According to their house ads, DC’s Showcase, which debuted in 1956, was a response to their reader’s demands for new characters and new stories. In one sense, that was true, except that Showcase existed because the readers weren’t buying whatever new characters the company put out and, by feeding these through a try-out title, DC could massively cut their extensive losses.
And Showcase worked: the Barry Allen Flash, the Hal Jordan Green Lantern, Challengers of the unknown, Lois Lane; the list is magnificent.
But Showcase appeared on a bi-monthly basis, six time a year. With most of its features getting two and three-issue runs, there was something of a clog in the system. So, in issue 25, in 1959, The Brave and the Bold was given a new remit, to become ‘Showcase junior’. New characters, new stories would be tested here as well.
And, given that B&B‘s bi-monthly schedule was the opposite of Showcase‘s, that gave us new experiments every month of the year.
Robert Kanigher had replaced Whitney Ellsworth in issue 23. He’d started by making the Viking Prince the sole character, though whether this was to run through the existing stories without wasting any, or a silent preview of the new direction, I do not know. What I do know is that B&B‘s first subjects were a Kanigher creation. These were the original Suicide Squad.
One thing to note quickly is that, as soon as he became editor, Kanigher changed the logo on the cover. Previously, the design, housed in a banner, dominated in the usual manner, but from issue 23, Kanigher had it drastically reduced in size, to emphasize the subject logo: the Viking Prince, not the Suicide Squad, etc.
The original Suicide Squad bears very little resemblance to their present day successors, only the overall idea that Task Force X carries out suicide missions. All I knew of them before came from Darwyn Cooke’s brilliant The New Frontier (really one of the best things DC’s published this century). The group consist of ex-Air Force pilot and war veteran Rick Flag, the team leader, Flight-medic Karin Grace, physicist Jesse Bright and Astronomer Dr (Hugh) Evans. All four were survivors of terrible incidents in which the dying told them to ‘carry on for us’, placing them under an immense burden that prevented Flag from giving way and making love to Karin, who loved him: they had a duty to both the dead and the living that came first, besides Jesse and Dr Evans were also crazy in love with her and it might affect team morale. Were we in any doubt about this being written by Bob Kanigher?
Actually, the mental diversions everybody has to relate these repetitious incidents clogs down the opening story, where the Squad fight and eventually defeat a mutating monster by turning it into a frozen satellite circling Earth, whilst leaving themselves trapped in a space rocket almost 90,000,000 miles away from the planet, and all without any of the men so much as even loosening their ties (an odd pre-echo of their fate in The New Frontier).
There were two stories in issue 26, the first bringing Task Force X back to Earth whilst shrinking them so that they accidentally discover and destroy an enemy atomic sub-base about to fire missiles run by the only country (unnamed but they use a wolf insignia) that dare attack America, and of course destroy it. If the synopsis sounds off, don’t worry, the full story is one of Kanigher’s freewheeling, make it up as I go along disasters that clunks from the moment the team discovers their rocket comes equipped with a box of matches in case the power goes out (I am not making this up), not to mention engineering collisions with meteorites to increase their speed (nor that): sheesh!
After that, the back-up story is merely silly about a giant serpent emerging out of the metro in Paris that can only be destroyed by putting a plastic bag over its head, whilst both stories are filled with Karin’s obsession with getting Flag to pull her knickers down and his stone-faced refusal to even think about it, which puts me in mind of Kanigher’s treatment of Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor. Suicide Squad did not get its own title.
They got a third shot, a book-length story again, similarly wasted on another monster, this time emerging from a lake As you would, the monster goes for Karin first, and she spends most of the story in a strapless black swimsuit that manages to look unflattering.
The Suicide Squad would get a second try-out later. In fact, in total only four would-be series would appear in this phase of Brave and Bold, of whom two only would get series, the second through no thanks to B&B. Coming up next was the one unqualified success the title produced.
Of course I mean the Justice League of America, issues 28-30, written by Gardner Fox, drawn by Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs, with Julius Schwartz taking over the editorial chair for the next duration. I really don’t need to say anything about these three issues because we all know what happened. That this was intended to be a revival of the Justice Society of America except that Schwartz always thought that Society was a bad name for a team fighting heroes, so changed it to League. That in the Roll Call for the first story, J’onn J’onzz was named as John Jones. And that in his usual manner Schwartz opened up a lettercol and in issue 30 dealt with: the Justice Society, why Green Arrow or any of the teen sidekicks weren’t members (not enough space), why Superman and Batman didn’t feature as much (they’re absolutely everywhere else so we’ll play up the others – no mention of Mort Weisinger prowling with an axe) and why not team the teen sidekicks up as the Junior Justice League (we’re thinking about it, but they thought about it for a long time).
