Crisis on Multiple Earths volume 6


By Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, George Pérez, Don Heck, Adrian Gonzalez, Jerry Ordway & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3822-3

In my most instinctual moments I am at heart a child of the Silver Age. The material I read as a kid shaped me and I cannot honestly declare myself a completely impartial critic on comics of the time. The same probably applies to the brave and bold continuances that stretched all the way to the 1980s reinventions of Marvel, DC and the rest of America’s costumed champions.

That’s especially true of the Julie Schwartz-edited Justice League of America and its annual summer tradition of teaming up with its progenitor organisation, the Justice Society of America. If that sounds a tad confusing there are many places to look for clarifying details – including, of course, past posts of this blog. If you’re interested in superheroes and their histories you’ll even enjoy the search. But this is not the place for that.

Ultra-Editor Schwartz ushered in the Silver Age of American Comics with his landmark Showcase successes Flash, Adam Strange and Green Lantern, directly leading to the invention of the JLA – which in turn inspired the Fantastic Four and Marvel’s entire empire – changing forever the way comics were made and read…

Whereas the 1940s were about magic and macho, the Silver Age polished everything with a thick veneer of SCIENCE and a wave of implausibly rationalistic concepts which quickly filtered into the dawning mass-consciousness of the baby-boomer generation.

The most intriguing and rewarding was, of course, the notion of parallel worlds…

Once DC’s Silver Age heroes began meeting their Golden Age predecessors from “Earth-2”, that aforementioned annual tradition commenced: every summer the JLA would team-up with the JSA to combat a trans-dimensional Crisis…

This volume reprints a magnificent mass-gathering from issues #195-197 (October-December 1981, and edited by Len Wein), plus a sprawling team-up and chronal crossover encompassing Justice League of America #207-209 and the WWII set All-Star Squadron #14-15 (October-December 1982): epics which set new standards even while proving that the escalating efforts of constantly topping the previous year’s Big Thing was starting to tax the creators’ imaginative resources…

The action and intrigue opens in ‘Targets on Two Worlds’ by scripter Gerry Conway and artists George Pérez & John Beatty, wherein Earth-2 mad scientist and serial body-snatcher the Ultra-Humanite gathers a coterie of villains from his own world and Earth-1 into a new incarnation of the Secret Society of Super-Villains.

The wily super-genius has divined that by removing five specific Leaguers and JSA-ers from their worlds he can achieve an alteration of the Cosmic Alignment and create a world utterly devoid of all superheroes. Selling the plan to his suspicious pawns Monocle, Psycho Pirate, Brain Wave, Rag Doll, the Mist, Cheetah, Signalman, Killer Frost and Floronic Man is relatively easy. They can see the advantages and have no idea that the duplicitous savant is playing them all for his own ultimate advantage…

Inked by Romeo Tanghal, the plan seems to successfully conclude in ‘Countdown to Crisis!’ as Earth-1’s Batman, Black Canary, Wonder Woman, Firestorm and Atom are individually ambushed with their other-world guests Flash, Hourman, Hawkman, Superman and Johnny Thunder and despatched to an inter-dimensional void, but after the longed-for Realignment results in a hero-free planet the miscreants fall out. Similarly banished, Earth-1’s villains spitefully retaliate by freeing the lost champions from a ‘Crisis in Limbo!’ (art by Keith Pollard, Pérez & Tanghal) and join them in crushing the Ultra-Humanite to restore the previous status quo…

One year later, the annual scenario expanded into a multi-title extravaganza.

Spanning alternate universes and divergent histories, the drama commenced in Justice League #207 as ‘Crisis Times Three!’ (Conway, Don Heck & Tanghal) finds members of the JSA diverted from a trans-dimensional exchange and rendezvous with the JLA.

They are deposited on a terrifying post-apocalyptic alternate Earth where the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 had resulted in atomic war, whilst the JLA are smashed by the unexpected arrival of their evil counterparts the Crime Syndicate of Earth-3…

As the lost JSAers explore the nuclear nightmare the story unfolds and an old enemy is exposed. This Earth was devastated due to the intervention of malign time meddler Per Degaton

Having barely survived the attack of the Syndicators, a team of Justice Leaguers – Superman, Zatanna, Firestorm, Hawkman and Aquaman – crosses dimensions to Earth-2 and discovers a fascistic society which has been ruled by Degaton since the 1940s. Barely escaping, they then plunge back down that timeline to January 1942 to solve the mystery and stumble upon the JSA’s wartime branch: the All-Star Squadron

After the creation of Superman and the very concept of Super-Heroes, arguably the next most groundbreaking idea for comicbooks was to stick a whole bunch of individual stars into a team. Thus when anthology title All Star Comics #3 revealed its previously solo line-up interacting as a comradely group, the very nature of the genre took a huge leap in evolution.

The Justice Society of America inspired innumerable similar iterations over the decades but for many of us tragically nostalgia-paralysed fans, the original and genuine pioneers have always been Simply the Best.

Possibly their greatest living fan, advocate and perpetuator is writer, editor and historian Roy Thomas who has long championed – when not actually steering – their revivals and continued crusades against crime, tyranny and injustice.

When he moved from Marvel to DC in the early 1980s, Thomas created Arak, Son of Thunder and Captain Carrot, wrote Batman and Wonder Woman and inevitably revived the world’s original Super-Team. Moreover, he somehow convinced DC’s powers-that-be to put them back where they truly belonged – battling for freedom and democracy in the white-hot crucible of World War II.

