Justice League of America #102 (October, 1972)

Fifty years ago, this issue brought the conclusion of the tenth annual Justice League-Justice Society summer team-up extravaganza — a special event which also served to commemorate the League’s reaching its 100th issue milestone.  Making the occasion even more memorable, this JLA-JSA get-together was the first to take up three whole issues; it also featured the unexpected return, after twenty-seven years, of yet another DC Comics superhero team: the Seven Soldiers of Victory.

Or maybe that should be most of the Seven Soldiers of Victory, since one of the key mysteries of the storyline concerns a lonely grave standing on a Himalayan peak, with a stone marker inscribed to an “Unknown Soldier of Victory”.  As of the conclusion of JLA #101, small teams of Justice League and Justice Society members have retrieved four out of seven of the time-lost Soldiers (or Law’s Legionnaires, as they’re also called) — the Crimson Avenger, the Shining Knight, Green Arrow, and Stripesy — with three more left to go.  So who’s buried in the Unknown Soldier’s grave?  Is it Vigilante?  The Star-Spangled Kid?  Speedy?

The answer, as many of you reading this already know, is:  none of the above.  Which is, and simultaneously is not, a cheat.  But we’ll get to that soon enough — just as we’ll get to the solution to the separate mystery posed by Nick Cardy’s superb cover (his best yet for the title, in the opinion of your humble blogger) — who else among our heroes is doomed to die? 

Along with sharing in the milestones already mentioned, JLA #102 is also notable as the final issue of the title in which Dick Dillin’s pencils were finished in ink by Joe Giella, who’d had the assignment since issue #75, published three years earlier.  As noted in the first page’s credits box, Giella shared embellishment duties for “And One of Us Must Die!” with Dick Giordano, who’d go on to be the book’s single regular inker for the next couple of years.  (According to Murray Ward’s Official Justice League of America Index #4 (ICG, 1986), Giordano inked the two chapters of the story occupying pages 3-7 and 13-17, respectively, which looks right to me.)

Following the first page’s symbolic splash and recap, our story properly opens with Oracle, the mysterious cosmic entity who has sent the JLA/JSA mini-teams on their seven individual missions, and who also (fortunately for writer Len Wein’s expositional purposes) likes to talk to himself — as he demonstrates here by wondering aloud how the small handful of heroes not dispatched through time and space are currently making out:  “How, for instance, fares Diana Prince — she who was once called Wonder Woman –?”

Believe it or not, this is the last we’ll see of Oracle in the flesh (?) in this story (and for a long, long time to come, for that matter); while the time-travel mojo he’s already set in place will continue to play a major role in the action, the man (?) himself won’t make another on-panel appearance after page 2.

For anyone out there who may not already know this, Johnny Thunder’s remark about having known Black Canary for more years than Green Arrow has fletched pointy sticks refers not just to their shared history as JSAers, but also to the fact that the Canary actually made her debut in Johnny’s feature in Flash Comics #86 (Aug., 1947) — and then went on from there to appear in a supporting role in Mr. Thunder’s strip for the next five issues, before edging him out completely in issue #92 (she also displaced him from his slot with the JSA in All-Star Comics at around the same time).  Good thing he’s not the kind of guy who holds grudges, huh?

If you’ve read either of my blog posts about the two previous installments of this storyline, then you know that this is the place where I would normally fill you in on the history of the Vigilante as a DC character.  But since I already did that the last time DC pulled Vig out of limbo to appear in a Justice League of America story, I’ll just refer you to that account, instead.  (Yeah, sure, that was the “Earth-One” Vigliante — but the history is the same.)

Say, do you remember how in JLA #101, Batman, Starman, and Hourman were tied up in the middle of an Egyptian pyramid, but managed to escape by sawing through their ropes with shards of glass from the latter hero’s smashed hourglass?  You do?  Great!  Then you’ll have a head start in coming up with your own explanation for how Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Johnny Thunder managed to free themselves from their bonds in the span of two (!) panels here, since Len Wein never bothers to provide one.

The Vigilante immediately enters the fight — the “primitive” native Americans didn’t bother to remove his pistols prior to tying him to the stake, any more than they relieved GA of his bow and arrows, which seems really careless — and it’s looking like he and his rescuers will soon have it all over their indigenous opponents.  I suppose that’s one reason why Wein now chooses to make things more “interesting” for our heroes, threat-to-life-and-limb-wise, via the unexpected arrival of a herd of thundering…

As with Vigilante, we’ve already covered the background of the Star-Spangled Kid, having done so in the context of recapping the history of his sidekick and fellow Soldier, Stripesy, in our JLA #101 discussion.  So, if you need a refresher, go check that out.  We’ll be here when you get back.

With their biggest bruiser down and out of the fight, the remaining cavemen scatter, allowing our heroes free entry to the cave…

The trio promptly splits up to search the tunnels separately; soon after, Aquaman comes upon their quarry…

It’s to Len Wein’s credit, I think, that he goes to great lengths to make sure that virtually every JLA and JSA member in his three-issue story gets at least a brief chance to shine; but as this latest chapter shows, it’s almost impossible to do so without some really obvious contrivances.  In this instance, we have to have a flood come out of nowhere so that the Sea King can get to do his particular thing; while Green Lantern, who normally would be able to easily handle this whole mission solo, has to be sidelined by “yellow fog”, which then gets dispersed just in time for him to do some last-minute rescuing.  Ironically, it’s Wildcat — the one member of the threesome who doesn’t have any actual superpowers — whose moment in the spotlight seems to come about most naturally.

Hmm… we seem to have a pattern developing, as instead of offering you a rundown on Speedy’s publishing history here, I’m going to need to refer you to the one already delivered for his senior partner, Green Arrow, in our JLA #101 post.

Y’know, I’m pretty sure that in the classical tradition, Circe is generally depicted as magically turning men into full-on animals, not “hybrids”.  But, hey, this is mythology, not history; and Speedy-as-a-centaur is obviously more interesting, visually and otherwise, that Speedy-as-a-horse would have been.

