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/ extradimensional 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., 1952) — 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?)
“Flash is dead… and for the sake of making a dramatic entrance, I removed the body from the crime scene without any regard for the chain of evidence.” WORLD’S GREATEST DETECTIVE, EVERYONE! 😀
Love this era of comics with its covers that lure you in with “shocking” images that turn out to be not.
LikeLiked by 4 people
I’ve always thought of Mike Friedrich as the boy-wunderkind DC analog to Marvel’s Jim Shooter (yes, I know, Shooter got his start at DC, but he went on to greater success at Marvel, so just work with me here). Both began writing comics as teen-agers and both were heralded as bringing in a new, young perspective to their respective stories. Shooter, as we all know, went on to be Ed-in-Chief at Marvel, while Friedrich went on to be…older Mike Friedrich? I have no idea. All of this is to preface the fact that Friedrich was supposed to herald in some sort of youth-worthy rebellion, but the reality is, he wrote comics just like the guys who came along before him. He turned the frustrations of a younger generation living in the shadow of their older mentors into a simple two-dimensional problem with a “parents (and superheroes) just don’t understand” mentality, dismissed the tragic scope in what was happening in the Aquaman book and swept it under the rug with a couple of careless “landlubber” remarks and perhaps worst of all, relegated Black Canary to playing nursemaid back at HQ while the manly men of the team went off to save the day.
Truth is, this is a badly-written, cliche-ridden story with no stakes and very little reason for the two teams to get together other than the thin one contrived by Friedrich, one which, as you pointed out, Alan, the writer himself can’t even justify without huge jumps in unexplained logic and a magnitude of sheer coincidence. While DC had not yet begun making it’s own moves toward more natural dialogue at this point, the script here is unbelievable and hackneyed and full of callousness and heavy-handedness disguised as social commentary. Thank god Friedrich only wrote one of these team-ups (though, like you, Alan, I always enjoyed these and looked forward to them every summer), especially if he was going to write them so badly. This book, which I remember buying, wasn’t worth the 15 cent price tag, much less the new 25 cents we were forced to pay.
As for the back-ups, I supposed Julie did his best. The Hourman story was a decent choice, if too recent for those who remembered it’s orginal publication (I didn’t) and how could I ever denigrate the adventures of LYLE, the Space Commando? Oh yeah…I just did.
As for which Robin gets a new suit, I assume it’s the Earth 2 version, which is great, because his current costume is awful. I hope the second chapter of this story is better than the first…god knows it can’t be worse.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Mike Friedrich would go on to edit & publish the anthology series Star*Reach, which was both one of the earliest mainstream independently-produced comic books and one of the first vehicles for creator-owned material. Star*Reach only ran for 18 issues between 1974 and 1979, but it was hugely influential, and it featured early work by some of the most talented creators in the field such as Howard Chaykin, Jim Starlin, Walter Simonson, Frank Brunner, Mike Vosberg and Steve Leialoha.
LikeLiked by 3 people
I remember Star-Reach. Used to read it regularly. I have absolutely no memory of ever knowing it came from Mike Friedrich. Wow.
LikeLiked by 2 people
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for the comments, Don, as always. Slight correction — “the tragedy that struck Atlantis” mentioned on the issue’s first page actually happened in the previous issue of JLA, not Aquaman, which had been cancelled by this time.
I have to agree: Friedrich’s JLA run is abysmal from start to finish. The only thing that makes it endurable today is the knowledge that Len Wein’s run is in the offing as a reward for the patient. I’m not sure what would have given contemporary readers the strength to slog through it without the promise of better times ahead. Even Neal Adams covers can only get you so far. With all that said, I agree the JLA/JSA crossovers were always a highlight of the year.
They were the summer equivalent of a family Thanksgiving in that it was always wonderful to see familiar, beloved faces, even if it usually didn’t take long for things to go in the crapper.
