July, 1971 brought DC Comics fans the second half of the year’s Justice League-Justice Society team-up (the ninth such event since the institution of the annual summer tradition in 1963). Like the first half, it was produced by the regular JLA creative team of Mike Friedrich (writer), Dick Dillin (penciller), and Joe Giella (inker). And, as you might expect, it began with a recap — though in this case, a bit more time and space were spent recapping the basic concept of the inter-dimensional assemblage of superheroes than the specific events of the story’s opening chapter:
One of the distinguishing features of this year’s JLA-JSA get-together — the first for scripter Friedrich (and also his last, as things would turn out) — was its focus on heroes who had different “versions” on each team. You can’t blame Friedrich and company for wanting to play that up a bit — but using two full pages to establish the set-up seems a little excessive…
Especially when your third full page is given over to a full-page splash that reprises the final panel of the story’s previous chapter — a scene which has already been revisited once this issue, via the book’s cover by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano. One might conclude that Friedrich didn’t have quite enough story to fill out two issues without some padding — and in the opinion of your humble blogger, one would be correct to do so. (I have to confess that I feel a little churlish pointing this out, since I believe that the writer’s grateful dedication of his story to Jerry Bails and Roy Thomas for introducing him to the Golden Age incarnation of the Justice Society, as well as to Julius Schwartz and Gardner Fox for reviving them in the Silver Age, is both sincere and commendable. I just wish he’d found a way to channel his gratitude into a more substantial, and satisfying, comic-book story.)
On the fourth page, we finally get a summary of the events that have led up to Solomon Grundy’s apparent triumph:
As we noted in our JLA #91 post last month, Friedrich’s decision to use the non-villainous characters of a stranded alien child and his pet as the primary source of conflict in his story is unquestionably a novel idea — but in execution, it unfortunately results in multiple scenes featuring the greatest heroes of two worlds fighting a little boy and his dog. It’s small wonder, then, that the writer decided to haul in a “real” villain, Solomon Grundy, just before the halfway point — but, again unfortunately, the use of this particular bad guy inevitably recalls the last time he appeared in a JLA-JSA team-up tale, and not to Friedrich’s advantage. That’s because even though Grundy was ancillary to the main threat in JLA #46–47, just as he is in the story currently under discussion, in that earlier, Gardner Fox-penned adventure the swamp creature’s involvement in events came about as a direct result of the primary crisis, rather than by way of his simply stumbling into the storyline the way he almost literally does here.
The heroes continue the fight against Grundy for another couple of pages, but with multiple members down, they ultimately decide the wisest move is to retreat and regroup…
Decades later, in an interview for Alter Ego #7 (Winter, 2001), Mike Friedrich told Roy Thomas the story behind “costume-maker” (and cover artist) Neal Adams’ unexpected contribution to JLA #92’s interiors:
I remember that I got a chance… to deal with a little pet peeve of mine, which was the awful costume that [the Earth-One] Robin wore. As a big Batman fan I was lobbying behind the scenes to try to get that costume changed. Hanging out at the DC offices with Neal Adams, he and I would talk about various things, and one of them was how out of date and embarrassing the thirty-year-old Robin costume was. Neal, in one of his moments of inspiration, had designed a brand new Robin costume. We had presented it to DC, and they had decided not to use it. But I was able to get permission to use the Adams design on the Earth-Two Robin. As far as I know, the only time it appeared was in that single story.
(Yes, Mr. Friedrich got a couple of details wrong towards the end, there; but let’s remember, it had already been thirty years since he’d written the story when he gave that interview.)
The story next briefly shifts focus to the JLA’s satellite HQ, where we see Barry (Flash) Allen’s wife Iris join Black Canary in keeping vigil over the badly-wounded speedster. (This brief scene is entirely superfluous to the plot, and seems to have been included primarily to justify the story’s claim to feature “two Flashes”.) From there, we move on to the JSA’s headquarters on Earth-Two, where there are other casualties to be attended to:
The scene of the two Green Lanterns charging their rings together echoes an almost identical one from JLA #74, two years earlier — though on that occasion, it was Earth-One’s GL, Hal Jordan, who did his Earth-Two counterpart, Alan Scott, the honor of reciting the latter’s oath, rather than the other way around.
