Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1972


Justice League of America 100, “The Unknown Soldier of Victory!”/Justice League of America 101, “The Hand that Shook the World”/Justice League of America 102, “And One of Us Must Die!” Written by Len Wein, art by Dick Dillin (pencils), Joe Giella (inks, issues 100, 101 and part 102) and Dick Giordano (inks Part 102), edited by Julius Schwarz.


The Justice League’s Satellite headquarters is empty and quiet. It is the League’s one hundredth meeting, and in honour of the occasion, everyone who is or was a Justice League member, together with associates Metamorpho, the Elongated Man and Zatanna, have gathered to celebrate at the League’s original cave sanctuary, outside Happy Harbor in Rhode Island.
With Batman shanghaing former Wonder Woman, Diana Prince, into attending, the only ones missing are the Martian Manhunter, deep in space on New Mars but still thinking of the occasion, and former mascot ‘Snapper’ Carr who, despite being sent an invitation, is still too ashamed at his betrayal of the League to face his former friends.
But as the girls lift the cake cutter, everybody fades out, an experience familiar to most of those present, because it means they are being transported into Earth-2 again.
The augmented League arrives at the headquarters of a very sombre Justice Society, most of whose members are present. Doctor Fate explains that Earth-2 is under threat of destruction from a giant, nebular hand, threatening to crush the Earth, unless its master, the Iron Hand, is given world domination within 24 hours. Twice the JSA have gone against the nebular hand, and twice they have failed. Now they seek the JLA’s assistance.
By the use of his magic, Doctor Fate has found an unidentified grave, high in the Himalayas. He proposes that Zatanna and the Thunderbolt should join theirs magic to his to summon the being known as Oracle to seek his assistance. Oracle responds, at first belligerently, but agrees to advise due to the respect he believes is due to Doctor Fate. He explains that the Nebular hand can only be defeated is with the help of the Seven Soldiers of Victory: which is all very well, but nobody can remember who they are.
Oracle explains that they were a team of seven heroes who were first drawn together to combat the evil plans of the villain, the Hand. The Vigilante, Green Arrow and Speedy, the Crimson Avenger, the Shining Knight and the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy each fought personal villains who were in the pay of the Hand: Having defeated their foes, the septet arrived at the Hand’s base to foil his plans, with the Vigilante causing the Hand’s machine to fall on him, seemingly crushing him.
Taking the name Seven Soldiers, the heroes stayed together as a team, until they had to face the Nebula Man. Working together, the Seven Soldiers built a Nebula Rod, whose energies destroyed the Nebula, but killed the soldier who used it: his is the mysterious grave. The other Soldiers were blasted randomly through time, causing the modern world to forget them.
Quickly dividing themselves into seven teams of three, with Oracle’s mystic assistance, the heroes are sent into the timestream to locate and return with the individual Soldiers. Only Diana Prince remains, to coordinate with any latecomers.
In the land of the Aztecs, Doctor Fate, The Atom1 and Elongated Man save the Crimson Avenger from committing human sacrifice under the influence of a radioactive stone. They are summoned back by Oracle.
Meanwhile, in a hidden HQ on Earth-2, the villain gloats. He names himself the Iron Hand, and his right hand is made of metal.
End of part 1.


Diana Prince updates latecomers Green Lantern2, Mr Terrific and Robin on the current situation.
In Ghenghis Khan’s day, Metamorpho, Superman and Sandman not only rescue the Shining Knight from his hypnotised servitude, but prevent the Mongol warlord destroying a village.
Green Lantern2 cannot stand sitting around waiting. He takes his two colleagues on a trip to the Himalayas, to find out which fallen Soldier occupies the mysterious grave. En route, they stop to save some children from falling into a crevasse caused by an Earthquake.
In Medieval England, Dr Mid-Nite, Hawkman1 and Wonder Woman2 rescue Green Arrow from Nottingham Castle, where he has taken the placed of a wounded Robin Hood.
Elsewhere, in the present, the Iron Hand identifies himself as the Law’s Legionnaires’ old foe, the Hand. He was not destroyed in their battle, though his hand was crushed, and he has replaced it with this destructive mechanical device.
In Ancient Egypt, Batman, Starman and Hourman escape capture and imprisonment in a pyramid to rescue Stripesy from slavehood, dragging stones.
At JSA headquarters, Diana Prince waits and worries, unaware of the Iron Hand creeping up behind her.
End of part 2.

Following a recap by Oracle, who continues to summon back the successful heroes and their Soldier after each adventure, in the Wild West, Black Canary, Green Arrow and Johnny Thunder rescue the Vigilante from a Red Indian tribe, despite the two heroes each trying to lay some pretty chauvinistic claims over the affronted Canary.
In prehistoric times, Wildcat, Green Lantern 1 and Aquaman prevent havoc being caused to the human race by a neanderthal tribe coming into contact with a flu-ridden Star Spangled Kid.
Finally, in mythical times on Crete, The Flash1, Zatanna and the Red Tornado escape being turned into hybrid human/animals in order to defeat Circe and release Speedy from his magical centaur form.
The heroes and the Soldiers are back. Almost simultaneously, Green Lantern2 and co return from the Himalayas, having found the grave, but the Crimson Avenger intervenes to confirm that is was his friend and associate Wing, the unofficial ‘Eighth Soldier’ who died, and who is buried with full nobility there.
There is no time for celebration, for the group of heroes is suddenly interrupted by The Iron Hand, clutching Diana Prince as a hostage. With his attention focussed on over thirty heroes ready to pounce, the Iron Hand is not ready for Ms Prince pretending to feint before throwing him in a judo toss and karate chopping his iron hand off. Unfortunately, that was how he was controlling the Nebular hand, which is now out of control.
Rapidly, the Seven Soldiers rebuild their Nebula Rod, which is taken into space and charged at the Sun. There then follows at argument: whoever delivers the Rod will die, like Wing, and the heroes compete over who might have the best chance of surviving,
In the discussion, no-one notices Red Tornado leave with the Nebula Rod, leaving behind a note in which he suggests that his android body might survive, and that if it does not, only a machine has been lost. By this time, it is too late: Earth-2 is shook as the Hand detonates and is dissipated. Red Tornado does not return.
Chastened at the loss of their android comrade, the heroes remember both him and Wing.
* * * * *
Crisis on Multiple Earths Volume 3 contains the team-ups from 1971 – 74. It has a very interesting introduction from Len Wein, writer of three of the reprinted stories, detailing his thought processes in each of them, together with information on the background of each story.
Wein was asked to take over Justice League of America from Mike Friedrich without being told he was going to start with not only the landmark issue 100, but also the tenth annual Justice Society team-up. It was a mammoth task, but Wein approached it with vigour and determination to write a story worthy of the event, and succeeded splendidly.
It’s very much in the grand Gardner Fox tradition, or as much of it as was possible a decade on. Though 1972 is itself a long time ago, enough time had already passed that it would never be possible to write pure Fox again: plot-intense with the characters mere functionaries of what was necessary to direct the story. Wein could base his script upon the characteristics of Fox, but it would be leavened with the kind of character interplay, personality-driven moments that would have been an utter redundancy a decade before.
It’s a strange irony that an event that relied so heavily in its appeal on the nostalgia of seeing the heroes of a bygone age should in only ten years generate nostalgia for itself.
As far as the story is concerned, it is a very simple tale, more simple in its telling than anything Fox himself had ever produced: menace threatens Earth-2: the only people who can save Earth-2 are lost in time: the heroes rescue them: they save the day. What makes it three issues is the sheer volume of characters involved, what makes it work is Wein’s whole-hearted commitment, and the joy in what he’s doing which is very noticeable after O’Neil and Friedrich, who noticeably aren’t happy with what they have to do.
That this anniversary special became the first JLA/JSA team-up to go past the traditional two-issue length was Schwarz’s decision but Wein’s suggestion. In trying to develop a sufficiently spectacular story, Wein hit on the idea of returning to the roots of the first team-up by bringing back another team from DC’s Golden Age. The Seven Soldiers of Victory, who occasionally operated under the rubric of the Law’s Legionnaires, were National’s only other superhero team in the Forties: indeed, they were in a way National’s answer to All-American’s Justice Society. They were never remotely as successful, lasting fourteen issues of Leading Comics (not the two that Wein, in his introduction, misremembers).
As a one-off, a special adventure, it was a great idea, and that was Wein’s intention. Unfortunately, in conceiving the story, he had changed the annual JLA/JSA team-up forever as, with a handful of exceptions, it was no longer sufficient for the two teams to cross the vibrational barrier and meet. Instead, there must always be guests, some other team, no matter how contrived, to add spice to the mix.
On the art side, Joe Giella was reaching the end of his tenure on Justice League of America. Dick Giordano, one of the finest inkers of the period, with a crisp, clean line that gave Dillin’s pencils a sharper edge from which it clearly benefited, inked two of the chapters in the last issue of the story, and would take over full-time with the following issue.
As far as the cast goes, this is obviously the biggest number of heroes to date, no less than 32 costumed characters (counting Johnny Thunder’s inevitable sports jacket and bow-tie) and that’s without the non-powered Diana Prince! Of course, for the 100th issue, Wein had to use, or at least reference, all the past and present JLAers, and he adds to the Earth-1 cast by featuring Metamorpho (who memorably turned down JLA membership), Zatanna (whose quest to find her long-lost father, Zatara, ended in Justice League of America) and the Elongated Man (who had no previous contact with the JLA that I am aware apart from being one of The Flash’s best mates, but who would be inducted by Wein three issues after this story).
On the Justice Society side, Wein included as many of its members as he could, notably putting Doctor Fate in the forefront as usual: Fate’s popularity in these stories can be demonstrated by the fact that he had appeared in eight of the first ten, whilst for Wildcat this was only his second appearance. Basically, all those JSA members with direct counterparts in the League – excepting latecomer Green Lantern – are left out, along with the Spectre, who is dead-dead.
There’s really very little to say about the story itself, except to note that this is the only time the Earth-1 and Earth-2 Green Arrows appear in the same tale, and it’s interesting that they show not the slightest bit of enthusiasm for getting together with each other. Our familiar, bearded liberal crusader even responds with a great, fat “So what?” when he’s told he has a counterpart on Earth-2, and whilst he wouldn’t necessarily have been assigned to rescue his doppelganger, it’s abundantly clear that they have nothing to say to each other, even in the group scenes at the end.
I suspect that our own Ollie held the unreconstructed version that represented his past in a fair amount of contempt, and I wouldn’t mind betting that the clean-shaven Oliver had much the same opinions of his hot-headed, anarchic, alternate.
Fun though these three issues are, there are just a couple of points that must be mentioned, where things fall below the overall standard. The first of these was commented on in a subsequent letter-column: that the menace that had taken two-and-a-half issues to combat was knocked into a cocked hat by the non-superpowered Wonder Woman with a judo toss and a karate chop (which is as near as I can get to an exact quote, though I no longer remember the fan’s name). The other is its ending.
Just as in O’Neil’s second effort in 1970, the story ends in tragedy, and sacrifice. That time it was the Spectre who gave his pseudo-life to save the two planets, this time it is the Red Tornado, with a typically self-loathing reference to himself as a handful of cogs and circuits, who proves his innate humanity by giving up all claim to it and carrying the Nebula Rod to explode the Nebular Hand.
It ought to be a time of regret, of reflection, and Wein makes the appropriate noises, but the sad truth is that that is all they are: noises. The Red Tornado was created in 1968 and this team-up was only his fourth-ever appearance, each time as one of a team. When he appeared I described him as a character full of potential, none of which had been remotely approached since then, as indeed it never could be, as long as he was a member of the Justice Society. His ‘death’ was meaningless.
It was also somewhat ludicrous, as it took place against a background of superhero willy-waving, with people queuing up to claim a place on the suicide mission, whilst the rest of the team easily shot their pretensions towards invulnerability down. And whilst everyone is taken up with this, twenty-odd stone of metal has it away on its tippy-toes with the Nebula Rod, without anyone – not even Superman’s super-hearing – catching the slightest chink. It spoiled the mood.
As to post-Crisis status, I see no reason why it couldn’t be adapted with very little change.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier – 1971


Justice League of America 91, “Earth- the Monster-Maker!”/Justice League of America 92, “Solomon Grundy the One and Only!” Written by Mike Friedrich, art by Dick Dillin (pencils) and Joe Giella (inks), edited by Julius Schwarz.

