Justice League of America: The Silver Age volume 2


By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Bernard Sachs & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6515-1

The advent of the Justice League of America marks the moment when superheroes truly made comicbooks their own particular preserve. Even though the popularity of masked champions has waxed and waned since 1960 and other genres have re-won their places on published pages, in the minds of America – and the world – Comics means Superheroes.

The JLA signalled that men – and even a few women – in capes and masks were back for good…

When Julius Schwartz began reviving and revitalising the nigh-defunct superhero genre in 1956, his key moment came a few years later with the uniting of these reconfigured mystery men into a team…

The League was launched in issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold (March 1960) and cemented the growth and validity of the revived sub-genre, triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comicbooks; even spreading to the rest of the world as the 1960s progressed.

Spanning February 1962 to May 1963, this latest full-colour paperback collection of timeless classics (also available digitally) re-presents issues #9-19 of the epochal first series of Justice League of America with scripter Gardner Fox and illustrators Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs seemingly able to do no wrong…

Although Superman and Batman were included in the membership their participation had been strictly limited as editorial policy at the start was to avoid possible reader ennui and saturation from over-exposure. That ended with the stories gathered here as they joined the regulars Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars and late inductee Green Arrow. There were also contributions from “typical teenager” Snapper Carr: a hip and plucky mascot who proved a focus of ferocious fan debate for decades thereafter…

Justice League of America #9 opens proceedings here: a legendary and oft-recounted tale and the start of a spectacular run of nigh-perfect super-hero adventures. ‘The Origin of the Justice League’ recounts the circumstances of the team’s birth: an alien invasion saga of mighty space warriors seeking to use Earth as a gladiatorial arena in which to decide the future ruler of their distant world Appellax.

It’s followed by the series’ first continued story. ‘The Fantastic Fingers of Felix Faust’ finds the World’s Greatest Superheroes already battling a marauder from the future when they’re spellbound by a vile sorcerer. Faust has awoken three antediluvian demons and sold them the world in exchange for 100 years of unlimited power. Although the heroes eventually outwit and defeat Faust they have no idea that the demons are loose…

In ‘One Hour to Doomsday’ the JLA pursue and capture their initial target The Lord of Time, but are then trapped a century from their home-era by the awakened, re-empowered demons. This level of plot complexity hadn’t been seen in comics since the closure of EC Comics, and never before in a superhero tale. It was a profound acknowledgement by the creators that the readership was no longer simply little kids – if indeed it ever had been…

Arch-villain Doctor Light debuted in #12, attempting a pre-emptive strike on the team by transporting them to carefully selected sidereal worlds where their abilities would be useless, but ‘The Last Case of the Justice League’ proved to be anything but, and in the next issue the heroes saved our entire reality by solving ‘The Riddle of the Robot Justice League’ created to stop the champions from halting the theft of our life-energy by agents of another cosmic realm.

‘The Menace of the “Atom” Bomb’ in issue #14 was a neat way of introducing latest member The Atom whilst showing a fresh side to an old villain masquerading as new nemesis Mister Memory whilst issue #15’s ‘Challenge of the Untouchable Aliens’ added some fresh texture to the formulaic plot of extra-dimensional invaders out for our destruction.

‘The Cavern of Deadly Spheres’ was a deceptive change-of-pace tale with a narrative technique that just couldn’t be used on today’s oh-so-sophisticated audience, but still has the power to grip a reader, after which ‘Triumph of the Tornado Tyrant’ saw a sentient cyclone that had once battled the indomitable Adam Strange (in Mystery in Space #61- or Adam Strange Archives volume 1) set up housekeeping on an desolate world and ponder the very nature of Good and Evil.

It soon realised that it needed the help of the Justice League to reach a survivable conclusion.

Teaser Alert: As well being a cracking yarn, this story is pivotal in the development of the android hero Red Tornado

In #18 the heroes were forcibly summoned to a subatomic world by three planetary champions whose continued existence threatened to destroy the very world they were designed to protect. ‘Journey to the Micro-World’ found the JLA compelled to defeat opponents who were literally unbeatable and discovering yet again that Batman’s brains were a super power no force could thwart…

A final perplexing puzzle was posed in ‘The Super-Exiles of Earth’ after unstoppable duplicates of the heroes went on a crime-spree, forcing the world’s governments to banish the League into space. Battling undercover, the team proved too much for the mystery mastermind behind the plot and returned to public acclaim in a stellar wrap-up to another fabulous feast of four-colour fun.

With iconic covers by Sekowsky and Murphy Anderson, these tales are a perfect example of all that was best about the Silver Age of comics, combining optimism and ingenuity with bonhomie and adventure. This slice of better times also has the benefit of cherishing wonderment whilst actually being historically valid for any fan of our medium. And best of all the stories here are still captivating and enthralling transports of delight.

