I may not read comics much, these days, but I keep up with the news, and a couple of nights ago, I learned that the comic book writer Len Wein had died, aged 69, of complications following surgery.
Wein had been a mainstay of the mainstream comic book industry, as writer, editor and then again writer, for nearly fifty years. A lifelong friend of fellow writer and editor Marv Wolfman, the pair were among that first serious wave of fans-turned-writers/artists who began to transform the industry at the start of the Seventies, and what’s more, the pair did it at crusty old DC, where, in 1972, Len Wein co-created the first of two iconic characters, Swamp Thing.
I’ve written about the Swamp Thing at length elsewhere, and Wein’s original version of Swampy, as a man who lost his humanity to become a monster who was yet more human than those who reacted to him, was a powerful vision, and one that Wein returned to in the last decade, writing his character again after a forty year break.
In the meantime, Wein’s original version was subsumed with Alan Moore’s revised vision, in which the Swamp Thing was transformed from a man turned into a plant to a plant that erroneously thought itself to have been a man, paving the way for a further transformation into an avatar of nature itself. Though I’d loved and collected the original series, I was and am still even more impressed with Moore’s version. But whilst Moore’s career on Swamp Thing and at DC generally is indelibly associated with editor Karen Berger, it was not she who offered the job of writing Swampy to Moore, but the comic’s previous editor, Len Wein, who had the creative generosity to allow his own creation to be torn up like that.
Wein’s other, and substantially more famous creation, came at Marvel, where he worked for most of the Seventies, and was for a time it’s Editor-in-Chief. This was an offhand creation, brought into The Incredible Hulk, just because a Canadian superhero was wanted. He was just a no-mark one-off, until Wein was asked to revive the long moribund X-Men as an international team, and Wein brought in his Canadian creation: Wolverine.
So: Wolverine and the new X-Men, on top of Swamp Thing. If Wein didn’t go on to create anyone else of that magnitude, and if each of these achieved their greatest successes under other hands, the fact remains that without Len Wein there would have been no Swamp Thing, no Wolverine, no massively successful X-Men franchise, and maybe even no career for Chris Claremont, or success outside Britain for Alan Moore.
By the end of the Seventies, Wein was back at DC, where he now worked rather as an editor than a writer. Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s The New Teen Titans is rightly credited with restoring the fortunes, credibility and morale of DC Comics after the disastrous Implosion of 1978: Wein was it’s editor. Swamp Thing‘s return after seven years in limbo was under Wein’s purview, and it was his lengthy discussions with Wolfman over DC’s complex and convoluted Multiversal history that led eventually to Wein editing another Wolfman/Perez project, Crisis on Infinite Earths.
He was also the editor who first started another landmark Alan Moore series, Watchmen.
I’m making Wein’s career highlights sound very much a thing of the past, but though he continued to work regularly, in comics and television, after leaving DC in the early Nineties, these are the accomplishments for which I, and fans of my generation, will recall. I will also remember Wein for making the Phantom Stranger one of my favourite ever characters, and for writing him, in issues 14 – 26, as far back as 1973-5, better than anyone else before or since.
There are aspects of Wein’s writing that, celebrated at the time, have come to be less respected as time went on. The original ten-page Swamp Thing story, co-created with the late Berni Wrightson, and as perfect a gem of compressed writing and emotion as I have ever read, is nevertheless ill-worn in its florid, indeed purple prose, which was so characteristic of Wein’s early style.
Nevertheless, he was a major figure, and his career was worthy of respect throughout.
But if nothing else, I owe Len Wein for a single comic. As I’ve related before, I grew out of comics in 1970, nearing my fifteenth birthday. Four years later, waiting to buy a post-haircut Mars Bar in a newsagents, I glanced at a rack of American comics and, out of mild curiosity, had a riffle. I ended up buying Justice League of America 107, which changed my life. I cannot begin to count what I’ve spent on comics in the forty-three years plus since, how many thousands have passed through my hands, the enjoyment, fascination, imagination I’ve experienced.
