A Spot of Adventure: The Silver Age – Part 2


In issue 296 of Adventure Comics, editor Mort Weisinger tore a strip of a reader who’d demanded the Tales of the Bizarro World back-up be dropped. According to Weisinger, the Bizarro’s had lifted Adventure‘s circulation higher than it had been before, and spawned 5,000 postcards per month of Bizarro ideas.
Four months later, he dropped Tales of the Bizarro World and replaced it with the Legion of Super-heroes. It was the Silver Age: what else can I say?
So the Legion era of Adventure had begun, with new Legionnaires appearing every month, characters, costumes, powers but not necessarily personalities we would become immensely familiar with as the Sixties began to take form. And, to my tremendous surprise, there was a death as early as issue 304.
This was the famous death of Lightning Lad that I learned about in the Sixties when I first tried the Legion. It was the culmination of an odd tale that had Saturn Girl use her power to secure her election as Legion leader and immediately turn into a tyrant who grounded every Legionnaire in the process of stealing their powers. Yet this turned out to be an act of sacrifice: made aware that a Legionnaire would die battling a villain, Saturn Girl sought to protect her team-mates by becoming the only active Legionnaire. But Lightning Lad discovered her plot and beat her to the punch, sacrificing himself for her.
It was the beginning of a long romance, for when I learned of his death, he had already been resurrected. But that it had come so early in the series stuns me – unless Weisinger was thinking that with over a dozen of them already, who’d miss the odd one here or there?

The Girl Legionnaires Revolt!

The Legion of Substitute-Heroes, second only to the Legion of Super-Pets when it comes to dumb Legions, made its debut in issue 306. Back when Robert Loren Fleming and Keith Giffen were perpetrating Ambush Bug on us all, they combined for a gloriously funny Substitute-Heroes Special I used to own: to my glee, I now learned just how closely they based their goof-up on the original! I wish I still had it.
There was no forgetting Lightning Lad’s brave sacrifice at any turn, not least in issue 308, where ‘he’ returned to life, only to be exposed – not that literally – as his own very much alive twin-sister and replacement, Lightning Lass, whose hairdo was an atrocity: Thirtieth Century? You gotta be kidding me.
By issue 309, the Legion were so popular, they had taken the lead-spot in the comic, though Superboy continued to get the cover, which was a bit ludicrous in issue 310 when Superboy’s story was about him exchanging minds with Krypto and the Legion’s about they’re all being killed…
I shall pass over the Superbaby story in issue 311, which hit depths of silliness to make the Marianas Trench look like a puddle to get onto the following story, which was the supposedly always-planned story of how Lightning Lad was restored to life (at least that’s how Weisinger promoted it in the lettercol, just like he described Bizarro as a fixture four months before dropping it).
I’d heard about this story almost as soon as I discovered the Legion but this was the first chance I had to read it. The Legion are searching the Universe for ways to bring Lightning Lad back to life but all methods fail. Except that Mon-El knows a surefire method whose only drawback is that it will kill whoever does it. Saturn Girl, the telepath, can tell he’s holding something back, though Mon-El’s only keeping schtum because he intends to sneak off and sacrifice himself. Once the truth comes out, the legionnaires vie to be the noble one. Except that Saturn Girl intends to cheat by ensuring she gets struck by the lightning that will do it. And she does, and she dies… except that it’s Chameleon Boy’s protoplasmic, telepathic pet, Proty, who has decoyed her away and substituted himself in her place.
I knew all of this long ago, but reading the story at last, even with John Forte’s stiff, unemotional art, was actually surprisingly moving, which it had to be to overcome the Lana Lang spoiled brat humiliated by Superboy for-her-own-good story that backed it up. Pairing these two stories in one issue was plain bad editting.
Though Adventure was still a Superboy title, the Legion’s series was now taking first place every month. This didn’t matter to the Boy of Steel, who had had his own solo comic since 1949, and it was quickly becoming apparent that his future-colleagues would be taking over Adventure for themselves. Indeed, their story in issue 313 disposed with Superboy early on in order to feature Supergirl, who actually appeared twice in that she was revealed as being Satan Girl, who unleashed a lethal plague upon the girl Legionnaires.

Star Boy kills!