LikeLiked by 2 people
I love the “family Thanksgiving” comparison, lordsinclair. But I have to say, I’m one contemporary reader who still has mostly fond memories of Friedrich’s run, overall. If you haven’t already, you might want to check out my piece on JLA #89 for what are apparently the only kind things anyone has to say about that one after 50 years. 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
I enjoyed Friedrich’s JLA tenure, both at the time and more recently. He was bringing characterization and relevance to the fore, and, honestly JLA 89 was probably the most personal story DC or Marvel, printed up until Steve Gerber’s time.
That’s pretty much how I see Friedrich’s JLA run as well, Scott. And it’s nice to know that someone else out there has some fondness for the much-maligned #89!
I had been buying comics sporadically over the past two or three years (or rather my parents had for me, of course). They would get the occasional Superman or Batman features, along with Casper the Friendly Ghost, Richie Rich, Tarzan, and the Rawhide Kid. JLA 91 was the first purchase of a comic that I made of my own free will.
And what an entrance it was…..I not only had the JLA, but this whole JSA concept that I previously had no clue about. This was all pretty much uncharted territory to this 8 year old, but I jumped in with both feet and soon was buying a couple of other DC comics each month. I continued to read JLA almost consecutively until 1983 or so, stopped off and on because my usual stores stopped getting comics and I had to find another way before finally subscribing in the late 70’s.
Thanks for featuring this one. It brings back a lot of great memories.
LikeLiked by 3 people
I was aware of Mike Friedrich having founded Star Reach, mainly from articles or interviews in The Comics Journal, which I read regularly throughout much of the ’80s and early ’90s. Otherwise, I mostly knew Friedrich from his run in Iron Man and on Captain Marvel, when he scripted over the first few issues drawn & plotted by Jim Starlin. For the most part, I enjoyed his run on Iron Man, even if it wasn’t particularly great and paled in comparison to the work of other writers who got their start in the late Silver/early Bronze Age. His attempted magnum opus, the War of the Super-Villain, which I initially had high hopes for, fizzled out in a conclusion that boggled my 13 year old mind when I read it in 1975 as rather stupendously stupid and doesn’t hold up any better to my nearly 46 years older self.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I wasn’t a regular reader of Iron Man during Friedrich’s tenure, but my general impression of his Marvel work back in the day was that it was, on the whole, less personal, and (to me) less interesting than his earlier stuff for DC. His collaborations with Starlin represented an exception, interest-wise, but I suspect those books would have impressed regardless of who scripted them. 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
Same for me, Alan! I’d gotten Cap’s return in issue 22 (the 1st Captain Marvel comic I ever got), which I’ve since read was Marv Wolfman’s first work for Marvel, over a Gerry Conway plot and drawn by Wayne Boring, and, um, not very good. Missed the next several issues, then got #27, and my mind was rather blown. Starlin’s story & art in that issue made me an instant fan, and whatever Friedrich’s limitations as a writer, his scripting on Starlin’s story was fine enough. But Starlin was very much the, ahem, star attraction on that issue. Having now long since read the previous two issues wherein Starlin began his run on C.M., as well as a reprint of Iron Man #55, where the epic really began, I think #27 is where Starlin first really shined as a rising comics storyteller/artist, even if he took some strong influence from Kirby’s Fourth World epic (and of which I was entirely unaware in 1973).
LikeLiked by 1 person
I don’t really have any comments here because, unlike you and so many others, I didn’t really cotton to the JLA/JSA team-ups. However, I do have some questions. It appears from this issue that the JLA members all know that Dick Grayson is Robin. Do they also know that Bruce Wayne is Batman, and, for that matter everyone’s secret identiy? If the answer is no, how can they know that Dick Grayson is Robin without knowing (or figuring out) that Bruce Wayne is Batman?
As I recall, at some point during Denny O’Neil’s JLA run, he started writing the book as if all the members knew each other’s secret identities — despite the fact that it had been established in the series that they didn’t. I can see where that was easier than having to remember that Superman and Batman knew each other’s but no one else’s, same with Flash and Green Lantern, etc. — but it would have been nice to have a scene where they all unmasked. 🙂
Thanks Alan! It appears that this was a rare case of negligence, willful or otherwise, in O’Neil’s storytelling.