Kids and Sidekicks: Star-Spangled Comics


It’s a bit late in the day for a Mission Statement but I’m going to give one anyway.
It’s over two years now since the Random Access Butterfly of Memory flapped its wings and opened a window onto an old feature in an old comic, a cartoon style adaptation of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court. And I owe a debt of gratitude to David Simpson for identifying the feature, its creator and the comic in which it appeared. But I owe him an even bigger one for pointing me towards the availability of a complete run of Hurricane, on DVD, via eBay.
Once I had the DVD, I had to write about it. I also had to look for other such comics of my childhood, curiosity and the urge to recover every possible memory of those years driving me on.
At first, I was concerned only with the British weekly series, things I read, like Lion and TV21 and Hornet, and even things like Valiant that I knew of but never got. I would comb eBay regularly, constantly searching for things I recognised. Which is how I first saw a DVD-Rom of the original Flash Comics series. That led me to the Golden Age American titles of which I’d heard so much and seen so little.
As such things tend to do with me, it became an obsession, and it’s stayed that way for the last couple of years, long sessions reading these DVDs, writing about what I’ve read, bending past and present into one thing, writing the kind of account I would have loved to find elsewhere, but if no-one else had written them, I’ve got to do it myself.
All of which is by way of an extended preamble to the fact that the well is not infinitely deep. There aren’t any more British titles to investigate without turning to my pre-adolescence, and there are not many American ones I can summon up the enthusiasm for. And yes, that includes Action and Detective.

As well as Star-Spangled Comics I have one more Golden Age title, which I’m saving for a reason I’ll give when I get to it. Then a couple of Silver Age series I’ve never read in full and, as I write this, that’s it. I chose Star-Spangled Comics first because, paradoxically, I have little pre-enthusiasm for it. It was available, it was a long-running Golden Age title, why not? Perhaps it will surprise me.
The first issue was published with a cover date of October 1941, and going by the in-house advert inside, it was a contemporary of All-Star 7. Of course it was a vehicle for the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy, though the feature was headlined only by the former, and they got two stories, topping and tailing the comic. The first set the pair up as Defenders of Liberty, fighting Nazis and Bundsmen, America’s Fifth Column, whilst the second featured the evil Dr Weerd, a Mr Hyde-esque alter ego for Professor James Stanton, and his evil robot, one of the most ridiculous looking creations comics has ever portrayed, a description that goes for Dr Weerd, who made Edward Hyde look positively handsome.
Of the three other features, two reflected the gathering War, Captain X, unofficial Ace of the R.A.F., aka American news reporter Buck Dare, and Armstrong of the Navy, neither of which were special in any way.

The one that interested me the most was Tarantula. Long term Earth-2 readers like me will recall Roy Thomas re-introducing him in the Eighties in All-Star Squadron for no better reason than that his yellow and purple costume was almost identical to that of The Sandman once he abandoned the gas mask and green business suit, and that he was described, in a radio news report, as a ‘Spider-Man’. Though he left out the information that Tarantula took his name from his pet Tarantula. Thank heaven he wasn’t into a duck-billed platypus…
If you think that’s a pretty weak reason to reintroduce a character who only made a couple of appearances and who was forgotten by everyone, you clearly have never read any Roy Thomas. But it was highly amusing to find myself reading those long-lost adventures. The DVD-Rom was already worth it for that.
There were three stories featuring the Kid and Stripesy in issue 2, the first of these bringing Dr Weerd back immediately, only to capture and imprison him. It’s interesting to watch Siegel find a new angle on the Clark Kent/Superman duality: Sylvester Pemberton is a high-IQ teenager who’s the despair of his Dad, John Pemberton, for being cold, self-centred and supercilious, even when faced with want and poverty, which Stripesy is the comic relief of the partnership, interested only in getting stuck in with his fists.
By issue 3 it was evident that Armstrong and Captain X were both nothing series, not worth the time, and that it look like Dr Weerd was going to be with us every month. More disturbingly, Tarantula’s third story had fiction writer Johnny Law taking a cruise to foil an attack on the secret materials it was counting. Writer Hal Sharp included a young woman, Joan Wentworth, the only female on the ship, first for Law to save from some guy getting fresh with her then, as Tarantula, tying her to the top of the mast to keep her safe as soon as trouble started. A little unnecessary, a lot dickish, and a touch of bondage. There was a lot of that going round in the Golden Age.
I was right about Dr Weerd, but issue 4 also introduced Mr Ghool and The Needle, the latter being described as the ‘Tall Tower of Treachery’, and if you thought some of the Silver Age epithets were naff, I think you have to agree that that had them all beat.
At a rate of three stories an issue, and new grotesques every time, something had to give and it was going to be quality. Issue 6’s Dr Weerd story introduced Breezy, a street-urchin with overlong red hair and a suit two sizes for him who turns out to be a rich heir and who gets adopted by John Pemberton as a brother to Sylvester, whom Breezy suspects…
Meanwhile, a new semi-cartoon private eye series, Penniless Palmer, also debuted, lasted one issue but returned from issue 8. Because something did give for issue 7. Out went Armstrong, and two of the Kid and Stripesy’s stories (but not Dr Weerd, who teamed up with the Needle to double-cross each other) and in came three new features.

