Justice League of America #47 (September, 1966)

According to both the Grand Comics Database and Mike’s Amazing World, this issue was released to newsstands and other retail outlets on July 26, 1966.  I probably received my mailed subscription copy a week or so before that — but whenever it was that I finally held this book in my grubby little nine-year-old hands, it had been a long, long month-and-a-half since the conclusion of the previous issue — the first half of the first bona fide continued story I’d thus far encountered in comic books — had left me hanging precariously off the edge of a cliff.  Summers always seemed longer when I was a kid, of course, but that summer was probably the longest of my life, either before or since.

Beyond my overall excitement on finally having the issue in my possession, I have no specific recollection of what I thought when I first looked at the cover — but I’d like to think that I was at least momentarily nonplussed by the sheer immensity of the figure of Batman.  The Caped Crusader had been given greater and greater prominence on the covers of JLA over the last several issues, but for him to literally dwarf every other hero depicted in the cover scene — that was new.    

I understood why DC was doing it, of course.  It might be summer, meaning that no new episodes of the Batman television series were currently appearing, but Batmania was nevertheless very much alive.  Not batman_1966only was new merchandise continuing to appear regularly, but the feature film based on the TV show was due to be released in just a few days (on July 30, 1966, to be precise).  At this moment, Batman was way bigger than any other comic book hero, even Superman.  I may not have understood much about marketing, but it was easy to get that DC was trying to grab the attention of prospective new readers who might not yet know anything at all about the Justice League, but who already loved Batman.

Even if I understood that motivation, however, I’m pretty sure that even my enthusiastic, can’t-wait-to-read-this-book nine-year-old self must have registered this cover scene as kind of, well, silly.  Not only was Batman way more prominent than any other hero in the scene, but he looked almost as huge as the main villain, the Anti-Matter Man — whom, you may remember, had been described in JLA #46’s cover copy as being “too overwhelming to be shown on this cover!”  Well, by the time JLA #47 rolled around, editor Julius Schwartz and his creative team had not only figured out how to fit Anti-Matter Man on the cover, but even how to make him appear subordinate to Batman.

To be honest, however, I’m much more appreciative of the cleverness of this cover’s composition today than I was when the book first came out.  In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that the Mike Sekowsky-Joe Giella illustration evinces a very skilled manipulation of visual perspective.  To wit:  The foregrounded figure of Batman initially appears to be on the same plane as the Anti-Matter Man; but in actuality, the alien villain, recoiling from the Caped Crusader’s mighty punch, is on a different plane, considerably further away from the viewer.  And since we’re viewing that punch head on, from a relatively “high” vantage point, the other heroes in the piece — the Flash, Doctor Fate, and Hawkman — look proportionately smaller as we look “down” the length of the Anti-Matter Man’s body.

Still, even if we do give the cover its just deserts for compositional cleverness, we must admit that as an illustration of the story within, it remains — you guessed it — silly.  Besides the patently ridiculous notion that a single punch from the non-powered Batman’s fist could rock the giant, fearsomely powerful alien menace we first met in JLA #46, there’s the glaring question that the cover poses right to your face, but never makes an attempt to answer:  What the hell is the other end of the Bat-rope Batman’s swinging on attached to?

Of course, at this point I’ve spent a lot more time examining the cover here than I would have on that hot summer day in 1966 when I first acquired the comic it adorns — so let’s move on to the story.  “The Bridge Between Earths!” (written by Gardner Fox, pencilled by Mike Sekowsky, and inked by Sid Greene) picks up right where the previous issue’s “Crisis Between Earth-One and Earth-Two!” left off, with not just one, but two Earths on the brink of utter annihilation.  For reasons not yet revealed, Earth-One (home to the Justice League) and Earth-Two (home to their older counterparts, the Justice Society) are slowly but inexorably moving towards each other in “warp space”, threatening to collide catastrophically.  Only the impossibly colossal astral body of the Spectre, a Justice Society member, holds the two Earths apart — but it’s only a temporary fix, as he is gradually being compressed between the planets.  Meanwhile, people from all over both Earths have been mysteriously and suddenly transported from one to the other, including not only several members of the JLA and JSA, but also two of their foes — the Blockbuster of Earth-One, and Solomon Grundy of Earth-Two.  The heroes, called upon to deal with the immediate threat posed by these super-strong brutes, have no idea as yet of what the Spectre is contending with out there in warp space.  And as if all this weren’t enough, a strange visitor from an anti-matter universe has just turned up and is now approaching one of the Earths — and if he touches either one, both Earths will immediately explode!  Finally, physicist Ray Palmer can’t get his size and weight controls to work, preventing him from changing into the Atom and joining the fray.

