Theatre Nights: The Hero


Sandman Mystery Theatre 69-70. Dramatis personae: Steven T. Seagle (writer), Guy Davis (artist)
The curtain rises, the stage lights glow into life, an expectant audience hushes, its chatter diminished to a mere mumble.
It’s been a strange time in Manhattan.
A month has passed since the end of The Goblin. Christmas has passed and we are coming up on New Year, the advent of the Forties.
Russia has invaded Finland and O’Grady’s buying a paper to read about it. Burke doesn’t think about it, but O’Grady upbraids him: people not thinking about things is why the world is as it is. Burke’s definitely mellowing, because he hasn’t got an acid retort.
In fact, he’s been seeing Doris regularly this past month and is starting to have certain ideas.
Larry Belmont has been recuperating in hospital, and is about to be sent home with a nurse. Dian’s been visiting him every day in the Hospital. She’s also been visiting Wesley’s house every day, but only to work in her office. She hasn’t been staying at night, an act of contrition over the guilt she feels for his heart attack.
Dian’s intent on resolving all the loose ends in her life before the new decade starts. She’s finished her novel, she tells the publisher Richard Manten introduced her to that it’s good and he’ll want to publish it. The only loose end she hasn’t been able to work out is Wesley. Wesley hasn’t been to see Larry yet. Wesley hasn’t found the words, nor the courage.
Strangest of all though is Wesley himself. The thought of being confronted by Larry has him paralysed, but more than that, though he continues to dream, Wesley has not put on the gasmask.
And now there’s another killer, a man dressed as a soldier of the Great War (with Sandman-esque gasmask). He is actually such a soldier, a man abandoned, believed dead, now returned and taking bloody vengeance on those who betrayed him. Burke and O’Grady pull the case.
But where normally Wesley would be on the trail, he’s got other things on his mind: a letter from Poland, delivered by hand through the auspices of Janos Prohaska (told you he wasn’t dead). It’s a plea for help from Gerald Dodds: Wesley’s brother.
In view of our knowledge of the imminent demise of this series, the left field appearance of a hitherto unmentioned and even unsuggested brother smacks of contrivance. Which it is. But it has to be allowed that it is wholly within Wesley Dodds’ character as we have known him throughout this season not to talk about his family.
Gerald fills in the background for us in his appeal for Wesley’s help: he is trapped in the Warsaw ghetto thanks to having been fingered as half-Jewish, and has no other recourse.
The brothers haven’t seen each since Paris, 1918, a visit organised with their father. Gerald – who is presumably older than Wesley – received a public violent slap across the face for paying more attention to Parisian women than his father’s commentary. Both brothers were upset about Edward Dodds flaunting his new mistress in front of them so soon after their mother’s death, but it was Gerald who took action by seducing her and making sure they were discovered.
Gerald was sent away, and disowned. No doubt Wesley’s sending away, to school in the Far East, followed shortly. The two have had no contact since. Gerald has lived his own life seemingly without any resentment at losing his ‘inheritance’. He has no claim on Wesley, save only that if the roles were reversed, he would come to his brother’s assistance.
Wesley’s resentful of the intrusion, inclined immediately to be dismissive of Gerald, but already family sympathy – combined with the restlessness he currently feels about his life in New York – prompts him towards what would be required to simply abandon his life to fly off.
The beginning of that process is contacting Hubert Klein in the Medical Examiner’s office. Klein’s concerned about the latest killer and assumes that’s what the Sandman is on to him about, but before they can progress, he is knocked out from behind.
This is what it takes to get Wesley into his gasmask, racing off to the precinct with Dian. Unfortunately, it’s icy, there’s a commotion near the precinct where the soldier is being pursued, and the car skids on the ice when Dian brakes suddenly, but it knocks down a pedestrian. It’s Burke.
And if that wasn’t enough, there’s the Soldier wielding a grenade, the Crimson Avenger trying to shoot him and the Hourman, trying to bring him in alive. Three superheroes, each in costume, in each other’s faces until Dian, in her ‘Sandy’ mask tips the balance in Sandman’s favour.
That’s the climax to the First Act: the next decade is clearly going to be very different.
The mis-matched trio do follow the soldier, without getting anywhere or ever reconciling: the Avenger even protests being hauled out of the blast zone of a grenade by Hourman’s speed! But their presence, the knowledge that there are others who can be left to protect the city, helps speed Wesley’s decision. The case goes unresolved, at least in the pages of the second and final Act, as Wesley begins to lay down the threads of his New York life.
Judge Schaffer reappears in time to offer a convenient plane to the Polish Resistance. Wesley promotes his secretary to Business Manager: she is, after all, his only employee.
Dian gets a call from her publisher: she is right, her novel is good and he does want to publish it: a contract is in the post.
Burke survives the accident, bruised but otherwise unhurt. It’s enough to affect his temper into kicking off before Doris, but despite her exposure to his darker side, she accepts his proposal and agrees to marry him.
The Sandman visits Burke in his office to announce his disappearance. He leaves files with Burke to assist him on previous cases. Burke is never going to reconcile himself to the age of heroes that is fast overtaking New York, but he accepts the truce, and the Sandman departs, unaware that behind his back, Burke calls him Dodds.
Wesley even manages to visit Larry, on his return home, to apologise and to assure (without once mentioning the M word) that Dian is and always will be the centre of his heart and that he will protect her for the rest of his life. It satisfies Larry, at least until the end of the Act, though we may presume a change of heart in view of what follows.
And lastly there is Dian. Wesley wants her with him, but she still cannot bridge that last gap without more. At the airfield, he takes her aside, gives her a ring that belonged to his mother, takes her as his wife in the heart (though not in any legal or religious sense). That is enough for Dian, enough for her to agree to join him in the plane, which takes off and flies away from New York.
And it’s done. The case is never solved. Whether the Hourman or the Crimson Avenger brings in the soldier, who he is, what lies behind his rampage, we will never know, for that story is completed in the issues 71 and 72 of Sandman Mystery Theatre that can be found only in Lucien’s Library in the Dreaming, in the section devoted to books their author imagined but never wrote. In the end, it doesn’t matter, it was never part of the story. Like so many plays, the murders were a backdrop to what mattered.
Some of it is a little unconvincing: it’s stretching credibility that Wesley Dodd’s business empire is run solely by himself and one secretary, no other employees and the times are not conducive to a female CEO. Equally, the sudden revelation that Burke knows who the Sandman is comes equally out of left field, and is based on no evidence in this or any previous Act. It’s neat but the deduction is pretty mystical.
But it’s a wrap-up. It’s about ending things in as stable a manner as possible, and sometimes strict plausibility has to be sacrificed when all you have is 24 pages. The Mystery Theatre would never open again. Burke and Doris, O’Grady on the edge of his promotion, Larry Belmont’s medical condition, Hubert Klein, Judge Schaffer, none of these would be seen again, their lives interrupted.
The lights fall, save for spotlights trained on the leading man and the leading lady, that follow them as they turn and disappear into the wings. The cast remain, frozen, in darkness, until the audience, silent and shuffling, have left the Theatre. Behind them, a commissionaire in besplendent uniform closes and bars the door. As the final members of the audience walk down the steps, the lights within go out. We do not know if the actors ever return to their dressing rooms, removing one final time the greasepaint, wigs and costumes that have sustained their repertoire for this season of plays.
The Mystery Theatre stands dark and deserted. Only ghosts perform there now.