In ascending order of quality and fame, these were the atomic powered duo of T.N.T. and Dan the Dyna-Mite, murdered scientist Bob Crane whose brain was transplanted into the metal body of Robotman and, joining the DC stable, the legendary Joe Simon and Jack Kirby with The Newsboy Legion and the Guardian, who were also the first feature in the short history of Star-Spangled Comics to get an origin. They stole not only the cover but the leading slot.
Best of all, there was no second appearance from Breezy, the ‘comic find of 1942.’
T.N.T. and Dan got a brief origin next time out, as a teacher and pupil who invented dual atomic energy rings that, when touched together, transformed them, as well as blowing their external clothing to shreds, turning crime-fighting into an expensive pastime.
Robotman was another Jerry Siegel creation, as could easily be told by his second appearance. Not only had the late Bob Crane’ tearful fiancee, Joan Carter, started making at eyes at ‘Paul Dennis’ – Robotman in plastic human skin – as early as issue 7 but next time round Siegel started a Lois Lane-like triangle between her, ‘Paul’ – and Robotman. The same one-size doesn’t fit all, by any means.
Meanwhile, Tarantula was still going strong and, in contradiction of Thomas’s story in All-Star Squadron 18, explaining how John Law copied a design from Sandman, the truth was that Sandman ripped Tarantula off, his new gold and purple costume being the focal point of the in-house ad in Star-Spangled Comic 8. Just can’t trust anyone, can you?

