What defines a comic book superhero as a unique character? Is it a name, or a costume, or a power set? What about a hero’s “secret identity”? Does it even matter who’s wearing the costume?
For what it’s worth, I suspect that the majority of people reading this post have a general conception of “Superman” as a single, unique character, albeit one with multiple versions — “pre-Crisis”, “New 52”, “Golden Age”, and so on. It’s probably the same with Batman, or Wonder Woman — or with Captain America, Iron Man, or the Mighty Thor, for that matter. Even if these heroes undergo occasional costume modifications or power fluctuations — and even if someone else steps into their heroic role for a time in the service of a storyline — there’s still a sense of a core character underneath it all — an “ur-Superman”, an “ur-Batman”, and so forth. Read More
About two years ago, a couple of months following the debut of this blog, I wrote a post about the first issue of Justice League of America I ever bought (#40), a comic book I credited with making a significant contribution to my personal moral development. As I said at the time, I thought that that particular issue, though missing the mark in some ways (and simply feeling dated in others), still held up pretty well as an earnest endorsement of individual ethical responsibility, informed by an awareness and appreciation of the common humanity we all share. Since that time, I’ve been looking forward to re-reading and re-appraising Justice League of America #57, an issue with a similar theme, produced by the same writer, penciller, and editor as #40 (Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, and Julius Schwartz, respectively) — and expecting that it would hold up just as well.
Now that the time has come, however, I regret that I have to say that the book doesn’t hold up quite as well as its predecessor — at least, it doesn’t for this reader. Which is not to say that it’s wholly without merit, or that it’s not worth a visit (or re-visit), fifty years after its original publication. Read More
This issue of JLA features “The Negative-Crisis on Earths One-Two!”, a story written by Gardner Fox and illustrated by Mike Sekowsky and Sid Greene. It’s the second part of 1967’s Justice League – Justice Society team-up, an annual summertime tradition that DC Comics maintained from 1963 all the way through 1984. I blogged about the first half of this tale a few weeks ago, and I’m sure you’re all eager to find out how our heroes get out of the mess they were in at the conclusion of JLA #55. And we’ll get to that pretty soon — but first, I’d like us to spend a little quality time with the book’s cover.
To begin with, it’s just a great piece of work — one of the final, as well as one of the finest, products of penciller Carmine Infantino and inker Murphy Anderson’s long and profitable collaboration. And as perhaps the first comic book cover to feature what would become an everlasting motif in the superhero genre — two line-ups of superheroes charging each other — it has historic significance as well. Read More
From June, 1966 through May, 1967, DC Comics published nine issues of Justice League of America, all of which capitalized on the enormous popularity of the Batman television show by prominently featuring the Caped Crusader on their covers. Upon its publication on June 13, 1967, Justice League of America #55 clearly marked the end of that year-long run of exploitative, Batman-dominated covers.
Um, sort of. OK, not really. Because this issue’s Mike Sekowsky-Murphy Anderson cover, featuring the debut of “a grown-up Robin” whose costume was an amalgam of the duds traditionally worn by both the Boy Wonder and his august mentor, was obviously trading on Batmania as much as any other JLA cover that editor Julius Schwartz had seen through production in the last twelve months. Read More
Recalling my early comics-reading years, I can’t think of another comic book that I looked forward to with as much breathless anticipation, simply based on the house ads, as I did Batman #194. And I can’t think of another comic book that I considered as huge of a letdown once I finally got hold of it and read it, as I did Batman #194.
It was the cover that grabbed me in those ads, of course. That amazing Carmine Infantino-Murphy Anderson cover, with its impeccably rendered figures of Batman and Blockbuster, its dynamic action, and, most of all, its imaginative (and, for the time, daring) incorporation of the book’s title within the illustration. My nine-year-old self had never seen anything like it. Read More
I’ve written before on this blog — several times — about my admiration for comics writer Gardner Fox’s reference library — a library I don’t really know anything about, but the existence of which can (or must, even) be inferred from the assortment of off-the-wall factoids (mostly, but not exclusively, related to mythology and folklore) to be found scattered throughout his Sixties ouevre. The Justice League of America story featured in today’s post — “Secret Behind the Stolen Super-Weapons!” — is another sterling example of this penchant of the prolific scripter’s; but before we jump right into the story, let’s take a moment for a look at the cover. (It’ll be brief, I promise.) Read More
For the first several years that I read and collected comic books, I had only the vaguest notion that there ever been a publisher called EC Comics. I didn’t know that, before the advent of the Comics Code Authority, there had once thrived a skillfully-executed line of horror, crime, science fiction, and war comics that were, beyond their other attributes, much more graphic than anything one would ever find on the spinner racks of the mid-to-late ’60s. You see, the Code was established in 1954, and EC’s last comic book was published shortly thereafter, in early 1956 — while I wasn’t born until 1957. And though by 1966 I was a regular reader of Mad magazine, I had no clue that Mad was in fact the sole survivor of EC’s line, converted to a magazine format in 1955 to evade the Code’s strictures.* All of which I offer by way of explaining that if the 70th issue of DC Comics’ The Brave and the Bold had included creator credits (which it didn’t), I would not have recognized the name of the book’s penciller, the great EC Comics artist, Johnny Craig. 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
DC Comics actually published two issues of Justice League of America in September, 1966: the subject of this post, issue #49, which was released on September 13, according to the Library of Congress Copyright Office’s filing records (accessed, per usual, via the amazing web site Mike’s Amazing World); and issue #48, released a little less than two weeks earlier, on September 1. That might seem odd, considering that JLA was only being published nine times a year at this point, but the extra November-dated issue was actually a reprint collection — an “80-Page Giant” featuring three of the premier super-team’s earliest adventures. Read More
According to both the Grand Comics Database and Mike’s Amazing World, this issue was released to newsstands and other retail outlets on July 26, 1966. I probably received my mailed subscription copy a week or so before that — but whenever it was that I finally held this book in my grubby little nine-year-old hands, it had been a long, long month-and-a-half since the conclusion of the previous issue — the first half of the first bona fide continued story I’d thus far encountered in comic books — had left me hanging precariously off the edge of a cliff. Summers always seemed longer when I was a kid, of course, but that summer was probably the longest of my life, either before or since.
Beyond my overall excitement on finally having the issue in my possession, I have no specific recollection of what I thought when I first looked at the cover — but I’d like to think that I was at least momentarily nonplussed by the sheer immensity of the figure of Batman. The Caped Crusader had been given greater and greater prominence on the covers of JLA over the last several issues, but for him to literally dwarf every other hero depicted in the cover scene — that was new. Read More