Black Canary Archives volume 1


By Bob Kanigher, Gardner Fox, Denny O’Neil, Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella, Murphy Anderson, Alex Toth & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-734-4 (HB)

Black Canary was one of the first of relatively few female furies to hold a star spot in the DC universe, following Wonder Woman, Liberty Belle and Red Tornado (who actually masqueraded as a man to comedically crush crime – with a couple of kids in tow, too!). She predated Merry, the Gimmick Girl (remember her?) and disappeared with most of other superheroes at the end of the Golden Age, to be revived with the Justice Society of America in 1963.

She was created by Bob Kanigher & Carmine Infantino in 1947, echoing the worldly, dangerous women cropping up in the burgeoning wave of crime novels and on the silver screen in film noir tales better suited to the wiser, more cynical Americans who had just endured a World War and were even then gearing up for a paranoiac Cold one…

Clad in a revealing bolero jacket, shorts, fishnet stockings and high-heeled pirate boots, the devastating shady lady who looked like Veronica Lake even began life as a thief…

This superb full-colour hardback collection was released in 2001 to capitalise on the character’s small screen debut in the first Birds of Prey TV series. It gathers her admittedly short run of tales in Flash Comics (#86-104, August 1947 – February 1949), Comics Cavalcade #25 (February/March 1948), plus two adventures that went unused when the comicbook folded: one of the earliest casualties in the wave of changing tastes which decimated the superhero genre until the late 1950s. Those last only resurfaced at the end of the Second Great Superhero Winnowing and were subsequently published in DC Special #3 and Adventure Comics #399 (June 1969 & November 1970 respectively).

Also intriguingly included are two stellar appearances in Brave and the Bold #61-62 (September & November 1965), therein teamed up with JSA team-mate Starman as part of a concerted but ultimately vain editorial effort by Julius Schwartz to revive the Golden Age squad of champions situated on parallel world Earth-2.

Best of all is the re-presentation of a 2-part solo thriller from Adventure Comics #418-419 (April – May 1972) after she successfully migrated to “our” world and replaced Wonder Woman in the Justice League of America.

Regrettably, all these treasures can only be found here. Incomprehensibly, DC have allowed this entire imprint of reading gold lie fallow for years, both in print and digital formats. Hopefully, events in their cinematic analogues will entice them into reviving the Archive line… and adding to it…

In the heady, desperate days of post-war uncertainty, continuity was meagre and nobody cared much about origins. All that mattered was pace, plot, action and spectacle. As we’ll see, even when the Black Bird got her own strip, where she came from was never as important as who she faced…

Flash Comics #86 was just another superhero anthology publication, suffering a slow downturn in sales, and perennial back-up feature Johnny Thunder had long since passed its sell-by date. Although a member of the JSA, Johnny was an idiot; a genuine simpleton who just happened to control a genie-like Thunderbolt.

His affable good-hearted bumbling had carried him through the war, but changing fashions had no room for a hapless (adult) hero anymore. When he encountered a masked female Robin Hood who stole from crooks, the writing was on the wall. In this introductory yarn, ‘The Black Canary’ tricks him and T-Bolt into acquiring an invitation to a crime-lord’s party, lifts the ill-gotten loot and leaves Johnny to mop up the hoods. It was lust at first sight…

Nothing much was expected from these complete-in-one-episode filler strips. Hawkman and The Flash still hogged all the covers and glory, and although young artists Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella gave it their all as they learned their craft on the job, writer/editor Robert Kanigher was often clearly making it up as he went along…

The next Johnny Thunder instalment in #87 featured the immediate return of the Blonde Bombshell as she again makes the big goof her patsy, leaving ‘The Package of Peril’ in his inept hands. When mobsters retrieve the purloined parcel and secret documents it contains, Johnny follows and, more by luck than design, rescues the Canary from a deadly trap.

She returned in #88 – sans domino-mask now – using trained black canaries to deliver messages as she again finds herself in over her head and is forced to use the big sap and his magic pal to extricate herself before retrieving ‘The Map that Wasn’t There’ from a pack of human jackals.

Flash Comics #89 held the last Johnny Thunder solo tale as ‘Produce the Crime!’ sees the cheerful chump accidentally busting a gem-smuggling scheme without any help from the Girl Gladiator – but she did return in full force for #90 as ‘Johnny Thunder and the Black Canary’ officially team up to thwart a photographic frame-up and blackmail plot in ‘Triple Exposure!’

They resumed the partnership in #91 as gangsters used rockets and ‘The Tumbling Trees!’ in their efforts to trap the svelte nemesis of evil – and just to be clear: that’s her, not Johnny…

The strip became Black Canary with the next issue. She even got to appear on the Lee Elias cover with Flash and Hawkman. Johnny simply vanished without trace or mention and his name was peremptorily applied elsewhere to a new cowboy hero as the rise of traditional genre material such westerns relentlessly rolled on…

In ‘The Huntress of the Highway!’, feisty florist Dinah Drake is being pestered by arrogant, obnoxious but so-very-manly private eye Larry Lance, only to realise that the wreath she is working on is for him. Doffing her dowdy duds to investigate, the Blonde Bombshell is just in time to save him from a wily gang of truck hijackers.

And that’s all the set-up we got. The new status quo was established and a pattern for fast-paced but inconsequential rollercoaster action romps took off…

To celebrate her arrival, the Canary also appeared in catch-all anthology Comics Cavalcade – specifically #25 cover-dated February/March 1948 where she flamboyantly finishes a ‘Tune of Terror!’ inflicted on a rural hick trying to claim an inheritance, but encountering nothing but music-themed menace…

A word of warning: Kanigher was a superbly gifted and wildly imaginative writer, but he never let sense come between him and a memorable visual. The manic Deus ex Machina moment where a carpet of black canaries snatches the eponymous avenger and victim out of a death-plunge is, indeed, utter idiocy, but in those days, anything went…

Back in a more rational milieu and mood for Flash Comics #93, the ‘Mystery of the Crimson Crystal!’ has the Canary tracking down a conman who bamboozled many gullible women into parting with their fortunes for spurious immortality. On the home front, the utterly oblivious Larry had pressured shy Dinah into letting him use her shop as his detective office. Of course, the oaf had no idea his mousy landlady was the lethal object of his crime-busting desires…

The rather pedestrian ‘Corsage of Death!’ in #94 sees them save a scientist’s ultimate weapon from canny crooks, whilst ‘An Orchid for the Deceased!’ spectacularly finds the Avian Avenger framed for murder in an extremely classy Noir murder mystery before #96 combines equestrian robbery with aerial combat as gem thieves risk innocent lives to solve ‘The Riddle of the Topaz Brooch!’

