By the light of a Green Flame: All-American Comics


All-American Comics was the flagship publication of the newly-formed All-American Publications, the company founded by M.C (Charley) Gaines in partnership with Detective Comics’ Harry Donenfeld, who put up the capital in return for a 50% silent partnership and a role as Business Manager for Detective’s Business Manager, Jack Leibowitz.
Though Detective was making its waves on the back of its two masked men characters, Superman and Batman, and though Gaines had sought the money to set up his own company because of the success of Donenfeld’s titles, the new series did not at first feature any superheroes. That would not come until issue 16, and when it did the new hero would be All-American‘s mainstay for the rest of its run.
The first issue, from April 1939, is very much a thing from a bygone age. All-American led with Red, White and Blue, three American boys who’d grown up as friends, entered different branches of the services in the war and, thanks to their chivalrous impulses towards a beautiful woman in a tight situation, found themselves transferred as a special unit to G2, America’s secret service. There were Mutt and Jeff reprints, Sunday pages from Bud Fisher’s classic newspaper strip, and the same from Percy Crosby’s highly acclaimed but largely forgotten Skippy. Gene Byrnes’ Reg’lar Fellers was another newspaper strip, one I’d never heard of before, and not hard to understand why.

Hop Harrigan, by Jon L. Blummer (credited as Jon Elby), a future phenomenon as America’s air pilot hero of the airwaves also debuted. Editor Sheldon Mayer contributed his quasi-autobiographical Scribbly, Adventures of a Boy Cartoonist, of which more would come. Adventures in the Unknown, the Mystery Men of Mars, by Carl Claudy, started off like the crassest and stupidest of SF. Edwin Alger’s Ben Webster started like a continuation of an ongoing series, which it was, a pretty bog standard juvenile adventure newspaper strip.
Harry Lampert, of The Flash fame, produced Spot Savage, about a news reporter and there were more from Gene Byrnes and Bud Fisher, half-pagers featuring Daisybelle and Cicero’s Cat, respectively, which appeared as ‘header’ series on the newspaper Sunday pages. Tippie, by Edwina, was a silent strip about a dog. Fontaine Fox’s Toonerville Folks was yet another reprinted Sunday strip, as was George Storm’s Bobby Thatcher, though that strip had been defunct two years when All-American 1 came out. Lastly, there was Wiley of West Point, by Lieut. Richard Rick.
It’s hardly an impressive line-up. Superman had been in existence since April 1938, and Batman was brand new. All-American offered very little new material and was overloaded with newspaper strip reprints of varying quality, making it almost a premature throwback to the very first comic books of the early part of the decade. Mutt and Jeff is legendary, but it’s humour is tilted to the age, Skippy is more of a cult than anything else, and Scribbly has potential it certainly doesn’t use in issue 1.

This is an eighty year old comic book with an amateurish logo. And it looks it.
Weirdly enough, Red Dugan developed ‘mental telepathy’ in issue 2, which was an altogether cheaper issue, with limited colouring of the kind you used to get in the Victor and the Hornet in Britain in the Sixties. And in issue 3, Scribbly Jibbet met Huey Hunkel and, what’s more important, his Ma, Ma Hunkel. And there was a very familiar opening line to Huey’s Great American Novel (5 pages with every other word crossed out because Huey kept thinking of a better one). It was a dark and stormy night. You just know someone’s going to use that!
The first addition to the line-up was an adaptation of the renowned play starring Fredric March, The American Way, a patriotic play about German immigrants learning to be American. The title also added Popsicle Pete, the Typical American Boy (have you noticed something of a theme developing around here?), though that was based on a real contest winner from the Popsicle Company.
So far, with the exception of Scribbly, so not much, but the first quasi-superhero hit the front cover on issue 8, introducing Gary Concord, the Ultra-Man. Concord, who took over the lead slot from Red, White and Blue, is the High Moderator of America in 2239 but to begin with he had to play second fiddle to the life story of his father, a 20th century worker for peace carried into the future in suspended animation. Spot Savage dropped out, unnoticed. And to keep pace with what was going on around, issue 9 carried a full page advert for All American Publications’ new title, Flash Comics. The true superhero was arriving at the company.
It only took until issue 10 before Red, White and Blue were back in pole position, and Gary Concord moved further within. The perpetually stiff Wiley of West Point disappeared without warning after issue 12, in mid-cliffhanger, which also saw the last Toonerville Folks, but the unspeakably worthless Adventures into the Unknown was kept.
All of this, however, was but a generally unmemorable prelude to issue 16. All-American gained a new, and much more professional logo, a new cover character and a new leading feature, the one the comic is known for: enter the Green Lantern.
It’s a well-known story: young railroad engineer Alan Scott (who was originally going to be called Alan Ladd – as is in Al Ladd-in’s lamp – before the famous actor appeared) should have died when a bomb sabotaged the new line he’d built. Instead the mysterious green railroad lantern saved him and granted him power over metals, from the Green Flame of Life. Green Lantern was the creation of artist Martin Nodell (going by Mart Dellon), fleshed out by writer Bill Finger, to whom Nodell was far more generous than Bob Kane had been. GL’s far from green costume only appeared in one panel, but it was the start, of something very much bigger.

The classic history has Scott moving to the city (not named as Gotham until issue 91) and becoming a radio announcer so as to be ahead of breaking news of crimes, but he doesn’t even join Apex Broadcasting until issue 20, and then as a radio engineer, a status he retains for ages. In later issues, Scott would work for Station WCMG (once) before settling at WXYZ, and he would bounce around various roles like Special Events Director, Radio Announcer (see!), Program Director and Presenter.
As an employee of Apex Broadcasting, Scott would work for, alongside and in charge of Irene Miller, his Producer, Broadcaster and eventually secretary until, one day, the young lady with a crush on Green Lantern just drifted away, completely forgotten.
Green Lantern’s immediate success quickly emboldened Mayer to commission another costumed hero, The Atom, in issue 19. Written and drawn interchangeably, I believe, by Ben Flinton and Bill O’Connor, this was 5’1” tall college student Al Pratt, looked down upon for his height, who was trained by boxing trainer Joe Morgan to become a fighter, but instead used his scrapping abilities to become a hero, to rescue his fellow student and would be date, Mary James. Whichever man drew at any time, they were both lousy, as in barely better than I can draw.
Gary Concord’s run came to an end in issue 19, only for Adventures into the Unknown to return after an all-too-short breather. Sadly, Percy Crosby’s Skippy and its header also left the scene, though Bud Fisher and Gene Byrnes hung around. For a short time: Reg’Lar Fellers was the next to depart, leaving its header strip, Daisybelle, behind.
Suddenly, they were everywhere. In issue 20, the Green Lantern’s fame spread as far as Scribbly’s series, prompting Ma Hunkel to put on red longjohns and a saucepan with eyeholes cut out to rescue Dinky Jibbet and Sisty Hunkel as The Red Tornado, the first parody superhero and, beating Wonder Woman by a clear year, the first superheroine. A couple of issues later, the feature was re-titled Scribbly and The Red Tornado. By issue 24, Sisty and Dinky had joined in the fun as the Cyclone Kids. And the Red Tornado’s name kept getting bigger, and Scribbly’s kept getting smaller…

All-American was now accelerating towards its remembered shape. Ben Webster’s stout-hearted adventures came to an end in issue 24, to accommodate the debut of blinded surgeon-turned-superhero, Charles ‘Dr Mid-Nite’ McNider, created by Charles Reizenstein and Stan Aschmeier. He was followed two issues later by Sargon the Sorceror, the work of John B Wentworth and Howard Purcell. This latter made All-American a fully-fledged superhero comic, like Flash Comics. Of the newspaper strips, only Bud Fisher’s work remained, and weirdly some of these were reprints from earlier in the run.
I’ve refrained so far from substantive comment, but I do have a two pennorth to put in about Red, White and Blue. Though it’s supposedly about the three friends, Marine Sergeant Red Dugan, Army Sergeant Whitey Smith and Sailor Blooey Blue, most stories see them operating as a quartet, at first under the orders of, then usually with established G2 agent Doris West. Doris is a beautiful woman, of course, and winds up, in the background, becoming Red’s girlfriend.
There’s a visual dichotomy from the start in that she and Red are drawn realistically, but that Whitey and Blooey are cartoon figures, one big and blonde, the other small and dark. Whitey’s the brawn, Blooey the comic relief: well, both of them are, but he’s the overt one, the put-upon one, the Johnny Thunder.
It’s very noticeable that, as time goes on, Red forgets that Doris is the experienced one who arranged for him to join G2. Increasingly, he starts getting macho on her, leave it to the men, stay at home with your knitting, sneering at her ideas. Thankfully, the series doesn’t: Doris is always right but Red never learns. This really is a boy’s comic, because the some thing goes on in Hop Harrigan, whenever Gerry, aka Geraldine, crops up, no matter how competent she shows herself to be, and Gary Concord was equally snotty about women.
It’s annoying because it shows itself widely across several series. It’s not like Flash Comics, where The Flash and Hawkman have girlfriends who insisting on getting involved in their game, where the misogynist elements are only a reflection of the times, and the attitude of the men is mainly one of humouring. There was a genuine anger, almost a foot-stamping aggression, in Red, White and Blue and the other series at this point.

Doiby

Green Lantern was the title’s flagship character, its cover star and first feature, almost throughout the entire run, though his hold on that role would be shaken as All-American neared the end of its life. By rights, this should have been a top-notch Forties series, but with issue 27, Nodell and Finger permanently crippled the series by introducing a full-time comic relief character in scrappy little taxi-driver Doiby Dickles.
Doiby, who took his name from his trademark derby (or bowler) hat as pronounced in his Brooklyn accent, was a constant drag on the idea of taking Green Lantern seriously. There was some decent amusement to be had from his outlandish speech patterns at the first, but that was forgotten before too long. In issue 35, Doiby was allowed to see Green Lantern without his mask and, being Apex Broadcasting’s official cabbie by then, recognise him as Alan Scott.
On a lighter note, Bill Finger demonstrated a penchant for knocking off crooks in the course of climactic fights, by knocking them off gantries into vats of acid. Everywhere criminals went, they kept vats of acid under gantries. No wonder the Health and Safety Laws had to be toughened up. Even The Atom got in on the act in issue 29, but to be fair he only dropped Nazi saboteurs into molten steel, whilst Red, White and Blue burned their spies to death.
There was a nadir to come, that thankfully passed. Bill Finger left the series at issue 41, with the stories now credited to Mart Nodell (under his real name) and Irwin Hasen. Sadly, the new regime got the idea of putting Doiby Dickles into a Green Lantern costume (greugh! Bad sight!) and calling him Devastatin’ Doiby (come back Bill Finger!)