These classical compendia are a dedicated fan’s delight: an absolute gift for modern fans who desperately need to catch up without going bankrupt. They are also perfect to give to youngsters as an introduction into a fabulous world of adventure and magic…
© 1962, 1963, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

JLA Deluxe Edition volume 1


By Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Howard Porter, Oscar Jimenez, Don Hillsman, John Dell & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-18430 (HC)                      978-1-4012-3314-3 (PB)

After the Silver Age’s greatest team-book died a slow, painful, wasting death, not once but twice, DC were taking no chances with their next revival of the Justice League of America, tapping Big Ideas wünderkind Grant Morrison to reconstruct the group and the franchise.

That was back in 1997 and the result was a gleaming paradigm of comicbook perfection which again started magnificently before gradually losing the attention and favour of its originally rabid fan-base. Apparently we’re a really fickle and shallow bunch, us comics fans…

And the idea that clicked? Put everybody’s favourite Big Name superheroes back in the team.

Of course it worked, but that’s only because as well as name recognition and star quantity there was a huge input of creative quality. The stories were smart, fast-paced, compelling, challengingly large-scale and drawn with effervescent vitality. With JLA you could see all the work undertaken to make it the best it could be on every page.

This Deluxe Edition (still readily available in hardback, paperback and eBook form) collects the first nine issues of the revival plus material from JLA Secret Files #1, spanning January to September 1997 and re-presenting a wave of epic adventures and one-off, stand-alone yarns that altered the continuity landscape of the DC Universe and re-established the Old Guard (even if a couple of them were Young Turk “legacy heroes”)…

The drama begins in ‘Them!’ by Morrison, Howard Porter & John Dell – with colours from Pat Garrahy – as a family of alien super-beings called the Hyperclan dramatically land on Earth and declare that they’re going to usher in a new Golden Age – at least by their standards.

Almost simultaneously the current iteration of the Justice League is attacked in their orbital satellite and only narrowly escape utter destruction. Tragically, one of their number does not survive…

Hyperclan’s very public promises to make Earth a paradise and attendant charm offensive does not impress veteran heroes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter and Aquaman or even the latest incarnations of Flash and Green Lantern.

These legends see their methods and careers questioned and are not impressed by seeming miracles or summary executions of super-criminals in the streets. They know there’s something not right about the overbearing sanctimonious newcomers…

Confirmation comes on ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ as the aliens reveal mind control stations in key Earth locations. Pitched battle erupts but humanity’s defenders appear utterly overmatched.

However the aliens have stupidly underestimated the prowess and ingenuity of Batman who conducts his own ‘War of the Worlds’ in the Hyperclan’s ship…

Uncovering not only the shocking secret of their might but a horrific truth harking back to the earliest days of life on Earth, the Dark Knight leads an unstoppable counterstrike, defeating the exposed, shell-shocked ‘Invaders from Mars’ and their hidden hordes in a splendid old-fashioned goodies ‘n’ baddies showdown…

Despite getting off to an incredibly impressive start, the superb quality storytelling actually improved as Morrison & Porter began laying the groundwork for their first major story-arc. In ‘Woman of Tomorrow’ veteran villains Professor Ivo and T. O. Morrow construct the perfect super-heroine to infiltrate the JLA as the heroes audition additions to the team. Typically, they build too well and are betrayed by their appealing handmade hero…

This is followed by ‘Fire in the Sky’ and ‘Heaven on Earth’ (with Ken Branch joining Dell to ink Porter’s hyper-dynamic pencils) as the Angel Zauriel heads to mundane realms: risking everything to warn the heroes of a second rebellion in Heaven and enlisting the League to strive against an invasion by God’s own armies….

This spectacular mini-saga occurs during company mega-crossover ‘Underworld Unleashed’ wherein ancient lord of Hell Neron offers heroes and villains whatever they desire – generally manifested as a boost in powers and a new costume – in return for their souls. Neron tempts old foes and arch-demons Abnegazar, Rath and Ghast to expunge the JLA even as the forces of Asmodel’s Pax Dei ravage humanity.

The saga was intended to introduce a new Hawkman to the DCU, but somewhere, somehow, wiser heads prevailed and the original was eventually retooled and reintroduced with Zauriel winning his own place in the company’s pantheon after helping the heroes repel the hordes of Heaven and set the world to rights once more…

Oscar Jimenez & Chip Wallace stepped in to render ‘Imaginary Stories’ as mind-bending villain The Key attempts to conquer the universe by trapping individual Leaguers in perfect dreams, and the art team was augmented by Anibal Rodriguez for the tense conclusion ‘Elseworlds’ which saw Zen warrior Green Arrow (son of the original, irascible ultra-liberal bowman) join the team in classic “saves the day” style…

Wrapping up this rousing Fights ‘n’ Tights romp is a selection of short tales from JLA Secret Files #1 beginning with ‘Star Seed’ by Morrison, Mark Millar, Porter & Dell. Set just prior to the advent of the Hyperclan it reveals how new Flash Wally West is suborned by alien monster Starro the Conqueror in its latest attempt to mind-control and subjugate humanity. When other heroes assemble to tackle the giant starfish they are stopped by the Spectre who prophesies that their efforts will inevitably lead to Starro gaining a super-powered army that will dominate all universal life.

