I went to the cinema this afternoon to see Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn) expecting to come back and write one of my ‘Uncollected Thoughts’ about it. But I won’t. Don’t go to this film expecting a stiory because it deliberately rejects the idea of story, preferring to racket around in explosions and slow-motion violence that is colourful and cartoony Two of its pricipal five characters bear little or no resemblance to their comic book originals and the film drops a considerable number of F-Bombs and MotherF-Bombs (there’s one of the latter on the soundtrack). Sure, it’s vigorous, and you can liberally scatter the Z-word all over it (zany, you numbskulls) and a lot of people will enjoy its complete rejection of conventional story-telling. I’m not telling you too not go to see it, just to not blame me if you do.
Be warned: this is the seriously geeky bit.
One thing I intended to do when I began this latest series on the Justice Society of America was to look at the changing patterns of which members were used or ignored, and to try to draw any relevant inferences from that.
That aim got speedily lost in the analysis of the varying approaches to the stories themselves, and if I had maintained the kind of strict record I’d originally planned, that would have stood out as awkward and irrelevant.
Instead I’m going to bring that in as a separate essay, about which I’m going to warn you in advance that this is for the fanatics and those interested only in fascinating trivia, so read no further if that’s not your bag (genuine Sixties talk, maaaan!)
I’ve compiled for myself a table covering the twenty-three team-ups, and plotting who appeared when. Before I go on to discuss the results, I should make the qualification criteria plain. The table relates only to active appearances in a story, and not to cameo roles. Thus, in the later years, under Gerry Conway, where the meetings of the two teams became pre-planned social affairs,there are multiple instances of JSA members turning up for these get-togethers, but not actually getting in on the action. These are discounted.
A further example in Fox’s last story in 1968 where, at the end of the first part, virtually the whole of the Society turns up to the crisis of four members having ‘died’, but are ‘killed’ themselves within little more than a page: I have only included those members who featured throughout the issue. And again in 1970, there is a mass meeting of virtually every existing member, but I have only counted those who had an active role, of some kind.
So, what do the statistics tell us? For a start, we’re talking about a total of twenty-two JSAers: seventeen from the Golden Age, and five later additions, none of whom were available from the start. Of the Golden Agers, five became unavailable, either by death or by transferring to the Justice League, leaving twelve characters theoretically capable of appearing in all twenty-three stories. Statistics for the other ten have to be re-interpreted accordingly.
Most popular is of course Doctor Fate, the master magician, with fifteen appearances. Fate maintained a 100% record through the first four years of the feature, one of only two characters to appear in four successive meetings. Apart from an uncharacteristic ‘holiday’ from 1974-76, Fate was never excluded for more than a single year.
Only three other characters made ten or more appearances. Surprisingly, given his general lack of impetus, The Flash was second favourite with twelve appearances, and never absent for more than two years. Green Lantern, the only other character to appear in four consecutive adventures, follows with eleven appearances overall. It’s intriguing to note that his four year record (1969 to 1972) was both preceded and succeeded by three year absences.
The only other double figure participant, with a round ten shots, was Wonder Woman, who didn’t even appear for the first four years. With a better track record than her Justice League counterpart, the original WW was of course for many years the Society’s only female member, which underlies the frequency of her appeal.
Unsurprisingly, this quartet were consistently used, and each one appeared in one or other (or both) of the last two stories.
Behind them comes a group of four members with nine appearances each: Hawkman, Hourman, Starman and Dr Mid-Nite. Their stats are very interesting, as each character shows a smattering of semi-regular appearances, broken by a long period spent virtually in the cold.
Tradition did little to support Hawkman, formerly the permanent Chairman of the JSA, and the only member to appear in every Golden Age adventure. Hawkman started well, with four appearances in the first five stories, but then fell dramatically out of favour, with only one appearance in the next nine years.
Of course, when the JSA returned from limbo, Hawkman was one of four members who had been revived under Julius Schwartz. But where the new Flash and Green Lantern had been great successes, Hawkman and The Atom always struggled commercially, and given that the Golden Age Hawkman’s costume was virtually identical to his latter-day counterpart, I suspect he was kept off the scene so as not to divide the reader’s concentration. Certainly, he only returned to any kind of prominence once the Society had been restored in All-Star Comics.
Hourman, who had only appeared in the first five JSA stories, proved surprisingly popular at first. After featuring in the first team-up, he was not seen for three years, but then returned to make six appearances in eight years. Suddenly, however, he dropped out of favour, almost terminally, spending five years in limbo and appearing only twice over the last eleven years of the feature.
Starman and Dr Mid-Nite made their JSA debuts in the same issue, and were revived in the same story. There seems to have been a subconscious linking of the pair, since they appeared together five times in all over their nine shows. Both were reasonably frequent in the early days, before going AWOL, with the Doc getting only one story between 1972 and 1982 inclusive – odd, given that he was a major part of the All-Star revival – and Starman one shot between 1973 and 1981 inclusive.
Starman even gets name-checked in 1982 as having come back out of retirement: presumably based on the comment in All-Star that he was laid-up with a broken leg. Time may have run slower on Earth-2 for some of that period, but that length of recovery period is ridiculous!
That leaves nine Golden Age JSAers with serious attendance problems. Johnny Thunder does surprisingly well with six, mostly widely-spaced appearances, one more than Superman, who wasn’t even included until the seventh team-up, appeared four times in five years, then vanished after 1973, with only one show in the last twelve adventures.
The Earth-2 Batman is a case on his own. He’s the last Golden Age member to appear, in 1976, fourteen years on, and that’s his only active adventure. By a bizarre symmetry, his Silver Age career exactly mirrors his Golden Age participation: one adventure preceded by one cameo. Of course, two years later he was killed off, ending any chance of further stories. But it’s plain to see that DC did not want this version of the character around, unless he was being used in very occasional flashback stories.
Black Canary is a completely different kettle of fish. Though she takes part in only five adventures, this is out of the only seven for which she was qualified, before being poached for the Justice League. And indeed she appeared in many more team-ups, but these do not count as she was playing for the other side. I think we can be sure that if not for this, the Canary would be well up there in the top group: she was the Society’s ‘token’ female member after all.
Like Starman and Dr Mid-Nite, Mr Terrific and Wildcat are similarly bound together by their simultaneous debut, and it’s unsurprising that both should have made four appearances, twice appearing in the same story. Neither had made it in the Forties, due to their lack of overall popularity (or powers) and it was the same story now. Terrific was, of course, killed off in 1977 and though Wildcat’s popularity has gone on to increase exponentially, most of this development occurred post-Crisis: here, the Big Cat was not seen after 1975.
Then there’s the Spectre. The problem with the Spectre was that, by the time he was brought into his first team-up, the Julius Schwartz/Gardner Fox/Murphy Anderson revival of the character had re-purposed him as a being of almost infinite power, far stronger than all the Society and the League added together. As such, it was all but impossible to use him in a story without bending it out of shape. He worked well in the 1966 story, thanks to its (eventual) cosmic scope, but Spec’s situation was at right angles to everyone else, and when he was used again in 1970, it was as simultaneous deus ex machina and sacrifice, being ‘killed off’.
His only other appearance, as an even more bizarre ‘god in the machine’, came at a time when, like Black Canary, he had gone Earth-1, and simply further demonstrated how impossible it was to use him.
Which leave us with the two remaining founder members, the Atom and the Sandman. Now I mentioned in earlier essays that Wesley Dodds was clearly a favourite of Len Wein, who used him in all three of his stories, but it’s not until you look at the statistics that it becomes evident just how much of an anomaly this is. Sandman reappeared, ‘late’, in 1966. Wein was the only other writer to use him, and after that, Sandman was never seen again: not since 1974.
But it was the case of the Earth-2 Atom that surprised me the most, for he, like The Spectre, appeared in only three team-ups, in 1963, 1965 and 1971. It’s true that the Atom, in the Forties, was never an outstanding character: his creators could barely draw, the writing was juvenile, he was never inspiring, and his Silver Age counterpart was, like Hawkman, struggling for sales, but the Golden Age Atom had racked up more All-Star appearances than anyone except Hawkman, and he was radically different, powers and costume-wise, to Ray Palmer, so why was he abandoned so very far back, not even granted the occasional nostalgic outing?
