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Subj: Thanks, Deke!
Posted: Fri Aug 17, 2007 at 11:58:16 am EDT
Reply Subj: Reading JLA 1970-Part 2
Posted: Thu Aug 16, 2007 at 12:45:22 pm EDT

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Spoilers of a sort abound.

In our ramble through calendar year 1970, we left off just as the summer crossover with the JSA was to hit the stands. These last two issues are Denny O'Neil's last books of the year. Did they develop the theme of social-studies class issues as fodder for comic-book stories? Were they relevant? Were they any damn good?

#82 "Peril Of The Paired Planets" On sale June 1970. Summer! "Make It With You", "Spill The Wine" and "Close To You" dominate the AM-station playlists. I'm gearing up for our annual month on Long Beach Island, to start at the end of July. My eyes are stinging every day from chlorine in the town pool. I'm turning 13 in July. Life's OK, and then this hits the stands. And makes it better.

Another Neal Adams cover shows a few Leaguers struggling in Long John Silver's Seafood Restaurant-style fishnets. I love Earth 2! I love crossovers! Loved it then, love it now. Wish JLA met the Avengers every Christmas and July, with rotating rosters.

And I loved this book. Corn has its place, and this cob was a healthy serving. Using movies as a metaphor, if the preceding issues of 1970 tried to be "Medium Cool", this story is "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" all the way. Irrelevant fun! Nonsense in fact.

It opens with Superman crashing around town and plummeting to subway tracks. Why? Splash panel shows the JSA whipping the crime Syndicate (more flaccid Dillin fists--is Superwoman being belted by Wonder Woman, or PoppinFresh?).

There's another invasion afoot, this time in Earth-2, and you'll love the reason: these aliens, led by Creator-1(?), are interstellar contractors. To build a planet to specs, they have to destroy a couple of others and use the resultant energy. Sound construction theory. So, Earths1-2 are the targets, and poor Red Tornado, wanting approval, seeking to stop the invasion himself and making a hash of it, becomes the unwitting link, drawing the worlds together.

Any JLA/Avengers fans out there? This sounds more than a tad familiar, no?

Creator says "ex-cellent" a lot, something like Ming the Merciless, and his minions butter him with "we hasten, O spendid moulder of environments". I strain to find the "relevant" parallel, unless its to serials of the 40's. There's even a voodoo angle, as in every time a JSA'er drops in a net (wielded by the weakest-looking group of aliens since, well, last issue's courtiers of the Jest Master. Whatever happened to alien superiority?) a JLA counterpart folds too. So that's why Superman fell--his Earth-2 copy got used. Beats a licking from Tomar Re, I guess.

So Superman isn't around, but we get to see Dr. Mid-Night and Jay Garrick in feckless action, and a "ghost" meeting between the nearing worlds during which everybody sees his doppelganger from the other planet This is now officially and uncomfortably similar to plot beats in JLA/Avengers.

But it's fun. Doesn't make me think, isn't analogous to anything in the news (blockbusting? Connection's too attenuated) but I'm into it, if somewhat annoyed at how these doughy aliens can dump the JSA with shimmering nets.

And there's still attention to character. Hawkman chastises GA/BC/GL for teleporting to the satellite 4 hours after his distress call went out, and gets from GA "Well pardon us. Anything I can do to square myself--brush your wings, shine your beak." It's not Howard Stern, but it is friction between heroes, and that was new to JLA. And Hal reflects on the tradeoff the Guardians made him eat, losing much of his ring's "do anything" capacity in order to wander the backroads with GA and find America. Of course, there's also soap opera of a low order, as BC logically but wrongly designates herself as the mystery link causing the Earths to brush up as if piled in a clown car. This sets up the cliffhanger, and it's legit: no reason for a reader of the time to think BC will live, as she's only been around a year or so. Who knew? DC might've been setting the stage for Wonder Woman to return to the JLA.

There are stupidities too. Johnny Thunder gets instant character as a Maynard G. Krebs manque: "Right on Starman. We gotta locate Doc Mid-Night, Flash-O and the ever lovin Supey." Wow. Somebody crack a window. And there's that JSA meeting, with Spectre being corrected by Dr. Fate. Sounds harmless, but this oversight will haunt us in the next issue. So let's get to it.

#83 "Where Valor Fails, Will Magic Triumph?" on sale August, 1970.

I grabbed mine at the Harvey Cedars Ship's Wheel, on Long Beach Island NJ. An arresting cover with a nice black background shows Fate conjuring Spectre to leave a tomb. Superman and Batman gratuitously, illogically standing by. Very dramatic. Very exciting. Preter-naturally dumb. Spectre was just at the JSA meeting, in ho-hum fashion--does he always get this kind of invitation? I knew this was wrong. Nobody on the proof staff caught Spectre at the meeting in JLA #82? This isn't even lovable DC lunacy, just haste, inattention.

