The Fall Season 2016: Supergirl season 2


What the World is Waiting for
What the World is Waiting for

After Arrow, Supergirl is the series nearest to the edge for me. On balance, I enjoyed season 1, but almost all of that was down Melissa Benoist as Supergirl and Kara Danvers, who was born to play the twin leading roles. Apart from that, the series had a lot of good things going for it – I have never previously liked Callista Flockhart but she was great as Cat Grant – but was clunky far too often.

Now the show has been bounced down from CBS to The CW, where it sits alongside the other DC series, but it hasn’t merged into the so-called Arrowverse, and remains in a separate Universe. Which is all too the good because the feel of this lightweight, optimistic, good-hearted show, with its lightweight, optimistic, good-hearted heroine, is inimical to the increasing darkness of everything connected to Oliver bloody Queen.

Changes are to be made, however, and some of these were teased in an opening episode that, as we were all aware, brought the Big Blue Boy Scout, ol’ Supes hisself, into town to visit little/big cousin Kara.

Tyler Hoechlin, who I believe has been better known for playing bad boy roles before this guest stint is, IIRC, the sixth actor I’ve seen playing Superman. He comes onscreen as Clark and, to my great delight, his Clerk is pure Christopher Reeve, which won my support instantly. His Superman was similarly clean, straightforward and open, just as Superman should be: no darkness, no brooding, no sullenness. The perfect hero.

For a while, Hoechlin outshone everyone else. Superman references abounded. Cat Grant’s new assistant, who she summoned with a wonderfully Gene Hackman-like growl, was Miss Teschmacher, Winn – who’s moved from Catco to the DEO this year – got all excited about the technical aspects of when Supes was fixing the San Andreas Fault and, whilst Supergirl can’t have Lex Luthor, there’s a new recurring character in Town (presumably taking the Maxwell Lord role) in his adopted baby sister, Lena, a (so-far) good girl.

Oh, and since Supergirl is now filming in Vancouver with the rest of Greg Berlanti’s DC series’, and Callista Flockhart is only going to be available as a recurring character, Kara’s choice of future career-path is, somewhat disappointingly, a reporter. The show does rely entirely too heavily on nicking things out of the Superman mythos as it is without going down that particular copycat route.

Still, it’s early days and with the mysterious young man from Krypton who landed in season 1’s cliffhanger, and Project Cadmus converting the English assassin, John Corben, into Metallo, not to mention the revelation that all this time, Hank (J’Onn J’Onzz) Henshaw has been sitting on a bloody great Kryptonite meteor (lessee, last season’s recurring big baddies were Kryptonians with limitless powers, he’s got Kryptonite, doesn’t use it against them… does not compute): enough material to keep us going I think.

One definite minus mark was the way the episode treated the Kara/James Olsen relationship. I thought the idea was wrong-headed and stupid, but season 1 went for it with Kara puppy-doggishly following James around with her tongue hanging out until she gets the date she’s been longing for.

Only to decide, now she’s got it, that she doesn’t want it, actually she doesn’t want him, but he’d make a great friend instead.

It’s a step in the right direction but it  was handled appallingly badly, because the writers couldn’t come up with a reason for this change of heart. I mean, hell’s bells, it’s supposed to be only twelve hours since season 1 ended and Kara suddenly thinks differently when nothing has changed except James suddenly wanting to go out with her… In the absence of an in-story explanation of any kind, the viewer has to construct their own rationalisation, and the only explanations that fit are inherently negative about Kara. Dumb writing, completely dumb.

So: overall summary, changes are being made, but on the surface things stay the same. If it were anyone else but Melissa Benoist in the title role, I would probably have bailed by the middle of season 1. This year needs to tighten up, and I am already deeply sceptical of the new character who will replace Cat Grant on a daily basis.

Still with it, but with an option to sidle off if the season’s not very careful.

End-of-Term Report: Supergirl


Warning: for those watching on UK TV, may contain spoilers.

My current schedule of US TV series, all but one of which are superhero-oriented, is starting to wind down now as we approach May, and it’s time to look back and see how good or otherwise they’ve been.

First to hit the traps is Supergirl, closing out a 20-episode season yesterday with the back half of a two-part season finale that, in accordance with the modern formula, sees off the season’s big bad and sets up a cliffhanger for season 2. At the moment, however, there is no word as to whether there is going to be a season 2, which would make the cliffhanger a bit foolish if the show gets the elbow.

