Some fifteen months ago, I blogged about Avengers #70, which featured the first full appearance of the Squadron Sinister. Regular readers may recall my sheepish confession in that post that, despite how blindingly obvious it is to me now that these four characters were homages to/parodies of (take your pick) DC Comics’ Superman, Batman, Flash, and Green Lantern, in September, 1969 my then twelve-year-old self didn’t pick up on the joke at all.
Nor was I aware that this comic book was one half of a “stealth crossover” of sorts between Marvel Comics’ Avengers and its counterpart title over at DC, Justice League of America. Said crossover apparently had its origins at a party at which comics writer Mike Friedrich suggested to a couple of his cohorts, Roy Thomas (the writer of Avengers) and Denny O’Neil (then the writer of JLA), that they each present a “tip of the hat” of some sort from the super-team book they were writing to its rival, in issues coming out in the same month. Thomas and O’Neil both agreed, and Avengers #70 and JLA #75 were the results. But while the inspiration for Thomas’ Squadron Sinister was all but self-evident (though of course not to me, or to the other fans who chimed in after my September, 2019 blog post that they hadn’t caught on either), the relationship of the supposed Avengers analogues in O’Neil’s story — evil doppelgängers of the Justice League called “the Destructors” — to their Marvel models was obscure to the point of opacity, with the parallels being limited to such bits as having Superman’s dark twin refer to himself as being as powerful as Thor. (Um, sure.) I didn’t actually buy JLA #75 when it came out, but I’m all but 100% certain I wouldn’t have realized what O’Neil was up to with such subtle shenanigans, even if I had. Read More
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
Like Wonder Woman, the Atom was one of the last of the Justice League of America members with their own book whose solo adventures I decided to give a try. I’m not sure exactly what took me so long to get around to gambling twelve cents on the Mighty Mite — his book was another Julius Schwartz-edited book, after all, regularly featuring the art of Gil Kane, whose work I’d been enjoying on Green Lantern since the fall of 1965. My best guess is that I simply hadn’t been that impressed with the Atom in most of the JLA adventures I’d read featuring him. Let’s face it — in a team featuring heavy hitters like Superman and Green Lantern, it could be difficult for even the cleverest comic book storytellers, such as JLA scripter Gardner Fox and his editor Schwartz, to find ways for a six-inch hero to shine — and, with the notable exception of 1966’s Justice League-Justice Society two–part team-up story, in which the Atom played a decisive role in helping to save both Earth-One and Earth-Two, the Tiny Titan tended to fade (or perhaps shrink) into the background. 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
By October, 1966, United States military forces had been operating in Vietnam for over a decade, though mostly in an advisory role for much of that time. Beginning in 1961, however, President John F. Kennedy had greatly increased the number of American troops stationed in the region; and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, had used the authority of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed in August, 1964, to escalate the U.S.’s military role in the conflict between North and South Vietnam. The deployment of 3,500 Marines in March, 1965, effectively began the American ground war there. By December of that year, the number of U.S. troops had been increased to 200,000. Read More
It’s a well-known fact of comic book history that, in the 1960’s, editor Julius Schwartz often came up with an idea for a cover, had one of his stable of artists draw it up, and only then assigned a writer to script a story around it. I don’t know if any of Schwartz’s fellow DC editors of the time followed a similar practice — but if there’s any one non-Schwartz cover of the mid-Sixties that might be considered a candidate for “cover first”, it’s surely the Carmine Infantino-Joe Giella cover of The Brave and the Bold #69, edited by George Kashdan.
That’s partly due to the fact that Infantino is the same artist who pencilled many of those classic covers for Schwartz’s books — but mainly, it’s because of that big, red, iron bat holding Batman prisoner. That visual is so bizarre and unlikely, yet also so striking and memorable, that I find it easier to believe that someone — whether Infantino, Kashdan, or someone else — came up with it all on its own, and then found a way to work it into a story, rather than that it emerged naturally during the plotting of the story it ultimately came to illustrate. Especially since “War of the Cosmic Avenger”, written by Bob Haney and illustrated by Win Mortimer, doesn’t really have a whole lot of use for the big red bat after the first few pages. Read More
Comic book superheroes don’t get married very often. The conventional wisdom is that tying the knot not only puts an end to any dramatic tension in a hero’s current romance, but that it also severely limits the storylines that writers and artists can explore with that hero in the future. The pull of this idea among modern comics creators is so strong that even superheroes who’ve been married for as long as 15 years (Superman), or 20 (Spider-Man), can find themselves suddenly single — not through anything so mundane as legal divorce, of course, but rather by way of such plot machinations as having the Devil alter the characters’ history (Spider-Man), or rebooting a whole universe (Superman). Read More
This issue featured the second appearance of the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, as a guest star in the comic book headlined by his “successor”, Hal Jordan. Alan’s first guest shot had occurred less than a year previously, in Green Lantern #40’s “The Secret Origin of the Guardians” — a tale that eventually turned out to be one of the most consequential stories DC ever published, at least in terms of fictional universe-building (or, more accurately, multiverse-building). Although this second team-up of the two Lanterns, “Prince Peril’s Power Play”, was produced by the same creative team of writer John Broome, penciller Gil Kane, and inker Sid Greene, it wasn’t destined to achieve the same fame as the first one; still, it had (and has) several special things going for it. One of these was a second, different “guest appearance”, of a wholly different sort from Alan Scott’s, which we’ll get around to discussing a little later. Another was a greatly expanded role for a supporting character who’d only appeared briefly in GL #40 — Alan Scott’s chauffeur and sidekick, Charles “Doiby” Dickles. Read More