Strange but Wonderful: the history of Mystery in Space


Knights of the Galaxy

In one form or another, I have accumulated good, comprehensive runs of most the the major DC Comics characters of the Sixties, the Silver Age, the years when I was discovering comics as a boy, and expecting to lose interest in them as I grew older. And I did. It just didn’t take, that’s all.
There is, however, one major DC character of that era whose stories I never read then, and of which I am only vaguely acquainted now. That’s why I took the chance to pick up a DVD-Rom with a complete run of Mystery in Space comics, 117 issues starting in April-May 1951, only a month or so after All-Star Comics was transmuted into All-Star Western. Mystery in Space, a joyfully science fiction series, was home to several space-set series, none more important than that of Adam Strange.
That’s who I’m here to read, but Adam and Alana, and the planet Rann are a long way off from the start, so let’s begin with that issue 1 and the stories it featured.
Mystery in Space followed hard on the heels of DC’s other SF title, Strange Adventures. The impression most often given of the In-Between Age from 1951 to 1956 is of DC floundering, creating titles and cancelling them six issues later as flops. Wasn’t this why Showcase was devised? But the two SF titles were glorious examples of the opposite. They were in tune with the times, with the boom in SF in magazines and novels. Maybe they took some pointers from EC’s SF titles, I don’t know; I know too little about EC to do more than guess. Were they weak cousins of it?
Issue 1 impressed me. It led off with the first story featuring the first ongoing series, The Galaxy Knights, law enforcement officers of the Thirtieth Century, and the first case entrusted to new Knight Lyle, to stop a pair of space villains and save the life of Knight Commander Arthro’s beautiful daughter, Ora. Ah yes, all very Golden Age, big-jawed heroes playing Cowboys and Indians on the space prairie, but with a typically Schwartzian emphasis on intelligence, ingenuity and science.
Comics were still in their 52 page format, allowing room for four decent-length stories, including scripts by Gardener Fox and John Broome, plus art from the likes of Carmine Infantino and, I think, Joe Kubert. There’s nothing particularly original about any of them, but there’s a happy enthusiasm to the work that makes it clear and likeable, plus Broome’s story has an ironic twist as to Man’s ignoble instincts that could do with a bit more development.
If you’re thinking I may have been a mite too harsh on the Galaxy Knights, the title of their second appearance might convince you otherwise: “Jesse James – Highwayman of Space”. As for the brave, resourceful, short-skirted Ora, she had a Knight of her own in Lyle, and it looked like she was going to need him.
As the only recurring feature, Knights of the Galaxy stands out in these early issues, especially with its vigorous and clean art, which has a look of Carmine Infantino about it. Weirdly, writers are credited, so I know the series was by Dion Antony, but not artists. Wikipedia confirms my eye is good on this score, and also that Dion Antony was a pen-name for Robert Kanigher, which comes as little surprise given the formal language used throughout.
But the title was created less than a year before the final size cut, as the 48 page comic went the way of its predecessors, transformed into a 32 page package with only three stories per issue instead of four, as of issue 6.
But the Knights only ran until issue 8, in which they were pushed to the back of a two-story issue. This was something of a shame as Infantino’s clear, crisp art was excellent, not being softened by Joe Giella or Sid Greene as it later would be on The Flash. I also confess a partiality for the skirt-abbreviated Ora. On a more serious level, the SF art of the era tended to put women in far shorter skirts than would have been remotely acceptable on an American, or a British street. But whilst Infantino had been free with leg-shots in issues 1 – 5, it was very noticeable that he confined himself to mostly head and shoulders or upper torso shot in issue 6 – 8. Given that we’re now into 1952, I think I’m not far wrong if I suspect the influence of Wertham, Kefauver and the soon-to-be-imposed Comics Code.
Before leaving issue 8, I do have to comment on its other story, a bizarre and twisted affair that envisaged a future in which, after the election of the first woman President (in 2980!) society had been completely reversed by 3100, with women the dominant force and men the despised weaklings.
For seven of the story’s eight pages, it’s a straight role reversal satire, with men downgraded, discarded, treated as unfit, helpless, inadequate when set against brave, daring, strong, intelligent women. The one young male who forces his way into Rocket Training, to fight an evil enemy, is cold-shouldered, shunned, disrespected just as a female cadet in an academy of men would be. Then, just as the plucky, brave, competent woman would do, he saves the day, rescues the captain, defeats the enemy. Proves his sex is not as helpless as people think.
So far as simplistic as you have to be in an eight-pager, straightforward and exact. Until the last page. In which the cadet newbie Greg marries the experienced veteran commander Stella, tells her that in their house she’ll be doing the vacuuming (she loves this macho stuff) and by the last panel, with males flooding back into leadership positions she’s happily cooing about women having run things for long enough (120 years out of 3100) and it being time ‘you men’ take over again.
What can I say? Somehow just repeating 1952 and What Can You Expect, not to mention the fact this was before I was even born just doesn’t cut it.
Incidentally, there were no short skirts for these dominant women of the future. No, they wore two part bathing suit bottoms and fishnet tights into battle. For no doubt logical combat reasons.

Interplanetary Insurance

All issues so far have credited Whitney Ellsworth as editor, though given the nature of MiS, it’s clear that Julius Schwartz is the assistant editor doing the groundwork. Further evidence of this is the spectacular cover to issue 9, clearly drawn by Murphy Anderson, in the grand Schwartzian tradition of having action covers drawn to inspire scripters to pen stories in which, far too often, just like this one, the actual cover scene – a young couple, she in short skirt, trapped in a gigantic diamond – ends up squeezed in in a very minor manner. As cover cheats go, this one’s a doozie!
Without a regular feature, the comic is patchy but I couldn’t ignore a story in issue 12 that involved the Earth’s first landing on the moon. Like Tolkien’s Notion Club Papers, which foresaw the Great Storm of 1987 to within a few months, forty years earlier, this Moon landing, nearly a decade before President Kennedy’s commitment to reaching the Moon before the end of the decade, gave its date as 23 May, 1969, less than two months before the real thing.
It’s fair to comment that, despite an ongoing educational feature from issue 1 onwards, dealing with science fact about planets, moons and the Solar System, the stories themselves are pure, unbelievable science nonsense, with impossible science, planetary invasions and humanoid aliens from as far out as Pluto in story after story.
MiS‘s next recurring series debuted in issue 16. This was Interplanetary Insurance Inc., and their ace investigator, Bert Brandon, and if you want to know how to turn an insurance salesman into a hero, don’t look here. This is insurance company as machine for sucking in money and spewing none of it out, and whilst that makes it extremely accurate to life, putting it in an SF milieu doesn’t make it any more interesting. This is mid-Fifties, middle-America, business-is-God era with a vengeance.
A second recurring feature was added in issue 21, this being Space-Cabbie, about an unnamed taxi-driver in space, which, like the insurance one, was intended to have an underlying humorous aspect. At first it was a one-off, but the Cabbie was popular enough to be brought back in issue 24, though he didn’t get a regular gig until two issues later, when he replaced Bert Brandon. Unlike the Galaxy Knights, Brandon wasn’t missed.

