The fifty-year old comic book that’s the subject of today’s post features the middle chapter of the three-month-long celebration of Justice League of America‘s reaching its hundredth-issue milestone, as well as of the tenth annual summer event co-starring the JLA’s predecessors from the Golden Age of Comics, the Justice Society. Your humble blogger is as eager as the rest of you to jump back into the story by writer Len Wein, penciller Dick Dillin, and inker Joe Giella — but before we do, let’s take a good, close look at the cover by Nick Cardy.
Like all of the other JLA covers of this era, it features a left-hand column of League members’ floating heads (this particular issue also includes a right-hand column of JSA heads as an added bonus). But unlike virtually any other such cover, there are only three full-time active members of the League included in this group of five — the presently non-powered Diana Prince being on a leave of absence, while Metamorpho is only a “reserve member”. That meager number is the max number of “official” JLAers appearing in the story as well.
That’s a highly unusual circumstance for this title, for sure — but I’m pointing it out here mainly because if I didn’t, you might not even notice. And there’s a very good reason for that: namely, that this story is so packed with superheroes that it hardly matters that only three of them technically “belong” to the organization that gives the book its name. Certainly, when my fifteen-year-old self read this book for the first time in July, 1972, I didn’t feel in the least bit short-changed.
And now, having made that observation, let’s proceed with our story…
In my post about JLA #100 last month, I complained about the League’s Wonder Woman being sidelined for this epic adventure (lack of powers notwithstanding, she’s a founding member), and suggested that the combined hero groups could have just left a note behind before they headed out. But I do have to admit, having Diana Prince on hand to explain what’s going on to late arrivals Green Lantern, Mr. Terrific, and Robin (as well as to readers who’d missed issue #100, of course) makes for rather better comics than having the guys just show up and read someone’s scribbled note.
As with the previous issue’s segment featuring Dr. Fate, the Atom, and the Elongated Man, this chapter of our tale is graced with individual hero logos — two of which are derived from the characters’ current or recent features (Superman and Metamorpho’s), and one that, as best as I can determine, has been designed just for the occasion (Sandman’s). This is interesting, given that Sandman had at least a couple of logos to his name back in the Golden Age. Were the old logos considered too old-fashioned, and thus rejected? Or was it just thought to be too much trouble to track them down? I frankly have no idea, but whatever the case, it’s a pattern we’ll see followed through the remaining chapters of our story.
Sir Justin, the Shining Knight, first appeared in Adventure Comics #66 (Sep., 1941). In his debut adventure, written by Henry Lynne Perkins and drawn by Craig Flessel, readers learned how Justin, a Knight of King Arthur’s Round Table, saved the wizard Merlin from a spell that had imprisoned him in a tree; in gratitude, Merlin enchanted Justin’s armor, sword, and horse (giving the latter wings). Unfortunately, not long afterwards knight and horse were both accidentally frozen alive in ice, from which they wouldn’t thaw out until 1941 — at which time Justin naturally took up his old ways as a crusader for justice, though now in the guise of a costumed superhero.
The Shinning Knight had an impressive ten-year run in Adventure, appearing in most issues up through #166 (Jul., 1951) — though his high point (artistically speaking, at least) probably came in the last two years of his feature, when eight of his tales were illustrated by a young artist named Frank Frazetta.
With no other good options, our three heroes settle in to wait until morning — at which time they find themselves facing down a Mongol horde that outnumbers them 5,000-to-1.
Of course, they do have Superman on their side. “I’ll be right back,” he assures Sandman and Metamorpho, and then flies forth to the fray — where he immediately encounters another aerial combatant…
Ah, that pesky ol’ magic… gets Big Blue every time.
Zipping back to his comrades, Superman tells them they’ll have to hold off Genghis and co. for awhile, as he has “something important to attend to” — and then flies away again.
“Your Superman takes a lot for granted, Metamorpho!” Sandman observes. “Yeah,” agrees the Element Man, “you know how it is with those ‘establishment-types’!” But then, he gamely turns himself into a cobalt tank, and tells his fellow hero to climb aboard…
The inclusion of the poem that the Sandman used to routinely leave at the scenes of his solved cases is a nice touch — and very appropriate to the circumstances, seeing as how Genghis Khan fits the “tyrant” descriptor better than most of the criminals Wesley Dodds spent his time rounding up in the 1940s.
Hmm, this “leaving the woman behind” bit is getting pretty damned old, if you ask me. It’s not like either Robin or Mr. Terrific have any superpowers themselves, y’know? And what’s with that expression on Diana’s face? Are Dillin and Giella subtly indicating that she’s as pissed off as by rights she should be? I’m not at all sure that such was the artists’ actual intent, but I’m going to go with that interpretation, regardless.
Following that brief interlude, the next page takes us back to the small-teams chapter format…
“…but the sheriff is hanging brave Robin on the morning!” As the tall bowman (who turns out to be Little John, of course) goes on to explain, the Merry Men plan to launch an assault on Nottingham Castle the next morning, even though they have little hope of success against the sheriff’s defenses. But Dr. Mid-Nite assures him that he and his two friends will be there to help, “and there isn’t a barricade standing that can stop us!”
As the Merry Men and their three new allies race across the bridge, a group of the sheriff’s soldiers come out to meet them. But antique-weapons expert Hawkman borrows a quarterstaff from one of the outlaws (probably Little John), and then…
It seems a little odd to pause here for some brief background on Green Arrow, because, well, he’s Green Arrow, and I’ve been writing about DC’s Emerald Archer on this blog since 2015. But in the interest of consistency with how we’re dealing with all the other Soldiers of Victory, here are the basics: GA made his debut in the pages of More Fun Comics #73 (Nov., 1941), his kid sidekick Speedy already in tow. In later years, the duo’s cconceptualizer, Mort Weisinger, claimed to have been not the least bit influenced by Batman and Robin in coming up with the secret identities and modus operandi of wealthy Oliver Queen and his young ward Roy Harper — whom readers would of course eventually see responding to their local police’s Arrow-Signal by zooming out of their Arrow-Cave in their Arrow-Car. To which I can only say: sure, Mort, and pull the other one.
