Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Silver Age Superman

The Silver Age Superman was dramatically different from the Golden Age Superman. Aside from the very early stories, the Golden Age Superman tales tended to be more of a whimsical series. Perhaps sensing that Superman was too powerful to face ordinary crooks, the Golden Age Superman generally found himself up against conmen like J. Wilber Wolfingham, or other enemies who used guile and cunning like the Prankster or Luthor.

The other option was to weaken Superman, and this DC, especially under Weissinger's editorship, began pursuing with a vengeance. Although Green Kryptonite had been introduced in the comics as early as 1949, and in the Superman radio series years earlier than that, it had only featured in occasional stories prior to the Silver Age.

In Adventure Comics #255, Red Kryptonite made its first appearance in a Superboy story. Red K had an unpredictable effect on Kryptonians, and what's more, each piece affected them differently, conveniently for plot purposes a period of exactly 24 hours. It would be quite a task to list all the changes that Red K worked on Superman over the years, but a short listing includes making him only able to speak and write Kryptonese, turning him into a dragon, causes him to lose his powers temporarily, and even split him into two people--one Superboy, one Clark Kent.

DC expanded the Kryptonite line to three varieties in Superman #157. Quex-Ul, a Phantom Zone Prisoner, is released and vows to get revenge on Superman for his imprisonment. He has observed Gold K taking away the powers of a Krytonian beast permanently, and knows it will do the same to Superman.

Of course, the problem with Gold K is that being permanent, DC could never use it on Superman, only threaten its use.

In addition to Kryptonite, we learned that Superman had another vulnerability: Magic. This required the return of a Golden Age villain, Mr Mxyzptlk (although in the GA he was known as Mxyztplk), who proceeded to appear with alarming regularity. Several other characters used magic to cause trouble for Superman as well:

We also learned that Superman lost his powers under the influence of a sun that was not yellow, like Earth's:

The funny thing is that whenever the plot called for Superman to pick up the nearest mountain, they'd have him do it without blinking an eye, which just kept up the pressure to weaken him.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I've Got Something to Tell You, Honey...

In Flash #165 (Nov 1966), Barry Allen and Iris West finally get married. This was not DC's first wedding; Aquaman and Mera had finally tied the knot in Aquaman #18 (Nov-Dec 1964), Hawkman and Hawkgirl had been married when they arrived on Earth, and Ralph and Sue Dibney were wed immediately before the Elongated Man story in Detective #327 (May 1964). Reed Richards and Sue Storm over at Marvel had also married in Fantastic Four Annual #3 (1965).

But this wedding was different because it was the first time a superhero had gotten married without his wife knowing his double identity. This created some additional tension for the Scarlet Speedster:

So for the next year we would periodically see Barry musing his dilemma.

Ironically, this point had supposedly been settled before in Flash #156. An alien had arrived on Earth, letting everybody know that Barry Allen was the Flash. But at the end Barry has a chance to go backwards in time and change that memory. But he asks Iris for permission:

Despite that pledge, he finally decides to do the big reveal on their first anniversary. Of course there are only two real ways to go with this kind of moment from a plotting perspective, and DC chose the more amusing one:

The story (as it happens) was also Carmine Infantino's swan song on the Flash, so this is an especially poignant moment.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Our Army At War #92

A buddy of mine scanned in this issue and I thought I'd do a solo issue review. Here's the cover:

(Cover art by Jerry Grandinetti)

This was the March, 1960 issue. The cover story features Sgt. Rock. Rock is a no-nonsense soldier presiding over a group of men known (ironically) as Easy Company. In this story, he's not only battling the Germans, but his own men who have become superstitious that a rabbit's foot owned by the squad's flame-thrower operator is responsible for their good fortune:

(Art by Joe Kubert, who created Sgt. Rock)

In the end, of course, the soldiers learn their lesson, that their trinkets and charms were not responsible for the luck of Easy Company. Unfortunately, they transfer their superstition:

Comments: Excellent Bob Kanigher story with terrific art as usual by Kubert. More than anything else, it's Kubert's inks that give his characters faces so much emotion.