By issue 15, I think I’ve gotten a handle on the relative qualities of the various strips. The Newsboy Legion is head-and-shoulders the best thing about Star-Spangled Comics and the DVD is worth it for a complete run of this alone. We all know how good Simon and Kirby were and it’s a joy to see this proved, month after month, by inventive, buoyant, passionate and exciting stories, even if it does show the rest of the line-up as pretty crap.
Hal Sherman’s art on the Star-Spangled Kid, for which Stripesy still doesn’t get billing, degenerates every month. It’s horribly cartoony and his figure work is appallingly, enough so to be mistaken for my work, which is an insult if you ever heard one. Hal Sharp on Tarantula is little better, and the series, which has already lasted far longer than anything I would have imagined from Roy Thomas’s introduction of him, is empty and hollow: Tarantula is continually presented as an awesome enemy of crime, so much so you’d think he was Superman.
TNT and Dan the Dyna-Mite is D list at best. There’s no energy or spark to it and although the art is functional the choice of blue and green for the character’s costumes is dismal and drab to the eye. Paradoxically, though it is sadly cold and uninvolving, Robotman scores highly simply through having decent if conservative art, and some Joe Schuster-esque faces. If Jerry Siegel is still writing both series, it’s no longer mentioned: I certainly wouldn’t want to admit to the Star-Spangled Kid by now.
The Robotman story in issue 15 does deserve mention, being the one that Rpy Thomas adapted in All-Star Squadron, where a sleazy lawyer attempts to have Robotman declared a public menace and scrapped, and where Chuck Grayson has to explain that his body contains the brain of Bob Crane, a secret that they’d both tried to keep for fear of hurting Joan Carter. I don’t much remember Thomas’s version but I think I prefer the original.
Of course, having delivered myself of that opinion, I find a dramatic switch of artists in issue 16 for Tarantula, TNT and Robotman, the first two an improvement, the last not so.
The Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy were finally given an origin in issue 18, and it was interesting to read, if one could see past the abysmal art. Both Sylvester Pemberton Jr, rich kid, and Pat Dugan, mechanic, separately attend a moviehouse showing an impressive anti-Nazi documentary that is disrupted by Nazi sympathisers. The pair pile in separately but both are infuriated that the agitators escape. Both then overhear a man wishing that the American flag could come to life to avenge the insult against it and both are inspired. At first, each resents the other as a cheap imitator, but once the Nazi agents complain of how effective they were together, the pair bury their resentments and team up.
It’s actually a decent origin, and not so far-fetched. It’s grounded in the times and the reaction of Pemberton and Dugan is surprisingly realistic (for comics at any rate). It was however overshadowed both in passion and talent by the Newsboy Legion story in the same issue, which features a Nazi victory over America, and their rule of New York. It’s far too obviously a dream but no-one’s trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, and the anger that goes into this nightmare scenario, and especially the kind of crumbs that would collaborate in their desire for power, makes this another superb piece.
Tarantula’s short and undistinguished life ended with issue 19. There was no exhortation to read him again in next month’s Star-Spangled Comics, and he descended into forty years of obscurity. This was to make room next month for the instantly more attractive Liberty Belle, spun off Simon and Kirby’s Boy Commandos series (the same formula as the Newsboy Legion but which had already gained its own quarterly title). The tall blonde lady was former American champion swimmer turned journalist and radio commentator Libby Belle Lawrence, who had escaped Nazi-Europe by swimming the English Channel and who now fought the enemy.