Does Supergirl merit a season 2? Overall, I’d go for it, but it would be a reorder with pretty firm conditions attached to it. The show needs to seriously up its game. It’s ideas are mostly pretty decent, its cast are pretty much perfect in their roles, but the writing is constantly underpowered, both in terms of clunky dialogue and, more often, plotting that lacks either subtlety or smooth narration.

We started off with semi-klutzy Kara Danvers, aka Kara Zor-El, aged about 24, PA to media mogul and all round superior supercilious Cat Grant. Kara was actually Kal-El’s older cousin, sent (separately) to Earth to take care of the little babby, even though she’s only twelve herself. However, thanks to a detour via the Phantom Zone, by the time she arrives, he’s fully-grown and she’s still only twelve.

So Kara gets placed with foster parents the Danvers, Jeremiah and Eliza, both scientists, and their slightly older daughter Alex. Jeremiah isn’t around long before he’s taken away by the DEO, where he dies. Kara is taught to conceal her powers and herself, to be human and weak, to not draw attention to herself, all the while that Superman was the big hero of Metropolis.

However, Kara is forced to use her powers to avert a disaster that threatens the life of sister Alex, who is second-in-command at the Department of Extraterrestrial Operations, under Hank Henshaw. Kara comes out as Supergirl and works with the DEO, Cat Grant promotes her as the heroine of National City (whilst constantly calling Kara ‘Kira’). And it seems that en route through the Phantom Zone, Kara’s pod dragged with it Krypton’s Fort Rozz, home to multi-alien psychopaths and bad guys, a ready-made menace-of-the-week.

The casting, as I’ve already said, was very good. From the outset, Melissa Benoist nailed both Kara and Supergirl, as well as rocking the traditional costume, and Callista Flockhart as Cat Grant has been spectacularly good. There’s also a genuinely heart-warming touch in casting Dean Cain (Superman of Lois and Clark) and Helen Slater (Supergirl of the 1984 film) as the Danvers.

As for the rest of the cast, they’ve been mostly effective, but haven’t risen above the often quite poor writing in the way that Benoist and Flockhart have. I’ve a soft spot for Jeremy Jordan as Win, aka Winslow Schott Jr, a name I recognised of old, being Superman’s way-back foe, the Toyman (Win’s father, as it happened), but far less so for Mehcad Brooks as the softly spoken Art Director James (not Jimmy) Olsen.

Jimmy (no, James) has moved to National City supposedly to get out from under the shadow of the Big Guy (the show cannot contractually actually use Superman, a difficulty that it has been too obvious in contriving ways to avoid this, and for the first few weeks, weren’t even allowed to mention him by name), but in reality he’s here because Supes asked him to move out and keep an eye on little cousin.

Chyler Leigh is effective as Alex Danvers but loses points for how she’s conspicuously trying to be the tough, super-efficient operative, which in turn slightly undercuts her effectiveness as Kara’s sister.

Which leaves British actor David Harewood, as DEO Director Hank Henshaw: cold, cynical, heartless until we learned the secret he was concealing (with that name, we comics fans knew there had to be a secret) which was that he is actually J’Onn J’Onzz, the Martian Manhunter.

Overall, the series’ major problem is that it doesn’t quite yet know what it wants to be. It aspires – rightly, in my opinion – to the lightness and sense of fun of The Flash (there is no mystery about the best episode of the series being the crossover with The Flash). Melissa Benoist pretty much ensures that as the right line to play. However, that lightness needs balancing out with danger, menace and threat, which is where the show doesn’t quite know what to do.

Thankfully, the clunky menace-of-the-week was dropped quickly, in favour of more natural foes, and continuity was maintained by the slow development of the Big Bad, which started off as Kara’s own extremist Aunt, Astra, with lowly Lieutenant husband Non, only to jettison Astra midway, to a kryptonite sword through the heart, leaving the far less dynamic Non in charge.

Non and Astra’s plan was something called Myriad, and this dominated the two-part finale. Myriad was a broadcast mind-control system that took over the minds of everyone in National City except for Kara, Cat Grant, and recurring anti-hero Max Lord (Peter Facinelli, another buoyant and boisterous part bound for better things if season 2 materialises). These last two were protected by devices created by genius Max. Even Superman, arriving as the cavalry, succumbed instantly.

