Summers of Yesteryear with the JLA & JSA

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1980

I first saw this cover pinned to a hallway wall in the DC offices at 30 Rock circa April 1980.
I first saw this cover pinned to a hallway wall in the DC offices at 30 Rock circa April 1980.

Justice League of America 183-185

Cover Dates: Oct.-Dec.

On Sale: July 7/August 11/September 11

Writer: Gerry Conway

Artists: Dick Dillin and George Pérez

 

 

The greatest JLA-JSA team-up ever? Well, it’s either this one or the next one!

As noted above, the final installment of this one was released in September of 1980, but the first time I saw the cover was back sometime in April or May, hanging on a wall in the halls of the DC offices at Rockefeller Plaza.

The story begins with my aunt, who worked for Knickerbocker Toys, a maker of stuffed dolls and toys that was owned by Warner Communications—which, of course, also owned DC Comics. Through her connections, I got a tour of the DC offices in the spring of 1980.

tt2-11
I watched Romeo Tanghal ink the above page in the DC offices in the spring of 1980, well before I had any idea of Raven or the “New” Teen Titans.

Two of my most distinct and powerful memories of this tour: The cover of JLA #185 hanging on that wall, and watching Romeo Tanghal ink the pencils of the legendary George Pérez on page 11 of New Teen Titans #2 (Dec. 1980). Since the new team of Titans would not appear in any form until the fall of that year, I really had no idea what I was looking at, but damn it looked friggin’ amazing. I will never forget that image of those two, angry eyes staring down at Raven (a character completely unknown to me at the time). To then see it on a comic-book page five months later was just mind boggling.

Of great historical note here is the fact that the first part of this storyline (JLA #183) was the final issue to ever be penciled by longtime artist Dick Dillin, as he passed away very suddenly after its completion. Luckily (and no offense to Dillin or his fans), the baton would be picked up by one of the greatest comic artists ever, the aforementioned George Pérez, who would knock it out of the park with the last two installments (JLA 184-185).

Another huge point in favor of this storyline is that it’s got Darkseid as its main antagonist. Do they make bad guys any better than this? (On the cosmic level, only Thanos and Galactus are even in the same class, really.) And honestly, I don’t know that his characterization has ever been better.

jla185-flower

Looking at this sequence again, I find it does have a bit of a Thanos flavor, don’t you agree?

Other baddies included JSA foes the Fiddler, Icicle, and the Shade, as well as Apokolips mainstay Granny Goodness. If you are at all familiar with Granny’s backstory with Big Barda, the following sequence should be especially sweet to you:

jla185-granny

If ever there was a picture that required no words, it was that last panel. Barda’s expression simply says it all. And that’s just one example of the tremendous service the New Gods also get in this storyline.

The story also marked the first meeting of Firestorm and Power Girl, two characters created by Gerry Conway, writer of this tale. As their creator, Conway clearly knows these characters better than anyone and has great affection for them both. So naturally, they’re well treated here, and I must say they have a fun & quirky chemistry together.

jla185-fspg

(If you’re wondering why Power Girl’s hair is wet, it’s because she’s just been thawed free from a giant ice prison courtesy of the Icicle.)

My only criticism of this storyline is that I wish there were more of it—it ends somewhat abruptly, and honestly, it could have easily run across four issues; possibly even more. It may be the most entertaining and fun installment ever.

1981

jla195-cJustice League of America 195-197

Cover Dates: Oct.-Dec.

On Sale: July 9/August 6/September 10

Writer: Gerry Conway

Artists: George Pérez and Keith Pollard

 

 

This is a perfect example of how great comics can be when you keep it simple and don’t try to do too much.

We’ve got a great group of villains, a fairly even split of JLA & JSA foes, led by one of Superman’s oldest enemies (in fact, he even pre-dates Lex Luthor!): The Ultra-Humanite. He has a master plan, one that requires each villain to singly defeat one of their archenemies, which they do. The bad guys appear to succeed but are ultimately undone by their own nature and betray each other. This leads to the conquered heroes returning in the end to bring justice to the bad guys, in glorious fashion:

jla197-ft1 jla197-ft2jla197-ft3

Again, when you’ve got a cast of classic characters like this, oftentimes the best thing you can do as a writer is get out of their way—let them be who & what they are and they’ll practically write themselves for you, and that’ll be more than enough to carry the day. I’m not just talking about the heroes, either; the villains are also great, and miraculously enough—after five years as a full-time fan and having read thousands of comics—there were still a few I was meeting here for the first time. I speak of the Monocle, Rag Doll, and the Mist, all of whom were a real treat; proving once again what a treasure trove of riches DC had stashed in its Golden Age history.

The whole thing is just a damn-near perfect superhero story. In the end, the good guys win & the bad guys lose, leaving the reader feeling completely and utterly satisfied. I swear, when I go back and re-read it today, I could almost weep with joy by the end.

1982

jla207-cJustice League of America 207

All-Star Squadron 14

Justice League of America 208

All-Star Squadron 15

Justice League of America 209

Cover Dates: Oct.-Dec.

On Sale: July 1/July 22/August 5/August 26/September 2

 

Writers: Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas

Artists: Don Heck, Adrian Gonzalez, and Jerry Ordway

…For the record, while I listed them by order of release date, I think the better reading order is All-Star Squadron 14, JLA 207-208, All-Star Squadron 15, JLA 209.

