I may be misremembering, but I have a vague recollection of my fifteen-year-old self looking at this one at the spinner rack back in October, 1972 and thinking, “The Justice League standing around a grave site? Again?” After all, it had only been three issues since artist Nick Cardy had built his cover for JLA #100 around a similar idea. On the other hand, it was October — the spooky season — and what could be spookier than an open grave? Especially when said grave was being ominously loomed over by… hey, is that the Phantom Stranger? In an issue of Justice League of America? Forget about repetitive cover concepts; I couldn’t wait to buy this one and take it home.
Once I’d done so, and had turned to the comic’s first page, I confirmed that yes, that had indeed been the Stranger on the cover… because here he was again, directly addressing the reader at the beginning of the story, just the way he always did in his own series (which, for anyone who doesn’t already know, had been written for the past year by Len Wein, the same author who’d taken over the scripting duties for JLA with the aforementioned issue #100):
This first page also clued me in that this was going to be another in what comics fans would come to call the “Rutland stories” — comic-book tales which used the real-life Halloween Parade held every year in the small town of Rutland, Vermont as a backdrop. In the scene above, “Tom” is Tom Fagan — an organizer of the parade who, as a longtime comics fan himself, had made costumed superheroes a prominent feature of the local festivities. (Your humble blogger is less certain of the identity of “Marty”, but one likely candidate is Martin Griem, a friend of Fagan’s who attended the parade and who years later wrote a “Rutland story” of his own, published in Thunderbunny #5 [Feb., 1986].)
What I may or may not have realized at this point is that JLA #103 was one of three Rutland-set comic books arriving on stands that month — the others being Marvel’s Amazing Adventures #16 and Thor #207. Both the JLA and Thor issues came out on the same day (Oct. 10th), while AA #16 was released a week later — but though I bought all three, I’m not sure in which sequence I ultimately read them. (Incidentally, those of you out there who generally skip my non-DC blog entries — and I’m pretty sure there are at least a couple such folks — should be advised that this post will be making multiple references to my recent write-ups on those two Marvel books. And while you shouldn’t have to have read those posts to make sense of this one, it’s only fair to say that having done so may enhance your enjoyment of the following. That’s often the way it is with crossovers, of course; and as will soon be established, this comic book most definitely is one-third of a crossover.)
Joining Len Wein on creative duties for this story were, naturally, penciller Dick Dillin (whose lengthy term on the title, begun in 1968, would ultimately span twelve years), as well as inker Dick Giordano (whose first full issue this was, his having previously embellished a handful of pages in #102).
A couple of notes here:
Batman is able to vouch for the Phantom Stranger thanks to a couple of previous Brave and the Bold team-ups between the two; the first in issue #89 (Apr.-May, 1970), the second in #98 (Oct.-Nov., 1971).
Hawkman’s “Quiet, archer” remark to Green Arrow, as innocuous as it might seem in this context, is actually the beginning of what Wein would quickly establish as an ongoing personality conflict between the two heroes. Yes, one might wonder why it had never surfaced before now — but on the other hand, who ever said we readers had been privy to every personal interaction these guys had had over the years? In any event, this continuing bit would help serve notice to longtime JLA fans that however much Wein’s plotting for the three-issue Justice League-Justice Society-Seven Soldiers of Victory extravaganza that had launched his run might have evoked the aesthetic of the series’ original writer, Gardner Fox, the new guy intended to continue with the more “Marvel-like” approach to characterization that had been brought to the table by Fox’s immediate successor, Denny O’Neil, and continued by Wein’s immediate predecessor, Mike Friedrich.
“Faust?! But he’s still in prison!” protests Superman. “I put him there myself!” (Presumably, right after he and Green Lantern had foiled the evil sorcerer’s latest scheme in World’s Finest #201 [Mar., 1971].) But the Stranger replies that Faust’s prison cell now holds only an “ethereal illusion“, the real Felix having busted himself out some unknown amount of time ago.
