The Great DC Crossover – Part 3 – Arrow


At least the two on the right appeared...
At least the two on the right appeared…

As crossovers go in general, this episode was pretty much of a bust, the last five minutes excepted, when the Dominators and their plans to invade Earth and give it some serious welly with ‘the weapon’ became more than a MacGuffin for the real intent of Arrow‘s 100th episode.

On the other hand, as episodes of Arrow go, this was bloody brilliant and better than anything we’ve seen in the last two series, if not more.

So: where we left off last night, Team Arrow (aka Ollie, Dig, Thea, Sarah and Ray) vanished. Back in Star City, Felicity and Cisco, with the respective aids of Rene/Wild Dog, Curtis/Mr Terrific and Rory/Ragman, tracked down where they were being held captive. This required a brief altercation with some real throwaway enhanced woman, for which Flash and Supergirl turned up to turn her over. Our missing quintet were found to be on the Dominator spaceship, which they exited in some kind of mini-ship, pursued by a whole swarm of mini-ships intent on death and destruction, until rescued by the Waverider and Nate Heywood (who’s been left out so far).

All of which was the mainly thin gristle around the meat of episode 100, which featured Ollie’s own version of Flashpoint, the life he could have had, which perhaps he should have had, if one thing hadn’t happened. That signifying point was The Queen’s Gambit cruise.

Ollie didn’t die. His Dad didn’t die. Deathstroke had no reason to kill his mother. Sarah never joined the League of Assassins. Without one Black Canary there was never a need for a second, so Laurel didn’t die, in fact tomorrow is her wedding day. To Ollie. His Dad wants him to take over Queen Consolidated as CEO, without which the board will accept Ray Palmer’s buy-out. Detective Lance isn’t an alcoholic. Thea doesn’t know who her real father is. Tommy Merlin’s alive, and of all things he’s a doctor in Chicago (on Chicago Hope?). There is an arrow-wielding vigilante, nicknamed the Hood, and assisted by Ray’s fiancee, Felicity, but it’s Diggle.

It’s wrong, all wrong, every bad thing undone. I’ve seen it before in comics, it”s not original, it’s the idea that underpins The Last Temptation of Christ and I don’t expect it was new then. The hero’s real enemy is not defeat, or death, it is happiness. It’s been the underpinning of Arrow since episode 1 and it’s been the dire ruination of the series for these last two miserable seasons, and here it is, overthrown. What it could have been, what has been sacrificed.

It’s unreal, and at every turn things are thrown up, things that trigger all five victim’s memories, although mostly Ollie’s. The story is always the same and the end is always the same: the hero rejects peace, rejects fulfillment, the dirty and desperate reality is restored. But it’s so hard. Thea refuses at first, the little girl who has her parents back, her mother and her father, who can’t bear to repeat the loss. Who among us doesn’t respond to that? You know what I would give to havve my father come back, to have had that life instead. But she comes out to fight with the rest, for no reason given, overcomes her obstacles, awakens with the rest.

It’s The Flash 300, Cary Bates’ greatest story. It’s that episode of Red Dwarf where they discover it’s been a virtual reality game all along. It’s every story that’s ever ended ‘and they she woke up, and it had all been a dream’, except that the dream is the thing you want to carry on forever.

It’s a fine and memorable episode, but in terms of the crossover, they’re dumping one hell of a lot on Legends of Tomorrow‘s shoulders for the final part, and assuming all for get renewed for another season each (and there’s a very good case for denying Arrow the chance to get any more turgid), and they decide to do another crossover, they need to do something a lot better next time.

Tune in tomorrow for the final part.

The Great DC Crossover – Part 2 – The Flash


1, 2, 3...
1, 2, 3…

Now that was more like it.

The Flash part of the Great DC Crossover was the true start, with the arrival on Earth of the Dominators, invading aliens, necessitating bringing together every known superhero to face them. Given that this Earth-menacing menace was so big, it needed the combined cast of four shows to tackle it, it seemed clunky that the on going continuity of the three combined series should still go rattling on, but hey, it all just added to the density of affairs.

We started with Team Flash still testing the newly-powered Wally West, who’s shaping up to be faster even than Barry, but who everyone wants to keep away from actually getting out there to fight the good fight. This is interrupted by the arrival of a meteorite in downtown Central City, which turns out to not be a meteorite but rather a spaceship, out of which clomped the Dominators, in some of the worst CGI the show’s come up with to date. Just as soon as Lyla Michaels confirms these are aliens who’ve been around before in the Fifties, Barry decides to set up a task force.

This means pulling Green Arrow and Spartan out of the way of the Vigilante’s machine guns, plus Speedy jumping out of retirement because, hey, its aliens and that’s cool, plus a time beacon to summon the Legends – Ray has out of nowhere rebuilt his Atom suit – and Barry dragging a reluctant Cisco off to collect an alien of their own in Kara per yesterday.

Incidentally, I know we’re not exactly sticking to the classic DC Multiverse but it was a little demeaning I thought to have Kara’s Universe down as Earth-38. Something in single figures, at least.

So, its everybody hurriedly practicing how to be an en masse team, Wally keep getting pushed out of the way, everybody crashing and burning against a Supergirl who wasn’t even sweating and time to advance a couple of Legends of Tomorrow plot-points. First, there’s this mysterious  message from Barry itself that Jax and Professor Stein have been concealing from everyone else the past few weeks, which turns out to be for forty years in the future, confessing to the Flashpoint thing and warning everyone to beware because Barry could have fucked over all their futures.

Needless to say, Ollie counseled keeping it schtum, since Barry was Mission Leader (even though Ollie was giving the proxy orders), which didn’t even last ten minutes of screen-time before Cisco found the mp4 player, thus furthering his own Flashpoint-fuelled resentment of his erstwhile friend.

So, when everybody shot off to rescue the President from the cardboard cut-out CGI aliens, nobody wanted  Barry around, and Ollie stayed with him out of sympathy.

(I haven’t forgotten the other Legends bit, the one about Martin Stein having headaches and visions about a dark pageboyed young woman who he loves, rather than Isabella Hofman, aka his blonde and still lovely wife, Clarissa. He gets Caitlin to accompany him to his home, where Pageboy jumps out at him, hugs him, says she loves him, puts the wind up him good and proper until she calls him ‘Dad’. Phew! Cue near sprint away).

Back at the crossover Team Everybody But the Leaders walks into a trap that has them mind-dominated by the Dominators (heh, heh) and coming to get Barry and Ollie, but not before our franchise-holders have done a bit of deep background bonding. Barry shows Ollie the hidden room from season 1, and the Crisis headline newspaper from 2024, whilst Ollie goes back to his season 1 to speak of how his Dad sacrificed himself so Ollie could live.

Then they face off against the rest of the teams, until Barry gets Kara mad enough to chase him and smash through the Dominators’ machine, restoring everyone to their right minds.

Or are they? For some reason everyone chooses to stand outside STAR Labs, in the pouring rain, to discuss their next move, which is going to ask Argus what to do. Suddenly, beams of light transport away everybody but Barry…

To be serious, given that bringing together so many characters into a single story posed serious logistic problems of itself, it did surprise me that The Flash devoted so much time to internal continuity, and more so that it crossed all three related series. We can only assume that that’s going to be the pattern for both Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow. It makes for densely-packed, if relatively thin TV, and it makes the crossover story, which after all is only an alien invasion that appears to have vaporised the President, fairly unimportant. We shall see where things go tomorrow.