The heroes’ brilliant solution and appalling sacrifice is utterly unexpected and cheats even divine odds…

Don Hillsman limns the last two mini-tales here as ‘The Lost Pages’ reveal how Superman – having been transformed into a being of living energy – insists on being properly auditioned beside all the potential recruits to the team whilst ‘A Day in the Life’ discloses the secrets of (some of) the Martian Manhunter’s many alternate identities as he hides amidst the teeming masses of Earth…

Savvy, compelling, dauntingly High-Concept but never afraid of nostalgia or laughing at itself, the new JLA was an all-out effort to be Smart, Fun and Unmissable. These characters are now and forever the “World’s Greatest Superheroes” and these ambitious epics remind everybody of the fact. This is the kind of thrill that nobody ever outgrows.
© 1997, 2008, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice League of America: The Silver Age volume 1


By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Carmine Infantino, Bernard Sachs & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6111-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Comic Perfection and the ideal Stocking Stuffer… 10/10

After the actual invention of the comicbook superhero – by which we mean the launch of Superman in June 1938 – the most significant event in the industry’s progress was the combination of individual sales-points into a group. Thus what seems blindingly obvious to us with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was irrefutably proven – a number of popular characters could multiply readership by combining forces.

Plus of course, a whole bunch of superheroes is a lot cooler than just one – or even one and a sidekick…

And so the Justice Society of America is rightly revered as a true landmark in the development of comic books, and, when Julius Schwartz began reviving and revitalising the nigh-defunct superhero genre in 1956, the key moment would come a few years with the inevitable teaming of reconfigured mystery men…

When wedded to the relatively unchanged big guns who had weathered the first fall of the Superhero at the beginning of the 1950s the result was a new, modern, Space-Age version of the Justice Society of America and the birth of a new mythology.

When the Justice League of America was launched in issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold (March 1960) it cemented the growth and validity of the genre, triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comics in America and even spread to the rest of the world as the 1960s progressed.

Spanning March 1960 to January 1962, this latest paperback collection of timeless classics re-presents The Brave and the Bold #28-30 and Justice League of America #1-8 and also includes a titanic team-up from Mystery in Space #75 (May 1962).

That moment that changed everything for us baby-boomers came with issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold, a classical adventure title that had recently become a try-out magazine like Showcase.

Just in time for Christmas 1959 ads began running…

“Just Imagine! The mightiest heroes of our time… have banded together as the Justice League of America to stamp out the forces of evil wherever and whenever they appear!”

Released with a March 1960 cover-date, that first tale was written by the indefatigable Gardner Fox and illustrated by the quirky and understated Mike Sekowsky, inked by Bernard Sachs, Joe Giella and Murphy Anderson.

‘Starro the Conqueror’ saw Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars defeat a marauding alien starfish whilst Superman and Batman stood by (in those naive days editors feared that their top characters could be “over-exposed” and consequently lose popularity). The team also picked up an average American kid as a mascot. “Typical teenager” Snapper Carr would prove a focus of fan controversy for decades to come…

Confident of his material and the superhero genre’s fresh appeal Schwartz had two more thrillers ready for the following issues. B&B #29 saw the team defeat a marauder from the future who apparently had history on his side in ‘The Challenge of the Weapons Master’ (inks by Sachs and Giella) whilst #30 saw the debut of the team’s first mad-scientist arch-villain in the form of Professor Ivo and his super android Amazo. ‘The Case of the Stolen Super Powers’ by Fox, Sekowsky & Sachs ended the tryout run and three months later a new bi-monthly title debuted.

Perhaps somewhat sedate by histrionic modern standards, the JLA was revolutionary in a comics marketplace where less than 10% of all sales featured costumed adventurers. Not only public imagination was struck by hero teams either.

Stan Lee was apparently given a copy of Justice League by his boss Martin Goodman and told to do something similar for the tottering comics company he ran – and look what came of that!

Justice League of America #1 featured ‘The World of No Return’, introducing trans-dimensional tyrant Despero to bedevil the World’s Greatest Heroes, but once again plucky Snapper Carr was the key to defeating the villain and saving the day.

The second issue, ‘Secret of the Sinister Sorcerers’, presented an astounding conundrum. The villains of Magic-Land sneakily transposed the location of their dimension with Earth’s, causing the Laws of Science to be replaced with the Lore of Mysticism. The true mettle of the costumed crusader heroes (and by this time Superman and Batman were allowed a more active part in the proceedings) was shown when they had to use ingenuity rather than their powers to defeat their fearsome foes and set two worlds to rights.

Issue #3 introduced the despicable Kanjar Ro who attempted to turn the team into his personal army in ‘The Slave Ship of Space’, and with the next episode the first of many new members joined the team.

Although somewhat chronologically adrift there’s solid sense in placing the next tale in this position as Mystery in Space #75 (May 1962), as the team guest-star in a full-length thriller starring Adam Strange.

Strange was an Earth archaeologist who regularly teleported to a planet circling Alpha Centauri where his wits and ingenuity saved the citizens of Rann from all sorts of interplanetary threats.