The All-Star Squadron was comprised of minor characters owed by DC/National and All American Comics, retroactively devised as an adjunct to the main team and indulging in “untold tales” of the War period…

The action resumes in All-Star Squadron #14, courtesy of writer Thomas and illustrators Adrian Gonzales & Jerry Ordway. In ‘The Mystery Men of October!’ they are an unknown quantity to the recently arrived Leaguers who have come in search of Degaton. Their arrival coincides with the rogue recovering his erased memories, stealing his boss’s time machine (long story: buy the book for more details) and heading into the time stream where he encounters and liberates Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring from the energy-prison the JLA and JSA had created for the defeated Crime Syndicate…

Joining forces, the murderous monsters then foray forward and across the realities until they arrive in a 1962 and steal all the nuclear missiles Russia had stockpiled in Cuba, precipitating a clash of wills between President John F. Kennedy, Fidel Castro and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev that ended in atomic Armageddon…

Sadly, none of this is known to the JLA or All-Stars in 1942 who see costumed strangers and instantly attack…

That battle ends in JLA #208 after Degaton makes his ultimatum known: America and the world’s total surrender or the successive detonation of dozens of atomic super explosives in many nations…

Happily the heroes of two eras are ready to stifle ‘The Bomb-Blast Heard ‘Round the World’ (Conway, Heck & Sal Trapani) and deploy accordingly. They are soon joined by their JSA comrades from 1982 who have escaped their dystopian prison dimension and headed back forty years for the beginning of the end in A-SS #15’s all-action clash of titans ‘Masters of Worlds and Time!’ (Thomas, Gonzales & Ordway).

The senses-shattering conclusion comes in JLA #209 with Conway & Heck detailing the cautious restoration of all consensus realities in ‘Should Old Acquaintances Be Forgot…’

This a blistering wave of nostalgic delight for those who love costumed heroes, crave carefully constructed modern mythologies and crave an indulgent dose of fantastic adventure, great causes and momentous victories.

These are instantly accessible yarns: captivating Costumed Dramas no lover of Fights ‘n’ Tights fun and frolics could possibly resist. And besides, surely everyone fancies finding their Inner Kid again?
© 1981, 1982, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Crisis on Multiple Earths volume 5


By Gerry Conway, Dick Dillin, George Perez, Frank McLaughlin & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2623-7

In my most relaxed moments I am at heart a child of the Silver Age. The material I read as a kid shaped me and I cannot honestly declare myself a completely impartial critic on comics of the time. The same probably applies to the brave and bold continuances that stretched all the way to the 1980s recreation of Marvel, DC and the rest of America’s costumed champions.

That counts doubly so for the Julie Schwartz edited Justice League of America and its annual summer tradition of teaming up with its progenitor organisation, the Justice Society of America. If that sounds a tad confusing there are many places to look for clarifying details. If you’re interested in superheroes and their histories you’ll even enjoy the search. But this is not the place for that.

Ultra-Editor Schwartz ushered in the Silver Age of American Comics with his landmark Showcase successes Flash, Adam Strange and Green Lantern, directly leading to the JLA which in turn inspired the Fantastic Four and Marvel’s entire empire; changing forever the way comics were made and read…

Whereas the 1940s were about magic and macho, the Silver Age polished everything with a thick veneer of SCIENCE and a wave of implausibly rationalistic concepts which quickly filtered into the dawning mass-consciousness of a generation of baby-boomer kids.

The most intriguing and rewarding was, of course, the notion of parallel worlds…

Once DC’s Silver Age heroes began meeting their Golden Age predecessors from “Earth-2”, that aforementioned annual tradition commenced: every summer the JLA would team-up with the JSA to combat a trans-dimensional Crisis

This volume reprints magnificent mass-gatherings encompassing Justice League of America #159 & 160 (October – November 1978), #171-172 (October – November 1979) and #183-185 (October to December 1980); a transitional period which saw comic book tastes changing as sales dwindled. It also marks the passing of a true great…

The amazing fantasy opens with a time-bending threat as five legendary warriors are plucked from history by a most malevolent malefactor for the most noble of reasons. They are then pitted against the greatest superheroes of two worlds in ‘Crisis from Yesterday’ by scripter Gerry Conway and artistic dynamic duo Dill Dillin & Frank McLaughlin.

In his zeal to conquer and plunder, the nefarious Lord of Time has accidentally created an omnipotent super-computer that is counting down to stopping the passage of time forever. Unable to halt or avoid the cosmic disaster, the temporal terrorist extracts Jon, the Viking Prince, English freebooter Black Pirate, Revolutionary War heroine Miss Liberty, western gunman Jonah Hex and WWI German fighter ace Hans von Hammer; supercharges them with eerie energies and programs them to attack the united Justice League and Society.

The Time Lord’s logic is simple: after suffering a shattering defeat, the teams – fired with determination and righteous fury – will promptly track him down, invade his Palace of Eternity and destroy for him his unstoppable computer. Or at least the survivors will…

Surprisingly that convoluted plan seems to work out in the concluding ‘Crisis from Tomorrow!’ but only after the chronally kidnapped quintet overcome their perfidious programming and revert to their true valiant selves. Even as the beleaguered superhero teams sacrifice everything to thwart the Lord of Time, the time-lost warriors prove their mettle against the errant computer.

One year later, the annual scenario hosted a savage locked-room mystery as ‘The Murderer Among Us: Crisis Above Earth One!’ sees the JLA feting the JSA in their satellite HQ and horrified to find one of their veteran guests throttled by unseen hands.

With no possible egress or exit, the greatest detectives of two Earths realise one of their heroic compliment must be the cold-blooded killer. Soon a methodical elimination of suspects leads to tense explorations and explosive repercussions in the revelatory finale ‘I Accuse…’

With the next summer’s team-up an artistic era ended as criminally underappreciated illustrator Dick Dillin passed away whilst drawing the saga. He and McLaughlin only completed Conway’s first chapter – ‘Crisis on New Genesis or, Where Have All the New Gods Gone?’ – of an epic confrontation between JLA, JSA and futuristic deities of Jack Kirby’s astounding Fourth World, leaving up-and-coming star George Pérez to fill some very big boots (and gloves and capes and…).

In the first chapter, the assembled heroes are unilaterally shanghaied out of the regular universe and transported to trans-dimensional paradise planet New Genesis. The world is utterly deserted but for a furiously deranged Orion who seems set on crushing them all. Happily he is stopped by late-arriving Mister Miracle, Big Barda, Oberon and Metron who reveal their fellow gods have been captured and sent to hell-world Apokolips by three Earth-2 villains…

The place has been in turmoil since evil overlord Darkseid was killed by Orion and in the interim the vanquished devil’s spirit has travelled to Earth 2 and recruited The Shade, Icicle and Fiddler to resurrect him…

The details of the scheme are reviewed in ‘Crisis Between Two Earths or, Apokolips Now!’ as the freshly restored Darkseid strives to make his still-tenuous existence permanent and the heroes split up to stop him by hitting key components of his technology and support teams.

