Flash Comics – A sprint through the Golden Age


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

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

Early Kubert

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

Later Kubert

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

Johnny Thunder and Black Canary

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

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

The Whip

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

The Atom in Flash Comics

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

I suppose I have to include them

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

Doomsday Clock 5


I am in something of a quandary here, given that the long overdue Doomsday Clock 5 has turned out to be an almost entirely passable comic, leaving me with little or no excuse for the expected ranting, raving and personal insults towards Geoff Johns. Instead, I am going to have to be a but analytical about why this is the case.

For a start, this is a wider issue than those preceding it. Johns has several irons in the fire, outside of his desire to rebut Watchmen‘s criticism of the DC Universe (hint: you berk, that wasn’t the point, and it’s only been one of the most successful and game-changing series of all time, but god forbid baby shouldn’t stamp his feet and say it was all wrong, thirty years after everything changed anyway) (knew I couldn’t entirely let him off, folks.) For a start, there’s this Supermen Theory, leading to a world-wide rejection of metahumans, a world-wide rejection of international co-operation, not to mention sanity, which Johns expands on this issue.

This is the at least temporary destination of the DC Universe, to be prefaced in all series, if Johns ever tells them what they’re supposed to build up to. All we know so far is that Lex Luthor isn’t behind it (if you believe him), and its getting ugly. As in rapidly approaching world-wide conflagration, a la Watchmen. Original, or what?

There are increasingly substantial references to the rebirth of the Legion of Superheroes and the Justice Society of America. NewRorscharch has escaped from Arkham and, offscreen, met up with Imra Ardeen, Saturn Girl that is, mind-reader and possessor of a ring with a very familiar L design. Somehow or other, explanation to be given later, we hope, they get to a more-or-less melted Pittsburgh steel factory in time to save 102 year old nursing home escapee Johnny Thunder from a gang of cheap street punks. Johnny’s in pursuit of a report of a green fire that, of course, turns out to be Alan Scott’s Green Lantern lantern, but why are NewRorscharch and Saturn Girl there? Buggered if I know.

And let’s go back to that scene with Lex Luthor and Lois Lane, in which Lex puts forward the belief that there is some master metahuman, creating metahumans, the seed for the Supermen Theory, except it’s not the US Government creating them. This metahuman was once a member of the Justice League…

But what makes this issue passable is the lengthy sequence with Adrian Veidt, in which his escapes from confinement in hospital, recovers NewBubastis and his costuume, retrieves the Owlship, where he discovers Batman in residence, flees from the Police and holds a debate with the Caped Crusader as to their respective purposes before dumping him at Gotham Police Station, where the Joker’s about to face up to the wholly unimportant Mime and Marionette.

Because Johns treats Veidt with respect, as a very effective and competent ‘hero’, on a level with the great Batman, and he gives him a fierce perspective that not only challenges but belittles Batman and, by extension, all the DC superheroes. Because Veidt my have failed in his Moore-conceived big plan, about which Batman is scornful, but he was trying to save everybody. He’d done so much for his world, to make it better, safer, cleaner, and what has Batman done? Played cops and robbers. Nothing else. This time it’s a Watchmen character who gets to be contemptuous of the great and glorious DC Universe’s way of doing things, and it throws a great heavy substantial weight down on that side of the balance.

But let us not forget Geoff Johns’ ultimate aim, which is to prove that his sandbox is much nicer that Alan Moore’s of thirty years ago, because Johns hasn’t forgotten it. The back-up material this time out is a paranoid report on the world-wide metahuman build-up, the armed response to the Supermen Theory. Everyone’s shoring themselves up for a defensive to an attack that isn’t coming (you bet?) and paranoia is building.

Then the last page is a sunny ad for Metropolis, safest place under the sun, because it’s got Superman to protect it. Superman will save us all, the godhead of the DC Universe will see off the menace. Nasty Dr Manhattan, your sneaky plans will fail.

I know it’s a bit out of place when dealing with a writer of superhero comics, but somebody does really need to grow up.