I said I can draw better than this

Hop Harrigan had early on developed a supporting cast of veteran flier Prop Wash (not a nickname), and big, red-headed mechanic Ikky Tinker, which confused me as I knew the latter as Tank Tinker from the prose stories appearing in All-Star Comics. Now, issue 32 revealed his full name to be His Grace Tutankhamen Anastasius Angustora Ichabod Tinker: you know why he immediately became Tank, but just what was so wrong with Ikky (apart from the obvious)?
Flinton and O’Connor stayed with The Atom until they were drafted, and never returned to comics. Replacements, in the form of Joe Gallagher (art) and Ted Udall (scripts) had to be found. Matters improved, marginally at any rate: at least the Atom’s cape looked like a cape, and not a hand towel. And Al Pratt finally managed to get a date with Mary James! Who started switching, inconsistently, from brunette to blonde and back again.
The War arrived with a vengeance in issue 42. Hop Harrigan had already gone into Air training and we got a piece of utter nonsense masquerading as a Dr Mid-Nite story involving the Germans and a rather more serious, and better story for Sargon the Sorceror, foiling the Japanese.
Continuity was not due to be a thing in comics for nearly twenty years but there were changes galore in Green Lantern over issues 41 to 45. On the other hand, The Red Tornado was consistent: consistently funny, silly and, in issue 45, gloriously metafictional, with Ma Hunkel and the kids getting fed up of the same old malarkey every month and getting Mayer himself to come down and argue with them! Mayer would play about with the strip again, re-imagining its characters in historical times and as funny animals, but always wonderfully.
Enthusiasm for the War led to Hop Harrigan replacing GL on the cover of issue 47, with The Atom sitting out to make room for the Story of Joshua, the Bible tale. Charley Gaines had a thing for educational comics and had started a half-yearly title, Picture Stories from the Bible. The Joshua story probably came from that, but if it was at all representative of Gaines’ new project, then it was a bust in comics terms: undramatic, weak, perfunctory cartooning that was probably much too respectful of its source to be of the least value as entertainment or education.
Just as wartime paper-rationing affected All-Star and the Justice Society, All-American came in for its share of pain from issue 51, reducing from 68 to 60 pages. The drop was quite easily accommodated by taking the comic’s junior feature with it: farewell Sargon the Sorceror.

Two issues later, Alan Scott’s Oath, the one he’s used in every post-Golden Age appearance, was replaced with a new one used in every remaining story in the series, a familiar but incongruous verse beginning “In Brightest Day, in Blackest Night…” It looked so strange coming from the ‘wrong’ GL. It’s recognised that this Oath was composed by future SF legend Alfred Bester, though his name wasn’t credited, not on this or any other Green Lantern story.
Hop Harrigan’s series, now supported by a five days a week radio programme, had always been a more or less realistic air ace adventure, especially when Hop was going through Air Force training. Suddenly, it added a silent pageboy-bobbed young lad called Hippity, who carried a machete and acted daft, and the strip spiralled into idiocy. The annoying thing was that I was sure I recognised Hippity from something else, but I have no idea what. Hippety would eventually disappear in favour of more serious, if still at times fanciful stories, but the little bugger would keep coming back and crashing future episodes every time.
Interestingly enough, Dr Mid-Nite’s adversary in issue 57 went by the name of The Shade. He was no relation to the Flash’s villain of that name in Flash Comics (who was no relation to any version of the character who appeared in that legendary issue, The Flash 121, in 1961).
The further All-American went into 1944, the more noticeable it was that the stories were getting sillier, as if the writers had run out of conviction in what they were doing and could only maintain series by starting to make fun of them. Admittedly, more and more of the better creators had been drafted into the Army now. Paul Reinman was drawing Green Lantern, Sheldon Mayer was getting increasingly metafictional within The Red Tornado, nobody knew from issue to issue what colour Mary James’ hair would be, and that was before she started hiring would-be crooks to unmask the Atom. Red White and Blue got dafter and worse drawn, until everybody, Red Dugan included, looked like cartoons. Suddenly, the three fighting men, and Doris West, were split up into solo stories, told as letters amongst them, which rendered the whole series pointless. It was as if the entire comic was undergoing a nervous breakdown.

Paper rationing had reduced All-American to 52 pages, and bi-monthly publication alternating with Flash Comics. More changes had to be made. The first of these was the cancellation of Scribbly and The Red Tornado after issue 59. Such a shame. It had been All-American’s most consistently entertaining series from day one.
Better was on its way for Green Lantern, at least for the debut, in issue 61, of Solomon Grundy, though it was a shame that this should be one of the relatively few issues on the DVD available only in fiche form. Unfortunately, this was a one-off, with the decline into asininity resuming immediately. The same issue was the last of The Atom’s continuous adventures to be published in All-American. His place was taken by Picture Stories from American History, which was being shared in Sensation Comics and Comics Cavalcade, but he would be back after a nine issue hiatus, for three further stories, the first being as childishly drawn as anything Flinton and O’Connor had ever perpetrated, before going for good.
The intention was cancellation, and replacement in the Justice Society, but this fell foul of a fluke circumstance, and the Mighty Mite would re-emerge in Flash Comics.
The Green Lantern story in issue 64 featured a horse that liked to sit on eggs. The only other place I’ve heard that referred was Alan Plater’s TV serial and novel, Oliver’s Travels. Was this some sort of contemporary gag, an in-joke for 1945? I found a Google link, but the page refused to open, so I remain ignorant.
Wars, however, do not last forever. In issue 66, Red White and Blue were reuniting separated German families whilst Hop Harrigan was still fighting in the Far East. On the other hand, a month later Whitey was still writing fighting letters from Berlin and Hop and Tank were heading home to Hippity (I’d rather have stayed bombing the Japanese).
We’re now at the era of the All-American/Detective Comics split, ended after six months by the merger of the two companies and the dissolution of All-American Publications. Issue 70 saw the old DC logo return to the cover. The increasingly dismal Red White and Blue strip was put out of its misery in issue 72, in favour of The Black Pirate (and his son Justin), transferring over from his old berth in Sensation Comics.
The Atom’s second departure was in favour of The Flash’s Three Dimwits, Winky, Blinky and Noddy in a solo story. The Black Pirate lasted two stories but was soon back on a permanent basis, The Flash turned up in the second Three Dimwits story. And Alan Scott was broadcasting for Station WXYZ in issue 76.
The quality of All-American had now become so poor that a fiche that was next to unreadable was a relief, since it was the best excuse not to read an issue. Was there ever going to be a decent issue again? Only Dr Mid-Nite attempted to offer straight stories any more. Green Lantern’s stock had fallen so far that he was displaced from the cover for two consecutive issues, first by Hop Harrigan, then by Mutt & Jeff, with the latter also displacing his position as lead feature. They were a reprinted newspaper strip, remember? They were the lead.

Sargon the Sorceror

Mutt and Jeff took the cover again, and the lead, in issue 83. Green Lantern dropped Paul Reinman from the art and Doiby from the meat of the story for once and came up with a perfectly decent, neatly drawn tale, and The Black Pirate dropped back in, albeit to meet blue-skinned aliens: sigh, why can’t they get things right? But the same issue had a surprisingly good Hop Harrigan story, the first in months worth reading, as Hop received letters from the past from his mother, and went searching for her in Colombia. There he found that she was long dead, but that he had a sister, who returned with him to America.
The Forties were not a great time for supervillains, unless you were Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman. With the exception of that solitary Solomon Grundy tale, Green Lantern had gone without in All-American (his regular villain, The Fool, only ever appeared in GL’s solo title).
Suddenly, the series had a rash of supervillains. ‘Crusher’ Crock, aka The Sportsmaster, the World’s dirtiest sports player, debuted in issue 85, only to die at the end of it: did the editors have no idea? Similarly, The Icicle was killed off in his first story, in issue 90. Don’t worry, both returned from their apparent deaths, The Icicle in issue 92 and The Sportsmaster as The Sportsmaster in issue 98.
More notable, and sensible, was the debut in issue 89 of Green Lantern’s ‘friendly’ enemy, the red-headed Harlequin. Alan Scott was back at the radio station for the first time in ages, as Program Director, with a new secretary, a Miss Maynne (Molly), who rather likes the crimefighter and, after years of being starved of beaus because of her athletic prowess, decided to become a villainess in order to attract Green Lantern’s attention. It was a silly notion, especially as a redhead who looked like that would be fighting them off in droves in real life.
The Harlequin, who made no secret of being in love with Green Lantern and wanting to marry him (this was still years before the Comics Code but even villains couldn’t have sex without a Marriage Licence). She and Molly Maynne made five appearances, including three consecutive ones, in seven issues of All-American only to disappear completely but for two back of the head cameos by Molly thereafter.
One of those stories did not show Green Lantern up in a particularly good light, when he decided to ask Molly out on a date to play on The Harlequin’s jealousy. What effect this might have on the ‘innocent’ Miss Maynne was not in his thinking, the asshole.
The Harlequin’s debut was accompanied by the first appearance by Cotton-Top Katie, a cartoon feature about a young girl with fluffy white hair, and her idiotic classmate the Perfesser. Cotton-Top ran for ten issues and was All-American’s penultimate new feature.
The Harlequin’s streak was brought to an end in issue 96 which introduced Streak the Wonder Dog. Actually, the story was more Streak, assisted by Green Lantern than the other way round, though having Alex Toth on the art made up for a lot. But it was a sign that the Golden Age was entering into its dog days. Where Flash Comics displayed a late burst of strength, its senior was collapsing in upon itself with a whimper.
After 99 issues, and a return bout with girl pirate ‘Jolly’ Roger, Hop Harrigan’s strip came to an abrupt end. It’s replacement was a western series, Johnny Thunder, no relation to the former JSA member with a magic lightning bolt. It was a foreshadowing, a foreshadowing of a future rushing towards All-American’s readership faster than they would have expected.
The comic reached issue 100 under a cover date of August 1948, suggesting it went on sale two months beforehand. Johnny Thunder, a strange mix of sharpshooter and costumed hero rubbed coal dust in his hair to disguise his ‘real’ identity of blond schoolteacher Johnny Tane, the Sheriff’s son. He also took over the cover, denying Green Lantern the landmark that he deserved. The series looked good, because it too was drawn by Alex Toth.
But Johnny was the future. All-American Comics 102 was a fiche copy: Johnny Thunder, Dr Mid-Nite, The Black Pirate, Green Lantern and, for the first and only time, no Mutt & Jeff, and it was over. When issue 103 appeared, a month later, it was as All-American Western Comics. Time was up for Green Lantern and Dr Mid-Nite, except for two more years in the Justice Society and All-Star Comics. The Golden Age was all but done. Westerns, Crime comics, Comic comics, but not superheroes in the way they’d been.

