To be Brave and Bold: the Team-ups Phase


The cover date was October/November 1963, the editors were Murray Boltinoff and George Kashdan and the theme of The Brave and the Bold was now team-ups: the features you asked for. I take that with a pinch of salt, for I cannot see the comic book readers of late 1963, the remaining days of President John Kennedy’s life, wanting above all to see a team-up between The Green Arrow and The Martian Manhunter.
But these are honourable men, and who are we to doubt them?
From here and for a very long time, the series will be written by Bob Haney, a good, solid, professional writer but not one who, how shall we put it, paid undue attention to continuity. DC may not have had continuity as we know it in 1963, but Haney still cared less about what they had. For instance, the Martian Manhunter was accidentally trapped on Earth after being teleported by Dr Erdel’s Robot Brain, which then shorted out, stranding him here. However, Haney has him using the Robot Brain to teleport to Mars for advice and assistance about the Martian villains he and Green Arrow are facing.
It would be like this all along. Mind you, this was almost a highlight of a stupid, cliched and just plain rotten story that was no sort of introduction to the new(er) Brave & Bold.

Your obvious first choice

Aquaman and Hawkman was another non-natural pairing in issue 51, with the story clunking to try to make the air-sea combination work, but issue 52 was a glorious piece of work. Instead of the advertised Flash/Atom team-up, Robert Kanigher dropped in to edit and write a 3 Battle Stars story, with magnificent Joe Kubert art bringing together four of DC’s War comic stars, Johnny Cloud, the Haunted Tank, Sergeant Rock and, a surprise guest, Mlle. Marie. It put the two previous issues to shame, and easily. Kanigher was always on his best form with the War stories.
The Atom/Flash team-up duly arrived next issue and, apart from splendid Alex Toth art, was the usual sloppy mess. Part of Haney’s problem is his refusal to provide adequate explanations: things happen to complicate the heroes’ battle and then are dispensed with in a throwaway line. For instance, Flash loses his speed at one point and is captured, but regains it when he’s freed by the Atom, ‘because the planet has given it him back’.
The title had only spawned one successful series in its formal ‘try-out’ phase, so issue 54’s team-up of ‘junior’ heroes was ironic. This brought together Kid Flash, Aqualad and Robin in a story that started the Teen Titans, though as yet nameless. It would take the addition of Wonder Girl and a couple more appearances to seal the deal.
Not that the story was much good, especially from the point of view of the dialogue, especially the teens’ hip slang, the beginning of a long road of embarrassingly awful writing.

Not yet the Teen Titans

Kashdan did a solo job in issue 56, bringing together another bizarre pairing in the Metal Men and The Atom, before devoting the next two issues to try-outs again, in the form of Metamorpho, created by Haney and artist Ramona Fraden, whose bright, cartoony style is perfect for the oddball Element Man. This would extend the series’ success rate when Metamorpho got his own, albeit short-lived series. Everything’s there from the very beginning: the Metamorpho of the current The Terrifics is the Metamorpho of B&B 57-58.
Issue 59 provided a foretaste of the future in teaming up two of DC’s biggest heroes for the first time, Batman and Green Lantern. I was delighted to read this effort, having remembered it’s excellent title – ‘The Tick-Tock Traps of the Time-Commander’ – from the Sixties: I love the chance to find what lies behind some of these covers that impressed me in the house ads of the time.

A great title

The Teen Titans – named and a foursome – returned in issue 60 for a teen-supporting adventure in which the colourist got Kid Flash’s uniform badly wrong (hint, it’s not all yellow), but issue 61 is the one that’s most special to me, the first Brave & Bold I bought on one of those Saturday afternoons in Droylsden, working industriously through the newsagent’s spinner rack, anxious to make the best choice with the shilling I’d been given.
After The Atom, Julius Schwartz had announced that he would not be doing any more new versions of Justice Society members. Instead, he turned to actual revivals, starting with a two-issue run in Showcase for Doctor Fate and Hourman. Now he took over B&B for two issues teaming up Starman and Black Canary, all with scripts by Gardner Fox and art from Murphy Anderson. I loved this first one, and still have it (autographed by Schwartz) over fifty years later.
It was billed as the first team-up between the two characters (who had never been contemporaries in the JSA), which it is only if you discount their joint appearance in the 1964 JLA/JSA team-up. Starman’s Gravity Rod has now been upgraded to a Cosmic Rod, Dinah Drake has married Larry Lance, Starman’s arch-enemy The Mist, who didn’t feature in any of the stories on the Adventure Comics DVD, is back with an ingenious plan: it was pure heaven for me back in 1966, and I still love it now.