Moments after the GLs finish recharging, a message comes in from the Robins that they’ve picked up the trail of the alien boy, who’s now split off from Solomon Grundy. The Lanterns opt to go after Grundy (makes sense, as the latter got his start as a GL villain), while the Hawks — the main ones who’ve been grousing about the Robins’ presence ever since the adventure began — head out to assist (i.e., take over from) the former Boy Wonders.
Meanwhile, young A-Rym is becoming more and more desperate, even as his older brother S-Kyr and their friend E-Nes frantically search for them from their vessel, still cruising through an interdimensional void called the “In-Between”…
A-Rym brandishes his power ring at the two winged heroes, causing them to delay a direct attack just long enough for the Robins to arrive on the scene:
Earth-One’s Hawkman finally makes his move, but is quickly downed by a blow from A-Rym…
Earth-One’s Robin is essentially making amends here, after having rashly attacked A-Rym in the previous issue — an act which unquestionably made the situation worse.
Meanwhile, the Green Lanterns are going up against Solomon Grundy…
Just at that very opportune moment, Earth-One’s Hawkman wings in, Alan Scott’s recovered ring in hand…
Sealed in securely by the combined power of two rings, Solomon Grundy takes a couple of half-hearted swings at the emerald barrier, and then wanders off back into the swamp he calls home. So much for our villainous headliner.
Yeah, “what of the parallel menace on Earth-One…?” Not to mention the three superheroes who’ve been sidelined for this entire issue, petsitting Teppy. Maybe it’s just me, but not having come up with anything meaningful for one Superman and two Atoms to do for the whole second half of the story seems like careless plotting on Friedrich’s part.
A-Rym and Teppy are swiftly transported on board via the ship’s anti-gravity beam; it’s a joyous reunion for all concerned, and we’re assured that the older boys, having learned their lesson the hard way, won’t be hijacking any spacecraft to go “ride-joying” in the future.
Wait, the readers got a vote? But didn’t Mike Friedrich say that DC had already rejected Adams’ design as a new permanent costume for Robin? Well, maybe they had second thoughts. Or maybe editor Julius Schwartz was simply curious to see what the reader reaction would be if he threw the question out there. In any event, Schwartz eventually reported (via the letters column of JLA #96) that the opinions he received on the subject amounted to “a mixed bag… about as many in favor of a switch as for standing pat.”
Ultimately — and unsurprisingly — “standing pat” is precisely what DC did. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine that, in an era when the folks running things at the publisher were so concerned with keeping their properties “on model” for licensing purposes that they routinely replaced Jack Kirby’s Superman and Jimmy Olsen faces with Murphy Anderson’s, that they ever seriously considered making such a drastic change to the look of one of their most recognizable characters.
Me? I liked the new look (although I didn’t care enough to cast a vote), and was therefore disappointed when the Earth-One Robin remained relegated to his traditional trunks and booties. On the other hand, I wasn’t especially fond of the Earth-Two Robin’s then-current outfit, either — it being the bizarre mashup of the Dynamic Duo’s individual costumes that it was — and so I was pleased a few years later when, with some modifications, the elder Richard Grayson adopted his pal Neal’s design for his own fightin’ togs in All-Star Comics #58 (Jan.-Feb., 1976) — a look he stuck with all the way through to his untimely demise in Crisis on Infinite Earths. (R.I.P., R.G.)
And, of course, a later design by Neal Adams for an updated Robin getup did go all the way, ultimately becoming the character’s official new costume — though by that time we were two Robins further along in the dynasty, so that it was Tim Drake who got to debut the new outfit, rather than “our” Dick Grayson — who, alas, had to completely change his costumed identity before being allowed to wear long pants on the job.