In the aftermath of the previous issue’s meeting, Hawkman chairs a meeting with Superman, Green Lantern and the Atom present. Black Canary and Green Arrow are absent with leave, Aquaman hasn’t attended, because of what happened last issue and Batman is still searching for the missing Flash. Suddenly, the teleporter activates and Batman appears, carrying the broken body of the Flash in his arms.
We break off to enter a space region called the In-Between, a dangerous zone described as a ‘blind spot’, where some kids are joy-riding. They are aliens: humanoid in form, with big heads, pointy ears, small bodies, yellow skin, and they wear purple head-cowls with eyemasks. S-Kyris piloting when, suddenly, his younger brother A-Rym, and his vaguely dog-like pet, Teppy, fall out of a faulty air-lock. A warp snaps the lifeline connecting the pair and sends them tumbling into separate dimensional worlds, dooming them.
For these aliens have a symbiotic relationship with their pets, and require the physical proximity of each other. If they are separated for 37½ hours, both will die. Already, more than 23 hours have elapsed, and the two beings have undergone physical changes, growing larger and ever more dangerous, in their pain-filled desperation. Teppy is on Earth-1, A-Rym on Earth-2.
On Earth-2, the Justice Society is meeting. Superman, the Flash, the Atom and Hawkman respond to a distress signal from Green Lantern, which leads them to Slaughter Swamp, where Robin is helping a rather battered Emerald Crusader The Lantern has encountered, and been beaten by A-Rym, who has taken his Power Ring, sensing that it might be able to restore him to Teppy, if he can only make it work.
The Lantern is sent back to JSA HQ to recover, whilst Robin is reluctantly accepted onto the mission by a disdainful Hawkman, as a barely-adequate substitute for Batman.
Back on Earth-1, a Thanagarian medical unit saves the Flash’s life. He bursts out at speed just as Black Canary and Green Arrow arrive, but lasts only long enough to mention alien monster and New Carthage, home of Hudson University and College student Dick (Robin) Grayson. However, a summons from Aquaman demanding Batman and Green Arrow diverts them, Canary stays to tend to the Flash and the rest take off.
En route, they see Robin following up the same lead and take him along, with Hawkman disdainfully suggesting he might be a barely-adequate substitute for Batman.
Green Lantern’s ring detects a strange vibe emanating from Earth-2, suggesting another joint peril.  They contact the JSA team and discover this is so. The Atom1 suggests a mingling of teams on a scientifically sound basis: after the swap over, the Earth-1 squad consists of both Supermen, both Atoms and the Flash2, and the Earth-2 outfit of both Hawkmen, both Robins and Green Lantern1 (hang scientific soundness, this is obviously a put-up from Friedrich).
The Earth-2 squad locate A-Rym, who is going through the throes of a very painful cold turkey. They approach him cautiously as he is currently quiescent, but Robin1 is impetuous and starts an attack. This sets A-Rym off: he rips Robin1’s tunic off him. Robin2 goes to the rescue, over Hawkman2’s protests, and has to be rescued. Green Lantern1 sends both Robins off to the Earth-2 Batcave whilst he and the Hawkmen attempt to subdue A-Rym. But the frightened boy’s extraordinary strength beats down the Lantern, seeking out his ring (though GL wills it to become invisible before he goes under). Frightened, A-Rym knocks out both Hawkmen with GL’s body before running deeper into the swamp.
Meanwhile, on Earth-1, the pet creature Teppy is getting bigger, more panicky and more destructive. When that Earth’s outfit finds him, he semi-recognises the Flash2, being reminded of Flash1, and lashes out, starting a fight. The team have more success: whilst Atom1 distracts Teppy, the Supermen and Flash2 scoop out a deep ‘moat’, leaving the pet stranmded on a suddenly-isolated pillar of rock.
With their situation under control, Flash2 and Superman1 vibrate into Earth-2 to contact their squad. This being Slaughter Swamp, A-Rym has finally bumped into its notorious denizen, Solomon Grundy, the marshland monster. Grundy’s presence provides a strange, temporary relief for A-Rym’s pains.
When the augmented Earth-2 squad arrive, Grundy reacts violently to Green Lantern1’s power ring and attacks, taking out everybody, including Superman (his strength is partly magical in origin, hence Superman’s vulnerability). A-Rym beats up GL1 again and a hate-filled Grundy raises Superman, intending to kill the Lantern by smashing the Kryptonian’s invulnerable body down on him.
End of Part 1.


After four pages of contrasting two of each hero with one of Grundy, plus one page recapping A-Rym and Teppy’s plight, the story resumes. Superman fights his way out of Grundy’s grasp and everyone makes a tactical retreat.
Meanwhile, in space, S-Kyr’s rocketship is monitoring the rapidly decreasing life-force of A-rym, who tries to stop Grundy smashing Green Lantern1: he is still desperate for the Power Ring. The heroes mount another fruitless attack and A-Rym, realising Grundy isn’t his solution, leaves.
Back at the Earth-2 Batcave, Robin2 has finished repairing Robin1’s wounds and the two are sympathising about the generation gap as it is being applied to them by Hawkmen everywhere. Robin2 provides his junior with a fresh costume, a slick, sleek outfit in a grown-up combination of red, green and yellow, designed by the Earth-2 Neal Adams. They return to the fray.
On Earth-1, The Flash1 comes out of his coma and tries to stand up. Fortunately, his wife Iris turns up at that point and takes him home for TLC, leaving the Canary on her own.
On Earth-2, the ringless Green Lantern2 is alone until the battered outfit return with their wounded soldiers, Flash2 and Superman1. GL1 summons his Power Battery and creates a duplicate ring for GL2: they take GL1’s oath together (as they took GL2’s oath together in the 1969 team-up), and return to the fray.
A-Rym, whose withdrawal symptoms are getting worse, is trying to work the Power Ring2. On the rocketship, his life-force glows, until, that is, the heroes arrive, joined simultaneously by the Robins, and Robin2’s batarang removes the ring from A-Rym’s grasp: his life-force dims, ending his last hope of being found.
A-Rym’s last burst of strength drains away, allowing Robin1 to best him, and he begins to shrink and fade, falling unconscious into Robin1’s arms.
Elsewhere in Slaughter Swamp, Solomon Grundy is on a destructive rampage, with the two Lanterns trying to halt him. They discover that, individually, neither ring has enough power, but once they combine their willpower, they can finally drain his of power, if not of life. Once Hawkman1 turns up with Power Ring2, however, the Lanterns can make Grundy safe for all time by sealing him into Slaughter Swamp behind an unbreakable green barrier.
On each Earth, the alien monsters are shrinking and fading. But a couple of comments about the coincidence of fighting two such beings, on different Earths, simultaneously, clue in the Robins to the true situation. The heroes bring A-Rym and Teppy back together, saving their lives, and so regenerating their life forces that S-Kyr can track and collect them and go home. It’s such a happy ending, even the two Hawkmen apologise to their respective Robins for under-rating them as kids
So everyone heads back to where they belong, including Robin1 to his interrupted case, musing over keeping his new costume (Schwarz invites the readers to write in and say if they want him to). He muses on how odd it is for Batman to be there at the beginning but not the end of a JLA case, but the caption warns that this is not the end, as we will see next issue…
* * * * *
Just as Julius Schwarz had, from the Fifties onwards, cultivated a small stable of writers and artists with whom he would work, in the Sixties he cultivated a small ‘stable’ of letter-writers, young, thoughtful, articulate, passionate and interesting boys (and in Irene Vartanoff, one girl), whose letters recurred time and again in his titles. It was hardly a surprise that almost all of them (“Our Favorite Guy”, Guy H. Lillian III, being the notable exception) went on to work in the industry.
“Castro Mike” Friedrich (from Castro Valley, California) was one such. In 1970, he replaced Denny O’Neill as Justice League of America scripter, bringing youthful enthusiasm and an eagerness to experiment with, amongst other things, the approaches of Marvel. His JLA stories were intended to be ongoing, as can be seen in this team-up, where the opening is heavily affected by carry-over issues from the previous story, and in which the final panel is loaded with a lead-in to the succeeding story, which follows on from that continuity laden opening.
In a way, that makes the entire team-up a diversion, an interruption to the League’s run of events, and to be honest, the story reads that way, an impression not helped by a letter from Friedrich printed in the comic, bitching about the monumental size of his task in setting up so many heroes in so few pages.
And he’s right: it is a hell of a task, and he makes an uncomfortable, awkward mess of it, from start to finish.
If it wasn’t already noticeable in itself, Friedrich takes no less than three full pages at the start of the second part to belabour the reader over the head with his gimmick for this story – thankfully never repeated – of only using pairs of heroes in the story, even to the extent of dragging in Robin the Teen Wonder as a guest star to complement the first appearance of the grown-up Earth-2 Robin since his 1967 début.
But having gimmicked his story, even to the extent of mixing the teams to get the pairs working in tandem, for “scientifically sound” reasons that are as transparently meaningless as anything ever published in comics, Friedrich does nothing of significance with them. Except, of course, introduce a clumsy ‘generation gap’ theme as the two Hawkmen – both portrayed as crusty, disrespectful veterans – each put down their respective Robins.
The menace itself is also a clumsy gesture by Friedrich. The intentions are good: the set-up is clearly aimed at exploring the misunderstood monster territory that, a year later, Len Wein and Berni Wrightson’s Swamp Thing would march into and occupy, but his treatment of it is awkward and ineffective.
Dillin drawing the aliens as identical yellow-skinned humanoids – wearing masks! Did they truly fear that someone might otherwise recognise them and strike back through their loved ones? – and the pets as cute puppy equivalents does not help one little bit. Even when they’re on a rampage, they look stupid rather than menacing.
And at intervals, just to ram down our throats that these guys are more to be pitied than feared, Friedrich treats us to lurid descriptions of heroin withdrawal pains, making an ill-suited comparison that is inappropriate given that A-Rym and Teppy are symbiotes, whose life depends on physical proximity. To illustrate this with addiction is not playing with equals.
There are so many little things about this story that do not hang together. It’s easy enough to limit the JSA contingent to only members with a Justice League counterpart, but not so simple to dispose of the rest of the League: in Friedrich’s world, they can’t simply not turn up to this particular meeting. Aquaman’s apparent snit (I did used to have most of Friedrich’s run but cannot recall anything of it now) takes care of him and his summons of Batman and Green Arrow moves them out, but it still leaves Black Canary as nursemaid, and requires that awkward page in part 2 with Iris turning up to take Barry off her hands.
I’ve already mentioned the “scientifically sound” nonsense, but there’s also this business about A’Rym and Teppy have only 37½ hours to live separately, which is an awkward choice of period. Presumably it’s meant to be a change from the usually state where alien deadlines somehow break down into multiples of 24 hours, but then Friedrich goes on to stipulate that 23 hours at least have already gone by during which the two lost babies were utterly harmless, and only now do they start getting big and in your face menaces.
The story is full of such contrivances which do not derive organically from a thought-through story but which are thrown in to keep things stumbling along, or make things convenient for the writer, like Solomon Grundy. There is absolute nothing in the story to support the notion that this Golden Age creation, with his terrible rages, should in any manner be able to substitute for Teppy and sustain little A-Rym’s life force, except the desperation of the writer to find an excuse to bring Grundy in as someone the heroes can fight who isn’t actually a helpless and scared kid.
Besides, after going so heavy on the heroin withdrawal stuff, Friedrich has painted himself into something of a corner when it comes to A-Rym’s durability.
Frankly, it’s a mess.
Of course, come the end of the day, it’s the much put-upon, sneered at Robins who solve the case. It’s put down to their having been trained by the greatest detective mind in history, Batman, to put infinitessimal clues together to make four where others have yet to spot either two but we all know that it’s really because they’re the Younger Generation, who can see things clearly where the Older Generation have eyes covered with scales. Especially when it comes to making peace, not war (a metaphor badly spoiled by the fact that the first and completely unnecessary punch in part 1 was slung by the Teen Wonder).
As for the two Hawkmen having been selected as the stuffy Older Generation, I’m assuming this was derived from the Thanagarian Hawkman’s role as law’n’order opposite to the hot-headed, ultra-liberal Green Arrow. It’s far less appropriate to the Reincarnate Egyptian Prince Hawkman, though Friedrich tries to justify it by having Robin2 excuse him because he wasn’t present on Adult Robin’s one previous JSA adventure to date.
Which casts severe doubt upon Richard Grayson’s deductive capabilities, because Hawkman2 was very present on that 1967 case.
Having come down hard on Friedrich over what he did do, it’s a shame to also criticise him on what he didn’t do. So far in DC’s comics, the Flashes had teamed-up, the Green Lantern’s had teamed-up, the Atoms had teamed-up, multiple times, but this was actually the first time the Hawkmen had appeared together. Not only do they appear together, they spend most of the story working in tandem, yet despite their similarly stiff-mindedness, there is barely a word spoken to or about each other.
Indeed, this is the only major occasion of which I am aware in which the Hawks appeared together, and they treat each other as no more than fellow team-mates. Not even a two-man flying team trick: Gardner Fox would have burned his typewriter rather than miss that opportunity.
This was Friedrich’s one and only script for the JLA/JSA’s team-ups. His run as scripter would end with issue 99, leaving his successor, another fan-turned-writer, Len Wein, with not only the 100th Anniversary issue, but also the tenth team-up as his first script. An uncommon task. Friedrich wrote only fourteen issues of Justice League of America, including this solitary team-up: Wein would write only fifteen issues, but his spell would include three team-ups, each of different length, and he would make the most significant change to the annual team-ups of them all.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier – 1969