A lifelong favourite

The second story doesn’t hold anything like the meaning for me as I didn’t read it until much later (though I did see it in that same spinner rack, when I obviously found something else more compelling). The heroes turned out against two now-married villains, Green Lantern’s Sportsmaster and Wildcat’s Huntress, with the Big Cat making his first post-Golden Age appearance in a fun cameo.
Sadly, nothing came of either pair’s revival in terms of series: though JSA team-ups would carry on for nearly two more decades, the Golden Age revival was already showing signs of running out of steam.
Kashdan and Haney were back in issue 63, teaming Supergirl and Wonder Woman in a story so chauvinistic, condescending, demeaning and flat-out vile that I’m not even going to admit it exists: permanent karmic burden for both of them and the artist.
After that, anything would have been an improvement. What we got was hero vs villain, Batman and Eclipso in a confusing and in parts ridiculous story based on Batman falling for a red-headed heiress, first romantically then as a con, made much worse by the sudden arrival of corny dialogue that could have come straight out of the forthcoming TV series. It was horrendous.
On the other hand, the Flash’s team-up with the Doom Patrol – really as a fill-in for Negative Man – was well done and contained some intelligent points about the team’s dynamics, though a bit fewer uses of the word ‘freaks’ would have been welcome.
Another bizarre but oddly appealing team-up was Metamorpho and the Metal Men in issue 66, followed by another ‘big-guys’ story, with Batman (for the third time) and The Flash. This was, in many ways, an archetypal Haney B&B story, with a life-shattering menace being raised and disposed of in a lazy manner. Batman requires Flash’s help to combat a gang of speedsters in Gotham, but Flash’s speed is killing him, burning his body out from within. The ‘threat’ is negated by the fact this isn’t taking place in Flash’s series, where we might take it seriously. And it’s resolved by a miraculous and implausible ‘cure’ from the villains’ own power source (irony that’s what it is, irony). No way is anything remotely serious going to happen in Brave & Bold.
And it was a sign of the forthcoming times that Batman was back again one issue later, this time alongside Metamorpho, in another piece of nonsense that sees the Caped Crusader converted into Bat-Hulk (don’t ask). The TV series was big, the movie was just coming out, Batman who, two years earlier, was facing cancellation, was on a roll. People wanted to read him.
All told, there were going to be five consecutive issues of Batman teaming up with someone else, such as Green Lantern again, against another, less memorable Time Commander plot, Hawkman in a ridiculous tale about a Collector trying to collect their secret identities, and The Green Arrow in a story about Indian tribes that just about managed to avoid being patronising.
The waters having been tested, and found to be pleasurably warm, The Brave and The Bold reverted to its role in providing random team-ups for two final issues. The first connected the Earth-1 Flash to The Spectre on Earth-2 (Barry’s just visiting, but not his fellow-Flash but rather his ‘old buddy’ – one JSA team-up – the Spectre: besides, everyone on Earth-2 recognises Barry-Flash). The last brought Aquaman and The Atom together in a non-team-up in which each hero got half the story.
And with issue 73, the third phase of B&B came to an end. It’s fourth phase has already been heavily foreshadowed, and this phase would last until the comic’s end, in the distance in issue 200. I’ll cover that loooong phase in the last part of this series.

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.