Len Wein wrote that comic. He did that for me. About a decade later, I met him for the only time, at a Convention in Britain. I got him to sign Justice League of America 107, told him it was responsible for getting me back into comics, and he shied away, as if I was going to ask him to pay back all the money he’d been responsible for me shelling out.
I need to thank him again today. Thank you, Len Wein. You may have acted as if you owed me lots, but it is I who owe you, even up to all the words on this blog. You started something that became unstoppable, and I thank you. We thank you. Give our regards to the Phantom Stranger as he leads you to where the good ones go.
If you were to ask me the page content of the average, 2016, 32 page comic book (or ‘floppy’ as they are commonly called now), I would have no idea. Off the top of my head, I would guess twenty. That is, twenty pages of art and story, i.e., content, out of a thirty-two page package.
That’s not a good percentage but, believe me, it’s not the worst it’s ever been.
When it was first invented, in the Thirties, the American comic book consisted of 64 pages for a dime. Due to War-time paper restrictions, that package was successively reduced to (briefly) 56 pages, then 48 pages, before being reduced even further, in the Fifties, to its present format of 32 pages. All still for that original 10c.
When I first discovered American comics, in the early Sixties, comic books were taking that first, tentative steps into increasing their prices, gouging their customers for an extra 2 cents. At that point, the average DC comic consisted of approximately 24 pages of story and art, a full 75% of the package.
It took nearly the whole decade before the next increase was put through, this time to 15c, but the Oil-Inflation Seventies saw increase after increase, at intervals of eighteen months to two years. In the meantime, the companies desperately attempted to head off, or at least delay such increases, but cutting costs. Artists no longer drew originals on boards two-up, but were restricted to 1.5 up (i.e., twice, or one and a half times the size of the actual printed art).
Paper quality was cut, to cheaper, more porous stock on which lines and colours soaked in and ran. Steel printing plates gave way to cheaper and easier to engrave plastic printing plates, which blurred and distorted lines long before the print run was completed. And page counts were cut. Fewer pages, lower payments to writers and artists paid by the number of pages completed and bought.
DC had tried to get out in front of the curve in 1971, jumping their comics directly from 15c to 25c whilst increasing the size of the package, to 40 pages, the extra pages entirely devoted to content, in the form of reprints: those in Jack Kirby’s ‘Fourth World’ books were prime Golden Age Kirby and Simon material.
This plan was undercut by one of Martin Goodman’s last, shark-like tricks at Marvel. The plan was for everybody to increase the package at the same time, which Goodman did, but only for one month, cutting back immediately to 32 pages at 20c, far faster than DC, with its more sclerotic management structure, to react. DC struggled back to 32 pages at 20c, no reprints, but the content went down to 20 pages, then eighteen and finally, by mid-decade, seventeen.
There was another attempt on DC’s part to change the deteriorating status quo. In 1974, they went off on another bigger package run.
This was the year of the 50c comic, which was just coming in as I rediscovered American comics and started buying them again. Basically, it was a rerun of the 25c experiment writ large: for 50c, the reader got a squarebound, 100 page package, containing the standard 20 pages of new art, plus a massive wodge of reprints, varying as to the title in question. The enhanced Justice League of America was the first place in which I was able to read Golden Age Justice Society reprints.
It lasted a year, during which the price increased to 60c, before the experiment was carried off, and it was all back to the bog-standard floppy at eighteen pages. As an experiment, I enjoyed it, though it was very dependant on the choice of reprints.
The best of that era was, undoubtedly, Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson’s Manhunter, the new back-up in Detective. It lasted seven issues, six of them as a back-up strip to the Caped Crusader, and if it hadn’t been for the Fifty Cent Comic, I’d have never noticed it.
Detective Comics was in another sales trough in 1973. Julius Schwarz, the ‘Now Look’ Batman and the TV series had saved Bruce Wayne from cancellation in 1964, but the bubble had burst and, in an effort to drum up sales with a new approach, Archie Goodwin was brought in as editor (and writer) of Detective, which was down to a bi-monthly schedule.
