Well, our writeup of the 1970 JLA/JSA crossover, unique in that the two squads never meet, was itself met with thunderous silence. Let's see if our take on the final issues of the year excites more interest. O for O'Neill, D for Dillin, G for Giella, K for Kanigher, F for Friedrich.
#84 "The Devil In Paradise" on sale September, 1970
Denny O'Neil is done and this one comes courtesy of that old pro, the late Robert Kanigher, who wrote many war titles for DC. Did he write romance books too? Just wondering, as this story is puzzling...no, lousy is the right word.
The cover copy breathlessly asks "How could primitive savages overwhelm the world's greatest super heroes?" I bit.
Early on, there's a voodoo hangover from the summer crossover, as Superman stares at a Nobel laureate and sees....a split image, half human, half skull. Seems the League is being honored at the ceremony for its peace-keeping (read, ass-kicking) efforts against a criminal syndicate. Is Superman's (or, as O's Johnny Thunder would say, the "ever-loving Supey"'s) vision out of whack?
On the way home, there's an aborted race b/t FLash and Kal, to plug the upcoming showdown in World's Finest. And then comes a classic howler in JLA history--the Batman/Black Canary make-out scene.
Huh? Yes, BC is again moping in the satellite, weeping over dead Larry Lance; why didn't she just doff the wig and arrange flowers for the next few issues? Batman appears...and is oddly empathetic, as he too maunders about "the only one I ever wanted to marry...I couldn't." You simply have to read early-70's JLA for the touchy-feely Batman you never get to experience anywhere these days. Don't know about you, but I prefer mean Batman to this clown.
So, romance has come up b/t BC and Batman, or Kanigher has hauled it up. Now the fun begins. Don your boots, as we're wading in deep.
"With the awkward tenderness of a man, Batman enfolds the sobbing Black Canary in his arms".
"...like a broken-winged fledgling, she lifts her tear-stained face towards his distressed eyes"--this type of writing shows absolutely no confidence in Dillin to draw it right, so Kanigher spells out, unecessarily, what I could see, even at age 13, for myself.
"...trapped by the same universal web of loneliness in which all humans are imprisoned."-- We're in the badlands of Mike Friedrich-style generalizations here.
"The couple gropes through the darkness of their souls...their lips fumbling for warmth...their hears beating in a secret language without vocabulary." I swear this all appears on one page!
And they kiss. Ta-daaaaa!
"Suddenly, their breaths severed by the slashing sword of guilt..." The what? And you thought Pauly Shore was silly. Did K air lift this wash from a back issue of "Girl's Romances"? Anyway, Canary breaks the clinch and zaps to the rooftop.
Inane as this is, it's topped by K's helpful descriptions of the action to follow. The League is late to Australia, where, as Batman reports "the Aborigines massacred this peaceful tribe." Then Flash is clobbered by a skull on a spear-yup- as K instructively describes the attackers as "creatures of darkness."
We're only half-way through. Let's skip to the end, at which the Nobel laureate, cleverly named Viktor (he created a lumbering humanoid as his servant--does a last name leap out at you?) goes up in smoke on the island as the League promises to be nice to his fiancee. If O's finish was a Raiders movie, K's one shot is strictly from AIP. Or Monogram. He has Batman imploring Superman to stop Viktor "with one blink of your eye, a snap of your finger." This is self-reliant Batman? Is Archie Andrews under the cowl? He's just dreadful in this run of issues.
#85 "All Sorcery Issue" an Annual on sale September, 1970
It reprints JLA 10 and 11, the Felix Faust/Demons stories, which compare so well to Kanigher's nonsense, right down to the challenge to the reader to deduce how Green Lantern worked the League's escape from the bottle traps. There's a joy in teamwork here that warmed me at age 6 and now.
#86 "Earth's Final Hour" on sale October, 1970
Mike Friedrich arrives...and the debut is inauspicious. His justly- forgotten villain is Theo Zappa, the Zapper, ( an imagination brown-out if ever I heard one) who is servicing a magic-based planet (just what was the late 1970 fascination with magic in JLA?) by stealing Earth's plankton to feed his suffering client. He's a rough mix of O's contractor from #s 82-83 and the pollution nut from back in #79.