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


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

JLA Incarnations 4: Too Many Leagues


Take your pick

Like the Detroit League, the Fourth Justice League was a new configuration, reconstituted after the formal dissolution of its predecessor, but continuing in the same series as the League that had gone before. The League is dead, long live the League.
This incarnation started with a twin-cover Spectacular, one for each of the dual line-ups that would be involved. Superman agreed to head up the America branch, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan, in his white-templed phase) the European branch, though in a potentially confusing move for future collectors, the JLE quickly renamed their series Justice League International.
To be honest, I don’t have much to say about this version of the League. I read the Spectacular, which made it plain that the sitcom approach of the past five years was being thoroughly rejected: no Bwah-ha-ha, not United Nations, no Max Lord, the League was doing it for itself. We were going to have respectable, serious superheroing again, and anyone who didn’t understand that would be out on their ear, pretty sharpish.
(Though, at some point of which I am unaware, the United Nations came back into the picture, at least for the main JLA and its Task Force: a re-rejection of UN auspices was an underlying dynamic of the final spin-off title).
As the Helfer/Giffen approach had run its course, reverting to drama was the only viable course for the series to take, but for me the Spectacular concentrated more on establishing what it was not going to be than on what it would do. As a result it was all too penny-plain-tuppence-cheerful for its own good. It seemed to promise an end to all the distinctiveness and personality of the lurid but fun years, without setting up anything of its own to substitute.
And the new League(s) were still operating under the same, indeed more so, conditions that had pushed Conway towards the Detroit League, in that bringing the big guns like Superman and Green Lantern meant operating under the restrictions of whatever was affecting them in their home series.
Even if there was now a greater correspondence in tone between between the world of the League and the rest of the DC Universe, the problem remained. What Superman did under his editor Mike Carlin (which, with four monthly titles, operated as a virtual weekly, with stories flowing between the tightly controlled titles and their even more tightly controlled four separate writer/artist teams) was of far greater importance than anything the League needed him for. So he didn’t last long.
Nor did Hal Jordan. The rapidly deteriorating continuity of the Green Lantern universe was soon at the point where a clean sweep was decided on, removing Hal Jordan by turning him into one of the most monstrous villains of the DC Universe, and bringing in Kyle Rayner as a new, untried Green Lantern who would hopefully become as successful as had Wally West in replacing Barry Allen.
The League became home to any number of b-list and passing characters, just to enable the series to continue with a minimum of disruption.
But it remained popular. How else to explain the fact that this incarnation of the League supported another two spin-off series?
The first of these was Justice League Task Force. Technically, this was not a third force. Instead, it was a special squad, headed by the Martian Manhunter, with Gypsy as its only other full-time regular, taking on covert missions with a variety of League members, to tackle cases where the League could not or should not be seen to be operating.
The actual Third Force was portrayed in Extreme Justice, a breakaway Justice League team only semi-officially accepted in the overall League structure. (The series was actually a replacement for Justice League International and Justice League Quarterly, the latter an over-sized title concentrating on one-off stories of varying, sometimes full-length).
This latest dilution of the franchise was headed by Captain Atom, who had recovered from the disaster that was Armageddon 2001, when it had been intended for him to go renegade and become Monarch, until the clues as to who was to become Monarch were deduced far too easily for suspense and a bodge-up was required. Atom’s team never called itself Extreme Justice, but that was its raison d’etre: refusal of UN backing, proactive and violent pre-response.
So: three Justice Leagues of one sort or another. Three team leaders pulling in different directions (Wonder Woman, J’Onn J’Onzz and Captain Atom). Hordes of minor characters milling around (with all due respect to Australians, the day you bring Tasmanian Devil onto a team, the barrel is being firmly scraped). Task Force even became a kind of Junior JLA, training up the younger heroes.
For me, what symbolises this failed Incarnation is the story of Triumph.
Triumph was created by, of all people, the usually very successful Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn, though he’s most associated with Christopher Priest (nothing to do with the British SF writer, this is veteran scripter Jim Owsley who chose a pen name in complete ignorance of it being in use). As a concept, he’s interesting: Triumph is supposed to be an original hero, one of the first of the Silver Age generation. Triumph was founder and leader of the original Justice League of America on its first mission, but he fell into some kind of timewarp that sent him ten years into the future, and which caused the world to forget him completely.
An interesting set-up that fell flat on several grounds, the first being that Triumph at no time looked or felt like a believable late-Fifties/early-Sixties creation, and secondly due to the fact that the man was a complete and utter jerk, from the ground to the roof and back down the other side of the house. This objection may well only be truly pertinent to those of us who were there at or pretty near to the time, and have the smell of Silver Age heroes in our nostrils, but it does appear that nobody or more recent vintage was particularly enamoured of Triumph either.
But that was how that era of the League came over: Nineties comics, with bad art, bad attitudes, bad costumes and bad ideas.
In the end, the ‘brand’ was spread too thin, the audience drawn in too many directions and the sales went into a downfall. Quality and consistency had long since evaporated, and DC decided enough was enough and swept the board clean. The ending was abrupt, and an in-continuity rationale was only given retrospectively, in the 2001 JLA:Incarnations mini-series: Extreme Justice attack Bialya, a Balkan/middle-eastern country that had featured heavily in both the original Justice League International  and Justice League Europe series’ and take out the superweapons Bialya is re-creating, but as a consequence the UN insists all Justice League teams shut down (and Superman insists Extreme Justice follow suit).
A new Justice League was needed, a better Justice League, and what better than to go back to the basics, to the original Big Seven, and renew the League’s foundations for its Fifth Incarnation.

