I was six years old in 1966 when I saw my first issue of Justice League Of America. I stared at its cover, thumbed briefly through its pages, intrigued, but still opted to buy an issue of Batman instead. It would be another eleven months before I finally bought a copy of JLA to read and own and cherish. From the missed opportunity in the summer of 1966 to my gateway to DC Comics super-team action in June of '67, these two issues of JLA had one very significant thing in common: both of them guest-starred the Golden Age heroes of The Justice Society of America.
I didn't really understand what was going on, but I knew one thing for damned certain: more superheroes! The annual teaming of the JLA and the JSA had been a summer tradition for DC since 1963. I soon learned that the Justice Society was a group of heroes from an alternate dimension, Earth-Two, heroes who'd fought bad guys since the '30s and '40s. Editor Julie Schwartz and writer Gardner Fox concocted the alternate-earth scenario so they could bring in DC's older heroes from past decades, including the original (and usually quite different) Golden Age versions of The Flash, Green Lantern, The Atom, and Hawkman, and an Earth-Two Wonder Woman who was virtually identical to her Earth-One counterpart. (The Earth-Two Superman was also originally depicted as identical to the familiar JLA Man Of Steel, though some differences were tweaked in by the '70s; the Earth-Two Batman didn't participate in a JLA/JSA team-up until the '70s, but was established as a "semi-retired" hero, his caped crusadin' now mostly the responsibility of his all-grown-up former partner, Robin.)
Beyond the doppelgangers (albeit original-issue doppelgangers) of our JLA stars, the JSA included a number of characters unique to Earth-Two, including Dr. Fate, Wildcat, Hourman, Mr. Terrific, Dr. Mid-Nite, Starman, Black Canary, The Spectre, The Sandman, and Johnny Thunder and his magic Thunderbolt. Maybe it was heresy. Maybe it was hubris. But, nearly from the start, I loved the Justice Society even more than I loved the Justice League.
(Over time, I eventually learned how to pronounce the names, too. At the age of seven, I thought they were the Justice Lagoo and the Justice Sockatee.)
The first time I recall seeing an actual vintage image of the JSA from the '40s was in the pages of a book called All In Color For A Dime, a wonderful collection of essays chronicling the Golden Age of comic books. This was, I dunno...1971, maybe? Early '72? Whenever it was, when I saw it on the shelf at World Of Books in North Syracuse, I was just plain hypnotized by its photo section, a small collection of color photos of old comic books. Spy Smasher! Minute Man! Ibis the Invincible! The Young Allies! Marvel Comics # 1! But the most magic among these magical sights was the image of All-Star Comics # 3, and its cover depicting the first meeting of the group Johnny Thunder described as "A swell bunch of guys!" The Justice Society of America.
I wanted this comic book. Lord, I wanted it! My desire for All-Star Comics # 3 might have rivaled my yearning for a Beatles reunion or Playboy Playmate Lorrie Menconi. I didn't need to own an original copy. I just needed to read it!
The summer of '72 treated me to my first real trip to New York City. I attended Old Timer's Day at Yankee Stadium, where I got to meet Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio and Whitey Ford and Phil Rizzuto (Rizzuto, in particular, was the nicest of all), and I got see Mantle, my baseball hero, hit a home run (even though it was just in exhibition). I dined in Little Italy. I saw Charlie Chaplin's film The Great Dictator. And my Dad took me on a side trip to 909 Third Avenue. National Periodical Publications. The company's name was National, but most kids just called it DC.
I was hoping that DC offered tours of its offices, but no, no, a thousand times no! Looking for a reason to justify our visit to this Fortress of Solitude, Dad told the receptionist I was trying to find out where I could buy back issues. A DC emissary--never did get his name--gave us the address for a dealer named Bill Thailing, so I ordered his catalog. Thailing had a copy of All-Star Comics # 3 for sale! For only...300 dollars?! Oh, the humanity! It was my introduction to the idea of comics--collectibles--being sold for more than cover price. No way in hell I could ever afford that. I still wanted it anyway. If anything, I wanted it more.
