Saturday, March 25, 2006

It Came From The Longboxes: Showcase Presents Justice League of America, Vol. 1

Issues Collected: Brave and the Bold 28-30, Mystery In Space 75, and Justice League of America 1-16
By: Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, and Carmine Infantino
Published: Originally, March 1960-December 1962; Collection, 2005
Why It's Here: None of it ever happened

I re-read JLA: Year One this week, and one scene in particular struck me in a way it never has before. I don't know the issue-number offhand, but it's Waid's rewriting of the League's battle with the Weapons Master, where Superman comes in out of nowhere at the end and saves their butts from WM's hallucination ray. I had recently read the original in the collection above, and it struck me that the Post-Crisis changes didn't really affect the story a whole lot.

Let me 'splain. No, there is too much; let me sum up. In the original, Xotar spent the whole issue (Brave and the Bold 29) plaguing Green Lantern, Flash, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman, culminating in turning his hallucination ray on them, when suddenly, Superman, Batman and Snapper Carr showed up, and Xotar turned the ray on them, snapping the other Leaguers out of it, and that precipitated the final ass-beating. Post-Crisis, though, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman weren't members of the original League, and Black Canary was, so Dinah Lance took the place of Diana Prince, and Superman showed up because he happened to catch sight of the fight with his telescopic vision.

It got me wondering: how much *does* the League retcon really matter in terms of substantially altering the stories? Do Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman *have* to be there for the plots to work? If Gardner Fox had not been allowed to use them (and we know Mort Weisinger fought like the devil to keep Superman and Batman out of the book), and gone with a new Black Canary in their stead, would he have had to change his plots around?

Let's take a look, shall we?

We'll start with JLA 9, which is a flashback story recounting "The Origin of the Justice League!" their first case. (By the way, the purpose of this exercise is not to see how well the original stories mesh with JLA: Year One, but how easily Superman and Batman could be removed, and Black Canary subbed in for Wonder Woman. And it should also be noted that this is just for fun; I don't care one way or the other, I'm just interested in the thought experiment.) Seven meteors crash to Earth, each containing an alien from the planet Appelax; they're here to fight it out to see which one will be that planet's new ruler. They start turning humans into beings like themselves (one is made of stone, one of crystal, one is a big yellow bird, one is made of fire, etc.), the heroes respond individually, then they all head for the site of the only meteor whose inhabitant hasn't come out yet in time to fight him, and decide to team up after they win. This one can be altered pretty well, and in fact was in JLA: Year One; replace Themyscira with Star City, and you're done. The Fab Five (as I'll choose to refer to the League minus Supes and Bats) defeat the wood creature on their own, and play no part whatsoever in Superman's defeat of the diamond creature (he turns it to coal by "rubbing it the wrong way," I shit you not), so it's not hard at all to say they weren't even there, and so Superman wasn't made a founder.

Turning our attention back to the attack of Starro the Conqueror in Brave and the Bold 28 -- okay, let me start with something completely unrelated. The first panel has Aquaman talking to "My friend… Peter the puffer fish." That's just adorable. Anyway, Starro comes to Earth, turns three starfish into his agents, and sends them to attack humanity. Peter tells Aquaman about this, and he sounds the JLA alert. Superman and Batman, busy with a meteor and some bank robbers respectively, don't respond (this actually happens a lot), so the others split up (GL takes one, Flash another, WW and J'onn the third, and Aquaman patrols the seas to look for Starro); when that's done, they all fight the real thing outside Happy Harbor (with the aid of the indecipherable Snapper Carr). Wonder Woman's presence does present a bit of a problem; in her and J'onn's fight, she uses her bracelets to deflect some atomic rays, and her lasso and invisible jet to yank the building the Starro, Jr. is trying to steal out of its grasp. Canary obviously can't do those things. But she could have screamed at a frequency that made Starro drop the building, and J'onn could have caught it. So we have to judge if how that team would have beaten the menace would have been a substantive change to the plot.

And that's really what it comes down to, in all cases: Is it a substantive change if J'onn's Martian Vision uncovers the secret battery powering the Robot Justice League, instead of Superman's X-Ray vision? Is it a substantive change if Dr. Light banishes the League to different dimensions, then challenges Batman and Superman out of arrogance, instead of because they're the two members he hasn't caught yet?

Well, I might catch some flak here, but I'm going to say that the character substitutions would not have substantially affected the plots of these stories. And that's because of the very simple manner in which they were plotted: villain, evil plan, obstacle, victory. This was very cookie-cutter storytelling, with little if any attention paid to characterization; the most well-rounded character is Snapper, whose major trait is not being able to speak anything that remotely resembles actual English. If you switched Flash and Wonder Woman's powers and dialogue, it wouldn't make a lick of difference; one sounds the same as the other. It's not that there's anything wrong with that (well, there is something wrong with it, but it worked for the time period), the action and the weird ideas more than make up for the wheat-thin story, but the fact is, these early JL comics could have been about *anybody*. When your heroes have no personality, replacing them with other personality-less heroes (and let's not kid ourselves; Gardner 's Black Canary would have been his Wonder Woman, plus fishnets) doesn't really do much.

Now, replacing Wonder Woman with Zook, *that* woulda changed the stories.

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