“We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Table”: Justice League of America, Part III

Previously, in COMICS 101: In recent weeks, we were exploring the membership of DC Comics’ most famous superhero team, the classic Silver-Age Justice League of America. Having already discussed the charter members and the League’s first three recruits, we now move on to the League’s first (sorely needed) female recruit, one that would forever change the life of a certain emerald archer…

Black Canary: Dinah Drake Lance, a.k.a. the Black Canary, had been a member of the original Justice Society of America since the late forties, and had made several guest appearances in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA in the series’ annual Earth-One/Earth-Two teamups with the JSA. However, in 1969, new JLA writer Denny O’Neil decided to shake things up, killing off the Canary’s husband, detective Larry Lance, in that year’s JLA/JSA teamup. With Larry dead saving Dinah from the alien menace Aquarius, the mourning Canary elected to return to Earth-One with the Justice League, hoping a new life would help her get over her husband’s death.

In the following issue by O’Neil and artist Dick Dillin (“In Each Man There Is a Demon!”, JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #75, November 1969), Superman recommends that the League immediately elect Black Canary to JLA membership, a suggestion met with some concern by Hawkman, who questions whether the essentially powerless Canary can handle the dangerous missions the League undertakes with nothing more than her martial arts skills. While the Leaguers debate her worthiness (including the equally powerless Batman, whom you’d think would take offense at Hawkman’s diss of non-super-types), the Canary, upset at the debate, suddenly lets loose with a sonic scream powerful enough to bowl over everyone in the room – including Superman.


Studies by Superman and the Atom reveal that exposure to the radiation generated by Aquarius altered the Canary’s nervous system, granting her the newfound ability to create her devastating “sonic scream.” (But was that the whole story? More on this in a bit.) Just as this revelation had been realized, the League was attacked by evil versions of themselves created by a well-meaning scientist’s “id-actualizer,” which manifested the dark sides of the Leaguers’ personalities as real, three-dimensional beings. By the end of the issue, the evil doubles are dispersed, and Canary has taken up full membership in the League.


Black Canary settled into a steady position in the League, utilized primarily as a love interest for Green Arrow, who wasted no time in taking romantic aim at the widowed blonde hottie from Earth-2. Seldom seen without Green Arrow, the Canary appeared in most of the League’s adventures after her induction, but very rarely received any real spotlight for featured storylines. One of the few came in a 1980s JLA-JSA crossover (the final one, as a matter of fact) in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #220, which endeavored to explain why the Canary, who had served with the Justice Society in 1949, still looked young and gorgeous in 1983. As it turned out, it was revealed that Larry and Dinah had had a daughter who was actually cursed with the sonic scream by the Justice Society’s old enemy the Wizard. As an infant, Dinah and Larry’s baby was unable to control the scream, and Dinah’s fellow Justice Society member the Thunderbolt put the child in limbo for her own protection, and erased all memories of her from her parents.

When everyone thought Black Canary had passed over from Earth-2 to Earth-1, it turns out she had been mortally wounded in the same battle with Aquarius that killed Larry, and the T-Bolt, at her request, retrieved Dinah and Larry’s daughter (now grown to adulthood) from limbo and had her take her mother’s place.

Consequently, for years the second Black Canary, Dinah Laurel Lance, thought she was her own mother. Pretty creepy, if you ask me, and not nearly complicated enough.

(For once, the CRISIS made things much simpler. In the new updated continuity, Dinah Drake Lance served in the JSA as the first Black Canary, and her daughter Dinah Laurel Lance served in the JLA as the second Black Canary. This is the version later seen in BIRDS OF PREY and JLA: YEAR ONE.)

Anyway, Canary served with the League faithfully until its discorporation in the mid-eighties, and would later return to succeeding incarnations of the League as well.

The Phantom Stranger: This one is admittedly a little dicey, but since membership was offered, and never technically refused, I’ve always considered the Phantom Stranger at least an honorary JLA member, even if he could never be bothered to show up for the meetings. The Phantom Stranger was one of DC’s longer-running characters from their horror and suspense line, a fedora and trenchcoat type who would emerge from the shadows and involve himself in the affairs of man to help the “little guy” who happened to be going through some sort of supernatural crisis, only to walk off into the moonlight without explanation at story’s end. The Stranger appeared regularly throughout the late ‘60s, and made his first appearance with the JLA in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #103, “A Stranger Walks Among Us!” (December 1972), by writer Len Wein and artist Dick Dillin.


Here, the Justice League finds itself summoned for a meeting by the Phantom Stranger, who emerges from the shadows of their satellite headquarters, and warns them of “unholy entities” about to emerge in Rutland, Vermont, unleashed by the League’s old foe Felix Faust.