Incidentally, I did thoroughly enjoy the cramming together into one super-superimposed tangled of every show’s logo – The Flash on top, of course – and look forward to tomorrow’s version.

The Fall Season 2016: Arrow season 5


Ok, things are a bit clearer here.

I’m well aware that Arrow is the progenitor of the array of DC-based shows I’m enjoying watching (excluding Gotham, which I gave up on in a heartbeat two episodes into last season and, by all accounts, have not suffered from since), and I’m even more aware that in Oliver Queen and Green Arrow it features one of my long-term favourite characters. And I also know that Echo Kellum, now promoted to cast, is shortly going to emerge as one of my all-time faves, Mr Terrific (even if it’s not the Terry Sloane version).

But I’ve been defending the series to myself for some time now, and it’s been on probation since the point in season 4 that I realised that the showrunners will go to any specious length to fuck about with the one clear point about that that was likeable and enjoyable and a counterpart to the endless agonising, and given that the flashbacks should, by the end of the season have wound round to episode 1 of season 1, I am going to dig in my heels and try to grind long, but it took less than three minutes of the season 1 opener before Arrow got put on double-secret probation. My gorge could rise at any moment.

Nothing’s changed. Oliver’s still a wanker of the first water, a boring, obsessed, righteous ostrich with his head still so firmly buried simultaneously in the sand and up his own backside. He’s making a serious fuck-up of being the Mayor of Star City because, guess what, his only interest is using it as a magic source of intel for Green Arrow.

And he still thinks the Team will come back. I mean, Diggle’s in the Army in the Balkans, Thea is his Chief of Staff at the Mayor’s office, relishing the chance to wear extremely short skirts again, Laurel’s dead (but Katie Cassidy still has a contract for at least three different series), Quentin’s a lush again (I doubt we’ll be seeing Charlotte Ross again, but then why would we? She was sweet, and nice, and funny). And whilst Felicity’s still providing chirpy Tech support and reality dumps, she’s shacked up with some other bloke.

Meanwhile, there are these other vigilantes running round, like Wild Dog, and Green Arrow is busy chasing them off the streets and shooting arrows into them (mind you, if you’re going to start introducing Wild Dog, one of the stupidest and badly-conceived characters DC used thirty-plus years ago, the arrow should be in the head not the leg, gah!), and there’s a new Big Bad in town, and Oliver -5 is in Russia to join the Bratva and kill Kovar, oh, and just to tie things off at the end there’s another new archer in town, looking like GA only in bronze-red with a full-face mask.

Oh, and Ollie’s gone back to being homicidal again, which put paid to Speedy ever playing along since she’s not going to be a vigilante EVER again if that’s what they’re doing.

I am going to watch season 5, just for a sense of closure in respect of the flashbacks, at least until the show reaches a threshold too low for me to stomach. But it’s deja vu all over again. It’s the same thing every season. Ollie is nothing like the Ollie that I really enjoyed reading about in the comics. He’s a stubborn idiot, the one-eyed, one-note man. He’s learned nothing, he won’t ever learn anything, and the same trials keep cropping up and he keeps doing the same thing, over and again, and I’m getting very weary about it.

No, make that triple-secret probation.

The Fall Season: Arrow


The new look

Of all the returning shows, Arrow was the one with the most to do to re-establish itself. Season 3 was a mess and came close to busting the show apart. And with The Flash outdoing its parent by presenting a much more upbeat tone, changes were going to be needed. Happily, season 4 got off to a good start in resetting things.

Needless to say things haven’t changed all that much. This is still going to be a grim series, with grim themes: there are limits to how much a show can seriously change its spots, especially overnight, as Gotham demonstrated last week. Oliver and Felicity may have ridden off into the sunrise to Ivy Town (a nod to Ray Palmer’s comic book base) where the only running through woods in a green hood that Oliver’s doing is his morning jog, and they’re so happy Ollie can actually joke “Felicity Smoak, you have failed this omelette,” but back home, Team Arrow is up against it, and you know it’s not going to last.

In fact, overall the episode was like yesterday’s season-opener on The Flash: five months have passed and the status quo needs resetting.

Team Arrow, consisting of Laurel (Black Canary) Lance, Thea (Red Arrow but everyone still calls her Speedy) Queen and John (no code name but now wearing a very dubious black helmet) Diggle, is up against it. Star City, now officially rebranded in memory of Ray Palmer, is dying. It hasn’t got a Mayor, people and businesses are leaving in droves and it’s afflicted with Ghosts, aka armed bands that appear and disappear at will, leaving neither the Police nor Team Arrow with the slightest clue.

Except for the tall, burly, blond guy who walks into a meeting of the four officials who are running Star City, claiming responsibility for the Ghosts and promising to kill Star City. This is season 4’s bad guy, Damian Darhk, and Neal McDonough is already killing it in the role.

Three of the Committee subsequently die quickly, whilst the fourth, our old friend Captain Quentin Lance, is merely shot in the shoulder, thanks to Black Canary’s intervention. Though, in a neat twist at episode’s end, it turns out that Lance is working for Dhark. That’s going to be very interesting.

Needless to say, in all of this, Team Arrow turns to their exiled leader and begs him to return. Or two-thirds of them do, since Diggle can’t forgive, or trust, Ollie, not after Ollie had his wife and baby kidnapped last season. You can see his point.

Ollie’s unwilling, but Felicity (who’s been helping Team Arrow out all along) is all for it. She loves him, she loves their life, but she’s getting bored without the adrenaline and the do-gooding. So too is Ollie, once he admits it, and he’s eager to try to build a more positive role for himself, in the face of both Captain Lance and Diggle accusing him to his face of being a monster with nothing but darkness in him.

So, in a neat counterpart to the opening with its Welcome to Star City, Ollie takes to the airwaves to promise the citizens hope. The Arrow is dead, but a new figure has arisen to inherit his mantle. And his name is… Green Arrow. Yaaaayyy!!

Two other things remain to be mentioned. We have another year of flashbacks, covering year 4 of Ollie’s exile prior to his appearance as The Hood in season 1. His arrival in Coast City, home of Hal (Green Lantern) Jordan turns out to be either a massive fake-out or a drastic change of plan as, after a complete balls-up of a debut as The Hood, Ollie is drugged by Amanda Waller in a bar (camera pan across the chest of an airman whose name-tag reads ‘Jordan’ and, the next thing you know, he’s being kicked out of an aircraft, with parachute, to carry out a mystery mission on, guess where, Lian Yu.

The other is a flash-forward. All episode, we have Ollie planning to propose to Felicity, and leaving his mother’s engagement ring in all sorts of cutesy-pie places for her to discover (but not yet). Then we jump to six months later, to Ollie with black-tie in a graveyard, kneeling by a freshly-dug plot. Barry Allen appears, apologising that he couldn’t make the funeral, due to Zoom. Ollie swears he will kill the man who has done this.

We don’t see the headstone but the inference is very strong that it is Felicity that they are both mourning. It may be that such a bold, striking step is being planned, but right here, right now, I am willing to bet it’s a fake-out, and that it’s not Felicity who is going to be killed (and I’m also guessing that, whilst we’re equally being tipped to expecting Darhk to be the murderer, there’s at least a 50% chance it’ll be Captain Lance, in which case the body is likely to turn out to be Laurel’s…).

