Guest appearances and crossovers are par for the course in the superhero comics of today, but it wasn’t always that way, at least not at DC Comics. In 1966 you had DC’s big guns teaming up every month (more or less) in Justice League of America, and Superman and Batman appearing together regularly in World’s Finest. And The Brave and the Bold had by now evolved into a book featuring a constantly revolving lineup of (usually) two headliners (although Batman would soon lock down one of the co-starring slots as an ongoing gig). But to have, say, Aquaman turn up in an issue of Wonder Woman? That sort of thing didn’t happen very often.
There are a couple of probable reasons for why that was. One was simply that at that time DC wasn’t as concerned about building an interconnected fictional universe as they’d become in later years (influenced, of course, by Marvel Comics, who in 1966 had already made that approach one of the most distinctive features of their line). But another was that DC’s superhero comics were produced under the auspices of several different editors, each of whom had his own particular way of doing things, and essentially ran his own shop.
So, although Julius Schwartz edited Justice League of America, he oversaw the individual comics of only five of the titular super-team’s members — Batman (whose books he’d taken over only the previous year), plus the Flash, Green Lantern, the Atom, and Hawkman (all of whom were new versions of Golden Age characters whose revivals he’d spearheaded in the ’50s and early ’60s). The other members “belonged” to other editors — Superman to Mort Weisinger, Wonder Woman to Robert Kanigher, Aquaman to George Kashdan, and the Martian Manhunter (appearing in House of Mystery) to Jack Schiff. (The remaining Justice Leaguer, Green Arrow, was something of an orphan at this time, having lost his backup feature in World’s Finest in 1964 when that book was moved from Schiff’s stable to join Weisinger’s “Superman family” group of titles.) Everyone’s characters could and did team up in The Brave and the Bold (edited by Kashdan), but that was mostly it for seeing any of DC’s A-listers besides Superman and Batman together outside of Schwartz’s JLA.
The notable exceptions came in the individual heroes’ titles that were edited by Julius Schwartz himself. Early on, he established a special relationship between his two leading “revived” heroes, Flash and Green Lantern, having them learn each others’ secret identities in Green Lantern #13 (June, 1962) and become good friends. From that point forward, Hal Jordan and Barry Allen would make occasional guest appearances in each other’s books, though never so frequently that these team-ups ceased to seem like events.
Of course, as an eight-year-old comics reader in January, 1966, I had no real conception of what a comic-book editor did, let alone any sense of how each DC series fit into one or another editor’s “stable”. Nor was I aware that Flash and GL had previously teamed up a total of five times (three times in Green Lantern, twice in Flash). When I picked Green Lantern #43 out of the spinner rack, I’m pretty sure I was just thrilled to be getting two of my favorite heroes in one adventure for the price of a single comic.
“The Catastrophic Crimes of Major Disaster” (written by Gardner Fox and illustrated by Gil Kane and Sid Greene — all of whom were credited on the story’s splash page, for a change) kicks off with GL and Flash each making the unpleasant discovery that their secret identities have been outed to their respective girlfriends, Carol Ferris and Iris West — who of course can’t wait to share this exciting news with each other:
(I really love the Flash’s chin-on-palm “Jack Benny” take in this panel, so expressively rendered by Kane and Greene.)
All our heroes know at this point is that both Iris and Carol have received anonymous information in the mail tipping them off to their beaus’ big secrets. Barry and Hal are mystified as to how anyone could have uncovered even one of their secret identities, let alone both, but before they can begin to investigate, they have to go ahead with their double date at “the fashionable Rendezvous Club in Pineaire City”. Priorities, y’know:
(I’m sure that GL and Flash are both relieved to know that Carol and Iris can be so level-headed and selfless in a crisis.)
Responding to the earthquake, the heroes soon discover that a group of costumed men are using the disaster as an opportunity to rob a bank — also, that both thieves and bank are being left untouched by the earthquake’s effects. Before they can apprehend the bandits, however (though not until after they’ve stopped the earthquake and rescued the endangered citizens, fortunately), both heroes find themselves suddenly drained of their super powers.
Powerless or not, our intrepid duo vow not to give up the fight. When another disaster strikes — this time, a meteor bombardment of Green Lantern’s home base of Coast City — and the costumed criminal gang once again tries to use the occasion as a cover for robbery, Hal and Barry spring into action, armed only with their hand-to-hand combat skills:
(I can’t quite imagine this “hold hands and run at the bad guys” fighting technique really being that effective, but, y’know, whatever.)
After the heroes have turned the crooks over to the police, GL realizes that the answer to the mystery of their revealed secrets may lie with his friend and confidant Thomas Kamalku, an “Eskimo grease-monkey” nicknamed “Pieface”. (Yes, I know. And I’m sorry.) Tom has been keeping a secret casebook with all the details of Hal’s cases, including information about both GL’s and Flash’s secret identities. Hal reassures an understandably perturbed Barry that it was OK for him to betray his pal’s confidence because he had used his power ring to make Tom forget the Flash’s identity as soon as the mechanic had written it down. (So why did Hal tell Tom the secret in the first place? Hey, don’t ask so many questions.)