Along the way they encounter a resistance movement of battle-scarred super-powered toddlers, the horrific reason the New Genesisians were initially taken and how Darkseid plans to invade the natural universe by cataclysmically transporting Apokolips the space currently occupied by Earth-2…

The diabolical denouement reveals a ‘Crisis on Apokolips or, Darkseid Rising!’ as the scattered champions reunite to stop the imminent catastrophe and set the worlds to rights in an explosive clash with no true resolution. Such is the nature of undying evil…

With full biographies of the creators and a stirring cover gallery by Rich Buckler, Dick Giordano, Dillin, McLaughlin, Jim Starlin & Bob Smith, this a sheer uncomplicated dose of nostalgic delight for those who love costumed heroes, crave carefully constructed modern mythologies and care to indulge in a grand parade of straightforward action, great causes and momentous victories.

These are instantly accessible yarns: captivating Costumed Dramas no lover of Fights ‘n’ Tights fun and frolics could possibly resist. And besides, surely everyone fancies finding their Inner Kid again?
© 1978, 1979, 1980, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Crisis on Multiple Earths volume 4


By Cary Bates, Elliot S! Maggin, E. Nelson Bridwell, Marty Pasko, Paul Levitz, Dick Dillin, Frank McLaughlin & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0957-2

In regard to comic material from this period I cannot declare myself an impartial critic. That counts doubly so for the Julie Schwartz edited Justice League of America and its annual summer tradition of teaming up with its progenitor organisation, the Justice Society of America. If that sounds a tad confusing there are many places to look for clarifying details. If you’re interested in superheroes and their histories you’ll even enjoy the search. But this is not the place for that.

Ultra-Editor Schwartz ushered in the Silver Age of American Comics with his landmark Showcase successes Flash, Adam Strange and Green Lantern, directly leading to the JLA which in turn inspired Fantastic Four and the whole Marvel Empire; changing forever the way comics were made and read…

Whereas the 1940s were about magic and macho, the Silver Age polished everything with a thick veneer of SCIENCE and a wave of implausible rationalistic concepts quickly filtered into the dawning mass-consciousness of a generation of baby-boomer kids.

The most intriguing and rewarding was, of course, the notion of parallel worlds…

Once DC’s Silver Age heroes began meeting their Golden Age predecessors from “Earth-2”, that aforementioned annual tradition commenced: every summer the JLA would team-up with the JSA to combat a trans-dimensional Crisis…

This volume reprints get-togethers from 1975 through 1977, encompassing Justice League of America #123 & 124 (October and November 1975), #135-137 (October to December 1976) and #147-148 (October and November 1977), offering also a wash of memory-intensive reminiscences in an Introduction from veteran colourist Carl Gafford.

All these tightly-plotted tales are competently and comfortably rendered by the criminally underappreciated Dick Dillin with his long-term inker Frank McLaughlin and, in terms of narrative, the writing consists of nothing more – or if you’re still a kid like me, nothing less – than two bunches of beguiling mystery men getting together to deal with extra-extraordinary problems.

From the early 1970s it also became about reintroducing other lost characters from other companies and pantheons DC had bought out over the years, so in hindsight, it was all also about sales and the attempted revival of more super characters during a period of intense sales rivalry between DC Comics and Marvel.

But for those who love costumed heroes, who crave these carefully constructed modern mythologies and care, it is simply a grand parade of straightforward action, great causes and momentous victories.

I love ‘em, not because they’re the best of their kind, but because I did then and they haven’t changed even if I have. Surely everyone fancies finding their Inner Kid again?

This batch of blockbusters begins with a yarn from Cary Bates and Elliot Maggin, stepping far off the reservation with ‘Where on Earth Am I?’ and its conclusion ‘Avenging Ghosts of the Justice Society!’ from #123- 124.

In Flash #179 (‘The Flash – Fact of Fiction?, May 1968) Bates and Gardner Fox first took the multiple Earths concept to its illogical conclusion by trapping the Monarch of Motion in “our” Reality of Earth-Prime, where he was known only to a dwindling readership as a mere comic-book character. It took the financial assistance of his editor Julie Schwartz in building a “cosmic treadmill” to return the Scarlet Speedster to his proper dimension…

In this quirky follow-up, Bates and co-scripter Maggin revisit the notion as a story conference in Schwartz’s office leads to the oafish goons playing with the Flash’s abandoned construct until one of them is sent hurtling between Realities…

Transformed and cosmically empowered by the journey, Bates became the most dangerous villain alive, leading Earth-2 criminals The Wizard, Shade, Sportsmaster, Huntress, Icicle and The Gambler in a lethal assault on JSA heroes Robin, Hourman, Wildcat, Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder and Dr. Mid-Nite.

Frantic and terrified, Maggin follows his friend but ends up on Earth-1 where he recruits Batman, Black Canary, Aquaman, Hawkman, Green Arrow and Flash to save three imperilled universes. In the end however it requires the Divine Might of the supernal Spectre to truly set every thing back on track and in its assigned place and time…

A year later the get-together took on epic proportions with the inclusion of stars from the Shazam! Universe (imaginatively dubbed Earth-S) which began with a ‘Crisis in Eternity!’ plotted by E. Nelson Bridwell and scripted by Marty Pasko.

One of the most venerated and loved characters in American comics, the original Captain Marvel was created by Bill Parker & C. C. Beck: the best of a wave of costumed titans devised in the wake of Superman’s blockbuster 1938 debut.

Although there were many similarities in the early years, the Fawcett character moved early into the realm of fanciful light entertainment and even comedy, whilst as the 1940s progressed the Man of Steel increasingly left whimsy behind in favour of action and drama.

Homeless orphan Billy Batson was chosen to battle injustice by an ancient wizard who bestowed the powers of six gods and heroes. Billy transforms from scrawny boy to brawny (adult) hero by speaking aloud the wizard’s name – an acronym for the legendary six patrons Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury.

At the height of his popularity Captain Marvel was published twice a month and outsold Superman, but as tastes and the decade changed sales slowed and a court case begun by National Comics citing copyright infringement was settled. The Big Red Cheese disappeared – as did many superheroes – becoming a fond memory for older fans.

