Justice League of America #94 (November, 1971)

A half century ago, when your humble blogger picked the object of today’s post up out of the spinner rack and eyeballed the cover for the first time, I was awfully curious as to who — or what — that wraithlike, red-tinged figure descending into Aquaman’s body might turn out to be.  At the same time, I wasn’t the least bit curious about the identity of the cover’s artist — since, with the exception of the usual left-hand column’s worth of floating JLA heads rendered by Murphy Anderson, the cover was the obvious work of Neal Adams.  And as Adams had either pencilled, inked or provided complete art for more Justice League of America covers than any other artist in the three years since his very first (for issue #66 [Nov., 1968] ), that was no surprise at all.

But interior art by Adams in an issue of JLAThat was unexpected; nevertheless, on turning past the cover to the book’s opening splash, that’s exactly what my fourteen-year-old self beheld: 

Some readers in 1971 (though not yours truly) might have perused this page and, having done so, understood why Adams’ presence as “special guest artist” for this page (and three later ones) was less unlikely than it might appear at first glance — for the Sensei was a character who’d been created by Adams, both as writer and as artist, and had yet to be drawn, if not written, by anyone else.

The Sensei had first appeared in Adams’ “Deadman” story for Strange Adventures #215 (Nov.-Dec., 1968), in which it was revealed that the American circus aerialist Boston Brand had been murdered as an entrance test for a criminal organization called the Society of Assassins.  Of course, it was Brand’s murder back in SA #205 that had led directly to his becoming the unliving superhero Deadman, granted (or cursed) with the ability to possess the bodies of living human beings until he could track down and avenge himself on his killer.  As you can imagine, finding out that his murder had no deeper underlying motivation than his hook-handed killer (known only as “the Hook”, naturally) wanting to pass an exam, and that he’d been chosen as his victim completely at random, didn’t sit very well with Deadman — especially when, in an ironic turn of events, the Sensei was misled by Boston’s own activities into believing the Hook had failed in his original charge… and executed the assassin himself as punishment for this failure.

Nevertheless, when Deadman learned that the Sensei and his Society of Assassins planned to attack a mysterious hidden city in the Himalayas called Nanda Parbat, he opted to become involved — only to discover not only that his spirit could attain corporeal form while in that location (but only there), but that the city was the home of Rama Kushna, the mystical entity that had bestowed his unique afterlife upon him in the first place.

Those latter events went down in Strange Adventures #216 (Jan.-Feb., 1969) — which was, alas, the final issue featuring Deadman.  With the feature cancelled, Adams’ storyline remained unfinished… that is, until the release nine months later of Brave and the Bold #86 (Oct.-Nov., 1969).  There, in a story drawn (and perhaps plotted) by Adams, but scripted by Bob Haney, Batman joined Deadman to foil the Society of Assassins’ assault on Nanda Parbat, ending that threat once and (presumably) for all.  But while the tale provided a satisfying resolution to Deadman’s original quest for justice, it nevertheless ended on a slightly ambiguous note — as the final scenes made it clear that the Sensei himself had survived the final battle, and would surely seek vengeance on Deadman and Batman, both.

And now, having read all that, you know quite a bit more than my younger self knew in September, 1971 — because while I’d picked up one issue of Deadman’s original run when it came out, I hadn’t become a regular reader, and so had missed the final installments in Strange Adventures.  Similarly, though I’d bought and enjoyed Deadman’s first team-up with Batman in Brave and the Bold, I’d missed the second one.  Thus, though I’d somehow acquired a vague understanding that Deadman had found his killer in the end (probably via DC’s house ads of the time), I knew none of the specifics of who, how, or why.  Nor did I have the slightest notion of who this “Sensei” fellow was.  For these reasons, the fairly obvious clue (if not outright giveaway) that this background information provided regarding the identity of that reddish wraith on the cover was completely lost on me.

As soon as I’d read the caption-scroll that led off page 2, however, I was on much firmer ground.  Because I did know about the League (as opposed to Society) of Assassins, whom I’d read about in Detective Comics #411 (May, 1971).  In that comic’s lead story (which was actually the League’s third — or maybe fourth — appearance in the title), writer Denny O’Neil and artist Bob Brown had told how Batman had taken down the leader of the internationally-operating League, Dr. Ebenezer Darrk — though only with the assistance of Talia al Ghul, a young woman who’d been kidnapped by Darrk as part of some mysterious dispute the doctor had with Talia’s father.  Then, a month after that story’s release, I’d read Batman #232 (June, 1971), in which Neal Adams joined O’Neil to introduce readers to Ra’s al Ghul himself — a wealthy, enigmatic man whose name was Arabic for “the Demon’s Head”.  That story gave no hint of a connection between Ra’s and the League of Assassins, beyond the adversarial relationship already established — but it did mention “a Far Eastern cult of killers” called “the Brotherhood of the Demon” that, by the story’s end, was shown to be associated with Ra’s in some fashion — and since the guy’s very name means “the Demon’s Head“, the nature of that association was pretty clearly implied.  So, although JLA #94 writer Mike Friedrich doesn’t come out and use the name “Ra’s al Ghul” in this caption, the context provided by the reference to the League of Assassins leaves little to no doubt as to the identity of the leader of the “cartel of criminals” referred to here simply as “the Demon!” — it clearly has to be Ra’s.

