As of March, 1971, my thirteen-year-old self was picking up Detective Comics on a fairly consistent basis — but it was a habit I’d acquired only recently (or perhaps I should say reacquired, as I’d been a regular reader of the title before, back in 1965-67). For that reason, I’d missed writer Denny O’Neil’s first two “League of Assassins” stories, which had run in issues #405 and #406, respectively. On the other hand, I had bought and read Detective #408, whose lead Batman story, though not scripted by O’Neil, had featured an attempt by the villainous Dr. Tzin-Tzin to eliminate the Darknight Detective at the League’s behest. So it wasn’t like I was completely unfamiliar with the sinister organization prior to my purchasing issue #411. Rather, I was intrigued by the little I knew — and though I realized I was coming in late, I was eager to catch up. Luckily, this third installment of O’Neil’s League saga didn’t depend very much on knowledge of the previous two at all — and what little I did need to know, I’d manage to pick up easily through the script’s unobtrusive exposition. Read More
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
Green Lantern #81, the sixth issue of writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams’ classic “Green Lantern/Green Arrow” run, represented a couple of “firsts” for the series. For one, the superheroine Black Canary, who’d previously appeared in issues #78 and #79, was cover-billed as a guest-star for the first time. For another, this was the first installment that overtly heralded the major social issue dramatized within the book’s pages with a cover blurb, i.e., the “Population Explosion!”
Along with these firsts, however, issue #81 almost had the added distinction of being the last issue drawn by Neal Adams. As the artist would later tell interviewer Arlen Schumer (in Comic Book Marketplace #40 [Oct., 1996]), “I thought we started to run out of ideas when we ran the overpopulation story… Politically, I had a problem with the book.” 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
When I picked up this issue of Brave and the Bold fifty years ago (give or take a couple of weeks), Batman’s co-star in the book, Plastic Man, had been around for over twenty-six years — almost as long as the Caped Crusader himself. But he’d only been a DC Comics hero for a little over one year — which is about as long as my ten-year-old self had been aware of him. 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
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
When I first began reading Batman comics, in August, 1965 (my initial issue, as I posted about around a year ago, was Detective #344), the character’s “New Look” — as developed by editor Julius Schwartz, with the help of artist Carmine Infantino and various writers — had been in place for well over a year. Nevertheless, by the time August, 1966 rolled around I had managed to achieve some familiarity with the Caped Crusader’s pre-1964 “old look” as well. This was thanks to several factors. For one thing, the animated opening credits of the Batman television series were based mostly on the older look; more significantly, the huge success of that show led to an expansion in the reprinting of older Batman material. And so, within a few months of the TV series’ January, 1966 debut, I had become the proud owner of two Signet paperbacks reprinting old Batman stories in glorious black and white, as well as an “80 Page Giant” issue of the Batman comic itself featuring tales of similar vintage in full color. Read More
In his mostly fascinating, occasionally maddening genre-history-cum-autobiography Supergods, the acclaimed comics writer Grant Morrison describes the lead tale in Flash #183 as “one of the first stories I remember having a profound impact on my young mind.” He goes on to state that he “can trace many of my own obsessions and concerns as a writer back to this particular root.” Morrison would have been six-and-a-half years old when this comic book was published, while I was eight, closing in on nine. I figure my recollection of its advent upon the world should be at least as clear as his — but, y’know, I don’t remember it having nearly so profound an impact on me. But that’s probably just one of the many, many reasons why Grant Morrison is a rock star of the comics world, and I’m just a schlub with a blog. Read More