Doomsday Clock 3


Dear G*d, are there no depths to which Geoff Johns will not sink in his determination to shit all over Watchmen and Alan Moore?

To date, Doomsday Clock has had the minimal decency to confine its trespass into the Watchmen story to the marginally-acceptable aftermath of those long-established events. That is, at least, some form of fair game, leaving the original story intact and unchanged. But issue 3, continuing directly from the previous cliffhanger that has Eddie Blake, the Comedian, stepping out of the shadows, now jumps directly into torturing the Watchmen story into a different shape.

It now appears that Edward Blake didn’t actually die in Watchmen 1. No matter that that was the primary incident, the start of the story, a development fundamental to the entire series, Johns has waved it away. Never happened. Didn’t die. All of Watchmen is now, supposedly, based on a lie.

Johns’ construct is that everything from Veidt breaking into Blake’s apartment to Blake going out of the window and hurtling thirty floors head first did still happen, but that instead of crashing onto the city sidewalk, Blake found himself miraculously plunging into the bay, courtesy of Dr Manhattan.

Of course, this immediately brings up a few dozen questions. Like: where did the dead, head-smashed-in-from-falling-thirty-floors body come from, howcum they didn’t identify as being someone other than Eddie Blake, hang about they had a funeral for him, what was Eddie doing for the month of the story whilst the world was going to hell in a handbasket, why, and who the fuck Geoff Johns thinks he is?

I can’t say that I await the answers with any enthusiasm, but there had better be answers, though given that it’s now been announced that Doomsday Clock will skip two months after issue 4, and then go bi-monthly, p

Once this revelation is dropped on us, Blake and Veidt have a fight, Ozy throws himself out of the window and survives the fall, but only with injuries that put him in hospital, and the whole things takes eight bloody bloated pages to move us on about six inches, if that.

Elsewhere, Batman and the new, young, black Roscharch, aka Reggie (we still don’t know who he is but he was old enough to be driving a car the day Veidt’s ‘alien’ manifested so I’m assuming he will turn out to be the son on Malcolm, Rorscharch’s Prison Psychiatrist: how banal) have a weird conversation. Reggie gives Wayne Walter Kovacs’ journal to read (how did he get that back? It was last seen in the offices of The New Frontiersman). Wayne puts him up in the Manor overnight, Alfred makes him pancakes, then Batman pretends to be leading him to Dr Manhattan, but it’s only a trick to get him into a cell at Arkham. Whatever happened to knocking him out, or doping him in his sleep, if you want to imprison him? Why this ridiculous charade? Could it be to demonstrate how stupid and easily tricked the Watchmen characters are, how superior the DC ones are?

Equally elsewhere, our Punch and Jewellee-manque pair, Mime and Marionette, visit a bar to get a drink. It’s on Joker turf and the crew don’t take kindly to Joker-esque make-up. So our psychotic pair kill them all brutally (Mime’s weapons aren’t imaginary, they’re invisible), and decide to go after whoever this Joker is anyway. Uh-oh, I foresee trouble!

So far, this pair are as pointless as they see themselves being. They are also marginally acceptable, being a new creation that has no bearing whatsoever on the original story and thus to that extent inoffensive, but all they are so far is one more attempt to drag Watchmen down to the playground level of the DC Universe.

To re-state the point I made last issue, Watchmen was conceived as a hermetically-sealed, complete story, in which superheroics/costumed adventures were to be approached in a manner that was different to the orthodox/classical/traditional approach that held sway in all DC’s other titles. It was meant to be different. Johns is erasing that difference, making it just the same as all the rest.

This vividly reminds me of something. I was a much more avid reader of superhero comics back in the late Eighties/early Nineties, among them the George Perez-led revival of Wonder Woman and Gary Cohn and Dan Mishkin’s goofy, hyper-kinetic Blue Devil. These were two very different series who had in common that the central character was treated unconventionally. Wonder Woman was the outsider, a holy innocent, who existed only as Diana of Themyscira and Wonder Woman, the two being interchangeable. Dan Cassidy was a Hollywood stuntman/special FX guy who got fixed in his Blue Devil suit and would really rather get out.

