When you think about the annual Justice League/Justice Society team-ups, you think about the greatest cosmic threats to menace two worlds – alien invaders or a quest to find time-tossed Golden Age heroes or a rebellion on a Nazi world.
You probably don’t think about the teams suffering through a pissing contest between their writers.
And yet that’s sort of what happened in 1975. After a string of crowd-pleasing epics written by Len Wein, Cary Bates and Elliot S. Maggin were charged with crafting the annual team-up.
And they made the story about themselves.
Bates and Maggin appeared as characters in the story, Bates as the super-villain creating havoc on Earth 2, Maggin as the well-meaning, wise-cracking agent of good on Earth 1.
The result wasn’t wacky enough to be camp and wasn’t dire enough to be taken seriously. It is easily the weirdest team-up in the history of the annual crises.
It does make you wonder just how short of ideas they were back in 1975 – and how much of a role pharmaceuticals played in the scripting process. (Oh, come on, it was the ’70s!)
But, in fairness, at DC, there was precedent for this sort of story.
“Flash” No. 179 established “Earth Prime” – our world – in which writers and artists chronicled the adventures of the Earth 1 heroes, transmitted to them through their subconscious as they slept. Editor Julius Schwartz helped Flash return to his world by buying him the parts he needed to build a cosmic treadmill to return to his home.
Amazing what you can find in the back bins at Radio Shack.
There was even a sequel to the story in “Flash” No. 228, in which writer Cary Bates was transported to Earth 1.
So this represents, in a dim way, the conclusion to a trilogy that probably shouldn’t have begun in the first place.
In “Justice League of America” No. 123, “Where on Earth Am I?,” cover date October 1975, Bates trips the cosmic treadmill left in the DC offices and is transported to Earth 2, where he falls under the sway of the Wizard.
Bates can pretty much conjure up anything he thinks of – he’s Green Lantern without the wishing ring. He commits a series of robberies and finds he gets off on the thrill.
“Somebody once told me adventure writers are just closet felons deep inside – must have been right!”
Maggin follows his pal across dimensions and finds himself on Earth 1, where he reveals he based Green Arrow’s speech patterns on himself – and neither gets along with Hawkman. For once, I’m feeling Hawkman’s pain.
Back on Earth 2, Bates traps the Justice Society and ultimately gases them into unconsciousness.
Now it must be noted that one of the things that was so much fun and so exciting about the annual JLA/JSA team-ups was that you just never knew who was going to show up. The Justice Society had so many members, and team-ups only allowed for a handful of heroes. This story had one of the most unusual line-ups:
Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder, Hourman, Dr. Midnite, Wildcat and Robin.
For some reason I just love this array of heroes. They aren’t the sort you expect to show up – usually a team-up includes Flash, Green Lantern and Dr. Fate or some combination of the three, with maybe Superman thrown in for good measure. So the ingredients are here for a good story – it’s just the stew gets mixed with crazy sauce.
The Justice League, now searching for Bates with Maggin, ends up on Earth 2 and battles the Injustice Society – the Wizard, the Huntress, the Gambler, the Shade, the Icicle and the Sportsmaster.
It’s no contest. Even the Justice League is surprised how quickly their foes go down. Hey, maybe they make enemies easier over on Earth 2. I mean, they keep telling us the planet is 20 years behind the times. Maybe villainy hasn’t had time to catch up.
The unconscious members of the Injustice Society are actually the heroes of the Justice Society!
And they’re not unconscious. They’re dead!
OK, that’s just wrong.
Though it is never stated, we’re left to think that Bates mesmerized the Justice Society into putting on the masks and costumes of their enemies over their own costumes(umm, why didn’t he just cast a glamour spell if he’s so darn powerful? Oh, hush) – and into fighting the Justice League.
And then he killed them and let the Justice League think they were responsible.
That’s stupid. The Justice League doesn’t use lethal force, and these heroes – including Batman, Aquaman and Black Canary – should know better. But they’re only as smart as their creators allow them to be.
And we haven’t even made it to the truly strange part. In “Justice League of America” No. 124, “Avenging Ghosts of the Justice Society!,” cover dated November 1975, we open to discover the Justice League standing over a mass grave on a hill.
That’s right, they dumped the bodies of the Justice Society in a mass grave on a hill marked only by a cross with a series of smaller crosses.
They set out to capture Bates and the Injustice Society. With the rest of the Justice Society off on a mission in space (thank you, exposition aside), the Justice League chooses to remain on Earth 2 and avenge their comrades.
The Justice League battles the Injustice Society – and I just have to share the battle panel because it might be the goofiest ever. The Wizard thwarts the Flash by conjuring a giant banana peel. The Gambler tosses playing cards at Aquaman. The Icicle spits in Batman’s face. The Sportsmaster takes the time to spray-paint a bulls-eye on Black Canary’s torso. Apparently she can’t move out of the way.
Guilt will do that to you, I guess.
But one champion for good is determined to put a stop to this travesty, and it’s not editor Julius Schwartz. It’s the Spectre, who has observed the carnage.
Seeking to save his fallen Justice Society comrades, he prays to Dan Didio – oh, that can’t be right – no, it’s God – to resurrect his pals.
God says, hey, you make a good case. I’m not really busy right now, so I’ll think about it.
And just when the Justice League is about to fall to the Injustice Society, the members of the Justice Society appear – alive, hardy, hale and ready for battle.
“Aww, piffle!” Bates cries. “The perfect – ultimate – plan – only to have Fate throw in a blasted miracle!”
Is he not paying attention to his own story? Dr. Fate had nothing to do with it. It was the Spectre, in easily the worst, laziest resolution to a JLA/JSA story anytime ever.
The combined might of the two teams bests the Injustice Society. The Thunderbolt sends both scribes home. The JSA has no clue as to how they came back from the dead.
Julius Schwartz kicks out his hacks. He wants to eat his bean soup in peace. We’ve all been there, Julie.
Oh, and if you’re wondering whatever happened to Earth Prime, it was destroyed during the “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” So I guess that makes me and you, good friend, ret-cons in our own right.