Justice League of America #64-65 (1968)
“The Stormy Return of the Red Tornado!”
“T. O. Morrow Kills the Justice League — Today!”
By Gardner Fox, Dick Dillin, and Sid Greene
Another historically significant installment as the android Red Tornado makes his first comic appearance. Red Tornado was a favorite JLAer of mine, probably because his inhumanity (as an android) made him an outsider. (The Vision was a favorite of mine on the Marvel side for this same reason.) Adding to this circumstance is the fact that the Tornado is a secret tool of T. O. Morrow, who seeks to use the android to sabotage the JSA—so it’s not as if the team is wrong for being suspicious of him.
I bought this as a back issue when I was already aware of Red Tornado from more contemporary JLA comics, but this introduction would have likely been an intriguing mystery for those reading it when it was first published. One thing that was new for me was the original Red Tornado of the Golden Age. The Ma Hunkel version of Red Tornado looked amazingly weird to me—I was practically mesmerized. (It also looked like a costume I could readily recreate at home, which was an exciting prospect.)
Also: This was a woman????
One thing that was different about Red Tornado at this stage was that he was literally a faceless character, without the first clue who he really was or where he might belong. This longing for identity (greatly heightened by his blank, featureless face) was all-too relatable for me. As an adoptee that grew up with his true name and history an utter mystery, there were many times I would look in the mirror and see a faceless enigma.
When the Tornado finally confronts Morrow—demanding, “what do you know about me– that I don’t know?”—it’s very cathartic for me, even reading it today.
The bizarre and seemingly senseless predictions of T. O. Morrow’s super-computer may be off-putting to some, but I felt engaged by this aspect of the story. I’ve played that “what if” game many times, wondering how my life may have played out if I did this one little thing differently, or made a different choice on some innocuous matter… empires sometimes crumble on the smallest of decisions, after all. So when the computer tells Morrow that his scheme will work “only if Red Tornado is there to try and stop you,” only to later declare, “You will succeed in anything you attempt– provided the Red Tornado does not appear to stop you,” it rings strangely true to me; it doesn’t feel silly or contrived. Because real life truly can be just that contradictory and absurd at times.
Red Tornado was largely a screw-up and a blunderer through most of this story, which made him all the more sympathetic to me. Though Red Tornado does save the day in the end, rescuing all the heroes of both teams and capturing Morrow, and even gets nominated for JSA membership by Dr. Fate, the heroes revert to being dismissive of him in subsequent appearances. It took a long time—and I mean a REAL long time—before the character got anything close to a fair shake, both from his fellow heroes and the JLA writers.
I should add that I absolutely loved the Dillin-Greene art team on this installment; their work was beautiful. This may have been Dillin’s peak of quality as JLA artist, in my opinion.
Justice League of America #147-148 (1977)
“Crisis in the 30th Century!”
“Crisis in Triplicate!”
By Paul Levitz, Martin Pasko, and Dick Dillin
The previous year (see next entry) declared on its opening cover: “18 Super-Heroes from 3 Earths!” Well this installment was apparently trying to top the last one, as it boldly proclaimed, “19 Super-Heroes in the Greatest Team-Up of All Time and Space!” I was blessed to begin my comics fandom with these two crossovers, as each is a fantastic battle royale, overflowing with superheroes and thus thrilling me both then and today.
Paul Levitz was the regular writer of All-Star Comics at this point, as well as the writer of this storyline, which is likely why the transition between All-Star Comics #68 and JLA #147 was such a smooth one. Having just tracked down the Psycho Pirate and capturing him on Earth-1, the JSA decides that as long as they’re in the neighborhood they may as well check in with the Leaguers aboard the JLA satellite. After a pleasant get-together, Wildcat is ready to leave with Psycho Pirate in tow when Green Arrow powers off the transporter with a well-placed boxing-glove arrow. His reasons for doing so? He was having a good time with his fellow Leaguers and the JSAers and wanted to keep the party going!
Green Arrow was being a ballbuster, as usual, while Wildcat was his typically adorable, curmudgeonly™ self. Knowing them as we do, it makes perfect sense that these two would butt heads like this. It would have been fun to see Levitz continue to explore this dynamic over the course of the whole storyline, but unfortunately, Wildcat doesn’t participate in the full adventure this year, relegating his appearance to a mere cameo.
