Sunday, July 31, 2011

Crisis Part 26 - Rockin' In Eternity!

By the time of the 1976 JSofA and JLofA crossover, a lot had happened in the broader DC universe, namely the Justice Society had at long last gotten their own series again in the revived All-Star Comics. It's a wonderful run, but it did take the special bloom off the annual crossover event since seeing these Earth-2 legends was much more commonplace now. So the special sauce in these annual events needed to be something else and in 1976, the added spice was the revival of the Fawcett heroes.

DC had long ago sued Fawcett Comics out of business claiming that Captain Marvel was a rip-off of Superman. The famous case resulted in the Marvel Family disappearing from the shelves and becoming a misty part of comics history. When I first encountered Captain Marvel it was in Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic Book Heroes and Feiffer was only allowed at that time to show one page of the Big Red Cheese's origin for historical purposes.

So it's obviously ironic when DC bought the defunct Fawcett heroes and revived the Marvel Family at last in the pages of Shazam!. Now in this crossover trilogy we'd get a glimpse of other Fawcett heroes not seen for many decades.

"Crisis In Eternity!" was plotted by E. Nelson Bridwell, scripted by Marty Pasko and featured artwork by the stalwart team of Dick Dillin and Frank McLaughlin. Ernie Chua/Chan supplied the covers for all three issues in this trilogy. The story begins with King Kull, the last of the Beast-Men from Earth-S (the Earth where the Fawcett cheroes lived, the "S" standing for "Shazam"). He wanted revenge and started that revenge by using a torpor ray to stop the gods on the Rock of Eternity, the same gods who gave power to the Marvel Family. Only Mercury escaped with a plan he got telepathically from Shazam the wizard.

Chapter 1 "Gather Ye Heroes While Ye May!" shows Mercury collecting his superheroes from three Earths. He gets Green Arrow, Superman, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and Hawkgirl from Earth-1. He gets Flash, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Johnny Thunder, Robin and Batman (his first crossover appearance)from Earth-2. And from Earth-S the representatives are Ibis the Invincible, Spy Smasher, Bulletman, Bulletgirl, Mr.Scarlet and Pinky the Whiz Kid. The heroes gather and divide into to teams to meet the threats.

Chapter 2 "Crisis On A Lost Continent" has Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, and Spy Smasher take on Queen Clea of the Amazons, Blockbuster, Penguin, and IBAC to save Earth-2 on the risen island of Atlantis. Superman and Wonder Woman dispatch Clea and her enslaved Blockbuster. Arrow defeats the Penguin, and Spy Smasher beats IBAC by getting him to say his name turning him into his inoffensive other self. But the true threat to the is a cloud which uses gravity fields to crush surface features into the Earth itself. Superman is able to compress this offending cloud using his super-breath and send it into space.

"Crisis On Earth-S!" is by the same creative team of Bridwell, Pasko, Dillin, and McLaughlin.

Chapter 3 "The Volcano Connection" shows the heroes Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Bulletman, and Bulletgirl battling an erupting volcano which spews material which transforms people into stone. Hawkman is affected slightly. The scene shifts to Billy Batson (the boy who would be Captain Marvel) and he reports about the weird events on Earth-S including a walking skyscraper.

Chapter 4 "The Sting of Laughter...The Splash of Tears..." showcases the heroes Batman, Robin, Mr.Scarlet and Pinky. They battle the Earth-2 Joker and an Earth-S villain named Weeper. These two commit jewel robberies by animating the jewels which walk out of the store behind them. Batman himself has been afflicted though by a jaw partially transformed into steel. The combined sleuths defeat the villains, but changes continue to happen as Pinky's hair acquires a diamond consistency. The heroes learn that the true threat is posed by Dr.Light and The Shade and a world which is now torn between unchanging sides of perpetual day and night.

