In the spring of 1972, Len Wein had been writing comics professionally for almost four years. The career trajectory of the 23-year-old fan-turned-pro had thus far taken him from writing scripts for DC titles like The Adventures of Jerry Lewis, House of Secrets, and Hot Wheels, to similar work at other publishers including Marvel, Skywald, and Gold Key (Star Trek being among his gigs at the latter outfit), and then back to DC, where he’d been scripting Phantom Stranger for about a year, among other assignments. But his experience with the publisher’s best-known super-heroes had largely been limited to a single issue of Teen Titans, one Batman story in Detective (both co-written with his friend Marv Wolfman), and, more recently, a smattering of tales in Superman, Flash, World’s Finest, and Adventure. So you can imagine his surprise (and excitement, and trepidation) when, out of the blue, editor Julius Schwartz asked him if he’d like to write Justice League of America on a regular basis:
“Of course I’ll do this. I’d love to do this. Are you sure I can do this?” I asked Julie.
“Guess we’ll both find out the hard way,” he replied. Very reassuring, that man. “Oh, and one more thing,” Julie added, “Your first issue? It’ll be issue #100. It’s the first part of the tenth annual JLA/JSA crossover. You might want to think about doing something special.”
So I thought. Dear God, did I think. (Len Wein, “Too Much of a Good Thing?” [introduction], Crisis on Multiple Earths, Vol. 3 [DC Comics, 2004].)
Wein had been a big fan of the earliest Justice League-Justice Society team-ups written by Gardner Fox, and knew that he wanted to emulate their structure of having the assembled heroes of Earths One and Two break into smaller groups that were then featured in individual chapters. But he also realized that the double occasion of the JLA’s 100th issue and the 10th annual JLA-JSA team-up required a big story. And that’s when he recalled the Seven Soldiers of Victory.
The Seven Soldiers of Victory (also sometimes called the Law’s Legionnaires) were a team of DC heroes who’d appeared in the first fourteen issues of Leading Comics, published from 1941 to 1945. Compared to the JSA, these could justifiably be considered second-stringers, as none of them had ever held down their own title, appearing instead as one feature among several in comics like Action, Adventure, Detective, More Fun, and Star-Spangled Comics. But while each and every hero who’d ever appeared in a Justice Society adventure in All-Star Comics had been revived in the eleven years since Schwartz and Fox introduced the “Earth-Two” concept in Flash #123, the Seven Soldiers had largely lain dormant — with the notable exceptions of Green Arrow and Speedy, who’d managed to stay active from the Golden Age on through the Silver and into the Bronze, and the Vigilante, who’d made his return just a couple of years earlier, in JLA #78-79. Why not bring the whole group back?
Wein picks up the story:
I called Julie and pitched him the idea.
“You do realize you’re crazy, don’t you?” he asked. “That’s an awful lot of characters to cram into a two-part story.”
“Then why don’t we make it a three parter?” I suggested.
Julie didn’t have to think about it long. “Sure, why don’t we?”
In fact, this would be the second three-parter to appear in Justice League of America in 1972, following close on the heels of the “Starbreaker” saga penned by Wein’s predecessor Mike Friedrich, which had run in issue #96 to #98. Still, having the 100th JLA adventure*/10th JLA-JSA team-up spread out over three months added to the specialness of the occasion.
And there were other touches added by Wein that marked the milestone nature of the event as well, though we’ll refrain from noting those until we get into the story proper. Which we’re about to do, just as soon as we take care of a bit of housekeeping business related to Nick Cardy’s somber but dramatic cover… OK, everybody, see there at the bottom where it says “33*HEROES*33“? That’s great, now can I get a volunteer to keep a tally as we go through the book? Terrific, thanks; we’ll check back in with you at the end of the post, all right?
Your humble blogger is in a positive mood today, so I’m going to ignore the grating misuse of the word “anniversary” in this splash page’s opening blurb, and simply take note of the fact that although JLA welcomed a new scripter with this 100th issue, the art team remained the same reliable combo of penciller Dick Dillin and inker Joe Giella, who’d been teamed on the series since issue #75. (Giella would in fact depart JLA after the current three-parter was done; Dillin [who had come on as penciller a year earlier, with #64], on the other hand, would stay with the book until his death in 1980, making for a twelve-year run.)
If you’re going to celebrate the Justice League’s one hundredth “meeting” in style, then, naturally, you’ve got to have at least one scene set in the good ol’ Secret Sanctuary, first seen in the team’s debut appearance in Brave and the Bold #28 (Mar., 1960) and most recently on view in JLA #77 (Dec., 1969).
I’m not certain how long it had been since JLA readers had seen the Atom pull the old “traveling through the phone wires” trick — but seeing as how the bit didn’t really lend itself to being used in the team’s satellite headquarters, I’m guessing it may have been a while. It’s a nice nod to the League’s past, in any event.