‘Normal’ B&B service resumed with issue 31, this time featuring Cave Carson – Adventures INSIDE EARTH. For this Jack Schiff took up editing, assisted by Murray Boltinoff and George Kashdan, but the result was just another monster romp, in fact two of them. Cave Carson (clean-shaven unlike more recent depictions of him) goes investigating underground in the Mighty Mole (a souped-up hot limo with a laser to cut through stone instead of a super-borer) alongside Christie Madison and Bulldozer Smith.
Essentially, this was another attempt to rip off the dynamics of Jack Kirby’s Challengers of the Unknown, another twist on Sea Devils and Rip Hunter, Time Master. On the strength of the first story, by France Herron and Bruno Premiani, it was one too many trips to the well. Neither of the other two issues offered anything better, though Premiani was immediately replaced by an unfamiliar artist with a much more jagged style (and issue 32 contained a plug for the JLA’s own magazine, so the wait wasn’t at all long). Underground civilizations planning to invade the surface, aliens using giant metal robots to invade the surface (with Christie reduced to a cameo appearance): imagination was not a feature.
So to the first highlight of this phase. I speak of Hawkman, edited by Julius Schwartz, written by Gardner Fox, drawn by Joe Kubert, three gorgeous issues that, unfortunately not unaccountably, flopped.
Hawkman was the fourth of Schwartz’s moves to revive Golden Age heroes and if goodwill counted, he was going to be a shoo-in. Gardner Fox wrote a long letter about the creation of both original character. Leading fan Roy Thomas virtually pleaded for the old upper-and-lower beak helmet, and Joe Kubert wrote to express his delight at returning to the Feathered Fury. The middle issue followed the pattern of having two stories but that was repeated for the final issue, no 36, instead of another book-lengther.
Why didn’t Hawkman take off the way Flash and Green Lantern had? His stories were more wide-ranging and imaginative than the Suicide Squad and Cave Carson (no monsters in sight), and Kubert’ art was stunning: lyrical, elegant, varying his angles. But that was the problem. Kubert was good and very good, but his style, which had been mostly used in the war stories, no longer suited superheroes. There was a house-style at DC, rounded, clear, touched with blandness, and Kubert looked nothing like that.
For issues 37-39, it was back to Kanigher and the Suicide Squad, ‘By Popular Demand’ (if there had been popular demand they’d have been in their own mag, not Brave & Bold). It was exactly the same nonsense. In the first story, the Squad’s been disbanded for no reason except to have it recalled to battle the menace of intelligent dinosaurs – who have the power to turn green sweaters black by breathing on them – invading from a parallel Earth via Karin’s paintings. That Karin has a talent for painting isn’t discovered until the second story, which is mission 4 to the first run’s missions 1 to 3, notable for being the one in which I recognised the stupidity of sending an athletic woman out to run, jump and hurl herself about flexibility in a 1960 tight-fitting below-the-knee skirt. Madness.
This last three part run was more of the same with no real difference, linked by an unusual obsession with dinosaurs in each comic not to mention the lovely Karin’s desire (which eventually came true in The New Frontier) to get into deadly situations so she can die with him (I suppose that when the man you love refuses to even kiss you, let alone help you out of your too-tight-to-fight skirt it’s some consolation.)
It was time for Cave Carson to have another try, though this was limited to only two issues. The stories were the same cheap garbage – monster, monster, monster, bloody monster – but with the appeal of Joe Kubert giving us something to look at it. And not even Joe on issue 41 but someone trying to ape his style in a more deliberately cartoonish manner.
Meanwhile, Julius Schwartz wasn’t giving up on Hawkman so easily, bring him back for issues 42-44, but without making any significant changes to the approach. The first story took the hawks back to Thanagar, related how Katar and Shayera first met, and saw Hawkman be awarded the wings on his helmet he’s worn ever since.
The Hawks got back to Midway City next issue, much to the delight of Mavis Trent, to face down some old Thanagarian enemies, but this second run was no better at persuading the readers to buy Hawkman in enough copies. Meanwhile, via Showcase, Schwartz had had far more success in getting the new Atom into his own book. It would take only four issues of Murphy Anderson art in Mystery in Space to work that trick.
But this phase was nearly at an end. To close out the try-out spell, Brave & Bold devoted five issues to ‘Strange Sports Stories’, something you can’t imagine being intended as a possible comic in it’s own right.Only four of the issues were accessible off my DVD but I don’t mind that much. The theme is mixing sports and science fiction together and I think that if I’d known it had ben done before, I probably wouldn’t have dared write my Tempus Fugitive. There really is no such thing as an original idea, and this one is so oddball, it’s almost impossible to describe.
But that was the end of it. With issue 50, The Brave and the Bold was once again re-purposed. We’ll look at that era next time.
This fortnightly Friday afternoon slot is traditionally where I indulge my nostalgic fascination for the British weekly boys comics of my youth, but as a change of pace, my most recent exploration of comics on DVD has taken a different route, all the way into the Golden Age of (American) Comics. To be specific, I have been working my way through a DVD containing the entire 104 issue run of Flash Comics, the anthology title published at first by All-American Publications, and then by National Comics, forerunner of National Periodical Publications, the company that became the present-day DC, between 1940 and 1949.