In ‘The Planet that came to a Standstill!’, Kanjar Ro attempts to conquer Strange’s adopted home, and our gallant hero has to enlist the aid of the JLA before once again saving the day himself. This classic team-up was written by Fox, and illustrated by the irreplaceable Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson.

Green Arrow saved the day in the science-fiction thriller ‘Doom of the Star Diamond’, but was almost kicked out in #5 as the insidious Doctor Destiny inadvertently framed him ‘When Gravity Went Wild!’

‘The Wheel of Misfortune’ saw the debut of pernicious and persistent master of wild science Professor Amos Fortune, who used weaponised luck to challenge the masked marvels whilst #7 was another alien invasion plot centred on an amusement park, or more specifically ‘The Cosmic Fun-House!’.

The never-ending parade of perils then concludes for the moment with January 1962’s JLA #8. ‘For Sale… the Justice League!’ is a smart crime caper wherein a cheap hood finds a mind-control weapon that enslaves the team before simple Snapper once again saves the day.

These tales are a perfect example of all that was best about the Silver Age of comics, combining optimism and ingenuity with bonhomie and adventure. This slice of better times also has the benefit of cherishing wonderment whilst actually being historically valid for any fan of our medium. And best of all the stories here are still captivating and enthralling transports of delight.

These classical compendia are a dedicated fan’s delight: an absolute gift for modern fans who desperately need to catch up without going bankrupt. They are also perfect to give to youngsters as an introduction into a fabulous world of adventure and magic – especially with forthcoming iterations of the team due in both TV animation and live action movie formats.
© 1960, 1961, 1962, 2016 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.

Suicide Squad volume 2: The Nightshade Odyssey


By John Ostrander, Keith Giffen, J. M. DeMatteis, Paul Kupperberg, Robert Greenberger, Luke McDonnell, Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5833-7

In 1986, mega-monster continuity reboot Crisis on Infinite Earths led to DC Comics overwriting fifty years of continuity and revamping their major properties. The massive spring-cleaning exercise led to a swarm of boldly innovative titles and a fresh look at how comicbooks could be done.

One of the most unconventional – despite crossing genres and having roots leading back to the very dawn of the Silver Age – was Suicide Squad by John Ostrander and artist Luke McDonnell.

Previously during a psychological attack on the very concept of heroism (as seen in the miniseries Legends and its many tie-ins and crossovers) President Ronald Reagan outlawed costumed crimebusters and sanctioned an ultra-covert governmental black-bag operation to press super-powered criminals into (secret) service…

John Ostrander was new to DC; lured with Editor Mike Gold from Chicago’s First Comics where their work on Starslayer, Munden’s Bar and especially Grimjack had made those independent minnows some of the most popular series of the decade. Spinning out of Legends, Ostrander hit the ground running with a superbly compelling reinterpretation of the long-neglected Suicide Squad: a boldly controversial revaluation of meta-humanity and the role of government in a world far more dangerous than the placid public believed…

As originally conceived by Robert Kanigher, the Suicide Squad first saw action in The War that Time Forgot (Star Spangled War Stories #90, April-May 1960). Paratroops and tanks of “Question Mark Patrol” dropped onto Mystery Island from whence no American soldiers ever returned. The crack warriors discovered why when the operation was overrun by dinosaurs and worse…

Re-imagined for The Brave and the Bold #25 (September 1959) as a quartet of combat specialists, Colonel Rick Flag, medic Karin Grace plus boffins Hugh Evans and Jess Price were officially convened as Suicide Squad/Task Force X by the US government to investigate uncanny mysteries and tackle unnatural threats.

The gung ho gang (another Kanigher, Andru & Esposito invention) appeared in six issues but never really caught the public’s attention – perhaps because they weren’t costumed heroes – and quickly faded from memory.

Then, in April 1967 Our Fighting Forces #106 began the exploits of homicide detective Ben Hunter; recruited by the army during WWII to run roughshod over a penal battalion of prisoners who had grievously broken regulations.

Facing imprisonment or execution, the individually lethal military malcontents were given a chance to earn a pardon by undertaking missions deemed too tough or hopeless for proper soldiers. Hunter’s Hellcats – inarguably “inspired” by the movie The Dirty Dozen – ran until December 1969, in increasingly nasty and occasionally fatal sorties, before being replaced without fanfare or preamble by The Losers and similarly lost to posterity.

Ostrander tied together all these disparate strands and linked obscure comics events to provide a shocking secret history of America: a time when superheroes were forced into retirement after World War II with the military and Task Force X used to (unobtrusively) take out the monsters, spies, aliens and super-criminals who didn’t conveniently pack up with them.

Now substituting super-villains for simple criminals, history was made…

This second collection was designed to tie-in to both the TV and movie incarnations of the Suicide Squad. Reprinting Suicide Squad #9-16, plus a crossover from Justice League International #13, material from Secret Origins #28 and team-up one-shot Doom Patrol/Suicide Squad #1(spanning January-August 1988) – it resumes the story of strident political insider Amanda Waller who convinced President Reagan to sponsor her scheme to make bad guys do good deeds.