Her debut story was an intriguing one, leading America’s WAAC’s (Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps) to the rescue of a prominent loudmouth who wanted women kept out of War. Simon and Kirby made the inarguable case that this was everybody’s war, not just the men.
It was interesting to note that, exactly the same as Black Cat, Liberty Belle had a would-be boyfriend, Captain Rickey Cannon, attracted to her as Liberty Belle and overlooking her as Libby Lawrence who, to put it crudely, she’d have happily shagged at the drop of a jodhpur in either guise. It’s like a tradition, or an old charter. No, wait, it’s a formula, yawn.
Still I found it amusing yet again that the heroine wore no mask and relied upon distinguishing herself from the ‘prim and proper’ Miss Lawrence by her bold and striking costume and a Veronica Lake peek-a-boo hairstyle that must have played merry hob with her depth perception. Still, Chuck Winter’s art was lovely, strong and graceful, albeit stylised. Tarantula who?
Issue 23 saw the end of TNT and Dan the Dyna-Mite in unspectacular fashion, vanishing without fanfare or trace, just like Tarantula and, just like him, alone, unmourned and unloved.
Of course, the overwhelming problem with Golden Age series is their overwhelming urge to chuck in a comic relief sidekick. Robotman went down that overtrodden road in issue 29, introducing Robbie the Robodog, though thankfully the steel mutt only lasted two issues before stopping to sniff a fire hydrant and being washed away.
This line-up for Star-Spangled Comics was settled in and would run for over half the title’s life. Such changes as there were were negligible: occasionally, the Star-Spangled Kid would regain the lead story but not the cover. Robotman’s art would get even worse (see issue 36), the only point to Penniless Palmer’s strip was in seeing how he got cheated out of payment this month. Only the Newsboy Legion and Liberty Belle provided consistent, well-made and vivid to look at stories, every month.
Of course, I spoke to soon about Robodog and issue 37, but that doesn’t alter the general score.
I was perturbed to see no Simon and Kirby signature on 39’s Newsboy Legion and the art looking like a weak-lined pastiche, but the signatures were back next issue, albeit with no change to the art. Despite that, it was clear that the creators were no longer working on their creation, as confired by Wikipedia. Kirby had been drafted in 1943 but, at DC’s behest and by working with every possible collaborator, had created a year’s worth of material that had now run out.
One drawback about a long-running anthology title with a settled line-up is that unless one or more of the characters is providing interesting and vivid change, there isn’t much to talk about except generalities. The absence of Jack Kirby left the Newsboy Legion with some truly ugly and ill-proportioned art, pencilled and inked by someone trying to emulate the ‘King’s look without understanding a single thing of how Kirby drew. Robotman’s art was much smoother but sterile, and the character himself was given cute human features that were completely out of place, and he kept getting knocked out: this is a robot, hello, you can’t stun it with a sap to the back of the ‘skull’.
I still looked forward to the Liberty Belle stories, both for an independent female character acting and being treated like an equal and to Winter’s vivid art. Yes, it’s stylised, it’s two-dimensional, and it consists of too many stock poses and expressions, but it’s a shining beacon amongst the work surrounding it.
For all her career to date, Libby Lawrence had been testing herself against America’s opponents, the Japanese. But in issue 50, cover-dated November 1945, after the end of the War, Liberty Belle’s mission was to save electronics secrets being stolen for commercial use. The time was coming. But not instantly: in issue 51 she was blocking Nazi General’s escape routes into neutral Switzerland.
It didn’t work though. By issue 55, April 1946, Liberty Belle was still fighting the Japanese, unable to give up her attraction to the cause.
Simon and Kirby returned to the Newsboy Legion as of issue 53, but it was not to last long. Issue 56 was their swansong on their feature as the pair, seeing the Golden Age superhero boom starting to tail off, moved away from DC into setting up their own shop and exploring – and in the case of Romance creating – other genres.
The new regime began by sidelining the Guardian – Jim Harper fights as a copper to avoid his name being further linked with the hero, and in issue 58 is absent on holiday – though he was back in full force the next moth. Issue 58 also saw Liberty Belle, or rather Libby Lawrence relaxing on a post-War holiday in Florida but getting involved with capturing a former Gestapo murderer trying to get away. The story was also notable for a passionate and very pointed denunciation of the Nazis and the need to eradicate them and their ideas totally, delivered by Belle but clearly representing writer Don Cameron’s own beliefs.
Remember the days when we thought we actually had relegated Fascism to history?
This story looked like being a transitional effort for the following story saw Liberty Belle tackling her first out-and-out pure crooks. And for the next few issues, the lady put paid to crooks all over America. It looked like Captain Rickey Cannon was out of the picture too, but it didn’t last. Rickey was back in Libby’s life in issue 64, using her as a date to flush out smugglers who were aiding foreign fascist societies infiltrate the country, and of course needing Libby’s other half to rescue him.
You may have noticed that I’ve been commenting only on the Newsboy Legion and Liberty Belle only for some time now. That is because there is nothing to say about the other series. Robotman is simply dumb and the Penniless Palmer series formulaic: I have been reading neither. And though I have been reading the Star-Spangled Kid, it too offers nothing to talk about. It’s just a commonplace mid-Forties superhero strip repeating its tropes every month, with drab criminals, the days of Dr Weeird and The Needle long gone, and the art only marginally better. No, Star-Spangled Comics had only two series worth reading.
Which made the shock even more horrible when, as of issue 65, the Newsboy Legion were displaced from cover and contents, the new lead role going to… Robin, the Boy Wonder, in solo-stories ‘by’ Bob Kane.
Like the Batman of the era, even if it wasn’t anything like the depths of the late Fifties, the Robin series was second rate in its good moments, though there were not much of those. But once change began, it rolled on. Next to depart was Liberty Belle, making her last appearance in issue 68. Before that, and for the first time in 49 appearances, Captain Rickey Cannon of American Military Intelligence entertained suspicions about Belle turning up every time Libby disappeared…
But exactly fifty stories it was, and no more, until Roy Thomas revived her for All-Star Squadron and muck the character up, except for putting a mask on her.