With so many Legionnaires, there was barely time to show everyone off, so a three page guide as to who, what power and what origin was included in issue 316, which extended the roster to 23, by including Jimmy Olsen’s occasional Elastic Boy persona and, lumped together as one, the Legion of Super-Pets (look, I won’t talk about the Super-Pets unless I’m actually forced to, ok?)
Finally, in issue 317, exactly seventy issues after their one-off debut, it became official: ‘Adventure Comics featuring Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes’ became the logo. The story introduced Dream Girl, temporarily, as a beautiful new member causing all the boys to fancy her, the girls to get green-eyed, and seven Legionnaires deactivated, all to needlessly divert one of her premonitions of their forthcoming death which was actually of android versions of them. Confused? Dreamy also fixed it that Lightning Lass lost her now-unneeded powers only to be re-gifted with the power to make things light (Star Boy, who makes them heavy, apparently hasn’t got a reverse gear).
The issue also reduced a ‘Hall of Fame Classic’ feature, otherwise known as reprints, which did no more than demonstrate that Superboy stories hadn’t change in over a decade, and to cap it off, the lettercol featured a letter from a Dora Knight, asking why Saturn Girl can be Legion leader when the boys are so much stronger than her? I’d give a lot to know if Miss Knight became a feminist and worked out the answer.
Right from his first appearance, Bouncing Boy had been a bit of a joke Legionnaire, rarely used, and that was clearly the general opinion at DC because in issue 321, he was abruptly, and undramatically, de-powered and demoted to permanent reservist. Of course, I know that won’t last forever.
I knew that at some point I’d catch up with my own first Legion story, though I didn’t expect it to be as early as issue 323, when Proty II sets a clever puzzle to determine the Legion’s new leaders – who turns out to be their old one, that smart blonde cookie, Saturn Girl. I even recognised the Hall of Fame Classic back up featuring Krypto. Every panel locked into place out of my memory.

Jim Shooter’s first script

But for every decent, and sometimes clever, story there were still a couple of dumb ones, usually based on some or all of the Legionnaires being dickheads, though that’s not possibly the ideal word for the story in issue 326 when the six girl Legionnaires get a mad on against the boy Legionnaires and set out to trap and kill them. There could have been a worse explanation for this too but I’m in no hurry to find one.
Interestingly, each girl Legionnaire got in a smooch with their chosen target first (and Triplicate Girl managed three, the little hussy), except for Saturn Girl, who couldn’t get Superboy to sample (wot an idiot!).
One of the problems with trying to read American comics in the Sixties was the erratic distribution. No two consecutive issues could be guaranteed. Then again, my budget for comics was strictly limited. Which one of these was responsible for my only reading the second half of the Legion’s first two-parter, in issues 330-331, I don’t know, though I remember the story as clear as a bell, as well as the Hall of Fame back-up which featured Lana being genuinely concerned for Clark without trying to penetrate his secret identity. Yes, they could write them.
Although I remembered a couple of stories earlier in the run, it was not until issue 340 that I fully caught up with my early enthusiasm for the Legion. This was the first half of the two-parter that introduced Computo, Brainiac 5’s evil super-computer, which changed Triplicate Girl into Duo Damsel by killing one of her three bodies (without any apparent trauma either) and which warped the Legion into the Batman ’66 Camp Era by introducing wise-cracking. Ah, the memories!
Indeed, there’s something special about this era of the run for me. The stories are (probably) no better nor worse than those before and those to come, but these are the stories from my time, full of back bedrooms at Brigham Street and Burnage Lane, re-reading runs on quiet summer holiday afternoons and evenings, each panel engraved on the eyeballs of memory. Star Boy’s expulsion. The Super-Stalag of Space. Jim Shooter’s unadvertised debut as a 13 year old writer by introducing four new members simultaneously, which was also the point that full-scale Legion stories supplanted the Superboy reprints.

