from prison after sixteen years following his part in the first Injustice Society caper in All-Star 37. Savage wanted revenge, and intended to capture and imprison the heroes responsible for eternity. With Barry’s assistance, his plans were defeated, the JSA released, and Wonder Woman suggested that, to avoid things like this happening in future, the JSA should get together again every now and then. Permanent Chairman Hawkman called an immediate meeting.
This wasn’t just a teaser to the fans: Flash 136 was cover-dated   1963, and the JSA were teaming up with their counterparts of the JLA in issues 22/23 of their title, cover-dated August/September: far too soon to be a response to audience demand roused up in Flash.
The two-part story established a few new ground-rules. The Justice League were on Earth-1, the Justice Society on Earth-2. The revived team had new by-laws (presumably their Constitution). Henceforth, everyone who had been a member of the JSA was a member, and that went for Wonder Woman and Mr. Terrific too. The team would have a rotating line-up of seven, chosen by lot. The choice this time fell upon the four who had already had successors, Flash, Hawkman, Green Lantern and The Atom, plus two other founder members, Dr Fate and Hourman, and the JSA’s last recruit Black Canary, who had never worked with the latter two before, not that you would have had any idea of that from the story. And, despite Hawkman having already laid claim to the permanent Chairmanship in Flash 136, it’s Dr Fate, of all people, who conducted the JSA’s meeting.
But whilst the idea of seven active members went out the following year, the notion of rotating membership, just like the Justice League, was a permanent development.
Certainly the initial meeting between the two teams was immensely popular, and was sequeled in 1964. By the time the team-up was repeated, the following year, it was a tradition, and it continued for 23 years, ending only when the DC Multiverse, or parallel world system, was swept away.
Gardner Fox wrote the first half dozen team-ups (his last team-up was, fittingly, his last JLA story), and he rang the changes every year. In 1963, the teams faced-off against an alliance of villains from each Earth, cooperating with each other. In 1964, Fox introduced Earth-3, where the heroes were all villains, challenging both League and Society in turn to see who was strongest.
The following year, Johnny Thunder made his comeback, causing havoc as usual and allowing his Thunderbolt to be controlled by his evil Earth-1 counterpart, who changed history to eliminate the JLA. Both the JSA and a sextet of Thunder’s gang masqueraded as the JLA at different times, and in the end the story got so convoluted it had to be ended by a magical ‘never-happened. In 1966, Fox mixed the two teams for the first time, as heroes, villains and ordinary folk found themselves being switched from one Earth to the other, whilst in 1967 the action was set on Earth-2 with the JSA coming up against an unbeatable menace and forced to call in four JLAers facing an identical menace on Earth-1. It ended with a series of mini-battles between heroes possessed by evil and the rest of the two teams, before Johnny Thunder saved the day with a handful of awful jokes (seriously, he did). That story also included the first membership change for the JSA in almost two decades, as an adult Earth-2 Robin was awarded membership as an explicit replacement for the semi-retired Batman.
Fox had come very close to writing a JSA-only adventure that year, but in 1968 he went the full distance. The two teams were both matched against the same foe, but never met: the JSA fought in issue 63, the JLA in 64, and the only character common to both stories was a new, android, Red Tornado, who was Fox’s final gift to the DC Universe, created by the villain to disrupt the JSA from within. But the Tornado was no criminal and ensured his creator’s downfall, for which he was rewarded with JSA membership.
It was almost the end of Fox’s career at DC, an era when many of the original writers, who had sustained the company for thirty years, found themselves moved out, replaced by younger, less expensive fans, who had grown up on comics, and who were much less concerned with the precarious life of the freelancer, facing retirement without health or pension benefits.
Fox was replaced by Denny O’Neill, a former journalist with a mandate to shake-up and modernise the JLA. Of necessity, this meant a new approach to the annual JSA team-up, and by extension to the JSA itself. The Golden Agers had been brought back as older heroes, their years in comic book limbo added to their ages as characters. Athletic men and women, especially those with powers, in their early to middle-40s were perfectly plausible when it was expected they would appear in a couple of stories then fade away again. By the end of the Sixties, their longevity was a little more precarious. O’Neill therefore posited that Earth-2’s vibration rate actually slowed its history down, by about twenty years, so that the the JLA’s 1969 was the JSA’s 1949, and the heroes were physically contemporaries. This enabled Black Canary to swap Earths in 1969 and transfer to the JLA.
And this theory was maintained, silently, until 1976. By then, National had finally decided to revive the JSA in their own series, bringing back All-Star from issue 58. At first, the JSA worked, awkwardly, with the Super-Squad, a trio of teenagers, comprising Robin, the time-transplanted Forties hero the Star-Spangled Kid and the newly-created Power Girl, the Earth-2 Superman’s cousin. Within a year the Super-Squad would be absorbed into the JSA itself, and new writer Paul Levitz would have taken the team back to its true age, with complex, detailed biographies for the veterans, who were now recognised as being in their Fifties.
The revived All-Star lasted until issue 74 before falling victim to the infamous ‘DC Implosion’, the cancellation of the lower-selling half of National’s (now renamed DC Comics) line, though the series continued for another year in Adventure – still going strong after 460 issues.
This period also saw Levitz write the first ever origin for the JSA – a convoluted wartime affair that was, frankly, ridiculous and historically demeaning to Britain – and the run in Adventure ended with the never-before disclosed reason for the JSA’s retirement in 1951 – a tighter, much more historically-viable story in which the team fall foul of Joseph McCarthy, and retire rather than reveal their identities to a Congress that suspects them of being Communist sympathisers.
It wasn’t long, however, before a version of the JSA was back. Roy Thomas, recently arrived from Marvel after fifteen years, devised, wrote and edited All-Star Squadron, a series set in 1942, in the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbour, featuring all the Golden Age characters to whom DC had rights, in one large team, formed to protect America’s home front during the War. Thomas’s main enthusiasm, unfortunately, was for retro-filling holes in continuity, making the stories conform (to a degree) with the events of the War, and the events of the comics of the time, and adding detail at every conceivable point.
With the series intended to progress at a month of the war for every year of All-Star Squadron, there was a lot to get through, much of it the correcting and harmonising of forty year old comics that few had read and fewer had been concerned about, except for Thomas. Thanks to their enlistment in All-Star 11 onwards, the JSA were rarely available, but they were there as a background at all times.
As a counterweight Thomas devised the contemporary series Infinity Inc, starring a new generation of heroes who were the children of the JSA.
But Earth-2’s days were numbered. The maxi-series, Crisis on Infinite Earths, was in preparation, scheduled to appear throughout 1985, the 50th anniversary year of Major Malcom Wheeler-Nicholson starting National Comics. By its end, there was one Earth, and there had never been any more. The JSA were no longer the heroes of another Earth, but of another generation. And to avoid confusion between multiple heroes with identical names, which after all was the start of this whole event, Thomas was required to write a final case for the JSA, packing them off (with the exception of the handful of characters DC still wanted) forever.
It was a rotten story, Thomas’s loathing of its necessity no doubt contributing. But it was a death of the best comics kind: with a backdoor open to bring the JSA back when DC changed their mind. And you do not get rid of the JSA easily.

Next: Appendix 2 – the post-Crisis eras