By the time JLA #46 arrived in my mailbox one day in early June, 1966, I had a pretty good idea who the Justice Society of America was. I knew about the “Golden Age of Comics” that had thrived a decade and more before I was born, and I also knew all about the “Earth-Two” concept that allowed for the “old” versions of the Flash, Green Lantern, and other DC heroes to co-exist with the current models I read about every month. But I hadn’t yet experienced the extravaganza that was the annual two-issue JLA-JSA team-up — I’d missed the 1965 event by just a couple of months — and I didn’t have any real familiarity with most of the characters who didn’t have “Earth-One” counterparts. So I don’t know exactly what I expected when I opened up this book for the first time (after flattening out its mailed-subscription-copy crease, of course). I’m pretty damn sure, however, that I wasn’t the least bit disappointed.
First things first. That cover. Is there any other cover that screams “DC Comics in 1966” the way this one does? I don’t think so. The purple background! The go-go checks! The hyperbolic captions! The wild but awkward action, with the star of the hour, Batman, being knocked back on his ass (not to mention the Sandman‘s back)! And — last but most definitely not least — those three-dimensional sound effects, integrated into the illustration like solid objects — taking this cover further than any other DC comic book cover had yet gone into what editor Julius Schwartz described (in the letters column of this very issue) as the “Pop Art” aesthetic.
The cover was penciled, as usual, by Mike Sekowsky, and inked by Joe Giella. Sekowsky contributed the pencils for the story in this issue, as well, but here for the first time his pencils were inked by Sid Greene. Greene was a slicker, more polished artist than either Bernard Sachs, who’d been the book’s regular inker up to issue #43, or Frank Giacoia, who’d done the last couple of issues (with probable help from Giella on #45). Greene’s textured finishes tended to smooth out some of Sekowsky’s rough edges, and made for a final product whose look was more in line with the other books coming out of Julius Schwartz’s editorial office. (Did my eight-year-old self immediately notice the difference in the art in his favorite comic? I’m not certain that I did — but I definitely remember how I felt just a couple of years later, when Greene was temporarily replaced on JLA by George Roussos. I wasn’t happy.)
Greene’s debut JLA illustration — the story’s opening splash page — is, if perhaps not as eye-poppingly pop as the cover image, probably even more arresting and dramatic, introducing the cast of heroes as well as the main villain (who had been deemed “too overwhelming” to be depicted on the cover itself!) and sets the stage (and the reader’s expectations) for the action-packed extravaganza to follow:
The story’s title continued a tradition of which my younger self was only dimly aware of at this point — I refer, of course, to the use of the word “crisis” in the title of every Justice League-Justice Society team-up from 1963 onward. This tradition would ultimately culminate in 1985-86’s multiverse-ending line-wide crossover event Crisis on Infinite Earths, though even that would turn out not to be the end, as “crisis” continued to be used by DC as a signifier for Big Events continuing on all the way to 2008’s Final Crisis (and, despite the implication of that last title, probably beyond).
Once past the splash page, the story quickly kicks into gear (as so many JLA tales of this era do) with scenes of individual heroes in action. First we see Hawkman, flying in pursuit of a hijacked truck full of furs, who is startled to find the truck replaced by an armored car moments after a heavy fog moves in and then out again. Meanwhile, on Earth-Two, another hero who’s been chasing the stolen armored car is similarly surprised by the sudden appearance of the truck:
As the caption in the first panel above suggests, this was the Sandman’s first appearance in comics since the debut of the Earth-Two concept in 1961’s “Flash of Two Worlds” opened the door for the reintroduction of a multitude of DC’s dormant “Golden Age” characters. Any readers of this story who actually remembered the last prior appearance of this hero in Adventure Comics #102 (Feb.-March, 1946), however, would recall a very different version of the Sandman — a hero in bright yellow and purple tights, accompanied by a youthful sidekick named Sandy. For the Sandman’s 1966 revival, editor Schwartz and his creative team bypassed this latter take on the character (which had been introduced in 1941), returning instead to the original 1939 conception of him as a pulp-style “mystery man”, whose heroic garb consisted of what was basically street attire (a suit and hat), topped off with a cape and, of course, that weird but extremely cool gas mask.
