Flash Comics – A sprint through the Golden Age


This fortnightly Friday afternoon slot is traditionally where I indulge my nostalgic fascination for the British weekly boys comics of my youth, but as a change of pace, my most recent exploration of comics on DVD has taken a different route, all the way into the Golden Age of (American) Comics. To be specific, I have been working my way through a DVD containing the entire 104 issue run of Flash Comics, the anthology title published at first by All-American Publications, and then by National Comics, forerunner of National Periodical Publications, the company that became the present-day DC, between 1940 and 1949.

Flash Comics was one of the very first titles published by All-American, a company run by M.C. (Charley) Gaines, and owned in equal measure by himself and Harry Donenfeld, owner of Detective Comics, publishers of Superman and Batman. Gaines, who had most recently been Donenfeld’s chief salesman, wanted to set up his own company, whilst Donenfeld wanted to publish more comics to take advantage of the boom, but was restricted by his Accountant and Business Manager, Jack Liebowitz. Gaines was Donenfeld’s solution, but he insisted on Gaines accepting Liebowitz as his Business Manager as well.
This ultimately proved divisive, as Gaines and Liebowitz absolutely loathed each other, but it lasted until 1944, when Donenfeld gifted Liebowitz a share in his ownership of All-American. This was too much for Gaines, who withdrew co-operation with his partners, until agreeing to be bought out for $500,000.00, which he used to set up a new comics company. With effect from issue 68, Flash Comics became a National comic, created by the merger of Detective and All-American, for the remainder of its run.
Flash Comics was the company’s fourth title but its first superhero title (flagship title All American Comics didn’t feature any masked men until nine months after Flash Comics 1). It starred, unsurprisingly, the Golden Age Flash, along with the Golden Age Hawkman. These two characters appeared in every issue and alternated nearly every cover (Black Canary in issue 92 was the only other character to appear on the cover, bursting through a hoop held by the two mainstays), with the other one appearing above the masthead.
The initial line-up also included, in no particular order, Johnny Thunderbolt (later re-named Johnny Thunder), The Whip, Cliff Cornwell and Ed Whelan’s Minute Movies. King Standish (later re-named The King) was added in issue 3. Of these, Johnny Thunder lasted the longest, until issue 91, before being displaced by the Black Canary, who’d debuted in his strip, the ungrateful minx, whilst Cliff Cornwall, an American intelligence agent, only lasted until issue 19, followed out of the title by The King (last seen in issue 41), The Whip (issue 55) and the Minute Movies (issue 58).
Another early, but thankfully short-lived feature was Rod Rian of the Space Police, a junior league Flash Gordon with superficially Raymond-esque art but nothing to distinguish it.
This gave way to ‘Les Watts, Radio Amateur’ in issue 12 (renamed ‘Les Sparks’ in issue 16). It was all about crimes being solved or stopped by radio hams. Like Cliff Cornwell, it was neither bad nor good, though Don Cameron’s art was pleasantly attractive but it was repetitive, and it wasn’t missed.
The Minute Movies were replaced by a brief run of much shorter Picture Stories from American History, until issue 68, which, whilst still static in approach, at least looked like a comic book story, not a newspaper strip.
There was another brief regular feature in the form of Rockhead McWizzard, a rather formulaic comic series about a caveman inventor who, every month, would get a bang on the head that inspired him to invent some device a thousand years ahead of its time, using current ‘technology’ that didn’t work and saw him getting punished by the local bigwig, Mr Gotrocks, who was always trying to exploit Rockhead’s newest invention. This ran from issue 71 to 79, before being bounced to facilitate The Atom’s transfer from All American Comics.

Early Kubert

The DVD contains every issue from 1 to 104, but that’s not to say that I’ve now had the unanticipated chance to read every issue. Wherever possible, the compiler has used actual issues, which are complete, subject to minor wear and tear, clear and bright and easy to read. But over half the issues are available only as fiche (i.e., microfiche) copies, and these are a different prospect. Universally, the fiche pages are washed out, the colour blurring sometimes into mere shades. These are hard on the eye where they are decently readable, but the effect on the lettering is stressful, and a number of these have been so badly photographed that it is impossible or next-to-impossible to make out captions or dialogue, essentially rendering the stories unreadable.
And what of these stories? What of the Golden Age classics, of Jay Garrick’s career as the Flash before he became a mere adjunct to Barry Allen. That’s very interesting.
Jay Garrick was created by Gardner Fox, who wrote the first eighty stories. Harry Lampert drew the first five issues before handing over to E.E. Hibbard (Lampert went on to draw The King), who is credited with drawing the series until he was in turn replaced by a young Carmine Infantino in issue 87. I say credited, because there are quite a few issues in 1945 and 1946 that have Hibbard’s name but which are clearly being drawn by Martin Naydel, who was drawing The Flash in the Justice Society of America in All Star Comics.
Garrick’s origin is the justly infamous fumes of hard water, breathed in overnight after a lab accident, but it’s interesting to see how this comes with a seemingly scientific explanation that’s repeated several times during the series’ first year. Hard water, it is claimed, contains certain natural gases that act upon the human body’s reflexes, speeding these up to the point where Garrick is capable of thinking and moving far faster than ordinary humans.
And whilst his secret identity is supposed to be known only to his girlfriend, Joan Williams, it’s very noticeable that Garrick makes to attempt to keep his superspeed secret, especially when it comes to the Midwestern university football team, and he’s none too precious about it when he’s adopted his uniform and is beating crime as The Flash. Even when he starts to pay attention to keeping his mouth shut, it’s known to all and sundry that you can get in touch with The Flash by giving a message to Joan Williams, who is also known as Jay Garrick’s girlfriend, not to mention the number of times Jay goes missing just before The Flash turns up…
Actually, I must say a word about Joan’s incredible patience, given the number of times she has to go home from broken dates because Jay’s run off. And whereas Barry Allen has his compressed uniform in a ring on his finger, and Jay just tosses aside his street clothes, that wasn’t the case at first: as soon as he spotted something suspicious, Jay would have to run home first to grab his uniform. Thank God his power was super-speed, eh?
Yet there’s a decent brightness about the stories in the early days. Most of the time, The Flash is up against gangsters and mobs, with the odd mad scientist thrown in, but the Forties was a scant period for supervillains, unless you were reading Batman or Superman. The Flash tends to run too fast to be seen, run carrying crooks who find themselves unable to breathe, and usually ends up procuring confessions and promises to reform that would surely be illegal as coerced, but there’s an energy to the tales, a freewheeling looseness, a freedom from rules or tropes because nobody knew what didn’t work.
It’s not all good fun, however. Joan goes through a run of trying to compete with The Flash, paralleling the same attempts of Sheira Sanders in the Hawkman series (also written by Gardner Fox…), which constantly gets her into trouble. Thankfully, that doesn’t last too long, but what does is Winky, Blinky and Noddy, aka the Three Dimwits (any resemblance to the Three Stooges is sufficiently distant to stay out of litigation).
I have long been aware that The Flash, like so many other superheroes in the later Forties, was afflicted by Comic Relief, but I never realised that it started so soon. The Dimwits made their debut as early as All-Flash Quarterly issue 5 (The Flash’s solo title) in 1942, and were introduced into Flash Comics in issue 46, October 1943, popping up far too frequently until being dropped after issue 79. And a few times in Three Dimwit stories, Fox goes prematurely metafictional, having The Flash complain about what he has to do in the story.
Freewheeling isn’t all beneficial, you know.
Once the Dimwits (and Fox) moved on, The Flash’s stories restored something of a more serious tone, to the strip’s benefit.

Later Kubert

Flash Comics‘ other star was Hawkman, whose early career paralleled the Flash in an unexpected manner. Like Jay Garrick, archaeologist Carter Hall, a reincarnated Egyptian Prince Khufu whose memories were restored by sight of the glass dagger by which he was originally sacrificed, was created by Gardner Fox, this time with artist Dennis Neville, and once again the original artist only lasted a handful of issues before being replaced by a longer-running penciller, Sheldon Moldoff in issue 4.
Moldoff’s an interesting case. He left Hawkman after being drafted into the Army in 1944, his last work appearing in issue 61, after which Hawkman was handed over the teenage prodigy Joe Kubert. Moldoff boasted of seeing that Hawkman required an Alex (Flash Gordon) Raymond approach, which endeared him to Charlie Gaines. Most people describe it as an Alex Raymond swipe, and can run down the original panels they accuse Moldoff of tracing. Certainly, Moldoff doesn’t go big on panel to panel continuity, not even the primitive kind. And there are plenty on instances where he is clearly tracing photographs.
Nevertheless, Moldoff was the first to put Hall’s girlfriend and fellow reincarnatee Shiera Saunders into costume as Hawkgirl, in issue 24, though that aspect of the series was an awkward one. Shiera was brought in as Hawkgirl for a one-off, or so Hawkman intended, but once she’d dressed up once, she kept wanting to fly again every issue. Like Joan Williams, she was initially portrayed as trying to beat Hawkman at his own game, and being pretty much inadequate, and even when he accepted her as a regular partner, she was constantly getting beaten, captured, unmasked because, well, she was a woman.
Then suddenly this silly stuff evaporated, and Hawkgirl got good overnight, though she always got less exposure than Hawkman. Still, this was now a real partnership.
The arrival of Kubert brought a sparkling originality and angularity to the series, not to mention a vivid ugliness to the crooks, with their narrowed, mean eyes, cramped postures and pencil-moustaches above prominent chins. Kubert picked up Hawkman in issue 62, left the character for issues 77-84, when Hawkman was drawn by Chet Kozlack, and returned to draw all but a couple of the remaining stories, by which time his art had shed its early angularity.
Hawkman’s stories mostly pitted him against ordinary crooks and mad scientists and, like the Flash, he was unfeasibly prone to getting clonked from behind on the helmet. A couple of adventures foreshadowed his Silver Age counterpart’s career by getting him involved with aliens, and there were a couple of stories involving the water-breathing scientist, Neptune Perkins, whom Roy Thomas would revive in the Eighties, but Hawkman didn’t get a recurring villain until late on, in the form of the Gentleman Ghost (was he or was he not a real ghost?)