There is a short feature on the Fighting 41st infantry division, known as the Jungleers for their fighting in the South Pacific, followed by "Bait for a Desert Hawk". A German pilot and an American pilot find their fates tied to a battle between a falcon and a sparrow hawk. The German and the falcon win the first battle, but the American copies a trick used by the sparrow hawk in a rematch and is successful as well.

Comments: Nice compact (6 pages) story with art by Russ Heath.

"D-Day Commandos" is the tale of a pre-invasion commando who is supposed to be guided to his target by three men of the Maquis. However, when he arrives at his first waypoint, he is startled to discover his guide is a boy. The lad turns out to be both brave and intelligent, saving the commando for the next waypoint. This time the person awaiting him is an old man, who again proves resourceful and courageous. Now it is up to the last guide, who is young and manly. And a Nazi intent on sabotaging the mission. The commando realizes that the young boy and the old man did their jobs, so he must do his by defeating the Nazi and blowing up the bridge to help the invasion forces.

Comments: Terrific story, in the compact style of the Silver Age; all the action described above (and more) comes in six pages and only 33 panels.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Marvel Girlfriends

This is not the first time I have remarked on this, but when you look at the Silver Age DC they were miles ahead of Marvel in terms of their treatment of women.

Look at the Silver Age DC girlfriends/love interests and their occupations:

Flash: Iris West, newspaper reporter
Green Lantern: Carol Ferris, aircraft plant executive
The Atom: Jean Loring, defense attorney
Hawkman: Hawkgirl (Shayera Hol), policewoman

Now let's try the comparison with Marvel:

Hulk: Betty Ross, daughter of a general
Spiderman: Betty Brant, secretary
Thor: Jane Foster, nurse
Iron Man: Pepper Potts, secretary
Daredevil: Karen Page, secretary

Are we seeing a trend here? I don't even know if Betty Ross had a job in the old Hulk stories; wasn't she more or less a housekeeper for her father? I left Aquaman out of the mix because for some odd reason his Silver Age adventures did not start with a romantic interest; it was not until Aquaman #11 that Mera appeared on the scene. And you can make a case for talking about Sue Storm being a scientist, although it might help if Stan and Jack had shown her mixing up some chemicals in her spare time instead of trying on new clothes and hairstyles.

All the Marvel heroines performed one valuable function; they made excellent hostages. Let's consider Jane Foster, for example:

Now it is not entirely fair to criticize this as sexist; it's also provides strong motivation for the hero. Hostages help balance out the power differences between superheroes and the (often non-super) villains. And it's not as if only women were used in this way; Jimmy Olsen and Robin often found themselves kidnapped as well.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

You Can Learn A Lot From Comics

Sometimes even I'm surprised at what turns out to be well-grounded. I was reading Atom #10 (Dec 1963-Jan 1964). The second story in that issue is called The Mysterious Swan-Maiden, in which Jean Loring is required to act as defense counsel for a swan.

Now looking at it, I thought that citation looked ridiculous, but when I typed it into Google (and Google corrected a minor error by asking if I wanted "fitzh abr barre pl 290"), I was taken to this page from a book on Privacy and the Constitution, where indeed the topic of animals being guilty of crimes is discussed:

The reader will see in this passage, as has been remarked already of the Roman law, that a distinction is taken between things which are capable of guilt and those which are not--between living and dead things; but he will also see that no difficulty was felt in treating animals as guilty.

Gardner Fox (who wrote the story) obviously knew his legal precedents! I should add that this discussion comes in a section on liability (i.e., torts), and that animals can not really be brought to criminal trial; that's a little bit of literary license.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Yet More DC Scientofascism

I've talked a number of times in the past about the weird scientific fascism that many DC comics of the Silver Age appeared to endorse, as well as the odd conflict between DC's apparent reverence for science and its decidedly ambivalent attitude towards the products of that science. Here's another classic and bizarre example, from Adventure Comics #267 (Dec 1959).