In Britain, where an English reprint line had run for many years, creator/publisher Mick Anglo had an avid audience and no product, and swiftly transformed Captain Marvel into the atomic age hero Marvelman, continuing to thrill readers into the 1960s.

As America lived through another superhero boom-&-bust, the 1970s dawned with a shrinking industry and wide variety of comics genres servicing a base that was increasingly founded on collector/aficionados, not casual or impulse buys.

DC needed sales and were prepared to look for them in unusual places.

After the settlement with Fawcett in 1953 they had secured the rights to Captain Marvel and Family and, even though the name itself had been taken up by Marvel Comics (via a circuitous and quirky robotic character published by Carl Burgos and M.F. Publications in 1967), they decided to tap into that discriminating fanbase.

In 1973, riding a wave of nostalgia, DC brought back the entire beloved Fawcett cast and crew in their own kinder, weirder universe. To circumvent the intellectual property clash, they entitled the new comic book Shazam! (‘With One Magic Word…’) the trigger phrase used by most of the many Marvels to transform to and from mortal form and a word that had already entered the American language due to the success of the franchise the first time around…

Now in Justice League #135 the stand-alone Shazam heroes met other costumed champions when antediluvian dictator King Kull (a bestial king from a pre-human civilisation who held mankind responsible for the extinction of his race) invaded the Wizard’s home on the Rock of Eternity.

From this central point in the Multiverse Kull intended to wipe out humanity on three different Earths and began by capturing the gods and goddesses who empowered Billy and his magical allies Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel.

Thankfully fleet Mercury was able to escape and warn Earths 1 and 2 even as lesser heroes Bulletman & Bulletgirl, Ibis the Invincible, Spysmasher and Mister Scarlet & Pinky took up the fight without the missing Marvels…

Recruiting an army of indigenous super-villains from three worlds, Kull unleashes a plague of unnatural disasters in ‘Crisis on Earth-S!’ unaware that Mercury, Shazam and imbecilic magic-wielder Johnny Thunder are undertaking a devious counterattack which brings the vanished Marvel Family back into action just in time to avert a cataclysmic ‘Crisis in Tomorrow!’

This monumental melange of metahuman mayhem concludes with a brace of double-length sagas guest-starring Silver Age DC’s second-most popular superteam.

Once upon a time, a thousand years from now, a band of super-powered kids from many worlds took inspiration from the greatest heroic legend of all time and formed a club of champions. One day those Children of Tomorrow came back in time and invited their inspiration to join them…

Thus began the vast, epic saga of the Legion of Super-Heroes, as first envisioned by writer Otto Binder & artist Al Plastino when the many-handed mob of juvenile universe-savers debuted in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958), just as the revived superhero genre was gathering an inexorable head of steam in America.

The coalition grew and prospered, becoming a phenomenon generally attributed with birthing organised comics fandom. After years of slavishly remaining a closely-guarded offshoot of Superman’s corner of continuity the Legion finally crossed over into the broader DC Universe with this saga as writers Paul Levitz & Pasko combined to detail a ‘Crisis in the 30th Century!’

It begins when ultimate sorcerer Mordru drags a handful of JLA and JSA-ers (Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Black Canary from Earth-1 plus the other Green Lantern, Doctor Fate, Power Girl, Flash and Hawkman from E-2) into the future to replace a band of ensorcelled Legionnaires he has lost contact with…

Mordru’s previous captives had been tasked with retrieving three arcane artefacts that were in the JLA’s keeping a millennium past, but with them gone the wizard now expects his new pets to finish the task. Of course the ancient heroes have other ideas…

Even after linking up with the lost Legionnaires, the 20th Centurians are unable to prevent the return of demonic triumvirate Abnegazar, Rath and Ghast, but happily their eons in stasis has affected the eldritch horrors’ psychological make-up and their disunity gives the puny humans one shot at saving the universe from a ‘Crisis in Triplicate!’

This staggering panoply of multi-hued calamities and alternate Armageddons is rounded off with an instructive contextual lecture in John Wells’ Afterword ‘Those Were the Days’, rounding out a glorious gathering of captivating Costumed Dramas no lover of Fights ‘n’ Tights fun and frolics could possibly resist.
© 1975, 1976, 1977, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Crisis on Multiple Earths volume 2


By Gardner Fox, Dennis O’Neil, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Dillin & Sid Greene (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0003-9

As I’ve frequently mentioned before, I was one of the Baby Boomers who grew up with Julie Schwartz, Gardner Fox and John Broome’s tantalisingly slow reintroduction of DC’s Golden Age superheroes during the halcyon, eternally summery days of the 1960s. To me those fascinating counterpart crusaders from Earth-Two weren’t vague and distant memories rubber-stamped by parents or older brothers – they were cool, fascinating and enigmatically new.

…And for some reason the “proper” heroes of Earth-One held them in high regard and treated them with marked deference…

It all began, naturally enough, in The Flash; pioneering trendsetter of the Silver Age Revolution. After successfully ushering in the triumphant return of the superhero concept, the Scarlet Speedster, with Fox & Broome at the writing reins, set an incomparably high standard for costumed adventurers in sharp, witty tales of science and imagination, always illustrated with captivating style and clean simplicity by Carmine Infantino.

The epochal epic that literally changed the scope of American comics forever was Fox’s ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (Flash #123 September 1961, as seen in Showcase Presents the Flash volume 2) which introduced the theory of alternate Earths to the continuity and by extension resulted in the multiversal structure of the DCU – and all the succeeding cosmos-shaking yearly “Crisis” sagas that grew from it.

And of course, where DC led, others followed…

With the concept of Infinite Earths and multiple versions of costumed crusaders solidly established, public pressure began almost instantly to agitate for the return of the “Golden Age Greats” but Editorial powers-that-be were hesitant, fearing too many heroes would be silly and unmanageable, or worse yet, put readers off. If they could see us now…

A torturous trickle of innovative crossover yarns generated an avalanche of popular and critical approval (big sales figures, too) so inevitably the trans-dimensional tests led to the ultimate team-up in the summer of 1963. ‘Crisis on Earth-One’ and ‘Crisis on Earth-Two’ (Justice League of America #21-22, August and September) comprised one of the most important stories in DC history and arguably one of the most crucial tales in American comics.