Space Cabbie

Also on board now, from issue 25 in fact, was the Comics Code seal. There had already been very little in the way of micro-skirts by then.
To be frank, MiS wasn’t doing much throughout these issues. It had started with the advantage of space as a 48 page title but had been reduced to 32 pages early on. Instead of reducing the number of stories per issue it ended up reducing the number of pages per story. Six were insufficient for more than rather perfunctory tales on a limited number of Cold War themes, infected by paranoia, treachery and constant invasion, and undercut by far too many mundane stories given an SF veneer.
I did find issue 33’s scientific feature fascinating, dealing as it did with the status of Pluto. Anticipating the decision of a half-century later, it analysed anomalies in Pluto’s composition and orbit to query if it was a planet at all, though the alternative proposed was that it was a satellite, a lost and unrecaptured moon of Neptune. Many decades were yet to pass before Pluto’s oversized moon, Charon, was even detected, a discovery that I missed even hearing about until many years later.
The Space Cabbie series bowled along with Gil Kane’s art, Infantino appeared every issue, artwise MiS was solid at its very worst, albeit softened from its early days, but the stories remained crude and gimmicky, using tropes that SF had left behind. One story had the Empire State Building converted into a spaceship to attack would-be invaders, whilst another had the entire continent of North America, including Canada, spacelifted to another galaxy in one piece to save that galaxy from destruction. And brought back intact with everyone alive on it. Boy, did it need an uplift.
Yet even in this form it was popular enough to go from bi-monthly to eight-times-a-year with issue 45. Usually, this frequency was for titles dependant on a single artist (those with multiple artists could go monthly without deadline threats) but MiS had multiple artists available.
Space Cabbie went missing after issue 47, leaving the series without a regular feature as it approached its 50th issue. But the time I had been waiting for was nearly upon us.

A classic Adam Strange cover

Adam Strange arrived in Mystery in Space in issue 53, cover-dated August 1959. The creation of Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky, he had originally appeared in Showcase 17-19, the previous year but, unlike The Flash or Green Lantern, his sales had not added up to quite enough to justify his own title, and Julius Schwartz had opted for berthing him here.
The formula was simple: each issue, Adam, an archaeologist, would rendezvous with a Zeta Beam from Rann, teleporting him 25 trillion miles to the Planet Rann, in the system of Alpha Centauri, to the beautiful Alanna, who he could never hold for long enough, and her scientist-father, Sardath. But instead of spending these visits lovemaking, Adam continually found Rann being menaced by monsters and disasters that could only be defeated by the application of his scientific mind and the effects of Chemistry Class, as was only right and proper in 1959.
Adam Strange’s early stories mostly feature Mike Sekowsky on art. This is not as scratchy or littered with weird anatomy as his Justice League stories, which start up shortly after, and he’s getting better inkers than the wholly unsuitable Bernard Sachs, but there is a world of difference between his jobs and the occasional one drawn by Infantino. But Fox’s stories are very formulaic, from the business with Adam’s difficulties intercepting the next Zeta-Beam to his inevitable return to Earth. What lies between is inventive, but the brackets bore very quickly.
Of course, the moment I said that, issue 61’s story decided to be different, with Adam being snatched by a different beam in the northern hemisphere, Rann and Alpha Centauri only being visible from the southern hemisphere, intercepted to prevent him saving Rann from a tyrant out to conquer it. That would-be dictator was the Tornado Tyrant, a sentient tornado with an unexpected future as a component element of The Red Tornado, Gardner Fox’s last creation for DC, eight years hence.
Oh, and for once Adam wasn’t snatched directly out of the loving Alanna’s arms the moment the menace was defeated, and the loving couple had several days sea, sun, sand and… oh come now, not under the Comics Code Authority.
The non-Adam Strange stories remained as predictable and dull as ever but Murphy Anderson – used primarily as an inker in the Silver Age – produced a short series of beautifully-drawn tales that at least looked the part for me.

A one-off story in issue 66, drawn by Sid Greene, another DC artist used primarily on inks, became a short series in Mystery in Space. The Star Rovers were three rivals, Homer Gint, novelist and sportsman, Karel Sorensen, former Miss Solar System turned space-adventurer, and playboy Rick Purvis. Their stories involved them bringing three different viewpoints to the same incident, the total vision, Rashomon-style, adding up to the real truth. They would appear every three issues until MiS 86, with two further stories appearing afterwards in Strange Adventures.
It’s interesting to note that throughout most of this run of the series there were full page house-ads, promoting National’s titles as ‘still 10c’. A change in price, DC’s first ever, was due very soon (in Britain, they would go from 10d to 1/-), but I wasn’t previously aware that DC had held out against the increase so blatantly.
Adam Strange had been the lead feature and main attraction of the series for over two years now, at nine pages an issue, but with issue 71, DC finally did what should have been done long before and expanded Adam’s feature to 17 pages, eliminating one redundant one-off story but still leaving one.
And for issue 75, Adam was given the whole comic for a book-length, and excellent, story guest-starring the Justice League of America (plus Snapper Carr but without Superman), a story written in response to a fan identification of a flub in the League’s own title. This had come in Justice League of America 4, the issue that admitted Green Arrow. Among the possible nominees, The Flash put forward Adam Strange. All very well for me, reading that in retrospect, but nobody but Alanna (and the rest of the planet Rann) knew of Adam’s exploits.
So Schwartz and Fox put their heads together and came up with a story, set between Justice League 3 and 4, that gets the League to Rann, in pursuit of Kanjar Ro, the villain of issue 3, as he tries to takeover Adam’s adopted planet. I’ve known of this story for over fifty years and this is the first time I’ve read it. And it’s excellent (except for the bit where a clearly-impressed Flash thinks, ‘wow, I’ll nominate Adam for membership when we next have a meeting’, which is too knowing).
Issue 81 gave Adam Strange another book-length adventure, this time starting with Alanna seemingly coming to Earth. Obviously it’s a cunning plot, this time by yet another of Rann’s past would-be dictators intending to take over the planet again: between all these former dictators and the alien races all trying to take over Rann for no better reason than that it’s there, the backgrounds to the stories do drag at Adam’s constant ingenuity in combatting these scientific menaces.
Incidentally, the letter column contained interesting letters from two young and eager comics fans, the increasingly regular Paul Gambaccini, and one Marvin Wolfman.
The next issue had most of its cover obliterated on the DVD but as soon as I started to read the story I remembered it. I saw many Mystery in Space covers in this era, in house ads in comics I bought, in spinner racks that I combed through but didn’t buy. But Carmine Infantino’s work has never left me.
A similar obliteration concealed the cover to issue 82 but this time my memory banks couldn’t supply the image. There was another Star Rovers story, exposing the limitations of the three-sided formula. And a complete no-cover on issue 84 made three, though this was one of those instances where the cover was duplicated as a panel in the story, instantly reminding me. The same thing applied to issue 84’s cover, by which time it was getting particularly annoying.
Covers returned with issue 86, in which Adam’s adventure on Rann turned out to be only a dream: the lad just can’t escape having to save this most vulnerable of planets even when he’s asleep! It also featured the last Star Rovers story to appear in MiS. And it also made much, both in the lettercol and in the final panel of Adam Strange’s story, of the arrival of Hawkman to share this space next issue.
This is the part of Hawkman’s Sixties stories that I know of but had never read. Revived as Katar Hol by Julius Schwartz and Gardener Fox in Brave & Bold, the editor had been shocked when this third revision of an old Justice Society hero had failed to take off. Not then, and not after a second three-issue run. These issues had been drawn by Hawkman’s old star, Joe Kubert, but Kubert’s style had evolved, brilliantly, past the point where he was suited to superheroes. Refusing to give up, Schwartz put Hawkman into MiS and replaced Kubert with the somewhat blander Murphy Anderson (and I speak here as a fan of Anderson), whose style was much more in keeping with DC’s ‘house’ look.
The first shared issue was very cleverly constructed. Hawkman took over the cover – the first since issue 52 not to feature Adam Strange – but Adam still had the lead, double-length story, in which he accidentally gets mutated into a highly-evolved, mentally magnificent version of himself, who is also offensively superior and dismissive, especially of Alanna who, in a very understandable if selfish gesture, smashes the machine that has evolved, bringing back the version she (and we) love. At story’s end, Adam beams back to Earth, carrying with him a stone his brain-heavy self has created, which he places in a museum.
And in the Hawkman back-up, introducing regular foe Ira ‘I.Q.’ Quimby, the latter becomes a super-crook when the combination of sunlight and his presence by the stone sets his brain off on incredible ideas. That’s what you can do when the same writer is writing both features. You can also get Carter and Shiera Hall meeting an archaeologist named Adam Strange, in both their guises, and getting a bit suspicious about him…