Chapter 5 "Chaos in Chiarscuro!" has Bulletman and Hawkman battling the Shade and his darkness but are concerned when the Shade's cane seems not to be in control of the dark. Meanwhile Bulletgirl and Hawkgirl battle Dr.Light and discover that he too doesn't seem to have complete control of the sunshine. It's discovered that two satellites are the offending devices and using the Shade's cane and Dr.Light's gun the two satellites are smashed into one another cancelling the threat to Earth-S. The transformations of all kind immediately vanish.

"Crisis In Tomorrow!" is again by the creative team of Bridwell, Pasko, Dillin, and McLaughlin.

Chapter 6 "The Odds Against Tomorrow!" begins in the futuristic domed city on Earth-1 which comes under attack by Mr.Atom the giant robot from Earth-S. That threat is confronted by the combined forces of the Green Lanterns and Ibis the Invincible. But they are stymied by Mr.Atoms black aura. Meanwhile the two Flashes and Mercury rush around the domed city saving the people and doing what can be done to forestall property damage.

Chapter 7 "Death Is A Green-Skinned Computer" reveals that Mr.Atom is assisted by a flying saucer. Green Lantern of Earth-1 investigates and finds longtime Superman foe Brainiac behind the threat of Mr.Atom's black protective aura and further he is using the energy of the Flashes to power his ultimate scheme.

Chapter 8 "When Titans Clash!" has the heroes face off again Mr.Atom who gets hold of the Ibis stick and commands it to send Ibis into the heart of sun. But a protective spell on the wand reverses the effect and Mr.Atom himself is sent hurtling into space out of sight. The city saved, the heroes plan to reassemble for the final assault on the Rock of Eternity where King Kull is encamped. But Kull uses Red Kryptonite from Earth-2 to transform the Man of Steel into a mad killer and sets him to assault his comrades. On Earth-S though Johnny Thunder has arrived to visit the Marvel Family trapped in their mortal forms and uses his Thunderbolt to substitute for the lightning normally sent by Shazam. The Marvel Family now unleashed they race to the Rock of Eternity to defeat King Kull. Then Captain Marvel flies to confront the berserker Superman and just as the two titans are about the crash into one another Marvel calls down Shazam's lightning, changing himself into Billy Batson and driving out Superman's rage. Superman saves Batson and the threat ended the assembled heroes of the three Earths fly off to their respective homes.

(The Marvel Family)

This three-part crossover is a hectic race of a story with a pace that never slackens at all. That frankly is a bit of a problem as we are confronted with so many different heroes and villains that scorecards are absolutely required to make sense of the action. The stories seem frankly to lack a focus, a central figure through which the furious action can be processed. In previous crossovers the Red Tornado provided that filter. In the previous year the visiting writers Bates and Maggin played the role. But in this story there seems to be no true center. Shazam might've been a good candidate for it, likewise Billy Batson who does report on the action from time to time.

I personally would've loved to have seen more done with the Earth-2 Batman who shows up in this one almost by accident and gets no mention at all from the Earth-1 heroes who I'd imagine might be eager to meet him after all this time. He does get some good cover time on the second issue of the crossover I'll have to admit. It was nice to see him and Robin teaming up, given what will happen to him soon in the regular Justice Society storyline.

The offbeat villains are fun for sure. There seemed to be a real desire to dig out some curious combos this time out. Putting the Weeper with the Earth-2 Joker was funny, and it was cool to see the robots Brainiac and Mr.Atom join forces. But overall, it was quite difficult to get a grip on why the baddies were doing what they were doing. Their crimes seemed random to the overall plot as the villains themselves seemed not to be plugged into the true nature of the plot. This added to the chaos.

(The Fawcett Heroes by Dillin & McLaughlin)

I liked this crossover for its novelty, and I have to give Dick Dillin an award for maintaining as much clarity as he does with the armada of characters he's presented with.

(Little Richard Buckler & Dickie Giordano)

And despite the cover of the third issue in the crossover, Captain Marvel and Superman do not actually clash in any real sense. That would have to wait for a few years when they duked it out in a special tabloid comic dedicated to that very purpose.

In the last analysis this storyline is more of a fun but incomplete stunt than a true involving story. That's a pity, because there's a ton of potential in these pages.

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