Justice League of America #71 (May, 1969)

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

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Beware the Creeper #6 (Mar.-Apr., 1969)

As I’ve mentioned n a number of previous posts, my young comics-reading self of a half century or more ago had rather conservative tastes.  All these years later, that’s my best explanation for why and how I missed out on virtually all the new DC comic book titles that came out in the years 1967 and 1968, in what comics historians Gerard Jones and Will Jacobs would later call “The DC Experiment”.  This sudden onrush of new series, most but not all of which launched with try-outs in DC’s Showcase title, roughly coincided with the ascent of former freelance artist Carmine Infantino to an executive role at the publisher.  The push was an effort on Infantino’s part to recover market share DC had lost to the ascendancy of upstart rival Marvel on one hand, and the ebbing of “Batmania”-fueled sales on the other, by coming up with something new — preferably, a lot of somethings.  Read More

Justice League of America #66 (November, 1968)

1968 was a watershed year for my first favorite comic book, Justice League of America, though I don’t think that my then eleven-year-old self fully realized that at the time.  Sure, artist Mike Sekowsky — who’d drawn every single issue since I’d started buying the series three years before, as well as every earlier JLA story I’d seen reprinted in DC Comics’ “80-Page Giants” — had left the book with issue #63, with Dick Dillin coming in as penciler starting with the following issue.  And Gardner Fox, who’d written every League story I’d ever read, was gone as well, just two issues later.  But Sid Greene was still inking the book (for now), so it still looked very much the same* (to my young and unsophisticated eye, at least).  But, even with both Greene and (more importantly) editor Julius Schwartz still in place, there had most definitely been a changing of the guard; and JLA #66 represented the beginning of a new era — whether I knew it or not. Read More

Justice League of America #65 (September, 1968)

When last we left the non-costumed, non-codenamed, but nonetheless quite formidable supervillain T.O. Morrow — at the conclusion of the first half of 1968’s Justice League of America-Justice Society of America summer team-up extravaganza — he’d just managed to kill all the current members of Earth-Two’s JSA (some of them for the second time that issue), and was preparing to head back to his home world of Earth-One to similarly wipe out the JLA — secure in the knowledge provided by his future-predicting computer that the only way he could be stopped was if the Red Tornado intervened; and since the Red Tornado was 1) his own android creation, and 2) also dead, he was sitting in clover, as the saying goes.  Read More

Justice League of America #64 (August, 1968)

As longtime readers of this blog may recall, Justice League of America was the first comic book title I ever subscribed to through the mail, way back in early 1966.  By June, 1968, that one-year subscription had long since expired, but I was still managing to score every issue off the stands, and at this point had an unbroken run extending back to my first issue, #40 — twenty-five issues in all.  I think it’s safe to say that it was still my favorite comic book series at that time (although The Amazing Spider-Man was definitely beginning to give it a run for its money).  Read More

Atom #36 (Apr.-May, 1968)

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

Batman #197 (December, 1967)

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… 
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Detective Comics #369 (November, 1967)

Batgirl, alias Barbara Gordon, made her television debut on September 14, 1967, in the premiere episode of the third season of the Batman TV series.  I know that, because I just looked it up on the Internet.  But I actually have no memory of seeing that episode, or indeed any episode that featured Yvonne Craig in the role of the Dominoed Daredoll, until the show went into syndicated reruns a number of years later.  As regular readers of this blog know, however, I’d been a faithful viewer of Batman ever since it began in January, 1966 — so what was the deal?  How’d I manage to miss Babs Gordon on the teevee during Batman‘s original run?

I’ve discussed the matter with old friends who grew up in the same television market I did (the greater Jackson, MS metropolitan area), and as best we can figure, none of our local stations aired the third season of Batman when it was originally broadcast.  We only had two television stations in Jackson then, you understand — and with three national networks providing programming, it was something of a crap shoot as to what those stations would decide to air in any given time slot.*  As has been discussed in earlier posts on this blog, the Batman series’ ratings had declined during the second season, and it appears that whichever of our Jackson stations had been showing it decided to cut their losses in the fall of 1967, and show something else instead.  Read More

Flash #174 (November, 1967)

Flash #174 is a particularly notable comic book for several reasons, most of which have to do with Carmine Infantino.  To begin with, there’s the book’s cover, pencilled by Infantino and inked by Murphy Anderson — rightly renowned as one of the best by that superlative team, featuring a transformative, convention-shattering treatment of the title logo that would have been even more astonishing if the same artists hadn’t pulled off something similar just a couple of months back, on the cover of Batman #194.

Then there’s the fact that this issue of Flash was, for Infantino, the last one in an unbroken eleven-year, seventy-four issue run illustrating the adventures of the character he’d co-created with writer Robert Kanigher way back in 1956’s Showcase #4.  As we’ve recounted in previous installments of this blog, over the course of the year 1967 Infantino was taking on more and more behind-the-scenes responsibilities at DC Comics, beginning with overseeing cover design for the company’s whole line, and culminating in his becoming Editorial Director by the end of the year.  It was part of a remarkable career trajectory for the veteran artist, one that would eventually lead to him being named Publisher of DC Comics in 1971 — but it also meant that he had to give up his regular pencilling gigs.  Infantino would return as the artist of the Flash series years later, in 1981 — but things would never again be quite the same.  Read More

Justice League of America #56 (September, 1967)

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