JLA Incarnations 3: Bwaa-ha-ha!


Justice League International

Of course DC were not going to go without a Justice League title for that long, and with the new policy being to have annual summer crossover events to demonstrate that DC’s Universe was indeed a Universe with all the dots connected, a new Justice League title was planned to start after Legends, during which the new JLA line-up would come together.
The man responsible would be editor Andy Helfer, who would quickly draw in artist/plotter Keith Giffen, who was so keen to work on a Justice League project that he would daily stick his head round Helfer’s door, hiss ‘Jussssticccce League’ and vanish, until the day Helfer told him to come in.
Though it was never publicly stated at the time, Helfer and Giffen wanted to go back to the original concept of the Justice League, starting with a ‘Big 7’ line-up that would replicate the original team. But with Superman, Wonder Woman and The Flash undergoing relaunches and upgrades in the post-Crisis era, that was clearly not possible, although Batman’s editor, Denny O’Neil, took pity on the duo and authorised them to use the Caped Crusader.
Even so, Helfer and Giffen were faced with a seemingly insoluble problem: that until the every eve of Legends itself, they had no idea exactly what characters they would have for their new Justice League.
It’s a comics shibboleth that a good story can only be good for its character. A good Flash story will not make a good Batman story, any more than it will make a good Green Lantern story. The same thing goes for team books: once upon a time, Gardner Fox could write dialogue you could put in any character’s mouth, be they Wonder Woman or Green Arrow. But not any more: team characters now had personalities, which meant that teams had to have dynamics, had to have some underlying purpose that distinguished them from the next crowd of brightly coloured zeebs, milling around.
What Helfer and Giffen needed was a format, a format that would work irrespective of the characters they would actually have to play with, a format that could not be the bland, unformed, uncommitted approach that would normally be implied. Like so many others in those days, they took their inspiration from Alan Moore.
Moore was riding at a commercial high, having taken American comics by storm with his Swamp Thing, and even more so with the immense, game-changing Watchmen. Part of Moore’s creed in the latter was that the kind of intensive personality required to put on Halloween costumes and go out in the streets fighting crime, hand to hand, was not conducive to playing nicely with others, and that teams were psychologically improbable, given the egos involved.
Helfer and Giffen couldn’t take that thesis at face value as it would destroy any idea of a Justice League, but they could adapt it. Yes, superheroes had extreme personalities, yes, they did not automatically subordinate themselves to others in team conditions. On the other hand, there was rich material there for an essentially comic approach to a team: outwardly serious and purposeful, but behind the scenes a mass of clashing egos and demands, a clubhouse in which the players could let off steam among their peers in a way that their public persona prevented them from doing.
Editor and plotter had their idea: all they needed was a line-up, and they would be fit to go as soon as Legends finished. Marc DeMatteis was brought in to write dialogue, a stream of conciousness gig from a writer usually associated with spiritual themes, and newcomer Kevin McGuire, blessed with an enviable flair for expressions – a must for this gig – as well as a clear, smooth line, to pencil over Giffen’s layouts.
Even at this early stage, it’s clear that what Helfer/Giffen were planning was a superhero sitcom, but to begin with, they worked with a strict, and dramatic underpinning, and with structural plans that led to a big change after only seven issues.
The League’s third incarnation debuted as simply Justice League – no America, no nothing. The initial line-up was a mish-mash of characters from all over, few of whom had any connection with the original League. The Martian Manhunter was again central, and Black Canary returned (albeit, in that redesigned cover-all costume that was far more practical and non-sexist, but nobody liked it). And Batman, newly wrought as grim’n’gritty and obsessive, to try to keep everybody in order.
But the rest of the team consisted of Captain Marvel (albeit for only two issues), Doctor Fate, Blue Beetle, Mister Miracle (with Oberon) and, as in-house Green Lantern for this recension, Guy Gardner. And the new, female, Asian, started as a villain Dr Light was offered JL membership by a mysterious figure who seemed to be quite authoritative but who had no official connection with the new League. As yet.
It made for a busy six months, as the League members jockeyed for position amongst each other, Batman throwing his weight around effectively, Guy Gardner throwing his weight around ineffectually, Black Canary getting all feminist, Blue Beetle already starting out as the lightweight, play-it-for-laughs figure, a role into which he was irrevocably sealed by the introduction into the League of Dan Jurgens’ Booster Gold.
This was courtesy of that mysterious background funder, millionaire philanthropist businessman, Maxwell Lord. Max was determined to take control of the League, to extend their remit and their facilities, though the fact that he was less than open about it hinted at ulterior motives, that would come out at the end of the first year.
