We left 1970 with Mike Friedrich ("F") serving silliness in JLA #87, including a drooling Batman, an Avengers parody and some squirmy Zatanna myth making. Now we venture into Justice League on sale during calendar-year 1971, F's last full year on the book. He's continued the relevance and characterization efforts begun by Denny O'Neill and added more than a dash of self importance and pedantic fog to the title. Will he stay the lunatic course in 1971? Will there be vast improvement? Odds-defying decline? Well, read 'em and weep.
#88 "The Last Survivors Of Earth" on sale January, 1971.
A letdown. #87 was awful but textured; each rereading reveals new layers of foolery. This one is just dull. We just get
another alien invasion, of humanoids attached to machines. There's two themes here: the crashingly obvious one of don't depend on machines (spoken like a college kid who hasn't yet bought a car) and the more interesting one of self reliance in place of waiting for the super hero to save you. Three regular folk foil the invasion, making the JLA redundant. Mike forgot that some dude throwing a wrench into a spaceship, instead of Green Lantern throwing the ship into Alpha Centuri, is not what most of us buy comics to see. But I like the idea of us relying too much on being saved instead of looking to help ourselves. JLA/Avengers would make this a key difference between the DC universe and its Marvel counterpart.
More interesting than the story is the prompt junking of the Batman/Black Canary angle. Just as Green Arrow fumes over Canary opting to walk with Bruce instead of him, F kills it with her asking Bruce for advice "as the brother you are to me." DEATH!!! Every guy on this Board got, from aome object of his relentles desire, the "let's be friends" rap. It's painful. And this being early-70's Batman, he actually feels the pain, and walks away, after hemming and hawing the way Charlie Brown gave advice to Peppermint Patty, with Dillin distress lines emanating from his mug like stink lines from cartoon dogshit. Bummer.
Kanigher's clinch was fabulous nonsense, especially as he wrote it, but having taken the first cloddish step, I wanted DC to run with this, if only to see Arrow curse somebody besides Hawkman and have Batman react, as he would with Guy Gardner in 1987, by one-punching Ollie into the earth's core. Alas, I can hear the editor now: "Y'see Mike, we never were wild about that whole kissing thing, but Kanigher, you know Kanigher, been here since the building went up, and he wanted it--well, you're on it now, so clean it up, will ya? This is JLA, not Heart Throbs for chrissake."
Irwin Donnefeld's statement at the end of the book reports JLA's paid circulation at 231,000, up from the near death number we last noted.
#89 "The Most Dangerous Dreams Of All" on sale March 4, 1971.
With this issue and #90, F provides state's exhibits A and B proving why he's screwing up the book, and missing the point of superhero comics.
This one wastes Neal Adams's availability to do the cover. Flash, pointing like he's selling Oxy Clean, screeches "Reader, this is a story about YOU! It's your turn to be either SUPERMAN or BATMAN!"
Why just now? It's my turn every time I open a comic, no?
Black Canary's being stalked by a creep named Harlequin Ellis who looks, eerily, uncannily, like Steve Carrel, the lead actor of "The 40-Year Old Virgin". Even in 1971 I knew of Harlan Ellison, though I didn't enjoy sci fi or fantasy writing, and by page 3 this is feeling uncomfortably like F's wet dream. Christ, have it to Black Canary, not to some writer! S'matter with you kid? Green Arrow continues his jealous-guy routine, with the focus of his ire being...yes, Harlequin Ellis! And I guess me. And you fellow Reader!!
Final caption sends the book into orbit, with a drawing of F's smirky grin and "many are the things a writer is forced to do by the crash pounding of his creative soul. This story was one of them; for there is no escape from the soul shatter of the nova awareness that I...in so many ways am Harlequin Ellis!" Awwww, who cares? "Nova awareness"? "Soul shatter"? Crap on rye. And there was no story, only dream sequences of flying like Superman or swinging like Batman, throwing the stray punch, and adolescent "focus", if that's what you call it, on Canary's fishnets.
F tacks on "to Harlan Ellison, that you might understand, brother." Clunk. This tellingly misses the point of comics: even laden with relevancy to real-life problems, they still are escapist writings meant to entertain. Reading and looking at a Friedrich standin playing pocket pool while dreaming of flying or dating Canary isn't on the menu: comics are about Superman, Spiderman, not Mike Friedrich and his wanna-be association with his favorite writers. Did he have compromising snaps of Julie Schwartz? How DC let this one hit the stands is a question on a par with who greenlighted "The Chevy Chase Show".
John Broome once appeared in a Batman story (Commander was kind enough to advise it was Detective #343); he was there solely as (1)a gag and (2)to alert the reader to some story points. He wasn't there to moan about failing to bag that cheerleader back in '38. But then, Broome was a storyteller. He wasn't using Batman for therapy. Or at least, I couldn't tell he was.
We'll continue in part 2, maybe tomorrow.