Johnny Thunder and Black Canary

Flash and Hawkman were Flash Comics’ representatives in the Justice Society of America in All Star Comics 3, with the former being replaced by Johnny Thunder, who was the title’s number 3 character. Johnny was the creation of writer John W Wentworth and artist Stan Aschmeier, who signed his art as Stan Josephs. Wentworth (whose W distinguished him from John B Wentworth, writer of The Whip) wrote the series until 1947, when it was taken over by Robert Kanigher.
What can you say about Johnny Thunder? The series debuted as Johnny Thunderbolt, though the boy was Thunder, son of Bank Clerk Simon Thunder, from the beginning. Being born at the seventh hour on the seventh day of the seventh month of a year ending in seven (1917) made seven year old Johnny a target for kidnapping by the Bahdnesians, who gave him control of a magic thunderbolt that, if summoned by the words Cei-u, would make people do what Johnny told them to for an hour at a time.
Johnny escaped back to America and his family by accident. At first, he had no idea he had a thunderbolt. Then, when he cottoned onto it, he didn’t know how to summon him (fortunately, the words Cei-u sound exactly like Say You, and you’ve no idea just how many different ways that can be accidentally contrived into a sentence. Even when Johnny sussed out the right words, it didn’t improve things any because, basically, Johnny was a dope. An idiot. A clown, who never worked out a) how to give sensible and coherent instructions to his thunderbolt and b) that the Bolt carried out his instructions literally.
Hoo boy.
Comic relief characters are one thing, but when they’re the star of the feature, that’s another thing entirely. Johnny and the Bolt were one thing, but at a dismally early stage, Johnny adopts the bratty eight-year old menace Peachy Pet, comic relief to a comic relief character. Later in the series, Wentworth (W) introduced the Bolt’s family, his wife and brattish son, Shocko, who kept popping up on Earth (the Bolt was initially given the name of Archibald, though this was rapidly forgotten and he was Oswald on the family’s second appearance and ever after).
If this were not such an horrendous and unfunny mess of a series by this point, I might be tempted to applaud some aspects of Wentworth (W)’s approach. In a forerunner of both The Goon Show and, long after, metafiction, Wentworth started to write his comic book story as a comic book story with the characters conscious that they are being written. Unfortunately, Wentworth also uses this trick to play some lazy games with stories by having them run out of pages before an ending can be contrived.
Robert Kanigher took over Johnny Thunder with issue 86, introducing a beautiful female jewel thief, the Black Canary, in Carmine Infantino’s first work for National. But I’ll come back to her a little further on.

These were the big three of Flash Comics. Compared to them, compared to themselves, the other series were minor league. When The Flash won the right to his own title, Johnny Thunder replaced him in All Star Comics. But for the Second World War and the introduction of paper-rationing, there’s a good chance Hawkman would have followed him. Who then would have been the new JSAer? The King? The Whip? No sir, not either one of these.
The King started out as King Standish, his real name. Standish was a rich young man who fought crime armed with a phenomenal skill at disguise. Within seconds, he could transform himself into anyone at all, substitute for them, several times an episode. Supposedly, the reader never ever saw the King’s real face, but if that’s so, he had a remarkably regular ‘stock’ false face. The same went for his one and only recurring – and boy, did she recur! – enemy, The Witch, a female crook and mistress of disguises. The same theory went for Witchie, as the King affectionately called her, the only way she ever knew she was facing him, but she too had this ‘stock’ false face that the King was forever recognising.
Despite the fact that he got her bang to rights in nearly every adventure, the King always allowed the Witch to escape and plot again. He always claimed that this was because life was more interesting with her around, though personally I think he was just trying to get into her knickers, if you’ll forgive the crudity.
The King was a pretty poor series, to be truthful, but it exerted a strange fascination on me, although not quite as much when the King took to wandering around in a costume consisting of a top hat, a domino mask, an opera cape and immaculate gloves. I was sorry to see it disappear, without trace.

The Whip

It was outlived, though not by much, by the rather more vigorous The Whip, the creation of John B Wentworth, with artist George Storm, although Homer Fleming drew the strip on a longer term basis, and Dr Mid-Nite’s creator Charles Reizenstein subsequently took over the scripting. The Whip, whose series ran until issue 55, was a junior league Zorro, the Mexican hero El Castigo, who defended the peons and peasants against the grasping landowners in the 19th century. His modern day equivalent was effete playboy Rodney Gaynor, a distant descendent of El Castigo, who inherited a Hacienda in a Mexican town owned by grasping landowners. After meeting crusading reporter, Marisa Dillon, Gaynor revived The Whip to firstly take up where his ancestor left off, then generally to fight crime.
The Whip was decently active but was marred by the cliché of having Marisa despise Rod as a bored, spineless playboy and revere the Whip for his determined fight, just like Lois Lane with Clark Kent. Worse though, as the Whip, Rod spoke in a shamelessly racist Mexican accent, full of the worst kind of cheap and nasty dialogue that no-one thought anything of then, but which now assaults the eye and mind. Him in the Justice Society? Ye Gods.
Of the other two series, Cliff Cornwell (drawn by Sheldon Moldoff) was a modestly decent adventure thriller about an American Agent, foiling saboteurs and the like, neither especially bad nor especially good in any respect. Ed Whelan’s Minute Movies (initially credited as Flash “Picture” Novelettes) was something else entirely. It had originally run in Movie Comics, a six-issue All-American series, and before that as a newspaper strip, and it retained the latter format, of narrow, rectangular panels with no attempt to exploit even the least of comics’ possibilities.
The series told movie-type stories, using a repertory company of recognisable ‘actors’, such as Dickie Dare and Hazel Dearie, who were romantic leads, or Fuller Phun, who was comic relief. I read the first few offerings in amusement, but the repetitive nature of the series and the lack of any visual variety, not to mention the archaic art style – very Twenties – meant that it rapidly became tedious. Still, it lasted until issue 58.
The longest and most popular of the later series was The Ghost Patrol, which started in issue 29, replacing Les Sparks, and, with a couple of gaps, ran until the final issue, no 104. The Ghost Patrol were three American aviators, Fred, Slim (who wasn’t) and Pedro (who spoke like thees) who died but had to hang around on Earth because they weren’t yet due in Heaven. Though they were ghosts, they could switch back and forth between completely solid and human and being ghosts. Frankly, I found it unreadable – this is a comic featuring Johnny Thunder and Peachy Pet!

The Atom in Flash Comics

The Atom’s advent in issue 80 was something of a surprise. He’d been a regular in All American Comics since issue 19, but his series in that title was cancelled with issue 61 and he was about to be dropped from the Justice Society in favour of Wildcat. But some unexpected scheduling issues saw Wildcat’s debut appear with three stories featuring The Atom awaiting print. No-one wanted to chop and change, and it’s been theorised that there were a handful of Atom five pagers left unused, so he was dropped into Flash Comics until the end of the run so as to justify keeping him in the JSA.
By this time, creators Ben Flinton and Bill O’Connor were long gone, but Atom stories were rarely better than perfunctory and the art was better only because Flinton’s work was atrocious. Even so, that meant that no less than four JSAers had their base in Flash Comics.
Following the DVD through to the end has thrown up some interesting wrinkles. The standard impression I’ve always had of the Golden Age is that superheroes began falling out of fashion after the War, and that many series were effectively abandoned to their comic relief characters, with the hero only a straight man.
But Winkly, Blinky and Noddy disappear without fanfare after issue 79, from which point onwards, The Flash becomes an almost entirely serious strip, and enjoys the best art of the decade from Carmine Infantino. Joe Kubert returned to Hawkman in issue 85, stripped of his early angularity and grotesquerie, with a sleek, almost balletic style. Hawkgirl (and Shiera Saunders) never looked better. Indeed, after a long-term set-up that had The Flash as the first story and Hawkman as the last, several issues see the heroes swap places.
Johnny Thunder remains ridiculous until issue 85, but in the next issue, Robert Kanigher takes over the writing, Carmine Infantino the art (his DC debut) and the Black Canary begins the quick process of taking over the series. She’s introduced as a glamorous jewel thief who steals from crooks, but was so immediately popular she was brought back as a crimefighter, with whom Johnny was, understandably, besotted.
The Canary appeared in all but one of Johnny’s stories from 86 – 91, is credited as co-star and then bounces him out in issue 92, which introduces Dinah Drake, her flower shop, and her boyfriend, private eye Larry Lance.
There’s a certain repetitive element to the Canary’s series, since somewhere about halfway through the story both she and Larry get a crack on the back of the head with a pistol butt, until you start to fear for her skull, but they always do escape, and the story ends with Larry boasting to Dinah Drake about he was invaluable in solving the Black Canary’s case.
With Infantino drawing both Black Canary and The Flash, and Kubert drawing Hawkman, Flash Comics’ final phase saw it at its most splendid and gorgeous. Even The Atom got some decent art, from Paul Reinman, to see him to the end of his career.
Just as Hawkman and The Atom’s costumes changed with effect from All Star Comics 42, the same change was performed for both characters from Flash Comics 98, and I noted that Hawkgirl also gave up her hawk-helm for a cloth mask, covering only her forehead and eyes, and allowing her lustrous brown locks to flow free (and with Kubert they were definitely lustrous, to the point where you wondered how nobody ever recognised Shiera Sanders).