Then again, since we viewers are such sophisticated creatures these days, maybe it really is going to be Felicity, and the joke’s on me for being so clever-clever. I think finding out exactly what’s going to happen is going to be much more enjoyable than season 3.

JLA Incarnations 5: The Bad-Ass League… and after


The Fifth Incarnation of the Justice League will always be automatically associated with Grant Morrison, and rightly so, but it was actually created by Mark Waid, in a mini-series, Justice League: A Midsummer Nightmare, with art from Fabian Nicsieza.
In truth, it wasn’t a very impressive story, being dependant upon the logic defying concept that the villain is able to brainwash the hero into not only forgetting that he or she is a superhero, but even that said superhero does not even exist. It’s difficult enough to pull off with one character, but with seven simultaneously credulity is strained unmercifully.
Nevertheless, seven heroes – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, The Martian Manhunter and Aquaman – had collectively forgotten who and what they were, but eventually remembered and set everything right again, after which they decided to reform the Justice League.
It’s terribly weak for a writer like Waid, and it was impliedly airbrushed from continuity in the JLA Incarnations mini-series, but it did what was required: it restored the Justice League, and it reset it with the ‘Big Seven’ that Helfer and Giffen had been unable to utilise a decade earlier. Their adventures would be published under the stream-lined title of JLA.
It wasn’t quite the original Big Seven of Brave & Bold 28. There was no Barry Allen nor Hal Jordan, and their places were taken by their heirs, Wally West and Kyle Rayner. And the Big Three had all been revamped, post-Crisis. And the Martian Manhunter’s history had been substantially tinkered with. And Aquaman had lost a hand and replaced it with a pike.
But this is comics, and we should know by now that it is the mask, the symbol, that is the core of being. The Justice League was back, with a vengeance.
And vengeance it was. This was the Big Seven, the legends, the mightiest of the mighty, and Morrison’s intention was to demonstrate that at every turned. The League met in the Watchtower, on the Moon, issuing forth to guard the planet against the worst that could be thrown at it. Conspicuous power demanded conspicuous menace. To confront it, Morrison plunged headlong into fast-paced, balls-out action, with rapid-fire dialogue. If these were the Over-men, then they wuld be the Over-men to the hilt.
Yet the underlying theme was not the fascistic impulse from which superheroes spring. Instead, Morrison hinted at a paganistic Pantheon; heroes as Gods – not in the religious sense of a being to worship, but rather the Aspects that overcame ordinary human strengths.
The continuity problems that had dogged the League since the late stages of its first Incarnation were dealt with largely by ignoring them. The JLA existed above and outside the DC Universe, increasing the pantheistic element. Or rather it was that the League’s battles rarely spilled over into the wider Universe.
Though the writers and their writing styles were poles apart, Morrison’s JLA was the closest DC had come to the glorious years of Gardner Fox and Julius Schwarz. Superheroes were big, they were fun, they were exciting. Though one wrote from innocence and the other out of a sly knowingness, Fox and Morrison made the League feel important, feel like the pinnacle.
Morrison even managed to fit in a Justice League/Justice Society cross-over, even though the Justice Society didn’t actually exist that year!
It was fun, it was ballistic, but it wasn’t to be forever. Including a couple of fill-ins, Morrison and his artist Howard Porter produced 41 issues before handing the reins over to Mark Waid, a superb choice. Waid had shone himself with the brilliant 12-issue series, JLA:Year One, creating a new post-Crisis, post-Zero Hour foundational myth for the original League. But after Waid finished his run, the inevitable set in.
Unlike past Incarnations, there’s no way to separate the Morrison/Waid JLA from the rest of the run. This title was the League’s third series, and despite changes of direction or form, the League it depicted was one thing, whole and entire. So all the other stories in the 125 issue run belong in this Incarnation.
It was the same old story: a running out of steam, an unwillingness or inability to create the excitement and thrust of the Morrison template, a changing litany of writers, a chaning of moods. There was the same old dilution of the brand, with spin-off titles and themes. At first this had been benign: JLA:Classified, begun by Morrison himself, a non-continuity series telling stories that might belong to any part of the League’s mythos, bound by nothing in the main title. But then there was the 12 issue parallel Justice League Elite, featuring a ‘black ops’ team that took a proactive as opposed to reactive stance to villains, and aimed to kill rather than imprison them.
The momentum drained away. A fresh start was needed, which meant killing the series and killing the JLA. By now, widespread editorial control, expressed in company-focussed stories was beginning to reassert itself. Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis had opened a can of worms with its revelation of mind-wiping  and memory-tinkering by the original League, included the robbing of ten minutes of Batman’s life (warning: never do this to a high-functioning sociopathic paranoid!)
Batman’s response to the rediscovery of his memories was one of several strands woven together to set-up Infinite Crisis, an 20 year sequel to the original. Things fell apart, the centre could not hold and, despite Green Arrow’s attempts to keep it going, the League fell apart under the weight of its own contradictions.
It would be back. It would aways, never fear, be back.

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 – 1977


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


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


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

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier – 1976


Justice League of America 135, “Crisis in Eternity!”/Justice League of America 136, “Crisis on Earth-S!”/Justice League of America 137, “Crisis in Tomorrow!” Written by E. Nelson Bridwell (Plot/Continuity) and Martin Pasko (Words), art by Dick Dillin (pencils), and Frank McLaughlin (inks), edited by Julius Schwarz.


From an unknown place beneath the surface of an unknown Earth, an advanced spaceship rises into space, vanishes, and reappears at the Rock of Eternity. It is piloted by the primitive-seeming King Kull, last of the Beast-Men, former ruler of Earth before humanity appeared and wiped out all his people. Now Kull plans revenge: he uses his ‘torpor-ray’ to slow down the Gods, save for Mercury, who speeds free, driven by the thoughts of Shazam, to gather a force of heroes.
Kull’s torpor-ray has even froze the Gods who power the Marvel Family, preventing Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. from intervening.
Whilst Kull plans genocide against humanity, on all planets but starting with Earths-1, -2 and -S, Mercury gathers various heroes from Earths-1 and -2, including the Earth-2 Batman, who has come out of retirement to attend a ceremony honouring Robin. Six Justice Leaguers, counting non-member Hawkgirl, and six JSAers are taken to the old inter-dimensional limbo base of the Crime Champions (see the 1963 team-up), where they are introduced to five heroes from Earth-S, all characters formerly owned by Fawcett Comics. These are the magician Ibis, Spy Smasher, Bulletman and Bulletgirl, and Mr. Scarlet and Pinky, the Whiz Kid.
Teams are chosen, excluding Johnny Thunder, who is sent on a special mission. Superman 1, Wonder Woman 2, Green Arrow and Spy Smasher travel to Earth-2, where Kull’s plan involves Atlantis, which rose from the waves several years ago (see the 1968 team-up). Superman and Wonder Woman defeat Queen Clea and the Blockbuster, whilst Green Arrow and Spy Smasher overcome Ibac and the Penguin, but not before Kull’s plan goes into operation.
A pink cloud is formed that starts sinking islands by subjecting them to gravitational waves. But Superman uses his super-cold breath to condense and solidify the cloud before throwing it into space where it is destroyed, colliding with a meteor.
Ironically, Earth-2’s Atlantis undergoes an earthquake and returns to beneath the waves again.
Fuming at his defeat, Kull promises dire things for Earths-1 and -S.
End of Part One.


