As longtime readers of this blog may recall, Justice League of America was the first comic book title I ever subscribed to through the mail, way back in early 1966. By June, 1968, that one-year subscription had long since expired, but I was still managing to score every issue off the stands, and at this point had an unbroken run extending back to my first issue, #40 — twenty-five issues in all. I think it’s safe to say that it was still my favorite comic book series at that time (although The Amazing Spider-Man was definitely beginning to give it a run for its money).
That’s in spite of the fact that the title had fallen into something of a slump in recent months — at least as far as my younger self was concerned — especially on the artistic side. While penciler Mike Sekowsky was still doing pretty much the same thing he’d been doing on the series since its Brave and the Bold tryout days (for better or worse), as of issue #62, his interior pages were being inked by George Roussos, while the covers were being inked by Jack Abel. Both of those artists tended to exacerbate the weaknesses of Sekowsky’s style, with the result that both #62 and #63 struck my ten-year-old eyes as two of the ugliest comic books I’d yet beheld. (Truth to tell, they don’t fare much better with my sixty-year-old eyes. Sorry, any Roussos or Abel fans out there.)
So I was delighted to open up JLA #64 and discover that Sid Greene — whose slick inking had graced Sekowsky’s interior pencils from issue #46 through #61 — was back on the book. The improvement over the past two issues was so conspicuous, and so welcome, that I hardly even noticed that Mike Sekowsky had himself been replaced*, by an artist whose name I wasn’t yet familiar with — namely, Dick Dillin. Little did I (or anyone else, I suppose) know that Dillin would stay on as the regular penciler on Justice League of America for the next twelve years.
No, I was just happy to see better art on the book — and also happy, of course, that it was once again time for the JLA’s annual two-issue team-up with their counterparts from the Golden Age of Comics, the Justice Society of America of Earth-Two:
This was my third JLA-JSA team-up tale — and like the previous ones, it would serve as an introduction to at least one Golden Age superhero I hadn’t read about before. This time around, my younger self would be making the acquaintance of the red-costumed, fin-headed gentleman at top left in the splash panel shown above — Starman.
Starman had last appeared in one of these annual summer extravaganzas in 1964, more than two years before I’d bought my first issue of JLA. Since I’d started reading comics, he’d only appeared in a couple of tryout issues of Brave and the Bold, where he shared the spotlight with Black Canary — and while I’d seen house ads for those books, I hadn’t actually bought ’em. So he was definitely an unknown quantity as far as my ten-year-old self was concerned.
As I’d eventually come to learn, Starman was Ted Knight, an astronomer who’d invented a gadget called a “gravity rod” (or, as it was being called by 1968, a “cosmic rod”) which allowed him to fly, fire energy bursts, create force fields, ans so on, through the manipulation of stellar radiation. Created in 1941 by the writer of this very issue of JLA, Gardner Fox, and artist Jack Burnley, Starman had first appeared in Adventure Comics #61, and held down a regular feature in that title through issue #102 (Feb.-Mar., 1946). He’d joined the Justice Society in All-Star Comics #8 and continued as an active member through issue #23. DC Comics had mothballed the character in 1946, and he’d remained in limbo until that aforementioned 1964 JLA-JSA team-up, returning to action in Justice League of America #29.
In later years, of course, he’d prove to be one of DC’s more memorable and important “legacy” characters — bequeathing his codename to a succession of (mostly) unrelated heroes, until his own son Jack took up the mantle in a well-remembered series that ran from 1994 to 2001. (And then was swept out of continuity by DC’s 2011 “New 52” reboot — but let’s not go there today.)
In the summer of ’68, however, in the story that is today’s main topic of discussion, he’s just hanging out with his fellow JSAers at their Sanctuary, all of them bored out of their skulls due to a current lack of evildoers to smite. (The poor folks don’t even seem to have any snacks or beverages to help pass the time.) Luckily, Hourman, who in civilian life is scientist Rex Tyler, may have just the thing to end their ennui:
The Red Tornado! Another character I’d never heard of, before laying eyes on the Dillin-Abel cover of this issue. Although, as soon becomes clear, the JSA members themselves have never heard of the Red Tornado, either — at least, not this version:
As Hourman, Doctor Fate, and Starman all attest, the Red Tornado they knew in the 1940’s — and who was a “member” of the JSA for all of one page in the team’s first adventure in All-Star Comics #3 (Winter, 1940) — wasn’t a big red guy, but rather a big red gal — Abigail Mathilda “Ma” Hunkel, a creation of cartoonist Sheldon Mayer who first appeared — sans her superheroic moniker or “costume” — in All-American Comics #3 (June, 1939) as a supporting character in Mayer’s humorous “Scribbly” feature. Ma had taken up her Red Tornado identity a year or so later, in All-American Comics #20, and continued on as Scribbly’s co-star through issue #59.
None of which, of course, helps to explain who this new Red Tornado is — or how he can possibly know the secret identities of the JSA members,, as he proceeds to demonstrate on the next page (a bit which cleverly serves the extra purpose of helping any readers who aren’t already familiar with these Golden Age heroes to learn a little more about them):
The JSA, figuring that turnabout is fair play, asks the Red Tornado to tell them his secret identity — and the newcomer is forced to admit that he himself doesn’t know:
Now that is some mighty impressive telepathy, considering that none of the JSAers seemed to notice that they weren’t hearing audible sounds whenever the Red Tornado spoke to them.
Hourman’s nifty new gadget informs the heroes that a robbery will take place at the “20th Century Museum” sometime that same day. They immediately dash off to foil the crime — and of course they allow this mysterious, faceless creature who’s somehow privy to their greatest secrets to accompany them (OK, I guess it makes a kind of sense in that it allows them to keep tabs on him, but it still seems a bit reckless):
More faceless guys? Ah, the mystery deepens.
Throwing himself into the fray, Red Tornado quickly proves himself both a formidable fighter and a good team player:
Um — well,maybe he’s not a particularly effective team player, but at least his intentions are good, right? Oh, well. R.I.P., Black Canary.
The chagrined Red Tornado now turns his attention to Starman, whose cosmic rod’s stellar radiation, interacting with the energy of the atomic clouds, has had the unexpected (and unfortunate) effect of animating some statues of Egyptian gods that were in the museum. Man, don’t you just hate it when that happens?
We don’t get to hear the rest of the “Scarlet Swirler”‘s remark, but we can surmise what happens next via the following page. There, we see Hourman holding his own against several of the faceless robbers, until, in the last panel, two hands — one holding a cosmic rod — drop into the frame from above. And then, on the next page…
Three Justice Society heroes have gone to join the choir invisible, in almost that many pages. Gee, who’s left?
Wow — having one lower extremity converted into an atomic cloud hardly slows down the Fastest Man Alive (on Earth-Two, anyway)! And as is shown in succeeding panels neither does having the same fate befall both his arms!
But of course, Red Tornado can’t resist lending the Flash a helping hand — or, more accurately, a whirling “tornado-arm”. By this point, you should be able to guess how well that’s gonna go:
“I only have one chance left to make good…” I gotta tell ya, Reddy, I’m not liking these odds.
Doc Fate’s “Cabalistic curtain” and “sorcerous sand” do their job, and things seem to be under control — but the Red Tornado just can’t not “help”. Whiling his arms, he sends a couple of twin tornadoes against the gunmen… which dislodge the sand packed into their weapons… which falls across both Fate and the Tornado…
Jeez Louise, now everyone’s dead. Or, that’s how it looks anyway. But you know what they say — it’s always darkest before the dawn…
Yeah, who is this guy? Are we readers supposed to recognize him?
My ten-year-old self didn’t know him, back in June, 1968, but fans who’d been reading DC comics a year or so longer than I had might well have. T.O. Morrow had made his one and only previous appearance in Flash #143 (March, 1964), where he’d used the “fourth-dimensional grapple beam” referenced in the third panel above to steal a device from the future, which in turn allowed him to create duplicates of Green Lantern, which he’d then sent out to commit crimes, because, y’know, super-villain.
He’d apparently fallen to his death at the conclusion of that tale, just as shown in the first panel above — although, as the Carmine Infantino – Joe Giella drawn panel shown at right makes clear, the story’s script (by the same Gardner Fox who wrote the JLA story currently under review, naturally) was ambiguous enough regarding his final fate that his return here doesn’t feel like a cheat, even without having to invoke the usual “comic book death” conventions.
Luckily for Mr. Morrow, his special “television set” works as well for Earth-Two’s future as it did for Earth-One’s, allowing him to pull down still more sweet tech from way up the time stream — including his “marvelous computer that accurately predicts events before the occur.” Nice!
Morrow is just beginning to refine his newest scheme — to rob Atlantis, which Earth-Two’s archaeologists have recently raised from the ocean’s depths — when Reddy, following his “homing instinct”, bursts in on his creator. The startled scientist inadvertently calls the Tornado by name, letting the would-be JSAer know he’s on the right track — but before he can decisively act on that knowledge, Morrow gets the drop on him:
Wow — it now looks like those Justice Society members we thought were stone dead are just chock full of “futurenergy”, whatever the heck that is. Luckily, Dr. Fate has called in more of their colleagues to help out:
On the resurrected island of Atlantis, the Red Tornado is making short work of T.O. Morrow’s faceless underlings — and considerably discomfiting the criminal genius himself, who thinks his predictive computer must be malfunctioning:
Umm… you know how, before, I mentioned that they say it’s always darkest before the dawn?
Well, they also say that it’s always darkest before it goes totally pitch black:
This was the first issue of Justice League of America that I’d ever read in which (not counting the Earth-One Flash and Green Lantern’s one-panel flashback cameo**) not a single member of my favorite hero-team appeared. (JLA #55, the first half of the previous year’s JLA-JSA team-up, had come pretty close, but four Justice Leaguers had put in a brief appearance its last few pages.) Probably mostly for that reason — but probably also at least partly because continued stories had become rather less novel to me since I’d become a regular Marvel Comics reader — this tale would turn out to be my least favorite of the three annual Justice League – Justice Society two-parters I’d consumed to date.
Not that I wasn’t still eager to find out just how the JLA, and the JSA were going to get out of this awful mess. Hopefully, you, too, will be curious enough to check back in with this blog in about a month, to see what goes down when “T.O. Morrow Kills the Justice League — Today!”
*This didn’t mean that Sekowsky was suddenly out of a job, incidentally — in fact, he moved almost immediately to Wonder Woman, which he’d eventually edit, as well as pencil.
**Or the cover’s headshots of Batman (by Carmine Infantino, maybe?) and Superman (definitely by Neal Adams) — probably included to reassure any confused prospective buyers that yes, this was indeed an issue of Justice League of America.