The team-ups of the Justice League of America and the Justice Society of America were a much-anticipated annual tradition for an entire generation of comic book fans...including me! In fact, I became such a fan of their summer meetings that I've managed to collect all twenty-two of them. I thought it would be fun to list them all, along with some of my own impressions.
Before I head into the fifth and final part of my series, I hope you've enjoyed parts one, two, three and four. Putting this together has taken a bit more work than I initially thought it would, but really...it's been a labor of love. These stories, lumps and all, were a big part of my "wonder years"...so it really has been a joy to get back into them again and to share them with you. With that, let's finish this thing off...starting with a massive five part crossover with the All-Star Squadron...
Justice League of America #207-209 and
All-Star Squadron #14 & 15 (1982)
JLA: Superman, Firestorm, Hawkman, Zatanna, and Aquaman.
JSA: Green Lantern, Power Girl, Starman, Huntress, and Dr. Fate.
The All-Star Squadron: Commander Steel, Liberty Belle, Robotman, Johnny Quick, and Firebrand.
Villains: Per Degaton; Ultraman, Power Ring, Superwoman, Owlman, and Johnny Quick; Nuclear the Magnetic Marauder.
Synopsis: As various JSA members hopped into their transmatter cube to visit the Earth-1 universe...you guessed it...something went wrong! Instead of the JSA exiting from the JLA's transmatter cube, it was the Crime Syndicate from Earth-3 in full attack mode!
After their evil doppelgangers soundly trounced them, the JLA transported to Earth-2 for answers and found the JSA's headquarters in ruins. Not only that, but the world was ruled by the JSA's old time-traveling foe Per Degaton.
So where did the JSA go? Well, they appeared on Earth-Prime (where we live), which they discovered had been devastated by a nuclear war. After battling the standard post-apocalyptic mutated humans, the JSA traced the atomic devastation back to the history-twisting machinations of Degaton during Earth-Prime's 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
Back on Earth-2, Superman flew the JLA back in time to 1942 for a clue on what happened to the 1982 JSA. Instead of finding the JSA, they (almost literally) ran into members of the All-Star Squadron (composed of other Golden Age heroes owned by DC Comics). After getting everyone up to speed, the assembled heroes headed for the White House to meet with the always-available (and jovial) President Roosevelt. During their Oval Office meeting, Degaton broadcast a video message to FDR and other world leaders demanding that he be made Ruler of Earth. If not, he would unleash his nuclear arsenal (which he had stolen from 1962).
Got all that? Good...because we're not done yet!
Once the JLA and the All-Star Squadron were joined by the time-jumping JSA, they split into smaller teams to hunt down Degaton's hidden stash of twenty-seven nuclear missiles. Despite members of the Crime Syndicate guarding each location, the heroes defeated them and dismantled the weapons.
Next on the agenda, the heroes jumped to 1962 to prevent Degaton from stealing the missiles in the first place. At that point, with the Crime Syndicate sent back to Limbo and Degaton totally defeated, time reverted back to its proper course...ensuring that the JLA-JSA meeting that opened the story could proceed without incident (and plenty of snacks).
Highlights: I was glad to see some of the more obscure Golden Age heroes brought into the mix through the All-Star Squadron (which was kinda the whole point of that series). Speaking of which, I thought the chapters taking place in All-Star Squadron (parts 2 and 4) were the strongest of the two titles, mainly because of the fantastic artwork by Adrian Gonzales and the crisp inking of Jerry Ordway.
Despite having a more secondary role than I'd have liked, it's always good to see the Crime Syndicate of Earth-3. Degaton's nuclear threat was also an interesting idea, since it used time-travel in such a malevolent new way. Sure, the JLA villain T.O. Morrow had previously smuggled weapons from the future to use in his crimes, but this was different since the future weapons Degaton had stolen were "our" weapons (real-world nuclear missiles). Definitely a thought-provoking twist.
Lowlights: Artist Don Heck, God bless him, had always been one of those competent artists who could get the job done, yet his work was never what you'd call flashy or dynamic. Following his jump from Marvel to DC in the late 70's, Heck turned in art for titles like The Flash and Justice League that, as I said, was certainly competent and did the job of telling the story...but was also as dull as dishwater. Not the ideal style of art you'd want for an epic time-traveling adventure with a cast of thousands (okay, dozens).
The story had the same frenetic pacing as past JLA-JSA team-ups, but I think what made it even harder to track was the additional element of time-travel...especially since three distinct time periods were in the mix (1942, 1962, and 1982). Add to that the staggering number of cast members (some of whom I wasn't sure if they were the 1942 or 1982 versions of themselves), villains from yet another alternate earth, three U.S. Presidents, and elements of real political history, and you can start to see how this was a tough tale to follow over five installments. Easily a third of parts two through five seemed to be spent recapping the adventure thus far...which is usually a sign that you've got too much on your plate.