Upfront, Goodwin went for unusual offbeat stories, by artists not normally associated with Batman, but for a back-up, he wanted a complete contrast: a brightly costumed, globe-trotting hero with a strong martial flavour. With the then-newcomer Simonson, Goodwin devised Manhunter as a seven page, very taut back-up, tacking the character onto the back of the Forties hero of the same name.
It was a massive creative success, as witness the number of times it has been reprinted since. In addition to buying the original run, I have had no less than three different collections. It won industry plaudits by the ton, and it stands up beautifully four decades on, in a way that the vast majority of Seventies comics just don’t.
It didn’t do anything for Detective‘s sales, however. A year on, and unhappy with management at DC, Goodwin relinquished the editorship and writing, and moved on to Marvel. Julius Schwartz, resuming as editor, had no interest in continuing Manhunter, and Goodwin was able to get agreement for his final issue to be a 20 page crossover with Batman, providing a definitive end to Paul ‘Manhunter’ Kirk’s story. It was that ending, so rare and precious, that made Manhunter the creative success it was.
Had I not seen, and been intrigued by the first Detective fifty center, I would probably never have seen the series. Goodwin’s first issue, with the debut Manhunter back-up, was the final 32 page floppy, and I was lucky to scrabble round and fnd a still-available copy, which was nearly as difficult to ensure as it had been in the Sixties.
No doubt I would have heard about it later, maybe bought one of the reprints at some point, but I have always found a deeper attachment to those series I have had to accumulate, in monthly instalments, the story-front creeping along, offering endless speculation about what might follow. Reading the whole thing at once, cover to cover, no delay at any of the cliffhangers, is never quite as enthralling.
So the year was up, the Fifty/Sixty Centers vanished and DC went back to floppies.
Seventeen pages was the nadir though. once upon a time, it might have almost been a luxury: throughout the Fifties, and well into the Sixties, most DC comics offered two stories per issue, both of around twelve pages in length. Its writers were veterans, long used to the professional demands of telling a clear, concise story, with a beginning, middle and end, in twelve pages or thereabouts, so seventeen pages ought to have been easily manageable.
But this was not the Sixties any more, and that generation of writers were no longer writing comics. Their replacements had been brought up, drawn in to the industry, by Marvel Comics, who concentrated on book-length stories to a greater extent, and on ongoing stories, in which the three unities were rarely within the same covers. The writers of the Seventies wanted to write comics like that. They had never had the training to produce short stories. They neither wanted to nor were capable of writing satisfying stories in only seventeen pages.
One writer was comfortable with the form, however, Denny O’Neil, who wrote perhaps my favourite page of comics from the Seventies.
It was a bog-standard Batman adventure of the era, drawn by Ernie Chan, and the villain was the Riddler. Batman frustrated him a couple of times, so the Riddler headed back to his new secret HQ, at Gotham Zoo. The page in question covered a single scene.
The Riddler approaches the Zoo entrance concealed by trenchcoat and hat pulled down. He’s frustrated, planning on fleeing, his body language is hunched, withdrawn, downbeat. In short, he is not a happy bunny. However, he is waylaid, by a boy aged about eight, trying to catch his attention. The Riddler is in no mood for such things and tells the kid to beat it, cram, but he blurts out that all he wants to do is tell him a Riddle.
Mr Nigma transforms in an instant. he’s down on his kness, level with the kid’s face, holding his shoulders and insisting, “Yes, please do! Please do!” “Do you want me to tell you the story of the bed?” The kid asks. “go on, go on,” the Riddler says, barely able to contain himself. “I can’t,” the kid says, with the kind of perfect cheesy grin of a little boy who’s come up with something funny all by himself and just has to share it, “It hasn’t been made up yet!”
The final panel shows the kid approaching his parents. “Dad, look what the nice man gave me,” he says. “A $100 bill?” the dad gasps. In the background, The Riddler is walking through the Zoo gates, but his body language is transformed. He’s striding out, head up and back, almost strutting.
It’s a magical page. In structural terms, it’s completely redundant and irrelevant. The story could be told with the other sixteen pages without the smallest of changes, and this scene would not be missed, nor any gap felt. As such, with only seventeen pages available, it could be described as poor writing.