The Sandman’s original modus operandi, as developed by his creators (generally accepted to have been artist Bert Christman and a young writer named Gardner Fox), was to use a gas gun to either put criminals to sleep (hence the “sandman” moniker), or to compel them to tell the truth. For his return to action in 1966, however, co-creator Fox gave the character’s weaponry a considerable upgrade. The Sandman now wielded a “sand-gun” which could produce pretty much anything that had any relationship whatsoever to sand — from an instantly-forming cement wall to glass-bowl handcuffs.
Of course, I didn’t know any of this background when I first encountered the Sandman in 1966; for all I knew, he’d always worn that same costume, and used that same incredible sand-gun. What I did know, however, and right away, was that this guy was very cool. And that opinion’s never really changed; over the decades, Wesley Dodds, the Sandman, has remained one of my very favorite Forties-era heroes. (His late-Eighties appropriation into the mythology Neil Gaiman developed for his Sandman, and Matt Wagner’s subsequent pulp-flavored revival of the original Sandman for Vertigo in the Nineties, didn’t hurt his status in my eyes, either.)
But getting back to our story– even as the Sandman corrals the displaced fur truck hijackers on Earth-Two, and Hawkman takes care of the armored car bandits on Earth-One, another, similar switch-up scene is getting underway, this one involving the Justice League’s Flash and the Justice Society’s Doctor Mid-Nite. Doctor Mid-Nite’s last Golden Age appearance had been in 1951, but unlike the Sandman, he’d been one of the first JSAers to be brought back, returning to active four-color duty in Flash #137 (June, 1963). and subsequently appearing in the second annual JLA-JSA team-up in 1964. The character is generally considered to be the first superhero portrayed as having a physical disability (specifically, impaired vision); as the result of a mobster’s grenade, Dr. Charles McNider vision is “inverted”, so that he can see perfectly at night but is blind in the daytime, unless he wears special goggles. In the ’40s, darkness became the basis for not only the hero’s name but also his mode of operation, as he used “blackout bombs” to put his foes at a disadvantage. (He was also assisted by a pet owl named Hooty.) However, as with the Sandman, Dr. Mid-Nite’s technology underwent significant improvement in the ’60s, so that in JLA #46, instead of a blackout bomb, he uses a weapon called a “cyrotuber”, that can alter the human nervous system or emit hot or cold energy blasts (which makes it a “medical” weapon, somehow — at least according to Fox’s script). This change veers away from the “midnight” theme, obviously; what’s more, the story makes no mention of the hero’s blindness. The dilution of Dr. Mid-Nite’s original raison d’être may be one reason my eight-year-old self didn’t take to him quite as enthusiastically as I did to the Sandman. On the other hand, Dr. Mid-Nite is the only superhero with “doctor” in his name that I know of who actually carries a medical bag while on the crime-fighting job.
But, once again, I digress. While trying to apprehend a gang of bank robbers, Doc Mid-Nite suddenly finds himself being whirled around at high speed — and when he comes to a stop, he finds himself face-to-face with the Flash, who has been similarly occupied with another band of crooks. They deduce that the Earth-Two crimefighter has apparently been displaced to Earth-One. Meanwhile, yet another switcheroo is about to occur, as Batman slugs it out with some jewel thieves under the cover of a tear-gas bomb:
(I’m pretty sure that when I first read this sequence, I assumed that Wildcat‘s fist was literally covered in some sort of sedative goo — I had no idea what else to make of “knockout drop”.)