F's characterization achievement is to have Aquaman muse, as Superman is saving his butt, "if I were totally recovered, I could probably out-swim him. Well, since that'd probably hurt his ego..." I didn't buy that then, as Superman was never about bragging (except on the cover to JLA #63, and he was Key controlled) and was happy to have each Leaguer be preeminent in something. Superman was always first to take the viallain's initial salvo, right on his S, but that's a good thing.
Sadly, Superman here lectures the planet on conserving natural resources. F is the most didactic writer I can recall. Like Kanigher's, his writing repeats the panel's action, rather than expands on it.
CAPTION "What kind of man does it take to lay his life on the line to save a world?"
CAPTION "It takes a Super-Man baby!"
Rat own, rat own, rat own. Can even Friedrich read this stuff now without blushing? Oh, Superman is flashing peace signs to the crowd--because all aliens are hip to American fads...
At the end we get a Friedrich exclusive, the self-aggrandizing "thank you", this time to Neal Adams "without whose help this story might never have been told." Well, we didn't need the help, as we didn't need the story, but Mike implies he's just delivered something carved on tablets and muled down a mountain. What could follow this?
#87 "Batman, King Of The World" on sale December 10, 1970
You may have gotten the idea that I don't like F's writing. I don't. But give him his due: he wrote this stuff on hiatus from college at University of Santa Clara (according to a "Direct Currents" bit of hype). On my college summers I was a lifeguard. F, like Martin Pasko or Roy Thomas, was the fan who broke in, on talent, passion and hard work.
That said, his stuff reads like the essays I shoveled at 3am in college, making one slender point and bearing it, desperately, page after page, until it died of servitude and overwork.
The theme here is war and peace. Zatanna, a fringe plot device in the 60s, is reimagined as the peacemaker non pareil. "Superman tells us "just by being near her, I feel so comfortable, at ease." He's brushing up against a girl in fishnets and hot pants and he's "comfortable". Right.
If Kanigher's captions are comedic corn, Friedrich's are...mind numbing
CAPTION "Zatanna, the girl with the enigmatic smile and dancing eyes."
CAPTION " ever calm in the midst of a stormy world."
CAPTION "the bearer of peace."
D's art tries so hard to make sense of this yackety yak, but the enigmatic fudge defeats him.
So, Batman's laughing madly as a big robot, serving "the Corporation" (imagination brownout number 3,002) wastes the League. Or does it?
Green Lantern tells Superman "life is in the soul, which no computer can ever recognize." Maybe Mike, but if I'm hospitalized, I'll be happy if the computer tells the nurse when my heart stops.
This issue is remembered only as a tivia question, "where did DC first offer its Avengers counterparts"?
Leaguers travel to "Cam-Nam-Lao" (for real) and Mike beats us with:
CAPTION "linking hands is a sign of their ever-strong unity as well as their mutual determination to complete the mission at hand" My head hurts when it's hit with a shovel--what about yours?
Atom, the physicist, channels Al Jolson by saying "but you aint seen nothin yet" and finally something fun happens, when Wandjina, Silver Sorceress, Blue Jay and Jack B. Quick appear. The first is the Aboriginal god of rain, wielding an ax. He's bald, but that fooled nobody. Blue Jay is little, with wings. There's a skirmish, and the captions fly:
CAPTION "War is the total breakdown of communication. Thus, we find Green Lantern and Wandjina engaged in a duel of colossal powers."
CAPTION "War is the insane attacks of strangers upon each other for no personal reasons. Though Zatanna and Silver Sorceress have never met, they cast destructive spells at each other."
What's weak here is that the first sentence of each caption, Mike's musings about war, can stand on their own, punctuated by the action. But he insists on describing,in the second sentence, what we can see for ourselves and I'm left screaming "shut up already! I can see that!"
The Avengers knockoffs are great fun, the only fun to be had here.
I feel the 3am desperation of F to shoehorn his war lecture into the action. It all ends with a group hug of Zatanna. This is so 70's, I'm amazed Dillin didn't draw them all in love beads and elephant bells. The shovel keeps at it with "blessed are the peacemakers--Amen."
And so the year ends. The stories present some issues leavened with Dillin splash pages and swingouts. There's some character movement, glacial but evident. And there's fun to be had here, amidst the dross.
Read a few and see if you agree.