Its success led to a sequel the following summer and by year three it had become an eagerly-awaited tradition that would last as long as the JLA comicbook did.

This second collected volume gathers the fifth through eighth summer collaborations (JLA #55-56, 64-65, 73-74 and 82-83), encompassing a period of editorial flux and change. The background is covered in Martin Pasko’s erudite Introduction ‘Crisis Behind the Scenes’ which details how the loss of stalwart originators Gardner Fox & Mike Sekowsky led to a new way of telling stories, offsetting in some respects the genuine dilemma of readers’ changing tastes…

These classics span a period in DC’s history which still makes many fans shudder with dread but I’m going to ask them to reconsider their aversion to the “Camp Craze” that saw America go superhero silly in the wake of the Batman TV show (and, to a lesser extent, the Green Hornet series that introduced Bruce Lee to the world). I should also mention that comics didn’t create the craze. Many popular media outlets felt the zeitgeist of a zanier, tongue-in-cheek, mock-heroic fashion: Just check out old episodes of Lost in Space or The Man from U.N.C.L.E if you doubt me…

A wise-cracking campy tone was fully in play for the first two-parter – ‘The Super-Crisis that Struck Earth-Two’ and ‘The Negative-Crisis on Earths One-Two!’ from JLA #55-56 (August and September 1967).

Opening on Earth-2, it boasted a radical change as the JSA now included an adult Robin instead of Batman, although Hourman, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, Wildcat, Johnny Thunder and Mr. Terrific still needed the help of Earth-1’s Superman, Flash, Green Lantern and Green Arrow to cope with an invasion of superpower-creating black spheres which gave mere mortals uncanny abilities enabling them to satisfy their darkest desires.

Things went from bad to worse after the harried heroes used the ebony invaders to augment their own abilities and turn half the combined team evil too…

Peppered with wisecracks and “hip” dialogue, it’s sometimes difficult to discern what a cracking yarn this actually is, but if you’re able to forgive or swallow the dated patter, this is one of the best plotted and illustrated stories in the entire JLA/JSA canon. Furthermore, with immensely talented Sid Greene’s inking adding expressive subtlety, mesmerising texture and whimsical humour to Sekowsky’s pencils, Fox’s bright, breezy comedic scripts simply shine.

By 1968 the second superhero boom looked to be dying just as its predecessor had at the end of the 1940s. Sales were down generally in the comics industry and costs were beginning to spiral. More importantly “free” entertainment, in the form of television, was by now ensconced in even the poorest household. If you were a kid in the sixties, think on just how many brilliant cartoon shows were created in that decade, when artists like Alex Toth and Doug Wildey were working in West Coast animation studios.

Moreover, comicbook stars were appearing on the small screen. Superman, Aquaman, Batman, the Marvel heroes and even the JLA were there every Saturday in your own living room…

It was a time of great political and social upheaval. Change was everywhere and unrest even reached the corridors of DC. When a number of creators agitated for increased work-benefits the request was not looked upon kindly. Many left the company for other outfits. Some quit the business altogether.

Fox ended his magnificent run on the Justice League with a stunning annual team-up of the League and Justice Society. Creative and perfectly professional to the very end, his last story was yet another of the Golden-Age revivals which had resurrected the superhero genre.

JLA #64 and 65 (August to September 1968) featured the ‘Stormy Return of the Red Tornado’ and ‘T.O. Morrow Kills the Justice League – Today!’ with a cyclonic super-android taking on the mantle of a 1940s spoof “Mystery Man” who appeared in the very first JSA adventure (if you’re interested, the original Red Tornado was a brawny washerwoman named Ma Hunkle).

The plot involved a cagy time thief creating an artificial hero to help him defeat the JLA and JSA, but realising too late he had built better than he knew…

Fox’s departing thriller was also the series’ artistic debut for former Blackhawk artist Dick Dillin, a prolific draughtsman who would draw every JLA issue for the next twelve years, as well as many other adventures of DC’s top characters like Superman and Batman. He was inked by Greene, a pairing that seemed vibrant and darkly realistic after the eccentrically stylish, nigh-abstract Sekowsky.

Next up from August and September 1969 is Denny O’Neil’s first shot at the yearly cross-dimensional crisis as #73 and 74 offered ‘Star Light, Star Bright… Death Star I See Tonight!’ and ‘Where Death Fears to Tread!’

The tense, brooding tale introduced Aquarius, a sentient but insane star, who magically destroys Earth-Two until our Earth-1 heroes (with their surviving Golden Age counterparts) manage to restore it, but not without some personal tragedy as Black Canary loses her husband and opts to emigrate to our world, handily becoming the JLA’s resident Girl Superhero and picking up a new if somewhat unreliable power in the process.

This splendid exercise in fantastic nostalgia ends with another grand get-together as alien property speculators from space seek to raze both Earths in ‘Peril of the Paired Planets’ (#82 August 1970 by O’Neil, Dillin & Joe Giella) and only the ultimate sacrifice by a true hero can avert trans-dimensional disaster in the concluding ‘Where Valor Fails… Will Magic Triumph?’ (#83 September, O’Neil, Dillin & Giella)

This volume also includes a few beguiling extras: the front and back covers of Limited Collectors Edition #C-46 (by Neal Adams from August/September 1976), a double-page pin-up of the JSA by Murphy Anderson from Justice League of America #76 (October 1969) and a JLA Mail Room comprised of found letters from many of the passionate fans like Gerry Conway, Alan Brennert and Martin Pasko who grew up to be somebody in comics…

These tales won’t suit everybody and I’m as aware as any that in terms of the “super-powered” genre the work here can be boiled down to two bunches of heroes formulaically getting together to deal with extra-extraordinary problems.

In mature hindsight, it’s obviously also about sales and the attempted revival of more sellable characters during a period of intense rivalry between DC Comics and Marvel.

But I don’t have to be mature in my off-hours and for those who love costume heroes, who crave these cunningly constructed modern mythologies and actually care about fun, this is simply a grand parade of straightforward action, great causes and momentous victories.