As for what else is going on on this page (rendered by the usual JLA art team of Dick Dillin and Joe Giella) — well, my younger self was in luck here, as well, since I was a regular reader of the title, and thus could recall how, in issue #91 — just as the Justice League’s latest annual team-up with the Justice Society was kicking into gear — the team received an emergency summons from the absent Aquaman, requesting the presence of Batman and Green Arrow.  The two latter heroes headed out to answer their comrade’s call, and we didn’t see them again until the last page of #92 — which showed us a sniper’s-eye view of all three heroes, as seen through a gun sight.  This scene picks up a mere moment after that cliffhanger conclusion.*

Green Arrow swiftly fires an arrow that strikes the assassin’s rifle, jarring his aim long enough for Batman to swing over and, after a brief tussle, knock him into the water, where he’s quickly nabbed by Aquaman.  Teamwork!

Aquaman’s asking the assassin, M’Naku, “Are you the guy who’s been giving us the run-around all week?” is, I’m afraid, just about all the explanation we’re going to get for what our trio of Justice Leaguers have been doing since the King of the Seven Seas called for help back in JLA #91 — or, for that matter, what reason he gave Batman and Green Arrow at the time for why he’d summoned them (and only them) in the first place.

At this point, our story returns to the Sensei — and so it also returns to the art of Neal Adams, who draws every page his villainous creation appears on (as well as one featuring a character Adams didn’t create, but which was, and is, strongly associated with him).

In an interview with Michael Eury for Justice League Companion (TwoMorrows, 2005), Mike Friedrich recalled the circumstances for how Adams came to contribute to the interior artwork for “Where Strikes Demonfang?”:

It was a bit of a coup to have Neal Adams drawing some of the pages. I’d written them for Neal to draw, but didn’t think that would actually happen. He was already, at this time, way over his head in terms of the stuff that he was doing, constantly late with everything he was turning in, and [editor] Julie [Schwartz] said he would do it only if Neal could make the deadline. Neal turned in these pages like three weeks after the rest of the book was done. (chuckles)  But if you look at them, they’re gorgeous, they’re absolutely gorgeous.

This page represents the first appearance of Merlyn the Magician (no, not that one).  Every source I’ve consulted credits the creation of Merlyn to Friedrich, Adams, and Dick Dillin, jointly — but, obviously, someone had to design the character’s visual, and that was likely a one-man job.  If Friedrich’s comment about Adams turning in his pages three weeks after the rest of the book was finished is to be taken literally, one might presume that Dillin drew the character first, and was thus the artist responsible for designing him.  To me, however, he looks more like an Adams creation, which makes me wonder if our “special guest artist” might have fired off a quick sketch or two for Dillin and Giella to follow (though this is pure speculation on my part).

Page 5 also attempts to set up a mystery regarding the League’s intended victim, but it doesn’t really work — at least, not if you’ve been reading Detective and Batman.  In the first panel, Merlyn reminds the Sensei that “the Demon’s Head… holds the would-be victim in his favor!”  Any lingering doubt that Ra’s al Ghul is the Demon’s Head being referred to here should be put to rest by the helpful editorial citation of Detective #411; meanwhile, readers of Batman #232 would recall that “Daughter of the Demon” ended with Ra’s telling Batman that he’d chosen the Darknight Detective to marry his daughter, Talia, as well as to ultimately succeed him, Ra’s, when and if he retires from his “activities”.  It’s certainly not impossible that Ra’s could also “favor” another JLAer, whether Green Arrow or someone else — but as Ra’s has thus far appeared only in the Bat-books, readers have absolutely no reason to believe that’s true.

As I recall, on first reading this story in September, 1971 I was mildly annoyed that Friedrich was trying to engender a sense of mystification about something that was so patently obvious to me as a reader; on the other hand, I couldn’t get too annoyed, because I appreciated the way the writer immediately began to use this conceit to suggest connections between his tale and events transpiring in DC’s other books, such as he does on the very next page…

(The “wounds” received by the Flash that Clark Kent mentions occurred off-panel concurrently with the events of JLA #90. and led directly into the JLA’s joint adventure with the JSA in issues #91 and #92; this reference is a good example of the sort of subtle issue-to-issue continuity Friedrich had begun to make a regular part of the series during his tenure.)

If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time that Darkseid has been mentioned in a DC Comics story outside of either Jack Kirby’s “Fourth World” titles or the “Superman family” comics (two categories linked together by Jimmy Olsen belonging to both).  It may seem like a very small thing to contemporary readers, but for those of us who, half a century ago, longed for a more coherent and cohesive DC Universe than the publisher was as yet ready to give us, it was a welcome intimation of a richer, more expansive shared continuity — even if I didn’t believe for a second that the League of Assassins had any direct connection to Inter-Gang, let alone Darkseid himself.