The Great DC Crossover – Part 3 – Arrow


At least the two on the right appeared...
At least the two on the right appeared…

As crossovers go in general, this episode was pretty much of a bust, the last five minutes excepted, when the Dominators and their plans to invade Earth and give it some serious welly with ‘the weapon’ became more than a MacGuffin for the real intent of Arrow‘s 100th episode.

On the other hand, as episodes of Arrow go, this was bloody brilliant and better than anything we’ve seen in the last two series, if not more.

So: where we left off last night, Team Arrow (aka Ollie, Dig, Thea, Sarah and Ray) vanished. Back in Star City, Felicity and Cisco, with the respective aids of Rene/Wild Dog, Curtis/Mr Terrific and Rory/Ragman, tracked down where they were being held captive. This required a brief altercation with some real throwaway enhanced woman, for which Flash and Supergirl turned up to turn her over. Our missing quintet were found to be on the Dominator spaceship, which they exited in some kind of mini-ship, pursued by a whole swarm of mini-ships intent on death and destruction, until rescued by the Waverider and Nate Heywood (who’s been left out so far).

All of which was the mainly thin gristle around the meat of episode 100, which featured Ollie’s own version of Flashpoint, the life he could have had, which perhaps he should have had, if one thing hadn’t happened. That signifying point was The Queen’s Gambit cruise.

Ollie didn’t die. His Dad didn’t die. Deathstroke had no reason to kill his mother. Sarah never joined the League of Assassins. Without one Black Canary there was never a need for a second, so Laurel didn’t die, in fact tomorrow is her wedding day. To Ollie. His Dad wants him to take over Queen Consolidated as CEO, without which the board will accept Ray Palmer’s buy-out. Detective Lance isn’t an alcoholic. Thea doesn’t know who her real father is. Tommy Merlin’s alive, and of all things he’s a doctor in Chicago (on Chicago Hope?). There is an arrow-wielding vigilante, nicknamed the Hood, and assisted by Ray’s fiancee, Felicity, but it’s Diggle.

It’s wrong, all wrong, every bad thing undone. I’ve seen it before in comics, it”s not original, it’s the idea that underpins The Last Temptation of Christ and I don’t expect it was new then. The hero’s real enemy is not defeat, or death, it is happiness. It’s been the underpinning of Arrow since episode 1 and it’s been the dire ruination of the series for these last two miserable seasons, and here it is, overthrown. What it could have been, what has been sacrificed.

It’s unreal, and at every turn things are thrown up, things that trigger all five victim’s memories, although mostly Ollie’s. The story is always the same and the end is always the same: the hero rejects peace, rejects fulfillment, the dirty and desperate reality is restored. But it’s so hard. Thea refuses at first, the little girl who has her parents back, her mother and her father, who can’t bear to repeat the loss. Who among us doesn’t respond to that? You know what I would give to havve my father come back, to have had that life instead. But she comes out to fight with the rest, for no reason given, overcomes her obstacles, awakens with the rest.

It’s The Flash 300, Cary Bates’ greatest story. It’s that episode of Red Dwarf where they discover it’s been a virtual reality game all along. It’s every story that’s ever ended ‘and they she woke up, and it had all been a dream’, except that the dream is the thing you want to carry on forever.

It’s a fine and memorable episode, but in terms of the crossover, they’re dumping one hell of a lot on Legends of Tomorrow‘s shoulders for the final part, and assuming all for get renewed for another season each (and there’s a very good case for denying Arrow the chance to get any more turgid), and they decide to do another crossover, they need to do something a lot better next time.

Tune in tomorrow for the final part.

The Great DC Crossover – Part 2 – The Flash


1, 2, 3...
1, 2, 3…

Now that was more like it.

The Flash part of the Great DC Crossover was the true start, with the arrival on Earth of the Dominators, invading aliens, necessitating bringing together every known superhero to face them. Given that this Earth-menacing menace was so big, it needed the combined cast of four shows to tackle it, it seemed clunky that the on going continuity of the three combined series should still go rattling on, but hey, it all just added to the density of affairs.

We started with Team Flash still testing the newly-powered Wally West, who’s shaping up to be faster even than Barry, but who everyone wants to keep away from actually getting out there to fight the good fight. This is interrupted by the arrival of a meteorite in downtown Central City, which turns out to not be a meteorite but rather a spaceship, out of which clomped the Dominators, in some of the worst CGI the show’s come up with to date. Just as soon as Lyla Michaels confirms these are aliens who’ve been around before in the Fifties, Barry decides to set up a task force.

This means pulling Green Arrow and Spartan out of the way of the Vigilante’s machine guns, plus Speedy jumping out of retirement because, hey, its aliens and that’s cool, plus a time beacon to summon the Legends – Ray has out of nowhere rebuilt his Atom suit – and Barry dragging a reluctant Cisco off to collect an alien of their own in Kara per yesterday.

Incidentally, I know we’re not exactly sticking to the classic DC Multiverse but it was a little demeaning I thought to have Kara’s Universe down as Earth-38. Something in single figures, at least.

So, its everybody hurriedly practicing how to be an en masse team, Wally keep getting pushed out of the way, everybody crashing and burning against a Supergirl who wasn’t even sweating and time to advance a couple of Legends of Tomorrow plot-points. First, there’s this mysterious  message from Barry itself that Jax and Professor Stein have been concealing from everyone else the past few weeks, which turns out to be for forty years in the future, confessing to the Flashpoint thing and warning everyone to beware because Barry could have fucked over all their futures.

Needless to say, Ollie counseled keeping it schtum, since Barry was Mission Leader (even though Ollie was giving the proxy orders), which didn’t even last ten minutes of screen-time before Cisco found the mp4 player, thus furthering his own Flashpoint-fuelled resentment of his erstwhile friend.

So, when everybody shot off to rescue the President from the cardboard cut-out CGI aliens, nobody wanted  Barry around, and Ollie stayed with him out of sympathy.

(I haven’t forgotten the other Legends bit, the one about Martin Stein having headaches and visions about a dark pageboyed young woman who he loves, rather than Isabella Hofman, aka his blonde and still lovely wife, Clarissa. He gets Caitlin to accompany him to his home, where Pageboy jumps out at him, hugs him, says she loves him, puts the wind up him good and proper until she calls him ‘Dad’. Phew! Cue near sprint away).

Back at the crossover Team Everybody But the Leaders walks into a trap that has them mind-dominated by the Dominators (heh, heh) and coming to get Barry and Ollie, but not before our franchise-holders have done a bit of deep background bonding. Barry shows Ollie the hidden room from season 1, and the Crisis headline newspaper from 2024, whilst Ollie goes back to his season 1 to speak of how his Dad sacrificed himself so Ollie could live.

Then they face off against the rest of the teams, until Barry gets Kara mad enough to chase him and smash through the Dominators’ machine, restoring everyone to their right minds.

Or are they? For some reason everyone chooses to stand outside STAR Labs, in the pouring rain, to discuss their next move, which is going to ask Argus what to do. Suddenly, beams of light transport away everybody but Barry…

To be serious, given that bringing together so many characters into a single story posed serious logistic problems of itself, it did surprise me that The Flash devoted so much time to internal continuity, and more so that it crossed all three related series. We can only assume that that’s going to be the pattern for both Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow. It makes for densely-packed, if relatively thin TV, and it makes the crossover story, which after all is only an alien invasion that appears to have vaporised the President, fairly unimportant. We shall see where things go tomorrow.

Incidentally, I did thoroughly enjoy the cramming together into one super-superimposed tangled of every show’s logo – The Flash on top, of course – and look forward to tomorrow’s version.

The Fall Season: Legends of Tomorrow season 2


And thus we complete the returning schedule.

Legends of Tomorrow didn’t really work last season. It was clumsy and clunky, ill-thought-out, the audience hated the Hawks, who are no longer with us (typically, I thought Fulk Hentschel worked really well as Hawkman). So an awful lot has been changed, to the extent that the producers are looking at this as a second go as a season 1.

In my spoiler-free world, I’ve managed to avoid anything but superficial hints about season 2’s changes. For instance, I knew that Nick Zano was joining the cast as Nate Heywood, aka Citizen Steel, but I did not know, until the end of this episode, that Arthur Darvill, as Rip Hunter, was leaving.

And I do know that the recurring villain this season is the Legion of Doom, which consists of a quartet of left-over baddies, Damien Dhark, the Reverse-Flash, Malcolm Merlin and – this one’s going to be tricky – Captain Cold.

And here we were, back to business. None of this Vandal Savage/Time Masters thing, in fact the Legends are the new, ad hoc Time Masters, playing time cops here and there, and spreading the joy of woman to woman love across the entirety of history (much as I love Caity Lotz, if the series is going to have her shagging every famous woman she meets, it will grow old very rapidly).

And straight away it’s pretty clearly more of the same, only different. It’s still clunky, and stiff, and kinda jerky in its transitions, and having Stephen Amell/Oliver Queen as guest isn’t designed to play to my prejudices at the moment. But it did the job, and I’ll happily keep watching it.

I’m sorry to see Arthur Darvill go, even though I can see how Nick Zano will make a better fit and can be more one-of-the-gang that the set-up ever allowed Rip Hunter to be. It’s unfortunate in that Zano’s character (who was created at the same time as Firestorm and by the same writer), Citizen Steel, has never been a character I’ve liked in any incarnation.

But at the end of the day, where Legends of Tomorrow scores for me is where it always did, misfire or not. It’s for the ten year old boy who’s always been a part of me, who grew up reading DC Comics, and who never imagined that he would ever see these obscure characters appearing regularly on his TV screens, in ‘real-life’ versions.