I suppose I have to include them

One thing I found interesting was that the opening pages of the Flash, Hawkman and Black Canary episodes carried a marking in the corner of a panel, FL and a series of three numbers. This numbering suggested that they were the issue numbers of Flash Comics that the stories were intended to be published in, but each of these numbers were in advance of the issue in which the story appeared, and as the issues advanced, these were issue numbers that would never appear.
In contrast, the equivalent marking on Atom stories used OH as its key, which doesn’t appear to correlate to any contemporaneous National Comics title.
Given that some Flash stories carry similar tags using AF (for the recent cancelled Flash solo title, All-Flash), there’s no other reasonable explanation. Which suggests a number of stories that hadn’t yet been used, or that were not intended to be used. In 1968, DC did write off an enormous amount of unused art, for tax purposes, making it plausible for there to have been several stories skipped over for whatever reason.
Flash Comics was cancelled from issue 104. Unlike All American Comics or All Star Comics, it did not continue as a Western. The end obviously came quickly: all the features except The Flash ended with the usual tag that the star’s adventures could be followed every month in Flash Comics. Issue 105 would not be published until ten years later, and would star a different Flash entirely.
This isn’t the only Golden Age comic of which I’ve read a full run: I have the complete All Star Comics in DC’s hardback Archive editions. But that was a complete run of a flagship series and this has been an anthology title with decidedly varying series. It’s fun to see what the comics of that era really were like, and I’m more likely than not to do the same thing with All American Comics, which was Green Lantern’s home title. And in a silly way, I’m grateful to see the original and only Forties appearance of Jay Garrick’s foe, The Shade, who was nothing remotely like the one that appeared in Jay’s return in the classic The Flash 123, and upon which all subsequent versions have been based. I shudder…
But despite the limitations of the material, I wouldn’t want to have this stuff in any other format than the DVD. Had I the space, I still wouldn’t want to give it that space..

JLA: Incarnations 1.


JLA Secret OriginsHaving written so many words by now on the legendary Justice Society of America, I thought it might be a pleasant change (for me at least) to write something on the Justice League of America for once. After all, but for the personal prejudice of Julius Schwartz, the League would have been a new incarnation of the Society, and the course of comics book history may have run very differently.
As for the title of this series I’m unashamedly stealing it from the excellent and mystifyingly-uncollected 2001 series written by John Ostrander and drawn by Val Semeiks and Prentis Rollins: seven extended issues telling new adventures whilst defining the various eras of the JLA.
By now, in the post-Flashpoint, New 52 Universe, the Justice League is in its seventh distinct incarnation since its debut in 1960. The original Justice League of America series ran for 261 issues, and three succeeding JLA series have each run over 100 issues, not counting any of the increasing number of spin-offs from the basic team concept. The League has changed to reflect the times, but it remains DC’s leading light, the centre of the DC Universe in whatever form it’s currently taking, the central point for the DC Universe’s greatest heroes.
By 1960, Julius Schwartz was probably the hottest editor at National Periodical Publications. Four years before, he’d agreed to take on the task of reviving the 1940s hero, The Flash, although on condition that he be allowed to throw away everything that had been done and start afresh with a new version: new character, new origin, new costume, new approach. The new Flash was a big success, though it took four try-outs over three years before an unconvinced management finally accepted that they had a hit on their hands. Schwartz was then invited to do the same for Green Lantern, who only needed two try-outs.
But before any decision was taken on giving the Hal Jordan version his own series, Schwartz was asked to revive the Justice Society of America.
Schwartz didn’t like the name. Though he’d cut his editorial teeth on the JSA in All-Star Comics, Schwartz had never liked the name Society. Societies were where you got together to drink beer and eat chowder. It did not suit a team of superheroes fighting crime and saving the world. So he changed it to League.
A League was bigger, better, stronger. It suggested strength in togetherness. The kids would understand it instantly, given all the stuff they read about Baseball Leagues and Football Leagues. So they would happily flock to the Justice League.
The JLA made its debut in Brave & Bold 28, the first in a three issue try-out. Brave & Bold had been around for several years as a title featuring derring-do adventures by historical figures, but it had lately been converted into a Showcase-style try-out magazine, alternating monthly. It was never as successful in this guise, not spinning off series the way Showcase regularly did, but it hosted the Justice League and they went massive. The team went straight into their own title, and within a year was the best-selling title in the industry. Somebody boasted of that to rival publisher Martin Goodman, who got back to the office and demanded his cousin-editor create a team book as well. Stan Lee called in his best artist, Jack Kirby. The rest of that story is history.
The League made its debut fully-formed, leaping straight into the action against Starro the Conqueror, an interstellar starfish. The founder members consisted of the big three, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, Schwartz’s new Flash and Green Lantern (even though Hal Jordan had only appeared in his two Showcase try-outs so far), Aquaman, who’d been hanging around since the 40s without making an impression, and Joe Samachson’s J’Onn J’Onzz, the Martian Manhunter, who’d been introduced six months before Barry Allen,. but as an SF character, not superhero.
And where the Society had had Johnny Thunder, the League found itself landed with ‘Snapper’ Carr (first name not given for over twenty years). Snapper was the Justice League mascot, a hip-talking, jivey teenager whose nick-name came from his habit of snapping his fingers when he was excited, which was all the time. In reality, Superman would have drop-kicked the lad into a volcano inside three hours, but Snapper lasted until issue 77.
Initially, the League based itself in a secret cave sanctuary, near Snapper’s home town of Happy Harbor in Rhode Island State. In contrast to the JSA, the League did not have a permanent chairman, the post rotating through all its membership from meeting to meeting, nor did it operate with a fixed line-up: the League could add new members without having to push anyone out. Green Arrow, another 40s back-up, joined in JLA 4, the new Atom in issue 14 and the new Hawkman in issue 31.
For the first twenty-five issues or so, all the Justice league appeared in each issue, although Superman and Batman tended to fade into the background, playing minor roles. This was for the same reason the World’s Finest team had been excluded from the Justice Society: Mort Weisinger and his proprietorial hold on Superman. However, after National Publisher asked Schwartz why Superman didn’t appear much in the Justice League, and Schwartz gave him an honest answer, Weisinger was told not to obstruct Schwartz any longer.
But after the first Justice Society team-up, with the League eleven strong (counting Snapper) a new policy came in, with the League operating on a fighting weight of five to seven members each issue, making occasions when the entire League were called in a little more special.
Perceptive fans quickly determined that the League seemed to be split into a Big Five (Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkman) and a lesser six (Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, Atom, Aquaman and Snapper Carr), with appearances weighted in favour of the Big Five.
The induction of Hawkman was the last change for the Justice League for several years, retiring inkers aside. Mountain cave secret sanctuary, Fox plots, an unchanging line-up.
Meanwhile, the comics landscape outside DC was changing rapidly, with Marvel’s growing influence and sales potential. DC’s style became badly outdated as a generation of writers, who’d been in the business for nearly thirty years, found themselves developing concerns as to their future, lacking any kind of employee stability. In the end, the writers were dispersed and dispensed with, in favour of young turks, fans enthusiastic about getting into comics, about bringing their concerns into what had been a purely commercial craft, wanting to turn it into art.
The Justice League monolith was in drastic need of updating, which it got from new writer Denny O’Neil.
In tandem with Schwartz, O’Neil took the JLA through its first transition to a new phase. Out went the Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman and Snapper Carr, along with the cave Sanctuary. In came Black Canary, transferring from Earth-2 and the Justice Society, to fill the need for a female JLAer (the only other possibilities being Batgirl and Supergirl, entirely too derivative, and in breach of the rule against duplicating powers).
And, to firmly initiate the second phase, the Justice League took to the stars, transferring its HQ to a Satellite in geosynchronous orbit, accessible by teleporter tubes (the Atom would have never made it that far by telephone!)
The satellite headquarters, the implied sense of gods overlooking a planet to which they were infinitely superior, changed the dynamics of the team. Alan Moore defined it superbly in Saga of the Swamp Thing: ‘there is a house above the world, where the over-people gather’, though it was Green Arrow who articulated it first, long years after the fact, resigning from the League to deal with what he saw as the more important matters, at street level.
But, despite the change in HQ’s, and the increasing removal of the League from the human level, this still remained the same League, defined by the same members, entrenched in its uninterrupted existence.
Neither O’Neil, nor his successor Mike Friedrich, were entirely comfortable with the League, as evidenced by a sales decline that saw the title cut back from DC’s standard eight-issues-a-year format (applied to all titles using a single, as opposed to multiple pencillers) to bimonthly. The series was then taken over by writer Len Wein, who reinstated the basic Fox/Schwartz feel, this time with personalities and character. The last quarter of his run saw Justice League of America published as a 100 page Giant, 20 pages of new material and 80 of reprint, but after a year of that experiment, the comic was reduced to 32 pages again, but for the first time with a monthly schedule that it has followed ever since.
Wein also presided over a changing membership, inducting both the Elongated Man and, as a second transferred from the JSA, the new Red Tornado, as well as offering membership to his mystery-book character, the Phantom Stranger. Whether the Stranger actually joined or not was left to each individual’s own interpretation.
After Wein, the Justice League entered its first nadir, without a permanent writer. Cary Bates, Elliott S! Maggin and Martin Pasko tag-teamed for the next couple of years, producing professional but uninspired work that was far from what would normally be expected of DC’s flagship title.
This period ended when former Marvel writer Steve Engelhart, committing himself to DC for twelve months, was assigned Justice League of America, having been the long-term writer of The Avengers. Having the advantage of extra page-length due to the comic being promoted to Giant-Size, Engelhart added a degree of dynamism, character conflict and Hawkgirl as a member, sinking the old duplicate power rule. However, Engelhart had specifically limited himself to one year, after which Gerry Conway took over as scripter for the remainder of the first Justice League of America series.
Conway, who added further members such as Zatanna, and his own creation, Firestorm, proved to be the League’s longest-lasting scripter, equalling Gardner Fox’s eight year stint, though writing more stories, due to its increased schedule, though there is little from this period that lifted itself above the mundane.
But it was Conway who was responsible for the end of the first Justice League and the establishment of its second incarnation, the short-lived and much-maligned Justice League Detroit.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: the geeky bit


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

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier – 1968


Justice League of America 64, “The Stormy Return of the Red Tornado!”/Justice League of America 65, “T.O. Morrow kills the Justice League – Today!” Written by Gardner Fox, art by Dick Dillin (pencils) and Sid Greene (inks), edited by Julius Schwarz.

