Deck Log Entry # 101 So, You Want to Join the Justice League . . . .

If you were a DC super-hero in the Silver Age, you knew you had made the big time when you were asked to join the Justice League of America.

Every Silver-Age super-team had its own method for inducting new members---and I’m going to be sprinkling in looks at most of them over the next few months---but it was the Justice League’s which was the most formalised. There wasn’t a more exclusive club of super-heroes. You couldn’t set out to join. There wasn’t an application process. The JLA would decide if it wanted you.

The idea was that the Justice League was an elite group, the best of the best. That was the principle on which its membership process was based. It was also a matter of fiction following real life.

When editor Julius Schwartz and writer Gardner Fox set out to resurrect the old super-team concept which had proved so popular back with the Golden Age’s Justice Society of America, they went with the DC characters that had proved to be most popular with the fans. The newly revived Flash was an obvious choice. The modern Scarlet Speedster’s appearances in Showcase had sold before the spinner racks could stop turning and had kicked off the Silver Age of comics. The updated Green Lantern had also captured the enthusiasm of DC’s readership, so he was in the club.

Four other heroes were chosen for the group based on longevity. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were the only members of DC’s long-underwear crowd to have their titles continuously published from their beginnings, back in the late ‘30’s and early ‘40’s. Aquaman, while never having graduated to his own title (that would come, in 1962), had been a reliable back-up series, appearing in More Fun Comics and Adventure Comics since 1941. Clearly these characters had legs enough to survive even the super-hero doldrums following the ebb of the Golden Age.

For the final member, Schwartz and Fox selected J’onn J’onzz, the Manhunter from Mars. In some ways, he was a curious choice. The Manhunter was one of the few costumed stars to be introduced in that interregnum between the Golden and Silver Ages, having debuted as a back-up strip in Detective Comics # 225 (Nov., 1955). He had been a constant presence ever since, but probably because for most of his existence, he had been only technically a super-hero. In the beginning, J’onn J’onzz was a Martian stranded on Earth, and he had taken the human form of John Jones, police detective. For the first few years of the series, the focus was on John Jones, secretly using his Martian abilities to help solve his cases. His normal, more super-hero-like appearance was rarely seen for more than a couple of panels in each story, and sometimes, not at all.

After the Flash’s revival in 1956 indicated that super-heroes were “in” again, the thrust of the Manhunter’s adventures were adjusted accordingly. He performed more and more of his feats as J’onn J’onzz (albeit most of the time while invisible, still concealing his presence on Earth), and Detective Jones began to take a back seat. Finally, in Detective Comics # 273 (Nov., 1959), he was publically “outed” and from then on, operated openly as an honest-to-god super-hero. (His revealing came only three months before the Justice League debuted in The Brave and the Bold # 28, cover-dated Feb.-Mar., 1960. Coïncidence, or collusion between editors Julie Schwartz and Jack Schiff? I’ve never come across anything definitive; maybe one of you folks can tell me.)

So, the Martian Manhunter’s fan-popularity was “kinda sorta”. Given that, in 1960, DC’s stable of super-heroes was pretty small to begin with, MM seemed enough of a favourite to get the last seat at the council table. Except for the fact that the Green Arrow had a strong claim, too. Like Aquaman, the Emerald Archer had never been a headliner, but also like the Sea King, he had been continuously published as a back-up series since 1941.

JLA mavens have discussed this for decades. Why did J’onn J’onzz get the nod, instead of Green Arrow? Or why not just include them both and have eight charter members, instead of seven? Again, nobody seems to know for sure, at least not that has appeared in print, and we can’t ask Schwartz or Fox.

But, for whatever reason, the Manhunter was considered a bigger fan draw, and the membership of the JLA was composed of DC’s seven most popular super-heroes, at least as Julie Schwartz saw it.

This was the standard used by Schwartz and Fox to determine who would be added to the group as new members. As DC began to crank out more and more costumed heroes, a greater base of potential membership candidates developed. Schwartz could afford to be more discriminating in his selections for JLA-hood.

As best he could, Fox installed in his Justice League stories a cachet which reflected the real-life standards that went into choosing new members. Guest-stars and hangers-on didn’t get invited on the team just because they helped out. You couldn’t even ask to join. You had to be invited.