I don’t know the answer, but I think that the fact I never noticed his absence until creating this table may underline the impact the bigger Tiny Titan had on the Silver Age readership.
Lastly then, for this section, we have the latecomers. Robin and the Red Tornado were added in successive team-ups by Gardner Fox, and going on to make five and four appearances respectively. The Tornado missed only one of the five adventures for which he was eligible so, like Black Canary, we can assume that figure would have gone up if he hadn’t been transferred to the JLA. Then again, he wasn’t heavily featured on the League’s side in later years, so perhaps that’s an unwarranted assumption.
Robin, however, just doesn’t seem to have taken, not even after he appeared in the All-Star revival. After the big fuss of him being the JSA’s first new member in almost two decades, he immediately disappears for four years, and after teaming up with his Batman in 1976, he was forgotten completely. Here I think the reason is simple: the character’s real name is …and Robin. Remember that it took giving Dick Grayson a brand-new identity on Earth-1 to even begin to remove him from Batman’s shadow. Robin is a subordinate character, by nature not as good as Batman.
The Star-Spangled Kid was also an intrinsic part of the All-Star revival, though he was handicapped by being portrayed as a whiny, self-entitled brat. He was eligible for two team-ups and appeared in one, putting him level with Batman. Then, just as the JSA forgot him, so did the team-ups.
Which leaves us with the Earth-2 Supergirl and Batgirl, Power Girl and the Huntress. These were a fascinating pair with a very relaxed and natural affinity and it’s perhaps my most serious regret about Crisis on Infinite Earths that it destroyed this pair, by making them impossible to exist as they were. Both made five appearances, four of them together, between 1977 and 1983, and would undoubtedly have been mainstays for years had things turned out otherwise.
Way back in 1963, in their first meeting since the Golden Age, Doctor Fate announced on behalf of the Justice Society that their revised by-laws stipulated a rotating membership of seven. Which, as I observed much earlier, was abandoned as early as the second team-up.
Looking at the rosters, that magical number of seven was only reached on three more occasions, the last of these in 1979 (ironically, the extra number was made up by Mr Terrific deceased). On three occasions, the Justice Society turned out more members for the team-ups (these three rosters occurring in a four year period from 1968 – 1972), which means that over two-thirds of the time, the JSA failed to reach its stipulated quorum.
Bearing in mind that, throughout the period these team-ups cover, the Justice Society had fifteen to seventeen members to call upon, and that, with the exception of the period from 1976 – 1979, they had no other outlet, it seems to fly in the face of the spirit of these meetings that the heroes of the Golden Age should be seen in limited numbers.
This is partly explained by the fact that, from 1972 onwards, the annual team-up involved some third force, making demands upon valuable space and attention, but this only emphasises the growing unimportance of this tradition as time went by.
The Society’s biggest line-up appeared, unsurprisingly, in Len Wein’s tenth anniversary spectacular, when twelve of the available seventeen were in on the action, but it’s interesting to note that the other two occasions when an extended line-up was in play were Denny O’Neill’s two efforts, in 1969 and 1970, and this in spite of O’Neill’s obvious discomfort with cosmic stories. O’Neill used eight JSAers in 1969. The following year is a confusing story, as every JSA member except the recently inducted Robin appears at JSA HQ in the first half, including the previously unseen Earth-2 Batman, but by my measure of only accepting those who play some active part in this, I count an active line-up totalling ten.
At the opposite extreme, the Society’s lowest representation was three members, ironically in 1973, the year after their largest roster. This was Len Wein’s Earth-X story, with six ‘new’ heroes to introduce and form the centre of the story. If, after handling 33 heroes the previous year, Wein felt the need for a much-less cluttered story, it’s hard not to be sympathetic.
In general, however, the Justice Society would bring four to six members to each meeting, although as the years wound on, even a sextet was too many.
Returning to that first line-up, I commented that the Society’s ‘lot’ selected six of the eight founding members, plus Black Canary, who had never worked with Dr Fate or Hourman before. Before she left for Earth-1, the Canary did get the chance to work with not only the two other founders, Sandman and The Spectre, but also Wildcat. Discounting Superman and Batman as honorary members only, the only JSAers the Canary didn’t work alongside were Wonder Woman and Mr Terrific.
And given that, between them, founder members The Atom, Sandman and Spectre mustered only ten appearances in total, it’s not surprising that this was the highest concentration of founders in the series.
At the opposite extreme, in recognition of the importance of the founding eight (ok, of five of them), or at least their greater popularity, there was only one adventure not to feature any founding members at all, Gerry Conway’s first effort in 1978, involving the heroes of the past, Indeed, only two of the four JSAers in action that year had even been Golden Age members, with the senior role undertaken by Dr. Mid-Nite.
Returning to the subject of paired appearances, it’s nice to note that the traditional friendship between Flashes and Green Lanterns was maintained by the JSA originals appearing together no less than seven times, and that on five of those occasions, Hawkman was also on board. At the opposite end of the scale, Mr Terrific and Wildcat, who guested in the same issue of All-Star, shared two of their four appearances in the same line-up.
And Doctor Fate and Hourman, who were linked in two try-out editions of Showcase, worked together four times in the first decade, but then clearly had a falling-out and didn’t appear together once after that.
Given that the Spectre’s Silver Age revival in Showcase was, apparently, intended to be a team-up with Dr Mid-Nite, it’s nice to see this echoed in phantom form by the Doc being present for two the the Ghostly Guardian’s appearances.
At this remove, there’s no practical way of determining how the Justice Society members were chosen for each story, except for the Fox/Schwartz era, when such tales were new, fresh and exciting, and the appeal of nostalgia was cleverly deployed. Once this period is gone, there seems to be no pattern: Doctor Fate was clearly incredibly popular, but no-one wanted to use The Atom or (except Len Wein) The Sandman.
But what explains the oddity of the 1977 JSA line-up of Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Doctor Fate and Power Girl being repeated in its entirety only two years later, with the additions of Mr Terrific and the Huntress?
Given the changes in writers, artists and even editors down the years, it’s not as if the John Tracy explanation might apply. For those unfamiliar with Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds, John was the middle Tracy son, assigned to Thunderbird 5, the space station. Though in theory he and Alan Tracy alternated duty, month-in, month-out, with John taking over Thunderbird 3 when at home, in practice International Rescue’s adventures only ever took place when John was on duty upstairs.
Indeed, John Tracy only ever played an active part in one of Thunderbirds’ 32 episodes, and that as auxiliary crew on Thunderbird 2. And the reason for that was that, every time someone suggested spinning things a little to involve John, Anderson would veto it, saying to leave him up in Thunderbird 5, because he was boring!
The Spectre was too powerful to be a team-player, the non-super-powered heroes perhaps too weak (but Batman?) and The Sandman maybe stood out too much for dressing formally when everyone else was in their underwear. But such patterns as there appear to be have little by way of conscious logic to explain them. The Justice Society of America lived by such things for a quarter century.
Justice League of America 207, “Crisis Times Three!”/All-Star Squadron 14, “The Mystery Men of October”/Justice League of America 208, “The Bomb-Blast Heard ‘Round the World!”/All-Star Squadron 15, “Master of Worlds and Time!”/Justice League of America 209, “Let Old Acquaintances be Forgot…” Written by Gerry Conway (Justice League of America) and Roy Thomas (All-Star Squadron), art by Don Heck (pencils Justice League of America, inks 209), Adrian Gonzalez (pencils All-Star Squadron), Romeo Tanghal (inks JLA 207), Sal Trapani (inks JLA 208), Jerry Ordway (inks All-Star Squadron) edited by Len Wein.
Another year has come round and the Justice Society prepare to transport to Earth-1. Doctor Fate, Green Lantern, Starman, Power Girl and Huntress arrive first and go on ahead of their team-mates. But on the Justice League satellite, it is the Earth-3 Crime Syndicate who appear and attack Superman, Hawkman, Aquaman, Firestorm and Zatanna.
The battle is brief and the victorious Syndicate steal a rocket to descend to Earth-1. They discuss evening the score with Per Degaton, an Earth-2 foe of the JSA.