Flash Comics was one of the very first titles published by All-American, a company run by M.C. (Charley) Gaines, and owned in equal measure by himself and Harry Donenfeld, owner of Detective Comics, publishers of Superman and Batman. Gaines, who had most recently been Donenfeld’s chief salesman, wanted to set up his own company, whilst Donenfeld wanted to publish more comics to take advantage of the boom, but was restricted by his Accountant and Business Manager, Jack Liebowitz. Gaines was Donenfeld’s solution, but he insisted on Gaines accepting Liebowitz as his Business Manager as well.
This ultimately proved divisive, as Gaines and Liebowitz absolutely loathed each other, but it lasted until 1944, when Donenfeld gifted Liebowitz a share in his ownership of All-American. This was too much for Gaines, who withdrew co-operation with his partners, until agreeing to be bought out for $500,000.00, which he used to set up a new comics company. With effect from issue 68, Flash Comics became a National comic, created by the merger of Detective and All-American, for the remainder of its run. Flash Comics was the company’s fourth title but its first superhero title (flagship title All American Comics didn’t feature any masked men until nine months after Flash Comics 1). It starred, unsurprisingly, the Golden Age Flash, along with the Golden Age Hawkman. These two characters appeared in every issue and alternated nearly every cover (Black Canary in issue 92 was the only other character to appear on the cover, bursting through a hoop held by the two mainstays), with the other one appearing above the masthead.
The initial line-up also included, in no particular order, Johnny Thunderbolt (later re-named Johnny Thunder), The Whip, Cliff Cornwell and Ed Whelan’s Minute Movies. King Standish (later re-named The King) was added in issue 3. Of these, Johnny Thunder lasted the longest, until issue 91, before being displaced by the Black Canary, who’d debuted in his strip, the ungrateful minx, whilst Cliff Cornwall, an American intelligence agent, only lasted until issue 19, followed out of the title by The King (last seen in issue 41), The Whip (issue 55) and the Minute Movies (issue 58).
Another early, but thankfully short-lived feature was Rod Rian of the Space Police, a junior league Flash Gordon with superficially Raymond-esque art but nothing to distinguish it.
This gave way to ‘Les Watts, Radio Amateur’ in issue 12 (renamed ‘Les Sparks’ in issue 16). It was all about crimes being solved or stopped by radio hams. Like Cliff Cornwell, it was neither bad nor good, though Don Cameron’s art was pleasantly attractive but it was repetitive, and it wasn’t missed.
The Minute Movies were replaced by a brief run of much shorter Picture Stories from American History, until issue 68, which, whilst still static in approach, at least looked like a comic book story, not a newspaper strip.
There was another brief regular feature in the form of Rockhead McWizzard, a rather formulaic comic series about a caveman inventor who, every month, would get a bang on the head that inspired him to invent some device a thousand years ahead of its time, using current ‘technology’ that didn’t work and saw him getting punished by the local bigwig, Mr Gotrocks, who was always trying to exploit Rockhead’s newest invention. This ran from issue 71 to 79, before being bounced to facilitate The Atom’s transfer from All American Comics.
The DVD contains every issue from 1 to 104, but that’s not to say that I’ve now had the unanticipated chance to read every issue. Wherever possible, the compiler has used actual issues, which are complete, subject to minor wear and tear, clear and bright and easy to read. But over half the issues are available only as fiche (i.e., microfiche) copies, and these are a different prospect. Universally, the fiche pages are washed out, the colour blurring sometimes into mere shades. These are hard on the eye where they are decently readable, but the effect on the lettering is stressful, and a number of these have been so badly photographed that it is impossible or next-to-impossible to make out captions or dialogue, essentially rendering the stories unreadable.
And what of these stories? What of the Golden Age classics, of Jay Garrick’s career as the Flash before he became a mere adjunct to Barry Allen. That’s very interesting.
Jay Garrick was created by Gardner Fox, who wrote the first eighty stories. Harry Lampert drew the first five issues before handing over to E.E. Hibbard (Lampert went on to draw The King), who is credited with drawing the series until he was in turn replaced by a young Carmine Infantino in issue 87. I say credited, because there are quite a few issues in 1945 and 1946 that have Hibbard’s name but which are clearly being drawn by Martin Naydel, who was drawing The Flash in the Justice Society of America in All Star Comics.
Garrick’s origin is the justly infamous fumes of hard water, breathed in overnight after a lab accident, but it’s interesting to see how this comes with a seemingly scientific explanation that’s repeated several times during the series’ first year. Hard water, it is claimed, contains certain natural gases that act upon the human body’s reflexes, speeding these up to the point where Garrick is capable of thinking and moving far faster than ordinary humans.