Finally finding a formula that worked, Kanigher had Larry and the Canary investigate textile thieving thugs involved in ‘The Mystery of the Stolen Cloth!’ and murdering stamp-stealers in #98’s ‘The Byzantine Black’, as Infantino’s art grew ever more efficient and boldly effective.

‘Time Runs Out!’ in #99 ups the drama as ruthless radium-stealing gangsters trap the duo in a giant hourglass, and #100 again utilises baroque props and plots as they track down a model-making gang of burglars and are unexpectedly caught in ‘The Circle of Terror!’

Just as the stories were building momentum and finding a unique voice, the curtains were beginning to draw closed. ‘The Day that Wouldn’t End!’ in #101 sees Canary and gumshoe uncover a sinister scheme to drive a rich man mad, Dinah’s shop becomes an unsuspected tool of crafty crooks in ‘The Riddle of the Roses!’, and ‘Mystery on Ice!’ finds the capable crime-crushers suckered by a pack of thieves determined to steal a formula vital to America’s security.

Flash Comics disappeared with #104, making way for new titles and less fantastic thrills. ‘Crime on Her Hands’ ended the Canary’s crusade on a high, however, with an absorbing murder-mystery involving a college class of criminologists. She wouldn’t be seen again until the return of the Justice Society as part of the Silver Age revival of costumed mystery men, when awestruck readers learned that there were infinite Earths and untold wonders to see…

Nevertheless, the sudden cancellation meant two months’ worth of material was in various stages of preparation when the axe fell. The “All-Girl Issue” of reprint series DC Special (#3) subsequently printed one of the Canary yarns in 1969, with Bernard Sachs inking Infantino as ‘Special Delivery Death!’ finds Lance framed for murder and both Dinah and Black Canary using their particular gifts to clear him. Adventure Comics #399 printed the last story as ‘Television Told the Tale!’, revealing how a live broadcast tips off the Blonde Bombshell to a crime in the making…

Once the Silver Age revival took hold, superheroes were everywhere and response to Earth-2 appearances prompted DC to try-out a number of impressive permutations designed to bring back the World’s first team of costumed adventurers.

Try-out comic The Brave and the Bold #61 offered a brace of truly titanic tales by Gardner Fox & Murphy Anderson, pairing the Canary with Ted Knight, the Sentinel of Super-Science known as Starman. The deliriously cool cases began with ‘Mastermind of Menaces’, as vile techno-wizard The Mist returned, using doctored flowers to hypnotise his victims into voluntarily surrendering their wealth.

When he utilised Dinah’s flower shop to source his souped-up blooms, she, husband Larry and visiting pal Ted were soon on the villain’s trail…

Mystery and intrigue gave way to all-out action in #62’s ‘The Great Superhero Hunt!’ as husband-and-wife criminals Sportsmaster and Huntress began stalking superheroes for kicks and profit. By the time Feline Fury Wildcat became their first victim Ted and Dinah were on the case and ready for anything…

These latter classic tales alone are worth the price of purchase, but this splendid tome still has the very best to come as Adventure Comics #418 & 419 provide a scintillating 2-part graphic extravaganza by Dennis O’Neil & the legendary Alex Toth.

Originally an Earth-2 crime-fighter, Dinah was transplanted to our world by the wonders of trans-dimensional vibration after husband Larry was killed (see Justice League of America #73-75 or many assorted JLA compilations). Beginning a possibly rebound romance with Green Arrow, Dinah struggled to find her feet on a strangely different yet eerily familiar world. In ‘The Canary and the Cat! Parts 1 & 2’ she accepts a job teaching self-defence to women. The bereaved Blonde Bombshell has no idea her pupils are hirelings of vicious criminal Catwoman and the martial arts moves she shares will lead to her death and the liberation of a deadly menace…

Augmented by a fond remembrance from co-creator Carmine Infantino in his Foreword and detailed biographies of the many people who worked on the character, this admittedly erratic collection starts slow but builds in quality until it ranks amongst the very best examples of Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy. I hope you get a chance to see it…
© 1947-1949, 1965, 1969, 1970, 1972, 2001 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

JSA by Geoff Johns Book One


By Geoff Johns, James Robinson, David S. Goyer, Scott Benefiel, Stephen Sadowski, Derec Aucoin, Marcos Martin, Michael Bair, Buzz & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7490-0 (TPB)

After the actual invention of the comicbook superhero – for which read the launch of Superman in 1938 – the most significant event in the genre, and indeed 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 proven – a number of popular characters could multiply readership by combining forces and readerships. Plus of course, a whole bunch of superheroes is a lot cooler than just one – or even one and a sidekick.

The Justice Society of America was created in the third issue of All-Star Comics (Winter 1940/1941), an anthology title featuring established characters from various All-American Comics publications, by the simple expedient of having the heroes gather around a table and tell each other their latest adventure. From this low-key collaboration, it wasn’t long before the guys – and they were all guys (except Red Tornado who only pretended to be one) until Wonder Woman premiered in the eighth issue – regularly joined forces to defeat the greatest villains and social ills of their generation.

Within months the concept had spread far and wide…

And so, the Justice Society of America is rightly revered as a true landmark in the development of comic books, and, when Julius Schwartz revived the superhero genre in the late 1950s, a key moment would come with the inevitable teaming of the reconfigured mystery men into a Justice League of America.

From there it wasn’t long until the original and genuine returned. Since then there were many attempts to formally revive the team’s fortunes but it wasn’t until 1999, on the back of both the highly successful revamping of the JLA by Grant Morrison and Howard Porter and the seminal but critically favoured new Starman by Golden Age devotee James Robinson, that the multi-generational team found a concept and fan-base big enough to support them.

It didn’t hurt that the writers – all with strong Hollywood connections – were both beloved of the original concept, but also knew what mass-market action audiences liked…

Officially concentrating on the efforts of current fan-fave Geoff Johns, this initial volume (available in trade paperback and digital formats) re-presents JSA #1-5, from August 1999 to October 2000, and also includes the conceptual works of his collaborators David S. Goyer & James Robinson which all germinated in a prequel tale from JSA: Secret Files #1.

