From the Archives: Deck Log Entry # 40 "But I Always Thought . . . ." the Justice League of America

Once again, gang, I’m going to blow away some of the commonly held misconceptions about the fictional details of the Silver Age heroes.  As I mentioned the last time I did this, an abundance of continuity errors made in the 1970’s became factoids when writers and fans who came in late accepted the mistakes as legitimate information.  When 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths wiped away the old histories and replaced them with new ones, it further confused the issue, as the next generation of readers took the revised continuities as having been always in place.


Just to remind everyone of the ground rules, I understand that the Crisis established “new facts”, as it were, for DC’s various heroes.  I’m not challenging the revisions; they are fact as far as the post-1985 continuities are concerned.  Here, I merely reveal that it was not always thus.  I am less gracious about upending the misconceptions that resulted from inaccurate details that some writers sloppily allowed to infect the stories of the 1970’s.  Here, the mistakes were clearly wrong and I am telling you the way it really was.


Got it?  Good.  Now, let’s set the Silver-Age record straight on the . . .




Myth 1:  Snapper Carr Was the Justice League’s Mascot.


You guys knew I was going to start with this one, didn’t you? 


Denny O’Neil, the first writer to take over the JLA title after Gardner Fox departed, clearly had no love for the finger-popping, English-bending teen-ager.  As Mr. O’Neil told Michael Eury in an interview appearing in Eury’s Justice League Companion (Twomorrows Publishing, 2005), “I didn’t see that [Snapper Carr] belonged in those stories.  I didn’t see what story function he was serving . . . . And I didn’t see what we were going to use him for.”


After months of ignoring him, O’Neil jettisoned Snapper from the Justice League by drafting a tale that required an extreme warping of the teen’s personality (and shaving several points off his I.Q.) to accomplish it.  When it appeared in JLA # 77 (Dec., 1969), Snapper-fans (and there are some) were outraged.  But the longest-lasting damage O’Neil inflicted on the young hipster was insisting that he was the team’s mascot.  That idea took off like wildfire and remains Snapper’s status in the minds of a great many JLA fans to this day.


Wrong!  Wrong!  Wrong!


As clearly stated and depicted in the debut JLA tale in The Brave and the Bold # 28 (Feb.-Mar., 1960), Snapper was awarded an honorary membership in the Justice League.  He was consistently referred to as the League’s honorary member throughout the some fifty-odd adventures in which he appeared during the Silver-Age.



Myth 2:  Adam Strange, Batgirl, Zatanna, Hawkgirl, et al., Were Honorary Members of the JLA.


Not in the Silver Age they weren’t.


Between 1960 and 1968, besides the ten heroes who were full-fledged members of the League, there were only two individuals who held a special status with the team:  Snapper Carr, who was an honorary member; and Metamorpho.  Metamorpho was elected to full membership in the League in JLA # 42 (Feb., 1966), but the Element Man turned it down, on the argument that he did not want to be a super-hero.  Instead, the Justice League named him as a “stand-by member”.


Several other heroes made guest appearances with the Justice League during the Silver Age---Adam Strange, Zatanna, Hawkgirl, Batgirl---and at the end of the respective stories in which they appeared, the only thing they received from the Justice League was a hearty handshake.


But that wasn’t good enough for the “whiz kids” behind Amazing World of DC Comics # 14 (Mar., 1977). 


Amazing World of DC Comics was a professional fanzine launched in 1974.  It was co-produced, co-written, and co-edited by a coterie of DC’s junior staffers and interns who were so eager to get their Neat Ideas published that they stumbled all over themselves.  With such unbridled enthusiasm and little oversight from the top, many of the Neat Ideas which saw print suffered from a multitude of sins. 


The junior staffers particularly enjoyed fleshing out concepts in the fictional histories of DC characters.  In and of itself, there was nothing wrong with that.  However, all too often these eager beavers based their Neat Ideas on erroneous information misremembered from old stories.  Or addressed things which had already been addressed.  


AWODCC # 14, which was touted as being everything a JLA fan needed to know about the Justice League, was especially guilty of these sins. 


Among the fabrications appearing in AWODCC # 14 was the notion that any hero who assisted the JLA on a case received an honorary membership in the League.  It specifically mentioned Adam Strange, Zatanna, Hawkgirl, Batgirl, and Supergirl as receiving such status.