On Earth-S, Batman & Robin, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Bulletman and Bulletgirl and Mr. Scarlet and Pinky face strange menaces that, in different parts of the globe, turn humans into rock, or ice, or steel, or diamond, or two-dimensional art, or water. A number of the heroes are partly transformed as well.
Meanwhile, boy newsreader Billy Batson reports on these events but no matter how often he says ‘Shazam’, he cannot transform into Captain Marvel. In addition, half of Earth-S is in complete darkness, half in unblinkered sunshine.
Batman and Robin, Mr. Scarlet and Pinky take on the Earth-2 Joker and the Weeper, who are robbing jewellery stores. With Dr Light and the Shade identified, the Hawks and the Bullets split up into male and female duos to defeat these villains, only to find that neither villain can switch the effects off.
It takes Robin to work out that Earth-S can only be saved by moving the two light and dark satellites together and crashing them into one another. This done, all ill-effects are reversed and Kull is left frustrated and swearing vengeance on Earth-1.
And Johnny Thunder arrives at the TV station, to meet Billy Batson, Mary Batson and Freddy Freeman, whose secret identities he knows.
End of Part Two.


On Earth-1, Kull plans to destroy the futuristic city, Tomorrow, using the gigantic robot, Mr Atom, and Brainiac. The Flashes, plus Mercury, run rescue operations on threatened bystanders whilst the Green Lanterns and Ibis (whose Ibistick is the equivalent of a Power Ring) try to penetrate the black radiation protecting the robot.
When people start flying off into space, they discover Brainiac’s ship, which they attack and destroy. This removes Mr Atom’s protective aura, but it is only when he seizes the Ibistick and tries to teleport Ibis into space that he is defeated: the Ibistick turns the order against anyone using it who is not Ibis.
Kull’s plan, to speed up Earth-1’s rotation and have everyone fly off into space, has been defeated.
The heroes regroup to attack Kull at the Rock of Eternity. But Kull uses some Red Kryptonite to turn Superman into a raging destructive force.
Back on Earth-S, Johnny T explains that Shazam has sent him to help the Marvel Family, though he doesn’t know how. He summons his Thunderbolt, only to discover that the Bolt’s magical appearance triggers the Marvels transformation into Cap and the rest, just like the magic lightning that Shazam has been unable to trigger.
They take off for the Rock of Eternity, free the Gods and capture King Kull.
This still leaves the enraged Superman to face. Captain Marvel faces him head-on, in the first ever fight between the Man of Steel and the World’s Mightiest Mortal. Except that The Big Red Cheese says his magic word, ‘Shazam’ just before they clash, and the shock restores Superman’s mind in time for him to save Billy Batson.
With Kull bound up in magic chains, the heroes depart to their separate Earths.
* * * * *
About the time this second three-part team-up began, DC’s distribution in Britain became as spotty as it had been in the mid-Sixties, when the only place to find comics was in newsagents, whose stocks would vary widely. I was able to get hold of the first part of this story, but no others: indeed, I did not read the rest of it until acquiring Crisis on Multiple Earths Volume 4, whereupon I found that I hadn’t missed much of anything.
Indeed, despite featuring the first ever appearance of Superman and Captain Marvel in the same comic, to be frank this adventure is the least memorable of all those published in this series.
With Justice League of America still in its scripting by committee phase (which would end two months after the final part with Steve Englehart taking over writing for the following year), this time round it fell to Martin Pasko to deal with the annual team-up. However, the oddly stilted credits – ‘Plot/Continuity’ and ‘Words’ – make it plain that the former ‘Pesky’ Pasko does no more than dialogue this mish-mash, and that the story itself comes from the late E. Nelson Bridwell, making his only contribution to Justice League history.
Bridwell, the formally very much put-upon assistant to the ogreous Mort Weisinger, was a very sweet-natured person by all accounts, and a solid if mostly uninspired presence both at editorial level and in his infrequent scripting. What he was though was a walking encyclopaedia of comics – especially DC. Bridwell was, effectively, the company’s reference system, able to tell you, in a blink, when even the most obscure of characters last appeared.
The fourteenth team-up automatically recalls Len Wein’s 1972 story by being only the second such event to run over three issues. It also echoes Wein’s subsequent effort by incorporating a third team, an ad-hoc collection of obscure characters previously published by a long-defunct company.
But where Wein’s three-parter was a story of great scope, using an anniversary as a springboard, and was an innovative idea in itself, Bridwell’s plot lacks such a binding plot. It lacks any sense of the epic as conjured by Wein, and it lacks the underlying logic, not only of the 1972 team-up, but the 1973 affair.
In both cases, Wein gives the story a simple, central force. In the first, Earth-2 is threatened: the League come to the Society’s assistance to rescue the long-lost Seven Soldiers – who, being from the Golden Age, are Earth-2 denizens themselves. The second story is of Earth-X: it’s peculiar status, it’s rescue: the JLA/JSA members arrive from beyond in a simple, logical manner, and the obscure Quality Comics sextet appear as an existing team, with a history, drawn together logically by their Earth’s circumstances.
In contrast, this story lacks any of those attributes. It begins in visual confusion: a scientifically advanced spaceship, piloted by a primitive barbarian using advanced sciences to capture Gods. Only two pages in and the story is whiplashing around genres.
The barbarian turns out to be King Kull, last of the Beastmen, a former Captain Marvel foe who wants revenge by wiping out humanity all across the Multiverse (though the term is at least a half decade away from being coined). He’s a creature of Earth-S (for Shazam). (He’s also a Robert E. Howard character name, the original of whom is being featured at Marvel, which is still undergoing the first flush of their success with Conan the Barbarian).
But, just as Bridwell offers no explanation of where Kull’s been since he last appeared, what he’s been doing, how he escaped etc., he offers no explanation of how Kull knows there’s a Multiverse at all, let alone why he’s chosen to wreak his vengeance initially on Earths-1, -2 and -S. The absence of a logic to the tale fatally undermines it.
The rationale of this story is to do what Wein did and find another set of past heroes who have a world of their own. Though Earth-S is the former Fawcett world, and Fawcett’s most famous – indeed virtually only famous – character is Captain Marvel, the story avoids using him until the perfunctory end. Why this is so is difficult to comprehend, though I suspect it had a lot to do with the infamous plagiarism case that DC brought against Fawcett over Cap, which ultimately resulted in his being forced off the market.
Instead, we get a half dozen seriously obscure third bananas whose sum total of actual powers consists of Ibis’s Ibistick and Bulletman and -girl’s flying helmets. Though I may offend some, I can only say that these characters are universally dull. And whilst suspension of disbelief is a necessary precondition of opening a superhero comic, that requirement is put under great pressure by the notion that someone in their right mind would choose to fight crime whilst call themselves Pinky. Narf.
Nor are these characters a team. They’re billed on the cover of #135 as “Shazam’s Squadron of Justice” but inside they’re lined up as “The Legendary Heroes of Earth-S” and after that, no-one even tries to pretend they’re anything more that just a collection of nobodies.
The story itself, after that, is just routine hero vs villain, a series of encounters that slowly fill up the pages. Naturally, the heroes split up into teams selected to provide a mixture of homeworlds, and go off to guard each of the three target worlds. Heroes always split up into mixed teams, it’s a cliché, but on this occasion I find myself irritated by it.
They none of them know what to face, so how are the teams selected? How logical is it to send heroes who are strangers to a certain Earth to deal with it’s local conditions? Why is Ibis wasted by being sent to Earth-1 with the Green Lanterns, whose powers not only duplicate each others but also his? The same thing with the two Flashes and Mercury. When you’ve got heroes with duplicate powers, why do they go together instead of providing maximum diversion of power in unknown circumstances?
Why do the two adult/teen combinations work together? Why do the two married flying couples go together? Why, when they separate, is it in gender roles as opposed to marriages? Why is Hawkgirl here at all, since she’s not a member of anything except her marriage? Does Bulletgirl have, incredible as it may seem, even less personality than all the other Fawcetts?
The problem with this year’s team-up is that it is an unfocused and amateurish effort, a throwback in style by more than a mere decade, to when the whole point of superhero comics was costumes and powers. It lacks any foundation in plausibility, it’s poorly executed and as a consequence, it offers nothing to establish itself in the reader’s memory. The one with the Fawcett characters: oh yes: what actually happened in that one?
The two things that could have made the story at least a little memorable are both fudged. The appearance in action, at long last, of the Earth-2 Batman, is a non-event, his age, his experience, his breadth of knowledge, these things might as well not exist.
But the biggie is that long-awaited meeting between Superman and Captain Marvel, the inevitable capper to the story, the climax that keeps the reader eager to reach the climax, the clash that is paraded on #137’s cover. Superman, under the influence of some left-over piece of Red Kryptonite, being whipped back into existence for the first time in half a decade, is on the rampage, Captain Marvel flies to confront him and…
Nothing. Seriously, nothing. Cap says “Shazam”, turns back into Billy and the shock clears Superman’s head. It screams cop-out, it screams manipulation and bad intentions. It suggests that Julius Schwarz, having tried to attract readers with the prospect of Captain Marvel, bottling out of offending their sympathies by having the Big Red Cheese defeated – because, come on, this is 1976, the Bicentennial, and Superman is not going to be beaten here. Not by a character who did beat him where it counted, in sales, and who was only brought down by an immoral court action that prevailed through DC’s greater financial resources.
Bish, bash, bosh, Superman’s ok, Kull’s chained up, everyone goes home, nothing to see here, please move along. This is a second successive story that ends abruptly, with no proper conclusion, just the need to shuffle everyone off the page in badly-paced rapidity.
But Bridwell’s not the only creator involved in this. To him, as plotter, much of the blame must be assigned, but Pasko does nothing to alleviate the drabness of this affair. Though a perceptive and frequently critical letterhack, and despite his long career in comics, he really isn’t that good a writer. Maybe he felt less commitment to this tale, not having created it, but his scripting is the equivalent of an actor phoning it in.
It’s unbearably lazy too: at the start of #137, Pasko decides to have the Green Lanterns read out the synopsis to one another instead of, you know, thinking of something plausible. But, of course, there’s the wink, the nod to the fans, for Ibis comments that they are talking exposition, so the reader can be let in on the joke. Except that they are talking exposition and no amount of ironic self-commentary disguises how cheap the device is.
With McLaughlin swathing everything in sheets of black ink, Dillin’s art begins to seriously deteriorate. The thick outlines convert everything into cartoonish shapes, and start to exaggerate Dillin’s repetitive poses. Nobody is able to fall naturally. Arms, and legs, are flung out stiffly, people land on their arse with one leg in the air every time they fall.
We are a long way now from the grace of Sid Greene or the crisp detail of Dick Giordano.
At least Pasko remembers to refer to the Justice Society’s own series, in the revived All-Star, though except in Batman’s off-handed reference to the ‘Super Squad’ element of that series, there is no other point of contact. And three of the JSAers in action aren’t even in action with the team in its revived form. Continuity is not, as yet, a DC speciality.
Once again, it’s immediately obvious that this story is impossible to justify in a post-Crisis setting. It’s barely possible to justify it pre-Crisis.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1975