Flash, Zatanna, and Red Tornado politely ask Circe to turn Speedy back to normal, promising that one she does so, they’ll be on their way.  Of course, she refuses, choosing instead to enchant Speedy’s arrows so that if any of them so much as nick any of our heroes, they’ll “become that which is most repugnant” to themselves…

Ahh, nothing says “homage to the Gardner Fox-Mike Sekowsky JLA stories of the early Silver Age” quite like these sorts of bizarre transformations.

Not content simply to have hybrid-ized the three heroes, Circe places an enchantment on Flash and Reddy to make them fight each other to the death…

Our trio proceeds to track Circe and co. to her temple, where Flash again demands she release Speedy.  This time, she retorts, she’ll turn him into a lowly earthworm for his effrontery.  But then…

This sort of superhero-crowd-scene shot is always fun, even if Dillin and Giella’s presentation is a bit on the static side.

As you may recall from the Crimson Avenger mini-history included in our JLA #100 post, Wing had gotten his start in 1938 as basically being the Kato to the Avenger’s Green Hornet, back when CA was pretty much a straight knockoff of the better-known radio series hero.  When the Avenger ditched his slouch hat and cloak for a set of brightly-colored tights in Detective Comics #44 (Oct., 1940), Wing hadn’t immediately followed suit, sticking with his chauffeur’s uniform through the next year and beyond.  He’d finally donned a skintight yellow outfit in Detective #59 (Jan., 1942) — an issue which, perhaps coincidentally (and perhaps not), came out just one month before Leading Comics #1, the comic book in which the Crimson Avenger — and Wing — teamed up with six other heroes for the first time as the Seven Soldiers of Victory.

But although Wing appeared in every single adventure shared by the Soldiers up though their last Golden Age outing in Leading Comics #15 (Spring, 1945), he was never granted full membership.  Why didn’t the Crimson Avenger’s crime-fighting partner rate being officially included among the Seven, when his fellow sidekicks Speedy and Stripesy did?  Personally, I can’t think of any reason — other than the painfully obvious one, which is of course that he was Asian.

Thus, Wing’s death, as heroic as it may be within the context of our story, has a regrettably cynical aspect to it — or at least it does to this reader.  As I view the matter, killing off Wing allowed DC to bring the Seven Soldiers of Victory into present-day action without either having to account for why the team shouldn’t called the Eight Soldiers of Victory, or having to directly address the racism that appears to have kept Wing off the official roster in first place, back in the 1940s.  While I can’t deny that the mystery of the Unknown Soldier of Victory contributed effectively to the three-issue storyline’s suspense level, I can’t help but feel that the mystery’s ultimate solution is, in the end, just a little too convenient — and as I said at the outset of the post, something of a cheat.

As regular readers know, I’ve been complaining about the Earth-One Wonder Woman being sidelined for most of this 100th-issue celebration event, despite her being a founding member of the Justice League, just because she currently happens to be playing the hero game without any actual superpowers.  (Care to show us your superpowers, Batman?  I didn’t think so.)  So allow me to commend Len Wein for finally allowing Diana Prince a moment to shine, late in coming though it is.

For the record, Dr. Fate’s comment in the third panel above is actually the first time in our storyline that the Hand has been directly fingered (sorry) as having been the villain behind the menace of the Nebula Man, way back when.  That neither he nor anyone listening treats this like it’s news leads me to suspect that Wein thought he’d already established this crucial bit of information in an earlier chapter, when in fact he hadn’t; although a reader might well have made inferences from the similarity of the giant “nebuloid” hand currently threatening Earth-Two to the earlier menace, the actual relationship hasn’t been spelled out before now.

Ahh, Reddy — even given your appearances in four previous JLA-JSA annual events (beginning with 1968’s JLA #6465), I think it’s still fair to say that we hardly knew ye.  Nevertheless, I’m going to skip the hearts-and-flowers elegy that some might expect to see here, for reasons that I suspect the majority of those out there reading this are already aware of.  (Everyone else should check back in about six months.)

As for Wing, well, I’m sorry to say that we didn’t know you at all, pal — not unless we were Golden Age comics collectors.  Even so, back in 1972,my less-sophisticated fifteen-year-old self could appreciate the valor and selflessness of your retroactive, quarter-century-old, off-panel sacrifice — and do so without asking any cynical questions about why it was you that got the axe, rather than, say, Stripesy.

That last observation leads me to a more general musing about how JLA #100-102’s three-part commemorative event holds up as a whole, half a century after I first read it.  And I’m afraid I have to say that, even in comparison with other comics from around the same time, this storyline definitely shows its age — mostly by way of its sloppy plotting, as well as its dated cultural attitudes.  At least, that’s how it plays for your humble blogger.

That said, there’s still plenty of entertainment to be had here, especially in the event’s early going.  If you love superheroes (and if you don’t, at least a little, I’m honestly not quite sure why you’re here), how could you resist #100’s cover promise of “33*HEROES*33“?  (Let the record show that with issue #101’s addition of Mr. Terrific, as well as Earth-Two’s Green Lantern and Robin, the actual headcount for the whole shebang reached thirty-six superheroes.  Granted, that total does include Snapper Carr, but why quibble?)  Len Wein’s obvious fannish enthusiasm for the whole enterprise is infectious, even fifty years later; and considering that this very ambitious effort was his very first Justice League of America story, maybe we can cut him some slack for losing track of a plot thread here or there.

Of course, any thorough discussion of JLA #100-102 should include, in addition to a consideration of the storyline’s merits as a work in and of itself, some attention to its legacy — or perhaps that should be legacies, since once can easily discern at least two discrete lines of influence and/or inheritance.

The first of these has to do with the new ground broken by the storyline as a Justice League-Justice Society team-up event; more specifically, the expansion of the event to fill three entire issues, as well as the addition of a third whole super-team to the mix.  Interestingly, there wouldn’t be a follow-up to the former innovation for quite some time — in fact, readers would see the first one-part JLA-JSA team-up (in 1974’s JLA #113) well before we ever got another trilogy (1976’s JLA #135-137).  But the latter wrinkle was reprised as early as the very next summer get-together, as 1973’s JLA #107-108 brought in a sextet of the heroes the publisher had inherited from its former competitor Quality Comics — newly branded as “the Freedom Fighters”, and established as residing on “Earth-X”.