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

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


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

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier – 1968


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

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


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

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1965


Justice League of America 37, “Earth – Without a Justice League!”/Justice League of America 38, “Crisis on Earth-A!” Written by Gardner Fox, art by Mike Sekowsky (pencils) and Bernard Sachs (inks), edited by Julius Schwarz.

At last Johnny Thunder has received an invite to a Justice Society meeting. It’s been very frustrating, them having adventures without him. He calls on his Thunderbolt, only to find that, after having had nothing to do for so long (17 years), the Bahdnesian Hex-Bolt was about to try Earth-1, in the hope that its Johnny Thunder had something for it to do. The easily-distracted Johnny muses about wanting to meet his Earth-1 equivalent, and the Bolt immediately zaps them there.
The Earth-1 Thunder, who lives in a small, ill-kept apartment room, looks identical to Johnny, except for his frown and his preference for purple jackets, not green. He has the same history as Johnny but, being a crook, was never given a Thunderbolt. Johnny sympathises: Thunder knocks him out and, after a few tries at getting the right words, eventually hits on “Cei-u” (i.e., Say you), and orders the Bolt to hop down to the local factory and rob it of its payroll.
Hopping down literally (he is a literal being), the Thunderbolt, being rusty, misjudges and bangs his head against the safe. This attracts the attention of Barry Allen, who changes to the Flash and intervenes. Surprisingly, as someone whose favourite comic book was Flash Comics, Barry-Flash does not recognise the Thunderbolt of another Flash alumni. The Bolt escapes when a suspicious and impatient Thunder orders his return.
When he hears about the Flash, Thunder comes up with a grandiose plan to prevent the Justice League from interfering: he sends the Bolt back into time to prevent all of them ever coming to be.
Thus the Thunderbolt intercepts the lightning bolt bound for Barry Allen’s lab: no chemical bath, no Flash. He converts Krypton’s fissionable uranium core to lead: no explosion, no rocket containing baby Kal-El. He prevents the blast of yellow radiation from crashing Abin Sur’s spaceship: he remains Green Lantern elsewhere in this sector. He smashes the fragment of white dwarf star matter that Ray Palmer would have used to create the Atom’s size and weight changing controls. He shorts out Dr Erdel’s electronic brain before it teleports the Martian Manhunter to Earth. And he drops into Detective Comics 27, into the first panel of Batman’s career, and helps the crooks he faced whale the shit out of Bruce Wayne, who concludes that being a crimefighter was a silly idea and he’s going back to being a playboy!
In similar, but unspecified fashion, the Thunderbolt also disrupts the origins of Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and Hawkman. When he returns to Thunder, utterly exhausted, he advises him that the Earth has now been changed into an alternate: Thunder promptly christens it Earth-A.
Meanwhile, on Earth-2, the other Justice Society members – The Flash, Green Lantern, The Atom, Hawkman, Doctor Fate and Mr. Terrific – are wondering where Johnny has got to. There’s no trace of him on Earth-2 in Fate’s crystal ball, but they pick up the trace of his Thunderbolt disappearing into Earth-1. Looking for the Bolt there, the JSA eavesdrop on a scene of Thunder assembling his gang to go out and rob now the Justice League are no longer there to stop them. Horrified and mystified at their counterparts’ disappearance, the Justice Society head for Earth-1.
Once there, they interrupt Thunder’s gang’s robbery. The gang are easily captured and Thunder sets the Bolt against them, with orders that the Bolt interprets very literally: slap ’em down, kick them off the Earth. The Bolt refuses to kill: that is Tabu. As the JSA are too much for the Bolt, Thunder orders him to get them out of there.
After visiting various of the putative Justice Leaguers and discovering they know nothing of their heroic lives, the JSA regroup. They decide to disguise themselves as various JLA members, in the hope that their appearance will cause Thunder to blurt out what he’s done to them. Flash, Green Lantern and the Atom become their Earth-1 equivalents, Doctor Fate and Mr. Terrific impersonate Superman and Batman which Hawkman opts to cover the Martian Manhunter.
Once the Bolt tells Thunder that the JSA have ‘vanished’, he goes out to rob a cruise liner, using only the Bolt. The disguised JSA catch up with them and Thunder does indeed blurt out what he’s done, but despite instructing the Bolt to split himself into six, one for each ‘Justice Leaguer’, each Bolt is only one-sixth and strong. The ‘League’ prevail and Thunder and the Bolt flee again.
Having discovered just who the ‘JLA’ were, Thunder adopts the same plan. The Bolt breaks six of his gang members out of jail and substitutes each of them in the various Leaguers origins. Thus, when the JSA find Thunder’s lair, they are confronted by a six-man Lawless League. In preparation for the fight, the Bolt removes the JSA’s disguises, leaving the two sides ready to face-off
End of part 1.

In anticipation of the fight, Thunder has the Bolt set him up with wide-screen TV. Black & white is not acceptable, even though Batman is beating Mr Terrific: by the time the screen changes to colour, the roles have been reversed. Each JSA member takes on the Lawless League equivalent of the one they impersonated. In each case, the Lawless League seem strong at first, but are easily taken out by the JSA: the Bolt explains that it is a matter of experience with powers.
Infuriated, Thunder has the Bolt whip up an earthquake, a hurricane and a typhoon to assault the JSA, knocking three members out immediately. Hawkman grabs the capes of Doctor Fate and Green Lantern, struggling to hold them aloft, whilst the other three fall into a crevasse. Once out of the wind, Terrific grabs a spur of rock, The Flash supports himself by drumming his heels to create wind pressure that stops him falling, and once the Atom wakes up, the three are propelled upwards, like a circus act. They help Hawkman as his wings are torn off, and once recovered Doctor Fate and Green Lantern anchor themselves in a magical gondola.
Frustrated, Thunder decides to escape by having the Bolt take him to the Moon. Once there, he demands air be added.
Whilst his team-mates search for Thunder, Doctor Fate attempts to undo the Bolt’s interference with history, but it is accomplished magic and he can do nothing. However, the Flash has discovered the column of air leading towards the Moon, and the JSA set off in pursuit.
On the Moon, Thunder has had the Bolt create three monsters to destroy the JSA. When the heroes arrive, The Atom and Mr. Terrific charge into the attack against Medusa-Man, but his face changes them both into solid wood: Fate stops him by covering his face with a blank gold mask. Hawkman and the Flash attack Repello-Man, who repels their assaults back at them, knocking them out of the fight. And Green Lantern pours it on against Absorbo-Man, who then sends all the power back at him, wiping him out.
This leaves Doctor Fate alone against the remaining two monsters. He takes out Repello-Man by flinging bolts of reverse magic at him: when Repello-Man tries to repel them, they are reversed and attracted to him, shattering him. As for Absorbo-Man, Fate banks on his having absorbed the weakness of Green Lantern’s power ring as well as its power: hurling Atom and Terrific’s wooden bodies against him, he causes Absorbo-Man to crumble.
By now at screaming pitch, Thunder turns the Bolt against Fate, in an all-out magic war, but as they fling all manner of bolts at each other, thunder is caught in the middle, battered from all sides until he finally screams that he has had enough, that he wants none of this to ever have happened and to see none of them ever again.
The Justice League of America gather for a routine meeting at which the only crime news is about a small-time crook named Johnny Thunder. The Flash, smiling, suggests that he’s heard of that name before. The Thunderbolt winks at the reader: he knows what happened, but he isn’t sharing it.
* * * * *
Ok, it’s the ending, isn’t it?
It’s an unashamed “And then they woke up, and it was all a dream”, even though it’s not even that, because it all never happened, not even in a dream, and no-one remembers it. Except the Thunderbolt. Oh, yes, and the readers.
I’ve no idea how far you have to go to find a time when it was possible to get away with that kind of ending, but I suspect it was way before 1965. On the other hand, when I read this adventure, in two widely separated parts, in 1966, I was ten years old and I was a sucker for it, and despite an adult appreciation of the flaws in this story, it was my introduction to the Justice Society, and it is still one of my favourite comics stories ever.
Because, for all the ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ nature of the ending, an obvious device to bring to an end a story that had spiralled out of any rational means of closure, it could not possibly mar a tale that had opened my eyes to the vastness of the Universe and of all possibility. Those two pages when the Thunderbolt goes up and down the timestream to invade and destroy the origins of the Justice League opened my mind far wider and further than any comparable incident in literature of any kind.
Once is a great success, two a commercialised sequel but three is a tradition. With this team-up, the annual meeting of the super-teams became a fixture of the summer issues of Justice League of America that the two teams would continue to meet every year.
Might there have been a moment when the tradition could safely have been broken, without too much complaint from readers? Not in 1965, nor the year after. DC’s Golden Age revival was reaching the heights. Schwarz had announced that there would be no more new versions after the success of the Atom, but instead he was experimenting with full-scale revivals. Green Lantern teamed up with his Golden Age counterpart for a couple of adventures, as did the Atom. In Showcase, Doctor Fate and Hourman had a couple of outings in tandem, as did Starman and Black Canary in Brave and Bold, and Schwarz even planned for a Dr Mid-Nite/Sandman team-up, before deciding to go for a solo revival of the Spectre.
But even though the Spectre’s re-emergence, intended as the springboard of an actual series, to be set on Earth-2, failed to make the intended impact, the annual team-up would last long enough that, like the continuing performances of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, it would continue because it had already played for so long, and no-one could work out how to take it off, whilst the Multiverse persisted.
There’s a substantial difference between this team-up and those preceding it, and I like to think that criticism of how the Justice Society were demeaned in 1964 influenced this year’s story, because it’s not a team-up at all. Forget what it says on the cover of issue 37: the Justice League don’t so much not appear on their own cover, as not (the penultimate panel of issue 38 excepted) appear at all in the entire two issues! This is a solo Justice Society story in everything but name.
Of course, the image of the Justice League is preserved for their fans, with the Justice Society in issue 37 and Thunder’s gang in 38 masquerading as the stars of the series. And the appearance of the latter isn’t an exact match as they’re all drawn as different, criminal body-types and faces.
As for the JSA line-up, Doctor Fate and Hawkman retain their 100% record and the other three of Schwarz’s revivals return. The two new revenants this year are Johnny Thunder and Mr. Terrific.
We don’t see much of Johnny at all, and certainly not in conjunction with anyone except his Thunderbolt and his Earth-1 counterpart. And after three pages of that, bop, Johnny’s knocked cold and we are left with his evil equivalent, who’s a completely different kettle of fish. You have to say this for Thunder, he may have a permanent frown and prefer purple jackets to green, and like any member of the criminal classes, he can only pronounce the letters ‘th’ as ‘d’, but when it comes to schemes and plots, he’s wildly inventive: Johnny would never have thought of a fraction of what he comes up with.
So we are exposed to only a small dose of Johnny Thunder, Comic Relief, which suggests to me that Fox and Schwarz were uncertain about how to play Johnny T, and settled for a brief taste, to invite audience reaction.
Terrific, on the other hand, slots in without the slightest sign that this is Terry Sloane’s first mission as a Justice Society member. On his one previous appearance in All-Star, Mr Terrific was only a guest, a fact that was heavily emphasised at the time, but here he is, one of the boys, and sufficiently well-regarded (by Fox and Schwarz, let alone his team-mates) as to be a suitable double for Batman.
There never was any story about how and when Terrific was invited into membership. He’s generally been reassigned a role as a JSA reservist in later years, but if anyone at National had bothered with the issue in 1965, I’d expect the answer to have been that, under the JSA’s revised by-laws, he was upgraded.
One thing about this story puzzled me for years. Flash, Green Lantern and Atom naturally impersonate their namesakes, but Hawkman, rather implausibly, opts to imitate the Martian Manhunter, even though his Earth-1 counterpart is a member of the League. Then it struck me that this could be explained as a particularly subtle piece of continuity from Fox and Schwarz: the Katar Hol Kawkman was now a Leaguer, but he’d only been inducted in Justice League of America 31, the following issue from the previous year’s team-up, and the teams never had any contact between annual meetings, so the Prince Khufu Hawkman simply did not know he too had a JLA equivalent.
On the other hand, even four years into the Marvel Age, a concern for blatant continuity never bothered Fox and Schwarz, so something as low-key as this seems implausible, but it still wouldn’t surprise me if, during those legendary morning/afternoon plotting sessions, one of editor and writer made that very objection.
Of course, the story is not without its flaws. I’ve already pointed out in the story summary that, despite being an avid reader of Flash Comics, Barry-Flash apparently doesn’t recognise Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt when Johnny T appeared in all but the last dozen or so issues of the whole series, but more serious is the introduction of “Accomplished Magic”, which, having been accomplished, cannot be undone.
It’s a necessary device to stop Doctor Fate simply undoing everything halfway through issue 37, but its glaring inconsistency is that Fate’s own “Accomplished Magic” doesn’t stop the Thunderbolt stripping away the Society’s disguise as the League.
And even at the age of ten, when I first read this story, I couldn’t help but think that Fox and Schwarz missed a trick in the first scene where the Society first tackle the Thunderbolt. Thunder orders the Bolt to ‘slap ’em down!’: he turns himself into a giant hand and slaps them down onto the ground. He orders the Bolt to ‘kick ’em off the Earth!’: the Bolt turns himself into a giant boot and kicks them ten feet into the air, ‘off the Earth’.
Finally, Thunder orders the Bolt to kill them. This is the Bolt’s sticking point: not killing, that’s Tabu.
Almost fifty years later, I still expect a raging Thunder to shout back, “Ok, then, Tabu! Now kill them!”
As far as post-Crisis canonicity is concerned, you might think that this one’s impossible as well, but it’s surprisingly adaptable. Make Thunder into a grandson, or grandnephew of Johnny who gets control of the Bolt and decides to eliminate the Justice League and the story would still play out. And if young Thunder is appropriately contemptuous of the older generation, that might explain why he only has the Justice League eliminated from history, and not the ‘beneath contempt’ Society.
But you’d have had to lose that ending…

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1963


Justice League of America 21, “Crisis on Earth-One!”/Justice League of America 22, “Crisis on Earth-Two!” Written by Gardner Fox, art by Mike Sekowsky (pencils) and Bernard Sachs (inks), edited by Julius Schwarz.


On Earth-1, the Justice League has called an emergency meeting, chaired by Batman, to handle a challenge issued by the new Crime-Champions, who consist of the Flash’s Doctor Alchemy, The Atom’s Chronos and the League’s own Felix Faust, The criminals plan to rob and vanish with their loot, without the League being able to stop them. The League accepts the challenge and splits into three teams to tackle the crooks.
Meanwhile, on Earth-2, the Justice Society have opened their former meeting rooms for the first time in thirteen years. Doctor Fate explains to the attending members that, under the team’s revised by-laws (i.e., constitution), they are to operate with a rotating membership of seven. Those present have been chosen by lot, and the other members have sent telegrams of congratulations.
The Society has received an identical challenge from three old supervillains, The Flash’s Fiddler, Green Lantern’s Icicle and the Society’s own Wizard. Filled with the rush of nostalgia, the Society split into three teams and rush out to tackle their foes.
Back on Earth-1, Felix Faust easily evades capture by Aquaman, J’Onn J’Onzz and The Atom, Dr Alchemy gets away from Superman and Green Arrow (The Flash mysteriously vibrates into nothingness) and Chronos eludes  Batman, Wonder Woman and  Green Lantern.
We follow the Crime Champions to a giant satellite-like bubble in an inter-dimensional limbo, where they meet their allies, the Earth-2 villains. The Earth-2 trio congratulate their Earth1 counterparts, whilst recalling their own luck in meeting them: having escaped at last from prison, the villains had been surrounded at a deserted crossroads outside Keystone City (where the Flashes cross from Earth to Earth), and when The Fiddler tried to fiddle up an escape, he accidentally took the trio to the Central City Community Theatre on Earth-1.
In turn, the Earth-1 villains reminisce about how they planned to rob the takings but, recognising convict garb, spirited the newcomers away before anyone else could see them.
Learning of the parallel Earths, the sextet have got together to rob in their own worlds and spend their ill-gotten gains in the other world, unrecognised by anyone: except the Flashes, that is, who have had to be captured and caged in traps that automatically neutralise their ability to vibrate free.
The villains go off to have a good time, but the Earth-2 trio, having spent the last fifteen years or so in jail, are tempted by the riches on display. In order to protect their plan, they disguise themselves as the Earth-1 Crime Champions, and set a trap for the Justice League at a casino hotel.
One by one, the eight League members touch ordinary items that the Wizard has magicked to doom them: they are wisked away into a magical trap that confines them in their own cave sanctuary.
Unable to escape, the Leaguers use Marlin’s crystal ball to contact their Flash. They learn the whole story from him, and go on to invite the Justice Society into Earth-1 for the historic first meeting of the heroes of two Earths!
The Justice Society, who aren’t confined by the Wizard’s magic, leave the sanctuary to hunt down their villains. The Justice League are sent into Earth-2, to pursue their villains. The two Green Lanterns team-up to travel into limbo to rescue the Flashes.
End of Part One.

The Justice Society emerge from the Secret Sanctuary and split up to hunt down their foes, who have dropped their disguises. Hourman and the Atom capture the Fiddler, Doctor Fate overcomes the Icicle and Hawkman and Black Canary defeat the Wizard.
The Green Lanterns see something in limbo.
On Earth-2, the Justice League go after their rampaging foes. J’Onn J’Onzz, the Atom and Green Arrow bring in Felix Faust, Batman and Wonder Woman (again!) are too much for Doctor Alchemy and Superman and Aquaman clean up Chronos.
The Lanterns reach the Crime-Champions satellite and find the Flashes, but their vibrational bubbles are impervious to every power ring attack. Finally, the Lanterns realise that air can get in and out so they transform the Flashes and bring them out. But this triggers a pre-set trap that couldn’t be sprung without the additional energy of the Rings: all sixteen heroes are drawn into specialised two-person traps in limbo.
Each cage is specially protected against the heroes’ powers, but this proves the Crime-Champions’ undoing: the Atoms’ cage may be super-dense, preventing the Eaarth-1 Atom from shrinking to subatomic size and slipping out between the molecules of its base, but the Green Lanterns’ cage doesn’t stop them shrinking themselves out.
The Lanterns’ power frees the Flashes, and the knock-on effect enables everybody to free someone else. The two teams head back to Earth-2, where the six villains have gathered.
As soon as they realise what’s happened, the villains know they have no chance. They try to find a way out. If Earth- and Earth-2 exist, there must logically be an Earth-3: can they get there? Not before the avenging League and Society arrive and totally clobber them.
Agreeing to keep in touch to be able to deal with similar incidents, the teams gather their villains and return to their respective Earths.