And here’s where Wein starts to tip his hand in regards to “special guest stars”. As noted in his Crisis on Multiple Earths, Vol. 3 intro, he was determined to include every single hero who’d ever been a member of the Justice League, even if only in a cameo. (Perhaps coincidentally — and perhaps not — Marvel Comics had recently done the exact same thing in Avengers #100.) That obviously extended to former members like J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, who had exited the League in issue #71, and had last been seen heading into deep space with his fellow Martian exiles in search of a new planetary home. As had been recently revealed in World’s Finest #212, that quest had since proven successful. So while one wouldn’t expect J’onn to travel all the way back to Earth from the planet Vonn (aka “Mars II”) for the JLA’s celebration, his single-panel cameo was obviously appropriate.
The Elongated Man is a somewhat different case. While the “Ductile Detective” Ralph Dibny had shared a single adventure with the JLA back in issue #51, he’d never been offered full membership, or granted special “reserve” status, or given any other kind of official role — or at least if he had been, we readers hadn’t been informed about it. In his CoME v. 3 intro, Wein writes about “auxiliary members”, by which he seems to mean any solo hero who’d ever guest starred with the League — but if so, why exclude Robin (JLA #50, #91, and #92) Batgirl (#60), the Creeper (#70), Hawkgirl (#72, among others), the, um, Vigilante (#78-79), or Sargon the Sorcerer (#98)?** Oh, well, I suppose we shouldn’t begrudge EM scoring his invitation — or anybody else who made the cut, for that matter. It’s a party, and the more the merrier, right?
Unlike Ralph Dibny, Rex Mason — aka Metamorpho — actually had been offered Justice League membership during his guest shot in issue #42’s “Metamorpho Says No!”, but he, well, the title pretty much gives it away, doesn’t it? Metamorpho had a very good reason for declining — he was doing his damnedest to find a cure for being the freakish-looking Element Man, and thus didn’t want to take on any long-term superheroing obligations — though he did agree to be on call as a “reserve member” (and would in fact answer such a call a mere two issues later, in JLA #44).
As for Snapper Carr, the League’s former mascot/honorary member — although my younger self had missed the issue (#77) in which Snap had flat-out betrayed his friends, I nevertheless knew the gist of what had happened thanks to letters columns and whatnot. And while I’d never been exactly a big fan of the guy, he’d been a fixture in the team’s stories during my formative years as a comics reader, and so I had a soft spot for him; plus, even without having read the actual story in #77, I suspected that he’d been dealt a bad hand by JLA’s writer at the time, Denny O’Neil. For those reasons, I appreciated his one-panel cameo here, and the implication that he and the League might one day be reconciled.
Our story now turns to Batman — but only long enough to let us watch him knock some thugs around a Gotham City back-alley (by way of explaining why he’s running late for the JLA meeting), and to have him inform us via thought-balloon that he’s still “got a stop to make” on his way to the Secret Sanctuary. Hmm…
Adam Strange’s first shared adventure with the JLA was unique among the “auxiliary members” featured in this issue, as they guest-starred with him, rather than the other way around. The way that had come about was that the space-faring hero’s name had gotten dropped in Justice League of America #4 (Apr.-May, 1961) as a possible candidate for team membership (they ended up going with Green Arrow instead, by the way) — which, as a fan later called editor Julius Schwartz out on, didn’t make any sense, as Mr. Strange did all his adventuring on the planet Rann, and the JLAers had no way of knowing who he was. No problem — Schwartz and writer Gardner Fox simply cobbled together a story explaining how Adam Strange and the Justice League had met some months ago — readers just hadn’t been told about it yet — and slotted it into issue #75 (May, 1962) of Adam’s home title, Mystery in Space. Since then, Adam Strange had shown up in a couple of issues of Justice League of America as well (#24 and, very briefly, #96) — though, as with Elongated Man, there’d been no discussion of membership, at least not on-panel. Nevertheless, he got an invite to the League’s big bash, and a one-panel cameo — which is still more than Robin, Batgirl, et al, got.
Like the Elongated Man, Zatanna’s first guest shot with the Justice League had come in issue #51; she’d appeared one more time since then, in #87. Naturally, there’d been no mention of membership status for the Mistress of Magic on either occasion — although as most of you out there reading this probably know already, such would eventually be offered (and accepted), several years down the road. (The same was true for Ralph Dibny, although he wouldn’t have to wait nearly as long.)
And now we understand Batman’s earlier cryptic comment about having to make a stop. Wonder Woman had taken a leave of absence from the Justice League in issue #69 after losing her powers in her own book — although showing her standing here with Batman and Black Canary rather begs the question of why she ever thought she had to in the first place. After all, neither of them have superhuman abilities (OK, sure, the Canary has her “sonic scream” power — but she only acquired that in JLA #75, prior to which she’d been a member of the Justice Society for many years, getting by entirely on her fighting skills.)