Let’s specify a few of the points I’ve made over this last two episodes. At  this point, Hank has been outed as an alien and is on the run, with Alex who helped him escape. They’re out of range, visiting Ma Danvers. As soon as the news breaks, J’Onn decides to return, his Martian brain proofing him against Myriad. Alex insists upon returning as well, even though she will instantly come under Myriad’s influence and be not only utterly useless but also a positive danger. J’Onn can protect her, at the cost of reducing his effectiveness by at least 50%.

It makes no sense whatsoever, except on the emotional level, and even then it’s still stupid. These are two very experienced, high-level agents, trained to think analytically about situations and deal with them dispassionately and efficiently. So J’Onn gives in and takes her. Alex is immediately captured, Myriaded and sent out to fight Supergirl dressed in kryptonite armour and equipped with the ol’ kryptonite sword.

But Alex snaps put of her programming, not because Supergirl pleads with her to do so but because J’Onn has flown off and brought back her mother to get the girls to stop. This massively powerful, instantly effective brainwashing system can apparently be defeated by saying the word ‘hope’ a lot, because that gets people to shake it off, effortlessly.

Thus thwarted, after an entire season building up Myriad as this infallible menace, Non sets his phasers to kill. Apparently, upping the voltage on Myriad will cause the human brain to explode, rather than reinforce the mind control side of things. We have four hours before everybody’s head goes ka-boom!

Supergirl will stop things but, since she’ll have to go in there alone, it’s probably a suicide mission. So, with such a tight deadline hanging over them, Supergirl changes back to her Kara-self and goes back to work to tell all her friends that she loves them in a way that is obviously a goodbye. Given that Max Lord hasn’t yet located the whereabouts of Myriad, it’s dramatically sound, but it kills the momentum of the episode, undercutting its supposed threat by such a slow-paced diversion.

The same thing goes after Supergirl, with J’Onn’s aid, defeats Non and his henchwoman Indigo (J’Onn literally rips her in two, despite her being a body-stretcher). But it’s too late to stop Myriad from ka-booming everybody’s head unless Supergirl can lift Fort Rozz into outer space. She has three and a half minutes left…

So she contacts Alex for a heartfelt conversation. Seriously.  So she can say goodbye and also get Alex to promise to get a life (here meaning boyfriend, marriage, kids and white picket fence, the very things Supergirl has already rejected as her destiny). Alex takes so long promising that it’s a wonder there are even seconds left but there’s still time for Supergirl to flex her muscles and lift the Fort (about 500 times her size and obviously perfectly constructed even after crashing on Earth, since it doesn’t crack up at all) into space. It floats off, Supergirl floats towards oblivion, and Alex turns up to rescue her, having taken very little time to get Supergirl’s pod out of the DEO’s underground HQ, topped up its petrol tank and flown it into space to save her.

This is the kind of story-telling I mean when I say Supergirl has got to up its game. Letting emotional beats lead despite the damage done to credible plots, careless and ridiculous short-cuts to reach end-points. The show’s ambitions are admirable, but it cannot yet establish its story-points without resorting to plotting that operates on old-style comic book logic.

Yes, I know, the irony is palpable. But it’s one thing to thrill ten year old boys with victories for the hero, and entirely another to operate to the same standard for an adult TV audience in prime-time. On the other hand, Dallas did bring Bobby Ewing back from a particularly long shower, so maybe I shouldn’t grumble…

One other point I’d like to mention, is the show’s overt feminism, or rather its constant adherence to a Spice Girls-level ‘Girl Power’. Supergirl has a penchant for making serious social points, usually in relation to the status of women, and whilst it’s good to hear such things being stated and re-stated (often in well-chosen words), the show needs to learn to be a bit less obvious about such things. Frequently, it comes over as a bit lecture-like (class, you should write this down) and the show could do with being a bit more Show than Tell.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed Supergirl without ever being blind to its faults. It’s developed it’s lead character’s confidence and effectiveness without too much obviousness over its twenty episodes, and there’s the makings of a good, fun show in there. It needs to manage its elements better, and it could have something. Other shows are demonstrating that it’s possible, so Supergirl clearly has it in it and should get a second shot.