His message delivered, PS turns to take his leave. Not so fast, says GL, who drops a green energy cone over him. Batman then tells his colleague that he’s likely to be surprised when he raises that cone; and, sure enough, when the Lantern does so, the Stranger has vanished — despite their all being in a highly secure satellite orbiting 2,300 miles above the Earth…
Those of you who have read the two preceding installments of this blog will recognize the four characters whose misadventures in and around Rutland this particular Halloween are at the heart of this “stealth” (i.e., unofficial and unauthorized) crossover between one DC title and two Marvel ones. But, for those coming in late… in the last panel shown above, we have, left to right: Len Wein (the writer of the very story we’re reading); his then-wife, the once and future Glynis Oliver (colorist of Amazing Adventures #16 and Thor #207); Steve Englehart (writer of AA #16); and Gerry Conway (writer of Thor #207). For what it’s worth, they’re all wearing the same clothes here that they do in the Marvel stories (save that for whatever reason, in the Marvel Universe Steve’s shirt has no sleeves).
Also worth noting: while the Marvel tales have the other three travelers refer to Gerry’s having attended the Rutland Halloween celebrations previously, they quite understandably don’t mention the specifics of that earlier visit, which Mr. Conway made in the company of his supposed fellow Hudson University students Alan Weiss, Bernie Wrightson, and Dick Grayson — and which was chronicled by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams in Batman #237.
And now, we return to the Justice League of America, who are shown scouring the seemingly peaceful town of Rutland and its environs, looking for “things unworldly… and inhuman…” and coming up short…
A common take on the 1972 Rutland crossover is that the four real-life figures at its center — Len, Glynis, Steve, and Gerry — can actually be tracked from one comic to another, and that their scenes can be read as one straight sequence across the three books (although most commentators are vague about the details*). Your humble blogger, on the other hand, thinks that the stories read better (or at least more logically) if the adventures of the visitors from New York that appear in each of the crossover’s constituent parts are taken as three different versions of the same events — a sort of Rutland Rashomon, if you will. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Wein, Englehart, and Conway didn’t attempt to tie their narratives together in a tight sequential fashion — only that if they did so, they didn’t coordinate their efforts closely enough to be successful… so that in the end, “the connection between the stories involved is really more thematic than structural” (to once again quote from Conway’s introduction to the Marvel Masterworks volume reprinting the Thor story).
The scene shown above, where Steve’s crappy Mustang finally arrives in Rutland, and the group is greeted by Tom Fagan, provides an excellent opportunity to demonstrate my thesis. Just compare those two panels with the following three from Thor #207 (script by Conway; art by John Buscema, Vince Colletta, and Marie Severin), which depict the same events:
I’m sorry, y’all, but even allowing for the necessary exchange of Tom’s Batman costume for his Nighthawk one (or vice versa), these two scenes don’t line up in a logical sequence. Really, doesn’t it make more sense to take them as representing Mr. Wein’s and Mr. Conway’s two differing accounts of the same events? (“The way I remember it, Len, Tom came to the door dressed as Nighthawk, and he was acting really weird.” “No, Ger, he was already outside, and he was fine. Plus, he was wearing his Batman suit.”)
The “Julie” mentioned by Len is of course Julius Schwartz, editor of Justice League of America. — and yes, I suspect that the Earth-Prime Schwartz would indeed have been incredulous if his new writer on that title had told him he’d run into the real JLA in Rutland, VT. But, to be honest, what I’d truly like to know is how Schwartz reacted when he found out about Wein’s dragging one of his books into an unsanctioned crossover with Marvel Comics. I mean, I’m sure he was unhappy, but just how unhappy?
With a demonic invasion supposedly imminent, should the Justice Leaguers really be taking the time to participate in a parade? Probably not; but, hey, the Avengers had done basically the same thing back in the first “Rutland story”, so you can hardly blame Wein for having the nearest DC counterparts to that Marvel team take advantage of this perfect opportunity to show “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” how it’s done.