And the letter columns of both titles featured a stream of letters from fans praising this individual approach, calling it refreshing and new, and eagerly suggesting that it would be even better if it were exactly like all the rest.

Whether he is consciously aware of it, Geoff Johns comes across as someone who desperately wants Watchmen to be exactly like all the rest, the things he knows and is comfortable with, and he will do anything he can to make them just as ordinary.

Outside of the firstly Watchmenworld stuff, there’s a bit of a teaser going on. Firstly, we’re continuing to get more of these supposed old film noir Nathaniel Dusk movies (with a belated nod to writer Don McGregor, but only in the pseudo-Watchmen stuff at the back). This may or may not be the present series’ nod to ‘Tales of the Black Freighter’, but it’s also used to introduce an elderly man in a nursing home, who may not be in possession of all his marbles. His name is Thunder. Johnny Thunder.

And there are references in the back material to John Law and Libby Lawrence in relation to the ‘Nathaniel Dusk’ movies. Are we going to see Doomsday Clock used as a springboard to finally reintroduce the real Justice Society of America into the DC Universe?!

Of course we fucking are, and it may be the only worthwhile thing about this benighted heap of shit but it’s a high price to pay, no matter how much my favourites they still are.

Lastly, I mentioned last time my ignorance about the ‘current continuity’ of protest on the DC Earth over the suggestion that all our favourite superhumans are actually an American military creation. Some further re-reading identifies that Doomsday Clock is supposed to have no crossovers because it’s happening in the DC Universe’s future: that the rest of the Universe will only catch up to this series at the same time it ends. So, there you go. We know what’s coming up then. If and when Doomsday Clock limps to its finishing line.

I don’t foresee any future left for me and them by then.

UPDATE: Doomsday Clock has already gone bi-monthly, with issue 4 not scheduled until the end of March. Given how long they had to prepare for this, it’s a bit bloody feeble, especially at Watchmen‘s only delay was an additional three weeks for issue 12.

Fifty Years of Imagination


I don’t know the exact date, only that it was a Saturday, in March 1966. So only now can I say, without fear of inaccuracy, that the Fiftieth Anniversary has passed. The Fiftieth Anniversary of the most mind-blowing experience a ten year old boy ever had in reading.

I’ve written about it before, so forgive me for repeating myself, but a lifetime of experience flows on from this one tiny thing. Many are the consequences, including – not entirely fancifully – a marriage.

Fifty years ago, in March 1966, I was living in Brigham Street, Openshaw, in East Manchester, a working class area of terraced streets, between a local park and the Steel Wall, the wall enclosing the vast grounds of the English Steel Corporation. Though my eleventh birthday wouldn’t come until November, some ten weeks past the cut-off point of September 1, my Primary School Headmaster organised for me to sit the last Eleven-Plus exams, allowing me to go on to a Grammar School education that, a year later, would have been swept away by the Comprehensive System.

The Eleven-Plus consisted of half a dozen exams in basic subjects such as Maths and English, held at Varna Street School, a thirty minute walk away from home, and on the far side of Ashton Old Road, the major traffic route nearest to our backwater terrace. At first, my cautious mother escorted me there and back, but by the time of the last exam, on a sunny March Friday afternoon, she had enough confidence in me to trust me to get there and back without being knocked down and killed crossing the Old Road. Her confidence was not misplaced, given that I’ve lasted long enough to type this.

It was Friday afternoon. I was only allowed to cross the Old Road at Zebra crossings, and circumstances dictated that I should cross at the one just below the bridge over the canal branch, and turn right into Victoria Street to get through to the little warren of streets Back o’th’Park.

Our newsagents was on that side of the Old Road, further down, and they had American comics (exclusively DC) in their windows. So, being a dutiful child, I couldn’t go past Victoria Street to look, but I would get round it by carying on down the Old Road to the Zebra just above the Vicarage, and walking back up, past the newsagents window.