A tie that bound for decades

One more thing to add about the Legion at this time is that it had something DC wasn’t supposed to have: continuity. Not necessarily in the form of subplots that became stories, but in situations that actually changed the status quo, like Lightning Lad losing an arm, Bouncing Boy his powers or Star Boy his membership. All these themes were brought together and restored in one go in issue 351.
And suddenly it all stopped. The Sun-Eater, the Fatal Five, Ferro-Lad’s sacrifice. The Adult Legion. I remember the cover to the first part of that but I read none of them. And none that followed, nor even saw the covers. This puzzles me now. This was only 1967 and I did not start losing interest in comics for another year. The only significant change was our move from East to South Manchester: was distribution really that random that by moving half a dozen miles away you could lose sight of an actual title? Or did I suddenly lose interest in the Legion?
Or did my childhood interest in comics, the Justice Society aside, start to fade earlier than I recall? I always thought it was 1968 because that was when I started on the football magazines, and besides, my parents had barred me from buying American comics at the full price of 1/-, a bar I got around, which a trickiness that well-befitted my future career as a Solicitor, by buying a preferred title in the newsagents coming out of school, selling it for 3d to a willing accomplice and then buying it back from him for 3d, so that I could truthfully say I’d bought it cheap off someone at school.
That was Burnage Grammar School, or High School from my Second Year on. I only went up into the Second Year in 1967: could I, who was naïve and immature for my age, have been that sneaky that early?
But the Legion stories that follow, two-parters all of them, are complete mysteries to me. Shooter, still only a teenager, was writing them, skilfully enough despite Weisinger, with some variable art, not all of it coming from the reliable Curt Swan. But the Legion’s days were numbered.
I have little to say about these late adventures. This was a strange, transitional period for DC, whose older writers, backbones of the company, were losing the plot, sometimes literally. Marvel was a threat kept in check only by DC owning their distributors and limiting them to no more than eight titles. The writers were demanding benefits as employees whilst being treated as freelancers for DC’s benefit. Things were slipping.
Some of the Legion’s stories were mildly memorable. The introduction of Shadow Lass, who’d already been seen dead in the Adult Legion’s hall of fallen heroes, as Shadow Queen, joining the Legion because she fancies Brainiac 5 (she’s not seen Mon-El yet), and that being the crucial point in issue 368, when a female governor of a world amplifies the girl Legionnaires’ powers and has them throw the boys out preparatory to installing a matriarchal government on earth, only for Supergirl to break her conditioning out of jealousy over ‘her’ Brainiac 5. Sheesh.

Introducing the Fatal Five

And the story in issues 369-370 not only introduced the Dark Lord Mordru but smashed Superboy’s Smallville continuity, with Jonathan and Martha Kent losing twenty years each and drawn unrecognisably whilst Lana Lang and the two girl Legionnaires who come to Smallville in Superboy’s ‘time’ all wear 1968 mini-skirts. Though apparently the Kents had taken a youth serum in Superboy and nobody noticed…
Issue 373 introduced Don and Dawn Allen, the Tornado Twins, ‘direct descendants’ of The Flash, though not as direct as they’d end up being years later.
And then, after issue 380, and a story whose only memorable moment was that it saw Chuck (Bouncing Boy) Taine showing his first feelings for Luornu (Duo Damsel) Durgo, the Legion were gone, without warning or explanation. They’d had an 81 issue run and whilst their replacement would have a stable run, for a while, emiwould have have so stable a lead feature again.
So the Silver Age was over, at least so far as this series was concerned, cover date May 1969, actual publication probably March. Join me for the Bronze Age, next.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier – 1977


Justice League of America 147, “Crisis in the 30th Century!”/Justice League of America 148, “Crisis in Triplicate!” Written by Paul Levitz and Martin Pasko (147), Martin Pasko (with an assist by Paul Levtiz (148), art by Dick Dillin (pencils), and Frank McLaughlin (inks), edited by Julius Schwarz.