And yet it’s brilliant, because it’s the only page of the script on which anybody does something human, that is not purely and simply a function of the plot. And this was from a very early point, at which I had not even begun to get bored with superhero dynamics and fights. Which is why I can remember each panel of that page, whilst I have no recollection of anything from any of the other sixteen pages.
It wasn’t tenable, however. Seventeen crappy pages with crappy stories and crappy art and the price going up five or ten cents a year, year-on-year. So DC shifted out Carmine Infantino as Publisher and brought in an outsider, Jeanette Kahn, a novice in comics but a children’s magazine publishing success.
Who, once she had settled herself into the Publisher’s chair, came up with a brilliant idea to move forward and secure comics’ future.
Bigger comics. With more pages.
It was known as the DC Explosion. It was planned as a massive uplift to the DC line, introducing new characters and new titles, but the heart of it was that, in order to avoid the awkward jump from 35c to 40c, DC’s comics would hurdle all the way to 50c, but for a 40 page package, of which the additional eight pages would all be of content: story and art, and all of it new: no reprints.
It wasn’t exactly original, except for the fact that the extra pages would be all new. Some titles would add them to the previous page count: the Justice League of America would escape the straitjacket of seventeen pages for the relative freedom of twenty-five, but other titles would add back-ups. Old characters unable to sustain series would be revived, new concepts and ideas would be tried with the support of the lead feature.
It was bold, it was exciting, it was one of the biggest fucking disasters mainstream comics has ever suffered.
Because the week the first titles of the Explosion were launched, the sales figures came in at Warner Brothers, and they were bad. Far worse than had been expected. The word came down from on high with the speed and force of a Jovian thunderbolt, and the word was No. No more forty page 50c comics, get back to 32 page floppies, and cut the number of titles. Including scheduled comics which never actually were published, almost half the entire DC line was cancelled in an afternoon, reducing the line to its ‘core’ titles. Everything remotely experimental vanished in a day. The bottom half of the line ceased to be tenable and went into the hole. DC, who had been big with publicity about it’s great leap forward, which had been building its stable of creators, suffered a massive blow to its credibility that the majority at the time thought it would never recover from.
Down the street, at Marvel, its recently installed Editor-in-Chief, Jim Shooter, had been sniffy about the whole thing anyway, dismissive of the idea that the fans would even notice an increase of eight pages, nearly half as much story again. Former editor-in-chief, Marv Wolfman, set about discouraging eager new talent from getting into comics: in five years time, there wouldn’t be any.
We know now that he was wrong, and ironically Wolfman would play a major role in leading DC and, in its wake, comics out of the slough of despond of what inevitably became known as the DC Implosion. Page counts went up, despite Shooter’s arrogance. So did paper quality, and costs, the latter being inevitable given that the only way of further reducing the cost of producing a 1977 floppy would have been to hire a hall and have people pay to sit there whilst the writer read the script and the artist did chalk-talk sketches on a blackboard borrowed from the local high school.
Yet in that era of desperation, when the death of comics was being predicted almost every other week, there were still comics of quality that prevailed over the conditions in which they were created. That was the era of Manhunter, and that was when good writers could come up with pages like the Riddler being made happy by a kid’s riddle he’d never heard before.
They didn’t even need seventeen pages to produce delight that’s lasted with me for forty years, proving yet again that there is something more to life than ‘never mind the quality, feel the width’.
Justice League of America 183, “Crisis on New Genesis, or Where have all the New Gods Gone?”/Justice League of America 184, “Crisis between Two Earths, or Apokalips Now!”/Justice League of America 185, “Crisis on Apokalips, or Darkseid Rising!” Written by Gerry Conway, art by Dick Dillin (pencils 183), George Perez (pencils 185-185) and Frank McLaughlin (inks), edited by Len Wein.
As a variation on their annual get-together, the Justice League and Justice Society decide to hold meetings on both planets, with four members of each team crossing over to the other Earth. These are Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and Firestorm of the League, and Doctor Fate, Power Girl, The Huntress and Wonder Woman of the Society.