Theatre Nights: The Hourman


Sandman Mystery Theatre  29-32. Dramatis personae: Matt Wagner (plotter), Steven T. Seagle (scripter), Guy Davis (artist).
The curtain rises, the stage lights glow into life, an expectant audience hushes, its chatter diminished to a mere mumble.
The Hourman represents a change in direction for the Mystery Theatre. All the plays thus far in this season have, in true pulp noir manner, named themselves luridly for the villain. For the first time, the subject of the latest play is another hero.
Yes, against all expectations, the Mystery Theatre addresses itself ro the first time to the world forthcoming, to the era of superheroes, of people doing things that the hitherto strict reality of the Theatre has been utterly inimical to. Wagner and Seagle have teased hints here and there to Ted (Wildcat) Grant and Dr Charles (Dr Mid-Nite) McNider, and there will be future teases, but this story is directly concerned with the actual appearance of one of the Sandman’s future Justice Society colleagues, his fellow Adventure Comics alumnus, the Hourman.
The result is, despite the presence of the requisite thuggishness and brutality, despite the look at the underbelly of New York life, despite another instance of the casual, unthinking racism that pervaded that world, an oddly buoyant and upbeat story.
In part this is because Wesley and Dian have reconciled their differences, and have enjoyed ‘several weeks’ of delight in each other (by day as well as by night), during which Wesley’s prophetic dreams have been few, mild and unfocussed, thus removing the presence of the Sandman from their equation, in part it is the season, the story starting on Christmas Eve and climaxing on New Year’s Eve 1938, and in part because the story spends so much of its time in following Rex ‘Tick Tock’ Tyler, the ‘Man of the Hour’, who is an altogether more zestful and forceful crimefighter, enjoying the battle without suffering the kind of torments that drive the Sandman.
And, of course, this ‘superhero’ is genuinely super, which, until now, we faithful Theatre-goers would have sworn was a genuine impossibility in the world so lovingly detailed by Messrs Wagner, Seagle and especially Davis. Yet, without the slightest sense of strain or artificiality, reality expands to encompass Tyler’s more-than-human strength, speed and resilience.
Once again, to compensate, the villain of the piece is no mastermind or flamboyant obsessive. His name is Lennie, and in a disturbing (and ultimately irritating) echo of Dave Sim’s Cerebus, Lennie refers to Lennie as Lennie on every occasion that Lennie’s views, opinions, suspicions, paranoias and hatreds arise: Lennie has obviously never encountered the word ‘I’.
Lennie is the boss of the Breezy Boys, a cheap gang so named because they congregate at Breezy’s Pool Hall. Lennie is, quite frankly, thick as pigshit, and hates getting told what to do, especially when it’s by somebody who knows more than him, a category that clearly encompasses pretty near everybody, especially the Hood (a man wearing a sackcloth hood, rather than any great mastermind) who is hiring the Breezy Boys to pull a New Year’s Eve job.
But it’s the Breezy Boys who pull in the Man of the Hour, a tall, dark-haired, dark-glassed man in a trenchcoat with its collar pulled up around his face. We hear of him before we see him: on Christmas Day, Humphries (whose daughter Etta has been delayed, sailing from England) points out the Man’s newspaper ad, offering personal services to those in need of assistance.
Wesley, who hasn’t been dreaming for several weeks whilst he and Dian have been enjoying a wonderful time, is amused at the idea of another like him advertising, which neatly sets up the atmosphere for the aforesaid Man, even though his involvement is to try to keep the unemployed Jerry Kenton from falling in with the Breezy Boys.
The Man’s responding to a letter from Jerry’s desperate wife, who has two kids and no money, not to mention a significant drunk on most days. The playwrights don’t shrink from depicting a far-from-storybook marriage: cheap tenement, domestic violence, shrieking kids and paying the rent with blow-jobs, but it’s significant that the moment the Man intervenes, and Jerry gets the worst of it off Lennie (who humiliates Jerry by forcing him to provide a blow-job of his own on Lennie), his wife defends the hapless weakling against his supposed saviour.
But all of this sordid but real portrayal is but a backcloth to the sheer insouciance of the Man of the Hour facing the Breezy Boys down. From the pool cue that shatters itself rather than the Man’s head, to the poolball he crushes in his fist, the fight is unequal, and the Man’s delight in his own strength and invulnerability tides us through the implausible scene and leaves us convinced that the unreality of superpowers can be a true component of the Mystery Theatre.
Longer term readers know the Man of the Hour to be Rex Tyler, so we’re far from surprised to see Wesley Dodds being hunted as an investor by Alexander Bannermain of Bannermain Chemicals, who puts pressure on Wes and Dian (whose name he can never remember) to attend the New Year’s Eve Beaux Art and costume ball. Bannermain introduces Dodds to his head of Research, Rex Tyler, from whom Wes will soon seek ‘internal information’.