* * * * *

The first JLA/JSA has always been described as a classic, and it’s deserving of the accolade. It would be a classic in any event, solely for what it was: a completely unprecedented meeting between the pre-eminent superhero teams of the present and the past, between the protectors of two Earths, between the familiarity of the League and the otherworldliness of the Society who, for the overwhelming majority of the readers, would be nothing more than a curiosity spoken of by elder brothers.
If Showcase 4 was the implicit conception of the Multiverse, and The Flash 123 its birth, Justice League of America 21/22 was the moment that it became the foundation of DC Comics.
This first team-up is fascinating on many levels. Whilst crossovers between Earths were only taking place in The Flash, it was enough to describe the two Earths as Barry and Jay’s worlds, but this breakout required a more objective designation, and so Earth-1 and Earth-2 were formally named as such. And, in the light of such later and transformative series as Crisis on Infinite Earths etc, this is the fountainhead: these are the original Crises.
In the light of where the annual team-ups would soon go, ‘Crisis on Earth-One/Two’ seems unusually unambitious. The story is nothing more than a standard hero vs villain tale, on a larger scale. The superhero teams are doing nothing but their everyday jobs, only in greater numbers, and so too are the villains: between nine JLA, seven JSA and six supervillains, there are 22 costumed characters cavorting throughout this double-length story, and the DC-reading kid of 1963 would have been giddy with excitement at page after page of superpowers in action.
In a way, this two-parter represented the end of a phase for Justice League of America. From its inception in the Brave & Bold try-outs, the League – like the Society before it in the Forties – had always put its entire membership out every issue. But the JSA had, according to Doctor Fate, reconstituted itself as a team consisting of no more than seven active members at any time (like that would last), and perhaps that notion – intended only to keep the Justice Society ranks down to manageable proportions – appealed to Schwarz and Fox after such an extravaganza, but from this point forward the League would drop its unwritten rule requiring everyone to attend. Most adventures would feature 5-6 members at a time, with the whole team reserved for special events, which would, in turn, lead to the perhaps unconscious development of a ‘Big Five’ within the League.
I’ve started these series with the intention of looking at the Justice Society’s changing depiction throughout the years, but it’s impossible to ignore that all these stories are taking place in the Justice League’s series They’re the stars, and the Justice Society the guests, and this story was written and drawn in an era where the star was very much the star. Guests were fine, but they had to know their places. The guest could help out, but it was the hero who won the day.
In respect of the final outcome, the Justice Society get to stand alongside their hosts as equals: the Crime-Champions are swept away in a sixteen hero onslaught over two background-less, silent pages, with the League and the Society mixing up their forces to simultaneously knock down each of the six villains.
But that’s not the case prior to that point. In issue 21, the League gets nine pages to tussle with their trio, not to mention a further four against the disguised Earth-2 villains, whilst the Society’s battled is gotten over in three flashback panels, related by their enemies and occupying a single tier on one page. Then, in issue 22, the ‘Earth-Two’ half, the Society get to strut their stuff over eight upfront pages, but the League still get their second round at length, over another nine pages.
And let’s not forget that we’re continually being reminded that the Society are old men (and woman). Though none of them are drawn to look significantly older than the League, there are constant references to the Society being older: references to lined faces, greying hair, and bringing back a clearly distant past.
Which, to be fair, was only the true situation. Excluding their previous cameo in The Flash 137, this is indeed the JSA’s first outing in costume in thirteen years: longer than most of the target audience have been alive.
As far as team-ups go, Fox structures his tale to have the League and the Society operating separately until the end. Even then, there’s little real interactivity: only the two Lanterns get any real conversation, all of it focussed on the job at hand, and the concluding melee is simply six single multi-hero panels.
Not that anyone should or would have expect any emotional underpinning to the story. The JSA’s delight at being back in action, at reliving their old glories is as far as Fox and Schwarz are prepared to go: it is, after all, what distinguishes them from the JLA, But this is an action comic: that historic first meeting is historic only in the captions. It was DC’s formula, especially under the plot-driven Fox and Schwarz. The story was and is all.
It’s slightly surprising that writer and editor devoted as much time as they did to the organisational foundation of the new JSA. It’s also interesting that, despite the same pairing having been responsible for Hawkman announcing himself as the JSA’s former Permanent Chairman, it is Doctor Fate in the chair despite the fact that Hawkman is on the team.
That initial line-up is equally interesting. It includes all four Golden Age originals whom Schwarz had already updated for the nascent Silver Age, plus two further founder members, neither of whom had been seen with the Justice Society, or in comics at all, since 1943 and very early 1945 respectively. It makes sense to include the four characters who would have seemed the strangest to contemporary characters, heroes who now had other, more familiar costumes.
But the Black Canary is a true anomaly here, given that she didn’t appear until 1948, and thus had never before worked with, or even met Fate or Hourman. Not that you’d realise that from this issue. Fox and Schwarz would never have wasted good story-telling time to touch upon that. However, a female Society member was needed, and as Wonder Woman was still in print from the Golden Age, there was no other choice.
Black Canary’s lack of previous experience with her elder comrades helps introduce another aspect to the story that modern readers will have difficulty comprehending. The Crime-Champions kidnap the two Flashes because only they have visited each other’s Earths and could recognise the other villains. This, and the explanation that Barry-Flash gives once the League make contact via their Souvenir Room Crystal Ball, makes plain that, in the two years since his first trip to another Earth, and despite the very public appearance of Jay in Central City as being from another Earth, The Flash hasn’t yet told his colleagues in the Justice League about Earth-2.
But then we would have known that as little kids anyway. This is 1963, and it will be nearly two decades before retcons – ‘retrospective continuity’ – are invented, and in this time, if you hadn’t read it in a comic book, it hadn’t happened. Dinah Drake didn’t meet Kent Nelson or Rex Tyler in that intervening thirteen years, Barry Allen (whose secret identity wasn’t known to anyone except Hal ‘Green Lantern’ Jordan) had never discussed Jay Garrick at a Justice League meeting.
It was a different era.
These two issues were drawn by the art team of Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs, who’d been the JLA’s penciller and inker from the outset. Selowsky is justly noted for his eccentric anatomy, and the curious poses he put his characters through, and his take on many of the characters will look wholly alien to modern audiences. But there’s a key to his success on Justice League of America on page 2, third tier of issue 21, and again on the same tier of page 4.
The first is the stock shot of the Justice League running from their cave Sanctuary to head for the action, the second is a Justice Society equivalent. Both feature the heroes, against a white background, running towards the character in a straight line, and every single figure, across both panels, is moving differently. Batman may look too top-heavy to run at all, but everyone is different.
And it’s like that throughout. Remember that Sekowsky is dealing with no less than twenty-two costumed characters in this story, in multiple combinations, but for all his weird positions and awkward stances, he handles the combinations expertly. Your eyes may pop, but they’ll never go to the wrong place in a Sekowsky page.
Such a pity that Sachs was so unsympathetic an inker, all weak, fussy and scratchy lines, exaggerating Sekowsky’s worst traits and robbing the images of any energy.
Though you can’t help but smile at one point. DC’s artists would often swipe film stars faces for characters, and Sekowsky has indulged himself with the unmasked face of the Icicle (who is somehow moustached in real-life whilst his costumed face is clean-shaven), drawing him in two panels as Groucho Marx, complete with cigar in a characteristic splay-fingered hand. I’m always ready for the panel to start spouting, “When I was in Africa, I shot an elephant in my pyjamas…”
As the choice of villains. The Golden Age was nothing like as big on super-villains as the Silver Age had been from its very start, and certainly not as keen on recurring villains, and whilst The Fiddler had already been seen in The Flash 123, the other two were obscurities. The choice of Earth-1 villains is actually more intriguing, as none of the trio was anything remotely resembling a major villain: when your heaviest player is Felix Faust…
Despite being one of the Silver Age Flash’s earliest villain, under his original nom de crime of Mr Element, Dr Alchemy has never made the cut in relation to the long standing Rogue’s Gallery. There’s an instructive pointer to early Sixties’ DC comics here: after starting out as Mr Element, Paul Desmond discovered the fabled Philosopher’s Stone, which could change one element into another. Giving himself a new costume and title, he fought the Flash, but had the Stone taken off him, and hurled into space by the Flash at a speed in excess of escape velocity, meaning it will never return. It poses a little difficulty about bringing Doctor Alchemy back.
Fox and Schwarz dispose of this inconvenient and fatal incident in a single thought bubble, as Alchemy reminds the reader that the Philosopher’s Stone was hurled into space, but he later retrieved it and changed it into a matter transformer. How easy it was, then.
But it’s Chronos who, for me, is the real let down in this story. In 1963, he was still in the early stages of a criminal career that got started when a petty thief became obsessed with improving his timing. His first move in this story is to crumble the walls of a bank by hitting it with “bottled time” that ages it, but after seeming like a worthy opponent, he starts taking on the likes of Wonder Woman and Batman with a pocket watch, whose hands shoot out to nudge Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth out of the way, and whose face cuts Batman’s batrope. In the big melee, he looks like he’s trying to hurl clocks at people! This man does not belong here, folks!
But let’s get back to the Justice Society of America: seven heroes returned from comic book limbo. The Flash, Green Lantern, Hourman and Black Canary are as they always were (though Fox and Schwarz will go on to muddy the waters over Hourman’s miraclo pills). Not so the other three.
In 1948, after years of being no more than a pint-sized bruiser, the Atom inexplicably developed superstrength, and radically redesigned his costume: he returns in that second costume and, whilst he doesn’t display any especial strength here, future stories will confirm he’s still got it.
But Doctor Fate, as long ago as 1942, lost virtually all his magical powers, and cut back his golden helm to expose the lower half of his face. That development is overlooked: Fate sports his old full-face helm and has all his magical powers again, though the gothic, Lovecraftian approach to the character, whom Fox co-created, remember, is lost for this time, and he’s as normally, pragmatically American as everyone else.
But, though being a purely minor aspect, it’s intriguing to see Hawkman return in that simple yellow cloth hood he started wearing at the same time the Atom changed his costume. The reason is obvious: unlike the other three, the Silver Age Hawkman wears an identical costume to his predecessor, so the Golden Age Hawkman must perforce look different.
It’s just that in The Flash 137, he was wearing a proper Hawk-helm, like the old days…

PS: After Crisis on Multiple Earths, whilst everyone was waiting to see what shape the DC Universe was going to take, there was considerable fan speculation about exactly what out of pre-Crisis history would be held to be still canon. One sector of that focussed on which of the JLA/JSA team-ups were still in continuity if the two teams had been based on the same Earth. No authorised list was ever published, at least not that I was ever aware, but despite the fact that this first team-up depended heavily on there being two Earths, It could have made the cut. It would have needed a lot of revision, but the basic story could be retained by making the Crime Champions into a team of older and younger villains, with the older ones escaped from long imprisonment, and wanting to catch up on their interrupted careers. Score 1 in the positive column.

JSA Legacies: no. 4 – The Atom


The Atom 1 – old style

The Atom was created by writer Bill O’Connor and artist Ben Flinton for All-American Comics issue 19, though it’s also been said that the pair wrote and drew interchangeably. Neither men were stars, neither appear to have created anything apart from The Atom, and they left the industry in 1942, to go into the Armed Services, never to return.
The Atom was college student Al Pratt, of Calvin College. Pratt was distinguished by red hair and by being only 5’1” tall, which led to his being mocked and picked on. Pratt was further demeaned when, having finally persuaded classmate Mary James to go on a date with him, the pair were stopped by a mugger. Furious that Pratt did nothing to stop the crook taking her jewels, Mary walked away.
Frustrated, Pratt ended up in a local coffee bar, where he bought a starving bum a meal. The bum turned out to be former boxing trainer Joe Morgan, who spent the next year training Pratt as a fighter. Pratt intended to build a ring career in a mask, as The Mighty Atom, but was diverted from his course when he prevented Mary James from being kidnapped. Instead, he turned to crime-fighting.
As the Atom, Pratt wore a full face blue hood incorporating a short cape (that looked more like a towel!), a loose fronted yellow blouse, high-waisted brown leather trunks, blue gauntlets and boots. He was a founder member of the Justice Society of America and was second only to Hawkman in terms of appearances. He was present in the opening and closing chapters of All-Star 21, but his solo chapter was, for some unknown reason, overdrawn as Dr Fate, replaced by Wildcat in issue 27, supposedly permanently but instead only for one issue, and absent for issue 36 due to an injury in a basketball game (!), for which he was replaced by Batman.
The Atom’s solo career was somewhat disrupted. He appeared in all issues of All-American bar one from 19-61 before disappearing for eight issues. He returned for three more issues but it seems likely that he was going to be dropped, and replaced in the JSA, until some scheduling issues in All-Star forced his being kept on. His series transferred to Flash Comics with issue 80, where it appeared intermittently until the series’ cancellation with issue 104.
To be frank, the Atom was never better than second-rate. He had no superpowers, not until much later in the decade, and O’Connor and Flinton’s work was generally very poor in comparison with the early Golden Age comics. It was an era of crude art, but of great vigour and enthusiasm, with flashes of untrained but vivid imagination, against which O’Connor and Flinton could not compete. As time went by, Flinton’s art grew looser and more ill-defined, avoiding faces as much as possible.
Even after they left, the Atom still failed to get decent art, except for an Alex Toth chapter in All-Star 37. Then, suddenly, the Atom displayed super-strength in All-Star, and a couple of issues later changed his costume – yellow top and leggings, blue boots and a blue head-cap/eye-mask with a red fin whose shape continually changed. It didn’t do much for him, and the advent of super-strength wasn’t explained until the 1980’s, where an awkward 1942-set All-Star Squadron story had Pratt exposed to radiation that has no immediate effect upon him but might have a delayed effect…

The Atom 1 – new-style

Having said all this, it seems strange that the Atom should be chosen as the fourth, and in the event final Golden Age hero to be revived at the beginning of the Silver Age. Though Julius Schwartz was again the editor, and Gardner Fox the writer, the initial notion appears to have come from artist Gil Kane, who suggested reviving the Atom with the powers of Doll-Man.
The latter was a character created at Forties’ Quality Comics. Scientist Darrell Dane swallowed an amazing formula that enables him, by the force of his will, to shrink himself to six inches in height. Schwartz and Fox came up with research physicist Ray Palmer (named for a friend who was a prominent – and short – SF magazine editor), of Ivy Town University, researching the compression of matter. Palmer discovers a fragment of white dwarf star matter fallen to Earth (disbelief has to be severely suspended when it comes to Palmer picking it up, no matter how heavy he makes it out to be).
Palmer uses the star to grind a reducing lens that can indeed shrink objects to microscopic size. Unfortunately, when the object returns to its normal size, it explodes. Before Palmer can get round this difficulty, he joins his fiancée, lady lawyer Jean Loring, on an expedition taking the Scouts to nearby caves. A landslide seals them in and Palmer makes the ultimate sacrifice by using the lens to reduce himself to a small enough size to escape and rescue everyone.
Preparing for death, Palmer returns to his normal size unharmed. Some mysterious, mutant force in his body clearly protects him. So he devises a costume that he can wear at all times, over his street clothing (again, yeuch!), which is only visible when he shrinks himself to his regular height of six inches. The costume is a one-piece, blue at the top, red below, with blue boots, red gloves and a pull-over head-cowl and eye-mask. Palmer sets out to fight crime as the Atom.