The majestic drama opens sans fanfare with Robinson & Goyer’s ‘Gathering Storms’ – illustrated by Scott Benefiel & Mark Propst – from JSA: Secret Files: detailing with great style and remarkable facility (considering the incredibly convoluted continuity of the feature) how the last active survivors of the original team reconvened after losing most of their membership to old age, infirmity or enemy action. Veteran champions Wildcat, Flash and Green Lantern/Sentinel unite with youthful inheritors of the old team’s legacy to continue the tradition, train the next generation of heroes and battle one of the oldest evils in the universe…

It all begins with the death of the Sandman, octogenarian Wesley Dodds, who beats the odds one last time to thwart an unstoppable ancient foe and warn with his dying breath those surviving comrades of the immense peril to come…

The story resumes in the premiere JSA issue with ‘Justice Be Done’ by Robinson, Goyer, Stephen Sadowski & Michael Bair. At Dodds’ funeral, a horde of death-demons attack the mourners after the hero known as Fate is murdered, and the assembled mourners – legacy heroes Sand, Stargirl, Hourman, Atom Smasher, Starman and Obsidian, plus Black Canary, Wonder Woman (in actuality, her mother Hippolyta who was an active Nazi crusher during WWII) and the aforementioned trio are sent on a tripartite mission to rescue three babies; one of which is the new incarnation of the magical hero Doctor Fate.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to all, a wild card has been introduced with the unexpected return of another departed comrade in the guise of a new and deeply troubled Hawkgirl

Although deeply fixed in the vast backstory of the DC universe, the story is quite accessible for newcomers and continues in ‘The Wheel of Life’, as mystery hero Scarab offers his assistance as arcane forces hunt the imperilled newborns.

The heroes are all at odds with each other as the mystery villain behind everything comes out of the shadows, precipitating a chase across myriad times and dimensions and an offer of assistance from two long dead heroic ‘Old Souls’

The resultant chaotic ultimate showdown in ‘Ouroboros’ then re-forges the multi-generational team into a force ready and willing to tackle anything. This is a fabulously engaging superhero-rebirth saga: wonderfully compelling with a frenetic pace that keeps the reader barrelling along. The struggle against the sinister big bad villain is pitched perfectly, with plenty of clues for old-timers and enough character illustration to educate and satisfy those who have never heard of “the Dark Lord…”

With the revival and reintroduction of new iterations of Hawkgirl and Doctor Fate achieved, the saga looks inward with ‘Grounded’ (illustrated by Derec Aucoin & Bair) focusing on the history and new powers of the latest Sandman whilst introducing a new Mister Terrific to the team, and casting plenty of foreshadowing of horrors yet to come…

Geoff Johns’ tenure begins as co-writer with Goyer and the official public relaunch of the JSA in ‘Justice. Like Lightning…’ (illustrated by Marcos Martin & Keith Champagne). As old guard Flash, Sentinel and Wildcat assume the role of mentors for both current and future champions, the ceremony is disrupted when they are attacked by a demented super-human named Black Adam (a magically empowered superman, usually harassing the agents of do-gooding wizard Shazam!).

The bombastic battle serves to introduce more very far-reaching plot threads as the new incarnations of Doctor Fate, Hourman and Hawkgirl thereafter journey to ancient Egypt to solve the mystery of the Black Marvel’s madness, before the second major story-arc of the series begins.

In ‘Darkness Falls’ (Sadowski & Bair), Sentinel’s troubled son Obsidian – haunted by his own powers – seemingly goes mad and attempts to drag the world into a supernatural realm of dark despondence. Naturally, there’s more to the mess that might first appear, and when a new Doctor Mid-Nite appears, it’s not long before the ebon tide begins to turn in a war for ‘Shadowland’

The epic concludes in a savage battle for the ‘Black Planet’ after which Wildcat takes centre-stage for a magnificent solo duel against the entire Injustice Society in ‘Wild Hunt’ – the best Die Hard tribute ever seen in comics…

Beginning with ‘Split’ (illustrated by Bair & Buzz), the next extended saga pits the team simultaneously against serpentine super-terrorist Kobra and time-bending villain Extant (who killed many of the original JSA team in crossover crisis event Zero Hour). forcing the still largely untested new squad to divide its forces between a world in peril and a continuum in meltdown.

‘The Blood-Dimmed Tide’ (Goyer, Johns & Buzz) concentrates on the anti-Kobra contingent but their swift victory is spoiled when the sole survivor of the other team appears, repeatedly bringing them into battle against Extant in ‘Time’s Assassin’ and ‘Chaos Theory’ before a spectacular conclusion is won in ‘Crime and Punishment’, wherein reality is stretched beyond its limits, the gates of the afterlife are propped open and more than a few dead heroes return…

Complex and enthralling, these super shenanigans are the very best of their type: filled with wicked villains and shining, triumphant heroes, cosmic disaster and human tragedies, and always leavened by optimism and humour.

As such they’re simply not for every graphic novel reader, but if you can put yourself into the head and heart of a thrill-starved 10-year old and handle the burden of seven decades of history, these tales will supercharge your imagination and restore your faith in justice…
© 1999, 2000, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Kingdom Come



By Mark Waid & Alex Ross, with Todd Klein & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6082-8 (20th Anniversary HB) 978-1-4012-2034-1 (TPB

In the mid-1960s a teenaged Jim Shooter wrote a couple of stories about the Legion of Super-Heroes set some years into the team’s own future. Those stories of the adult Legionnaires revealed hints of things to come that shackled the series’ plotting and continuity for decades as eager, obsessed fans (by which I mean all of us) waited for the predicted characters to be introduced, presaged relationships to be consummated and heroes to die.

By being so utterly impressive and similarly affecting, Kingdom Come accidentally repeated the trick decades later, subsequently painting the entire post Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Universe into the same creative corner until one of the company’s periodic continuity reboots…

Envisaged and designed by artist Alex Ross as DC’s answer to epic groundbreaking Marvels, Kingdom Come was originally released as a 4-issue Prestige Format miniseries in 1996 to rapturous acclaim and numerous awards and accolades. Although set in the future and an “imaginary story” released under DC’s Elseworlds imprint, it almost immediately began to affect the company’s mainstream continuity.

Set approximately twenty years into the future, the grandiose saga details a tragic failure and subsequent loss of Faith for Superman and how his attempt to redeem himself almost leads to an even greater and ultimate apocalypse.

The events are seen through the eyes and actions of Dantean witness Norman McCay, an aging cleric co-opted by Divine Agent of Wrath the Spectre after the pastor officiates at the last rites of dying superhero Wesley Dodds. As the Sandman, Dodds was cursed for decades with precognitive dreams which compelled him to act as an agent of justice.

Opening chapter ‘Strange Visitor’ reveals a world where metahumans have proliferated to ubiquitous proportions: a sub-culture of constant, violent clashes between the latest generation of costumed villains and vigilantes, all unheeding and uncaring of the collateral damage they daily inflict on the mere mortals around and in all ways beneath them.

