by The Masked Bookwyrm

For a complete list of all GN/TPB reviews, go HERE

JLA - The Justice League of America


"Take the mightiest super-heroes on them together in a common cause...and you have the Justice League of America"

For other JLA appearances, or JLA-like appearances (that is, groupings of DC heroes), see:
Cosmic Odyssey, Crisis on Infinite Earths, The Dark Knight Strikes Again!, Kingdom Come, The Kingdom, Legends, Superman: Distant Fires
and probably others that slip my mind
plus Stan Lee's reimagining of the team in the Just Imagine... section
and JLA: Incarnations in the mini-series section (and others, like The Phantom Zone, Super Powers, etc.)
and for another variation on the JLA, check out Marvel's Squadron Supreme

JLA published by DC Comics

cover by Jerry OrdwayCrisis on Multiple Earths, vol. 2 2003 (SC TPB) 208 pages

Written by Gardner Fox, Denny O'Neil. Pencils by Mike Sekowsky, Dick Dillin. Inks by Sid Greene, Joe Giella.
Colours/letters: various. Editor: Julius Schwartz.

Reprinting: Justice League of America (1st series) #55, 56, 64, 65, 73, 74, 82, 83 (1967-1970)

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Additional notes: covers; intro by Martin Pasko; old pin-ups; reprinted fan letters.

Back in the 1950s, DC Comics decided to resurrect its super hero line which, due to shifting market forces, had largely been reduced to Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Older characters like Flash and Green Lantern were given complete overhauls in terms of costumes, origins, secret identities. The revamped line was a big success, ushering in the Silver Age of super hero comics. But a lot of fans -- and one suspects even the comics creators themselves -- felt a nostalgic affection for the older versions of their characters, eventually leading to the explanation that the 1940s characters existed on a parallel world, allowing for occasional crossover guest appearances with the current DC heroes -- and, in the case of DC's flagship team title, The Justice League of America, regular annual team ups with their 1940s predecessors, The Justice Society of America.

Eventually all this was eliminated from continuity by the maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths (though DC has now begun reintroducing the idea of a multiverse of parallel earths) but the appeal of the old JLA/JSA team ups remains, leading to DC releasing a number of TPBs collecting those old stories.

This is the second volume, and it represents some creative changes in the JLA and comics in general. The first two-part tale is written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Mike Sekowsky, the duo who started the JLA comic. But shifting expectations of comics (largely driven by rival Marvel Comics more ambitious, older-aimed stories) have clearly not been ignored by the two. Sekowsky's art is far removed from his deliberately simple, early JLA styling, more dynamic, more "realist"...particularly with inker Sid Greene embellishing (Greene being one of those inkers who can kind of impose his style over a penciller) and Fox's script is more fluid, more cinematic than it used to be (where he would kind of over rely on text captions) with a lot more wit and humour, and a humanizing of the characters. It's a fun, light-hearted, well paced romp.

The second story is also by Fox, now with Dick Dillin installed as penciller (where he would remain for the next decade or so) and with Greene still as inker. This story is of more significance, continuity-wise, introducing the Earth 2 android hero, the Red Tornado, and featuring a recurring bad guy, T.O. Morrow in what would appear to be only his second appearance after an earlier Flash comic (which I happened to have read long ago courtesy of an old digest reprint). Nothing perhaps special, but it's an adequate page turner, with good pacing.

The writing reins have finally been handed over to the next generation by the time of the next story, with Denny O'Neil handling the words. Funnily enough, though O'Neil was part of a younger, hipper talent moving into comics, it's not quite as evident here. His premise is certainly big and outlandish, even "cosmic", involving a sentient star seeking to destroy the Earth 2 universe, and he even tries to throw in some pathos with the death of a hero's loved one...but his dialogue is a bit clunky, compared to Fox's, his extraneous text captions more reminiscent of Fox's earlier style.

More successful is his next story included here -- again, we are presented with a "big" menace. Not just some rambunctious super villains, but a threat to both earths as a villain plots to have the two worlds merge and be destroyed! There's an effective sense of a cosmic threat and some nice, eerie scenes of the two worlds briefly overlapping, phantom images from the other earth being visible on their twin world. O'Neil still won't win and Pulitzer's for his dialogue, but there's some agreeable attempts at characterization. Though continuity fans might quibble about whether the two earths are really supposed to parallel each other as closely as he portrays.