The Legion of Super-Heroes (making their second appearance) have apparently taken up residence in Smallville. They perform a few heroic maneuvers, but treat Superboy coldly. Eventually the mayor of Smallville decides there's no need for the Boy of Steel, and Superboy tearfully leaves Earth. While in space, he comes across a horde of super-beings, all headed for one planet, which turns out to be a planet devoted to a tribute to Superboy himself. However, when he arrives:

Sentence first, trial afterwards, eh? A page or so later, they explain the reason for imprisoning him:

Just imagine the uproar if an administration tried to institute preventive detention, based on the fact that you're going to commit a crime five years hence. But, you know, it's just scientifically logical. Provided, of course, that the "futuroscope" works, which, of course it doesn't.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Second Origin of the Second Two-Face

Two-Face was one of Batman's better villains. Harvey Kent (later changed to Dent) was a handsome District Attorney in Gotham City, with a penchant for prosecuting mobsters. When he prosecuted Boss Maroni, the mobster scarred the left side of the DA's face with a vial of acid. Driven mad by his sudden bizarre appearance, Kent became a lawbreaker, using the "two" theme in his crimes. In keeping with his dual nature, Two-Face had a silver dollar with two heads on it, one of which he disfigured. He would flip the coin and if the good side came up, he would donate the proceeds to a charity, blending in a little Robin Hood with the obvious Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde characterization.

But Kent eventually repented his evil ways and with the help of his fiancee and a plastic surgeon was able to resume his prior life. The saga was told over a series of stories appearing in Detective Comics #66, 68 and 80. Two-Face was clearly a popular character, and yet the editors seemed reluctant to disturb the happiness of the Kents. There was one story after those with Two-Face, but it turned out to be the Kents' butler, wearing a mask.

In Batman #68, a new, real, Two-Face was introduced. As it happened my introduction to this story came when it was reprinted in Batman Annual #3, which is effectively the only appearance for either of the Two-Faces in the Silver Age (yes, I know about the World's Finest issue, but that was Batman dressing up as Two-Face). In the story, Paul Sloane is a handsome actor, portraying Harvey Kent on a Hollywood TV set, when something goes terribly wrong:

It's a memorable moment, and so when a friend of mine showed me his copy of Batman #68, I was looking forward to rereading it in the original. I was startled to discover that the above scene does not appear there. Instead there's this:

Note also the black and white image as viewed from the TV in the original versus the color image in the latter; another difference between 1963 and 1950. I remember the first time I saw a color TV at about 1962 being completely blown away by the idea that they could improve on black and white.

It turns out that the prop man had put acid in the bottle as revenge for Sloane stealing his girlfriend. I suspect that the Comics Code Authority, while allowing the disfigurement to be presented, demanded that the love triangle be edited out of the scene when it was reprinted in Batman Annual #3.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Pander Bear

I haven't spent much time discussing funny animal-type comics on this blog so far. Of course, funny animal comics were not a huge segment of the Silver Age with a few notable exceptions (Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge, Fox & Crow). DC published only the latter during almost the entire decade of the 1960s in the funny animal genre; I don't think Marvel even had a funny animal series.

But in the 1950s there were quite a few more young children around. In July-August 1953, DC launched Peter Panda, an oddball series that seemed designed to appeal more to parents than to kids. Where most funny animal series involve only animals, Peter had two human friends, Jimmy and Jane.

The stories mostly revolved around one or the both of the kids doing something wrong, that inevitably leads to (somewhat wacky) trouble. Fortunately, the wrong-doer quickly learns his lesson and Peter Panda arrives to save the day.

Kids doing something wrong:

Wacky trouble:

Panda to the rescue, lesson learned:

What, Pandas have helicopters too?

Of course, the astounding part about reading these comics is wondering how the intended readers reacted. Kids hate being lectured to, and Peter does a lot of lecturing:

One presumes that the comic was really being marketed to mothers as a way of teaching your children lessons. But what weird lessons--don't abuse machinery because you might get taken to Gadgetville and forced to stand trial? Don't skip dinner for ice cream because you might be forced to eat trucks full of ice cream? Eat your vegetables or you might get taken to the Land of the Vegetables and forced to stand trial? These poor kids were brought up on phony charges in almost every issue; wonder what lesson was being imparted there?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Dial B for Blog is Back with a Real Scoop on Batman!