(O.K., Snapper Carr got his foot in the door just for some dubious assistance he provided in that first JLA adventure. But that got him only an honorary membership. And Fox was stingy with even those---only one other character received a non-standard membership in the League in the eight years Fox wrote the series.)

Even being considered to join the League required a specific process. There was no “Hey, this hero helped us out on a case---let’s make him a member” nonsense. The Justice League conducted an annual membership meeting. Its by-laws were very exacting on the point that only one new member could be admitted to the group every year. Wonder Woman pointed this out at the first membership meeting shown in JLA # 4 (Apr.-May, 1961). Right there, that cut down on a hero’s chances of getting in---as Hawkgirl learnt in JLA # 31 (Nov., 1965).

During the meeting, a member could nominate anyone he had a mind to, after which the nominees were discussed during a period of “friendly argument”. This process culminated in a closed voting session---the only time we actually saw the actual voting was in JLA # 14 (Sep., 1962)---and the candidate who received the greatest number of votes was offered a place with the Justice League.

That was it---neat, simple, and all Robert’s Rules of Order-ly. Dissent was never an issue---if there ever was any. Two of the newly elected inductees---Green Arrow and the Atom---were shown to have been chosen unanimously. So much so in the case of G.A. that the vote was suspended and he was elected by motion. It was probably so for Metamorpho, too; the discussion for that year’s membership meeting concluded with Green Lantern stating that the Element Man looked “like a shoo-in . . . .” We never saw how the vote went for Hawkman’s admission, but all of the members sure looked happy about it.

It was another acknowledgement to the eliteness of being JLA member that there was no initiation or provisionary period. Once you were in, you were in. The notion was that an individual was admitted to the Justice League based on his past proven performance as a super-hero---they already knew what he could do---and there was no need to test him.

This concept further holds up by examining the nominees who didn’t make the cut. Adam Strange was suggested twice (JLA # 4 and # 42) and the Elongated Man once (JLA # 42). Hawkman was also nominated once, in JLA # 4, but was rejected in favour of Green Arrow. In each of these cases, it’s fairly easy to deduce why they wound up on the “No” pile.

Adam Strange, while the “Champion of Rann”, didn’t operate as a super-hero on Earth. He wasn’t a crime-fighter in the strictest sense. And the Elongated Man really wasn’t in their---ahem---league. The only time he had faced super-villains was while teamed with the Flash; on his own, all he did was solve mysteries and catch a few run-of-the-mill crooks in the process.

As for Hawkman, at the time of his first nomination, he and Hawkgirl had only just arrived on Earth. (At the time that JLA # 4 hit the stands, the Hawks had appeared in only their second issue of Mystery in Space.) Two years later, he had established a track record which earned him a place in the JLA.

Real world, of course, the hero chosen for membership was the one Julius Schwartz felt was the most popular with fans. The thinking went: if the character’s own title was selling huge, putting him in the Justice League would increase the JLA title’s sales.

Once a hero had been selected for JLA membership, the next step was to contact him, notify him of his admittance, and bring him back to the secret sanctuary for some cake and punch. It usually didn’t work out like that. At the time of their elections, Green Arrow and the Atom were smack in the middle of trouble that would require the involvement of the League to clear up. That was also the case with Metamorpho, with the additional wrinkle that he didn’t want to be a JLAer. He walked away from the group with no hard feelings. In fact, the Leaguers opted to make the Element Man a “stand-by member”. Maybe there were hard feelings, after all, because the Justice League never knocked on his door after that, no matter how dire the emergency.

The only time we ever saw the notification part work the way it was supposed to was when Hawkman was elected in JLA # 31. And there was a small bump in that one too, since the Atom had to explain to Hawkgirl why her hubby got a club membership and she didn’t. (That pesky one-member-at-a-time by-law, remember?) She was gracious about the whole thing, though.

We also found out what kind of loot you got for being a JLA member. You got a miniaturised device which broadcast the emergency signal. It also contained a communicator. And you got a golden key which emitted the magnetic impulse to open the door of the secret sanctuary.

There was also a humdinger of a plaque which testified to the hero’s “great deeds and stirring battles” against evil.

Quite a bag of goodies. That plaque would be just thing for my “I love me” wall in my den.

Views: 357

Comment by Eric L. Sofer on March 23, 2010 at 7:42am
Commander, another great piece, as you always present. I have two discussions to offer you.

