It’s summertime! The most wonderful time of the year — especially if you’re a fan of DC’s original super-team, the Justice Society of America, and the year happens to fall within the range of 1963 to 1985 — ’cause that means it’s time for the annual team-up between the JSA and their pals in the Justice League of America. 1971 brought the sixth of these events that I’d personally enjoyed since becoming a comic-book reader, and the ninth published overall. And judging by the cover heralding this year’s team-up — more specifically, the two columns of floating heads flanking the dramatic central image by Neal Adams — 1971’s iteration of this beloved tradition was going to offer us something new: for the first time, the featured rosters of the two teams would be identical. We were going to get two Supermen, two Flashes, two Green Lanterns, and so on — all for the price of one. (Of course, as heralded by that “only 25¢ Bigger & Better” slug at the very top of the cover, the “price of one” had just gone up a substantial amount. But more about that in a bit.)
That’s not to say that there was anything at all new in seeing the Earth-One and Earth-Two (or, if you prefer, Silver and Golden Age) versions of the same hero working in tandem. After all, DC’s whole “parallel Earths” concept had begun ten years earlier with “Flash of Two Worlds” (Flash #123 [Sep., 1961], the immortal tale in which Barry (Flash) Allen met his predecessor/ extradimenional counterpart Jay (Flash) Garrick for the first time. And the very first JLA-JSA team-up, published roughly a year later in Justice League of America #21 and 22, had served up double-shots of the Atom and Green Lantern, in addition to Flash.
But even in that historic initial meeting, editor Julius Schwartz and writer Gardner Fox had been careful to include a number of heroes from both teams who didn’t have alternate-Earth counterparts (such as Dr. Fate and the Martian Manhunter) as well as one who did, but whose analogue didn’t show up for this particular adventure (Earth-One’s Wonder Woman). And by the time your humble blogger arrived at the party with 1966’s JLA #46 and #47, they had moved away from doubling-up heroes entirely. This was probably due to a sense on the part of Schwartz and/or Fox that fans would prefer to see a maximum number of unique heroes, and perhaps that was true. And it’s not like DC didn’t continue to team up those heroes who had counterparts (those who were under Schwartz’s editorial purview, anyway) with each other in the Earth-One versions’ solo books (as in Green Lantern #45, Flash #173, and Atom #36, to name a few of my personal favorites). Still, at least some fans — OK, maybe it was just me — felt there was something special about the “doubled” characters appearing together in the big cross-team events, and missed seeing that happen in the annual JLA-JSA team-ups.
Regardless of whose call it was to handle the team rosters in this fashion, the situation loosened up somewhat following Gardner Fox’s departure from the JLA title. In his initial go at the annual summer tradition. new writer Denny O’Neil not only featured both Green Lanterns and both Supermen (in what was the Earth-Two Supes’ first appearance, or at least his first so labeled), but the first, not-so-friendly meeting of the latter duo formed the basis of Neal Adams’ classic cover for JLA #74. A year later, O’Neil’s second (and last) super-team team-up, in JLA #82 and #35, included even more such pairings. Gee, maybe I wasn’t the only person interested in seeing more two-of-a-kind meetups in these League/Society get-togethers, huh?
At least Mike Friedrich, who took over as regular JLA scribe with issue #86, seemed to think it would be intriguing, if nothing else, to make this brand of heroic double-teaming the focus of what would ultimately turn out to be the one and only JLA-JSA team-up he’d ever write. As we’ll soon see, he didn’t manage to bring the concept off quite as cleanly as those two “roll call” columns on issue #91’s cover might suggest — nevertheless, he came closer to an “analogues only” line-up for a Justice League-Justice Society adventure than anyone else had before, or would attempt after him.
Something that Friedrich had recently introduced into his Justice League storytelling was a bit of Marvel-style issue-to-issue continuity — and JLA #91 keeps that up, with the beginning of the new story overlapping with the conclusion of issue #90’s “Plague of the Pale People”.
Why do these young alien “ride-joyers” wear identical uniforms that even include masks? Ehh, beats me.