The issue even contained a letter from Joe Kubert, regretting the commitments forcing him to stop drawing Hawkman, and praising his mate Murph.
At this point, I’d like to bring up a point about the Adam Strange series that’s mildly surprised me. DC’s not supposed to have had a continuity in the Sixties, only Marvel. That was never entirely true: both Fox and John Broome employed regular footnotes in their stories, harking back to previous tales. But from early on, Adam Strange did this to an unusual degree. Each story was an individual tale, but Fox would constantly refer back to the previous story, and earlier ones, and would very often base a new story in the events or aftermath of its predecessor. If you could have thrown an entire years worth of The Flash, or Justice League of America in the air and read them in whatever order they came down without noticing any difference, that could not be said of Adam Strange. Adam’s stories were a sequence, and Fox would emphasise this with Adam’s constant musings bout how, every time he arrived on Rann, there was yet another menace to overcome, and was there a jinx, was it him? Given that we are still only up to 1963, I’m pretty impressed.
The cover of issue 88 was a throwback to the Golden Age Flash Comics, showing that Adam and Hawkman would alternate, with headshots plugging the other. Inside were two separate stories, one in which Alanna got a new figure hugging costume which swapped her blue-and-yellow colour code for yellow-and-blue (made for her by an Earth couturier she never met: wonder how Adam got him the precise measurements when, under the Comics Code, good girls definitely didn’t), whilst Mavis Trent, the long-forgotten girl archaeologist fixated on Carter Hall, having died her hair Shiera-red, accidentally discovered and donned Hawkgirl’s costume: much frivolity ensued.
One issue later, Hawkman was not only back on the cover but taking the lead story, whilst in the back Adam Strange had to fend off an interstellar ‘Lorelei’ who wanted him to marry her (even the bad girls didn’t…) but saved himself with a profession of love so profound that Fox would rip it off himself for a similar situation in the future Hawkman 13. here though it was accompanied by an engagement: Awww!
This little spell of Mystery in Space is probably the best of the entire series, but little it was, only four issues, Issue 90 posed a classic cover, another I recall from scrabbling through racks, probably on a Saturday afternoon in Droylsden, allowed to walk on my own from Grandad’s to the newsagents at Fiveways: Adam Strange hurtles through space to try to prevent Earth and Rann from colliding.
The book-length story was a team-up between Adam and Alanna on one side and Hawkman and Hawkgirl on the other (though it’s noticeable that neither of the lovely heroines has a word to say to each other). Artistically, it’s a fun compromise: Infantino pencils Chapters 1 (Adam-oriented) and 3, Anderson the Hawkman oriented Chapter 2, as well as inking the lot. And at the end, the Hawks give Adam a lift back to Earth, ending his Zeta-Beam tyranny, and Alanna asks if she can come too, and there’s going to be a wedding: double Awww!
As for Hawkman, less than four issues of MiS had done what six of Brave & Bold had failed at: the Flying Fury had finally got his own title.
More than that was to change. Julius Schwartz was also leaving, and taking with him Fox and Infantino, to rescue the Batman titles which, unbelievable as it sounds, were in serious danger of cancellation. His replacement would be a straight swap, with Jack Schiff – who’d cynically and unhappily commissioned awful, ludicrous, ridiculous stories that were completely wrong for the Caped Crusader, because that sort of shit seemed to be what the public wanted and who was he to stand in their way – taking over Mystery in Space with issue 92.
No-one knew it then, but the title had only 19 more issues to live.
The first thing Schiff did was to bring Space Ranger with him from Tales of the Unexpected, putting him on his first cover, although Adam Strange retained the lead spot, now by Dave Wood and Lee Elias. This was an apt line-up: both Adam and Space Ranger were created as a result of a 1957 request by Editorial Director Irwin Donenfield that Schiff and Schwartz create two new SF heroes, one from the present, the other from the future. Schiff, given first choice, chose the future hero, who became Space Ranger, Schwartz’s present hero was our man Adam.
Two issues were enough to demonstrate that Wood and Elias didn’t have the wit and sophistication of Fox and Infantino, and that Space Ranger didn’t have the wit and sophistication of the new Adam Strange, plus ugly art in which everyone stood with bent legs. Nasty. Also, Elias dropped Adam’s finned helmet like a shot.
The two stars teamed up in issue 94 despite the time-gap, with Space Ranger finding a menace that had lain dormant since Adam’s time, Adam himself referring to the mystery in his diary and his descendent, also named Adam, taking up the mantle, uniform and ray-gun in the future, only with red-hair not blonde.
Adam regained the cover for issue 95 but lost the lead spot inside. Next issue, the set-up was reversed. In fact, it was turnabout time again. It stayed that way until the landmark issue 100, cover-date June 1965, which gave the cover to new character Interplanetary Agent Jan Vern, appearing in one of two one-off stories behind a particularly poor Adam Strange purporting to feature the Death of Alanna. Space Ranger wasn’t even there.
Then it was Adam’s turn to drop out of issue 101, allowing Space Ranger back, though the cover once more went to a nothing story, a one-off. With three stories an issue once more, MiS was going backwards, rapidly. Turnabout for issue 102, with Adam also on the cover and accompanied by Jan Vern inside. But that was it. It had taken Schiff only twelve issues to kill off the very popular Adam Strange, and Space Ranger only lasted one issue longer.

That issue, 103, introduced Mystery in Space‘s new star for the remnants of its run, Ultra – the Multi-Alien. I’d seen Ultra in house ads but never read him before, and he’s drivel. Another Wood and Elias creation, he’s Captain Ace Arn, shot simultaneously by four blasters, each intended to turn him into a duplicate of a native of a different planet, but instead turning him into one-quarter different alien each all with different powers. The idea is stupidity squared, a perfect example of DC’s increasing descent into moronic crap as they tried to work out, vainly, why Marvel was so popular. It’s a painful demise.
Mystery in Space was cancelled with issue 110, cover date September 110. There was no reference to its cancellation in that issue. Years later, in 1980, it was revived for a further seven issues, but that run lies outside my remit, as does a second series many years after that.
I came to MiS for Adam Strange and I got my money’s worth from the Schwartz/Fox/Infantino stint, and whilst the comic could be dull in the long months leading up to the arrival of the Champion of Rann, there were still series that were enjoyable and there was classic art from Infantino, Anderson, Kane and others to enjoy.
But Jack Schiff’s editorship killed the series as surely as it was killing Batman in 1964, when Julius Schwartz was transferred over. He remained editor on Strange Adventures and Tales of the Unexpected for another eleven months before retiring. There’s a story there, but not for here. Time to look at another series.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier – 1969


Justice League of America 73, “Star Light, Star Bright – Death Star I See Tonight!”/Justice League of America 74, “Where Death Fears to Tread!” Written by Denny O’Neil, art by Dick Dillin (pencils) and Sid Greene (inks), edited by Julius Schwarz.

Having concluded their case in Justice League of America 72, the JLA finally make time to listen to the Red Tornado (who turned up on Earth-1 the previous issue).
The Tornado’s story is of an attack on Earth-2 by an evil, living, thinking group of stars calling itself Aquarius. The living star was one of a group of twelve many eons ago, but was expelled due to its evil, and condemned to wander in a diminished state.
Finally, Aquarius came into sight of Earth-2, where Ted Knight observed it as an anomaly, through his personal observatory. Changing to Starman, Knight went into the heavens to challenge the potential menace, but Aquarius managed to seize the Cosmic Rod, and use it to give himself a humanoid body, and amplify his powers.
Starman fell to earth, badly injured, alerting his house guests, Larry and Dinah Lance. Dinah changed into her Black Canary costume to investigate what had done this to Starman, but found herself being ambushed by her hypnotised husband, to whom she gave a judo-toss.
Aquarius revealed himself himself, mockingly, and Black Canary signalled the JSA, bringing Doctor Fate, Green Lantern, Dr Mid-Nite, Superman and the Red Tornado to the scene.
En route, some of the heroes had to stop to deal with menaces responding to the power Aquarius was bringing to bear on the Earth. Green Lantern battles two neon sign ancient warriors, Dr Mid-Nite has to tackle a raging four year old with super-strength, and Doctor Fate faces up to some mystically charged weather. Thankfully, the kid is quickly restored to (bratty) normal.
Superman and Wonder Woman arrive late to the fray, having been held up by similar, unspecified, distractions. Aquarius explains itself in an emotional manner, fluctuates between anger and self-pity, bombast and tears. But when it comes to a fight, he is a match for the JSA. Their resistance infuriates him, and he uses the Cosmic Rod enhanced powers to destroy Earth-2, to sweep it away entirely.
All that remains are the half dozen JSA members, plus Larry Lance. At the last moment, Doctor Fate did two things. One was to encase them in a protective bubble, resistant to Aquarius’s powers. Though he rages outside, they live in the bubble, and whist they live Earth-2 is retained in their memories.
The other was to send Red Tornado to Earth-1 for help from the Justice League. That was thirteen days ago.
Aghast at their selfishness, the Justice League immediately promise their aid.
End of part 1.


