Film 2021: Justice League – The New Frontier


New F

It’s a very pleasant change to wake up on Sunday morning and once more slide almost immediately into a film, though some would no doubt turn up their noses at an animated superhero adventure that’s never seen the inside of a cinema in its life, and which presents in straightfaced manner a totally OTT, apocalyptian, superscale menace being combatted by more DC superheroes than you can possibly count, and which I’ve actually had all along and never thought to watch. To which the traditional answer is, so what?

DC may well be an irrecoverably long way behind Marvel when it comes to live action superhero movies, but it has the edge on them when it comes to animation, ever since the rightly acclaimed Batman The Animated Series in the Nineties. It’s a television world, but DC not only consolidated its position with series devoted to Superman, Green Lantern and the Justice League, the latter of which showcasing the extremely wide range of characters the company has produced down the decades, but built on that with a range of direct the DVD movies.

The title of this example is something of a cheat, given that the Justice League only appears as a League in the closing credits, but they were needed up front to catch attention. The New Frontier is actually an adaptation of one of DC’s most acclaimed and best series this century, a story set in and during the Fifties, written and drawn in a beautifully relaxed quasi-cartoonish style by the late Darwyn Cooke. I’d heard about it and, on a fortunate whim, bought the collection, a decision from which I’ve benefitted immensely. As soon as I heard it had been adapted, I had to buy it.

Like I said, it’s all-out world-threatening stuff of the kind that makes people turn up their noses at the sheer improbability and absurdity of it all. But some of us are attuned to that nonsense. We can enjoy it as spectacle, though the sense of danger is never entirely fully-engaged because we know the men and women in the funny costumes will save the day, no chance of failure. Something known only as The Centre, which has been part of Earth since, well, forever, finds mankind to be a threatening irritant and decides to wipe the planet clean. There, I’ve said it, and nothing more need be said, because at the end of the day, riotous fun though these things can be, they’re McGuffins, they’re excuses, a peg on which to hang all the real things that make the difference between a dull retread and a fascinating examination of what is in the human heart and how it plays out between us.

Cooke set out to capture the Fifties. This meant bringing together all the characters created before and during that era, multiple viewpoints building piecemeal towards the climax that requires everybody to work together. This is not just a cliche but is integral to the portrait of the era, whose single note is that of paranoia. The Red Menace, McCarthyism, susoicion and fear of everyone who is different. Cooke drew out all the logical implications of what it would have been like to have superheroes operating in that era, then bringing everyone, superhero and civilian together, under the inspiration of Superman, to work together to fight back and win. He did a brilliant job, and his cartooning was incredibly expressive. There is a panel that demonstrates this to perfection: Superman has been missing, presumed dead, but is brought back alive by Aquaman, after the battle has been won without him, and Cooke uses a single line for Lois Lane’s mouth that breaks your heart.

Obviously you can’t do that in animation, nor can you faithfully adapt a story that would up being published in two graphic novels, but the animators have set themselves to represent Cooke’s designs, his clear and uncluttered art and his sense of the times. There’s not a scrap of CGI, just traditional animation, eschewing the detail and roundedness of classic Disney to convey the flat-plane effect of the comic book page.

The story is, of course, simplified. Much of the graphic novel is omitted to streamline the story, like the excision of Tom Bombadil in all adaptations of The Lord of the Rings. This is especially evident in the set-up, which keeps to essentials, it’s only major difference being to give The Centre a voice in which to threaten at the very start. Some diversionary material, emphasising the sheer range of characters from that period, is collapsed onto other characters. And a considerable amount of beautiful simplification is done by overloading scenes with characters who are never identified, or explained. Green Arrow may be instantly recognisable now, though not necessarily in his initial, plain costume, but Adam Strange, the Challengers of the Unknown, they are just there, and we aficianados recognise them with glee and those without that depth of recognition or interest are not inconvenienced by the failure to stop and stick a label on them. Who is June Robbins? I can tell you but what difference would it make?

And the best beats of the story, the personal moments, the interactions between people in an extraordinary world that show them as still being human underneath it, these are all still there and the film does them justice. Barry Allen’s love for Iris West, and her love in return. Carol Ferris’ fear that Hal Jordon will go and get himself killed without saying goodbye to her. Batman’s underlying paranoia and his own version of cynicism, when he tells the Martian Manhunter that it cost him $70,000 for a sliver of radioactive metal to stop the alien in Metropolis but for him all it needs is one penny for a book of matches…

What I love about this film is that it gives me my favourite DC characters in a story worthy of them in scope and execution, allowing me the fun of enjoying them, without having to undergo the level of humour with which a live/CGI-action superhero film has to have in order not to sunk, and by being in animation, I can believe in it whole-heartedly, because everything and everyone in it is plausible on the same level without me knowing that it came out of a computer. It’s a blast, daddio!

The Legacy of Julius Schwartz: Silver Age Stars


Julius-Schwartz

Childhood impressions often leave the deepest marks. I have always been a DC Comics fan because these were the only comics available to me to see in East Manchester, and the impressions these made have coloured my subconscious response to the DC Universe ever since.
For instance: Superman and Batman were clearly the Big Two at DC but, aside from the adventures with the Justice League of America, I paid them very little mind (except after Batgirl was introduced). Instead, I was drawn to a quartet of heroes who individually and collectively I felt were front-runners. These were The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and The Atom.
It was surely not a coincidence that these four, together with the JLA, were all being edited by Julius Schwartz, or that they were being written by one or other of John Broome and Gardner Fox. Another thing that linked them, and I was aware of this from 1966 onwards, when I learned of the Justice Society of America, was that they were all legacy heroes, re-imaginings of heroes from the Golden Age and, as such, pillars of the Silver Age.
Years have passed, comics have changed, each of this quartet have had their own legacies, and yet DC keeps coming back to Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, Carter Hall and Ray Palmer, no matter what.
In the 2000s, DC sought to cash in on their past by producing a line of DC Showcase Presents, big, bright, cheap black and white reprints of these and other heroes, stuffing twenty issues at a time into 500 page plus volumes. It was a cheap exercise in nostalgia, and I bought several of these.
But 500 page books take up space, and I have very limited space. Not all that long ago, it struck me that the availability of long series on DVD, in full colour, would not only be superior to the Showcase Presents books, but would be far far less hard on space. Two DVDs to cover all the volumes I had of these four, including what was on the ones I hadn’t yet bought, covered the entire contents and more of ten such books (allof which I have subsequently sold on eBay).
I hadn’t intended to treat any of the four series to the kind of in-depth review I’ve been carrying out here. Indeed, it was refreshing to simply read for no other purpose than the joy of reading. But I couldn’t help but think about what I was reading as I went along, about the joint sensibilities of the four series, and the contrasting characters and relationships each portrays. Particularly the very different relationships between the four heroes and their respective girlfriends/wives.

The Flash

The Flash

Barry Allen was the first Silver Age hero, making a very slow start with four appearances in Showcase itself spread out over three years, and finally being granted his own title in 1959, despite being the third most successful character Showcase had thus far produced. But he was the most original.
Robert Kanigher had set the new Flash up, with four lead stories matched by four back-up stories by John Broome, who became the full-time writer once the new series began. Kanigher wrote Allen’s spectacular and convincing origin, so much more plausible than Jay Garrick’s, and set up his relationship with his girlfriend Iris West.
And Carmine Infantino drew everything with a sleek, futuristic look that brought believability to The Flash’s superspeed stunts, though it’s amazing at this distance how often that takes the form of a static single image, frozen in a running posture.
It’s Broome who builds up The Flash’s world, introducing over and again the Rogue’s gallery of career criminals, each with a single scientific gimmick that they use to plague the hero. Captain Cold, The Trickster, Gorilla Grodd, Mirror Master, Captain Boomerang, Abra Kadabra. Heatwave and The Top were later additions, who also felt a little bit like add-ons, whilst the Pied Piper had the advantage of seniority but was never used all that much.
Barry Allen’s – and The Flash’s – relationship with Iris West, intrigues me. Iris was a career woman, a ‘newshen’ as the demeaning term insisted. She was dedicated to her role as a reporter, which was a frequent godsend to Barry when he needed to shoot off and fight crime, disappearing in the opposite direction to Iris and her ever-ready reporter’s notebook.
The personal level however is something different. I don’t mean Broome’s notoriously dubious memory which had Barry and Iris go from ‘engaged to be married’ to ‘in love’ to, finally ‘just good friends’ I mean that although the pair see each other in practically every story, and Barry frequently tells us that he loves Iris, his affections are practically never reciprocated. There’s very little kissing, there are virtually no expressions of love of anything similar from Iris, indeed her dominant response to him is frustration at his being perpetually late. Sometimes, it boils over into anger, though that’s usually swept aside quickly with a hesitant excuse about his duties to the Police lab.
Iris’s frustrations are entirely understandable: Barry is a rotten boyfriend and we very rarely, and then only in glimpses, see the good dates. She must see something in him that makes the constant let-downs bearable but we’re never given a hint as to what.
There is one clue: in a team-up with Green Lantern in his series, in which Iris knows and gets on well with Carol Ferris, Iris contrasts her own attitude to her home-town hero with that of Carol’s to GL: The Flash is fine, and she likes him, but it’s Barry she loves and, in the end, The Flash only impresses her as a hero.
Nevertheless, Barry and Iris became the first DC hero and girlfriend to marry, in 1966. Naturally, it’s a superhero wedding: Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash, impersonates Barry at the altar, trying to get Iris into bed for himself. What’s so disappointing is that not only has Barry married Iris without telling her of his other life, he breaks his promise to her: in an earlier adventure involving alien invasion, Barry had had to reveal his secret identity to Iris, who allows him to wipe the knowledge from her mind on his promise to tell her for real after they marry. He doesn’t.
In fact he goes a year of dithering before telling her, having been urged on by Jay and Joan Garrick. It’s hardly conducive to a good marriage to keep such a thing secret for so long and the poor impression isn’t dispelled by Iris admitting she’s known since their honeymoon night, because Barry talks in his sleep (it’s 1967 and the Comics Code is still in unrefined force: of course Iris hasn’t gone to bed with Barry before their wedding night: another world).
Rogues and relationships were not the only components of John Broome’s world. As early as The new Flash’s sixth issue he introduced a teenage sidekick, Wally West, Kid Flash, who would team-up with his mentor, every now and then, and star in his own series of irregular back-ups stories, set in and around his hometown of Blue Valley. There was the friendship with Green Lantern, and the team-ups that took place in both magazines, which brought Barry and Hal together as friends, and Iris and Carol in a frequent beach sextet with Thomas and Nerga Kalmaku.
In a major mistake, never repeated, Broome used one back-up story to re-introduced Winky, Blinky and Noddy.
But the biggest moment was issue 123, the great and fundamental story that still affects every single superhero comic published by DC from then until now and beyond. There’d been a clamour from old and young fans to see something of Jay Garrick, so Julius Schwartz brought in Jay Garrick’s creator, Gardner Fox, to write a team-up story that defined the two Flashes as heroes of different parallel worlds, separated by differing vibrational rates (A Flash pseudo-scientific notion that had me thinking for decades that this was real science).
DC’s Multiverse and everything that has ever happened in it or about it, all comes back to this one issue.

The Flash 2

As the Sixties started to extend, things started to change, for the worse. John Broome left America, travelling in Europe. He settled in Paris at one point, on an Israeli kibbutz at another. He continued to write for The Flash, but not every issue. Fox started contributing more scripts. He was responsible for issue 167, in which a silly, goofy quasi-angel named Mopee claimed to be responsible for the accident that transformed Barry Allen into The Flash. Astonishingly, some people hailed the story, and these were not self-defensive made-up letters, some came from regular fans who haunted the letter-column. Everybody else just shut their eyes and pretended it had never happened.
Infantino, however, was growing restless. He was interested in the company structure, attended Editorial meetings and, the moment the chance came up to become Editorial Director, dropped The Flash and all his other assignments immediately.
Art duties on The Flash went to veteran Ross Andru, who followed Infantino’s lead faithfully but lacked the latter’s grace and imagination. Fox’s plots got sillier and Schwartz had to spend more time working them into something intelligible.
Eventually, Kanigher returned, taking over as a regular gig, and Irv Novick started a long career as Flash penciller. Kanigher was still the freewheeler, unable to take superheroes as seriously as the audience increasingly wanted. For issue 200, he loaded the number 200 into the story 200 times. Two issues later, he transformed Iris from an ordinary American woman into a refugee from a thousand years in the future, send back as a baby to avoid a nuclear war. Unlike Mopee, this one stuck but the worst aspect of this development was the story title – ‘The Flash’s Wife is a Two-Timer’, ‘two-timer’ being slang for someone cheating on their spouse or girl/boyfriend, but more importantly at least a dozen years out of date.
Barry Allen’s series ran 350 issues, until 1985, but I called it quits for the DVD at issue 204, a nice, round, one hundred issues. Enough for me.