At least Belle’s replacement was a character I wanted to see. This was the debut of DC’s famous Revolutionary War fighter Tomahawk, a figure still appearing into the mid-Sixties and my first heyday of collecting. And I was still prepared to be impressed even if Tomahawk and his sidekick, young Dan Hunter, were being presented as a frontiers Batman and Robin.
And I wasn’t disappointed at first. True, there was nothing exceptional about art or script except that it was a change of direction, and a chance to see something of how Americans self-mythologised their earliest days. Though it lacked the depth of something like Bill Messner-Loebs’ Journey and its Frontier poetry, it was a series with great potential.
Next for the exit chute was Penniless Palmer, here in issue 79, gone in issue 80, another one unmourned and unloved, and never to be revived. Thankfully.

And time was marching for the Star-Spangled Kid. Issue 81 introduced Sylvester Pemberton’s adoptive sister, Merry, introduced by his father on a psychologist’s recommendation that he needs company, constant company. Merry, who by story’s end is revealed to be the daughter of a ex-con, sticks to Syl like glue but her birthday present both saves the Kid and Stripesy in a tight corner and exposes their secret identities to her.
Mark the little redhead well, unlike Breezy so long ago, she’s not a one-story wonder. The writing was on the wall immediately, as Merry made herself a costume and secretly aided the patriotic pair the next issue, which, incidentally, sprung a surprise on us by having decent art on the Kid’s feature. And in issue 83, Stripesy is laid up with a broken leg, the kid refuses to let Merry join him, because she’s ‘just a girl’ but, in the first instance of her penchant for gadgets, Merry ignores him and saves the day.
The same issue saw Robotman replaced by Captain Compass, Mark Compass that is, of the SS Nautilus, a competent adventure strip.
It’s fascinating to watch the speed with which Merry is taking over the Star-Spangled Kid’s series. For issue 84, Sylvester goes on a fishing trip with his father that’s too tough for a girl, leaving Merry to solo very successfully. It was less fascinating to see Penniless Palmer return, even as a one-off.
And that was it. Though the series kept the kid’s name, it was ‘featuring Merry – the girl with 1,000 gimmicks’ in issue 85, ‘starring’ in issue 86, and the title changed to Merry one issue later. The Gimmick Girl had taken over completely in a mere five issues. But not for long herself. Issue 90 had the story of Merry’s clash with the Gimmick Guy, the only one of her stories I’d previously seen before, in reprint. Her words in the final panel were, “Well, that’s that.” And they were. Ten issues to come out of nowhere, take over a long-running series and hit cancellation: must be some kind of record.
For this was 1949. Here, as elsewhere, the Golden Age was running towards its end. Costumed characters were losing their appeal. All-American Comics was already All-American Western. Like Black Canary, Merry just came along too late. Instead we got Federal Agent, another ordinary man crimefighter, drawn in a bland, simplified style. And there were no original series remaining. Though the Agent himself, Steve Carter, only lasted three issues before being replaced by Manhunters Around The World, showcasing Police styles in different countries, starting with Australia.
Upfront, though Robin’s name was still above the door, his series had turned into just another Batman and Robin affair, with nothing to recommend it. But not even the Dynamic Duo were immune to the winds of change and from issue 96, it was Tomahawk who decorated Star-Spangled Comics‘ cover. The ‘Robin’ series still held the lead spot and, in an ominous sign, there was room for a Dover and Clover feature, as if I hadn’t already seen enough of them in More Fun Comics.
That, thankfully, was a one-off. But four issues later, Star-Spangled Comics became the latest DC title to hit 100 issues, cover-dated January 1950. The ‘new century’ saw Robin, now operating solo again, go to the back of the book and an extra, one-off, real-life story slot in.
Practically none of the Robin stories are worth mentioning but I’d like to single out the one in issue 103 for its typical Fifties dickishness. It’s another of those ‘too tough for a girl’ stories, with Dick Grayson’s classmate Mary Wills turning parallel crimefighter as Roberta the Girl Wonder. True, she starts off because Robin is her dreamboat but she proves to be intelligent, resourceful and effective, so Robin decides to undermine her to prove that only he (and Batman) are clever, up to and including making her mask fall off in public. There is a very twisted sexuality at work in lots of these comics and you sometimes feel that Wertham was right in all the wrong places.