Not because of an interest in investing, but because the moment Wes meets Rex, the Sandman’s dreams return, with Rex at their centre.
Interestingly, Davis doesn’t draw any of the several dreams that push Wes onwards. Instead, Wes relates these to Dian in words. There is a subtle reason for this: Dian is happy and content, in love and fulfilled, but despite that her feelings about the Sandman are still far from resolved. Davis hints at this with some subtle expressions on Miss Belmont’s face as Wes relates dreams: there is an underlying revulsion there.
Whilst Wes pursues Rex Tyler, whilst the weakling Jerry pursues the immediate security of Lennie’s circle, whilst Rex pursues the rush of his physical abilities, Dian begins to wake from her private dream of happiness. Catherine Van Der Meer, from The Tarantula, reappears, recovering from her traumas, to remind Dian that she has gone too deep within herself. She chides herself for not having been to the United Way in weeks, for forgetting her diary, forgetting her eventual career.
And Wes’s obsession with his dream-driven role dominates his conversations with her. Again, it’s cued more by expressions than in her inner dialogue, but Dian is starting to become uncomfortable at being automatically second fiddle, though she represses it come the Beaux Art Ball, even though she’s clearly only of concern as the Sandman’s assistant, not as Wesley Dodds’ love on New Year’s Eve. After all,there’s a threat that the famous Bannermain necklace will be stolen.
Though not even the Sandman knows yet that murder is also planned, not to be carried out by the clearly homicidal Lennie, but rather by a hired assassin: the Face.
So the story, and the year of 1938, culminates on New Year’s Eve. Though Dian has planned a matching pair of costumes for then, Wes’s absorption in his investigation has cost him the time for the fitting to be made so he has to find an ad hoc costume that clashes horribly with his fair companion. Needless to say, in a glorious in-joke, it also clashes with any aesthetic sense, being an acrobat’s costume in yellow-and-purple: yes, the Sandman’s second 1940s costume, a superhero skintight which looks like nothing o Earth on dumpy, short-sighted Wesley Dodds.
And Wesley’s disguise as the actual Sandman is quickly penetrated by Tyler who, inspired by the Sandman’s mask, and having decided to contract his soubriquet to Hourman, has sewn his own acrobat’s costume, in black and yellow (overlaid by colourist Richard Hornung’s prevailing sepia tint to lend an added plausibility to the sight).
Despite the Sandman’s sniffiness about working strictly alone, the two costumed heroes agree to cover each other’s back, which leads to a classic rooftop finale of multiple double-crossings and a final, seemingly fatal fall for Lennie and the Hourman, who has taken a shotgun blast to the chest. The Hood is dead, Lennie dies, the Face is captured, and in an epilogue page, Dodds and Tyler – who clearly like each other despite their wildly different backgrounds, temperaments and approaches – share a beer whilst Tyler confirms he’s giving up being Hourman whilst he learns a lot more about Miraclo and its effects.
All in all, The Hourman is a cheerful, indeed upbeat story, despite its quotient of death and violence. And it opens a door into the fantastic that the Theatre will begin to enter, always with its feet firmly anchored to reality. More figures from DC’s history will appear in the next run of plays.
And Wagner/Seagle also have their eye to the ebb and flow of life. Etta Humphries appears briefly (I am sorry, but the name strikes a false note with me as an English girl clearly born in the early 1910s), though she will have a part to play in eventual course, as do the seemingly trivial Darrigo brothers, Shelley and Fabio, backers of Bannermain with shady money, pulp publishers arguing about where their market may next go. Will heroes be the next thing? And in what way will they be influenced by the sight of a man in a yellow-and-purple, masked acrobat’s costume.
It’s not just the extension of the in-joke that it here appears to be.
So 1938 ends on an unexpectedly light-hearted note. Many would see the introduction of a superhero – at one point, Tyler effortlessly runs ahead of a car, even though it’s running at 40mph – as a betrayal of the intent of the Mystery Theatre and its depiction of real times. As Sandman Mystery Theatre was published by DC’s Vertigo imprint, a separate division committed to publishing anything but superheroes, I can’t see the move as representing commercial pressure to increase sales, but rather the recognition that, if time was going to pass, the age when superheroes started to appear would soon arrive.
It would not dominate the Mystery Theatre. But it would return.
The lights dim. The curtain falls. The actors retreat beyond the proscenium arch, to await their next call to performance, in a play entitled The Python.
Break a leg.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: the geeky bit