Over the next twelve summers, six of the annual JLA-JSA team-ups featured a third set of super-stars.  (If you care to count 1981’s dust-up with the Secret Society of Super-Villains — yes, they were the antagonists, but they’d also held down their own title once upon a time — that total rises to seven.)  That’s not quite enough to make “the more, the merrier” the norm, obviously; on the other hand, it was never a surprise when June rolled around and you’d have the Legion of Superheroes, or “Shazam’s Squadron of Justice”, or whoever, threatening to crowd both the Justice League and the Justice Society out of their own event.

Looking back at those storylines, it seems clear that by getting comics fans accustomed to such massive multi-hero extravaganzas, DC did much to prepare the way for the similarly super-stuffed Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event, as well as its successors.  Whether or not that’s a positive legacy is a judgment I’ll leave up to each of you.

The other significant lasting legacy of Justice League of America #100-102 is considerably smaller in scale than the first, though it’s just as interesting in its way.  (Well, it is to me, at least.)  It’s the matter of the Seven Soldier of Victory themselves.  Having brought these Golden Age heroes back from limbo, what was DC going to do with them?

The answer to that question, so far as the present day DC Universe was concerned, was nothing — at least for the next three years. Of course, save for one notable exception, there wouldn’t be much after that, either — a state of things that would prevail all the way up to the point of 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, a continuity-altering event which made the classic configuration of the team more or less unworkable.

Between 1972 and 1976, you had a reprint of the Seven Soldiers of Victory story from Leading Comics #2 (Spring, 1942) presented in two consecutive giant-sized issues of JLA (#11-112).  Rather more interestingly, you also had the previously unpublished SSoV story which would have appeared in Leading Comics #15 (if the feature hadn’t been cancelled after issue #14), completed from Joe Samachson’s 1945 script by a roster of current artists (including Dick Dillin, Howard Chaykin, Lee Elias, Mike Grell, and others), and then published by DC as a backup feature over six issues of Adventure Comics, beginning with #438 (Mar.-Apr., 1975).

The last installment of the semi-vintage Seven Soldiers serial in Adventure appeared in October, 1975, perhaps coincidentally (and then again, perhaps not), that same month also gave DC fans their first glimpse of a Law’s Legionnaire in the present day since the final page of JLA #102.  That hero was none other than the Star-Spangled Kid, who would end up playing an unexpectedly significant role in the return to regular periodical publication of, not the Seven Soldiers of Victory, but rather DC’s Earth Two “A”-team, the Justice Society of America.  Part of writer Gerry Conway’s concept for the revival of the JSA’s original home base, All-Star Comics (which picked up its old numbering with issue #58) was to deal with the issue of most of the Golden Age heroes being some years past their prime by introducing a new auxiliary team of “young” heroes, the Super Squad — and by virtue of his having been time-jumped a couple of decades, the Star-Spangled Kid was one of the few established Earth-Two characters who fit the bill.  Of course, as originally conceived, the Kid might not seem to have all that much going for him — just your standard athleticism and hand-to-hand fighting skills — but through the poor luck of Starman, who’d recently broken his leg, Sylvester Pemberton was temporarily in possession of Ted Knight’s cosmic rod, giving him the power to fly, project energy bursts, and so on.  It was a gig that turned out to be more-or-less permanent, with “Sly” eventually going on to found and lead the JSA-spinoff “legacy” team. Infinity Inc., in 1983.  Over the course of that team’s 53-issue run, the Star-Spangled Kid not only changed his name and look, becoming “Skyman”, but also, um, well, died — perishing in battle with Solomon Grundy in Infinity Inc. #51 (Jun., 1988).  That was a bad break, for sure; but, all in all, you’d have to say Sylvester Pemberton ended up making a pretty good showing in the ’70s and ’80s for a character whose most distinctive quality in the ’40s had been that he was “Robin-in-reverse”.

Certainly, Sly saw a good bit more action in that period than any of his fellow Soldiers.  Of course, one can understand why DC might have chosen not to do very much with the Vigliante, Green Arrow, and Speedy, all of whom had virtually identical counterparts active on Earth-One; still, it seems a shame that none of the three made any present-day appearances at all between JLA #102 and Crisis on Infinite Earths (in which Green Arrow met a violent on-panel death, while Speedy simply… ceased to exist following the event’s reality-rebooting climax), with the single exception of a somber reunion at the graveside of the Crimson Avenger.

Oh, yeah, did I forget to mention?  Lee Travis, the Crimson Avenger, had by the time of Crisis become the first official member of the Seven Soldiers of Victory to cash in his chips — doing so in the first (also the last, obviously) present-day-set story he’d appeared in since JLA #102, a backup tale in DC Comics Presents #38 (Oct., 1981) called “Whatever Happened to… the Crimson Avenger?”.  In this eight-pager, writer Len Wein (the very man who’d brought the CA back in the first place) answered the question posed by his story’s title by showing how Travis, confronted by a terminal illness, chose to go out in a literal blaze of glory, rescuing the crew of an endangered ship before it exploded with him still on board.  Not a bad ending for a hero, I suppose — but it did make you wonder what the point had been of bringing him back at all.

Outside of the Star-Spangled Kid, the Soldier of Victory who probably did the best for himself in the post-JLA #102/pre-Crisis period was Sir Justin, the Shining Knight, who showed up at his former teammate Sly Pemberton’s new berth in All-Star Comics for a guest appearance in issue #63-64; then, a few years later, became a regularly featured player in All-Star Squadron, writer Roy Thomas’ labor of love that incorporated virtually every Golden Age superhero DC had the rights to, circa 1981.  Sure, the latter series was set in the early 1940s, rather than in the present day; it still afforded the Knight a good bit more exposure than most of his fellow Law’s Legionnaires enjoyed during that era.