It’s a quiet day in the Justice Society meeting rooms, with no crimes happening anywhere: The Flash, Hourman, Doctor Fate, Starman and Black Canary are bored. But Hourman unveils his new Crime-Caster computer, which can forecast future crimes.
Before this can give out a result, the meeting rooms are invaded by some form of a whirlwind which, before Starman can bring it down, resolves into a red-costumed figure who claims to be the old Justice Society member, the Red Tornado, come to rejoin the JSA.
The sceptical members swiftly rebut this claim, the ‘real’ Red Tornado being a non-powered, heftily built woman, who only played a minor part in the very first JSA meeting. Nevertheless, the newcomer still protests he is that Red Tornado. But when ‘he’ removes his helmet to see if anyone recognises him, ‘he’ is found to be an android with no face.
Before this puzzle can be explored further, Hourman’s Crime-Caster predicts a robbery happening soon at the 20th Century Museum. The JSA take off, bringing their ‘suspicious’ visitor with them: the Tornado wished to prove himself.
They arrive to find the Museum being stolen, by being turned into atomic clouds and captured, by faceless androids just like the Tornado. He denies any connection to the robbers and wades in alongside the JSA, demonstrating that his power is the ability to turn all or part of his body into, well, tornados.
Unfortunately, he is clumsy and unpracticed in a fight, plus the effects of his tornados not being confined to those they’re aimed at, which leads to one disaster after another. Black Canary is knocked into the path of a ray-gun and killed. Starman is blown out of the heavens, and lands on Hourman, killing both. The Flash is vapourised by a blown away weapon.
Desperate to salvage something, the Tornado tries to help Doctor Fate, who has sealed the remaining androids’ guns with mystic sands. But his tornadoes jar the sand loose and, when it falls on Fate and the Tornado, it paralyses both. They are dumped from the plane into the sea, though this washes the sand away and restores both of them.
The Tornado goes in search of redemption, finding himself drawn by some form of ‘homing instinct’ that leads him to the secret base of criminal scientist Thomas Oscar Morrow. Inspired by his initials, Morrow obsessed over the future and devised a way to steal future technology and bring it to the 20th century. On Earth-1 he fought The Flash and Green Lantern, but seemingly die, crushed in the coils of a great machine.
Instead, he used this to conceal his escape by vibrating himself into Earth-2. Here, his future computer has predicted that to defeat the Justice Society he had to construct the Red Tornado. Morrow’s musings are interrupted by the Tornado, who he ‘kills’ using one of the ray guns. However, his computer still insists he can only win if the Tornado is there to stop him. Puzzled, he reveals that the Tornado is not dead but rather, like the fallen JSA quartet, filled with ‘futurenergy’. Withdrawing the energy will restore life. He restores the Tornado, in slow motion, making his escape.
Meanwhile, Fate has summoned another half dozen JSA members. They go in pursuit of Morrow’s latest crime, only to find the Red Tornado ripping up the joint and hammering Morrow and his men. They warmly greet him as a fellow member.
Trembling with pride, the Tornado brandishes a futurenergy gun, explaining that their fallen comrades aren’t dead, and can be restored by reversing the energy. As he does so, the room explodes, killing the rest of the JSA. A happy Morrow had anticipated this and surreptitiously filled the room with futurenergy, causing the blow-up.
Now he’ll go back to Earth-1 and challenge the Justice League. Will he win? As long as the Red Tornado doesn’t show up to stop him…
End of Part 1


On Earth-1, a routine meeting of the Justice League is interrupted by five wives and girlfriends bursting in and planting smackers on their amours. Midge puts her tongue down Snapper Carr’s throat, Steve Trevor plants one on Wonder Woman, Mera gives Aquaman an intimate lip-lock, Hawkgirl cosies up with a redhead’s passion to Hawkma, and Jean Loring manages to locate the Atom’s lips, even though her mouth is as big as his face.
And all five Leaguers die, as the other halfs dissolve into pure energy. A mysterious voice orders the rest of the League (except the absent J’Onn J’Onzz) to tackle three cosmic monsters he’s unleashed on Earth: when they are defeated, he’ll reveal himself in their Souvenir Room. By teamwork, Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern and Green Arrow defeat this menace, which disappears like the ladies (and Colonel Steve) did.
Back at the Souvenir Room, Morrow shows himself, to be recognised by Flash and Green Lantern. He has animated five trophies from past League cases: Starro the Conqueror, Amazo, Super-Duper, Dr Light’s light machine, and Felix Faust’s magic bell, which wind up killing the last five Leaguers.
As an encore, Morrow decides to build a beacon that will inflame the populations of Earth-1 and Earth-2 with hatred for each other, then tear aside the vibratory barrier and let them attack each other.
Meanwhile, back on Earth-2, the Red Tornado, who was ‘earthed’ by holding the gun, comes round. To restore the JSA he has to find Morrow and one of his guns. The Tornado’s ‘homing instinct’ is just strong enough to get him to the Justice League sanctuary on Earth-1, where he finds the gallery of ‘dead’ heroes and a tape recording of Morrow’s diary.
Unable to revive the five most recently killed Leaguers without a futurenergy gun, the Tornado concludes that he can restore the first five by having their real-life ladies give them a snog. Being a mere robot, he goes about this task with a lack of tact and diplomacy (although apparently with enough tact and diplomacy not to explain to Jean Loring exactly why she has to cheat on her fiancé Ray Palmer for the good of the cause).
Hawkman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Atom and Snapper are led to Morrow by the Tornado. Whilst Wonder Woman smashes the beacon, the boys knock down the androids and the Tornado slaps Morrow about until he confesses everything, with a strong dose of petulant nastiness about how the Red |Tornado is a nothing, a nobody, a machine.
Having been given this to think about, the Red Tornado takes a gun back to Earth-2 and saves the Justice Society who, despite everything, take him on as a member. But that’s no longer enough. The tortured robot now wants a face, a name, a personality (with Gardner Fox writing?): he wants a place in the world…
* * * * *
The sixth annual JLA/JSA team-up is a story on the cusp of change. Its first part marks the debut of the Justice League’s first new penciller since the beginning, Dick Dillin and its second part was Gardner Fox’s swansong, his final Justice League story.
Change was coming to DC, an overdue change that the company would approach with considerable uncertainty, and in which they would make many mistakes. But it was an historical imperative, inevitable in one form or another since Fantastic Four 1. For all its success, for all its surface slickness, DC had barely changed since the late Forties, least of all in its personnel.
The editors and creators who made DC had been in the industry since the Forties. New people might have broken into comics at Marvel, or at less respected places like Charlton, but DC remained inviolate. Marvel were contained thanks to their distribution contract, which severely limited the number of titles they could put out, but that was closing in on its end. And the writers had tried to get together, ask for benefits that, as freelancers, they had never had. DC refused to play, and the old gang was on the edge of vanishing. Broome was spending more time travelling than scripting, Fox’s oddball plots were losing all coherence.
Carmine Infantino, the doyen of DC artists, had his sights set on higher things. He’d been attending editorial meetings for some time, getting a different perspective on the business, and the company had made him art director, to keep him from being poached by Marvel. He was then promoted to editorial director, in which capacity he started creating new editors, choosing artists rather than writers, and bringing a new sensibility to the role.
One of these was Sekowsky, taking Wonder Woman over from Robert Kanigher, and abruptly abandoning his role as the JLA’s only penciller. His replacement, Dillin, was not noted for superheroes; in fact, he had been the regular artist on Blackhawk, having drawn 133 issues of that title at DC alone before it was cancelled. Nevertheless, Dillin adapted so well to the Justice League that he would draw 115 issues, a run ending only with his death in 1980. Ironically, having begun his JLA career with a JSA team-up, his last issue would be the first part of another such.
Dillin was a good fit for the JLA. It’s fair to say that he was a good meat-and-potatoes penciller: firm, clear, unspectacular and reliant on stock poses, but like Sekowsky he could handle multiple heroes, layout crowded scenes with clarity, and keep the reader’s eye moving from beginning to end.
And it’s doubly ironic to think the the Justice League’s longest running penciller cut his teeth on an issue in which the League’s only appearance was the logo on the cover.
I’ll deal with Fox’s replacement in the context of the next team-up, but the old Reynard proved himself adept at structuring his team-ups with variety to the very end. Not only is issue 64 a solo Justice Society adventure – the first since All-Star 57 – but the two teams do not meet.
The link that connects this two-parter is the villain, T.O. Morrow, and, of course, Fox’s last creation, the new Red Tornado. Morrow had previously appeared in a 1964 issue of The Flash, in a team-up  with Green Lantern, in which he’d been killed off. It was an ingenious notion of Fox’s to revive him by having him fool the heroes into thinking him dead whereas he’d actually removed himself to Earth-2, and by pitting him, very plausibly, against not one but two teams, gave Morrow a basis for a long, if somewhat intermittent career.
The Red Tornado was a different kettle of fish entirely. He was the first revived Golden Age character for over a decade, and it’s very difficult from this team-up to divine what Schwarz and Fox’s motives were. For one thing, there’s the coincidence of the near-simultaneous appearance of The Vision, in The Avengers. For another, the character is simply entirely outside the range of characters created by Fox and/or Schwarz down the decades.
He’s a faceless robot, an android who wants to be human, like some souped-up version of the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. As such, and in the context of 1968, and especially the hidebound DC, he’s a fascinating notion, full of unimaginable potential, a symbol of alienation like you could only dream of.
But he’s created to be a member of the Justice Society of America, on Earth-2, meaning that he can only be seen in two comics each year, and then as part of a much larger, nostalgia-laden group. It’s like creating a ghost character, one not to be seen. And on top of his metaphysical dilemma, there’s the intriguing one of how does the poor bugger function in a team when using his powers makes him equally dangerous to the rest of them?
There’s never been a consistent portrayal of the Red Tornado in the years since, I think partly because he was such an unfathomable departure for DC himself, and because he was cut off from the beginning. If he’d been inserted into the Justice League then, instead of years later, the Tornado would have been able to put down roots, to develop.
But that was Julius Schwarz for you. What mattered most was what the readers wanted. If the readership wanted a Red Tornado, they would have to write in and say so. No dropping a brand new, wholly unestablished character into the Justice League.
It was all a very long time ago.
As for the Justice Society’s role this year, they may have got their first truly solo run-out, but overall the story was a bit of a throwback to the ignominious days of 1964: the JSA are comprehensively beaten – they all ‘died’, remember – leaving the Justice League to save everyone’s day.
Practically the whole Society turns up in the first issue, though the active members are the quintet of Doctor Fate (proving again his major popularity), The Flash, Hourman, Starman and, as the sole female, Black Canary. The other half-dozen are no more than cameo cannon-fodder, though there are some interesting details among the line-up. Mr Terrific is not only there again but is the first to appear, whilst Wildcat is excluded entirely. Dr Mid-Nite attends, in the group panel, but is then left out of every other group shot Dillin composes.
As for the other no-shows, these are, sensibly, the Big Three, and Johnny Thunder.
Unless and until Schwarz was prepared to allow Superman and/or Batman to turn up as Justice Society members, there was no-one new left to revive now. This aspect is conveniently filled by the Red Tornado, who becomes the Justice Society’s first new member for, ah, twelve months.
The story itself is entertaining, though in places relatively unconvincing, especially once the action transfers to Earth-1. Fox kills off half the team, subjects the other half to two fights, the first of which feels uneasily like stuffing, to take up pages, then revives the first half to take over the story. And whilst it’s possible to accept the concept of ‘futurenergy’ that ‘kills’ but does not kill people (and robots), there is nothing but symbolism to support the idea that the real girl-friends can reverse the kiss of death and restore life. It’s a major gap in the internal logic of the story, and we can only assume that Schwarz and Fox decided that such mass passion would cloud the mind of the League’s adolescent audience (a tactic that worked on at least one pre-teen reader, far away from  New York City).
Though we can only boggle at the absolute naivety of Jean Loring, being inexplicably called in to snog the face off a superhero the size of a toy. Call herself a lawyer? No wonder it took about twenty years for her to ‘establish herself in her career’ before marrying Ray Palmer.
Finally, does this issue make it into post-Crisis canon? It’s possible to orient the story to Morrow tackling first one team then the other, though it would require a major retcon of his previous appearance, whilst the idea of setting the populations of two Earth against each other would have to go… The bare bones might be there, but it would require a different story being laid upon them, so, no, not this time.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1967