ITEM: I would propose that J'onn J'onzz got into the Justice League based on certain considerations. The JLA seemed to be a collection of super heroes, as opposed to the Justice Society's gathering of mystery men (although at the end of All-Star, most of them were powered heroes.) With J'onn, they got a character loaded with powers. With Green Arrow, they got Batman with a bow.

Gardner Fox seemed to want to follow the story set up he had done with the Justice Society; Superman and Batman were technically members, but only appeared rarely, if at all. MfM brought a Superman level quality to the table, and was in every issue.

His appearance was a little unusual, but his story didn't overwhelm his presence, as opposed to Robotman, who might have been just a little too "non-standard" and whose story HAD to be present; a human brain in a robot body couldn't be just brushed aside that easily, could it?

And considering the powerhouse characters that were appearing in Justice League, maybe MfM was a case of the reverse; this was a character that somebody wanted to get better ratings, and so - give him great exposure in the JLA!

Personally, I wondered why the JLA never even considered Captain Comet. But there you have it... which leads to my question for you to ponder.

We're pretty familiar with the fact that in the 40s, DC Comics and All-American Comics acted as one company... except for a span when their editors in chief (or whomever) got into a tiff, and split for a few months. My question to you is - if that break had never healed, who do you think would have been DC's Justice League? And who would have been the All-Americans (as a possible team name)? Or is that so unlikely as to be inconceivable? Personally, I think it might have made a dynamite Elseworlds, but that's just one Fogey's opinion... :D

I remain,
Eric L. Sofer
The Silver Age Fogey
Comment by Travis Herrick (Modular Mod) on March 23, 2010 at 10:48am
I would propose that J'onn J'onzz got into the Justice League based on certain considerations. The JLA seemed to be a collection of super heroes, as opposed to the Justice Society's gathering of mystery men (although at the end of All-Star, most of them were powered heroes.) With J'onn, they got a character loaded with powers. With Green Arrow, they got Batman with a bow.

That was exactly what I was thinking regarding picking J'onn over Green Arrow.
Comment by Commander Benson on March 23, 2010 at 10:41pm
Always glad to address your topics of discussion, Fogey! Let's take a look at the matter of the possible reason(s) J'onn J'onzz was picked---especially over the Green Arrow---as one of the charter members of the JLA.

" . . . as opposed to the Justice Society's gathering of mystery men . . . ."

It's doesn't really affect your point, Eric, but I would disagree that the original membership of the Justice Society was more composed of "mystery men", vice "super-heroes". I am assuming that you define "mystery man" as a masked-and-possibly-caped hero who fights crime with just his own natural athletic ability, and maybe some gadgets, and no super-powers.

Of the charter members of the JSA, only the Atom and the Sandman fit that definition. All of the others possessed super-powers (Doctor Fate, the Flash, the Spectre), or such gimmicks that they may as well have been super-powers (the Green Lantern, Hawkman, Hourman). That balance didn't change significantly even after the Flash, GL, and Hourman left the group, to be replaced by Johnny Thunder, Doctor Mid-Nite, and Starman.

I don't think Schwartz and Fox were specifically looking to avoid having too many non-super-powered heroes in the Justice League, but I think you might be on to something with another comment you made . . . .

"Superman and Batman were technically members, but only appeared rarely, if at all. MfM brought a Superman level quality to the table, and was in every issue."

There is definitely the possibility that the Manhunter was considered because of this. It depends on how things were discussed when Schwartz first presented the idea of creating the Justice League. If it was that Mort Weisinger and Jack Schiff told Schwartz early on that, yes, he could include Superman and Batman in the group, but he couldn't use them too often. Then, yes, I see that Schwartz would have wanted J'onn J'onzz in the League to be the team's heavy hitter, an ersatz Superman, so to speak.

I've always been of the opinion that Gardner Fox didn't really have a handle on the Manhunter's more esoteric, non-Kryptonian-like powers. Not that it was his fault; Jack Schiff and Jack Miller weren't consistent with them, either. But it didn't matter; not if Fox was going to use M.M. as a substitute Man of Steel. Then all Fox had to know what that J'onn J'onzz was super-strong, reasonably indestructable, had super-vision and super-breath, and could fly. That was all Fox needed to know.

The problem arose when Superman (and Batman) began to take an active part in League cases (starting with JLA # 10 [Mar., 1962]). Then, Fox's reluctance to show M.M. using his other Martian abilities became a drawback; without those, and with Superman in the game, the Manhunter became redundant.