Continuing with the mildly sexist vibe of the painfully gender-specific “banter” of Green Lantern and Black Canary on the previous page, we move on to the cutting of the cake — which, being a domestic-chore kinda thing, is naturally delegated to the three women in the group:
Since 1963, most JLA-JSA team-ups had featured rosters with a mix of heroes who had counterparts on the other team (like Flash and Green Lantern) and those who were “one-and-onlies” (like the JLA’s Aquaman, or the JSA’s Spectre). In the previous year’s event, writer Mike Friedrich had tried something new in having both team’s line-ups composed of nothing but counterparts — two Atoms, two Hawkmen, and so on. Wein, however, goes in the opposite direction, giving us a set of JSAers who are all singletons, with the exception of Wonder Woman (who, since she hasn’t lost her powers and still wears her traditional costume, will be hard to confuse with Earth-One’s Diana Prince).
Following the necessary round of greetings and introductions (and a quick explanation of DC’s multiple-earths concept for any new readers), Doctor Fate takes the floor to explain why the Justice Society has summoned their alternate-universe comrades:
Doc Fate explains that by combining his and Zatanna’s power, plus that of Johnny Thunder’s magical Thunderbolt, they may be able to accomplish what he hasn’t been able to do on his own — contact a mysterious entity named Oracle (no, not that one), who dwells “beyond the mists of time-and-space”, and “from whom no secrets are withheld”, and ask him for help…
Oracle, in case you’re wondering, had never turned up before this; he seems to have been invented by Wein for this story specifically because the plot called for a Watcher-type character, and DC didn’t already have one.
After Fate fills Oracle in on their predicament, the entity carefully explains to the assembled heroes that while he’s not permitted to reveal the future to them, he can share relevant information from the past that may help them choose their best course of action…
This is the point in the post where your humble blogger would customarily pause to give you the goods on these “new” heroes’ publishing histories — their creators, first appearances, etc — but seeing as there are so many of them, rather than put the brakes on our narrative when it’s beginning to gather momentum, I’m going to spread that information out over the rest of this post, as well as the forthcoming ones on JLA #101 and #102. Hope that’s OK with y’all.
I’m a little skeptical of the notion that the Seven Soldiers being displaced in time should result in them being forgotten by everyone in the present day — mostly because I don’t think any other DC Universe time travel story ever published has worked that way — but seeing as how our only choices are either to go with the flow, or to stop right here…
The two teams split into seven tidy groups of three heroes each (Wein skips over the talky part where they decide who goes with whom). Batman invites the non-powered “New” Wonder Woman to join him, Hourman, and Starman — but Diana declines, saying that somebody should stay behind to brief anybody who turns up late. Which makes a sort of sense, I guess — by my reckoning, there are eight JSAers unaccounted for (including, though not limited to, all those who’d participated in 1971’s “all-counterpart” extravaganza). On the other hand, it seems a shame to sideline “our” Diana in favor of her Earth-Two counterpart in the JLA’s 100th issue — she’s a founding member, fer crying out loud! I mean, couldn’t they just leave a note for Mr. Terrific and the others?
Finally, the moment arrives for Oracle to open the “chronal corridors”, and send our heroes on their way…
As I’m sure will come as no surprise to most of you, the preceding page and 2/3 is a recap of the events from the Seven Soldiers’ initial outing way back in Leading Comics #1. And while if may be counter-intuitive to provide the provenance of that story’s villains before we’ve done as much for its heroes, well, we’re going to do it anyway:
- Professor Merlin first appeared in More Fun Comics #75 (Jan., 1942), in a story by Mort Weisinger and George Papp.
- The Needle debuted in Star Spangled Comics #5 (Feb., 1942), courtesy of Jerry Siegel and Harold Sherman.
- The Red Dragon first menaced society (and the Shining Knight) in Adventure Comics #59 (Dec., 1941), in an adventure drawn by Craig Flessel.
- Finally, Big Caesar, The Dummy, and The Hand all showed up for the first time in Leading Comics #1 itself; Mort Weisinger wrote, and Mort Meskin drew, the segment of the story that introduced them.
And now that you’ve learned all that you can forget it, as none of those characters will appear again over the course of our present three-issue tale. Well, OK, one will (and I’ll bet you can figure out who that’ll be, without even thinking about it for very long… though if you can’t, Wein is about to give you a really big hint in the very next panel).
The individual logos used to introduce each of the chapters detailing the seven teams’ separate exploits are a nice touch, I think. In this first example, the logos for the Atom and the Elongated Man are recognizably derived from those that had graced their own solo features; Dr. Fate’s, on the other hand, appears to a one-off.