To be sure, Hawkgirl and Zatanna would be awarded full-fledged JLA memberships post-Silver Age, but at no time, in any Silver-Age story, did any of these heroes become honorary members of the Justice League.  You won’t find any statement, reference, or mention of such a thing in any issue of JLA, for that matter.


This is a prime example of a “Neat Idea” that fans glom onto and hold tenaciously.  Yet, it’s a self-serving, curiously discriminating Neat Idea, since neither AWODCC # 14, nor any other reference which based its misinformation on that tabloid, ever included Robin, the Boy Wonder as an honorary JLAer, even though he participated in at least two League adventures by 1977.


It’s also bears pointing out that no actual DC story subsequent to AWODCC # 14 ever corroborated the idea that Adam Strange or Batgirl or Supergirl were honorary Justice Leaguers.  At least, not until the Crisis on Infinite Earths meant that all bets were off.





Myth 3:  Hawkgirl Was Originally Rejected as a JLA Member Because of the League’s “No Duplication of Powers” Rule.


This notion took root in JLA # 146 (Sep., 1977).  The writer of that issue, Steve Englehart, was trying to provide a reason why Hawkman’s wife and long-time crime-fighting partner had not yet been admitted to the Justice League.  What Mr. Englehart came up with---a “No Duplication of Powers” JLA by-law---I suspect he cadged from a similar rule devised for 1970’s Legion of Super-Heroes stories (and which, also, was not part of the Silver-Age Legion canon).  He could have saved himself the trouble if he had bothered to read the Silver-Age JLA story of Hawkman’s admission to the League in JLA # 31 (Nov., 1964).


Hawkgirl was initially not admitted to the group because the Justice League’s by-laws allowed only one new member annually.  In fact, this was stated plainly when the Atom appeared at a charity function to inform Hawkman of his induction into the League, on page 5, panel 2:


Gardner Fox did not pull this excuse simply to exclude Hawkgirl.  It was a long-standing rule. 


Under his reign as JLA writer, Fox had established that the League strictly controlled its membership.  There was no “Hey, this hero helped us out on this case; let’s make him a member” nonsense.  Wonder Woman stated the restriction on membership clearly 'way back in JLA # 4 (Apr.-May, 1961), the issue in which the Green Arrow joined the League:  “Remember---according to our constitution and by-laws---we can admit only one new member at a time!”


As Silver-Age readers witnessed, only four times did the JLA hold a meeting to consider new members (JLA # 4, # 14, # 31, # 42), and while individual members certainly had their preferences, no member ever sponsored a hero for membership.  A vote was taken and the hero who got the majority of votes was offered membership.


Why Hawkgirl was not made a member subsequent to her husband’s admission in the Silver Age, one can presume, was simply a matter of her not getting sufficient votes.





Myth 4:  The JLA’s Original Headquarters, the Secret Sanctuary, Was Located Just Outside of Happy Harbor, Rhode Island.


This is another one to blame on Amazing World of DC Comics # 14.  No doubt because somebody felt the Secret Sanctuary had to be put somewhere


I can see the thinking here . . . honorary member Snapper Carr had the most limited means of transportation, so in order for him to attend JLA meetings as often as he did, the Secret Sanctuary had to be in a place close to him.  If so, this is another case of junior writers not knowing the details of the JLA’s Silver-Age continuity.


In his sixty-five Justice League tales, Gardner Fox never specified where the Secret Sanctuary was located, other than it was situated in the tallest peak of a “great mountain range” (JLA # 31).  So there is no definitive Silver-Age information that the Sanctuary was near Happy Harbor.


It doesn’t even make sense internally that the Justice League deliberately constructed its original headquarters near Happy Harbor to make it easier for Snapper to attend meetings.  That’s because the Secret Sanctuary was built before they even met the kid.  (The Brave and the Bold # 28 and JLA # 9)


However, the JLA did make it easy for Snapper to reach the Secret Sanctuary, wherever it was.  As revealed in JLA # 12 (Jun., 1962), the members installed an anti-gravity device in Snapper’s hot-rod.  Whenever he needed to report to the Secret Sanctuary, Snapper merely had to press a hidden button located in a “secluded spot” on the outskirts of Happy Harbor, and immediately, his jalopy was “whisked across country” to the mountain HQ.  This mechanism was shown a few times in the Silver-Age tales.


