Previously: We’ve been exploring the history and membership of DC Comics’ Justice Society of America, the superhero team from whence all others came. When last we met, we had just seen the Justice Society’s exit from regular publication in 1951, with more of a whimper than a bang. When they would return 12 years later, however, it would not be with a bang, but a boom. A sonic boom, that is, courtesy of DC Comics’ newly revived Scarlet Speedster…
By 1962, DC Comics had fully embraced its superhero renaissance. Revived and redesigned versions of the Flash and Green Lantern were tearing up the sales charts, and an updated version of the Justice Society, entitled JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, united all of DC’s first-string superhero characters (plus the Martian Manhunter, but that’s another story) in a single monthly team book. With superheroes hot sellers at the newsstand once more, many of DC’s old-time fans from the late ’40s and early ’50s returned as well, and some of them began requesting to see the original heroes from the Golden Age of comics, such as the first Flash, the first GL, and the Justice Society.
Editor Julius Schwartz delivered, first reviving original Flash Jay Garrick in the pages of FLASH #123, “Flash of Two Worlds!” The story, by writer Gardner Fox and artist Carmine Infantino, introduced the “parallel Earths” concept to DC Comics, which allowed the original 1940s versions of their characters to exist separately from their modern, then-current 1960s counterparts. Once it was firmly established that Jay Garrick lived on Earth-Two, which was separated from new Flash Barry Allen’s Earth-One by a different vibratory frequency (a satisfactory enough bit of pseudo-science), it was just a matter of time before the rest of Jay Garrick’s teammates came out of retirement. And come out they did in FLASH #137 (June 1963), in “Vengeance of the Immortal Villain,” again by Fox and Infantino.
Here the two Flashes reunite to investigate mysterious skylights appearing over the cities that just happen to be the hometowns of former Justice Society members (or their corresponding locations on Barry Allen’s Earth-One). When the final beam of light appears over Jay Garrick’s hometown of Keystone City, the Flashes race to find the source of the beam. In finding it, Garrick is ambushed by another machine which traps him in an impenetrable cube, which then flies into the air toward an unknown destination. Barry Allen manages to free Garrick from the cube, angering the man behind the scheme: Vandal Savage, the JSA’s immortal enemy from the Injustice Society, who we see has already imprisoned JSA members Wonder Woman, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Dr. Mid-Nite, the Atom and Johnny Thunder in similar stasis cubes.
Savage now takes off the gloves and goes after Jay Garrick personally, but is again thwarted by the two Flashes. Savage then exposes the speedsters to a “will-controller ray,” forcing them to fight each other. The younger Barry Allen wins out, and races toward Savage with the intent to capture him. Just before contact, Allen realizes it might be a trap (thanks to the ever-observant Allen noticing the dilated pupils on the phoney Vandal Savage), and escapes getting cubed himself, after which he frees Jay Garrick and the rest of the JSA, who easily capture Savage.
The now-freed Justice Society realizes it might not be a bad idea to occasionally meet to prevent future attacks from their old enemies, and resolve to return the JSA to active status.
It didn’t take long for the JSA to return in a much bigger way (only two months, as a matter of fact), in the classic “Crisis on Earth-One!” from JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #21 (August 1963), by writer Gardner Fox and artist Mike Sekowsky.
In this adventure, the newly reunited Justice Society (composed in this go-round of Hawkman, Flash, Green Lantern, Atom, Black Canary and returning founders Dr. Fate and Hourman) face off against their old foes The Wizard, the Fiddler and the Icicle, while at the same time, the Justice League of Earth-One receive a challenge from their frequent adversaries Chronos, Felix Faust and Doctor Alchemy. Little do the JSA and JLA know that their enemies are actually working together (after the JSA’s foes accidentally discovered the existence of the parallel Earths while escaping from prison), with a fairly well-thought plan to escape to each others’ Earths and enjoy the fruits of their thievery without fear of capture, since they’re not wanted fugitives when not on their native Earth. However, boredom soon gets the best of them, and the Crime Champions of two worlds soon begin to run rampant, challenging each other’s foes to combat. When the defeated Justice League is magically trapped in its own headquarters, a tip from the Flash leads them to contact the JSA through a seance, summoning the Justice Society to Earth-One.
With a little magical help from Dr. Fate, the JLA are sent to Earth-Two to battle their own enemies, while the JSA stays on Earth-One to round up their foes.