Justice League of America 123, “Where on Earth am I?”/Justice League of America 124, “Avenging Ghosts of the Justice Society!” Written by Cary Bates and Elliott S! Maggin, art by Dick Dillin (pencils), and Frank McLaughlin (inks), edited by Julius Schwarz.

On Earth-Prime (an Earth where the JLA and JSA are characters appearing in comic books published by National Comics), editor Julius Schwarz is arguing with his young writers  Cary Bates and Elliott S! Maggin about their failure to come up with a Justice League plot for him.
When Schwarz leaves to get a bowl of chilli, the pair dig out the Flash’s Cosmic Treadmill, from a Bates story in which Barry Allen had turned up on Earth-Prime. Unfortunately, it still has a residue of superspeed energy in it, and Bates disappears.
He arrives on Earth-2 (not 1), where Robin and Johnny Thunder are tackling a couple of crooks. Bates discovers that he has a ‘plotting power’, that he can make things happen with his mind. Eager to become a supervillain, he helps the crooks escape.
Back at National, Maggin confesses to Schwarz what has happened. Whilst Schwarz holds the fort, Maggin uses the Treadmill to follow Bates, only to arrive on Earth-1 (not 2), in mid-air, over the harbour. He has to be rescued by Aquaman, who teleports him to the Justice League satellite to tell his tale to a very sceptical Justice League, including Green Arrow. Maggin writes Ollie Queen the way he talks himself.
On Earth-2, Bates has equipped himself with a ludicrous costume and set a trap for the Justice Society at the Botanical Gardens. Hourman, Wildcat, Dr Mid-Nite and Wonder Woman join Robin and Johnny Thunder to fight off an array of killer plants, only to fall into Bates’ trap and be overcome by a sleeping gas.
Back in the Satellite, the JLA, using Maggin’s Earth-Prime ‘aura’ as a guide, has scanned Earth-1 but can’t find Bates. They deduce he is on Earth-2 and set off there. But on Earth-2, we discover the Injustice Society celebrating their own cleverness: it is a spell by the Wizard that has turned Bates evil.
When the JLA arrive, on an aircraft carrier, Maggin reminds them that Earth-2 is about twenty years behind them. The Injustice Society attack, but the Leaguers take them down with suspicious ease. Too much ease: the villains have all died. But they are in disguise: behind their masks are the six JSAers, all dead at the hands of the Justice League.
End of part 1