But what Max was doing, behind the scenes, and with the cooperation of the Martian Manhunter, was building this League for a new role, an official role, a global role, which was revealed in issue 7, as the series was renamed Justice League International, and the team came under the sponsorship of the United Nations, with Headquarters in every major city (even Russia) in the form of Embassies.
This led to the very funny issue 8, ‘Moving Day’, which was a non-action issue focussing on the JLI moving into its Paris Embassy, Booster hitting (extremely unsuccessfully) on an attractive French lady who turns out to be their chief of staff, and Beetle coming out with the first recorded, (in)famous “Bwaa-ha-ha!”
It was a fresh, smartarse, funny and lively approach, and it was also a very popular one. So much so that two years into the Third League’s life, DC would capitalise on the series’ popularity by spinning off a second Justice League title.
Just as the original had been spun out of Legends, the spin-off was born out of another summer crossover, Invasion. The justification was that the League had bulked up so much in leading the fight against Earth’s multifarious invaders that it had too many members to function efficiently, so a bunch of them were sent off to base themselves at the Paris Embassy, where they operated as Justice League Europe.
Within a couple of issues, the original series would change its logo (and much later, its official title in the indicia) to Justice League America.
The JLE operated to a broadly similar formula, with Gerard Jones scripting off Giffen’s plots, relying to a large extent on the superficially inherent absurdity of Americans in France, ignorant of culture, inheritance and the language. There was a four part crossover between the two teams, but on the whole, the European branch of the League – led by Captain Atom, at least until Armageddon 2001, tended to have more serious adventures.
Though the story in which they relocated to London, after completely destroying the Paris embassy, was spectacularly hilarious, featuring as it did a wonderful take-off of Basil Fawlty as the traditional British hero, the Beefeater.
The Helfer/Giffen League lasted five years, most of which it spent as a successful, indeed hip series, in on the joke. The number of Leaguers passing through, at one point or another, was legion. Max Lord himself even developed a superpower, that of being able to ‘push’ people’s minds along in the direction he, but not they, wanted, although we always wound up with a nosebleed as a consequence.
But the rot was inevitable, and visible as early as this League’s second year, when Earth was menaced by the might of Manga Khan, shopper supreme. Khan, a would-be megalomaniac who’d taken courses in unnecessary shouting and expository speeches, headed a consortium that wanted to trade with Earth, and if Earth wouldn’t trade, they’d take what they wanted anyway. A good and silly idea, executed with silliness and lots of jokes, it was nevertheless a perfect demonstration that a superhero sitcom could not go very far.
The problem with comedy is that it always has to top itself, to be fresh and new. It always needs new subjects, new things to poke fun at, satirise etc. The funnier things were, the funnier the next thing had to be. Booster and Beetle as money-chasing morons. The Wally West Flash as a weak-willed, girl-crazy moron. The original Hawkman’s pomposity and disgust in face of the looser League standards. These things could work for a time, but they would always have to be accelerated, and since superheroes are, in themselves, an inherently unrealistic and absurd construction, there is not far to go before the line is crossed between satire and silliness.
This probably reached its nadir in G’Nort. G’Nort Esplanade G’Neesmacher was a Green Lantern. A dog-like Green Lantern. A dumbbell of a Green Lantern. A Green Lantern by virtue of a powerful, influential and indulgent Uncle who got him a ring and a completely empty space sector to protect. Unfortunately, the state of the space sector exactly reflected G’Nort’s head and, during the Manga Khan story, he was found in Earth’s space. And he stayed around.
Then again, maybe it was the island of KooeyKooeyKooey, and Beetle and Buster’s vacation hideout for supervillains scam. Or maybe the short-lived Justice League Antarctica. No, it was definitely G’Nort.
The silliness was unsustainable, not that Helfer/Giffen cared. The Justice League, in both of its branches, was still part of an essentially serious Universe that DC was anxious to promote as cohesive and inter-connected. The Third League deliberately played at odds with every serious portrayal of its characters in their own titles, and got away with it because of its extreme popularity. But the disconnect would, indeed could, only get greater. JLE introduced an other-dimensional Walt Disney figure, which was viable in itself but who was called Mitch Wackey, thus drawing attention to the febrile lack of rationality that was making the two titles increasingly difficult to sustain.
Nothing lasts forever. After five years, Helfer/Giffen/De Matteis were burning out. The bloom was off the rose of their comedy. Sales were falling back, the Justice League was a joke, and an increasingly non-functional joke.
As a parting measure, the creative team ended their run with a fifteen part crossover entitled ‘Breakdowns’, alternating between A and E. Actually, it was a sequence of three five-issue stories, as nobody had the stamina for a story running the full-length. Silly figures like Mitch Wackey were destroyed, brutally, the Silver Sorceress was killed – primarily, it seemed, because no-one liked her costume’s colour scheme – and the League(s) lost their UN sanction and funding. The Third League was over, but the series continued. There would always be a Justice League, and now we would be looking at the Fourth.