However, all eight find themselves together on New Genesis, the home of the New Gods. Only Superman has been here before, but whilst he explains things to the rest – Wonder Woman is very aggressive about the idea of ‘New’ Gods – the headstrong Firestorm flies off to explore and encounters the feral Orion in his Apokoliptian form.
The heroes come to the rescue, overcoming Orion, only to be confronted by a group led by Metron, including Mr Miracle, Big Barda and Oberon. They explain that Apokalips, aided by the Earth-2 Injustice Society, has kidnapped the entire population of New Genesis (saving the sextet who were on a mission in space) and turned them into mindless slaves. Metron had overriden the Transmatter machines to bring the heroes to their assistance.
The group travels by Boom Tube to Apokalips where, with Metron remaining behind to co-ordinate matters, heroes and Gods split up into four teams.
Batman, Mr Miracle and the Huntress are sent ahead to scout (Miracle recaps that Darkseid himself is dead, killed in the final issue (20) of Return of the New Gods, a revival picking up the numbering of the original Jack Kirby series, also written by Gerry Conway).
Doctor Fate, Green Lantern and Oberon battle their way into the Central Barracks, trying to find prisoners: Green Lantern is shocked at what he finds.
Superman, Big Barda and Wonder Woman force their way into Granny Goodness’s Orphanage.
And at a construction project, Firestorm, Orion and Power Girl find the Injustice Society (here consisting of the Fiddler, the Shade and the Icicle) engaged in bringing Darkseid back to life!
End of part 1.
Orion leads an immediate attack on the Injustice Society. It is the Fiddler’s music that is powering the Recreator, but even after his colleagues are defeated, he is able to use his violin to overcome the heroes, and return to his task.
Underneath Granny Goodness’s Orphanage, the child rescued from her soldiers leads Superman, Wonder Woman and Big Barda to the headquarters of a guerilla army of children, led by Crimson, whose automatic suspicions are quickly overcome by Barda talking to her about concepts totally alien to her: love and trust.
Another of the children, Playto, a ‘multi-cog’ recaps for them Darkseid causing an animate version of himself to appear to the three villains on Earth-2. True to form, the new Injustice Society is already betraying itself until Darkseid overcomes them and bends them to his will. To find out more, the heroes get Crimson to lead them in search of Granny Goodness herself.
Meanwhile, at the Central Barracks, Green Lantern is found making desperate, almost panicky attempts to free Izaya, High-Father, from his chains. His power ring is ineffective but Doctor Fate’s magic releases High-Father, as GL explains how he immediately identified Izaya with his own masters, the Guardians: hence his reaction.
At the Imperial Palace, the team of Batman, the Huntress and Mr Miracle are till working their way in. Miracle gets there first, and is horrified to learn of Darkseid’s full plan: the New Genesisians have been kidnapped to build Darkseid’s Recreation Machine but Darkseid means to do more that return to life: he plans to transfer Apokalips into the Earth-2 Universe, where there are no Old or New Gods to oppose him. And if he does, Earth-2 will be destroyed!
End of Part 2.
Matron, who is monitoring everything, recaps the story so far, but regrets that he cannot intervene personally.
In the Imperial Palace, Darkseid returns in body. He muses upon his brief period spent in ‘death’ and how it weakened him by causing him, however momentarily, to value life. The Injustice Society seek their reward, with the Icicle boasting of how he has captured Orion, Firestorm and Power Girl in a block of ice.
But by laying hands on Darkseid’s own son, the villains are dishonoured: Darkseid uses the Omega Force to transport them to prison, though he leaves Orion in captivity. However, the soldiers who take the block of ice away are ambushed by Batman, the Huntress and Mr Miracle.
On the surface, Doctor Fate, Green Lantern and Oberon are taking Izaya to a destination he seeks. He reveals Darkseid’s full plan to them en route. Whilst Fate and GL battle a squad of Para-Demons, High-Father uses his powers to defend Oberon and himself but collapses, weaker than he had imagined himself to be.