There's nothing new in the first half of #83. More ghost meetings, more JSA can't beat the nets (Alan Scott and WW lose, among others) though, BC, the only female counterpart to WW, is,inexplicably, unaffected. Only Fate and the Thunderbolt hold their own. So we're off to the cemetary, to raise Spectre and get some answers. "Hear me, O ghost who walks..." and Spectre swirls out, like Barbara Eden "I hear--and heed. How can the Spectre serve?" What! You get the idea that Dillin was supposed to draw Wildcat or somebody in that JSA meeting in #82, anybody but Spectre, but he didn't get the memo. Spectre is clearly the deus ex machina for this crossover and should never have been just another mope at the meeting. He's now appearing with such spookies, you expect a vomiting Linda Blair to trail him.

A caption compounds the crapola by dishonestly telling us that "though the reason for Spectre's imprisonment cannot be revealed, rest assured that it is fearsome indeed!" As one LOC writer noted in JLA #87, "of course you can't reveal the reason...because there is no reason!" Hear hear, and I commend you to the letters column of this run of books, where intelligent, sometimes witty and scathing critiques were printed. A much better read than the No-Prize trolling going on in Spider-Man's columns of the time.

Remember, DC was the industry leader in helpful captions, always quick to cite issue #s and the like to bring readrs up to speed with a character's situation. But here only the mealy-mouthed "fearsome indeed". Why? Looks like O'Neil, stuck for a big ending, needed another death (the '69 crossover ended with Larry Lance taking gas, leading to BC's relocation to Earth-1). And Spectre, DC's equivalent to God's right hand, is the designated vic. What, Angel and The Ape weren't available?

Then there's the mishandling of the Thunderbolt. I've loved this guy since seeing, in 1965, his leer on the cover of JLA #37, manhandling the JSA. But all he gets here is the O'Neil assembly-line retooling of character, as either cop (Hawkman, GL) or hipster (GA, Johnny Thunder). You thought Johnny Thunder was hard on the ears? Well, enjoy the Bolt: "Here I am. So What's doing? You want something?" It gets worse: to Spectre's suggestion that the JSA fight the aliens's advanced science with magic, not lesser science, (begging the question, what was Alan Scott using, a Remco Chem set?), Bolt offers "we'd be hassling them on our own turf." The nadir arrives when Fate exhausts himself teleporting him and Bolt into the Creator's ship, and needs Bolt to mop up. Bolt hits Creator's crew with his lambent wit: "No way dude, I gotta spell made to order--um--doesn't seem to operate. My magic isn't set up for this alien scene." You get that window open yet?

This of course leads Fate to conclude that Bolt is " a grade-three sorceror." And a grade Z character. I know he was happy-go-lucky in 1965 but I always saw him as a bad ass, and was glad to see him finally strut in the 1983 crossover, when he again trashed the Society, and without wisecracks.

Still, Fate shines as the outsize power he is, and there are junky-fun touches in this issue, such as Creator's red and green lights converging to show the worlds aligning (some of that advanced science Spectre warned of) and the wild drawing of the worlds parting, tearing a tearful Spectre asunder (he'd blocked them in a last ditch effort by filling the gap with his ectoplasmic own--didn't Krona get trapped that way in JLA/Avengers...ahhh, forget it).

So Spectre dies, "freed to traverse the universe" so BC can live. Well, she is cuter. Though she does nothing but mope in this crossover. It's maddening how sexist the new generation of comic writers could be; she and Wonder Woman are given nothing to do and appear no more heroic than Shirley Partridge or Carol Brady.

O'Neil's JLA run ends here, on his weakest but most fun effort. And we've got ourselves a semi-tradition, the summer death, next to appear in the 1973 crossover when Red Tornado and Wing buy the farm.

O'Neil leaves the adult subtext and the somewhat individualized dialogue as his legacies. Gardner Fox probably worked in some subtle subtexts of his own during his run, (he was far too good a writer not to) but I just can't recall them being as overtly political as O'Neil's themes were. And I appreciate the attempt to create characters, even if I don't buy guys like Ray Palmer saying "right on"--can anybody now say that with a straight face? I'd rather hear Batman yell "23-skiddoo!!"

Next Time--Robert Kanigher and Mike Friedrich finish the year, and I do mean finish

I'm havin' a BALL checkin' out these posts! Thanks! It's great to re-live these ol' memories! \:\)


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