But unless it does start to fix those flaws, not a third, I think.

Where could season 2 go? The final episode left a couple of threads open. J’Onn was pardoned for his part in saving the world from Myriad and reinstated as DEO Director with  facile speed, but General Sam Lane and Maxwell Lord still have their alien xenophobia to the fore, with the General handing over to Max an incredibly powerful Kryptonian device.

Then there’s Jeremiah Danvers: not dead this ten years, kept alive and imprisoned at the extremely secret Project Cadmus, to be hunted out by the Danvers Girls.

And as for that cliffhanger, it’s another Kryptonian pod, identical to Kara’s, crash-landing in the Park. Kara rips off its canopy, looks inside and says ‘Oh my God’. Who’s in there? Only time and season 2 will tell. Personally, I side with those already hoping for Krypto, the Superdog.

Grading: B minus, could do better. I’d like to see a season 2, but I wouldn’t be frustrated if the show was cancelled here. We’ll see.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1965


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

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

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

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1963


Justice League of America 21, “Crisis on Earth-One!”/Justice League of America 22, “Crisis on Earth-Two!” Written by Gardner Fox, art by Mike Sekowsky (pencils) and Bernard Sachs (inks), edited by Julius Schwarz.


On Earth-1, the Justice League has called an emergency meeting, chaired by Batman, to handle a challenge issued by the new Crime-Champions, who consist of the Flash’s Doctor Alchemy, The Atom’s Chronos and the League’s own Felix Faust, The criminals plan to rob and vanish with their loot, without the League being able to stop them. The League accepts the challenge and splits into three teams to tackle the crooks.
Meanwhile, on Earth-2, the Justice Society have opened their former meeting rooms for the first time in thirteen years. Doctor Fate explains to the attending members that, under the team’s revised by-laws (i.e., constitution), they are to operate with a rotating membership of seven. Those present have been chosen by lot, and the other members have sent telegrams of congratulations.
The Society has received an identical challenge from three old supervillains, The Flash’s Fiddler, Green Lantern’s Icicle and the Society’s own Wizard. Filled with the rush of nostalgia, the Society split into three teams and rush out to tackle their foes.
Back on Earth-1, Felix Faust easily evades capture by Aquaman, J’Onn J’Onzz and The Atom, Dr Alchemy gets away from Superman and Green Arrow (The Flash mysteriously vibrates into nothingness) and Chronos eludes  Batman, Wonder Woman and  Green Lantern.
We follow the Crime Champions to a giant satellite-like bubble in an inter-dimensional limbo, where they meet their allies, the Earth-2 villains. The Earth-2 trio congratulate their Earth1 counterparts, whilst recalling their own luck in meeting them: having escaped at last from prison, the villains had been surrounded at a deserted crossroads outside Keystone City (where the Flashes cross from Earth to Earth), and when The Fiddler tried to fiddle up an escape, he accidentally took the trio to the Central City Community Theatre on Earth-1.
In turn, the Earth-1 villains reminisce about how they planned to rob the takings but, recognising convict garb, spirited the newcomers away before anyone else could see them.
Learning of the parallel Earths, the sextet have got together to rob in their own worlds and spend their ill-gotten gains in the other world, unrecognised by anyone: except the Flashes, that is, who have had to be captured and caged in traps that automatically neutralise their ability to vibrate free.
The villains go off to have a good time, but the Earth-2 trio, having spent the last fifteen years or so in jail, are tempted by the riches on display. In order to protect their plan, they disguise themselves as the Earth-1 Crime Champions, and set a trap for the Justice League at a casino hotel.
One by one, the eight League members touch ordinary items that the Wizard has magicked to doom them: they are wisked away into a magical trap that confines them in their own cave sanctuary.
Unable to escape, the Leaguers use Marlin’s crystal ball to contact their Flash. They learn the whole story from him, and go on to invite the Justice Society into Earth-1 for the historic first meeting of the heroes of two Earths!
The Justice Society, who aren’t confined by the Wizard’s magic, leave the sanctuary to hunt down their villains. The Justice League are sent into Earth-2, to pursue their villains. The two Green Lanterns team-up to travel into limbo to rescue the Flashes.
End of Part One.

