There are also discussions about the 60s JLA/JSA team-ups and the 70s JLA/JSA team-ups so feel free to read, comment or add on to those as well!
JUSTICE LEAGUE # 183-185 (O-D'80): Where Have All The New Gods Gone?/ Apokolips Now!/Darkseid Rising!
By Gerry Conway, Dick Dillin (#183), George Perez (#184-185), Frank McLaughlin and Len Wein (editor).
Personal Note: George Perez is an amazing artist whose work has gotten even better over the years. Fantastic Four, The Avengers, Justice League of America and, of course, New Teen Titans have all benefitted from his contributions. Any true fan would want him on their favorite title. And he wanted to do JLA but not under these circumstances.
Dick Dillin, after drawing Justice League of America since #64 in 1968 (missing only two issues in that run) died at the young age of 51. He also had long runs in Blackhawk, World's Finest and DC Comics Presents. He was the artist of two of the first four comics that I ever read. His work improved throughout the 70s and he drew the majority of the heroes and villains of the DCU at one time or another. The news of his passing shocked the fifteen old me and was truly the end of an era. Thinking back, perhaps his passing combined with New Teen Titans #1 signaled the end of the Bronze Age, my Golden Age.
Character Notes: By this time, Gerry Conway had added to the Justice League his own creation: Firestorm the Nuclear Man! But as he giveth, Conway also tooketh away as Green Arrow resigned because he felt he and the League weren't on the same page anymore. That and his candidate for membership, Black Lightning, didn't even want to join!
The JLA: Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and Firestorm
The JSA: Doctor Fate, Wonder Woman, Power Girl and the Huntress
The New Gods: Orion the Hunter, Metron, Mister Miracle, Big Barda and Oberon
The InJustice Society: The Fiddler, the Icicle and the Shade
More to follow!
I see everything that you've described here as strengths of the DC Universe, not weaknesses. You had whimsy, with features like SHAZAM! and Sugar and Spike and 'Mazing Man and Stanley and His Monster. You had humor, with Inferior 5 and Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis and Scooter and more. You had a rich fictional past, all the way from Anthro to Tomahawk to Jonah Hex to Enemy Ace to Sgt. Rock and the other war titles and the All-Star Squadron and the Justice Society of America. And best of all, you had not one future, but several -- the Legion of Super-Heroes and Tommy Tomorrow and Don and Dawn Allen and the Atomic Knights and Space Ranger and Kamandi and more!
I'm with you there!
Border Mutt said:
Figs, I definitely agree with you that this story opened up a ton of possibilities and interesting angles to explore with Black Canary (that were just plain never addressed), however, I question whether this two parter would have been the place to get to them. You make a very good case that this story set up a possible complexity and richness for Black Canary that could have informed stories for years, but I think the sheer scope of the themes and ideas mean that it couldn't be properly explored in two issues.
Just to clarify: I don't think Thomas needed to add any more to this story for it to be a powerful superhero parable. The story raw materials are enough. To show that forces outside her control shaped this young woman completely beyond her power to affect or understand is enough of a story from a thematic point of view. Thomas would have illustrated by symbols and metaphors what actually happens to young women in most patriarchal societies. That's plenty for 2 issues.
My problem was that Thomas took the focus off the central story with all the continuity stuff and the concentration on old comics for their own sake. The bits of the comics that are taken up with that, would have been better spent shining a light on what should be the central theme eg showing us various Justice-women and their relationships and histories and personalities, as a counterpoint to BC's story. Or bringing in some aspect of real life that could be shown on the page of how women develop and grow in the real world - showing us the reality behind the metaphors of the captivity and powerlesness. Feminist bloggers lately have said that any woman is written well so long as she's not shown going shopping or discussing her boyfriend, but Canary's first words are on her boyfriend's 'weapon'.
But essentially, nothing needs to be resolved in the two-part story for it to fully address its theme. Philip was taking my comparison to 'Sleeping Beauty/Snow White' a bit too far when he speculates how this JLA story might have a happy ending. In that feminist reading of Sleeping Beauty there are no happy endings. If the good mother becomes the wicked stepmother, just because of the dynamics inherent in the relationships, then Sleeping Beauty herself will become the villainess of the piece in her turn, and be supplanted by her own daughter. A good story just has to highlight these contradictions and dynamics, not necessarily resolve them, to be a good story. (Sleeping Beauty lying there waiting for some random handsome prince to solve her problems for her isn't much of a resolution, anyway.)