Clark Kent may be Superman, but he also has a day job;  and so, soon thereafter, his “specially-equipped TV-van takes to the road –”

So the League of Assassins has come up with a “new metal… designed to hurt Superman“, huh?  Sounds very useful to bad guys the universe over (even if the stuff’s not fatal, for whatever reason)… but to the best of my knowledge, we never hear about it again.

Following Supes’ fall, the Atom wafts in on a breeze, and lands a punch that flattens Merlyn — at least for the moment…

Superman hits the ground — hard — to the sound of Merly’s gloating explanation: “‘Case you’re wondering, Superman — my device is increasing the effect of gravity on you to overwhelming proportions!”

Now wait a minute — Aquaman, that denizen of the deep, is dropping the name of a hidden city in the Himalayas?  Pardon the expression, but that sounds darn fishy to me.

Hmmm… when and where did Aquaman learn about the League of Assassins, d’you suppose?

Green Arrow’s past history with Merlyn may owe something to the Avengers backstory of Hawkeye and the Swordsman, over at Marvel Comics… or, it might not.  Archery contests are a thing, after all, and it’s not like one of these two DC bowmen was trained by the other one…

Now Aquaman’s quipping about “unwashed circus-tiger cages“?  I tell you, either Mike Friedrich has no clue whatsoever how to write dialogue for the Sea King, or… say, you don’t suppose…?

Oops — looks like someone overshot their one-hour-out-of-water time limit.  I’d say that was pretty careless of Aquaman — or should that be “Aquaman”?

Meanwhile, the Atom has finally managed to smash the device emitting the nigh-incapacitating, ear-splitting noise — fortunately, before his ears actually split.  But what about Superman?

While I can’t claim to be any kind of expert on how the Atom’s abilities have traditionally been shown to work (and my Internet researches on the topic have thus far proved inconclusive), I’m a little skeptical of the idea that he can toss his size-and-weight control belt onto any old inanimate object and embiggen it, even for the sake of making it go boom.  Any avid Ray Palmer fans out there who can enlighten the rest of us?

Regardless of whether or not this sequence depends on a dodgy plot device, however, it still makes for good drama.

By putting Superman and Atom in a situation where they’re forced to try to thumb a ride, Friedrich may have been paying homage to a similar scene from the first JLA story by his predecessor on the title, Denny O’Neil.  Or, y’know, he may have come up with the bit all on his own.

Meanwhile, Batman and Green Arrow have dragged the unconscious “Aquaman” (yeah, I’m sticking with the quotes) into the courtyard of the mysterious house, which fortunately has its own operating fountain.  The water quickly revives the stricken “Justice Leaguer” — but then…

Batman’s dialogue in the second panel above is almost impenetrably cryptic if, like my younger self in 1971, you haven’t read Brave and the Bold #86.  But as I’d eventually learn (though probably not until I picked that comic up as a back issue a year or so later), the first of the “two good men” he mentions is Boston Brand’s twin brother Cleveland, who has taken his sibling’s place as the circus aerialist “Deadman” — and the second is Boston, himself: “a dead man“, indeed.  Although someone who had already read that earlier book might recall that Batman is well aware of Boston’s abilities, and that he also knows that Deadman opted not to remain in Nanda Parbat, where he has corporeal form, because it’s the only place on Earth he can be “killed” a second time.  Assuming the World’s Greatest Detective remembers all that (and why wouldn’t he?), he seems to be a little slow on the uptake, here.

In 2005, after identifying our present tale as his very favorite of the Justice League of America stories he wrote, Mike Friedrich referred to the preceding sequence to illustrate one of the main reasons he felt that way:

“Where Strikes Demonfang?”… was the story where I really felt that I came the closest to doing what I was trying to do with Justice League. I had the teamwork elements down where these three characters go off here, and those four characters go off there, and I remember coming up with a wonderful little sequence where Character A saves Character B, who in turn saves Character C. It was one of those little ricochet pool shots that worked really, really well. It was paced well, I was very happy with it.

A quiver that doubles as a jet-pack?  Sure, why not?

As I recall, my fourteen-year-old self gave pretty short shrift to Merlyn the Magician back in 1971.  At the time, I was unconvinced that a mere archer could take down Superman so easily (that part works better for me in 2021, for whatever reason).  Plus, I was annoyed that DC would introduce a new character with such an appellation who had nothing at all to do with King Arthur and Camelot.  I’ve warmed somewhat to the guy over the last half century, however — probably due at least in part to actor John Barrowman’s entertaining portrayal of the “Arrowverse” version of him on the CW TV network’s DC-based shows.

Looks like Batman’s finally figured things out (though I still say it took him way too long).  And, who knows?  Once Dillin and Giella began delineating that telltale shiny outline around Aquaman’s body, maybe even my benighted younger self of September, 1971 could work out who’s been walking around in the Sea King’s skin all issue long.  (Not that I actually remember that I did, but one can hope.)