Like their fellow Soldiers, Green Arrow and Speedy never graduated to their own title (even as of 1972, the closest that Oliver Queen had yet come to being a headliner was his recent co-starring status in Green Lantern). Unlike the rest of the team, however, the two archers managed to remain in continuous publication through the end of the Golden Age and beyond, swapping out their berth in More Fun in 1945 for a slot in Adventure Comics that lasted until 1960; meanwhile, a concurrent strip in World’s Finest ran all the way to 1964. That took both characters well into the Silver Age, and ultimately to their respective inductions into the Justice League of America and the Teen Titans. And retroactively, it also made the two of them — like their better-known peers Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and Robin — obvious candidates for their feature having made a previously unsuspected leap from “Earth-Two” to “Earth-One” at some point in its publishing history.
As we learned in the last issue, the Hand — or the Iron Hand, as he now styles himself — had been the leader of the team of villains whose own banding together ultimately led to the formation of the Seven Soldiers of Victory, as originally chronicled back in Leading Comics #1 (Winter, 1941). Supposedly, he’d died at the end of that adventure; but even if he managed to survive somehow, it’s a mystery at this point as to how he remembers the Law’s Legionnaires (as the Soldiers are sometimes called) at all, when everyone else on Earth-Two has no memory of their existence.
Stripesy debuted alongside his “senior” partner, the Star-Spangled Kid, in a story written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Hal Sherman for the first issue of Star Spangled Comics (Oct., 1941). I’ve put “senior” in quotes due to the notable quirk that set this duo apart not only from their peers in the Seven Soldiers in Victory (i.e., Green Arrow and Speedy, the Crimson Avenger and Wing) but also from every other superheroic pair I can think of from this era — which was that in the case of the Kid and Stripesy, it was the first-billed hero who was the youngster, and the sidekick who was the adult.
The Star-Spangled Kid was really the wealthy Sylvester Pemberton; Stripesy was Pat Dugan, his mechanic and chauffeur. Neither had any superpowers (Pat’s not kidding “Fatso” in the scene shown above) — just a desire to dress themselves up like the two major parts of the American flag and fight evildoers (mostly Nazi spies, at least at the beginning). The duo’s feature continued in its namesake title for the next seven years (though they rather ironically lost the cover spot to the Newsboy Legion as early as issue #7 [Apr., 1942]), until they were supplanted in issue #85 (Oct., 1948) by Sylvester’s own adoptive sister Merry, the Girl of a Thousand Gimmicks, who’d been introduced into the strip four issues earlier. Tough break, guys.
Before jumping back into our narrative, this is probably as good a place as any to take note of how new almost all of the Seven Soldiers of Victory were as characters when they first teamed up in Leading Comics #1; outside of the Crimson Avenger, who’d first appeared in 1938, none of the Seven had been around for longer than five months when that comic book hit the stands in December, 1941. But considering how much success costumed heroes were having at that time, capitalizing on that success wherever and however a publisher could made obvious economic sense. (It should also be noted that all of the Soldiers came from anthology titles published by the “National” side of what would eventually become DC Comics, whereas their predecessors in the JSA came from both the National and the All-American Publications sides, a fact which suggests that National wanted to hedge their bets; my thanks to blog reader James Cosmicki for calling my attention to this point via his comment on my JLA #100 post.)
OK, so our heroes have the advantage of Starman’s cosmic rod — one of the most powerful weapons known to superhumankind — and they lose it to a guy with a whip? Bad form, men. I’d say you all practically deserve to be unceremoniously conked on the noggin, tied up, and dumped into the burial chamber in the center of the pyramid. (Which is exactly what happens, naturally.)
When they come to, Starman tries to summon his rod by concentrating on it, but it’s too far away. Hourman, meanwhile, is equally useless, the time having run out on the hour of power he gets from popping a Miraclo pill. Luckily, the one among them who has no powers at all isn’t ready to give up. “Give me a minute to think,” says Batman.
It’s become something of a cliche in recent years that no matter how large any given gathering of superheroes may be, Batman is always going to be the smartest and most resourceful person in the room. But it’s not exactly a new idea, y’know?
I have to say, I’m not sure that Starman’s facial expression and body language in that last panel quite manage to convey the “raw courage and grim determination” specified in Wein’s text — though I’m certain that Dillin and Giella did their best.
Following the glowing energy trail provided by the cosmic rod, the heroes make their way through the twisting passageways of the pyramid, until at last…
Um, I guess maybe I was wrong when I complained that Earth-One’s Wonder Woman wasn’t seeing any action in this storyline. Although maybe that will still prove to be the case, if Steel Hand manages to creep up from behind and take her out before she even realizes he’s there… nah, Wein and co. wouldn’t let that happen. Would they?
I guess we’ll all have to gather back here in a month’s time to find out.
SHAMELESS PLUG DEPT.: If you enjoyed this post, and also like podcasts, you might want to check out this recent episode of The Fantastic Comic Fan Podcast, in which your humble blogger discusses the whole JLA #100-102 trilogy with host Ronald-Thomas Fleming. (Though if you want to wait until after my full post on #102 drops in August, so as to avoid any fifty-year-old spoilers, I will totally understand.)