My thanks to Gernot, Brian, Commander, Ian, TJ, Omar--I appreciate the input. It must get tedious for you folks to keep reading my endless criticism and disappointment with much of JLA's early-70's output, and I'm certainly not sparking much discussion of same (though I suspect much of that is due to relatively few of you having ever seen these issues--if somebody reads a year's worth of Kamandi or Conan, I'll have nothing to add too).
So let's see if there are any gems amidst the dross. F for Friedrich, D for Dillin.
There's one. #94 "Where Strikes Demonfang" on sale August 26, 1971.
Wow. Neal Adams is guest artist for pages 1, 5 20 and 22, all views of Demonfang, the enforcer for Ra's Al Ghul. His closeups of Demon's face are striking. Great start.
Wow. We pick up right where the teaser left us, with a sniper drawing down on a trio of Leaguers. Batman and Arrow mesh flawlessly to nail the sniper, another fang at work. I'm tired of contrivances demanding the League initially act like the Mighty Heroes, unnable to cross the street without shorting out the traffic light on the corner. And Dillin has raised his game in this issue: some nice views of Batman in action. Though I have to ask when I see Batman swing DOWN at me, parallel to rooftops--what's the Batrope attached to? We're on the waterfront, two-story buildings abound. Is there nonetheless a convenient gargoyle-on-skyscraper for him to loop?
Wow. Merlyn the archer is the next contestant/assassin dispatched to nail an unnamed JLA target. The story is remarkably taut, fast-paced and engrossing, almost devoid of Friedriching, though he wrote it. Page 5 practically gives the target away but if you moon over Adams's art, you may miss the, ahem, clews. This story suggests some hands-on editing, or maybe F just wanted to try something different. It works!
Wow. Arrow tells us how Merlyn embarrassed him early in his career. Batman actually trails Merlyn; 'bout time he acted more like Sherlock Holmes and less like John Ritter. Only Aquaman feels like a tenth wheel, but there's a fun reason for that too. There's an unmasking of sorts, a cool face off when the target is revealed (read it!), yet another closing teaser involving a misfiring transporter and Adams's striking last page of Demonfang.
Wow. One of the best JLA books ever. Its tone is cool, efficient and compelling; I wanted to finish this story. Love to see more of this.
#93 Annual on sale September 7, 1971
Reprints JLA #s 13 and 18. Odd choices of pedestrian stories. #13 turns on Aquaman's bromides, offered as encouragement to his colleagues in their fights against enhanced robot duplicates, inspiring them in each case to win. This is every bit as corny as F's lectures, but the refreshing difference is Gardner Fox, presumably the writer, didn't drive the points home like stakes through a heart with captions telling us why Arthur was precient in his choice of cliches, and how each reinforced teamwork.
Your attention is better directed to DC Super Spec #6, on sale in July, 1971, a 100-pages-for-50-cents marvel, with the detailed, utterly involving wraparound Neal Adams cover of the JLA/JSA, the type of thing Alex Ross loves to do today, and the reprinting of JLA #s 21 and 22, a truly wonderful battle royal, filled with traps and escapes and some very capable villains, led by Felix Faust.
#95 "The Private War Of Johnny Dune" on sale October 26, 1971
Finally, F creates a textured villain. Dune is not "the Zapper", who was simpler than the average Mighty Mouse villain. He's a Vietnam combat vet who learned under fire that his shouts could control others. He's a mutant--yep, he'd be right at home in X-Men. He wants to do good--and has a pathological need for control. Oh yeah, he's black, but happily he sports no race-villain name like "Black Mind Zapper" or "Negro Necromancer". When outmanuvered in his bid to run for mayor, he gets pissed, and takes over a college campus.
And we're off. There are some missteps: Canary is yet again on monitor duty, and Superman oddly addresses her as "pretty bird". The transporter snafu from the end of #94 proves a non-event, and we're back to Mighty Heroes capering when Arrow and Atom get beaten up--by a tall college kid. How gratifying to see Batman and Canary later tag team this clown and wrap him up in seconds.
It's striking how F missed the boat with Canary--he never gave her any personality, or really anything to do but be the damsel in distress. She's defined entirely by her relation to the male Leaguers: she's Ollie's squeeze, she's a Batman-level fighter (but still only drawn by D to deliver "karate chops") and the de-facto League secretary who looks at satellite screens. She was front and center only for the silliness of issue #89, the Harlan debacle, where she mustered no more than simply being blond. When I recall that the Canary of the JSA in the '40s was a scrapper, always in the vanguard of the fight, belting thugs and frequently deriding them for their inability to box, well, it's a shame.
Arrow gets to shut Dune down by firing firing a big toilet plunger onto his gob---yeah, this story is a letdown after #94's but it's still moving in a good direction, if only for the absence of the Corporation, the Proof Rock and other favorite metaphors of F.
And, and, this issue offers the memorable ad for the six-foot poster of flying Superman and the Superman "Right-On Target", each with Kal flashing a peace sign and looking about as believable as Jack Webb in a mohawk. There's also origin stories of Dr. Fate and Dr. Mid-Night (25 cents, remember?) and a short letter from soon-to-be editor Bob Rozakis. In all, it's worth a look.
Next time we wrap up 1971 and glide just a bit into 1972 with the Starbreaker trilogy.