And that brings us to our third Neal Adams page of the story — the one that doesn’t feature the Adams-created Sensei, but rather, as we noted earlier, spotlights another DC character closely associated with the artist:

Panel from Aquaman #52 (Jul.-Aug., 1970). Text by Steve Skeates and Neal Adams; art by Jim Aparo and Neal Adams.

It might seem like a stretch that Aquaman, King of Atlantis, was, according to Deadman, “the first Justice Leaguer I could find!”  But it’s actually less unlikely than you might think.  Back in 1969-70, there had been a trilogy of Aquaman issues (#50-#52) in which the lead feature (written by Steve Skeates and drawn by Jim Aparo) and backup strip (starring Deadman, and written and drawn by Neal Adams) had presented two parallel, interconnected storylines that dovetailed at the end — which, incidentally, took place in Atlantis.  In essence, Aquaman and Deadman had teamed up, though without the former hero ever becoming aware of the latter’s invisible, intangible participation in their joint adventure.  So, yeah — the bottom of the sea might have been quite the jaunt for Deadman, even as a spirit.  But at least he did know where to find Aquaman, which is more than could probably be said about most of the other, secret-identity-concealing JLAers.

And while Deadman’s excuse for not telling Batman and Green Arrow who he was and what he was doing for the whole week (“…I like doin’ things myself!“) seems pretty boneheaded, it certainly makes sense that he’d enlist the aid of the one Justice Leaguer he actually knows — who is, after all, “the world’s greatest detective” — to help suss out the identity of the League of Assassins’ intended target .  As to why he chose to involve Green Arrow as well?  Well, obviously, because… hmmm.  Uh, let me get back to you on that one.

Meanwhile, here’s yet another observation related to this page and its revelations: if Batman, Green Arrow, and “Aquaman”/Deadman really did work this case for as long as a week, as the latter indicates on page 4, it seems awfully strange (and convenient) that Aquaman’s one-hour-out-of-water time limit (of which Boston Brand appears to be completely ignorant on page 12) didn’t come up a whole lot sooner — even if “Aquaman” did spend a lot of time in the drink, for whatever reason.  Oh, well… I suppose our heroes just got lucky, there.

Panel from Batman #235 (Sep., 1971). Text by Denny O’Neil; art by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano.

Lastly, in regards to Ra’s al Ghul, who finally gets name-dropped sans the obfuscation of his moniker’s English translation, “the Demon’s Head” — it’s worth noting when Batman tells Deadman that Ra’s is “the head of the world’s crime structure”, it’s the most overt statement that’s yet been made in a DC comic regarding the man’s criminality.  At this point, Ra’s al Ghul has only appeared in two, count ’em, two stories, both written by Denny O’Neil.  We discussed the first of those (Batman #232’s “Daughter of the Demon”) earlier in this post; the second, Batman #235’s “Swamp Sinister” had come out in July.  In that latter tale, Batman and Ra’s had continued to relate to each other as allies (if uneasy ones), working together on that occasion to prevent thousands of people from dying of plague — and while I doubt that there were many readers at the time (and perhaps not any) who didn’t believe that the two men were ultimately destined to come into conflict, one could reasonably take the view that Mike Friedrich was getting out a little ahead of O’Neil here in advancing the overall Ra’s storyline — and that this could have ruffled some feathers.  More about that in a bit.

There’s one more page of Adams to come — but first, we have one last page by Dillin and Giella; one which actually has nothing to do with the present narrative, but does set things up for a future storyline:

This was the second JLA story in a row that had sidelined Black Canary, making her pull monitor duty (or whatever) in the team’s satellite headquarters; as you may recall from previous posts, she’d played nursemaid to the injured Flash for most of JLA #91 and #92.  And since she hadn’t appeared at all in issue #90, this means that her last significant appearance had been in #89 — where she’d functioned primarily as the object of TV writer Harlequin Ellis’  romantic obsession (and of Green Arrow’s possessive jealousy).  I bring this up because, however good a handle Friedrich may have had on the JLA overall by the time he wrote #94 (and I agree with him that this is a successful story in most respects), he still hadn’t quite figured out what to do with the team’s single female member.

I also feel compelled to note here that, if you’re having problems with your new teleport machine — a piece of technology that breaks people down on the atomic level, then reassembles then 22,300 miles away —  then it would probably be best not to use that machine before checking out those problems.  But if the JLA had followed that logic, what would we do for a story in issue #95?

Actually, as it turns out, while the mystery of the malfunctioning transporter (and the missing Justice Leaguers) is picked up on in the next issue, it remains a subplot until #96, at which point it becomes the basis for a three-issue saga — the first in JLA history, and the swan-song for Mike Friedrich as the title’s writer.

But we’ll have more to say about all that in a later post.  For now, we’ve still got the final page of “Where Strikes Demonfang?” to peruse…

Back in September, 1971, after reading that final caption, my younger self had no doubt that we fans were in for “exciting developments in forthcoming issues of Batman and Detective Comics“, as Ra’s al Ghul and the Sensei duked it out, with Batman (and Talia?) caught in the middle.  And, indeed, there was a great Ra’s al Ghul serial coming up in within a year’s time, courtesy of Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, Irv Novick, and Dick Giordano, which would prove to be one of the high points of Batman in the Bronze Age.  But the Sensei?  From Ra’s’ next appearance in Batman #240 (Mar., 1972), on through to the saga’s denouement five issues later, the leader of Demonfang would be conspicuous by his absence.