What's interesting about most of these tales is the emphasis on the JSA, not just as "guest stars", but sometimes dominating the tales. In many of the two-parters collected here, the JLA might barely even appear in the first half, as the plot and menace is established on Earth 2, with the JLA called in late in the story. The first storyline involves a whole roster of JSAers...but only four JLAers. This may have been because, with the JLAers the regular stars, it was felt there was no harm in letting the JSAers get their annual turn in the limelight -- particularly as Fox and editor Julie Schwartz had been involved in the 1940s comics and might have enjoyed resurrecting their old creations. Or, for that matter, it might've been felt that, as the JLA was the title heroes, they shouldn't be the ones calling for help (most of the stories tend to involve a threat on Earth 2 that the JSAers need help defeating).

In my youth I had a great affection for the Earth 2 heroes and their occasional appearances in the "modern" Earth 1 DC universe. And this collection is certainly an okay read, with the stories, assembled best-to-last, being the first, the last, the second and the third. There's also some neat extras, like a couple of pages reprinting letters published in the 1960s, commenting on these stories...both giving you a sense of how readers reacted to them, and also some of the letters are deliberately selected to showcase fans who later turned pro (such as Gerry Conway).

But ultimately, of the three Crisis TPB volumes I've read, this isn't the strongest.

Cover price: $__ CDN./ $14.99 USA

cover by Alex RossCrisis on Multiple Earths, vol. 3 2004 (SC TPB) 192 pages

Written by Len Wein, Mike Friedrich. Pencils by Dick Dillin. Inks by Joe Giella, Dick Giordano.
Colours: unbilled. Letters: Ben Oda, John Costanzo, Jean Izzo. Editor: Julius Schwartz.

Reprinting: Justice League of America #91-92, 100-102, 107-108, 113

Rating: * * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Additional notes: intro by Wein, bios, covers.

As I've mentioned in other reviews, a number of the Justice League comics I had from my youth tended to be their annual team ups with their alternate earth counterparts, the Golden Age Justice Society of America -- so when reviewing these collections of those team ups, I'm not wholly unbiased. I actually had a copy of the story from JLA #100-102 (previously collected in a digest version in the early 1980s). With that being said...this assemblage of four separate story lines is particularly strong.

I won't pretend this is high art, per se. But they're entertaining, well told action-adventures, and, indeed, evince a little more depth and cleverness than you might expect.

The basic premise (for those as don't know) was that DC had its then current crop of heroes existing on Earth 1, while characters first introduced in the 1940s existed on Earth 2 -- including unique heroes (Hourman, Dr. Mid-Nite) and counterparts of the Earth 1 heroes (an Earth 2 Green Lantern, Flash, etc.). Because both teams enjoyed a pretty extensive membership of regulars and auxiliaries, this allows for an ever changing variety of heroes from story to story. For example in the first tale, there's a deliberate decision to play up the doppleganger concept (two Supermen, two Flashes, two Hawkmen, etc.), whereas in most of the other stories there seems an equally clear decision to avoid that (so if the Flash of one world appears in the story, the Flash of the other doesn't).

The first story arc is written by Mike Friedrich and at first seems as though it might be a bit too corny as it involves an inter-dimensional alien boy and his pet being stranded on earth 1 and earth 2 -- oh! how cutesy! Except...the aliens have a symbiotic relationship, and when separated, are driven berserk (and have super powers) and will ultimately die if not reunited. So it actually becomes kind of poignant and suspenseful (the JLA/JSA, unable to communicate with the beings, don't realize what's going on). Friedrich presents a tale that isn't just about thumping a "bad guy" -- in fact, even Earth 2 arch foe, Solomon Grundy, is played less as a villain and more as a Hulk-like misunderstood monster. Add in some character conflicts as the Robins of both worlds face the condescension of their older peers and the result, though suffering from some corny dialogue and mindless action, nonetheless succeeds as a slightly atypical adventure. (Unlike the subsequent tales in this collection, there's a greater emphasis on continuity, with an unrelated sub-plot that goes unresolved in these pages).