I had been reading American comics for, at best, a couple of years before this time. My parents didn’t approve of them, didn’t think they were worth the shilling they’d recently gone up to, but every now and then I was able to talk them into letting me have one, and with a naive cynicism way beyond my years, I figured that completing my first set of Exams was a good opportunity to argue for a reward.

It was no more than a general thought, but when I arrived at the window, it became an urgent and specific desire for Justice League of America 37.

There wasn’t a single Justice League member on the cover. It even boasted, incredulously, that there wasn’t. Instead, it featured five members of the Justice Society of America. I gaped in amazement. I’d never heard of the Justice Society and I seriously wanted to know. And what fuelled that desire was the incredible fact that the JSA had a Flash, Green Lantern and Atom, but they were completely different in costume and, in Green Lantern’s case, hair-colour!

I had to have it. I mentioned it to my mother as soon as I got home, to my father as soon as he got home, and again during the evening, and yet again on Saturday morning, in case they’d forgotten overnight, and one more time for good luck before we set out at 12.30pm to go to Granny and Grandad’s in Droylsden for dinner (this was the proper Northern Dinner: the evening meal was Tea).

And Dad parked round the corner and let me lead him to the newsagents where I pointed out the (thankfully unsold) comic, and we went in and the newsagent got it out of the window for me and I held it in my hands all the way to Droylsden.

I wasn’t allowed to look at it in the car – reading in the car ruined your eyes – and I couldn’t start then because we always arrived at 12.55pm for a one o’clock mealtime, and what with all in all, it was gone two o’clock before I was allowed to leave the table, scoop up my comic and race into the parlour to read it in peace and quiet.

Forgive me again, but I need to relish the memories. First I was introduced to the idea of Earth-2, a separate but parallel Earth, where things were not as they were in our reality, despite its familiarity. The strangeness of the idea, the concept of a place where things were different from how they were around me, took hold of me immediately, and it has been a lifelong fascination. Even before I met them, I fell for the sheer concept of the Justice Society. They were something magical, set against the ‘mundane’ reality of the Justice League that appeared every day, everywhere.

I was immediately hungry to know more, ever more, about these alternate figures, even though at first I could only see Johnny Thunder, the JSA’s equivalent to Snapper Carr as comic relief (as I’ve said before, when mentioning Snapper, don’t ask. DON’T ask.)

But before I even got to see the Justice Society, to see more of those strange Flash, GL, and Atom characters (plus a Hawkman in a cloth hood), we and the story got diverted to Earth-1, and its Johnny Thunder. And the bad Thunder knocked out the good Johnny and took over his Magic Thunderbolt and sent him out to rob a payroll. But The Flash stopped him, our Flash, the one I knew, I mean. So Thunder came up with the most mind-blowing idea of all time.

No matter how often I describe it, I’ve still not to my mind established how awesome what came next was. Nothing I’ve ever read in my life has had a comparable effect upon me. It expanded my mind more than any other thing has ever done, it opened up my imagination to a vastness of possibility.

Because Bad Thunder instructed his Magic Bolt to zip back in time and interfere with the origins of the Justice League, to change history, to undo what had been done and turn the world, the very earth on which we set out feet every day, into something incredibly strange. The very idea that such things could happen, a possibility that had never ever occurred to me beforehand, could have scared me to death. Instead, it encouraged, taught me to dream that things need not be as we see them, that to everything there was always an alternative, that for every path taken there was always a path, multitudes of paths untaken, and worlds that did not exist but which might have, in which we can see ourselves from angles undreamt of.

It was two pages of open-mouthed awe. A stormy night over Central City, a lightning bolt intercepted, Barry Allen goes home, still a slowpoke. Krypton’s unstable uranium core converted to lead, no planetary destruction, no rocket to Earth for baby Kal-El. A blast of yellow radiation intercepted, Abin Sur’s spacecraft undamaged, no power ring for Hal Jordan. A fragment of white dwarf star matter smashed, no discovery of size and weight controls for Ray Palmer. Dr Erdel’s Robot Brain shorts out, the Martian Manhunter is never teleported from Mars.