Having captured the Psycho-Pirate on Earth-1 in All-Star 68, the Justice Society enjoy a breather on the Justice League’s satellite, a get together extended when Green Arrow’s boxing glove arrow switches off the transmatter cube, much to the annoyance of Wildcat. Power Girl seems very taken with a much younger Superman who isn’t actually her cousin and the Star-Spangled Kid is snottily jealous over it.
This scene is interrupted when a gigantic hand penetrates the satellite. It grabs ten heroes, five from each team – Leaguers Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Black Canary, JSAers Doctor Fate, Hawkman, The Flash, Green Lantern and Power Girl – and drags them 1,000 years through time, to 2977, the time of the Legion of Superheroes. The hand belongs to their sorcerous foe, Baron Mordru.
Mordru, present in his spirit form, is disappointed. He did not want more heroes, he wanted to seize those three mystic talismans, the Green Bell, the Silver Wheel and the Red Jar, which govern the imprisonment of the League’s old foes, the Three Demons, Abnegazar, Rath and Ghast.
In order to regain his place as master of the planet Xerox, Mordru plans to release the Three Demons. But the whereabouts of the three artefacts have not been known since the Justice League satellite exploded some time in the past millennium. Mordru has located them and imprisoned five Legionnaires as hostages to force the rest of the Legion to retrieve the artefacts. When they failed to return, he tried to snatch them from 1977 but failed.
The historical heroes attack him but are easily overcome and Mordru threatens to kill them, though he is surreptitiously persuaded by a spell from Doctor Fate to send eight of the heroes after the Legionnaires, keeping Green Arrow and Black Canary in a mystical hourglass round his neck, to drown in sand if the heroes don’t move fast enough.
Hawkman, Superman and Doctor Fate rescue Sun Boy and Wildfire from a planet of shape-changing aliens that worship the Silver Wheel. When Doctor Fate mocks up stars to cover the snatching of the wheel, the aliens switch to worshipping stars instead.
Batman and the two Lanterns succeed where Brainiac 5 and Princess Projectra have failed to persuade a planet to give up the Green Bell, whose ringing drives off the space Dragons that menace the planet: the Lanterns sculpt the shape of the Dragon’s natural enemy into the planet, creating a space Scarecrow.
And Power Girl and the Flash enter another dimension where the Red Jar, in its vault, is guarded by one of a number of strange frog-like aliens, who are actually all mothers sitting on eggs, and the one they have to deal with has actually mistaken the vault for her real egg, and hops off as soon as her actually baby is produced.
By now, we’ve learned that Mordru has no intention of keeping his word about releasing the prisoners, but the Flash and Power Girl refuse to hand over the Red Jar until this happens. As Mordru turns to the three artefacts, the heroes attack him, but they’ve forgotten all about Green Arrow and Black Canary, who are still in the hourglass and have to back off.
So Mordru releases Abnegazar, Rath and Ghast, but when he orders them to destroy the Thirtieth Century they refuse to acknowledge him as their master and turn on him. The Twentieth Century heroes are disappeared, except for the Arrow and the Canary, whilst the Three Demons plan to destroy the artefacts so that they can never be imprisoned again.
End of Part One.