Wait, what was that last one again?  The predicament of the Atom’s alter ego certainly seemed like the least critical of the crisis points facing our heroes at the end of JLA #46, but as the opening scene of this issue soon makes clear, what’s going on at Ivy University, where Ray is assisting his Italian graduate student Enrichetta Negrini with a lab experiment, is actually the source of all the trouble.  Enrichetta (a recurring supporting character in the Atom’s own book) is attempting to shrink the space between planets with a machine she’s invented.  As she helpfully explains out loud (despite the fact that no one else is around besides Ray, who presumably knows all this already):


Wow, that’s pretty cool!  Too bad Enrichetta’s about to inadvertently destroy two planets in the process, but that’s cutting-edge science for you.  Gotta be willing to break a few eggs, right?

A little slower on the uptake than you might expect from a brilliant scientist, Ray eventually manages to figure out that just maybe it’s the space-warping machine that’s causing his size-and-weight controls to malfunction, and while his fellow physicist is out of the lab, he switches it off.  Immediately, he’s once again able to become the Atom — but that’s not all:


Yes, Solomon Grundy — who pretty much hates everyone, but his traditional foe Alan Scott (the Green Lantern of Earth-Two) most of all — now sees Green Lantern everywhere.  Meanwhile, the parallel contingent of heroes currently located on Earth-One suddenly find themselves facing Blockbuster, whom none of them have ever heard of before.  The non-powered Black Canary attempts to take him down with her superb martial arts skills:


Ha, ha, look at the girl trying to throw the big, bad monster!  Of course, the similarly-capable Wildcat wouldn’t fare any better in this situation, but you’re not likely to see a male superhero’s failure played for laughs in 1966 when there’s a female peer available.

Black Canary’s compatriots immediately rush to bail her out:


Yes, the Flash is whirling his arms to pitch an eight-ball at Blockbuster.  How did he get an eight-ball?  Um, he ran somewhere at super-speed and returned with the ball before anyone noticed he was gone.  Why did he get an eight-ball?  Um… next question, please.

Their efforts are all for naught, however:


Where did Blockbuster get the power to create fireworks?  Um, he absorbed electrical energies from a lab at the Alfred Foundation in the last issue, remember?  OK, but how do “electrical energies” transform into solid, three-dimensional pyrotechnic devices?  Um… well, would you believe comic book stories aren’t required to follow internal logic when they’re “camp”?  No?  Then never mind.

In the midst of all this mayhem, the Spectre manages to mystically contact Doctor Fate, who then promptly summons his fellow heroes to deal with the greater threat posed by the Anti-Matter Man:


Fortunately for our heroes, Doctor Fate’s magic is powerful enough not only to transport them through warp-space, but also to provide them with a breathable atmosphere.  And fortunately for the ordinary people of Earths One and Two, Green Lantern comes up with a way to keep Blockbuster and Solomon Grundy from causing havoc in their absence (though neither his fellow heroes nor we readers get to learn what that is for another fourteen pages).

Doc Fate also coats the JLAers andJSAers with magic that immunizes them from Anti-Matter Man’s destructive touch, and just in time, too:


As the heroes’ dialogue above indicates, their battle with Anti-Matter Man will be fought on three different levels — and over the next four pages, penciller Sekowsky utilizes a corresponding three-panel-grid layout to help readers keep up with all the action:


Notice how all the heroes are portrayed working together as equals?  Even though the range of powers in play extends from the near-limitless abilities of Green Lantern and Doctor Fate, to the advanced technology of Doctor Mid-Nite and the Sandman, all the way down to the mere pugilistic prowess of Wildcat — everyone is shown here as pulling their own weight.  In 1966, you see, as long as you had a costume and a codename, you didn’t have to feel self-conscious about your place on a super-team — none of this “we’re fighting an army of robots and I’ve got a bow and arrows” business.  (No, I’m not saying that it necessarily made any sense.)

(Oh, by the way, that middle panel is about as close as the issue’s interior gets to replicating the cover’s dramatic Bat-punch.)


EEEE!  Of course, Black Canary is the only one of the superfolks who reacts to the setback by shrieking, not to mention that she’s immobilized in a way that vaguely suggests that there’s an issue of feminine vanity.  OK, maybe the heroes aren’t all portrayed as equals, after all.

In his third “tryptych” page, Sekowsky keeps the same layout, but varies the storytelling by allowing us to follow Doctor Fate as he “falls” through the three panels:


For the fourth and last page of the sequence, Sekowsky mixes things up even more, reversing the order of the panels so that we follow Fate’s upward trajectory as our eyes move down the page:


On the next page, Hawkman and Green Lantern smash Dr. Fate’s cage into Anti-Matter Man’s face, simultaneously breaking his hold over the heroes and shattering the uniform layout of the last four pages — a nice bit of visual storytelling.