I’m growing increasingly impressed with the Tomahawk series. There’s an intelligence to them, a sense of the times, and a calm steadfastness in Tom Hawk himself that’s wholly enjoyable. The series is written by Otto Binder, who either knows this period well or else is doing a brilliantly convincing job of faking it, whilst Fred Ray’s art, though unspectacular, is solid and realistic, and very good on the woods and the plains.
Indeed others thought so, as issue 108 opened with a full page house ad for the first issue of Tomahawk’s own title, which would run until 1972. It’s a pity I never tried it when I was there, in the Sixties.
In a later era, that would have meant Star-Spangled Comics looking for a new feature but this is still 1950, so the frontiersman stayed on. And there was an opportunity to contrast the sensibilities of his series with those of Robin when issue 110 introduced Sally Raines, Frontierswoman. Yes, another girl-wants-to-get-in-on-the-act story, initially pooh-poohed by Tomahawk and displaying some feminine sillinesses. But Sally proved herself smart, practical and invaluable and saved the mission. Of course she gave up, but that was her decision, and she had earned Tom’s approval and encouragement. It’s like two different words, isn’t it?
With three stories appearing in every issue of his own magazine, it was unsurprising to see Tomahawk get a new artist in issue 113, as well as a new recurring enemy in the Black Cougar. The new guy had a lighter line, but was well up to the task of the frontier. And don’t think that because I’m concentrating on on Tomahawk that the other series are being overlooked. The Manhunters around the World is still casting its net far and wide and remains interesting, but Captain Compass is just a politely drawn modest non-powered character, exactly of its time. It will never rip up any trees, nor turn out an unprofessional story. Robin is, of course, Robin, and therefore unrealistic and flat.
Time now was running out on Star-Spangled Comics. With issue 121, the latest reduction in page count forced out Manhunters of the World. Captain Compass got the boot an issue later, replaced by Dr Thirteen, The Ghost Breaker, who also forced Tomahawk off the cover. Thanks to my interest in The Phantom Stranger, I was familiar with Terry Thirteen’s origin story and several of his stories which repeated in the early issues of that series, though I’d forgotten that the series’ official title was just The Ghost-Breaker..
By the miracle of reducing other series’ page-counts, the maritime detective made it back into issue 123. Four features, each of six pages in length, not much room for subtlety, though Tomahawk still managed to be the pick of them.
The Ghost-Breaker’s career back then was only marginally longer than his future rival, The Phantom Stranger. In the last couple of stories he became Mr Thirteen, and in the last of them, his fiancee Marie became his assistant Marie. And the last of them was issue 130. Terry Thirteen and wife Maria would return in 1968, in Showcase 80. Captain Compass would not be back at all. Tomahawk had his own title and Robin had Batman’s array of titles. Star-Spangled Comics did have an issue 131 and more but it’s theme changed and so did it’s title. Henceforth and into the Seventies it would be Star-Spangled War Stories, with a new numbering. Among it’s features would be Mademoiselle Marie, The War that Time Forgot, Enemy Ace and The Unknown Soldier.
But that’s another comic entirely. What then my overall impressions of Star-Spangled Comics, that I read merely out of mild curiosity and no great interest? Well, I have been amply rewarded by the runs of the Newsboy Legion and the Guardian, of Liberty Belle, the All-American Girl, and the chance fifty-plus years later to get to know Tomahawk: should the opportunity come up, I will not be slow to purchase a DVD-Rom of his solo title.
And I had tremendous fun with the meteoric rise and stunning collapse of Merry, the Girl of 1,000 Gimmicks.
I’m still saving my last Golden Age title up, so we’ll be in the Silver Age again, next time. And a couple more series gave been bought in, so I’ll be going on longer than I thought. As long as it’s still fun.