The rest of the collection is written by Len Wein who, in his introduction, comments that he deliberately wanted to go back to the early formula of the JLA/JSA team ups, breaking the story up into mini-chapters where smaller groups of the heroes would battle different aspects of the same menace. It's a formula that's just a set-up for a bunch of short action scenes...yet Wein pulls it off quite well.

Despite juggling huge casts, Wein avoids it seeming cluttered, and though these aren't masterpieces of penetrating character insight, with just a line or two, a casual exchange here and there, he succeeds in making the characters live and breathe. The character scenes aren't belaboured -- but they're memorable. There's something about Wein's writing (here and elsewhere) that he can somehow imbue the scenes with a certain...sobriety. That is, you know it's just a goofy little action-adventure, but it doesn't entirely feel that way.

As well, one of Wein's trademarks seemed to be the ironic twist toward the end of the story.

Wein's first JLA story was this JLA/JSA 100th issue anniversary team up where not only does he try to work in (if only in cameos) every member of the JLA and most of the JSA, he ups the ante by tossing in a third super team, the obscure Seven Soldiers of Victory, who are lost in various time eras but have the knowledge to defeat a menace that threatens Earth 2. At three issues, 72 pages, it's a grand adventure filled with exotic time periods and a bittersweet ending.

The next story has a smaller group of JLA/JSA members becoming stranded on yet another earth -- Earth X, this one, eerily, where the Nazis won World War II and the resistance is reduced to a small group of super heroes, the Freedom Fighters (comprised of heroes DC acquired from Quality Comics). Though it's hardly a deep and sober examination of the horrors of fascism, nonetheless the strangeness of this alternate history world succeeds in giving the story a flavour. It also touches on the generation gap between the Earth 1 and Earth 2 heroes (something otherwise not really emphasized in story or art) when the Earth 2 heroes remark on how they'd fought Nazis before.

The final story is possibly the only single-issue JLA/JSA team up...ever. It's a mixture of simple action-adventure...but with a an emotional heart and a kicker of an ending in a story in which it's revealed (this is explained at the beginning) that the Sandman's former sidekick had long ago mutated into a monster that the Sandman was keeping hidden...until the monster escapes and goes on a seeming rampage.

The art throughout is by Dick Dillin, who was the primary artist on the comic for over a decade until his untimely death. Dillin wasn't an especially dynamic artist, but he could get the story told -- which, when you've got plots crammed with costumed heroes, jostling for face time, and different worlds, dimensions and time periods, isn't as easy as it might sound. I've developed more respect for him as an adult, appreciating his low key, unsplashy style. In fact, when I mention that some of Wein's scripts manage a certain sobriety, surely Dillin has to receive some of that credit (as do the colourists for their subdued hues on some of the scenes).

In fact, his work on the Earth X-Nazi story, paired with inker Dick Giordano, is especially effective, as if maybe the unusualness of the premise (for a JLA comic) inspired him and Giordano both.

Ultimately, this may be one of the best of these JLA/JSA Crisis on Multiple Earth collections.

Cover price: $__ CDN./ $14.99 USA

Crisis on Multiple Earths, vol. 4

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2
see my review here

Crisis on Multiple Earths, vol. 5 2003 (SC TPB) 208 pages

cover by PerezWritten by Gerry Conway. Pencils by Dick Dillin, George Perez. Inks by Frank McLaughlin.
Colours/letters: various.

Reprinting: Justice League of America #159-160, 171-172, 183-185 (1978-1980)

Rating: * * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Review posted: March/Oct. 2014

This is the fifth volume collecting the old Justice League/Justice Society team-ups that were an annual fixture of the old Justice League of America comics -- back when DC had it's Justice Society characters as inhabitants of a parallel earth called Earth 2 (the team a mixture of newer characters and middle-aged characters first active in the 1940s -- not that, as written and drawn, their maturer age is too apparent). As a kid I kind of liked these "events" -- with many of my Justice League comics being these stories. And I guess even all these years later they have an appeal, because DC has released at least six volumes in the series (as well as a couple of ancillary TPBs collecting other Earth 1/Earth 2 crossovers not utilizing the full JLA/JSA membership).

