The Big Two in comics – DC and Marvel – use the summer to declare war and blow up universes.
Just a way to help readers pass school vacation.
While DC’s “Convergence” and Marvel’s “Secret Wars” are currently laying waste to continuity and wallets through their multiple, mediocre tie-ins, the summer comics event isn’t a new thing – but conversely, it was far more enjoyable and less painful to the wallet.
DC pioneered the summer event starting in the 1960s with its annual JLA/JSA team-ups in “Justice League of America,” its premier team book. It still boggles my mind that DC restricted use of such a rich stable of characters as the Justice Society of America to once a year. (This was my introduction to the Justice Society.) Talk about being a prisoner to a premise. But it made those stories special and something to wait and watch for all year round, and in 1972, the company wanted to celebrate the 100th issue of “Justice League,” and what better way than by bringing out the Justice Society for the teams’ 10th annual meeting.
Oh, and this anniversary issue was writer Len Wein’s first on the book. No pressure, as he notes in the introduction to “Crisis on Multiple Earths Vol. 3,” the trade paperback series that collects the JLA/JSA team-ups. (A fantastic bargain and a godsend to those who don’t want to collect the expensive JLA archives, which only capture one or two team-ups in a volume, max.)
“You might want to think about doing something special,” he recalls editor Julius Schwartz telling him.
“So I thought. Dear God, did I think.
“The last few team-ups, written by the venerable Dennis O’Neil and young upstart, Mike Friedrich, had veered some from the original recipe created by legendary writer Gardner Fox. As a reader, I had always loved the mixing and the matching of the greatest heroes of two worlds, breaking them into individual chapters; first and foremost, I wanted to get back to that formula. Still, a story big enough to celebrate this comics milestone needed to be something more.
“And then I remembered the Seven Soldiers of Victory.”
The Seven Soldiers of Victory were mystery men who really hadn’t been seen since the 1940s – a lesser tier Justice Society, if you will. And Wein didn’t stop there – he gathered a record 33 heroes to fight the greatest cosmic menace Earth 2 had ever seen: A giant hand made of “nebuloid” energy threatening to crush that planet.
OK, so maybe not all of the story holds up so well these many years later. But the tale then and now stands as thrilling caper, an adventure brimming with camaraderie and spectacle. This was a story so epic, so massive, it required three issues to do it justice. It pulled you in and never let go.
There Comes a Gathering
In “Justice League of America” No. 100, cover date August 1972 , “The Unknown Soldier of Victory!,” the JLA and guests for a 100th mission celebration are yanked to Earth 2 – where they are united with JSA members – Starman, Dr. Fate, Hourman, Johnny Thunder, Wildcat, Dr. Midnite, Sandman, Red Tornado and Wonder Woman – as that planet faces its most dire threat.
Our heroes must separate and shuttle down the corridors of time to find the time-flung Seven Soldiers of Victory, who hold the key to defeating the menace.
The story moves so fast, there’s even a chapter in which the first team – Dr. Fate, Atom and Elongated Man – rescue the Crimson Avenger from the Aztecs.
Calling All Heroes
Wein tweaked the formula in the second chapter of the trilogy in “Justice League” No. 101, cover dated September 1972, “The Hand That Shook the World,” bringing in three more Justice Society members –Green Lantern, Robin and Mr. Terrific – to investigate the grave of the Unknown Seven Soldier. I’ve always had an affinity for the eccentric superheroes in the DC Universe, the ones with the odd powers (Triplicate Girl or Matter-Eater Lad, anyone?) or origins, the ones who couldn’t stand up to Superman yet stood with him in courage and deeds and fought their own good fight against evil.
Mr. Terrific wore a uniform emblazoned with the words “Fair Play” – sure, it screams dork at first, but have you seriously looked at Spider-Man’s red-and-blue costume with fresh eyes? Nicknamed the “Man of 1,000 talents,” Mr. Terrific was a genius with a photographic memory and an Olympic-caliber athlete, probably the most gifted superhero without powers (sorry, Batman), even if he was rarely used to his potential. He quickly became one of my favorites.
Greater Love Has No Man But This…
The teams finish their quests, rescuing the remaining members of the Seven Soldiers of Victory in “Justice League No. 102,” cover date October 1972, “And One of Us Must Die!” But wait, if the Seven Soldiers are back in the present, who’s in that grave? The eighth member – yes – that’s right, Crimson Avenger’s sidekick Wing, who died heroically delivering the missile that ended the first crisis.
Now here’s where the story gets wacky. The Seven Soldiers assemble a second “Nebula-rod,” but somebody has to deliver it and detonate it at the location in what is clearly a suicide mission. Apparently, the combined might of Dr. Fate and two Green Lanterns isn’t enough to ensure the long-range delivery.
So our heroes, being the heroes that they are, fight over who will sacrifice their own life – and the other heroes helpfully cut them down to size.
Superman volunteers to detonate the missile, but Dr. Fate zaps him with magic, reminding him he’s not completely invulnerable.
Right, I thought the first time I read the story, but he’s not facing a supernatural peril.
Both Green Lanterns want to go. Green Arrow shoots them down by holding up a yellow wooden arrow – “a combination of both your weaknesses!”
True, but they’re detonating a missile in outer space. The chances of them encountering a yellow wooden arrow are about zero in zero, doofus.
The bickering is moot, as Red Tornado has somehow managed to escape with the missile while 30 or so other heroes were apparently looking in the opposite direction – and sacrifices his own android life to save Earth 2.
Now this was a summer event, an epic adventure, probably my favorite JLA/JSA team-up. I had a subscription to “Justice League” that summer, and I anxiously awaited each and every installment. Artists Dick Dillin, Joe Giella and Dick Giordano somehow make this mob of heroes look grand, and Wein delivered an outstanding story. All it set readers back was 60 cents total.
It was a bargain then, and today, it stands as a great treasure.