The Atom 2 – classic style

Unlike the other revivals, the Atom’s motivation was intimately entwined with his romantic life. Like Barry Allen, Ray Palmer had a fiancée, but unlike Allen, Palmer was continually urging Jean to set a date. But Jean was determined to make a success of her legal career before agreeing to marry Palmer and, impliedly, give it up to become a housewife. So Palmer became the Atom to help Jean win her cases, so that she would become a success, and marry him, all the sooner.
Bearing in mind that this was an era in which the relatively recently established Comics Code Authority presided, whose iron rule ensured that good girls didn’t until they were married. So Ray Palmer became a superhero in order to get laid… not that anyone would ever have admitted that.
The Atom, unlike Hawkman, needed only two Showcase appearances to step up into his own bi-monthly series. He became the second hero to be inducted into the Justice League, in issue 14 of their series, although he was to become one of the ‘Small 5’, whose appearances were somewhat rationed. Although the JLA did organise for him a floating chair so that at the meeting table he could hover in everybody’s eye-line.
Nor was his series anything more than steady in terms of sales. Fox introduced a couple of villains, the longest-lasting being Chronos, the time-manipulating thief. He refined Palmer’s size-and-weight controls by adding fingertip controls within the Atom’s gloves, to get over the need to keep fumbling at his belly-button, and introduced a charming, erudite and offbeat series of adventures where the Atom would go through Dr Hyatt’s ‘Time Pool’ into the past, and meet luminaries with no obvious appeal to ten year old boys, such as Edgar Allan Poe.
The Atom 1 returned in the first JLA/JSA team-up, and continued to appear irregularly in following years.
Ray Palmer teamed up with Al Pratt on a couple of occasions, the second of which allowed us an update on the original Atom’s later years. Pratt was still at Calvin College but now as a Professor, in nuclear physics. Like Hawkman, he had retained his latter-day costume, plus his super-strength, but in their second adventure together, we learned that Pratt was still single. A blind date with the wealthy Marion Theyer who, suddenly, aged to over 50, led to a fast-moving, criss-crossing story of women ageing on Earth-2, men de-aging on Earth-1 and two Atoms fighting.
It ended with Pratt and Marion getting off to a good second start, but Marion Thayer never reappeared, and ever since the case has been that Pratt eventually managed to get Mary James to overlook his size and marry him (though if any stories were ever published showing them as a married couple, interacting, I confess I’ve never read them).
Palmer was also allowed a friendship with Carter (Hawkman) Hall, in the manner of the Superman/Batman, Flash/Green Lantern pairings, with occasional team-ups and crossovers.
But by 1969, The Atom’s sales were declining. Hawkman was cancelled and merged into The Atom, alternating between half-length shorts and full-length team-ups, but this merely delayed the inevitable for a year or so, and the series was cancelled after issue 45. This issue had seen Jean Loring driven temporarily insane, but this plotline was resolved in Justice League of America 81, when her mind was restored.
Little happened for either Atom during the Seventies. Palmer continued to appear with the Justice League, off and on.  In 1977, the year that Steve Engelhart wrote Justice League of America, Palmer displayed a certain resentment at the more prominent JLAers – i.e., the ‘Big 5’ over how he and the less-powerful members were not being treated as equals.
Pratt was not included in the All-Star revival series, an omission stemming from Paul Levitz’s decision to ignore the supposed ‘Earth-2-is-twenty-years-behind’ theory and treat the JSAers as being heroes now in their fifties: as a more-or-less non-powered hero, The Atom 1’s plausibility was threatened and he was side-lined. He was however going to feature in that decidedly oddball mid-Seventies series, Secret Society of Super-Villains, which ran for 16 issues without ever settling to a theme or direction for more than four and a half: in its final period, the scene had shifted to Earth-2 and the then-writer (Gerry Conway? David Kraft? Bob Rozakis?) had decided to bring out the JSA members Levitz wasn’t using in All-Star when a kindly fate intervened and it was cancelled, mid-series, with one complete issue unpublished.
He would, however, feature to an unexpected degree in All-Star Squadron, in his original costume, being something of a favourite with Roy Thomas. From this point on, Pratt’s character would be developed as a hot-headed, aggressive, punch-first-and-ask-questions-later youngster, for whom his Atom costume was a release from the frustrations of being picked on for being short.
Thomas would also retcon Pratt’s sudden and unexplained acquisition of super-strength and change of costume, though in highly contrived manner (an unfortunately common characteristic of all Thomas’s retcons in this period). In 1942, Dr Terry Curtis, a physicist, would be forced to become the radiation-wielding villain Cyclotron, in a costume identical to Pratt’s later uniform: Pratt would be exposed to radiation from Cyclotron, who sacrificed himself to defeat the ultimate villain. Pratt and the superheroine Firebrand would look after Curtis’s baby daughter, and Pratt would be godfather to her son Albert Rothstein, aka Infinity, Inc. member Nuklon, but in the short term, the delayed effect of the radiation would give Pratt his super-strength in 1948.
Throughout the Seventies, Palmer and Jean Loring remained steadfastly engaged, though with no sign of marriage (maybe Palmer had now got lucky in an age where moral standards and the CCA were shifting). Eventually, though, it was decided to fulfil the pair’s happiness. A short-series in the equally oddball Super-Team Family saw Loring kidnapped by the villain T.O.Morrow, and Palmer enlisting the aid of several different heroes to rescue her, as a result of which Jean finally agreed to set the date.
The marriage took place in Justice League of America 154, which started with Palmer’s ‘bachelor night’, at which point he revealed that he’d still not revealed his Atom identity to Jean. Having been persuaded that he’d better do so, and in double-quick time, Palmer was shocked when Jean repudiated him for lying to her all these years. Fortunately, by issues end she recanted, and the two wed at long last.

The Atom 2 – barbarian-style

Funnily, enough, having taken almost two whole decades to bring this clearly loving pair together, the marriage didn’t last five years. The Atom 2’s original artist, Gil Kane, a fiercely independent creator, had been pushing for more barbarian comics for several years and, with writer Jan Strnad, finally had a proposal accepted to completely revolutionise Ray Palmer.
Via a four-part Sword of the Atom mini-series and two Specials, Palmer firstly discovered that his preoccupation with his work at Ivy University and his superheroics had driven an increasingly lonely Jean into an affair with her Law partner, Paul Hoben (they call it an affair now, but in 1983 it was being caught snogging in the car). Hurt, Palmer jetted off to a South American conference to think, but the plane crashed in the Amazon jungle. Palmer escaped by shrinking to Atom-size but, in the fall, his controls were destroyed and he was stuck at six inches (with his hair flapping in the breeze as the top of his cowl was torn off).
Palmer then discovered a colony of six inch tall, yellow-skinned barbarian pygmies called Mohrlaidians. He became their protector, a frog-rider, and decided not to return to civilisation, except for once, to grant Jean a divorce, tell his life-story to a thinly-disguised Norman Mailer (Brawler) which revealed his identity to the world, hand his Atom costume and belt to the afore-mentioned Paul Hoben (who in some quarters is regarded as The Atom 3, but not here, given that the new Protector of Ivy Town never even used them once), and returned to the jungle to re-unite himself with the lovely five-and-a-bit-inches tall Princess Laethwyn.
I’m sorry, I apologise. It was by Kane, whose art is tremendous, and Strnad’s a good, subtle writer, and it’s far better than I’ve made it sound. But it’s hardly surprising that it didn’t last.
Palmer did not return until post-Crisis on Infinite Earths in Power of the Atom, written by Roger Stern. Pratt, at this point, had gone into a Teutonic Gods limbo with the Justice Society, holding back Gotterdammerung.
Stern quickly dispensed with Princess Laethwyn and her Mohrlaidians, having an illegal logging operation slash-and-burn that quarter of the jungle, and them, forcing Palmer to return to civilisation. At first he went back to superhero stuff and his old villains, though another new direction came in after Palmer learned that the rainforest raid had been deliberately aimed at driving him back to America, where a sinister CIA offshoot wanted to recruit him as an operative. Palmer got his revenge, which involved killing the director of the operation and shrinking the five operatives to the standard six inches.
These operatives then formed a Micro/Squad working for the Cabal. With Power of the Atom cancelled after only 18 issues, Palmer’s story carried on into Suicide Squad, working deep cover, assisting the Squad, and attracting the Cabal’s attention. This backfired spectacularly when Blacksnake of the Squad suddenly turned on the Atom and impaled him.
It was a stunning shock, but it was also a cheat. Palmer then revealed himself as having infiltrated the Micro/Squad by impersonating one of its fallen members: the Atom who has assisted the Suicide Squad and fought against the Cabal is The Atom 3, aka Adam Cray, son of a Senator murdered by the Cabal, who had been working with Palmer to facilitate Palmer’s infiltration. A retrospective Atom 3, like Fel Andar as Hawkman 3. Cray, incidentally, was using the costume and controls Palmer had left with Paul Hoben.

The Atom 3 – no-style

In the meantime, Al Pratt had returned to the scene in 1992. The success of the Justice Society of America mini-series, from which he’d been omitted, led to a short-lived ongoing series, with Al Pratt as a regular. Pratt returned from limbo in his original costume, but rapidly changed it for a blue face-hood, sleeveless yellow top and blue pants. He was now bald, with a bushy moustache, a touchy, defensive, stocky man, protective of team-mate Wildcat (who had been crippled for life before the JSA had gone to limbo and been mystically rejuvenated), and quietly heartbroken that, whilst he had gone, his wife Mary had died, without him being able to say goodbye.
Pratt was not long for the DC Universe. Justice Society of America was cancelled after 10 issues, amid allegations that it was a political, not commercial issue. The JSA next appeared in Zero Hour, when they gathered to face the apparent villain, The Extant. Hot-headed as usual, The Atom 1 was the first to spring into the attack. He was killed instantly by a blast of radiation. Apart from the occasional flashback, he would never return.
DC were thus left with one Atom, Ray Palmer, and his life had been put through so many changes that DC decided to use Zero Hour to completely reset him. In the final confrontation, The Atom tries to slip into the molecules of The Extant’s body, but finds him to be composed of pure energy: Extant reverses Palmer’s ageing, intending to send him all the way back past his birth, but Waverider intervenes, stopping the reversal with Palmer aged about eighteen, albeit with all his memories. Adopting an Animal Man style jacket over his re-redesigned costume, Palmer founds and leads a new incarnation of the Teen Titans.