A word about Rutland, Vermont: apparently this little New England town used to put on an annual Halloween parade frequented by a whole mess of comics writers for DC and Marvel, because every year throughout the early seventies, either Roy Thomas, Len Wein, or Marv Wolfman would write a story in one of their books in which somehow the Avengers, Batman, the JLA, the X-Men, you name it, would wind up in Rutland, Vermont, and without fail would invariably run into fictionalized versions of Wein and company at the parade. A cute idea, and harmless enough, I suppose, but it quickly wore out its welcome after too many visits.

Anyway, the Justice League head to Rutland, and after the obligatory appearance in the Halloween parade, the team proceeds to take a supernatural asswhooping from a bunch of paradegoers dressed as some of your favorite non-DC superheroes, which explains this sequence with Batman and Green Lantern facing off against a decidedly chubby Spider-Man.

Soon all the Leaguers are left in sorcery-induced comas, and it’s up to the Phantom Stranger to break Faust’s spell, with the help of personal items he’d taken from the bodies of each of the Leaguers. Restored to health, the Leaguers defeat Faust’s demons, and afterwards vote to induct the Stranger into the League. Before they can formally welcome him, the Phantom Stranger disappears into the night.

The Stranger would reappear to help the Justice League through various mystical crises over the years, but he never exactly accepted a signal device or anything, although he did refer to himself as a member at least once about five years later. He certainly didn’t embrace League membership like the JLA’s next recruit…

The Elongated Man: DC Comics’ “Stretchable Sleuth” Ralph Dibny, (a.k.a. the Elongated Man) best known at the time for his guest appearances in the pages of FLASH, joined the League in May 1973, in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #105, “Specter in the Shadows!”, by writer Len Wein and artist Dick Dillin.

The circumstances of Ralph’s induction are a little routine, as the JLA decided that, with the earlier resignation of J’onn J’onzz, the League had been operating at less than full strength and needed a new member, and swiftly informed Ralph that he was their man. It’s a nice little moment, with Ralph and his wife Sue on the JLA satellite for the first time for Ralph’s induction:


Anyway, Ralph’s first case involves the invasion of Earth by an army of alien putty-men, whom the League fights in various locations across the country, being unwittingly assisted at every turn by a mysterious man in a trenchcoat and hat (whom we’ll get back to later). Ralph is presumed dead on his very first League mission, but it turns out he was only masquerading as a putty-man in order to infiltrate their lair.

Thanks to Ralph’s reconnaissance, the League is able to breach the alien hive’s force field, but is unable to shut it down before it self-destructs. However, thanks to a mysterious cyclone that carries the structure into space, the neighborhood is spared destruction (and those curious about how the cyclone came to be need look no further than the League’s next recruit, but we’ll return to that momentarily).

Ralph proved to be one of the team’s most faithful members and loyal supporters, appearing in practically every remaining JLA adventure. Ralph’s unique stretching ability brought a new dynamic to the team’s balance of power, while his deductive skills allowed the writers to avoid overexposure of Batman as the team’s sole detective or strategic thinker. One of my favorite Ralph appearances came in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #160 (November 1978), in which Ralph is the sole surviving member of a combined Justice Society/Justice League team sent into the far future in order to stop the Lord of Time, whose present-day machinations had left the rest of the JSA and JLA at death’s door. With such powerhouses as Superman and Wonder Woman down for the count, Ralph succumbs to despair at being the team’s weak link, before rallying and taking on the final obstacle, a colossal robot, himself, sacrificing himself to save the lives of his friends.


Ralph has never had his own ongoing series, but writer Gerard Jones and the late, great Mike Parobeck produced a cute little four-issue ELONGATED MAN miniseries in 1992, in which Ralph and Sue unravel a mystery involving a threat to European unification from Sonar, the Master of Sound.

When the original League was disbanded in 1984, Ralph was one of the few League members to remain with the new Detroit-based incarnation of the team, at which point his wife Sue became more directly involved with the team’s operations, at times even serving on monitor duty, a task she would continue to carry out when Ralph would later serve with the European branch of Justice League International in the 1990s. Sue’s frequent presence brought a refreshing breath of down-to-earth humanity and humor to the Justice League books.