In any event, I think the fact that J'onn J'onzz could be used to fulfil the Superman rôle was the deciding factor. I figure Schwartz rather estimated that the Manhunter and Green Arrow were more or less equal in popularity, but---as you pointed out---he wanted a super-powered hero over "Batman with a bow". That Schwarz recognised that G.A. had a strong following was shown by the fact that the Emerald Archer was the first new member inducted into the League.

"Personally, I wondered why the JLA never even considered Captain Comet."

I think that further supports the idea that Schwartz intended to populate the Justice League with the most popular heroes in DC's stable. Captain Comet debuted in 1951 and saw his last published adventure in 1954. Not only was that a mere four-year run, he hadn't been seen in six years.

Contrast that to either (1) the Green Arrow, who had seen print non-stop since 1941; or (2) J'onn J'onzz, who was still fresh in the readers' minds, and whose series had been going for five years and was still going. Comet just hadn't proven to be popular enough.

Or, we may be just assuming that Schwartz put this much thought into it. Could be he just forgot about Green Arrow, and used JLA # 4 to rectify his oversight.

We'll probably never know.
Comment by Commander Benson on March 23, 2010 at 11:27pm
"We're pretty familiar with the fact that in the 40s, DC Comics and All-American Comics acted as one company... except for a span when their editors in chief (or whomever) got into a tiff, and split for a few months. My question to you is - if that break had never healed, who do you think would have been DC's Justice League? And who would have been the All-Americans (as a possible team name)?"

Now, that's an interesting question! I never gave any thought to that before. In thinking about this, I realised that there is a risk of unconsciously putting favourite characters on the list, so I tried to think about it as objectively as possible. I also assumed certain premises were in place. First, that Julie Schwartz would be in charge of creating the Justice League for National, just as he was in the real circumstances. Second, that All-American would similarly revive its old Golden-Age characters (though, not necessarily with the updating that Schwartz gave his resurrections). And third, that both groups would have an initial membership of seven. (For no real reason other than it simplified matters.

I also think it's safe to presume that Schwartz would have employed the same kind of thinking toward this alternate JLA that he did with the real one. That made selecting the membership of the alternate DC's Justice League a bit easier.

I think that version of the JLA would have included Superman and Batman---it would have had to, as DC's flagship characters.

Schwartz would want to add a speedster to the group---it's a classic super-power and it would equate to the Justice Society's Flash. The only choice there is Johnny Quick.

When Schwartz revived the Flash and Green Lantern, he wanted to upgrade their origins with emphasis on science and science fiction. Presuming the alternate Schwartz would feel the same way, he probably would have discarded magic-based characters like Doctor Fate and the Spectre.

Starman, with his technology-based gravity/cosmic rod would have made a perfect substitute for the original Green Lantern and his magic-based power ring.

If we're going with the notion---as we discussed in the last couple of posts---that Schwartz would want to avoid putting too many non-super-powered heroes in the JLA, two slots would go to Aquaman (again, it would go to his popularity based on the longevity of his series) and Hourman, whose powers were science-based and would be easily updated.

As much as I hate such thinking as "The group needs a female," or "The group needs" anything else, I do think that Schwartz would have wanted to include a female on the team. With Wonder Woman, in our scenario, being an All-American character, this leaves precious few super-heroines to choose from. Of the ones that were available, I think Schwartz would have seen the Black Canary as the best-remembered.

Thus, our alternate-DC JLA roll call would be:

Black Canary
Johnny Quick

As for All-American, it's probably even simpler. The editor of its super-team would go with A-A's most popular super-heroes from the Golden Age:

the Atom
Doctor Mid-Nite
the Flash
Green Lantern
Wonder Woman

It's a nice mix of magic-based and science-based powers, and only one "mystery-man" type, the Atom. (Two, if you stretch a point and include Dr. Mid-Nite.) Johnny Thunder would have been discarded as too silly a character to use in the modern Silver Age.