So what happened?

In 2005, as Mike Friedrich continued his explanation of why he considered “Where Strikes Demonfang?” to be his favorite JLA story, he said:

And secondly, I tied together two different ongoing plotlines going on in the comics: One, what Deadman was doing and two, what Denny O’Neil was doing with the Ra’s al Ghul character in Batman. I actually set it up with the idea of giving Denny a storyline to pick up and run with, only it turned out Denny wasn’t interested in it. I thought tying those two elements together was really a lot of fun, it made a lot of sense. When I re-read it just recently, it still holds up, it still makes sense, and Denny should have run with it, the bum. (laughs)

Well, maybe.  It’s hard to fault O’Neil from going with his own instincts regarding the villain he and Neal Adams had so recently created — especially when, in retrospect, the results turned out so well.  And it was probably wise of editor Julius Schwartz — whose responsibilities included Justice League of America as well as Batman and Detective — not to insist on a follow-through, regardless of what had been more-or-less promised in that final caption of “Where Strikes Demonfang?”.

And, ironically, Denny O’Neil did eventually pick up on the seed Mike Friedrich had planted — it’s just that it took him eight years to do so.  In Detective #485 (Aug.-Sep., 1979), O’Neil began a new multi-part storyline which weaved in and out of the title for roughly nine months, concluding in issue #490 (May, 1980).  In it, Ra’s al Ghul battled the Sensei for control of the League of Assassins — with Batman and Talia in the middle.  So, in the end, you could say that that final caption back in JLA #94 turned out to be accurate after all; it’s just that “forthcoming” ended up encompassing a considerably longer time span than anyone would have imagined in September, 1971.  (Though, to the best of my knowledge, neither O’Neil nor any other writer ever again referred to the League of Assassins as “Demonfang”, which seems a shame.  I thought it had a nice, sinister ring to it, in addition to playing cleverly off the whole “Demon’s Head” thing.)

In the end, despite all the story’s flaws in execution, I think Mike Friedrich’s pride in “Where Strikes Demonfang?” can be considered justified.  Conflating the Society of Assassins from Neal Adams’ Deadman stories with the League of Assassins from Denny O’Neil’s Batman tales was a great idea; not only because it enriched the the milieus of both heroes by linking them more closely, but also because it firmly established Ra’s al Ghul as the ultimate master of the League of Assassins (Dr. Darrk and the Sensei notwithstanding) — something which has since helped define that villain for much of the last half-century, not only in comics, but in the ancillary media of television and film.  So: nice work, Mr. Friedrich.

DC may have abandoned the “Bigger & Better” branding for their 25-cent, 48-page format in September — but the format itself soldiered on, even as Marvel Comics cut its standard page count down to 32 pages (and its price point to 20 cents).

Since the advent of the new size in June, editor Julius Schwartz had experimented with the reprint materials chosen for backup in Justice League of America; as we’ve previously noted, old JLA stories were themselves too long to fit in the available space, unless they were chopped up.  With this issue, Schwartz appears to have embraced one of the options he’d previously explored, as the back portion of JLA now became home to a new, regular feature:

In a way, it made sense.  In an era in which neither the Justice Society of America nor any individual member of that team had a book of their own, Justice League of America — in which we readers could count on seeing a selection of DC’s Golden Age heroes for at least two issues a year — was the closest thing these vintage characters had to a home.

The Sandman story, credited only to “Larry Dean” (but actually the work of writer Gardner Fox and artist Bert Christman) is interesting from a modern perspective in that it’s presented as being his “premiere performance”** — but it’s not an origin tale.  All we learn about Wesley Dodd(s) and/or his alter ego in this story (in which the Sandman does indeed save wealthy actress Vivian Dale from the evil Tarantula, so don’t worry) is that he’s rich, has an underground lab where he cooks up his special gas, and has been dressing up and fighting crime for some time now.  But maybe that’s all you really need to know about a 1930s costumed adventurer with no actual superpowers.

Also interesting, in a 1971 DC “Bigger & Better” context, is that the story’s presentation here makes no mention of the fact that the Sandman is also appearing regularly over in Forever People — though, of course, that’s the later purple-and-yellow costumed Joe Simon and Jack Kirby version, so different in appearance and modus operandi that he’s virtually unrecognizable as being the same character.

The Starman story, attributed only to artist Jack Burnley — but written by Gardner Fox, just as the Sandman tale was — is, like its “Hall of Golden Age Heroes” predecessor,- a first appearance that doesn’t include an origin — unless you count a single panel where wealthy socialite Ted Knight (I see a pattern here) explains that he’s the first man in history “to discover that radiated starlight can be harnessed and used scientifically”, allowing for the invention of his “gravity rod”. Like the Sandman, Starman’s already been suiting up and using his abilities for the general public welfare for some time before this first story starts, so much so that the FBI has a way of sending him emergency alerts through his gravity rod.  That comes in awfully handy when they need his help saving America’s communications network and power grid from the depredations of Dr. Doog and the Secret Brotherhood of the Electron.  (Which crisis Starman does manage to resolve, of course — and in a tidy nine pages, to boot.)