And has an amazing series of posts about Batman's original stories that are staggering in their implications.

You'll have to scroll down a bit on that post to get to the meat of the allegations, but once you see the side-by-side comparisons, it becomes quite clear that Detective #27's Batman story, the first appearance of the caped crusader, was quite obviously swiped from two main sources; a Shadow pulp magazine and a Big Little Book.

There are a couple of weak points, but overall the evidence is overwhelming. I'm completely flabbergasted.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Alley Awards: Best Covers

The Alley Awards were the comic equivalent of the Academy Awards during the 1960s although for some reason they died out after 1969. Using the information found here, the best comic covers of the 1960s were:

Also a very significant book, as we have discussed in the past.

There seems to have been a push by fandom to help out DC's resurrection of this character, as Hawkman was also chosen as best hero of 1962, despite the fact that sales of his tryout issues were insufficient to launch a solo title yet.

In 1963 there was no award for best cover per se, but this cover won for best single illustration:

I'm as baffled as you probably are by that one.

The New Look Batman picks up a win for Carmine Infantino.

An effort at reviving two Golden Age heroes. Although both this issue and Brave & Bold #62 were terrific, they did not sell enough to justify continuation.

Al Williamson's take on the comic strip classic. Various efforts were made to bring Flash Gordon to the comic books, but none ever succeeded. Most of the major publishers tried at least once--DC, Harvey, Marvel, Dell, Gold Key and King (which produced this attempt).

Neal Adams picks up the first of many awards. Note that this is the only cover chosen in the decade that has word balloons. Update: DOH! As pointed out by Snard in the comments, the Flash #123 cover also has word balloons.

Jim Steranko checks in with a memorable Nick Fury cover.

Steranko wins for the second consecutive year.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Computers in the Silver Age

This is a topic I will be returning to over time to add details. Comic books were always interested in cutting-edge technology, and computers were certainly considered in that category back in the 1960s.

As I have discussed previously, DC in the Silver Age elevated science to the status of a religion, with Jor-El as the high priest. But curiously, when it came to the fruits of that science--technology--DC was decidedly more ambivalent.

We have discussed in the past the Kryptonian machine that determined what occupation you were best suited for and to which you would be assigned with no appeal. And we've covered the machine 500 years in the future which determines whether you have sufficiently repented criminality before your parole date. And what do both those incredibly sophisticated pieces of technology have in common? They both screwed up!

This is a theme that recurs often in the DC Silver Age. For example, consider a little story from Superman #118 (January 1958) called The Boy Napoleon. Jimmy takes a military aptitude test on an electronic brain, and the brass are stunned to discover that he's a genius. Of course, Clark quickly realizes what happened:

But as Superman he's compelled to help make Jimmy look like Napoleon to convince some foreign spies that they should not invade against this fearsome young general.

Think computer dating is a new fad? Lois Lane #24's cover shows otherwise:

That fella on the right is not Clark Kent. Cute little story with a shocking revelation about Lois' supposed perfect man:

Roger is so embarrassed at his lack of hair that he is unable to face Lois again, so we are left wondering if she could have overcome her irrational prejudice towards the follically challenged. And whether the computer worked or not in this case.

Here's an ad that appeared in many comics magazines during the late 1960s:

Discussion of the Digi Comp I here.

In Jimmy Olsen #5 (May-June 1955), the Daily Planet gets a new tool:

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Thunder And Lightning

In JLA #37-38, DC brought back the JSA for the third teamup with the Justice League. Once again, they continued to rotate the characters.

