Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Crisis Part 14 - Saga Of The Black Spheres!


1967 was a transitional year for the annual Justice League and Justice Society crossovers. The artist on all of the crossovers, and all of the League adventures since the very beginning was Mike Sekowsky. He'd soon be leaving the League for other opportunities, and this was his last crossover event. But his final crossover cover featuring the adult Robin of Earth-2 (inked by Murphy Anderson) is a knockout.


"The Super-Crisis That Struck Earth-Two!" was written by Gardner Fox and for a final time by the team of Mike Sekowsky and Sid Greene. The story begins simply enough on Earth-2 in China when a bandit named How Chu is about to be executed by firing squad. Before he can be shot a mysterious black sphere enters his body and gives him super strength which he uses to escape. In Chicago an identical sphere enters the body of jewel craving stenographer Claire Morton, in London one enters the body of money-hungry business Horace Rowland, and likewise a former baseball player named Marty Baxter gets entered. All four of these people become super-villains. The JSofA meets to deal with this threat. The team consists of Mr.Terrific, Wonder Woman, Wildcat, Hawkman, Hourman, and for the first time initiate Robin the "Man" Wonder. They divide into teams and go off to battle the super-villain threat. Robin and Wildcat face off against Marty (Smashing Sportsman) Baxter, and Wonder Woman faces Claire (Gem Girl) Morton. The JSofA are defeated.

In Part 2 Mr.Terrific and Hawkman face off against Horace (Money Master) Rowland, and Hourman battles How-Chu (who doesn't get a nifty nickname). Again the JSofA members are defeated. They regroup where Johnny Thunder is waiting and they describe the defeats. Johnny sends his Thunderbolt off to battle the four villains, but T-Bolt returns defeated. Then Thunderbolt is ordered to bring the Justice League to Earth-2 and suddenly Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and Superman appear. They've been battling a similar threat and have had equal misfortune. The teams agree to pool resources to solve the Earth-2 problem then apply it to Earth-1. Thunderbolt tells them that the Black Spheres are actually alien intelligences who have entered the bodies of humans to survive and soon will take them over body and soul. The stage is set for the next issue.



"The Negative-Crisis on Earths One-Two!" by Fox, Sekowsky, and Greene picks up the action with the combined JLofA and JSofA looking for Black Spheres that failed to bond with humans. They mine and process these Black Sphere radiations and imbue four of their members (Wonder Woman, Hourman, Green Lantern, and Flash) with the power suspecting the energy might pervert their will. Then they divide into teams to battle the villains. But the team of Superman, Robin and Hourman soon come to blows when Hourman turns bad. He is defeated with water. Then the team of Hawkman, Green Arrow and Flash likewise fallout when the Flash turns villain. He is defeated with an allergic reaction to wisteria. Mr.Terrific and Wildcat have to fight Green Lantern but find his weakness is no longer yellow but wood like the Earth-2 GL. Wonder Woman and Johnny Thunder fight also but Thunder is able to defeat the Amazon by making her laugh with his rather bad jokes. Realizing that laughter might defeat all the Black Sphere villains, Johnny goes to their hideout and begins to tell his lame jokes. But they work and the baddies do laugh purging them of the hostile raditions. The heroes gather afterwards, decide the villains deserved not to be blamed for what they done under the influence of the spheres and then the League makes plans to use humor to defeat the threat on Earth-1.


(Cover likely inspired by JLA#56 featuring doppleganter JLA.)

This tale is not quite as gonzo as the previous year's effort, but it's still a wacky story. The pacing of these two issues were notably quicker than previous crossovers, with a remarkable amount of the story taking place off stage. This also adds to the slapstick quality of the tale. The villains are rather peculiar, people overcome by their passions makes sense, but they are never really dealt with in terms of character after they become bad. The resolutions seem to come very quicky, almost in a pro forma way. This is probably on account of the camp way comics were interpreted at the time.

Clearly the Batman TV show influence is still being felt, if only in the way Robin of Earth-2 is featured on the cover of the first half. The cover to the second half of the tale by Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson is one of the classic images of the era, and spawned many swipes over the years. I remember seeing both of these covers in ads of the period and I yearned to read the stories underneath. The stories were disappointments only in the sense that neither cover really conveys what went on in each story. Robin is not featured to any extent once he's introduced and the face off between heroes does happen but not in the direct fashion on the cover, and not between the heroes pictured.


The next year will bring change to the crossovers and to Earth-2 in a big way.

(Here's the link where I found this masterpiece.)

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2 comments:

  1. I remember this cover primarily for the adult Robin in a costume that made no sense except to evoke memories of Batman.
    Interestingly, because the Earth-2 Wonder Woman appears, there's no Earth-1 WW this time, since they're drawn exactly the same! (unlike the other JLA/JSA counterparts who have different costumes, except her and Superman)

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  2. The Earth-1 League contingent was really sparse this time. I've noticed reading these in order that Fox really liked to give the Society the lead in these stories, more like they took over the book for a couple of issues each year rather than really co-star. I'll have more to say on this next time.

    The Earth-2 Robin's costume is a really saga isn't it. I rather like it on the cover, but it works less well in the comic itself.

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