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.

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 Society of America: The Bad Seed


By Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, Jesus Merino & various (DC)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2714-2

The Justice Society of America was created for the third issue (Winter 1940/1941) of All-Star Comics, an anthology title featuring established characters from various All-American Comics publications. The magic was sparked by the simple expedient of having assorted 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 white men (except Red Tornado who merely pretended to be one) – joined forces on a regular basis to defeat the greatest villains and challenge the 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 comicbooks. When Julius Schwartz re-energised the superhero genre in the late 1950s, the game-changing moment came 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 article returned. Despite many attempts to revive the team’s popularity however it wasn’t until 1999, on the back of both the highly successful rebooting of the JLA by Grant Morrison & Howard Porter and the seminal but critically favoured new Starman series by Golden Age devotee James Robinson, that the multi-generational team found a new mission and fan-base big enough to support them. As the century ended the original superteam returned and have been with us in one form or another ever since.

This iteration, called to order after Infinite Crisis and Identity Crisis, found the last surviving heroes from World War II acting as mentors and teachers for the latest generation of young champions and metahuman “legacy-heroes” (family successors or inheritors of departed champions’ powers or code-names): a large, cumbersome but captivating combination of raw talent and uneasy exuberance with weary hard-earned experience.

And this slim compilation, collecting JSA volume 3 #29-33 (September 2009 to January 2010) details their greatest challenge, how they met it and what resulted from it…

Accepting the necessity of becoming elder statesmen to the next generations of heroes as well as defenders of the right, the already ponderous organisation began inviting ‘Fresh Meat’ to sign up. Unfortunately as they induct effusive All-American Kid and moody teen King Chimera, the JSA discover their mystic guardian Obsidian has been reduced to an inert egg of dormant ebony energy…

Even as they interview the newbies and probe the cause of the dark avenger’s strange transformation, news arrives of a massive super-villain army attacking the city.

Exactly how to respond reignites a doctrinal debate between old school brawler Wildcat and military martinet Magog, but soon the heroes head off en masse, leaving super-genius Mr. Terrific to mind the juniors and investigate Obsidian’s condition…

The metahuman confrontation is a trap. An unknown mastermind has gathered an army of super-creeps specially chosen to counter individual JSA-ers and put bounties on all the heroes’ heads…

As a colossal battle ensues in the heart of the city something strange becomes apparent. Although the brutes, beasts and monsters run amok and mercilessly assault the JSA-ers they actually attack each other whenever teen hero Stargirl gets into the firing line.

For some reason the mystery Machiavelli behind the coalition of evil has specified that if she is even scratched nobody gets paid…

And as the super-war escalates, back at the JSA Brownstone Mr. Terrific is brutally stabbed by the last person he expected…

Caught completely by surprise the JSA are soon reduced to baffled Stargirl and defiant Jay Garrick standing over the battered bodies of their comrades. The first Flash is forced to risk everything on the villains obeying orders as he rushes off in ‘Hot Pursuit’ of major reinforcements and returns almost instantly with Doctor Fate: a crime-fighting mage with the powers of a god… or so the villains believe…

With the bad guys fleeing in terror the thrashed heroes regroup at their HQ and discover Terrific bleeding out. As magic-wielders and medical doctors strive to keep his fading spark alive, Magog and Wildcat renew their argument about how the team should be run and already-frayed tempers snap…

‘New Blood, Old Blood, Spilled Blood’ sees the medical contingent working miracles to keep Terrific alive as Flash and Power Girl begin reconstructing the murder attempt and grilling the few villains they managed to capture. Soon the big scheme is starting to become clear – even if Stargirl’s sacrosanct status is not – and when the reconvened evil army attacks, even the worst possible news about Terrific is not enough to hinder the fighting mad champions in ‘The Worth of a Hero’

The truth about the traitor comes out in the final climactic clash and even though the greater plot remains unsolved, the resurgent team storms to another astounding against-the-odds victory. However in the rubble of their home and shattered unity it becomes clear that to survive at all the Justice Society has to ‘Split Up’

To Be Continued…

Scripted with deft skill by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges and compellingly limned by Jesus Merino – who should be paid a major bonus for keeping distinct and dynamic the hordes of heroes and villains populating this shocking saga – The Bad Seed is another blockbusting epic that will delight the already informed but might well be all but unreadable to anyone not deeply immersed in the complex continuity of DC’s last three decades.

Nevertheless, if you love Fights ‘n’ Tights mass melodrama and are prepared to do a little reading around then you might find yourself with a whole new universe to play in…
© 2009, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.