Len Wein had a problem: He was too good.
The writer for “Justice League of America” had marked the 100th issue of DC’s premier team book in 1972 with a rousing, riveting three-part JLA/JSA team-up that brought together 33 heroes to save Earth 2. It was a time-spanning epic that re-introduced the Golden Age heroes the Seven Soldiers of Victory and an old-school story so much fun, it sent a generation of comic book lovers into orbit.
A year later, Wein was ordered to do come up with something even better.
Editor Julius Schwartz told him, “Sorry, last year’s crossover sold like a sunuvagun and the readers loved it. Go top yourself.” (As Wein recalls in the introduction to the trade paperback collection “Crisis on Multiple Earths Volume 3” and you have a copy on your bookshelf, right?)
The comic fan thought back to the Quality Comics crew of characters, which DC just so happened to own the rights to. And since these heroes had reigned during the height of World War II, Wein had a setting as well and turned out a two-parter he titled “Crisis on Earth (swastika symbol).”
Schwartz loved the script but nixed the use of the Nazi symbol. “No story I ever edit will ever have that symbol in the title,” he told Wein, coming up with Earth-X.
As far as creative changes go, this was a good one and did nothing to detract from “Crisis on Earth-X!” which appeared in “Justice League of America” No. 107, cover date September-October 1973.
It opens with our heroes on both worlds working on transporters – er, sorry, wrong show – transmatter devices that will allow them to cross the dimensional divide whenever they want.
OK, this is huge.
If our heroes can do this, that means we get more Justice Society of America. Why, DC could publish a monthly book starring the first and best heroes of the DC universe and it will be a runway bestseller! We won’t have to wait a year to see these great heroes! Hollywood will notice and will demand the rights to make a big-screen JSA adventure starring Henry Cavill as Jay Garrick and Chris Hemsworth as Alan Scott!
I might be getting ahead of myself.
On planet No-Fun, I mean, Earth 1, Batman, Elongated Man and Green Arrow venture into their cube, which looks about as impressive as a Calvin and Hobbes transmogrifier.
On Earth 2, Superman, Dr. Fate and Sandman step into their pantry-sized cube.
And then our heroes wink out – to nowhere! Great Caesar’s Ghost, what’s going on?
Oh, it’s that annoying Red Tornado! You remember, he was space debris at the end of JLA No. 102. Turns out you can find a Radio Shack on every corner, he’s as good as new. He returned in Nos. 105-106 and became the newest member of the Justice League. But he’s homesick for Earth 2 and the JSA – I mean, can you blame him? – and whirred so fast, he became a breeze inside the Earth 1 transmatter cube and threw off all those delicate frazamastats and hyperhydralophalods.
Reddy practically pulls an Urkel: “Did I do that?”
Our heroes have landed on Earth X, where the Nazis won World War II.
This is absolutely terrifying. Sure, the Crime Syndicate is colorful, and you can enjoy a giant cosmic hand squeezing a planet like a bar of soap, but a planet where Nazis rule?
Brr. Think about the ramifications for that, for minorities, for Jews, for all non-Aryans. This is but a two-parter in an all-ages comic book, but the implications are staggering.
Standing against the Nazi engine of destruction: The Freedom Fighters – Uncle Sam, Phantom Lady, Black Condor, Doll Man, the Ray and the Human Bomb.
These six Golden Age greats are immune to the Nazis’ mind-control devices. If they can just shut down the three main devices, they can free their world. So in that great time-honored tradition dating back to “All-Star Comics,” our heroes separate into smaller teams.
And that gives me a chance to single out one of the most striking panels in this action-packed two-parter as Batman scales a tower to take on some Nazis.
This shot just gives me goosebumps. Dick Dillin is sorely underrated as an artist. This is such a great shot, the kind of work that had to influence Christopher Nolan in his big-screen “Dark Knight” blockbusters.
By the middle of “Thirteen Against the Earth!,” “Justice League of America” No. 108, cover date November-December 1973, the heroes have succeeded in destroying the three devices, but Nazis still control the world. Worse, the JLA and the JSA succumb to the Nazis’ malevolent brainwashing and turn on the Freedom Fighters. It’s hero against hero – in a scenario rare then for DC.
Red Tornado – who has sat on the sidelines as penance for hijacking our heroes’ ride – makes up for his cosmic boo-boo and tracks down the emissions to Adolf Hitler himself! Hitler offers Reddy a home in his regime – and Reddy responds with a sound left jab.
And turns out Hitler is an android. So the battle for Earth X comes down to early round of “Battlebots.” Our pile of nuts ‘n’ bolts wins.
The Justice League and the Justice Society departed for their respective universes. The Freedom Fighters continued their adventures to reclaim their own world in a short-lived comic book that started in 1976, a little-seen gem worth picking up if you’re ever near some back-issue bins.
Guess our heroes never got those transmatter cubes to work more than once a year. Red Tornado? He went home with the JLA, not the JSA, proof, I guess, that a little violence can help you get over the worst homesickness.