Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Ten Comics That Changed My Life--Part 6

Justice League of America #100

To be a child who liked comic books in the time between after Batman was cancelled until about 1972 or so was not a pleasant time. The old guard, Gardner Fox, John Broome, even Stan Lee, were leaving comic book writing, sometimes by their own choice, and replaced by a new breed of writer, comic fans that made the transition. In the beginning, comic strip artists had inspired comic book artists; later comic book artists would state that their predecessors in the trade were an influence.

By the late sixties, a new wave of writers was entering the industry, writers who had read the classics and were comic fans. These writers were among the first (after Will Eisner, I guess) who saw that comics could be more than even Stan Lee’s melding of comic book heroics with soap opera melodrama. This resulted in comic books from both of the Big 2 that were still full of action, they were still a bit “off” to my eight-year-old eye and I wasn’t really happy. Villains who threatened with pollution in Justice League, Green Lantern driving around with Green Arrow, Batman divesting himself of Robin and the Batcave, and the Metal Men pretending to be human weren’t what I wanted to see.

Years later when I’ve read comments from fans about and during that time, it appears that they liked a lot of what was coming out. However, like today, what fans like doesn’t necessarily translate into comics that sell and, slowly, overt social commentary went away. It didn’t disappear entirely, of course, and when I thirteen, I was open to Steve Englehart’s work on Captain America and Doctor Strange; I’m sure some eight-year-old in 1974 was as disappointed as I had been in 1969.

All of that was in the future when Justice League of America #100 was released in 1972. I was eleven and loved team comic books, just like I do today. It was during that time of familial dependence for the money to obtain comic books, in general, that I recognized the bargain inherent in a team comic book: More heroes for the same price as a solo title.

The super team I liked the best then, as I do today in concept if not always in execution by DC, was the Justice League of America. Ever since the team’s appearances on the Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, I was enamored of the team. This particular issue was important for me for many reasons.

First, it was the one-hundredth issue of the book, a milestone that DC remarkably didn’t acknowledge on the cover. The splash page acknowledged the event as the reader was presented with the same invitation that had gone out to the heroes of the DCU. “You are invited,” it read, “to a celebration in honor of the 100th meeting of the Justice League of America.” I’m not looking to make trouble, but I think it should be recognized that comic books sold better when Batman was shown enjoying the company of his peers. I’m sure that there is a formula that could be constructed that relates overall comic book sales to the degree of dickiness Batman/Bat-jerk exhibits within a particular year.

Second, this story was the first part of the annual team-up with the JSA. It was also the first three-part story, a trend that would continue over the years. Third, it reflected the importance of Might Crusaders #4, “Too Many Super Heroes!” within the comic industry as the story also included almost every hero that crossed the JLA’s path over the past ninety-nine issues.

Fourth, this story introduced a new gimmick that would be used in almost every JLA/JSA meeting to follow, the use of another group of super heroes. This story re-introduced to the DCU, while introducing them to me, the Seven Soldiers of Victory. For a budding comic historian, what was there about the comic that was not to like?

None of the reasons I just offered are the real reason that this comic is important to me. It is the group of events that make this book important, because this is the comic that made me really to not want to miss the next issue. This comic convinced me there was some sense in getting a subscription.

I was aware that comic books came out on a regular basis, but though it was frustrating to not get the next part of a story—how many Marvel comics did I have that didn’t have a conclusion—and I’d just accepted that as a tribulation of comic book collecting. I liked this story so much that I was determined to get all the parts. Let me tell you, that was a heck of a stressful summer. I was on vacation to South Dakota with my parents when I came across #101. God bless the souvenir stores at national monuments.

After that, I made the extreme sacrifice, giving up some of my ability to buy comic books now, to wager on the future, that Justice League would continue to give me the kind of stories I wanted to read. They must have because I still have many a JLA with the tell-tale lengthwise subscription fold. What I find interesting though, to show how I’ve changed, is that while I probably sacrificed a greater part of my disposable income for those subscriptions, I resented paying for those much less than when I’m expected to pay upfront when I place my order at the comic store. I don’t know what that means, just that it is interesting. To me.