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

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1981


Justice League of America 195, “Targets on Two Worlds”/Justice League of America 196, “Countdown to Crisis!”/Justice League of America 197, “Crisis in Limbo!” Written by Gerry Conway, art by George Perez (pencils 195-196), Keith Pollard and George Perez (pencils 197), John Beatty (inks 195) and Romeo Tanghal (inks 196-197), edited by Len Wein.


On Earth-2, Hawkman’s former foe, Jonathan Cheval, formerly the supervillain The Monocle, has become very wealthy using his command of laser technology for commercial ends, but misses the excitement of his former life. A mysterious figure offers him the chance to change that.
On Earth-1, Batman’s old enemy the Signalman is assisted to escape from prison hospital by Killer Frost, an enemy of Firestorm.
On Earth-2, the Psycho-Pirate is aided in escaping prison by the Monocle.
On Earth-1, a group of wharf rats intent on rape are ripped apart by the Cheetah, Wonder Woman’s foe. Killer Frost and Signalman take her away to safety.
On Earth-2, the Flash’s old foe, Rag Doll, is trapped during a bank robbery but gets free with the aid of Monocle and the Psycho-Pirate.
Back on Earth-1, Killer Frost’s group persuades Jason Woodrue, the Floronic Man, an Atom villain, to come out of retirement.
Meanwhile on Earth-2 again, Starman’s old foe the Mist (who now turns intangible instead of merely invisible), kills two former henchmen before being recruited by a mysterious figure.
We return to Earth-1 where Killer Frost leads her group to a secret lab to meet her recruiter, The Brain Wave of Earth-2 (again using the obligatory big-muscled illusory body introduced in All-Star 58). He in turn uses a dimensional transporter to take them to a Nepal hideout, the Sinister Citadel, where they meet their Earth-2 equivalents.
There they meet their leader, the Ultra-Humanite, an old Superman enemy. The Humanite is a brilliant scientist whose MO was to transplant his brain from body to body. Having tired of bodies inferior to his brain, the Humanite has now transplanted himself into the body of a massive, specially mutated albino gorilla.
He has gathered his group to execute a subtle plan. There is a Cosmic Balance across the Multiverse (possibly the first in-comic use of the term) which is, in theory, upset by super-heroes. Only by a careful juggling of heroes is the balance maintained. The Ultra-Humanite has determined that if ten specific heroes from Earths 1 and 2 are removed from the Multiverse, then the Cosmic Balance will compensate by removing every hero from either Earth-1 or Earth-2.
His chosen ten each has a ‘counterpart’ in either the Justice League or Society: hence their selection. Many of these ‘counterparts’ are not selected by any equivalency but rather long-standing enmity, such as those mentioned above (though the Mist is paired with Black Canary, on the strength of one meeting in Brave & Bold 61, in 1966). In addition, the villains must target Hourman and Johnny Thunder (?!).
Meanwhile, on the Justice League satellite, this year’s meeting with the Justice Society has passed off without a hitch for the first time. Everyone has gone home, leaving Black Canary on Monitor Duty. Last to leave is Green Arrow, no longer a Leaguer, requiring a temporary clearance code. Distracted by her memories, Black Canary overlooks clearing it, allowing the Mist to access the satellite and quickly beat her.
Back to Earth-2 where Hawkman, flying home, is ambushed by the Monocole, whilst on Earth-1, Wonder Woman is taken out by the Cheetah.
Reports of these first three successes are relayed back to the Sinister Citadel on Earth-2, where the Ultra-Humanite reveals that it is not a question of pot luck as to which Earth has it’s heroes eliminated, but that he knows very well where it will happen: information he must conceal from his colleagues.
End of Part 1.

After a brief recap, in which the Ultra-Humanite reveals that it is Earth-2 where the heroes will be eliminated, the action continues.
On Earth-2, the Psycho-Pirate takes out Hourman, whilst on Earth-1, the Signalman’s reappearance does for Batman. Rag Doll, on Earth-2, surprises its Flash, whilst the Floronic Man does for the Atom in Earth-1’s Ivy Town. Brain Wave captures both Johnny Thunder and his Thunderbolt during a shopping expedition set up by the latter in the hope of getting the former to change his clothes, Killer Frost drops a ceiling on Firestorm and lastly on Earth-2, the Ultra-Humanite confronts the officially-retired original Superman and overcomes him with the use of Green Kryptonite.
All ten heroes are brought to the Sinister Citadel, where they are placed into chambers in the Humanite’s Cosmic-Fuge. Cheetah wants to kill them all, but the Cosmic Equation requires that they be alive when they arrive in limbo. The machine is set in motion, gathers speed and disappears, leaving the villains victorious.
End of Part 2.