He agreed, but only as long as he had complete deniability…

Waller didn’t want society to depend on capricious super do-gooders and recruited Flag’s damaged, driven son to run a new penal battalion working “off the books”, using state-sanctioned metahuman force for the greater good. Knowing criminals can’t be trusted, her devious set-up involves not just bribery – reduced sentences, financial favours and pardons – but coercion.

Field missions are led by traumatised, obsessively patriotic Flag Jr., assisted by amnesiac martial artist Bronze Tiger who ensures everybody stays honest and on-mission. Convict-operatives are picked as necessity demands, but some operatives are in regular use, such as Deadshot, Captain Boomerang and schizophrenic sorceress Enchantress. They are, however, wired with remote-detonation explosive devices just in case…

Backed by a support team which includes Flag’s former lover Karin Grace and Briscoe, a bizarre mystery pilot who has a rather unusual relationship with his seemingly sentient helicopter gunship, the ever-fluctuating team seem ready for anything…

The stories here come from a period when publishers were first developing the marketing strategies of the “Braided Mega-Crossover Event.” This hard-on-the-pockets innovation dictated really big stories involving every publication in a company’s output, for a limited time period – so a compilation like this perforce includes adventures that seem confusing because they are essentially “middles” with no beginnings or endings.

In this instance the unfolding epic is Millennium which saw writer Steve Englehart expand on an iconic tale from Justice League of America #140-141 as well as his run on the Green Lantern Corps

Billions of years ago the robotic peacekeepers called Manhunters rebelled against their creators. The immortal Guardians of the Universe desired a rational, emotionless cosmos – a view challenged by their own women. The Zamarons eventually abandoned the Guardians at the inception of the grand scheme, but after eons apart the two factions finally reconciled and left our reality together.

Here and now they have returned with a plan to midwife a new race of immortals on Earth, but the mechanoid Manhunters – who had in the meantime infiltrated all aspects of every society throughout the cosmos – resolved to thwart the plan, whether by seduction, connivance or just plain brute force.

The heroes of Earth gathered to protect the project and confront the Manhunters in their own private lives… and their own comics…

Thus Suicide Squad #9 (by Ostrander, Luke McDonnell & Bob Lewis) sees a team assembled to destroy a Manhunter Temple deep in the Louisiana swamps surrounding the team’s secret Belle Reve base. However, as they battle their way in with a monolithic bomb – despite interference from Captain Atom, Firestorm and too-good-to-be-true reformed Manhunter Mark Shaw – Flag discovers the person he most trusted is a Manhunter mole…

An unlikely hero then pays ‘The Final Price’ to complete the mission before, unconventionally, the squad pick up a new recruit in the bellicose form of mystery warrior Duchess just as they flee the cataclysmic results of their latest covert triumph…

As counsellor/chaplain Reverend Cramer sets up shop in Belle Reve, a grievous security breach occupies Waller’s attention. Somehow Batman has penetrated the top-secret project and indignantly announces that he will expose the whole sordid show.

When neither Flag nor the squad are able to stop the Dark Knight, Amanda finds a unique way to make the intransigent hero back down in ‘Up Against the Wall’

More politically astute action unfolds in ‘Red Pawn’ (plotted by Ostrander, scripted by Paul Kupperberg with art by Erik Larsen & Lewis from Doom Patrol/Suicide Squad #1) as reactionary right-wing hero Hawk is captured whilst running guns to anti-communist Contras in Nicaragua.

His plight quickly becomes the focus of a humiliating media circus, and, still smarting from his last press roasting for such illicit activities, Reagan orders Waller to rescue or kill the wayward freedom fighter.

Typically, this move angers the NSA advisors of the Leader of the Free World, who take matters into their own hands to fatally embarrass “the Wall” by inveigling recent Soviet defector Valentina Vostok to deploy her comrades in the Doom Patrol to save the tragic, well-meaning patriotic Hawk from the evil Sandanistas…

Already shaping up as a SNAFU of biblical proportions, neither American faction is aware that rival cabals in reformist Russian Premier Mikhail Gorbachev’s vast espionage apparatus are also implementing their own undercutting agendas…

Soon the entire country is at war as the Squad battle the undercover Doom Patrol (Celsius, Robotman, Negative Woman and Tempest) until a brigade of armoured Rocket Reds invades the nation. With uncontrolled destruction at maximum, the pointless clash escalates even further as a fourth force comprising Soviet super-soldier Stalnoivolk and KGB master schemer Major Zastrow work their own malignant way towards an acceptable solution to restore the status quo …

Barely surviving the political fallout, Waller’s Wonders are next deployed to destroy a drug-cartel in Suicide Squad #11 as ex-Justice Leaguer Vixen seeks vengeance after her friends are gunned down during a smuggling operation. ‘Blood and Snow Part One’ sees her volunteer for the penal team which is starting to feel the pressure of its own success.

Flag is on the edge of a breakdown and nobody has noticed that incorrigible felon Boomerang is impersonating another super-villain to rob banks in his spare time…

With no time to assess and her best assets still in Nicaragua, Waller assembles a team heavy with government-affiliated heroes such as Black Orchid, Nightshade and Speedy to augment remaining regular players Captain Boomerang, Enchantress and Briscoe. With great misgivings she tasks them with infiltrating the inner circle of Medellin Cartel boss Xavier Cujo to destroy his jungle fortress and vast stores of cocaine.