And I would have settled for a reprint. Eagerly. But DC wasn't reprinting Golden Age JSA stories; even as publisher Carmine Infantino repeatedly raided the company vaults for old inventory that could be re-used for nuthin', and as more and more 1940s adventures made their way into the back of 25-cent Giants and scattered throughout the 50-cent 100-Page Super Spectaculars, the Justice Society remained on the inactive list, at least as a team; there were a bunch of individual JSAers appearing in reprints, but never the assembled might of comics' first supergroup. The JSA stories were too long to be used as filler; they'd been book-length affairs in All-Star Comics, far too lengthy to reprint as a backup, nor even to take over an entire issue of a regular-sized reprint book like Wanted or Secret Origins. The 100-Page format was the only thing around at the time that could have contained an All-Star JSA adventure (with room to spare even!), but the 100-Pagers vanished before DC announced any intent to present an All-Star encore.
So, when the 100-Page Super Spectaculars returned at the end of 1972, one of the first promises that editor E. Nelson Bridwell made to readers was that a near-future Super Spec would finally--finally!--present a 1940s Justice Society story for discerning comics fans in 1973. Hallelujah!
With a cover date of June 1973, 100-Page Super Spectacular starred the Justice League of America, who appeared in two reprints from the '60s. Yeah. Good. Fine. There was a Golden Age solo adventure starring The Sandman, one of my favorite JSA members, seen here in his original Green Hornet-inspired gas-mask motif rather than the later Simon & Kirby skintight costumed heroics I'd seen reprinted as backups in Kirby's The Forever People. Well...cool, actually. But c'mon. The main event? The reason I'd been pacing and waiting and haunting drug stores and grocery stores and any other damned place with new comics on its spinner racks, ever since the last Super Spec a freakin', interminable month ago? Well, there it was, at long last. Reprinted from All-Star Comics # 37, November 1947: The Justice Society of America in "The Injustice Society Of The World!"
Goosebumps. And again, no--you get a life.
It wasn't the JSA's first appearance from All-Star Comics # 3, but good enough for me. I read it, re-read it, re-re-read it, over and over, all summer long. I copied its format for an original JSA script I wrote, and I re-read it yet again. I scribbled covers of more imaginary 1940s All-Star adventures in my notebooks. I re-read it again. If you can't understand that adolescent fervor, then I suspect you've never been a young, enthused fan of anything.
It would be a little while before DC reprinted any more old JSA stories. Several of them would appear in the ongoing Justice League Of America book, when that title was switched to the Super Spectacular format. In 1975, an oversized dollar title called Famous First Edition (which had taken on the mission of reprinting some key Golden Age DC books in their entirety) presented a complete reproduction of that elusive All-Star Comics # 3, the first JSA story, the first appearance of any comic-book super-team. I still own my copy of that Famous First Edition. I'll never forget how much it meant to me.
|In the '70s, I did purchase one vintage issue of All-Star Comics: a coverless copy of # 51 from 1950|
In this far future world of 2017, I own at least three physical reprints of that important third issue of All-Star Comics. I have a digital copy, too. In this millennial age of convenience, I can read any old Justice Society story whenever I wish. The yearning, the ache, is gone, and one hopes it hasn't quite been replaced yet by complacency or entitlement. Because I still remember that feeling, that burning desire to discover these superhero adventures that had once been commonplace, all in color for a dime, to immerse myself in something from long ago, seemingly a million miles away, but something I still felt that I could almost touch, if only. No amount of jaded modern shrugging can wipe that away. In my head, I'm still at least in part that kid I was then. And in my head, the Justice Society of America can still save the day. A swell bunch of guys.
WHEN COMIC BOOK RETROVIEW RETURNS: Completions, Transitions
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