Wildcat is an interesting character to pair up with Batman — they kind of look alike, at least as rendered by Sekowsky and Greene, and they’re both non-super-powered guys whose basic shtick is to punch people. That is, in fact, pretty much all that Wildcat does — he’s actually Ted Grant, a (former) heavyweight boxing champion, who simply puts on a costume and goes out to fight crime. No brilliant detective mind, no nifty gadgets — just a solid right hook. Wildcat had first appeared in 1942, and had remained in publication (mostly in Sensation Comics) until 1949. He’d been brought back into active service as a supporting player in The Brave and the Bold #62 (Oct.-Nov., 1965), which actually headlined two other JSAers, Starman and Black Canary, but this was his first JLA-JSA team-up. Wildcat would prove a remarkably durable character following his revival — especially notable when you consider his relative obscurity in the Forties (though usually thought of today in the context of the JSA, he only ever appeared with that team in two issues of All-Star Comics). Along with his featured role in the Justice Society, which continued on through the next four decades, during the Seventies he was also frequently paired with Batman in The Brave and the Bold (whose famously continuity-indifferent writer Bob Haney didn’t need no stinkin’ Earth-Two).
But, back to our story: Wildcat and Batman soon figure out that the latter hero has been transported to Earth-Two. The scene then quickly shifts a couple of times to show us that not just superheroes and bad guys are being displaced — ordinary folks are, as well, with weddings and sporting events being unpleasantly disrupted. Very quickly, however, we’re back to focusing on our heroes:
Black Canary — aka Dinah Drake Lance — had made her debut in 1947 (relatively late for the Golden Age), but still managed to log twenty appearances as a JSA member in All-Star Comics before the team went dormant in early 1951. She’d returned in the first JLA-JSA joint adventure in 1963, then came back for the second one, and then went on to co-star with Starman in not one but two issues of Brave and the Bold (#61 and #62); someone at DC really liked her, it seems. Since her power-set wasn’t any more impressive than Wildcat’s, really — like him, she punches people (her sonic “Canary Cry” power wouldn’t come into the mix until years later) — I’m inclined to think there were other aspects of the character that DC’s editors and creators found appealing (cough, fishnets, cough). As for me — well, I was eight, and while I didn’t dislike Black Canary, she didn’t make much of an impression on me in the summer of 1966. Certainly, I wouldn’t have imagined that she would eventually become one of the most popular and visible of the revived Justice Society members.
Immediately following Black Canary’s entrance in JLA #46, however, the next panel — impressively extending from the top of the page to the very bottom — introduces the JSAer who would ultimately become my favorite hero of the whole team:
I’ll be devoting an entire post to the Spectre in a few weeks, so for now, I’ll simply note that the Ghostly Guardian debuted in 1940, bowed out in 1945, and came back gangbusters in 1966 with a three-issue solo tryout in Showcase. I’d passed on the first two of those issues, but after meeting the character here in JLA #46 I would definitely be on board for the third.
Almost as soon as he’s introduced in this story, however, the Spectre gets turned into ectoplasmic smoke and drawn “out of this cosmic universe” by a mysterious force. Whoa! (BTW, we never do find out what happens with those errant asteroids, so I guess we’ll have to assume Earth-Two makes it through that threat OK on its own.)
Meanwhile, also out in space, where he’s been floating in a globe-shaped prison comprised of Green Lantern Alan Scott’s power ring energy and Doctor Fate‘s magic, Solomon Grundy suddenly finds himself hurled out of orbit back towards Earth. Who’s Solomon Grundy? A marsh-monster à la Theodore Sturgeon’s “It!” (though less plant-like in appearance than most of his breed), Grundy had first appeared in All-American Comics #61 (October, 1944) which established him as a menacing foe for the Golden Age Green Lantern. His most recent appearance had been in Showcase #55 (March-April, 1965), where he’d gone up against Doctor Fate and Hourman in the first of two tryout issues featuring those heroes. The conclusion of that issue (which also featured Alan Scott in a supporting role) found Grundy placed in the very predicament where we find him in JLA #46. (I hadn’t read that book, nor did I know any of the villain’s back story, but Fox’s captions and dialogue — “Aaarrgghh!” “Gyyaaghhh!” — told me what I needed to know about him: big, strong, dumb, mean. Got it.)
