Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Classic Crisis #20 - The Rage Of Aquarius!

We come at last in 1969 to the first Justice League-Justice Society crossover not written by Gardner Fox. Denny O'Neil steps in to take the reins of the summer classic as Sid Greene will complete his final Earth-2 story, and this one will have some significant consequences for the DC universe.

"Star Light, Star Bright--Death Star I See Tonight" scripted by Denny O'Neil features again the artwork of Dick Dillin and Sid Greene. The peculiar cover is by Joe Kubert. The story begins in space a long time ago when the Council of Living Stars ejects one of its own, a star named Aquarius for his crimes against the universe. His vast energy is drained save for that necessary to keep him barely alive and he is set to wander the universe forever. The last issue of JLofA had Red Tornado show up with news of Earth-2 but the League only gets around to hearing his story now and he tells of Starman encountering an anomaly which turns out to be the depleted Aquarius. Getting control of Starman's Cosmic Rod, Aquarius is able to recoup his power. Then Starman's body falls out of the sky into the greenhouse of Larry Lance and his wife Dinah Drake Lance, also known as Black Canary. She investigates but is set upon by a mysterious attacker who turns out to be her husband. He comes to his senses after she defeats him and she summons more Justice Society members. Dr.Fate, Dr.Mid-Nite, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and Superman answer the call. Lantern faces animated neon light warriors and subdues them. Dr.Mid-Nite encounters a four-year old brat who goes on a super-strength tantrum, and Dr.Fate is knocked out the sky by a mysterious power. The Society gathers and find themselves face to face with a now gigantic but humanoid Aquarius. They quickly determine he is a schizophrenic manic-depressive and one with vast power thanks to the Cosmic Rod. The battle to little effect, then he vanishes the whole of Earth-2 to nothingness, the only survivors are the Society members saved by Fate in a magic bubble. Only their memories now preserve Earth-2. Trapped, Aquarius waits for his power to accumulate again then he will destroy them. Red Tornado who had been ordered to sit on the sidelines then makes a beeline for Earth-1 and that brings the tale full circle as the League kick themselves for making him wait, but decide of course to act. But that will the next issue.

"Where Death Fears To Tread!" is again by the O'Neil, Dillin, and Greene team, with a dynamic Neal Adams cover up front. The story picks up with the League making the crossing to Earth-2 where Green Lantern notes a dangerous place in the Borderland, an access to a zone of negative matter. The League confronts Aquarius, and as it's been two weeks Fate's powers fade and his bubble collapses. The Society immediately comes under the control of Aquarius who orders them to battle the League members. Superman battles Superman, Batman battles Dr.Mid-Nite, Dr.Fate takes on Flash and the Atom, Wonder Woman fights Hawkman, and the Green Lanterns take each other on. The League wins pretty quickly save for the Supermen who both collapse. Green Arrow traps the Black Canary with his new "stickum arrow" but is himself knocked unconscious by her husband Larry Lance who has all this time been fighting alongside the JSofA. Aquarius launches an attack that threatens to kill the trapped Canary but Lance throws his body in harm's way saving her, but sacrificing his own life. The League and Society are both stunned, and at that same time Earth-2 reappears complete. Both the JSofA and JLofA take time to bury Larry Lance and then Aquarius reappears minus the Cosmic Rod which presumably had been lost in the last encounter. The combined might of the heroes launch against him,but it is for the two Green Lanterns to plot to lure the mad star into the dangerous zone of negative matter. They goad him into following them there, where he is destroyed utterly. After the battle, the Black Canary requests that she be able to accompany the League back to Earth-1, which they gladly agree to.

There is a pretty rich emotional quality to this particular crossover. The death of Larry Lance hits the heroes pretty hard, actually harder than the utter oblivion of all of Earth-2. That's because the latter is old hat comic book storytelling and we all know that the status quo will be returned. With the death of a guy like Lance, there is a sense of finality. This is one character we won't see again, and it stings a bit. I'm not at all sure that O'Neil had any notion of the ultimate romance between Canary and Green Arrow when he made Arrow a critical part of her husband's death, but it does add texture to their relationship. In fact I think it was O'Neil's plan to have Canary attracted to Batman, but that didn't gel for whatever reason. 

The loss of veteran Sid Greene will impact these stories. Worthy inkers will take on the stories, but Greene's crisp style will be missed. I haven't actually counted, but it's entirely possible that Greene worked on more of the Earth-2 stories than did anyone else, including Gardner Fox. If not, it's very close. Dick Dillin will remain with the series for a good long time, so while changes will come again and again, a strong reliable thread is still evident. 

Note: The "Classic Crisis" series will suspend for the month to make room for other posts. It should pick up again in May. 

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