But, I digress. Let’s return one last time to “Solomon Grundy — the One and Only”, which still has a page (and change) left to run, if you can believe it:
For the last several issues, Friedrich had been experimenting with adding a little Marvel-style issue-to-issue continuity to Justice League of America‘s usual “done-in-one (or sometimes two)” format. Indeed, the present two-part storyline had actually gotten going via a subplot in issue #90, in which Batman had gone searching for Flash when the latter failed to respond to a JLA emergency signal, eventually finding the speedster unconscious and near-death (due to his having been mauled by the firghtened Teppy, of course, though we didn’t learn that until issue #91). Similarly, #91 had introduced a plot thread in which Batman and Green Arrow received an emergency summons from Aquaman, which they went to check out while the rest of the JLA dealt with the Teppy and A-Rym business.
That plot element would take center stage in JLA #94 (technically not the “next issue“, as August’s #93 would in fact be a giant-sized reprint collection) — and would ultimately yield one of the most substantial and satisfying stories of Mike Friedrich’s whole run. Or at least that’s what your humble blogger thinks; you can decide for yourselves come September.
We’re not quite done with July’s edition of JLA yet, however, as we still have some reprint content to make note of. This is the “Bigger & Better” era, remember?
As we noted last month, Julius Schwartz had something of a unique challenge in filling up his allotment of pages for this title, because while the Justice League had been around now for almost twelve years and had quite a few old stories available for re-presentation, virtually all of those stories were 22 or more pages long. And he had less than 20 pages to work with.
Thus, Schwartz’s first reprint selection for JLA #92 wasn’t a Justice League story — it couldn’t be. But it came about as close as any non-JLA story possibly could…
If I recall correctly, my fourteen-year-old self was actually pretty happy to have the opportunity to read this five-year-old ten-pager, which I’d missed when it was originally published in Flash #158 (Feb., 1966). This was the sort of thing that had gotten me into DC Comics in the first place back in 1965, and it still felt special, with Gardner Fox’s clever script finding a plausible way (well, plausible for the Silver Age) to let Barry Allen temporarily “become” Green Lantern, Hawkman, Aquaman, and the Atom — and to let readers have the relatively rare opportunity to see those heroes drawn by Carmine Infantino.
But as pleased as I may have been with the inclusion of “The One-Man Justice League!”, I suspect that I was as equally indifferent to the presence of the issue’s final offering, a six-pager written by John Broome and illustrated by Infantino, which had originally appeared in Mystery in Space #29 (Dec.-Jan., 1956):
Not that DC’s Fifties-vintage science-fiction shorts don’t have their charms — they do, and did — but in the context of a Justice League of America comic book, they have to be classified as filler. And I couldn’t get excited about filler stories, even if this particular one was allegedly about “a one-man Injustice League!” (Nice try, though, Mr. Schwartz.)
The fact was, if I actually wanted to read reprinted Justice League stories, I would have to wait a month, until I could pick up JLA #93.
Or would I?
The answer, as you can probably already guess, was “no”.
DC 100-Page Super Spectacular #6 came out on July 15th — five days before JLA #92, incidentally, so it’s possible that I bought and read it before I did the latter book. But whenever I got it, it was a treat, even though it was a reprint book, cover to cover. Because leading off the issue was a Justice League of America story I’d been waiting to read ever since the summer of 1966, when I’d read my first JLA-JSA team-up — the actual first meeting of the two teams, as originally presented in 1963’s JLA #21 (“Crisis on Earth-One!”) and #22 (“Crisis on Earth-Two!”). Both parts, even, in a single comic — no waiting a month with this one!
The remainder of the issue’s contents may not have been on the same level as that classic two-parter, at least as far as my younger self was concerned, but there were still some choice items. A Golden Age tale of my single favorite JSAer, the Spectre, for one; an early Silver Age Hawkman tale by Gardner Fox and Joe Kubert, for another. Sure, it cost 50 cents — but that was for 100 pages of content (including covers) with no ads — all bound within a dynamite, brand-new wraparound cover by Neal Adams.
That’s how you do reprints, people.