And, yes, I know---“across country” is non-specific; it doesn’t necessarily mean literally across the country. On the other hand, it does imply a distance greater than just outside of town, particularly given the fact that the Snapster was already just outside of town when he activated the device.


The need for Snapper to use an anti-gravity device and the fact that the Secret Sanctuary was located in a great mountain range make it unlikely that the JLA’s meeting place was located in Rhode Island.  Nor was there any need for it to be.


Despite that, many fans also think it’s a Neat Idea that the JLA’s mountain HQ was located in Happy Harbor and will rationalise it by insisting, “Well, maybe on Earth-One, Rhode Island does have a mountain range.”


If it means that much to them, sure, why not?  But it’s still a development that occurred after the Silver Age.  Gardner Fox never said anything about Rhode Island.





Myth 5:  Superman and Batman Rarely Took a Significant Part in JLA Adventures Until the “Bat-Craze” of 1966-7, When They Became Major Participants.


There is some truth in parts of that, but the overall statement is untrue.


Because of the constraints of (1) changing editorial fiats, (2) the burgeoning membership of the League, and (3) the need to come up with credible threats every month, Gardner Fox developed four formulae governing which heroes participated in JLA stories.  Each formula represented a specific phase of Silver-Age Justice League adventures.


Initially, Superman and Batman’s participation in JLA stories was severely curtailed.  Often, in the early days, they appeared in only a few panels of a given story, and sometimes, not at all.  Fox explained the reason for this in an interview published in the fanzine Batmania # 22 (Mar., 1977):  “I didn’t use Superman or Batman very much in the first few years of the Justice League.  [Superman editor] Mort Weisinger and [Batman editor] Jack Schiff didn’t want us to.  They thought I’d overexpose the characters.”


Thus, that was Fox’s first formula.  Outside of infrequent exceptions (such as JLA # 1 and # 2), the World’s Finest Team was kept on the bench while the other five charter members and, later, Green Arrow handled all of the action.



By early 1962, the initially high sales of JLA had begun to sag.  According to his autobiography, JLA editor Julius Schwartz met with DC publisher Jack Liebowitz over the slumping circulation, and he informed the publisher of Weisinger’s and Schiff’s territorial prohibitions against using their heroes in JLA.  Schwartz and Liebowitz agreed that the best way to restore JLA’s rating was to utilise DC’s two most popular characters.  According to Schwartz, Liebowitz instructed him to go back to his fellow editors and tell them “Superman and Batman belong to DC Comics and not to Mort Weisinger and Jack Schiff!”


Now directed to include Superman and Batman in his plots, Fox shifted to his second formula, starting with JLA # 10 (Mar., 1962).  This was essentially to use the entire League membership, dividing the action equally among the eight super-heroes (nine, after the Atom joined, in issue # 14).  Fox kept his structure of dividing the League into three teams to handle components of the mission at hand, then bringing the whole group together at the end to face the main threat.  However, the sub-teams were more crowded, composed now of three heroes, instead of one or two.


Clearly, though, Superman and Batman’s active participation in League adventures began four years before the debut of the Batman television show launched the “Bat-Craze” that put Batman on the cover of practically every comic DC produced.


Fox soon found that employing all nine super-heroes equally in every story made it difficult to keep coming up with villains powerful enough to pose a genuine danger to the entire Justice League.  To remedy that problem, Fox came up with his third formula:  he would include every member of the League in each story, but would find a way to sideline some of them for a large part of the adventure.  He might have four or five members fall victim to the villain early in the plot, leaving the rest of the members to deal with the menace.  Or he might start out with only five or six members and bring in the remaining heroes at the end, cavalry-fashion.


He began using this structure in JLA # 23 (Nov., 1963).  Superman and Batman weren’t consistently relegated to the sidelined group; sometimes they were, sometimes they weren’t.  Throughout this phase, the World’s Finest Team got approximately the same exposure, overall, as every other member.


This third formula represented the shortest of the four phases.  By JLA # 29 (Aug., 1964), Fox began to simplify his format even more, introducing his “rotating membership” formula.  Now, JLA stories would not include every member, even briefly.  Fox’s scripts would call for usually only five members on hand, but sometimes six or seven.  The absent members would be explained away as being “tied up on urgent cases of their own”.