The shaken preacher sees a final crisis coming, but feels helpless until the darkly angelic Spectre comes to him. Taken on a bewildering voyage of unfolding events, McCay is to act as the ghost’s human perspective whilst the Spirit of Vengeance prepares to pass final judgement on Humanity.

First stop is the secluded hideaway where farmer Kal-El has hidden himself since the ghastly events which compelled him to retire from the Good Fight and the eyes of the World. The Man of Steel was already feeling like a dinosaur when newer, harsher, morally ambiguous mystery-men began to appear. After the Joker murdered the entire Daily Planet staff and hard-line new hero Magog executed him in the street, the public applauded the deed. Heartbroken and appalled, Superman simply disappeared for a decade. His legendary colleagues also felt the march of unwelcome progress and similarly dropped from sight.

With Earth left to the mercies of dangerously irresponsible new vigilantes, civil unrest soon escalated. The younger heroes displayed poor judgement and no restraint, with the result that within a decade the entire planet had become a chaotic arena for metahuman duels.

Civilisation was fragmenting. Flash and Batman retreated to their home cities and made them secure, crime-free solitary fortresses. Green Lantern built an emerald castle in the sky, turning his eyes away from Earth and towards the deep black fastnesses of space. Hawkman retreated to the wilderness, Aquaman to his sub-sea kingdom whilst Wonder Woman retired to her hidden paradise. She did not leave until Armageddon came one step closer…

When Magog and his Justice Battalion battled the Parasite in St. Louis, the result was a nuclear accident which destroyed all of Kansas and much of Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska. Overnight the world faced starvation as America’s breadbasket turned into a toxic wasteland. Now with McCay and the Spectre invisibly observing, Princess Diana convinces the bereft Kal-El to return and save the world on his own terms…

In ‘Truth and Justice’ a resurgent Justice League led by Superman begins a campaign of unilateral action to clean up the mess civilisation has become: renditioning “heroes” and “villains” alike, imprisoning every dangerous element of super-humanity and telling governments how to behave, blithely unaware that they are hastening a global catastrophe of Biblical proportions as the Spectre invisibly gathers the facts for his apocalyptic judgement.

In the ensuing chaos, crippled warrior Bruce Wayne rejects Superman’s paternalistic, doctrinaire crusade and allies himself with mortal humanity’s libertarian elite – Ted (Blue Beetle) Kord, Dinah (Black Canary) Lance and Oliver (Green Arrow) Queen – to resist what can only be considered a grab for world domination by the meta-human minority. As the helpless McCay watches in horror, Wayne’s group makes its own plans; another dangerous thread in a tapestry of calamity…

At first Superman’s plans seem blessed to succeed, with many erstwhile threats flocking to his banner and his doctrinaire rules of discipline, but as ever there are self-serving villains with their own agendas. Lex Luthor organises a cabal of like-minded compatriots – Vandal Savage, Catwoman, Riddler, Kobra and Ibn Al Xu’ffasch (Son of the Demon Ra’s Al Ghul) – into a “Mankind Liberation Front”.

With Shazam-empowered Captain Marvel as their slave, this group are determined the super-freaks shall not win. Their cause is greatly advanced once Wayne’s clique joins them…

‘Up in the Sky’ sees events spiral into a deadly storm as McCay, still wracked by his visions of Armageddon, is shown the Gulag where all recalcitrant metahumans have been dumped. He also witnesses how it will fail, learns from restless spirit Deadman that the Spectre is the literal Angel of Death and watches with growing helplessness as Luthor’s plan to usurp control from the army of Superman leads to a shocking confrontation, betrayal and a deadly countdown to the End of Days…

The deadly drama culminates in a staggering battle of superpowers, last moment salvation and a second chance for humanity in a calamitous world-shaking ‘Never-Ending Battle’

Thanks to McCay’s simple humanity, the world gets another chance and this edition follows up with an epilogue ‘One Year Later’ which end this ponderous epic on a note of renewed hope…

This edition – available as a 20th Anniversary deluxe hardback, a standard trade paperback and in digital formats – comes with an introduction by author and former DC scribe Elliot S. Maggin, assorted cover reproductions and art-pieces, an illustrated checklist of the vast cast list plus a plethora of creative notes and sketches in the ‘Apocrypha’ section, and even hints at lost glories in ‘Evolution’: notes, photos and drawings for a restored scene that never made it into the miniseries.

Epic, engaging and operatically spectacular, Kingdom Come is a milestone of the DC Universe and remains to this day a solid slice of superior superhero entertainment, worthy of your undivided attention.
© 1996, 2008, 2016 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…

The transcendent wonderment 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, and reprinted in loads of places, but not here): introducing the concept of alternate Earths to the continuity and by extension the multiversal structure of the future DCU as well as all the succeeding cosmos-shaking yearly “Crisis” sagas that grew from it.

Moreover, where DC led, others followed…

Received with tumultuous acclaim, the concept was revisited months later in Flash #129 which also teasingly reintroduced evergreen stalwarts – Wonder Woman, the Atom, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Doctor Mid-Nite and Black Canary: venerable members of the fabled Justice Society of America. Clearly Editor Schwartz had something in mind…

That tale 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’ brought us the notion of Infinite Earths and multiple iterations of costumed crusaders, public pressure had begun almost instantly to agitate for the return of the Greats of the “Golden Age”. The 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 adventures 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.

This gloriously enthralling volume – available in trade paperback and digital incarnations – is the first of a glorious sequence of collections celebrating Infinite Diversity in Infinite Costumes (extra fanboy kudos if you get where I filched that from!) and re-presents the first four JLA/JSA convocations: stunning superhero wonderments which never fail to astound and delight. It also comes with context-conveying Introduction ‘1 & 2 = Crisis’ from wonder-scribe Mark Waid detailing even more cool facts behind the phenomenon…

The comic book catharsis commences with the landmark ‘Crisis on Earth-One’ and ‘Crisis on Earth-Two’ (from Justice League of America #21-22, August & September 1963) combining to form one of the most important stories in DC history and arguably one of the most crucial tales in American literature: at least the stuff with pictures in it.

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 insufferably 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 it – and the result is pure Fights ‘n’ Tights 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!

The buying public clearly agreed and one year later ‘Crisis on Earth-Three’ and ‘The Most Dangerous Earth of All!’ (Justice League of America #29-30) reprised the team-up of the Justice League and Justice Society, when the super-beings of a third alternate Earth discover the secret of trans-universal travel.