Despite being a long-time fan of WWII superhero stories, I have to admit I get tired of President Roosevelt's constant cameo appearances. In so many of the superhero stories set in WWII, especially those written by Roy Thomas (I love Roy, but you can sure tell the guy was a history major!), FDR shows up time and time again as this avuncular secular saint, spouting Solomonic Wisdom while chomping jut-jawed on his cigarette holder. In fact, the man showed up so often in Roy's WWII stories, he became a sort of "wartime Professor X" (complete with wheelchair) coaching and cavorting with wartime superheroes.
Justice League of America #219-220 (1983)
JLA: Black Canary II, Flash, Green Lantern, Zatanna, Firestorm, Black Canary, Elongated Man, Red Tornado, and Superman.
JSA: Flash, Power Girl, Starman, Huntress, Hourman, the Spectre, Johnny Thunder and his Thunderbolt. Cameo/Flashback appearances by Green Lantern, Black Canary, Atom, Hawkman, Wonder Woman, and Dr. Mid-Nite.
Guest Appearances: Sargon the Sorcerer (a former Earth-2 hero who migrated to Earth-1); Jim Corrigan of Earth-1.
Villains: The Earth-1 Johnny Thunder and the Thunderbolt; The Crime Champions: Chronos, Fiddler, Icicle, Dr. Alchemy, the Wizard, and Felix Faust. Flashback appearance by Aquarius.
Synopsis: Following a case together, the Flashes of Earths 1 and 2 were suddenly attacked by the Thunderbolt, Johnny Thunder's (normally) congenial genie. The next target of the newly-malevolent Thunderbolt was the JLA satellite, where the annual JLA-JSA meeting was underway. After he easily defeated the assembled heroes with his magic, the Thunderbolt was mysteriously vanquished by the Black Canary's ultrasonic "Canary Cry".
When the bewildered heroes realized the only ones hurt were those originally from Earth-1, Black Canary recalled her own Earth-2 origins and later migration to Earth-1 (see Part 2 for the details). Interrupting Canary's walk down memory lane, the JLA satellite received an urgent news alert reporting attacks by The Crime Champions on Earth-1. While five of the seven remaining heroes went to take on the bad guys, Starman and Black Canary decided to visit the Thunderbolt Dimension to look for clues explaining the Thunderbolt's bizarre behavior.
They arrived to find that the Thunderbolt was once again under the control of the evil Johnny Thunder of Earth-1 (whom we met way back in Part One) with the Johnny of Earth-2 (Thunderbolt's rightful master) mystically bound and gagged. As Evil Johnny gloated like any supervillain should, he directed Starman and Canary's attention to a strange glass coffin floating behind him...a coffin containing the bodies of Black Canary's dead husband and....Black Canary herself?!
As the rest of the heroes (and Sargon the Sorcerer) battled the Crime Champions on Earth-1, Evil Johnny commanded the Thunderbolt to explain this macabre sight to his "guests". The Thunderbolt then revealed the secret history of Black Canary, with bombshells like:
1. Normally happy-go-lucky Johnny Thunder secretly resented Black Canary for taking his place on the JSA in the late 40's.
2. Johnny was also secretly in love with Black Canary, and became bitterly jealous when she dated and married detective Larry Lance.
3. Dinah (Black Canary) Lance had a child with Larry Lance.
4. The baby girl was magically cursed with a dangerous ultrasonic scream by an old enemy named the Wizard.
5. Distraught, the Lances went to Johnny Thunder's Thunderbolt for help, who recommended that the baby be exiled to the Thunderbolt Dimension and that everyone's memory be wiped clean. Ohh, that's not all. It gets worse.
6. When Larry Lance was killed by Aquarius years later, the original Black Canary also received a fatal dose of radiation. Thinking quickly, Superman and the Thunderbolt remembered her (now fully grown) daughter drifting through the Thunderbolt Dimension, so the Thunderbolt transferred the mind of the dying Black Canary into her daughter's body.
You know, this makes the big bad memory wipes in Identity Crisis a few years back look like a Sunday School class! How was any of this a good idea?
After Starman, the "real" Johnny Thunder and a thoroughly mind-blown Black Canary finally defeated the Evil Johnny, Superman and the Spectre suddenly showed up to fill Black Canary in on more details of their incredibly lame and arrogant plan. So...Superman...you've always known Black Canary was actually a forgotten daughter that had drifted in a magical dimension since she was a toddler then used for spare parts for a dying mother that may or may not be her primary identity?
Thank you, Superman. Thank you very much. By the way, that "truth" part of your "Truth, Justice and the American Way" motto really makes sense now.
Highlights: If you haven't figured it out by now, I wasn't too fond of this story...even at the time it was published, when elaborate explanations for multiple earth paradoxes were commonplace...and virtually a full-time occupation for a number of DC writers and staffers. Obviously, enough time had passed for some to start getting uncomfortable with a nearly 60 year-old Black Canary still looking like she wasn't a day over 18 and the girlfriend of a thirty-something Green Arrow...but really, I don't think many people beyond writer (and continuity cop) Roy Thomas were that worked up about it. So, minus any real highlights to speak of (other than some nifty George Perez covers), let's switch to...