…And since I wouldn’t have it any other way, why should you?
© 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Crisis on Multiple Earths: the Team-Ups volume 2


By John Broome, Gardner Fox, Mike Friedrich, Neal Adams, Murphy Anderson, Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1228-5

Super-Editor Julius Schwartz ushered in the Silver Age of American Comics with his Showcase successes Flash, Adam Strange and Green Lantern, directly leading to the Justice League of America which in turn inspired Fantastic Four and the whole Marvel Empire and changed the way comics were made and read…

Whereas the 1940s were about magic and macho, the Silver Age polished everything with a thick veneer of SCIENCE and a wave of implausible rationalistic concepts quickly filtered into the dawning mass-consciousness of a generation of baby-boomer kids.

The most intriguing and rewarding was, of course, the notion of parallel worlds…

It all began, naturally enough, in The Flash, flagship title of the Silver Age Revolution. After ushering in the triumphant return of the costumed superhero concept, the Crimson Comet, with key writers Gardner Fox and John Broome at the reins, set an unbelievably high standard for superhero adventure in sharp, witty tales of technology and imagination, illustrated with captivating style and clean simplicity by Carmine Infantino.

Fox didn’t write many Flash scripts at this time, but those few he did were all dynamite; none more so than the full-length epic which literally changed the scope of American comics forever.

‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (Flash #123, September 1961) introduced the theory of alternate Earths to the continuity which grew by careful extension into a multiversal structure comprising Infinite Earths. Once established as a cornerstone of a newly integrated DCU through a wealth of team-ups and escalating succession of cosmos-shaking crossover sagas, a glorious pattern was set which would, after joyous decades, eventually culminate in a spectacular Crisis on Infinite Earths

During a benefit gig Flash (police scientist Barry Allen) accidentally slips into another dimension where he finds the comic-book hero upon whom he based his own superhero identity actually exists. Every adventure he had absorbed as an eager child was grim reality to Jay Garrick and his comrades on the controversially designated “Earth-2”. Locating his idol, Barry convinced the elder to come out of retirement just as three Golden Age villains were making their own wicked comeback…

The floodgates were opened, as over the months that followed many Earth-1 stalwarts met their counterparts either in annual collaborations in the pages of Justice League of America or in their own series. Schwartz even had a game go at reviving a cadre of the older titans in their own titles. Public approval was decidedly vocal and he used DC’s try-out magazines to take the next step: stories set on Earth-2 exclusively featuring Golden Age characters.

Showcase #55 and 56 saw Doctor Fate and Hourman as a dynamic duo battling Solomon Grundy and the Psycho-Pirate and, still searching for an concept that would support its own series, Schwartz, Fox and Murphy Anderson debuted the team of Starman and Black Canary in The Brave and the Bold #61 (September-October 1965); the first of two stunning sagas which somehow led to nothing…

All those stories can be found in the previous edition (Crisis on Multiple Earths: the Team-Ups volume 1) whilst this second splendid collection – chronologically re-presenting The Atom #29 & 36, Flash #170 & 173, Green Lantern #45 & 52 and The Spectre #3 , cumulatively spanning October/November 1965 to April/May 1968 – opens with Brave & Bold #62 and a second Starman/Black Canary case wherein the resurgent champions ferociously face off against husband-and-wife criminals Huntress and Sportsmaster who had been stalking superheroes for kicks and profit. By the time Feline Fury Wildcat became their victim our heroes were on the case and ready for anything…

This compelling thriller was originally augmented by a text feature biography of the original Starman and that is reprinted here before Earth-2 Emerald Gladiator Alan Scott reunites with “our” Hal Jordan (Green Lantern #45, June 1966, by Broome, Gil Kane & Sid Greene) to thwart ‘Prince Peril’s Power Play’ as Scott’s comedy foil Doiby Dickles was romanced by an alien princess. The only fly in their ointment was a gigantic and ambitious space warrior who needed her to cement his own plans for conquest, but judicious use of green energies soon taught him that nobody likes a pushy tyrant…

Earth-2’s Tiny Titan was Al Pratt, a short man with super-strength, whilst we had size changing physicist Ray Palmer. When they met in Atom #27 (February/March 1967, by Fox, Kane & Greene) it was for an all-out cataclysmic clash between the Mighty Mites and one of the most dangerous villains of DC’s Golden Age in ‘The Thinker’s Earth-Shaking Robberies!’

With Green Lantern #52 (Broome & Kane, April 1967) Alan Scott and Doiby popped over from Earth-2 to aid Hal against the scurrilous return of his arch nemesis Sinestro in camp-crazed and frankly rather peculiar fight-frenzied fist-fest ‘Our Mastermind, the Car!’ after which a brace of Scarlet Speedsters at long last reunited in Flash #170 to face the ‘The See-Nothing Spells of Abra Kadabra!’ (May 1967 by Broome, Infantino & Greene) which found the Vizier of Velocity hexed by the cunning conjuror and rendered unable to detect the villain’s actions or presence.

Sadly for the sinister spellbinder, Jay Garrick was visiting and called on the services of JSA pals Doctors Fate and Mid-Nite to counteract the wicked wizard’s wiles…

Promptly following, Flash #173 (September 1967 by Broome, Infantino & Greene again) featured a titanic team-up as Barry, Wally “Kid Flash” West and Jay were sequentially shanghaied to another galaxy as putative prey for alien hunter Golden Man in ‘Doomward Flight of the Flashes!’