The very nature of the JLA/JSA teamings was that it could lead to a certain formulaic repetition -- the two teams meeting up, getting embroiled in some world-threatening crisis, and splitting up into smaller groups (usually mixing and matching members of the JLA and the JSA) to go off on short chapters to combat various aspects of the threat. One of the main variations between the tales being the roll call. Since the JLA had a large cast, as did the JSA (basically any Earth 2 hero) the participants varied from year to year (though with key heroes like Superman and Batman usually represented). Sometimes the idea was to play up the "parallel earth" idea by deliberately including the characters' parallel earth doppleganger -- while other times, the idea was to avoid repetition, and feature only one Flash (from either earth), or one Green Lantern.

Yet despite my comment about formulaic -- this trio of stories reflects a nice degree of variety.

As the annual team-ups evolved, it became part of the formula to often toss a third group into the line-up. So the first story here, from Justice League of America #159-160 (totaling 50 pages) has the JLA/JSA line up being joined this time by characters from DC's historical adventure catalogue: gunslinger Jonah Hex, WW I air ace The Enemy Ace, The Viking Prince and a couple of more obscure figures. In this case the time lost characters are set against the super heroes by an (apparently) recurring foe, The Lord of Time (though I'd never come across him before), who has augmented the otherwise non-powered characters to better go against the JLA/JSA team. And it starts this collection on solid footing.

Conway gives us a little bit of unexpected ambiguity, because the Lord of Time, though a villain, may have not-so villainous motives, allowing for a twist or two in the story. As well, Conway clearly wants to wrap the saga around a theme about rising up in the face of adversity. Indeed, there's an unusually high level of character moments and interaction (for these annual team ups) above and beyond the action -- from simple light interplay, to more introspective moments. He also dispenses with the traditional "break the team into separate units" allowing the story to feel more focused, one scene pushing us directly into the next. And artist Dick Dillin, who I'm not really a huge fan of, seems to be in particularly good form here (along with regular inker MacLaughlin) with some nicely realized and shadowed faces to the suitably eerie setting as the characters head off into the other-dimensional time stream.

In the story from JLA #171-172 (now the then-standard 17 pages per issue) the parallels between the teams is emphasized, with a preponderance of duplicate heroes, as well as a few unique to either world. And it's an intriguing change-of-pace story because instead of some apocalyptic crisis -- it's a locked room mystery. During their annual meeting aboard the JLA satellite, one of their members is killed (he's the one that hadn't really been used much in years) and since no one could get on or off the satellite they realize the murderer has to be one of them!

It's a moody piece, benefitting from the atypical "smallness" of the plot (the action largely occurring just in the satellite), the paranoia, and eschewing the usual "break the team into small groups to go off on mini-adventures" formula.

As mentioned, I wasn't a big fan of Dick Dillin, the comics' signature artist from this era, but I think a tale like this played to his strengths. Dillin, for all he was the regular artist, never seemed fully in control of big action scenes with multiple super heroes -- yet he could do nice work with faces, and more intimate scenes. And so a story like this, more talking heads and atmosphere than big spectacle, seems more his stride.

And though the JLA series, and particularly the JLA/JSA team ups, with their emphasis on so many heroes, and some big crisis, was not always a good showcase for character drama, by this point writer Gerry Conway seems to be getting a good feel for it, and how to work in tart exchanges, or introspective musings, to add personality to the characters.

On the opposite stylistic extreme comes the three-parter from #183-185 (the comic once again 25 pags per issue) -- it's a big spectacle plot, once again chock full of characters, here adding in a few of the New Gods into the mix as members of the JLA and JSA (with no character duplication this time) get whisked away to the planet New Genesis only to learn all the inhabitants have been kidnapped to the evil world of Apokolips -- so with a few New Gods (Orion, Mister Miracle, Big Barda, Oberon, and Metron) they go to rescue them. This was at a time when Darkseid, evil lord of Apokolips, had been killed off (by Conway during an earlier run of New Gods stories) -- something worth knowing since part of the plot they uncover is a scheme to resurrect Darkseid!