And whilst his secret identity is supposed to be known only to his girlfriend, Joan Williams, it’s very noticeable that Garrick makes to attempt to keep his superspeed secret, especially when it comes to the Midwestern university football team, and he’s none too precious about it when he’s adopted his uniform and is beating crime as The Flash. Even when he starts to pay attention to keeping his mouth shut, it’s known to all and sundry that you can get in touch with The Flash by giving a message to Joan Williams, who is also known as Jay Garrick’s girlfriend, not to mention the number of times Jay goes missing just before The Flash turns up…
Actually, I must say a word about Joan’s incredible patience, given the number of times she has to go home from broken dates because Jay’s run off. And whereas Barry Allen has his compressed uniform in a ring on his finger, and Jay just tosses aside his street clothes, that wasn’t the case at first: as soon as he spotted something suspicious, Jay would have to run home first to grab his uniform. Thank God his power was super-speed, eh?
Yet there’s a decent brightness about the stories in the early days. Most of the time, The Flash is up against gangsters and mobs, with the odd mad scientist thrown in, but the Forties was a scant period for supervillains, unless you were reading Batman or Superman. The Flash tends to run too fast to be seen, run carrying crooks who find themselves unable to breathe, and usually ends up procuring confessions and promises to reform that would surely be illegal as coerced, but there’s an energy to the tales, a freewheeling looseness, a freedom from rules or tropes because nobody knew what didn’t work.
It’s not all good fun, however. Joan goes through a run of trying to compete with The Flash, paralleling the same attempts of Sheira Sanders in the Hawkman series (also written by Gardner Fox…), which constantly gets her into trouble. Thankfully, that doesn’t last too long, but what does is Winky, Blinky and Noddy, aka the Three Dimwits (any resemblance to the Three Stooges is sufficiently distant to stay out of litigation).
I have long been aware that The Flash, like so many other superheroes in the later Forties, was afflicted by Comic Relief, but I never realised that it started so soon. The Dimwits made their debut as early as All-Flash Quarterly issue 5 (The Flash’s solo title) in 1942, and were introduced into Flash Comics in issue 46, October 1943, popping up far too frequently until being dropped after issue 79. And a few times in Three Dimwit stories, Fox goes prematurely metafictional, having The Flash complain about what he has to do in the story.
Freewheeling isn’t all beneficial, you know.
Once the Dimwits (and Fox) moved on, The Flash’s stories restored something of a more serious tone, to the strip’s benefit.
Flash Comics‘ other star was Hawkman, whose early career paralleled the Flash in an unexpected manner. Like Jay Garrick, archaeologist Carter Hall, a reincarnated Egyptian Prince Khufu whose memories were restored by sight of the glass dagger by which he was originally sacrificed, was created by Gardner Fox, this time with artist Dennis Neville, and once again the original artist only lasted a handful of issues before being replaced by a longer-running penciller, Sheldon Moldoff in issue 4.
Moldoff’s an interesting case. He left Hawkman after being drafted into the Army in 1944, his last work appearing in issue 61, after which Hawkman was handed over the teenage prodigy Joe Kubert. Moldoff boasted of seeing that Hawkman required an Alex (Flash Gordon) Raymond approach, which endeared him to Charlie Gaines. Most people describe it as an Alex Raymond swipe, and can run down the original panels they accuse Moldoff of tracing. Certainly, Moldoff doesn’t go big on panel to panel continuity, not even the primitive kind. And there are plenty on instances where he is clearly tracing photographs.
Nevertheless, Moldoff was the first to put Hall’s girlfriend and fellow reincarnatee Shiera Saunders into costume as Hawkgirl, in issue 24, though that aspect of the series was an awkward one. Shiera was brought in as Hawkgirl for a one-off, or so Hawkman intended, but once she’d dressed up once, she kept wanting to fly again every issue. Like Joan Williams, she was initially portrayed as trying to beat Hawkman at his own game, and being pretty much inadequate, and even when he accepted her as a regular partner, she was constantly getting beaten, captured, unmasked because, well, she was a woman.
Then suddenly this silly stuff evaporated, and Hawkgirl got good overnight, though she always got less exposure than Hawkman. Still, this was now a real partnership.
The arrival of Kubert brought a sparkling originality and angularity to the series, not to mention a vivid ugliness to the crooks, with their narrowed, mean eyes, cramped postures and pencil-moustaches above prominent chins. Kubert picked up Hawkman in issue 62, left the character for issues 77-84, when Hawkman was drawn by Chet Kozlack, and returned to draw all but a couple of the remaining stories, by which time his art had shed its early angularity.
Hawkman’s stories mostly pitted him against ordinary crooks and mad scientists and, like the Flash, he was unfeasibly prone to getting clonked from behind on the helmet. A couple of adventures foreshadowed his Silver Age counterpart’s career by getting him involved with aliens, and there were a couple of stories involving the water-breathing scientist, Neptune Perkins, whom Roy Thomas would revive in the Eighties, but Hawkman didn’t get a recurring villain until late on, in the form of the Gentleman Ghost (was he or was he not a real ghost?)