As I’ve already alluded to, post-Crisis the established history of the Seven Soldiers of Victory became something of a mess.  The team had still existed, but since the new, unified timeline had no place for an Oliver Queen and Roy Harper who’d been active in the 1940s, Green Arrow and Speedy were replaced by our old friend Wing (he finally made it!) and his fellow sidekick Stuff, the Chinatown Kid, longtime partner to the Vigilante.  Or at least that was the case until 2000, at which time the readers of Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. #9 were informed that Wing had never actually become an official member at all, because the Crimson Avenger hadn’t wanted his partner to follow him on his “path of self-destruction”.  (Um, OK.)  But no worries, because the seventh place on the roster was now being filled by the Spider — an obscure archery-themed Golden Age hero originally published by Quality Comics.  His retconned arrival brought the long-absent bow-slinging shtick back to the team (yay!), but the character was ultimately outed as a traitorous villain (boo!), who’d actually collaborated with the Hand in the post-Crisis version of the team’s fateful battle against the Nebula Man.  That history remained in place until 2010, at which time yet another retcon (this one appearing in DC Universe: Legacies #2, and authored by none other than Len Wein) revealed that the slots on the roster that had, in the pre-Crisis era, belonged to Green Arrow and Speedy, were now being filled by TNT and Dan the Dyna-Mite. — yet another hero-and-sidekick team who, like the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesey, had held down a slot in Star-Spangled Comics back in the Forties.  Is your head spinning yet?

One interesting SSoV-related wrinkle resulting from Crisis on Infinite Earth‘s reordering of DC Universe history that remained consistent throughout all of the above retcons, however — and that is also, so far as I know, still canonical in the present post-Flashpoint/Rebirth/Dark Nights: Death Metal continuity (to the extent that anything is, at least) — is the elevation in status of the Crimson Avenger, who, having debuted in Detective Comics #20 (Oct., 1938), predated virtually every costumed “mystery man” published by DC with the exception of Superman (who had of course first appeared in Action Comics #1 [Jun., 1938]).  In post-Crisis continuity, where Superman will always have to have first appeared within the last decade or so to keep the character perennially in his prime, the Crimson Avenger has been bumped up to being the first superhero to emerge in the history of the DC Universe’s “prime” reality.  That newfound primacy has led to considerably more exposure for the hero than one could have imagined back in 1981, when he was so unceremoniously shuffled off the stage in DC Comics Presents #38.  Lee Travis even got a celebratory 50th anniversary miniseries in 1988; set in the year of his origin (both “in-universe” and in the real world), 1938, the four-issue storyline by Roy and Dann Thomas depicted the character rocking his original slouch hat and cloak — a look which later creators seem to have returned to wherever the circumstances have allowed, and who can blame them?  Sure, it’s completely derivative of the Green Hornet’s get-up, but it’s unquestionably cooler (and in the context of costumed superfolks, more distinctive) than his later red-and-yellow tights.

But even given the increased visibility and importance of the Crimson Avenger, I think one would have to say that the legacy of the Law’s Legionnaires has been most notably carried post-Crisis by the same hero who carried it preCrisis — namely, the Star-Spangled Kid — although it has of course been a different Star-Spangled Kid this time around, and Stripesy has come along for the ride, as well.

With Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. #0 (Jul., 1999), writer Geoff Johns and artist Lee Moder introduced readers to Courtney Whitmore — a teenage girl who happened to be the stepdaughter of Pat Dugan, the sidekick formerly known as Stripesy.  Donning the cosmic converter belt (another iteration of Ted Knight’s cosmic rod tech) previously worn by Sylvester Pemberton, as well as a modified version of Sly’s original costume, Courtney became the new Star-Spangled Kid.  She was joined by Pat, who built himself a new armored suit code-named S.T.R.I.P.E. (Special Tactics Robotic Integrated Power Enhancer), making him a much more formidable figure than he had been as just a strong guy in a striped shirt.  Over the course of fourteen issues, Johns fleshed out the “new” history of the Seven Soldiers of Victory (see the discussion of Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. #9 a few paragraphs above), as well as bringing in Sir Justin, the Shining Knight, for a multi-issue present-day guest-star stint.  Following the series’ untimely cancellation, Courtney eventually moved over to the Johns-scripted JSA, becoming a member in good standing of the Justice Society of America and changing her superhero moniker to Stargirl — in which role she ultimately became the primary bearer of Starman’s legacy, as well as of the Star-Spangled Kid’s.

Around the same time that DC was bringing out the original run of Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E., the publisher released another, unrelated attempt at carrying on the legacy of the Seven Soldiers of Victory — as a trademark, if nothing else.  Silver Age: Showcase #1 (Jul., 2000), part of the 12-part Silver Age summer event, offered a heretofore never-seen assemblage of heroes operating under the SSoV team name, including Adam Strange, Batgirl, Blackhawk, Deadman, Mento, Metamorpho, and Gardner Grayle from the old “Atomic Knights” series in Strange Adventures.  The only connection this group had to the classic team (in any iteration) was Grayle’s assumption of the appellation (for this story only) of the Shining Knight.  This comic turned out the only appearance ever for this version of the Soldiers; and your humble blogger must confess that though I’d bought and read it at the time of publication, I’d completely forgotten about it before beginning the research for this post.  (Which doesn’t mean it was bad, necessarily; just that it wasn’t particularly memorable for this particular reader.)

Considerably more ambitious, as well as more creatively successful (in my opinion, anyway) was Grant Morrison’s massively complex Seven Soldiers project of 2005-06.  Comprising seven different four-issue miniseries and two single-issue “bookends”, the storyline — which featured as its headliners the Shining Knight (not Sir Justin, but an Arthurian knight, all the same), the Manhattan Guardian, Zatanna, Klarion the Witch Boy, Mister Miracle, the Bulleteer, and Frankenstein — might on its surface appear to have little more to do with the original team of Soldiers and its history than the Silver Age version.  But the connections were actually both numerous and complex.  For example, the tale kicked off when, in Seven Soldiers #0, the Vigilante attempted to put together a new team with that name, several of whose members (including Sly Penberton’s niece, Gimmix, and a new version of the Spider, or Spyder) had ties to the original group — only to see most of them killed by the issue’s end.  But that was just the beginning of the story, which — as it wound through the twenty-nine comics that followed — eventually revealed the secrets behind not only the Nebula Man (or Neh-Buh-Loh), who turns out to be a sentient universe, but also Oracle (or Aurakles), who’s revealed to have been “the original super-hero”.  No, you don’t have to have read Justice League of America #100-102 to appreciate Seven Soldiers, but if you have, it certainly enhances the experience.

Of course, the Grant Morrison Soldiers haven’t seen a sequel, any more than the Silver Age ones have — and indeed, it’s quite possible that neither was ever intended to.  In the end, it seems likely that it’s the original group of eight heroes (yeah, I’m definitely including Wing) who’ll ultimately be remembered as the Seven Soldiers of Victory — especially since they’re the ones who’ve managed to make the transition into ancillary media — television, in this case — not only as individual characters, but as a team.  Since 2020, the television series Stargirl has given us life-action versions not only of Sylvester Pemberton, Pat Dugan, and Sir Justin, but the rest of the classic line-up as well — albeit so far (as of the time of this writing) only in the form of a old black-and-white photograph:

Meanwhile, in the comic books themselves, everything old is new again — as the latest “prime reality” version of the 1940s-era Seven Soldiers of Victory, seen for the first time in last year’s Stargirl Spring Break Special #1, restores Green Arrow and Speedy to the team by means of some time-travel shenanigans.  It seems that the GA and Speedy who were in the Law’s Legionnaires were in fact the same ones who are alive and active today — and yep, that hardly jibes with the continuity of JLA #100-102, but seeing as how that ship sailed a long time back (some 37 years ago, now), my headcanon is actually pretty cool with it.

And this just in — per an announcement made by DC while I’ve been working on this post, it looks like even poor ol’ Wing is about to get a bona fide second act, care of writer Geoff Johns and artist Todd Nauck, in their upcoming follow-up to the Stargirl Spring Break Special — Stargirl: The Lost Children.

I’m not going to tell you that old Soldiers never die, because, obviously, they do.  (Sometimes more than once.)  But what they never do — as recent (and current!) events make very clear — is fade away.


  1. Brian Morrison · August 20

    I bought this one from Pozzi’s newsagent, High Street, Buckie on the Moray Firth coast of Scotland. We were visiting my grandmother and aunt who lived there. I knew it was about the time of the month when the new delivery of comics should arrive so I was hopeful that I would be able to get it. I had found and bought issues 100 and 101 and certainly didn’t want to miss the conclusion of the story. I knew that there were three shops in Buckie that sold comics and I’d visited the other two first but neither had a copy. When I walked into Pozzi’s I immediately saw it sitting in the spinner rack just waiting for me. I almost ran the few yards from the door to the rack although nobody else in the shop seemed remotely interested in its contents and grabbed it.
    I agree, the cover is the best of the three foretelling the death of one of the heroes although the actual outside scene with the threatening background doesn’t appear in the story. I remember liking the Speedy section best, I thought that Len had found a very imaginative way for Zatanna to use her powers and I agree that he also finds ways to allow every hero to have their moment in the sun. I was also very pleased to see Diana be the one to make very quick work of the Hand. She comes across as quite badass.
    I have to take issue with you on the number of heroes that Len managed to squeeze into the story. By my reckoning it should be 37. You missed out Wing, who was the 34th hero who appeared in JLA 100 as you mentioned in your original post!
    Thanks for giving us an extensive history of the SSOV and there is a couple of things I’d like to add. In Young All Stars 27 the Squire (the retconned sidekick of the Shining Knight) is mentioned as an unofficial eight soldier with Wing and Stuff being official members. Also one panel in Stars and Stripe 0 shows the seven soldiers as 6 heroes (Vigilante, Crimson Avenger, Wing, Star Spangled Kid, Stripey, and The Shining Knight) and Winged Victory, the Shining Knight’s flying horse. I’m sure, at the back of my mind somewhere it was stated at one time that the horse was the seventh soldier – but my memory might be playing nasty tricks on me with that one!
    Finally, there was an episode of The Justice League Unlimited animated series that featured the Seven Soldiers, although I don’t think they were credited as such.
    Thanks again Alan.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Alan Stewart · August 20

      I’m glad you liked the post, Brian, and I appreciate the additional information about the SSoV’s history… I knew going in that, as complicated as it was, I was bound to leave out something!

      But I’m afraid I must gently push back on your claim that the trilogy’s ultimate total of heroes should be 37, as I did in fact include Wing in #100’s count of 33 (I just checked. 😉 ).


  2. Marcus · August 20

    Speaking of some really obvious contrivances…a wooden yellow arrow as an essential part of the Nebula Rod? That struck me as really forced even as a twelve year old reading this back then. Other than that, a very enjoyable story.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Bill B · August 20

      I prefer to think Green Arrow is being a jerk and letting both Green Lanterns know he has an arrow or two in his quiver to defeat them, should they ever cross him.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. frednotfaith2 · August 20

    Very nicely detailed overview of the comic & the subsequent history of the Seven Soldiers of Victory, Alan! I’d only first heard of the SSoV several years ago in reading online references to Grant Morrison’s extravaganza, although back in late ’00s I’d come across a sites discussing the “Seven Soldiers of Steve” Gerber, obviously taking inspiration from the earlier Seven Soldiers. Your overview brings up not only the likely racist reasons for excluding Wing as one of the Soldiers but also the trouble with team names that specify the number of members (as with the comic & tv series The Boys in which the predominant “super-hero” team is simply called The Seven (all of whom may be very super but very few genuinely heroic). Of course, the number 7 has long been held to have some sort of mystical qualities, going back at least to the ancient Babylonians coming up with a week of 7 days as based on the 7 most prominent objects they could see in the sky — the sun, moon and the planets we know by their Roman names as Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. And there’s the alliterative aspect. So it had to be Seven Soldiers — Eight Soldiers just wouldn’t do, even if it would have been more accurate, and I suppose just calling them the Soldiers of Victory just didn’t have the mystical quality Mortie Weisinger apparently wanted for his team of at best third-string, not-particularly-super heroes — only the Shining Knight’s winged horse had any actual super-power.
    As to the Wein/Dillon story, well, parts of it were ridiculous — including Red Tornado’s letter — while everyone else is absorbed in the arguments over who should risk their life to save the universe, he just happens to have a pen and paper to write a note to everyone (I’ve a strong hunch that in most situations in gatherings 40 people at a costume party or at a concert, etc., and none of them was a student, writer or professional critic there to take notes, none of them would be likely to have a standard letter size paper upon which to write a note, aside from maybe BatMan in one of his belt pouches. But that wasn’t nearly as bad as Green Arrow, Black Canary and Johnny Thunder escaping their bonds without any explanation. I was looking at those panels trying to figure out if I was missing something or if maybe that mist had something to do with it, before I read your comments on it that Wein & Dillon & Giordano as inker & editor all apparently goofed in missing the disconnect. Ah, well, at least Diana Prince had her saving grace moment of taking care of herself rather than having to rely on one of the guys to save her.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Alan Stewart · August 20