With the Red Tornado to guide them, the Justice League head into space, towards the crossing point to Earth-2. As they near it, they pass the entrance to the Anti-Matter Universe, a place of great danger.
Ahead of them, Aquarius is growing frustrated at his inability to penetrate Doctor Fate’s bubble. Inside, Fate is reaching the limits of his powers, which have kept everyone alive without air, food or drink, for nearly a fortnight.
The appearance of the Justice League confuses Aquarius. He retreats to take stock, but leaves a secret command behind. Thus, when Doctor Fate, with a sigh of great relief, dissolves the bubble, everyone is affected by the post-hypnotic command to attack the newcomers as enemies. So, when Superman approaches Superman for the first time, expecting to have so many things in common, he is punched in the face and a battle begins.
The two Superman battle as equals. Green Lantern easily captures his counterpart, whose ring is out of power, and sends beams in search of Aquarius. Flash and Atom defeat Doctor Fate. Fate’s magic accidentally ties up Wonder Woman. Batman knocks out Dr Mid-Nite. All the League find it easy to overcome weakened puppets, except for Green Arrow. He pins Black Canary down with his new ‘stickum-shaft’, showering her with sticky threads, but is knocked out from behind by Larry Lance, who takes his bow and aims a non-gimmick, razor sharp arrow at him.
Meanwhile, Green Lantern’s beams have found Aquarius. He uses the Cosmic Rod to repel them, send them back as a lethal ball of multi-coloured energy. But his control over the Cosmic Rod is not as good as he thinks and the bubble wobbles towards the nearest person, the trapped Black Canary.
At the sight of his wife in danger, Larry Lance wars with the hypnotic commands to kill Green Arrow. He frees himself and throws himself into the path of the ball. It explodes, killing him.
The explosion breaks the Justice Society’s conditioning. With their release, Earth-2 is brought back, its occupants unaware that they had ceased to exist for 13 days. But as one world is restored, another, private world has ended: Black Canary’s husband is dead.
Her Green Lantern tries to comfort her, to promise that they would get Aquarius, but the Canary pushes him away, she doesn’t care. Bitterly, Green Lantern tells his counterpart that, instead of all the glory and prestige, that is what they are there for: to prevent things like that from happening.
A funeral is arranged by the heroes. It is gatecrashed by Aquarius, mocking and laughing. Wonder Woman stays behind to take care of the Canary, and the Red Tornado is warned to stay behind too. Everybody else heads off in hot pursuit towards the cross-over point to Earth-1. Doctor Fate warns that letting Aquarius bring Earth-2 magic into Earth-1’s Universe could destroy everything.
In the corridor between Universes, they are halted by a barrier created by Aquarius. The two Lanterns struggle through, but their team-mates are held in suspension. They turn their attention to Aquarius, hurling abuse at him, calling him names. The unstable star turns to attack them and they slip through the gap into the Anti-Matter Universe. Their rings protect them, but not Aquarius, Whilst they flee to safety, he is destroyed dramatically by the contact.
Larry has been avenged, but that is not enough for Black Canary: Earth-2 holds too many memories for her. She asks Superman to take her to Earth-1, where she can establish a new life for herself.
* * * * *
Suddenly, they were all gone. Sachs retired, Sekowsky elevated to editorship, Fox cut loose after nearly thirty years because his style of writing was no longer in fashion, and because DC had finally, fitfully, clumsily woken up to the fact that Marvel’s approach had somehow to be absorbed, imitated, applied to characters who had never before been imagined in that fashion.
Denny O’Neil had taken over Justice League of America the previous year, immediately after the previous JLA/JSA team-up. Like Dick Dillin, his arrival was a consequence of Carmine Infantino’s elevation to Editorial Director. Infantino promoted artists to editors, not just from within. He had head-hunted Dick Giordano, who’d been responsible for some fresh and vital titles and characters at lowly Charlton Comics, and who’d introduced some new, young writers and artists into the business, people whose only access at DC would have been by guided tour.
O’Neil, who wrote under the preposterous pseudonym Sergius O’Shaughnessy, was at the front of these. He was brought over by Giordano (whose term as editor only lasted a couple of years, conditions for change being not as flexible as he’d been led to believe) but he quickly became Julius Schwarz’s ‘go-to’ guy for change. With Neal Adams, O’Neil helmed the transformation of Batman back into the terrifying creature of the night he’d originally been, and with the same artist, he transformed Green Lantern by pairing him with Green Arrow and leading him through dark-tinged, street level adventures set against the real background of America at the turn of the decade.
And under Schwarz, he was brought in to transform the Justice League, to lead it away from Fox’s hyper-busy plots and functional dialogue that could be mouthed by anyone, interchangeably.
The problem was that O’Neil had never seen himself as a writer of superheroes. He’d grown up intent upon a career as a reporter, working the crime beat, in the tradition of fearless crime-reporters: hard-boiled, hard-living, hard-drinking. Though he would go on to be one of the foremost writers and editors of comic books, at DC and Marvel, over the next four decades, at this end of his career O’Neil was still close to his hard-boiled roots. He found it hard to take the more fantastic elements of superheroes seriously: the urge to satirise lurked close to the surface.
Unfortunately, despite O’Neil’s ability as a writer, his two attempts at Justice Society team-ups are amongst the weakest published. I’m sorry to say that the next one was even worse than this, and this one was dull.
I do, however, have a sentimental attachment for the second half of this story, which I did not find until August 1970, over a year after its original publication. It was one of the last few handfuls of comics I bought in those dying months of growing out of them, and I spent ages wondering about the first half of the story, which I did not read until several years later.
There’s the germ of a decent story in the concept of a living star, and O’Neil deserves credit in being the first to write the annual team-up around a genuine earth-shattering threat, as opposed to super-sized hero vs crooks whose primary purpose is to rob. The story was irretrievably lost, however, from the moment that O’Neil decided to portray Aquarius (we are so in 1969 here) as a manic depressive of galactic proportions.
It’s compounded by the fact that Dillin chooses to paint Aquarius with the same broad brush strokes as O’Neil, at least in the first part of the story. Squat, grotesque, cartoonish, ugly in the sense that he looks like an amateur’s idea of a villain, Aquarius is impossible to take seriously.
And, as a subsequent letter column pointed out, nothing happens. I appreciate that the idea was to abandon Fox’s plot-centric approach, but O’Neil handles the action aspect of his story with great clumsiness. Starman falls through a skylight, Black Canary judo-tosses her husband, Superman and Wonder Woman get rapidly beaten down by Aquarius and the rest of the assembled Society makes a full-page charge into the action, only for Aquarius to dissolve Earth-2 into non-existence.
Actually, to be fair, that’s not the only action. There are the odd battles that five JSAers, rushing to the rescue, are forced into having, including Dr Mid-Nite’s utterly embarrassing face-off (or should that be navel-off?) with a snotty four year old. Which, incidentally, is down to Schwarz’s long-running approach of having covers drawn depicting exciting and vivid scenes for writers then to incorporate into stories hopefully inspired by the concept: sometimes, as here, the only way to shoehorn the cover in was as a complete irrelevancy.
These little battles are filler, pure and simple, and badly organised and sloppily conceived filler too, since there are five JSAers racing to the scene but two of them get to get there without their hold-ups being seen or even defined in any way.
There’s an equally sloppy approach in the second part. O’Neil’s followed the format of the last couple of years in allowing the Justice Society almost a free run in the first half, but this is definitely back to the bad old days as the Justice League come steaming in like the cavalry.
There’s a major incongruity right at the start. It’s been established from the start of the Multiverse that Earths-1 and -2 occupy the same physical position in space, but by vibrating at different rates, are invisible and intangible to each other. The physical crossover from one to another has been by some form of retuning of vibrational rates, usually glossed over by the use of magic by Doctor Fate or Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt.
Now it’s apparently shot off somewhere into space, outside the Earth’s atmosphere, to become a physical transition point: a wormhole in space leading between Universes. The term had been around since 1957 but it hadn’t entered public consciousness by 1969.
The ‘action’ in the second half consists of the short battle between the League and the hypnotised Society, which is not only one-sided, but sloppily executed. O’Neil has Batman big up Dr Mid-Nite as his closest equivalent in the Justice Society – apart from, maybe, Robin the Grown-Up Wonder or, like, possibly Batman? – and then proceeds to floor him with one punch, whilst Hawkman’s presence in this story is a complete puzzle: he’s there, you occasionally see him in panels, but he speaks not, nor does he wave an ancient weapon, not even in his section of the battle, against Wonder Woman, since she gets taken out by friendly (magical) fire.
But the true point of this story, and the only place in which it comes alive, with horrible irony, is in Larry Lance’s death. Remember that death, of actual, named, recurring characters, was exceedingly rare in 1969, and even that of such a minor character as Lance packed an emotional charge far beyond any possible today.
Lance died a hero, sacrificing himself against the constraints of his own physical weakness and Aquarius’ hypnotic commands, to save his wife from death. But it’s not in that moment that O’Neil gave his readers pause but in what followed: Black Canary’s slow, fearful, three-panel approach to her husband’s body, in which the urgent wish to believe it hasn’t happened is incarnated in Dillin’s every line, her utter rejection of all thoughts of justice or revenge, her complete lack of care about anything but the enormity of what has happened, the Earth-2 Green Lantern’s internally directed bitterness at the cost of failure in what they do, the ‘job’ stripped down beyond the trappings to the bedrock duty to keep what has happened to Dinah Lance from happening.
It’s a determination that fuels the ending. The Green Lanterns escape the trap that captures everyone else, but Alan Scott refuses to rescue their colleagues. A duty has settled upon him, one that he’ll trust to his counterpart to share, but in an unstated manner this has become personal between him and Aquarius. And the two are oddly dispassionate about what they know is a killing mission: Aquarius is not to be allowed to live.
This thin line of genuine emotion carries and sustains the issue to its end.
Although that end is both risible and disturbing. Already in his term as JLA scripter, O’Neil had presided over the League losing two members for the first time. Wonder Woman had lost her powers under Sekowsky, and resigned, whilst J’Onn J’Onzz had been written out as an old-fashioned, outmoded, no longer relevant character, sent off is moving fashion, but consigned to limbo all the same (all together now: There Is No Such Thing As A Bad Character).
This left the JLA short-handed, especially in the distaff branch. The two most prominent Earth-1 heroines after Wonder Woman were Hawkgirl and Batgirl, and they couldn’t possibly be considered League members, being merely weak, female impersonations of the ‘real’ characters. The only viable option, it seemed, was to dust off Black Canary and move her over to the big Earth.
It’s a decidedly ignoble reason for killing off Larry Lance, just to get Black Canary to announce she wants to go to Earth-1 now, please, to run irretrievably away from the memories of her love, her parents, her friends, everybody she’s ever known. It’s a classic case of trauma, of making decisions when the mind is disturbed and shrinking from an unwelcome situation.
In short, it’s unhealthy as you can think, and what does Suiperman say? Just jump up into my arms, little lady, and let’s be off.
I mean, bloody hell, has she no family at all? Has Larry no family that mourn him? (If he did, not one of them got invited to the superhero funeral. And no religion, it might appear, since one of the Supermen officiated, instead of any minister). Doesn’t she want to take any clothes with her (any civilian clothes, I mean)? Any personal possessions? Cosmetics? Spare fishnets? Clean knickers? (Ladies, I am led to believe, set great store by such things). Absolutely nothing.
One thing we can’t ignore is that, after several years of ignoring the question, Schwarz finally decides to include the Golden Age Superman in the Justice Society’s line-up. How much of this was due to the potential confusion between two characters who were functionally identical (Superman never ceased publication, and there is no ‘official’ demarcation point where his several series stopped featuring the Golden Age version and started featuring the Silver Age one), and how much was down to the baleful influence of Superman’s editor Mort Weisinger, who resented Schwarz featuring the Earth-1 version in the JLA can’t be known.
But Weisinger’s star was entering a decline now, and so Superman of Earth-2 re-emerged from whatever limbo he occupied, especially to fight his Earth-1 counterpart, a fight between two equally matched versions that ends in stalemate and mutual knock-out. Latter-day readers will be surprised to see that the two Superman are identical: no simplified S-shield, no signs of aging, no grey temples, nothing to distinguish between the two at all.
Given that throughout the whole Sixties, the point of the Justice Society was that they were older, that they had come out of retirement, that they had a history, this approach was incongruous, but O’Neil would return to it, at greater length, the following year.
As for post-Crisis validity thankfully there is none.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier – 1968


Justice League of America 64, “The Stormy Return of the Red Tornado!”/Justice League of America 65, “T.O. Morrow kills the Justice League – Today!” Written by Gardner Fox, art by Dick Dillin (pencils) and Sid Greene (inks), edited by Julius Schwarz.

It’s a quiet day in the Justice Society meeting rooms, with no crimes happening anywhere: The Flash, Hourman, Doctor Fate, Starman and Black Canary are bored. But Hourman unveils his new Crime-Caster computer, which can forecast future crimes.
Before this can give out a result, the meeting rooms are invaded by some form of a whirlwind which, before Starman can bring it down, resolves into a red-costumed figure who claims to be the old Justice Society member, the Red Tornado, come to rejoin the JSA.
The sceptical members swiftly rebut this claim, the ‘real’ Red Tornado being a non-powered, heftily built woman, who only played a minor part in the very first JSA meeting. Nevertheless, the newcomer still protests he is that Red Tornado. But when ‘he’ removes his helmet to see if anyone recognises him, ‘he’ is found to be an android with no face.
Before this puzzle can be explored further, Hourman’s Crime-Caster predicts a robbery happening soon at the 20th Century Museum. The JSA take off, bringing their ‘suspicious’ visitor with them: the Tornado wished to prove himself.
They arrive to find the Museum being stolen, by being turned into atomic clouds and captured, by faceless androids just like the Tornado. He denies any connection to the robbers and wades in alongside the JSA, demonstrating that his power is the ability to turn all or part of his body into, well, tornados.
Unfortunately, he is clumsy and unpracticed in a fight, plus the effects of his tornados not being confined to those they’re aimed at, which leads to one disaster after another. Black Canary is knocked into the path of a ray-gun and killed. Starman is blown out of the heavens, and lands on Hourman, killing both. The Flash is vapourised by a blown away weapon.
Desperate to salvage something, the Tornado tries to help Doctor Fate, who has sealed the remaining androids’ guns with mystic sands. But his tornadoes jar the sand loose and, when it falls on Fate and the Tornado, it paralyses both. They are dumped from the plane into the sea, though this washes the sand away and restores both of them.
The Tornado goes in search of redemption, finding himself drawn by some form of ‘homing instinct’ that leads him to the secret base of criminal scientist Thomas Oscar Morrow. Inspired by his initials, Morrow obsessed over the future and devised a way to steal future technology and bring it to the 20th century. On Earth-1 he fought The Flash and Green Lantern, but seemingly die, crushed in the coils of a great machine.
Instead, he used this to conceal his escape by vibrating himself into Earth-2. Here, his future computer has predicted that to defeat the Justice Society he had to construct the Red Tornado. Morrow’s musings are interrupted by the Tornado, who he ‘kills’ using one of the ray guns. However, his computer still insists he can only win if the Tornado is there to stop him. Puzzled, he reveals that the Tornado is not dead but rather, like the fallen JSA quartet, filled with ‘futurenergy’. Withdrawing the energy will restore life. He restores the Tornado, in slow motion, making his escape.
Meanwhile, Fate has summoned another half dozen JSA members. They go in pursuit of Morrow’s latest crime, only to find the Red Tornado ripping up the joint and hammering Morrow and his men. They warmly greet him as a fellow member.
Trembling with pride, the Tornado brandishes a futurenergy gun, explaining that their fallen comrades aren’t dead, and can be restored by reversing the energy. As he does so, the room explodes, killing the rest of the JSA. A happy Morrow had anticipated this and surreptitiously filled the room with futurenergy, causing the blow-up.
Now he’ll go back to Earth-1 and challenge the Justice League. Will he win? As long as the Red Tornado doesn’t show up to stop him…
End of Part 1


On Earth-1, a routine meeting of the Justice League is interrupted by five wives and girlfriends bursting in and planting smackers on their amours. Midge puts her tongue down Snapper Carr’s throat, Steve Trevor plants one on Wonder Woman, Mera gives Aquaman an intimate lip-lock, Hawkgirl cosies up with a redhead’s passion to Hawkma, and Jean Loring manages to locate the Atom’s lips, even though her mouth is as big as his face.
And all five Leaguers die, as the other halfs dissolve into pure energy. A mysterious voice orders the rest of the League (except the absent J’Onn J’Onzz) to tackle three cosmic monsters he’s unleashed on Earth: when they are defeated, he’ll reveal himself in their Souvenir Room. By teamwork, Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern and Green Arrow defeat this menace, which disappears like the ladies (and Colonel Steve) did.
Back at the Souvenir Room, Morrow shows himself, to be recognised by Flash and Green Lantern. He has animated five trophies from past League cases: Starro the Conqueror, Amazo, Super-Duper, Dr Light’s light machine, and Felix Faust’s magic bell, which wind up killing the last five Leaguers.
As an encore, Morrow decides to build a beacon that will inflame the populations of Earth-1 and Earth-2 with hatred for each other, then tear aside the vibratory barrier and let them attack each other.
Meanwhile, back on Earth-2, the Red Tornado, who was ‘earthed’ by holding the gun, comes round. To restore the JSA he has to find Morrow and one of his guns. The Tornado’s ‘homing instinct’ is just strong enough to get him to the Justice League sanctuary on Earth-1, where he finds the gallery of ‘dead’ heroes and a tape recording of Morrow’s diary.
Unable to revive the five most recently killed Leaguers without a futurenergy gun, the Tornado concludes that he can restore the first five by having their real-life ladies give them a snog. Being a mere robot, he goes about this task with a lack of tact and diplomacy (although apparently with enough tact and diplomacy not to explain to Jean Loring exactly why she has to cheat on her fiancé Ray Palmer for the good of the cause).
Hawkman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Atom and Snapper are led to Morrow by the Tornado. Whilst Wonder Woman smashes the beacon, the boys knock down the androids and the Tornado slaps Morrow about until he confesses everything, with a strong dose of petulant nastiness about how the Red |Tornado is a nothing, a nobody, a machine.
Having been given this to think about, the Red Tornado takes a gun back to Earth-2 and saves the Justice Society who, despite everything, take him on as a member. But that’s no longer enough. The tortured robot now wants a face, a name, a personality (with Gardner Fox writing?): he wants a place in the world…
* * * * *
The sixth annual JLA/JSA team-up is a story on the cusp of change. Its first part marks the debut of the Justice League’s first new penciller since the beginning, Dick Dillin and its second part was Gardner Fox’s swansong, his final Justice League story.
Change was coming to DC, an overdue change that the company would approach with considerable uncertainty, and in which they would make many mistakes. But it was an historical imperative, inevitable in one form or another since Fantastic Four 1. For all its success, for all its surface slickness, DC had barely changed since the late Forties, least of all in its personnel.
The editors and creators who made DC had been in the industry since the Forties. New people might have broken into comics at Marvel, or at less respected places like Charlton, but DC remained inviolate. Marvel were contained thanks to their distribution contract, which severely limited the number of titles they could put out, but that was closing in on its end. And the writers had tried to get together, ask for benefits that, as freelancers, they had never had. DC refused to play, and the old gang was on the edge of vanishing. Broome was spending more time travelling than scripting, Fox’s oddball plots were losing all coherence.
Carmine Infantino, the doyen of DC artists, had his sights set on higher things. He’d been attending editorial meetings for some time, getting a different perspective on the business, and the company had made him art director, to keep him from being poached by Marvel. He was then promoted to editorial director, in which capacity he started creating new editors, choosing artists rather than writers, and bringing a new sensibility to the role.
One of these was Sekowsky, taking Wonder Woman over from Robert Kanigher, and abruptly abandoning his role as the JLA’s only penciller. His replacement, Dillin, was not noted for superheroes; in fact, he had been the regular artist on Blackhawk, having drawn 133 issues of that title at DC alone before it was cancelled. Nevertheless, Dillin adapted so well to the Justice League that he would draw 115 issues, a run ending only with his death in 1980. Ironically, having begun his JLA career with a JSA team-up, his last issue would be the first part of another such.
Dillin was a good fit for the JLA. It’s fair to say that he was a good meat-and-potatoes penciller: firm, clear, unspectacular and reliant on stock poses, but like Sekowsky he could handle multiple heroes, layout crowded scenes with clarity, and keep the reader’s eye moving from beginning to end.
And it’s doubly ironic to think the the Justice League’s longest running penciller cut his teeth on an issue in which the League’s only appearance was the logo on the cover.
I’ll deal with Fox’s replacement in the context of the next team-up, but the old Reynard proved himself adept at structuring his team-ups with variety to the very end. Not only is issue 64 a solo Justice Society adventure – the first since All-Star 57 – but the two teams do not meet.
The link that connects this two-parter is the villain, T.O. Morrow, and, of course, Fox’s last creation, the new Red Tornado. Morrow had previously appeared in a 1964 issue of The Flash, in a team-up  with Green Lantern, in which he’d been killed off. It was an ingenious notion of Fox’s to revive him by having him fool the heroes into thinking him dead whereas he’d actually removed himself to Earth-2, and by pitting him, very plausibly, against not one but two teams, gave Morrow a basis for a long, if somewhat intermittent career.
The Red Tornado was a different kettle of fish entirely. He was the first revived Golden Age character for over a decade, and it’s very difficult from this team-up to divine what Schwarz and Fox’s motives were. For one thing, there’s the coincidence of the near-simultaneous appearance of The Vision, in The Avengers. For another, the character is simply entirely outside the range of characters created by Fox and/or Schwarz down the decades.
He’s a faceless robot, an android who wants to be human, like some souped-up version of the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. As such, and in the context of 1968, and especially the hidebound DC, he’s a fascinating notion, full of unimaginable potential, a symbol of alienation like you could only dream of.
But he’s created to be a member of the Justice Society of America, on Earth-2, meaning that he can only be seen in two comics each year, and then as part of a much larger, nostalgia-laden group. It’s like creating a ghost character, one not to be seen. And on top of his metaphysical dilemma, there’s the intriguing one of how does the poor bugger function in a team when using his powers makes him equally dangerous to the rest of them?
There’s never been a consistent portrayal of the Red Tornado in the years since, I think partly because he was such an unfathomable departure for DC himself, and because he was cut off from the beginning. If he’d been inserted into the Justice League then, instead of years later, the Tornado would have been able to put down roots, to develop.
But that was Julius Schwarz for you. What mattered most was what the readers wanted. If the readership wanted a Red Tornado, they would have to write in and say so. No dropping a brand new, wholly unestablished character into the Justice League.
It was all a very long time ago.
As for the Justice Society’s role this year, they may have got their first truly solo run-out, but overall the story was a bit of a throwback to the ignominious days of 1964: the JSA are comprehensively beaten – they all ‘died’, remember – leaving the Justice League to save everyone’s day.
Practically the whole Society turns up in the first issue, though the active members are the quintet of Doctor Fate (proving again his major popularity), The Flash, Hourman, Starman and, as the sole female, Black Canary. The other half-dozen are no more than cameo cannon-fodder, though there are some interesting details among the line-up. Mr Terrific is not only there again but is the first to appear, whilst Wildcat is excluded entirely. Dr Mid-Nite attends, in the group panel, but is then left out of every other group shot Dillin composes.
As for the other no-shows, these are, sensibly, the Big Three, and Johnny Thunder.
Unless and until Schwarz was prepared to allow Superman and/or Batman to turn up as Justice Society members, there was no-one new left to revive now. This aspect is conveniently filled by the Red Tornado, who becomes the Justice Society’s first new member for, ah, twelve months.
The story itself is entertaining, though in places relatively unconvincing, especially once the action transfers to Earth-1. Fox kills off half the team, subjects the other half to two fights, the first of which feels uneasily like stuffing, to take up pages, then revives the first half to take over the story. And whilst it’s possible to accept the concept of ‘futurenergy’ that ‘kills’ but does not kill people (and robots), there is nothing but symbolism to support the idea that the real girl-friends can reverse the kiss of death and restore life. It’s a major gap in the internal logic of the story, and we can only assume that Schwarz and Fox decided that such mass passion would cloud the mind of the League’s adolescent audience (a tactic that worked on at least one pre-teen reader, far away from  New York City).
Though we can only boggle at the absolute naivety of Jean Loring, being inexplicably called in to snog the face off a superhero the size of a toy. Call herself a lawyer? No wonder it took about twenty years for her to ‘establish herself in her career’ before marrying Ray Palmer.
Finally, does this issue make it into post-Crisis canon? It’s possible to orient the story to Morrow tackling first one team then the other, though it would require a major retcon of his previous appearance, whilst the idea of setting the populations of two Earth against each other would have to go… The bare bones might be there, but it would require a different story being laid upon them, so, no, not this time.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1967