Green Lantern

Green L

In contrast, Green Lantern was all John Broome’s own work. Management were happy with the new Flash and wanted to see what Schwartz could make of a Green Lantern revival. Magic was exchanged for science, invisible Tibetan monks were replaced by a race of little blue men all drawn to resemble then Israel Premier, David Ben Gurion, and Gil Kane was selected to draw the new series, inked, like Infantino on The Flash by Joe Giella. Kane liked to base faces on people he knew so Hal Jordan, test pilot, bore a strong resemblance to his old neighbour, struggling actor Paul Newman.
Broome set up two contrasting and complementary backgrounds for Hal Jordan and Green Lantern. We, the readers, knew before GL that he was powered by the Guardians of the Universe, immortal, blue-skinned beings from the planet Oa, who had set-up a Corps of 3600 agents, space policemen, each with a sector of space to protect. Hal’s slow discovery of the reality of his role was spread out over the first year of his series.
Meanwhile, there was a supporting cast to establish. Hal worked for Ferris Aircraft, based at Coast City in California, a great contrast to the midwestern Flash and Central City. His boss was the woman he was in love with, Carol Ferris, placed in charge of the company by her father, who was taking two years off to cruise the world. Carol had had to swear off dates and romance, though she was to get a specific exemption from her absent father before too long, but not for Hal.
You see, Hal loved Carol, but Carol loved Green Lantern. Hal knew he could easily win the woman he loved by admitting his secret identity but, with an understandable pride, not to mention a greater need, he wanted to win Carol as himself. In the meantime, he had to fend off all Miss Ferris’s sneaky attempts to get his mask off.
The only friend to know his secret identity, until Barry Allen, was Thomas Kalmaku. Tom was a Ferris Aircraft Engineer or, as the series had it all the way until the early Seventies, he was an Eskimo grease-monkey known to all, including Hal, as Pieface. I don’t suppose the series sold all that well in the Eskimo community.
Tom was a faithful friend who was keeping a secret casebook of GL’s adventures which was a frequently-used device to get a story told in the first person. The general run of Green Lantern’s stories featured fluid art from Kane, bodies contorted elegantly, albeit stripped of power by Giella’s inking. When the latter was replaced by Sid Greene, the art improved immediately. Greene’s inks were lusher and more decorative, lending the art an extra sense of power.
Green Lantern’s stories had the advantage of breadth, with the Guardians and alien planets available, but the fans were unusually ambivalent about such things, with some wanting nothing but and others none at all. The balance was tilted to ordinary crooks and some super-villains, but not as many or as frequent as The Flash. Dr Polaris, master of magnetism, Sonar, master of sound, Black Hand, the cliche criminal…
Like The Flash, Green Lantern teamed up with his Earth-2 counterpart, Alan Scott, four or five times. The first of these was a massively important event, ‘The Secret Origin of the Guardians’, introducing the renegade Guardian Krona, threatening the whole Universe, and showing the cosmic hand releasing stars into the void that many interpreted as being that of God. Later team-ups were not so much fun, giving prominent roles to Doiby Dickles, but they were yet another angle for GL’s stories.
And there were the Jordan Brothers’ back-ups, with Hal heading home to visit his two brothers, Jack the DA and Jim the funloving youngster. Attractive journalist Sue Williams is convinced that Jim is Green Lantern and persists in this delusion despite the number of adventures GL has in Coast City whilst Jim is here at home. Even after she marries him, she doesn’t lose her belief and is constantly frustrated that he won’t even admit his secret to his own wife…
Most intriguing was Star Sapphire. She was the putative Queen of an alien matriarchal race, the Glamorans, who thought men completely unfamiliar. When one Star Sapphire died, they would search the Universe for her replacement, who had to be identical, that’s how they were known. Their recently deceased Queen was the dead spit of… Carol Ferris.
So Hal and GL’s beloved became his enemy Star Sapphire, but with the same consistent urge to marry Green Lantern. To become the Glamoran Queen, Star Sapphire had to defeat Green Lantern, but Carol Ferris wanted to be defeated by him (and melt into his arms and have the winner takes the spoils due to him, no doubt). It set up a perverse psychological situation that added a new dimension to an already twisted triangle.

Green L 2

Hal Jordan kept pursuing Carol Ferris for dates. Carol kept telling him she didn’t love him, she loved Green Lantern. But she kept going out on dates with him, willingly, so presumably she was having a good time. Not that we saw any but kissing, even if it was only goodnight kisses, must have been involved. Inevitably, we have to ask if Carol was using Hal to get some kicks? It’s not like she was going on any private dates with Green Lantern, so was he effectively some himbo substitute?
Whatever the real situation, it was overturned spectacularly in quite unexpected manner in issue 49. Out of the blue, Carol tells Hal that she has gotten engaged to some guy called Jason Belmont of whom we’ve heard nothing. Jason is the one. She writes her infatuation with Green Lantern off as exactly that: nothing but an infatuation. This is a slap in the face for Hal who, having missed Barry and Iris’s wedding, decides he’s going to ask Carol to marry him…
Green Lantern struggles through the action story, distracted by this bombshell, then drops one of his own. He can’t bear living in Coast City any more. He’s quit Ferris Aircraft, he’s leaving Tom and Nerga behind, he’s hitting the road.
It was a shock and no matter. DC heroes didn’t do things like that. At one stroke, all the background to the series was rejected. And, his confidence so thoroughly shattered, Hal made a conscious decision not to rely on his ring so much, to settle more things with his fists.
This suited Gil Kane, who was moving towards inking his own pencils, adding dynamism but sacrificing detail and elegance. What value it was was dubious, however. Hal started off as a drifter, falling in love with the first girl he meets, until she confesses to worshipping Green Lantern, at which he abruptly leaves. He settles into being an Insurance Assessor in Evergreen City and takes up with an attractive but personality-free redhead called Eve Doremus who has no interest in GL, until he finds it entirely too safe a life and leaves without even saying goodbye to her. Then he becomes a Toy Salesman with an arch-rival, Olivia Reynolds, who uses sex to sell toys to middle-aged overweight buyers.
Without a solid base, the series flags and drifts. Broome’s scripts were diminishing. As well as Fox, Schwartz started using fan-turning-pro Mike Friedrich on a couple of stories. But Green Lantern needed a shake-up, and with issue 76, Schwartz decided to shake it until the maracas cracked.
The new team, Denny O’Neill as writer and Neal Adams as penciller, arrived like a thunderclap. They took away practically everything about the series before, and they airlifted in Green Arrow as a co-star, for no apparent reason other than the shared colour, though the duo had already thoroughly revised Oliver Queen, and made him interesting for the first time in nearly thirty years.
The O’Neill Adams run is regarded as a landmark. It came when DC was trying to catch up to Marvel by filling their comics with ‘Relevance’. Adams’ hyper-realistic approach was visually influential, a vital component of comic art to this day. O’Neill turned the series into a philosophical debate, the conservative, order-oriented Green Lantern versus the excitable, anarchic, ultra-liberal Green Arrow. In that sense it was a complete flop. This was not a time for conservative arguments, no matter how small the ‘c’, and besides, O’Neill admitted that he just couldn’t get into GL’s head, seeing him as a cop and nothing else. The arguments were one-sided and the decision to take things down to a ground level suited GA, but made a mockery of GL’s powers, even with a deliberately de-powered ring.
The run was hailed, then and still, though it’s decades since I looked at it and decided that it is actually an incoherent piece of shit that could never have been produced at any other time. Modern slavery, racial prejudice, pollution, over-population, these were among the subjects O’Neill dealt with, without a trace of subtlety or any natural integration of the story to the heroes or vice versa.
Fans raved. O’Neill Adams took the series from eight times a year to bi-monthly and then, after only fourteen issues (one a reprint) to cancellation. Everybody loved it, but nobody bought it.

The Atom

The Atom

Hawkman was the third Golden Age hero to be picked up and refurbished under Julius Schwartz but his was not the success of The Flash and Green Lantern. It was along and slow journey to a series of his own, during which time The Atom leap-frogged him into both a series of his own and Justice League membership. So he comes next.
The Atom was the work of Gardner Fox and Gil Kane, the latter paired again with Joe Giella on inks, a consistent partnership until issue 37, when abruptly Mike Sekowsky took over as artist, one issue before The Atom merged with the failed Hawkman series to present both heroes in a mixture of team-ups and solos.
Save for the name, there was no connection between this new Atom, Ray Palmer, and the original Atom, the creation of Ben Flinton and Bill O’Conner. The original notion came from Gil Kane, suggesting reviving The Atom but giving him the powers of Doll Man, a Quality Comics character who could shrink to six inches in height whilst retaining his full-size strength. The name of Ray Palmer came from Schwartz’s SF magazine editor friend, himself a dwarf.
Al Atom was nothing but a pint-sized bruiser, 5’1″ in height, with no superpowers until late in his career. Palmer was a research scientist investigating compression of matter, who solved his problem by finding a fragment of white dwarf star mater from which he ground a reducing lens that shrunk things, only for them to explode through decompression when they returned to full size.
Palmer had to use the lens on himself when he and his girlfriend, Jean Loring, were trapped by a rockfall when leading a nature troop exploring caverns. Ray expected to be sacrificing himself but ‘some mysterious, mutant force’ in his body kept him, and only him, intact.
Palmer’s decision to become a superhero was intrinsically tied up in his personal life. Ray loved Jean and proposed to her every week. But Jean, a ‘lady-lawyer’, wasn’t prepared to marry him and retire to being a mere housewife until she had established herself in her legal career.
Given, as we saw with Iris West, that under the Comics Code not even bad girls did until they had a ring on their finger, Ray decided to use The Atom’s abilities to help Jean solved all her cases, no matter how fantastic, in double-quick time, so that she would marry him and, well, catch up on lost time.
It’s an unusual motivation for a superhero, and it was never expressed as such in even the most oblique of fashions, but it’s as plain as the nose on your face.

The Atom 2

Jean and Ray were happy with each other in every respect except their differing attitudes to wedding proposals. There was none of Iris West’s continued exasperation, nor of Carol Ferris’s preference for a glamour figure. Jean and Ray had something both wanted. Marriage was only a matter of time. In the end, it took to issue 26 before the momentous moment came. The couple meet counsellors who talk of relationships changing. It’s Ray’s proposal day, but his latest case has him distracted and he drops Jean off without a word, sending the poor girl into a panic. Because she does love him, and if he’s starting to cool off, because of her constant rejection of him, she’s thrown into a sudden panic at the thought that she might lose him.
In the end, when she catches up to him, she tearfully apologises for all her refusals and suggests that if he were to ask her again… Ray goes for it immediately. Jean says yes, and the two kiss enthusiastically. In fact, they go on kissing at every possible opportunity, and on a couple of occasions, when Jean fears Ray to be dead, or seriously injured, her anxious panic and the sheer relief of him being ok make this by far the most immediate and sweet of loves.
Though Kane and Giella were common to both series, the art on The Atom was very different. The Atom’s small stature, his ability to shift it at an instant’s notice, his judo-throws and punches on crooks twelve times his height shared the same balletic nature at times, but avoided the force and violence Kane tried to impart to his other series.
Nor did The Atom develop even as much of a rogue’s gallery as Green Lantern, his principal recurring foe being Chronos, the Time-Thief, who brought a scientific ingenuity to their battles. On the other hand, where Hal Jordan had his Jordan Brothers back-ups, The Atom had Ray Palmer’s former mentor, Professor Alpheus Hyatt and the Time Pool, enabling The Atom to drop into the past and meet with all manner of historical figures that you just wouldn’t expect a superhero to have anything to do with.
There were even a couple of entertaining if not spectacular team-ups with Al Pratt, one involving Jay Garrick’s old foe, The Thinker, looking completely different, and the other some bizarre ageing and juvenating scrapes back and forth across Earths 1 and 2.
The abrupt switch to Sekowsky, who was used to The Atom from Justice League of America but not one-tenth as suitable for him in his solo book, came as a considerable and unpleasant shock. But as this was the last solo solo issue of the series, let’s divert from here to Hawkman’s series.

Hawkman

Hawkman

The Winged Warrior may have only been a tad less popular in the Forties than his stable-mate The Flash, and indeed may have only been denied a series of his own by the Second World war and paper-restrictions forbidding launching any new series, but when Julius Schwartz chose him to revive, Hawkman ended up with the longest, slowest and meandering path to his own series of them all, and the shortest run, only 27 issues.
Unlike the other three Silver Age legacies, Hawkman was started in The Brave and the Bold instead of Showcase, and he was handed to his original creator, Gardner Fox, to write, instead of John Broome. For art, Schwartz chose Joe Kubert, the artist who finished off the original Hawkman’s run in the Forties, and a superstar. This was a mistake.
Kubert’s art was magnificent. It was beautiful. But it was wholly different from the light and clean DC house-style, and it was no longer suited to superheroes. Two three-issue try-outs failed to break Hawkman, though the issues were gorgeous. So Schwartz slotted Hawkman into the back of Mystery in Space, alongside Adam Strange, and turned the pencils over to Murphy Anderson, who was far more often used on inks. The outcome? A massive upsurge in response and, only four issues later, that solo series, Fox and Anderson. Made it ma, top of the world.
The Golden Age Hawkman was a human archaeologist and socialite who discovered himself to be the reincarnation of the sacrificed Egyptian Prince, Khufu, and rediscovering Khufu’s Ninth Metal (later Nth Metal) with its anti-gravity properties. With his bare chest, his striking Hawk helm, his wide spreading wings, Hawkman’s look was perfect and, with minor design changes, to the helm, Schwartz kept it all, down to the name Carter Hall, an anglicisation of Katar Hol, the girlfriend and partner as Hawkgirl, Shayera (or Sheira) and the propensity for using ancient weapons.
Everything else was different, though. This Hawkman was an SF figure, a human-appearing alien from the planet Thanagar, a Police Officer in uniform, chasing a Thanagarian criminal to Earth and staying to study our Police methods, taking up a post as a Museum Director. But the biggest shock was his Hawkgirl, a gorgeous redhead, a fellow Policewoman… and Katar’s wife! A Mr. and Mrs. Superhero, living, loving and fighting side by side.
As a contemporary superhero figure in the Sixties, Hawkman’s greatest weakness was his power. He could fly. So you can fly? What can you do that’s impressive? He didn’t even make use of his wings for anything but, well, flapping them to stay aloft. Ok, it was his Thanagarian Anti-Gravity controls that got him off the ground, the wings just guided him about. But Superman, Green Lantern and the Martian Manhunter could all fly, and they could do other things as well. Even Wonder Woman and The Atom could take to the air and get about, just by gliding on air-currents. Not impressive.
Schwartz and Fox tried to build in supervillains, such as the IQ Gang or the Matter Master. They went all James Bondish with CAW, the Criminal Alliance of the World, but mostly Hawkman and Hawkgirl spent their days fighting monstrous races and weird civilisations, other planets, other dimensions, sub-atomic worlds, you name it, with a large dollop of set-ups paralleling Earth history, especially the religious kind.
At first, Carter had to try to avoid the attentions of Mavis Trent, girl naturalist, pretty and prone to flinging herself all over the tall, lean Museum Director at a moment’s provocation. Now Carter was married, though you got the feeling it wouldn’t bother Mavis all thaaaat much, but like Carol Ferris, she divided her enthusiasm between him and Hawkman, and Hawkman couldn’t go around saying, oh, by the way, have you met my wife? This didn’t last that long as Earth supporting characters got forgotten.