Despite a quick pit stop in deep space thanks to a trap set by Felix Faust and the Wizard, the united Justice Society and Justice League put an end to the Crime Champions and propose that the two teams stay in touch in case future need arises for their combined strength. Staying in touch wouldn’t be a problem, as nearly every summer for the next 25 years would feature a team-up between the Justice Society and the Justice League in the pages of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA. The second such meeting took place in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #29 and 30 (August, September 1964), in “Crisis on Earth-Three!” again by Fox and Sekowsky.
This time, the JSA and JLA go up against the Crime Syndicate of the newly discovered parallel world Earth-Three, where much of history happens in reverse. On Earth-Three, Columbus discovered Europe, Abe Lincoln shot President John Wilkes Booth, and the planet’s only super-powered beings are criminals, namely Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring, analogues to Earth-One’s Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash and Green Lantern.
Lacking a challenge on their own Earth, the Crime Syndicate travels to Earth-One to defeat the JLA (having only recently discovered the existence of the parallel Earths), then heads to Earth-Two to smack down the JSA for good measure. After a few tag-team exchanges, the JLA and JSA defeat the Crime Syndicate and leave them imprisoned in the limbo between worlds, which seems more than a little unconstitutional, but whatever.
The next meeting between the JLA and JSA took place in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #37 and 38, a convoluted tale in which the Johnny Thunder of Earth-One (who’s something of a nogoodnik) takes control of JSA member Johnny Thunder’s magical Thunderbolt, and wishes the Justice League had never existed, forcing the T-Bolt to go back in time and prevent the JLA members’ origins from taking place.
Even worse, after the JSA impersonate the missing JLA members in the hopes of frightening the evil Johnny Thunder, he instead commands the T-Bolt to replace the JLA with members of his own criminal gang, and things just get more complicated from there. Other than the plot that you can’t really follow without a scorecard, the notable thing about this JSA appearance is the return to active duty of Mr. Terrific, who hadn’t been seen as a Justice Society member since his sole appearance in 1945.
Justice Society membership changed for the first time in nearly twenty years with JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #55, in “The Super-Crisis that Struck Earth-Two!”, once more by Fox and Sekowsky.
The plot itself, involving normal citizens from across the globe being transformed into monstrously powerful thieves and vandals by mysterious alien black spheres, is typical Gardner Fox material (which certainly isn’t bad — there’s usually more creativity packed into a Gardner Fox story than you’d find in any 10 comics nowadays). The prospect of a new JSA member, however, was far from routine. Joining up in this issue was none other than the now-grown Robin the formerly Boy Wonder, replacing his mentor Batman on the active JSA roster (although Batman’s total of two JSA appearances hardly qualified him as active). As good as it was to see Robin finally sitting at the grown-up’s table, the question has to be asked: what is the deal with that costume?
Combining the worst of both the Batman and Robin uniforms, poor Dick Grayson is saddled with a horrendous gray muddle, with Batman’s gloves and boots and a godawful yellow Batman cape with a high collar. Not helping matters is Mike Sekowsky’s occasionally, shall we say, creative anatomy, in which most male characters look to have a sofa cushion for a torso.
The JSA membership drive continued the next year in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #64 (August 1968), in “The Stormy Return of the Red Tornado!”, by Gardner Fox and Sekowsky’s replacement on the JLA series, artist Dick Dillin.
Herein, a mysterious caped figure calling himself the Red Tornado bursts into the Justice Society’s headquarters, claiming to be the original Red Tornado from the Justice Society’s first meeting back in 1940, and demanding to reclaim his membership.
Upon later investigation, it’s revealed that this new Red Tornado was actually an android, created by the criminal scientist Thomas Oscar Morrow to infiltrate the Justice Society and destroy it from within. When that plan succeeds, T.O. Morrow sets his sights on the Justice League as well, managing to kill five Leaguers by creating energy duplicates of their spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends and murdering them with an explosive kiss. The Red Tornado, now freed from Morrow’s control, resurrects the Leaguers by gathering their actual significant others and imbuing them with that same energy, allowing them to return their loved ones to life. (Although I’m not sure the Atom’s girlfriend has the right idea…)
Anyway, once the JLA and the Red Tornado have captured Morrow and forced him to revive the remaining JLA and JSA members, the Justice Society acknowledges his heroism by granting the Red Tornado full membership in the Justice Society. (By strange coincidence, that same month would see the JLA’s Marvel competition, the Avengers, also receive an android member in the red-skinned person of the Vision.)