The Justice Society emerge from the Secret Sanctuary and split up to hunt down their foes, who have dropped their disguises. Hourman and the Atom capture the Fiddler, Doctor Fate overcomes the Icicle and Hawkman and Black Canary defeat the Wizard.
The Green Lanterns see something in limbo.
On Earth-2, the Justice League go after their rampaging foes. J’Onn J’Onzz, the Atom and Green Arrow bring in Felix Faust, Batman and Wonder Woman (again!) are too much for Doctor Alchemy and Superman and Aquaman clean up Chronos.
The Lanterns reach the Crime-Champions satellite and find the Flashes, but their vibrational bubbles are impervious to every power ring attack. Finally, the Lanterns realise that air can get in and out so they transform the Flashes and bring them out. But this triggers a pre-set trap that couldn’t be sprung without the additional energy of the Rings: all sixteen heroes are drawn into specialised two-person traps in limbo.
Each cage is specially protected against the heroes’ powers, but this proves the Crime-Champions’ undoing: the Atoms’ cage may be super-dense, preventing the Eaarth-1 Atom from shrinking to subatomic size and slipping out between the molecules of its base, but the Green Lanterns’ cage doesn’t stop them shrinking themselves out.
The Lanterns’ power frees the Flashes, and the knock-on effect enables everybody to free someone else. The two teams head back to Earth-2, where the six villains have gathered.
As soon as they realise what’s happened, the villains know they have no chance. They try to find a way out. If Earth- and Earth-2 exist, there must logically be an Earth-3: can they get there? Not before the avenging League and Society arrive and totally clobber them.
Agreeing to keep in touch to be able to deal with similar incidents, the teams gather their villains and return to their respective Earths.