Who, meanwhile, have found themselves in the interdimensional limbo prison the Syndicate have occupied since 1964. The bubble was designed to defeat equivalents of Green Lantern and Superman, but not of Starman or Doctor Fate, whose powers eventually free the JSA. But instead of landing on Earth-1, they find themselves on Earth-Prime, in a New York devastated years ago by some kind of holocaust. Green Lantern’s ring detects the emanations of Degaton.
Back on the satellite, the JLA come to, rescue each other and repair the satellite. Rather than pursue the Syndicate, they transport to Earth-2, to discover what’s happened to the JSA. But their headquarters are in ruins, neglected for years: forty years to be precise. Outside, Earth-2 is ruled by the fascist hand of Degaton: the appearance of the League causes the frightened population to scream for Degaton’s police.
After a brief battle, the victorious JLA decide they must go back to 1942 to find out how this has happened. They arrive at a pristine JSA HQ just as five costumed characters open the door: they are complete strangers to the League but we know them as five members of the war-time All-Star Squadron.
End of Part One
On Earth-2 in 1947, Per Degaton dreams of being an Emperor, ruling a coliseum in which, at his order, the superheroes of the Golden Age battle each other, until his employer, Professor Zee, stumbles into the stadium, shouting to the heroes that Degaton is their enemy: they turn upon him and he wakes up, sweating.
But the dreams has unlocked Degaton’s memories of his previous battles against the JSA, battles lost in time-loops that left them as never-happening. Determined not to fail a third time, Degaton arrives at Zee’s laboratory, where his Time Machine is (again) ready for its maiden journey. Shooting, and this time killing, the Professor, Degaton prepares carefully for conquest.
He travels forward to 1982, via a slight sideways lurch caused by a timestorm, which takes him to Earth-Prime, where superheroes are only comic book characters. Returning to the timestream, Degaton discovers the timestorm pulling him into limbo, to the Crime Syndicate’s prison.
Anticipating an attack, Degaton protects himself then offers the Syndicate a deal: do his tasks and he will release them. The Syndicate agree, and Degaton transports everyone to Earth-2 in October 1962 – the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
By having the Syndicate steal the Russian missiles from Cuba, Kruschev cannot remove them in accordance with President Kennedy’s ultimatum, nor does the young statesman believe the Russian Premier’s implausible tale of flying strangers in colourful costumes taking the missiles away.
Degaton tows the missiles away with the Time Machine, intent on threatening Earth-2 with them. The Syndicate try to attack him but he is once again prepared, and returns them to their limbo prison.
Meanwhile, on Earth-2 in 1942, three members of the All-Star Squadron, Johnny Quick, Liberty Belle and the new Firebrand, get back to New York from San Francisco just in time to tackle Nuclear the Magnetic Marauder. With the aid of fellow members Robotman and Commander Steel, Nuclear is overcome.
The quintet decide to hold an informal meeting. With the JSA enlisted in the Services as civilians, Hawkman has authorised them to use JSA HQ, but as Belle unlocks the door, they find five costumed strangers inside.
End of Part Two
Naturally, the two sides believe each other are interlopers/enemies and fight, until Superman silences everyone with a shout. Calmed down, explanations are exchanged.
Once everyone is up to date, a phone call summons the Squadron to meet President Roosevelt at the White House. The League accompany them, and FDR takes the idea of them being from a parallel Earth in his stride: there are more important things to worry about. Using future technology, Degaton issues a video ultimatum to all the world leaders, warning them that he has the already-sought nuclear weapons and will demonstrate one the following day.
History is supposed to be unchangeable, and the League know Degaton didn’t win in 1942 on Earth-2. But given the presence of the timestorm, maybe he could…
Meanwhile, the JSA are touring the devastation of Earth-Prime New York, dealing with its deformed and animalistic inhabitants, until they find one old enough to tell them what happened in October 1962, and how the fearful Kennedy finally pushed the button, leading to nuclear destruction. Doctor Fate correctly deduces that somehow Degaton was behind the missing missiles.
Back on Earth-2 in 1942, the heroes convene at Degaton’s observation point, above the Atlantic Ocean. A nuclear missile is detonated and the 1942 heroes are astounded at its unprecedented force. Suddenly, a bubble appears in the middle of the blast zone, containing the JSAers en route from Earth-Prime 1982. The heroes rescue them, the Squadroneers seeing some familiar, if aged faces.
Degaton, in his bunker, is content if not pleased. The bomb did not destroy the heroes but it has demonstrated his power to the World Governments, who will have to surrender to him. Then he will crush the hated Squadron.
End of Part Three
Fifteen heroes from two worlds and different times gather and trade explanations, then return to the White House in time for Degaton’s second broadcast, in which he demands that all the world’s governments cede complete authority to him. Given the destruction Degaton can rain on America, Roosevelt decides that, unless the heroes can prove to him that all the missiles are gone, he will resign the Presidency to Degaton.
The heroes split up (at last). Superman, Doctor Fate and Robotman track down Degaton’s space satellite only to find Ultraman defending it, the Syndicate having apparently agreed to assist him again. Despite Ultraman using Kryptonite (which enhances his powers) the trio render him unconscious and out of the fight.
In the Pacific, near Japan, Aquaman, Starman and Liberty Belle destroy three missiles in a hidden base of Degaton’s, despite opposition from Superwoman.
In the midwest, Hawkman, the Huntress and Johnny Quick find three more disguised as grain solos and dismantle these whilst battling Power Ring.
Degaton fulminates against his three failed minions, but he still has the most impregnable base of all, and if he can’t conquer Earth-2, he will destroy all of them.
End of Part Four.
Nine successful heroes return to the White House to remind each other of the stakes in play, not only here but on Eath-Prime. Two teams are still out there.
In Geneva, Firestorm, Power Girl and Commander Steel enter neutral territory to neutralise Degaton’s next little missile nest, succeeding despite the efforts of the Syndicate’s Johnny Quick.
With all twenty-seven rockets now accounted for, everything turns on Degaton’s next move. His headquarters has been identified, in a daring location very near Washington, but the final team is currently working on saving Earth-Prime, and the risk of new paradoxes is very high…
What Zatanna, Green Lantern and Firebrand have done is to go to the JSA’s scientist friends, Professors Everson and Zee, who are working on trying to build the Time Machine. Zee is astonished to hear about the bumbling, ineffectual Degaton (who has not reported for work today). Between them, Green Lantern and Zatanna complete the machine and use it to travel ahead to 1962, and cross to Cuba on Earth-Prime. They are there to see the sky tear open and the Syndicate emerge.
But back on Earth-2 in 1942, the remaining heroes converge on Degaton’s secret base, on the banks of the Potomac, underneath the construction work going into building the future Pentagon. They not only take out the would-be dictator, whose men surrender abjectly, but the Huntress prevents Owlman from escaping too.
Then, on Earth-Prime, the last trio battle the Syndicate and defeat them. Degaton tries to run, to get back to 1947 in the Time Machine but Zatanna halts him. Whilst the others send the Syndicate back to their limbo, the smashing of Degaton’s plans has the same effect it always does. History reverts, everyone returns to their rightful place in time and space, all memory of the incident fading as it is, once more, contained within a timeloop.
The All-Star Squadron return to New York. Degaton goes back to work in Zee’s lab with the same words as always, the Syndicate in their timeless limbo, and the JSA turn up on the satellite for the annual get-together. Only Power Girl seems disturbed by anything, enough to let Firestorm get his arms round her at last.
* * * * *
Surprisingly, for the longest team-up story ever, involving five issues, two series, two creative teams, three super-hero teams, three time-eras, three parallel Earths, a reference to an earlier team-up and enough real and counterfactual history to stuff a chicken with, this story is actually surprisingly sensible and straightforward. It is, of course, another Degaton story, to add to the one from All-Star Comics 35, and the one Thomas had already written for All-Star Squadron 1-3, which means that any literate comics reader knew how it would end from the moment Degaton’s name was mentioned by the Crime Syndicate.
I’m not going to pick this effort apart to the extent I have been doing in respect of recent stories, because there is less to complain about. Despite the fact that neither Gerry Conway nor Roy Thomas, for different reasons, impress me as writers, and despite the fact that, without ragging on him in the unmerciful way so many did, I don’t like Don Heck’s art. Despite the fact that, after complaining about the growing elephantiasis of the recent three-parters, this is actually a five part story. Because, for once, the writers have given themselves an adventure of genuinely epic proportions, and even though the latter part is just a series of missions intended to keep all the fifteen heroes visible, this time the space is a necessary element of the story’s breadth.