It's another good tale. More typical of the JLA/JSA team ups, but with a story that flows and develops more. The teams spilt up into smaller groups, but instead of them being featured in mini-chapters, their plot threads are teased throughout the arc. So the story can take on a certain epicness as we are cutting between the different teams, pursuing different aspects of the story. The Apokolips setting, of course, adds a lot of dark mood to the tale (as it has in other such stories) as the characters are basically in a fascist society where the whole world is potentially their enemy (and I suppose evocative of the Earth X story from Crisis on Multiple Earths vol. 3). And again with Conway managing to squeeze in character moments for the various heroes -- not that the dialogue is the subtlest. But it adds a little emotional depth to the action -- and the action is pretty gripping in its own right.

The art has a certain bittersweet aspect. Dillin passed away after drawing the first issue, and the next two issues were taken over by wunderkind George Perez (who literally dropped his Marvel assignments -- including The Avengers -- to leap at the chance to take on this DC flagship series). Dillin's final art isn't his best (not when compared to his work on #171-172), yet I feel a bit guilty about enjoying Perez' art, given the sad circumstances. Yet there's no doubt Perez provides the story with an enormous shot in the arm (even if he's not entirely well served by Frank McLaughlin's heavy inks). With Perez' crisp figures, eclectic composition and panel arrangement, and his insanely detailed backgrounds, he really elevates the story (check out the splash page on the 10th page of #184) -- particularly given, as mentioned, the setting and environment is so much a part of the mood of the piece.

Although it's worth giving a nod where it's due. Dillin was the signature JLA artist for some ten years or so -- barring an occasional guest artist. Whereas Perez (who bailed in the middle of The Avengers' Korvac Saga -- an epic specifically written for him to draw) only ended up sticking with the JLA for I think less than two years as its "regular" artist, and even then other artists frequently substituted. That isn't meant as a dig at Perez (who no doubt was a much in demand penciller) but simply to acknowledge Dillin's reliability.

All in all, this is a pretty top-drawer collection, all the stories better than good and reflecting a degree of variety within the JLA/JSA team up formula.

This is a review based on the original comics.

Cover price: $__ USA

Crisis on Multiple Earths, vol. 6 2013 (SC TPB) 208 pages

cover by PerezWritten by Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas. Pencils by George Perez, Don Heck, Adrian Gonzales, Keith Pollard. Inks by Romeo Tanghal, Jerry Ordway, others.
Colours/letters: various.

Reprinting: Justice League of America #195-197, 207-209, All-Star Squadron #14, 15 (1981-1982)

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Review posted: Nov. 2014

This is the sixth TPB collecting old stories from the Justice League of America featuring their annual team-ups with their predecessors in the Justice Society (back when that team was supposed to exist on a parallel earth called earth 2). I'm assuming these must have proven popular, given the number of volumes released -- with another couple of team ups lying ahead. The next story in line (Justice League of America #219-220 -- I think) was still pretty good (if a bit heavy on the continuity retconning) while the next (post-Crisis on Infinite Earths) was, admittedly, pretty missable.

Anyway -- I'm reviewing this collection.

The first story is a three-parter from #195-197 and was the first (and last!) full JLA/JSA team-up to be drawn by George Perez (who'd only come on board part way through the last team up) -- well with Keith Pollard helping out in the final issue. The story is an unapologetically old school dust up featuring members of the two teams being targeted by a gang of super-villains from both earths calling themselves The Secret Society of Super-Villains (this may have been a concession to the tendency to throw a third "team" into these team ups, since an earlier version of these villains once had their own self-titled comic).

My impression is this story is fondly remembered by fans, partly for its very traditional heroes vs. villains premise. Unfortunately, I found it a surprisingly bland affair. The premise is that the villains target the heroes because of some nebulous pseudo-scientific theorem the villainous Ultra-Humanite has calculated. To whit: that by eliminating key heroes from both worlds the universe will somehow readjust itself and erase all the heroes from either Earth 1 or Earth 2. Yeah -- I'd love to see the long math on that one! So the plot is simply villains attack heroes motivated by a ludicrous plot contrivance. It's repetitious. With so many characters (villains and heroes both) there's a lot of recycling scenes and the fights all resolve the same way (each hero has to be defeated in order for the plot to progress). My guess is Perez was involved in the plotting because it reminds me of a few New Teen Titans stories which followed a similar pattern of simply setting up a parade of grudge fights.

