So far, I’ve reviewed twenty of the twenty-three annual team-ups between the Justice League and the Justice Society, published between 1963 and 1985. However, until DC get around to publishing Crisis on Multiple Earths Volume 7, I’m unable to continue as I do not have access to any of the three remaining stories.
Two of these I read contemporaneously, whilst the final team-up passed me by, being published during and against the background of Crisis on Infinite Earths and, given that it featured the new and much reduced incarnation of the JLA teaming up with Infinity Inc. as much as if not more than the JSA, it was not valid as a team-up in my eyes.
As for those stories I did read, whilst I remember a few things about them, it’s far from enough to allow me to write about them as I’ve been doing this past few months.
The 1983 team-up was actually primarily written by Roy Thomas, and drawn by Chuck Patton. Gerry Conway and Thomas share writing credit on the first part (of two), though Thomas appears as the sole writer of the second part. Being Thomas, the story was full of nostalgic elements and, unsurprisingly, led to a major continuity implant, or retcon as they had by then become to be known.
Thomas reintroduced the evil Earth-1 Johnny Thunder from the 1965 team-up, and the Crime Champions of the 1963 story. Thunder – dressed not in a purple sports jacket but instead in a superhero costume of green and yellow lightning stripes, which was horrifyingly ugly – had once again taken control of the Thunderbolt. He was being attacked by the Crime Champions, who were simultaneously attacking each other, but this was not the focus of the story.
Instead, Thomas addressed himself to the anomalous position of Black Canary, who had transferred from the Justice Society to the Justice League in 1969.
At that time, the JSA were still heroes who had been active in the Forties and who had come out of a dozen years retirement in 1963. A year later, Denny O’Neill introduced the twenty year discrepancy theory, but in 1976, Paul Levitz firmly and permanently anchored the JSA to the Forties. Black Canary was the last JSA member, first appearing in 1948, but even the most generous interpretation of her age would make her about 53 in 1983: a clearly untenable situation when set against her Peter Pan colleagues in the League, and especially her boyfriend, Green Arrow.
Thomas’ solution was to reveal that, instead of being transported to Earth-1 by Superman in 1969, the Canary had barely left her home planet when she started experiencing racking pains, showing that Aquarius’ radiation had doomed her, only slightly more slowly than Larry Lance. He then revealed that, in the early Fifties, Dinah and Larry had had a baby girl, who had had to be put into limbo when she was cursed by the Wizard with the sonic screech the Canary had revealed the moment she set foot on Earth-1.
A power that the adult Canary couldn’t initially control was far beyond the capability of a babe in arms. For everyone’s protection, especially her own, Dinah junior was spirited into limbo by the Thunderbolt, to exist in suspended animation. All memories of her were wiped, but when Dinah senior faced death, she was allowed one last sight of her daughter, who had turned into her spitting image. In order that her daughter could have a life, the Canary had her personality magically transferred into her daughter’s body and stayed there to die, whilst Dinah junior, unaware of her own true nature, went on to Earth-1.
The rest of it, Thunder and the Crime Champions, was just flim-flam, a background against which Thomas could make the retcon, which was the only thing he was really interested in. And, being Roy Thomas, the retcon has to be fantastically convoluted and impossible to take seriously when explaining it to anyone not a total superhero fanatic.
In fact, in his All-Star Companion Volume 3, Thomas actually credits the mother-daughter idea to Marv Wolfman, then the Teen Titans writer. But comparing the respective bodies of work of the two men, my interpretation is that Wolfman may well have come up with the concept, but that the trappings of it are typically Thomas.
With Crisis on Infinite Earths in development, the specifics would not last long. The mother-daughter would be retained once Dinah and Dinah represented different generations rather than different worlds, but in a much more rational and natural fashion.
As for Thunder and the Crime Champions, what little I can recall of the story involves every single element of the 1963 and 1965 team-ups being tossed in the trashcan in favour of blood, violence, darkness and despite to all, to the extent that, eighteen years on, the ‘Bolt’s tabu against killing was overridden. Beastly stuff.
But the tradition reached its absolute nadir the following year, in 1984. In saying so, I mean no disrespect to the work of Kurt Busiek (then still an aspiring writer) and artist Alan Kupperberg, who produced an entertaining, lightweight and strangely charming two-part adventure, a cut above the Conway/Thomas/Patton work of the previous year.
However, that does not excuse or alter the fact that they were asked to do the team-up story as a fill-in. A fill-in. Whilst the regular series writer and artist not only got on with more important things but actually denied their pinch-hitters access to all but a tiny handful of characters.
At the time, Conway was writing the League through a long, ongoing continuity. He was already chafing at the fact that his Justice League stories were continually being affected by the continuity of the members’ own series – such as the suspension of The Flash from JLA duties whilst facing his murder trial – was either not prepared or, to be fair to him, not able to interrupt his overarching story by somehow blending in the JSA.
So Busiek was asked to write the story without anyone involved in Conway’s continuity, relegating the team-up tale to the status of an irrelevant sideshow. He was allowed Superman and Wonder Woman, but to produce a quorum of four, he had to bring in the suspended Flash, plus Supergirl as a guest star. Which meant no more than four JSAers and, without a ‘third force’, the smallest number of participants of the whole series.
As I said, it was a decent, even charming in its way, story, but had it been a masterpiece, the annual tradition had sunk from being a occasion of anticipation to an irritant. It could not continue.
By this time, preparations for Crisis on Infinite Earths were not just well in hand, but issue 1 would appear the month following the end of this team-up. The end of the Multiverse was in sight, and there would be no basis for these stories once the Multiverse died.
The last story was another joint effort between Conway and Thomas. It began in Thomas’ Infinity Inc. (an Earth-2 set series featuring the sons and daughters of the JSA as a sort of Earth-2 Teen Titans) and ended in Conway’s Justice League of America.
Conway had got his way and the Justice League with which we had been so familiar this past quarter century was dead, disbanded and replaced by a dedicated team of full-time members, some veterans, some decidedly unimpressive newbies: the infamous Justice League Detroit. They held up the Justice League end of this three-way, demonstrating beyond all doubt that the team-up was dead.
Even without Crisis, it could not have returned.
Thomas wrote the Infinity, Inc. end, with ‘consultation from Conway and editor Alan Gold’, Conway the League finale, with ‘consultation’ from Thomas. Art on Infinity Inc. was by the young and even blunter Todd MacFarlane.
I never read this and can’t comment, save to say that I’d bought the first year of Infinity, Inc., ten issues of which had been devoted to an origin story involving a clash with the JSA, which had in turn been preceded by a three-part mystery guest stint in a six-part All-Star Squadron story, so yes, this was Thomas at his convoluted worst and I bailed.
When Crisis on Multiple Earths Volume 7 is published, I will return to this series and dissect these last three stories in full, but until then, this is your lot. I have one further essay for, surveying the varying popularities of the Justice Society members, but I think we already know who will top that particular poll, don’t we?