Shortly into this fourth phase, Julius Schwartz handed Fox another editorial fiat:  again, to increase sales, Schwartz dictated that the JLAers whose parent titles were selling the best---Batman, Superman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman---would be featured most prominently in Fox’s JLA scripts.  To a lesser extent, the Atom and Wonder Woman would show up for missions.  And suddenly, Aquaman, Green Arrow, and J’onn J’onzz---at the bottom of the sales figures---found themselves tied up on urgent cases of their own almost all the time.


Soon after, when Batmania took hold of the country, the Masked Manhunter became the de facto star of JLA, with Superman, because of his close association with Batman, running a close second.  For fans who started reading JLA because of the newfound prominence of Batman and Superman, the Justice League Giant Annuals published during those years were perplexing, indeed.  The covers would place the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel in the forefront, eclipsing their fellow JLAers.  Yet, the stories within were reprints of those early tales when Superman and Batman were scarcely seen at all.


Talk about your bait-and-switch!


To a casual reader of JLA, who remembered how little the World’s Finest Team had been seen originally, their explosion of prominence in the title would have seemed like a sudden change.


But, actually, Superman and Batman had been right there in the thick of Justice League action for years.





Myth 6:  the Martian Manhunter Has Always Been the Heart and Soul of the Justice League.


This is one of those Neat Ideas that, thanks to post-Crisis revision, stands as true now.  But it doesn’t hold up if one tries to apply it to the actual issues of JLA during the Silver Age.


The original ban against using Superman and Batman gave a big boost to J’onn J’onzz’s prominence in the early days of the League.  With the Man of Steel largely out of the picture, the Manhunter stepped in as the heavyweight member of the team.  J’onn J’onzz wasn’t quite as durable as Superman and his fire weakness was a bit too convenient, but his Martian super-strength and other Kryptonian-like powers made him the logical choice to fill in as the Metropolis Marvel’s understudy.


Employing him in the Superman rôle, Fox rarely opted to show the Manhunter using his more esoteric Martian powers.  A check of Fox’s run on JLA reveals that he depicted J’onn J’onzz using his non-Superman-like powers only nine times.


When Superman became an active member in Justice League adventures, the Manhunter lost his heavy-hitter status.  And with Fox’s reluctance to display the Martian’s unique abilities, the Alien Ace became redundant.  With both Superman and a Superman-like Manhunter on the team, Fox was experiencing a taste of the problem that Mort Weisinger was having with the Legion of Super-Heroes:  too many heroes with Kryptonian-like super-powers.  Notably, when Fox turned to his third formula of sidelining half of the JLA for most of a mission, Superman and J’onn J’onzz were never part of the active half of the team at the same time.  Either one or the other would be in the short-shrifted group, and sometimes, both would be.


The real signal, though, that the Martian Manhunter’s status in the League was in trouble came in JLA # 28 (Jun., 1964).  Though featuring every other JLA member, J’onn J’onzz was nowhere in evidence.  His absence wasn’t even explained.  Though not evident for several issues, this was a harbinger of things to come.


From this point on---and note, this wasn’t even halfway though Fox’s time as JLA writer---the Manhunter’s part in the League began to dwindle.  After Schwartz handed down his order to use the most popular League heroes, J’onn J’onzz was appearing in, maybe, one out of every five stories.


The cancellation of the Manhunter from Mars series with House of Mystery # 173 (Mar.-Apr., 1968) was the final nail for his participation in League stories.  Fox would write four more issues of JLA.  Three of them were plotted around using the entire Justice League, yet the Alien Ace was absent from every one, without even the dignity of an “urgent case of his own” by-your-leave.


Given the Manhunter’s diminishing status in the Justice League from 1964 on, it’s difficult to insist that he was “the heart and soul” of the team without relying on the post-Crisis rewriting of history.

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Comment by Fraser Sherman on January 20, 2014 at 12:04am

Funny, I thought I'd posted this comment already (or did i miss it because I'm half asleep?)--but another myth is that the structure never varied: Menace shows up, team breaks into three to fight menace, reunites at end. While that was the usual set-up, there were multiple issues that broke pattern. JLA 14 (everyone gets attacked in their secret identities) or JLA 13 (entire team confronts the Robot Justice League as a group) for example.

Comment by Andrew Horn on July 14, 2013 at 3:30pm

Commander said "Unfortunately, it's "Mystery solved, wrong!"