And, in the re-drawing of a panel drawn by Bob Kane twenty-six years earlier, the first appearance of Batman, the Bolt helps two anonymous thugs beat the crap – and the idea of being a crimefighter  – out of Bruce Wayne.

It was a lesson that, despite its instant impact, took me decades to understand fully. At the time, I just marveled at the way in which an established fictional world had just been turned over. Later, I would see what I had not understood at the time, that had almost certainly never been intended by Messrs Julius Schwartz, Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs: that life itself, the inevitability of everything around us, depends on infinitessimal influences, that everything we are and do could be undone by the most minute of changes, and that it need not be the life-changing moments that need to be changed to change our lives, but the most common, most insignificant that can have the longest shadows.

I used to be married. I don’t talk about it here, because marriage involves two people and I respect her privacy. But it is at least fifty percent true that, if this comic had not been in the newsagents’ window on that day fifty years ago, I would almost certainly never have met her. It’s only fifty percent, because there is a later point which is absolutely crucial to that seemingly trivial chain of events, that depends on my having discovered the Justice Society, and there were other opportunities after Justice League of America 37 where I could have done that, where I would probably – but only probably – been just as fascinated by them.

But maybe not. Those later comics, fantastic though they were on both senses, lacked the scope of this particular issue. Maybe, if my introduction had come a year later, the same sense of mind-expansion may not have followed it, may not have resulted in the same degree of interest, might have meant that that later point was no point at all.

It’s an extreme example, but all of our lives are based in an unending sequence of such things. What we see and do at every moment – which in itself is influenced by what others, endlessly removed from you, have done – shifts your life this way and that. A man living fifty miles away from you oversleeps by five minutes. As a result, leaving for work three minutes later than he might otherwise means that he misses his train. Instead, he drives. The extra car on the road subtly changes traffic patterns. Someone misses a green light, is held up thirty seconds, loses more time on their journey. As a result, they take a short cut to work. By not stopping for a coffee at their usual shop, they don’t end up next to you at the counter. You don’t exchange sarky comments about the service. The meeting that would have led to your marriage, to the birth of your three children, never happens, because you never bump into each other again.

The world is made up of such things. We are all connected because we all affect each other in ways we can barely imagine, in ways most of us would never recognise. Understanding this affects your philosophies of life, your beliefs, your politics.

A comic. In a window, fifty years ago this month just passed. If someone had bought that comic, five minutes before I passed, on the way home from Varna Street, the deliberate long way round, what might those fifty years have been instead?

Nothing is insignificant. Thanks for that comic, Messrs Schwartz, Fox, Sekowsky and Sachs. Fifty years is too little a time to have enjoyed that moment.

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 – 1976


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


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


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


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

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1975


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

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


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

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 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.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1970


Justice League of America 82, “Peril of the Paired Planets!”/Justice League of America 83, “Where Valor Fails… Will Magic Triumph?” Written by Denny O’Neil, art by Dick Dillin (pencils) and Joe Giella(inks), edited by Julius Schwarz.