Justice League of America 55, “The Super-Crisis that struck Earth-2!”/Justice League of America 56, “The Negative Crisis between Earths 1-2!” Written by Gardner Fox, art by Mike Sekowsky (pencils) and Sid Greene (inks), edited by Julius Schwarz.

In China, bandit How Chu is tied to a stake, awaiting execution, when a black sphere appears out of the sky and merges into him. He gains immense strength and invulnerability to bullets and escapes to continue robbing. In Chicago, stenographer Claire Morton is dreaming of jewellery during her lunch hour when a black sphere merges with her: she smashes the windows and steals the gems. In London, businessman Horace Rowland is striding towards the bank to complete a profitable business deal when a sphere lands near him, and he picks it up out of curiosity: he breaks into the vault with great strength and steals the cash. Lastly, ex-fielder Marty Baxter, invalided out of the game due to arthitic pain, is disconsolately watching baseball when he too is merged: full of anger, he sets out to destroy the stadiu,.
Rapidly, all four people adopt costumes and start a crime rampage.
All this, we learn, has taken place on Earth-2, where the Justice Society are meeting to welcome their first new member in 19 years. This is Robin, the former Boy Wonder, now fully grown and inducted into the JSA as an (implicit) successor to Batman (who is not present: though semi-retired, he takes on special cases and is off on one at the moment).
Robin’s first mission is to assist the JSA against these four super-powered crooks. The Sports-Smasher beats Wildcat and Robin into a pulp. Wonder Woman is beaten by Gem Girl’s ability to manipulate jewels to assist her. Hawkman and Mr Terrific are brought down by the Money Master’s ability to manipulate external objects and floor them, whilst Hourman tackles How Chu, but is left buried by his ability to conjure up whirlwinds.
The defeated JSA return to their meeting rooms to find Johnny Thunder, who’d been late, waiting for them. Directly he hears what’s been going on, Johnny T sends his Thunderbolt to capture the four super-crooks, but half an hour later, the Bolt returns, beaten and bruised and unsuccessful.
Crestfallen, Johnny sends the Bolt to Earth-1 to bring back some Justice Leaguers, in the hope they have some new ideas. The Bolt returns with Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern and Green Arrow, all of whom are similarly dishevelled, and none too pleased at being snatched off their Earth. It seems they have been struggling against similar super powered foes and didn’t like being interrupted. However, they agree to stay and see if a joint action can bring any results they can take back to Earth-1.
By chance, it is revealed that the Thunderbolt, being less dumb that Johnny Thunder, has checked out what the black spheres are. It appears that they were creatures from another Universe. They, and it, had reached the peak of evolution and, when their Universe began to fall back, flung themselves into Earth-2’s Universe, hoping to connect with creatures that can help them survive and grow further.
Unfortunately, for the black spheres, only four of them made contact with humans and, unfortunately for everybody else, a chemical reaction between the two has turned the humans evil. What’s worse is that, at the moment, the black spheres are dormant in their hosts’ bodies. When they awake to full sentience, they will be unstoppable.
End of part one.