The Atom 2 – teen style

That didn’t last long either, just 24 issues, ending with Palmer returning to his standard 30-ish age and disappearing into the background again, until Identity Crisis.
I’ve written about this series elsewhere: suffice to know that the death of Sue Dibny, wife of the Elongated Man, starts a frenzy of concern for the superhero community, who fear attacks on their loved ones. One such attack is made on Jean Loring, now single again. Palmer’s fear for her safety is manifest and indeed he saves her at the last moment, bringing them back together, to his intense delight. It’s short-lived however, as a casual remark from Jean exposes her as Sue Dibny’s killer, albeit clumsily rather than deliberately, and that she has done everything in the hope of winning Palmer back to her: instead, it gets her into Arkham Asylum.
(Where she becomes the new Eclipso, and becomes a forever-tainted character, in a way that Carol Ferris was never so irretrievably tainted by being Star Sapphire. It was a bad move, cutting off an avenue for Palmer’s life.)
Hurt beyond measure, bitterly ashamed and distraught, Palmer shrunk himself into oblivion, pausing only to tell his close friend Carter Hall (the restored Hawkman 1) that he was never coming back. And throughout Infinite Crisis, One Year Later and 52, there was no Ray Palmer. But one of the underlying stories of DC’s next weekly, Countdown (to Final Crisis) was the hunt for Ray Palmer.
Palmer’s shrinking had taken him into a microscopic universe where, after Infinite Crisis, he found himself on Earth-51 of the new Multiverse, a seemingly-idyllic world in which their Ray Palmer had just died before going on a blind date with a woman named Jean Loring. It seemed too good to be true. Palmer’s friends were all his old Silver Age colleagues, all of whom had retired after crime was eradicated (due, it seemed, to Batman killing all the villains).But Palmer found his Earth-51 equivalent had been working on something to avert a danger to the whole Multiverse,which made it essential that he complete the research.
This idyll ended when he was finally found by a search team from his own Earth, bringing with them an unsuspected danger who ruins Palmer’s life in exile. He teams up with his colleagues to help save the Multiverse.

The Atom 4 – eastern-style

Meanwhile, in the wake of Infinite Crisis, DC came forward with The Atom no 4, whose series was entitled The All-New Atom, but which was as short-lived as the others before it. The Atom 4, who was developed from ideas put forward by Grant Morrison at a time when he’d been trying to re-write virtually the entire DC Universe, was Ryan Choi, a Hong Kong-born and based Physics Professor and a correspondent with Palmer, who took his place among Ivy University’s faculty. Choi then found Palmer’s old size-and-weight belt and became the latest Atom.
Over the 25 issues of the series, Choi was initially mentored by a mysterious figure whom everyone assumed was Palmer, but who instead was exposed as Palmer’s oldest foe, Chronos, who had manipulated everything, up to and including Palmer’s side of the original correspondence. Choi was part of the team that retrieved Palmer from Earth-51, and eventually impressed Palmer sufficiently that Palmer insisted both use the name, The Atom.
During Blackest Night, Palmer took on another role by being deputised into the Indigo Tribe, the Corps that wields the light of compassion, though he retained his size and weight command, which has long since been keyed to his thoughts so as to make things easy for unimaginative writers. Then, in Brightest Day, Choi was found to have been murdered, offstage, by the mercenary assassin Deathstroke, arousing controversy over the killing of one of the very few Asian-American heroes at DC.
Once again, that left only The Atom 2.
It seems clear, down the years, that there is a small fandom for the shrinking Atom, but not one large enough to sustain Ray Palmer, in any form, as other than a supporting character.
It should be mentioned in passing that, in addition to his godson Nuklon, who would later be admitted to the new JSA as Atom-Smasher (i.e., a cyclotron) in a new costume based on The Atom 1’s, Al Pratt was later credited with a son he never knew, Grant Emerson, aka Damage. Emerson’s origin was eventually that he was conceived by Pratt and his wife Mary, but she was kidnapped by an old JSA foe, during which ordeal she was led to believe she had miscarried. Instead, the foetus had been removed and, treated with DNA taken from every JSA member, was born artificially, As Damage, Emerson could channel energy into explosions: he was used to re-start the Universe in Zero Hour, after Parallax was attacked. He too ended up donning an Atom-inspired costume and joining the even newer JSA, post Infinite Crisis, only to be killed off some years later.
So now it’s the New 52. Ray Palmer appears as a scientist and supporting character in Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E but not as a superhero. Sgt. Al Pratt appears in Earth-2 and has now have received superpowers that once again make him The Atom. Ryan Choi was supposed to be resurrected and appear in Justice League, but the frontline Atom is actually The Atom 5, aka latina student at Ivy University (apparently, nobody can learn to shrink anywhere else), Rhonda Pineda. Good luck to her.

The Atom 5 – lady-style

The Justice Society of America – Appendix 2: The Post-Crisis Era


jsa_newThe Justice Society of America circa 2010

But you can’t keep the JSA down.
After Crisis, DC directed that there should be no further mention of the team, nor the members who had vanished into limbo. But the JSA were too woven into the fabric of the DC Universe, even as it was being remade, to be ignored, and here and there they were referenced, most notably Jay, in Flash (now featuring the third Flash, Wally West). And in 1990, they were back.
It was just a one-off, a make-work project designed to employ a group of artists hired for a larger project that was running late. There would be an eight issue mini-series, set in 1950, an undeveloped part of the JSA’s history, and it would be the team’s first ever appearance under their own name, after half a century.
The mini-series was a great success, a simple, straightforward, highly entertaining story, and it sold well enough to make management reconsider their decision over the JSA. The fans had never stopped asking for their heroes back. So a hastily-conceived, otherwise undistinguished mini-series was used to pull the JSA from limbo, which was followed by an ongoing series, which depicted them as decidedly senior, but healthy and fit, and working out their place in the modern world.
Unfortunately, it only lasted 10 issues, but whilst not a top seller, it’s been claimed ever since that it was cancelled for ‘political’, or ‘image’ reasons as early as issue 3: apparently, senior DC editor Mike Carlin objected to the series as he believed it gave the wrong impression for DC to be publishing heroes created for the grandfathers of their readers.
Whatever the truth, it is noticeable that the JSA next appeared in Zero Hour, a crossover series that destroyed and recreated the DC Universe again, in a (vain) attempt to get its history under control: the series was edited by Carlin, and the JSA was destroyed. Heroes died, just about everybody had their anti-ageing immunity stripped, and the survivors disbanded forever.
But you can’t keep the JSA down.
One of the series spun off Zero Hour was Starman, written by British-born James Robinson. Ted Knight, having retired, hands his costume and Cosmic Rod to his elder son, David, who is killed within a week. Younger son Jack, reluctant, sceptical, is forced into the ‘family business’, and the series – one of the very best of the late Nineties – explores his coming to terms with and understanding of ‘The Life’.
Add in a nostalgic team-up between the latest incarnation of the Justice League and the surviving members of the still-retired JSA, and the momentum was there for another JSA revival. It was spring-boarded by a gloriously nostalgic special JSA adventure set near the end of the War, but the new series involved a reformed JSA in the present day, becoming a three-generation team, from the elder triumvirate of Flash, Green Lantern and Wildcat (who’d grown steadily in prominence since the Seventies) to the teenage new Star-Spangled Kid. To echo the Justice League’s current series being officially title JLA, this series was headed JSA.
In terms of longevity, this was to be the Justice Society’s most successful series, running 87 issues, and only cancelled in order to make way for a new series, with a redefined purpose. For the most part, JSA was a very-well made series, but in time it failed to hold my interest, thanks to a growing antipathy towards the work of its principal writer, Geoff Johns. Just as Roy Thomas’s All-Star Squadron had primarily been about his personal focus on filling in gaps in the Golden Age stories, with little consideration for the demands of a simply entertaining story, Johns seemed to be perpetually concerned with refitting and repositioning old characters for use in the modern era, again without concern for the idea of writing stories about them that had no more purpose than entertainment.
JSA‘s cancellation, and reincarnation as Justice Society of America was a consequence of DC’s Infinite Crisis/One Year Later/52 sequence, between 2005 and 2007. Infinite Crisis was a twentieth anniversary sequel to Crisis, and involved destroying and recreating the DC Universe again, this tine reintroducing the Multiverse – in a limited form – including an Earth-2, with a Justice Society looking uncannily like the late-Seventies version of the team.
Unfortunately, having reintroduced the Multiverse, DC had little idea what to do with it, and the idea languished, practically unexplored, until the 2011 reboot, The New 52. There was a one-off, deliberately inconclusive visit by the JSA to the new Earth-2, but beyond that, nothing.
Meanwhile, the latest JSA series was perhaps the biggest success to date, spawning two spin-off titles. One, JSA Classified, told out of sequence stories that could come from any part of the team’s history, featuring any number of characters from the JSA’s milieu (one early story centred on the latest version of the Injustice Gang, still featuring The Wizard). The other was a straight parallel series, JSA All-Stars, splitting the by then somewhat crowded team into two, on philosophical and age grounds.
The emphasis, initially at least, was even further on the JSA as a family, training the next generation(s) of ‘legacy’ heroes. It was still Geoff Johns to begin with, so I drifted away again. My Justice Society clearly belonged to the past: let the future take care of itself.
Justice Society of America did last 54 issues, but like its predecessor, was cancelled with the next reboot of the Universe. But there was no place for the Justice Society in a New 52 Universe in which superheroes had only appeared five years earlier: no Golden Age, no war heroes, no nothing.
But you can’t keep the JSA down.
In 2012, DC introduced a new series, Earth-2. It’s set on a world parallel to the New 52 Earth, where the big three were killed fighting off alien invasion. Now, new heroes start to appear: Jay Garrick, Alan Scott, Al Pratt, gaining the same powers as the original, but with radically different origins, and radically different (and utterly horrible) costumes. They haven’t formed a JSA yet, and when they do I shalln’t be reading, for The New 52 is a universe too far, and these new characters have nothing, only the names, to tie them to old favourites. If they become the JSA for a new generation of readers, if a new generation of readers actually exists any more, let them prosper.
The JSA has lasted seventy years so far. They’ll no doubt be there to celebrate their centenary, by when I doubt that many of us who found the fascination will be there to cheer. They were the first superhero team. They’re likely to live forever.

