Saturday, July 30, 2011

Crisis Part 25 - Masters Of The Universes!

When I was a new fan my comic book tastes were broad and inclusive, limited only by my meager cash resources. I read Marvel, Charlton, Harvey, Gold Key, Archie, and of course DC. The first DC character I latched onto was the Flash and the very first Flash story I read had him go to Earth Prime, and not only was I not confused by this parallel Earth story, I was fascinated and it remains one of my all-time favorite DC stories.

"The Flash--Fact or Fiction?" is not strictly a crossover tale, but this 1968 classic does introduce the world of Earth Prime, our world where comic book heroes are just that, the stuff of comics. The Flash ends up here after clashing with an alien creature named the "Nok" which has escaped from a space zoo transport. The Nok attacks the Flash propelling him into another dimension and another Earth on which he discovers he's just a comic book hero like Jay Garrick is on Earth-1. Flash needs his Cosmic Treadmill to return home but has no resources so he visits the DC Comics offices and meets up with Julie Schwartz. Schwartz is soon convinced of the fantastic situation and helps Flash, who quickly puts together a treadmill and rushes back to Earth-1 to defeat the Nok.

I've not mentioned Schwartz in these reports, since his role as editor is largely an invisible one, but as it turns out none of the crossover stories would have happened without him. All of the stories I've taken a look at happened in books he edited and he had a hand in plotting all of them I'd reckon. So it's fitting that he actually turns up in one of the crossovers, and it all started so to speak with this Flash story.

Later in the Flash series, Cary Bates, the book's writer ends up on Earth-1 also, where he helps out the Flash too. This 1974 story sets up in a manner of speaking the big crossover which would happen only a few months later in 1975.

"Where On Earth Am I?" was written by Cary Bates and Elliot S! Maggin and drawn by the ever reliable Dick Dillin who is joined by his longtime inker Frank McLaughlin. The cover is by Ernie Chua/Chan. The story begins in the office of Julie Schwartz where Bates and Maggin are hashing out the latest Justice League plot. They are stuck but Bates remembers the Cosmic Treadmill that Schwartz has and soon enough has used it and has disappeared. He turns up on Earth-2 and he is changed, having villainous thoughts and superpowers as well. He uses his new powers to help some robbers escape Johnny Thunder and Robin. Back on Earth Prime Schwartz and Maggin decide to send Maggin to get Bates, but Maggin ends up in the ocean on Earth-1 where he is saved by Aquaman. Quickly Aquaman gets him to the League satellite headquarters where Maggin convinces the League members Batman, Hawkman, Green Arrow and Black Canary of the truth of his story by revealing their secret identities. His story is confirmed by the Flash who turns up. On Earth-2 the Justice Society (Hourman, Wonder Woman, Dr.Mid-Nite, Johnny Thunder, and Robin) are battling some out of control plants and defeated by same controlled by the evil Bates. The League meanwhile decides to go to Earth-2 after it is determined Bates has gone there and they immediately encounter six villains (Icicle, Sportsmaster, Huntress, Gambler, Shade, and Wizard) stealing some aircraft from a Navy carrier. They quickly subdue the villains only to discover that the baddies are the Justice Society members in disguise and further that the defeated heroes are dead. Cary Bates takes credit for the scheme in the final panel.

"Avenging Ghosts of the Justice Society!" is again by the Bates, Maggin, Dillin, and McLauglin team. Ernie Chua/Chan supplies one of his best ever covers for the series. The story picks up with the League members memorializing the fallen JSofA members. Cary Bates is still in the middle of his crime spree and we discover that he works for the six villains seen in part one. A mysterious misty presence though makes itself known and plans vengeance for the fallen Society. The League is filling in for the dead Society members until they can figure something else out. Elliot S! Maggin is captured by Bates and imprisoned in a gigantic bubble gum bubble. The League is attracted to a black portal which takes them to the villains while the Spectre makes his presence known. A battle rages between the heroes and the villains with the heroes losing because they are haunted by the guilt of the fallen Society members who they killed while in the guise of the very villains they now fight. The Spectre implores the highest powers to allow him to revive the fallen JSofA members while Maggin tries to undermine the powers of Bates by insulting his writing skills. The combined efforts weaken the effects of the guilt on the Leaguers and the Society members suddenly appear hale and hearty. Quickly the villains are beaten and even more quickly Bates and Maggin are sent back to Earth Prime where Julius Schwartz is waiting anxious to get the next story out.

(Flash--Fact or Fiction? contained in this collection.)

This is not the greatest story ever told by any means. The writers seem a bit too intrigued with showing off their wit and not clearly hammering out the plot details such as they are. Perhaps they considered the story just so absurd that there was no need to sweat the small stuff, but it hurts. The motivations of the characters are poorly examined. It is the Wizard who is controlling Bates, but that is not at all really clear and is supposed more than stated.

Further the League and the Society don't come off in these stories looking all that competent. The Spectre's role is very offbeat, with him essentially performing a deus ex machina ending which solve the whole mess. Maybe the writers were playing with the cliches of the storytelling and making these elements explicit, but the whole story is a jumble.

Ironically the first half of this story was reprinted just this past week in the Retro Justice League of America book. The first story deals with Earth Prime, so they included half of this crossover to fill the book out. It's a shame they didn't both halves in, since if I was a reader with no other resources I'd have been quite miffed to find a cliffhanger in this one-shot offering.

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  1. Funnily enough, issue #179 was my first Flash story as well, and one of the first comic books I ever read. And like you, I wasn't the least bit confused by him traveling to our Earth either.

    (Also, Green Lantern teamed up with his Earth-2 counterpart the following month, and the month after that was the Red Tornado story in JLA...)

  2. I've been learning just how spotty my early comics buying was working on this project. Certain issues you happen to get hold of have a really powerful influence, and it's often just a fluke which one you'll be able to find, or it was that way back in the days of the newsstands only.

    As for the issue of clarity, I'm firmly convinced that no fans ever get confused save through confused storytelling, and never ever because of a complex back story and rich environment. Those are opportunities for stories, not excuses not to tell stories. At some level, at least as regards storytelling, the Crisis on Infinite Earths was a cop out.

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