Of course, in launching their series mid-career, as it were, the Sandman and Starman were following in the footsteps of the Batman, who started off much the same way in Detective #27’s “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate”.  But, unlike Batman, whose classic origin tale appeared just six months later, these two heroes would have to wait until the 1980s, and a couple of “continuity implants” introduced into their backstories courtesy of JSA maven Roy Thomas, to receive full-fledged origin narratives.  That’s just how they rolled in the Golden Age, folks.

I have absolutely no recollection of what I made of either of these stories when I first read them, back in 1971; but however much I may or may not have enjoyed them, I’m pretty sure that I would have rather had a Justice League story, or even part of one, in their place.  As things turned out, Julius Schwartz and company would eventually figure out a way to incorporate a JLA reprint into the 25-cent/48-pagers, and the result was quite memorable, at least to this reader.  But… that’s a topic for a future post.

We’re going to end this post with a look at some content that’s not unique to Justice League of America #94 — it’s a page that ran in most of DC’s books shipping in September, 1971 (as well as few that came out in late August) — but I wanted to feature it somewhere, and this seemed the best available option:

On May 12, 1971, the Academy of Comic Book Arts presented the first ever American comics awards voted on only by industry professionals.  There had been fan awards before this (notably the Alleys) but this was seen as representing a step forward in the “legitimization” of comics as an art form.

As this Neal Adams-drawn page makes clear, DC all but swept the initial awards, winning in virtually every major category with the exception of Best New Talent (Barry Windsor-Smith, largely on the strength of Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian), Best Letterer (Marvel’s Sam Rosen), and Best Humor Writer (the immortal Carl Barks, who won for Gold Key’s Junior Woodchucks).  Hey, you can’t win ’em all.

Unfortunately, the Shazam Awards lasted only a few years (as did the ACBA as a whole), and weren’t really replaced by anything comparable until the Eisners and Harveys came along (or, more accurately, arose from the ashes of the sadly short-lived Kirbys), about a decade later.  But they were fun while they lasted.


*Justice League of America #93 was an all-reprint issue, if you’re wondering.

**Though not, evidently, his first actual published appearance, which (according to Mike’s Amazing World of Comics) came in New York World’s Fair Comics — a special release that went on sale at its namesake exhibition a couple of weeks before Adventure Comics #40, featuring the Sandman’s “formal” debut, hit stands nationwide.


  1. Ken Thompson · September 15, 2021

    I loved this issue as a youth, even though I too missed the cover hint about Deadman. Thank you for bringing back those memories.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. DontheArtistformerlyknownasfrodo628 · September 15, 2021

    Even if I hadn’t assumed Deadman was the mysterious figure on the cover of this issue (and I’m pretty sure I did), the appearance of Sensei and Neal Adams artwork on the splash page inside would have given it away. I still own my original copy of the B&B issue in which Deadman and Batman brought the over-all Deadman storyline to a close and cherished it as one of my favorite issues of B&B, right up there with the O’Neill/Adams Batman/Green Arrow team-up that you’ve already discussed in these pages. As a result, I’m pretty sure I was waiting to see Boston revealed every time Aquaman was on the page and was quite unhappy with how long it took him to make the reveal.

    Friedrich loves this issue and I’ll have to admit, I can see why. The story has it’s plot holes and wild leaps of logic, but Mike does make a real effort to establish some over-all DC continuity and the story, while outlandish and relying on an over-abundance of coincidences and what have you, was a fun read. I do have to ask what Dick Dillin was thinking in the panels of Clark Kent’s first appearance in the story when he drew the reporter with Superman’s spit curl. I’m surprised Julie let him get away with that. From fifty years of hindsight, I’m also surprised that Friedrich was allowed to set up a story for another writer to take over without the editor making sure that the other writer was on board with it or that the storyline was already in the pipe. I guess that just goes to show how much DC’s continuity was a work in progress back then.

    And, you’re right, Alan. Another issue of Black Canary wasted. What a shame. What was the point of having female heroes when the cis male writers never seemed to know what to do with them?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Brian Morrison · September 15, 2021

