Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
Why talk when you can punch people?

Why talk when you can punch people?

The 1966 JLA/JSA team-up I mentioned in last week’s Batmania post is not one of the best of those Silver Age events.

The main plot involves superheroes, supervillains and ordinary people getting swapped between Earth-One and Earth-Two. Solomon Grundy (seen above on Mike Sekowsky’s cover), trades places with Blockbuster; Batman winds up on Earth-Two; Black Canary and Dr. Midnite are stuck on Earth-One. It turns out an experimental space-warp device has drawn the two Earths together across inter-dimensional space, triggering the transpositions and potentially destroying both worlds if they come too close.Anti-Matter Man makes everything worse. Crossing dimensional space towards the two Earths, he intends to enter and explore the positive matter universe, unaware contact with either Earth will destroy himself and the planet. The thing is, he’s not hostile or evil: from his perspective, battling the Spectre or the Justice League is no different than the Fantastic Four fighting aliens to explore the Negative Zone. I like that.


Given that he’s not malevolent (even if in Gardner Fox’s words he’s “a claw-happy fighter who relishes a bang-up rock-em sock-em rhubarb!”) why not try talking? The Spectre and Dr. Fate are able to read the alien’s mind but they don’t even attempt to communicate back and warn him off. Maybe it wouldn’t have worked but wouldn’t that be better than going straight to violence?

It’s not the first time I’ve felt that way during my Silver Age reread, and probably won’t be the last. In JLA #27, “The ‘I’ Who Defeated the Justice League,” (like the two-parter, by Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky), an alien implants a defeat factor in the team that makes it impossible for them to work together and win. Not just the League but Superman/Batman, Flash/Green Lantern, Atom/Hawkman — any teamwork is doomed to fail.

“I” has a legit excuse: the heroes’ teamwork is slowly poisoning his alien essence and will leave him comatose if it keeps up. The heroes eventually regain the ability to fight as a team, plunging “I” into a coma, as predicted. That’s not exactly heroic. Admittedly the world needs a team of heroes that isn’t doomed to defeat; admittedly “I” was ruthless in neutralizing the JLA. But I isn’t a hero, the JLA are; they could at least have attempted to find an alternative to putting it on life-support. It’s a decent story otherwise but “I” comes off less and less a villain each time I reread it.

Marvel, of course, encountered a similar problem when it embraced “our heroes fight all the time” as a principle of storytelling; Stan Lee joked about it in letter columns but it’s not that funny. Sure, it’s great when Ben rips Reed a new one for wiping out the FF’s finances, not so good when the Angel’s kicking Iron Man’s butt. At least in that one we had a rationale excuse for a fight — Stark Industries accidentally turning Angel evil — but most of the time, a couple of minutes conversation would avert a world of mindless action.

Consider for example, “… To Become an Avenger,” the Amazing Spider-Man Annual for ’66 (Stan Lee, Don Heck). The Avengers offer Spidey membership on condition he bring in the Hulk. First we have the obligatory scene where Spidey and the Assemblers get under each other’s skin and come to blows. Then, as Spider-Man swings off to take on the Hulk (stomping through New York in the aftermath of the Secret Empire plotline), it occurs to them hey — they never explained they want to cure Bruce Banner, not hurt him!

The result? Spider-Man realizes the Hulk is just a frightened man-baby (I think it’s the first story to take that tack) and lets him go. Which is a bad idea — like the Joker, the Hulk’s a time bomb that will inevitably go off — but it could be avoided if the Avengers hadn’t had that brain-dead moment. Or even if Spider-Man had told them why he didn’t bring in the Hulk.

Comics aren’t unique in this; I can think of lots of sitcom and soap-opera plotlines that could be resolved easily with some straight talk. But that’s no excuse.

#SFWApro. Top covers by Sekowsky, JLA #27 by Murphy Anderson, Spidey cover by Romita.


  1. Darthratzinger

    When You´re a kid at first it´s great to see various super-heroes fight each other. And then the endless cop-outs got annoying like the Thor-Hulk fight in an issue of Thor that took place between the panels of an earlier Avengers issue. It was one stalemate after another and if You had read a couple of them it felt like filler issues. Only when there were definitive winners and losers it felt special. But that was so rare that I can´t think of an example on the spot.
    As an adult I got more of a kick out of something like Cap and Batman assessing each other and then deciding not to fight and instead investigate what´s going on behind the scenes. What was also great about this situation was them just leaving there teammates and letting them continue beating each other up.

  2. Le Messor

    This has always bugged me, too. Especially when I spent years hearing about how The Fantastic Four was a breath of fresh air; they aren’t just a bunch of ciphers with different powers – they actually have internal conflict!
    I finally read early Fantastic Four, and they’re always at each other’s throats, hostile and antagonistic to each other. This is not better, people!

      1. Le Messor

        I’m definitely not disagreeing with it being new and different; it’s just, that doesn’t necessarily mean ‘good’. The comics were good, but the interpersonal relationships within them could be… less than.

  3. A friend of mine used to joke about inventing a “sane soaps ray” that would force people in soaps (we were both watching some prime-time soaps at the time) to act reasonably: “Why Celeste, rather than listen to Alexis fill my head with rumors I thought I’d come and ask you directly.”

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