Though relatively little-known today, the Crimson Avenger was one of the very first examples of the type of adventure character that would eventually come to be known as the superhero; making his comic-book debut a mere five months after the introduction of Superman in Action Comics #1, the C.A.’s advent in Detective Comics #20 (Oct., 1938) anticipated Batman’s first appearance in the same title by a full seven issues.
Of course, being early didn’t necessarily mean being original — and the Crimson Avenger, at least initially, was about as blatant a knockoff of radio’s Green Hornet as could be imagined. As detailed by Don Markstein on his Toonopedia web site, the correspondences between the characters were many:
The Hornet was newspaper publisher Britt Reid. Crimson was newspaper publisher Lee Travis. The Hornet had a Japanese chauffeur, sidekick and confidant named Kato (whose nationality became Filipino after Pearl Harbor). Crimson had a Chinese chauffeur, sidekick and confidant named Wing. Both wore color-coordinated cloaks, slouch hats, masks, etc. to conceal their identities. Both were themselves suspected of criminal leanings, at least at first. Crimson, in fact, once had his newspaper post a reward for his own capture.
Of course, in this iteration, one might quibble over whether the Crimson Avenger was technically a “superhero” at all, or merely a disguise-wearing crimefighter in the pulp mode, a la the Shadow. But all such doubts would be laid to rest after Detective #44 (Oct., 1940), when writer-artist John “Jack” Lehti (successor to the Avenger’s original artist, Jim Chambers) brought the character in line with the caped, colorful-bodysuit-wearing crusaders that had taken the fledgling comic book industry by storm by replacing Lee Travis’s cloak and slouch hat with — what else? — a cape and a colorful bodysuit. (His sidekick Wing followed his boss’ lead some months later, ultimately ditching his chauffeur’s uniform for some bright yellow tights.)
This is the version of the Crimson Avenger that would appear in all of the Seven Soldiers of Victory’s adventures in Leading Comics, as well as in all of C.A.’s subsequent Detective stories.*** His run as a solo feature in the latter title came to an end with issue #89 (Jul., 1944), while his final exploit with the Seven Soldiers appeared in Leading Comics #14 (Spring, 1945). That would have seemed to be that for the Crimson Avenger, and so indeed it was — at least until Justice League of America #100.
And as we return to that very issue, we pick up our narrative with the three heroes from 1972 waiting until the Aztecs’ ceremony has concluded and the crowd has dispersed, after which they stealthily enter the pyramid, where they find the Crimson Avenger sitting enthroned…
The Elongated Man goes into action against the Avenger’s guards, who are in no way a match for him, even with their pointy-ended weapons. Meanwhile, Dr. Fate attempts to subdue the Avenger himself — and runs into a bit of trouble, as the latter’s mysterious new energy powers are able to counter his magic, at least for the moment…
Yeah, the Big Bad behind this whole thing is the Hand — or the Iron Hand, as he seems to prefer to call himself these days. You knew it all along, right?
Anyway, that’ll about wrap it up for this first chapter of our story. Until next month, when I hope to see you all back here for “The Hand That Shook the World” … oh, right, I almost forgot. Who was keeping up with “33*HEROES*33“ for us? Great! Let’s see what you’ve got…
Aquaman, Black Canary, Green Lantern, Green Arrow (Earth-One), Hawkman, Atom, Flash, Elongated Man, Martian Manhunter, Metamorpho, Snapper Carr (really? Oh, well, why not), Batman, Adam Strange, Superman, Zatanna, Wonder Woman (Earth-One), Starman, Doctor Fate, Doctor Mid-Nite, Red Tornado, Sandman, Wildcat, Johnny Thunder, Wonder Woman (Earth-Two), Hourman, Vigilante, Star-Spangled Kid, Stripesy, Crimson Avenger, Shining Knight, Green Arrow (Earth-Two), Speedy, and Wing… yep, that’s 33, all right. Well counted, anonymous DC cover-blurb author of 1972!
See you in July, everybody!
*Before anyone point this out, let me assure you all that yes, I’m aware that the League appeared in three tryout issues of The Brave and the Bold prior to getting their own title, which by some reckonings would make issue #97 the “real” 100th adventure. On the other hand, six issues of Justice League of America had been giant-sized all-reprint issues, so you can’t really count those. And does a continued story, like all the previous JLA-JSA team-ups, count as one adventure or two? Hmm, maybe we’d better just stick with the story’s own internal conceit — which is that the team is celebrating the occasion of their 100th meeting.
**There was even a line of dialogue in JLA #99 — the issue right before this one — in which Sargon was said to have been granted “honorary JLA membership”.
***Make that more-or-less the same version; “the Crimson” ended up ditching his cape after Detective #54 (Aug., 1941), and never wore it in any of his Leading Comics appearances.