A Tribute to the of
It's been a heady period of time lately for those of us who follow the heroes of DC's Silver Age. The WB Network is having success with it's new series "Smallville," which is based, of course, on the town where Clark Kent grew to manhood. I've watched one episode so far and they seem to be doing a reasonable job, even though there isn't sign one of the blue and red uniform we know and love so well. The only other thing that seems a little strange is that Ma and Pa Kent are a long way from the conservative, elderly couple that I have always associated the characters with. Not that I mind, you understand, it just seems funny. If you caught the TV Guide for the week of December 8th, you would also note a 4-part cover series by none other than the amazing Alex Ross with his incomparable illustrations of Lex Luthor, Lana Lang and Clark Kent as they appear in the series and one titled "Kal-El as Superman." I bought the Superman one myself. A surprise bonus in the magazine was a brief article by screenwriter Kevin Smith about his experiences while working on the aborted "Superman Lives" film project. The other newcomer is an offering launched by the Cartoon Network titled "Justice League." Based, obviously, on the Justice League of America, Warner Brothers is capitalizing on the success of the Superman and Batman animated series' and, to a lesser extent, Batman Beyond. This series also shows some real promise so far and is light years beyond the laughable (at least in retrospect) Super Friends cartoon series by Hanna-Barbera in the 70's. Okay, I watched it, too, but I never did like Marvin or the Wonder Twins.
Justice League, to it's credit, has already taken one very bold step by introducing to the world of animation, for the very first time, the Martian Manhunter and highlighting his otherworldly powers other than just super breath. That very much pleases the purist in me as J'onn J'onzz was a founding member of the JLA. The rest of the lineup is an interesting mixture. Wonder Woman is there, but she appears to be newly arrived from Paradise Island, (or Themyscira as its now called) and is still learning the lay of the land. The Flash is in attendance, but he appears to be the current Wally West incarnation and Green Lantern is not Hal Jordan, nor is he the current successor Kyle Rayner but John Stewart, who seems to suffer from terminal attitude. In an interesting twist it is Hawkgirl rather than Hawkman as the mace-wielding bird of prey and the lineup is rounded out with a dark and brooding Batman and a reasonable, if not quite as powerful as one would expect Superman. (Psst! Justice League writers. Superman is I-N-V-U-L-N-E-R-A-B-L-E with just a couple of weaknesses, okay?) Aquaman has made a guest showing so far and local television news reporter Snapper Carr, in sort of a cameo appearance, has been seen as well. I see some good potential if things continue in the current vein and it inspired my choice for this run of the Silver Age Sage. I think it would be an appropriate contrast to take a look at the origin of the Justice League of America, from the magazine of the same title, issue #9 dated February, 1962. The story was written by Gardner Fox with art by Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs.
You may recall my review of the first appearance of the Justice League from several months ago in Brave and the Bold #28. As I mentioned then, the League appeared, fully-formed and ready for action. Now here we are, 12 adventures later and with a following strong enough to warrant their own title when Editor Julius Schwartz and Mr. Fox decide to give us the origin tale of this band of heroes. It's also interesting to note that during this formative time for the Justice League, Batman and Superman, while full-fledged members, were held in the wings, allowing, I feel, the team to build a following on their own merits without just riding the coattails of the two biggest heroes in the DC stable.
The story opens with honorary member Snapper Carr screaming along in his hot rod from his home in Happy Harbor enroute to the secret JLA headquarters to attend a birthday party. Upon his arrival, we see our heroes busily engaged in cleaning up the headquarters in preparation for the party. (This is very likely the one and only time you'll see Wonder Woman pushing a vacuum and wearing an apron while in full uniform.) As Snapper lends a hand he notes a display case filled with wooden splinters and shavings and asks Wonder Woman about it. The Amazon Princess explains that it's their very first souvenir and that because of that wood, the Justice League was born. Soon a cake is brought out and Wonder Woman reveals that they are celebrating the third birthday of the Justice League. Then the recounting of the tale begins, narrated by the Manhunter from Mars, J'onn J'onzz.
In his home city, J'onn heard a bizarre police report coming into headquarters that people were being turned to stone. He quickly changed from his civilian identity of police detective to investigate and soon found the source of the trouble in the form of a huge stone giant, shooting blue beams from his eyes that transformed people into stone. Attempting to battle the creature, J'onn soon discovered he couldn't overpower it. He then successfully probed it's mind and found that it had come to Earth from the planet Appellax and was in the running to succeed the recently deceased Kalar or Emperor of that world. He and the other rivals for the throne were to travel to the Earth to do battle with the victor winning the crown. Each of the seven claimants was then condensed down into meteor-like vessels and sent to our world to fulfill their mission. From the point of landing, they were to create an army of their own kind from the locals to take into battle and that's what the stone giant was up to when J'onn encountered him. During the mind probe he also learned the giant's Achilles' Heel and felled him before flying off to the next meteor to try and stop another of the aliens. Incidentally, upon the creature's defeat, his victims were no longer under it's influence. As he neared the meteor he found himself turning to wood.
