Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Crisis On Thursday, or To Grandmother's Earth We Go!

I consider myself lucky to have grown up in the era of annual Justice League/Justice Society team-ups. My first issue of Justice League of America was #137 (Dec. 1976), the conclusion of the JLA/JSA/Marvel Family epic. The promised Superman/Captain Marvel fight didn't quite come off so well, but I was still hooked. Lucky for me, the next five years would produce what I consider some of the best -- if not the best -- JLA/JSA team-ups ever.

If only (for the sake of this post, that is) they'd come out at Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, the annual visit with the Justice Society happened during the summer, mostly in July and August. JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice, the Geoff Johns & David Goyer/Carlos Pacheco one-shot, was set during Thanksgiving, and that seems to be the tradition now, but that only tends to prove it wasn't so then.

Still, the JLA/JSA stories have always had a Thanksgiving feel. The Justice Society consists of the League's older relatives, in spirit if not necessarily in fact, and it's an opportunity for the all-star League to feel like it's part of a larger family. Back in the day, having the two Flashes or Green Lanterns interact wasn't as common as it is now, to say nothing of the unique relationship between Earth-2's Huntress and her "Uncle Bruce" from Earth-1, or the Kryptonian quasi-cousins Superman and Power Girl. Besides, once their features in All-Star Comics and Adventure Comics were gone, the annual visits with the JLA were some of the only chances to see the Justice Society. Therefore, an annual visit with people who are as close to family as the JLA might get sounds a lot like Thanksgiving to me. Now imagine your tryptophane-induced stupor interrupted by a supervillain or five....

Justice League of America #s 147-48 (Oct-Nov 1977): "Crisis in the 30th Century!" brings the two teams to the Legion of Super-Heroes' future, where the JLA and JSA become pawns of demons Abnegazar, Rath, and Ghast, who each want to Rule The World in their own ways. Since these turn out to be mutually exclusive, they each pick certain heroes as champions. Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and Black Canary represent the JLA, while the featured JSAers are Flash, Green Lantern, Doctor Fate, Power Girl, and Hawkman. Finally, a whole slew of Legionnaires includes Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, Shadow Lass, Wildfire, Ultra Boy, Brainiac 5, Princess Projectra, Chameleon Boy, and Sun Boy. The climax finds the last bad guy imprisoned by a familiar bit of space-junk that, apparently, later became a familiar Legion location. Not even Power Girl hitting on the Earth-1 Superman -- ewww -- can tarnish this tale.

JLofA #s 159-60 (Oct-Nov 1978): "Crisis From Yesterday!" has the two teams defeated by ... Jonah Hex, Viking Prince, Enemy Ace, Miss Liberty, and the Black Pirate?!? It's all part of a plan by the Lord of Time, who has infused the heroes of DC's various historical comics with enough super-energy to do the job. His plan, strange as it may sound, is actually to get the heroes mad enough to attack him. Thus, #160 opens with Leaguers Superman, Flash, Hawkman, and Elongated Man, plus Socialites Wonder Woman, Star-Spangled Kid, Dr. Mid-Nite, and Huntress, racing on a Cosmic Treadmill towards the Lord of Time's citadel. However, they too fall victim, one by one, to the Lord of Time's defenses (Wonder Woman's not-quite-fastball-special leaves Superman in a coma), until one hero remains ... and Ralph Dibny, the World-Famous Elongated Man, short-circuits the Lord of Time's master computer to save the day.

JLofA #s 171-72 (Oct-Nov 1979): These two issues are a change from the usual cosmic crisis, being instead a locked-room murder mystery aboard the Justice League Satellite. The victim is Mr. Terrific, making his first JLA/JSA appearance since 1972. Batman and the Huntress are both featured, naturally, and Barry Allen gets to show off his CSI skillz. The three detectives make a fine set of investigators, but the Batman/Huntress dynamic is complicated by the recent death of the Batman of Earth-2. Accordingly, Huntress tells Batman she wasn't sure if she could take seeing Uncle Bruce so soon. (For his part, in the 1978 team-up, Batman was wondering if he and Silver St. Cloud might someday have had a daughter.) Some might therefore think Batman reacts with uncharacteristic emotion when Huntress takes the brunt of a computer explosion, but in context it makes sense. The rest of the story has a couple of head-scratching moments, and what might be an artist's error belies the JSA's closing vow to see that Terrific's killer receives justice, but on the whole it's a unique effort that still shows the strengths of a by-now-familiar format.

JLofA #s 183-85 (Oct-Dec 1980): "Crisis On New Genesis!" was a landmark story in a few ways. Issue #183 was Dick Dillin's last before his death, resulting in DC turning to Avengers artist George Perez (whose New Teen Titans #1 went on sale the same day as his first JLA issue). So, George Perez drawing two issues of the JLA, JSA, and New Gods vs. the hordes of Apokolips and the Injustice Society -- sounds good, right? It pretty much is -- Darkseid wants to move Apokolips physically into the Earth-2 universe, destroying Earth-2 in the process. The only drawbacks are the references to the '70s post-Kirby New Gods stories, which were apparently so awful that DC assigned them their own faraway little corner of Hypertime. Leaguers include Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and Firestorm; Socialites include Wonder Woman, Power Girl, Doctor Fate, and Huntress (making an almost all-female JSA, to balance the all-male League); and New Gods include Orion (in the '70s superhero suit and mask), Lightray, Big Barda, Mr. Miracle, Metron, Oberon, and Highfather. Highlights are Green Lantern comparing Highfather to a Guardian of the Universe, and the triple threat of Batman, Huntress, and Mr. Miracle sneaking into Darkseid's control room. Also, Power Girl and Firestorm get to flirt, much to Superman's (and the reader's) relief.

JLofA #s 195-97 (Oct-Dec 1981): It's hard to top an Apokoliptian blowout, but darned if this team-up ("Targets On Two Worlds"/"Countdown To Crisis"/"Crisis In Limbo") didn't try. Perez was winding down his tenure on Justice League of America, and he was helped a little by Keith Pollard, although you can't really tell. The third team here is the Secret Society of Super-Villains, headed by the gorilla-bodied Ultra-Humanite and including (from Earth-2) the Monocle, Rag Doll, Brain Wave, Psycho-Pirate, and Mist, and (from Earth-1) Killer Frost, Signalman, Floronic Man, and Cheetah. Ultra figures that, by removing certain superheroes from both Earths, it'll set up a cosmic chain reaction that will remove all the superheroes from one Earth -- he doesn't know which. At least, that's what he tells his Society -- in reality, he knows it will only affect Earth-2. Most of the story is an inversion of the regular JLA-JSA format, as the villains meet as a group, split up for their individual assignments (capturing their archenemies), and get back together for the big finish. JLAers include Batman, Firestorm, Black Canary, Wonder Woman, and the Atom; JSAers include Hawkman, Superman, Flash, Hourman, and Johnny Thunder. (No Starman despite Rag Doll and the Mist, so fans of the James Robinson series might be disappointed.)

Anyway, there they are -- five classic Justice League/Justice Society stories which, for me, make for a pretty good run. Maybe next year I'll tackle some non-multiverse JLA/JSA classics.

[All stories written by Gerry Conway except the Legion issues of 1977, written by Paul Levitz and Marty Pasko. As indicated, most stories pencilled by Dick Dillin, with the final five issues pencilled by George Perez.]

No comments: