For the first year or so of the Justice League of America’s existence, the stories of DC’s premier superteam followed a fairly strict formula. Beginning with the team’s three tryout issues of The Brave and the Bold in 1959 and 1960, the tales told by writer Gardner Fox, penciller Mike Sekowsky, and editor Julius Schwartz played out according to a prescribed pattern; the team members (Aquaman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, the Martian Manhunter, Superman, and Wonder Woman — and, from JLA #4 on, Green Arrow) would come together at (or at least near) the beginning of the story; then they’d encounter or discover a menace; then they’d split into teams to battle different aspects of said menace; and then, finally, they’d come together at the end to secure their ultimate victory over the menace. Also as part of the formula, at least for the earliest adventures, Superman and Batman took no active role in the central team-up chapters, and sometimes didn’t even show up for the group scenes at the beginning or end; this was due to editor Schwartz deferring to the preferences of editors responsible for those heroes’ own titles, Mort Weisinger and Jack Schiff, who didn’t want DC’s two marquee characters overexposed. Even after the restrictions on using the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader eased up somewhat, there were issues when they were entirely absent (“on assignment” in Dimension X, or something else of that sort), and neither of them appeared on a cover until JLA #10 (March, 1962). Read More
In May, 1968, I was a regular buyer and reader of The Spectre — or at least as regular as I could be, short of shelling out for a year’s subscription by mail, considering the state of comic book distribution at the time (as well as my ten-year-old self’s lack of reliable weekly transportation to a comics-selling outlet). I had first come on board in 1966, with the Ghostly Guardian’s third and final tryout appearance in Showcase, and had bought the first issue of his own self-titled series when it finally appeared over a year later. I’d failed to score issue #2 (the first drawn by new regular artist Neal Adams), but otherwise, I had ’em all. Read More
What defines a comic book superhero as a unique character? Is it a name, or a costume, or a power set? What about a hero’s “secret identity”? Does it even matter who’s wearing the costume?
For what it’s worth, I suspect that the majority of people reading this post have a general conception of “Superman” as a single, unique character, albeit one with multiple versions — “pre-Crisis”, “New 52”, “Golden Age”, and so on. It’s probably the same with Batman, or Wonder Woman — or with Captain America, Iron Man, or the Mighty Thor, for that matter. Even if these heroes undergo occasional costume modifications or power fluctuations — and even if someone else steps into their heroic role for a time in the service of a storyline — there’s still a sense of a core character underneath it all — an “ur-Superman”, an “ur-Batman”, and so forth. Read More
Some years ago, when the late, lamented Comics Buyer’s Guide was still being published, comics writer and critic Tony Isabella offered up in its pages an opinion that’s always stuck with me — namely, that although he liked Green Lantern just fine, he’d never liked the concept of the Green Lantern Corps. As far as Mr. Isabella was concerned (and it’s been a long time since I read this, so I’m paraphrasing), a universe full of alien heroes all sharing the same name, wearing the same costume, and bearing the same super-powers as “our” Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, made Hal less special. The reason that this opinion has remained lodged in my memory, I think, is that I’ve always felt precisely the opposite. It’s the fact that Green Lantern is one of many heroes with the same name, powers, etc., that makes him (and his adventures) stand out from the rest of his costumed, code-named peers. Read More
Throughout the 1960’s, as their upstart rival Marvel Comics distinguished itself with the development of a complex and more-or-less consistent fictional universe that linked all of the company’s heroes, villains, and other characters into one ongoing meta-story, DC Comics resolutely continued to operate as a collection of mostly independent fiefdoms, each under the dominion of its own editor. Sure, all the A-list heroes showed up for Julius Schwartz’s Justice League of America, regardless of who was editing the heroes’ solo series, and they could also pair off in George Kashdan’s (later, Murray Boltinoff’s) The Brave and the Bold — but, by and large, DC’s editors didn’t pay much attention to continuity across the line.
Within an individual editor’s purview, however, there were occasional stabs at crossovers and other signifiers of a shared universe — especially within the books guided by Schwartz. As we’ve discussed in a previous post, one way Schwartz accomplished this was be establishing close friendships between pairs of his heroes (Flash and Green Lantern, Atom and Hawkman) which provided frequent opportunities for guest-shots in one another’s books. Another way was to set up a plotline in one book that would carry over into another book — as was done in the classic “Zatanna‘s Search” story arc that ran through multiple Schwartz-edited books from 1964 through 1966, culminating in Justice League of America #51’s “Z — as in Zatanna — and Zero Hour!”. Read More