Suddenly, Robin has a brainwave. Only four black spheres may have connected with humans, but all the others may have left radiation that they can use to enhance their own powers. The four fastest heroes team-up to find, mark and mine sites, eventually gathering enough radiation to energise four heroes. Because they have powers already, these are Earth-2’s Wonder Woman and Hourman, and Earth-1’s Flash and Green Lantern. And because each of them will be vulnerable to the evil effects of the radiation, each is accompanied by other heroes.
Superman and Robin accompany Hourman to Rome, where Marty Baxter is carrying on his destructive course. As soon as he comes within the villain’s influence, Hourman turns against and fights his colleagues. He is beating them when Robin realises that Hourman has unnecessarily avoided his blow when on the banks of the Tiber: bodychecking his team-mate into the river, he confirms that the black spheres are affected by water, and Superman brings the irradiated hero down.
Hawkman and Green Arrow and tracking the Flash against How Chu, until the Flash goes bad. However, Green Arrow that notices that the Flash preferred to cut, dangerously, across the path of one of his trick arrows rather than run through a wisteria field: the heroes are tipping their colleagues off as to their weaknesses, and the black spheres are allergic to wisteria blossom.
Wildcat and Mr Terrific are shadowing Green Lantern as Horace Rowland is now robbing in Scotland (complete with steam trains and gorges). But when the Lantern uses a power ring glove to punch Wildcat up into a tree, it breaks off a branch that floors the Emerald Gladiator: wisely, the two heroes grab branches and beat the crap out of him.
Finally, Wonder Woman, with Johnny and his Thunderbolt for company, trails Gem Girl to the villains lair. As soon as she turns bad, the Amazon Princess knocks Johnny out and actually starts fighting her opponent, until they inadvertently smash a water-cooler, which wakes him up. Gem Girl flees as the Bolt discovers that the black sphere people have been simply reflecting his magic back at him.
Nervously, Johnny tries to clear the air with a joke, a terrible joke, but Wonder Woman giggles. Encouraged, he tries another (equally bad) which renders her helpless with laughter: it is a major, major black sphere weakness.
Having incapacitated Wonder Woman, Johnny advances to find all the villains together with the Bolt warning him that the spheres themselves are about to wake up. Fortunately, Johnny has not exhausted his stock of cheap gags, creasing up the villainous quartet until the Bolt can drive the spheres out of everybody’s bodies, to their death.
Almost immediately, heroes arrive from all over with water, wisteria and wood, only to discover that they’ve been outdone by, er, wit. Kindly, they don’t let on to Johnny that he hasn’t saved the day all alone, not that he’d notice as he’s so busy writing out jokes for the Justice League quartet to take back to Earth-1 to overcome their black spheres…
* * * * *
It’s Johnny Thunder again, isn’t it? Don’t tell me you hadn’t noticed. At least it’s the real Johnny Thunder this time, in all his… glory… and not some purple jacketed imposter.
Having run out of old Justice Society members to bring back, Fox and Schwarz went to the opposite extreme and inducted a new JSA member for the first time in almost two decades. In doing so,they acknowledged a point that the previous year’s team-up had rather fudged – that the whole Golden Age revival to this point had fudged – which was the question of whether there were also two of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.
So now we know there were, which opened up a smaller but, for those interested in the minutiae of continuity, absolutely fascinating can of very exclusive worms. Batman exists in the Justice Society (though it is noticeable that he can’t be bothered to turn up to celebrate his ward’s graduation into the big time). And if Batman exists on Earth-2, Fox and Schwarz can introduce Wonder Woman for a first active adventure.
Needless to say, there is little (or in Wonder Woman’s case, no) time spared to explore the differences between the Earth-2 edition and the standard model. The Earth-2 version is staider in her fashion tastes, preferring to retain those laced Grecian sandals than revert to red and yellow boots. However, it is Robin who is the sartorial highlight, choosing for some incredulous reason to retain the design of his costume but kit it out in Batman’s colours, whilst retaining his yellow cape and insisting on a symbol of a bright red R superimposed on a headless bat.
The story is astonishingly simple compared to previous editions of the team-up. Villains rob. Villains beat JSA. Villains beat Thunderbolt (offstage). Thunderbolt hauls in four JLAers to make it into a team-up before Fox goes into typically talky ending to explain what’s going on. Heroes supercharge some of their number to try to compete. Each one goes evil and, in Marvel fashion, turns on their team-mates. However, in Fox fashion, each drops a clue as to how they can be beaten and Johnny Thunder saves the day (he actually does, you know: the others didn’t get there in time).
What bulks the tale out is splitting the action into four fights each time, with each fight taking rather longer than most JLA/JSA encounters have previously done, in which we see the growing influence of Marvel again. Bigger art, more fights, heroes turning upon one another (albeit via a perfectly reasonable alien influence, they would never have done that normally). The Sixties were beginning to catch-up to DC.
Structurally, Fox once again rings the changes. The action, this time, takes place wholly on Earth-2, and for the first part, the Justice League are literally out of sight and out of mind, until page 20 of 23. The overwhelming prominence of the Society, and the fact that the League are in exactly the same state as them, deprives the move of the suggestion it might once have had  of the JSA being inferior.
And Fox is careful to split the heroes chosen to be infected with the black sphere radiation equally among the teams, although by this point there are nearly twice as many JSA as JLA.
It should be noticed that, with this team-up, Dr Fate loses his perfect record, and that Mr. Terrific doubles his previous number of missions with the Justice Society. Twice in three years: unfortunately, this was not the beginning of a new lease of life for the Man of a Thousand Talents, the Defender of Fair Play: he would appear in action only twice in the next decade, the second of these very briefly before his death. But that’s a matter for another day.
This story is also a good illustration of the attitudes that Americans have towards those lesser beings who fill out the more unimportant parts of this planet. As an English citizen, I obviously look with a critical eye upon money magnate Horace Rowlands. True, he is introduced in bowler hat, rolled umbrella and briefcase, and it’s only when he gains super-powers that he acquires a florid top hat and a monocle (none of the villains fare well on costumes, except for Gem Girl, with her mini-dress, kinky boots and utterly chic little hat).
But as Horace, he’s an accurate picture of a City-based businessman of the time, and at least he doesn’t have a double-barrelled surname, and I for one have seen dozens of incredibly more insulting portrayals down the years in American comics.
Though I do have issues with the idea of England sending its as yet unstolen gold into Scotland on trains travelling on wooden trestles across deep gorges in the Scottish Highlands that are far to the north of cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh that might have security facilities better than the Bank of England for gold bullion. Gorges, incidentally, in which primroses grow and apple trees offer bright red apples of a shade not even a supermarket has yet produced.
But you can’t complain about that when you’ve got the question of How Chu (and yes, that gag is also in there). How Chu is a Chinese bandit, which is an almighty cliché in itself. In 1967, China was a Communist country, saving only Nationalist China on the island of Taiwan. This much is, apparently, recognised when we meet How Chu about to be executed by Chinese Communist Soldiers.
However, once How Chu makes his black sphere inspired escape, he dresses something like a Mongol warrior from the days of Ghenghis Khan, and robs ancient Chinese merchants on the Silk Road from Lanchow to Kashgar (so, not Taiwan, then). The Silk Road, of which there are many, was a trading route from the west into China, dating back to the First Century BCE. The Chinese merchants (on a 2,000 year old road) in Communist China, are being chauffeured in an ancient, black 1930’s car of a kind usually only found in very early Terry and the Pirates adventures, before Milton Caniff started doing research. These merchants, in Communist China, are carrying bags of gold and are dressed in mandarin suits of bright collars, in which they stand, hunch-shouldered, their hands concealed in their great, wide, drooping sleeves, whilst wearing little skull-caps on shaven heads.
Nearly a decade later, Paul Levitz would become the first Justice Society writer to exploit the fact that Earth-2 was a different planet, likely with a different political history. It’s possible that, in a subtle manner, Fox and Schwarz may be prefiguring his efforts by presenting a China that had never known a Mao Tse-Tung. But I doubt it.
It was all so long ago, and in another country, and besides, the wench is dead. And yes, it was a kid’s comic. But it is emblematic of the total disregard for accuracy as to conditions in other countries that typified mainstream America than and, sadly, now.
I nevertheless enjoyed it in 1967, and the fun it brought me burns still in my memories, meaning that I can specify its flaws, and still forgive it those failings, because a part of me lives in this story still.
And a shout out must be made about the horribly dull titles for this pair of issues.
Unfortunately, this is one of those that could very easily be adapted to fit the post-Crisis canon. It sorta works that way, doesn’t it?

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1965


Justice League of America 37, “Earth – Without a Justice League!”/Justice League of America 38, “Crisis on Earth-A!” Written by Gardner Fox, art by Mike Sekowsky (pencils) and Bernard Sachs (inks), edited by Julius Schwarz.

At last Johnny Thunder has received an invite to a Justice Society meeting. It’s been very frustrating, them having adventures without him. He calls on his Thunderbolt, only to find that, after having had nothing to do for so long (17 years), the Bahdnesian Hex-Bolt was about to try Earth-1, in the hope that its Johnny Thunder had something for it to do. The easily-distracted Johnny muses about wanting to meet his Earth-1 equivalent, and the Bolt immediately zaps them there.
The Earth-1 Thunder, who lives in a small, ill-kept apartment room, looks identical to Johnny, except for his frown and his preference for purple jackets, not green. He has the same history as Johnny but, being a crook, was never given a Thunderbolt. Johnny sympathises: Thunder knocks him out and, after a few tries at getting the right words, eventually hits on “Cei-u” (i.e., Say you), and orders the Bolt to hop down to the local factory and rob it of its payroll.
Hopping down literally (he is a literal being), the Thunderbolt, being rusty, misjudges and bangs his head against the safe. This attracts the attention of Barry Allen, who changes to the Flash and intervenes. Surprisingly, as someone whose favourite comic book was Flash Comics, Barry-Flash does not recognise the Thunderbolt of another Flash alumni. The Bolt escapes when a suspicious and impatient Thunder orders his return.
When he hears about the Flash, Thunder comes up with a grandiose plan to prevent the Justice League from interfering: he sends the Bolt back into time to prevent all of them ever coming to be.
Thus the Thunderbolt intercepts the lightning bolt bound for Barry Allen’s lab: no chemical bath, no Flash. He converts Krypton’s fissionable uranium core to lead: no explosion, no rocket containing baby Kal-El. He prevents the blast of yellow radiation from crashing Abin Sur’s spaceship: he remains Green Lantern elsewhere in this sector. He smashes the fragment of white dwarf star matter that Ray Palmer would have used to create the Atom’s size and weight changing controls. He shorts out Dr Erdel’s electronic brain before it teleports the Martian Manhunter to Earth. And he drops into Detective Comics 27, into the first panel of Batman’s career, and helps the crooks he faced whale the shit out of Bruce Wayne, who concludes that being a crimefighter was a silly idea and he’s going back to being a playboy!
In similar, but unspecified fashion, the Thunderbolt also disrupts the origins of Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and Hawkman. When he returns to Thunder, utterly exhausted, he advises him that the Earth has now been changed into an alternate: Thunder promptly christens it Earth-A.
Meanwhile, on Earth-2, the other Justice Society members – The Flash, Green Lantern, The Atom, Hawkman, Doctor Fate and Mr. Terrific – are wondering where Johnny has got to. There’s no trace of him on Earth-2 in Fate’s crystal ball, but they pick up the trace of his Thunderbolt disappearing into Earth-1. Looking for the Bolt there, the JSA eavesdrop on a scene of Thunder assembling his gang to go out and rob now the Justice League are no longer there to stop them. Horrified and mystified at their counterparts’ disappearance, the Justice Society head for Earth-1.
Once there, they interrupt Thunder’s gang’s robbery. The gang are easily captured and Thunder sets the Bolt against them, with orders that the Bolt interprets very literally: slap ’em down, kick them off the Earth. The Bolt refuses to kill: that is Tabu. As the JSA are too much for the Bolt, Thunder orders him to get them out of there.
After visiting various of the putative Justice Leaguers and discovering they know nothing of their heroic lives, the JSA regroup. They decide to disguise themselves as various JLA members, in the hope that their appearance will cause Thunder to blurt out what he’s done to them. Flash, Green Lantern and the Atom become their Earth-1 equivalents, Doctor Fate and Mr. Terrific impersonate Superman and Batman which Hawkman opts to cover the Martian Manhunter.
Once the Bolt tells Thunder that the JSA have ‘vanished’, he goes out to rob a cruise liner, using only the Bolt. The disguised JSA catch up with them and Thunder does indeed blurt out what he’s done, but despite instructing the Bolt to split himself into six, one for each ‘Justice Leaguer’, each Bolt is only one-sixth and strong. The ‘League’ prevail and Thunder and the Bolt flee again.
Having discovered just who the ‘JLA’ were, Thunder adopts the same plan. The Bolt breaks six of his gang members out of jail and substitutes each of them in the various Leaguers origins. Thus, when the JSA find Thunder’s lair, they are confronted by a six-man Lawless League. In preparation for the fight, the Bolt removes the JSA’s disguises, leaving the two sides ready to face-off
End of part 1.