* * * * *

The first JLA/JSA has always been described as a classic, and it’s deserving of the accolade. It would be a classic in any event, solely for what it was: a completely unprecedented meeting between the pre-eminent superhero teams of the present and the past, between the protectors of two Earths, between the familiarity of the League and the otherworldliness of the Society who, for the overwhelming majority of the readers, would be nothing more than a curiosity spoken of by elder brothers.
If Showcase 4 was the implicit conception of the Multiverse, and The Flash 123 its birth, Justice League of America 21/22 was the moment that it became the foundation of DC Comics.
This first team-up is fascinating on many levels. Whilst crossovers between Earths were only taking place in The Flash, it was enough to describe the two Earths as Barry and Jay’s worlds, but this breakout required a more objective designation, and so Earth-1 and Earth-2 were formally named as such. And, in the light of such later and transformative series as Crisis on Infinite Earths etc, this is the fountainhead: these are the original Crises.
In the light of where the annual team-ups would soon go, ‘Crisis on Earth-One/Two’ seems unusually unambitious. The story is nothing more than a standard hero vs villain tale, on a larger scale. The superhero teams are doing nothing but their everyday jobs, only in greater numbers, and so too are the villains: between nine JLA, seven JSA and six supervillains, there are 22 costumed characters cavorting throughout this double-length story, and the DC-reading kid of 1963 would have been giddy with excitement at page after page of superpowers in action.
In a way, this two-parter represented the end of a phase for Justice League of America. From its inception in the Brave & Bold try-outs, the League – like the Society before it in the Forties – had always put its entire membership out every issue. But the JSA had, according to Doctor Fate, reconstituted itself as a team consisting of no more than seven active members at any time (like that would last), and perhaps that notion – intended only to keep the Justice Society ranks down to manageable proportions – appealed to Schwarz and Fox after such an extravaganza, but from this point forward the League would drop its unwritten rule requiring everyone to attend. Most adventures would feature 5-6 members at a time, with the whole team reserved for special events, which would, in turn, lead to the perhaps unconscious development of a ‘Big Five’ within the League.
I’ve started these series with the intention of looking at the Justice Society’s changing depiction throughout the years, but it’s impossible to ignore that all these stories are taking place in the Justice League’s series They’re the stars, and the Justice Society the guests, and this story was written and drawn in an era where the star was very much the star. Guests were fine, but they had to know their places. The guest could help out, but it was the hero who won the day.
In respect of the final outcome, the Justice Society get to stand alongside their hosts as equals: the Crime-Champions are swept away in a sixteen hero onslaught over two background-less, silent pages, with the League and the Society mixing up their forces to simultaneously knock down each of the six villains.
But that’s not the case prior to that point. In issue 21, the League gets nine pages to tussle with their trio, not to mention a further four against the disguised Earth-2 villains, whilst the Society’s battled is gotten over in three flashback panels, related by their enemies and occupying a single tier on one page. Then, in issue 22, the ‘Earth-Two’ half, the Society get to strut their stuff over eight upfront pages, but the League still get their second round at length, over another nine pages.
And let’s not forget that we’re continually being reminded that the Society are old men (and woman). Though none of them are drawn to look significantly older than the League, there are constant references to the Society being older: references to lined faces, greying hair, and bringing back a clearly distant past.
Which, to be fair, was only the true situation. Excluding their previous cameo in The Flash 137, this is indeed the JSA’s first outing in costume in thirteen years: longer than most of the target audience have been alive.
As far as team-ups go, Fox structures his tale to have the League and the Society operating separately until the end. Even then, there’s little real interactivity: only the two Lanterns get any real conversation, all of it focussed on the job at hand, and the concluding melee is simply six single multi-hero panels.
Not that anyone should or would have expect any emotional underpinning to the story. The JSA’s delight at being back in action, at reliving their old glories is as far as Fox and Schwarz are prepared to go: it is, after all, what distinguishes them from the JLA, But this is an action comic: that historic first meeting is historic only in the captions. It was DC’s formula, especially under the plot-driven Fox and Schwarz. The story was and is all.
It’s slightly surprising that writer and editor devoted as much time as they did to the organisational foundation of the new JSA. It’s also interesting that, despite the same pairing having been responsible for Hawkman announcing himself as the JSA’s former Permanent Chairman, it is Doctor Fate in the chair despite the fact that Hawkman is on the team.
That initial line-up is equally interesting. It includes all four Golden Age originals whom Schwarz had already updated for the nascent Silver Age, plus two further founder members, neither of whom had been seen with the Justice Society, or in comics at all, since 1943 and very early 1945 respectively. It makes sense to include the four characters who would have seemed the strangest to contemporary characters, heroes who now had other, more familiar costumes.
But the Black Canary is a true anomaly here, given that she didn’t appear until 1948, and thus had never before worked with, or even met Fate or Hourman. Not that you’d realise that from this issue. Fox and Schwarz would never have wasted good story-telling time to touch upon that. However, a female Society member was needed, and as Wonder Woman was still in print from the Golden Age, there was no other choice.
Black Canary’s lack of previous experience with her elder comrades helps introduce another aspect to the story that modern readers will have difficulty comprehending. The Crime-Champions kidnap the two Flashes because only they have visited each other’s Earths and could recognise the other villains. This, and the explanation that Barry-Flash gives once the League make contact via their Souvenir Room Crystal Ball, makes plain that, in the two years since his first trip to another Earth, and despite the very public appearance of Jay in Central City as being from another Earth, The Flash hasn’t yet told his colleagues in the Justice League about Earth-2.
