Justice League of America | Silver Age Origins | Earth-Two
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These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number. They were edited by Julius Schwartz.
There is a separate article about The Justice Society of America of the 1940's. And separate articles about members The Flash, Green Lantern, J'onn J'onzz, the Manhunter from Mars, Batman, Green Arrow, The Atom, Aquaman, Superman.
Gardner Fox often built his plots out of what I've dubbed Fox cycles. A Fox cycle is: a repeatable series of plot events that leave its protagonist in the same state at the finish as at the beginning. Please see my article on Adam Strange for a detailed discussion of Fox cycles.
The Justice League of America was likely influenced by the 1940's team-up The Justice Society of America.
BEST PARTS. "Starro the Conquerer" has two good ideas about the Justice League:
Green Lantern's rocket plane is cool (page 3).
Other than these ideas, Snapper Carr, and the tale's "scientific detection", this first story is not much fun. It's grim and lacking in imagination.
SNAPPER CARR. Teenage hipster Snapper Carr is a good character. This tale is his origin. He is a continuing character, and livens up most of the tales in which he appears.
Snapper Carr's "beat" dialogue reminds one of how many comics creators have loved exotic patois in their scripts. This is especially true of George Herriman and Milt Gross.
Mystery writer John Dickson Carr was one of editor Julius Schwartz's favorite writers. Snapper Carr's last name is perhaps a homage to him.
ABSORBING INFORMATION. The villain wants to absorb all the information possessed by a building full of scientists (page 11). This anticipates the Absorbascon, which Fox created in "Creature of a Thousand Shapes" (The Brave and the Bold #34, February-March 1961), the first Silver Age Hawkman tale. The Absorbascon can absorb the information of an entire planet. It is more systematic and advanced than the ideas in "Starro the Conquerer".
Later Fox's Justice League tale "The Cosmic Fun-House" (#7, October-November 1961) has the "space-probe". Like the Absorbascon, the space-probe can absorb the knowledge of entire planets (page 14).
SCIENTIFIC DETECTION. The last chapter has a mystery: why is Snapper Carr immune to villain Starro? The tale has a clue, early on (page 17). Such a "mystery with a clue to its solution" is called fair play.
The mystery turns on scientific information. It is thus part of the important tradition of scientific detection. Science is involved in several aspects of the mystery:
STORY STRUCTURE. Middle chapters have the League going after three "deputies" of Starro - one in each chapter. Such repeated menaces often form middle episodes in Justice League tales.
In some of these chapters, a single Justice League member fights the menace. In another, a pair of Justice League members are sent out. In later stories, both single members and pairs will be used to battle such menaces. All of these patterns are established here in the first Justice League story.
STEVE TREVOR. We get a brief glimpse of Wonder Woman's beau Steve Trevor (page 3). He's courting Wonder Woman. This is vivid art, that conveys romantic feelings. From marks on his cuff it looks as if Steve is in uniform.
Mike Sekowsky did a glamorous portrait of Oliver Queen (Green Arrow) in suit and tie, at the end of "The Cosmic Fun-House" (#7, October-November 1961). This page shows other Justice League heroes in suits. And a close-up of Steve Trevor, with his shiny visored uniform cap. All of these images also show the men in romantic activity.
Challenge of the Weapons Master (1960). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Mike Sekowsky. Villain Xotar arrives from the future, with four high-tech weapons he wants to test against the Justice League.
FOX CYCLE. The last four chapters have Xotar testing his four weapons, one in each chapter. These chapters are built on a Fox cycle:
The final cycle (Chapter 5) has some changes:
The places are clued by riddles, anticipating the mystery puzzle in "The Wheel of Misfortune" (Chapter 2). The riddle in that tale was a clue to the location of a treasure; the riddles in "Challenge of the Weapons Master" clue large locales.
The first three places are linked to American power. And the first two are specifically technological power. SPOILERS. The treasure locale in "The Wheel of Misfortune" is linked to symbols of American power.
LINKS TO OTHER STORIES. The villain's ability to immobilize people returns with Kanjar Ro's gong in "The Slave Ship of Space". This is a menacing but fairly non-violent threat; it would pass the strict comic book censorship of the era.
The Flash tunnels underground to attack the villain (Chapter 2). This anticipates J'onn J'onzz in "The World of No Return" (Chapter 4).
The bubble is set to go to the star Cappella, with Wonder Woman trapped inside (Chapter 4). This anticipates two spaceship traps in "When Gravity Went Wild": the spaceship headed into the sun (Chapter 3), another spaceship that will wander through space forever (Chapter 5).