Nothing happens. The villains turn on the Ultra-Humanite in frustration, but probability is apparently like a sea, cresting in waves: the next wavecrest sees all reality wobble before settling into place, with Earth-2 changed.
The Earth-1 quartet, immediately suspicious of their colleagues’ jubilation, realise that they have been duped into helping without any prospect of success. They set out to attack, but are teleported back to Earth-1, and stranded.
Determined on revenge, the four villains find and set upon Green Lantern. They capture him and use him to teleport up to the Justice League satellite. After knocking out Elongated Man, who has turned up to replace Black Canary on Monitor duty, they use the Transmatter Cube to further their aims.
Meanwhile, on Earth-2, the other six villains are enjoying themselves robbing, plundering and looting without hindrance, and in the case of the Brain Wave, seizing a beautiful red-headed actress and impliedly raping her serially. The Ultra-Humanite has his sights fixed higher, in coercing the United Nations into ceding ultimate power to him.
But the Earth-1 villains have not returned to Earth-2. Instead, they’ve adjusted the Transmatter Cube to send them into Limbo, to the Cosmic-Fuge. Though it resists their efforts, eventually Cheetah’s fury succeeds in cracking it open. Of course, the moment the heroes are free, they hammer the villains, who obviously hadn’t thought that far ahead.
Back on Earth-2, the villains break off their robbing, and Brain Wave temporarily puts his pants back on, to meet again at the Sinister Citadel. No-one’s happy at the summons, everybody suspects everyone else of some dire plan to wipe out all their rivals (it would appear that the cleansing of Earth-2 has also extended to every other villain apart from the successful six). However, it’s the heroes who have set this up, and they steam-roller the bad guys this time.
One by one, each is forced into the energy vortex that leads into limbo, and once they’re all gone, Superman breaks the connection, trapping all the bad guys there, with all sorts of recriminations. As for Earth-2, reality reasserts itself much more smoothly than before: the villains are not missed in anything like the same way as the heroes!
* * * * *
The biggest distinction held by the latest Justice League/Justice Society team-up is that it’s not really a story about either superhero team, but rather a story told almost entirely from the point of view of the supervillains, several of whom are real oldies, revived for the first time in years. Nor is the story about any kind of team-up, except that of the villains, who do not even have a name for their combination: this years team-up actually takes place offstage and is completely uneventful.
On the one hand, Conway deserves credit for a new technical angle, a different angle of approach. On the other, there’s the perennial question of whether this is apt for this particular event, which is the annual guest slot of the Justice Society of America.
Let’s look at the structure of the story. We have a long introduction (seventeen out of twenty-five pages) gathering the villains and setting up the plot, followed by eight pages to beat the first three heroes. After two pages of recap, the rest of part two is spent knocking over the remaining seven heroes, with less than a page devoted to thrusting them into limbo. The final part is slightly more complicated: six pages for the plot to work, two for the Earth-1 villains to swear vengeance and three for them to take down GL and Elongated Man (current score, after sixty-three of seventy-nine pages overall, Heroes 0 Villains 12). There follows two-and-a-half pages of the Earth-2 villains on Earth-2, five-and-a-half in limbo with everyone else, and seven pages of the JLA/JSA wiping the floor on Earth-2 (including one panel of reversing the effects of the scheme). Oh, and a one page epilogue.
It’s all linear, no cutting from scene to scene, just a procession of, firstly, recruiting ten villains, then taking down ten heroes, one after another. It takes two-thirds of this tale just to get to the point of it, and then it’s actually the disgruntled villains who save the day, not the heroes.
In what way therefore is this story about its featured guests, the Justice Society of America? Obviously, it’s not. The best that can be said about the presence of five JSAers is that it’s a justification for Conway to revive out of the Golden Age such figures as the Ultra-Humanite, the Monocle and Rag Doll (and on the Earth-1 side, for good measure, the long forgotten Signalman).
And the Justice Society, as such, was still in comic book limbo. Roy Thomas, a transplantee from Marvel, had conceived All Star Squadron, an Earth-2 based series set at the beginning of America’s involvement in World War 2, using Golden Age characters, including the JSA in their youth, but his self-set ground rules excluded the actual Justice Society from appearing for a very long time.
Things were very different from how they had been, almost two decades before. The Golden Age revival was a thrill, an avenue into a strange kind of nostalgia: nostalgia not for something we remembered but rather for what the vast majority of us had never known. The Justice Society were strange characters, vivid and fully-formed, yet wholly unknown, with more of them appearing every year. They came with histories attached, careers of which we knew nothing, yet which had built them.
By 1981, those mysteries were long gone. This was the eighteenth time the JSA had teamed up with the JLA, and we’d seen them all, and knew them all and were no longer in search of any bright glimpse which might show us something unsuspected. The team-ups were getting longer, with a form of elephantiasis born of the slowly deteriorating ability of scripters to write a concise, well-plotted story. Whatever was ‘special’ about a team-up had now to be imported by the reader. It could no longer be relied upon to be created by writer and artist.
Whilst there’s nothing to suggest it was the story that brought this about, look at the credits. McLaughlin has gone as inker, and the pages look cleaner and less dark, but there are two changes to the credits in this three-parter alone: inker John Beatty (who would ink Marvel’s Secret Wars) replaced by Perez’s Teen Titans partner Romeo Tanghal after the first issue, and Perez being joined as co-artist by Keith Pollard for the last issue.
The story itself falls short in many respects, little shoddinesses, lazy logic that undercut the parameters Conway has chosen. Like other three-parters before it, the length is dictated only by the tedious business of dragging everyone in one-by-one, whilst its basic notion – of the Cosmic Balance and how it can be manipulated – is unsustainable nonsense, to be glossed over rapidly given that a moment’s stop and a single “but…” will cause it to collapse.
To play Devil’s Advocate for a moment, it must be remembered what kind of comics industry these stories were created in. There were no royalties, far from it, and artists were king. Scripters got a flat, not altogether generous page rate, and needed to be writing three series a month to live in New York City. Conway was no worse than many of his contemporaries, though to my eye certainly not better than them, but where I’ve picked out flaws in his plots, holes in his stories, tendencies to  gloss over ideas rather than think them through, perhaps this was out of necessity at least as much as carelessness: only a certain amount of time was possible for each script if the rent were to be paid.
I’m particularly disappointed by the notion herein that the villains are chosen as ‘counterparts’ to the nominated heroes, an idea that is so preposterous that even the Ultra-Humanite backtracks on it the moment he says it (so why say it at all? Why not use an appropriate word instead?)
What he means is that the villains are long term foes of the heroes, but even then Conway can’t be consistent. In most cases, it’s a proper assessment, but Conway can’t keep it up. The second Psycho-Pirate is matched up to Hourman on the strength of having first appeared fighting the Man of the Hour (and good old Doctor Fate), but the Brain Wave only ever fought the Justice Society en masse, so in what sense is he a ‘counterpart’ of Johnny Thunder?
But the worst example has to be that of the Mist, who is a genuine long-term villain for Starman, but who is paired up with Black Canary on the strength of a single fight against her and Starman in an issue of Brave & Bold fifteen years earlier.
You’ll have noticed in the synopsis a somewhat heavy-handed reference to the Brain Wave’s use of his unopposed time. Though it’s never actually stated as such, no effort is made to conceal that the ugly little runt, hiding behind his mentally projected big hunky illusion, spends all his time raping his terrified red-headed actress.
Raping. I’ll say it again, bluntly, because DC sure as hell won’t (not that the Comics Code Authority would have let them if they’d had an ounce of honesty). But they throw it in your face. Bizarrely, this was a historical phenomenon: suddenly you couldn’t move in mainstream comics without unsubtle, barely veiled incidences of rape: fucking hell, they even sneaked into one of Marvel’s one page Hostess Twinkies ads.
I mean, we know that it takes a pretty screwed up mind to spend all your time writing these power-trip fantasies, and if we’re being honest it speaks a lot about those of us who read them (like many such, I lost my father at an early age, which accentuates the appeal of powerful, in control, male figures). But suddenly the adolescent minds were discovering sex in the most juvenile manner.
It wasn’t entirely new: at Marvel, Red Sonja fairly screamed Rape Fantasy (none shall possess me save that he has defeated me in battle. That can’t come from a healthy mind), but suddenly, at the turn of the Eighties, it was busting out all over the mainstream, and the fanboys weren’t raising any objections at all.
It leaves a nasty taste in the mouth (boy, could that sentence be misinterpreted!). Fortunately, the fad never returned to the annual team-up.
Pretty clearly, this story depends upon having two different Earths and is thus unfeasible in the post-Crisis Universe.

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: 1974


Justice League of America 113, “The Creature in the Velvet Cage!” Written by Len Wein, art by Dick Dillin (pencils), and Dick Giordano (inks), edited by Julius Schwartz.