The Justice League respond by carrying out a hidden burial of their fallen comrades. Meanwhile, supervillain Bates robs Eaarth-2 unopposed, bringing his loot back to the Injustice Society. A whisp of green, observing this, vows not to let this profanity continue.
Meanwhile, without letting on to anyone what they’ve done, the JLA fill in for the missing JSA. The Injustice Society, fearing Maggin may become a threat to them, send Bates to capture him, using him to draw the JLA into a trap where the Injustice Society can ambush them.
The whisp of green resolves itself into the Spectre, last seen on Earth-2 in the 1970 team-up. After announcing that the rest of the JSA are on a space mission, and it is all up to him, the Spectre soars into the heavens, seeking powers to undo what has happened. He speaks to the Voice that restored him to life, seeking the power to restore the fallen sextet.
Meanwhile, the Injustice Society have the unexpected upper hand, until Maggin realises that they are plagued by their consciences, and the memory of striking at Injustice Society members who turned into dead friends. Indeed, Bates is augmenting the guilt by projecting ghost heroes to the JLA.
Maggin starts to taunt Bates, and ultimately succeeds in breaking his concentration. The ghosts fade, for a moment, before returning, looking even more real. That’s because they are real: they’re the restored JSA. Once Maggin manages to knock Bates out against a rock, the heroes easily capture the villains and Bates is freed from the Wizard’s spell. The Spectre looks on, invisibly: nobody will know the true drama. The Thunderbolt sends Bates and Maggin back to Earth-Prime to write up the story – though Schwarz is not impressed by the ending!
* * * * *
There’s not that much to say about this story after pointing out that it was the proverbial Not A Good Idea.
Actually, the 1975 team-up was pretty much representative of its era. After Len Wein had gone over to Marvel, DC were either not able or not willing to replace him with a permanent writer, and for the next two years, rotated scripting duties among a pool of young fans-turned-writers: Bates, Maggin and Martin Pasko.
At almost the same time, the experiment with the reprint-heavy, 100 page Giants was terminated and, with issue 117, for the first time in its history, Justice League of America was promoted to monthly status.
There’s no immediate suggestion of the scale of the disaster to come when the story starts on Earth-Prime with Schwarz and his writers struggling over a new JLA/JSA team-up idea. Introducing real people into a superhero comic is never a wise idea from the point of view of the art: any penciller good enough to draw a realistic version of their features immediately sets up a tension in the art between them and the rest of the characters who are drawn as idealisations or abstracts of humans.
But that’s before we find that this is not merely a cutesy introduction, and that writers Bates (who plotted the story) and Maggin (who dialogued it) are going to be guests in the story: not just as observers, but as actual participants. And Cary Bates is actually going to be come a super-powered villain.
At that point, there’s no going back: every page is going to have to be gritted out.
It might not have been so bad if the story had at least featured some consistent plotting. Bates is the first to step onto the Flash’s left-over Cosmic Treadmill, from the 1968 story that introduced Earth-Prime to begin with, but though this was constructed by the Earth-1 Flash to get him back to Earth-1, it’s residual speed energy actually takes Bates to Earth-2. However, when Maggin uses it, literally a few minutes later, he is dumped on Earth-1.
The most egregious inconsistency – which was commented on by readers at the time and ‘explained’ by pointing out who plotted the story – is that Bates has ‘plotting power’, to make things happen on Earth-2, but all Maggin can do is talk. It may be symbolic of their roles as writers, but it drives a thermonuclear missile through the middle of the story.
That’s without looking at the story as a JLA/JSA team-up. Credit Bates and Maggin for coming up with another structural twist on the team-ups, for this is another when the two teams do not actually team-up, but it’s a reversion to the very early days of the series when the tendency was to demean the JSA by showing them as unable to deal with matters without JLA assistance.
This is very much so here: a half dozen JSA members (without Doctor Fate for an unprecedented second successive occasion), tackle Super-villain Cary Bates and his quasi-Injustice Society cohorts and are beaten. They are then hypnotised? brainwashed? magically controlled? to pose as the villains against the Justice League, who not merely defeat them easily but kill them all in the process.
Let’s pause on that moment. The Justice League have killed six Justice Society members. This is undoubtedly a stressful moment, a trauma of major proportions, something to give the culprit Leaguers pause. How do they react? There are many possible, and even many plausible responses to such a tragedy, but the one the League choose is to hastily, and secretly, bury the dead JSAers, hush the whole thing up and go out trying to fill their places.
Leaving aside the question of justice and law, what the hell do they think they’re doing? These people had family and friends, loved ones who are not only suffering the most extreme loss possible, but are not even allowed to know their loved ones are dead, let alone been given the chance to attend their funeral, mourn at their graves, come to terms with their appalling losses. Not to mention the fact that these were only six JSAers, out of a team with at least fifteen members (the rest of whom are, conveniently, absent on a space mission, or so we are told).
The League don’t think about this. All they’re concerned about is Earth-2’s public, and how they’re going to explain killing their heroes. This is far from impressive.
So the League continue blindly rushing around, being Earth-2’s protectors, only to discover, when they are called on to face the villains again, that they collectively freeze up, subjecting themselves to illusions of the dead heroes. Until the JSA reappear and defeat the villains, story over, and Bates and Maggin can go home and write this up for Justice League of America 123 & 124.
Now, just wait a cotton-picking minute. The JSA reappear: do we mean that the rest of the team return from their space mission to save the day and force the JLA to confront the reality of what they’ve done, enabling them to deal with their overwhelming trauma. No, stupid, I mean the six dead JSAers come back to life.
Some team-up this is.
As to how this is achieved, it is down to the Spectre going to talk to God and asking him, nicely, to return the six dead heroes to life. Which he does, because he is a just, wise, merciful, benevolent and utterly bewildering God. This is what you call a deus ex machina, only without the machina.
Those reading this series who are not themselves familiar with these stories will be asking about the Spectre’s presence, given that he ‘died’ in the 1970 team-up. In the context of the period, the Spectre’s presence here, as an intangible, invisible, inaudible (except to God) ghost is even more of an anomaly than it seems.
There was no, and never has been any, explanation for the Spectre’s survival after his 1970 destruction. He had, however, returned very visibly, in 1974 in Adventure Comics.
Adventure, which had for years been the home of Supergirl, had been left in need of a lead feature when the Maid of Steel was finally given her own mag (which lasted only 13 issues, ironically). After having been the victim of a street-mugging, editor Joe Orlando was open to a suggested revival of the Spectre in his original form, as an avenging ghost, a proposal made by Michael Fleisher. With some splendid, if misguided art from Jim Aparo, the Spectre had blazed across issue 431 – 440 of Adventure before being cancelled at the earliest opportunity.
Fleisher’s portrayal of the Spectre was and still is controversial, though he continues to maintain that he did nothing that the Spectre had not done at the beginning of his existence, in More Fun Comics in the early Forties. I doubt, however, that Bernard Bailey had ever drawn the Spectre chopping his girlfriend into seven separate pieces in a single panel, even before the Comics Code Authority.
This version of the Spectre was a radical departure from the benevolent supernatural being restored in the mid-Sixties, and there was much argument among fans about it. As to such issues as the Crypt, Orlando was having none of it: that was up to Denny O’Neil: this was the previously unseen Earth-1 Spectre (a claim rendered somewhat tendentious by a throwaway reference to Clark Kent leading a rookie policeman to ask if the reporter is Superman).
Fleisher’s version was still turning villains into wood and feeding them into woodchippers when this portrayal appeared, causing complete confusion that was never resolved before Crisis on Infinite Earths swept all this history away.
The worst of this, for me, is that whilst this is supposedly a Justice League/Justice Society team-up, in the days when the JSA only appeared once a year, their presence in this supposed event is purely perfunctory. Bates and Maggin have not the slightest interest in them, except as a plot function that allows them to interplay their great in-joke with the Justice League. I’m surprised at Schwarz for allowing it to go ahead in such a badly-written state. Indeed, with the Justice Society near to making their own return to their own series, in a revived All-Star, this effort makes a good case for discontinuing the tradition. There would, however, be another decade to stories to follow.
As well as the change in writers, there’s another change of inker, with Frank McLaughlin succeeding Dick Giordano. This was something of a retrograde step. Giordano was one of the best inkers in the business, crisp, precise, using sharply-defined lines that brought out the clarity of an image and gave it a lightness that enhanced the reality of the image. In contrast, McLaughlin was a heavy inker, swathing everything in black outlines that had the effect of simplifying images, adding a cartoon dimension that did not suit Dillin’s art.
I’ve recently read online that Dillin’s pencils were extremely good: that he worked ceaselessly to produce a fully-detailed job, complete with word balloons and letters sketched in. It seems a shame to hand what was apparently quite delicate work over to a McLaughlin, who sometimes gives the impression of slapping the ink on with a paintroller.
Sadly, the introduction of McLaughlin seemed to coincide – or did it in some way influence? – with the increasing use by Dillin of stock figures and postures. Gradually, Justice League of America became a venue for the recycling of a limited number of images.
As for post-Crisis plausibility, thankfully this effort has none.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1973


Justice League of America 107, “Crisis on Earth-X!”/Justice League of America 108, “Thirteen against the Earth!” Written by Len Wein, art by Dick Dillin (pencils), and Dick Giordano (inks), edited by Julius Schwartz.