Yipe! Memory is such a tricky thing!


Comment by Philip Portelli on July 13, 2013 at 6:44pm

Perhaps Three Corners is where Jerry Thomas lived, putting the JLA HQ in his hometown.

BTW, Jerry Thomas finally made a real appearance in Crisis On Infinite Earths #11 where he was a NYC policeman and looked a lot like Roy Thomas!

Comment by Emerkeith Davyjack on July 13, 2013 at 6:19pm

...Thank you , Fraser .

Comment by Fraser Sherman on July 13, 2013 at 6:05pm

The letter column on the issue confirmed that the name was a hybrid of Jerry Bails and fellow (at the time) fan Roy Thomas.

I was planning to look up that story myself but you saved me the trouble Commander; i'd remembered the scene, but in my mind the telephone line ran through Happy Harbor.

Comment by Emerkeith Davyjack on July 13, 2013 at 5:15pm

...Did Jerry Bails actually have anything to do with the 16 pages , or was the " writer " just so named in tribute to the Good Doctor ???

Comment by Commander Benson on July 13, 2013 at 4:05pm

"Regarding the question of the location of the JLA headquarters, I remember in an early issue---I think it was 'When Gravity Went Wild'--- they said it was at 4 Corners, which would be the Southwest."


You know, Mr. Horn, as often as the location of the Secret Sanctuary has been bandied about here, no-one has ever brought up that particular piece of information. Once, when I was doing my own research on the location of the JLA's mountain HQ, I came across it---and, for about a minute, believed I had found definitive proof that the Silver-Age Secret Sanctuary was not in Happy Harbor.


The story you're recalling is not "When Gravity Went Wild"; it's "The Cavern of Deadly Spheres", from JLA # 16 (Dec., 1962).  Right there, on the very first page of the story proper, it shows Wonder Woman, in her invisible jet, and Green Arrow, in his Arrowplane, meeting in the skies over a town called Three Corners as they approach the Secret Sanctuary.


The story also shows that the dedicated telephone line that the Atom uses to travel to the JLA's HQ extends from the nearest town---Three Corners.


Mystery solved, right?  Though the script doesn't specify where in the United States it lies, we now know that Three Corners is the town closest to the Secret Sanctuary.


Unfortunately, it's "Mystery solved, wrong!"


That's because the first two-thirds of "The Cavern of Deadly Spheres" isn't "real".  What the reader doesn't find out until Chapter Three is that the first sixteen pages he has read wasn't an actual Justice League case.  Rather, it's a fictitious account written and submitted to the JLA by one of its fans, Jerry Thomas.


The only references to Three Corners are in the "fictional" part written by Thomas.  Thomas obviously didn't know where the Secret Sanctuary was located, so he made up the town of Three Corners to facilitate his plot. 


I suppose someone could could up with a "Well, maybe . . . " to make Three Corners the real location, but the most reasonable view of it is that Three Corners was just a product of imagination by "Jerry Thomas".



Comment by Andrew Horn on July 13, 2013 at 11:51am

Regarding the question of the location of the JLA headquarters, I remember in an early issue - I think it was "When Gravity Went Wild" - they said it was at 4 Corners, which would be the Southwest.


Comment by Figserello on July 10, 2013 at 10:17pm

For the record, Erratico, Doctor Substandard, Frequently-Out-of-Town Kid, Captain Punctual and Dessert-Purifying Girl are all members of the Legion of Substitute Superfluous Heroes.


I presume we are still waiting for the applications of Vagrant-Man, Pissant-Man, Irritant-Man, Bouffant-Man, Petulant-Man and Ambulant-Man to be ratified?

Comment by ClarkKent_DC on July 10, 2013 at 4:03pm

Captain Comics wrote:

I remember one Flash story where the Scarlet Speedster stopped a car full of crooks by removing the lug bolts on the wheels while the car was in motion. That stopped 'em, all right, but it sure was the long way around! I guess even superheroes (or their writers) get bored doing things the same ol' way!

Reminds me of the bit in the X-Men/Teen Titans crossover in which The Flash (Wally West) stopped a car full of crooks by taking apart the engine while on his way to meet the rest of the team. As he continues on his way, he thinks to himself, "I knew that semester of auto shop would come in handy one day." 


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