On Earth-2, the Justice Society and their guests, the Justice League, are stopping a bank robbery by the Horned Owl gang. But as they leave, a strange alarm comes from the Sandcar, putting Sandman into a panic. Something has happened that shouldn’t have: he jumps into his car and races away.
The heroes follow him to Wes Dodds’ mansion, where Hourman shows them how to access Sandman’s hidden laboratory, by moving a giant hourglass. In the lab, Sandman, gas mask removed, is bleakly surveying a scene of devastation, where someone, or something, has escaped from a glass cage.
Reluctantly, he explains a burden that he has carried alone for many years. His captive was Sandy Hawkins, formerly his sidekick, Sandy the Golden Boy.
The Justice Society are shocked. As far as they were aware, Sandy Hawkins left York City years ago, but this was just Sandman’s cover story. What really happened was that, shortly after the War, Sandman tried to construct a new anti-crime weapon, the Silicoid Gun. But when this was tested, it exploded. Sandman was dazed, but Sandy was transformed into a massive creature, made of silicon, with blazing eyes. Sandy threatened to go on a rampage, take over the world, until Sandman put him to sleep with his gas gun.
Since then, he has kept Sandy a secret and a prisoner, in these luxurious surroundings, permanently sedated to prevent him from rampaging again, whilst Sandman sought a cure for him.
His pride, and his shame kept him from telling the rest of the JSA, and seeking their help. In the meantime, he was so disgusted with himself, he tore up his yellow and purple costume and reverted to his former business suit and gas mask.
Now he needs the combined assistance of the assembled JLA/JSA to stop Sandy and recapture him.
The heroes divide into three groups, following Sandy’s trail. Superman 1, the Elongated Man and Hourman prevent Sandy from doing more than delay a high society wedding (complete with overbearing and undoubtedly Jewish Mother of the Bride), only for Sandy to turn to sand and ooze away.
Batman, The Flash 2 and Wonder Woman 2 catch up with Sandy on a backyard baseball field, but when the Flash tries to deprive him of air, Sandy simply lets himself go with the whirlwind.
Sandman and Green Lantern 1 catch up with the monster Sandy at Machismo Beach, where they confront him. Sandman attempts to gas Sandy into unconsciousness, but in the open air his sleep-gas disperses. Sandy raises his hand as if to strike, but doesn’t. Sandy is then zapped from behind by the rest of the heroes, who have seen an opportunity to strike whilst the monster was distracted.
Suddenly, the beach is subjected to an earthquake. Superman, borrowing Wonder Woman’s indestructible lasso of truth, tunnels underground to sew up the fissure and fuse it shut. He then traces its path, to deal with any damage it has caused, but there is none. And its path goes through the sites where the heroes have fought the monster Sandy.
The heroes are debating why this should be so when, with rusty vocal chords, Sandy starts to speak. He explains that the first signs of the earthquake released him from his cage and that, aware of its course, he followed its path, absorbing the vibrations with his silicon body, to prevent damage.
He also explains that he is not a menace, that the megalomania was just a short-lived phase. For all the years of his captivity, he has been harmless, but too sedated to be able to tell his old friend.
Sandman is horrified at what he has done. He begs forgiveness, but it is not Sandy’s forgiveness that he truly needs, but his own.
* * * * *
After a three-part story and a two-part story, Len Wein became the only writer to pen a one-part team-up, which was almost his swan song on Justice League of America: his last script was the following issue, thus preventing a minor synchronicity.
The rationale behind this one-off was down to Justice League of America‘s sales. Like the majority of DC’s most popular series, it had for most of its history been published on an eight-times-a-year basis. This was DC’s standard practice with a title being drawn by a single artist. Characters like Superman and Batman, who were being drawn by multiple artists, could be issued monthly, but to avoid deadline pressures, series like The Flash and Green Lantern, dependant upon Carmine Infantino and Gil Kane respectively, only appeared eight-times-a year.
Basically, the title would skip every third month throughout the year. Justice League of America was actually sufficiently popular to be elevated to the very unusual nine-times-a-year, starting in 1965 (skipping every fourth month), but the additional issue (which would directly follow the annual JLA/JSA team-up) was an 80 Page Giant, featuring nothing but reprints from the early years of the title.
By 1974, DC’s Age of Relevancy was firmly dead, but it had left its mark on sales across the line. Justice League of America‘s sales had dipped so far that the series had been cut back to bi-monthly in 1973. DC had tried to make the best of the series by expanding it to the 100 Page Giant format, with issue 110, showcasing the usual 20 page new story but supporting it with 80 pages of reprint, including old Justice Society and Seven Soldiers reprints.
Whichever way it was presented, the fact remained that the Justice League now only appeared six times a year, and it did not make commercial sense to devote a third of the year’s output to the Justice society.
The limited space required a limited scope: it would be hard to successfully menace the planet and having it sorted by two teams in only ten pages, which is why Wein chose to tell a purely personal tale, and one of the earliest continuity patches to be applied to the careers of the Justice Society.
You’ll remember that I commented, in 1966, that the Sandman had been returned in his original garb, of business suit and gas mask, rather than the yellow and purple look associated with the Simon/Kirby years on the feature. (He’d also returned with the Sand-gun, but the less said about that, the better). That was his only substantive appearance since the Forties, having otherwise had nothing more than a couple of cameos.
On the other hand, the Sandman was obviously something of a favourite with Wein, who had used him in both his team-ups to date, and in the original manner, with his gas-gun. Wein’s story filled in a necessary hole, bridging the gap between the yellow-and-purple, Sandy the Golden Boy era and the restored original costume.
As for the story itself, it’s an entertaining, well-constructed piece, but its major flaw was the same that affected the Red Tornado: the Sandman was an Earth-2 character, who appeared at best once a year, in a crowd of others. The story ended on a cliffhanger of sorts: could Sandy’s silicon form be transformed back into a human body? Could Wes Dodds’ self-belief ever be repaired? With the exception of one, very-belated and completely overlooked back-up story in 1982, this issue would not be addressed until long after Zero Hour, let alone Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Needless to say, the story would have functioned equally well in the DC Universe as it did in the Multiverse, leaving it perfectly valid post-Crisis.
One last thing to note: Doctor Fate is absent from proceedings for only the third time in twelve outings. Now that’s popularity.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1972


Justice League of America 100, “The Unknown Soldier of Victory!”/Justice League of America 101, “The Hand that Shook the World”/Justice League of America 102, “And One of Us Must Die!” Written by Len Wein, art by Dick Dillin (pencils), Joe Giella (inks, issues 100, 101 and part 102) and Dick Giordano (inks Part 102), edited by Julius Schwarz.