While all this is transpiring, the heroes currently on Earth-One are gathering in JLA headquarters to compare notes and develop a strategy to deal with the crisis. Alas, they don’t have a lot to go on:
Luckily, however, the stymied heroes are quickly called into action by an international news report about a man-monster rampaging through town and countryside. Yep, it’s Grundy, whose prison globe has crash-landed on Earth-One rather than his native Earth-Two, freeing him to go in frenzied search of his most hated foe. (“Me hate Green Lantern! Me kill him dead!” vows the Swampland Savage, evidently a graduate of the Bizarro School of Elocution.)
Grundy’s not the only Hulk-style man-monster on the loose, however. As a quick scene-change shows us, the brute known as the Blockbuster, currently receiving some sort of electroshock therapy (?) at Gotham City’s Alfred Memorial Foundation on Earth-One, breaks free of his restraints just before the mysterious forces in play pluck him out of his native dimension and plop him down on Earth-Two.
In contrast to Grundy, my eight-year-old self was already familiar with Blockbuster — a character of considerably more recent vintage, who had appeared in two Fox-scripted stories in Detective Comics within just the last ten months. And while I’d missed his debut in Detective #345 (November, 1965), I had picked up and read the follow-up in #349, so I was all up-to-date on his back story. I knew he was originally a young chemist named Mark Desmond, whose experiments upon his own person had increased his size and strength while decreasing his intelligence. The unique angle here was that Bruce Wayne had once saved Mark from drowning, prior to the latter’s transformation, and even in his altered state, Blockbuster remembered his benefactor — so, while the Blockbuster considered Batman to be his enemy, the Caped Crusader could calm the creature down simply by taking off his cowl. (I’m going to indulge myself with a quick side note here about Detective #349, since I neglected to write a post about on its 50th anniversary back in January: That book’s cover, by the great Joe Kubert, kind of creeped me out as a kid. Batman looks hurt and even scared on that cover — even today, I find it a somewhat disquieting image.)
At this point, almost all the players have been introduced, and the main action’s about ready to begin — but Fox, Sekowsky, and Greene have one last stop to make first:
Since the story’s creators aren’t bothering to show us why any of the other as-yet-unseen Justice Leaguers aren’t responding to their emergency signals, it’s a pretty sure bet that the lab experiment underway at Ivy University has some greater significance to the proceedings than just keeping the Atom out of the action.
And now, it’s time at last for the first bout on tonight’s fight card: Solomon Grundy vs. Green Lantern (though not the one he knows), Flash, Hawkman, Doc Mid-Nite, and Black Canary. Even as strong as Grundy is, this team could probably put him down fairly quickly — at least, that’s what Fox appears to have thought, because he increases the monster’s threat level by giving him a new ability to manipulate the Lantern-ringpower and Fate-magic that he’s absorbed from his erstwhile prison. With that extra boost, the Marshland Monster manages to go a whole 3 1/2 pages with our heroes before Hawkman grabs him by the hair and carries him aloft, allowing the others to gang up and overwhelm him:
Having subdued the brute, Green Lantern closes him up within the solid rock of a mountain — but then the heroes must wonder, how long will even that hold him?
Meanwhile, as if things weren’t already bad enough — out in space (or the inter-dimensional equivalent of same):
The Spectre decides he can’t take any chances, and so lets his ectoplasmic fist make his introductions for him. But the Anti-Matter Man is no pushover. Every time the Spectre strikes him, or vice-versa, the Spirit Sleuth undergoes a bizarre physical transformation — his arm shrinks to a fraction of its size, or his head swells up like a balloon. After hitting the Spectre so hard that his legs are driven up into his body (!), the silent Anti-Matter Man continues on his dangerous way towards Earth. The Spectre realizes that if this alien sets foot on either Earth-One or Earth-Two, both will be instantly destroyed. But things are even worse than that, for gazing across the inter-dimensional void, the Ghostly Guardian sees that both Earths are on a slow but steady collision course. Even if the Anti-Matter Man never reaches either of them, they’re doomed. Realizing that no one else in any universe is aware of this threat, the Spectre first forces his ghostly body back into its proper shape with a fierce act of will…
(OK, that’s impressive, right? Superman may be able to move planets — but the Spectre can hold two colliding planets apart! And without crushing millions of people with his giant hands and feet, even! I’m pretty sure my eight-year-old jaw made an audible noise hitting the floor when I first read this sequence back in 1966.)