Unfortunately, Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring are villains on a world without heroes who see 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 in 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 of an old and misty-eyed man…)

The third annual event was a touch different; a largely forgotten and rather experimental tale wherein the educationally-challenged and extremely larcenous Johnny Thunder of Earth-1 wrests control of the genie-like Thunderbolt from his otherworld counterpart: employing its magical powers to change the events which created of all Earth-1’s superheroes.

With Earth-1 catastrophically altered in #37’s ‘Earth – Without a Justice League’, it’s suddenly up to the JSA to save the day in a gripping battle of wits and power before Reality is re-established in #38’s concluding chapter ‘Crisis on Earth-A!’.

Veteran inker Bernard Sachs retired before the fourth team-up, leaving the amazing Sid Greene to embellish the gloriously whacky saga that closes this tome: one springing 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 are 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).

Here a bold – if rash – continuum warping experiment drags the twin sidereal worlds towards an inexorable hyper-space collision. Meanwhile, making matters worse, an awesome anti-matter being uses the opportunity to break into and explore our positive-matter universe whilst the heroes of both worlds are 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 textures and whimsical humour add unheard-of depth to Sekowsky’s pencils and the light and frothy comedic scripts of Fox.

These titanic 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 commercial competition between DC Comics and Marvel.

But I don’t have to be mature in my off-hours and for those who love costumed dramas, 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.

Justice League of America: The Silver Age volume 4


By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Bernard Sachs & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8061-1 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Wholesome, Wholehearted Super-Action… 8/10

The day the Justice League of America was published marks the moment when superheroes truly made comicbooks their own particular preserve. Even though the popularity of masked champions has waxed and waned many times 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 Rubicon move came a few years later with the uniting of these reconfigured mystery men into a team…

The JLA debuted in The Brave and the Bold #28 (cover-dated March 1960) and cemented the growth and validity of the revived sub-genre, consequently triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comicbooks and spreading to the rest of the world as the decade progressed.

Spanning June 1963 to September 1964, this latest full-colour paperback compendium of classics (also available digitally) re-presents issues #31-41 of the epochal first series with scripter Gardner Fox and illustrators Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs seemingly able to do no wrong…

And while we’re showing our gratitude, lets also salute stalwart letterer Gaspar Saladino for his herculean but unsung efforts to make the uncanny clear to us all…

The adventures here focus on the collective exploits of Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars, Green Arrow, The Atom, hip and plucky mascot Snapper Carr and latest inductee Hawkman as the team consolidate their hold on young hearts and minds whilst further transforming the entire nature of the American comicbook experience…

JLA #31 finally saw the induction of the Winged Wonder into ‘The World’s Greatest Superheroes’ – and not before time. However, in this ancient world of Boy’s Clubs and willing segregation, his dutiful wife and partner Shayera would have to wait for more than a decade before she herself was invited to join as Hawkgirl. Hawkman would be the last successful inductee until Black Canary joined the team in #75.

‘Riddle of the Runaway Room’ sees an alien wish-granting machine fall into the hands of second-rate thug Joe Parry, who nonetheless makes life pretty tough for the team before their eventual victory over his bizarre amalgamized multi-powered villain Super-Duper (no, really!).

The visually impressive Hawkman must have been popular with the creators, if not the fans, as he was prominently featured in all but one of next half-dozen adventures. Issue #32’s ‘Attack of the Star-Bolt Warrior!’ introduces the uncanny villain Brain Storm who attacks the League to avenge his brother who had been “murdered” by one of their number!

The entire universe was once again at stake in time-travelling thriller ‘Enemy from the Timeless World’ as the team strive to counter a chronal monster dubbed the Endless One, after which a persistent old foe had yet another go in #34’s ‘The Deadly Dreams of Doctor Destiny!’: a thriller packed with an army of guest-villains.

The team are attacked by their own clothes in issue #35’s supernatural adventure ‘Battle Against the Bodiless Uniforms’, a devilish fall-back plan concocted by the antediluvian demons Abnegazar, Rath and Ghast, which had been slowly percolating since the end of JLA #11.

Issue #36’s ‘The Case of the Disabled Justice League’ sees the team raise the morale of despondent kids with disabilities by overcoming their own recently-inflicted physical handicaps to defeat the returning Brain Storm. This tale was in fact inspired by ‘A Place in the World’, a Justice Society of America adventure from 1945’s All Star Comics #27. That yarn was produced at a time when returning servicemen, maimed and disfigured in combat, were becoming an increasingly common sight on the streets of America…

The third annual JLA/JSA team-up follows, a largely forgotten and rather experimental tale wherein the Johnny Thunder of Earth-1 wrests control of the genie-like Thunderbolt from his Justice Society counterpart and uses its magic to alter the events that led to the creation of all Earth-1’s superheroes.

Then it’s JSA to the rescue in a gripping battle of wits in #37’s ‘Earth – Without a Justice League’ and the concluding ‘Crisis on Earth-A!’

Issue #39 was an Eighty-Page Giant reprinting Brave and the Bold #28 and #30 and Justice League of America #5 (represented here by its evocative cover), so we jump to #40 and the ‘Indestructible Creatures of Nightmare Island’: a challenging mystery wherein an astral scientist’s machine to suppress Man’s basest instincts almost causes the end of humanity. The result is an action-packed psycho-thriller stuffed with villainous guest-stars and oodles of action before this compendium concludes with JLA #41 which introduces a modern version of an old Justice Society villain.

The Earth-1 mastermind called The Key is a diabolical scientist who employs mild-altering psycho-chemicals to control the behaviour of our heroes in ‘The Key – Master of the World!’

With iconic covers by Sekowsky & 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 readers 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…
© 1964, 1965, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Sandman Mystery Theatre: Book One


By Matt Wagner, Guy Davis, John Watkiss, R.G. Taylor, David Hornung & John Costanza (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6327-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Eerie Mystery-Mood Masterpiece… 8/10

Created by Gardner Fox and first depicted by Bert Christman, The Sandman premiered in either Adventure Comics #40 July 1939 (two months after Batman debuted in Detective Comics #27) or two weeks earlier in New York World’s Fair Comics 1939, depending on whether some rather spotty distribution records can be believed.