Hawkman

But I still love the series. A large part of that is Murphy Anderson’s art, even now. Sure, it’s smooth and you could call it bland without fearing a call from the libel lawyers but then aged 10 and now aged 65, I love its easiness, its gracefulness, its wholeness. But what made Hawkman for me was the relationship. Katar and Shayera Hol loved each other. They were each the most important thing in the world to each other. There were none of the issues, the side-steps, the complications or frustrations that Barry Allen, Hal Jordan or Ray Palmer faced. It made you wonder exactly why Schwartz was so reluctant to have his bachelor boys settled.
Best of all, the Hawks were a team, and they were equals. True, Hawkman still got the primary role, and it was he who came up with all the ideas, but he never once considered Hawkgirl to be a weak link. He trusted her to fight as hard and as effectively as he did. That sort of thing was rare, and effective.
Hawkman struggled along, never getting out of the bi-monthly groove any more than The Atom did. Membership of the JLA brought no boost, except to Hall’s career with the team: Hawkman immediately became part of a ‘Big Five’, with Superman, Batman, The Flash and Green Lantern, dominating line-ups.
Just as Superman and Batman were friends who knew each other’s identities, and the same went for Flash and Green Lantern, Fox set up a similar arrangement for Atom and Hawkman. First, the pair teamed up in The Atom, and at the end the Halls met this Ivy Town couple, Ray Palmer and Jean Loring. Then this was repeated in miniature in Hawkman 9, as the Hawks have to go to The Atom to help unshrink them, and he does so in Ray Palmer’s laboratory before an entirely sensible and genuinely nice revealing of identities.
Schwartz, Fox and Anderson produced twenty-one issues. Some I hold in higher regard than others, but these do tend to be the ones I bought at the time, my favourite being issue 13, despite its somewhat didactic and quasi-scientific approach to the legends of the Valkyries. And then there was a sudden change in issue 22: all three out, replaced by George Kashdan, editor, Bob Haney, writer and Dick Dillin penciller, in a story that has Hawkman confirm his alien origins.
It was stupid, destructive and crude, and almost immediately forgotten. That goes for all six issues of Kashdan’s term, accompanied by the side-lining of Hawkgirl into a very much background role, even after Haney was replaced by Raymond Marais from issue 24 until the end, in issue 27. Hawkman, it was announced, was merging with The Atom, adopting the latter’s numbering and reverting to Julius Schwartz. So…

The Atom and Hawkman

In a different post I could have a lot to say about this seven-issue run that didn’t save either series. There were several aspects and differences to both characters and details to discuss. But ultimately the run was crap and this post has gone on long enough already.
Julius Schwartz may been the editor again but you would hardly have known it against his titles of the decade. Writers and artists bounced around: Fox, Kanigher, O’Neill: Dillin, Anderson, Kubert (even Kubert Anderson twice). Nothing the same issue to issue. A mixture of team-ups and solos, one team-up to two solos. Practically no Jean Loring, except for a final issue descent into madness that foreshadows all the rest of her career. Hawkman and Hawkgirl squabbling – squabbling!
No, this isn’t fit to sit alongside the other series herein, and it makes for a bitter ending. But I have the Silver Age Giants in my collection now, in full colour, and taking up not that much space than a dime.

Take Three Heroes: Comic Cavalcade


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Unless I were to go for Action Comics or Detective Comics, which I’m not inclined to do for reasons that have as much to do with general disinterest in Superman and Batman of that era as it is with neither title having a finite end, there’s precious little left of the Golden Age that I want to know more about. Comic Cavalcade is pretty much the last series of substance to read.
Comic Cavalcade
debuted in 1942. It differed from the titles of the day in being an anthology of existing characters, a kind of Greatest Hits without the big two, and in being one of a very few titles to run at 96 pages for 15c, instead of the standard package.
The series’ intent was made plain on the first cover. It’s actually a wrap-around cover, showing all the characters from within in a race in an athletic stadium, with the front cover being a crammed close-up of Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Flash.
Wonder Woman opened with a long story about fighting Nazi saboteurs and tying women up with ropes. Next were that service trio of Red, White and Blue, with some pretty openly expressed misogyny about women – i.e., intelligence Agent Doris West – thinking they can do the same things a man can. Since we were talking about walking down a flight of stairs in a fire-stricken building, and Doris does indeed come a cropper, we’re not exactly playing fair here. This was succeeded by the Ghost Patrol, who I never liked. I’d call this piece of tosh nonsensical if it made that amount of sense. Hop Harrigan appeared in prose once more. There was more of the flat and stagy Ed Wheelan stuff, corny gags from Fat and Slat and a Minute Movie with his repertory cast, The Black Pirate and a Green Lantern story clogged up with Doiby Dickles again but featuring another different version of Alan Scott’s oath. Wildcat pounded on a guy fixing to fix Ted Grant’s next fight, Scribbly returned to the old neighbourhood to find his old girlfriend overly impressed by a snotty marine. And the Flash brought up the rear with the best story of the bunch, though it wasn’t up to the best of his Flash Comics base: at least it didn’t feature Winky, Blinky or Noddy.
So that was the first issue. With a line-up like that, who all enjoyed a consistent level of popularity, it’s easy to suggest Comic Cavalcade was an attempt to replicate All-American Publications’ All-Star Comics, without the promotional aspect, things like new series soon to be forbidden as paper rationing was introduced. Given the standard of the stories, it’s also easy to suggest this was a case of Never Mind The Quality, Feel The Width.
The second issue was more of the same, only in a different order. It did add some Mutt and Jeff pages, more than enough to squeeze out Hop Harrigan, and whilst its humour is of the day and hasn’t outlasted its era in the way that, say, Pogo has, I’m always happy to see more of a classic newspaper strip. Once again, The Flash was the best thing in the issue, with a genuinely sweet story that, in its way, was all about match-making.
Covers still plugged the ‘big 3’, and always in the same left-to-right order, but issue 3 heralded a comprehensive change in the back-ups, with everybody out, Hop Harrigan back, and a host of ‘new’ features. The King, that master of disguise in a top hat, who kept turning his villainous foe The Witch loose (those two just had to be making out behind the panels) was billed as exclusive to Comic Cavalcade. Hop Harrigan was back, this time in comics form, preceded by a true story of an American airman, killed in action saving his crew. Another patriotic feature, written by M.C. Gaines himself, took the spirit of the Minutemen of the War of Independence and stretched it through of America.’s military adventures, stealing countries from other people… sorry, I mean extending the light of the torch of freedom… up to the then-current War. Green Lantern managed a decent story then there was a third true-life story, this time about Spanish conqueror, Vasco de Balboa, which I found far too long and uninteresting. Finally the Flash, as usual the best bit even with a silly story about a country town with ridiculous laws.
The first three issues were scanned from microfiches and were consequently a little blurry, but issue 4 was a scan of an actual copy. Immediately, the clarity made for a better issue. Even Harry Peter’s art looked clean and well-defined and the story was not confused in any way. Or was that me?
The Gay Ghost was added to the roster in this issue. The Green Lantern story was particularly silly. The problem with Alan Scott’s stories is that they’re not actually about Green Lantern. They’re about Doiby Dickles, with the Lantern as a back up character dragged down to the comic relief’s level.. The writers don’t seem to have any idea as to how to write a story without the tough little cabbie than to fill it out with his pugnacious scrapping, his persistent mangling of the English language and his need to have his fat pulled out of the fire whilst the crooks escape to make the story last longer than it ought to. One true delight was Scribbly and the Red Tornado, Sheldon Mayer at his finest, and one black spot was an O’Malley story, Long John O’Malley, the five foot tall cop. Unless he turns up in the next issue I’m going to write this one off as an unused five pager when his original series in Flash Comics fell on its face.
As for The Flash, he’d gone three issues straight but it couldn’t last. Winky, Blinky and Noddy turned up and quality turned down.

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Comic Cavalcade started as a 96 page comic but it also started in 1942, with America in the Second World War. Increasing paper restrictions reshaped the comic book industry irreversibly: by issue 5 the series was down to a 72 page format.
O’Malley was indeed there again in issue 5, but the exclusive King was replaced by Red, White and Blue. The Flash is still being credited to Fox and Hibbard but there’s more than a touch of Martin Nadle to the art, not to mention the figure work. If I was certain such things were done in 1943, I would say Nadle was doing layouts and Hibbard finishes, because the work is still much too good to be Nadle alone, and it’s not his cartoony rendition of the Three Dimwits, that’s still very much Hibbard.
In issue 6, Jon Blummer contributed another tribute to a heroic American airman who died in his country’s service. Green Lantern came up with an amusing story thanks to a metafiction conducted by ‘The Author’ (Alfie Bester?) reacting to his wife’s claim that GL and Doiby win by luck not brains: the outcome is his firing by Editor Mayer and being replaced by… his wife! Red, White and Blue offered one of their latterday solo stories, this one featuring Army Private Whitey Smith. And The Flash operated without comic relief on an unrealistic story about a town that had all their secret impulses liberated, and not a single pretty girl got kissed!
The changes continued to be rung, Scribbly and the Black Pirate back in issue 7, not in the same story, obviously, and there was a seismic shift on no. 8’s cover as The Flash appeared on the left, with GL and Wonder Woman next across the page. Behind that, the Wonder Woman story was screwy beyond belief and, even when it was all explained, displayed a twisted sexuality opposite to that which usually underlaid Marston’s Amazon stories. He’s usually all about feminine dominance and loving bondage, but here we have Steve Trevor pushing Diana Prince around, demanding she go out eating, drinking and dancing with him. And she’s loving being dominated by him in total chauvinistic manner, and that’s before she drinks the drugged coffee meant for him, has a long dream of losing her powers, succumbing to his demands she marry him, Trevor acting like the superhero and the Holliday girls trussing her up to deliver her as a bride. Even after she straightens it all out and goes back to refusing to marry him because the Amazon code means they can’t submit themselves to male domination (and there’s no other way of being married, is there?) she still hankers for big ol’ Steve to push her around and take absolutely no account of her wishes, wants or needs. Christ, this was rancid!
Much better was the rather odd tale of an American pilot shot down behind Japanese lines in China and rescued by a farmer’s family with whom he had no language in common. East and West was a strangely sweet story of cultures clashing yet complementing each other, which ended in a direct repudiation of Kipling’s Never the Twain shall Meet that was actually rather moving. There was a paean to the American seaman, the history of his Union and the dogged determination to see the War through, and a silent Hop Harrigan story of being shot down and escaping whose only words were the 23rd Psalm.
Add in a Picture Story from American History and the whole issue was an unusual line-up reliant on its three stalwarts.
This continued next quarter with, of all things, a history of the Co-Operative Movement, stretching back to the Rochdale Pioneers, painting it in glowing colours and promoting its continuation, and expansion throughout America, despite the whole thing being, in American terms, rank socialism.
And there was an astonishingly strong Green Lantern story, with Alan Scott out to save the life of Doiby Dickles, mortally wounded and dependant for his life on a surgeon forbidden to practice in a hospital because he is Jewish. The whole story is an angry, indeed raging attack on race hatred, hatred of other religions. It makes the American ideal, of all being free and equal into a creed and brooks no exception. I wish that spirit prevailed now, or that at least there were crusaders to battle the White Nationalists with the same fervour as the writer of this story.
And contemporary fans complain about ‘Social Justice Warriors’ introducing politics into comics. They should read this and then spit their venom.
Another East Meets West story drew a true distinction between Japanese and Filipinos and the Hop Harrigan story was another direct attack on German Aryan superiority over ‘inferior’ races. The whole thing was wonderful to see. In the end, the Flash’s story was a grave disappointment, even before you added the Three Dimwits.

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Issue 10 added a contents list on the inside front cover emphasising the reduction in the regular list to the three stalwarts of Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and The Flash, and no other superheroic figures at all. The issue contained an adaptation of the Frederic March-starring play and film, ‘Tomorrow – the World !’, a frightening yet thought-provoking piece about a young German boy, son of a heroic philosopher who has died in a concentration camp, and who has been taught to be a Nazi. He comes to live with his Uncle’s family in America, bringing his attitudes with him. Responding to what he says and does, the family have to decide what to do with him, and if he can reform. It was a very strong piece, all the more so for the ending being left open, unlike the film. After that, the Green Lantern nonsense was even more of a disappointment.
The latest story prepared in co-operation with the East and West Association was narrated by Johnny Everyman, who was to be the regular star. Comic Cavalcade was now producing so many stories and features about freedom, democracy, equality and sheer basic decency that it was putting the superhero stuff to shame. It was stirring, heart-warming stuff, a statement of ideals in action. How much of a resemblance to reality it was doesn’t matter. Yet the generation that could have grown up on this was the generation that has led America this past twenty years: so much for good intentions.
Hop Harrigan, decently, and Red, White and Blue, boringly, filled the space given to the play next issue. The Flash escaped to have a story without Winky, Blinky and Noddy but unfortunately it was drawn by Martin Nadle.
Issue 12 had the same line-up but only the Johnny Everyman story interested me.
Sometimes, you have to pause to draw conclusions. Over the past couple of years, I’ve read a colossal amount of Golden Age comics, the adventures of the Justice Society of America in their solo series. I’ve been spurred on by a combination of the fascination for these character born in me by my first, magical exposure to them at the age of ten, and by the insatiable urge to know everything there is to know. I’ve read tons of Wonder Woman, The Flash and Green Lantern, and I’ve reached conclusions about their Golden Age careers that, frankly, aren’t that favourable. I think I’ve just read enough Golden Age comics now to be unimpressed with their flaws, their silliness, their awkwardness and the overwhelming reliance on comic sidekicks. Doiby Dickles ruins Green Lantern, plain and simple. The Three Dimwits are a depressing clog on The Flash, who’s being doubly crippled by Martin Nadle art. Wonder Woman is just plain cuckoo. Especially in comparison with the plethora of stories fiercely promoting tolerance, decency and brotherhood, the three stars aren’t even adequate.
Nevertheless, in the grand old words of Magnus Magnusson, I’ve started so I’ll finish.