JLA Incarnations 2: Justice League Detroit


I’m no fan of Gerry Conway as a writer. To me, he started off with a clear and precocious talent, but rapidly preferred to write regular series in which his tendency towards sloppiness could be mostly overlooked. The end of the first Justice League and the career of the second were, to me, characteristic of his work. And there is a strong element of the change being made for Conway’s personal convenience.
From 1980 onwards, from the success of Wolfman and Perez’s New Teen Titans, with its first successful merger of Marvel-style dynamism and conflict with DC’s traditional, classic style, the company as a whole began, at long last, to take seriously the parameters of a DC Universe/Multiverse. Given the amount of time Conway had spent at Marvel (where he had been editor-in-Chief, albeit for about three weeks), this was a natural move. However, it was to have unwelcome consequences for him in respect of the Justice League.
Where, once upon a time, a Batman, Superman, Flash etc. adventure involving a serious departure from the DC status quo would be explained away as happening at a different time than the rest of the company’s stories, the adoption of the principle of a Universe denied this convenient explanation. What affected a character in their home mag now HAD to be contemporary.
With Conway also leading the Justice League in the direction of longer-term continuity, it became irritating and frustrating to him that he was having to adjust his plans around developments in a character’s own series that made them unavailable to the League for various periods. The classic example of this was The Flash: with his title planned for cancellation in the forthcoming Crisis on Infinite Earths, Cary Bates commenced a long storyline based on the Flash being tried for the murder of the Reverse-Flash, which took the Scarlet Speedster out of the picture.
Conway began pushing for a radical change to the Justice League, a membership consisting only of characters under his control. In 1983, this was agreed, and Conway set to bringing about the end of the first Justice League, along with artist Chuck Patton.
In some ways it was a typically Conway ending, superficially dramatic as the League repels an invasion by White Martians, preceded by the return of the Martian Manhunter from an exile that had started back in 1969, when he was considered to be an outmoded, unnecessary character (repeat after me: There is no such thing as a bad character). It’s a close-run thing, with the League taken by surprise, despite having had opportunities to learn about the planned invasion at an earlier stage.
Aquaman, who had been through several painful experiences, with an enemy killing his infant son, his wife Mera leaving him to return to her home dimension and being effectively deposed as King of Atlantis, blows up at his team-mates, who have all allowed personal concerns and demands to distract their attention, thus exacerbating the crisis. When he demands they commit themselves to full-time activity with the League, they refuse. So Arthur invokes a previously unknown provision of the League’s charter, enabling any of the founding members to irrevocably dissolve it if they believe the League is no longer serving its true purpose. Thus the first Justice League ended, not in action or drama, but as a bureaucratic exercise.
So Aquaman forms a new League, comprised only of heroes who are willing to commit themselves to full-time existence as JLA members. These consist of himself and J’Onn J’Onzz, the Elongated Man and Zatanna, plus four new, young, untried characters. These were Steel, an updating of Conway’s short-lived World War 2 Captain America-lite, Vixen, an intended debutante whose career was wrecked by DC Implosion cancellation before she even appeared, Vibe, a break-dancing Puerto Rican who was every bit as racially stereotypical as you’d imagine, and Gypsy, a barefoot fifteen year old orphan who could turn invisible.