Aquaman takes up the tale from there with his own experience in the Indian Ocean with another of the Appellax refugees whose talent was turning creatures into the same glass-like substance as itself. The Sea King himself soon fell victim and was turned to glass, but calling on his telepathic powers, he summoned a variety of different sea creatures to battle the alien on his behalf. The hard-shelled Trunkfish, called in to try and smash the glass creature, were caught in the beams and turned into glass as well, as were other species before the school of Drumfish finally saved the day by making their unique underwater vibration that shattered the creature. Interestingly enough, the Sea King and other fish were unharmed and then reverted to their natural state, but hey, details, right? ;-) Aquaman then rides quickly to the same location on the Carolina Coast that the Martian Manhunter attended, but like J'onn, the Sea King soon finds himself turning into wood as well.
Wonder Woman then follows up with her encounter on Paradise Island. She discovered some strange glittering blobs and no sign of her Amazon sisters. Rushing to a laboratory, she quickly reviewed a surveillance tape that showed a meteor landing on her island home and releasing a large mass of liquid mercury, which caused her sister Amazons to liquefy. Running to take on the liquid metal, our hero finds herself beginning to transform as well, but she steels herself to the task at hand and with the help of her amazing magic lasso, grips the creature and begins to twirl it so fast that it soon reaches it's boiling point of 356.9 degrees Centigrade and evaporates in the nick of time, freeing both the other Amazons and Wonder Woman herself, who was up to her waist in liquid metal form. She, too hurried to the meteor where the other heroes had gathered and began to succumb to it's influence.
Next in the narrator's chair is Green Lantern, who was returning from a mission in space when he encountered one of the meteors. Tracking it down to the African continent, he sees a giant yellow bird emerge and then begin to systematically change other organic creatures into replicas of itself. Soon the air is filling with yellow flying elephants, giraffes and even hapless hunters caught in the bird's eye beams. GL covers himself with a protective sheath and then plots his strategy. The bird creature then attacks and starts to turn GL into a golden bird. Before it succeeds, though, the Emerald Gladiator works himself free and lures it to Victoria Falls. Emerging, he uses his power ring to freeze the bird into solid ice. Just like the other defeats, this one leads to the freeing of the other creatures, which Green Lantern hurriedly rescues from the air now that they're without the power of flight. Once again, as you might predict, Hal heads for the Carolina meteor and becomes the latest victim.
Now it's the Flash's turn to tell his story, which takes place in Northern Italy where a creature of flame has emerged from it's meteor-ship. Exactly like his counterparts, the creature rapidly begins turning those around him into similar flame beings and Flash's initial attack, a high speed whirling of his arms to douse the creature, end up only making it grow larger. He sees, too, that his body is beginning to change under the emanations from the space being. The Fastest Man Alive next tries whipping up a column of water from nearby Lake Como, but the intense heat from the alien turns it to steam. Undaunted, our hero next tries sand, which also fails as it becomes glass when it comes near the torch-like being. Finally, he remembers that a fire must have heat, fuel and air to survive and he races around it, creating a vacuum that snuffs it and frees the people and then he, too, speeds across the Atlantic to take on the meteor there and he, too, turns to wood upon arrival.
Part three of the story opens with all five of our heroes looking on in disbelief as the wood creature emerges from the meteor and their transformation into a sort of walking tree is complete. With a little imagination, they could serve as extras in the forest on the Wizard of Oz. They are soon compelled to follow the alien, but as they are doing so, Aquaman manages to exert enough will to brush against Green Lantern, exposing his ring. Green Lantern, in turn, is able to issue a small beam from his ring, freeing the face of J'onn J'onnz from it's wooden state, allowing him to use his Martian breath to blow the Flash against Wonder Woman, putting her in range of Green Lantern so that he could expose half her body and most importantly her magic lasso, which she quickly deployed about the alien. The creature then abruptly raced up and down the lasso and ended up getting planed down to a pile of wood slivers and splinters which freed all five heroes from their wooden state.
Still, one more meteor and threat remained in the ice fields of Greenland, so our group leaves for that destination where they encounter none other than the World's Finest Team, Superman and Batman, about to give battle to a humanoid diamond being.
Superman proceeds from this point as he explains that as he approached the creature, to his dismay, it arrived in a meteor of green kryptonite. Batman, meanwhile, flying above in the Batplane is starting to turn to diamond, but he tries a last, desperate maneuver with a magnetic grappling hook. Successfully snagging the irritant out of the way, Batman cleared Superman to battle the creature. The Man of Steel makes short work of the alien by rubbing it at super speed and reducing it back to it's base element of coal.
With that being neutralized, the seven heroes decide that they should form a league to uphold justice as they'd done this day and the rest, as they say, is history.
Even though this storyline was repetitive, to say the least, it did a good job of showcasing the individual and collective strengths of the Justice League and of course I always thoroughly enjoy an origin tale. As such, I'll give it a solid 8 on the rating scale. Good, satisfying stuff that I can comfortably recommend to your reading list.
Feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with your own observations and comments about our favorite era. I hope you'll also make it a point to share comments at the guest book. As always, thanks for stopping in and drop by again in approximately two weeks for the next review.
Long live the Silver Age!
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