It’s like Doctor Johnson and that line about the dog walking on its hind legs: It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all. The part of me that goes back to Brigham Street, Openshaw, just sits and marvels that it is there.

And you know that season 2 will kick it for me by what happened in the final minute of this premiere. The Legends are about to shake the dust of 1942 off their backs when they’re ordered to stand where they are.

By the Justice Society of America.

Hooo-wah!

End of Term Report: DC’s Legends of Tomorrow


Offscreen

Let’s be honest, it’s not brilliant. It never has been brilliant from the start, except in one respect. It’s been loose and clunky and the Big Bad plot has never entirely worked, even in its best moments. The first season ran to sixteen episodes and it’s done well enough to be renewed, but even in the final episode it’s had moments that made you roll your eyes in embarrassment.

But in that one respect of brilliance, Legends of Tomorrow has been brilliant indeed, and in its last few seconds, dropping one heavyweight teaser for season 2, it had me whooping out loud with glee. Because Legends of Tomorrow features a bunch of DC Comics characters, all bar one of which went back to my earliest days reading those silly,enthralling, wonderful things (Firestorm, the exception, dates from 1976, making him the baby at only forty years old). It features them running and bouncing around, flying, throwing punches, being snarky with each other. Man, I would have loved this as a kid and I’m still close enough to that kid inside that I can just relish the thought and give this show a critical bypass on execution.

The show’s supposed to have been about Vandal Savage, The Immortal Villain, and preventing him taking over the world in 2166, and about the 4,000 year long struggle between him and the Hawks, man and girl, Carter Hall and Kendra Saunders (no, no, it should have been Shiera, Shiera Saunders Hall), but the writers couldn’t keep that interesting.

So it’s only properly worked when it’s been about the team doing all the things a team does, and not trying to tie it in to any any season-long arc.

Naturally, we had to dispose of Savage in the finale, and the gang did it in gloriously OTT fashion, killing him no less than three times, with everybody getting in on the act. I say everybody, but the Hawks didn’t really get to finish things off, and it was neither a surprise nor a disappointment to have them write themselves out of season 2.

There was the usual moment of clunk at the end. There’s a Thanagarian meteor about to go off and basically discombobulate the Earth. Our only hope is for Rip to fly it into the Sun, courtesy of the Waverider, all noble sacrifice and that. Rip’s suicide mission, his final reconciliation to the loss of his wife and child, his emotional journey concluded, serenity all around.

Then he jerks himself awake, jettisons the bomb into the sun and flies back. Sigh. You gotta love this, right?

Anyway: no more Time Masters so Rip appoints himself as freelance. Everyone except the Hawks (bye bye birdies) signs up for a repeat voyage with him, and at this stage there’s not necessarily a Big Bad to pursue, though there’s always the Thanagarians round the corner. And then…

Enter one crashing and burning additional Waverider, out of which a hooded, fresh-faced guy emerges to tell our brave band of lads (and one lass) not to get into their Waverider, or they’re all dead. He’s been sent here with a specific message, by none other than Mick Rory. Who is he? He’s the new cast member for season 2. He gives his name as Rex Tyler.

For a moment, the name registers as being familiar but, shamefully, I don’t place it. Until he adds, “I’m a member of the Justice Society of America.”

Woo-hooooooo! Bring on that second season, NOW!

Fifty Years of Imagination


I don’t know the exact date, only that it was a Saturday, in March 1966. So only now can I say, without fear of inaccuracy, that the Fiftieth Anniversary has passed. The Fiftieth Anniversary of the most mind-blowing experience a ten year old boy ever had in reading.

I’ve written about it before, so forgive me for repeating myself, but a lifetime of experience flows on from this one tiny thing. Many are the consequences, including – not entirely fancifully – a marriage.

Fifty years ago, in March 1966, I was living in Brigham Street, Openshaw, in East Manchester, a working class area of terraced streets, between a local park and the Steel Wall, the wall enclosing the vast grounds of the English Steel Corporation. Though my eleventh birthday wouldn’t come until November, some ten weeks past the cut-off point of September 1, my Primary School Headmaster organised for me to sit the last Eleven-Plus exams, allowing me to go on to a Grammar School education that, a year later, would have been swept away by the Comprehensive System.

The Eleven-Plus consisted of half a dozen exams in basic subjects such as Maths and English, held at Varna Street School, a thirty minute walk away from home, and on the far side of Ashton Old Road, the major traffic route nearest to our backwater terrace. At first, my cautious mother escorted me there and back, but by the time of the last exam, on a sunny March Friday afternoon, she had enough confidence in me to trust me to get there and back without being knocked down and killed crossing the Old Road. Her confidence was not misplaced, given that I’ve lasted long enough to type this.

It was Friday afternoon. I was only allowed to cross the Old Road at Zebra crossings, and circumstances dictated that I should cross at the one just below the bridge over the canal branch, and turn right into Victoria Street to get through to the little warren of streets Back o’th’Park.

Our newsagents was on that side of the Old Road, further down, and they had American comics (exclusively DC) in their windows. So, being a dutiful child, I couldn’t go past Victoria Street to look, but I would get round it by carying on down the Old Road to the Zebra just above the Vicarage, and walking back up, past the newsagents window.

I had been reading American comics for, at best, a couple of years before this time. My parents didn’t approve of them, didn’t think they were worth the shilling they’d recently gone up to, but every now and then I was able to talk them into letting me have one, and with a naive cynicism way beyond my years, I figured that completing my first set of Exams was a good opportunity to argue for a reward.

It was no more than a general thought, but when I arrived at the window, it became an urgent and specific desire for Justice League of America 37.

There wasn’t a single Justice League member on the cover. It even boasted, incredulously, that there wasn’t. Instead, it featured five members of the Justice Society of America. I gaped in amazement. I’d never heard of the Justice Society and I seriously wanted to know. And what fuelled that desire was the incredible fact that the JSA had a Flash, Green Lantern and Atom, but they were completely different in costume and, in Green Lantern’s case, hair-colour!

I had to have it. I mentioned it to my mother as soon as I got home, to my father as soon as he got home, and again during the evening, and yet again on Saturday morning, in case they’d forgotten overnight, and one more time for good luck before we set out at 12.30pm to go to Granny and Grandad’s in Droylsden for dinner (this was the proper Northern Dinner: the evening meal was Tea).

And Dad parked round the corner and let me lead him to the newsagents where I pointed out the (thankfully unsold) comic, and we went in and the newsagent got it out of the window for me and I held it in my hands all the way to Droylsden.

I wasn’t allowed to look at it in the car – reading in the car ruined your eyes – and I couldn’t start then because we always arrived at 12.55pm for a one o’clock mealtime, and what with all in all, it was gone two o’clock before I was allowed to leave the table, scoop up my comic and race into the parlour to read it in peace and quiet.

Forgive me again, but I need to relish the memories. First I was introduced to the idea of Earth-2, a separate but parallel Earth, where things were not as they were in our reality, despite its familiarity. The strangeness of the idea, the concept of a place where things were different from how they were around me, took hold of me immediately, and it has been a lifelong fascination. Even before I met them, I fell for the sheer concept of the Justice Society. They were something magical, set against the ‘mundane’ reality of the Justice League that appeared every day, everywhere.

I was immediately hungry to know more, ever more, about these alternate figures, even though at first I could only see Johnny Thunder, the JSA’s equivalent to Snapper Carr as comic relief (as I’ve said before, when mentioning Snapper, don’t ask. DON’T ask.)

But before I even got to see the Justice Society, to see more of those strange Flash, GL, and Atom characters (plus a Hawkman in a cloth hood), we and the story got diverted to Earth-1, and its Johnny Thunder. And the bad Thunder knocked out the good Johnny and took over his Magic Thunderbolt and sent him out to rob a payroll. But The Flash stopped him, our Flash, the one I knew, I mean. So Thunder came up with the most mind-blowing idea of all time.

No matter how often I describe it, I’ve still not to my mind established how awesome what came next was. Nothing I’ve ever read in my life has had a comparable effect upon me. It expanded my mind more than any other thing has ever done, it opened up my imagination to a vastness of possibility.

Because Bad Thunder instructed his Magic Bolt to zip back in time and interfere with the origins of the Justice League, to change history, to undo what had been done and turn the world, the very earth on which we set out feet every day, into something incredibly strange. The very idea that such things could happen, a possibility that had never ever occurred to me beforehand, could have scared me to death. Instead, it encouraged, taught me to dream that things need not be as we see them, that to everything there was always an alternative, that for every path taken there was always a path, multitudes of paths untaken, and worlds that did not exist but which might have, in which we can see ourselves from angles undreamt of.

It was two pages of open-mouthed awe. A stormy night over Central City, a lightning bolt intercepted, Barry Allen goes home, still a slowpoke. Krypton’s unstable uranium core converted to lead, no planetary destruction, no rocket to Earth for baby Kal-El. A blast of yellow radiation intercepted, Abin Sur’s spacecraft undamaged, no power ring for Hal Jordan. A fragment of white dwarf star matter smashed, no discovery of size and weight controls for Ray Palmer. Dr Erdel’s Robot Brain shorts out, the Martian Manhunter is never teleported from Mars.

And, in the re-drawing of a panel drawn by Bob Kane twenty-six years earlier, the first appearance of Batman, the Bolt helps two anonymous thugs beat the crap – and the idea of being a crimefighter  – out of Bruce Wayne.

It was a lesson that, despite its instant impact, took me decades to understand fully. At the time, I just marveled at the way in which an established fictional world had just been turned over. Later, I would see what I had not understood at the time, that had almost certainly never been intended by Messrs Julius Schwartz, Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs: that life itself, the inevitability of everything around us, depends on infinitessimal influences, that everything we are and do could be undone by the most minute of changes, and that it need not be the life-changing moments that need to be changed to change our lives, but the most common, most insignificant that can have the longest shadows.

I used to be married. I don’t talk about it here, because marriage involves two people and I respect her privacy. But it is at least fifty percent true that, if this comic had not been in the newsagents’ window on that day fifty years ago, I would almost certainly never have met her. It’s only fifty percent, because there is a later point which is absolutely crucial to that seemingly trivial chain of events, that depends on my having discovered the Justice Society, and there were other opportunities after Justice League of America 37 where I could have done that, where I would probably – but only probably – been just as fascinated by them.