    Hi Alan, I’ve been hoping for the past few weeks that your 14 year old self had the good sense to buy this comic 50 years ago and that you would blog about it. I checked out the on sale date on Mike’s Amazing World (a fantastic resource which provides a great service to comic readers everywhere) and saw that it was this week.
    This issue was my favourite of Mike Friedrich’s JLA run too. Like you, I enjoyed the attempts at continuity across the DC comics universe and I suppose it had the desired effect as it made me search out and buy more of their comics. Unlike you I hadn’t read any of the Deadman run in Strange Adventure or B&B and I hadn’t read any do the Ra’s al Ghul stories, so I was coming in new to all of this. I didn’t recognise Deadman on the cover but I somehow knew it was him when I saw the shiny outline around Aquaman so I must have seen it somewhere.
    I was spellbound by the Adams art, even though it only appeared on 4 pages and the cover. I remember just sitting and looking at the drawings of the Sensei on the first and last panels of the book, just breathtaking.
    This was around the time when I started to buy every DC superhero comic that I could find and I think this issue had a lot to do with that. I was disappointed that the Sensei/Ra’s subplot was not taken up soon afterwards in the Batman comics, it seemed like a missed opportunity.
    I have to say that I loved the reprints in this issue. I know that I will be in the minority here but I really liked the increase in page numbers and the reprints in all the DC comics. They were all stories that I had never read before and some starred characters that were totally new to me. I just wanted to know more and more about these characters. I loved the 100 page super-spectaculars that were being published around this time and thought they were great value for money. Thank you for this post Alan, happy memories.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Chris A. · September 15, 2021

    Bought it for Adams’ art and loved it. Have it with the full Deadman run in SA, as well as the B&B appearance, three Aquaman backups, and a Challengers of the Unknown issue (which was released between two of those Aquaman issues).

    What great artistic form Neal was in!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Commander Benson · September 15, 2021

    While I can’t claim to be any kind of expert on how the Atom’s abilities have traditionally been shown to work (and my Internet researches on the topic have thus far proved inconclusive), I’m a little skeptical of the idea that he can toss his size-and-weight control belt onto any old inanimate object and embiggen it, even for the sake of making it go boom. Any avid Ray Palmer fans out there who can enlighten the rest of us?

    Will a simple Silver-Age fan do?

    Mike Friedrich demonstrated a flaw that most of the fan-turned-pro writers of DC stories in the 1970’s did. They misremembered established facts in the various characters’ histories, i.e., they wrote what they thought they knew, rather than doing the actual research to double check, and this resulted in frequent continuity errors. That set a pattern for the stories I intend to review over at the DC Time Capsule sites, and if I had recalled the mistake made by Mr. Friedrich here, I would have started with this story.

    The long-standing tenet in the Atom series was that, except for Ray (the Atom) Palmer’s own body (due to some inexplicable factor) and his costume (due to it being made of matter derived from a white dwarf star), anything shrunken by Palmer’s minaturisation technique exploded when it’s returned to its normal size. This destructive limitation was a particular plot point in Hawkman # 9 (Aug.-Sep., 1965) and Justice League of America # 47 (Sep., 1966).

    What Palmer could not do, was never shown to do, was never implied that he could do, was enlarge an object beyond its normal size. He could not make himself a giant. He could not make anything else bigger. Thus, Mr. Friedrich got it all wrong.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Alan Stewart · September 15, 2021

      That’s what I surmised, Commander! Thanks for weighing in.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I know! It was the unique, bizarre properties of the metal developed by the League of Assassins to use against Superman that enabled the Atom to enlarge it! Yeah, that’s the ticket! Where’s my No-Prize? Oh, wait… wrong company!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Bill B · September 16, 2021

    Great post! I think Neal Adams, and the colorist, did a great job of making Deadman mysteriously generic looking on the cover, but obvious when you know. I wish Sensei would have adopted the name of Dragonfang, instead of that being the name, I guess, of the League of Assassins. It does seem to me that Sensei is referring to himself as Dragonfang at the end, but maybe that’s just my wishful thinking. “Sensei” is such a generic name. Dragonfang (also, Nab Al Shaytan?) would have been a cooler name and maybe the character would have taken off. Too bad you aren’t my older brother, Alan! Oh, the comics I could have read! I mean, if you were a nice older brother.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bill B · September 16, 2021

      I mean, Nab al Shaytan, of course. What a grievous error. 🙂


      • Bill B · September 16, 2021

        Why would an asian man have an arabic name? This would be after the face peel to reveal “he’s” Talia.


      • Chris A. · September 17, 2021

        How about I. Namtab? 😉


        • Bill B · September 26, 2021

          Anything but, Derfla eht Redistuo


    • Alan Stewart · September 16, 2021

      I’m sure I would have been an exceptionally nice older brother, Bill. (And since I’m an only child, there is none who can say me nay, 🙂 )

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bill B · September 26, 2021

        I believe it. But, then again, you never had a younger brother drip mustard on the cover of Avengers 94. You might have grown up differently after that. Although, we would still send Christmas cards to each other. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  7. markwaid · September 17, 2021

    And even though it’s a coloring error in only one panel, I have always preferred Deadman with white gloves.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Stu Fischer · September 19, 2021

    I’m sorry, but I have to disagree with Alan and the commenters about how this is a great story. It’s definitely a good story, but I feel that not depicting Deadman’s aura when he had taken over Aquaman was a cheat. I could forgive the artistic team (and Julius Schwartz) if it had been determined not to depict the aura anymore in Deadman stories. However the aura suddenly becaime visible to readers (of course it never was visible to the participants in the story in the whole history of the character up to this point) right before Deadman revealed himself. OK, it was fairly obviously Deadman to all of his fans (I don’t remember if in 1971 I picked up on the Nanda Prabat comment, but I must have because I was a serious Deadman fan since the time I was seven), but to me it violates the implied trust between the creators and the readers to remove a common storytelling trait suddenly just to fool the reader only to bring it back right before the reveal (again, if an editorial decision was made to stop using the aura in general in Deadman stories that would be a different thing. That would not be story driven). In any event, I found it very annoying and insulting,