Head and face utterly obscured by a gasmask and slouch hat; caped, business-suited millionaire adventurer Wesley Dodds was cut from the iconic masked mystery-man mould that had made pulp fictioneers The Lone Ranger, Green Hornet, The Shadow, Phantom Detective, Black Bat, The Spider and so many more such household names. Those dark red-handed heroes were also astonishing commercial successes in the early days of mass periodical publication…

Wielding a sleeping-gas gun and haunting the night to battle a string of killers, crooks and spies, he was accompanied in the earliest comicbooks by his plucky paramour Dian Belmont, before gradually losing the readers’ interest and slipping from cover-spot to last feature in Adventure Comics, just as the cloaked pulp-hero avengers he emulated slipped from popularity in favour of more flamboyant fictional fare.

Possessing a certain indefinable style and charm but definitely no especial pizzazz, the feature was on the verge of being dropped when the Sandman abruptly switched to a skin-tight yellow-&-purple costume and gained a boy-sidekick, Sandy the Golden Boy (in Adventure Comics #69, December 1941, courtesy of Mort Weisinger & Paul Norris). All this, presumably to emulate the overwhelmingly successful Batman and Captain America models then reaping such big dividends on the newsstands.

It didn’t help much, but when Joe Simon & Jack Kirby came aboard with #72 that all spectacularly changed. A semi-supernatural element and fascination with the world of dreams (revisited by S&K a decade later in their short-lived experimental suspense series The Strange World of Your Dreams) added a moody conceptual punch to equal the kinetic fury of their art, as Sandman and Sandy became literally the stuff of nightmares to the bizarre bandits and murderous mugs they stalked…

For what happened next you can check out the superb Simon & Kirby Sandman hardback collection…

Time passed and in the late 1980s Neil Gaiman, Sam Keith & Mike Dringenberg took the property in a revolutionary new direction, eventually linking all the previous decades’ elements into an overarching connective continuity under DC’s new “sophisticated suspense” imprint Vertigo.

Within a few years the astounding success of the new Sandman prompted the editorial powers-that-be to revisit the stylishly retro original character and look at him through more mature eyes. Iconoclastic creator Matt Wagner (Mage, Grendel) teamed with artistic adept Guy Davis (Baker Street, B.P.R.D.) and colourist David Hornung to create a grittier, grimier, far more viscerally authentic 1930s, where the haunted mystery man pursued his lonely crusade with chilling verisimilitude.

The tone was darkly modernistic, with the crime-busting playing out in the dissolute dog-days of the Jazz Age and addressed controversial themes such as abuse, sexual depravity, corruption and racism; all confronted against the rising tide of fascism that was sweeping the world then.

This is a warning: Sandman Mystery Theatre is not for kids…

This compendium collections the redefining first three story-arcs from issues #1-12 (April 1993 to March 1994) and commences after an absorbing introduction from veteran journalist, critic and pop culture historian Dave Marsh.

Each chapter preceded by its original evocative faux pulp photo cover created by Gavin Wilson and Hornung, the dark drama opens with The Tarantula, taking us back to New York in 1938 where District Attorney Larry Belmont is having the Devil’s own time keeping his wild-child daughter out of trouble and out of the newspapers.

She’s gallivanting all over town every night with her spoiled rich friends; drinking, partying and associating with all the wrong sorts of people, but the prominent public servant has far larger problems too. One is a mysterious gas-masked figure he finds rifling his safe soon after Dian departs…

The intruder easily overpowers the DA with some kind of sleeping gas – which also makes you want to blurt every inconvenient truth – before disappearing, leaving Belmont to awake with a headache and wondering if it was all a dream…

Dian, after a rowdy night of carousing with scandalous BFF Catherine Van Der Meer and her latest (gangster) lover, awakes with a similar hangover but still agrees to attend one of her father’s dreary public functions that evening. The elder Belmont is particularly keen that she meet a studious young man named Wesley Dodds, recently returned from years in the Orient to take over his deceased dad’s many business interests.

Dodds seems genteel and effete, yet Dian finds there’s something oddly compelling about him. Moreover, he too seems to feel a connection…

The Gala breaks up early when the DA is informed of a sensational crime. Catherine Van Der Meer has been kidnapped by someone identifying himself as The Tarantula

Across town, mob boss Albert Goldman is meeting with fellow gangsters from the West Coast and, as usual, his useless son Roger and drunken wife Miriam embarrass him. Daughter Celia is the only one he can depend on these days, but even her unwavering devotion seems increasingly divided. After another stormy scene the conference ends early, and the visiting crime-lords are appalled to find their usually diligent bodyguards all soundly asleep in their limousines…

Even with Catherine kidnapped, Dian is determined to go out that night, but when Wesley arrives unexpectedly she changes her mind, much to her father’s relief. That feeling doesn’t last long however, after the police inform him that the Tarantula has taken another woman…

When a hideously mutilated body is found Dian inveigles herself into accompanying dear old Dad to Headquarters but is promptly excluded from the grisly “Man’s Business”. Left on her own, she begins snooping in the offices and encounters a bizarre gas-masked figure poring through files. Before she can react, he dashes past her and escapes, leaving her to explain to the assorted useless lawmen cluttering up the place.

Furious and humiliated, Dian then insists that she officially identifies Catherine and nobody can dissuade her.

Shockingly, the savagely ruined body is not her best friend but yet another victim…

Somewhere dark and hidden, Van Der Meer is being tortured but the perpetrator has far more than macabre gratification in mind…

In the Goldman house Celia is daily extending her control over darling devoted daddy. They still share a very special secret, but these days she’s the one dictating where and when they indulge themselves…

With all the trauma in her life Dian increasingly finds Wesley a comforting rock, but perhaps that view would change if she knew how he spends his nights. Dodds is plagued and tormented by bad dreams. Not his own nightmares, but rather the somnolent screams of nameless victims and their cruel oppressors haunt his troubled sleep. Worst of all these dreams are somehow prophetic and unrelenting. What else could a decent man do then, but act to end such suffering?

In a seedy dive, uncompromising Police Lieutenant Burke comes off worst when he discovers the gas-mask lunatic grilling a suspect in “his” kidnapping case and again later when this “Sandman” is found at a factory where the vehicle used to transport victims is hidden.

Even so, the net is inexorably tightening on both Tarantula and the insane vigilante interfering in the investigation but Burke doesn’t know who he most wants in a nice, dark interrogation room…

As the labyrinthine web of mystery and monstrosity slowly unravels, tension mounts and the death toll climbs, but can The Sandman stop the torrent of depraved terror before the determined Dian finds herself swept up in all the blood and death?

Of course, he does but not without appalling consequences…

Scene and scenario suitably set, John Watkiss steps in to illuminate second saga The Face (issues #5-8). Attention switches to Chinatown in February of 1938, where Dian and her gal-pals scandalously dine and dish dirt until Miss Belmont meets again an old lover.