We’re almost ready now for the second and final bout on our card, but even 18 pages in, we still haven’t met quite all of our contenders. Time to look in again on Earth-Two:
Readers of my Flash #163 post from a couple of weeks back may recall my speculation that my eight-year-old self might have been less than enthused by that issue’s super-villain, Abra Kadabra, primarily because he was a fake magician, and I thought any characters styling themselves as sorcerers ought to use real magic. Well, in JLA #46, I finally got to meet one of the greatest of the comics’ “real” magicians — Doctor Fate.
Doctor Fate had made his first appearance in More Fun Comics #55 (May, 1940). Like the Sandman and the Spectre, he’d been a charter member of the Justice Society of America, appearing in All-Star Comics #3 (Winter, 1940-1941) and then in most succeeding issues up to #21. His final adventure with the JSA came out in the summer of 1944, at more or less the same time as his last issue of More Fun; the character then remained dormant until his re-introduction in the first JLA-JSA team-up in 1963. Dr. Fate returned to the pages of JLA for the next two summers’ team-up events as well, and was also (as we’ve already noted) featured with Hourman in two try-out issues of Showcase in 1965 — all this giving him greater exposure than virtually any other revived JSA member who didn’t have a direct Earth-One counterpart. (Perhaps Gardner Fox, who wrote all of Fate’s JLA and Showcase appearances, had a particular fondness for the character, having co-created him with artist Howard Sherman back in 1940.)
Of course, just as with the other JSAers in this issue, I didn’t yet know any of Doctor Fate’s publishing history or fictional back-story — I wasn’t even familiar with the Showcase issues, having discovered comics a month or two too late to have even seen ads for either of them. But Fate, like the Sandman and the Spectre, was destined to become one of my favorite heroes among the Justice Society’s ranks — even if, in my first glimpse of him working magic, he wasn’t very effectual, finding himself unable to see Earth-One in his crystal ball, let alone send Batman back there. (Hey, we’d just seen that Hal Jordan and Barry Allen were having similar problems trying to gain access to Earth-Two, so it was obviously not simply a question of competence.)
As on Earth-One, however, Doctor Fate and his fellow heroes aren’t allowed to stand around in impotent idleness for long, as they too are summoned into action by a radio report of a rampaging man-monster. This time, of course, it’s the Blockbuster, whose power has been amped up similarly to Solomon Grundy’s, though in his case it’s by virtue of “electrical impulses” absorbed at the Alfred Foundation. Thanks to that extra juice, he’s able to resist and even manipulate Dr. Fate’s magical energies, as well as break out of a solid glass prison created by Sandman and shrug off a roundhouse punch from Wildcat. (OK, he probably didn’t need the extra charge for that last one.) As you’d expect, it’s ultimately up to Batman, using his secret weapon of Bruce Wayne’s face, to bring the beast to heel:
This does the trick, though at the cost of Batman revealing his secret identity to the JSA members… right?
Oh, OK. It doesn’t matter, since Batman’s from an entirely different world, you see, while Earth-Two… um, well, Earth-Two actually has its very own Batman (and Robin), roughly corresponding to “Batman” as published by DC from the ’30s through the ’50s — in other words, more or less identical to Earth-One’s Batman — as at least one story also written by Gardner Fox had already established. Oops! Well, never mind. (Seriously, this obvious discrepancy never occurred to me until just a couple of weeks ago, when I re-read JLA #46 for this post. So Fox was able to convincingly sell this faulty premise, at least to me.)
OK, we’ve finally reached the last two pages of the issue. So, where do we find ourselves?
Um, have I mentioned yet that this was my first comic-book continued story? By now I’d experienced two-episode storylines on TV, of course — but the Batman program resolved its cliffhangers the very next night, and other shows would air the second part of a story just one week after the first episode.
I was going to have to wait a whole month* for the conclusion of this story? Never mind about Earth-One and Earth-Two — how was I supposed to survive that long?!
To be continued…
*actually, since Justice League of America only came out 10 times a year at this point, it would be more like six weeks.