Flash and Hawkman were Flash Comics’ representatives in the Justice Society of America in All Star Comics 3, with the former being replaced by Johnny Thunder, who was the title’s number 3 character. Johnny was the creation of writer John W Wentworth and artist Stan Aschmeier, who signed his art as Stan Josephs. Wentworth (whose W distinguished him from John B Wentworth, writer of The Whip) wrote the series until 1947, when it was taken over by Robert Kanigher.
What can you say about Johnny Thunder? The series debuted as Johnny Thunderbolt, though the boy was Thunder, son of Bank Clerk Simon Thunder, from the beginning. Being born at the seventh hour on the seventh day of the seventh month of a year ending in seven (1917) made seven year old Johnny a target for kidnapping by the Bahdnesians, who gave him control of a magic thunderbolt that, if summoned by the words Cei-u, would make people do what Johnny told them to for an hour at a time.
Johnny escaped back to America and his family by accident. At first, he had no idea he had a thunderbolt. Then, when he cottoned onto it, he didn’t know how to summon him (fortunately, the words Cei-u sound exactly like Say You, and you’ve no idea just how many different ways that can be accidentally contrived into a sentence. Even when Johnny sussed out the right words, it didn’t improve things any because, basically, Johnny was a dope. An idiot. A clown, who never worked out a) how to give sensible and coherent instructions to his thunderbolt and b) that the Bolt carried out his instructions literally.
Comic relief characters are one thing, but when they’re the star of the feature, that’s another thing entirely. Johnny and the Bolt were one thing, but at a dismally early stage, Johnny adopts the bratty eight-year old menace Peachy Pet, comic relief to a comic relief character. Later in the series, Wentworth introduced the Bolt’s family, his wife and brattish son, Shocko, who kept popping up on Earth (the Bolt was initially given the name of Archibald, though this was rapidly forgotten and he was Oswald on the family’s second appearance and ever after).
If this were not such an horrendous and unfunny mess of a series by this point, I might be tempted to applaud some aspects of Wentworth (W)’s approach. In a forerunner of both The Goon Show and, long after, metafiction, Wentworth started to write his comic book story as a comic book story with the characters conscious that they are being written. Unfortunately, Wentworth also uses this trick to play some lazy games with stories by having them run out of pages before an ending can be contrived.
Robert Kanigher took over Johnny Thunder with issue 86, introducing a beautiful female jewel thief, the Black Canary, in Carmine Infantino’s first work for National. But I’ll come back to her a little further on.
These were the big three of Flash Comics. Compared to them, compared to themselves, the other series were minor league. When The Flash won the right to his own title, Johnny Thunder replaced him in All Star Comics. But for the Second World War and the introduction of paper-rationing, there’s a good chance Hawkman would have followed him. Who then would have been the new JSAer? The King? The Whip? No sir, not either one of these.
The King started out as King Standish, his real name. Standish was a rich young man who fought crime armed with a phenomenal skill at disguise. Within seconds, he could transform himself into anyone at all, substitute for them, several times an episode. Supposedly, the reader never ever saw the King’s real face, but if that’s so, he had a remarkably regular ‘stock’ false face. The same went for his one and only recurring – and boy, did she recur! – enemy, The Witch, a female crook and mistress of disguises. The same theory went for Witchie, as the King affectionately called her, the only way she ever knew she was facing him, but she too had this ‘stock’ false face that the King was forever recognising.
Despite the fact that he got her bang to rights in nearly every adventure, the King always allowed the Witch to escape and plot again. He always claimed that this was because life was more interesting with her around, though personally I think he was just trying to get into her knickers, if you’ll forgive the crudity.
The King was a pretty poor series, to be truthful, but it exerted a strange fascination on me, although not quite as much when the King took to wandering around in a costume consisting of a top hat, a domino mask, an opera cape and immaculate gloves. I was sorry to see it disappear, without trace.
It was outlived, though not by much, by the rather more vigorous The Whip, the creation of John B Wentworth, with artist George Storm, although Homer Fleming drew the strip on a longer term basis, and Dr Mid-Nite’s creator Charles Reizenstein subsequently took over the scripting. The Whip, whose series ran until issue 55, was a junior league Zorro, the Mexican hero El Castigo, who defended the peons and peasants against the grasping landowners in the 19th century. His modern day equivalent was effete playboy Rodney Gaynor, a distant descendent of El Castigo, who inherited a Hacienda in a Mexican town owned by grasping landowners. After meeting crusading reporter, Marisa Dillon, Gaynor revived The Whip to firstly take up where his ancestor left off, then generally to fight crime.
