Thursday, March 24, 2016

My Favorite League 72-74!

All the focus this month on the Justice League of America has gotten me nostalgic about my all-time favorite period of the team -- the issues beginning with the epic one hundred and running until one hundred and fourteen some two years later thanks to the book slipping to a bi-monthly schedule. The mainstay artist of this period was Dick Dillin, the same guy who had been on the book for many years before when taking over for original artist Mike Sekowsky. Dillin was the kind of artist I've always admired, a workhorse who didn't take time off for accolades but stayed in the trenches and cranked out pages of wonderful artwork hardwired with brisk storytelling and handsome figures. He had many inkers during his tenure, beginning with Sid Greene, who soon retired and was replaced by Joe Giella. Giella was the man when my favorite era began but it was the arrival of Dick Giordano on inks which locks this period down for me. He gave a depth and drama to Dillin's work it had not heretofore seen and the two of them were mightier by far than the sum of their parts.

But this favorite era of mine is marked by one name for the most part - Len Wein. Wein was part of the Sixties generation of Baby Boomers who came to the comics field ripe with notions of how their favorite heroes could be reshaped for a modern audience. Relevance and politics were the order of the day and Wein and his longtime friend and partner Marv Wolfman were part of the vanguard who ushered it in. Sadly DC saw this influx of young cheap talent as an apt opportunity to cut loose some of the pros who had been toiling for them for decades. It's a bitter pill to swallow that I know the comics I most treasure were produced on the betrayed bodies of vets like Gardner Fox and Arnold Drake, talents who laid the foundation for the stories I hold dear.

Len Wein took the reins of the book over from Mike Friedrich who had inherited it from Denny O'Neil who had likewise taken over for Gardner Fox. So very few men had been at the helm of this title in its long history. A history was celebrated in Wein's debut with the beginning of an epic three-part tale (unusual at DC to say the least) that not only brought the League together with its summertime partners the Justice Society of America from Earth-2 but also revived the nigh forgotten Seven Soldiers of Victory.

The story is properly held in high esteem and began a trend with these annual events that vintage teams fro m years gone by and companies long defunct might get a new lease on life.

Len took the team once again to Rutland, Vermont (a town where the Fourth Wall is frequently called into question) to celebrate Halloween.

And he revived long forgotten villains like the totally strange Shaggy Man.

At long long last the Elongated Man joined the League in a move which surprised no one and pleased most everyone. Ralph Dibney belonged.

Not so obviously the Red Tornado was revived yet again and this android became a longstanding member of the team. His time on Earth-2 over and his career on Earth-1 just begun.

No one seemed to get the JLA-JSA crossovers like Wein and the two-part tale which re-introduced the Freedom Fighters (the heroes of Quality Comics) back into the comics world are among the best the annual event ever produced.

They battled nearly fogotten villains like Eclipso.

The team celebrated the Yuletide and  solved the murder of a Christmas icon...almost. 

They battled their evil counterparts the Injustice Gang of the World who were commanded in this issue by the mysterious Libra.

Veteran villains were dusted off and refreshed to go toe-to-toe with the team such as Amazo the One-Man Justice League.

Some say the one-issue story of Sandman's secret about his long unseen partner Sandy might well be the single finest yarn the annual JLA-JSA crossover ever produced. It's certainly one of the most emotional.

Even Snapper Carr makes his return in a bristling story which sadly marked the finale of Len Wein's run on the title. The art team of Dillin and Giordano would hang out a bit longer but eventually Frank McLaughlin would take over the inking gig and he and Dillin would rule the comic for the rest of the decade.

You'll also note that these issues (save for one by Dick Giordano) all sport lush and outstanding Nick Cardy covers, some of the best he ever knocked out. Cardy was the mainstay cover artist for much of the superhero line at the time producing these and other great covers for a host of comics.

Many of the later installments were 100-pagers, comics which cost more (the now ludicrously cheap sounding sixty cents) but were filled not only with a great new story but loads of tasty back up features along with vintage JLA tales. 

These issues, spanning two years because of the bi-monthly schedule are among the best in the long run of the series. So much happened in such little time that it's difficult to hold it all. The fact the book went bi-monthly inspired some real creativity and compression in the storytelling that blended the best of the Bronze Age with the best of the Silver Age. And the writer perfectly poised to do it at the time was Len Wein.

I'd dabbled in JLA stories off and on for years, but by the end of this run I was a confirmed JLA fan and hung with the series through thick and thin right up until the Crisis brought it all crashing down. These stories are available in the fifth and sixth Showcase volumes of the run (the JLA-JSA stories are available in color in the Crisis trades) but I know that this is one fan who would love to have all the Wein-Dillin-Giordano stories in a single tasty trade. I'd buy it in a heartbeat and I might buy two if it would help convince the powers to do such a thing.

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  1. This was my favorite period of the JLA, too. One thing I remember is that I had a really hard time tracking down the JLA/JSA three-parter from 100-102. I really had a hard time finding the last part and finally found it in a grocery store in a town about fifteen miles from where I lived. I still have these stored away and it's cool to revisit them occasionally.

    1. Me too. I had the first part and the second but it was a few years before I ever found out how it all ended. It's maybe that anticipation which made me appreciate this story even more. My collection of these stories was a bit spotty, I didn't have the Eclipso issue but I got most of the others. I think the bi-monthly schedule helped me keep up with it when I was younger.

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  2. This was my favorite period too, with the Green Arrow / Hawkman feud coming to a head in #109 with Hawkman resigning. Really some nice, tight Len Wein stories overall…The only downside I can think of was that awful new costume Black Canary (?) designed for Red Tornado (much preferred his original red & purple togs.)

    1. We agree on the look of Red Tornado, the red and yellow and blue was a distinct downfall from the more sedate crimson and purple. I think if memory serves Len Wein himself designed that new costume he had Canary present to RT. On the upside Canary made Amazo look better.

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  3. I had the same response to Wein's tenure. I wish it had lasted longer. Also, I couldn't get hold of issue 102 for about a decade.


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