Justice League of America 55, “The Super-Crisis that struck Earth-2!”/Justice League of America 56, “The Negative Crisis between Earths 1-2!” Written by Gardner Fox, art by Mike Sekowsky (pencils) and Sid Greene (inks), edited by Julius Schwarz.

In China, bandit How Chu is tied to a stake, awaiting execution, when a black sphere appears out of the sky and merges into him. He gains immense strength and invulnerability to bullets and escapes to continue robbing. In Chicago, stenographer Claire Morton is dreaming of jewellery during her lunch hour when a black sphere merges with her: she smashes the windows and steals the gems. In London, businessman Horace Rowland is striding towards the bank to complete a profitable business deal when a sphere lands near him, and he picks it up out of curiosity: he breaks into the vault with great strength and steals the cash. Lastly, ex-fielder Marty Baxter, invalided out of the game due to arthitic pain, is disconsolately watching baseball when he too is merged: full of anger, he sets out to destroy the stadiu,.
Rapidly, all four people adopt costumes and start a crime rampage.
All this, we learn, has taken place on Earth-2, where the Justice Society are meeting to welcome their first new member in 19 years. This is Robin, the former Boy Wonder, now fully grown and inducted into the JSA as an (implicit) successor to Batman (who is not present: though semi-retired, he takes on special cases and is off on one at the moment).
Robin’s first mission is to assist the JSA against these four super-powered crooks. The Sports-Smasher beats Wildcat and Robin into a pulp. Wonder Woman is beaten by Gem Girl’s ability to manipulate jewels to assist her. Hawkman and Mr Terrific are brought down by the Money Master’s ability to manipulate external objects and floor them, whilst Hourman tackles How Chu, but is left buried by his ability to conjure up whirlwinds.
The defeated JSA return to their meeting rooms to find Johnny Thunder, who’d been late, waiting for them. Directly he hears what’s been going on, Johnny T sends his Thunderbolt to capture the four super-crooks, but half an hour later, the Bolt returns, beaten and bruised and unsuccessful.
Crestfallen, Johnny sends the Bolt to Earth-1 to bring back some Justice Leaguers, in the hope they have some new ideas. The Bolt returns with Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern and Green Arrow, all of whom are similarly dishevelled, and none too pleased at being snatched off their Earth. It seems they have been struggling against similar super powered foes and didn’t like being interrupted. However, they agree to stay and see if a joint action can bring any results they can take back to Earth-1.
By chance, it is revealed that the Thunderbolt, being less dumb that Johnny Thunder, has checked out what the black spheres are. It appears that they were creatures from another Universe. They, and it, had reached the peak of evolution and, when their Universe began to fall back, flung themselves into Earth-2’s Universe, hoping to connect with creatures that can help them survive and grow further.
Unfortunately, for the black spheres, only four of them made contact with humans and, unfortunately for everybody else, a chemical reaction between the two has turned the humans evil. What’s worse is that, at the moment, the black spheres are dormant in their hosts’ bodies. When they awake to full sentience, they will be unstoppable.
End of part one.