The Whip was decently active but was marred by the cliché of having Marisa despise Rod as a bored, spineless playboy and revere the Whip for his determined fight, just like Lois Lane with Clark Kent. Worse though, as the Whip, Rod spoke in a shamelessly racist Mexican accent, full of the worst kind of cheap and nasty dialogue that no-one thought anything of then, but which now assaults the eye and mind. Him in the Justice Society? Ye Gods.
Of the other two series, Cliff Cornwell (drawn by Sheldon Moldoff) was a modestly decent adventure thriller about an American Agent, foiling saboteurs and the like, neither especially bad nor especially good in any respect. Ed Whelan’s Minute Movies (initially credited as Flash “Picture” Novelettes) was something else entirely. It had originally run in Movie Comics, a six-issue All-American series, and before that as a newspaper strip, and it retained the latter format, of narrow, rectangular panels with no attempt to exploit even the least of comics’ possibilities.
The series told movie-type stories, using a repertory company of recognisable ‘actors’, such as Dickie Dare and Hazel Dearie, who were romantic leads, or Fuller Phun, who was comic relief. I read the first few offerings in amusement, but the repetitive nature of the series and the lack of any visual variety, not to mention the archaic art style – very Twenties – meant that it rapidly became tedious. Still, it lasted until issue 58.
The longest and most popular of the later series was The Ghost Patrol, which started in issue 29, replacing Les Sparks, and, with a couple of gaps, ran until the final issue, no 104. The Ghost Patrol were three American aviators, Fred, Slim (who wasn’t) and Pedro (who spoke like thees) who died but had to hang around on Earth because they weren’t yet due in Heaven. Though they were ghosts, they could switch back and forth between completely solid and human and being ghosts. Frankly, I found it unreadable – this is a comic featuring Johnny Thunder and Peachy Pet!
The Atom’s advent in issue 80 was something of a surprise. He’d been a regular in All American Comics since issue 19, but his series in that title was cancelled with issue 61 and he was about to be dropped from the Justice Society in favour of Wildcat. But some unexpected scheduling issues saw Wildcat’s debut appear with three stories featuring The Atom awaiting print. No-one wanted to chop and change, and it’s been theorised that there were a handful of Atom five pagers left unused, so he was dropped into Flash Comics until the end of the run so as to justify keeping him in the JSA.
By this time, creators Ben Flinton and Bill O’Connor were long gone, but Atom stories were rarely better than perfunctory and the art was better only because Flinton’s work was atrocious. Even so, that meant that no less than four JSAers had their base in Flash Comics.
Following the DVD through to the end has thrown up some interesting wrinkles. The standard impression I’ve always had of the Golden Age is that superheroes began falling out of fashion after the War, and that many series were effectively abandoned to their comic relief characters, with the hero only a straight man.
But Winkly, Blinky and Noddy disappear without fanfare after issue 79, from which point onwards, The Flash becomes an almost entirely serious strip, and enjoys the best art of the decade from Carmine Infantino. Joe Kubert returned to Hawkman in issue 85, stripped of his early angularity and grotesquerie, with a sleek, almost balletic style. Hawkgirl (and Shiera Saunders) never looked better. Indeed, after a long-term set-up that had The Flash as the first story and Hawkman as the last, several issues see the heroes swap places.
Johnny Thunder remains ridiculous until issue 85, but in the next issue, Robert Kanigher takes over the writing, Carmine Infantino the art (his DC debut) and the Black Canary begins the quick process of taking over the series. She’s introduced as a glamorous jewel thief who steals from crooks, but was so immediately popular she was brought back as a crimefighter, with whom Johnny was, understandably, besotted.
The Canary appeared in all but one of Johnny’s stories from 86 – 91, is credited as co-star and then bounces him out in issue 92, which introduces Dinah Drake, her flower shop, and her boyfriend, private eye Larry Lance.
There’s a certain repetitive element to the Canary’s series, since somewhere about halfway through the story both she and Larry get a crack on the back of the head with a pistol butt, until you start to fear for her skull, but they always do escape, and the story ends with Larry boasting to Dinah Drake about he was invaluable in solving the Black Canary’s case.
With Infantino drawing both Black Canary and The Flash, and Kubert drawing Hawkman, Flash Comics’ final phase saw it at its most splendid and gorgeous. Even The Atom got some decent art, from Paul Reinman, to see him to the end of his career.
Just as Hawkman and The Atom’s costumes changed with effect from All Star Comics 42, the same change was performed for both characters from Flash Comics 98, and I noted that Hawkgirl also gave up her hawk-helm for a cloth mask, covering only her forehead and eyes, and allowing her lustrous brown locks to flow free (and with Kubert they were definitely lustrous, to the point where you wondered how nobody ever recognised Shiera Sanders).
One thing I found interesting was that the opening pages of the Flash, Hawkman and Black Canary episodes carried a marking in the corner of a panel, FL and a series of three numbers. This numbering suggested that they were the issue numbers of Flash Comics that the stories were intended to be published in, but each of these numbers were in advance of the issue in which the story appeared, and as the issues advanced, these were issue numbers that would never appear.