What I will say is that, yet again, the Justice Society play the minor role in all of this. When these team-ups began, this was due to the fact that, as guests, the JSA were not allowed to outshine the stars, but once the team-up was opened to a ‘third force’, gradually the Society slid into becoming the junior members of any such threeway. They became staid, old hat, the emphasis now shifting to the newbies.
This is further emphasised in 1982 by the fact that the ‘third force’ not only has its own series, but that the story involves that series in a crossover. The tone is struck by the story having twin opening episodes, one in each series, showing how the League and the Squadron come to their first meeting from both directions.
The Society, who lack a series base of their own, are second banana in both introductions, a point emphasised subsequently by having the majority of the story based in 1942 on Earth-2, the Squadron’s home turf. The JSA start off by being diverted into imprisonment, from where they go on to discover the devastation that’s affected Earth-Prime, but their adventures are not merely a sideshow, a parallel track, but a wholly uninteresting and uninvolving one: they fight deformed humans and killer vegetation but it has no ultimate purpose other than to spin wheels until they can be integrated into the main story, which is not until three issues of five have gone by.
Another of the key instances affecting the later team-ups is the limited number of slots available for the JSA, and the consequent rigidity of roles. Involving a ‘third force’ led to the situation where numbers had to be rationed (especially as the changing mores of the superhero comic demanded more emphasis on character rather than plot, a development welcomed by the inrush of fans-turned-writers and -artists, who had no concept of the strict professionalism of their forerunners.)
What was worse was the continuing insistence on exact matches, so that there had to be the same number of Leaguers and Squadroneers as there were JSAers, an artificial, rigid structure that added to the sense of formularisation.
This reaches a kind of nadir here when the heroes break up into teams. Five from each team dictates five missions, each with an exact spread of teams, further compounded by there being exactly five Crime Syndicate members, spawning one villain per mission. The natural fluidity of life is dispensed with,and it’s impossible not to envision the authors ticking boxes.
And again, how do you choose teams? What, for instance, was the rationale for putting both magic-wielders together and pairing them with the incongruous Firebrand? Is there an internal logic to this or is it all done by the equivalent of dealing out Happy Families cards?
Having raised that, I have nothing else to say than to applaud Conway and Thomas on a decent story, done decently, though I can’t pretend that I warm to this adventure as I do to those of Fox and Wein, which fill my criteria for the kind of League/Society team-up I want to read. I have problems with the writings of each, but Conway’s laziness in construction is barely in evidence, whilst Thomas’s frequently sterile obsession with past continuity is, for once, put almost wholly to the service of the story instead of being allowed to accumulate in lumps, tripping up everyone all over the place.
In terms of post-Crisis viability, the main story could be almost wholly retained as a purely time-travel adventure, although the Earth-Prime element would have to either be deleted or else in some way absorbed into the single timestream. And if it were not, where would the Justice Society fit in?
Justice League of America 183, “Crisis on New Genesis, or Where have all the New Gods Gone?”/Justice League of America 184, “Crisis between Two Earths, or Apokalips Now!”/Justice League of America 185, “Crisis on Apokalips, or Darkseid Rising!” Written by Gerry Conway, art by Dick Dillin (pencils 183), George Perez (pencils 185-185) and Frank McLaughlin (inks), edited by Len Wein.
As a variation on their annual get-together, the Justice League and Justice Society decide to hold meetings on both planets, with four members of each team crossing over to the other Earth. These are Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and Firestorm of the League, and Doctor Fate, Power Girl, The Huntress and Wonder Woman of the Society.
However, all eight find themselves together on New Genesis, the home of the New Gods. Only Superman has been here before, but whilst he explains things to the rest – Wonder Woman is very aggressive about the idea of ‘New’ Gods – the headstrong Firestorm flies off to explore and encounters the feral Orion in his Apokoliptian form.
The heroes come to the rescue, overcoming Orion, only to be confronted by a group led by Metron, including Mr Miracle, Big Barda and Oberon. They explain that Apokalips, aided by the Earth-2 Injustice Society, has kidnapped the entire population of New Genesis (saving the sextet who were on a mission in space) and turned them into mindless slaves. Metron had overriden the Transmatter machines to bring the heroes to their assistance.
The group travels by Boom Tube to Apokalips where, with Metron remaining behind to co-ordinate matters, heroes and Gods split up into four teams.
Batman, Mr Miracle and the Huntress are sent ahead to scout (Miracle recaps that Darkseid himself is dead, killed in the final issue (20) of Return of the New Gods, a revival picking up the numbering of the original Jack Kirby series, also written by Gerry Conway).
Doctor Fate, Green Lantern and Oberon battle their way into the Central Barracks, trying to find prisoners: Green Lantern is shocked at what he finds.
Superman, Big Barda and Wonder Woman force their way into Granny Goodness’s Orphanage.
And at a construction project, Firestorm, Orion and Power Girl find the Injustice Society (here consisting of the Fiddler, the Shade and the Icicle) engaged in bringing Darkseid back to life!
End of part 1.
Orion leads an immediate attack on the Injustice Society. It is the Fiddler’s music that is powering the Recreator, but even after his colleagues are defeated, he is able to use his violin to overcome the heroes, and return to his task.
Underneath Granny Goodness’s Orphanage, the child rescued from her soldiers leads Superman, Wonder Woman and Big Barda to the headquarters of a guerilla army of children, led by Crimson, whose automatic suspicions are quickly overcome by Barda talking to her about concepts totally alien to her: love and trust.
Another of the children, Playto, a ‘multi-cog’ recaps for them Darkseid causing an animate version of himself to appear to the three villains on Earth-2. True to form, the new Injustice Society is already betraying itself until Darkseid overcomes them and bends them to his will. To find out more, the heroes get Crimson to lead them in search of Granny Goodness herself.
Meanwhile, at the Central Barracks, Green Lantern is found making desperate, almost panicky attempts to free Izaya, High-Father, from his chains. His power ring is ineffective but Doctor Fate’s magic releases High-Father, as GL explains how he immediately identified Izaya with his own masters, the Guardians: hence his reaction.
At the Imperial Palace, the team of Batman, the Huntress and Mr Miracle are till working their way in. Miracle gets there first, and is horrified to learn of Darkseid’s full plan: the New Genesisians have been kidnapped to build Darkseid’s Recreation Machine but Darkseid means to do more that return to life: he plans to transfer Apokalips into the Earth-2 Universe, where there are no Old or New Gods to oppose him. And if he does, Earth-2 will be destroyed!
End of Part 2.
Matron, who is monitoring everything, recaps the story so far, but regrets that he cannot intervene personally.
In the Imperial Palace, Darkseid returns in body. He muses upon his brief period spent in ‘death’ and how it weakened him by causing him, however momentarily, to value life. The Injustice Society seek their reward, with the Icicle boasting of how he has captured Orion, Firestorm and Power Girl in a block of ice.
But by laying hands on Darkseid’s own son, the villains are dishonoured: Darkseid uses the Omega Force to transport them to prison, though he leaves Orion in captivity. However, the soldiers who take the block of ice away are ambushed by Batman, the Huntress and Mr Miracle.
On the surface, Doctor Fate, Green Lantern and Oberon are taking Izaya to a destination he seeks. He reveals Darkseid’s full plan to them en route. Whilst Fate and GL battle a squad of Para-Demons, High-Father uses his powers to defend Oberon and himself but collapses, weaker than he had imagined himself to be.
In the Orphanage, Crimson leads Superman, Wonder Woman and Big Barda to Granny Goodness. Granny escapes the first two, but Barda knows the secret passages as well as she does.
Back to the Imperial Palace where the frozen trio have been released. Orion flies off to confront his father, with Firestorm and Power Girl in tow, the others proceed to locate the Injustice Society in their Punishment Block: they need the Fiddler to free all the New Genesisians. Having done so, they lead the New Gods to rescue Izaya and the other battling heroes, who are in danger of being overcome.
Metron decides to interfere at last. Orion confronts Darkseid, though it’s Firestorm who channels his Omega-Force back at the Tyrant of Apokolips. But they are too late: the Recreation Gun fires – yet instead of aiming at Apokolips, the beam targets the Imperial Palace, targetting Darkseid, destroying him again. It is Metron who altered its circuits.