Suddenly, Robin has a brainwave. Only four black spheres may have connected with humans, but all the others may have left radiation that they can use to enhance their own powers. The four fastest heroes team-up to find, mark and mine sites, eventually gathering enough radiation to energise four heroes. Because they have powers already, these are Earth-2’s Wonder Woman and Hourman, and Earth-1’s Flash and Green Lantern. And because each of them will be vulnerable to the evil effects of the radiation, each is accompanied by other heroes.
Superman and Robin accompany Hourman to Rome, where Marty Baxter is carrying on his destructive course. As soon as he comes within the villain’s influence, Hourman turns against and fights his colleagues. He is beating them when Robin realises that Hourman has unnecessarily avoided his blow when on the banks of the Tiber: bodychecking his team-mate into the river, he confirms that the black spheres are affected by water, and Superman brings the irradiated hero down.
Hawkman and Green Arrow and tracking the Flash against How Chu, until the Flash goes bad. However, Green Arrow that notices that the Flash preferred to cut, dangerously, across the path of one of his trick arrows rather than run through a wisteria field: the heroes are tipping their colleagues off as to their weaknesses, and the black spheres are allergic to wisteria blossom.
Wildcat and Mr Terrific are shadowing Green Lantern as Horace Rowland is now robbing in Scotland (complete with steam trains and gorges). But when the Lantern uses a power ring glove to punch Wildcat up into a tree, it breaks off a branch that floors the Emerald Gladiator: wisely, the two heroes grab branches and beat the crap out of him.
Finally, Wonder Woman, with Johnny and his Thunderbolt for company, trails Gem Girl to the villains lair. As soon as she turns bad, the Amazon Princess knocks Johnny out and actually starts fighting her opponent, until they inadvertently smash a water-cooler, which wakes him up. Gem Girl flees as the Bolt discovers that the black sphere people have been simply reflecting his magic back at him.
Nervously, Johnny tries to clear the air with a joke, a terrible joke, but Wonder Woman giggles. Encouraged, he tries another (equally bad) which renders her helpless with laughter: it is a major, major black sphere weakness.
Having incapacitated Wonder Woman, Johnny advances to find all the villains together with the Bolt warning him that the spheres themselves are about to wake up. Fortunately, Johnny has not exhausted his stock of cheap gags, creasing up the villainous quartet until the Bolt can drive the spheres out of everybody’s bodies, to their death.
Almost immediately, heroes arrive from all over with water, wisteria and wood, only to discover that they’ve been outdone by, er, wit. Kindly, they don’t let on to Johnny that he hasn’t saved the day all alone, not that he’d notice as he’s so busy writing out jokes for the Justice League quartet to take back to Earth-1 to overcome their black spheres…
* * * * *
It’s Johnny Thunder again, isn’t it? Don’t tell me you hadn’t noticed. At least it’s the real Johnny Thunder this time, in all his… glory… and not some purple jacketed imposter.
Having run out of old Justice Society members to bring back, Fox and Schwarz went to the opposite extreme and inducted a new JSA member for the first time in almost two decades. In doing so,they acknowledged a point that the previous year’s team-up had rather fudged – that the whole Golden Age revival to this point had fudged – which was the question of whether there were also two of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.
So now we know there were, which opened up a smaller but, for those interested in the minutiae of continuity, absolutely fascinating can of very exclusive worms. Batman exists in the Justice Society (though it is noticeable that he can’t be bothered to turn up to celebrate his ward’s graduation into the big time). And if Batman exists on Earth-2, Fox and Schwarz can introduce Wonder Woman for a first active adventure.
Needless to say, there is little (or in Wonder Woman’s case, no) time spared to explore the differences between the Earth-2 edition and the standard model. The Earth-2 version is staider in her fashion tastes, preferring to retain those laced Grecian sandals than revert to red and yellow boots. However, it is Robin who is the sartorial highlight, choosing for some incredulous reason to retain the design of his costume but kit it out in Batman’s colours, whilst retaining his yellow cape and insisting on a symbol of a bright red R superimposed on a headless bat.
The story is astonishingly simple compared to previous editions of the team-up. Villains rob. Villains beat JSA. Villains beat Thunderbolt (offstage). Thunderbolt hauls in four JLAers to make it into a team-up before Fox goes into typically talky ending to explain what’s going on. Heroes supercharge some of their number to try to compete. Each one goes evil and, in Marvel fashion, turns on their team-mates. However, in Fox fashion, each drops a clue as to how they can be beaten and Johnny Thunder saves the day (he actually does, you know: the others didn’t get there in time).
What bulks the tale out is splitting the action into four fights each time, with each fight taking rather longer than most JLA/JSA encounters have previously done, in which we see the growing influence of Marvel again. Bigger art, more fights, heroes turning upon one another (albeit via a perfectly reasonable alien influence, they would never have done that normally). The Sixties were beginning to catch-up to DC.
Structurally, Fox once again rings the changes. The action, this time, takes place wholly on Earth-2, and for the first part, the Justice League are literally out of sight and out of mind, until page 20 of 23. The overwhelming prominence of the Society, and the fact that the League are in exactly the same state as them, deprives the move of the suggestion it might once have had  of the JSA being inferior.
And Fox is careful to split the heroes chosen to be infected with the black sphere radiation equally among the teams, although by this point there are nearly twice as many JSA as JLA.
It should be noticed that, with this team-up, Dr Fate loses his perfect record, and that Mr. Terrific doubles his previous number of missions with the Justice Society. Twice in three years: unfortunately, this was not the beginning of a new lease of life for the Man of a Thousand Talents, the Defender of Fair Play: he would appear in action only twice in the next decade, the second of these very briefly before his death. But that’s a matter for another day.
This story is also a good illustration of the attitudes that Americans have towards those lesser beings who fill out the more unimportant parts of this planet. As an English citizen, I obviously look with a critical eye upon money magnate Horace Rowlands. True, he is introduced in bowler hat, rolled umbrella and briefcase, and it’s only when he gains super-powers that he acquires a florid top hat and a monocle (none of the villains fare well on costumes, except for Gem Girl, with her mini-dress, kinky boots and utterly chic little hat).
But as Horace, he’s an accurate picture of a City-based businessman of the time, and at least he doesn’t have a double-barrelled surname, and I for one have seen dozens of incredibly more insulting portrayals down the years in American comics.
Though I do have issues with the idea of England sending its as yet unstolen gold into Scotland on trains travelling on wooden trestles across deep gorges in the Scottish Highlands that are far to the north of cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh that might have security facilities better than the Bank of England for gold bullion. Gorges, incidentally, in which primroses grow and apple trees offer bright red apples of a shade not even a supermarket has yet produced.
But you can’t complain about that when you’ve got the question of How Chu (and yes, that gag is also in there). How Chu is a Chinese bandit, which is an almighty cliché in itself. In 1967, China was a Communist country, saving only Nationalist China on the island of Taiwan. This much is, apparently, recognised when we meet How Chu about to be executed by Chinese Communist Soldiers.
However, once How Chu makes his black sphere inspired escape, he dresses something like a Mongol warrior from the days of Ghenghis Khan, and robs ancient Chinese merchants on the Silk Road from Lanchow to Kashgar (so, not Taiwan, then). The Silk Road, of which there are many, was a trading route from the west into China, dating back to the First Century BCE. The Chinese merchants (on a 2,000 year old road) in Communist China, are being chauffeured in an ancient, black 1930’s car of a kind usually only found in very early Terry and the Pirates adventures, before Milton Caniff started doing research. These merchants, in Communist China, are carrying bags of gold and are dressed in mandarin suits of bright collars, in which they stand, hunch-shouldered, their hands concealed in their great, wide, drooping sleeves, whilst wearing little skull-caps on shaven heads.
Nearly a decade later, Paul Levitz would become the first Justice Society writer to exploit the fact that Earth-2 was a different planet, likely with a different political history. It’s possible that, in a subtle manner, Fox and Schwarz may be prefiguring his efforts by presenting a China that had never known a Mao Tse-Tung. But I doubt it.
It was all so long ago, and in another country, and besides, the wench is dead. And yes, it was a kid’s comic. But it is emblematic of the total disregard for accuracy as to conditions in other countries that typified mainstream America than and, sadly, now.
I nevertheless enjoyed it in 1967, and the fun it brought me burns still in my memories, meaning that I can specify its flaws, and still forgive it those failings, because a part of me lives in this story still.
And a shout out must be made about the horribly dull titles for this pair of issues.
Unfortunately, this is one of those that could very easily be adapted to fit the post-Crisis canon. It sorta works that way, doesn’t it?