In contrast, the equivalent marking on Atom stories used OH as its key, which doesn’t appear to correlate to any contemporaneous National Comics title.
Given that some Flash stories carry similar tags using AF (for the recent cancelled Flash solo title, All-Flash), there’s no other reasonable explanation. Which suggests a number of stories that hadn’t yet been used, or that were not intended to be used. In 1968, DC did write off an enormous amount of unused art, for tax purposes, making it plausible for there to have been several stories skipped over for whatever reason. Flash Comics was cancelled from issue 104. Unlike All American Comics or All Star Comics, it did not continue as a Western. The end obviously came quickly: all the features except The Flash ended with the usual tag that the star’s adventures could be followed every month in Flash Comics. Issue 105 would not be published until ten years later, and would star a different Flash entirely.
This isn’t the only Golden Age comic of which I’ve read a full run: I have the complete All Star Comics in DC’s hardback Archive editions. But that was a complete run of a flagship series and this has been an anthology title with decidedly varying series. It’s fun to see what the comics of that era really were like, and I’m more likely than not to do the same thing with All American Comics, which was Green Lantern’s home title. And in a silly way, I’m grateful to see the original and only Forties appearance of Jay Garrick’s foe, The Shade, who was nothing remotely like the one that appeared in Jay’s return in the classic The Flash 123, and upon which all subsequent versions have been based. I shudder…
But despite the limitations of the material, I wouldn’t want to have this stuff in any other format than the DVD. Had I the space, I still wouldn’t want to give it that space..
Let’s be honest, it’s not brilliant. It never has been brilliant from the start, except in one respect. It’s been loose and clunky and the Big Bad plot has never entirely worked, even in its best moments. The first season ran to sixteen episodes and it’s done well enough to be renewed, but even in the final episode it’s had moments that made you roll your eyes in embarrassment.
But in that one respect of brilliance, Legends of Tomorrow has been brilliant indeed, and in its last few seconds, dropping one heavyweight teaser for season 2, it had me whooping out loud with glee. Because Legends of Tomorrow features a bunch of DC Comics characters, all bar one of which went back to my earliest days reading those silly,enthralling, wonderful things (Firestorm, the exception, dates from 1976, making him the baby at only forty years old). It features them running and bouncing around, flying, throwing punches, being snarky with each other. Man, I would have loved this as a kid and I’m still close enough to that kid inside that I can just relish the thought and give this show a critical bypass on execution.
The show’s supposed to have been about Vandal Savage, The Immortal Villain, and preventing him taking over the world in 2166, and about the 4,000 year long struggle between him and the Hawks, man and girl, Carter Hall and Kendra Saunders (no, no, it should have been Shiera, Shiera Saunders Hall), but the writers couldn’t keep that interesting.
So it’s only properly worked when it’s been about the team doing all the things a team does, and not trying to tie it in to any any season-long arc.
Naturally, we had to dispose of Savage in the finale, and the gang did it in gloriously OTT fashion, killing him no less than three times, with everybody getting in on the act. I say everybody, but the Hawks didn’t really get to finish things off, and it was neither a surprise nor a disappointment to have them write themselves out of season 2.
There was the usual moment of clunk at the end. There’s a Thanagarian meteor about to go off and basically discombobulate the Earth. Our only hope is for Rip to fly it into the Sun, courtesy of the Waverider, all noble sacrifice and that. Rip’s suicide mission, his final reconciliation to the loss of his wife and child, his emotional journey concluded, serenity all around.
Then he jerks himself awake, jettisons the bomb into the sun and flies back. Sigh. You gotta love this, right?
Anyway: no more Time Masters so Rip appoints himself as freelance. Everyone except the Hawks (bye bye birdies) signs up for a repeat voyage with him, and at this stage there’s not necessarily a Big Bad to pursue, though there’s always the Thanagarians round the corner. And then…
Enter one crashing and burning additional Waverider, out of which a hooded, fresh-faced guy emerges to tell our brave band of lads (and one lass) not to get into their Waverider, or they’re all dead. He’s been sent here with a specific message, by none other than Mick Rory. Who is he? He’s the new cast member for season 2. He gives his name as Rex Tyler.
For a moment, the name registers as being familiar but, shamefully, I don’t place it. Until he adds, “I’m a member of the Justice Society of America.”
The first thing to say is that, as a reader of DC Comics for the last fifty years, a show would have to tank pretty badly before I would not want to watch it (so, basically, we’re looking at Constantine here). Legends of Tomorrow, shared child of Arrow and The Flash, had its clunky bits, mostly to do with this being half a pilot in which we have to get to know ten different characters, plus the set-up, but it did enough for me to be both fun and adequately fulfill the expectation of seeing so many superheroes hanging out together.