I suppose that the notion of symbiotic alien life-forms that can’t be separated without dire, ultimately fatal consequences was already old hat in science fiction by 1971 — but it seemed novel to me as a thirteen-year-old comic-book reader at the time. And if nothing else, Friedrich was attempting something new here by constructing a crisis that was serious enough to challenge the heroes of two Earths, yet had no real “villains” — just a frightened boy and his equally distressed pet. Unfortunately, this was a crisis that would soon find itself mired in repetitive, inconclusive fight scenes — and before his first chapter was complete, Friedrich would discover that maybe he really did need a villain, after all.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves…
Although the JSA’s cover roll call refers to him as a “special guest-star”, the Earth-Two Robin is actually a member of the Society in full standing — and, indeed, has been ever since his first official appearance in JLA #55 (Aug., 1967). But, as will soon become clear, it’s thematically important to Friedrich’s story that at least some of the team’s senior members treat him as though he’s still just Batman’s kid sidekick.
The story joins the JSA as they’re having their regularly scheduled meeting. Only Atom, Flash, Hawkman, are actually on hand, with the absent members presumed to be busy with personal matters — or at least that’s the presumption prior to the group receiving a distress signal from Green Lantern:
Some of the details in Green Lantern’s expository dialogue aren’t quite as arbitrary as they might first appear to the casual reader. In his Golden Age adventures, Alan Scott’s home base was established as being Gotham City, just as Batman and Robin’s was — so it’s pretty logical for GL and Robin to be working a case together. And Slaughter Swamp? That’s both the point of origin and the frequent habitation of one of the Lantern’s best-known villains — so, again, it’s logical for the Emerald Crusader to be checking it out, especially as its location has been established as being close to Gotham.
Yeah, I’d say “Chairman Hawkman” is being pretty damn forgetful here — considering that he officially welcomed Robin as a new member in good standing in JLA #55, a mere four years ago in “real” time. Just how old is Carter Hall supposed to be in 1971, anyway?
OK, moving along…
As has been evident since the first page — or really, since the cover — a full roll call of the Justice Leaguers who appear in this issue would include several who either don’t have Justice Society counterparts, or whose counterparts don’t put in even a token appearance over the course of the story’s two chapters. Along with Batman, who’s been around since the beginning, the active roster now includes Black Canary and Green Arrow.
Here, Friedrich has cleverly dropped in a plug for his own Robin solo story in Batman #234, which also hit stands in June, 1971 (and which will also be covered on this very blog, a couple of weeks from now).
That’s some pretty specific “twin-Earths” event duplication going on there, I have to say. Of course, it’s all in service of Friedrich’s emerging “generation gap” theme.
As the JLAers-plus-one pick up the trail of destruction left by the “marauding monster”‘, Green Lantern notices that his power ring is zeroing in on some kind of mysterious signal…
“Oh no! Not again!” You have to wonder if Friedrich was tempted to add something along the lines of, “Why does this sort of thing happen every single summer?”
“Playing a hunch, Atom — or a theory?” The Tiny Titan never answers Superman’s query, nor does he offer any other explanation as to how these seemingly arbitrary new groupings are “scientifically more sound” than the existing division of heroes by team. That’s probably because the only reason for the re-arrangement is so that Friedrich can get the individual heroes assembled the way he wants them. It’s a plot contrivance, in other words; one that’s barely even trying to disguise itself as anything more.
Sharp-eyed readers will no doubt notice that an extra caped figure seems to have snuck into the last panel of page 8; if you look closely, it would appear that penciller Dick Dillin and inker Joe Giella have mistakenly subbed in the absent Earth-Two Green Lantern for his JSA teammate, the Flash, and that the uncredited colorist has gamely tried to cover things up by applying Jay Garrick’s costume colors to Alan Scott’s. Nice try, guys, but…
Poor A-Rym — even the gentle woodland creatures “fearfully flee from him”. (Never mind that they’d likely do the same thing if he were just an ordinary human taking a pleasant stroll, ’cause that’s what woodland creatures do.)
In the next couple of panels, Friedrich’s generation gap theme will either become more complex, or go completely off the rails, depending on one’s interpretation… because Earth-One’s Robin is about to show himself every bit as rash and lacking in good judgment as the JLA’s Hawkman appears to suspect…
I mean, who attacks a crying child? Because that’s obviously what Dillin has drawn.