However, the sneaky script slowly revealed devilish layers of intrigue and his Andromedan super-safari concealed a far more arcane purpose for the three speedy pawns, before the wayward wanderers finally fought free and found their way home again…

Eventually Schwartz finally achieved the ambition of launching a Golden Age hero into his own title; sadly just as the superhero bubble was bursting and supernatural stories were again on the rise…

After three Showcase appearances and many guest-shots, The Spectre won his own book at the end of 1967. From #3 (March/April 1968) comes this all Earth-2 team-up by neophyte scripter Mike Friedrich and artistic iconoclast Neal Adams which exposed the ‘Menace of the Mystic Mastermind’ wherein pugilistic paragon Wildcat confronted head-on the inevitable prospect of age and infirmity even as an inconceivable force from another universe possessed petty thug Sad Jack Dold and turned him into a nigh-unstoppable force of cosmic chaos…

This fabulous peek into forgotten worlds and times concludes with one of the very best team-up tales of the Silver Age as the Earth-2 Atom returns in ‘Duel Between the Dual Atoms’ (April/May 1968, by Fox, Kane & Greene) wherein a radiation plague plays hob with victim’s ages on both worlds simultaneously. Sadly the deadly situation also turns normally hyper-rational Ray Palmer into an enraged maniac and almost more than his aging counterpart can handle…

Still irresistible and compellingly beautiful after all these years, the stories collected here shaped the American comics industry for decades and are still influencing not only today’s funnybooks but also the wave animated shows, movies and TV series which grew from them. These are tales and this is a book you simply must have.

© 1965-1968, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Crisis on Multiple Earths volume 1


By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Bernard Sachs & Sid Greene (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-895-2

As I’ve frequently mentioned before, I was one of the “Baby Boomer” crowd which grew up with Julie Schwartz, Gardner Fox and John Broome’s tantalisingly slow reintroduction of Golden Age superheroes during the halcyon, eternally summery days of the early 1960s. To me those fascinating counterpart crusaders from Earth-Two weren’t vague and distant memories rubber-stamped by parents or older brothers – they were cool, fascinating and enigmatically new.

…And for some reason the “proper” heroes of Earth-One held them in high regard and treated them with obvious deference…

It all began, naturally enough, in The Flash; pioneering trendsetter of the Silver Age Revolution. After successfully ushering in the triumphant return of the superhero concept, the Scarlet Speedster with Fox & Broome at the writing reins set an unbelievably high standard for costumed adventure in sharp, witty tales of science and imagination, always illustrated with captivating style and clean simplicity by Carmine Infantino.

The epochal epic that literally changed the scope of American comics forever was Fox’s ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (Flash #123 September 1961, as seen in Showcase Presents the Flash volume 2) which introduced the theory of alternate Earths to the continuity and by extension resulted in the multiversal structure of the DCU – and all the succeeding cosmos-shaking yearly “Crisis” sagas that grew from it.

And of course, where DC led, others followed…

Received with tumultuous acclaim, the concept was revisited months later in #129′s ‘Double Danger on Earth!’ which also teasingly reintroduced evergreen stalwarts Wonder Woman, Atom, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Doctor Mid-Nite and Black Canary. Clearly Editor Schwartz had something in mind…

‘Vengeance of the Immortal Villain!’ from Flash #137 (June 1963, inked by Giella) was the third incredible Earth-2 crossover, and saw two Flashes unite to defeat 50,000 year old Vandal Savage and save the Justice Society of America: a tale which directly led into the veteran team’s first meeting with the Justice League of America and the start of an annual tradition.

When ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ introduced the concept of Infinite Earths and multiple versions of costumed crusaders, public pressure had begun almost instantly to agitate for the return of the Greats of the “Golden Age” but Editorial powers-that-be were hesitant, fearing too many heroes would be silly and unmanageable, or worse yet, put readers off. If they could see us now…

These innovative yarns generated an avalanche of popular and critical approval (big sales figures, too) so inevitably these trans-dimensional tests led to the ultimate team-up in the summer of 1963.

This gloriously enthralling volume re-presents the first four JLA/JSA convocations: stunning superhero wonderments which never fails to astound and delight beginning with the landmark ‘Crisis on Earth-One’ and ‘Crisis on Earth-Two’ (Justice League of America #21-22, August and September) combining to form one of the most important stories in DC history and arguably one of the most crucial tales in American comics.

Written by Fox and compellingly illustrated by Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs the yarn finds a coalition of assorted villains from each Earth plundering at will, meeting and defeating the mighty Justice League before imprisoning them in their own secret mountain HQ.

Temporarily helpless “our” heroes contrive a desperate plan to combine forces with the champions of another Earth to save the world – both of them – and the result is pure comicbook majesty. It’s impossible for me to be totally objective about this saga. I was a drooling kid in short trousers when I first read it and the thrills haven’t diminished with this umpty-first re-reading.

This is what superhero comics are all about!

‘Crisis on Earth-Three’ and ‘The Most Dangerous Earth of All!’ (Justice League of America #29-30, August and September 1964) reprised the team-up of the Justice League and Justice Society, when the super-beings of a third alternate Earth discovered the secret of trans-universal travel.

Unfortunately Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring were villains on a world without heroes and saw the costumed crime-busters of the JLA/JSA as living practise dummies to sharpen their evil skills upon. With this cracking thriller the annual summer get-together became solidly entrenched in heroic lore, giving fans endless entertainment for years to come and making the approaching end of school holidays less gloomy than they could have been.

(A little note: although the comic cover-date in America was the month by which unsold copies had to be returned – the “off-sale” deadline – export copies to Britain travelled as ballast in freighters. Thus they usually went on to those cool, spinning comic-racks the actual month printed on the front. You can unglaze your eyes and return to the review proper now, and thank you for your patient indulgence.)

The third annual event was a touch different; a largely forgotten and rather experimental tale wherein the dim but extremely larcenous Johnny Thunder of Earth-1 wrested control of the genie-like Thunderbolt from his other-world counterpart and used its magic powers to change the events which led to the creation of all Earth-1’s superheroes. With Earth-1 catastrophically altered in #37’s ‘Earth – Without a Justice League’ it was up to the JSA to come to the rescue in a gripping battle of wits and power before Reality was re-established in the concluding ‘Crisis on Earth-A!’ in #38.

Veteran inker Bernard Sachs retired before the fourth team-up, leaving the amazing Sid Greene to embellish the gloriously whacky saga that sprang out of the global “Batmania” craze engendered by the Batman television series…

A wise-cracking campy tone was fully in play, acknowledging the changing audience profile and this time the stakes were raised to encompass the destruction of both planets in ‘Crisis Between Earth-One and Earth-Two’ and ‘The Bridge Between Earths’ (Justice League of America #46-47, August & September 1966), wherein a bold – if rash – continuum warping experiment dragged the two sidereal worlds towards an inexorable hyper-space collision. Meanwhile, making matters worse, an awesome anti-matter being used the opportunity to break into and explore our positive matter universe whilst the heroes of both worlds were distracted by the destructive rampages of monster-men Blockbuster and Solomon Grundy.