Jimmy Shan once worked in her father’s office but now serves as lawyer and fixer for his own people amongst the teeming restaurants, gambling dens and bordellos of the oriental district…

Dian would be horrified to see Jimmy – or Zhang Chai Lao as his Tong masters know him – consorting with unsavoury criminals, and would certainly not be considering reviving her scandalous out-of-hours relationship with him. All frivolous thoughts vanish, however, when the diners vacate the restaurant and stumble upon a severed head: a warning that the ruling factions are about to go to war again in Chinatown. As usual, white police are utterly ineffectual against the closed ranks of the enclave…

Later at a swanky charity soiree to raise money for a school, Dian meets Jimmy again and agrees to a later meeting. At the same shindig she later sees Wesley, and in the course of their small talk, Dodds reveals that he recognises Shan from somewhere…

And in Chinatown, another beheading leads to greater tension between the Lee Feng and Hou Yibai Societies. When an enigmatic gas-masked stranger starts asking unavoidable questions, he finds that both Tongs deny all knowledge of the killings…

As the grisly murder-toll mounts, The Sandman’s investigations lead to one inescapable conclusion: a third party is responsible. But who, and why…

Before the drama closes, Dian will learn more hard truths about the world and the money-men who secretly run it…

Issues #9-12 (December 1993-March 1994) are illustrated by R.G. Taylor and plumb the darkest depths of human depravity in the tale of ‘The Brute’.

The friendship of Dian and Wesley slowly deepens and life seems less fraught in the city, but that soon ends as hulking degenerate stalks the back-alleys, killing and brutalising prostitutes and their clients…

Dodds is also on the mind of boxing promoter and businessman Arthur Reisling who’s looking for a fresh financial partner in his global exploitations. The effete-seeming scholar is hard to convince, though, unlike Eddie Ramsey. He’s a poverty-stricken pugilist and single parent desperate to make enough money to pay for his daughter Emily’s TB medicine. Riesling’s offer to him is just as scurrilous but the broken-down pug doesn’t have the luxury of saying “no”…

Eventually, with Dian in tow, Wesley accepts a party invitation from the speculator and meets his dynasty of worthless, over-privileged children. None of them seem right or well-adjusted…

Later, when Eddie tries to come clean by informing the authorities of Riesling’s illegal fight events, he’s attacked by the promoter’s thugs and saved by the Sandman – at least until the colossal mystery killer attacks them both and they’re forced to flee for their lives…

As Dodds returns home to recuperate, the punishing dreams escalate to mind-rending intensity.

Eddie, meanwhile, is left with no safe option and takes to the streets with Emily. His decision will lead to revolting horror, total tragedy and utter heartbreak…

The Sandman returns to his covert surveillance, silently unearthing the depths of Reisling’s underworld activities and coincidentally exposing a turbulent and dysfunctional atmosphere in the magnate’s home life to match his criminal activities. In this house corruption of every type runs deep and wide, and the masked avenger decides it’s time to bring his findings to Dian’s father. This time, District Attorney Belmont is prepared to listen and to act…

And as the murders mount and Dodds’ dreams escalate in intensity, the strands of a bloody tapestry begin to knot together and the appalling secret of the bestial killer’s connection to Reisling is exposed, only a detonation of expiating violence can restore order…

Stark, compelling and ferociously absorbing, the bleak thrillers depict a cruel but incisive assessment of good and evil no devotee of dark drama should miss, and the period perils come accompanied by a gallery of the series’ original, groundbreaking comicbook photo-covers and posters by Gavin Wilson plus later collection covers and related art from Matt Wagner, Alex Toth and Kent Wilson
© 1993, 1994, 1995, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice League of America: The Silver Age volume 3


By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Bernard Sachs & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6862-6

The moment the Justice League of America was published marks the moment when superheroes truly made comicbooks their own particular preserve. Even though the popularity of masked champions has waxed and waned many times 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 Rubicon move came a few years later with the uniting of these reconfigured mystery men into a team…

The JLA debuted in The Brave and the Bold #28 (cover-dated March 1960) and cemented the growth and validity of the revived sub-genre, consequently triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comicbooks and spreading to the rest of the world as the decade progressed.

Spanning June 1963 to September 1964, this latest full-colour paperback compendium of classics (also available digitally) re-presents issues #23-30 of the epochal first series with scripter Gardner Fox and illustrators Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs seemingly able to do no wrong…

The adventures here focus on the collective exploits of Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars, Green Arrow, hip and plucky mascot Snapper Carr and latest inductee The Atom and see the team further transform the entire nature of the American comicbook experience…

The wonderment begins with Justice League of America #20 and ‘The Mystery of Spaceman X’: an interplanetary adventure and cunning brainteaser featuring a marauding giant roaming Earth, serving up oodles of action and mystery but only really serving to whet the appetite for the pivotal classic which follows.

‘Crisis on Earth-One’ (Justice League of America #21) and ‘Crisis on Earth-Two’ (#22) combine to become one of the most important stories in DC history and arguably one of the most important tales in American comics.

When ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (Flash #123 September 1961) introduced the concept of Infinite Earths and multiple, diverse iterations of heroes to the public, pressure began almost instantly to bring back the lost heroes of the “Golden Age”. Bizarrely by modern standards, the editorial powers-that-be were hesitant, fearing that too many heroes – especially with the same name – would be silly and unmanageable, or worse yet put readers off. If only they knew what we know now…

Here the plot sees a team-up of assorted villains from two separate Earths plundering at will and trapping our heroes in their own HQ. Temporarily helpless, the JLA contrive a desperate plan to combine forces with the champions of a bygone era and alternate existence: the Justice Society of America!

It’s impossible for me to be totally objective about this saga. I was a drooling nipper in short trousers when I first read this story and the thrills haven’t diminished with this umpty-second re-reading. This is what superhero comics are all about! You really should read it and see for yourself…

Faced with the impossible task of topping themselves, creative team Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs rose to the challenge with an eccentric outer-space thriller: as ‘Drones of the Queen Bee’ the team was compelled to make the alien Zazzala immortal empress of the universe… Morevoer, even as the team combine to escape enslavement to an alien seductress, the continuity bug was growing, and the mention of the individual cases of members outside the confines of strictly JLA pages would become a mainstay of most future issues.

Alien despot Kanjar Ro returns in ‘Decoy Missions of the Justice League’: a sinister world conquest plot featuring a return engagement guest-shot for off-world adventurer Adam Strange, followed by a perplexing mystery with planet-shaking consequences that temporarily baffles the team in rousing cosmic romp ‘Outcasts of Infinity!’