Green Lantern shattering the bubble (Chapter 4) anticipates Green Arrow splitting the giant diamond in "Doom of the Star Diamond" (cover and Chapter 5). Both bubble and diamond are large containers with Justice League members trapped inside.
MEET THE FLASH. The Justice League tales like to show the Flash meeting people:
The World of No Return (1961). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Mike Sekowsky. A would-be alien dictator keeps exiling Justice League members to planets in another dimension.
GOOD AND BAD. The first half of this tale (Chapters 1, 2) is harmless, but not too interesting. But the tale's second half is full of inventive science fiction adventures.
SAVE-THE-WORLD. Two sections in the second half (Chapters 3, 4) each deal with the dictator trying to destroy some alien planet, and the Justice League members trying to save it. Such save-the-world tales anticipate "Doom of the Star Diamond", whose three middle chapters (2, 3, 4) deal with attempts to save Earth from three different menaces.
BARRY ALLEN. The opening shows the Flash in his secret identity of Barry Allen (first half of page 2). Secret identities tend to be almost absent in Justice League tales, so this is welcome. Barry is dressed up in a good coat, shirt and tie, in the Sekowsky manner. Also welcome is the atmospheric art showing a rural setting.
Secret of the Sinister Sorcerers (#2, December 1960-January 1961). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Mike Sekowsky. Earth makes contact with another dimension, which runs by magic instead of science. The premise allows Fox to make a tale full of fantasy, with only a little science fiction. I don't think this story is especially good, despite some decent moments. Fox would later be more successful with the offbeat tale of magic "World Within the Power Ring" (Green Lantern #26, January 1964).
One of the better bits in the tale is science fictional rather than magic-based: the start of problems with technology (page 3). The Flash's encounter is especially good. I also liked the systematic look at the various League members' signaling device locations (bottom of page 3).
GROWING UP. Two comic episodes at the end with Snapper Carr deal with growing up and masculinity. SPOILERS:
The Slave Ship of Space (1961). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Mike Sekowsky. Kanjar Ro, a powerful villain from Antares, forces the Justice League members to battle for him against his rivals for dictator of the Antares solar system. The origin of Kanjar Ro, a recurring villain in Fox's 1960's stories.
This is one of the most science fictional of the Justice League tales, and it benefits from this.
Fox has a continuous stream of sf invention. All of Kanjar Ro's poetic sf concepts are created here: his galley ship that rows across space, his immobilizing Gamma Metal gong, his wand. These will recur in this story's immediate sequel: the Adam Strange tale "The Planet That Came to a Standstill" (Mystery in Space #75, May 1962). There these elements will play deep structural roles in the plot. Here they are more poetic concepts, floated by Fox and enjoyed for their own sakes.
FOX CYCLE. The story contains a series of battles. Each one pits a member or two members of the League against a different would be dictator, each one with his own special abilities and powers. Each battle takes place on a different uninhabited planet, with its own sf landscape. This construction resembles Fox's Star Rovers stories, which often involved the three Star Rovers each having a parallel adventure or contest on a different planet. (However, unlike the Star Rovers stories, there are no mystery elements here, and no plot aspects that can be given ambiguous interpretations). As in the Star Rovers tales, Fox makes each separate adventure share as many parallel plot developments as possible. Each is based on a similar series of events: a Fox cycle.
All the adventures begin with Kanjar Ro unseeing advanced tech to train the Justice League members in the language of the planet they will soon visit. This is a step in the Fox cycle.
SPOILERS. The last chapter has a surprise twist. There is an action that has been performed by each Justice League member. Up till the last chapter these actions were kept secret from the reader. This action forms another step in the Fox cycle. It is a bit unusual for a step in a Fox cycle to be kept secret in this way.
COSMIC ENGINEERING. The last two chapters involve characters manipulating planets, fragments and meteors on a large scale. This "cosmic engineering" sometimes appears in Silver Age comic books. There are excellent examples in the science fiction comic books Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures.
Doom of the Star Diamond (1961). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Mike Sekowsky. An alien lands on Earth along with three high-tech machines that will destroy the planet. Elaborate story that benefits from its science fictional foundations.
Wonder Woman gets depicted in an admirably nonsexist manner, using her brain power to save the Earth. Wonder Woman being chairman of the Justice League is also non-sexist (page 5).
Fox grounds Aquaman and Green Lantern's actions in their powers, in a nicely done way.