Two planets remain to be rebuilt. But the Justice League and Justice Society are free to go home.
* * * * *
Though it was not apparent at the time,1980 was the year it began to change back for DC, whose confidence and credibility was still in tatters after the 1977 ‘Implosion’. It was not Justice League of America that had anything to do with it, still less the Justice Society, whose series in Adventure ended a month after the previous team-up. Once again, they were dependant upon the annual team-up for any exposure.
For the third time, the annual team-up was expanded to three issues and, for the second time it was a case of bloat. Bloat, and a new formula that, by 1980, had not so much been perfected as ossified: third force, check, very limited number of participants from each team, check (four from each side on this occasion), lumpen story with minimal real plot and lots of undistinguished fighting, check, oh check indeed.
Ross Andru had already moved on as editor, and the post had been inherited by Len Wein, six years after he had left his role as scripter. It wouldn’t usher in a substantial change, not with Conway as scripter, going about things in a slightly mechanical manner, but it would at least relieve the series of the desperate urge to ‘shake things up’ that had led to the previous year’s unfortunate effort.
But the greater change lay in the loss of Dick Dillin, twelve years the Justice League’s penciller. Dillin had made his debut on the first part of the 1968 team-up and his swansong on the series was the first part of this 1980 effort: after drawing two and a half pages of the second part, Dillin died of a heart attack. Excluding reprint issues, he had drawn all but two of the 120 issues (and he had drawn framing sequences for one of those).
With so little of the second part drawn, it was decided that it would not be disrespectful to Dillin to have the entire issue drawn from scratch by new penciller George Perez, with McLaughlin remaining as inker.
Ironically, in the same month as Perez took over Justice League of America, DC published the first issue of a new series also pencilled by Perez, and written by Marv Wolfman. The New Teen Titans, DC’s first success in the fan-market, was to guide the company back to health.
Given that Perez is, and always has been, a very fast, very detailed penciller, whose pages are, if anything, overloaded with information, why does his Justice League look like a cartoon? Unless he was instructed to draw very simplistically, to minimise the transition in art styles between Dillin and himself – which I think unlikely for reasons I will come to shortly – the only possible explanation I can come up with is McLaughlin’s inks.
Compare a page of Justice League of America 184 with a page of the contemporaneous New Teen Titans 1, inked by the much more sympathetic Romeo Tanghal and the difference is amazing. Tanghal is neat and tidy, faithful to the detail, bringing to Perez’s work the crispness of Dick Giordano at his best, but leavened by a subtle softness, a smoothness to the inking line that rounds edges by that slight but visible degree.
Yet Perez doesn’t compromise on his compositions: there’s a potentially stunning page featuring a vertical shot down the centre of a multi-level sinkhole that Dillin would never have attempted, but which looks flat. There is no real sense of depth to the image, as printed. And as Len Wein was instrumental in gradually drawing Perez away from Marvel, it seems highly unlikely he would have been offered the Justice League and then urged to simplify everything.
Yet his very first page, a beautifully composed splash centred upon the re-emergent Darkseid, the heroes are resolutely flat, without shading, or depth, with the simplest of indications of the barest number of muscles, with everything else eliminated and uniformly thick lines: the effect is similar to looking at old adverts for the TV cartoon Super-Friends.
As for the story, Conway should be credited with the first appearance of a story-telling technique that is standard practice nowadays. Like Fox, he breaks his heroes up into teams, obeying the clichéd requirement that each team consist of one Leaguer, one JSAer and one New God (or Oberon). But where Fox and his successors would let scenes play out, showing you the outcome of each team’s mission, Conway constantly cuts from one scene to another, never letting any one group advance too far at any one time.
It’s a more sophisticated technique, and enables the reader to maintain contact with the forward edge of the story throughout it’s development, but even in this early form it triggers my dislike for the latter-day ADD aspect of comics, the idea that if a scene doesn’t change every page, the audience gets bored.
And, to be honest, the plotting is hardly sophisticated. Each segment for each team involves a display of powers, bashing some Apokalips goons at each turn, without making serious progress towards any of the objectives. It’s a very baggy, saggy story with no real idea of how to develop its simple plot.
Along the way, there are improbable scenes that just get in the way. Wonder Woman of Earth-2 goes off on one about Superman calling the New Gods Gods: she only recognises her own pantheon, oh and Him, you know, the biggie, the one you can’t seriously fit into a superhero Universe but also can’t ignore. It’s a valid philosophical point, questioning how and why these other superhuman beings can be validly named as Gods, but unless the entire series is to be dedicated to a complete rendering down of the entirety of Kirby’s Fourth World, it’s an unanswerable question and a roadblock here because, once raised, it has to be forgotten.
Green Lantern’s panic attack at the sight of High-Father in chains is demeaning and ill-explained, but then Conway’s portrayal of his own creation Firestorm as a complete, out-of-control moron is not all that edifying to begin with.
Then there’s Crimson, tomboyish, pre-pubescent guerilla girl, warrior in a hard environment, who does not know anything of love or trust because the horror of Apokalips has denied her any chance to comprehend the concepts and, yes, you’re right, Conway has her bawling like a baby in just three panels. It’s nauseatingly simplistic, unreal and glutinous, but what do you expect? She’s a girl.
But I reserve my greatest contempt for the ending of this horribly naff story. It’s a total deus ex machina: Metron spends all his time telling us that he cannot interfere and then he goes and interferes. And Darkseid gets wiped out in a single panel: Darkseid, whom Conway killed off at the end of Return of the New Gods, whom Conway killed off in Secret Society of Super-Villains, Darkseid who Conway here kills off for the third time, suggesting a certain lack of imagination.
Not only that, but in a way that is getting depressingly familiar, the ending is incredibly perfunctory. Not only does Darkseid get killed off in a single panel, it is not in any way by the hands of Orion, his son, nor does Orion even battle his father (despite having been traumatised the whole three issues by his part in the latter’s last death).
And once Darkseid is gone, the wrap-up consists of three panels, and everyone goes home, leaving a bloody great mess to be sorted out behind them, but not a mess that Conway will have anything to do with.
The problem with this story is that it’s simply a bad story, badly told, in an era of bad stories badly told. The influence of New Teen Titans couldn’t come soon enough. Nor does it feel like a team-up story, like something that requires the Justice Society. Even the notion that Earth-2 is under threat is wholly lacking in logic: Superman is at pains to establish, early on, that New Genesis and Apokalips have no corporeal presence in the Earth-1 Universe, that they exist in an undefined, unexplained elsewhere, yet the plan is to plonk it in the Earth-2 Universe so Darkseid can conquer that instead? That’s complete nonsense.
As I said, by this point the Justice Society were back in comic book limbo, their series cancelled, their access once again this annual tradition. Yet what kind of access was it? Only four members took part, and one of these the near-identical Earth-2 Wonder Woman. There’s the stalwart Doctor Fate, of course, and the two new girls, the Earth-2 Batgirl and Supergirl, and as for the rest a single, Staton-esque panel in the first issue and nothing.
What was the point? Especially as the Justice Society could not simply engage in a battle with their counterparts that was too large for either team to fight alone, but which needed a third set just to bring them to the table. The fun had gone out of things and the series was being done for the sake of it.
At least there would be no real post-Crisis function for this story.
Justice League of America 171, “The Murderer Among Us: Crisis Above Earth-One!”/Justice League of America 172, “I Accuse…” Written by Gerry Conway, art by Dick Dillin (pencils), and Frank McLaughlin (inks), edited by Ross Andru.
This year’s team-up takes place aboard the Justice League satellite headquarters. Once again the heroes mingle. Zatanna is delighted to be praised by the Justice Society’s Hawkman. Mr Terrific explains that he has come out of retirement (last seen in 1972) after an encounter with old enemy Roger Romaine, the Spirit King, who has stolen an unidentified device from Gateway University. But Jay-Flash suggests he needn’t have done so, he could have left it to Jay. This angers Terrific: it’s saying he’s too old to deal with his own enemy.
But in just a few days he’s already tracked him down, and that’s why he’s here. But Terrific refuses to say more, except that when he does speak, one of them will be branded a traitor.