In anticipation of the fight, Thunder has the Bolt set him up with wide-screen TV. Black & white is not acceptable, even though Batman is beating Mr Terrific: by the time the screen changes to colour, the roles have been reversed. Each JSA member takes on the Lawless League equivalent of the one they impersonated. In each case, the Lawless League seem strong at first, but are easily taken out by the JSA: the Bolt explains that it is a matter of experience with powers.
Infuriated, Thunder has the Bolt whip up an earthquake, a hurricane and a typhoon to assault the JSA, knocking three members out immediately. Hawkman grabs the capes of Doctor Fate and Green Lantern, struggling to hold them aloft, whilst the other three fall into a crevasse. Once out of the wind, Terrific grabs a spur of rock, The Flash supports himself by drumming his heels to create wind pressure that stops him falling, and once the Atom wakes up, the three are propelled upwards, like a circus act. They help Hawkman as his wings are torn off, and once recovered Doctor Fate and Green Lantern anchor themselves in a magical gondola.
Frustrated, Thunder decides to escape by having the Bolt take him to the Moon. Once there, he demands air be added.
Whilst his team-mates search for Thunder, Doctor Fate attempts to undo the Bolt’s interference with history, but it is accomplished magic and he can do nothing. However, the Flash has discovered the column of air leading towards the Moon, and the JSA set off in pursuit.
On the Moon, Thunder has had the Bolt create three monsters to destroy the JSA. When the heroes arrive, The Atom and Mr. Terrific charge into the attack against Medusa-Man, but his face changes them both into solid wood: Fate stops him by covering his face with a blank gold mask. Hawkman and the Flash attack Repello-Man, who repels their assaults back at them, knocking them out of the fight. And Green Lantern pours it on against Absorbo-Man, who then sends all the power back at him, wiping him out.
This leaves Doctor Fate alone against the remaining two monsters. He takes out Repello-Man by flinging bolts of reverse magic at him: when Repello-Man tries to repel them, they are reversed and attracted to him, shattering him. As for Absorbo-Man, Fate banks on his having absorbed the weakness of Green Lantern’s power ring as well as its power: hurling Atom and Terrific’s wooden bodies against him, he causes Absorbo-Man to crumble.
By now at screaming pitch, Thunder turns the Bolt against Fate, in an all-out magic war, but as they fling all manner of bolts at each other, thunder is caught in the middle, battered from all sides until he finally screams that he has had enough, that he wants none of this to ever have happened and to see none of them ever again.
The Justice League of America gather for a routine meeting at which the only crime news is about a small-time crook named Johnny Thunder. The Flash, smiling, suggests that he’s heard of that name before. The Thunderbolt winks at the reader: he knows what happened, but he isn’t sharing it.
* * * * *
Ok, it’s the ending, isn’t it?
It’s an unashamed “And then they woke up, and it was all a dream”, even though it’s not even that, because it all never happened, not even in a dream, and no-one remembers it. Except the Thunderbolt. Oh, yes, and the readers.
I’ve no idea how far you have to go to find a time when it was possible to get away with that kind of ending, but I suspect it was way before 1965. On the other hand, when I read this adventure, in two widely separated parts, in 1966, I was ten years old and I was a sucker for it, and despite an adult appreciation of the flaws in this story, it was my introduction to the Justice Society, and it is still one of my favourite comics stories ever.
Because, for all the ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ nature of the ending, an obvious device to bring to an end a story that had spiralled out of any rational means of closure, it could not possibly mar a tale that had opened my eyes to the vastness of the Universe and of all possibility. Those two pages when the Thunderbolt goes up and down the timestream to invade and destroy the origins of the Justice League opened my mind far wider and further than any comparable incident in literature of any kind.
Once is a great success, two a commercialised sequel but three is a tradition. With this team-up, the annual meeting of the super-teams became a fixture of the summer issues of Justice League of America that the two teams would continue to meet every year.
Might there have been a moment when the tradition could safely have been broken, without too much complaint from readers? Not in 1965, nor the year after. DC’s Golden Age revival was reaching the heights. Schwarz had announced that there would be no more new versions after the success of the Atom, but instead he was experimenting with full-scale revivals. Green Lantern teamed up with his Golden Age counterpart for a couple of adventures, as did the Atom. In Showcase, Doctor Fate and Hourman had a couple of outings in tandem, as did Starman and Black Canary in Brave and Bold, and Schwarz even planned for a Dr Mid-Nite/Sandman team-up, before deciding to go for a solo revival of the Spectre.
But even though the Spectre’s re-emergence, intended as the springboard of an actual series, to be set on Earth-2, failed to make the intended impact, the annual team-up would last long enough that, like the continuing performances of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, it would continue because it had already played for so long, and no-one could work out how to take it off, whilst the Multiverse persisted.
There’s a substantial difference between this team-up and those preceding it, and I like to think that criticism of how the Justice Society were demeaned in 1964 influenced this year’s story, because it’s not a team-up at all. Forget what it says on the cover of issue 37: the Justice League don’t so much not appear on their own cover, as not (the penultimate panel of issue 38 excepted) appear at all in the entire two issues! This is a solo Justice Society story in everything but name.
Of course, the image of the Justice League is preserved for their fans, with the Justice Society in issue 37 and Thunder’s gang in 38 masquerading as the stars of the series. And the appearance of the latter isn’t an exact match as they’re all drawn as different, criminal body-types and faces.
As for the JSA line-up, Doctor Fate and Hawkman retain their 100% record and the other three of Schwarz’s revivals return. The two new revenants this year are Johnny Thunder and Mr. Terrific.
We don’t see much of Johnny at all, and certainly not in conjunction with anyone except his Thunderbolt and his Earth-1 counterpart. And after three pages of that, bop, Johnny’s knocked cold and we are left with his evil equivalent, who’s a completely different kettle of fish. You have to say this for Thunder, he may have a permanent frown and prefer purple jackets to green, and like any member of the criminal classes, he can only pronounce the letters ‘th’ as ‘d’, but when it comes to schemes and plots, he’s wildly inventive: Johnny would never have thought of a fraction of what he comes up with.
So we are exposed to only a small dose of Johnny Thunder, Comic Relief, which suggests to me that Fox and Schwarz were uncertain about how to play Johnny T, and settled for a brief taste, to invite audience reaction.
Terrific, on the other hand, slots in without the slightest sign that this is Terry Sloane’s first mission as a Justice Society member. On his one previous appearance in All-Star, Mr Terrific was only a guest, a fact that was heavily emphasised at the time, but here he is, one of the boys, and sufficiently well-regarded (by Fox and Schwarz, let alone his team-mates) as to be a suitable double for Batman.
There never was any story about how and when Terrific was invited into membership. He’s generally been reassigned a role as a JSA reservist in later years, but if anyone at National had bothered with the issue in 1965, I’d expect the answer to have been that, under the JSA’s revised by-laws, he was upgraded.
One thing about this story puzzled me for years. Flash, Green Lantern and Atom naturally impersonate their namesakes, but Hawkman, rather implausibly, opts to imitate the Martian Manhunter, even though his Earth-1 counterpart is a member of the League. Then it struck me that this could be explained as a particularly subtle piece of continuity from Fox and Schwarz: the Katar Hol Kawkman was now a Leaguer, but he’d only been inducted in Justice League of America 31, the following issue from the previous year’s team-up, and the teams never had any contact between annual meetings, so the Prince Khufu Hawkman simply did not know he too had a JLA equivalent.
On the other hand, even four years into the Marvel Age, a concern for blatant continuity never bothered Fox and Schwarz, so something as low-key as this seems implausible, but it still wouldn’t surprise me if, during those legendary morning/afternoon plotting sessions, one of editor and writer made that very objection.
Of course, the story is not without its flaws. I’ve already pointed out in the story summary that, despite being an avid reader of Flash Comics, Barry-Flash apparently doesn’t recognise Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt when Johnny T appeared in all but the last dozen or so issues of the whole series, but more serious is the introduction of “Accomplished Magic”, which, having been accomplished, cannot be undone.
It’s a necessary device to stop Doctor Fate simply undoing everything halfway through issue 37, but its glaring inconsistency is that Fate’s own “Accomplished Magic” doesn’t stop the Thunderbolt stripping away the Society’s disguise as the League.
And even at the age of ten, when I first read this story, I couldn’t help but think that Fox and Schwarz missed a trick in the first scene where the Society first tackle the Thunderbolt. Thunder orders the Bolt to ‘slap ’em down!’: he turns himself into a giant hand and slaps them down onto the ground. He orders the Bolt to ‘kick ’em off the Earth!’: the Bolt turns himself into a giant boot and kicks them ten feet into the air, ‘off the Earth’.
Finally, Thunder orders the Bolt to kill them. This is the Bolt’s sticking point: not killing, that’s Tabu.
Almost fifty years later, I still expect a raging Thunder to shout back, “Ok, then, Tabu! Now kill them!”
As far as post-Crisis canonicity is concerned, you might think that this one’s impossible as well, but it’s surprisingly adaptable. Make Thunder into a grandson, or grandnephew of Johnny who gets control of the Bolt and decides to eliminate the Justice League and the story would still play out. And if young Thunder is appropriately contemptuous of the older generation, that might explain why he only has the Justice League eliminated from history, and not the ‘beneath contempt’ Society.
But you’d have had to lose that ending…

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1964


Justice League of America 29, “Crisis on Earth-Three!”/Justice League of America 30, “The Most Dangerous Earth of All!” Written by Gardner Fox, art by Mike Sekowsky (pencils) and Bernard Sachs (inks), edited by Julius Schwarz.