In this story, Johnny Thunder and his Thunderbolt appeared for the first time since the 1940s. Johnny is probably the least famous JSA member. He effectively had a genie (the Thunderbolt) who would appear whenever he spoke the words "Say you". The humor arose because Johnny apparently didn't know those were the magic words, although of course he managed to say them by accident many times. He was a major DC character of the 1940s, appearing in many issues of Flash Comics (including #1) and All-Star (including as a charter member of the JSA in #3), as well as the first three issues of World's Best/World's Finest and World's Fair Comics 1940.

Fate was not very kind to Johnny. In Flash Comics #86, a backup character was introduced named the Black Canary. Six issues later, Thunder was out and the Canary was in; she also fairly quickly eased him from of his role in the Justice Society.

In this story, Johnny does know the words "Say you". He has been invited to a meeting of the JSA once again. However, upon learning that there are Earth-1 counterparts to some of his old mates, he becomes curious as to what his doppelganger is like. It turns out that the Johnny Thunder of Earth-1 is a small-time crook who remembers reading the old Johnny Thunder comics in the 1940s. He kayos Earth-2's Johnny and takes over control of the Thunderbolt.

Realizing that the JLA will be tough to beat, he commands the Thunderbolt to arrange things so that none of the JLA heroes will arise. The Thunderbolt prevents Krypton from exploding, keeps the lightning from breaking through the window of Barry Allen's lab, stops Abin Sur's rocket from crashing, etc. Sadly, Bruce Wayne's parents are not rescued:

Since Johnny has not shown up for the JSA reunion, his old mates are worried. They track him down to Earth-1 where they are stunned to learn that the JLA does not exist. They battle Johnny and his Thunderbolt, but are unable to prevent them from getting away with magic. They discover from interviewing Thunder's henchmen that there are no superheroes on Earth-1 and never have been. So they decide to mimic the JLA themselves, using their powers to fake the Earth-1 heroes' abilities.

They trounce Johnny and the Thunderbolt, but the former soon figures out that it was the JSA members in disguise. In response, he tells the Thunderbolt to arrange for it that five of his cronies become the JLA heroes Batman, Superman, Flash, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter. Thus his criminal henchmen become supervillians, setting the stage for a battle in the following issue.

In JLA #38, the heroes of Earth-2 battle the villains of Earth-A (since Earth-1 is now an alternate world). But the heroes prove too much for the villains because they are accustomed to using their powers while the villains are still new to the experience. Of course, this makes little sense given that the Thunderbolt had gone back in time to make them super-powered beings:

(Update: Now that I think of it, this is probably why Gardner Fox did not have the Thunderbolt rescue Bruce Wayne's parents, because if they had, what Hawkman would be suggesting here is to allow them to die again.)

Johnny escapes to the moon where he forces the Thunderbolt to create three new villains, but in the end they are defeated, and so it's a battle of the T-Bolt and Dr Fate. But Johnny gets caught up in the fight and is being battered, so he finally wishes that none of this had ever happened.

And so:

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Detective #249

I've always liked this particular issue, for several reasons. First, it features Batwoman and Robin working together. Why? Well, because Bruce Wayne is in prison!

It's something of a stock DC plot, with Bruce agreeing to be found guilty of being the fantastic new criminal, The Collector, in an attempt to befriend a prisoner who has somehow found blueprints to the jail. As in all such stories, though, only one person (Commissioner Gordon) knows that Bruce is not really guilty.

So when one of the convicts attempting a breakout with the plans accidentally kills himself, Bruce is accused of murder and sentenced to die. And of course, the Gotham legal system makes Texas look deliberate, so that Bruce is convicted and receives the last meal rapidly. Can Batwoman and Robin save him?

Well, Robin can, anyway. This was only Batwoman's third appearance and although she insists that the Boy Wonder work under her as he would under Batman, it is clear that Robin is the real detective on this case:

This is contrary to the usual Silver Age stories in which Robin is almost always second banana to the World's Greatest Detective.

Eventually Batwoman and Robin capture the Collector and the warden gets the governor to call off the execution. We never do hear that Commissioner Gordon has recovered from that nasty coma.

The story is unique in that Batman only appears in one panel; it's almost all Bruce Wayne.