When Gravity Went Wild (1961). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Mike Sekowsky. Members of the Justice League tell stories about how Green Arrow seemingly turned traitor, followed by Green Arrow's own version of the events. The plot structure of this tale resembles Fox's Star Rovers stories, in which each member would give their own version of events, followed by the truth, which was always quite different. Both here and in the Star Rovers, Fox constructs events that have multiple appearances. As in the Star Rovers tales, the events here are science fictional. The sf allows for some multiple interpretations. The story is mildly ingenious, but not as clever or as richly developed as the best Star Rovers stories.
The Green Arrow plot goes from the start (page 2) through most of page 19. Then the last panel of page 19 suddenly starts a new story, which lasts till the end of "When Gravity Went Wild". This second story is quite enjoyable.
FOX CYCLE. The second story itself breaks into two parts:
J'onn J'onzz' analysis is valid. But one also can see more similarities, not fully covered by J'onn J'onzz. SPOILERS. These form a rudimentary Fox cycle:
THUMB GESTURES. Both the impostor (page 24) and Green Lantern (page 25) use sexy thumb gestures, to express senses of triumph. Please see my list and analysis of Thumb Gestures in Comic Boooks. The impostor's gesture is meaner and more contemptuous. Both men are uniformed, as is often the case of men using thumb gestures in comics.
OTHER IMPOSTORS. "The Cosmic Fun-House" (#7, October-November 1961) is a weak tale. But it has a good central episode (pages 9, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17), in which Flash and Green Lantern get their identities stolen by sinister impostors. The handsome impostors are dressed up to the max in good suits, and carry powerful technology. Another impostor in a good suit is pinned by an arrow, later (top right panel of page 23). The Flash impostor turns himself into an (fake) authority figure, leading a meeting of the Justice League (pages 16, 17). Such impostors are part of a story telling tradition. See my discussion of Identity Theft and Authority Figures.
The Wheel of Misfortune (1961). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Mike Sekowsky. Villainous scientist Amos Fortune learns to control luck scientifically; meanwhile League members solve two mysteries.
MYSTERY PLOTS. Both mysteries are enjoyable and soundly done. And they give a change of pace to the structure of the Justice League tales: instead of the middle episodes of the tale having League members battle menaces, here they solve mysteries.
Both mysteries have no science fictional content. They are strictly realistic, and could have appeared in any contemporary mystery novel.
The first mystery is a "hidden object" puzzle. This is kind of mystery with a long, honorable tradition in prose detective fiction.
The second mystery is explicitly, and accurately, called an "impossible crime". Please see my list of Mystery Tales in Comic Books for other impossible crime comic book stories, by Fox and other writers. This mystery has not just one but two impossibilities: the locked museum, and the way the thief evades the surveillance by the Justice League.
FOX CYCLE. Justice League tales sometimes include Fox cycles. Such cycles often describe the behavior of characters through the entire story. "The Wheel of Misfortune" in unusual, in that its Fox cycle mainly describes the events in the long first Chapter. It has little relevance to events in later chapters.
The stages of the Fox cycle in Chapter One (pages 2-10):
In Wonder Woman's cycle, step 1 is performed after steps 2 and 3. This doesn't make much difference to the storytelling.
VILLAIN'S HISTORY. We see the villain developing his scientific powers (pages 8, 9). There is an interesting depiction of him doing scientific research.
MEN. There is a good portrait of two cops and their police car (end of page 6). This is in the comic book tradition of men uniformed and driving a vehicle. The sharp police uniforms have a peaked cap with visor, and a Sam Browne belt.
The gateposts illustration is highly phallic (bottom left panel of page 15).
For Sale -- The Justice League (1961). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Mike Sekowsky. A ray called the Cyberniray puts the Justice League members under the hypnotic control of petty criminal Pete Ricketts. Enjoyable story.
Many Justice League tales need aliens to give a powerful premise that can affect the Justice League. But here the all-powerful Cyberniray is strong enough to give the members a powerful antagonist. And aside from the Cyberniray, the other characters and events are simply gangsters engaged in robbery and attempted killing.
SPOILERS in the rest of this article.
FOX CYCLE. Each member of the Justice League undergoes the same steps in this tale. These steps form a Fox cycle (please see the article on Adam Strange for an in-depth discussion of Fox cycles):
Steps 4 and 7 interfere with the villains' plans. Such interference is an important structural element in the plotting of many Fox stories. It often occurs in Fox's Adam Strange tales.