With the League’s Satellite HQ having been (conveniently) destroyed during the would-be invasion, the new League needed a new base. In keeping with its stated ambition to be nearer to the people it existed to protect, the new team found itself being gifted a base, courtesy of Steel – or rather, the original Steel, Conway’s first creation, grandfather to the new Leaguer.
This consisted of a converted industrial bunker in Hank Heywood’s home town of Detroit. Which of course led almost immediately to the Second League being dubbed Justice League Detroit.
The problems with Justice League Detroit were manifold. It’s adoption of a base in an Industrial Bunker in Detroit imposed an unwanted mundane aspect upon the League, and created a sense of limits by associating them specifically with one American location. Filling half the team with new, untried, indeed somewhat amateurish characters created a whole new dynamic that Conway thought lent an additional dimension to the series, but which the audience rejected as simply inappropriate for the flagship team of the DC ‘Universe’.
And the series’ credibility was irrevocably holed within a few months of its start when Aquaman, who had made such a song and dance of the League having to be comprised of full-time, committed heroes, dedicated solely to its purposes and eschewing all personal considerations, Aquaman, who had dissolved the first league when it had refused to completely ignore personal commitments, Aquaman left the Detroit League to try to get back together with Mera. His wife.
To put it bluntly, the Detroit League was an attempt to rip-off the dynamics and atmosphere of the X-Men, without any understanding of what made the X-Men appeal in the first place, and even less understanding of what was the appeal of the Justice League itself. The DC web-site indicates that the Detroit League appeared in only 34 comics in total – and that includes retrospectives live the the actual JLA Incarnations series.
With sales dropping, and Crisis on Infinite Earths starting up, without a Justice League worth the name of it, DC decided to cancel the series. After 257 issues, for the first time since 1960, there was no Justice League of America.
That wasn’t quite the end of Justice League Detroit. The DC Universe started without an active JLA, but it still existed in theory. DC wanted to launch a new Justice League, and chose to do so on the back of Legends, the first of the annual crossover events that would demonstrate to the world that DC did have a functioning, coherent Universe, so there. But to launch the Third League, the Second had to be definitively exorcised.
So, as part of the crossovers associated with Legends, Justice League of America was restored for a four-issue mini-series, extending its numbering to 261.
Legends was based on the premise that a demagogic orator, G Gordon Godfrey, had successfully turned the American public against superheroes, leading to a Presidential Order banning their operating. It was an interesting theme, with two basic flaws: the first that it was far too obvious that Godfrey was actually the New God, Glorious Godfrey, a minion of Darkseid, and secondly that as the entire creative staff were Americans who’d gotten into the business because they were superhero fans, not one of them could conceive for a second that anyone might have the remotest doubt about how wonderful they are, so were unable to create any conviction over the fickle public turning its head.
But in the meantime, long term League foe Professor Ivo was stalking the four junior members of Justice League Detroit, one per issue of the ‘mini-series’. The ‘mini-series’ did not feature Conway: instead it was written by J M De Matteis, who would be heavily involved in the next incarnation, with art from Luke McDonnell.
Fates split on strict gender lines: the boys were killed, the girls fled. With a heavy heart, the Martian Manhunter officially shut down the League.
The ground was cleared.

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.