The premise is this: in 2166, one hundred and fifty years from now, Vandal Savage, the Immortal Villain, conquers the world, destroying London as his last step and, being a cold-hearted psychopath, kills a mother and her young boy, Jonas. Incidentally, I had no problems with this incident: the man is 4,000 years old and has seen literally millions of people die, so in what way does the lives of two people have any meaning for him.
At the Council of Time Masters, Captain Hunter (Rip, to you and I, and Arthur Darvill to his friends) urges intervention to prevent Savage’s takeover from having happened, despite the Council’s express aim of preserving the Timeline from interference. When Rip returned to his base, collecting his AI, Gideon along the way (is this the same Gideon that works for the Reverse-Flash in The Flash or are Gideon’s as ubiquitous as iPhones in the future?), saying he’d had the expected answer, was I alone in immediately guessing our man had gone rogue? Nah, no way I could have been.
Rip returns to 2016 to collect a team he intends to mould to stop Savage completely, by pursuing him through time. As we all know, this meant the Atom, Sara soon-to-be White Canary Lance, the two halves of Firestorm, Hawkman and Hawkgirl and, just for fun, those unrepentant Flash-villains, Captain Cold and Heat Wave.
Our gang agreed to help Captain Hunter, in his long, swirly, leather coat for a variety of reasons, some noble, some redemptive, some inquisitive, some base on the notion of robbing the timeline blind (guess who?) and, in the case of the Jefferson Jackson half of Firestorm, because his elder, wiser half, Professor Martin Stein drugged and kidnapped him.
First stop, St. Roch, 1975 (lovingly re-created) and an expert in Vandal Savage, who only happens to be the aged son of Hawkman and Hawkgirl from the last-but-one incarnation (as Joe and Edith Boardman). We get a pointer as to the nature of time here: Hunter has chosen this day to approach Andrew Boardman as he is going to die within 24 hours, Hawkgirl insists on taking her ‘son’ with them to protect him from harm, but that is what leads to his death, and the hands of the chronal bounty-hunter, Chronos (a wildly re-written DC villain of fifty years standing).
Which is the cue for Rip to reveal that he is not, after all, acting on behalf of the Time Masters, but in his own behalf, and that his chosen band were selected, not because they were destined to be Legends of Tomorrow, but because they are completely insignificant to the timeline. Rip’s motive is personal: his wife and young boy were killed by Savage. In London. In 2166. Rip’s out for revennge.
And the gang stick with him, for varying reasons, but primarily because, as Ray (Atom) Palmer puts it best, they intended to kick the future’s butt, none of this insignificance bit, you hear me?
Meanwhile, over in Norway, Vandal Savage is lovingly cradling a nuclear warhead and waxing philosophically about how Man progresses only in times of war… But we have to wait until next week for Pilot part 2.
My overall first impression is that this was good enough to come back next week. I like the premise, I look forward to seeing what they do with it, and I’m sure it will improve once it settles down. At the moment, Legends‘s biggest problem is the size of its cast, and the need to have everybody doing something up front. So far, interaction is limited, with the team falling instantly into little cliques, pre-determined by their various histories, with little scope yet for overlap.
Surprisingly, it’s Arthur Darvill as Rip Hunter who convinces me the least, but then I was in the decided minority who thought Fulk Hentschel got it dead on as Carter (Hawkman) Hall. Best scene however was White Canary and the two villains, benched for the visit to Professor Boardman and pissed off at it, sneaking off the time-ship to go for a drink, which, once White Canary decided to dance, showing off Caity Lotz’s body,provoked a bar brawl faster than you could say, ‘Yee-haw!”. This three are going to be fun.
I look forward to the rest of the gang catching them up.
His name won’t mean anything to you unless you’re a comic book fan, and maybe not then if you only started during the last twenty years and weren’t interested in the history of the field. Murphy Anderson, who has died aged 89, was one of my favourite artists during the Sixties, a comsummate professional, with a smooth, clear line, consistently excellent as penciller, inker or cover artist.
Anderson was part of Julius Schwartz’s little ‘stable’ throughout that part of the Sixties that saw the return of the superhero after a decade in the doldrums. He was in constant demand from Schwartz to ink the likes of Carmine Infantino and Gil Kane, and later Curt Swan, when Schwartz added Superman to his roster.
Anderson was also a penciller on Adam Strange, the space hopping Archaeologist who became the Defender of the Planet Rann. He was the artist who converted the revived Hawkman from a flop to the star of his own four-year running series, and it was he who drew those wonderful, though commercially unavailing Golden Age revivals that I adored so much.
He was never an innovative artist, but he was a steady, reliable, and clear artist who told a story in a traditional fashion, with crisp panels unfolding infallibly. And he could draw bloody good redheads, which is why there’s a drawing of Hawkgirl up top.
Rest well, Mr Anderson, and thank you for all the fun and excitement you brought to me.
Having 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.
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.