Next, working together, the Justice League and Society members manage to topple their foe into the void of warp-space — providing enough of a breather for scripter Fox to give us (via Dr. Fate) some quick insight into the motivations of the silent, mysterious entity:


OK, so the Anti-Matter Man may not have malicious intent.  That doesn’t mean he’s not still extremely dangerous, however, as the next page makes quite clear:


Yeah, what is happening with the Atom?  We haven’t seen the Mighty Mite since page 2, after all:


Luckily, the machine’s screen lets the Atom not only view what’s happening in warp-space, but even allows him to travel there.  Which, of course, he does — taking an extra set of size-and-weight controls with him, for reasons he soon explains to the Ghostly Guardian:


Of course, there’s really no choice at all.  The Spectre agrees readily to the Atom’s plan; and so the Tiny Titan immediately begins to shrink his colleague, while at the same time shrinking himself to sub-atomic size so that he won’t be destroyed if and when the Spectre explodes:



The two Earths have been saved, but at the cost of the Spectre’s existence.  At least, that’s how it first appears — but as the Atom returns to his “normal” six-inch-high size, he receives a very pleasant surprise:


Yaayy!  The Spectre’s alive!  Er, I mean — the Spectre’s existent!

By the time the two heroes reach the site of their comrades’ fight with the Anti-Matter Man, there’s even more good news to share:


That leaves the heroes with only one more problem to resolve — what to do about Blockbuster and Solomon Grundy?  Finally, Green Lantern lets his allies (and us readers) know what he did to keep the two savage brutes from rampaging while they were off-world — he brought the two of them together on one Earth, so they’d fight each other instead of menacing anyone else.  (Since GL wasn’t able to send any of the displaced heroes back home in JLA #46, I’m not quite sure how that worked, but never mind.)


The two monsters knock each other out — and when they come to, the superheroes get another pleasant (and lucky) surprise:


Awww, ain’t that sweet?  (Don’t you dare snicker.)


I appreciate Fox’s pro-science stance in the final two panels — although, in the story’s science-fantasy context, I’m not sure that the League’s totally-hands-off approach towards Miss Negrini’s experimental pursuits really makes complete sense.  Maybe they could at least, I dunno, warn her to be a little more careful?  Oh, well — like GL says, we readers know that as long as the codenamed, costumed people are around, the good folk of Earths One and Two have no reason to fear.

Not in 1966, anyway.

The story in Justice League of America #46 and 47 was the first JLA-JSA team-up I ever read, but it would be far from my last.  Every summer thereafter, all the way up until the tradition ended in 1985 with the multiverse-destroying “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover event, I would always pick up the issues featuring the Justice League and Justice Society together — even during those times when I wasn’t buying the Justice League comic on a regular basis (which, frankly, was more often than not after 1974 or thereabouts).  If DC was still publishing annual JLA-JSA team-ups today, I’d still be buying and reading them.  I think it all goes back to the intensity of my experience in the summer of 1966 — not just the thrilling experience of reading the story itself, but also the excruciating experience of waiting for that second half to come out — which seems to have hooked me for life.

Now, I’m not saying that “Crisis Between Earth-One and Earth-Two!” / “The Bridge Between Earths!” is the greatest comic book story ever told, or even the greatest Justice League-Justice Society story — though you could probably have guessed that already from the volume of snarky comments that have peppered these two blog posts.  Indeed, in some ways these issues represent the zenith (or, if you prefer, the nadir) of the Julius Schwartz stable’s attempt to craft comic books according to their own particular interpretation of the “camp” aesthetic, and the story is less than well-served by it.  The “Sok! Bam! Zowie!”s, the “hip” lingo (“Like peace, man!”), the eight-balls and fireworks — none of that stuff has worn very well.

On the other hand — the cosmic scale and scope of the thing is still pretty breathtaking.  The sequence where the Atom and the Spectre join forces to save the two Earths — a sequence that moves from an interplanetary to a sub-atomic scale and back again in just a handful of panels — hasn’t lost its ability to inspire awe.  At least, it hasn’t for me.  OK, so maybe this story doesn’t reach the rarefied heights of the Galactus Trilogy.  It’s still a pretty damn cool cosmic superhero yarn.

All in all, at the end of the day I’m prepared to admit that I love this particular pop-cultural artifact well in excess of its objective merits.  And I think that’s OK.  The heart has its reasons, you know?

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