Peppered with wisecracks and “hip” dialogue, it’s sometimes difficult to discern what a cracking yarn this actually is, but if you’re able to forgive or swallow the dated patter, this is one of the very best plotted and illustrated stories in the entire JLA/JSA canon. Furthermore, the vastly talented Greene’s expressive subtlety, beguiling texture and whimsical humour added unheard of depth to Sekowsky’s pencils and the light and frothy comedic scripts of Gardner Fox.

This volume also includes an enthralling introduction by Mark Waid, a comprehensive cover gallery and creator biographies.

These tales won’t suit everybody and I’m as aware as any that in terms of the “super-powered” genre the work here can be boiled down to two bunches of heroes formulaically getting together to deal with extra-extraordinary problems. In mature hindsight, it’s obviously also about sales and the attempted revival of more sellable super characters during a period of intense sales rivalry between DC Comics and Marvel.

But I don’t have to be mature in my off-hours and for those who love costume heroes, who crave these cunningly constructed modern mythologies and actually care, this is simply a grand parade of straightforward action, great causes and momentous victories.

…And since I wouldn’t have it any other way, why should you?
© 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 2002 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

CRISIS AFTERMATH: THE SPECTRE


By Will Pfeifer & Cliff Chiang: David Lapham, Eric Battle & Prentis Rollins (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-84576-577-X

The Spectre first appeared in 1940 in More Fun Comics #52 (February 1940), the brainchild of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel and artist Bernard Baily. Jim Corrigan, a murdered police detective, was given a mission to fight crime and evil by a glowing light and disembodied voice, and swiftly became one of the most overwhelmingly powerful heroes of the Golden Age.

He has been revamped and revived many times since. Latterly revealed to be God’s Spirit of Vengeance bonded to a human conscience, Corrigan was finally laid to rest and Hal Jordan replaced him.

Jordan was a Green Lantern who had nearly destroyed the universe when possessed by the antediluvian fear-parasite Parallax, only to sacrifice his life to reignite our dying sun in the Final Night miniseries (ISBN-13: 978-1-56389-419-0).

Jordan’s soul bonded with the Spectre force and became a Spirit of Redemption as well as Retribution. Following a complex series of events in the wake of the Infinite Crisis Jordan was resurrected as a mortal superhero and the Spectre was left without human guidance.

Collecting the three-part miniseries Crisis Aftermath: The Spectre and the lead stories from Tales of the Unexpected #1-3, this book follows the Ghostly Guardian in a search for a new host, which he finds in the reluctant, intangible form of Crispus Allen, a Detective in the Gotham City police force, murdered by fellow officer and dirty cop Jim Corrigan (no relation to the original).

In ‘Dead Again’ by Will Pfeifer and Cliff Chiang, The Spectre first has to convince the angry atheist Allen to bond with him to dispense Heavenly Justice. It then has to prove the validity of the admittedly illogical way the Spirit of Retribution selects his victims from the billions of murderous sinners in sore need of their personal and bloodily ironic attentions.

A subtle tale, the inescapable tragedy of the ending lends some desperately needed depth to a character far too powerful for traditional periodical tale-telling. This is followed by the first quarter of an eight-part epic by David Lapham, Eric Battle and Prentis Rollins that featured in DC’s revival of the classic anthology title Tales of the Unexpected.

Slum-lord Leonard Krieger has been murdered in one of his own rat-traps. He was chained and tortured for two weeks in the foul basement of a tenement filled with desperate people and outcasts on the edge of society. When he was very nearly dead he was stabbed repeatedly. There’s certainly no shortage of suspects…

Crispus Allen may be dead but he’s a still a detective and he knows that there’s some terrible secret buried in the wasteland of the Granville Towers. And so do investigating officers Marcus Driver and Josh Azeveda. When the Spectre identifies and dispatches the killer it would seem the case is over but the dark mysteries of the building are not all revealed and the horrors within keep calling out to both the harassed unsettled cops and Allen as well…

Davis Lapham took the Spectre into uncharted waters with this raw and savage portmanteau saga. Rather than one crime and one grisly punishment, he examines the nature of evil by focusing on all the inhabitants of the slum and their degree of culpability in this murder as well as other sins. Can every door hide a secret worthy of God’s punishment? And does Crispus Allen have the power – and the inclination – to temper the Spectre’s awful judgements?

‘The Cold Hand of Vengeance’ is engrossing and challenging stuff, well worth your attention, but to truncate the saga this way (the remaining issues 4-8 are collected in the sequel The Spectre: Tales of the Unexpected, ISBN: 978-1-84576-668-9) is annoying and unnecessary.

Even with a gallery of alternate covers by such luminaries as Neal Adams & Moose Bauman, Michael Wm. Kaluta & David Baron, Michael Mignola, Matt Wagner & Dave Stewart, both these books are short: 128 pages for this one and 144 for the follow-up. Would it have been so hard to schedule them all as one larger format volume such as Superman: Birthright?
© 2006, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

Identity Crisis (softcover)

By Brad Meltzer, Rags Morales & Michael Bair

DC Comics

For such an impressive and far-reaching comics event, this collection is quite a slim and swift read.  Whilst the comic drove the narrative forward in the manner of a whodunit, most of the character by-play and the ripples of the bare events related could only be experienced in the (inter-linked) individual issues of the involved titles. When this is all absorbed week-by-week, month-by-month, the cumulative effect is both bewildering and engrossing, but such an experience cannot be duplicated in traditional publishing.

The plot involves DC heroes re-assessing their careers whilst hunting down the murderer of the wife of second-string hero/detective, Elongated Man.  As the investigation proceeds, heroes and villains confront many of their bedrock principles such as tactics, allegiances and even the modern validity of that genre staple, the Secret Identity.  The dialogue is memorable and the artwork magnificent and the aftershocks of the revelations did indeed live up to their hype. How sad then than this “core” book feels like a rushed “Readers Digest” edition, whilst many of the key moments are scattered in a dozen other (unrelated) collections.

© 2004, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.