We left off with Mike Friedrich blowing kisses to Harlan Ellison in #89.
F for Friedrich, D for Dillin.
#90 "Plague Of The Pale People" on sale April 18, 1971.
It opens with a girl dying on the beach, coupled with the last line of Eliot's "The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock". Smart assy, but I can live with it. Can't live with the rest of it though. Pasty folks have taken over Atlantis. Teams form and dump them. The plot is solely a device to allow F to plant in jokes about another (presumably) favorite writer, T. S. Eliot. The palefaces worship "the Proof Rock" (get it?) There's also a quote from William Carlos Williams to wrap it up--sort of like putting an Air Wick on a sewer.
There are two interesting features to this issue, and one I credit to F. He has Hawkman and Superman team, and Hawkman thought balloons that by using his wings as propellors, he can swim nearly as fast as S. I like the idea of Leaguers puffing up their confidence by comparing themselves favorably to S: Aquaman did it in 1970. Don't you wish the JLA had some version of a danger room, with Superman and Batman schooling the others? If there's another JLA/Avengers crossover, save the fights and show us the groups training together. The League never trains together (Batman and Atom admitted as much in a Shaggy Man story from the early 80s, as the satellite's gym was dustier than Michael Pare's phone). I'd love seeing Cap and Tony finally dope out an obstacle course that Kal, J'onn, Diana and Wally can't beat inside of 2 seconds.
The second feature is the ad for T-shirts bearing the cover image to Action #1. Cool. Imagine a T with the cover to Hulk Annual #1, or Detective #329. I'd wear it, wouldn't you?
My complaint about Issue #s 88-90 is that quotes and in jokes replace imagination and plotting. Friedrich wasn't then much older than his target readers, but his writing careens between the pedantic and schoolmasterish and the outright schoolboy silly (Harlan, my love). Writing comics seems to have led him to lose sight of good storyteling. Will the JSA crossover, coming up next, improve on this year's dreary offerings?
#91 Earth The Monster maker" on sale June, 1970
A Kubert cover has Batman tearfully lying "Flash is DEAD! Which one of us will be next?" I have to ask why DC thought it smart/right/interesting to sell the crossover with only the JLA in the forefront. But then I start reading and it all comes back. An alien kid (purple and weepy) and his pet (horsy thing) fell out of mom's spaceship or something, and tumbled to Earths 1 and 2 respectively. These two are no more menacing than Gumby and Pokey. A cover with these clowns decking the JLSA would have sent me spinning the comic rack like a frisbie: "maybe Avengers has something good."
F has one good angle. In a reprise of sorts of O'Neill's ghost meetings from 1970's crossover, now behavior repeats on the Earths. Sadly, it's limited to the Hawkmen patronizing their respective Robins (each appearing as Batman standins). Too bad Batman isn't here--just who would Earth-2's Batman be necking with? Diana? Doiby Dickles? Yes, Batman's on the cover, but he aint in the story--was the cover done last Christmas?
Gumby and Pokey trash assorted JLSAers, then Gumby meets Solomon Grundy, imprecisely described by F as "a hulk of inanimate vegetation." And yet he's swinging away, laying out Superman (sigh).
One last thing. This one cost a quarter, as DC raised its prices and pages. The extras? A Knights Of The Galaxy story (unreadable) and an Hourman brawl copped from the back pages of "Spectre" a few years before. The real extra? Infantino's end-page memo to fans: "Let's stop and rap a moment--we owe you an explanation...to tell it like it is." Rat own.
#92 "Solomon Grundy The One And Only" on sale July, 1971
The Robins are still bitching about the Hawks (get it?). Dick acts rashly in attacking Gumby (why? he's college age now and no tyro in this game), gets trashed and needs a new costume. So Robin-2 re-outfits him in a Neal Adams design, forcing this deathless exchange:
R-1: "Let's show them how high two Robins can fly."
R-2: "Right On Brother!"
R-1: "So your world has that expression too--guess ya can't have everything cool."
rat own, rat own, rat own. At the end the Hawks (get it?) will admit they were patronizing. Brother!
OK, I hate Gumby and Pokey, but Grundy is always a good show. He was murderously scary in his 40's Green Lantern debut and adequately menacing in Showcase #55 (top notch, even if Fate is mis-written as a Batman manque, punching bank robbers instead of casting spells). He also has one of the stupidest origins this side of Skate Man's: he emerged from Slaughter Swamp, complete with vocal chords and the ability to speak halting English, as the result of "the effect of sizzling sunlight on rotting vegetation." Yup, that'll do it every time.
This time around Grundy can absorb any energy used against him to his advantage. Imbued with Fate and Hourman energy from Showcase #55, he tosses Supermen and Flashes like empty cans of Bud. I like Solomon reimagined as a Hulk-level threat instead of the big doofus he all-too- often is made to be. But the clashes get repetitious and the JLSA is made to look like the Inferior Five as they get beaten down over and over by Gumby, Pokey and Solly.
This issue is memorable only for the purple-prose of F's lectures. When Iris zaps to the satellite to nurse the "dead" Barry, F gasses "here is another bond, the link of love...from which flows STRENGTH"
There's more. Professor F hits us with his pointer as he strains for an ending (why not just kill Spectre again?) by having the GLs zap Grundy (butheabsorbsenergyrightsowhydoesthisworkahhdropititslate) accompanied by "here is another life link. the age-old bond of battle...and from this life link flows VICTORY". Sorta makes you miss Johnny Thunder looking for "Flasho and the ever-loving Supey", doesn't it? When Hal and Allan ass-drop Grundy back in the swamp and will up bubble model # 9,000, F rhapsodizes over "a unique swamp and its resident man-thing creating the bond called HOME, from which flows CONTENTMENT".
Don't know about you but I need a shot of insulin about now. But there is a great teaser, as the last page shows Batman, Arrow and Aquaman walking into a sniper's sights. Will Bruce, with Black Canary-stress lines leaping from his head, push Ollie into the bullet? Will we finally get a story not festooned with half-learned quotes and windy lectures? Will I enjoy anything from JLA 1971? Will you?
Tuen in tomorrow, same Bat-Time, same Bat-Channel.