In the history of the JLA-JSA team-ups, this is the longest storyline, taking up five issues. And it’s an okay effort, hampered by just a couple things in my view. First, the Don Heck art doesn’t thrill me. Second, it’s a time-travel story, which is always problematic. More specifically, the main heavy is Per Degaton, whom I love, but we just had him kick off the All-Star Squadron title with similar shenanigans a little more than a year earlier. Thomas probably went to this well a bit too often, particularly where Degaton was concerned.

But we do have the Crime Syndicate villains making trouble here, and twice as much Golden Age goodness with the inclusion of the All-Star Squadron. Y’know, I should probably like this installment better than I do, but I dunno… something about it just feels off. It’s not a bad storyline, just not as great in the execution as I feel it could have been.

1983

jla220-cJustice League of America 219-220

Cover Dates: Oct.-Nov.

On Sale: July 7/August 4

Writers: Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway

Artist: Chuck Patton

 

 

 

Alright, so this one is kind of a mess. It’s an attempt to clean up Black Canary’s backstory, but it fails pretty hard.

So Black Canary started out as a member of the JSA, who then switched to the JLA to get away from Earth-2 and memories of her dead husband there. Right off the bat, this makes her significantly older than her JLA teammates. Even if we say she was just eighteen when she first appeared in 1947, that would mean she was born in ’29, which would have made her an even forty when she jumped Earths in 1969… which would have made her fifty-four at the time of the story we’re talking about here!

So they try to fix this by saying that Black Canary somehow switched bodies with her heretofore-unrevealed daughter when she made the journey from Earth-2 to Earth-1, which would make her much younger, at least physically. But it raises all kinds of yucky questions, like did the older Canary steal her daughter’s body/life? Or is the new Canary somehow her own person, but with memories of being in love with her own father and being married to him?

As I said, any way you slice it, it’s just… yuck.

On the plus side, we do have the return of the evil, Earth-1 Johnny Thunder here (last seen in the ’65 team-up in JLA 37-38), and some nice artwork by Chuck Patton. I always liked Patton.

1984

jla232-cJustice League of America 231-232

Cover Dates: Oct.-Nov.

On Sale: July 5/August 2

Writer: Kurt Busiek

Artist: Alan Kupperberg

 

 

 

These last two installments of the annual JLA-JSA team-up have a very thrown-together-at-the-last-minute feel to them, which is a shame. Everyone knew the tradition of these summer team-ups was going to have to end with the Crisis on Infinite Earths, so they really should have planned something big, go out in style… but alas, no.

The JLA end of this has Superman, the Flash, and Wonder Woman, which are some heavy hitters, but literally every other JLAer is occupied elsewhere (because Conway was in the midst of setting up the Detroit-based team… ugh), leaving this story feeling like an afterthought. They even had to temporarily import Supergirl into the JLA for this storyline just to balance out the Earth-1 side of the equation a bit.

It’s also hurt by the fact that Busiek gives us a brand-new, original villain as the antagonist here. Normally I’d applaud this effort, but the villain (the Commander) is rather forgettable, as are the supporting characters that are introduced (a fairly generic scientist and his family). It likely would have helped if they dipped into that Golden Age treasure chest and given the Commander some classic villains for minions/allies, but they didn’t go this route.

Even in the lettercol of JLA #231, editor Alan Gold describes the efforts of Busiek & Kupperberg here as merely “creditable.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

1985

jla244-cInfinity Inc. 19

Justice League of America 244

Cover Dates: Oct.-Nov.

On Sale: July 18/August 1

Writers: Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway

Artists: Todd McFarlane and Joe Staton

 

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

As with the previous year, it doesn’t feel like a whole lot of planning went into this. We were smack dab in the middle of Crisis on Infinite Earths at this point, and everyone was likely ducking for cover, trying to save their own creative skins and figure out where they would fit in the new order of things, and then someone finally realized at the last minute: “Wait, are we doing the JLA-JSA team-up this year? Guess we should throw something together.”

The fact that the proceedings begin in the pages of Infinity Inc. and then get wrapped up in just the one issue of JLA is fairly good surface evidence that my hunch is correct. The inclusion of Infinity Inc. was a natural choice, and the story is relatively inoffensive, but we’re dealing with the Detroit JLA here, which was not good—literally all of the classic parallel characters on the JLA side of things are missing this year. And it’s the final year of the team-up too, which makes it all the more tragic.

The antagonist is also rather weak. It’s the original Steel, who has gone crazy and has somehow gained Mekanique as a servant/partner—and there is no explanation offered for the how or why of either. So Steel is nuts and wants to destroy the new JLA (which includes his grandson, the “new” Steel), and he basically tricks Infinity Inc. into helping him. The JSA plays cavalry in part two, riding in to save the day and help clean it all up. Again, I wouldn’t call it terrible, but it’s not great either. Certainly, the classic tradition of the JLA-JSA summer team-ups deserved a better send-off than this.

Reflections

And that’s the way it was, a wondrous and amazing time to be a comics fan. I truly miss those days, and if you never got the chance to experience them firsthand yourself, you really missed out.

They could always revive the tradition, of course, but we all know they won’t. Life simply does not work that way. The past is gone, life moves on, and there can be no turning back. It was glorious while it lasted though.

Summer 2015 is nearly over… let’s all try to enjoy it while it’s still here.

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2 thoughts on “Summers of Yesteryear with the JLA & JSA”

  1. Not to be too picky, but that should be Spectre v3 # 54. I guess that set a new record for longest time for a story resolution, after the Hobgoblin’s identity in Spider-Man, which took 14 years to resolve properly!

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