      Thanks, fred. One small addendum (I won’t call it a correction, since I didn’t spell this out in the post) — while Dick Giordano did indeed ink JLA #102 (in part, anyway), the book was edited (like every other issue in the title’s original run up through #165) by Julius Schwartz. 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  4. brucesfl · August 20

    Thanks for another enjoyable post, Alan. It did get me to thinking…was Len Wein the best JLA writer, at least up to the early to mid 70s. I believe the answer, to me, would be yes. I started reading JLA with issue 44 (although a friend gave me a few earlier issues (including 40 and 41), so I was very familiar with Gardner Fox’s work on JLA. While I do believe there were virtues in the work of Gardner Fox, Denny O’Neil and Mike Friedrich in their time on JLA,, it’s my opinion that Len combined the qualities of all of them and also really seemed to enjoy writing this book. Both Denny and Mike noted in interviews that JLA could be a challenging book to write for obvious reasons and it appears that both struggled with the annual JLA-JSA team-ups. Denny also seemed to struggle with finding the appropriate adversaries for the JLA and clearly disliked using supervillains but brought great characterization to JLA. But right away Len was comfortable with the JLA and 100-102 was a lot of fun. Of course there were flaws which do seem more noticeable today. However, Len’s run short as it was (sadly only two years) can, I believe be favorably compared to Roy Thomas’s run on the Avengers. I recall that Grant Morrison considered this one of his favorite runs as well. Some interesting facts to consider here… for some reason, DC had JLA run monthly for the summer so 100-102 came out in consecutive months. However after that, something was going on (a problem with sales?) because unofficially (and then officially) JLA went bimonthly as of JLA 103 appearing in October 1972. I remember that I continued to buy JLA for about another year or more, until it became a 50 cent giant, which I felt was too expensive while Marvels were still 20 cents (all seems very distant now). Eventually I did get the Len Wein scripted issues of JLA that I had missed many years later. Unfortunately as I learned historically, JLA went through a long period where the book had numerous different writers which did not help the book, but personally I did not pick up JLA again until George Perez worked on it in 1980 so I guess I don’t have too much more to say about the JLA in the 70s, except to be glad that Len had the opportunity to write it and a bit sad that he did not have a chance to comment in his writing days on JLA in the excellent Justice league Companion.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. sockamagee · August 20

    There are parallels between Crimson Avenger and Sandman. Originally both were clearly influenced by the mystery men of pulp magazines; fedoras, trench coats etc. In time both were reimagined as “long underwear” heroes who were becoming prevalent in comic books of the Golden Age.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Michael A. Burstein · August 20

    Regarding Len Wein and “Whatever Happened to the Crimson Avenger?” which was one of my favorite stories:


    Liked by 3 people

  7. Steve McBeezlebub · August 20

    I just checked Wikipedia but it doesn’t have the info but Lee Travis was revived in a Stargirl special with the the 7SoV. I believe it’s teh same comic that also used the same time travel method Byrne used to have a Golden Age Wonder Woman exist, having been Hypolyta to restore Speedy and his horrible guardian to the team in the past.

    By the way, the Law’s Legionaires weren’t hogtied to WW2 like the JSA, right? They could be established as always first active twenty years ago rather than making them suspension of disbelief challenging habit of making the JSA octogenarians who look fortyish.

    Oh and I’d love to see the Jill Carlyle and her schtick still used. Whether she and Lee both by Crimson Avengers like Barry and Wally are concurrent Flashes or make her Scarlet or Plum Avenger instead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alan Stewart · August 20

      “…Lee Travis was revived in a Stargirl special with the the 7SoV.”

      Steve, I’m pretty sure you’re referring to the “Stargirl Spring Break Special” from last year that I discussed briefly near the tail end of the post. Without getting too spoiler-y about a story that’s not much more than a year old, I’ll note that while Lee Travis does indeed come back in that story, he doesn’t *stay* back, if you know what I mean. At the story’s end, Jill Carlyle still has the Crimson Avenging field to herself.

      You make a good point about the Seven Soldiers of Victory not being tied specifically to the Forties — in fact, I’d be willing to go further and adjust DC history just enough for the same to apply to the JSA, as well; just let ’em predate the JLA by a couple of decades, and forget about them having been part of the “war effort” in the Big One. Otherwise, we’re soon going to be reading about characters that have to be a century old or more, and no matter what sort of in-universe explanation is given for their continued vitality, it’s going to start seeming ridiculous. (I do realize that this idea may be a bridge too far for some old school Golden Age and/or Earth-Two fans.)

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Ken Thompson · August 20

    Len Wein and Steve Englehart wrote most of my favorite JLA stories. Wein’s followup to 100-102 was a memorable Phantom Stranger story. However, Denny O’Neill from issues 71 to 83 probably kept me as a JLA reader during my impressionable youth years.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Steve McBeezlebub · August 20

      Englehart’s story built around the definition of a league is still one of my favorite JLA stories ever.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Cornelius Featherjaw · August 20

    Just how many versions of Circe are kicking around the pre-Crisis universe? Just in Superman family books alone there was a story that established Circe as a Kryptonian scientist, while Comet the Superhorse’s backstory involved him being cursed by Circe, so clearly this isn’t just an Earth One versus Earth Two thing.