Gaiman was all over the Sleeping Beauty myth in Sandman (a story principally about dreaming and sleeping, that was very sympathetic to women's rough treatment by society!) Some of the characters sleep half their lives, one was raped while asleep, etc. There was one story about the writer keeping a Muse locked up in his attic, and raping her to get inspiration. For some reason, I'm thinking that has some parallels with what we see happen in this story! :-)
To keep the discussion to JLA characters, Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory was partially a retelling of the Snow White myth, and Zatanna's relationship to her loving, empowering single-parent father was used to counterpoint the Snow White character's controlling and selfish parents.
And the other comic I'm thinking of where similar themes were handled in a completely different way was Alan Moore's female werewolf story - The Curse.
As to developing what these two issues set-up, I'd tend to agree with Rob, Mutt and Philip that this would have been extraordinarily fertile ground to develop stories from, and I'm surprised to hear that all the heavy stuff was left largely untouched going forward.
To me, rather than being an argument against continuity, this is an argument for continuity. Going from there, I wonder if this really can be considered a bad story so much as wasted potential in that it wasn't used as a launching board?
Continuity is good, so long as it is used at the service of a good story. Of course the advantage of continuity is that longer tales can be told that stretch over time and develop themes naturally and at greater length than a couple of issues would. Continuity is also wonderful in that superhero writers don't have to waste time telling you who these characters are and what they are about before jumping into the ...whatsitcalled? the STORY!
Justice League 219-220 is a bad story, because it isn't focused on its themes and there's too much extraneous stuff. And the bits from old comics come into the story and then leave it without much sense, apart from the listy sense of 'then this happened, then this happened, then this happened'. The character whom anyone summarising this story would refer to as the most important in it doesn't get much screen time or character development. Bizarrely, the writer tries to downplay the message his text is actually conveying. "Everything was for Canary's own good - even Superman says so, lets all go home, and never talk of this again!"
(BTW, I do agree with you that the Earth 1/Earth 2 nomenclature discussion is something that shouldn't have been in the issue as it doesn't seem like something the Flashes would be discussing, but again, rather than seeing this as a fault of continuity, I see this as a violation of the Flashes character.)
Well, it was the decision to serve the Continuity Bugaboo, rather than the story, that led Thomas to violate the Flash's characters.
Border Mutt said:
I think you may be overestimating how much "fan-service" pulls Johnny Newstand out of the story. At the point this story was published, I'd been reading JLA for about a year and a half. I guess that could of made me a hardcore fan but I think that's stretching the definition a little. This was only my second JLA/JSA crossover, and at the time, while I thought the Flashes' conversation was a little bit odd, it didn't pull me out of the story. In fact, I'd say the Earth 1 / Earth 2 discussion would be more likely to bother me now that I'm more familiar with the Flashes than it did at that time.
This isn't to say that you don't have a legitimate point about continuity minded dialogue pulling you out of the story, just that I think it might be a little more subjective rather than universal. Over in the JLA thread, we'd discussed how some of Morrison's storytelling quirks pulled me out of the Starro story while you were able to brush right by them. I think perhaps the continuity moments that pull you out of the story might be a hot button for you and might not be as typical a reaction from Johnny Newstand as you think.
I've reached these conclusions more from observing the reactions of general non-fanboy readers to superhero comics than from my own reactions.
For my part, I grew out of superhero comics when I was about 12 or so, and then certain friends started pointing me towards them again when I was 16 or so, because of the work of Miller and Moore. So people were putting the likes of Swamp Thing, Marshall Law and Dark Knight Returns under my nose when I was only interested in 2000AD. The thing is none of those friends were or turned out to be hardcore collector types. They just loved good stories with an edge, that seemed to be talking about big worldly things to our developing minds. They loved Stephen King novels and George A Romero movies, Mad Max and such.
Once I got into superhero comics again, because I'd been that type of fan, and was familair with a lot of the continuity of Marvel and DC, and indeed the way continuity--driven stories are told, I picked up both comics that had a good solid story hook and development, and also comics that owed a lot to continuity for its own sake. I couldn't really see a difference at that point, but when I'd take these comics back to the Joe's who'd been into Miller and Moore and suchlike, they'd know almost immediately which ones were not focused on holding a general reader and telling a good story that anyone would become engaged in. The continuity-based comics just didn't hold their interest. Batman was the only monthly comics of that era that they'd read, maybe because old 2000Ad writers were on it and kept the focus on popular, accesible stories.
This happened all over again in the late-90s when I had another set of friends who lapped up my collections of The Authority, Preacher, and Morrison's JLA, but couldn't finish an issue of the likes of Zero Hour, or Claremont's X-Men.
The vast bulk of people who enjoyed The Sopranos didn't do cultural analysis or whatever in college, but they know when a good story is being built and themes are being addressed and developed and counterpointed. If any episode of The Sopranos had been a random list of random things happening much like Thomas' script, with the justification being the links to old TV shows they never saw and an explanation for some glitch in an earlier season of the show, they wouldn't be able to tell you about metaphor and narrrative focus, but they would tell you that they switched channels before too long.