None of them are particularly bothered by the fact that this is an official assassination mission…

Naturally, the plan is perfect up until the moment it begins and soon the undercover stalwarts are battling for their lives in the blistering conclusion ‘Blood and Snow Part Two’. In the ghastly aftermath, however, Vixen no longer counts herself as a hero of any description…

A crucial crossover began in Justice League International #13. ‘Collision Course’ (inked by Al Gordon, drawn by Keith Giffen and co-written with partner in comedic crime J. M. DeMatteis) revealed how US agent and Suicide Squad point-man Nemesis was being tortured in a Soviet jail: a fact proudly leaked by the State’s media…

He had languished there ever since Waller abandoned him at the end of a disastrous attempt to rescue Russian dissenter Zoya Trigorin, but when Batman learns his old ally is a political prisoner he determines to break him out with or without the help of his JLI associates…

At Belle Reve, Flag – unable to convince The Wall (who is being stonewalled by Reagan) that something must be done – has begun his own illegal attempt to free the American hostage. However, once again unseen Soviet machinations are in play and an ambitious plotter has gulled Russian hero Starfire to inject himself into the growing crisis to bait a devious trap…

Flag’s team then stumbles into and brutally clashes with Batman’s Leaguers who are eventually forced into the uncomfortable position of having to – at least ostensibly – fight to keep Nemesis in Russian custody as ‘Battle Lines’ (Suicide Squad #13 by Ostrander, McDonnell & Lewis) are drawn. With violence peaking everybody gets a grim lesson in superpower Realpolitik before a solution is found…

Dimension-hopping super-agent Nightshade has been working for the Suicide Squad in return for the promise of assistance in a personal task. Secret Origins #28 revealed her hidden history in ‘A Princess’ Story’ (Robert Greenberger, Rob Liefeld & Lewis), detailing how little Eve Eden escaped from her own arcane realm after it was conquered by a marauding mystic entity dubbed the Incubus, leaving her brother behind…

All her life she has trained; as a spy, a superhero and a warrior, readying herself for the moment when she would return to save her sibling and liberate her homeland…

These revelations lead into the eponymous story arc ‘Nightshade Odyssey’ which opens with the moment Waller always dreaded. A criminally corrupt senator has discovered the facts of the Suicide Squad and threatens to destroy Reagan’s legacy unless the team is used to end investigations into his malfeasance and get him re-elected.

A man of resolute convictions, the President immediately caves and orders Waller to get it done…

With The Wall seemingly broken and contemplating resignation, the beleaguered director tells Nightshade to complete her personal mission immediately. With barely a pause for thought Nightshade, Boomerang, Bronze Tiger, Deadshot, Duchess, Enchantress and Vixen are ‘Slipping into Darkness’ to materialise in a place of malign horror concealing a trap decades in the making…

From the mouth of her eternally corrupted brother, Eve learns the truth of the situation, the mystic history of the universes and the Incubus’ diabolical connection to the Succubus force which possesses Enchantress. Then she hears their repellent plans for her…

However the satanic corruptor has never met a fighter like the enigmatic Duchess, who provides a ferocious and world-shaking distraction, allowing Eve to free her comrades and effect an uncontrolled escape from the hellish dimension leaving the ‘Devil to Pay’

Sadly, the pell-mell exit dumps the fleeing fugitives into an otherworldly ‘Deathzone’ (Suicide Squad #13, inked by Malcolm Jones III) between universes where they are doomed to madness and worse, until rescued by a mysterious alien nomad calling himself Rac Shade.

Holding information of a long-extant alien incursion on Earth, “the Changing Man” makes the jump back to Belle Reve where Amanda Waller has come to a momentous decision…

To Be Continued

With covers by Jerry Bingham, Larsen & Lewis, Steve Leialoha & Gordon and Jim Valentino, Keith Wilson & William Messner-Loebs, this is a timeless collection of gritty gripping, hard-edged Fights ‘n’ Tights forays to delight action fans: a still magnificent mission statement for the DC Universe, offering witty cohesive and contemporary stories that appealed not just to superhero lovers but also devotees of spy and crime capers. As such they remain fine fodder for today’s so-sophisticated, informed and thrill-hungry readers.
© 1988, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Harley Quinn’s Greatest Hits


By Scott Beatty, Kelly Puckett, Jeph Loeb, Paul Dini, Adam Glass, Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, Rob Williams, Bruce Timm, Mike Parobeck, Jim Lee, David Lopez, Federico Dallocchio, Jock, John Timms, Sean “Cheeks” Galloway, Scott Williams, Sandra Hope, Richard Friend & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7008-7

Harley Quinn wasn’t supposed to be a star… or even an actual comicbook character. As would soon become apparent however, the manic minx had her own off-kilter ideas on the matter…

Created by Paul Dini & Bruce Timm, Batman: The Animated Series aired in the US from September 5th 1992 to September 15th 1995. Ostensibly for kids, the breakthrough TV cartoon revolutionised everybody’s image of the Dark Knight and immediately began feeding back into the print iteration, leading to some of the absolute best comicbook tales in the hero’s many decades of existence.