    A nitpick that occurred to me is that Crimson Avenger calls the villain “our old foe, the Iron Hand,” but he was known as The Hand in CA’s day.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Chris A. · August 23

    I guess it’s a matter of personal temperament, but I never got into the super team comics if their numbers were above (Fantastic) four—-the exceptions being Neal Adams on X-Men or Avengers, and the like.

    I always gravitated towards the “loners” like Batman, Conan, Swamp Thing, Spidey, etc. — yes, I know they were often teamed with others, but the vast majority of their stories were not so.

    For me it feels like “too many cooks spoil the broth” when so many super-heroes are piled into one story — but that’s just my response. So many others take a very different view.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Steve McBeezlebub · August 24

      That’s why there’s choclate AND vanilla. I like team books way more than solos (though I doon;t shy from them). When a writer has a handle on the characterization of the team members, there are generally surprising interactions. A good artist will also find good and surprising ways to have characterss interact as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Joe Gill · August 24

    I know Comic writers “borrow” each other’s ideas all the time. Still, to me, Red Tornado grabbing the Nebula Rod before anyone else and sacrificing himself seemed awfully familiar. Ferro Lad did almost exactly the same thing several years earlier in Adventure 353 featuring the Legion of Super Heroes as written by Jim Shooter. But you know, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Chris A. · August 24

      There was also the death of Menthor in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #7, published by Tower Comics in 1966. Dan Adkins script, Steve Ditko pencils, & Wally Wood inks.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Steve McBeezlebub · August 24

        I’d say it was more of a common trope than anyone deliberately copying anyone else.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Joe Gill · August 25

          In fairness, you’re probably right!

          Liked by 1 person

    • Marcus · August 26

      You are right, very similar situation. Must have given Superman a major case of deja vu.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Commander Benson · September 6

    “Why didn’t the Crimson Avenger’s crime-fighting partner rate being officially included among the Seven, when his fellow sidekicks Speedy and Stripesy did? Personally, I can’t think of any reason — other than the painfully obvious one, which is of course that he was Asian.”

    I know it won’t be as popular as virtue-signalling, but I disagree.

    As to the matter of why Wing got the short shrift when it came to official membership in the Law’s Legionnaires, I never really gave it much thought before. But when I sat down to examine it, I discovered a curious fact that might have some bearing on it. At least, on why Wing wasn’t included at the start of the series in LEADING COMICS.

    One might as well ask why the Vigilante’s sidekick, Stuff, the Chinatown Kid, was also not considered a member. Or for that matter, Vig’s first hanger-on, Billy Gunn. After all, both of those characters took part in the Vigilante’s segments in LEADING COMICS.

    Well, for those two, the distinction should be obvious. Neither Billy Gunn, nor Stuff, were costumed mystery men. There isn’t any question of whether they should be called “partners” or “sidekicks”. They were clearly sidekicks to the Vigilante. If they had been slightly less involved in the action, the term “assistant” would be even more applicable to them.

    “But, commander,” yells that fellow in the back, “Wing wore a costume, just like the Green Arrow’s Speedy and the Star-Spangled Kid’s Stripsey. So he can’t be lumped in with Billy Gunn and Stuff.”

    Hold on. I’m getting to that. But first, I want to point out that, besides not being counted as a “Soldier of Victory”, Wing was given the same treatment in the LEADING COMICS 7SoV stories as Gunn and Stuff, in that Wing, like the other two sidekicks, never appeared in the opening chapter or the closing chapter—the two segments of the stories when the entire group appeared together.

    When the Legionnaires regathered at the end, for the final confrontation with the Big Bad, the Vigilante didn’t bring his sidekick along, and the Crimson Avenger didn’t bring Wing.

    So the only surface difference between the sidekicks would appear to be the fact that Wing wore a mask and costume.

    But, as you pointed out, Alan, neither Wing, nor the Crimson Avenger began their mystery-man careers wearing the standard super-hero tights. I wanted to see how the timing worked out between the time when they donned costumes and when the first issue of LEADING COMICS was released.

    The Crimson adopted his skin-tight outfit—and it originally had a cape—in DETECTIVE COMICS # 44 (Dec., 1940). Even accounting for lead times and cover-dates pushed forward, that’s too far ahead of the release of LEADING COMICS # 1 to have an impact.

    But then I recalled something which most people don’t know, but you do—Wing didn’t adopt his costume at the same time that the Crimson did. For over two years, the Crimson Avenger operated in his super-hero skin-tights while Wing remained in mufti, acting as his chauffeur and general factotum. In other words, he essentially filled the same rôle as Billy Gunn, and later, Stuff, did for the Vigilante.

    Wing didn’t adopt his own costume until DETECTIVE COMICS # 59 (Jan., 1942), in a story written and drawn by Jack Lehti.

    Now that ties in very closely with the first issue of LEADING COMICS, which bore a cover-date of “Winter, 1941”. Unfortunately, this is also where things get fuzzy. DETECTIVE COMICS # 59 and LEADING COMICS # 1 came out so close together. What we don’t know is the lead times involved in the individual Crimson Avenger parts of both magazines. But they would have been in development at about the same time.

    Another thing to consider is that Jack Lehti also wrote and drew the Crimson Avenger segment that appeared in LEADING COMICS # 1.

    It’s quite probable that during the evolutionary period, when the Law’s Legionnaires series was being conceived, Wing was still functioning as the Crimson’s uncostumed assistant. That put him in the same class as Billy Gunn and Stuff. So the Law’s Legionnaires was conceived with seven costumed heroes—the Shining Knight, the Vigilante, the Green Arrow and Speedy, the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy, and the Crimson Avenger. And they’ll do it in the same format as the Justice Society of America, over at All-Star Comics: one writer and artist will handle the opening and closing segments, when the entire team is together, meanwhile, the chapters with the individual heroes will be done by the writers and artists who usually handle them in their parent magazines.