Getting back to the story: 30th century wizard and longtime Legion nemesis Mordru inadvertently kidnaps several Leaguers and JSAers when he reaches back in time and grabs them while he was looking for some magical objects stored in the satellite. (This is what Powergirl was screaming about, in case anyone was wondering.) Frustrated by his error, Mordru then decides (with a little help from a subtle spell of suggestion courtesy of Dr. Fate) to send the heroes out to do some of his dirty work. They team up with some Legionnaires along the way and, despite everyone’s best efforts at sabotage, eventually help Mordru achieve his goal of finding the magical objects and releasing the Demons Three—Abnegazar, Rath and Ghast.
Ah, but once this happens, the demons turn on Mordru. “Our destiny is to rule,” they tell him, “not be ruled!” With this, they strike the wizard down like swatting a fly. Which is rather scary, as Mordru was able to swat down the JLAers and JSAers like they were flies—which means the demons must be indescribably powerful.
The demons then turn on each other (thankfully) the following issue. They try to use the heroes as pawns to settle their dispute, which ultimately goes nowhere, then fight with each other directly, which results in the destruction of Abnegazar and Rath. This leaves Ghast, who the heroes trap within a magically-reassembled JLA satellite.
Quite the barn burner. One complaint though: The JLA and the Legionnaires, along with Power Girl of the JSA, are able to somewhat resist the will of the demons, ostensibly because they are “younger” and “have more stamina.” This happened sometimes—both here and in the pages of The Flash when the GA Flash appeared—wherein the writers felt the need to promote the modern heroes as superior to the Golden Agers, and I’ve never understood it. The Golden Agers are the originals, the pioneers of superheroics. Personally, if I was in the writer’s chair, I would never portray them as anything less than equals to their Silver & Bronze Age brethren. (In fact, I’d likely portray them as superior, if anything!)
Justice League of America #135-137 (1976)
“Crisis in Eternity!”
“Crisis on Earth-S!”
“Crisis in Tomorrow!”
By E. Nelson Bridwell, Marty Pasko, and Dick Dillin
Choosing between the ’76 and ’77 editions of the crossover was a hell of a struggle for me. As I mentioned last entry, this is another great battle royale with mountains of superheroes involved, which pleases me immensely. Our previous entry had a similarly huge roster of heroes as well, of course—so how, then, did this story beat out the ’77 meeting for ninth place?
Firstly, though the opening cover here boasted of “18 Super-Heroes from 3 Earths,” it actually gave us more than that. In addition to the three teams of six listed up front, we would also later get the Marvel Family (Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, and Captain Marvel, Jr.), plus the Roman god Mercury, who pretty much functions as a superhero in this tale. So that’s 22 superheroes, basically. That already beats out the ’77 crossover.
But then on top of this, we have an amazingly colorful cast of villains: King Kull, Ibac, Penguin, Queen Clea, Blockbuster, the Shade, Dr. Light, the Earth-Two Joker, the Weeper, Mr. Atom, and Brainiac. That’s eleven more super-characters added to the mix—quite a smorgasbord of super-powered, costumed characters!
This was also the introduction (aside from the Marvel Family) of the Fawcett characters to modern DC, which adds a little more historical significance to this storyline. (And honestly, I’m disappointed we didn’t see more of “Shazam’s Squadron of Justice”/“The Legendary Heroes of Earth-S” after this. They basically disappeared afterward.)
And finally, the previous entry dissed the JSA with that “stamina” nonsense. Points deducted for that, which is part of why it slipped behind this installment. (Let this be a lesson to future comics writers: don’t ever disrespect the JSA.)
The pairings for the individual adventures in this storyline were also cleverly done. There’s the Green Lanterns & Ibis together with the Flashes and Mercury; the gravity-defying husband-and-wife teams of Hawks & Bullets; and the two dynamic duos of Batman & Robin and Mr. Scarlet & Pinky. (Also of historical note: this is the Earth-2 Batman & Robin, the first and only time that E-2 Batman got into the fight in one of the crossovers.)
On the villain side, the pairings are equally clever: Dr. Light and the Shade; the Joker and the Weeper. Notice how the heroes are paired concordantly while the villains are paired discordantly. (One possible exception: Mr. Atom and Brainiac, who are both sorta robots. Though one could make the case that Brainiac could be taken for organic life while Mr. Atom could not. This would probably be a reach though.)
And it all ends with an almost-showdown between Superman and Captain Marvel. Just wall-to-wall fantastic stuff.
Justice League of America #37-38 (1965)
“The Earth–Without a Justice League!”