But maybe not. Those later comics, fantastic though they were on both senses, lacked the scope of this particular issue. Maybe, if my introduction had come a year later, the same sense of mind-expansion may not have followed it, may not have resulted in the same degree of interest, might have meant that that later point was no point at all.

It’s an extreme example, but all of our lives are based in an unending sequence of such things. What we see and do at every moment – which in itself is influenced by what others, endlessly removed from you, have done – shifts your life this way and that. A man living fifty miles away from you oversleeps by five minutes. As a result, leaving for work three minutes later than he might otherwise means that he misses his train. Instead, he drives. The extra car on the road subtly changes traffic patterns. Someone misses a green light, is held up thirty seconds, loses more time on their journey. As a result, they take a short cut to work. By not stopping for a coffee at their usual shop, they don’t end up next to you at the counter. You don’t exchange sarky comments about the service. The meeting that would have led to your marriage, to the birth of your three children, never happens, because you never bump into each other again.

The world is made up of such things. We are all connected because we all affect each other in ways we can barely imagine, in ways most of us would never recognise. Understanding this affects your philosophies of life, your beliefs, your politics.

A comic. In a window, fifty years ago this month just passed. If someone had bought that comic, five minutes before I passed, on the way home from Varna Street, the deliberate long way round, what might those fifty years have been instead?

Nothing is insignificant. Thanks for that comic, Messrs Schwartz, Fox, Sekowsky and Sachs. Fifty years is too little a time to have enjoyed that moment.

The Mid-Season Replacements: DC’s Legends of Tomorrow


Very impressive – except for Caity Lotz’s hairstyle

The first thing to say is that, as a reader of DC Comics for the last fifty years, a show would have to tank pretty badly before I would not want to watch it (so, basically, we’re looking at Constantine here). Legends of Tomorrow, shared child of Arrow and The Flash, had its clunky bits, mostly to do with this being half a pilot in which we have to get to know ten different characters, plus the set-up, but it did enough for me to be both fun and adequately fulfill the expectation of seeing so many superheroes hanging out together.

The premise is this: in 2166, one hundred and fifty years from now, Vandal Savage, the Immortal Villain, conquers the world, destroying London as his last step and, being a cold-hearted psychopath, kills a mother and her young boy, Jonas. Incidentally, I had no problems with this incident: the man is 4,000 years old and has seen literally millions of people die, so in what way does the lives of two people have any meaning for him.

At the Council of Time Masters, Captain Hunter (Rip, to you and I, and Arthur Darvill to his friends) urges intervention to prevent Savage’s takeover from having happened, despite the Council’s express aim of preserving the Timeline from interference. When Rip returned to his base, collecting his AI, Gideon along the way (is this the same Gideon that works for the Reverse-Flash in The Flash or are Gideon’s as ubiquitous as iPhones in the future?), saying he’d had the expected answer, was I alone in immediately guessing our man had gone rogue? Nah, no way I could have been.

Rip returns to 2016 to collect a team he intends to mould to stop Savage completely, by pursuing him through time. As we all know, this meant the Atom, Sara soon-to-be White Canary Lance, the two halves of Firestorm, Hawkman and Hawkgirl and, just for fun, those unrepentant Flash-villains, Captain Cold and Heat Wave.

Our gang agreed to help Captain Hunter, in his long, swirly, leather coat for a variety of reasons, some noble, some redemptive, some inquisitive, some base on the notion of robbing the timeline blind (guess who?) and, in the case of the Jefferson Jackson half of Firestorm, because his elder, wiser half, Professor Martin Stein drugged and kidnapped him.

First stop, St. Roch, 1975 (lovingly re-created) and an expert in Vandal Savage, who only happens to be the aged son of Hawkman and Hawkgirl from the last-but-one incarnation (as Joe and Edith Boardman). We get a pointer as to the nature of time here: Hunter has chosen this day to approach Andrew Boardman as he is going to die within 24 hours, Hawkgirl insists on taking her ‘son’ with them to protect him from harm, but that is what leads to his death, and the hands of the chronal bounty-hunter, Chronos (a wildly re-written DC villain of fifty years standing).

Which is the cue for Rip to reveal that he is not, after all, acting on behalf of the Time Masters, but in his own behalf, and that his chosen band were selected, not because they were destined to be Legends of Tomorrow, but because they are completely insignificant to the timeline. Rip’s motive is personal: his wife and young boy were killed by Savage. In London. In 2166. Rip’s out for revennge.

And the gang stick with him, for varying reasons, but primarily because, as Ray (Atom) Palmer puts it best, they intended to kick the future’s butt, none of this insignificance bit, you hear me?

Meanwhile, over in Norway, Vandal Savage is lovingly cradling a nuclear warhead and waxing philosophically about how Man progresses only in times of war… But we have to wait until next week for Pilot part 2.

My overall first impression is that this was good enough to come back next week. I like the premise, I look forward to seeing what they do with it, and I’m sure it will improve once it settles down. At the moment, Legends‘s biggest problem is the size of its cast, and the need to have everybody doing something up front. So far, interaction is limited, with the team falling instantly into little cliques, pre-determined by their various histories, with little scope yet for overlap.

Surprisingly, it’s Arthur Darvill as Rip Hunter who convinces me the least, but then I was in the decided minority who thought Fulk Hentschel got it dead on as Carter (Hawkman) Hall. Best scene however was White Canary and the two villains, benched for the visit to Professor Boardman and pissed off at it, sneaking off the time-ship to go for a drink, which, once White Canary decided to dance, showing off Caity Lotz’s body,provoked a bar brawl faster than you could say, ‘Yee-haw!”. This three are going to be fun.

I look forward to the rest of the gang catching them up.

 

JLA: Incarnations 1.


JLA Secret OriginsHaving written so many words by now on the legendary Justice Society of America, I thought it might be a pleasant change (for me at least) to write something on the Justice League of America for once. After all, but for the personal prejudice of Julius Schwartz, the League would have been a new incarnation of the Society, and the course of comics book history may have run very differently.
As for the title of this series I’m unashamedly stealing it from the excellent and mystifyingly-uncollected 2001 series written by John Ostrander and drawn by Val Semeiks and Prentis Rollins: seven extended issues telling new adventures whilst defining the various eras of the JLA.
By now, in the post-Flashpoint, New 52 Universe, the Justice League is in its seventh distinct incarnation since its debut in 1960. The original Justice League of America series ran for 261 issues, and three succeeding JLA series have each run over 100 issues, not counting any of the increasing number of spin-offs from the basic team concept. The League has changed to reflect the times, but it remains DC’s leading light, the centre of the DC Universe in whatever form it’s currently taking, the central point for the DC Universe’s greatest heroes.
By 1960, Julius Schwartz was probably the hottest editor at National Periodical Publications. Four years before, he’d agreed to take on the task of reviving the 1940s hero, The Flash, although on condition that he be allowed to throw away everything that had been done and start afresh with a new version: new character, new origin, new costume, new approach. The new Flash was a big success, though it took four try-outs over three years before an unconvinced management finally accepted that they had a hit on their hands. Schwartz was then invited to do the same for Green Lantern, who only needed two try-outs.
But before any decision was taken on giving the Hal Jordan version his own series, Schwartz was asked to revive the Justice Society of America.
Schwartz didn’t like the name. Though he’d cut his editorial teeth on the JSA in All-Star Comics, Schwartz had never liked the name Society. Societies were where you got together to drink beer and eat chowder. It did not suit a team of superheroes fighting crime and saving the world. So he changed it to League.
A League was bigger, better, stronger. It suggested strength in togetherness. The kids would understand it instantly, given all the stuff they read about Baseball Leagues and Football Leagues. So they would happily flock to the Justice League.
The JLA made its debut in Brave & Bold 28, the first in a three issue try-out. Brave & Bold had been around for several years as a title featuring derring-do adventures by historical figures, but it had lately been converted into a Showcase-style try-out magazine, alternating monthly. It was never as successful in this guise, not spinning off series the way Showcase regularly did, but it hosted the Justice League and they went massive. The team went straight into their own title, and within a year was the best-selling title in the industry. Somebody boasted of that to rival publisher Martin Goodman, who got back to the office and demanded his cousin-editor create a team book as well. Stan Lee called in his best artist, Jack Kirby. The rest of that story is history.
The League made its debut fully-formed, leaping straight into the action against Starro the Conqueror, an interstellar starfish. The founder members consisted of the big three, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, Schwartz’s new Flash and Green Lantern (even though Hal Jordan had only appeared in his two Showcase try-outs so far), Aquaman, who’d been hanging around since the 40s without making an impression, and Joe Samachson’s J’Onn J’Onzz, the Martian Manhunter, who’d been introduced six months before Barry Allen,. but as an SF character, not superhero.
And where the Society had had Johnny Thunder, the League found itself landed with ‘Snapper’ Carr (first name not given for over twenty years). Snapper was the Justice League mascot, a hip-talking, jivey teenager whose nick-name came from his habit of snapping his fingers when he was excited, which was all the time. In reality, Superman would have drop-kicked the lad into a volcano inside three hours, but Snapper lasted until issue 77.
Initially, the League based itself in a secret cave sanctuary, near Snapper’s home town of Happy Harbor in Rhode Island State. In contrast to the JSA, the League did not have a permanent chairman, the post rotating through all its membership from meeting to meeting, nor did it operate with a fixed line-up: the League could add new members without having to push anyone out. Green Arrow, another 40s back-up, joined in JLA 4, the new Atom in issue 14 and the new Hawkman in issue 31.
For the first twenty-five issues or so, all the Justice league appeared in each issue, although Superman and Batman tended to fade into the background, playing minor roles. This was for the same reason the World’s Finest team had been excluded from the Justice Society: Mort Weisinger and his proprietorial hold on Superman. However, after National Publisher asked Schwartz why Superman didn’t appear much in the Justice League, and Schwartz gave him an honest answer, Weisinger was told not to obstruct Schwartz any longer.
But after the first Justice Society team-up, with the League eleven strong (counting Snapper) a new policy came in, with the League operating on a fighting weight of five to seven members each issue, making occasions when the entire League were called in a little more special.
Perceptive fans quickly determined that the League seemed to be split into a Big Five (Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkman) and a lesser six (Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, Atom, Aquaman and Snapper Carr), with appearances weighted in favour of the Big Five.
The induction of Hawkman was the last change for the Justice League for several years, retiring inkers aside. Mountain cave secret sanctuary, Fox plots, an unchanging line-up.
Meanwhile, the comics landscape outside DC was changing rapidly, with Marvel’s growing influence and sales potential. DC’s style became badly outdated as a generation of writers, who’d been in the business for nearly thirty years, found themselves developing concerns as to their future, lacking any kind of employee stability. In the end, the writers were dispersed and dispensed with, in favour of young turks, fans enthusiastic about getting into comics, about bringing their concerns into what had been a purely commercial craft, wanting to turn it into art.
The Justice League monolith was in drastic need of updating, which it got from new writer Denny O’Neil.
In tandem with Schwartz, O’Neil took the JLA through its first transition to a new phase. Out went the Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman and Snapper Carr, along with the cave Sanctuary. In came Black Canary, transferring from Earth-2 and the Justice Society, to fill the need for a female JLAer (the only other possibilities being Batgirl and Supergirl, entirely too derivative, and in breach of the rule against duplicating powers).
And, to firmly initiate the second phase, the Justice League took to the stars, transferring its HQ to a Satellite in geosynchronous orbit, accessible by teleporter tubes (the Atom would have never made it that far by telephone!)
The satellite headquarters, the implied sense of gods overlooking a planet to which they were infinitely superior, changed the dynamics of the team. Alan Moore defined it superbly in Saga of the Swamp Thing: ‘there is a house above the world, where the over-people gather’, though it was Green Arrow who articulated it first, long years after the fact, resigning from the League to deal with what he saw as the more important matters, at street level.
But, despite the change in HQ’s, and the increasing removal of the League from the human level, this still remained the same League, defined by the same members, entrenched in its uninterrupted existence.
Neither O’Neil, nor his successor Mike Friedrich, were entirely comfortable with the League, as evidenced by a sales decline that saw the title cut back from DC’s standard eight-issues-a-year format (applied to all titles using a single, as opposed to multiple pencillers) to bimonthly. The series was then taken over by writer Len Wein, who reinstated the basic Fox/Schwartz feel, this time with personalities and character. The last quarter of his run saw Justice League of America published as a 100 page Giant, 20 pages of new material and 80 of reprint, but after a year of that experiment, the comic was reduced to 32 pages again, but for the first time with a monthly schedule that it has followed ever since.
Wein also presided over a changing membership, inducting both the Elongated Man and, as a second transferred from the JSA, the new Red Tornado, as well as offering membership to his mystery-book character, the Phantom Stranger. Whether the Stranger actually joined or not was left to each individual’s own interpretation.
After Wein, the Justice League entered its first nadir, without a permanent writer. Cary Bates, Elliott S! Maggin and Martin Pasko tag-teamed for the next couple of years, producing professional but uninspired work that was far from what would normally be expected of DC’s flagship title.
This period ended when former Marvel writer Steve Engelhart, committing himself to DC for twelve months, was assigned Justice League of America, having been the long-term writer of The Avengers. Having the advantage of extra page-length due to the comic being promoted to Giant-Size, Engelhart added a degree of dynamism, character conflict and Hawkgirl as a member, sinking the old duplicate power rule. However, Engelhart had specifically limited himself to one year, after which Gerry Conway took over as scripter for the remainder of the first Justice League of America series.
Conway, who added further members such as Zatanna, and his own creation, Firestorm, proved to be the League’s longest-lasting scripter, equalling Gardner Fox’s eight year stint, though writing more stories, due to its increased schedule, though there is little from this period that lifted itself above the mundane.
But it was Conway who was responsible for the end of the first Justice League and the establishment of its second incarnation, the short-lived and much-maligned Justice League Detroit.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: the geeky bit