Maybe there is something to John Dunbar's argument about the season ticket holders. Marvel and DC must have had some reason for so often not putting the basics of storytelling as has been understood for 100s of years into practice. Still, the analogy falls down in one respect. Whether a sports team is trying to attract more season ticket holders or more of the casual saturday afternoon fans, the team still plays the best game it possibly can. There is a notable difference between the kind of comics produced with an eye to the general reader and comics we get when they are produced for the hardcore fans (the fan-archivists).
BTW, key scenes from the two JLA stories under discussion can be read here, in case anyone is curious what we are talking about.
I see that the last thing Dinah saw Larry Lance doing before he (and shortly after that, she) died was him taking aim with a bow and arrow. So Black Canary falls for Green Arrow as soon as she arrives on Earth...
Adds even more interest to the girls' opening conversation at the party. Dinah's really talking about her Dad's arrow! Or Larry's 'Lance', perhaps I should say. Freud would have had something to say about a name like that!
Looking at the scenes from Justice League #74 again, I'm struck by:
Yes I agree that #219-220 is one convoluted mess but it's really an overly complicated answer to a simple question: "Why is Black Canary so young?" All the easy answers are unusable (the trip between Earths, the JLA made her younger, another adventure made her younger, etc.). Actually this conundrum should have been resolved by Denny O'neil at the time to avoid all this.
Roy Thomas loves these kinds of "Explaining Stories" that let's him tie up various loose ends or contradictions or allows him to explore, dare I say it, "Neat Ideas". I'll admit that I do enjoy this approach in All-Star Squadron, Secret Origins, Infinity Inc and Young All Stars but here it doesn't work because he doesn't write Black Canary again. This shattering revelation has little effect on her life. In fact, it does seem like everyone agrees to just not talk about it!
Unfortunately one of the aftershocks is this:
Detective Comics #554 (S'85) gave up this nightmare from the ME generation, just as bad as any 90s "improvement". This was of course to give the suddenly Dinah, Jr. her own identity and to separate her from the only self-image she had ever known. But she never asked herself the truly important questions like "Did she love Oliver (Green Arrow) Queen because she fell for him or was it because her mother would have fell for him?" and "Why continue being a super-hero?" While they did do a "Secret Origin" for the Black Canary in the late 70s, there was no Golden Age reason for why she donned the fishnets in the first place. In fact, originally, she was supposed to be a good/bad girl like the Golden Age Harlequin and Rose & the Thorn. She surpassed her predecessors because she hooked up with Johnny Thunder instead of Green Lantern and the Flash.
No matter what time period, the Black Canary was always a contradiction. The sexy tough girl. The hostage that could fight back. The love interest. The token female. The matron and the maiden. She is both a feminist and a fantasy, Ms. and Maxim combined. The solo heroine always associated with a male hero.
In my own mind, the Black Canary travelled to Earth-One after the death of her husband, accidently gained undefined sonic powers that gradually made her younger because she wanted to keep up with her new teammates and future lover.
SImplest explanation? GA has a thing for kickass older ladies.
"Actually this conundrum should have been resolved by Denny O'neil at the time to avoid all this."
As someone on an episode of THE MONKEES once said, "Oh, don't make fun of the drunkard!"
"No matter what time period, the Black Canary was always a contradiction. The sexy tough girl. The hostage that could fight back. The love interest. The token female. The matron and the maiden. She is both a feminist and a fantasy, Ms. and Maxim combined. The solo heroine always associated with a male hero."
In Carmine Infantino's own words, she was his vision of "the ideal woman"! (Translation: A HOOKER.)
Somebody should find a way to do a Black Canary / Black Cat crossover (set in the Golden Age, natch).
B.C. without fishnets is just not B.C.
As I've done before on these threads, I thought I'd warble on a bit about a few issues surrounding those properly under discussion.
I was very impressed indeed with Paul Levitz' Justice League of America Annual 1, which must have come out around the same time. It made a good contrast with Thomas' two-parter. It too depended on a little bit of continuity, regarding Dr Destiny's current status, but the readers were brought up to speed pretty naturally within the story, and everything revolved around some recogniseable themes.
It was a cracking little tale that flowed forward and brought the readers along. Maybe the 'team dviding up for seperate chapters' structure is a little hackneyed to modern eyes, but it works well enough here, with each sub-team being somewhat informed by what the previous teams had found out.
Even though the Black Canary 'Everything You Know Is Wrong' storyline did have potentially heavy themes, which could have explored issues that are generally kept buried by society (and which Thomas tried to bury even as he raised them) I just wanted to add that I don't expect every comic to be 'The Brothers Karamazov" or "War and Peace". This comic is built around a discussion of dreams and explores how it is in dreams we are most vulnerable, and in them too, we show our true selves in the things we fear and the things we value.