“Crisis on Earth-A!”
By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, and Sid Greene
Stan Lee was well known for the humor he injected into his stories back in the Silver Age; Gardner Fox not so much. But damn, Fox gave a hilarious effort here—no other team-up tale on this list makes me laugh out loud like this one does, which is one of the reasons I have it ranked so highly. Fittingly, it’s Johnny Thunder’s first appearance in the crossover and, in fact, his first full appearance anywhere (outside of a cameo appearance in Flash #137 two years earlier) since Flash Comics #91 (Jan. 1948). As the character had always been written as comic relief, it’s only natural Fox would put him at the center of a humorous story.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure, I’ll offer a more comprehensive recap. So… after hearing about the JSA’s adventures on Earth-1, Johnny is inspired by an offhand quip from his Thunderbolt to seek out his Earth-1 counterpart. The guy turns out to be a crook and a lout with terrible grammar. (“You leave my grandma outta this!” he complains when E-2 Johnny points this out.) E-2 Johnny winds up getting punched out by the E-1 version, who then assumes control of the magical Thunderbolt—after taking some time to figure out the command phrase, cei-u (“say you”). “This one’s worse than the other,” Thunderbolt observes, “and he was so dumb he thought a polar cap was something to keep your head warm!”
This is when the fun truly starts. First thing E-1 Johnny orders the Thunderbolt to do is steal some money for him. When he attempts to do so he is foiled by the Flash (the only Leaguer to see any real action this installment). When Evil Johnny hears about this, he commands T-bolt to go back in time and prevent the members of the JLA from ever becoming superheroes. Intentional or not, this leads to one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever come across in a comic book, as T-bolt gets Bruce Wayne to quit being Batman with just a few well-placed punches to the face!
So after a decade and a half (or so) of rigorous, tireless training to avenge the deaths of his parents, a few shots to the mush are all it takes for Bruce Wayne to give up and go back to being a playboy?? Say it ain’t so, Batman!
Inevitably, the JSA notices that their Johnny has gone missing and track him to Earth-1, where they beat the hell out of Evil Johnny’s gang of thugs. E-1 Johnny then orders the T-bolt to kick the JSA “off the earth!” T-bolt complies… by kicking them “ten feet” off the earth.
This is another fun aspect of the story: As a kindly and good-hearted creature, T-bolt hated having to take orders from this jerk, so he was trying at every turn to pervert the intent of his commands by obeying them to the absolute letter. E-1 Johnny figures this out eventually and the subsequent gamesmanship between the two is priceless.
Back to the action: E-1 Johnny and the T-bolt quickly vamoose, leaving the JSA to piece together what’s happened. Once they figure out that the JLA has been erased from history (creating an alternate Earth-1, an Earth-A, if you will), they decide to impersonate the lost JLA in the hopes of unnerving Evil Johnny. After once again escaping capture by the JSA/faux Leaugers and figuring out the masquerade, Evil Johnny orders the T-bolt to go back in time again and give the Leaguers’ superpowers to his hoodlum friends. Thus we end up with the “Lawless League of Earth-A”—bad guys dressed like the JLA and possessing all of their powers, but with bad haircuts, poor posture, and/or Snidely Whiplash moustaches.
The JSA’s battle with the Lawless League takes place in the second issue of the team-up and it’s not much of a contest, as the JSA wipes the floor with them. T-bolt observes that it was like “rank amateurs against seasoned professionals!” (Now see, this is the kind of respect the Golden Agers should always be getting.)
At this point, E-1 Johnny is getting desperate. He orders T-bolt to hit the JSA with a hurricane; then an earthquake. When this all fails, he goes bug-eyed and commands T-bolt to take him to the moon, where he’s sure he’ll be safe. However, wising up to T-bolt’s trickery, he adds: “put a spacesuit on me first so I can breathe” and “don’t leave any trail for th’ Justice Society to follow!”
There’s just one thing Evil Johnny failed to consider: in the airless atmosphere of the moon, there’s no sound, so he won’t be able to give verbal commands to the T-bolt. Unfortunately, he finds a way around this.
The JSA figure out where he’s hiding, of course, but before they can reach him he comes up with a fresh plan, ordering T-bolt to make some original, magical creatures to defend him. Now E-1 Johnny may be a dope, but you’ve got to give him credit for his imagination here, as he comes up with Medusa-Man (one look at his face turns victims to wood), Absorbo-Man (who can absorb super-powers used against him), and Repello-Man (who can repel any force used against him).