We are introduced to three sets of five costumed characters on the splash page: The Flash Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern of Earth-1, Hawkman, Black Canary, Doctor Fate, Dr Mid-Nite and Starman of Earth-2 and, making their first appearance, Superwoman, Owlman, Ultraman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring of Earth-3.
On the next page, the concept of parallel Earths is re-explained, as Barry-Flash prevents a rookie cop being gunned down, and Jay-Flash a Bank Messenger from being robbed, but the third red-clad speedster, Johnny Quick is actually stealing a priceless sculpture. He’s quickly caught in a net-trap prepared by the Police, from which he escapes, but not without a fright. Johnny Quick has been short of decent opposition for a while and is getting rusty.
His two fellow-members of the Crime Syndicate, Superwoman and Power Ring, are similarly facing unexpected opposition from the Police and making heavy weather of getting away.
These super-equivalents of the JLA are actually villains, not heroes for, though Earths-1 & 2 are similar-but-different, Earth-3’s history has been oddly reversed. Columbus was an American who discovered Europe, which won its independence in the Revolutionary War (this is definitely a different Earth if America has lost a war), whilst President John Wilkes Booth was assassinated by the crazed actor, Abraham Lincoln.
Which is why all Earth-3’s heroes are villains, and losing their edge for lack of super-powered opposition.
This can be remedied for Ultraman, who gains extra powers from exposure to Kryptonite, has discovered Earth-1 and the bemusing example of super characters who don’t use their powers to rob. This thrills the whole Syndicate, who plan to travel to Earth-1 to sharpen themselves up. But Owlman, whose power lies in his brain and his meticulously planed heists, who proposes a precaution against the possibility that they might lose.
Thus, a five-strong JLA meeting (again chaired by Batman) is interrupted by pleas for help against these new supervillains robbing across America. The League splits up to face their equivalents but arrive on the various scenes to find that everyone except Superwoman has swapped round to go on robbing. So Wonder Woman defeats Superman, Flash takes down Ultraman, Batman outsmarts Johnny Quick, Superman overcomes Power Ring and Green Lantern captures Owlman.
But as each villain is grabbed, they whisper the word ‘Volthoom’, triggering a trap that draws each of them, and their JLA assailant back to Earth-3. There, either by some mysterious ‘home advantage’ or simply the JLA being dazed, the Crime Syndicate reverse the results of their individual battles.
Having lost ‘away’ and won at ‘home’, the Syndicate believe they have proved nothing until they can take on the League on neutral territory, i.e., Earth-2. The Leaguers are imprisoned in their cave Sanctuary again whilst the Syndicate prepare the invade Earth-2.
However, the Justice Society have observed strange eyes peering at their world. Wondering if the eyes come from Earth-1, Doctor Fate uses his crystal ball to connect to the cave Sanctuary. He’s unable to free the League but can release them long enough for them to explain to the JSA what the Syndicate are doing, and warn them not to let the Syndicate make physical contact and say ‘Volthoom’…
End of Part One.


The Justice Society are on the alert for the Syndicate’s attack. Suddenly, the five villains enter from five directions. The battle swiftly splits up into five duels.
Hawkman defeats Johnny Quick, Doctor Fate takes down Power Ring, Dr Mid-Nite outsmarts Owlman, Black Canary overcomes Superwoman and Starman captures Ultraman. No contact is made, no Volthooms are spoken but Owlman has foreseen this and this time the trap is triggered by the Justice Society heroes proclaiming themselves as having won.
On Earth-3 they are placed in a carefully prepared prison.
The Syndicate then release the Justice League and start a deciding battle on Earth-2. After an overture in which each Leaguer ignores their own safety to save a team-mate, the fight breaks up into battles between the Leaguers and their opposite number.
Each Leaguer wins by overloading their opponent’s powers to the point where they cannot control them. However, a problem arises when it comes to imprisoning the Syndicate, who show extreme fear at being held captive on either Earth-1 or 2, though they grin all over their faces at the thought of going back to Earth-3. Green Lantern extracts from Power Ring’s ring the information that the JSA’s prison is constructed so that, if they are released, both Earths-1 and 2 will blow-up.
So the League imprison the Syndicate in a power ring bubble in between dimensions, surrounded by multi-space-lingual signs warning everyone off letting them out. Then they release the JSA on Earth-3 whilst GL siphons the destructive force into deep space where it blows up two uninhabited planets instead.
The teams then return to their own Earths.
* * * * *
Just as Barry-Flash’s discovery of Jay-Flash’s Earth in The Flash 123 was so big a success, it spawned a sequel in The Flash 129 (given the lead-time before publication, the sequel must have been decided on within minutes of the first response to The Flash 123), the delighted response to issues 21 and 22 (and their sales figures) guaranteed a sequel, the same time next year.
The 1964 team-up once again played things conventionally, with superhero vs supervillain as its theme. Fox structured the story differently, by giving the League and the Society a common enemy, who they each fought separately, and by having the heroes fight individual battles through (except for one token page in issue 30).
But the real twist is in introducing a set of evil duplicates for the Justice League’s (then) big five characters.
It’s interesting that DC took the step of expanding their parallel worlds set-up to include a third Earth so very quickly, though future Earths would be introduced to the continuum must more circumspectly for the next decade. And it’s almost impossible not to see a link to that throwaway introduction of the very idea of an Earth-3 at the end of last year’s team-up.
At the time I first read this story, several years after its publication, I was aware of enough American history to understand the reversals, even that of Lincoln’s assassination, though it took until the Eighties, when my interest in American history really kicked in, for me to start envisaging the colossal distortion required to produce the Lincoln/Booth switcharound.
Not that Fox or Schwarz would have given it a moment’s consideration. It was, after all, a Reverse-MacGuffin, a totally unimportant, completely inconsequential, wholly irrelevant detail that only exists to lend verisimilitude to your central conceit. Which is, naturally, creating evil doppelgangers of half the Justice League.
Once again, the Justice Society play second fiddle in this team-up. Despite dominating the cover of issue 29, they don’t appear in the story until the penultimate page, and though they get first crack of the whip at the action in issue 30, their victory over the Crime Syndicate is merely pyrrhic: despite being warned about the very technique, they fall into the Syndicate’s plot and have to be freed from prison by the victorious League at the end.
Even a contemporary letter-writer complained about the demeaning approach to the JSA, which may have had an effect on what would come next.
Whilst the JLA line-up is chosen specifically to parallel the Crime Syndicate, there is no apparent logic to the JSA line-up. Doctor Fate, Hawkman and Black Canary survive the cut, and, in a nice touch, paralleling their joint début in All-Star 8, Dr Mid-Nite and Starman are reintroduced in the Silver Age.
Interestingly, though Mid-Nite is apparently unchanged from his last run-out in 1950, Starman (who  disappeared in 1945) refers to his scientific weapon as his Cosmic Rod, and it seems to have a wider range of abilities than his old Gravity Rod.
And it’s immediately noticeable that that seven-active-member, see-our-by-laws nonsense has already been abandoned. Each team has five members in action, giving Sekowsky a relatively easy fifteen costumes to cope with (that is, if you don’t count cameos by five more heroes – three League, two Society – in the build-up).
It’s fresh and enjoyable, especially in the chance to welcome another two Golden Age gladiators back into the action, but as a whole the story doesn’t match the standards of the first team-up, in 1963.
A large part of this is attributable to the way the Justice Society are depicted as losers, but the largely downbeat ending to the story kills its momentum. The Crime Syndicate are defeated, for good, at the top of page 21. What follows is a silly pantomime show as the Syndicate members send out facial signals over what they want to see happen to themselves, which leads to this simultaneously overblown and pathetic threat to the existence of Earths 1 and 2, that Green Lantern disposes of in the corner of a panel.
It kills the story in its traces, and the naïve idea of imprisoning the Syndicate for all eternity, in a globe lacking food, water and air supplies, surrounded by warning signs, just emphasises how perfunctory the conclusion is.
I’ve also one complaint about this story that has nothing to do with the team-ups, and that’s the first round of battles in issue 29. Let’s get this straight: the Syndicate split up to rob in five specific places and the JLA split up to tackle their exact counterpart. Leave aside the sexist implications of allowing only Superwoman and Wonder Woman meet, since you can’t (in 1964) have either of them fight men, because no man would be so unchivalrous as to strike a poor, weak, defenceless woman.
No, what actually happens is that all four male JLAers arrive to find a different male villain. That’s four villains who, having finished looting a location, all go to a location where one of their colleagues has also been looting, meaning that all four are actually expecting to find that their team-mates have not looted everything but will have left stuff – rich, valuable stuff – behind for somebody else to come loot. And not only is that the stupidest idea any supervillain could ever have had, but it actually turns out to be the case in every case.
Famously, at the end of Fantastic Voyage, the grandson of screenplay writer Isaac Asimov asked, if the suddenly growing scientists (and Raquel Welsh) had to get out of the patient’s head before they killed him, why did the suddenly growing submarine they left behind not kill him. Asimov explained that it was because his infant grandson was smarter than a Hollywood Producer.
That makes my eight year old self smarter than Gardner Fox and Julius Schwarz. If only I’d lived in New York, and not East Manchester.
Post-Crisis canon or not? As the story’s sole raison d’être is parallel worlds and the Crime Syndicate coming from an Earth where evil predominates, it’s impossible for this story to have occurred. Or is it? As early as Justice League International in 1987, DC had reintroduced Bluejay, Wandjina and the Silver Sorceress (affectionate parodies of Marvel’s Avengers) as survivors of an alternate Earth destroyed by nuclear disaster, so why couldn’t the Crime Syndicate have come from that kind of alternate Earth themselves?
However, the kind of rewriting required to accommodate the shift from three Earths to two would probably have forced changes out of all recognition: in the DC Universe, it makes no sense to even involve the Justice Society at all. So, again, no.