The Justice League’s Satellite headquarters is empty and quiet. It is the League’s one hundredth meeting, and in honour of the occasion, everyone who is or was a Justice League member, together with associates Metamorpho, the Elongated Man and Zatanna, have gathered to celebrate at the League’s original cave sanctuary, outside Happy Harbor in Rhode Island.
With Batman shanghaing former Wonder Woman, Diana Prince, into attending, the only ones missing are the Martian Manhunter, deep in space on New Mars but still thinking of the occasion, and former mascot ‘Snapper’ Carr who, despite being sent an invitation, is still too ashamed at his betrayal of the League to face his former friends.
But as the girls lift the cake cutter, everybody fades out, an experience familiar to most of those present, because it means they are being transported into Earth-2 again.
The augmented League arrives at the headquarters of a very sombre Justice Society, most of whose members are present. Doctor Fate explains that Earth-2 is under threat of destruction from a giant, nebular hand, threatening to crush the Earth, unless its master, the Iron Hand, is given world domination within 24 hours. Twice the JSA have gone against the nebular hand, and twice they have failed. Now they seek the JLA’s assistance.
By the use of his magic, Doctor Fate has found an unidentified grave, high in the Himalayas. He proposes that Zatanna and the Thunderbolt should join theirs magic to his to summon the being known as Oracle to seek his assistance. Oracle responds, at first belligerently, but agrees to advise due to the respect he believes is due to Doctor Fate. He explains that the Nebular hand can only be defeated is with the help of the Seven Soldiers of Victory: which is all very well, but nobody can remember who they are.
Oracle explains that they were a team of seven heroes who were first drawn together to combat the evil plans of the villain, the Hand. The Vigilante, Green Arrow and Speedy, the Crimson Avenger, the Shining Knight and the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy each fought personal villains who were in the pay of the Hand: Having defeated their foes, the septet arrived at the Hand’s base to foil his plans, with the Vigilante causing the Hand’s machine to fall on him, seemingly crushing him.
Taking the name Seven Soldiers, the heroes stayed together as a team, until they had to face the Nebula Man. Working together, the Seven Soldiers built a Nebula Rod, whose energies destroyed the Nebula, but killed the soldier who used it: his is the mysterious grave. The other Soldiers were blasted randomly through time, causing the modern world to forget them.
Quickly dividing themselves into seven teams of three, with Oracle’s mystic assistance, the heroes are sent into the timestream to locate and return with the individual Soldiers. Only Diana Prince remains, to coordinate with any latecomers.
In the land of the Aztecs, Doctor Fate, The Atom1 and Elongated Man save the Crimson Avenger from committing human sacrifice under the influence of a radioactive stone. They are summoned back by Oracle.
Meanwhile, in a hidden HQ on Earth-2, the villain gloats. He names himself the Iron Hand, and his right hand is made of metal.
End of part 1.


Diana Prince updates latecomers Green Lantern2, Mr Terrific and Robin on the current situation.
In Ghenghis Khan’s day, Metamorpho, Superman and Sandman not only rescue the Shining Knight from his hypnotised servitude, but prevent the Mongol warlord destroying a village.
Green Lantern2 cannot stand sitting around waiting. He takes his two colleagues on a trip to the Himalayas, to find out which fallen Soldier occupies the mysterious grave. En route, they stop to save some children from falling into a crevasse caused by an Earthquake.
In Medieval England, Dr Mid-Nite, Hawkman1 and Wonder Woman2 rescue Green Arrow from Nottingham Castle, where he has taken the placed of a wounded Robin Hood.
Elsewhere, in the present, the Iron Hand identifies himself as the Law’s Legionnaires’ old foe, the Hand. He was not destroyed in their battle, though his hand was crushed, and he has replaced it with this destructive mechanical device.
In Ancient Egypt, Batman, Starman and Hourman escape capture and imprisonment in a pyramid to rescue Stripesy from slavehood, dragging stones.
At JSA headquarters, Diana Prince waits and worries, unaware of the Iron Hand creeping up behind her.
End of part 2.