Employing a timeless visual style dubbed “Dark Deco”, the show mixed elements from all iterations of the character and, without diluting the power, tone or mood of the premise, reshaped the grim avenger and his extended team into a wholly accessible, thematically memorable form that the youngest of readers could enjoy, whilst adding shades of exuberance and panache that only most devout and obsessive Batmaniac could possibly object to…

Harley was first seen as the Clown Prince of Crime’s slavisly adoring, abuse-enduring assistant in Joker’s Favor (airing on September 11th 1992) where she instantly captured the hearts and minds of millions of viewers. From there on she began popping up in the licensed comicbook and – always stealing the show – soon graduated into mainstream DC continuity.

After a period bopping around the DCU she was re-imagined as part of the company’s vast post-Flashpoint major makeover and appeared as part of a new iteration of the Suicide Squad. Now, with a massive motion picture and TV show in play, it’s probably time to take a look at her eccentric career path…

Collecting material from Countdown to Final Crisis #10, Batman Adventures #12, Batman #613, Gotham City Sirens #7, Suicide Squad #1, Batman volume 2#13, Harley Quinn volume 2 #21, 2015 and Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad April Fools Special #1, the madcap mayhem commences with a 2-page potted biography of the mad miss in comics form.

Crafted by Scott Beatty & Bruce Timm, ‘The Origin of Harley Quinn’ (Countdown #10, February 2008) economically reveals how troubled psychologist Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel arrives at Arkham Asylum to analyse the Joker only to fall under his malign spell and become his adoring, despised slave…

A classic and classy semi-solo yarn comes from Batman Adventures #12, (September 1993) where Kelly Puckett, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett revealed how Barbara Gordon became a masked adventurer…

Student Babs makes a superhero costume for a party in ‘Batgirl: Day One!’ and stumbles into a larcenous ‘Ladies Night’ when the High Society bash is crashed by rapacious gal pals Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. With no professional help on hand, Miss Gordon has to act as ‘If the Suit Fits!’ and tackle the bad girls herself… but then Catwoman shows up for the frantic finale ‘Out of the Frying Pan!’

A far darker if less comprehensible interpretation graced Batman #613, (May 2003 by Jeph Loeb, Jim Lee & Scott Williams) as an incessant parade of villains du jour in mega-event Hush reached the Joker and Harley and they invaded ‘The Opera’ attended by Bruce Wayne and hidden master villain Tommy Elliot.

It’s visually resplendent and shockingly violent, but story content is virtually zero since the entire farrago is just an extracted episode from a far larger and more complex epic…

Far more satisfactory is ‘Holiday Story’ by Paul Dini, David Lopez & Alvaro Lopez (from Gotham City Sirens #7, February 2010) as new housemates Harley, Ivy and Catwoman split up to celebrate Christmas in their own uniquely different ways. This tale offers a candid peek into the home-life and history which turned dead-end kid Harleen into an overachieving doctor and latterly lunatic super-villain by introducing the inveterate slime-ball who fathered her…

Hitting modern times hard, ‘Kicked in the Teeth’ comes from Suicide Squad volume 4 #1 (November 2011), wherein Adam Glass, Federico Dallocchio, Ransom Getty & Scott Hanna put Harley, Deadshot, Black Spider, King Shark, El Diablo, Voltaic and Savant through hell and torture as mere preparation for their first mission for top spook Amanda Waller whilst ‘Tease’ (Batman #13, December 2012 by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV & Jock) sees Harley reunited with her main man, only to once again suffer from the pernicious, vindictive whimsy and twisted love of the Joker…

‘Tug A’ War’ (Harley Quinn #21, volume 2, December 2015 by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, John Timms) finds Harley Quinn a bounty hunter battling former squad-mate Deadshot and setting Hollywood ablaze as she seeks top cash-cow Sparrow Adaro

Things quickly go south when she discovers her target is no crook but only the wayward spouse of a Showbiz bigwig who only wants his little lady back. Their twisted relationship touches Harley’s heart and she resolves to help, but the former psychologist never expected so many collateral corpses to accrue as she fixed the not-so-happy family…

This rough and ready compilation concludes with collaborative effort ‘Evil Anonymous’ by Rob Williams, Jim Lee, Sean “Cheeks” Galloway, Scott Williams, Sandra Hope, Richard Friend (Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad April Fools Special #1, 2016): a light-hearted, self-referential journey of discovery wherein Harley – prompted by another brush with the Joker – decides to “cure” a number of her fellow criminal killer loons, beginning with bestial winged predator Man-Bat

Soon she’s reverted to a childlike state to tackle Killer Moth, Enchantress, RatCatcher, Toyman and Poison Ivy although things get a little out of hand when she gets Scarecrow on her couch and goes crazy serious when the Justice League step in. Nobody involved is aware of the insidious mastermind actually pulling the strings to get Harley Quinn back to where she really belongs and is most needed…

Fast, furious funny and making precious little narrative sense, Harley Quinn’s Greatest Hits is nonetheless a potent primer of Fights ‘n’ Tights furore that will give newcomers a taste of what motley minx can do and should whet appetites for a deeper exploration of her exploits.
© 1993, 2003, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016 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.