Meanwhile, Batman and the Huntress have stepped aside. Only six months earlier, her father, the Earth-2 Batman, died in battle. To think of his counterpart being dead causes Bruce Wayne pause for thought, whilst Helena is in tears at the sight of ‘Uncle’ Bruce.
The conversation continues. Superman looks for Power Girl but she is missing. So too are two other figures, one of whom worries Superman. But before he can act, an explosion blasts a hole in the satellite. The heroes combine to undertake quick repairs, but Superman has already seen, in the vacuum of space, the body of Mr Terrific.
Whilst the diagnostic computer examines Terry Sloane’s body, Barry-Flash produces a piece of metal that has something to do with the unusual explosion, but when Zatanna tries to ‘read’ it’s immediate past by magic, she encounters resistance that puts her in a coma.
The Flashes search the satellite at super-speed to confirm no-one else is there. Nor has anyone left by Transporter Tube or Transmatter Cube in the last hour. The computer has finished its diagnostic, confirming that Mr Terrific was actually strangled. Somebody on the satellite is a murderer.
End of Part 1.
At Superman’s instructions, the Green Lanterns and Doctor Fate seal the satellite against anyone leaving. Batman and the Huntress are placed in charge of the investigation.
The Flashes relate their last conversation about Terrific and his remark about a traitor. The Huntress queries whether, in view of his age, Terrific might not have been going senile, but Alan-GL defends him as a professional.
The Detectives investigate the scene of the crime, and pore over a section of destroyed satellite wall. The Huntress connects to the JSA computer on Earth-2 whilst Batman questions Barry-Flash in greater detail about the conversation. He seems to glean something from it.
The Huntress is then incapacitated by the computer exploding but manages to whisper a confirmation to Uncle Bruce. Their suspect did battle the Spirit King the last time he was in Gateway City, and the stolen device was a portable seismograph.
That is enough for Batman to denounce the murderer as being Jay Garrick, the Flash of Earth-2, or rather the Spirit King, who is possessing his body.
The ranting Romaine admits he killed Terrific, but materialised from the Flash’s body to do the murder himself. Using Jay’s super-speed, he evades capture and leaps into the Transmatter Cube – which no-one has thought to seal off – and escapes into Earth-2.
Though everybody thinks they’ve lost, Superman calls this a victory. They conducted a fair examination, didn’t stop with the evidence pointing to Garrick and prevented the Spirit King turning them against each other.
The Justice Society take Terry Sloane’s body back to Earth-2 with them, where they will pursue the Spirit King.
* * * * *
An upfront confession: I loathe this story for its casual and demeaning killing off of Mr Terrific. Terry Sloane’s death came about because Gerry Conway wanted to write a locked room murder mystery set on the Justice League satellite. A mystery required a body. Since it sure as hell wasn’t going to be one of the Justice League, it would have to be somebody from the Society. Who was sufficiently disposable? Mr Terrific.
Objectively, I understand and cannot argue with the underlying logic. I may have been a fan of the character, but very few others were. Terrific had no superpowers, had not actually been a Golden Age member, and, most telling, under Julius Schwartz, who based so many of his editorial decisions upon what the readers wanted, he had appeared only three times in sixteen years: one of these in Len Wein’s 1972, cram-damn-near-every-one-of-them-in extravanganza.
On the other hand, I do not believe that this story would have appeared – or at least not in this form – if Schwartz had still been the editor of Justice League of America. I believe he would not have sanctioned killing off a Justice Society member, and certainly not in so casual and careless a manner.
But Schwartz had gone, and new editor Ross Andru, who had had no dealings with the JLA or JSA prior to this, was susceptible to the idea of shaking things up. Schwartz, I suspect, would have only agreed to a locked-room murder if the victim had been an outsider.
You’ll have noticed that the synopsis above was considerably shorter than any other, excluding the 1974 one-issue tale. That is partly because, in the wake of the Implosion, Justice League of America was again running at only 17 pages per issue, but it’s mainly because Conway’s story lacks anything resembling subtlety, sophistication, drama or mystery.
That Mr Terrific is to be murdered is obvious from the outset. For those also reading the JSA in Adventure (where their series had only one, albeit excellent issue to run), a pretty perfunctory story had had Doctor Fate disengaged trying by his magics to save a man’s life: at the last, he is dragged away, unsuccessful, and, guess what, the very next panel, out of the blue, having had no involvement with the Justice Society at all throughout their revival, up pops Mr. Terrific, to go to the JLA meeting. You might as well have painted a bulls eye on his forehead.
And if you weren’t reading Adventure, here was Terrific for the first time since 1972, the only non-active JSA member in the comic.
The story fails from the beginning of Conway’s complete disinterest in Mr. Terrific as a character. He might not have been important in himself, but he was a member of the Justice Society, the first ever superhero team. And whilst the JSA had only recently experienced their first death, that of Batman, a second loss so soon was still, of itself, a major incident.
But Conway doesn’t know anything about Terrific or Terry Sloane, nor can he be bothered to learn. Sloane, a rich polymath with a business empire, has become a lecturer in English Literature at a University. He faces an old enemy, created specially for the occasion (perish the thought that Conway might do some research to identify someone plausible) and comes out of retirement to tackle his villain.
Having within a few short days correctly determined that the Spirit King has possessed Jay-Flash and is using his body to get to the JLA satellite, Terrific – a mental and physical genius – blurts out in front of Jay-Flash that he’s tracked the Spirit King there, but refuses to say more. Why does he refuse to say more when he has already got all the information he needs, and why does he a) tell his enemy that he knows everything and, as we shall shortly see, b) go off alone with him?
We’re not exactly proceeding apace here: it takes Conway to page 9 (of only 17) to get the action cranked up to the explosion, and a further four pages to seal the satellite. The story needs substantial padding-out just to reach the halfway point.
But to go back to page 9 for a moment, Conway there focusses on Superman. The Man of Steel is looking for his Earth-2 cousin Power Girl, who is missing (she will be presented as a red herring in the ‘library scene’ and discarded as such in the space of two panels) as well as two others, one of them obviously Mr Terrific.
When the investigation takes place, does Superman relate this to the detectives? Does he identify who else was missing? It is surely central to the investigation, but no, he is neither asked, nor does he volunteer, not on-panel at any rate. Given the ending, surely the other missing hero had to be Jay-Flash, so why didn’t he say so? Does this have anything to do with the fact that Dillin draws Jay-Flash as being there, in the middle of the party? Rather like the encrypted Spectre being drawn at JSA HQ in 1970.
Next, Barry-Flash produces his piece of piping which is supposedly unusual in his experience as a forensic scientist, though not in any way he is capable of explaining. Zatanna tries to read its past but is knocked out: so much for the lead piping, except that it’s spun out enough pages to a) remove Zatanna’s magic from the investigation, b) leave the readers wondering why Doctor Fate can’t just do a magical investigation himself and c), allow us to be told that Terrific wasn’t killed in an explosion but was actually strangled.
One of them is a murderer.
Let’s pause there. I’ve accused Conway of treating Mr. Terrific with contempt, and I think my point is amply demonstrated here. We have grown blasé towards superhero deaths in the Twenty-First Century: they happen far too often and far too frequently for us to ever really care. But this story was published in 1979, a completely different era. Superhero deaths were rare and they were events. Mr. Terrific was, as I have said, a member of the very first superhero team, who had only ever lost one member, and one whose memory was fresh and raw.
And his death takes place offscreen, unseen. And he is murdered by being strangled: physically overcome by a single opponent using non-superhuman strength, demeaningly. Without hope, without glory, without resistance. Out of sight, as I said.
And nobody cares. Not even those Justice Society members who have known Terry Sloane for the best part of forty years show any feelings about the death of such an old friend and comrade. Because Conway doesn’t care: all Terrific was to him was a convenient body and once he’s been converted into a dead body, the only thing Conway or any of the others are concerned about is finding which one of these fine, upstanding heroes has – with complete lack of concern for their fundamental collective and individual natures – suddenly killed someone in cold blood.
That’s the other point on which the contrivance this story represents is hinged. It’s completely without motive. Not one of the heroes is remotely plausible as a killer, under any circumstances, and not one of them has anything remotely approximating to a motive.