Besides, who wants to begrudge Batman enjoying himself as much as he’s obviously doing? Look at him standing there on the float, all smiles… oh, wait, I think Brooding Brucie is about to make a comeback…
For whatever reason, DC seemed more comfortable in clearly depicting the costumes of the other guys’ heroes (in contrast to the Marvel Rutland stories, which either eschewed showing DC character costumes at all, showed them in very long shots and/or partially obscured, or significantly changed the details). They apparently drew the line at using the Marvel heroes’ actual names, however, and so here we have “Commando America”, while later scenes will feature “Web-Slinger” and “Norse Thundergod”.
Another thing to note here is the oddity of anyone showing up for Halloween dressed as Adam Strange, seeing as how all that guy’s adventures took place on the distant planet of Rann, and would presumably be unknown outside the superhero community. But, hey, maybe the Earth-One Adam wrote a bestseller about his exploits (just as the Black Label version would almost five decades later), and we just never heard about it.
But to return to our narrative… as the Flash races away from “Adam”, he deduces that “Faust’s demons have to inhabit the bodies of others to survive in our world! — And their magic can make these costumed host-bodies as powerful as the heroes they portray.” Which, naturally, means that the blasts from “Adam Strange”‘s toy ray-gun might actually kill our Scarlet Speedster, should they connect…
If you’ve read the two previous installments of this blog, then you’re likely unsurprised to discover that “Supergirl” is none other than a demon-possessed Glynis Wein (even if there was never any sign of a blonde wig when Glynis was presenting as “Powergirl” [no, not that one] in the Marvel tales… and also despite the fact that it was Loki who ensorcelled her in those yarns [or at least in Thor #207], and not Felix Faust).
Batman is able to sever some of the “Web-Slinger”‘s lines with a Batarang, but his foe quickly, um, slings some more webs his way. Luckily, Green Lantern shows up at that moment to intercede, scooping up the webbing with a giant green energy hand. “Green Lantern!?” exclaims the faux spider-themed hero. “Then my task is twice as vital…”
In JLA #103, we don’t see the actual moment when the guys realize Glynis has gone missing (though we can assume it must have been right around the same time they woke up from the spell of entrancement Faust placed on all the parade spectators back on page 10), In contrast, both AA #16 and Thor #207 did depict that event.. though in incompatible versions.
Is this the first appearance of the original Captain Marvel, aka “The Big Red Cheese”, in a DC comic book? Well, not quite, as our proto-cosplayer appeared earlier in the story (see page 9), albeit in a long shot… plus, there was the following full-page house ad, which I and other readers of this comic in its original printing had found ensconced between pages 12 and 13 of our story:
“Watch out, Superman!” indeed. It’s striking that not only this house ad played up the idea that “The World’s Mightiest Mortal!” could be a rival to DC’s flagship hero, but so did Supes’ internal monologue in Wein’s script (“Better show him who’s number one — before he gets too big for his britches!”). And it’s also ironic, obviously, considering that it was DC’s lawsuit against Captain Marvel’s publisher, Fawcett, for their alleged infringement of DC’s copyright on the Man of Steel, that had driven Cap off the stands in the first place back in the 1950s.
Speaking of britches — I’d guess that the story’s uncredited colorist didn’t realize that the guy wearing a winged colander for a hat was supposed to be costumed as the Earth-Two Flash, Jay Garrick (who, as you may recall, is a comic-book character on Earth-One), rather than the Justice League’s Barry Allen, and that’s why “Jay”‘s pants are red, instead of their proper blue.
As of October, 1972, I had yet to read a single vintage Captain Marvel story, and my knowledge of the character was very limited. I believe that I had a vague understanding that young Billy Batson said the magic word “Shazam” to become the hero (and even if I hadn’t known that before reading this comic, that house ad for Shazam #1 should have clued me in); but even so, I’m pretty sure that I failed to connect that concept with the faux Cap’s utterance in this scene of “an enchantment that was old when the earth was young” to call down a magic lighting bolt that lays out the Last Son of Krypton.