Those are my choices, but I've only given it an hour's thought or so. You might have some suggestions which appeal to me more, or I might think of better choices at three o'clock in the morning.
Comment by Luke Blanchard on March 24, 2010 at 3:14am
According to the paid circulation figures compiled by John Jackson Miller, DC’s reporting 1960 titles sold as follows:

3) Superman DC 810,000
4) Superboy DC 635,000
6) Batman DC 502,000
7) Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen DC 498,000
8) World's Finest Comics DC 476,000
10) Action Comics DC 458,000
11) Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane DC 458,000
12) Adventure Comics DC 438,000
16) Blackhawk DC 316,000
17) Detective Comics DC 314,000
18) Flash DC 298,000
20) Mystery in Space DC 248,000
21) Challengers of the Unknown DC 228,000
23) Brave & Bold DC 214,000
24) Showcase DC 213,000
25) Wonder Woman DC 213,000
27) Sugar & Spike DC 209,000
28) My Greatest Adventure DC 208,000
29) House of Mystery DC 208,000
30) Strange Adventures DC 207,000
31) House of Secrets DC 194,000
32) Fox & The Crow DC 193,000
35) Tales of the Unexpected DC 192,000
38) Tomahawk DC 180,000
39) All-American Men of War DC 176,000
40) Our Fighting Forces DC 175,000
41) Our Army at War DC 172,000
42) Star-Spangled War Stories DC 169,000
44) All Star Western DC 154,000

At this time Action, Adventure and Detective were all monthly anthologies with a dominant lead feature (“Superboy” was the lead feature in Adventure). Superman, Superboy and Batman had higher average paid circulations, but only came out eight times a year. At the time profitability depended on the percentage of circulated issues sold, but I have no information as to what the raw circulations for any of these titles were.

It’s easy to think of J’onn’s feature as an also-ran since it was a back-up behind Batman in Detective, but more readers were buying Detective than Flash. Moreover, Flash was another eight-timeser. So arguably, more readers were reading J’onn’s feature. On the other hand, readers who buy anthologies don’t necessarily pay much attention to the back-up features, and Flash and Wonder Woman will have been recognisable to readers not buying their titles from their covers.
Comment by Luke Blanchard on March 24, 2010 at 6:08am
All Star Comics started out as an anthology title, and the initial membership of the JSA was mostly the same as the line-up from the previous issue. In contrast, the initial JLA line-up consisted of characters who already had features.

Although the JSA's initial line-up included characters from both companies, All Star Comics was an All-American title. To an extent the Seven Soldiers of Victory was National/DC's equivalent, but their stories mostly appeared before the DC/AA separation period (in 1944-45). The National/DC heroes were dropped from the JSA during the separation and not brought back afterwards, so the JSA’s final line-up consisted of former AA characters, who by then had all lost their features, and the post-AA Black Canary.

Julie Schwartz initially worked for AA, so if AA hadn't been absorbed by DC, he might never have ended up working there.

I’ve read that the thinking behind the revival of the Flash was something like “we haven’t put the Flash out in x years, why not give it a try?” The Flash and Green Lantern had both been very prominent characters at one time. In addition to their monthly slots and their appearances as members of the JSA, they’d been given their own titles and appeared in Comic Cavalcade. I don’t know it would’ve made as much sense to try reviving the discontinued National/DC superhero features. And in fact, the only one DC did try in the Silver Age was the Spectre. (But it did also publish the Starman/Black Canary and Hourman/Dr. Fate team-ups.)

Of the discontinued National/DC superheroes, the Sandman held onto his cover-slot the longest (losing it when More Fun became a humour title and its line-up was moved into Adventure). But one should perhaps count the Guardian from the Newsboy Legion's feature, which continued on the covers of Star-Spangled Comics a little longer.
Comment by Philip Portelli on March 28, 2010 at 9:04am
The "real" reason why Hawkman took so long to be made a member was that it took awhile for him to get his own feature in "Mystery In Space". Membership depended on having a solo spot which is why Metamorpho had to be addressed. Good thing he didn't join since his book only lasted 17 issues which would have made him the member who was cancellled the quickest.

Also Black Canary, who was created after the DC/AA rift and reunion, could technically be labelled an AA character since she debuted in "Flash Comics". By that point, only AA characters were in "All-Star" except for Superman and Batman in #36.
Comment by Luke Blanchard on March 28, 2010 at 10:42am
My post was misleading as I wrote it. The last change in the JSA's line-up was Black Canary's replacement of Johnny Thunder, in All Star Comics ##39/40. At that point all the active members still had their own features, but the JSA's feature in All Star outlasted these by a good margin, except for Wonder Woman's.


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