It’s a beautiful, peaceful day in Metropolis as Superman streaks across the sky towards the Daily Planet building. But he goes straight through it, brings down a metal tower, and crashes into the subway, where he lies as if dead.
As soon as this is reported to the Justice League, Flash and Hawkman arrive to take Superman’s body to the nearest transporter tube to the JLA’s new satellite headquarters. Batman and the Atom await them, and start analysing what has happened to the Man of Steel, but Batman suddenly begins to choke, and collapses into the same state as Superman.
Deprived of Batman’s razor-sharp logic, Hawkman takes refuge in numbers and messages the trio of Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Black Canary, summoning them back from their special leave.
We are then taken to Earth-2. It is once again described as a parallel Earth, separated by its different vibrations, but now we are told that those vibrations have caused Earth-2 to run fractionally slower than its counterpart, so that it is now twenty years behind: therefore Earth-2 would appear to be in 1950. We are also told that the temporal fluxes between the two Earths are such that contact between the two is only possible for 21 days each year.
We then follow the Justice Society’s not-quite-human, not-quite-member, the Red Tornado, alone in space, feeling frustrated and sorry for itself. Detecting an alien spaceship, the Tornado assumes it is the forerunner of an invasion. If he can beat it, everybody will have to like him.
Unfortunately, he is quickly rendered inoperative, and taken aboard the craft. It is commanded by a being named Creator2, who has accepted a job to build a planet. For raw materials, he needs to destroy two other planets in a controlled manner, and he has selected Earths-1 and -2. All that is needed is to bring their vibrations into harmony and the Red Tornado is the perfect tool, being already attuned to the vibrational patterns of both Earths. A harmonising plate is inserted into his mechanical brain and he is placed at the exact midway point between the two Earths, slowing bringing their rates together.
However, it is not enough just to make the planets explode together, it must be controlled in a specific manner. Five of the crew are sent down to Earth-2 to place special explosives at strategic points. In case of interference from the Justice Society, they are equipped with strange nets to overcome their adversaries.
The first to intervene is Superman, who is paralysed in flight and crashes. The harmonisation has already gone so far that what affects him affects his Earth-1 counterpart.
The same thing happens to Dr Mid-Nite and, by extension, his nearest Earth-1 equivalent, Batman. And when The Flash tries to intervene to save Mid-Nite, he suffers a similar fate, causing his Earth-1 counterpart, on the Satellite, to collapse in his turn.
With three members down, the Justice Society calls in all its members for an emergency meeting. This includes everybody, even the Earth-2 Batman and The Spectre, with the exception of the adult Robin and the Red Tornado, whose absence doesn’t seem to be noticed.
But the situation is getting worse. The two Earths are sufficiently in harmony that they have flashes of vision, in which people from one Earth see themselves on the other.
On Earth-1, the absent trio finally arrive. Hawkman berates them for taking so long, and Green Arrow responds sarcastically. The Guardians have temporarily restored Green Lantern’s power ring to full power, and he sets off into space to travel to Earth-2, only to find the ‘doorway’ blocked.
But on the satellite, as the Atom explains what is the real extent of the danger, Black Canary comes to the erroneous, but understandable conclusion that it is because of her: she has transferred from Earth-2 to Earth-1, and there is no-one else common to the two planets.
The solution is obvious: in order to save the two Earths, Black Canary must cease to exist, must die.
End of Part 1.