Be warned: this is the seriously geeky bit.
One thing I intended to do when I began this latest series on the Justice Society of America was to look at the changing patterns of which members were used or ignored, and to try to draw any relevant inferences from that.
That aim got speedily lost in the analysis of the varying approaches to the stories themselves, and if I had maintained the kind of strict record I’d originally planned, that would have stood out as awkward and irrelevant.
Instead I’m going to bring that in as a separate essay, about which I’m going to warn you in advance that this is for the fanatics and those interested only in fascinating trivia, so read no further if that’s not your bag (genuine Sixties talk, maaaan!)
I’ve compiled for myself a table covering the twenty-three team-ups, and plotting who appeared when. Before I go on to discuss the results, I should make the qualification criteria plain. The table relates only to active appearances in a story, and not to cameo roles. Thus, in the later years, under Gerry Conway, where the meetings of the two teams became pre-planned social affairs,there are multiple instances of JSA members turning up for these get-togethers, but not actually getting in on the action. These are discounted.
A further example in Fox’s last story in 1968 where, at the end of the first part, virtually the whole of the Society turns up to the crisis of four members having ‘died’, but are ‘killed’ themselves within little more than a page: I have only included those members who featured throughout the issue. And again in 1970, there is a mass meeting of virtually every existing member, but I have only counted those who had an active role, of some kind.
So, what do the statistics tell us? For a start, we’re talking about a total of twenty-two JSAers: seventeen from the Golden Age, and five later additions, none of whom were available from the start. Of the Golden Agers, five became unavailable, either by death or by transferring to the Justice League, leaving twelve characters theoretically capable of appearing in all twenty-three stories. Statistics for the other ten have to be re-interpreted accordingly.
Most popular is of course Doctor Fate, the master magician, with fifteen appearances. Fate maintained a 100% record through the first four years of the feature, one of only two characters to appear in four successive meetings. Apart from an uncharacteristic ‘holiday’ from 1974-76, Fate was never excluded for more than a single year.
Only three other characters made ten or more appearances. Surprisingly, given his general lack of impetus, The Flash was second favourite with twelve appearances, and never absent for more than two years. Green Lantern, the only other character to appear in four consecutive adventures, follows with eleven appearances overall. It’s intriguing to note that his four year record (1969 to 1972) was both preceded and succeeded by three year absences.
The only other double figure participant, with a round ten shots, was Wonder Woman, who didn’t even appear for the first four years. With a better track record than her Justice League counterpart, the original WW was of course for many years the Society’s only female member, which underlies the frequency of her appeal.
Unsurprisingly, this quartet were consistently used, and each one appeared in one or other (or both) of the last two stories.
Behind them comes a group of four members with nine appearances each: Hawkman, Hourman, Starman and Dr Mid-Nite. Their stats are very interesting, as each character shows a smattering of semi-regular appearances, broken by a long period spent virtually in the cold.
Tradition did little to support Hawkman, formerly the permanent Chairman of the JSA, and the only member to appear in every Golden Age adventure. Hawkman started well, with four appearances in the first five stories, but then fell dramatically out of favour, with only one appearance in the next nine years.
Of course, when the JSA returned from limbo, Hawkman was one of four members who had been revived under Julius Schwartz. But where the new Flash and Green Lantern had been great successes, Hawkman and The Atom always struggled commercially, and given that the Golden Age Hawkman’s costume was virtually identical to his latter-day counterpart, I suspect he was kept off the scene so as not to divide the reader’s concentration. Certainly, he only returned to any kind of prominence once the Society had been restored in All-Star Comics.
Hourman, who had only appeared in the first five JSA stories, proved surprisingly popular at first. After featuring in the first team-up, he was not seen for three years, but then returned to make six appearances in eight years. Suddenly, however, he dropped out of favour, almost terminally, spending five years in limbo and appearing only twice over the last eleven years of the feature.
Starman and Dr Mid-Nite made their JSA debuts in the same issue, and were revived in the same story. There seems to have been a subconscious linking of the pair, since they appeared together five times in all over their nine shows. Both were reasonably frequent in the early days, before going AWOL, with the Doc getting only one story between 1972 and 1982 inclusive – odd, given that he was a major part of the All-Star revival – and Starman one shot between 1973 and 1981 inclusive.
Starman even gets name-checked in 1982 as having come back out of retirement: presumably based on the comment in All-Star that he was laid-up with a broken leg. Time may have run slower on Earth-2 for some of that period, but that length of recovery period is ridiculous!
That leaves nine Golden Age JSAers with serious attendance problems. Johnny Thunder does surprisingly well with six, mostly widely-spaced appearances, one more than Superman, who wasn’t even included until the seventh team-up, appeared four times in five years, then vanished after 1973, with only one show in the last twelve adventures.
The Earth-2 Batman is a case on his own. He’s the last Golden Age member to appear, in 1976, fourteen years on, and that’s his only active adventure. By a bizarre symmetry, his Silver Age career exactly mirrors his Golden Age participation: one adventure preceded by one cameo. Of course, two years later he was killed off, ending any chance of further stories. But it’s plain to see that DC did not want this version of the character around, unless he was being used in very occasional flashback stories.
Black Canary is a completely different kettle of fish. Though she takes part in only five adventures, this is out of the only seven for which she was qualified, before being poached for the Justice League. And indeed she appeared in many more team-ups, but these do not count as she was playing for the other side. I think we can be sure that if not for this, the Canary would be well up there in the top group: she was the Society’s ‘token’ female member after all.
Like Starman and Dr Mid-Nite, Mr Terrific and Wildcat are similarly bound together by their simultaneous debut, and it’s unsurprising that both should have made four appearances, twice appearing in the same story. Neither had made it in the Forties, due to their lack of overall popularity (or powers) and it was the same story now. Terrific was, of course, killed off in 1977 and though Wildcat’s popularity has gone on to increase exponentially, most of this development occurred post-Crisis: here, the Big Cat was not seen after 1975.
Then there’s the Spectre. The problem with the Spectre was that, by the time he was brought into his first team-up, the Julius Schwartz/Gardner Fox/Murphy Anderson revival of the character had re-purposed him as a being of almost infinite power, far stronger than all the Society and the League added together. As such, it was all but impossible to use him in a story without bending it out of shape. He worked well in the 1966 story, thanks to its (eventual) cosmic scope, but Spec’s situation was at right angles to everyone else, and when he was used again in 1970, it was as simultaneous deus ex machina and sacrifice, being ‘killed off’.
His only other appearance, as an even more bizarre ‘god in the machine’, came at a time when, like Black Canary, he had gone Earth-1, and simply further demonstrated how impossible it was to use him.
Which leave us with the two remaining founder members, the Atom and the Sandman. Now I mentioned in earlier essays that Wesley Dodds was clearly a favourite of Len Wein, who used him in all three of his stories, but it’s not until you look at the statistics that it becomes evident just how much of an anomaly this is. Sandman reappeared, ‘late’, in 1966. Wein was the only other writer to use him, and after that, Sandman was never seen again: not since 1974.
But it was the case of the Earth-2 Atom that surprised me the most, for he, like The Spectre, appeared in only three team-ups, in 1963, 1965 and 1971. It’s true that the Atom, in the Forties, was never an outstanding character: his creators could barely draw, the writing was juvenile, he was never inspiring, and his Silver Age counterpart was, like Hawkman, struggling for sales, but the Golden Age Atom had racked up more All-Star appearances than anyone except Hawkman, and he was radically different, powers and costume-wise, to Ray Palmer, so why was he abandoned so very far back, not even granted the occasional nostalgic outing?
I don’t know the answer, but I think that the fact I never noticed his absence until creating this table  may underline the impact the bigger Tiny Titan had on the Silver Age readership.
Lastly then, for this section, we have the latecomers. Robin and the Red Tornado were added in successive team-ups by Gardner Fox, and going on to make five and four appearances respectively. The Tornado missed only one of the five adventures for which he was eligible so, like Black Canary, we can assume that figure would have gone up if he hadn’t been transferred to the JLA. Then again, he wasn’t heavily featured on the League’s side in later years, so perhaps that’s an unwarranted assumption.
Robin, however, just doesn’t seem to have taken, not even after he appeared in the All-Star revival. After the big fuss of him being the JSA’s first new member in almost two decades, he immediately disappears for four years, and after teaming up with his Batman in 1976, he was forgotten completely. Here I think the reason is simple: the character’s real name is …and Robin. Remember that it took giving Dick Grayson a brand-new identity on Earth-1 to even begin to remove him from Batman’s shadow. Robin is a subordinate character, by nature not as good as Batman.
The Star-Spangled Kid was also an intrinsic part of the All-Star revival, though he was handicapped by being portrayed as a whiny, self-entitled brat. He was eligible for two team-ups and appeared in one, putting him level with Batman. Then, just as the JSA forgot him, so did the team-ups.
Which leaves us with the Earth-2 Supergirl and Batgirl, Power Girl and the Huntress. These were a fascinating pair with a very relaxed and natural affinity and it’s perhaps my most serious regret about Crisis on Infinite Earths that it destroyed this pair, by making them impossible to exist as they were. Both made five appearances, four of them together, between 1977 and 1983, and would undoubtedly have been mainstays for years had things turned out otherwise.
Way back in 1963, in their first meeting since the Golden Age, Doctor Fate announced on behalf of the Justice Society that their revised by-laws stipulated a rotating membership of seven. Which, as I observed much earlier, was abandoned as early as the second team-up.
Looking at the rosters, that magical number of seven was only reached on three more occasions, the last of these in 1979 (ironically, the extra number was made up by Mr Terrific deceased). On three occasions, the Justice Society turned out more members for the team-ups (these three rosters occurring in a four year period from 1968 – 1972), which means that over two-thirds of the time, the JSA failed to reach its stipulated quorum.
Bearing in mind that, throughout the period these team-ups cover, the Justice Society had fifteen to seventeen members to call upon, and that, with the exception of the period from 1976 – 1979, they had no other outlet, it seems to fly in the face of the spirit of these meetings that the heroes of the Golden Age should be seen in limited numbers.
This is partly explained by the fact that, from 1972 onwards, the annual team-up involved some third force, making demands upon valuable space and attention, but this only emphasises the growing unimportance of this tradition as time went by.
The Society’s biggest line-up appeared, unsurprisingly, in Len Wein’s tenth anniversary spectacular, when twelve of the available seventeen were in on the action, but it’s interesting to note that the other two occasions when an extended line-up was in play were Denny O’Neill’s two efforts, in 1969 and 1970, and this in spite of O’Neill’s obvious discomfort with cosmic stories. O’Neill used eight JSAers in 1969. The following year is a confusing story, as every JSA member except the recently inducted Robin appears at JSA HQ in the first half, including the previously unseen Earth-2 Batman, but by my measure of only accepting those who play some active part in this, I count an active line-up totalling ten.
At the opposite extreme, the Society’s lowest representation was three members, ironically in 1973, the year after their largest roster. This was Len Wein’s Earth-X story, with six ‘new’ heroes to introduce and form the centre of the story. If, after handling 33 heroes the previous year, Wein felt the need for a much-less cluttered story, it’s hard not to be sympathetic.
In general, however, the Justice Society would bring four to six members to each meeting, although as the years wound on, even a sextet was too many.
Returning to that first line-up, I commented that the Society’s ‘lot’ selected six of the eight founding members, plus Black Canary, who had never worked with Dr Fate or Hourman before. Before she left for Earth-1, the Canary did get the chance to work with not only the two other founders, Sandman and The Spectre, but also Wildcat. Discounting Superman and Batman as honorary members only, the only JSAers the Canary didn’t work alongside were Wonder Woman and Mr Terrific.
And given that, between them, founder members The Atom, Sandman and Spectre mustered only ten appearances in total, it’s not surprising that this was the highest concentration of founders in the series.
At the opposite extreme, in recognition of the importance of the founding eight (ok, of five of them), or at least their greater popularity, there was only one adventure not to feature any founding members at all, Gerry Conway’s first effort in 1978, involving the heroes of the past, Indeed, only two of the four JSAers in action that year had even been Golden Age members, with the senior role undertaken by Dr. Mid-Nite.
Returning to the subject of paired appearances, it’s nice to note that the traditional friendship between Flashes and Green Lanterns was maintained by the JSA originals appearing together no less than seven times, and that on five of those occasions, Hawkman was also on board. At the opposite end of the scale, Mr Terrific and Wildcat, who guested in the same issue of All-Star, shared two of their four appearances in the same line-up.
And Doctor Fate and Hourman, who were linked in two try-out editions of Showcase, worked together four times in the first decade, but then clearly had a falling-out and didn’t appear together once after that.
Given that the Spectre’s Silver Age revival in Showcase was, apparently, intended to be a team-up with Dr Mid-Nite, it’s nice to see this echoed in phantom form by the Doc being present for two the the Ghostly Guardian’s appearances.
At this remove, there’s no practical way of determining how the Justice Society members were chosen for each story, except for the Fox/Schwartz era, when such tales were new, fresh and exciting, and the appeal of nostalgia was cleverly deployed. Once this period is gone, there seems to be no pattern: Doctor Fate was clearly incredibly popular, but no-one wanted to use The Atom or (except Len Wein) The Sandman.
But what explains the oddity of the 1977 JSA line-up of Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Doctor Fate and Power Girl being repeated in its entirety only two years later, with the additions of Mr Terrific and the Huntress?
Given the changes in writers, artists and even editors down the years, it’s not as if the John Tracy explanation might apply. For those unfamiliar with Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds, John was the middle Tracy son, assigned to Thunderbird 5, the space station. Though in theory he and Alan Tracy alternated duty, month-in, month-out, with John taking over Thunderbird 3 when at home, in practice International Rescue’s adventures only ever took place when John was on duty upstairs.
Indeed, John Tracy only ever played an active part in one of Thunderbirds’ 32 episodes, and that as auxiliary crew on Thunderbird 2. And the reason for that was that, every time someone suggested spinning things a little to involve John, Anderson would veto it, saying to leave him up in Thunderbird 5, because he was boring!
The Spectre was too powerful to be a team-player, the non-super-powered heroes perhaps too weak (but Batman?) and The Sandman maybe stood out too much for dressing formally when everyone else was in their underwear. But such patterns as there appear to be have little by way of conscious logic to explain them. The Justice Society of America lived by such things for a quarter century.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1981