In issue #26,‘Four Worlds to Conquer’ reveals the insidious revenge plot of three-eyed alien despot Despero after which a far more metaphysical menace troubled the team in ‘The “I” Who Defeated the Justice League’, despite deadly android Amazo appearing to add some solid threat to the proceedings…

The charmingly naff Headmaster Mind and a bunch of second-string super-villains tried to outfox the League in #28’s ‘Case of the Forbidden Super-Powers’ by orchestrating a UN ban on using superpowers but the real treat is saved for last in this epic collection…

‘Crisis on Earth-Three’ and ‘The Most Dangerous Earth of All!’ reprised the team-up of the Justice League and Justice Society, after the metahuman marvels of yet another alternate Earth discover the secret of multiversal travel. Unfortunately, Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring are ruthless villains from a world without heroes who see the costumed crusaders of the JLA and JSA as living practice-dummies to sharpen their evil skills upon…

With this cracking two-part thriller a tradition of annual summer team-ups was solidly entrenched in heroic lore, giving fans endless joys 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 date – 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 now unglaze your eyes and return to the review proper now, and thank you for your patient indulgence…

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 readers 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…
© 1963, 1964, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

JLA Deluxe volume 3


By Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Mark Millar, Howard Porter, Mark Pajarillo, Arne Jorgensen John Dell & various (DC Comics) ISBN: 978-1-4012-3832-2

Infinitely rewarding comics concepts such as the Justice League of America generally wax and wane with terrifying regularity over the decades: constantly being reinvented for fresh generations before tailing off until the next big idea.

After numerous reboots came and went, in 1997 Grant Morrison, Howard Porter & John Dell, took their shot: offering a back-to-basics line-up of heroes battling in cutting-edge conceptual chillers and thrillers.

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

These stories were smart, fast-paced, compelling, challengingly large-scale and drawn with effervescent vitality. With JLA you could see on every page all the work undertaken to make it the best it could be. Moreover their example – at least initially – was mirrored by all other creators brought in to craft the hero-team’s later adventures…

This third Deluxe Edition (available in hardback, paperback and eBook formats) gathers issues #18-31 of the resurgent series, spanning May 1998 to July 1999: re-presenting astounding epics of cosmic wonder and universal upheaval which still pack a punch nearly two decades later…

With a team that consists of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Hourman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Connor Hawke (a second generation Green Arrow), Plastic Man, Huntress, Steel, fallen angel Zauriel, covert information resource Oracle and New Gods Orion and Big Barda you’d imagine there would be little the JLA had to worry about, but you’d be wrong…

Scripter Mark Waid steps in for ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Julian September’: a scary, surreal and utterly enthralling two-part thriller that begins with ‘Synchronicity’ (illustrated by Porter & Dell) which finds the World’s Greatest Heroes hard-pressed to combat the rewriting of Reality by a luck-bending scientist. Walden Wong then joins the art team to conclude the spectacular last-chance battles against a world riotously remaking itself in the ‘Seven Soldiers of Probability’ – featuring a particularly impressive guest-shot by lapsed former JLA-er the Atom

Adam Strange then makes one of his far too infrequent appearances to combat a splendid ‘Mystery in Space’ (Waid, Jorgensen & Meikis) as the League travels to distant planet Rann only to be betrayed and enslaved by one of their oldest allies; an epic encounter resoundingly resolved in the Doug Hazlewood-inked ‘Strange New World’, after which Morrison, Porter & Dell return for a multi-layered extravaganza as the team’s most uncanny old foe resurfaces…

‘It’ finds the world under the mental sway of insidious space invader Starro, where only a little boy, aided by the (post Neil Gaiman) Morpheus/Lord of Dreams/Sandman can turn the tide in the breathtaking finale ‘Conquerors’

Issues #24 begins with Morrison, Porter & Dell introducing a brand-new super-team in ‘Executive Action’ as the American military, in the form of General Wade Eiling, announces its own metahuman unit “The Ultramarine Corps”.

The four-person squad is officially tasked with pre-emptively defending America from paranormal threats, but as the JLA (and long-term DC fans) are well aware, Eiling has a long history of covert, “black-bag” and just plain illegal operations compelling the JLA to remain duly suspicious…

When the Corps steal the artificial body of League bête noir Shaggy Man everyone concerned knows it bodes badly, but even they are unprepared for ‘Scorched Earth’ wherein Eiling pits his Ultramarines and the US army against the heroes…

Meanwhile the New God JLA-ers are preparing for the imminent cosmic threat they had enlisted to confront whilst Batman, Huntress and Plastic Man infiltrate the General’s base to discover his real motives…

The spectacular, revelatory conclusion comes in ‘Our Army At War’ (with art by Mark Pajarillo & Wong) as Eiling’s plans are exposed and the truth about the Ultramarines uncovered. The net result is the disillusioned, lied-to super-soldiers setting up their own operation independent of any national influence and beginning to gather like-minded costumed champions for a First-Strike force. They would soon return…

Time-travelling future-robot Hourman replaced the Martian Manhunter for a while at this juncture as Mark Millar, Pajarillo, Wong & Marlo Alquiza craft ‘The Bigger They Come…’ a delightfully retrospective yarn which sees size-changing physicist Ray Palmer return to active duty as the Atom after power-stealing super-android Amazo is accidentally reactivated.

The main event of this volume is JLA/JSA team-up ‘Crisis Times Five’ by Morrison, Porter & Dell. The Thunderbolt Genie of Johnny Thunder returns with a new master and reality is grievously assaulted by unnatural disasters and magical monsters. Somehow, Triumph, an old friend and foe of the League is at the heart of it all, but promptly finds himself trapped in a true Devil’s Bargain…

With reason on the run in ‘World Turned Upside Down…’ the assembled champions of League and Society battle rampant magical chaos, all the while revealing and retrofitting a little more secret history. The assorted sprites, Djinn and pixies of the Silver Age DC Universe are revealed to be something far more sinister, and ‘Worlds Beyond’ finds those wishing wonders reduced to civil war; concluding with ‘Gods & Monsters’ as a vast army of united heroes save reality in the nick of time and space…

Compelling, challenging and never afraid of nostalgia or laughing at itself, JLA was an all-out effort to be Smart and Fun. For that brief moment in the team’s long, chequered career these were definitely the “World’s Greatest Superheroes”, in increasingly ambitious epics reminding everybody of the fact. This is the kind of thrill nobody ever outgrows repackaged in graphic novels to be read and re-read forever…
© 1998, 1999, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

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.