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For once, the Green Lantern story in issue 13 was worth reading, being the second appearance of Solomon Grundy in the Lantern’s series. It ended with his imprisonment in a green globe, but not the one that he escapes to confront the Justice Society in All Star 33. In between, GL’s origin was twisted with the claim that his former railroad lamp was actually given to him by Tibetan lamas.
But Comic Cavalcade was going down better with its contemporary audience than with me in 2021 and, with issue 14, and the War over, the series was promoted to bi-monthly status. The running order was shuffled to promote The Flash to midway. Hop Harrigan and Tank Tinker left the War behind to find modern slavery in a small American midwestern town and the horror of ordinary folks talking lynching with approval.
A new feature began in issue 15, ‘Just a Story’, written and drawn by Howard Purcell. Though the series would rapidly develop in a different direction, this first episode was tremendously effective. A man, a scientist, Louis Manton, has been discovered, raving, with a scar across his forehead. He is dying, pleading for someone named Joan. The Doctors hope that if they can identify this Joan and fetch her, it will save Manton’s life. But Manton’s Joan comes from the past, in France, a strange, young, forest main who aided Manton when he travelled in time, whom he loves. But this Joan, or Jeanne, hears voices in her head. They lead her to the Dauphin, to military command, for she is Jeanne d’Arc, Joan of Arc, and the story is her story and it does not end well for anyone, least of all Manton. Crude though the art is, and the telling, the story had a strange, compelling charm to it.
The Flash featured Winky, Blinky and Noddy and that rarest of all things, a joke that made me laugh. Hop Harrigan’s bit was more about Miss Snap, Gerry and the idiot kid, so it may have been deliberately confusing nonsense.
Sadly, Johnny Everyman’s attempts to convince American kids that people the whole world over were humans under the skin, with hearts and minds of their own, was now gone, but I think I’m already on safe ground in saying these were the best thing about Comic Cavalcade. After a strong start, the second Just a Story was just a silly story.
Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston, was a very well read character but that didn’t stop him coming an absolute cropper in issue 17. Diana Prince and Steve Trevor are in occupied Germany, about a new Nazi Underground when they get involved with Valkyries carrying off handsome fighting men (hellooo, Steve!). The story is based on the notion that the psychic energies of the German nation during the War years has created Odin and the Valkyries for real and evil. The idea is actually both clever and interesting, but where Marston makes a colossal bollocks of it is that Odin and his cohorts are Norse, as in Norway, and integral to their national myth-cycle. The Germanic myths involve Wotan and his Rhinemaidens, and they don’t have a Valhalla under that word.
I’d seen the Just a Story in issue 18 before in some reprint, and it was equally as good now, a slice of life in a city night that deftly interwove an escaped murderer, a lost dog and a kid wavering on the edge of going bad and brought all three home with a naturalistic tone that was Just a Story but one very worthwhile one. The same went for the feature next issue, a sweet, sentimental tale introducing a character as yet known as Mr Nobody, who interrupts his attempts to clear his name from a false accusation of murder to look after a maltreated young girl. The same issue also included a dull Cotton-top Katie story featuring Myrtle the Kangaroo.
She was bounced in issue 20 in favour of an O’Malley story, whilst Just a Story this time overdid the sentimentality with the story of a little blind girl gaining a dog whose owner was demanding it back, until he saw her.
But after making such a strong start, Just a Story was going downhill rapidly, with something really silly in issue 21. Mart Nadel turned in another of his ridiculous art jobs on The Flash, O’Malley persisted to blight the page.
Mr Nobody returned to Just a Story in issue 22. He was named Johnny Peril and he became the star of the series, related a war story with a bittersweet twist ending. He wasn’t officially linked with Mr Nobody, but we all knew who he was. Now The Atom barged in, full of more misunderstandings with Mary James (why did he put up with her?) And the Thinker turned up in The Flash’s story, under a notation that had the tale originally prepared for Flash Comics 93. Sadly, the last two pages were missing so I missed how the story ended.
Johnny Peril told Just a Story next issue but this one was a lot of rancid SF tosh: the feature was unpredictable to say the least. The Flash had gotten past Mart Nadel so his stories were looking up, Cotton-Top Katie replaced The Atom and Green Lantern battled Solomon Grundy in a story that was complete nonsense. There’s a reason why I’m not commenting on the Wonder Woman stories: can you guess what it is?

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Black Canary paid a visit to issue 25 to appear in the most un-Black Canary story of her short career: did any other story have her mutter a magic rhyme that summons hundreds of avian black canaries to save her falling out of the sky? A thumping great minus twenty-five points for that effort.
At long last, in issue 26, Green Lantern managed to get through a story without Doiby Dickles. What’s more, it was drawn by Alex Toth, though not one of his best jobs. It’s notation was AA101: very near to All-American Comics‘ end. On the other hand, Just a Story had disappeared. It’s track record was not good, with maybe one story in every three worth the effort.
But that was just for an issue. Johnny Peril was back in issue 27 with another schtumer, whilst Green Lantern’s least reputable foe, The Fool, was his next target. Next issue, Peril’s feature became his Surprise Story but it didn’t make it any better. Molly Mayne and Streak the Wonder Dog turned up in Green Lantern but in the case of one of them, not for long enough. The Atom popped in again, now showing his completely unexplained super-strength whilst The Flash put a lie to my saying The Fiddler had only appeared once in the Golden Age, the last issue of All-Flash by tangling with the violin virtuoso.
Other existing series kept thrusting themselves into Comic Cavalcade. In the case of the Atom, I wondered if the series was just being used to sop up a surplus of stories that, with the Golden Age titles slowly closing down, would otherwise have gone to waste, but that surely didn’t apply to Leave it to Binky in issue 29. Green Lantern let Doiby in again whilst The Flash offered another second show to an otherwise one-timer with the return of Star Sapphire.
But the Golden Age was slipping away. The superhero titles were all undergoing cancellation or repurposing, and Comic Cavalcade was no exception. Issue 29 was the last outing for the three stars, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and The Flash, and that shifting array of extras. From issue 30, the series became a funny animal comic. The Fox and the Crow. Blabber Mouse. The Tortoise and the Hare. The Raccoon Kids. The Dodo and the Frog. Goofy Goose. Giggle-Toons. Willy Wolf. Nutsy Squirrel. It all sounds too grisly for words but two of those series are supposed to be humour classics.
However, my brief is with the superheroic and so my review ends here. What have I gained from this? By now I must have read all the Golden Age Flash and Green Lantern’s adventures, or if I haven’t then there can be no more than a handful outstanding. I had already read as many of Wonder Woman’s story as any sane man would wish to, and the extra ones here did nothing to change my mind about the necessity of reading the rest.
But that brief War-time run of stories about Equality and Decency, and the fervour with which they delivered, made the run worthwhile. It reminded me that there was a time when people stood up for things other than their own advantage and interest, and I wish we still had that now, because it’s needed again, in spades.

Showcasing Showcase – Part 1


Listen whilst I set the scene. This bit will be dry as dust but without it you won’t understand what comics were in the early Fifties, before even I was born.
The Golden Age, or to be more accurate, the first Superhero Era, was over. The themes of the era were Wars and Westerns, Funny Animals and Funny Teenagers, adaptations of popular Radio Series, SF and Mysteries. But with very few exceptions, none of DC’s new titles were taking off. Which was awkward.
Producing a comic book in the early Fifties was very awkward in the technology of the era. There was already a long lead-time between the editor commissioning or approving a story and it being ready to go to the printer. Before that could happen, someone – and I’m assuming this was DC’s Business Manager, Jack Leibowitz – had to decide on a print run. Print high, reduce the unit price of each issue, improve the potential profit, print low, vice versa. Complicated by the fact that you were estimating how many copies you could sell up to three months in advance.
Once the book goes out of house, it has to be printed, it has to be distributed all across America (by truck), it has to be put out by newsstands, drugstores, mom-and-pop stores. Then, after its period on sale, when the next issue comes in, the unsold copies are taken off, the retailer strips the top off the cover, the bit showing the logo and issue number, bundles all these up and returns them to the distributor for credit against the next delivery. Eventually, for this is not among the retailers’ priorities, the returns get back to DC. It can take up to six months after the title goes off sale to have all these back, and only then does the company now if they have made a profit or a loss.
Because it’s all about returns, not sales. About print runs and decisions made half a year ago. Because a comic that sells 200,000 out of a print run of 250,000 is a smashing success whereas one that sells 300,000 out of a print run of 800,000 is a flop, and a lossmaker.
This process is bad enough for ongoing titles but what if you want to launch a new title? There’s no market research, and no marketing, except for in-house ads. You guess what the market might bear and send it out there to sink or swim. Unlike the situation for the past four decades, there’s no collectors market, speculating on a no. 1, hoping for triple values or better on resale. No. 1’s sell low, then the circulation goes up as the kids tell each other about this great new title. You hope.
So you’ve sent out a new title and when the returns come in, finally, it’s been a disaster. You’ve lost your shirt. You immediately cancel the title. Which issue will that strike with? Issue 7. Yes, the clunky technology means that you cannot get the information on which to pull the plug before issue 6 is in the system.
But that’s not all. What if the sales on issue 1 are a loss, but not a disaster. Do you panic, cancel on the spot, and watch the ongoing figures rise until it goes into profit by issue 4 or 5, knowing you’ve killed the golden goose. Or do you hold off, hoping for this kind of escalation, knowing that if it never comes, whenever you cancel you’ve still got five more shirts to lose?
And that’s without factoring in the issue of the bond you have to pay to the distributor, to buy space on the newsstands for your new and untried title. A bond you forfeit if you cancel before a certain number of issues are published. Not to mention your deteriorating reputation with your distributor, who takes note of the number of failures you put out there and, at some point, will decide that your precious newsstand space would be better off going to a different company, one that seems to have a better idea what it’s doing.
Who’d be a Business Manager with that responsibility?
And then some bright spark, whose name has never been recorded to my knowledge, came up with one of those ingenious ideas that are completely obvious, but only afterwards. That answer was Showcase, a purpose-built try-outs magazine, appearing six times a year. Every editor would have a go, in turn. New ideas would be tested in Showcase for viability, with those that sold well enough getting a series with a near enough guarantee of profitability, and those that flopped causing minimal damage and easily forgotten.
What’s more, there would be no cancellations. If all six issues of Showcase‘s first year flopped, first of all that was six lossmakers, instead of thirty six, and second you didn’t cancel the title, you started work on issues 7-12. DC could carry one loss-making title if it had to.
Thus it began. And that’s where I begin, with a DVD of the complete run of Showcase, ready to tot up fortune and failure, and watch how DC’s Sixties shaped up, from the very bottom.