Justice League of America 195, “Targets on Two Worlds”/Justice League of America 196, “Countdown to Crisis!”/Justice League of America 197, “Crisis in Limbo!” Written by Gerry Conway, art by George Perez (pencils 195-196), Keith Pollard and George Perez (pencils 197), John Beatty (inks 195) and Romeo Tanghal (inks 196-197), edited by Len Wein.


On Earth-2, Hawkman’s former foe, Jonathan Cheval, formerly the supervillain The Monocle, has become very wealthy using his command of laser technology for commercial ends, but misses the excitement of his former life. A mysterious figure offers him the chance to change that.
On Earth-1, Batman’s old enemy the Signalman is assisted to escape from prison hospital by Killer Frost, an enemy of Firestorm.
On Earth-2, the Psycho-Pirate is aided in escaping prison by the Monocle.
On Earth-1, a group of wharf rats intent on rape are ripped apart by the Cheetah, Wonder Woman’s foe. Killer Frost and Signalman take her away to safety.
On Earth-2, the Flash’s old foe, Rag Doll, is trapped during a bank robbery but gets free with the aid of Monocle and the Psycho-Pirate.
Back on Earth-1, Killer Frost’s group persuades Jason Woodrue, the Floronic Man, an Atom villain, to come out of retirement.
Meanwhile on Earth-2 again, Starman’s old foe the Mist (who now turns intangible instead of merely invisible), kills two former henchmen before being recruited by a mysterious figure.
We return to Earth-1 where Killer Frost leads her group to a secret lab to meet her recruiter, The Brain Wave of Earth-2 (again using the obligatory big-muscled illusory body introduced in All-Star 58). He in turn uses a dimensional transporter to take them to a Nepal hideout, the Sinister Citadel, where they meet their Earth-2 equivalents.
There they meet their leader, the Ultra-Humanite, an old Superman enemy. The Humanite is a brilliant scientist whose MO was to transplant his brain from body to body. Having tired of bodies inferior to his brain, the Humanite has now transplanted himself into the body of a massive, specially mutated albino gorilla.
He has gathered his group to execute a subtle plan. There is a Cosmic Balance across the Multiverse (possibly the first in-comic use of the term) which is, in theory, upset by super-heroes. Only by a careful juggling of heroes is the balance maintained. The Ultra-Humanite has determined that if ten specific heroes from Earths 1 and 2 are removed from the Multiverse, then the Cosmic Balance will compensate by removing every hero from either Earth-1 or Earth-2.
His chosen ten each has a ‘counterpart’ in either the Justice League or Society: hence their selection. Many of these ‘counterparts’ are not selected by any equivalency but rather long-standing enmity, such as those mentioned above (though the Mist is paired with Black Canary, on the strength of one meeting in Brave & Bold 61, in 1966). In addition, the villains must target Hourman and Johnny Thunder (?!).
Meanwhile, on the Justice League satellite, this year’s meeting with the Justice Society has passed off without a hitch for the first time. Everyone has gone home, leaving Black Canary on Monitor Duty. Last to leave is Green Arrow, no longer a Leaguer, requiring a temporary clearance code. Distracted by her memories, Black Canary overlooks clearing it, allowing the Mist to access the satellite and quickly beat her.
Back to Earth-2 where Hawkman, flying home, is ambushed by the Monocole, whilst on Earth-1, Wonder Woman is taken out by the Cheetah.
Reports of these first three successes are relayed back to the Sinister Citadel on Earth-2, where the Ultra-Humanite reveals that it is not a question of pot luck as to which Earth has it’s heroes eliminated, but that he knows very well where it will happen: information he must conceal from his colleagues.
End of Part 1.