Justice League: Midsummer’s Nightmare


By Mark Waid, Fabian Nicieza, Jeff Johnson, Darick Robertson, John Holdredge, Hanibal Rodriguez & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-338-4

There are many facets that contribute to the “perfect mix” in the creation of any continuing character in comics. How much more so then, when the idea is to build a superhero team that will stand out from the seething masses that already exist?

In the mid-1990s, the iconic squad which truly ushered in the return of superheroes to comics suffered one of its periodic plunges in quality and popularity and ignominiously folded.

Of course the Justice League of America is too hallowed, venerated and valuable to fester in oblivion for any length of time and was quickly reconvened in a fresh new interpretation which quickly became the breakout book of 1997, courtesy of Grant Morrison & Howard Porter (see JLA: New World Order).

However, the scene was set for them by a strikingly exuberant miniseries which acted as a reassessment and reintroduction of the World’s Greatest Superheroes. Since the Silver Age’s greatest team-book died a slow, painful, embarrassing death, not once but twice, DC were taking no chances with their next revival and tapped Big Ideas wünderkind Morrison to reconstruct the group and the franchise.

However he was to a large extent riffing on groundwork laid by writers Mark Waid and Fabian Nicieza – as well as the impressive illustration of Jeff Johnson, Darick Robertson, John Holdredge & Hanibal Rodriguez – in a captivating no-nonsense miniseries which went a long way towards regenerating interest…

This slim sleek compilation (collecting Justice League: Midsummer’s Nightmare #1-3 from September-November 1996) opens with an effusive ‘Intro’ from Morrison before a world of confusion is revealed in ‘True Lies’ where comicbook artist Kyle Rayner struggles to meet the deadline for his assignment. He can’t understand why anybody would want to read about fictitious masked mystery men characters like Green Lantern when the entire planet is in the midst of a cosmic revolution.

All over earth humans are spontaneously developing super-powers as an inexplicable genetic “spark” triggers the next stage in evolution. Millions of superhumans are manifesting with no rhyme or reason whilst others seem doomed to remain merely mundane. It’s like a comicbook plot come to life…

Amongst the ordinary mortals left behind are reporter Clark Kent, philanthropist Bruce Wayne, schoolteacher Diana Prince, college lecturer Wally West and corporate compliance officer Arthur Curry. Elsewhere, separated by immeasurable gulfs, scientist J’onn J’onzz leads an idyllic life under the skies of Mars with his wife and daughter…

The dreams of all these mortals are troubled. They have vague, impossible recollections of beings colourful heroes in a world filled with their like, not this savage situation where selfish “Sparkers”, intoxicated with newfound power, squabble and bicker like bullies and thugs in a primarily plebeian universe…

In a hidden place, an immortal mastermind manipulates a super-villain the entire world has forgotten, using his power to reshape dreams to achieve an eons-long plan. However there’s far more to heroism than powers and each mentally diminished champion individually struggles to find the disturbing deeper truth they know has been somehow taken from them…

The spell of targeted amnesia starts to unravel when journalist Kent somehow survives being caught in a savage exchange between rival sparker gangs. Shocked back to Kryptonian normality he starts tracking down his vanished costumed contemporaries…

Elsewhere relative neophyte legacy heroes Wally and Kyle have their own epiphany moments as the second chapter ‘To Know a Veil’ finds a restored Superman and Batman systematically unravelling the sinister plot.

In a hidden sanctum Machiavellian Know Man further exploits the reality-warping gifts of his slave Doctor Destiny to create a team of sparkers specifically designed to eradicate the re-emergent heroes. Meanwhile Aquaman and Wonder Woman have united with the World’s Finest team in time to be ambushed by an army of sparkers. The battle is in no way certain until the restored Flash and Green Lantern pile in…

After the inconclusive clash the heroes realise they need their old telepathic team-mate back and hunt for J’onzz, eventually dragging the Martian Manhunter from his perfect dream of paradise regained in a bunker at Roswell. Having lost his world and family a second time, he is not in any mind to be merciful with his anonymous abductors…

The saga kicks into terminal high gear with ‘Daze & Knights’ as Know Man’s tailor-made sparker squad attacks only to fall as one before the brutal psychic assault of the furious and heartbroken Manhunter.

His mental capabilities then glean the whereabouts of their true foes from data buried by rebellious Dr. Destiny in Kyle’s subconscious and the fighting mad team race off to a final confrontation with their hidden enemy…

Fast-paced, action-packed and breathtakingly bold, this galvanic tale, pitting the greatest champion’s in DC’s pantheon against an immortal enemy whose roots stem back to the earliest days of the universe is a gloriously baggage-free romp and a splendid jumping on point for readers new and old alike, and this fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights foray also includes a handy information section recapitulating and assessing the characters of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter.
© 1996 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.