The Justice Society of America – Appendix 1: The Glory Days of Earth-2


It was 1956. At an editorial conference at National, over what the kids might want to read next, some unidentified voice suggested they may be ready for superheroes again, and suggested reviving The Flash. Julius Schwarz, editor of the newly-created Showcase, National’s official vehicle for introducing new concepts, agreed to do so, on condition he could start afresh with a new character: Jay Garrick had been ‘done’, he was ‘boring’.
Schwarz was given the go-ahead. He lined up his best artist, Carmine Infantino, to pencil, and enlisted Robert Kanigher to write an origin. Police Scientist Barry Allen, working late in his laboratory, is knocked down by a cabinet felled when lightning struck the lab. He receives a bath of an unpredictable mixture of electrified chemicals. The next day, he realises he has the power of super-speed, just like his old comic book favourite, The Flash. With a radically different costume, he sets out to fight crime.
The new Flash was an instant hit, although it would take four try-outs over three years before hesitant management would be convinced to grant him his own series, starting with issue 105, picking up the old numbering.
Schwarz would go on to helm a similarly popular new version of Green Lantern and, subsequently, less commercially successful new versions of Hawkman and The Atom. Before these two, however, Schwarz was instructed to bring back the Justice Society.
He did not exactly do that. He put together a superhero team, including his new Flash and Green Lantern as well as the Trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman (albeit with Weisinger’s influence restricting the use of the first). But Schwarz had never liked the name Society for a superhero team: too soft, too social. He wanted something bigger, stronger, something in the kids’ minds, like all the Football and Baseball Leagues in the news. So the revived team would instead be the Justice League of America, who have been National/DC’s premier team ever since.
They were also crucial to comic book history in an unexpected way: according to the official story, Jack Leibowitz played golf with rival publisher Martin Goodman, and boasted that the JLA was their best seller. Goodman returned to the office and instructed his editor Stan Lee that they had to put out a team book. Lee conceived of the Fantastic Four, and the rest was Marvel Comics.
In the meantime, a growing number of readers wanted to know about the Golden age versions of these new heroes: older fans with a nostalgic hankering, younger fans curious to see what older brothers were talking about, or just intrigued by the fact there was another Flash out there: what was he like?
There was an obvious story in this, and Schwarz turned to Gardner Fox to write this for Flash 123 (even though Flash was John Broome’s book). Their explanation was the familiar SF trope of parallel worlds: Barry’s Earth and Jay’s Earth occupied the same position in space but vibrated at different rates, rendering them invisible and intangible to each other. When Barry accidentally tuned in to the vibrations of Jay’s Earth, he found himself in Keystone City, and meeting an older Mr Garrick, in retirement, greying at the temples, but still fit, active – and able to get into his costume when three of his old villains posed a threat.
The story was a massive success, and a sequel, in which Jay visited Barry’s Earth and helped him against his villains, was immediately scheduled for Flash 129. This time, Schwarz and Fox teased their audience with the Justice Society. The issue began with a flashback, as Jay remembered his last outing before Barry’s visit, namely All-Star 57. The audience loved it and wanted more so, for the third team-up, back on Jay’s Earth in Flash 136, the story was built around the disappearance of each of Jay’s old JSA comrades. The villain was Vandal Savage, newly released from prison after sixteen years following his part in the first Injustice Society caper in All-Star 37. Savage wanted revenge, and intended to capture and imprison the heroes responsible for eternity. With Barry’s assistance, his plans were defeated, the JSA released, and Wonder Woman suggested that, to avoid things like this happening in future, the JSA should get together again every now and then. Permanent Chairman Hawkman called an immediate meeting.
This wasn’t just a teaser to the fans: Flash 136 was cover-dated   1963, and the JSA were teaming up with their counterparts of the JLA in issues 22/23 of their title, cover-dated August/September: far too soon to be a response to audience demand roused up in Flash.
The two-part story established a few new ground-rules. The Justice League were on Earth-1, the Justice Society on Earth-2. The revived team had new by-laws (presumably their Constitution). Henceforth, everyone who had been a member of the JSA was a member, and that went for Wonder Woman and Mr. Terrific too. The team would have a rotating line-up of seven, chosen by lot. The choice this time fell upon the four who had already had successors, Flash, Hawkman, Green Lantern and The Atom, plus two other founder members, Dr Fate and Hourman, and the JSA’s last recruit Black Canary, who had never worked with the latter two before, not that you would have had any idea of that from the story. And, despite Hawkman having already laid claim to the permanent Chairmanship in Flash 136, it’s Dr Fate, of all people, who conducted the JSA’s meeting.
But whilst the idea of seven active members went out the following year, the notion of rotating membership, just like the Justice League, was a permanent development.
Certainly the initial meeting between the two teams was immensely popular, and was sequeled in 1964. By the time the team-up was repeated, the following year, it was a tradition, and it continued for 23 years, ending only when the DC Multiverse, or parallel world system, was swept away.
Gardner Fox wrote the first half dozen team-ups (his last team-up was, fittingly, his last JLA story), and he rang the changes every year. In 1963, the teams faced-off against an alliance of villains from each Earth, cooperating with each other. In 1964, Fox introduced Earth-3, where the heroes were all villains, challenging both League and Society in turn to see who was strongest.
The following year, Johnny Thunder made his comeback, causing havoc as usual and allowing his Thunderbolt to be controlled by his evil Earth-1 counterpart, who changed history to eliminate the JLA. Both the JSA and a sextet of Thunder’s gang masqueraded as the JLA at different times, and in the end the story got so convoluted it had to be ended by a magical ‘never-happened. In 1966, Fox mixed the two teams for the first time, as heroes, villains and ordinary folk found themselves being switched from one Earth to the other, whilst in 1967 the action was set on Earth-2 with the JSA coming up against an unbeatable menace and forced to call in four JLAers facing an identical menace on Earth-1. It ended with a series of mini-battles between heroes possessed by evil and the rest of the two teams, before Johnny Thunder saved the day with a handful of awful jokes (seriously, he did). That story also included the first membership change for the JSA in almost two decades, as an adult Earth-2 Robin was awarded membership as an explicit replacement for the semi-retired Batman.
Fox had come very close to writing a JSA-only adventure that year, but in 1968 he went the full distance. The two teams were both matched against the same foe, but never met: the JSA fought in issue 63, the JLA in 64, and the only character common to both stories was a new, android, Red Tornado, who was Fox’s final gift to the DC Universe, created by the villain to disrupt the JSA from within. But the Tornado was no criminal and ensured his creator’s downfall, for which he was rewarded with JSA membership.
It was almost the end of Fox’s career at DC, an era when many of the original writers, who had sustained the company for thirty years, found themselves moved out, replaced by younger, less expensive fans, who had grown up on comics, and who were much less concerned with the precarious life of the freelancer, facing retirement without health or pension benefits.
Fox was replaced by Denny O’Neill, a former journalist with a mandate to shake-up and modernise the JLA. Of necessity, this meant a new approach to the annual JSA team-up, and by extension to the JSA itself. The Golden Agers had been brought back as older heroes, their years in comic book limbo added to their ages as characters. Athletic men and women, especially those with powers, in their early to middle-40s were perfectly plausible when it was expected they would appear in a couple of stories then fade away again. By the end of the Sixties, their longevity was a little more precarious. O’Neill therefore posited that Earth-2’s vibration rate actually slowed its history down, by about twenty years, so that the the JLA’s 1969 was the JSA’s 1949, and the heroes were physically contemporaries. This enabled Black Canary to swap Earths in 1969 and transfer to the JLA.
And this theory was maintained, silently, until 1976. By then, National had finally decided to revive the JSA in their own series, bringing back All-Star from issue 58. At first, the JSA worked, awkwardly, with the Super-Squad, a trio of teenagers, comprising Robin, the time-transplanted Forties hero the Star-Spangled Kid and the newly-created Power Girl, the Earth-2 Superman’s cousin. Within a year the Super-Squad would be absorbed into the JSA itself, and new writer Paul Levitz would have taken the team back to its true age, with complex, detailed biographies for the veterans, who were now recognised as being in their Fifties.
The revived All-Star lasted until issue 74 before falling victim to the infamous ‘DC Implosion’, the cancellation of the lower-selling half of National’s (now renamed DC Comics) line, though the series continued for another year in Adventure – still going strong after 460 issues.
This period also saw Levitz write the first ever origin for the JSA – a convoluted wartime affair that was, frankly, ridiculous and historically demeaning to Britain – and the run in Adventure ended with the never-before disclosed reason for the JSA’s retirement in 1951 – a tighter, much more historically-viable story in which the team fall foul of Joseph McCarthy, and retire rather than reveal their identities to a Congress that suspects them of being Communist sympathisers.
It wasn’t long, however, before a version of the JSA was back. Roy Thomas, recently arrived from Marvel after fifteen years, devised, wrote and edited All-Star Squadron, a series set in 1942, in the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbour, featuring all the Golden Age characters to whom DC had rights, in one large team, formed to protect America’s home front during the War. Thomas’s main enthusiasm, unfortunately, was for retro-filling holes in continuity, making the stories conform (to a degree) with the events of the War, and the events of the comics of the time, and adding detail at every conceivable point.
With the series intended to progress at a month of the war for every year of All-Star Squadron, there was a lot to get through, much of it the correcting and harmonising of forty year old comics that few had read and fewer had been concerned about, except for Thomas. Thanks to their enlistment in All-Star 11 onwards, the JSA were rarely available, but they were there as a background at all times.
As a counterweight Thomas devised the contemporary series Infinity Inc, starring a new generation of heroes who were the children of the JSA.
But Earth-2’s days were numbered. The maxi-series, Crisis on Infinite Earths, was in preparation, scheduled to appear throughout 1985, the 50th anniversary year of Major Malcom Wheeler-Nicholson starting National Comics. By its end, there was one Earth, and there had never been any more. The JSA were no longer the heroes of another Earth, but of another generation. And to avoid confusion between multiple heroes with identical names, which after all was the start of this whole event, Thomas was required to write a final case for the JSA, packing them off (with the exception of the handful of characters DC still wanted) forever.
It was a rotten story, Thomas’s loathing of its necessity no doubt contributing. But it was a death of the best comics kind: with a backdoor open to bring the JSA back when DC changed their mind. And you do not get rid of the JSA easily.

Next: Appendix 2 – the post-Crisis eras

Behind the Scenes with The Justice Society of America – Part 7: The Tranquil Years


JSA

And then it all went very quiet.
Black Canary’s elevation into membership was the JSA’s final line-up change in the Forties. True, Wonder Woman ceased to be described as Secretary, but at the same time Hawkman stopped being described as Chairman, though he clearly continued his duties so we mustn’t read too much into Wonder Woman’s status, though she pitched in with everyone through to the end.
Whitney Ellsworth now took over as Editor, on Sheldon Mayer’s resignation, but in practice Julius Schwarz edited, and his best friend and former SF client John Broome wrote, and All-Star continued appearing, without any further dramas.
It’s not that the period was without change. There was a new All-Star logo, as of issue 42, and new costumes for Hawkman and The Atom. After a long series of variously designed hawk-beaked helmets, the Feathered Fury changed to a plain yellow cloth hood, with a red Hawk sigil on the forehead. The Atom abandoned his Charles Atlas-esque outfit for a snazzier blue and yellow affair, topped off by a red head-fin whose shape and design varied from page to page and often panel to panel.
And after issue 45, the practice of featuring every member of the cover was dropped, in favour of featuring three characters only (none of whom was ever The Flash for some reason).
With writer and editor having their background in the SF field, there was an increasing emphasis on alien invasions of one kind or another, how-do-we-top-ourselves? crises. On the other hand, there were a couple of complete schtumers, with the JSA coming up against a criminal circus composed entirely of twins, one set to rob, the other to perform and create perfect alibis, not to mention the ‘ghost’ of Billy the Kid, who tried to kill them by strapping them to a stagecoach and sending it over a cliff. Yerrrrssss.
Outside, the comics world was growing smaller. Sales had begun to decline in 1944, and this had been accelerated after the war, and the loss of a GI audience that wanted bright, simple, quick to read entertainment in their precious off-duty hours. Some heroes tried to survive by turning themselves into straight men for comedy sidekicks, such as The Flash and the Three Dimwits (not Stooges, no, not Stooges!). Poor Green Lantern found himself playing second fiddle to Streak, the Wonder Dog.
Then the disappearances began. Green Lantern was cancelled in 1948, and later the same year, All-American became All-American Western, unhousing the Emerald Gladiator and Dr Mid-Nite. All-Flash was cancelled the same year, and Flash Comics followed in 1949, with issue 104, putting The Flash, Hawkman, The Atom and Black Canary out of business. With the exception of Wonder Woman, who lost Sensation but carried on regardless in her own title, none of the JSA could be seen outside All-Star.
Finally, All-Star reached issue 57, the unintentionally ironically titled “Mystery of the Vanishing Detectives”. Oddly enough, after three years of breaking up into little teams to handle menaces, half the JSA suddenly found themselves working solo again. Whether or not this was a change in formula is irrelevant: with issue 58, All-Star changed title and theme to All-Star Western.
Wonder Woman continued, as did Superman and Batman (with Robin), and two C-listers, Aquaman and Green Arrow, who owed their longevity probably to having been created by Mort Weisinger, who alternated them as back-ups to the Man of Steel. But there was no room for the Justice Society of America, for Hawkman, Dr Mid-Nite, The Flash, Green Lantern, The Atom or Black Canary.
The Golden Age of Comics was over.

Next: Appendix 1 – The Glory Years of Earth-2