In the Orphanage, Crimson leads Superman, Wonder Woman and Big Barda to Granny Goodness. Granny escapes the first two, but Barda knows the secret passages as well as she does.
Back to the Imperial Palace where the frozen trio have been released. Orion flies off to confront his father, with Firestorm and Power Girl in tow, the others proceed to locate the Injustice Society in their Punishment Block: they need the Fiddler to free all the New Genesisians. Having done so, they lead the New Gods to rescue Izaya and the other battling heroes, who are in danger of being overcome.
Metron decides to interfere at last. Orion confronts Darkseid, though it’s Firestorm who channels his Omega-Force back at the Tyrant of Apokolips. But they are too late: the Recreation Gun fires – yet instead of aiming at Apokolips, the beam targets the Imperial Palace, targetting Darkseid, destroying him again. It is Metron who altered its circuits.
Two planets remain to be rebuilt. But the Justice League and Justice Society are free to go home.
* * * * *
Though it was not apparent at the time,1980 was the year it began to change back for DC, whose confidence and credibility was still in tatters after the 1977 ‘Implosion’. It was not Justice League of America that had anything to do with it, still less the Justice Society, whose series in Adventure ended a month after the previous team-up. Once again, they were dependant upon the annual team-up for any exposure.
For the third time, the annual team-up was expanded to three issues and, for the second time it was a case of bloat. Bloat, and a new formula that, by 1980, had not so much been perfected as ossified: third force, check, very limited number of participants from each team, check (four from each side on this occasion), lumpen story with minimal real plot and lots of undistinguished fighting, check, oh check indeed.
Ross Andru had already moved on as editor, and the post had been inherited by Len Wein, six years after he had left his role as scripter. It wouldn’t usher in a substantial change, not with Conway as scripter, going about things in a slightly mechanical manner, but it would at least relieve the series of the desperate urge to ‘shake things up’ that had led to the previous year’s unfortunate effort.
But the greater change lay in the loss of Dick Dillin, twelve years the Justice League’s penciller. Dillin had made his debut on the first part of the 1968 team-up and his swansong on the series was the first part of this 1980 effort: after drawing two and a half pages of the second part, Dillin died of a heart attack. Excluding reprint issues, he had drawn all but two of the 120 issues (and he had drawn framing sequences for one of those).
With so little of the second part drawn, it was decided that it would not be disrespectful to Dillin to have the entire issue drawn from scratch by new penciller George Perez, with McLaughlin remaining as inker.
Ironically, in the same month as Perez took over Justice League of America, DC published the first issue of a new series also pencilled by Perez, and written by Marv Wolfman. The New Teen Titans, DC’s first success in the fan-market, was to guide the company back to health.
Given that Perez is, and always has been, a very fast, very detailed penciller, whose pages are, if anything, overloaded with information, why does his Justice League look like a cartoon? Unless he was instructed to draw very simplistically, to minimise the transition in art styles between Dillin and himself – which I think unlikely for reasons I will come to shortly – the only possible explanation I can come up with is McLaughlin’s inks.
Compare a page of Justice League of America 184 with a page of the contemporaneous New Teen Titans 1, inked by the much more sympathetic Romeo Tanghal and the difference is amazing. Tanghal is neat and tidy, faithful to the detail, bringing to Perez’s work the crispness of Dick Giordano at his best, but leavened by a subtle softness, a smoothness to the inking line that rounds edges by that slight but visible degree.
Yet Perez doesn’t compromise on his compositions: there’s a potentially stunning page featuring a vertical shot down the centre of a multi-level sinkhole that Dillin would never have attempted, but which looks flat. There is no real sense of depth to the image, as printed. And as Len Wein was instrumental in gradually drawing Perez away from Marvel, it seems highly unlikely he would have been offered the Justice League and then urged to simplify everything.
Yet his very first page, a beautifully composed splash centred upon the re-emergent Darkseid, the heroes are resolutely flat, without shading, or depth, with the simplest of indications of the barest number of muscles, with everything else eliminated and uniformly thick lines: the effect is similar to looking at old adverts for the TV cartoon Super-Friends.