The second story is The Ghost that Haunted Roy Raymond. The Roy Raymond stories were amusing little tales of a TV debunker of the supernatural. In this one, Roy proves that the ghost haunting him is actually a fake arranged by a couple of men trying to settle a bet.

The text story is actually pretty interesting, concerning the C.I.B., the Compliance and Investigative Branch of the Department of Agriculture. Yes, Agriculture had their own special cops, who bust people for some, shall we say, unusual crimes:

Yes, thank goodness those wily promoters are not allowed to make a profit on that wheat!

In the Martian Manhunter story, the governor is being threatened by gangsters trying to get a pardon for one of their members who is scheduled for execution. Two death penalty stories in one issue! Detective Jones impersonates the governor using his special power of being able to mimic any form (pretending he used makeup for the trick). The execution apparently goes forward, and the next day the crooks try to get revenge on the governor, but Jones manages to defeat them without revealing he's a Martian.

Friday, July 06, 2007

X Marks the Spot

In 1963, Marvel really got hopping. For September of that year, they turned out not one, but two new superhero teams. The first, The Avengers, was made up of the heroes they had launched to that point, including Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, and the Hulk. The second group, therefore, had to be newly created. Rather than give them separate origins, Stan and Jack came up with a new concept for superheroes: They had all been born that way. They were mutants, members of "homo superior", as compared to homo sapiens.

Here's the cover:

The Flyboy is The Angel, originally Warren Worthington III. Although this issue does not reveal much more about him than that he can fly and wears a harness while in street clothes that hides his wings, the name is clearly intended to give us an image of a wealthy young preppie.

The big-footed gentleman on the trapeze is The Beast, real name Hank McCoy. He's something of a monkey-boy, capable of bouncing around at will and using his feet almost like hands. He's also a sesquipedalian, somebody who never uses a simple word when a six-syllable term will suffice.

The laser guy is Cyclops, introduced in this issue as "Slim" Summers although later stories use his given name of Scott. Although it is not apparent in the first issue, Summers is the leader of the team when away from their home base.

The gal in the background looking like she's riding a surfboard is Jean Grey, alias Marvel Girl. Her power is here described as "teleportation" although in fact it is more telekenesis as later stories will acknowledge. Jean is the source of some of the friction in the group, as everybody (except one) is attracted to her.

The lone holdout from the Jean Grey admiration society (at least in this first issue) is Iceman, shown throwing snowballs above. Bobby Drake is the youngest of the X-Men at only 16.

The villain is Magneto, certainly one of the most durable villains of the Marvel Silver Age. He too is a mutant, but an evil mutant determined to take over the Earth as its ruler.

Not shown is the regular leader of the X-Men, Professor Xavier. Although confined to a wheelchair, he possesses a superior mind, capable of telepathy at great distances.

The X-Men were destined to become one of the great teams in comic book history, although that may not have been obvious at first. In fact, they did not survive to the end of the Silver Age, being cancelled after issue #66, March 1970. But they would return in the mid-70s with different members and become extremely popular.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Silver Age Comic Book Advertisers

This is another post, like my Batman and Guns post, that will be regularly updated as I come across interesting stuff to add to it. To most of us comic readers, the ads were generally an annoyance, since it meant one less page of story and art. But some of the ads were well-designed or featured genuinely interesting products, and I am going to comment on those.

First up is Ideal's Motorofic Action Highway set. As you can see, the story (as found in Detective 381, November 1968) is told in comic book fashion, with lots of excitement:

Now that just sounds cool, and according to this website, it was (and is). The set shown above is the "Highway 97" version. I especially liked this discussion of the flagman:

This accessory will stop a vehicle, and allow a flagman to 'cross' in front, then allow the vehicle to proceed. Ingeniously done with a hidden turntable and magnets. The extra fun of the item comes from its own inherent lack of precision: Occasionally the vehicle runs over the obnoxious flagman.