Soldiers or Legionnaires?: Leading Comics


No, there’s definitely eight of them…

In the last couple of years, with immense thanks to David Simpson, I have collected thousands of old comics as part of a pile of DVD-Roms about three inches high. At first these were the British weeklies I remembered from my youth in the Sixties that is now gone, but along the way I discovered that I could get complete or near-complete runs of Golden Age series. Not just the run of All-Star Comics that I had in hardcover Archive format but the four titles featuring the adventures of the characters who made up the Justice Society of America.
Yes, the Golden Age comics are rough and ready, naïve, clumsy, amateurish, but energetic and enthusiastic. Most of all, they have been an opportunity to read and learn, to know what the stories were, to not have to rely on sketchy references and re-tellings that never give the details I automatically thirst for.
I have always wanted to know. Summaries, however accurate, are never enough. Only the original will do.
I haven’t yet reached the end of these revelatory DVDs, the latest of which is Detective Comics Inc.’s Leading Comics, an initially quarterly title introduced in Winter 1941. The title was conceived by Mort Weisinger and artist Mort Meskin in emulation of sister company All-American Publications’ All-Star and the JSA.
The idea was for Detective to have its own team of characters, coming exclusively from Detective’s titles. These were The Green Arrow, with Speedy, from More Fun, The Shining Knight from Detective, The Vigilante from Action, The Star-Spangled Kid, with Stripesy, from Star-Spangled and The Crimson Avenger from Adventure. Apart from the Shining Knight, who had magic armour and a flying horse, none of the team had actual superpowers.
Nobody seemed to know exactly what to call this team. The last panel of their debut adventure, in Leading 1, names them for the first time as the Seven Soldiers of Victory, though it has the feel of a description rather than a title. On the other hand, the team – which had no headquarters – were also referred to as The Law’s Legionnaires.
My first exposure to the Seven Soldiers came in Justice League of America 100-102, the first three-part JSA team-up and the first to introduce a third team. Len Wein brought them back from almost thirty years obscurity as a second Earth-2 team, time-tossed and forgotten, with a recap of the team’s origin in the form of a skeletal summary of the story from Leading no 1. It was a delight, another forty-six years on, to read that story myself.
The Seven Soldiers become a team by accident. Master criminal The Hand, believing himself to be dying of cancer, recruits five villains – Professor Merlin, The Needle, Big Caesar, The Red Dragon and The Dummy – to carry out his five best unworked plans, and challenges our five borrowed features to stop them. Needless to say, the heroes stop them, the Vigilante aided by sidekick, veteran Billy Gun and the Crimson Avenger by his aide, Wing, in every respect an eighth Soldier except for not being on the team. The team then follow the Hand, who has just learned his cancer is curable after all, to his lair, where their attempts to escape his death-trap lead to – not a very subtle irony – The Hand dying.
Until he comes back in Justice League of America in 1972, which was where I came in.
Though Leading Comics was an anthology title, it adopted the same approach as All-Star. There was one story running through the sixty-four page comic, a couple of comic strips excepted, but the heroes, with and without sidekicks, all went off on their own to fight the villain’s schemes separately. In the Forties, no-one seemed to properly grasp the idea of a team.
I was already familiar with the story in issue 2 from when it was reprinted over two issues of the 100-page Giant Justice League of America in 1974. Indeed, that’s the version that’s on the DVD, complete with colouring errors. It’s interesting that the Star-Spangled Kid, who calls the team together, refers to them as the Legionnaires, but more interesting to note that the story is structurally identical to the first one: a master plotter sets up five criminals to execute his plans, concealing his plan to collect the real object, and dying of his success.
And stone me, but issue 3 was identical! This time it was The Green Arrow who saw the problem. An evil scientist, Dr Doome (note the ‘e’) brings back five of history’s greatest dictators to rob precious metals for a time machine to go forward and take over the future. Same as before, five defeats later.