As for the story, Conway should be credited with the first appearance of a story-telling technique that is standard practice nowadays. Like Fox, he breaks his heroes up into teams, obeying the clichéd requirement that each team consist of one Leaguer, one JSAer and one New God (or Oberon). But where Fox and his successors would let scenes play out, showing you the outcome of each team’s mission, Conway constantly cuts from one scene to another, never letting any one group advance too far at any one time.
It’s a more sophisticated technique, and enables the reader to maintain contact with the forward edge of the story throughout it’s development, but even in this early form it triggers my dislike for the latter-day ADD aspect of comics, the idea that if a scene doesn’t change every page, the audience gets bored.
And, to be honest, the plotting is hardly sophisticated. Each segment for each team involves a display of powers, bashing some Apokalips goons at each turn, without making serious progress towards any of the objectives. It’s a very baggy, saggy story with no real idea of how to develop its simple plot.
Along the way, there are improbable scenes that just get in the way. Wonder Woman of Earth-2 goes off on one about Superman calling the New Gods Gods: she only recognises her own pantheon, oh and Him, you know, the biggie, the one you can’t seriously fit into a superhero Universe but also can’t ignore. It’s a valid philosophical point, questioning how and why these other superhuman beings can be validly named as Gods, but unless the entire series is to be dedicated to a complete rendering down of the entirety of Kirby’s Fourth World, it’s an unanswerable question and a roadblock here because, once raised, it has to be forgotten.
Green Lantern’s panic attack at the sight of High-Father in chains is demeaning and ill-explained, but then Conway’s portrayal of his own creation Firestorm as a complete, out-of-control moron is not all that edifying to begin with.
Then there’s Crimson, tomboyish, pre-pubescent guerilla girl, warrior in a hard environment, who does not know anything of love or trust because the horror of Apokalips has denied her any chance to comprehend the concepts and, yes, you’re right, Conway has her bawling like a baby in just three panels. It’s nauseatingly simplistic, unreal and glutinous, but what do you expect? She’s a girl.
But I reserve my greatest contempt for the ending of this horribly naff story. It’s a total deus ex machina: Metron spends all his time telling us that he cannot interfere and then he goes and interferes. And Darkseid gets wiped out in a single panel: Darkseid, whom Conway killed off at the end of Return of the New Gods, whom Conway killed off in Secret Society of Super-Villains, Darkseid who Conway here kills off for the third time, suggesting a certain lack of imagination.
Not only that, but in a way that is getting depressingly familiar, the ending is incredibly perfunctory. Not only does Darkseid get killed off in a single panel, it is not in any way by the hands of Orion, his son, nor does Orion even battle his father (despite having been traumatised the whole three issues by his part in the latter’s last death).
And once Darkseid is gone, the wrap-up consists of three panels, and everyone goes home, leaving a bloody great mess to be sorted out behind them, but not a mess that Conway will have anything to do with.
The problem with this story is that it’s simply a bad story, badly told, in an era of bad stories badly told. The influence of New Teen Titans couldn’t come soon enough. Nor does it feel like a team-up story, like something that requires the Justice Society. Even the notion that Earth-2 is under threat is wholly lacking in logic: Superman is at pains to establish, early on, that New Genesis and Apokalips have no corporeal presence in the Earth-1 Universe, that they exist in an undefined, unexplained elsewhere, yet the plan is to plonk it in the Earth-2 Universe so Darkseid can conquer that instead? That’s complete nonsense.
As I said, by this point the Justice Society were back in comic book limbo, their series cancelled, their access once again this annual tradition. Yet what kind of access was it? Only four members took part, and one of these the near-identical Earth-2 Wonder Woman. There’s the stalwart Doctor Fate, of course, and the two new girls, the Earth-2 Batgirl and Supergirl, and as for the rest a single, Staton-esque panel in the first issue and nothing.
What was the point? Especially as the Justice Society could not simply engage in a battle with their counterparts that was too large for either team to fight alone, but which needed a third set just to bring them to the table. The fun had gone out of things and the series was being done for the sake of it.
At least there would be no real post-Crisis function for this story.