But then we would have known that as little kids anyway. This is 1963, and it will be nearly two decades before retcons – ‘retrospective continuity’ – are invented, and in this time, if you hadn’t read it in a comic book, it hadn’t happened. Dinah Drake didn’t meet Kent Nelson or Rex Tyler in that intervening thirteen years, Barry Allen (whose secret identity wasn’t known to anyone except Hal ‘Green Lantern’ Jordan) had never discussed Jay Garrick at a Justice League meeting.
It was a different era.
These two issues were drawn by the art team of Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs, who’d been the JLA’s penciller and inker from the outset. Selowsky is justly noted for his eccentric anatomy, and the curious poses he put his characters through, and his take on many of the characters will look wholly alien to modern audiences. But there’s a key to his success on Justice League of America on page 2, third tier of issue 21, and again on the same tier of page 4.
The first is the stock shot of the Justice League running from their cave Sanctuary to head for the action, the second is a Justice Society equivalent. Both feature the heroes, against a white background, running towards the character in a straight line, and every single figure, across both panels, is moving differently. Batman may look too top-heavy to run at all, but everyone is different.
And it’s like that throughout. Remember that Sekowsky is dealing with no less than twenty-two costumed characters in this story, in multiple combinations, but for all his weird positions and awkward stances, he handles the combinations expertly. Your eyes may pop, but they’ll never go to the wrong place in a Sekowsky page.
Such a pity that Sachs was so unsympathetic an inker, all weak, fussy and scratchy lines, exaggerating Sekowsky’s worst traits and robbing the images of any energy.
Though you can’t help but smile at one point. DC’s artists would often swipe film stars faces for characters, and Sekowsky has indulged himself with the unmasked face of the Icicle (who is somehow moustached in real-life whilst his costumed face is clean-shaven), drawing him in two panels as Groucho Marx, complete with cigar in a characteristic splay-fingered hand. I’m always ready for the panel to start spouting, “When I was in Africa, I shot an elephant in my pyjamas…”
As the choice of villains. The Golden Age was nothing like as big on super-villains as the Silver Age had been from its very start, and certainly not as keen on recurring villains, and whilst The Fiddler had already been seen in The Flash 123, the other two were obscurities. The choice of Earth-1 villains is actually more intriguing, as none of the trio was anything remotely resembling a major villain: when your heaviest player is Felix Faust…
Despite being one of the Silver Age Flash’s earliest villain, under his original nom de crime of Mr Element, Dr Alchemy has never made the cut in relation to the long standing Rogue’s Gallery. There’s an instructive pointer to early Sixties’ DC comics here: after starting out as Mr Element, Paul Desmond discovered the fabled Philosopher’s Stone, which could change one element into another. Giving himself a new costume and title, he fought the Flash, but had the Stone taken off him, and hurled into space by the Flash at a speed in excess of escape velocity, meaning it will never return. It poses a little difficulty about bringing Doctor Alchemy back.
Fox and Schwarz dispose of this inconvenient and fatal incident in a single thought bubble, as Alchemy reminds the reader that the Philosopher’s Stone was hurled into space, but he later retrieved it and changed it into a matter transformer. How easy it was, then.
But it’s Chronos who, for me, is the real let down in this story. In 1963, he was still in the early stages of a criminal career that got started when a petty thief became obsessed with improving his timing. His first move in this story is to crumble the walls of a bank by hitting it with “bottled time” that ages it, but after seeming like a worthy opponent, he starts taking on the likes of Wonder Woman and Batman with a pocket watch, whose hands shoot out to nudge Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth out of the way, and whose face cuts Batman’s batrope. In the big melee, he looks like he’s trying to hurl clocks at people! This man does not belong here, folks!
But let’s get back to the Justice Society of America: seven heroes returned from comic book limbo. The Flash, Green Lantern, Hourman and Black Canary are as they always were (though Fox and Schwarz will go on to muddy the waters over Hourman’s miraclo pills). Not so the other three.
In 1948, after years of being no more than a pint-sized bruiser, the Atom inexplicably developed superstrength, and radically redesigned his costume: he returns in that second costume and, whilst he doesn’t display any especial strength here, future stories will confirm he’s still got it.
But Doctor Fate, as long ago as 1942, lost virtually all his magical powers, and cut back his golden helm to expose the lower half of his face. That development is overlooked: Fate sports his old full-face helm and has all his magical powers again, though the gothic, Lovecraftian approach to the character, whom Fox co-created, remember, is lost for this time, and he’s as normally, pragmatically American as everyone else.
But, though being a purely minor aspect, it’s intriguing to see Hawkman return in that simple yellow cloth hood he started wearing at the same time the Atom changed his costume. The reason is obvious: unlike the other three, the Silver Age Hawkman wears an identical costume to his predecessor, so the Golden Age Hawkman must perforce look different.
It’s just that in The Flash 137, he was wearing a proper Hawk-helm, like the old days…

PS: After Crisis on Multiple Earths, whilst everyone was waiting to see what shape the DC Universe was going to take, there was considerable fan speculation about exactly what out of pre-Crisis history would be held to be still canon. One sector of that focussed on which of the JLA/JSA team-ups were still in continuity if the two teams had been based on the same Earth. No authorised list was ever published, at least not that I was ever aware, but despite the fact that this first team-up depended heavily on there being two Earths, It could have made the cut. It would have needed a lot of revision, but the basic story could be retained by making the Crime Champions into a team of older and younger villains, with the older ones escaped from long imprisonment, and wanting to catch up on their interrupted careers. Score 1 in the positive column.