    So editor Whitney Ellsworth calls in his stable of talent and orders the first 7SoV story. LEADING COMICS # 1 was cover-dated Winter, 1941, so that order probably came down sometime in the fall of 1941. Right about that same time, Jack Lehti was in the process of, or maybe had completed, his Crimson Avenger tale for DETECTIVE COMICS # 59. So, when he was assigned to do the Crimson Avenger portion of LEADING COMICS # 1, he knew that had just put Wing in a costume and wrote the Crimson Avenger segment to reflect that.

    That could explain why Wing was originally excluded from being an official Soldier of Victory—at the time Ellsworth came up with the idea, Wing wasn’t a costumed hero.

    What it doesn’t explain is why Wing continued to be left out of the group after the first couple of issues of LEADING COMICS.

    Perhaps by then, they felt locked into the name “Seven Soldiers of Victory”. Or they liked the alliteration. There might have been some racist thinking behind Wing’s lack of official status, but I would expect that, if the Powers-That-Were had that much objection to including an Oriental character, Wing wouldn’t have even appeared in the individual segment. It’s parsing it a bit thin to discern a racist-based distinction of “It’s O.K. to have Wing appear in one segment of every story, and on six of the LEADING COMICS covers, but nooooooooooo, we can’t have him be a member of the group.”

    The more logical reason behind Wing’s unofficial “Eighth Soldier” status is that he wasn’t a costumed hero at the time the team was conceived, and later, the editorship was unwilling to change the catchy “Seven Soldiers of Victory” name. But, yeah, it’s not as popular as the “They were racist!” explanation.

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    • Alan Stewart · September 6

      Commander, I have to confess that you almost lost me at your use of the pejorative term “virtue-signalling”, which I find personally offensive. But I persevered to read the rest of your comment, and I’m afraid I find your argument unconvincing.

      In particular, your assertion that “well, they put Wing in every issue and even on six of the covers , so they can’t have been all that racist” misses the point. It’s the fact that Wing was *treated* as a member of the group in virtually every other way but still wasn’t *counted* as an official member that indicates racism.

      Looking at the 56-page SSoV story published in Leading Comics #6 (Spring, 1943), I don’t see hide not hair of either of Vigilante’s sidekicks/assistants/what-have-you. Neither Billy Gunn nor Stuff appear anywhere in the story. But Wing does, and even shows up in the story’s final “buy war bonds and stamps” panel (p. 56), contradicting your claim that he never showed up for the opening and final chapters of each adventure.

      Also to the point, Wing is depicted in that story as an orange-skinned, round-faced, buck-toothed young man prone to addressing his senior partner as “Mist’ Climson” (p. 43). A racial stereotype, in other words.

      Is it *possible” that Wing was still functioning as a non-costumed assistant when the Seven Soldiers of Victory feature was originally conceived and developed? Of course — but given that Wing appears in costume from his first appearance in Leading Comics #1 on, there’s no *evidence* that such was the case.

      In the end, it hardly seems more “logical” to me to assume a lack of racial motive in how DC treated Wing than its presence — especially when a racial stereotype is quite literally staring me in the face.

      Liked by 1 person

      • frasersherman · September 28

        If they’d stuck with “The Law’s Legionnaires” — and they use it a lot in the early issues — this would be a moot point. But they didn’t.
        The Commander has a point in that neither Billy Gunn nor Stuff counted, though Wing was around a lot more than either of them.
        As to the three parter in general, I loved it. After sitting through Mike Friedrich’s work, Wein was so refreshing, plus there were links with the older JLA stories such as Metamorpho and Snapper putting in appearances.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Alan Stewart · September 28

          “If they’d stuck with ‘The Law’s Legionnaires’ — and they use it a lot in the early issues — this would be a moot point. But they didn’t.”

          It’s been a few weeks since I researched this topic, but, as I recall, the “Seven Soldiers of Victory” tag isn’t used on the “Leading Comics” covers more than a couple of times — the blurb most commonly used to sell the book, at least in the early days, is “5 Fabulous Features”. “SSoV” isn’t used consistently in the stories, either. You kind of get the idea that the editors weren’t all that invested in either that *or* the “Law’s Legionnaires” as a name for the team. I’m not an IP lawyer, but I have to wonder if either phrase was used enough in the ’40s for DC to have even established a trademark.

          “The Commander has a point in that neither Billy Gunn nor Stuff counted, though Wing was around a lot more than either of them.”

          It would be a much stronger point if every single SSoV/LL adventure included an appearance by one of the Vigilante’s two assistants. But such is not the case; and to the best of my knowledge, neither Billy nor Stuff ever appeared on an LC cover, which Wing did 6 out of 14 times.


  13. Pingback: Justice League of America #103 (December, 1972) | Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books
  14. Pingback: Justice League of America #105 (Apr., 1973) | Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books
  15. As I mentioned in my comment on JLA #92, this week I purchased Crisis on Multiple Earths Book 2 reprinting the Justice League / Justice Society annual crossovers from 1971 to 1978. Last night I read the three-parter with the Seven Soldiers that ran in JLA #100 to #102.

    I agree that there’s some very dodgy plotting going on here, as well as some unfortunate casual sexism & racism that has not aged well (par for the course for the majority of American pop culture from half a century ago) but I nevertheless found this one quite entertaining. Wein’s work on this is still an improvement over the last JSA crossover which Mike Friedrich wrote. I can understand why the fans who read this story in 1972 still look on it fondly 50 years later.

    It did leap out at me that Red Tornado sacrificing himself to deliver the super-weapon that destroys the Nebuloid Hand is Len Wein recycling the ending to the Legion of Super-Heroes story in Adventure Comics #353 written by Jim Shooter just six years earlier where Ferro Lad sacrificed himself to deliver the weapon that destroys the Sun-Eater. Ah, well, I’m sure it’s been done a few other times. And unlike Ferro Lad, who stayed dead for decades, Red Tornado came back very quickly. Well, at least Red had the excuse of being an android, something he lampshades in this story when he argues that as a machine he has a better chance of surviving than anyone else in the gathering of heroes.

    Onward to Earth-X! And hopefully in just a few months we’ll be reading your retrospective on that storyline.

    Liked by 1 person

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