For the first year or so of the Justice League of America’s existence, the stories of DC’s premier superteam followed a fairly strict formula. Beginning with the team’s three tryout issues of The Brave and the Bold in 1959 and 1960, the tales told by writer Gardner Fox, penciller Mike Sekowsky, and editor Julius Schwartz played out according to a prescribed pattern; the team members (Aquaman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, the Martian Manhunter, Superman, and Wonder Woman — and, from JLA #4 on, Green Arrow) would come together at (or at least near) the beginning of the story; then they’d encounter or discover a menace; then they’d split into teams to battle different aspects of said menace; and then, finally, they’d come together at the end to secure their ultimate victory over the menace. Also as part of the formula, at least for the earliest adventures, Superman and Batman took no active role in the central team-up chapters, and sometimes didn’t even show up for the group scenes at the beginning or end; this was due to editor Schwartz deferring to the preferences of editors responsible for those heroes’ own titles, Mort Weisinger and Jack Schiff, who didn’t want DC’s two marquee characters overexposed. Even after the restrictions on using the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader eased up somewhat, there were issues when they were entirely absent (“on assignment” in Dimension X, or something else of that sort), and neither of them appeared on a cover until JLA #10 (March, 1962). Read More
In May, 1968, I was a regular buyer and reader of The Spectre — or at least as regular as I could be, short of shelling out for a year’s subscription by mail, considering the state of comic book distribution at the time (as well as my ten-year-old self’s lack of reliable weekly transportation to a comics-selling outlet). I had first come on board in 1966, with the Ghostly Guardian’s third and final tryout appearance in Showcase, and had bought the first issue of his own self-titled series when it finally appeared over a year later. I’d failed to score issue #2 (the first drawn by new regular artist Neal Adams), but otherwise, I had ’em all. Read More
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
When I picked up this issue of Brave and the Bold fifty years ago (give or take a couple of weeks), Batman’s co-star in the book, Plastic Man, had been around for over twenty-six years — almost as long as the Caped Crusader himself. But he’d only been a DC Comics hero for a little over one year — which is about as long as my ten-year-old self had been aware of him. Read More
In January, 2016, some six months after the debut of this blog, I posted “a spoiler warning for all seasons” — a page dedicated to the idea that, while some might find the idea of spoiler warnings for comic book stories of a half-century’s vintage to be a little absurd, others might expect them as a matter of course. Since then, that single page has served as my blanket spoiler warning for any and all fifty-year-old comics discussed over the course of the blog. Today, however, we have a somewhat different situation, as I’m planning to refer to the concluding scene of a very recent comic book, namely Batman (2016) #32, which will have been on sale for only about three weeks at the time of this post’s publication.
So, here you go: if you haven’t yet read Tom King and Mikel Jamin’s concluding chapter to “The War of Jokes and Riddles”, and you’re planning to, and you’d rather not know what happens on the last page — consider yourself hereby warned.
And now, on with our regularly scheduled 50 Year Old Comic Book…
Fans of the Flash who’ve only been reading about him in comics for say, the last quarter century or so — not to mention fans who primarily know him from the current CW network TV series — may find this a difficult notion to grasp; but, back in his Silver Age heyday, Barry Allen did not regularly share his adventures with other costumed speedsters. While it’s true that my own first issue of The Flash, bought and read in the September of 1965, featured an appearance by Barry’s teenage protégé Wally West — aka Kid Flash — as of summer, 1967, I hadn’t seen the two together again since. And while I was familiar with Barry’s Golden Age predecessor as the Flash, Jay Garrick, I’d only actually seen him in action in a vintage 1947 adventure that had been reprinted in Flash #160. — I’d yet to see him team up with “my” Flash, or even with his fellow Justice Society of America members in one of the annual Justice League – Justice Society team-up extravaganzas..
All of which is intended to convey to you, dear reader, that when this comic book came out in July, 1967 — with its terrific cover (penciled by Carmine Infantino, inked by Murphy Anderson, and strikingly lettered by the great Ira Schnapp) promising not one, not two, but three Flashes in one story together — it was a big honking deal for my ten-year-old self. 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
Like Wonder Woman, the Atom was one of the last of the Justice League of America members with their own book whose solo adventures I decided to give a try. I’m not sure exactly what took me so long to get around to gambling twelve cents on the Mighty Mite — his book was another Julius Schwartz-edited book, after all, regularly featuring the art of Gil Kane, whose work I’d been enjoying on Green Lantern since the fall of 1965. My best guess is that I simply hadn’t been that impressed with the Atom in most of the JLA adventures I’d read featuring him. Let’s face it — in a team featuring heavy hitters like Superman and Green Lantern, it could be difficult for even the cleverest comic book storytellers, such as JLA scripter Gardner Fox and his editor Schwartz, to find ways for a six-inch hero to shine — and, with the notable exception of 1966’s Justice League-Justice Society two–part team-up story, in which the Atom played a decisive role in helping to save both Earth-One and Earth-Two, the Tiny Titan tended to fade (or perhaps shrink) into the background. 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
The eastern world, it is exploding
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’
You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’
You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’?
— P. F. Sloan, “Eve of Destruction”, 1964
Fighting soldiers from the sky
Fearless men who jump and die
Men who mean just what they say
The brave men of the Green Beret
— Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler and Robin Moore, “The Ballad of the Green Berets”, 1966
By October, 1966, United States military forces had been operating in Vietnam for over a decade, though mostly in an advisory role for much of that time. Beginning in 1961, however, President John F. Kennedy had greatly increased the number of American troops stationed in the region; and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, had used the authority of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed in August, 1964, to escalate the U.S.’s military role in the conflict between North and South Vietnam. The deployment of 3,500 Marines in March, 1965, effectively began the American ground war there. By December of that year, the number of U.S. troops had been increased to 200,000. Read More