It’s possible that the story’s script and art are working at cross purposes in this scene, as the Earth-Two Robin’s comment about A-Rym’s untranslatable speech sounding “more like a snarl” suggests a more threatening aspect to the young alien than what the pictures show. But that’s just speculation on my part.
Evidently the Earth-Two Robin’s memory is as bad as his world’s Hawkman’s, since he’s forgotten all about the JSA chairman being present during his one and only outing with the team, also. Trust me (and Gardner Fox) on this one — both heroes were around for the whole adventure, all the way through to the end of JLA #56.
But, again, to move on… the Earth-One Robin has been “racked up pretty bad”, as Green Lantern puts it, and so GL takes it on himself to power-ring both the Teen Wonder and his older counterpart to Earth-Two’s Batcave, so that the elder hero can tend to the wounds of his injured analogue; it’s implied that GL also hopes to defuse the volatile situation developing between the Robins and the Hawks by doing this.
A-Rym successfully batters GL into insensibility, but since the ring-slinger has indeed managed to will his ring invisible before losing consciousness, the alien youth isn’t able to retrieve his sought-after prize. Proceeding to wield the Lantern’s inert form as a bludgeon, he incapacitates both Hawkmen before stomping off.
The scene now shifts to Earth-One, where poor Teppy is on his own destructive rampage through a comparable woodland. (By the way, isn’t it awfully convenient that the “In-Between” spat both Teppy and A-Rym into such human-free environments, rather than into the centers of a couple of densely-populated cities? Or into the airless vacuum of space, for that matter?)
Devoting an entire full-page splash to a scene of four superheroes — including both Supermen! — being knocked for a loop by what appears to be an angry, overlarge plush toy may not have been the best storytelling choice to be made here. Dillin and Giella can’t quite pull this off — though to be fair, I’m not sure any artists could.
Friedrich has a go at making these events seem a bit more plausible on the next page, via some expository dialogue from a quickly-recovered Flash: “He must come from a Krypton-like world to have the strength to stagger both Supermen! Only by a super-fast rolling with the punch was I able to minimize his blow!” Sure, Jay, whatever.
Fortunately, the Earth-One Atom hits on another bright idea; and this time, he deigns to share it with his fellows. The Mighty Mite’s plan begins with having Flash spin his arms to create “a super-speed tailwind” to send Atom hurtling towards Teppy…
Hey, remember what I was saying before about how Friedrich would realize he needed an actual villain before he got to the end of the issue? And how Slaughter Swamp was the home base for one of the Earth-Two Green Lantern’s greatest villains? Well, here we are.
In some ways, Solomon Grundy is an odd choice to up the villainous ante, as he’s little more than a child himself, intellectually and emotionally speaking (at least in this iteration of the character). But I suppose it would have been harder to sell A-Rym having a “natural link” with, say, Felix Faust.
The reference to Solomon Grundy’s “blockbuster powers” is likely a tip of the hat to the vegetable-based revenant’s former sparring partner (and fellow Hulk analogue) Blockbuster, who shared the spotlight with him in 1966’s JLA-JSA team-up, chronicled in Justice League of America #46-47. At the conclusion of that story — Grundy’s most recent published appearance — the two battlin’ behemoths had just “knocked the hate out of each other” (yes, that’s a direct quote), and we last saw the smiling, friendly Sol being led away by the JSA to their secret HQ, where they were supposed to decide what the hell to do with him. Evidently, they just decided to chuck him back in the middle of Slaughter Swamp and hope for the best — although, if we want to be charitable, we can postulate that Alan Scott’s “checking up” on things at the swamp, mentioned earlier in the story, was a regular, rather than random, occurrence.
Returning to our story — elsewhere in the swamp, Superman and Flash have joined the mostly-recovered Green Lantern, Hawkman, and Hawkman to resume the search for A-Rym…
Having absorbed energies from both Earth-Two’s Green Lantern’s power ring and his JSA teammate Doctor Fate’s magic-making back in his first Silver Age appearance (Showcase #55 [Mar.-Apr., 1965]), Solomon Grundy is even more formidable than he looks. He takes out Flash, GL, and both Hawkmen in little more than a page, leaving only one Man (of Steel) standing:
Well, that sure went south quickly, didn’t it? Be sure to join us next month for… well, more of the same, really. More scenes of the greatest heroes of two Earths fighting a little boy and his dog, only with extra Grundy added to the recipe.