English Major’s Digression: Of course, the Medusa of myth turned men to stone… so can we call this a malaprop? Though it doesn’t completely fit our modern use of the term (as there’s no confusion of words with similar sounds here), it would seem to fall under the umbrella of the root word, malapropos (“not to the purpose”). Honestly, I feel like there should be another, better term for this but I can’t think of it.
In any case, even as a kid reading this story, I just knew that Johnny’s mistake with the wood/stone thing would bring Green Lantern’s powers into play. (The Golden Age, E-2 Green Lantern’s power was ineffective against wood, as all geeks know.) The suspense lay in how, precisely.
So the JSA arrive on the moon and the fight is on once again. Mr. Terrific and the Atom are turned to wood almost immediately by Medusa-Man, but Dr. Fate zaps a golden mask over the creature’s face before he can get anyone else. The Flash and Hawkman are then defeated by Repello-Man while Green Lantern falls to Absorbo-Man. It might look pretty bleak for the good guys at this point, as they have just one guy left standing, but that one guy is… who else?
Doc’s first move is to animate the wooden forms of Atom and Terrific and use them against Absorbo-Man. As suspected, having absorbed GL’s power, he is vulnerable to wood and is destroyed. Next is Repello-Man, who Doc dispatches with some reverse magic. Having already neutralized Medusa-Man, Doc basically wiped out all the creatures by himself (or just about).
An apoplectic Johnny then orders T-bolt into battle with Dr. Fate—a battle so great that just being caught on the periphery of it is enough to finally break Evil Johnny’s spirit and make him say “uncle!”
…And in an eyeblink, everything is restored to normal.
Whew! That was wild and wooly but also a whole lot of fun. In addition, it was exciting to see Mr. Terrific in proper action here, as I became rather fascinated with the character after his appearance in the ’79 crossover. (I think I bought JLA #37 & 38 in the back-issue bins at the U.S. #1 Flea Market a while later, in either ’80 or ‘81.)
One aspect of this storyline that could be considered a major flaw (and I don’t see it as such but recognize the validity of the potential criticism) is that the JLA doesn’t even participate, really. At least not as such (we did kinda see them in altered forms; first as a disguised JSA and then as the Lawless League). But speaking for myself (and probably a sizable chunk of the audience, if not a majority), I waited all year for the JSA to pop up come the summertime; it didn’t bother me a whit to see them take over the comic completely.
Justice League of America #107-108 (1973)
“Crisis on Earth-X!”
“Thirteen Against the Earth!”
By Len Wein, Dick Dillin, and Dick Giordano
This tale introduces the Quality Comics characters to the proper DC Universe, including a bunch of them together as a new super-team, the Freedom Fighters (a team that would eventually get their own title, Freedom Fighters, a Bronze Age favorite of mine). The battle takes place on Earth-X, an alternate Earth where Hitler conquered the world (and I love stories set in alternate worlds where the Nazis won World War II).
Nazi worlds are great fun precisely because we managed to avoid this awful fate in the real world. Of all the shit things that have happened—and continue to happen—at least mankind won this fight. (Which, honestly, is the most important one we’re ever going to have, right? I shudder to think there could be one with even more stakes on the horizon.) Every word and picture in a Nazi-Earth story is a reminder of this victory; it’s reassuring in that way. Plus Nazis make the best villains because it’s just so easy to hate them. It feels good to hate them.
The JSA heroes are very much in their element here, as so many of them were made, literally, to fight the Axis Powers. As the Golden Age Superman tells them, “Ratzi, I don’t know where you’ve been hiding all these years– but I cut my baby teeth on skunks like you!” Sandman observes that, “this is like fighting memories of old!” For Fate it was “nostalgia,” as “I, too, have battled this madman’s [Hitler’s] spawn in years agone!”
By the way: a great creative choice picking the Golden Age Superman to participate in this installment, with the heroes going up against Nazis. Anyone who knows their Superman history is aware that Supes spent a lot of time at the dawn of his comic days fighting the Axis. This was also the first time we get a proper Earth-2 version of Superman, as he’s got gray hair at his temples and his “S” insignia is altered slightly to look more as it did in his earliest appearances. (Note that these distinctions aren’t shown on the covers, however. On the covers he’s drawn as the regular, Earth-1 Superman that we all know.)
