This is the one.
This is the comic book that ruined my life.
“Justice League of America” No. 82, cover dated August 1970.
It changed who I am forever.
It wasn’t my first comic book.
It wasn’t even my first issue of DC’s premier super-team.
Now look at that cover:
Neal Adams’ gorgeous piece of artwork depicts the top members of the Justice League of America – Superman, Batman and the Flash – and their Justice Society of America counterparts.
In case you can’t tell from the visual cues, Superman exclaims in a terrific info dump: “Whatever’s crushing the Justice Society on their Earth — is doing it to us on our world!”
How can you not be curious?
The two-part story focused on alien invaders who use weird nets (think mobile drones that can alter shape) that attack the Justice Society – and also, oddly, incapacitate members of the Justice League.
For this kid, the idea of a parallel Earth – in which everyone had a more or less double – was mind-blowing.
Even more so, the Justice Society of America was instantly about 500 times more exciting than the Justice League.
“Justice League of America” was already my favorite comic book – I’ve always loved team books, in which characters from different backgrounds and powers come together – and what a bargain to get all these characters in one book for fifteen cents.
My comics reading was pretty much restricted to those my brother would pass on or those found at the waiting area at Tony’s barbershop on Broadway. My brother and I would race through the books when we went with our father for cuts, and we’d always hope to be called last.
But on a trip with my mother to the drug store on Broadway about this time, I found an oasis of delight – a rack of comic books.
“Justice League of America” No. 81 was the first issue I was able to pick out for myself, and, boy, did I feel ripped off.
I was a huge Wonder Woman fan, and I didn’t understand who this Black Canary was and how she had managed to replace her on the team.
She had no powers, no charm, and she whined a lot. She was awful.
But what that issue lacked, the following one made up for and then some. What a story: For this kid, it was absolutely mind-blowing.
A parallel Earth?
America’s First Super-Team
Before the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and even the Justice League, there was the Justice Society. First published in “All-Star Comics” No. 3 in 1940, the group featured the original Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Hour-Man, Wildcat and Mr. Terrific, among many masked crusaders. (Superman and Batman were honorary members.)
DC collected the entire run of “All-Star Comics” into its hardcover archive line several years ago, and you can get some volumes relatively cheap on eBay. I am pleased as an adult to finally own the entire run of the comic book my father enjoyed when he was a kid. The stories and art are a great snapshot into the Golden Age of comics and are pure fun.
The adventures of the team lasted until the early 1951, when the superhero market imploded and “All-Star Comics” was ultimately canceled. (The final JSA story, ironically enough, was titled, “The Mystery of the Vanishing Detectives.”)
When DC decided to reboot the super-team concept in the 1960s, editors felt “society” felt too soft and went the harder-sounding “league” – and staffed the team with Silver Age versions of the characters.
So that was the end of the Justice Society – until the team itself was revived in the now-classic “Justice League of America” issues Nos. 21 and 22 in 1963.
The Justice Society existed – now in a world called Earth-2. Once a year the vibrational forces between the two worlds came in sync so that the teams could cross over.
Funny, frustrating thing: DC was ruthless for years with this premise – that the JSA could only and did only appear once a year, in annual team-ups timed to the summer. It made those stories all the more special, but the yearly wait was just awful.
I re-read those issues so many times and even wrote my own JSA adventures in which the team fought crime and cosmic menaces in their own universe. But there were so many members, which ones to use? I determined the team lineup for each story by putting the character names in a baseball cap and pulling them out and writing a story around them.
Hey, for all I know, I chanced upon the DC creative practice.
A Plea for Justice … Society
“Justice League of America” No. 82 was the first of a two-parter, and I practically haunted that drug store for the conclusion. One day, my mother and I were back there and I went right to the rack.
Nothing. But then I noticed a plastic-wrapped pile on a counter – a shipment of new comics – and the issue was right on top.
I begged my mother to ask the manager to let sell her the issue. Now you have to understand my mother was not the sort to impose on anyone for anything, and this was a big deal. But she did it, she approached the manager, and there was some conversation because he hadn’t had time to do the paperwork for the shipment, but he ultimately agreed to open up the package and sell the issue.
It’s a favor and a treat I’ve cherished my entire life, and I miss my mother something fierce.
And what a finale this turned out to be. That Neal Adams’ cover is mind-boggling, and as a bonus features a roll call of the JSA members. I got my Wonder Woman fix – the Golden Age version had never stopped being a member of her team.
But even if the story had been a waste of paper, it was already too late for me. “Justice League of America” No. 82 hooked me forever on the graphic arts medium, stoked my enthusiasm for speculative literature of all stripes, taught me the value of myth, storytelling and heroic journeys, and shared with me values of teamwork and friendship.
This is where I fell hard for the Justice Society of America, the first and best super-team anywhere ever.
You never forget – or get over – your first love.
Maybe “ruined” is the wrong word.
Maybe the correct word is “blessed.”