Monday, September 2, 2013

Justice League of America #19 (Schiffted Edition)

If you look at the history of comics, there are certain key moments that shaped the medium. Comic strips had been popular for decades, but a lack of available, affordable reprint material was the reason why original comic book stories were first pulled together. Early comics aped strips and pulps, but the dynamic debut of Superman gave the medium its first and most iconic wholly owned concept. Regardless, super-heroes had become passé by the end of World War II, and with the exception of Superman, could have faded away entirely. If not for Frederick Wertham's crusade wiping out the market for the once hugely profitable crime and horror comics, DC editor Julius Schwartz might never have cast about for something he could sell within the strictures of the new Comic Code Authority. Without his super-hero revival, Batman may not have sustained himself to reap the benefits of Batmania, Wonder Woman would have surely perished, and no Justice League of America means no Fantastic Four, and therefore no Marvel Comics. Everything changes.

It's worth pointing out that editors Mort Weisinger and Jack Schiff originally refused Schwartz full use of Superman and Batman in his Justice League. They can be seen as pieces on Despero's chessboard on the first issue's cover, and were caught on Felix Faust's fingers on the tenth, but aside from these sort of cameos were barred from routine cover appearances until thirty issues into the ongoing series. The pair turned up in most stories, but were explicitly shown as not having founded the team in flashback adventures. Weisinger & Schiff felt that using Superman and Batman to promote Justice League of America would dilute their appeal in the solo books, but just imagine if they took the matter further. What if they outright refused the World's Finest duo, and further, how about if they withheld their other characters, Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter? The JLA would have had its membership handicapped by the same number of participants as made up the Fantastic Four!

Just to show how close a call pulling the JLofA together was, I should mention that Hal Jordan made his debut as Green Lantern in a book cover-dated October 1959 while The Brave and the Bold #28 was February-March 1960. There was clearly no time to create and test any other brand new characters or reworked revivals in that four month window. If Julie Schwartz had been refused other editors' characters besides Wonder Woman, on permanent loan from the more amenable Robert Kanigher, he would have had a big enough hole to fill that he'd likely have rifled through his own moribund properties. Julie Schwartz had edited All-Star Comics in the 1940s under Whitney Ellsworth's name, which was probably why he had the Justice Society and its major members to play with in the first place. Since he'd already consigned the Golden Age heroes to mere comic book characters in Barry Allen's stories, and Earth-Two wasn't conceived yet, Schwartz basically had his leftovers to work with. His western characters wouldn't have made sense, and his animal champions Detective Chimp and Rex the Wonder Dog would have been a stretch. Under these conditions, Adam Strange would have been a shoe-in, and if Schwartz insisted on a quintet, the similar Captain Comet could have been dusted off. Elongated Man was also around in 1960, and was eventually popular enough to gain his own back-up strip, so he should have had an early entry into a less populated team.

The Justice League as published was such an immense success that it moved from a three issue trial in an anthology title to an ongoing within a matter on months. However, that team consisted of the mightiest heroes of the time. Still, if Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben could make a splash, I'm sure Diana, Barry, Hal, and the Adams could have done respectable business. Perhaps their ongoing series would have waited until 1961, by which time the Silver Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl had been introduced. Surely, the Ray Palmer Atom would have arrived by 1962, the same year a more expansive real world Justice League inducted him?

And so, to satisfy my curiosity and hopefully amuse you, above is a mock-up cover for the Justice League of America #19 that could have been!


Matt Celis said...

Ah, yes, repetition of the myth that superheroes were out until DC brought them back. Better check actual publishing history and rethink that nonsense.

Diabolu Frank said...

Care to elaborate? Are you looking for a caveat like "U.S. super-heroes?"