The explanation is so glaringly obvious that no detection is needed, and if you look at the investigation conducted by the two greatest detectives of two worlds, no detection is carried out. The first six pages – that’s over one-third the length of the entire issue – are frittered away in deciding to hold an investigation and sealing the satellite (with recap thrown in).
The Flashes repeat what Terrific told them about the Spirit King and a ‘traitor’, then Batman takes Barry-Flash aside to have it repeat it all over again, this time word for word (no doubt this saved Conway considerable writing time). Meanwhile, Huntress gets the JSA computer to confirm that Jay-Flash was also a foe of the Spirit King, which Jay has already told us twice so far.
So, take a wild guess, who do you think the villain is going to be? Bearing in mind that our suspects consist of about a dozen heroes, each with no motive whatsoever, and one villain who can disappear into thin air and who hates the victim and who – as Conway has cunningly concealed from us so far – can possess other people?
(Actually, it’s less concealed than pulled as a rabbit out of a hat to do the obvious thing everybody’s been waiting for all along.)
So Jay Garrick killed Mr. Terrific. No, wait, he didn’t: the Spirit King materialised himself to do that himself, since we can’t actually have a hero doing that (even though it’s been the premise for the entire story). But Conway’s still rigidly determined not to show us anything to do with Terrific’s demise, so we only have the Spirit King’s word for it, and he’s a villain, so he wouldn’t lie.
And, as I’ve said before, if the Spirit King materialised himself out of Jay-Flash’s body to do the dirty deed himself, what was the Flash doing during that time he was unpossessed? He’s the fastest man on Earth-2, did he just stand and watch?
But at any rate, Terrific has been avenged, his murderer caught and brought to justice. No, wait, he hasn’t. He gets away, back to Earth-2 because the Satellite was so imperviously sealed against exit but the Transmatter Cube was overlooked.
So, a hero is killed and his killer gets away scot free (for the next twenty years) and Superman demands everyone regard this as a triumph. A triumph? In what possible perverted set of values could this incompetent and disastrous farrago ever be considered a triumph? Because the Spirit King failed to get them to turn against each other.
Given that at no time did the Spirit King ever intimate that that was his intention, not for one second, not for one instant did a single one of the heroes show the slightest sign of any suspicion that they actually thought any of their comrades might be a killer. There wasn’t a smidgeon of doubt, or reservation, or failure of absolute co-operation. This wasn’t Marvel, where such a thing would have been plausible, evident, even automatic.
On every single possible level that it is possible to fail, this story failed. Through inadequacy, through lack of imagination, through laziness, through contempt, through the casual attempt to use a form of story without any respect for its constituent parts, on every level this story is a bodge.
It could not have been told earlier than this year. Julius Schwartz would never have allowed it. Conway would have been required to re-write it so much, it would have been unrecognisable as this flimsy and dim tale.
It’s not just that it was Mr. Terrific was the victim of this, though that added a personal edge to my dislike, it’s that any death should be treated so callously and thoughtlessly as is the one in this story. It is bad writing and bad plotting, without excuse or explanation.
And of course the story has complete post-Crisis credibility. The fact that so many of the really crap ones do is another indication of how far these stories were missing the original point of the team-ups.
Justice League of America 159, “Crisis From Yesterday!”/Justice League of America 160, “Crisis From Tomorrow!” Written by Gerry Conway, art by Dick Dillin (pencils), and Frank McLaughlin (inks), edited by Julius Schwartz.
For their annual meeting this year, the Justice League and the Justice Society attend a private meal at Gotham City’s exclusive “22” Club. For once, the heroes can simply socialise. Earth-1’s Batman tries to come to terms with meeting the Huntress, his counterpart’s daughter. The Star-Spangled Kid hates being called Sylvester. Those politically and socially polar opposites, Green Arrow and Hawkman, having got pissed together one night, are now bosom buddies. All is well, until the wall of the restaurant is blown in.
We cut to a timeless dimension bordering on 3786AD. The League’s old foe, the Lord of Time, is worried. The infallible computer he has built confirms that five historical figures have been sent to July 15, 1978. The Lord of Time, to ensure Earth’s survival, needs these figures to utterly defeat the League and Society.
This is because the computer, which he built to stop Time whilst he looted everywhen, has worked too well. It will stop Time, but Time cannot then be restarted. And he has built it too well for it to be destroyed.
Back on July 15, 1978, the attackers of the Club stand revealed. They are all characters from long ago DC adventure series set in the past: in chronological order, Jon, the Viking Prince, The Black Pirate, plunderer of Spain’s tyranny, Miss Liberty, heroine of the Revolutionary War, scarred bounty hunter, Jonah Hex, and Hans von Hammer, World War 1 fighter pilot for Germany. All have been enhanced with superpowers, and a second volley from von Hammer’s triplane brings the building down on the heroes.
Mystified as to how they have got there, how they can understand each other, and why they have attacked these strangers, the historical heroes retreat, at Miss Liberty’s suggestion, to a place where they can think.
After they leave, the heroes start to dig themselves out of the rubble. A handful of heroes are functioning – Leaguers Superman, the Flash, Hawkman and Elongated Man, JSAers Wonder Woman, Dr. Mid-nite, the Huntress and Star-Spangled Kid. The rest are comatose, in a state of shock, feverish. They are rushed to hospital by the survivors, who then seek out their attackers driven by an impassioned Hawkman, whose wife, Hawkgirl, is amongst those in a coma.
Superman’s X-ray vision detects a trail of chronal energy that leads the heroes to their assailants’ temporary base at Valley Forge. But, despite the massive imbalance in powers, they are easily, and comprehensively beaten by the historical quintet.
In an epilogue, the Lord of Time extracts his pawns and brings them to his Palace. They have done what he required: completely beaten the heroes. But the beaten come back stronger than ever. The League and Society awaken with renewed determination. Just as he planned.
End of Part 1.
Once again, the historical heroes have left a Chronal Energy trail that Superman can read. The superheroes follow it into the Lord of Time’s future side-dimension to resume the battle.
Meanwhile, the enraged historics mount an attack on the Palace itself, but the Computer responds by drawing in menaces from all over Time, a Tyrannosaurus Rex and mutated reptilian apes, which overcome this rebellion. They are sent back to their own times.
Back on Earth, fresh from Monitor Duty, Aquaman arrives at Gotham Hospital, concerned for the fallen. He recaps the Earth-1 & -2 set-up for new readers, gets inappropriately excited on hearing that there were survivors who have gone into the future and only then arranges to bring the League’s advanced medical diagnostic equipment down to deal with the strange radiation permeating everybody’s body.
The League and Society pursuers are nearing the Lord of Time’s Palace. The Elongated Man feels out of place in comparison to everyone else: they all have awesome powers and he can only stretch his body: what is he doing there?
The heroes run into the first of a series of barriers created by the Computer. They break through each in turn, but at the cost of losing another hero to each obstacle. Four get into the Palace itself, but The Huntress, the Star-Spangled Kid and Dr Mid-nite are taken out by a multi-armed robot, leaving only the Elongated Man to complete the mission. And, despite his doubts, he does so, blowing up the Computer by short-circuiting it with his own body. With seconds only to spare, Time is saved.
Back on Earth, the heroes are all restored by the simple expedient of using Green Lantern’s power ring to clear out the radiation from their bodies: all except Elongated Man, and he’s ok because his rubbery bones and organs kept him from being badly hurt in the explosion. He’s back to being boastful to his wife.
* * * * *
Despite what I’m going to say below, this is a distinct improvement on the last three years of the traditional JLA/JSA teamup. After Engelhart brought his run to a thunderous conclusion with Justice League of America 150, he was replaced by Gerry Conway who, with a few exceptions, would remain writer on the series until it was cancelled and rebooted in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Whatever I may think of Conway as a writer, and that needs to take into account my loathing of what he was to do in the following year’s team-up, he brought a much needed sense of security and consistency to the Justice League, which was after all supposed to be one of DC’s flagship titles.
No mention of 1978 will be wholly accurate if it does not take into account the DC Explosion/Implosion, which seriously threatened the future of the company and which caused many very knowledgeable and intelligent people to predict that within five years, there would not be a comic book industry.