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Now what I’ve already told you is the truth but DC’s version of it, on page 1 of issue 1, was rather different. According to that, a kid named Larry Blake wrote in asking for a comic about fire-fighters, that he and all his pals would support. But when editor Whitney Ellsworth asked round, all his fellow editors were getting letters from kids with great ideas. They couldn’t put all these great new comics out all at once, but they could put all these ideas into a new comic, and call it Showcase
That first issue was headed ‘The Fire-Fighters’ on the cover but inside there were three adventures featuring Fireman Farrell, Fred Farrell, that is, Jr: son of deceased fire-fighting hero Fred Sr. The first story saw Fred Jr. get through his exam though they really didn’t need to bother, ‘cos Fred knew it all already.
And that was the problem. The issue was a nice, well put together and realistic creation but it was too much a procedural, with only a limited range at its disposal. It was also, according to Mark Evanier, for many many years the worst selling comic book issue ever put out by DC.
The accusation of a limited range couldn’t be levelled at ‘Kings of the Wild’ in issue 2, with three distinct stories, of an Indian boy recovering his honour, a cast-aside kid and dog gaining the respect of the town and a trained circus bear coping in the wild.
Issue 3’s ‘The Frogmen’ was a single, three-part story, drawn superbly by Russ Heath, making three different approaches in three issues, but none of them suggested a long-lasting series, and the name of the game was teasing concepts into series. So, and we should all know this story by now, an editorial conference was held to try to find a more promising subject for issue 4. This one would be edited by Julius Schwartz, and comic book history was about to change.
Someone, some bright spark whose name has gone undeservedly ignored, suggesting seeing if the kids were ready to start reading superheroes again: why not bring back The Flash, DC’s most popular Forties character not still in print. Schwartz was willing but he had a condition: no Jay Garrick. Garrick was boring, he had been done. Schwartz would take it on if he was allowed to start from scratch with a new character: new name, new origin, new costume. It was agreed.
Schwartz retreated to the office that presumably he still shared with Bob Kanigher, and tapped him for an origin. Carmine Infantino would draw, and who better was there to draw speed and motion and slick scenes? For the back-up, John Broome, one of only two writers Schwartz was prepared to work with, would write a back-up for Infantino and inker Sid Greene.
Oh, how familiar are those pages? I must have read them, or versions of them that use the basic images, a hundred times. In a heartbeat, Showcase found it’s feet.
Not that it happened all at once. Next issue was back to the form of the first three, a generic idea, this time Manhunters: three detective stories. An idea with wider scope but hardly new, hardly original and hardly more successful than the Fire-Fighters. Not like a notion cooked up by Jack Kirby for the first two issue try-out, the Challengers of the Unknown. With scripting by Joe Simon on the first issue, and Dave Wood thereafter, the first issue took great leaps and bounds through the Challs’ origin and first adventure. The second issue introduced June Robbins, at that point a decidedly reddish-haired brunette and robotics expert, and quickly adopted as an honorary Challenger for her role in trying to save the brilliantly-designed Kirby robot, Ultivac. Even the name was genius.
On the other hand, the instant renaming of Prof Haley to Harrison on the splash page was less stellar.
The Flash’s debut had been a big hit. Management wanted to see if that was a one-off, so back everybody came for issue 8: same format, though this time it was Broome’s back-up that was the more memorable, introducing the first of the Flash’s future Rogue’s Gallery, Captain Cold. And he was a mould-setter, emphasising the SF orientation that came naturally to Schwartz and Broome.
The next subject was far from new, but just as Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen had been given his own title not long before, now DC were considering the possibilities of doing the same for Lois Lane, and Showcase was the official testing ground. Like every other Weisinger Superman title, we got three stories, the first introducing an adult Lana Lang as a newcomer to Metropolis, and rooming initially with Lois. So began the rivalry out of which Weisinger would ring so much juice, so much thin, unappetising juice and so much dickishness by Supes towards both women.
And Lois’s unending eagerness to catch out Clark Kent extended through all three stories and into a second issue, Showcase 10, mingled in with a bit of that psychologically twisted anti-woman bullshit I loathed every time it reared its ugly head across the Fifties. I really didn’t want to see any more of it.
The Challengers returned for another two-issue run in issues 11/12, strengthening their case for promotion into a series, but so too did The Flash, this time on a two-issue run by the same teams as before. And it was John Broome coming up with the super-villains, although he was conserving his energy since Mr Element (13) and Dr Alchemy (14) were the same criminal, with different names, costumes and M.O.s.
By now, Showcase had been around nearly two and a half years and no new series had yet been spun-off from it. It was time to take a decision. Three features were under consideration and, contrary to legend, The Flash was the least successful. The Challengers and Lois Lane were given titles almost simultaneously – the one a series brought to Jack Schiff from outside, the other yet one more expansion on the Superman mythos by Mort Weisinger, who thereafter would never edit a title that didn’t feature the big blue boy scout.

Showcase 4

In fact, it would be almost another year before Julius Schwartz was told to clear space on his schedule for The Flash’s own series, three years after the character’s debut. But his was to be the most influential feature ever to appear in Showcase.
Meanwhile, the parade of new characters went on. Next, in issue 15, was (The) Space Ranger, young Rick Starr with his shape-shifting alien buddy, Cryll, and his secretary, the lovely short-skirted blonde Myra. Space Ranger, who would go on to star in Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space was the first half of a little challenge set by Irwin Donenfeld to Jack Schiff and Julius Schwartz, to create two new SF characters, one from the future and one from the present. Schiff chose the future hero, Space Ranger, who got two issues, neither of them spell-binding.
Space Ranger was just space opera without any real flair to it, but Schwartz’s character came up next, for the first three-issue run, from issue 17-19, and this was Adam Strange.
Or rather ‘Adventures on Other Worlds’, as the feature was first titled. Nevertheless, it is Adam Strange, the Earth architect transported back and forth to Rann, and his love Alanna. Not quite yet the Adam we most love, for to begin with art is by Mike Sekowsky. Mind you, Sekowsky has him don the classic, super-cool fin-helmeted costume as early as the second story. Though Alanna at this stage clads herself in tight black slacks. Carmine Infantino will put that right.
For the third issue, the titles were inverted, with Adam’s name up top and a much smaller Adventures on Other Worlds tucked away at the bottom of the cover where only the kid who pulled it from the spinner rack to buy would see it.
The next contender was another winner, in the form of Rip Hunter, Time Master, enjoying issues 20-21. Another Jack Schiff production, Hunter’s team consisted of the Time Master himself plus his best pal, Jeff and his girl, Bonnie, and her young brother, Corky, though the latter two were left behind on the Time-Sphere’s maiden voyage to the Mesozoic Age. Not that they need have felt they were missing out as they were taken back there by a pair of crooks imagining they could pick up loot lying round.
The second half of Rip’s run was a picaresque little number giving the gang the chance to meet first Alexander the Great, then a decidedly non-magical Circe the Sorceress and finally, stop me if you’ve heard this before, see Atlantis sink.

Showcase 17

What came next was back in Schwartz’s hands. He told it both ways. First it was, after the success of The Flash, now in his own title, management thanked him for a good job and asked him to do the same for Green Lantern, then later it was, after the success of The Flash, management thanked him for a good job and asked him what he wanted to do next and Schwartz picked Green Lantern.
Either way, Schwartz cut Bob Kanigher out of the loop and went straight to John Broome, pairing him with Gil Kane. Once again, it was an inspired pairing, as Kane was as perfect for Hal Jordan and his world as Carmine Infantino was for Barry Allen’s life.
Of course, before the last issue of this short run Green Lantern had appeared elsewhere, in The Brave and The Bold 28, as a founder member of the fledgling Justice League of America, which was a display of faith in GL’s future. And why not? The Golden Age Green Lantern had been the only other DC title to enjoy his own comic in the Forties and there wasn’t the slightest reason to suspect the new version would do any less.
There always had to be a new idea and another editor, but any character who hadn’t yet been awarded their own series was fair game, so Rip Hunter and Jack Schiff were back next for two more issues. Some superb art from Joe Kubert disguised a pretty bog standard story featuring two power-mad figures and a horde of pre-historic monsters in issue 25, and the following issue was a similarly uninspired tale of aliens invading Earth 2,000 years BC.
Incidentally, Bonnie, who looked prettier in Kubert’s work, had a very limited wardrobe, consisting of one long-sleeved dark red pole neck wool top and a single below-the-knee white pleated skirt.
Four Challengers, Four time-travellers, and now four frogmen, if you count one frogwoman in that number. Bob Kanigher was on the case with the formula of four for the next three issues, plying the quasi-superhero beat with The Sea Devils, and artist Russ Heath. Yet though it’s easy to mock the formula, which was Rip Hunter and his crew exactly, the story was both exciting, pacey and convincing in how it built four individuals into a team out of necessity, in which both the girl and her kid brother are both part of the action and equally trusted with it.
The origin was built on a treasure hunt for a sunken ship, an obvious McGuffin. There was ex-military frogman’s son, Dane Dorrance, trying to prove himself worthy of his father’s flippers, would-be starlet Judy Walton, out to attract the attention of the producer of the movie ‘Sea Devils’, her younger brother Nicky and big, clumsy Biff Bailey, trying to show his girlfriend that his clumsiness on land disappears under the water. These four help each other out against sharks, crumbling treasure ships and outlandish monsters, demonstrating their ability as an instant team. It was great fun.
The second issue was divided into stories of unequal length, one focussing on the new team-members as individuals, the other a somewhat trite adventure featuring an under-the-ocean-bed civilisation planning to conquer the surface and Judy showing the first flashes of the green-eyed monster when it comes to Dane (mind you, she’d been wetting her scuba pants on sight of him in the first issue). Issue 28 also featured the first ever Showcase letters page, though it was all about Sea Devils’ advice on scuba-diving, not the actual story.
All three issues came with startlingly wonderful wash covers by Heath. Issue 29 ended with a direct plea from the team to the readers, appealing to them to right in and ask for more Sea Devils. Which they must have done because shortly after, the team were elevated into their own series, one copy of which I used to own nearly a lifetime ago.

Showcase 22

So far, all of Showcase‘s subjects had been new. Even Lois Lane was fresh in the sense that she had never had her own stories before. But what followed, given a generous four issue allotment, was a repudiation of the series’ whole idea. Aquaman had been around for twenty years, his series running in Adventure Comics. He was a Mort Weisinger creation, a knock-off of Bill Everett’s Sub-Mariner at Timely Comics. Now, after all that nondescript time, he was to be given a shot at earning his own, solo series.
The first issue, no. 30, was edited by Jack Schiff and drawn by one of only two women artists around in 1960, Ramona Fradon. Aqualad co-starred, Aquaman’s origins as the lost King of Atlantis were incorporated and, at full-length for the first time, instead of being hopelessly naff and tedious, the King of the Sea was merely ordinarily naff, tedious and cliched. The whole run was drab, not to mention the bizarre way in which Aquaman continually addressed Aqualad by name in practically every speech bubble, even when both of them were alone, as if the boy would forget who he was if someone didn’t continually remind him. But he got his series, so somebody must have liked it.
Next we were back to Julius Schwartz and another superhero revival, this time of The Atom, though unlike his predecessors, this Atom bore no resemblance to the Golden Age hero. Ray Palmer was the original inspiration of artist Gil Kane, who suggested reviving The Atom but with the powers of Quality Comics’ old character, Doll Man, namely the ability to shrink.
Kane got the art job, inked by Murphy Anderson and Schwartz brought in Gardner Fox to write. Broome got Flash and Green Lantern, who were big successes, Fox got Hawkman and The Atom, who weren’t, though the Justice League made up for that.
Again there were two stories, in the second of which, after The Atom helped Ray Palmer’s girl-friend Jean Loring win her first major case, introduced the series’ underlying theme, one that neither Fox nor Schwartz wholly recognised. Ray Palmer wanted to marry Jean Loring. Jean refused to even get engaged until she’d established herself in her career. So The Atom set out to help her win all the cases: the sooner she was a success, the sooner she would marry him. And, since marriage were the only terms under which the Comics Code would sanction having sex, not that you could even mention it, let alone show it… The things a guy will do to get laid.
Three issues, all of them good, and another character was on his way to a new series.
Issue 37 introduced the Metal Men, written and edited by Bob Kanigher and drawn by the art team of Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. There’s a famous tale about the gestation of this new concept, related by Kanigher. According to him, some sort of mix-up suddenly left Showcase without a story, with only a week to go before the printing deadline. Just before leaving the office on Friday, Editorial Coordinator Irwin Donenfeld tasked Kanigher with coming up with something – anything – in time.
On his commute home, Kanigher came up with the basic concept of robots made of different metals, each displaying personalities consistent with each metal’s properties. He worked up the idea over the weekend and got to the office with a full story written. Calling Andru and Esposito into the office, he set them up in an empty room and got them started whilst he got on with his multifarious duties, pausing in these to survey each pages it was finished, set out corrections etc., arrange colouring and lettering along the way until, by the following Friday, and the deadline, the issue was complete and ready.
The story’s vigorous enough, but a bit too didactic on the scientific properties side, leavened only by Platinum’s insistence on being treated as a metal and a full member of the team rather than a woman (a bit of confused sexuality there from ‘Doc’ Magnus right from the outset). And of course, having no reason to see this story as anything but a one-off stopgap, Kanigher kills off all the robots.
But he’d done better than he’d planned. The idea intrigued, enough for the run to be extended. The second story didn’t quite live up to expectations with Magnus starting off building new Metal Men who were pure robots and incompetent with it, before having to retrieve the bodies, and original, faulty activators, of the first lot and reconstruct them.
And the by now almost statutory third issue not only introduced the Metal Men’s first recurring foe, Chemo, but also a letters page full of enthusiastic responses demanding a series. Which duly came to pass, but not until the stopgap team enjoyed an Aquaman-esque fourth outing.

Showcase 25

So far, with the exception of those four uninspired ideas at the start, everything Showcase touched became a winner. From The Flash to the Metal Men, everything got its own series. Abruptly, it was as if the sun had been turned off. It would never be like that again. Five of the next seven issues – 41-42, 44 and 46-47 – would feature Tommy Tomorrow of the Planeteers.
Tommy was an existing character, an SF hero who’d been around since 1947 as a back-up in first Action Comics, then World’s Finest. He’d been a Colonel in the Planeteers, defenders of a Solar Earth Empire. Now he was being re-imagined under Murray Boltinoff and George Kashdan, using Arnold Drake and Lee Elias, by being taken back to his days as a cadet, then a Lieutenant, with a new, Venusian sidekick.
But the new Tommy’s adventures showed none of the quirkiness Drake brought to things like the Doom Patrol, whilst Elias still used small, tight panels, creating the impression these were reprints from the Fifties. It did not work out.
The first interruption, in issue 43, was an adaptation of the James Bond film, Dr No. It was bought in from Britain and was Bond’s first comics appearance in the USA. It was also complete crap, badly drawn, static, dull and with mechanical, typed lettering, which looked awful. But it was only just worse than Tommy Tomorrow’s third outing, one big cliché from start to finish.
The next interlude was completely different, but also in its way pointless. Under a Russ Heath cover, Kanigher and Kubert combined to present a Sgt. Rock story, telling how the Rock earned his Sergeant’s stripes, first in battle and then in his own head. It was superb, even if Kanigher ladled on the psychological ‘Wooden Soldier’ a bit thick, but what was this doing in Showcase? Rock was already a star, in his own series in Our Army at War.
Though I don’t know a thing about this, my theory is that Tommy Tomorrow was meant to run five issues straight but suffered deadline issues, forcing two emergency stopgaps. Five will get you ten that the Sgt. Rock story was intended for Our Army at War.
That left two more from Tommy. The next subject was another familiar one. Cave Carson and Adventures Inside Earth had already failed over two stints in Brave & Bold – which was, at that moment, getting out of the try-out business and changing over to team-ups – and now he got two issues of Showcase to see if he could do any better. The short answer was, he couldn’t.
New uniforms and a pet lemur instead of the girl’s kid brother made no difference. Not even Lee Elias drawing like it was 1964 and not 1954 could make the spelunkers interesting. At least there were only two issues.
Nor was the record improved by two issues of ‘I-Spy’. This was King Faraday – king-for-a-day, get it? – and Showcase 50 didn’t even pretend to be original. There was a four page introduction that was new, and the rest were two obvious reprints that a three month old baby would pick out as from the early Fifties. Old they were, but they were good, smart examples of the time, with a strong Caniff influence on the art, but they were an example of the very thing Showcase had been established to abolish, the short run, new series.
But all Showcase was doing was reprinting these stories. There wasn’t even the pretence of a frame story in issue 51 and the editing was so sloppy that the clearly superimposed box saying that was the last story and inviting letters to demand the contrary was pasted onto the first story in the issue.
It was only 1964, but already Showcase‘s Golden Age was over. The flood of new ideas turning into new series had gone into reverse. Old characters, reprint stories from a different era. Suddenly, editors and writers weren’t even coming up with bad ideas. The word ‘new’ was being expunged. And Brave & Bold‘s era as a parallel magazine had also ended. Just what had happened?
The probable explanation was Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Marvel had gone from being on the rise to in full flow. They couldn’t yet compete in sales but they were obviously something new in the industry and DC simply couldn’t understand them. Their writers were growing older, the times were getting away from them. They were being paralysed by their own lack of understanding.
And I’ll look closer at how that developed in the second part, next.