For months, the Justice League and Justice Society have been working on developing Transmatter Cubes, to get around the fact that they can usually only meet up at one specific period each year. Now the machine is ready for its first testing with human subjects: Batman, Green Arrow and the Elongated Man will jump to Earth-2, Superman, Doctor Fate and the Sandman will make the reverse journey.
The Red Tornado is still pleading to be allowed to take part, to find out if he can ever return to Earth-2. (He was not killed in issue 102: in only the previous issue, the JLA discovered that the Tornado had actually been blown through the Vibrational Barrier into Earth-1, where he found himself prevented from crossing back: he had been used by his creator, T.O. Morrow against the Justice League, for which purpose Morrow had carved the Tornado a human face. When the Tornado had helped defeat his creator again, he was rewarded with Justice league membership).However, as the Transmatter Cube has not yet been tested on androids, the Tornado is still to be excluded.
The heroes line up for the simultaneous experiment. Green Arrow wants them to hurry up: he’s standing in a draft. In an airtight satellite ? mocks the Atom. When the Cubes are activated, the two sets of heroes disappear from their native Earths. But they do not arrive at their destinations.
The sextet arrive on a hitherto unknown Earth, which will be known as Earth-X. The cause for their diversion reveals himself: it is the Red Tornado who, desperate to try to get home, has whirled himself into invisibility and stowed away in the Earth-1 Transmatter Cube. Except that his whirlings have upset the delicate workings of the Cube and deposited them somewhere unknown.
The septet’s musing about how to contact their friends and get home are interrupted by the shock appearance – on American streets! – of a platoon of German soldiers, in Nazi uniforms, accompanying a futuristic tank.
The Germans attack, the first tank shell crumpling on Superman2’s chest. Doctor Fate responds with a magic battering ram, but something on this world causes his magic to run awry, and the ram floors Superman instead. Then the Germans fire off gas shells, which knock the heroes out.
But as they slide into unconsciousness, they hear the German’s exclaiming with fear at the arrival of the Freedom Fighters.
These are six heroes formerly published in the Forties at Quality Comics: The Ray, The Black Condor, the Human Bomb, Doll Man, Phantom Lady and Uncle Sam. These newcomers mop up the fearful Nazis and spirit the JLA/JSA to their hidden headquarters, behind a Nazi propaganda poster.
Once the heroes recover, Uncle Sam explains the position on this Earth. When the President (Roosevelt, F.D.) suffered his fatal heart attack in 1944, the balance of Government swung the wrong way. By the time the US had the Bomb, so too did Germany, and neither dared use it. The war entered a stalemate, dragging on into the mid-Sixties. Many more people died, including the Blackhawks, and Plastic Man. Finally, the German’s invented some form of Mind Control machine, ending the war in their favour. For some unknown reason, the Freedom Fighters are immune to the device, and they continue the battle from underground.
Of course, the newcomers volunteer their aid, despite Black Condor’s doubts as to their bona fides. Doctor Fate’s magic, used cautiously, shows the assembled heroes the whereabouts of three concealed Mind Control Stations: the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Mount Fujiyama in Japan and Mount Rushmore in America. Leaving the Red Tornado behind, so he doesn’t get in the way, the heroes split into three teams of four to go out and bring down each Station.
In Paris, Batman, Doctor Fate, the Ray and the Human Bomb mount their attack. The Ray flies to the observation platform and downs the guards but is in danger of being overwhelmed by their reinforcements when Doctor Fate, carrying the Human Bomb, swoops down on them, whilst Batman, scaling the outside of the Tower, frightens the life out of them.
Once inside, the quartet are confronted by an intelligent machine that makes monster opponents that neutralise each hero. However, they quickly switch, and defeat each other’s opponents, before turning to the machine. It then proceeds to override their nervous systems, paralysing them. The menace is averted – but only for a moment as the heroes, walking like automatons, march upon it and destroy it.
No-one feels better for it. It seems all three machines must be destroyed to free Earth-X from the Nazi horror.
Back on Earths 1 and 2, the Justice League and Justice Society are unable to locate their missing members. What if they have been transmitted… nowhere?
End of part 1.