At the end of Chapter One, J'onn J'onzz legitimately wonders if anything can save the Justice League. Things look bad. But the opening of Chapter Two shows a forgotten factor that might save the Justice League. It's a clever surprise twist. At this point, I began to wonder if this factor might interfere on the side of Justice League. Indeed it does - and becomes the cause of steps 4 and 7 in the cycle.
CUSTOMIZING THE CYCLE. J'onn J'onzz performs step 8 twice, first to free Aquaman, then again to free Wonder Woman. Aquaman does not perform step 8 at all. The likely reason: Aquaman is separated from the sea and his sea creature friends, and has no power to free anybody at this time. So J'onn J'onzz takes over freeing Wonder Woman, which normally would be Aquaman's step 8.
Step 3 for Green Arrow and Aquaman is ingeniously based in their super-abilities.
This story transforms the plot of "The Slave Ship of Space" (1961). In that tale, alien beings wanted to become dictator of Antares, and fought the Justice League members on a series of planets; here the alien beings want to become dictators of Appellax, and fight the Justice League members at various locales on Earth. This is typical of Fox, to have one story be built as a variation on another. It adds to the formal interest of his work. This story in turns became the foundation for a further variation, Fox's "The Million-Year-Long War" (Hawkman #12, February-March 1966).
FOX CYCLE. Each combat goes through a series of stages. These stages form a Fox cycle (please see the article on Adam Strange for an in-depth discussion of Fox cycles):
As is usual in Fox cycles, the state of the characters at the end is the same as at the beginning.
The tingle here recalls the tingle felt by Superman when Red Kryptonite begins to affect him. Like Red Kryptonite, the aliens here cause transformations of the characters.
The glowing green meteor on the cover recalls Green Kryptonite in Superman stories.
TRAVEL. Fox sets his story in a series of locales all over the world. It recalls the travels of Adam Strange to many exotic places, and those of Hawkman to come.
Each of the Justice League members patrols a certain area; this is their turf. In this they resemble such Fox Western characters as Pow-Wow Smith, who is Sheriff of Elkhorn County. Fox tends to like having his characters associated with locations.
CELEBRATIONS. The birthday celebration for the League in this tale recalls Fox's Pow-Wow Smith story "The Sheriff's Birthday Party" (Western Comics #78, November-December 1959). Fox liked parties and celebrations, such as all the Rann holidays in Adam Strange.
TURNING INTO TREES. The cover shows the Justice League members turning into trees. This recalls the ancient Greek legend of how Daphne turned herself into a laurel tree to escape from Apollo. The myth has been a favorite of painters and authors - both E. M. Forster and Ursula K. Le Guin have written works on the subject. The cover is especially close to the Renaissance painting by XXX. See also the Jimmy Olsen comic book cover for "The World of Doomed Olsens" (Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #72, October 1963), art by Curt Swan.
THE FLASH TALES. This story builds on "Flash of Two Worlds" (The Flash #123, September 1961). That landmark tale created the ideas of Earth-One and Earth-Two. The dimension of Earth-One is where Silver Age stories take place, while dimension Earth-Two contains Golden Age super-heroes.
This story also builds on a follow-up tale "Vengeance of the Immortal Villain" (The Flash #137, June 1963). Both "Flash of Two Worlds" and "Vengeance of the Immortal Villain" are discussed in detail in the article on The Flash.
JUSTICE SOCIETY. "Vengeance of the Immortal Villain" revived The Justice Society of America, first created in the Golden Age in 1940. This is a great idea. "Crisis on Earth-One" continues the look at the Justice Society. The Justice Society is full of Golden Age super-heroes.
The best parts of "Crisis on Earth-One" focus on the Justice Society. Unfortunately these sections take up only a small part of "Crisis on Earth-One". And we don't really learn all that much about the members.
The meeting between the Justice Society and the Justice League is indeed a "historical event", as the narration puts it (page 24). The members are cleverly paired up, suggesting parallels between various super-heroes:
In addition to these parallels between heroes, the tale suggests some mild parallels between villains. It does this, by having one trio of villains impersonate the other. However, the parallels among the villains are not as strong as the parallels among the heroes.
PROBLEMS. "Crisis on Earth-One" suffers from being often a fantasy rather than science fiction. Magic is often invoked as the cause of events. This plays away from the science-fictional strengths of the best League tales.
There is even a seance, used to rescue the League! This explicitly refers to an earlier, also none-too-great fantasy episode "Secret of the Sinister Sorcerers".
Also, much of "Crisis on Earth-One" is made up of routine battles between villains and good guys.