Showcase 34

Breaching the Vibrational Barrier: 1985


Infinity Inc. 19/Justice League of America 244, “The Final Crisis”. Written by Gerry Conway, art by Joe Staton (pencils) and Mike Machlan (inks), edited by Alan Gold.

Following the events of Infinity Inc. 19, in which Earth-2’s superhero team consisting of the children of various Justice Society of America members arrive in the current Justice League’s headquarters in a Detroit Bunker at the behest of Commander Steel – Hank Heywood senior, the former All-Star Squadron member – summoned to attack an imposter Justice League, namely the Detroit team of Vibe, Steel, Gypsy and Vixen, the defeated team gather to re-plan their strategy. Now read on.
The beaten League make their way to the semi-destroyed Satellite headquarters of the old League, with Elongated Man gaining entrance for them. Vibe is still wingeing and displaying his basic ignorance, starting with the Multiverse. JLA leader J’Onn J’Onnz intends to seek aid from Earth-2 and the Justice Society.
Meanwhile, the Infinitors are growing disquieted over the growing lack of evidence that the ‘fake’ League were planning the insurrection Commander Steel claimed. Fury finds the Commander and Mekanique in a medical bay, carrying out an operation that functions as torture on Hank Jr., the modern day Steel. Fury tries to intervene but is knocked out.
Thanks to Zatanna’s magic, the repaired Transmatter is powered up and takes the League to Earth-2, from where they will return with Hawkman, The Flash, Wonder Woman, Dr Mid-Nite and Dr Fate. Before that, Commander Steel and Mekanique turn on and defeat the rest of Infinity Inc. The Commander rants obsessively about how his generation were forged in War, learning the clear distinction between Right and Wrong, but this generation, not having had that experience, are soft and shallow. The new Justice League let him down by not following his beliefs, but Hank Jr is going to be transformed.
The JSA and the JLA arrive unnoticed in the medical bay to hear this. The JSA attack. Commander Steel runs, shocked at his downfall, leaving the unfathomable Mekanique to defend his back, but runs into the JLA, who have revived Hank Jr and supplied him with his costume. Hank Sr wants to back down, not to fight any more, but Hank Jr wants to fight, to get everything out of his system.
Outside, the Crisis on Infinite Earths is building up to terrible heights. Destruction is approaching. The three teams head outside to help, leaving the two Steels to finish their fight, which Hank Jr wins, brutally, but with tears in his eyes.
* * * * *
That was the last of them. There have been team-ups between League and Society since but as these have all taken place on a unitary Earth where the two teams are heroes of different generations, they do not fall into this category. And even now, after a wait of years to finish this series, it’s still incomplete as the final team-up was a crossover with Infinity Inc., and I do not have that issue nor have I any intention of spending good money on any part of a series that I thought was crap.
So we come in in the middle, and leave without a real ending, everybody rushing off to the overpowering Crisis, which was of greatly more importance than this cliched story about the Generation Gap.
Because that, after all the fuss and bother is stripped away, is all it was. I’ve been critical of Conway who, after his early successes seemed to go to his head, was a very lazy writer, at least in his work on the Justice League. For no apparent reason, Hank Sr develops right-wing tendencies and a grudge against the younger generation, all of which he suddenly forgets when Conway has finished dumping on him: repent, oh repent ye, and don’t bother about plausible characterisation whilst you’re doing it.
Speaking of characterisation, Conway’s Justice League Detroit was a bust from start to finish and showed an astonishing misunderstanding of what DC’s premier team was supposed to be, but it was also rightly criticised in specific for the character of Vibe. Vibe was as obvious as the lights of an oncoming train in a tunnel. He was intended to increase the League’s diversity, be its first Puerto Rican member, which was a laudable ambition, but from the moment it was announced that he would be a break dancer, you knew the point had been lost. Of all the cheap and ignorant cliches that could have been applied to a Puerto Rican, that was the one they’d have all gone for on Family Fortunes.
Just by existing, Vibe was a nightmare – lazy writing personified – but as we’ve seen here, Conway compounded the damage by making him not just ignorant but, in a twisted way, proud of knowing nothing, and suspicious of any attempt to educate him as taking the piss.
On a final note, I bought these team-ups because I loved the Justice Society of America, ever since I first discovered them. Despite many series that have sorely tried my patience I still do, in that ten year old boy’s heart that went out to them. It can’t be denied that a great many of these team-ups, even in the Garner Fox era, demeaned the JSA, more so after 1972, when Len Wein made the team-up into a three-way, squeezing the focus on the world’s oldest superhero team. The originals.
I’m disappointed that there never was a volume 7 of Crisis on Multiple Earths., though if there had been it would have been the weakest volume of the series. At least my take on those tales that, once a year, breached the vibratory barrier for us kids of all ages has finally come to an end.

 

Breaching the Vibrational Barrier: 1984


Justice League of America 231, “Family Crisis”/Justice League of America 232 “Family Crisis – Part 2”. Written by Kurt Busiek, art by Alan Kupperberg, edited by Alan Gold.

An unknown narrator is viewing Earth-1 from another dimension. Someone called The Champion, who is from this Earth, is resisting him, drawing upon images of the Justice League. The narrator reviews the whereabouts of those who are elsewhere, Green Lantern, The Phantom Stranger, The Atom. He draws from them the image of the Satellite but sees the other members leaving it hurriedly to face some battle. Four other figures arrive: Superman, Wonder Woman, Supergirl and The Flash: the last two are not even members.
This quartet has been summoned by The Flash. The jury in his trial for the murder of the Reverse-Flash is assembling, he can’t become Barry Allen, he just needs someone sympathetic to talk to. But their talk is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of three people, strangers, civilians, who need their help.
Their arrival prompts the narrator to attack the JLA but before he can do so, the newcomers teleport the heroes off the satellite, directly to Earth-2, where the Justice Society of America are in battle with a bunch of winged monkeys. They are the narrator’s battle force, diverted here by The Champion. Whilst a policeman explains parallel worlds to a boy spectator and the narrator explains who is who, the battle rages.
Finally the monkeys are pulled to to be replaced by the head of the narrator, a bearded man who demands Earth-2’s absolute surrender. He is known to the three strangers, who argue about whether he’s flipped or not, until they’re interrupted by Superman demanding an explanation. The strangers are brother and sister Ian and Victoria Champion with their red-headed aunt, Meredith. They are the family of theoretical physicist Dr Joshua Champion, who disappeared into thin air three months ago. Earlier today, he appeared to them ethereally, talking wildly of power he’d discovered, that he was sharing with his blood-line, but simultaneously advising them they have to fight back.
Ian’s convinced their Dad is crazy, Victoria believes in him implicitly and Meredith is on the sidelines. But individually or collectively, they seem to be able to trace him with their feelings, though they were diverted to the JLA satellite, then here.
The teams split up, Superman, The Flash, Starman and Dr Mid-Nite to go with Victoria and Meredith in pursuit of Dr Champion, whilst the cynical and alienated Ian stays on Earth-2, wanting nothing more to do with it, whilst Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Dr Fate and the Earth-2 Green Lantern hang back to foil the narrator’s next attack. Which Ian, being flip, identifies as being the Pentagon.
Meanwhile, Superman’s team reaches the only city on the planet they reach, a dome-covered city of seven billion noisy inhabitants. They enter its command post, home to a computer like being known as the Commander, the narrator thus far, who stops them with hallucinations of each person’s dream. Except, of course for Dr Mid-Nite, who is blind, and who saves the day. The heroes discover the unconscious Dr Champion strapped to an operating table and free him, only to find themselves facing the inhabitants of this Earth. With Vicky and Meredith’s powers, they teleport away.
The Commander gloats. On Earth-2 the combined magics of Dr Fate, Green Lantern’s Power Ring and Wonder Woman’s lasso have contained the monstrous attackers. But by transporting away, the other heroes, and the Champion family, have placed themselves under his hypnotic control.
End of Part One

Dr Fate disposes of their eldritch opposition in the nearest pentacle – under the Pentagon – much to the amusement of Supergirl, whilst Ian Champion starts to have doubts about his opposition to the ‘family-unity’ opinions of his kin. Meanwhile, on Earth-1, the Monitor synopsizes the first part for his assistant, Lyla.
Superman’s team returns and immediately attacks, again save for Dr Mid-Nite. The internal struggle of the other three heroes are killing them, accelerated by the resistance of Supergirl and Co, until Dr Mid-Nite throws three Blackout Bombs, one for each. Superman airlifts them out but only into Wonder Woman’s magic lasso, allowing her to order them into complete inertia, to concentrate upon their inner struggle.
But in the meantime, the Commander has taken full control of Dr Champion. Vicky uses her powers to try and retrieve her Dad, but they’re not enough, nor with Meredith added. Only when Ian stops acting like a snotty brat and joins in does it become a fair fight, but even when the five unoccupied heroes add their mental strength it’s going the wrong way until the balance is tipped by the three remaining, recovered heroes.
The Commander is ejected back to his own dimension, never to return… until he takes order the eldritch stuff Dr Fate hid under the Pentagon. This time it’s Dr Champion who has the battle plan, to use his family’s ability to move across dimensions to create a rift through which the superheroes can force him. But the Commander’s resistance is still too great until he is distracted by a return look-see from the Monitor.
Rather than be imprisoned in one reality, the Commander blows himself up. The explosion sends everyone careering helplessly through the Multiverse until they finally slow down near the Crime Syndicate’s Limbo prison, from where Superman steers them home to Earth-1, the four JSAers moving on under their own steam.
And, as school isn’t back until September, the Champions decide to go on a tour of all the dimensions…


The twenty-second and penultimate JLA/JSA team-up took place in the midst of great change, change that diminished the whole event. The two-parter is a fill-in, occupying a two-month bridge between the last Justice League story and the first of the new phase demanded by writer Gerry Conway, the soon-to-be-derided Justice League Detroit.
Conway was unhappy that, in the new DC-has-continuity era, so many of his plots were having to be altered to accommodate what was going on in ‘his’ characters’ own series. Green Lantern is sent into space by the Guardians for one year: not available. The Atom’s turned into a permanent six inch barbarian in the South American jungles: not available. The Flash is out on trial for murder: not available.
So Conway demanded, and got, a Justice League team consisting of characters over which he had complete control. The conditions for this were set up in his last old League story, an invasion from Mars that brought back J’Onn J’Onzz, and picked up on in the forthcoming issue 233 with a new Justice League.
But a JSA team-up was due, and something had to be done. So a junior writer and a semi-cartoonist artist were brought in to create a story that could not have the remotest relation to anything else, without using any of the characters Conway had picked out for his Martian Invasion story. I thought then, and think now, that if you had to farm out the annual team-up to fill-in creators, then it wasn’t worth doing any more. I didn’t know then that was was exactly what DC intended, once the Monitor stopped his endless round of cameos and got serious with Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Given the limited options at hand, Busiek did well to find as many as two actual JLA members, and had to resort to making up the numbers to a quorum by dropping in The Flash – under suspension since his admitted killing of The Reverse-Flash – and Supergirl, not then nor ever a member on account of both Superman and her own ultra-feminist ideals. With only four to play with on the Earth-1 side, Busiek could then only use for JSA members, amongst whom was the near-ubiquitous Dr Fate.
Busiek and Kupperberg’s work is an odd mixture of the simplistic and the overfussy. The would-be conqueror from another dimension was an unbearably trite concept, and both the Commander himself and Dr Russell Champion were standard cut characters, neither of whom were helped by Kupperberg’s cartoonist tendencies. On the other hand, the various stages of the plot were not well served by writer and artist’s tendencies to go into unneeded details. And the idea that Superman, with his x-ray vision, could be conned into flying into Wonder Woman’s magic lasso was a flub of major proportions.
In the end, a lot of the story stood and fell on the Champion family. Vicky, who looked to be aged about 12, was a stock character from a Lone Pine book, the daughter who believes absolutely in her wonderful father. Her brother Ian, who looked to be about 18 in his leather jacket but who was still at school, was the designated spoilt brat, resisting agreeing with his family at any point until he does, and how he could judge distances with his hair permanently brushed over his right eye is anybody’s guess.
Meredith, the Aunt, was given no room to become a person. She was drawn as a nice-looking but far from spectacular redhead whose age was indicated mostly by her knee-length skirt and knee-length boots, and given how old Dr Champion looked, with his luxuriant grey hair and grey beard, even if you made her somewhere around thirty, she had to be at least twenty years younger than her brother. The one panel in which she was given an individual moment suggested she was unmarried, her ambitions small, friends, children, a lover she can rely on.
The odd things was that, both then and now I liked her, and not just for the red hair. She felt more real than most comic book characters, even in the very sketchy outline that was all she was allowed to become.
So, rather than a story in the grand old tradition, this was a story on the outside of tradition. Knowing what comes, it is very much a penultimate effort, of no significance. To the best of my knowledge, none of the Champion family ever appeared again. Then again, when you go off exploring the Multiverse just when it’s going tio cease being a Multiverse at all, perhaps there’s a logical explanation right there.
Nevertheless, with a bit of spit and baling wire, this team-up could have been re-written for the post-Multiverse, single Universe era.