After a short recap by Uncle Sam, we turn to Superman, Green Arrow, the Phantom Lady and Doll Man in Japan. The locals are filled with shame at having been subjugated by their one-time allies. The Mind Control Station is hidden in the centre of Fujiyama’s crater: the heroes attack from different points, but the machine responds by setting off an underwater earthquake that threatens to destroy all Japan, forcing Superman to break off and combat that. The Machine, which has apparently absorbed the lessons learned from its Paris counterpart, theorises that the greatest threat is gone, but the remaining trio come up with a plan.
Green Arrow bombards the machine with a flurry of arrows. It is contemptuous of their lack of effect, until its voice starts to slur and fail, and it ceases to work. This is down to Doll Man who, under cover of all those arrows, had slipped inside and screwed around with its wiring.
The final quartet, Sandman, Elongated Man, Black Condor and Uncle Sam, have gone to Mount Rushmore, which had had a new head added to the mountain, that of Hitler. They bust through the Nazi guards but somehow find the machine impervious to their every assault. That is, until Elongated Man works out that the bird hovering overhead throughout all the fighting is not natural, but a robot projecting a mirage.
The real machine is hidden inside Hitler’s head, affording Uncle Sam the pleasure of punching Hitler out and destroying the last machine.
Everyone returns to Freedom Fighter headquarters, dispirited and perplexed that nothing seems to have changed, that the force powering the Mind Control of Earth-X hasn’t been destroyed. But the visiting heroes then accuse the Freedom Fighters of having taken control of it, with the intention of ruling the world for themselves.
A fight starts between the two sides, the Freedom Fighters grimly aware that it is the machine’s energies that have now perverted their allies. Only the Red Tornado, standing aside, is logical enough to determine that there must be a fourth, Master Mind Control Station.
He sets off through the atmosphere, trying to find it, and discovers it in space, a satellite base. Inside, Hitler himself welcomes him, attempts to suborn him, but the enraged Tornado unleashes a punch that knocks Hitler’s head off, literally: he is nothing but a robot himself, a creation of the Master Machine, which has replaced all the Nazi hierarchy and taken control of the planet itself.
The Tornado fights back against the assault on himself, and his whirlings are sufficient to disrupt the gyroscopic balance of the satellite. Uncontrollable, it falls out of orbit, crashing in flames in the ocean far below, but not before the Red Tornado retrieves something.
The menace is over and Earth-X is free at last, but the JLA/JSA septet are stuck here. That is, until the Red Tornado unveils the device which allowed the four Mind Control machines to communicate together. This is hastily adapted to send out a signal that the relieved Justice League and Justice Society can home in on, enabling their missing members to go home.
* * * * *
The 1973 team-up is second only to that of 1965 in its importance in my eyes. The 1965 team-up of these introduced me to the Justice Society of America, but this team-up reintroduced me to comics, after a three-year absence of having grown out of them. Considering just how many comics I have bought, read and written about, this is one of the most significant events of my life.
Wein’s approach is still focussed onto the Gardner Fox tradition, which made this story easy for me to appreciate how much comics – or DC at least – had moved on in my absence: I had barely been exposed to anything but Gardner Fox when it came to the annual rite: the sole exception was the second half of O’Neil’s 1969 effort.
It’s fast, it’s brash, it’s a simply story told linearly, with its focus upon the heroes using their powers, yet with the added element of personality: Fox might have had the Golden Age Superman weighing in against Nazi soldiers, but he would never have had him say, “Ratzi, I cut my baby teeth on punks like you!”
The influence of the previous year’s inclusion of a third super-team was quickly felt. Wein had intended that to be a one-off, a salute to the double-anniversary, but Schwarz demanded another third force: the previous year’s anniversary had sold like crazy, and Schwarz’s first principle was to give the readers what they wanted.
So Wein had to cast about for an equivalent team, but ended up having to invent his own. It’s a perfect example of a story creating itself by necessity and logic from an initial element.
The six heroes gathered together as the Freedom Fighters had never previously teamed up, but they were all heroes from the Forties who had been published by Quality Comics, and who had subsequently been acquired by DC, alongside better known and more famous characters such as the Blackhawks, and Plastic Man. They fit Schwarz’s bill. Wein’s next step was to recognise that, for most of their career, these characters had been fighting Nazis, and would be best employed in the role with which they were identified.
That in turn meant having to have an active Nazi foe in 1973, and that in turn led to the establishment of Earth-X as an Earth on which Germany had won a much-prolonged Second World War.
The venue for this story was originally intended to be Earth-Swastika, but Schwarz understandably refused to allow that symbol in his book, and Wein compromised by crossing out all the cross-pieces, to leave an X.
After the initial flurry of Earths a decade previously, the idea of adding parallel worlds had rather dropped into abeyance. True, a particularly goofy issue of The Flash in 1968 had seen Barry Allen wind up on an Earth where he and the Justice League were no more than characters in comics published by National Periodical Publications, i.e, this Earth (named Earth-Prime for the purpose), but this aside there had been no development of the Multiverse in almost a decade. Wein’s creation of Earth-X was the start of the second wave, by which the number of identifiable Earths would multiply, slowly, but steadily.
One thing that irritated me for years about this story, being interested in American history and having a food working knowledge of the Presidents, was Uncle Sam’s reference to Roosevelt’s (depicted in the comic but not named as thus) fatal heart attack in 1944, when I knew full well that he’d actually died of a brain haemorrhage in 1945. Unfortunately, it took me more years than I care to recollect before I twigged to the fact that this was actually quite a subtle counterfactual by Wein. Roosevelt had been succeeded by Truman, a man he hardly knew, who’d been added to the ticket in 1944, at a time when the course of the War in Europe had turned decisively in the Allies’ favour.
In 1944, Roosevelt’s death before an Election would have brought in Henry Wallace as President, a man known as a great, almost mystical liberal, but not for his decisiveness. Uncle Sam references the balance of Government going the wrong way, which in this context it no doubt would have under Wallace, so that Germany also had the Bomb when America was ready to use it. Besides, if this death had occurred before the Summer D-Day landings, the balance of the conventional War may have been more even. Rather than an egregious mistake, which I took it to be for much too long, Wein’s little throwaway line turned out to be an extraordinarily subtle and accurate way to distinguish Earth-X’s past.
The additional slickness, and naturalness of the story impressed me, as did the art. Though I’m well aware of Dillin’s flaws now, both in his reliance on stock figures and his lack of flair, he compared well with Sekowsky, and especially the early Sekowsky, as inked by Bernard Sachs. Of course, much of this was down to Dick Giordano’s inks, clean and strong and very clear, concentrating on thin, sharp lines that define the images without removing their underlying strength. The half-page image of the Nazi soldiers looking down the Eiffel Tower at the rapidly-climbing Batman, cape flowing in a decently Adams-esque manner.
The half dozen resurrected heroes made for an interesting bunch. The Ray, with his light and heat powers and simple all-yellow costume, was obviously the best suited to break out in the modern era, though when DC finally got around to this notion, it was post-Crisis and the role went to a new Ray with a decidedly inferior new costume. Phantom Lady, who also preferred yellow, was a Forties pin-up incarnate, and was actually appropriated as cousin to the JSA’s Starman, both having the surname Knight.
In contrast, the flying Black Condor, chosen as the team paranoid, failed to impress, as did Doll Man, a precursor of the Earth-1 Atom but not half so interesting a character. He still outdid the Human Bomb, a guy who has to live in a protective suit because his mere touch sets off explosions, so every time you want him in on the action, he has to whip off a heavy duty glove and punch one-handedly whilst desperately gripping the glove in his other hand, because if he drops it, and can’t cover his punching hand up, nobody’s going to want to get near him.
And this leaves Uncle Sam, who is the incarnation of America’s national self-image, and as such is really not something you can safely discuss in a comic book about three teams of superheroes battling left-over Nazi hordes in 1973.
Because, for all the enjoyment this story gave, when you say it like that, you’re making the whole concept into one with a very dodgy moral basis. I was not long since turned 18 when I read this story. My Mum had lived through the War, my Uncle had been in the Navy during it: all around the world there were people with vivid personal memories of the conflict against the Nazis, who really did not need cheapjack little affairs like this making free with their experiences.
Perhaps that’s too heavy a thing to lay on this story: remember that its counterfactual basis was genuinely subtle and, considered purely as a superhero story, intent on thrills and entertainment, it was almost an unqualified success.
I say almost for reasons connected with the reappearance of the Red Tornado. When we last saw him in this series, he was sacrificing his life to save Earth-2, but of course Wein had no genuine intent on killing off a character with so much unfulfilled potential. In the previous issue to this team-up, Wein did what should have been done from the start: he brought the Tornado into Earth-1, made sure he couldn’t get out and set him down in the Justice League, where he could at last develop.
There isn’t much sign of development in this story: the Tornado is still mistrusted on all sides as, basically, a whirling disaster, a point very much emphasised by his being responsible for stranding everyone on Earth-X in the first place. After which, everybody roundly tells him to go stand in a corner and not interfere, just like they always did in the Justice Society.
It’s more than a bit demeaning, and an ironic contrast to Len Wein’s contemporaneous Swamp Thing, where the theme was very much that those who tormented the horrible looking creature were themselves the true monsters. Wein does, at least, attempt to rehabilitate the android in the end, by having him save the eventual day, not to mention come up with our deus ex machina (literally) in the form of a device that, for no logical reason except that Wein needs a get-out, enables the League and the Society to get home.
In a post-Crisis Universe, all of this is impossible. In the Multiverse it was a moment of realisation that I could still get fun from American comics, and the start of something whose dimensions I would not have been able to believe had I foreseen what I was doing by splashing out 10p on issue 107.
One sidebar note, that I did not realise either then or until writing this series: traditionally, the annual team-up took place in the August and September issues of Justice League of America, but with effect from this year, would in future appear cover dated October and November. I never noticed. Of course, the cover dates were virtually meaningless, back then. But from my rediscovery of comics until now, I have assumed that these were the ‘summer issues’ still.