Lowlights: The big one has to be the incredibly convoluted "real history" of Black Canary and the deeply weird solutions cooked up by the Thunderbolt and (astoundingly) Superman himself. Just...ick. The other big problem with the story was the nonsensical inclusion of the "Crime Champions" gang of bad guys. Other than eating up page count and giving the rest of the JSA something to do, it's still not clear (even with multiple re-readings) what their purpose or connection to Evil Johnny was.
Justice League of America #231-232 (1984)
JLA: Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash.
Flashback appearances: Green Arrow, Hawkman, Hawkwoman, Zatanna, Elongated Man, Red Tornado, Batman, Phantom Stranger, Atom, Batman, Black Canary, and Firestorm.
JSA: Starman, Dr. Fate, Dr. Mid-Nite, and Green Lantern.
Flashback appearances: Earth-2 Flash.
Guest Star: Supergirl.
Cameo Appearances: The Monitor (hand only) and his assistant Lyla (Harbinger) from the upcoming Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Villains: Joshua Champion, The Commander; Cameo appearance by the Crime Syndicate.
Synopsis: When a scientist named Dr. Joshua Champion tapped into an alternate universe, his mind and body were taken over by an entity calling itself The Commander. The Commander, as Champion, then returned in a bid to take over the Earth...though Champion briefly reasserted control over his body long enough to grant his sister and two children power to resist the Commander.
The Champion family then contacted the Justice League and Supergirl. Using their new powers, they transported the heroes to Earth-2, where the Commander was shunted during Dr. Champion's brief rebellion. Naturally, they enlisted the help of the Justice Society and broke up into two groups: one to fight Commander's monster army on Earth-2 and a second one to rescue Dr. Champion from the hostile entity's home dimension.
The heroes pulled off the rescue, but at the cost of falling under the control of the Commander themselves. When they returned to Earth-2, they began attacking the other group of heroes...until they were subdued by Wonder Woman's magic lasso. Meanwhile, Dr. Champion's family managed to break the Commander's hold on their father, driving the entity out of his mind and body. However, like every malevolent cosmic being should, the Commander rallied and came back for one final attack...but not before sharing his origin (as most comic book characters indulge in from time to time) and proclaiming his intent to take over the multiverse.
Fortunately, Commander's grandiose vision never came to pass since the assembled heroes drove him through an extra-dimensional portal...where he exploded. Or something.
The story ends with a brief flyover of various multiverses, and the still powered-up Champion family proposing to explore some of them. Sadly, writer Kurt Busiek's thinly disguised pitch for a future storyline/spin-off series never came to pass...since the multiple earths concept was already living on borrowed time. In fact, brief cameo of The Monitor and his assistant Lyla within this very story foreshadowed the Crisis on Infinite Earths mega-event that would hit the DC Multiverse seven months later, culminating in the consolidation of the multiverse into a single universe.
Highlights: Not many, although rookie writer (and future top gun) Kurt Busiek gets credit for his interesting use of first-person narrative throughout JLA #231, a technique that wasn't yet the overused crutch it is today. However, as the story wore on, the first-person narration gave way to the anonymity of the third-person narrative...at which point my interest fell off.
Next, not so much a highlight as a curiosity to note: In hindsight, The Commander seems to be a vague prototype of Crisis heavy The Anti-Monitor. Not so much visually (though he does wear armor and engage in grandiose hyperbole while looming menacingly over the horizon), but other similarities like accumulating strength from his conquered worlds and his designs on the multiverse seem too close to completely ignore.
Lowlights: As a classic example of going out with a whimper instead of a bang, the long tradition of JLA-JSA meetings ends with possibly the weakest of all the twenty-two team-ups. Although I'll give credit to writer Kurt Busiek for attempting to break out of the standard team-up formula (such as leading off with a transmatter cube mishap) and the aforementioned narration technique, the story didn't grab me at all. Making the experience much worse was the dreadful artwork by Alan Kupperberg (click on the sample to the left if you dare). Yeah, he started out okay in the first part of issue #231, but by later in the issue (and for the entirety of issue #232), the dull layouts and poorly drawn characters were more than I could bear.
Of course, the ultimate lowlight was that there would be no more cross-dimensional team-ups with the JSA...or, for that matter, no more JSA! Following the Crisis on Infinite Earths, the powers-that-were in the DC editorial offices believed the JSA's time had passed them by and were no longer relevant in their dark and gritty new universe. So, with little fanfare, the entire JSA was exiled to the Ragnarok of the Norse gods (don't ask).
Finally regaining their sanity at some point in the 1990's (probably due to the success of the JSA-friendly Starman series), the JSA concept was suddenly cool again with the DC brass. In fact, the team's revived series continues to this day...better and stronger than ever.
Best of all, the tradition of the annual JLA-JSA team-ups has been revived...and will hopefully continue far into the future. Or the past. Or an alternate dimension. Or Limbo. Well, you get the picture.
For those of you who'd like to check out some of the JLA-JSA stories of old, there are currently four trade paperback collections reprinting the first fifteen team-ups. Click on the Amazon links below for more details or to buy one for your bookshelf...