Breaching the Vibrational Barrier: 1983


Justice League of America 219, “Crisis in the Thunderbolt Dimension (Part 1)”/Justice League of America 220 “The Doppelganger Effect”. Written by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway (219) and Roy Thomas (220), art by Chuck Patton (pencils), Romeo Tanghal (inks), edited by Len Wein.

A terrorist attack is foiled by the two Flashes, who have met up early in anticipation of this year’s get together. But as they approach the Justice League teleporter, they are attacked by Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt, silent and malevolent, who defeats them both, but injures the Earth-1 Flash so badly, his counterpart has to rush him to the Space Satellite for treatment.
On the Satellite, the party is in full swing. Power Girl, the Huntress, Starman and Hourman are already there, with Green Lantern, Zatanna, the Elongated Man and Firestorm, the last of whom is having a lousy time because Power Girl is ignoring him. When the Thunderbolt invades the Satellite, Firestorm gets cocky over impressing Kara, but becomes the first to fall as the ‘Bolt blasts the Earth-1 heroes.
For some reason, the Earth-2 characters are left unharmed. This includes JLAers Black Canary and Red Tornado, who were originally from Earth-2 of course. The rest of the Justice League seem to have been similarly attacked, and the Transmatter Device, the JSAers’ way back, has been destroyed.
Suddenly, three crisis centres appear, each attacked by supervillains from Earth-1 and Earth-2, the six members of the Crime Champions in 1963, though not identified as such. The JSAers split into teams to tackle them, but Starman takes Black Canary in pursuit of the ‘Bolt, into the Thunderbolt Dimension, where he waits for Johnny Thunder to call him.
On arrival, they are attacked and defeated by the ‘Bolt, under the command of Johnny Thunder, but this is the Earth-1 Thunder, from the 1965 team-up, now wearing a green costume with yellow lightning flashes. He is alone in this Dimension except for two dead bodies, preserved in a crystal case. They are Larry Lance and Black Canary.
End of Part One

The JSAers are about to divide the three missions between them when they are joined by Sargon the Sorceror, another Earth-2 born character who has moved to Earth-1: he joins Power Girl on her mission.
In the Thunderbolt Dimension, the boastful Thunder reveals he has Johnny captive but that Larry and the Canary were here when he arrived. Between them, the living Canary and the ‘Bolt relate the history of Dinah’s relationship with Johnny, and the circumstances of her replacing him in the Justice Society. This leads to the revelation that Larry and Dinah had a baby girl, who they named Dinah, and that baby Dinah was cursed by the Wizard with a sonic power, a ‘Canary Cry’, that so young a child could not control.
For everyone’s protection, baby Dinah was taken away, placed in the Thunderbolt Dimension to sleep and grow harmlessly. Then, off his own bat, the ‘Bolt caused everybody’s to remember the baby as having died.
Meanwhile, Flash and Hourman tackle Chronos and The Fiddler, Red Tornado and Huntress face off against The Icicle and Dr Alchemy, and Power Girl and Sargon battle The Wizard and Felix Faust. Despite squabbling amongst each other about who’s to be the leader, the villains defeat their opposition pairings.
However, Johnny has finally worked his gag free, and even as the ‘Bolt struggles to resist an order to kill Starman and Black Canary, Johnny sneaks up on Thunder and socks him. After that, the ‘Bolt cures the stricken Leaguers, who turn up at the villains’ sites to defeat them and free the JSAers.
That still leaves the mystery of the dead Black Canary, but Superman and The Spectre turn up to give Dinah the final revelation. As Superman was bearing Dinah Sr. away, she developed severe pains, a delayed reaction to the radiation that killed Larry. Wishing only to see her daughter’s grave in her final moment, Dinah Sr. found Dinah Jr. still alive and grown into the spitting image of her.
Wishing Dinah Jr. to have a life, Dinah Sr. had her memories transferred into her daughter (except for her memory of her daughter, and the full extent of her love for Larry), just before dying. And so Dinah Jr. finally knows her true history, and why she so quickly fell for Green Arrow.


It’s years since I broke off this series, unable to progress until the Graphic Novel Crisis on Multiple Earths Vol. 7 was published, but it never was. Only now, thanks to the purchase of a comprehensive JLA DVD-rom do I have the means to complete this series.
The twentieth anniversary team-up was the work of Roy Thomas, with regular JLA scripter and close friend Gerry Conway as co-writer on the first half, and using an idea proposed by New Teen Titans writer Marv Wolfman. The result is almost stereotypical Thomas work, being full of nostalgic elements and leading to a major continuity implant, or retcon as they had by then become to be known. You know that had to be Thomas’s main, if not only concern in the story.
Wolfman had addressed himself to the anomalous position of Black Canary, who had transferred from the Justice Society to the Justice League in 1969. At that time, the JSA were still heroes who had been active in the Forties and who had come out of a dozen years retirement in 1963. A year later, Denny O’Neill introduced the twenty year discrepancy theory, but in 1976, Paul Levitz firmly and permanently anchored the JSA to the Forties.
Black Canary was the last JSA member, first appearing in 1948, but even the most generous interpretation of her age would make her about 53 in 1983: a clearly untenable situation when set against her Peter Pan colleagues in the League, and especially her boyfriend, Green Arrow.
Wolfman’s idea was to make Black Canary into two people, mother (JSA) and daughter (JLA), by revealing that the Black Canary who arrived on Earth-1 possessed of her ‘Canary Cry’ was in fact the hitherto unrevealed daughter of the original Canary, cursed with said sonic powers as a baby and confined to limbo in the Thunderbolt’s Dimension ever since, forgotten by all. The dying elder Dinah wants her daughter to have the chance to live so has her memories implanted in the experience-less younger Dinah.
It’s a clever-convoluted solution with a simple understructure to it, and Wolfman could have made a decent story of it, but Thomas ruins it with over-elaboration. The rest of the story, including the return of the Earth-1 Johnny Thunder from the 1965 team-up, and the Crime Champions sextet from the 1963 original, is just overkill, designed to create a MacGuffin for the Black Canary revelation.
What is, in outline, a straightforward action story, capable of being fast-paced and lively, is instead stodgy and dull because of the sheer number of old comics Thomas references throughout this two-parter. There’s eleven of them, and nearly twice as many in the exposition-heavy second part, each one of them a stumbling block to the course of events.
And unbelievably, Thomas doesn’t even reference the Crime Champions as first being gathered in the 1963 team-up, which is the only continuity element that is strictly relevant. Nor does he telegraph the Starman/Black Canary partnership as having appeared in two issues of Brave & Bold.
With Crisis on Infinite Earths in development, this story would not last long. The mother-daughter aspect would be retained once Dinah and Dinah represented different generations rather than different worlds, but in a much more rational and natural fashion.
Otherwise, it’s noticeable that Thomas goes for a much nastier overall approach from the villains. Where once the Crime Champions were all doing each other a good turn, now they’re trying to outdo each other and being aggressive with it, whilst the Earth-1 Thunder may be smarter but he’s nastier with it (and his green with yellow flashes costume is idiotic), having now managed to overcome the Thunderbolt’s tabu against killing. Beastly stuff.
Frankly, the story clunks at every turn, mainly due to Thomas’s desire to tie everything into an old comic, but also because he simply cannot write simple any more, insisting on filling up every panel with unnecessary verbiage, bogging things down.
There may have been two more team-ups to come, but this is the last one to feature the ‘real’ Justice League, and it’s a poor one to go out on.
Needless to say, and thankfully so, this is not a story that could have been told in the post-Crisis Universe.

All-Flash & All Green Lantern: Part 1 – The Golden Age Flash


My first realisation that it was possible to get complete runs of Golden Age comics without starving for several years was with Flash Comics, starring Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash, and many others. The ice having been broken, I went looking for, and found, a similar DVD of All-American Comics, starring Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern, and many others. My only disappointment was that these collections didn’t contain the solo issues of each hero in their own titles. It was quite clear that certain of the heroes’ renowned villains only appeared in the solo series. That left a considerable gap as far as I was concerned.
Not any more. I now have, and am going to write about, those very solo titles. So come back with me again to the early days of the Golden Age, starting first of all in Keystone City, with a look at All-Flash Quarterly.
The series started as a quarterly, in keeping with the existing two solo books, over at Detective Comics, Inc., Superman and Batman. A 64 page comic, four Flash stories, all by Jay Garrick’s team from Flash Comics, Gardner Fox and E.E Hibbard, who were introduced with their pictures in AFQ 1. Nothing out of the ordinary, just because this was Jay’s solo vehicle: a two-page recap of his origin, the one where the fumes he inhaled sped up his reflexes and everyone seemed to know Garrick had superspeed yet made no connection with The Flash.
And Joan Williams, ‘lifelong friend’, in on the secret from the start, forever trailing in Jay’s wake, determined to be in on the action but never fast enough to catch up. Oh, it’s goofy enough stuff, raw and energetic and stupid in places but with an overpowering eagerness to please and a relish in the fun of superpowers. The only moment of true note in issue 1 was the debut of the Monocle, a crook who got his name not from what he could use his monocle for, lasers or hypnotics, but simply because he wore one!
But there was a genuine upgrade in issue 2, in the form of a full-length novel, a single story – in four chapters, of course – a story starting years before the Flash existed, featuring a convicted crook swearing revenge on the DA who got him sent down, kidnapping his baby son and raising him as his own, to kill the boy’s real father, whilst the crook became an international mastermind as The Threat. At each turn, the Flash foiled the Threat’s plans until, with the truth coming out, the Threat committed suicide by poison, leaving the deluded Roy Revenge to serve his time and then marry Ann, his sister (not in the blood, they weren’t relations physically but they’d been brought up as brother and sister for twenty-five years so, yeah, icky).
There was another book-lengther in issue 3, using the same four chapter formula to give the story regular lifts but I was most interested in an offhand comment, early on, about why nobody can see that Jay Garrick is The Flash. The idea first surfaced in the Sixties, sounding like the archetypal ex post facto rationalisation, namely that Jay was always vibrating his face lightly so that nobody saw anything but a blur. But that explanation did date from 1941, though instead of vibration of molecules, which only came in with Barry Allen, it was Garrick constantly moving faster than anyone could see.
I don’t (yet) know if any of the other Quarterlies took advantage of their vast amounts of space to tell such long stories, but they were certainly a great way to use a solo title. Sheldon Mayer, All-Flash editor certainly thought so.
And Mayer was on to something right, for issue 5 was the last Quarterly, the series going bi-monthly with the following issue and becoming simply All-Flash. However, he gets a black mark from me for introducing the infamous Winky, Blinky and Noddy, stupid hands at a racing stables but en route to such an unlimited range of stupidity. They’re underdeveloped on their debut, but not enough to be dropped.
It seemed that Mayer wasn’t sure of the direction the series should be taking for in issue 6 he set up a Poll: did the readers want more book-lengthers, did they prefer individual stories and did they want more Winky, Blinky and Noddy (short answer, A and C, oi vey).

Winky,Blinky and Noddy

At least issue 7 was prepared before the poll results were in so we escaped the Three Dimwits. In fact the story was a hoot, as Joan gets taken in by a pretentious crime/horror writer who sets up a set-up murder weekend with actor friends to scare Jay Garrick, only for one real-life gang and one revengeful killer to intervene after Jay had sussed things out. It didn’t make a bit of sense but it moved with lunatic energy and even when Joan was being her silliest, there was a tangible affection between the pair.
Of course, that meant we had to put up with the Nitwits, still nominally criminals, in a silly but touching story that dragged everyone into Fairyland for a tale that helped a blind boy survive an operation that gave him his sight. Meanwhile, however, the kids had spoken. It seemed that they wanted book-length stories AND they wanted individual stories. (They also wanted the Dimwits). So the unique, ingenious, never-tried-in-the-annals-of-comic-history solution unveiled in issue 9 was… two 32-page stories. Both with the trio.
The outcome was awful. In some psychological manner, two stories with the comedy relief threesome appeared to stretch out even longer than a single story of the same page total, though the absence of Joan Williams from one of these might have something to do with it. I’m starting to question the wisdom of going this deep into The Flash’s career.
But then again I can forgive much for issue 10, a freewheeling, pinballing, goofy story about a cat that could grant wishes by magic, but which was deliciously told by Gardner Fox in a perfect Damon Runyan pastiche style. And I love Damon Runyan.
That though was a mere interlude before a truly awful story about duplicates of Jay, Joan and the Dimwits arriving from another planet. The story made no sense, throwing in indiscriminate twist after indiscriminate twist at a rate of about two a page and, whilst still credited to Hibbard, was clearly drawn by a much more cartoony artist, setting a seal on the nonsense.
By now, America had been at war for over eighteen months, and paper rationing was starting to bite. With issue 12, All-Flash reverted to a quarterly status, but Hibbard was bad and a much better story introduced the flash’s old-time foe The Thinker, aka former DA Clifford Devoe, who turned his keen intelligence to crime, plotting watertight jobs.