Uniroyal had a brand of car tires called Tiger Paws. Here's a neat little animated commercial from around 1968:

The brand was successful enough that they decided to sell it to kids as well, for their bicycles:

I believe the art on that is by the famed EC artist, Jack Davis. An aside here: Bicycle tires can matter. I was out riding one time with a couple friend who were much better riders than I. But we started riding up this muddy hill and I passed them with ease. As I did, one of the other riders exclaimed "Holy smoke! Look at all that mud coming off that tire!" As it happened, I had a Mud Dawg tire on the back, and it was indeed shedding mud like water off a duck's back.

A ration of Grog for the kiddies?

Here's one of the odder products advertised. A dinosaur that grows its own tail, that you can then plant and watch grow into a beautiful shade tree? And it grows another and another?

Of course, the reality turned out a bit different:

My folks mounted Grog on an upright support of our backyard patio and I filled his teensy tail-hole with soil and planted the seed. I waited. And waited. And waited some more. Maybe I hadn't been watering Grog's tail enough; after all, didn't "succulent" plants need lots of water? So, instead of the eyedropper I was using, I used a small paper cup to water the plant. It immediately overflowed the miniscule receptacle, washing all the soil and seed right out of Grog's tail-indentation! I never did find that seed (it never grew out of the backyard lawn, that's for sure) and Grog soon became another of those items buried in the garage, never to be seen again. Grog was a disaster and a rip-off, but he taught me about mail-order toys from comics, and probably discouraged me from throwing away good comic-buying allowance for such things as those "giant dinosaur balloons" and other such junk available in comic book ads.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Crooked Earth

The second JLA/JSA teamup took place in Justice League of America #29-30. The first issue features probably my favorite JLA cover ever:

In the first book, we meet the super-powered beings of Earth-3:

Knockoffs of the Flash, Wonder Woman, Batman, Green Lantern and Superman respectively, but with one crucial difference. They are evil, and form the Crime Syndicate of America. In fact, on their world there are no superheroes, making it a pretty grim place indeed.

Note as well that this time DC embraces the concept of alternative versions of their flagship characters, Batman and Superman, although they still had yet to do so on Earth-2.

The Crime Syndicate members have been successful in their theft attempts so often, that they are getting careless. And when they learn that there are other Earths vibrating at a different speed from theirs, with superheroes to test their mettle, they decide it will be good training to face the heroes of Earth-1.

By no small coincidence, the JLA members available to face the Crime Syndicate their counterparts listed above, and at first it looks like we'll see straight matchups, but as it turns out, the villains have switched positions for the most part, so it's mixed matches, with the Flash facing Ultraman, Batman against Johnny Quick, Superman against Power Ring, and Green Lantern against Owlman. Not surprisingly, Wonder Woman and Superwoman did get to face each other, since it prevented two man against woman fights.

In each battle the supervillian initially does well, but the superhero responds better to the changing dynamics of the battle and wins. However, there is a trick that each of the villains plays on the hero in the end:

After being transported to Earth-3, the superheroes find that the villains have a home field advantage, and they are quickly subdued. Improbably, the villains, rather than doing the obvious (killing the Justice League members), decide to be sporting and find another earth to host the rubber match. Earth-2 is the obvious pick and so the Crime Syndicate studies it. But this alerts the JSA, who discover the JLA held captive around their conference table. Doctor Fate is able to disrupt the spell holding them with the lightning bolt shown on the cover long enough to learn of the impending invasion from Earth-3.

Gardner Fox rotated the JSA members for this issue. Making their first appearances in the Silver Age were Starman and Doctor Midnight, while Hawkman, Black Canary and Doctor Fate returned. Black Canary's continued presence highlights that DC was still uncomfortable with the idea of a GA and SA Wonder Woman.

In JLA #30, the JSA faces the Crime Syndicate. They manage to defeat the individual members, but as with the JLA, the villains have a trick up their sleeves that makes them the winner either way:

This sets up the rematch of the JLA versus the Crime Syndicate, and this time the JLA wins. They learn that the villains have set a trap if they free the JSA members, and so disable the trap before saving their friends and sealing the Crime Syndicate in a bubble.