Those aren't world-shaking revelations, but they are truthful and they are enough to build a story around. Further, I'd argue that without something thematic that reflects some truth about our own non-superheroic lives, you don't have a story at all, but just a meaningless list of things that happen.
These JLA/JSA conversations keep getting referred back to how the current comics under discussion relate back to what came before, but this comic was hugely interesting to me in how it relates forward to the work of two writers that completely revolutionised superhero comics a few years later.
Is this possibly the last appearance of Dr Destiny before he re-appeared as a horror villain in Neil Gaiman's Sandman run? ("Lots of things begin with D" as he stated there!) There is much in this little comic that I can see Gaiman picked up and ran with. The idea of dreams being such a potent doorway into our true selves being one, and another is the way the story conflates the meaning of dreams being both those free shows we experience when we sleep, and the other meaning of dreams in our waking hopes and imaginings. Dr Destiny as the key to all that, was just there on a plate for Gaiman after this story.
And then there is the late entry of the Sandman himself into the comic. He sort of flies into the story out of nowhere, but he's more or less explained as they go. Thematically, he belongs right here, and he's also a welcome 'wild card' in a story that is otherwise very pre-determinedly structured. There's something wonderful in his scene with the sleeping, oblivious Clark Kent. We normally never see Superman at rest like this.
The influence of this particular story on Gaiman's graphico-literary masterpiece might explain why the role of this spandex version of Sandman, mired in the kind of continuity that would make grown men cry, is so central to it.
Does the Materiopticon originate as a device in the 70s 'Sandman with the whistle' stories, or is it from an earlier Dr Destiny story?
When I wrote on issue 25 of Doom Patrol, which used some of the elements from this story, I wondered how Morrison could have written a story which seemed to follow up Gaiman's Dr Death story so quickly. They both appeared in the same summer, almost. I see now that both British writers were just getting their breaks at the same time, and both saw this annual, from about 5 years before, as a great starting point for even more storytelling fun. In Morrison's story the Materiopticon increases a young girl's abilities to make her dreams manifest, and Morrison too explores some of the problems of female awakening to adulthood, but uses some of the motifs from the Wizard of Oz rather than Sleeping Beauty. (The character's name is Dorothy Spinner!) Unlike Thomas, Morrison is in control of his story and its messages, and the content meshes well with the themes.
Grant Morrison's Starro story from his JLA run has already been mentioned in this very discussion. It definitely draws much from this story both in its use of the current version of the Sandman (Daniel in the case of the Starro story), and in the general idea of the JLA being attacked through their dreams. Most notably, Morrison made the notion of Superman having a special place in our dreams from which he protects us central to his story. It was only subtext in Levitz' story, but Morrison made it text, as is his wont.
Looking for further patterns, it's interesting that Gaiman took Justice League of America annual 1 as his starting point for his Sandman saga, but Morrison effectively gave us the final scene of that Sandman's role in the DCU in his JLA riff on this annual. The beginnings and endings of Dreams are contained in Levitz slight tale....
Dream's sister Death did make a comeback in the pre-abortive months prior to the Nu52, which doesn't really count. As I've posited before that was in the dying death-fugue of the old DCU: we were just given random sparkings in its sentience, when it didn't know it was dead and awaiting rebirth in the months after Final Crisis. :-) Incidently, the name of the story in this annual is "If I should die before I wake..."
I think all of the above shows that continuity can be a wonderful playground, when used wisely, in conjunction with great stories whose messages the writers manage to keep control of.
The Materioptikon goes back to Justice League of America vol. 1 #19, Dr. Destiny's second appearance, in which he used it to create evil duplicates of the Leaguers who lacked their weaknesses. I've not seen his first appearance, in #5, but I think he wasn't associated with dreams there. From his second appearance it and the Materioption were recurring elements. His skull-and-cowl look was introduced in #154, which I think was his first appearance post-Silver Age and where it was explained he'd wasted away as a result of losing his ability to dream.
Wikipedia tells me somewhere along the way someone decided his real name was John Dee. John Dee was a scientist/ astrologer who was a contemporary of Shakespeare.
Peter Ackroyd's The House of Dr Dee is a pretty good read. Although he moved Dr Dee's residence from Mortlake in the western suburbs to Clerkenwell, just outside the old City walls, for some reason.
I wonder did Gaiman come up with the Dr Dee thing? Suitably literary-historical and also sets up Dream's family, whose names all start with D.
I think Gaiman's story was the first time I'd heard him referred to as John Dee, and I'd read a number of Dr. Destiny appearances before then.
Great analysis, Figs!
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