We are definitely talking formula here, and much more rigid than the JSA, but if Mort Weisinger is writing this, are we necessarily surprised?
Thankfully, there was a change made for issue 6, as the Seven Soldiers team-up to recover a billion dollars of Inca Gold for Uncle Sam’s War Effort, only to find various of its members turned against each other as a bad guy joins the race. This more sophisticated approach was used again for the next issue, but it was back to solo adventures again in no. 8, as The Dummy sent them back in time in a failed attempt to strand them.
And another twist was introduced in issue 10, as the Soldiers head to the Pacific to rescue a missing scientific expedition, get shipwrecked and split up and have to get themselves out of it in unexpected teams. This story emphasised one aspect of this team that was missing from the JSA, the sense of comradeship. The Seven Soldiers mixed a bit more and looked out for each other a bit more openly. In contrast, comradeship in the Justice Society was more of a case of pulling Johnny Thunder out of whatever hole he’d gotten himself into this time.
The story in issue 11 was barely a team-up at all. The Soldiers meet up, JSA-style, in the first and last chapters, to settle the hash of underworld boss Handsome Harry, in both, but in between they’re not on missions, just going about their ordinary business, solving crimes linked by the Hard-Luck Hat. This is Harry’s hat, which he loses in chapter 1, and which goes on from head to head, bringing disaster in its wake, before returning to Harry in the final chapter, by which time he’s become a hobo. If we’re to take this story at all seriously, which I wouldn’t recommend, years must pass during it. How silly is that?
In passing, I’ll mention that issue 13 was the first to appear in the interregnum when Detective and All-American were separated. Naturally, the Superman DC logo was unchanged by the list of comics promoted in the inside front cover was suddenly diminished by the exclusion of the latter company’s titles.
But the Seven Soldiers of Victory were only the number two team, and they never acquired the traction of the Justice Society. Issue 14’s goofy story of battling figures from literature, accidentally given life, was fun, and some splendidly vigorous writing went into the dialogue of Long John Silver and Sir John Falstaff especially, but it was the swansong for the Law’s Legionnaires. Though one last script existed, to be drawn as a curiosity, and serialised in Adventure Comics in 1975, the Spring 1945 issue was the end for them.
Why they were less successful will always be a matter of conjecture but most people agree, and I share that opinion, the overwhelming reason was that the JSA had the big guns, whilst the Seven Soldiers consisted of second stringers. The absence of actual super-powers, save for the Shining Knight, was another reason in limiting the appeal of the team, and the final factor was the times. The War was in its final year, Starman and The Spectre were about to lose their series, other costumed characters were falling by the wayside.
As well as its superhero series, Detective Comics had begun to introduce funny comics, like All-Funny and the teenster series, Buzzy. If the Seven Soldiers were to be removed, there was a lot of comic to fill. And the answer was funny animals. With issue 15, Leading Comics was transformed, the first DC title to drop its superheroes completely.
That’s not what I wanted to read. Nevertheless, in fairness I scanned issue 15. Six new funny animal features, including a funny animal version of Sherlock Holmes (is there anything less funny than a funny animal version of Sherlock Holmes?), all of them dross.
Nero Fox was the cover feature until issue 23 until he was replaced by Peter Porkchops. From issue 34, the series was retitled Leading Screen Comics, in which form it lasted until 1951 and issue 77.
I wanted to read the short career of the Seven Soldiers of Victory, and now I have.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: the geeky bit


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

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1978


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.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1972


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


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


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

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