A bunch of Legionnaires attack the Three Demons fruitlessly: the artefacts are destroyed. Under the Demon’s spell, the Legionnaires take Mordru’s spirit form to unite it with his physical body. What this might do to Green Arrow and Black Canary concerns them, but in the short run the hourglass is upturned, saving them.
The Demons turn to taking over the Thirtieth Century, but for the first time ever, their plans diverge.  Abnegazar wants to make peace, to join in with the harmony of the planet, Rath wants to take it over, exploit its power and Ghast to restore Earth to its original form, when only they existed.
The Demons are split, but they are too equally matched in power to destroy each other, so Abnegazar takes five Legionnaires as his proxies, to fight for him. Rath and Ghast reverse the dismissal of the JLA/JSA back to their own time and drag them back to 2977, the JSA serving Rath and the JLA under the dominion of Ghast.
The three teams start a three-cornered battle. Meanwhile, at Mordru’s tomb, Green Arrow and Black Canary are about to be buried when Green Lantern 1 turns up to rescue them, and turn them into puppets of Ghast as well. Another battle with the Legion rages.
But it’s noticeable that Power Girl alone among the JSA has some mental resistance to Rath, like the JLA have to Ghast. That is attributed to her (and their) greater youth and stamina, though it doesn’t appear to do anything for the Legion.
At first, the JLA and Power Girl use their freer will to let the Legion beat them, but a more permanent solution is needed. The League theorise that just because Rath controlled the JSA, Ghast assumed he needed only the same amount of magic to control the League. So they plan to get themselves knocked out, and let the JSA and the Legion fight each other to a standstill, so that the Demons have to face each other directly again.
The plan succeeds. Abnegazar and Rath turn on each other, the latter forced to relinquish his hold on the JSA. Doctor Fate, first to recover, leads an attack that is thwarted when the two Demons destroy each other, leaving only Ghast. His body energized by the release of magic, Fate summonses the fragments of the JLA satellite from all across the Universe,, forming these around Ghast. Infused as they are with the magical residue of the three artefacts, the satellite imprisons Ghast again.
With the menace defeated, the JLA and JSA can return to their own time.
* * * * *
At the back of Crisis on Multiple Earths Volume 4, collecting this and the two previous team-ups, there’s an amusing piece about the changes that DC was going through in the years represented by these stories: about how DC’s comics, in their slow-moving, monolithic manner, were turning towards extended stories, told over a series of issues.
What this means, without mentioning once the cause of such a development, was that DC, over a dozen years later, was finally trying to emulate Marvel and pretend to a continuity.
It didn’t last long: in the following year, the much-ballyhooed DC Explosion/Implosion would reset the base form back to single issue stories that could still be read in more or less any order you chose without making any difference to their sense.
This essay is amusing in that it has almost no bearing on any of the three stories from this period. Indeed, the article makes much of the fact that these Justice League stories are completely uninfluenced by anything else happening to the heroes at the time.
The closest we come to any such concern is in the 1977 team-up. By the time this story saw print, the Justice Society had been active in their own series, in the revived All-Star, for eighteen months, at first under Gerry Conway, then for the past half-year by a young Paul Levitz. Thus we can commence the team-up in the most unusual fashion possible, without any semblance of a Crisis, on any Earth you care to mention.
It’s the beginning of a new phase for the JLA and JSA. From here, their joint adventures will almost invariably start as social events, as the two teams gather for the fun of it, and not at the behest of conveniently spaced menaces.
But the idea that the team-up now had to involve a third force was cemented in place, and in the absence of any other teams from the past, Julius Schwarz opted to go for a team from the future, in the ever-popular Legion of Super-Heroes. It was surely inevitable at some point.
Although Justice League of America now had a permanent writer in Steve Engelhart, spending a year at DC doing his balls-out best as a ‘Fuck You’ to a Marvel Comics that he believed had shafted him, Engelhart was not to write this team-up. Whether this was because he had no interest in doing so, or was not trusted, I don’t know. But with the young Levitz also writing the Legion, it made perfect sense for him to play a major part in the story, along with Pasko.
As for the discrepancy in the credits for the two issues, Levitz has admitted that due to over-committing himself as a young and eager writer, he was not able to do more than kibbitz on the second part. So at least we know who to blame.
The story is interesting in its first part, despite some early sloppiness. Dillin’s pencilling is appalling on the first page: for those unfamiliar with the character, the Psycho-Pirate is neither ten feet tall nor as immobile as a cigar store Indian, but that’s how he’s drawn. Wildcat’s punch-drunk slurring was part of a Levitz plot, but Power Girl’s strident feminism has gone out of the window at the sight of Superman’s muscles and the Star-Spangled Kid’s adolescent whininess over the fact she doesn’t fancy him in the slightest was tedious then and soul-destroying now.
Thank God therefore for Mordru’s millennium-crossing hand, though we might want to gloss over the miraculous manner in which all such devices infallibly bring back a perfectly balanced mix of heroes from each team.
These minor issues aside, the first half of the story sets things up well, until its conclusion. We can overlook the League being effortlessly superior to the hapless Legion – they’re only children, after all – and we can perhaps ignore the patronising way in which two planets are tricked into surrendering their artefacts. Well, maybe we can ignore the planet of shape-shifters and their primitive worship, but I for one find it less easy to accept a race of other-dimensional frog-types that are so amazingly dumb that they can mistake a metal vault for an egg: you know, their baby.