    Also, this time around, and I would wager in 1971 as well, I was puzzled at who Demonfang was (although this time at least I ignored the textual explanation as I was–really–distracted admiring Adams’ pencil work). I had never heard the League of Assassins called this before and I don’t think any of the characters call the group Demonfang in the story, just the omniscient storytelling blurbs. If Friedrich wanted to introduce Demonfang as a great name for the League of Assassins, he should have had the characters refer to the group as such rather just doing so himself.

    Then there are the other story holes that you mentioned Alan, like how it took as long as it did for Aquaman to suffer ill effects from being without water for an hour (if this were Marvel and I wanted to get a No Prize, I would have sent in a helpful letter contending that it must have been a particularly rainy week until then).

    I’m pretty sure that, like you Alan, I was extremely dubious about Superman being felled by an arrow that looked like a much bigger version of the plunger arrows that I used to fire off myself as a kid in 1971 and earlier. However, this time around I just remembered the later Marvel villain Gravitron who had the power to do the same thing, nodded and moved on. (I should note that a member of the original Hellfire Club in X-Men in the 1980s also had this power).

    Leaving aside the fact that, then and now, I didn’t like the name of Merlyn the Magician for an archer, it’s hard to say that Green Arrow had a past with him when their only personal encounter was a friendly (as in not a battle or stemming from a criminal activity) competitive archery contest after which GA said that he had been looking for him all these years without success. Speaking of messing with readers as I did before, having Deadman pick Green Arrow to help in this matter without knowing Merlyn was involved was quite clairvoyant of him wasn’t it?

    Finally, yes, Black Canary continues to be wasted under Friedrich. Unlike some of you, I don’t see why he has a particular reason to be very proud of this story.

    Having dumped all of this negativty, I should say that reading this story made me fully appreciate how great the whole Deadman series was. I first started reading it in 1968 right before I turned seven and I immediately was fascinated and enthralled by the whole concept and execution (no pun intended). Still am although now I know how much it cribs from the then recently popular “The Fugitive” TV series (up to the killer having only one real hand). Deadman’s search for his killer remains today one of my all time favorite story arcs in comics.


    • Alan Stewart · September 19, 2021

      Stu, I see where you’re coming from, but I never saw the lack of the aura around Aquaman as a cheat. Maybe it’s because I never thought of the aura itself as “real”, in the sense that the writers and artists on Deadman were letting us see some sort of energy field that was “there”, even if the other characters couldn’t perceive it. Rather, I just took it as a visual storytelling device — a way for Adams, et al., to let us know which of the people we were looking at was Deadman’s host at any given moment, so we could follow the action. In “Where Strikes Demonfang?”, the aura served no storytelling purpose (until of course it did 🙂 ), so there was no reason to show it (and plenty of reasons not to). I offer all this not to imply that your opinion’s “wrong” — but simply as a different perspective.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. frednotfaith2 · September 25, 2021

    Never collected JLA on any regular basis and never previously read this story. Did strike me as a bit of an amusing coincidence that Neal Adams contributed art to both JLA and Avengers #94 (which I do have). Far more striking, however, is the tonal shift from even just those three pages by Adams to Dillon’s art. While Adams’ art is hardly photo-realistic, it still achieves a great semblance of looking at something real, while Dillon’s art, while perfectly adequate, looks hopelessly cartoony in comparison. In contrast, to my perspective, the shift from Adams to John Buscema in Avengers #94, was hardly jarring at all, perhaps due to Palmer’s inks as well as Buscema’s own significant talents. Might have been more noticeable a shift if Sal Buscema had done the pencils rather than his elder sibling, as Sal’s art also has typically has a cartoony look. At his best Sal could be very good, and he even did a reasonably good job of mimicking Walt Simonson’s style when he took over on art on Thor.
    I’d also gotten reprints of much of Adams’ Deadman work back in the 1980s, and seeing that cover of JLA #94, my immediate impression was, “that must be Deadman oozing from (or into) Aquaman’s body”.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Pingback: Justice League of America #97 (March, 1972) | Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books
  11. Cornelius Featherjaw · February 18, 2022

    Does anyone else think Merlyn looks like Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: Forever People #9 (Jun.-Jul., 1972) | Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books
  13. Pingback: Batman #242 (June, 1972) | Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books
  14. sockamagee · October 30

    Ah the early 1970’s! A wonderful time to be a buyer of DC Comics! Not because of the efforts of O’Neil or Freidrich but rather because of the publishing formats of that period. I loved those 25 cent giants with reprinted golden age and early silver age stories!
    And the best was yet to come! The 100 page Super Spectaculars would follow!
    Such wonderful memories!

    Liked by 1 person

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