A visit to the residence of Tom and his wife Terga confirms that the casebook is still in the secret compartment of Tom’s desk where it belongs, but a check for fingerprints quickly reveals that in addition to Tom, the book has also been recently handled by a “punk crook” named Tom Booker. It turns out that a few months ago, Booker snuck into the Kamalkus’ apartment to hide from the police, and accidentally opened the secret desk compartment (boy, what are the odds, huh?). Once he’d read the casebook and learned all of Green Lantern’s and the Flash’s secrets, Booker decided that all he needed to do was hire some criminal scientists and have them find a way to use his knowledge of the heroes’ secrets against them — and then assumed the identity of a costumed super-villain, Major Disaster! (That may seem like quite a leap for a punk crook, but trust me, it wasn’t that unusual a scenario for comics in 1966.)
Major Disaster’s scientists quickly invented a “stress-null-ray” that could artificially trigger natural disasters as well as affect the Flash and Green Lantern’s powers. While the ray couldn’t actually remove the heroes’ powers completely, it could transfer Flash’s speed to GL, and GL’s power ring energy to Flash — and since the heroes wouldn’t know about the switch, they’d think they’d simply lost their powers. The super-villain then sent the anonymous letters to Carol and Iris, also helpfully including brochures from the Rendezvous Club (!), all to set up GL and Flash to be whammied by the stress-null-ray when it was used against Pineaire City. Having eliminated the threat of the Flash and Green Lantern, Major Disaster is sure that both Coast City and Central City (where the Flash lives) will soon be under his control, and after that, the rest of the country will quickly follow. (As in many other DC tales of this era, the villain never seems to worry that some other member of the Justice League, Superman for instance, might try to interfere with his plans.)
The Major’s fiendish scheme goes awry, however, when Green Lantern has a go at jump-starting his powers by re-charging his ring with its power battery (it couldn’t hurt, right?) while the Flash stands by watching — and the Flash’s super-speed aura begins to glow green. The heroes quickly figure out what’s actually happened to them, and head out after the villain. When their foe once again unleashes disasters, they attempt to thwart the attacks using each other’s abilities:
Flash reasons that since the same force that swapped their powers also creates disasters, their use of the swapped powers may be making the disasters worse. (Um, OK.) They resolve this problem handily by having Flash simply use his ring energy to switch their powers back, and then they’re off after Major D. again. Before they can capture him, however, the Major accidentally electrocutes himself while attempting to use his secret weapon, “the greatest disaster-maker of them all!” Oops. Well, at least GL won’t have to bother with mind-wiping his knowledge of their secrets away.
(Side note: though Major Disaster does indeed appear to be really, most sincerely dead at the conclusion of Green Lantern #43, like many another super-villain before and since, he gets better — in fact, his next appearance will come less than a year and a half later, in GL #57. And though he’ll never make it into the front (or even the second) rank of Green Lantern’s rogues gallery, the Major will nevertheless manage to hang on for decades, with his fourth-tier status eventually coming to be played for laughs (with that name, it was probably inevitable). Ultimately, a reformed Paul Booker even ends up joining an offshoot of the JLA, the Justice League Elite.)
With disaster literally averted, our heroes turn to the issue of what to do about their girlfirends’ knowledge of their secret identities, only to discover that as an aftereffect of the meteor bombardment, everyone in Coast City (including Iris and Carol) has lost their memory of recent events. GL uses his power ring to restore everybody’s memories, but excepts the two women’s recollection of their boyfriends’ secrets. (Unlike in the similar scenario in Flash #156, neither Carol nor Iris gets an opportunity to weigh in about whether this is OK with them.) Everything turns out fine, though, at least so far as the guys are concerned, with only the most minor of complications:
Oh, my, indeed. Both Iris West and Carol Ferris are capable, responsible career women — Iris as a reporter for Picture News, Carol as the vice president of Ferris Aircraft — but you’d never guess it from their portrayal in this story. Yep — I was fed some pretty unenlightened ideas about gender roles and interpersonal relationships via my mid-Sixties comic books, though I’d like to think that I managed to reach maturity without them doing me any lasting harm. (Hopefully, my wife and daughters would agree with me.)
The Flash and Green Lantern would go on to team up two more times before the close of the decade. However, they weren’t the only heroes in editor Schwartz’s stable who semi-regularly guest starred in each other’s books. While he was conservative about having Batman appear in other characters’ titles, and vice versa (probably because the Caped Crusader was already regularly teaming up with other heroes in World’s Finest and The Brave and the Bold), Schwartz did establish a “buddy” relationship similar to that between Flash and GL between his two other revamped Golden Age superheroes, the Atom and Hawkman. The characters first met in Atom #7 (June-July, 1963) and would go on to share a number of adventures thereafter, alternating appearances in one another’s books until their two comics, both suffering declining sales, were eventually combined into a single title, The Atom and Hawkman, in 1968.
Of course, as I’ve already said, I didn’t understand that Flash, GL, Atom, and Hawkman were all under the direction of a single editor, which was why they got paired up regularly while others — say, Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter — didn’t. I just thought it was really cool that within the larger framework of the Justice League of America, there were these three other distinct, if smaller, teams — Superman and Batman, the Flash and Green Lantern, and the Atom and Hawkman. And as these pairings have continued to be featured by comics writers and artists virtually all the way down to the present day, I guess I’m not the only one who felt that way.
I hope you enjoyed perusing the scan of that great Gil Kane – Murphy Anderson cover for Green Lantern #43 that’s sitting at the top of this post. I know that I’m glad to see it here. Especially since when I pull my own copy of the book down from its box on the bookshelf, this is what I see:
No idea what happened to the cover. It’s just gone, and the staples have pretty much had it as well.
I think I basically just read this one to pieces.