And there’s yet another demonstration of the failure of superheroes to remember anything, ambushing Mordru whilst he’s still got his hostages under complete control. Whilst it’s plausible perhaps in the Legion and, to a lesser degree, the Justice Society, how the hell can the Justice League forget Green Arrow and Black Canary?
But this is as nothing to the second part. Rich Buckler’s cover for it is sadly indicative: a shapeless, ill-conceived ring of heroes fighting each other. Because whilst the idea of the Three Demons, after all eternity, ceasing to think alike is interesting, the decision to conduct their fight by proxies, one team per Demon, leads into a dull fight-by-numbers stodge, with no clear line of development, and a very convoluted attempt to elevate the League above its guests, at the expense of the Justice Society.
I’ve mentioned before the tendency to slight the JSA in these team-ups, making them out to be inferior to the League. At the beginning of this series, that was at least explicable, given the unconscious imperative that the star should star, but the longer things went on, the more the Society were treated as equals.
But there’s no trace of that in the issue to which their scripter barely contributed. On the contrary, the JSA are under Rath’s complete domination, no leeway – except for Power Girl, because she’s young and has more mental strength. And why does the League have so much freedom of mind? Because Ghast foolishly assumed he could take them over with the same amount of magic as Rath had used, and this was foolish because the JLA were so much younger and inherently mentally able to resist.
That this is arrant bullshit that should never have been considered for an instant is further emphasised by having it come from Black Canary, who, let us remind ourselves, was actually a member of the Justice Society and is therefore considerably older than anyone around her in the Justice League, oh yes, and Power Girl, but has all the mental acuity of the superior beings of the League…
Astute followers of this series will, I hope, have already started muttering about the twenty-year rule, that Denny O’Neill conception that made the Society almost exact contemporaries of the League. Though this notion was never officially abandoned, it should henceforth be disregarded. In the pages of All-Statr, the Justice Society have gone back to being veterans – implicitly so under Conway, explicitly under Levitz, who had approached taking the series over by working out exact ages and biographies for each participant.
It’s a peculiarity of this year’s event that, although it occupies one issue fewer than its predecessor,  it is almost a third again as long as the Earth-S story. That had appeared in the year when the mainstream American comic book had reached probably its lowest ebb as a physical entity. Rising prices throughout the Seventies had been ever more frequent, but would have been far more common if the industry hadn’t conspired to do the comic worse and worse to cut expenses.
Thus, by 1976, the standard DC comic consisted of only 17 pages of art, as opposed to the 22 of the Sixties, and a three-issue team-up only added up to 51 pages of story, including splash pages and recaps.
To counter this, DC had decided to jump some of its titles, Justice League of America included, to a Giant-size. It wasn’t the 100-page Spectaculars of 1974, but then again it did not include reprints. With 32 pages of story in #147, and 34 in #14, this story topped out at 64 pages overall. And whilst the additional space suited the three-team format, we can perhaps be a little more generous to Pasko and Levitz, if we bear in mind that neither had great experience at plotting their stories out to this length.
Engelhart would return for an explosive two-part finale in the next two issues of Justice League of America before getting out of comics ‘for good’, after which Gerry Conway would take the series over until its end, writing, in the process, more issues than even Gardner Fox. The Justice Society would go back to All-Star Comics 69, and an explosive end to their current plot-line.
Future team-ups would not be as dire as these last three (actually one of them would be even worse, but I am prejudiced about that story and if I am to be objective about it, even my virulent loathing of it allows me to accept that it was less of a mess). Though the Justice Society’s future publication history was not to be stable, they would not find themselves wholly reliant upon two issues of Justice League of America for their sole exposure.
Ironically, in inducting Hawkgirl into the League as a formal member at last, Steve Engelhart had used the phrase ‘traditions arise as a matter of inertia’. Fifteen years on, the fans still loved the annual JLA/JSA team-up, and looked forward to it every year, and Julius Schwarz gave the fans what they asked for.
But it was patently obvious that the writers, whose nostalgia for the comics of their youth extended only to the early adventures of the League, had so much less interest in coming up with unusual, entertaining and exciting adventures for a wide-ranging group whose line-up changed dramatically ever year and for whom they were not prepared to go through the work of animating as people.
The ‘third team’ notion had been conceived as a Special Event, but it had become a mandatory factor, a substitute for real thinking about how to write a story about teams of heroes representing different generations.
Inertia had taken its toll, but inertia was the most powerful force now sustaining the series. It had happened every year for years, and therefore it would continue to happen every year, in the same manner that The Mousetrap‘s longevity on the English stage secures its infinite future: by being the longest-running play in History, it continues running.
Though I am sure that nostalgia affects my judgement, I don’t think that I am wrong in saying that once the Justice Society came back, in their own right, their team-ups with the Justice League should have been retired, gracefully. The heart had gone out of them, and with the heart had gone the life. The best had been done. But there were still years to pass through.
On the subject of post-Crisis viability, naturally this story could have happened, with only the tiniest of adjustments.