Justice Society membership would actually contract with their next appearance in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, with the departure of the Black Canary to Earth-One to join the Justice League, in issues #73 and 74, by Fox’s successor Denny O’Neil and artist Dick Dillin. While both teams united to face the alien creature known as Aquarius, Black Canary’s husband Larry Lance sacrificed his life to save his wife from certain death at the hands of the cosmic menace.
In the wake of her husband’s murder, Earth-Two held too many painful memories for the Canary, so she goes back to Earth-One with the Justice League permanently, leaving her native Earth behind.
(This story, by the way, probably caused more trouble from a continuity standpoint than any other JLA story. First, about 10 years later, was the age problem: if the Canary was old enough to be in the JSA in the 1950s, she should be too old to be dating the Earth-One Green Arrow by about 20 years. That little problem was solved by revealing that she was actually the daughter of the original Black Canary, with her memory erased by Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt for some extremely complex reason. Later, when CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS did away with the parallel Earths altogether, the entire notion was naturally junked, and the earlier, somewhat specious concept of mother and daughter Black Canaries suddenly became much more helpful a notion.)
And so the annual Justice Society appearances continued, summer after summer, sometimes used as a device to revive more Golden Age characters, like the Seven Soldiers of Victory (the Toronto Raptors of superhero teams, boasting such also-rans as Green Arrow and Speedy, the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy, the Vigilante, the Shining Knight and the Crimson Avenger. When the Green Arrow and Speedy are your franchise players, that’s a bad superhero team.) or Quality’s stable of characters (including Uncle Sam, Phantom Lady and Black Condor), whom DC would dub the Freedom Fighters. It wouldn’t be until 1976 that the Justice Society would once more regain a monthly series all their own, in the pages of the newly revived ALL-STAR COMICS, which picked up where the last JSA appearance had left off, with issue #58, entitled “All-Star Super-Squad!” (Jan.-Feb. 1976)
In the debut issue of the new series, written by Gerry Conway with art by Ric Estrada and comics great Wally Wood, an effort was definitely made to give the old-timers a shot in the arm with some brash, younger members, focusing in the first story on Robin and two new members: the Star-Spangled Kid, freshly brought back from being lost in time since the 1940s and utilizing Starman’s cosmic rod so as to make him a more powerful character, and the newly introduced Power Girl, the Earth-Two version of Supergirl, Superman’s Kryptonian cousin.
However, Power Girl is a distinctly 1970s superheroine, forever spouting about “women’s liberation” and railing against Wildcat for being a chauvinist, all while showing off probably the most cleavage ever seen on a comic-book rack. The revived ALL-STAR COMICS had a respectable little run, notable mostly for Wally Wood’s art and the return of most of the JSA’s rogues gallery, including Vandal Savage, Per Degaton, an all-new Brainwave, Solomon Grundy and more.
The series also utilized the original Earth-2 Superman more than most JSA stories had in the past, with a clear intent by artist Wood to render him in the style of original Superman creator Joe Shuster.
The other lasting creation to come out of the series was the Huntress, a.k.a. Helena Wayne, the daughter of Batman and Catwoman, who made her debut in ALL-STAR COMICS #70 (Jan.-Feb. 1978), “A Parting of the Ways!”, by writer Paul Levitz and artist Joe Staton.
The Huntress would officially join the Justice Society two issues later, the last new member the group would see for quite some time.
With the cancellation of ALL-STAR COMICS in October 1978, the Justice Society feature briefly moved to ADVENTURE COMICS, where it ran for another year. This little-seen and hard-to-find series featured some of the Justice Society’s most significant 1970s appearances, including the death of founding member Batman (ironically not as Batman, but in his civilian role as Gotham Police Commissioner Bruce Wayne), and a flashback to the 1950s, finally answering the question of why the Justice Society retired in 1951, with the team the target of Joe McCarthy’s “Red Menace” paranoia, choosing retirement over being forced to publicly unmask.
By the end of 1979, the Justice Society seemed once more relegated to annual summer team-ups with the Justice League. That is, until probably the Justice Society’s biggest fan came to the rescue to thrust them back into the spotlight.
But we’ll talk about Roy Thomas next week.