Thursday, June 25, 2015

The First Time I Saw the Justice League

The first time I saw the Justice League of America I was 5 years old, at a newsstand in the spring of 1960, looking at the cover of Brave and the Bold 29.
This second appearance of the team was a first for me in several ways — the first time I saw a number of soon-to-be iconic superheroes, and the first time I was introduced to the thrilling concept of a superhero team. I’d missed their first, instantly-sold-out appearance.
The Martian Manhunter I recognized from the first issue of Detective Comics I’d purchased, number 277, two months before. I considered him to be kind of a Superman, but green.
I probably also recognized Aquaman from his back-up features in Superman family magazines. But the thrilling, brightly colored figures of the Flash, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman were delightfully new to me.
This was cover-dated May 1960. By July 1960, I’d be buying my first issues of Flash and Wonder Woman and by December 1960, my first issue of Green Lantern.
As if five cover-featured superheroes weren’t enough, the issue also offered some of the attractions that could be seen in DC’s sleek science fiction titles like Strange Adventures — multicolored interstellar dinosaurs and, joy of joys, a giant yellow robot with an alien criminal inside his glass tummy.
The fact that the robot also seemed to have a ray gun for a penis is something of which I was not consciously aware.
The plot was, to my young mind, perfect. This Flash guy was clearly the hero in the pin spotlight, since he broke free first and tackled the future supercriminal alone. The Flash had kicked off the new wave of immense popularity for superheroes, and DC was aware of it. Martian Manhunter and Aquaman teamed up next, then Wonder Woman and Green Lantern.
Finally the heroes tackled the villain as a team, but were turned against each other by an illusion-casting beam. Yikes!
Yet who should come hurtling out of the sky but Superman! The Man of Steel grabbed the robot by the feet and jammed him into the earth. The whole menace wiped out in a mere three panels — that’s my guy! I hadn’t even been aware that my beloved Superman was a part of this team. I was in heaven.
By the way, Batman was around on the sidelines but did nothing. At the time, I probably figured that Batman’s lack of super powers rendered him useless for any task other than calling in Superman for a kind of WMD drone strike. It’s probably difficult for today’s fans to realize that Batman was starting to seem old hat and unspectacular compared to these shiny new rivals, and that the sales of his two titles were sinking.
What I didn’t know was that it was the internecine warfare between DC’s editors that kept Superman and Batman in the background for the first several appearances of the JLA
I would have been thrilled beyond containment if I had known that this team was a space-age iteration of one from the Dark Ages of the 1940s, the Justice Society of America, and that even this cover idea had been used before by the earlier team.
To a child of 5, a decade ago might as well be a time when dinosaurs roamed the planet.
The entire subsequent history of comic books — and of much of American popular culture — is channeled directly through the three Brave and Bold tryout issues for JLA. Because publisher Martin Goodman was watching how eagerly kids like me plunked down their dimes for those issues. He had an idea for editor Stan Lee…

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