The tension continues to rise as Black Canary insists she has to die, whilst Green Arrow bullishly refuses to accept it, the Atom is reluctantly starting to agree, and Green Lantern heads off into space to try to find a dimension where the Canary can be deposited in safety. There are only three hours left.
Meanwhile, on Earth-2, Creator2 has decided to pre-empt any further interference from the Justice Society by sending out more men with nets. Starman falls easily, but apparently does not have a Justice League equivalent to take with him, and the same occurs with Hourman.
In space, a shifting of the cosmic balance allows Green Lantern a sighting of the Red Tornado, and the realisation that he, not Black Canary, is the source of this problem. The Lantern tries to get to him to move him from his midway position, but another random shift blocks access. He is then paralysed when the nets trap the Earth-2 Green Lantern in a cage of wood.
The danger grows ever more near. There is another ‘ghost’ vision as the two planets see each other, but everybody is more solid this time. It causes a panic: the Earth-1 Hawkman saves an old woman in a wheelchair from careering into traffic, but is himself stopped when the net takes out his Earth-2 counterpart.
Black Canary grows ever more insistent that she must do something before it is too late. There are only thirty minutes left: the Atom says to give it twenty more before they decide anything.
On Earth-2, the only JSAers left standing are Doctor Fate and Johnny Thunder. Fate decides to risk all on a desperate gamble. He teleports them to a strange place of tombs and mausoleums to find the Spectre. A caption tells us that the reason why the Spectre is confined to this place cannot be given here but that it is indeed spectacular as everyone will see when it is revealed.
The Spectre himself greets his colleagues by reminding them that he cannot leave unless he is summoned as he has been here. The three magically powered heroes head for Creator2’s ship, but when it is in sight, the Spectre leaves his team-mates to attack the ship alone. He enters the netherverse where he stretches out his body and interpolates it between Earth-1 and Earth-2, keeping them apart.
Fate and the Bolt enter the ship, to Creator2’s disbelief. Fate is exhausted and the Bolt has to tackle the crew, but he is only a Grade-3 sorcerer and is not powerful enough to stop Creator2 from pushing the button that will bring the two Earths together. Doctor Fate has to summon his last reserves of strength to cause an explosion that destroys the ship, and everyone on it, except himself and the Bolt.
The explosion rattles both Earths and dislodges the harmoniser plate in the Red Tornado’s head. The menace is over. The two Earths begin to withdraw from each other, but the massive competing gravitational fields tear the Spectre’s corporeal body apart, sending him at last to his eternal rest.
On Earth-1, the Atom tells Black Canary the good news that the danger is over and she need no longer commit suicide. Green Lantern arrives back, having been telepathically brought up to date by Doctor Fate, but Green Arrow refuses to believe that the Spectre is dead: one day he’s be back.
* * * * *
Denny O’Neil really couldn’t write a decent team-up story, could he? Once again, there’s the germ of an interesting idea behind this story, and a technical freshness in producing a team-up where the teams do not meet but work on the shared menace from separate standpoints, but it’s handled so ineptly and half-heartedly that the result is frequently embarrassing.
Unlike the previous year, where the Justice League were clearly the cavalry, this time it’s a firmly JSA-centric story. It’s their Earth and their members who are directly attacked by the absurd and ridiculous Creator2 (who speaks like this: Ex-cellent. Villains with speech impediments should be avoided). All the Justice League actually do throughout this story is fall down helpless every time someone on the Justice Society is overcome.
The exception to this is Hawkman, who gets to save an old lady in a wheelchair from rolling into traffic, which is not much but is the most thrilling thing that gets to happen on Earth-1, and does little to make up for his otherwise demented performance throughout the rest of the story: flying into a blind panic when Batman is taken out, insisting that the lack of his razor-sharp brain has to be replaced by the two Greens and one Black (interrupting and negating the principles of the GL/GA series that had recently started: at least it was O’Neil’s own story it was spoiling). Then he shouts at them for not turning up the next instant, even though, as we will see, they are in practical terms as useful as a chocolate teapot. And he’s only on Earth because he’s fretting over having nothing he can do and even then he’s in a snit because nobody’s looking at him.
There’s an interesting twist in the idea of having Black Canary identify herself as being responsible, when in fact it’s nothing to do with her, but once the idea is raised, and with it the notion that to save the day she must suicide, it lies there flapping, with no development. It couldn’t go anywhere. What could they do, have a scene of the Canary trying to slit her wrists and Green Arrow shooting the knife of out her hands? It was pushing the envelope of the Comics Code Authority’s tolerance to even introduce the subject whilst scrupulously avoiding mention of the s-word.