Red Tornado: The Red Tornado was DC’s response to the Vision in Avengers; at least that’s the way it always seemed to me as a kid. Created by the League’s mad-scientist nemesis T. O. Morrow, the Red Tornado was an android created by Morrow (who could use his device to glimpse into the future for bits of scientific advancement) to destroy the Justice League, but achieved sentience and turned against his creator, siding with the JLA. The Red Tornado, who could generate and control miniature cyclones and tornados, joined up with the Justice Society for a time and made his home on Earth-2, before being presumed dead, destroyed in a later Justice Society/ Justice League team-up. That is, until his reappearance in JLA #105, as the aforementioned mysterious fellow secretly following and assisting the Elongated Man and his fellow Leaguers in their battle with the putty-men. His official debut came in the next issue, JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #106 (July-August 1973) in “Wolf in the Fold!”, again by Len Wein and Dick Dillin.

The Tornado has little explanation for his reappearance on Earth, explaining only that the explosion that they thought had killed him had actually torn a hole in the dimensional fabric, hurling the android from Earth-2 to Earth-1, where a kindly blind sculptor recovered the android and sculpted him a face (which he’d long lacked under his helmet), after which the Tornado recovered and went off in search of the Justice League in the hopes of finding a way back to Earth-2. A lovely story, but it wasn’t exactly true…


Impressed by his assistance and guilty over the shabby treatment they’d given the android in the past, the Leaguers unanimously vote to induct the Red Tornado into the JLA, unwittingly playing in to the evil hands of the Tornado’s creator, T.O. Morrow, who had in truth been the one who discovered the Tornado’s inert android body after he was thrust to Earth-1, repaired him and gave him the new face, and altered his memories to include the story about the sculptor. Morrow was also behind the attack of the putty-men in the previous issue, all so that the JLA would grant the Red Tornado membership and give him a Justice League signal device, which would trigger some sort of deathray within the Tornado’s body that would somehow kill the Justice League. It’s an awfully complex and circuitous plan (as well as being a little vague in places), but hey, that’s the mad-scientist racket for you.

Now making a home for himself on Earth-1, the newly faced Red Tornado endeavors to create a personal life for himself, visiting a New York employment agency under the clever alias of “John Smith” (probably because the Justice League already had a “John Jones” on the payroll). There the Tornado happens to meet Kathy Sutton, a gorgeous employment agent who’s entranced by the android’s sullen, moody disposition, and finds him a place to live and even advances the rent.

Guy gets a face for half an hour and already he’s got a hot girlfriend and a New York apartment. Some guys get all the luck…

While the Tornado gets caught between the moon and New York City, he’s also engaging in his first few missions as a Justice League member, and in each case is met by his teammates just before triggering his signal-device trap, much to the dismay of Morrow. Finally, when the Tornado’s signal device is triggered by Ralph Dibny in an attempt to summon more help, Morrow watches in delight as the team dies, only to be met with a mob of angry superheroes on his front porch: turns out that Superman had detected the extra circuit inside the Red Tornado days before and deactivated it, and they had been playing along to ensure that Morrow didn’t have any other hold on their new teammate.

With Morrow’s threat ended, the League happily accepts the Red Tornado, who heads back to New York and his new life.

The Red Tornado never had his own ongoing series, and his only time in the solo spotlight came with his 1985 miniseries from writer Kurt Busiek and artist Carmine Infantino, in which the Red Tornado found himself ostracized from human society thanks to the machinations of The Construct, a computerized electronic intelligence bent on world domination.

The series is notable for being some of Busiek’s earliest DC work, and features excellent art by Infantino, but isn’t exactly required reading.

The Tornado served with the League steadily throughout the 1970s and 80s, expanding his human family to include Traya, a young war orphan who saw the Red Tornado as a surrogate father. It was revealed toward in 1981 that the Tornado was not merely an android, that his robot shell was a vessel for the soul of the Tornado Champion, an alien wind creature from the planet Rann that had encountered Adam Strange and the Justice League and journeyed to Earth searching for a way to become a hero. When the creature came upon Morrow creating his android to be used to attack the JLA, he merged with the shell, inhabiting it while at the same time losing its own memories and identity, creating a new being – the Red Tornado.

The Tornado didn’t get much time to revel in the discovery of his history, as he was soon after destroyed in the Crisis on Infinite Earths. However, that’s never been much of an obstacle for him, having already died twice before, and sure enough the Red Tornado later resurfaced several times, once in a short-lived superhero team entitled Primal Force, about which the less said the better, and later as a mentor for the teenaged heroes of Young Justice, in Peter David and Todd Nauck’s excellent series of the same name. The Red Tornado isn’t much seen these days (I’m surprised we didn’t see him with a knife in his back in IDENTITY CRISIS, quite frankly), but like many of the classic JLA second-stringers, he’s too fondly remembered to ever really be gone for good.


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