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 Mr. Silver Age on July 10, 2013 at 3:43pm

If a figure was truly a super-hero, he would respond to a request for help by the Justice League, whether he was a member or not.  It renders the purpose of "reserve membership" pointless.

I always figured the designation indicated they had a JLA signal device or some such contact info, so when the JLA was in trouble, they didn't just rely on news reports or smoke plumes to draw people in but could buzz them and they'd know to come right away. Otherwise, they might figure the JLA had it covered, or breaking away from a committee meeting might be tough so they wouldn't show.

In GL #43, Major Disaster found a way to let Iris and Carol know the secret identities of Flash and GL. At the end of the story, Flash said, "It's time to use your ring to make Iris and Carol forget our IDs," and GL rolled his eyes and said that was corny and even he was tired of doing it. So he did it a different, very similar way. I have a feeling that was the writer talking.

-- MSA

Comment by Captain Comics on July 10, 2013 at 3:08pm

"So are Captain Spatula and Wombat-Man, but they're almost always absent from the stories, "tied up on urgent cases of their own", because their editors at Mundane Comics don't want to over-expose them."

Bwa-ha-ha!

"I remember an issue of Astro City where the 1960s super-hero Supersonic admits that he frequently took the long way around in taking the bad guys out, but it was more fun than doing it easy."

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!

Comment by Commander Benson on July 10, 2013 at 2:53pm

"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."

So are Captain Spatula and Wombat-Man, but they're almost always absent from the stories, "tied up on urgent cases of their own", because their editors at Mundane Comics don't want to over-expose them.

 

 

Comment by Fraser Sherman on July 10, 2013 at 2:29pm

I think that's a problem with most GL-class super-heroes (Superman and Flash for instance). They'd win far too easily if they really put their powers to work.

I remember an issue of Astro City where the 1960s super-hero Supersonic admits that he frequently took the long way around in taking the bad guys out, but it was more fun than doing it easy.

Comment by The Baron on July 10, 2013 at 2:18pm

Ah, if only I could draw...

Comment by Captain Comics on July 10, 2013 at 2:16pm

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.

Comment by Captain Comics on July 10, 2013 at 2:09pm

Another reason I found Hal to be as dumb as a bag of hammers (aside from the fisticuffs thing) is that he had trouble with a lot of villains he shouldn't have. Your mention of the number of times his ring and the villain's weapon negated each other is spot on, Fraser, and it reminded me that even in those cases, there's an easy out: Fight long distance, by throwing large objects at the bad guy. The villain may be able to negate ring energy (presumably in a limited radius around him), but he can't negate a mountain landing on him.

The pinnacle of this idiocy was the intro of the Silver Age Goldface, a villain who wore yellow armor, and whose chief weapon was a limited-range spray-painter of sorts. Yellow armor? Oh noes! Hal is helpless!

Well, that's more or less how it was written, but as I was reading that story (at age 10 or so) I thought of about eleventy-billion ways a guy with a power ring could defeat Goldface without ever putting one's self in jeopardy. That would make for lousy comics, but so is Hal stupidly charging in and trying to punch a guy in armor.

Comment by The Baron on July 10, 2013 at 2:03pm

I suppose if one were trying to rationalize the notion of "reserve members", one could say that it would be useful to have heroes available that met one or more of the following criteria:

  1. They had been vetted at some point so that the League knew they were capable and of good character - you don't want to have a Crisis and find that the only folks available to help are Erratico and Doctor Substandard.
  2. The League had their contact information so that they could be easily summoned in an emergency - "The Frequently-Out-of-Town Kid is more powerful than Captain Punctual, but the latter is more reliable. I think we'll pick him for the reserve."
  3. Is not necessarily powerful enough for regular membership, but has a powerset that might be useful in particular situations - "Uh-oh - the Bad Baker has poisoned every birthday cake in the Tri-state area! Better call in  Dessert-Purifying Girl right away!"

 

Comment by Fraser Sherman on July 10, 2013 at 1:50pm

Okay, now that I've read all the comments, you've definitely pointed out factual flaws.

Part of my problem with the GL film was that they actually start by playing with the idea that Hal's fearlessness has to be tempered, but then his moment of crisis is generic self-doubt about his heroicness. Didn't work for me.

Hal's fondness for hitting punching people instead of the ring was explained in the late sixties as the desire to prove his own worth rather than just the power of the ring. I know Gil Kane apparently found the ring frustrating (he couldn't get the kind of all-out action he wanted to draw) so I've always suspected he pushed for more fisticuffs. There are an astonishing number of stories where Hal the villain somehow neutralize each other's weapons so they have to go mano-a-mano.

Comment by Fraser Sherman on July 10, 2013 at 1:42pm

So has anyone claimed that J'Onn was the soul of the team outside of post-Crisis retcons? That's not one I ever remembered?

An excellent job (particularly on the Happy Harbor point) though I feel obliged to defend Amazing World. The writers of that issue were quite clear this was not a collection of what was established about the team but an attempt to fill in the gaps. So while it may not be authentic Silver Age stuff, I find it acceptable as a retcon.

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