By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Bernard Sachs & Sid Greene (DC Comics)
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.