As in the other two parts of this crossover, when Glynis finally surfaces, she’s unable to tell the guys much about where she’s been — though, naturally, things play out differently in this account than in the alternate versions. As noted earlier, we’re shown in Thor #207 that she, along with Tom Fagan and a number of others, have been enspelled by Loki; in Amazing Adventures #16, on the other hand, all we’re given to go on is Glynis’ vague comment that she thinks she “had a good time”.
In the climax of Amazing Adventures #16, the Juggernaut attempts to steal Steve’s car, but is stymied when the bucket o’ bolts fails to start. In contrast, in the epilogue of Thor #207, someone is successful in boosting the vehicle, though we’re never told or shown who. That’s led a lot of fans to assume that Felix Faust must be the mystery Mustang thief of the Thor story — and although that doesn’t really square with my own “three independent versions of the same narrative” theory of this crossover, I gotta admit, I don’t have a better candidate.
As a big fan of the Phantom Stranger, my fifteen-year-old self was delighted to see him inducted into the Justice League of America; and while I may have been slightly annoyed by the ambiguity that his premature departure conferred on his official membership status (i.e., does it really count if he didn’t formally accept?), as far as I was concerned, the guy was in.
Of course, Len Wein was just getting started with expanding the JLA’s roster; within another three issues, he’d bring in two more brand new Justice Leaguers, both of whom would be appearing with considerably more regularity than the Phantom Stranger ever would. Naturally, we’ll have to defer further discussion of those new members to future posts (although I’m happy to confirm that neither of them are the character promised in this story’s closing “Next issue” blurb, the Shaggy Man**).
And now, a few last words about the 1972 Rutland Halloween crossover, and the “Rutland stories” in general…
While there would continue to be comic-book stories set in Rutland for years to come, I think it’s fair to say that the phenomenon (if that’s the right word) peaked with the three examples released by DC and Marvel in October, 1972. To be clear, when I say “peaked”, I’m not referring to creative or artistic achievement; if that’s the criterion, then I think the award pretty clearly goes to Batman #237’s “Night of the Reaper”, by Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, and Dick Giordano. No, rather, I’m talking about peaking in terms of metatextuality, in-jokes, self-referentiality, and (let’s be honest) self-indulgence — these being the areas that I believe the Rutland stories were about more than they were about anything else; certainly to the creative personnel who produced them, as well as to many of us who read them.
I understand that, to this day, the whole idea of the Rutland stories remains too self-indulgent and insular for some comics fans to be able to enjoy the results, and I get that; we all have our own natural level of tolerance for these kinds of shenanigans, and that’s fine. As far as your humble blogger is concerned, however, these comics are and always have been a lot of fun. No, I wouldn’t want to read a Rutland-type story every single month, but once (or twice, or thrice) a year, for Halloween? It was then, and still is now, more treat than trick.
These stories — the three from 1972, in particular — also provide a special window into the outlook of the new generation of comics creators who would soon come to dominate the industry (and who in some respects were already doing so). By and large, they saw a wider range of possibilities in storytelling than most of those who’d preceded them; and while they respected the history of their chosen art form, they had less regard for convention or authority than previous generations. Finally, they weren’t particularly concerned about who amongst their peer group was currently working for DC or for Marvel, realizing (correctly) that those particular professional associations could, and probably would, change over time. And in any case, such considerations shouldn’t keep a group of friends from getting together and having a good time by putting together a “stealth crossover”.
That less regimented, more anarchic attitude towards comic-book making would lead to its own share of problems in the years to come, of course. But it would also result in the production of many, if not most, of the comics that would keep me engaged as a reader through my adolescence and into my early adulthood… the same comics that are the ones most likely to keep me engaged in writing posts for this blog, once or twice a week, for however long the enterprise may continue.
*Most, but not all. For an especially thorough attempt at a “reading order” for the whole crossover, check out the show notes for the October 30, 2020 episode of “Comic Books and Cold Ones”, from podcasters KMac and Yek.
**Is it merely a coincidence that the title of the JLA story that follows the Rutland Halloween crossover plays off the very same James Whitcomb Riley poem that the title of the Amazing Adventures third of the crossover itself does? Who knows?