After a brief recap, in which the Ultra-Humanite reveals that it is Earth-2 where the heroes will be eliminated, the action continues.
On Earth-2, the Psycho-Pirate takes out Hourman, whilst on Earth-1, the Signalman’s reappearance does for Batman. Rag Doll, on Earth-2, surprises its Flash, whilst the Floronic Man does for the Atom in Earth-1’s Ivy Town. Brain Wave captures both Johnny Thunder and his Thunderbolt during a shopping expedition set up by the latter in the hope of getting the former to change his clothes, Killer Frost drops a ceiling on Firestorm and lastly on Earth-2, the Ultra-Humanite confronts the officially-retired original Superman and overcomes him with the use of Green Kryptonite.
All ten heroes are brought to the Sinister Citadel, where they are placed into chambers in the Humanite’s Cosmic-Fuge. Cheetah wants to kill them all, but the Cosmic Equation requires that they be alive when they arrive in limbo. The machine is set in motion, gathers speed and disappears, leaving the villains victorious.
End of Part 2.


Nothing happens. The villains turn on the Ultra-Humanite in frustration, but probability is apparently like a sea, cresting in waves: the next wavecrest sees all reality wobble before settling into place, with Earth-2 changed.
The Earth-1 quartet, immediately suspicious of their colleagues’ jubilation, realise that they have been duped into helping without any prospect of success. They set out to attack, but are teleported back to Earth-1, and stranded.
Determined on revenge, the four villains find and set upon Green Lantern. They capture him and use him to teleport up to the Justice League satellite. After knocking out Elongated Man, who has turned up to replace Black Canary on Monitor duty, they use the Transmatter Cube to further their aims.
Meanwhile, on Earth-2, the other six villains are enjoying themselves robbing, plundering and looting without hindrance, and in the case of the Brain Wave, seizing a beautiful red-headed actress and impliedly raping her serially. The Ultra-Humanite has his sights fixed higher, in coercing the United Nations into ceding ultimate power to him.
But the Earth-1 villains have not returned to Earth-2. Instead, they’ve adjusted the Transmatter Cube to send them into Limbo, to the Cosmic-Fuge. Though it resists their efforts, eventually Cheetah’s fury succeeds in cracking it open. Of course, the moment the heroes are free, they hammer the villains, who obviously hadn’t thought that far ahead.
Back on Earth-2, the villains break off their robbing, and Brain Wave temporarily puts his pants back on, to meet again at the Sinister Citadel. No-one’s happy at the summons, everybody suspects everyone else of some dire plan to wipe out all their rivals (it would appear that the cleansing of Earth-2 has also extended to every other villain apart from the successful six). However, it’s the heroes who have set this up, and they steam-roller the bad guys this time.
One by one, each is forced into the energy vortex that leads into limbo, and once they’re all gone, Superman breaks the connection, trapping all the bad guys there, with all sorts of recriminations. As for Earth-2, reality reasserts itself much more smoothly than before: the villains are not missed in anything like the same way as the heroes!
* * * * *
The biggest distinction held by the latest Justice League/Justice Society team-up is that it’s not really a story about either superhero team, but rather a story told almost entirely from the point of view of the supervillains, several of whom are real oldies, revived for the first time in years. Nor is the story about any kind of team-up, except that of the villains, who do not even have a name for their combination: this years team-up actually takes place offstage and is completely uneventful.
On the one hand, Conway deserves credit for a new technical angle, a different angle of approach. On the other, there’s the perennial question of whether this is apt for this particular event, which is the annual guest slot of the Justice Society of America.
Let’s look at the structure of the story. We have a long introduction (seventeen out of twenty-five pages) gathering the villains and setting up the plot, followed by eight pages to beat the first three heroes. After two pages of recap, the rest of part two is spent knocking over the remaining seven heroes, with less than a page devoted to thrusting them into limbo. The final part is slightly more complicated: six pages for the plot to work, two for the Earth-1 villains to swear vengeance and three for them to take down GL and Elongated Man (current score, after sixty-three of seventy-nine pages overall, Heroes 0 Villains 12). There follows two-and-a-half pages of the Earth-2 villains on Earth-2, five-and-a-half in limbo with everyone else, and seven pages of the JLA/JSA wiping the floor on Earth-2 (including one panel of reversing the effects of the scheme). Oh, and a one page epilogue.
It’s all linear, no cutting from scene to scene, just a procession of, firstly, recruiting ten villains, then taking down ten heroes, one after another. It takes two-thirds of this tale just to get to the point of it, and then it’s actually the disgruntled villains who save the day, not the heroes.
In what way therefore is this story about its featured guests, the Justice Society of America? Obviously, it’s not. The best that can be said about the presence of five JSAers is that it’s a justification for Conway to revive out of the Golden Age such figures as the Ultra-Humanite, the Monocle and Rag Doll (and on the Earth-1 side, for good measure, the long forgotten Signalman).
And the Justice Society, as such, was still in comic book limbo. Roy Thomas, a transplantee from Marvel, had conceived All Star Squadron, an Earth-2 based series set at the beginning of America’s involvement in World War 2, using Golden Age characters, including the JSA in their youth, but his self-set ground rules excluded the actual Justice Society from appearing for a very long time.
Things were very different from how they had been, almost two decades before. The Golden Age revival was a thrill, an avenue into a strange kind of nostalgia: nostalgia not for something we remembered but rather for what the vast majority of us had never known. The Justice Society were strange characters, vivid and fully-formed, yet wholly unknown, with more of them appearing every year. They came with histories attached, careers of which we knew nothing, yet which had built them.
By 1981, those mysteries were long gone. This was the eighteenth time the JSA had teamed up with the JLA, and we’d seen them all, and knew them all and were no longer in search of any bright glimpse which might show us something unsuspected. The team-ups were getting longer, with a form of elephantiasis born of the slowly deteriorating ability of scripters to write a concise, well-plotted story. Whatever was ‘special’ about a team-up had now to be imported by the reader. It could no longer be relied upon to be created by writer and artist.
Whilst there’s nothing to suggest it was the story that brought this about, look at the credits. McLaughlin has gone as inker, and the pages look cleaner and less dark, but there are two changes to the credits in this three-parter alone: inker John Beatty (who would ink Marvel’s Secret Wars) replaced by Perez’s Teen Titans partner Romeo Tanghal after the first issue, and Perez being joined as co-artist by Keith Pollard for the last issue.
The story itself falls short in many respects, little shoddinesses, lazy logic that undercut the parameters Conway has chosen. Like other three-parters before it, the length is dictated only by the tedious business of dragging everyone in one-by-one, whilst its basic notion – of the Cosmic Balance and how it can be manipulated – is unsustainable nonsense, to be glossed over rapidly given that a moment’s stop and a single “but…” will cause it to collapse.
To play Devil’s Advocate for a moment, it must be remembered what kind of comics industry these stories were created in. There were no royalties, far from it, and artists were king. Scripters got a flat, not altogether generous page rate, and needed to be writing three series a month to live in New York City. Conway was no worse than many of his contemporaries, though to my eye certainly not better than them, but where I’ve picked out flaws in his plots, holes in his stories, tendencies to  gloss over ideas rather than think them through, perhaps this was out of necessity at least as much as carelessness: only a certain amount of time was possible for each script if the rent were to be paid.
I’m particularly disappointed by the notion herein that the villains are chosen as ‘counterparts’ to the nominated heroes, an idea that is so preposterous that even the Ultra-Humanite backtracks on it the moment he says it (so why say it at all? Why not use an appropriate word instead?)
What he means is that the villains are long term foes of the heroes, but even then Conway can’t be consistent. In most cases, it’s a proper assessment, but Conway can’t keep it up. The second Psycho-Pirate is matched up to Hourman on the strength of having first appeared fighting the Man of the Hour (and good old Doctor Fate), but the Brain Wave only ever fought the Justice Society en masse, so in what sense is he a ‘counterpart’ of Johnny Thunder?
But the worst example has to be that of the Mist, who is a genuine long-term villain for Starman, but who is paired up with Black Canary on the strength of a single fight against her and Starman in an issue of Brave & Bold fifteen years earlier.
You’ll have noticed in the synopsis a somewhat heavy-handed reference to the Brain Wave’s use of his unopposed time. Though it’s never actually stated as such, no effort is made to conceal that the ugly little runt, hiding behind his mentally projected big hunky illusion, spends all his time raping his terrified red-headed actress.
Raping. I’ll say it again, bluntly, because DC sure as hell won’t (not that the Comics Code Authority would have let them if they’d had an ounce of honesty). But they throw it in your face. Bizarrely, this was a historical phenomenon: suddenly you couldn’t move in mainstream comics without unsubtle, barely veiled incidences of rape: fucking hell, they even sneaked into one of Marvel’s one page Hostess Twinkies ads.
I mean, we know that it takes a pretty screwed up mind to spend all your time writing these power-trip fantasies, and if we’re being honest it speaks a lot about those of us who read them (like many such, I lost my father at an early age, which accentuates the appeal of powerful, in control, male figures). But suddenly the adolescent minds were discovering sex in the most juvenile manner.
It wasn’t entirely new: at Marvel, Red Sonja fairly screamed Rape Fantasy (none shall possess me save that he has defeated me in battle. That can’t come from a healthy mind), but suddenly, at the turn of the Eighties, it was busting out all over the mainstream, and the fanboys weren’t raising any objections at all.
It leaves a nasty taste in the mouth (boy, could that sentence be misinterpreted!). Fortunately, the fad never returned to the annual team-up.
Pretty clearly, this story depends upon having two different Earths and is thus unfeasible in the post-Crisis Universe.