The Explosion was the brainchild of new DC Publisher, Jeanette Kahn, who had replaced the dismissed Carmine Infantino in 1977. Kahn, successful in publishing magazines for young people, was a complete Industry outsider, an unusual but ultimately successful choice. Looking at comics’ recent history of price increases, reduced content, reduced printing quality and DC’s by now traditional position as second to Marvel, Kahn’s solution was to get ahead of the price curve and offer more to the reader. Prices would jump to 50c, but story content would leap from 17 to 25 pages, with editors free to choose whether to extend the titular character’s stories, or re-introduce back-ups, to give different, unused or new characters a chance.
In one way, it was just another version of DC’s continually unsuccessful attempts to sell thicker comics for more, but whereas other such moves had smacked of a certain desperation, the Explosion was based on more positive attitudes, The line would be expanded, new creators taken on, experimentation encouraged, new ground seized. The publicity created enormous expectations.
Then, in the very month of the Explosion beginning, Warner Brothers looked at DC’s figures, panicked, and pulled the plug. Thirty-one titles, including five new series scheduled to start the following month, were cancelled in one go. The 44 page 50c 25 pages of content comic was cancelled and the line reverted to 32 pages with 17 of content, now for 40c. Credibility and confidence vanished like a mirage.
Ironically, Justice League of America was one of the few comics to have been losing pages in the Explosion. It had maintained its Giant size until issue 157, before dropping to the new format. As one of the titles surviving the Implosion, and with the issues already written and drawn, it was allowed to remain at Explosion size for three months, enabling this story to go out unchanged.
The following issue, it too dropped back to 17 pages for 40c.
The Justice Society of America was not so blessed. All-Star‘s first issue (#74) in the new size was the last of its revival, as the title was amongst those cancelled. The team did not vanish: its series was transferred into the new 100-page Dollar format in the struggling Adventure Comics and the already-prepared All-Star 75 was split over two issues of that.
So this team-up took place against a background of tremendous uncertainty. It would also be the last team-up to be edited by Julius Schwartz, who was reducing his workload and concentrating upon his work on the Superman titles. He had been the Justice League’s only editor in the nearly twenty years since their creation. At least he got to leave this tradition on a relative high.
Conway’s story reflected his interest in time-travel stories and his enthusiasm for having the JLA/JSA meet a group of DC’s historical characters. Jonah Hex, the extremely dark-edged bounty hunter was still in publication at the time, but the other four were vanished figures, characters from the Fifties and early-Sixties who had been pushed into obscurity by the Silver Age of superheroes.
Together, they fulfilled the ‘need’ for a third force without being as much of a contrivance as the Fawcett heroes had been.
To bring them into the story, Conway chose the early-League villain, the Lord of Time. The underlying idea is ingenious: the villain has set in motion a destructive scheme that he regrets but cannot stop: unknown to them, the heroes are his means of preventing the self-created disaster.
That much said though, there are an awful number of flaws to what is basically a decent story. Conway handles his five historic heroes well, especially in the scene where they compare notes about how they have come together and how they have been controlled – von Hammer, the ‘Enemy Ace’, is handled particularly well.
But the underlying issue Conway has to justify is how this quintet of ordinary people can overcome so many superheroes with so many diverse powers. All he can think of is some nebulous, unexplained energy that they disperse via their respective guns or swords or, in the Viking Prince’s case by, er, nothing.
It’s indicative of a poverty of imagination that has afflicted the superhero industry ever since the fans took over the writing. Nobody seems capable of thinking up powers that don’t just fire energy blasts all over the place, and this in Conway’s solution to ‘equalising’ the non-existent balance between the two sides.
The Lord of Time’s premise is that he needs to inflict the superheroes’ first ever defeat in order for them to come back stronger, strong enough to defeat his super-Computer. It’s another new angle, yet, assuming it is a viable notion at all, it depends entirely on its execution. The JLA/JSA must be beaten, and in a way that is different from any of those other times when they have been defeated – by the Crime Syndicate in 1964, the Black Spheres in 1967 and T.O.Morrow in 1968, just to pick out three off the top of my head.
Conway, via the Lord of Time, categorises these as ‘setbacks’, yet even within part 1, the ‘defeated’ heroes get up ready to fight again in a manner no different to such previous occasions.
As for the historics, once they have served their purpose, they are an unwanted and unnecessary presence in the story. Surely the Lord of Time would restore them to their rightful place in history, forgetful of their adventure? It is, after all, what he does after their rebellion against him in nearly 3786AD, a perfunctory ending for them. It reads like sloppiness on Conway’s part, as it’s patently obvious that this is the device to enable the JLA/JSA to track down the super-Computer.
However, given that the Lord of Time has done all this to get the heroes in fighting shape, I am forced to concede that this may actually be a deliberate manoeuvre: up to that point, the heroes have no idea who’s behind all this.
The historics’ last stand suffices to bulk out the second part, as does the embarrassing interlude in the hospital with Aquaman. This latter was, of course, chosen to host yet another of the increasingly tedious and long-winded explanations for the audience about the League and the Society, Earth-1 and Earth-2, etc., but it’s turned into something of a pantomime by the King of Atlantis, dealing out hugs to the female Doctor as soon as she mentions that the heroes not propped up in this surprisingly spacious ward aren’t dead (married man cops feel) and only then offering the use of the League’s advanced diagnostic equipment to, you know, sort of, help.
It’s supposed to be to determine why certain heroes were affected by this mysterious radiation, and others weren’t, but don’t worry, Conway has forgotten that part of the story by the end. As, incidentally, is the fact that the Lord of Time’s computer has sent the historics home on page 7, only for the Aquaman-led cavalry to mentioned that they sent the warriors back on page 25. That is sloppy, and something Schwartz should have caught.
But these diversions are only that: they’re present only to keep the issue from being the straightforward war of attrition as the heroes advance, sacrificing themselves one at a time with almost manic determination, to allow their fellows to proceed, until the last one left is the one least-suited for the task.
We know the Elongated Man is least-suited to defeat a super-Computer with incredible self-defence capability, because Ralph Dibny’s been telling us so from the start, thus telegraphing that he will be the only survivor left. Which is where Conway’s potentially interesting story hits its last hurdle. This complicated, some might say convoluted plot has been devised because the Computer is so strong, not even the full Justice League and Society, in their collective might can destroy it.
But an india-rubber man can stick his fingers in the futuristic equivalent of what looks like a plug-socket and, by short-circuiting it, cause it to blow up. Why didn’t the Lord of Time just pull out the plug, if it was so bloody easy?
Nice idea, inadequately executed (in some respects painfully so). Yet I still rate this as an improvement over the past three years? Perhaps that gives you an idea of how bad I think the last three stories have been. This effort is at least clear and logical and, whilst failing at its central premise due to lack of thought, doesn’t lose itself in ineffectually established, unnecessary and confusing circles.
Conway does bring in a greater underlying emotion than most previous adventures have done. We never really have seen the League and Society socialising, or simply responding as friends, and it’s a treat to do so. I do have certain reservations in this area: Batman’s musings about the Huntress, who is attending her first team-up, are wistful, but should perhaps not have been superimposed upon Helena Wayne clearly posing her curvaceous body, which lends a distinctively perverse undercurrent.
And I am far from impressed by Conway’s sudden decision, after years of hostility between the socially liberal Oliver Queen and the uptight, authoritarian Carter Hall, to turn them into bosom buddies, all polarities overlooked or forgiven, on the strength of one night going out (offstage) and getting tanked up. It doesn’t work, and what was so wrong with their entirely natural antipathy for each other’s views that Conway felt he had to destroy it?
I’m also very underwhelmed by the needlessly artificial way Conway tries to inject emotion into the aftermath of the historics’ attack that downs so many heroes. It’s not that there is anything at all artificial at Hawkman’s grief over Hawkgirl being injured, far from it. I’m just not convinced by the weight put on this incident, as if without it neither we nor any of the other survivors will understand that what has happened is a Very Bad Thing (it made Hawkman cry both under and through his hawk-helm, it must be serious).
At the time of this story, I read only the first part, the Implosion having buggered up the perennially dodgy distribution to British newsstands and the early comics shops. I was living in Nottingham at this time, when a visit to Ben’s Comics, between the cricket ground and Forest’s ground, was a long walk, affordable only once a month, and best completed by 12.30pm if Forest – the League Champions – were at home.
Finally, this is another story requiring only the most minor of tweaks to make eminently feasible in the post-Crisis Universe. Unfortunately so was the next.