It can seem as though it's about the villains, with the JLA/JSA more guest stars (again perhaps harkening to the comic, Secret Society of Super-Villains) without the villains really having much emotional complexity (a couple of the villains, apparently previously reformed, seem to slip back into villainy with very little persuasion!)

There's also a slightly uncomfortable sexual/misogynist undercurrent at times (at least for an otherwise almost innocent "heroes vs. villains" battle) with a scene with some punks attempting to rape the Cheetah and later Brain-Wave kidnapping a woman as basically his sex slave!

It's all attractively enough illustrated and can be (otherwise) fun in its very traditional approach to a super- hero/super-villain slam down -- but not especially riveting.

The next story takes a major up-turn for what would prove to be the longest ever of these team-ups!

Using the now semi-established tradition of tossing a third team into the mix, the saga embroils the JLA, the JSA, and members of the All-Star Squadron (a period comic set during WW II on the JSA's Earth 2). As well it features no less than two signature (if, in one case, less familiar) enemies: a team of villains from yet another alternate earth who are literally evil dopplegangers of the JLA, and Per Degaton, a 1940s JSA villain who had recently been re-established as a signature villain by virtue of appearing in the All-Star Squadron's first adventure.

Did I mention the story involves at least three parallel earths and three or four different time periods?

No wonder it needed five issues!

Per Degaton's modus operandi is to try and conquer the world by manipulating time. I won't go into too much detail -- the fun is watching the story unfold -- but much of the action occurs in the All-Star Squadron's stomping grounds of 1940s Earth 2 (allowing the various heroes to liaise with President Roosevelt himself!) but also ties into 1962's Cuban Missile Crisis and at stake are the futures of multiple worlds, one which ends up under the domination of Per Degaton, the other a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Co-writer (and All-Star Squadron creator) Roy Thomas loved playing in the sand box of historical adventures. And Conway, too, was no stranger to crafting tales involving the World War II of Earth 2. Not that this saga is heavy on the historical trivia, but these guys know the terrain well enough to make it feel natural and to toss in period allusions. And though it's mainly just a fast-paced, movie serial romp, they also allow sober asides to creep in (the 1940s characters assuming nuclear weapons are the stuff of nightmares; or an interesting aside made that Fidel Castro's swing toward the U.S.S.R. might have been pushed by the U.S.'s ill-advised Bay of Pigs attempted coup -- a comment liable to out-rage conservative readers but is something more than a few historians have suggested over the years). As well, there's just an easy camaraderie between the characters so the heroes feel like people.

Admittedly with all those parallel worlds and time periods I think even the writers got a bit confused about how and why events related to each other. And since the story ultimately involves the characters simply going back in time to stop Per Degaton's plan before it started, it can leave you wondering why they didn't just do that to begin with!

But a big part of the appeal is that unwieldy complexity -- the fact there is a plot with multiple threads. Even the telling itself jumps back and forth a bit (the nature of it being written by two writers working on two comics) so in one or two sequences we follow certain characters to a certain point -- then have to jump back and follow different characters till they arrive at the same place. Which is another advantage to the story: it doesn't just follow the simple "characters break into small groups and go off on mini-adventures" formula -- yet is long enough that it does indulge in some of that toward the end, just to keep the tradition alive.

The art is unsplashy but appealing. I was never a big fan of Don Heck in the 1970s. But by most accounts he seemed to have found a second wind in the early 1980s (after having a better reputation earlier in his career). And the art on the JLA issues is generally effective, the scenes clear and well-composed. While the All-Star Squadron issues were illustrated by the then regular combo of Adrian Gonzales and Jerry Ordway (back when Ordway was still primarily known as an inker). Again, Gonzales wasn't a splashy artist, but he could deliver clear panels with well proportioned figures -- aided immeasurably by Ordway's signature influence.

I'll confess I may have a slight bias here as the first All-Star Squadron/Per Degaton conflict was a favourite story of mine (and I detail it here).

By virtue of the size of the story arcs (a three-parter and a five-parter) this TPB contains the fewest stories of any of these Crisis collections. The first one is appealing in its archetypicalness, but a bit repetitive. While the second is a truly entertaining epic and worth the price on its own.

This is a review based on the original comics.

Cover price: $__ USA



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