Enter the Thinker

Now the idea of a solo series was that it should be a solo series, so it was some surprise to see All-Flash picking up that much-derided series, The King, in issue 13. The master of disguise and his persistently crooked enemy the beautiful the Witch, who he keeps foiling only to set her free on the last page to scheme again, may be silly beyond belief, but I still enjoy it better than many a more well-respected Golden Age series.
The King interrupted the latest story, slipping in between chapters 3 and 4 of an intriguing tale in which, for once, the Three Dimwits weren’t completely irritated. Jay Garrick retired as the Flash after a crook slipped an article into a magazine accusing him of being a menace. Winky, Blinky and Noddy joined Joan in trying to get Jay to reconsider, including coming up with two more mystery men, Muscleman and The Djinn, to complicate the picture further.
But despite the ‘appears in every issue of…’ blurb, The King’s appearance was a one-off. Issue 14, again presented two novelettes. Deuces Wilde was back to pepper one with his Runyanesque dialogue – did I say I love Damon Runyan? – as The Flash’s efforts to take Joan to a movie keep being put back whilst he breaks up crimes, but it was the front of house story that stood out. Once more we have a prefiguration of meta-fiction (were these metafactionalists reading the same comics I’m catching up on?) as the Three Dimwits break into a deserted All-American Publications office, find the pages for All-Flash 14 and edit them in their own manner. Thank god it didn’t last the whole book because it’s exhausting enough at half-length, with people slipping in and out of panel borders – Doiby Dickles attempts to interfere at one point until hauled back by Green Lantern because he’s in the wrong comic – and self-awareness, placing ads and getting answers inside two pages, you name it, it’s got it. And the Thinker back as the villain.

Cover by Martin Naydel

By now, paper-rationing had gone a coupler of steps further. All-Flash was now down to 48 pages, so when it was decided to present individual stories in issue 15, there were only three. The real story was that, despite E E Hibbard being billed on all three stories, each of them was drawn by Martin Naydel, and if you think he was bad on the Flash in All-Star, he’s an offence to the eyes here.
Hibbard was back immediately, albeit for a book-length story that was curiously flat, or not so curiously since it had the Three Dimwits as lawyers, but issue 17 was once again all-Naydel. In a way I feel sorry for the guy: he was a perfectly good cartoonist, especially on funny animals, but asking him to draw an action tale is pure cruelty. He cannot draw a semi-realistic human bing, let alone convince anyone that a character is in motion. His Jay/Flash and Joan have no necks, their shoulders level with their ears, their mouths are open permanently and his Flash is so bulky in his upper torso, with the shoulders of a steroid-using wrestler that you cannot imagine him being able to run at all. Everybody is continually standing at an angle with one shoulder six inches higher than the other and looking deformed. And that’s before we get on to his panel compositions, which are ugly, confusing and littered with figures and objects at odd angles to one another. Reading thirty-plus pages of this hurts the eyes and it’s impossible to take a moment of the stories at all seriously. It’s just plain awful.
Suddenly, the pleasure, and to be honest the interest, is sucked out of reading All-Flash. All I can say about the next issue was that no. 18 was the first to bear the AA symbol as Charlie Gaines’ eruption against Messrs Donenfeld and Leibowitz struck. But nothing could excuse describing the Three Dimwits as ‘those gay goons of giddiness’. Sheesh!
By issue 21, Charlie Gaines was gone, All-American Publications were gone, Superman-DC 10c was back and Martin Naydel… was still there. At least the issues are quicker to read if your eyeballs insist on not resting on any of the panels. The issue also introduced The Turtle, the world’s slowest man, though he looked like no Turtle ever drawn in the Silver Age or after.
With the War over, All-Flash was allowed to resume bi-monthly publication with issue 22. Gardner Fox slipped in another Deuces Wilde tale the following issue, still with that wonderful Damon Runyan patter, but his time was running out as well. His name disappeared from the masthead after issue 22, though he continued to write The Flash for two more issues but, just as with All-Star, Fox was out, and the remainder of the series would be written by John Broome and Robert Kanigher. I wonder if the two are connected…
If it was for the same reason, the first Fox-less issue didn’t bear it out, the first story being about Joan’s jitterbugging cousin, Ally Gates, coming to town to compete in a jitterbugging contest and pressing her as his new partner. Jay and The Flash want nothing of it – Jay’s only interested in classical music, which is a bit square even for then – but ends up winning the contest through his actions mopping up a gang trying to rob the takings.
Nor were the other two stories anything to shout about, though the formula is very clear now: three stories with Winky, Blinky and Noddy in only the middle one. But all three are still being drawn by Naydel, who does not improve one bit the more you see of him.
Of course, the moment I identify the formula it’s switched in issue 26 to have the Dimwits who, incidentally, have started to act more aggressively towards one another, rather like the Three Stooges, it’s switched so they appear in all stories except the middle one. Cotton-Top Katie makes an appearance biut the most significant aspect is an ad for All-Star 32, Fox’s penultimate JSA story, thus showing that his defenestration from the Flash came first.

Joan the Jitterbug (nice legs)

Things looked up a tad for issue 27, with the first story seeing a return visit for the Thinker, and even though the Dmwits appeared in both the other stories, this was as a two-pater narrated by Deuces Wilde, to whom I am always partial more than somewhat. This time, something called Gangplank Gus rounded things out, but it is not such a thing as I wish to see more of.
Rockhead McWizard, the Stone Age genius stunk out issue 28, but once more the end of the run was drawing close. Suddenly, the Flash was constantly being knocked out by things falling on him or by being shot with bullets that his his helmet, nowhere else. Indeed, both happened in the Dimwits story in issue 29. Of happier moment was the replacement of Naydel for the cover and first story… by Carmine Infantino. It looked so good.
I’d swear it was Infantino, but I may be wrong. All three stories in issue 30 were drawn, and signed by Lee Elias (and no Dimwits in sight!). We’ve also reached the time when stories were being tagged as to the issue they’re intended to occupy. So the putative Infantino story was marked FL85, and two of Elias’s FL92.
But this was the late Forties, and as we’ve seen so many times already, the audience had turned its back on superheroes. All-Flash 32 was to be the last issue. It was cover-dated December-January, leading most retrospectives to date the series’ end to 1948, but it would have come out at least two months more, at any rate still well within 1947.
It introduced the Fiddler for his only Golden Age story. The Shade had one, in Flash Comics, the Thinker three in All-Flash. Never until now did I realise that Jay Garrick’s old enemies, there to plague him and Barry Allen in the legendary ‘Flash of Two Worlds’, that I read so early on as a reprint in The Flash Annual 1, had a grand total of five appearances between them.
I knew the Fiddler story of old, from a Seventies reprint in one of DC’s Dollar titles, and that’s where the version on the DVD comes from, albeit with a page missing. Amazingly, this final issue introduced a second longer-term villain, in the original Star-Sapphire, no relation to the Carol Ferris Green Lantern version in the Sixties. It re-introduced the beautiful lady-scientist Dr Flura, who’d shared an adventure with The Flash in All-Flash 30, visiting a ‘Secret City’ that got a continuity following mention herein.
But that was it. Flash Comics would survive into 1949, and Jay Garrick to the very end of 1950, but Jay Garrick’s solo title ended here. He was the first hero with a solo title after Superman and Batman, who endure to this day, over a thousand issues later, and he was the first hero to have his series cancelled.
Looked at in general, All-Flash was disfigured very early on by the presence of Winky Boylan, Blinky Moylan and Noddy Toylan, once again demonstrating that comicbook histories that suggest the comedy relief sidekick was a post-War phenomenon, propping up declining series have it arse about face. It was truly disfigured from issues 15 to 29 by replacing E.E. Hibbard by Martin Naydel, but showed signs of a real revival when Lee Elias took over and the Three Dimwits took a powder: not necessarily too little but certainly too late.
So that was All-Flash. Let’s take a break and in the second part we’ll look at the comic that was all Green Lantern.

Happy Birthday…


Not many people know this but today, 4th June, is an anniversary.

DC Comics have been going around lately celebrating certain character’s 80th Anniversaries but I bet they haven’t even thought of this one. Then again, it’s not exactly a memorable number of years, since it’s only the 59th.

People, I refer you to the legendary, seminal, invaluable The Flash 123, the classic story “Flash of Two Worlds”.

Many of you will already be ahead of me, but for the others: Barry Allen, aka The Flash, puts on a show of superspeed stunts to entertain the children of the Central City Orphanage. He ends the show with his version of the Indian Rope-trick which causes him to vanish and reappear outside of town. and town is different when he gets back.

That’s because Barry Allen has become the first person to penetrate the vibrational barrier and find himself in another, parallel world. One in which he is in Keystone City, one in which the Flash is the retired hero Jay Garrick, whose adventures filled Flash Comics and All-Flash throughout the 1940s.

He has landed upon what will become known as Earth-2. The Multiverse is born, and the number of stories that derive from this one moment is incalculable.

What leads me to say that today is the Multiverse’s 59th birthday? Go to your copy of “Flash of Two Worlds” and turn to the panel where Barry-Flash, fearing he’s dropped through a timewarp, stops off at a newstand to check the date of the paper. Its the Keystone City Herald, not the Central City Picture-News, the moment at which Barry realises he’s in a parallel world.

And look at the date of the newspaper: 4th June 1961.

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you…

Heroes in Crisis 8


This, as the Stone Roses once memorably put it, is the One. The Revelation. The scene in the Library without the Library and without the villain being amongst the listeners because, to reference Agatha Christie for a moment longer, this is the Roger Ackroyd moment. The narrator dunnit. And, as has been forecast with increasing confidence over the past few months, the Sanctuary Killer is Wally West.

I don’t like it. That has nothing to do with critical responses and everything to do with Wally being my Flash, the one I used to buy, month-in, month-out, during Mark Waid’s tenure, with and without Brian Augustyn. I can’t like Wally West as the madman killer, nor the cold, calculating plotter, nor the suicide he already is in a time paradox that undermines the credibility of the time paradox.

I’ve never liked Heroes in Crisis. To me, it hasn’t for one moment or one panel lived up to the potential I imagined for it when first I learned of the series. Wally’s soliloquy here, taking up the entire issue, explaining every twist and turn, detail and deliberation, also undermines the entire concept of Sanctuary in the first place. It failed on Wally, and by extension, when you remember all those hero’s concerns, expressed in dozens of Watchmen pages, it failed all of them. All we ever saw were deep-rooted traumas, traumas specific to the conditions of a superhero universe, but we never saw any cures. We saw problems but not solutions. These were problems that had no solutions, but we didn’t even see healings, neither permanent nor sticking plaster.

The story is that wally has been committed to Sanctuary because he’s failing to cope with the simultaneous issue of having lost the woman who meant everything to him and the children they had together, in short everything that made his life what he wanted it to be, and being seen as the symbol of Hope, since it was his re-emergence three years ago, in DC Universe Rebirth that kick-started DC’s current phase (the one that will never end because it will all be explained in Doomsday Clock and that will never finish).

Wally comes to the delusion that Sanctuary has been set up for him alone, that nobody else is undergoing pain equivalent to him but that they’re saying so to humour him. So if all the data is being destroyed by being broken down into billions of scattered bytes, the Fastest Man Alive can re-assemble them in seconds. And seeing everybody else’s traumas broke Wally mentally, set off alarms and caused him to lose control of the Speed Force momentarily, killing everyone at Sanctuary, except Booster Gold and Harley Quinn, because they were a bit slow coming outside (seriously?)

So far, so disappointing. A man suffering from PTSD goes crazy and becomes a mass-murderer? Lovely message, so positive and life-affirming, people suffering from any kind of mental health issue will empathise immediately. I know I do (no, I’m lying). But it’s the aftermath that drops a leaden weight onto the scales and sends the pan for Absolute Fucking Disaster crashing to the ground, because Wally West, the bright spark, the kid who did it all, the sidekick who grew up to become the man himself, who’s just caused deaths in a second of lost control… starts plotting a superspeed cover-up that puts the frame on two completely innocent people, not to mention re-programmes the entire place, re-sites ALL the bodies and creates all manner of clues, red herrings and mindfucks just to fool his CSI Uncle and The Batman. No. Not in a million years can this be accepted. Not just because it’s Wally West and I have a soft spot for him. Not just because there isn’t a hair of continuity between any version of Wally West that ever existed before and who the hell this person is, and not even because it’s a kick in the face for all the readers who bought into Wally’s return at the beginning of Rebirth. Because it’s bullshit. Because it’s crude. Because it’s lame.

And it falls apart. You see, Wally, this Wally who’s been relating this confession, has also gone into the future, by five days, and found his five days in the future self, all to buy himself the time to do something good to make up for this doing bad. Wally-Now catches up with Wally +5, in the company of some green-skinned woman I can’t recognise, and after Wally +5 gives him the last piece, the rose in the river, Wally-Now kills him, by strangling him. Kills himself. Suicide. So Wally’s now dead for real.

Or is he? I’ve already read one theory that everything, the whole story, is actually a fantastically sophisticated VR construct by Sanctuary, curing Wally. It’s elegant, I grant you, and there is still one issue to go, and go it shall, but from this point, any attempt to undercut this, to explain it away as a Hoax, a Dream or an Imaginary Story, will be twice as hollow as this episode.

But there were rumours in 2018, before Heroes in Crisis first appeared, that Brian Azzarello would be launching a new Suicide Squad series, with Wally West as a lead character, not that anything has been confirmed. Other rumours current at the same time have come to fruition, not that that proves anything.

It doesn’t really matter. To be honest, no matter how Emerald Twilight this gets, I have never been able to believe in the story, and once the final issue is out and I’ve said about that what demands to be said about it, not only will I be selling theseries on eBay, as I’ve threatened, but I will be deleting it from my personal version of DC Universe Continuity. Should Never Have Happened will become simply Never Happened, as far as I’m concerned.