The first part gives us another unfavourable comparison between Fox and O’Neil as writers of a superhero tea. Fox’s stories feature fights, endless fights, displays of power between hero and villain, because these are the point of the story. The fights are architecture, and indivisible to the story. O’Neil doesn’t think that way and can’t write that way: the scenes of various JSAers tangling with the aliens and being overcome by nets feel inconsequential, something conjured up to help fill pages. This sense that they are an imposition on what really interests the writer is multiplied when, in the second part, O’Neil can think of nothing better to move the story along than to repeat the same thing: aliens with nets, collapsing unrelated JLAers and another two page spread of duplicate populations staring at each other pop-eyed (and, incidentally, if Earth-2 is supposed to be twenty years behind Earth-1 at this point, why are all the fashions and hair-styles identical?)
But the biggest, most glaring defect in this story is the treatment of the Spectre.
Firstly, it’s poor writing even for comics to have him appear as a deus ex machina: god in the machine, descending from stage clouds to override everything that has been established in the story from the beginning. But then there’s this business about the crypt. The Spectre is confined to a crypt. This is a surprise to everybody because, when his solo series was cancelled, he wasn’t confined to any crypt, he was just reading from the Book of Judgement like any other ‘mystery’ comic host. Why is the Spectre confined to a crypt? we can’t tell you, but it’s sensational, honest. Roughly translated as ‘we hope it will be if we ever think of it’.
In the letters page, well-known fan and future JLA writer Marty Pasko pinned that one down accurately. There was no reason, there was no story, it was just a cheap contrivance to try to throw some drama into a story badly leaking at all seams, and it’s internally inconsistent, because if the Spectre is confined to that crypt, and he can only leave it if he’s summoned by someone like Doctor Fate, what the hell was he doing attending the Justice Society headquarters for the mass meeting in part 1?
Incidentally, 43 year years later, we’re still waiting for that sensational explanation of why the Spectre was confined to that bloody crypt.
That is not all. The Spectre places himself between the two Earths to prevent them from colliding, and dies when the gravitational pull between them rips his body apart. We wait for him to reassemble because naturally he’s imbued every molecule of his body with a magnetism that draws them back from all across the Universe, just like he did in 1966. But this time apparently not.  This time, his  Get-Out-Of-Being-Spread-Across-The-Whole-Damned-Universe-Free Card has been left behind in that cheap crypt.
This time he dies, with tears of happiness and relief. Only Green Arrow doesn’t believe so and says so in a closing, valedictory, ridiculous speech that, instead rips open the contrivance: of course he’ll be back, this ‘death’ is an utter waste of time, complete nonsense.
There is another change in creative personnel this, Sid Greene having followed Bernie Sachs into retirement and been replaced by another veteran inker in Joe Giella. Superficially, there’s little change, but a closer study of the art quickly reveals the difference between Greene’s crisp, structural inks, which bring out the firmness in Dillin’s work as they did with Sekowsky before him, and Giella’s softer, less detailed look.
The effect, though subdued, is unhelpful: a decade later, the introduction of Giella to Joe Staton’s pencil’s in the revived All-Star would be disastrous in contrast to the clean, sharp inks of Bob Layton. Something of that is visible here, and it would not surprise me to discover that Giella had been erasing pencils, simplifying the images as he so blatantly would years later.
And we can’t leave without considering O’Neil’s new ground rules for the Multiverse.
When the Golden Age Flash had been revived in 1961, it was as an older man, greying at the temples, still fully powered and in shape (for his age), but an older man coming out of a dozen years’ retirement. Barry Allen’s age was never given, but if he’d read about The Flash when he was a kid, up to Flash Comics’ discontinuation in 1949, that would put Allen in his mid-to-late twenties, and Garrick somewhere around forty. Not too old to be a perfectly feasible elder statesman superhero.
Indeed, the same approach had been used on all the Justice Society: greying, lined, nostalgically enthralled to be in action again, though it’s intriguing to note that the last reference to that aspect had been in 1966, in the form of a passing reference by Sandman to having been out of the crook-catching game so long, no-one recognised him.
But what was enjoyable and realistic nostalgia in 1961 and the immediately following years was growing less plausible in 1970, when Jay Garrick, at the very best, was far closer to 50 than he’d ever been to 40. To an audience of youngsters only slowly becoming leavened by teenagers and the kind of older fan who would never let his attachment to comics go, the idea of superheroes old enough to be their grandfathers was inconceivable.
So it seemed a good idea at the time to contrive something to eliminate that older-hero aspect from the Justice Society, to tune them back to when they were more or less the same age as the Justice League. Twenty years were about right.
But it would have turned Earth-2 back to 1950, to when the Justice Society were still active anyway, wound things back past the existence of any retirement. And that’s when it fell through and big-time, because only the heroes, in complete isolation and in defiance of everything that had gone before, were wound back. Earth-2 stayed the same as Earth-1 (though hardly contemporary with Earth-Prime in 1970: not in Justice League of America that is. Maybe if you tried Green Lantern/Green Arrow.)
As for the post-Crisis canonicity of this tale, it’s another no, and we all feel better for knowing that.