Then business really picks up with the arrival of the Freedom Fighters. At one point Uncle Sam grabs a panzer by the barrel of its gun, lifts it up and then violently smashes it into the ground. It’s an image that can’t be beat.
Later, when the three teams break off into groups (as they seem to invariably do in these team-ups), the first team is Batman, Fate, the Ray, and the Human Bomb. I loved this team as Fate was my fave JSAer (duh), and Ray and Bomb were two of my favorite Freedom Fighters. (Ray was probably my top fave, followed by Uncle Sam & Bomb.)
Later, Red Tornado gets to save the day after basically getting his teammates into this alternate-Earth mess. He does this by finding the Nazi satellite above the planet broadcasting its mind-control ray. There, he discovers… Adolph Hitler! Better still, Tornado gets to punch him in the face! General rule: add a million bonus points to your comic story anytime it can offer the visual of Hitler getting punched in the face.
…Yeah, turns out it’s an android Hitler, but the visual is the same.
I should also add that we get another great art job by Dillin and Giordano here. These two were a really good duo.
Justice League of America #171-172 (1979)
“The Murderer Among Us: Crisis Above Earth-One!”
By Gerry Conway and Dick Dillin
The most unique offering in the history of these stories and a fantastic change of pace, as it’s basically a locked-room murder mystery aboard the JLA satellite. It was also my introduction to Mr. Terrific.
Mr. Terrific hadn’t been around much at all in the Silver and Bronze Ages. He participated in the ’65 and ’67 crossovers and then played a small part in the ’72 edition (this was the 100-issue anniversary installment, in which nearly all the JLAers and JSAers took part), so the discovery of this new (to me, anyway) hero was quite the joy. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t be around for very much longer.
One of the best aspects of this tale is the element of camaraderie both within and between the two teams. It’s the first crossover since the death of the E-2 Batman over in Adventure Comics, so Huntress and E-1 Batman share some moments; we see the Green Lanterns shooting the bull while helping themselves to some food and drink with their respective power rings; and E-2 Hawkman passes along some helpful wisdom to then-new JLAer, Zatanna.
Things take a dark turn when the Flashes and Power Girl have a conversation with Terrific and he reveals he’s on the trail of his “old enemy,” the Spirit King. After taking offense at the perceived insinuation that he might be too old for the job, Terrific says that when they discover the truth, “one of you will be branded a traitor.” In hindsight, it would seem clear that Terrific had deduced that the Spirit King had taken possession of one of his fellow JSAers but he could not be certain which. The “traitor” remark was likely designed draw the Spirit King out; make him show his hand.
It broke my heart to later learn that the Spirit King was not a Golden Age character, but was created solely for this story. So he never actually fought Mr. Terrific or the Golden Age Flash back in the 40s. To create further confusion, Spirit King’s true identity of “Roger Romaine” was a name that Conway had already used as the identity of another villain (the Gadgeteer) for the Steel comic book series… just a year earlier. Now how could Conway have already forgotten that he just used the exact same name for another character? I tell ya, I love the Bronze Age, they made the best comics then, but they also made some of the dumbest errors.
While there’s not much in the way of traditional superhero action in this one, that’s fine, because in the context of the other twenty-two installments it’s refreshingly different. It gives Conway a chance to do more character studies, and the mystery aspect allows Batman and Huntress to take more of a lead role in the plot. (Non-superpowered heroes can often feel out of place in larger-scale superhero get-togethers like this.)
As noted in last year’s blogpost, they don’t actually capture the killer (the Spirit King) at the end; in fact, we would have to wait nearly twenty years for that. But a moral victory is achieved by the fact that they didn’t turn on each other and got to the truth by way of a fair investigation. As Superman proclaimed it, “We refused to believe the worst about each other!” To which the E-2 Hawkman adds, “He [Mr. Terrific] was always known as the ‘Defender of Fair Play,’ and if what Superman said is true, perhaps we owe our fair investigation to his memory.” He calls it a “fitting epitaph” for their fallen comrade.
There are also some Dr. Fate bonus points earned in this one. The Lanterns initially balk when Superman first orders them to seal off the satellite, but once Fate sides with Superman, they agree to do it. “Okay, Fate,” E-2 Green Lantern says, “but only because you think it’s a good idea.” Later, after the Huntress is caught in an explosion, Fate’s magic heals her almost instantly. “Her burns are healing even as we watch!” Superman thinks to himself. “Sometimes I wonder if Fate isn’t the most powerful of us all.”