Oh, wait, here’s something you haven’t seen already… a new costume for Robin, designed by none other than Neal Adams! Which Robin, you ask? Heh, I guess you’ll just have to return for our Justice League of America #92 post for the answer to that one. (Or you could just Google it, but why spoil all the fun?)
As remarked upon earlier, with this issue Justice League of America joined the rest of DC’s standard-size comics in making the transition from a 32-page to a 48-page format. This change required DC’s editors — Julius Schwartz, in this case — to come up with an additional 15 or so pages of content, evidently without having any additional funds budgeted for commissioning new material. (At the beginning of the initiative, if not later on, time may also have been a factor.) What to do?
As we covered in our post on Forever People #4 last week, if you’re Jack Kirby, and a writer and artist as well as an editor, you might kick in a few pages of new material of your own — pin-ups and the like — and fill the remaining space with a reprint of some work of yours from the 1940s that might not have a hell of a lot in common with the stuff you’re doing now, but still could well be of historical interest to your fans; and, if nothing else, is unlikely to have been read before by your current, mostly youthful audience.
Bit if you’re Julius Schwartz, that’s not really an option. You’re “just” an editor, not an editor/writer/artist, so nix on any “free” new material. As for reprints — well, Justice League of America has been running full book-length stories (they actually used to call ’em “novels” back in the ’60s) ever since the title began — and those stories won’t fit in the available space, unless you edit out panels and/or pages to the point the plots will no longer make sense. So what do you do?
Well, this month, at least, you dust off an old science fiction yarn from the early Fifties — more specifically, from Mystery in Space #6 (Feb.-Mar., 1052) — and kill, excuse me, fill eight pages that way. Hey, maybe the Knights of the Galaxy don’t have super-powers or wear costumes, but at least they’re a group, right?
Schwartz had actually used the Knights as JLA filler once before, in the all-reprint “giant” issue #85; I’d enjoyed them well enough on that occasion, as I did on this one, though I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to purchase a whole book focused on them. (Re-reading this Robert Kanigher-Carmine Infantino yarn today, what strikes me about it the most is that the titular heroes, thrown back in time to the 20th century, have to prevent the villain from destroying the Earth in an atomic chain reaction — and while they’re ultimately successful in doing so, that doesn’t happen until after he’s partially melted the Statue of Liberty, along with most of the buildings that form the Manhattan skyline — an action which is not reversed by the end of the tale! Crazy, man!)
Hmm… seems you’re still nine pages short, Mr. Schwartz. What else ya got?
It’s not hard to see why Julius Schwartz pulled this story out of the archives to run in this issue — it’s a solo story of a Justice Society of America member, and a recent one besides. And it’s probably a good bet that a lot of your readers aren’t familiar with it, since the title it originally appeared in, The Spectre, was cancelled in 1969 after only ten issues.
The problem — at least as far as my thirteen-year-old self was concerned — was that I was one of those who had read the story on its first appearance, back in Spectre #7. And while I’d enjoyed Gardner Fox, Dick Dillin, and Sid Greene’s “The Hour Hourman Died!” just fine at the time, if I wanted to read it again, all I had to do was pull that Spectre issue out of one of my alphabetically-arranged stacks of old comics (bags, boards, and boxes were still some years in my future, faithful readers), and I was all set. So this reprint was, at least for me, a waste of space — and, ultimately, money.
As I said in the Forever People #4 post, I was a lucky young comics fan in 1971; I had a decent-sized allowance, and as best as I can remember, didn’t really have to worry about cutting back on my funnybook purchasing due to this price increase. But that didn’t mean I had to like it.
Anyway, that’s how Julius Schwartz filled his quota of extra pages for the first plus-sized regular issue of Justice League of America. What would he do next time? You’ll have to return next month for our JLA #92 post to find out. (Or, sure, you could go to the Grand Comics Database, or Mike’s Amazing World of Comics, or the Fandom DC Comics Database, and simply look it up. But as long as you’re here, just humor me, OK?)