By 1965, the Justice Society had become semi-regular guest stars in DC’s Earth-One series. Three popular crossovers between Jay Garrick and Barry Allen. Two highly acclaimed JLA/JSA team-ups. So it’s not surprising Julius Schwartz and his crew tested the water to see if the Golden Age Gladiators could stand on their own, rather than guest-starring with the modern heroes.
As it turned out, no they couldn’t. But it was fun watching them try.
Alongside another Jay/Barry team-up and the first Hal Jordan/Alan Scott team-up, 1965 gave us the debut of the “Super Team Supreme,” Hourman and Doctor Fate, in Showcase #55 . I have no idea why they picked the two of them; possibly just the flexibility in having both Fate, a mage who throws occult lightning, and Hourman, who hits things.
The story pits them against Solomon Grundy, back on Earth and hunting his old foe Green Lantern after years of exile in space. If occasionally hand-wavey — Grundy acquires telekinesis over wood, simply to make it easier to take on GL — it’s a great deal of fun. And while I’d always figured Grundy’s speech pattern here was modeled on the Hulk, his “Grundy smash!” dialog came out before Hulk reached that level of bad grammar.
The team’s follow-up story, “Crimes of the Psycho-Pirate,” wasn’t as memorable but did introduce a long-running foe to the DCU. The first Psycho Pirate had been a shrewd judge of human nature who used his savvy to manipulate the targets of his crimes. The new guy had the power to control emotions, making him several times more formidable.
Neither story produced a wave of interest in the Super-Team Supreme so DC tried a new combo a few months later. This time the odd couple were Black Canary and Starman, pitted first against Starman’s old foe the Mist—— and then against Sportmaster and Huntress, foes of Green Lantern and Wildcat (who guest-stars) respectively. It turns out that just like so many Golden Age heroes, these villains had tied the knot, something that made them stand out from the pack. They’ve been a couple ever since, even on the CW’s Stargirl.
These two issues didn’t sell the public on this crime-fighting team any more than the Dr. Fate/Hourman outings did. It wouldn’t be until the Spectre returned the following year that any of the Earth-Two heroes would get a regular Silver Age gig.
I strongly suspect Justice League of America #37 was written in the same spirit, to see if the JSA fighting alone, without the League, would generate enthusiasm for a new Justice Society book. If so, it didn’t work; it would be another decade before the JSA got its own series again. But hey, maybe Schwartz, Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky were just working a new variation on the now annual team-ups. If so, they worked a good one.
In “Earth — Without a Justice League,” Johnny Thunder has the Thunderbolt take him to meet Earth-One’s Johnny Thunder. Turns out that guy is a petty crook; the Badhnisians who raised him pegged him for a rat and never entrusted him with a thunderbolt spirit. However the latent power to command one is still in him and hey, Earth-Two Johnny has just presented him with one … So Johnny-One knocks out his counterpart and takes control of the T-bolt.
The Thunderbolt, however, has been in semi-retirement like his master; when Johnny-One sends him to steal and Flash intercepts him, it doesn’t go well for the Thunderbolt. The dimwitted Johnny (“He’s dumber than my first master — and he thought a polar cap was something to keep your head cold.”) has what may be his first bright idea ever — he sends the Thunderbolt back in time to erase the Justice League from existence.
This works (more on that in a minute) but somehow doesn’t alter the memories of the JSA. When they go looking for Johnny-Two, they wind up taking on the Thunderbolt and his master and discover the JLA no longer exists. Can they fix that? Spoiler: yes.
The Justice League does appear, sort-of: the JSA impersonate them at one point, then Johnny turns members of his gang into duplicate Leaguers so they can deal with the Justice Society’. Basically though it’s a two-part JSA solo story, and for me as a kid that was awesome.
Until I dug the story out as part of my Silver Age reread, I’d forgotten that the Thunderbolt changing history was every bit as cool. To do it, he flies back in time and pulls tricks like blocking the lightning that hit Barry Allen’s lab; destroying the white dwarf star fragment that Ray Palmer used to become the Atom; preventing Abin Sur from crash-landing on Earth; short-circuiting Dr. Erdel’s computer before it teleports J’Onn J’Onzz from Mars; and beating up Batman so badly in his first adventure, he gives up crimefighting (why not simply save the Waynes? I got nothing).
I had no idea of most of these origins. I’d been reading comics for only a year, and I’d missed the classic Secret Origins giants. Learning even partial accounts of who these heroes were and how they came to be was the coolest.
So maybe the JSA didn’t set the world on fire in ’65. They were still a hell of a lot of fun.
#SFWApro. Justice League cover by Mike Sekowsky, all others by Murphy Anderson.