Following a recap by Oracle, who continues to summon back the successful heroes and their Soldier after each adventure, in the Wild West, Black Canary, Green Arrow and Johnny Thunder rescue the Vigilante from a Red Indian tribe, despite the two heroes each trying to lay some pretty chauvinistic claims over the affronted Canary.
In prehistoric times, Wildcat, Green Lantern 1 and Aquaman prevent havoc being caused to the human race by a neanderthal tribe coming into contact with a flu-ridden Star Spangled Kid.
Finally, in mythical times on Crete, The Flash1, Zatanna and the Red Tornado escape being turned into hybrid human/animals in order to defeat Circe and release Speedy from his magical centaur form.
The heroes and the Soldiers are back. Almost simultaneously, Green Lantern2 and co return from the Himalayas, having found the grave, but the Crimson Avenger intervenes to confirm that is was his friend and associate Wing, the unofficial ‘Eighth Soldier’ who died, and who is buried with full nobility there.
There is no time for celebration, for the group of heroes is suddenly interrupted by The Iron Hand, clutching Diana Prince as a hostage. With his attention focussed on over thirty heroes ready to pounce, the Iron Hand is not ready for Ms Prince pretending to feint before throwing him in a judo toss and karate chopping his iron hand off. Unfortunately, that was how he was controlling the Nebular hand, which is now out of control.
Rapidly, the Seven Soldiers rebuild their Nebula Rod, which is taken into space and charged at the Sun. There then follows at argument: whoever delivers the Rod will die, like Wing, and the heroes compete over who might have the best chance of surviving,
In the discussion, no-one notices Red Tornado leave with the Nebula Rod, leaving behind a note in which he suggests that his android body might survive, and that if it does not, only a machine has been lost. By this time, it is too late: Earth-2 is shook as the Hand detonates and is dissipated. Red Tornado does not return.
Chastened at the loss of their android comrade, the heroes remember both him and Wing.
* * * * *
Crisis on Multiple Earths Volume 3 contains the team-ups from 1971 – 74. It has a very interesting introduction from Len Wein, writer of three of the reprinted stories, detailing his thought processes in each of them, together with information on the background of each story.
Wein was asked to take over Justice League of America from Mike Friedrich without being told he was going to start with not only the landmark issue 100, but also the tenth annual Justice Society team-up. It was a mammoth task, but Wein approached it with vigour and determination to write a story worthy of the event, and succeeded splendidly.
It’s very much in the grand Gardner Fox tradition, or as much of it as was possible a decade on. Though 1972 is itself a long time ago, enough time had already passed that it would never be possible to write pure Fox again: plot-intense with the characters mere functionaries of what was necessary to direct the story. Wein could base his script upon the characteristics of Fox, but it would be leavened with the kind of character interplay, personality-driven moments that would have been an utter redundancy a decade before.
It’s a strange irony that an event that relied so heavily in its appeal on the nostalgia of seeing the heroes of a bygone age should in only ten years generate nostalgia for itself.
As far as the story is concerned, it is a very simple tale, more simple in its telling than anything Fox himself had ever produced: menace threatens Earth-2: the only people who can save Earth-2 are lost in time: the heroes rescue them: they save the day. What makes it three issues is the sheer volume of characters involved, what makes it work is Wein’s whole-hearted commitment, and the joy in what he’s doing which is very noticeable after O’Neil and Friedrich, who noticeably aren’t happy with what they have to do.
That this anniversary special became the first JLA/JSA team-up to go past the traditional two-issue length was Schwarz’s decision but Wein’s suggestion. In trying to develop a sufficiently spectacular story, Wein hit on the idea of returning to the roots of the first team-up by bringing back another team from DC’s Golden Age. The Seven Soldiers of Victory, who occasionally operated under the rubric of the Law’s Legionnaires, were National’s only other superhero team in the Forties: indeed, they were in a way National’s answer to All-American’s Justice Society. They were never remotely as successful, lasting fourteen issues of Leading Comics (not the two that Wein, in his introduction, misremembers).
As a one-off, a special adventure, it was a great idea, and that was Wein’s intention. Unfortunately, in conceiving the story, he had changed the annual JLA/JSA team-up forever as, with a handful of exceptions, it was no longer sufficient for the two teams to cross the vibrational barrier and meet. Instead, there must always be guests, some other team, no matter how contrived, to add spice to the mix.
On the art side, Joe Giella was reaching the end of his tenure on Justice League of America. Dick Giordano, one of the finest inkers of the period, with a crisp, clean line that gave Dillin’s pencils a sharper edge from which it clearly benefited, inked two of the chapters in the last issue of the story, and would take over full-time with the following issue.
As far as the cast goes, this is obviously the biggest number of heroes to date, no less than 32 costumed characters (counting Johnny Thunder’s inevitable sports jacket and bow-tie) and that’s without the non-powered Diana Prince! Of course, for the 100th issue, Wein had to use, or at least reference, all the past and present JLAers, and he adds to the Earth-1 cast by featuring Metamorpho (who memorably turned down JLA membership), Zatanna (whose quest to find her long-lost father, Zatara, ended in Justice League of America) and the Elongated Man (who had no previous contact with the JLA that I am aware apart from being one of The Flash’s best mates, but who would be inducted by Wein three issues after this story).
On the Justice Society side, Wein included as many of its members as he could, notably putting Doctor Fate in the forefront as usual: Fate’s popularity in these stories can be demonstrated by the fact that he had appeared in eight of the first ten, whilst for Wildcat this was only his second appearance. Basically, all those JSA members with direct counterparts in the League – excepting latecomer Green Lantern – are left out, along with the Spectre, who is dead-dead.
There’s really very little to say about the story itself, except to note that this is the only time the Earth-1 and Earth-2 Green Arrows appear in the same tale, and it’s interesting that they show not the slightest bit of enthusiasm for getting together with each other. Our familiar, bearded liberal crusader even responds with a great, fat “So what?” when he’s told he has a counterpart on Earth-2, and whilst he wouldn’t necessarily have been assigned to rescue his doppelganger, it’s abundantly clear that they have nothing to say to each other, even in the group scenes at the end.
I suspect that our own Ollie held the unreconstructed version that represented his past in a fair amount of contempt, and I wouldn’t mind betting that the clean-shaven Oliver had much the same opinions of his hot-headed, anarchic, alternate.
Fun though these three issues are, there are just a couple of points that must be mentioned, where things fall below the overall standard. The first of these was commented on in a subsequent letter-column: that the menace that had taken two-and-a-half issues to combat was knocked into a cocked hat by the non-superpowered Wonder Woman with a judo toss and a karate chop (which is as near as I can get to an exact quote, though I no longer remember the fan’s name). The other is its ending.
Just as in O’Neil’s second effort in 1970, the story ends in tragedy, and sacrifice. That time it was the Spectre who gave his pseudo-life to save the two planets, this time it is the Red Tornado, with a typically self-loathing reference to himself as a handful of cogs and circuits, who proves his innate humanity by giving up all claim to it and carrying the Nebula Rod to explode the Nebular Hand.
It ought to be a time of regret, of reflection, and Wein makes the appropriate noises, but the sad truth is that that is all they are: noises. The Red Tornado was created in 1968 and this team-up was only his fourth-ever appearance, each time as one of a team. When he appeared I described him as a character full of potential, none of which had been remotely approached since then, as indeed it never could be, as long as he was a member of the Justice Society. His ‘death’ was meaningless.
It was also somewhat ludicrous, as it took place against a background of superhero willy-waving, with people queuing up to claim a place on the suicide mission, whilst the rest of the team easily shot their pretensions towards invulnerability down. And whilst everyone is taken up with this, twenty-odd stone of metal has it away on its tippy-toes with the Nebula Rod, without anyone – not even Superman’s super-hearing – catching the slightest chink. It spoiled the mood.
As to post-Crisis status, I see no reason why it couldn’t be adapted with very little change.