“…AND A CHILD SHALL DESTROY THEM!” – IN BLACKEST NIGHT, PART 3

The kids weren’t alright. And if you thought comics were to blame and Al Feldstein specifically, you may very well have a point there. Only nobody did, back then, because nobody remembered that time when comic books had almost perished in the fires of poorly informed public opinion and the flames from the comic book burnings, organized by well-intentioned church groups and PTAs. In the mid-1960s, the first kids born after the Second World War came of age, a generation known as the baby boomer generation. When the men came home from the war, and in many cases the women, too, who had served as nurses and medical doctors or in some other capacity, it took them a while to figure things out in this changed world. But soon, with aid from the government via the G.I. Bill, there was prosperity, and a new middle class took rise. Children were conceived and born in an unpreceded number, and why not, really? You put yourself through college, the first in your family to do so, you married young and you moved out of the city and into the suburbs. There, behind a white picket fence and your prim and proper front yard, in your new model house, you had recreated Eden as best as you possibly could. In your white shirt and your neatly pressed gray flannel suit, among your shiny appliances and the chrome fixtures and fittings, you followed the commandments handed down to you from your father. But what about your children, the children of the Atomic Age? They played “Cowboys and Indians” like they’d seen on TV on all those shows that told them that the American Way was always right. Mom called them in, the TV dinner ready in the microwave oven. Less than ten years later, once they went college, if they went to college, your kids, most kids, got radicalized like free-floating atoms without a core, a center that couldn’t hold. You were eighteen when you were fed to the machinery of war and you took the beaches in Normandie or Iwo Jima or when you cheered Fat Boy and Little Man. They were eighteen when they got their notices. Time to pick up a gun or the wooden slat of a protest sign. Screw the draft, screw “the man”. Now, they could vote for the first time. The Kids wanted to make their voices heard, to make it count, and to make it all go away or blown sky-high. “On to Chicago” was the message that had taken on a sinister meaning. The optimism, the idea of change for the better, of peaceful protest and of love, it got washed away by the blood in the streets. If you were one of those young radicals and you knew which way the wind was blowing, you were among those who invaded the windy city. Many did, for they were legion. Like locusts they descended, against the mayor’s orders and in spite of them. And what you saw with your TV dinner on the little fold-out table, was not news footage from some bloody revolt in a country behind the iron curtain with a name you could never pronounce or remember. This was America, but not the America you had fought for on those beaches. Your brothers in arms didn’t die for this in Normandy, Korea and Valley Forge. They didn’t give their lives so America’s children could envelope cities in smoke and flame. The system was to blame, the man, the parents. Everybody had their hand out.  The kids weren’t alright. Now, mother no longer called them in. Your kids sat in a shabby dorm room where they shot up by the flickering light of an old black and white TV set or the glare from a flag burning. There were Blacks with guns in the streets. Black Muslims. This was the third American civil war. This was a revolution. It was the revolution and it played out to the soundtrack of the White Album. Blacks rioted. Cities were on fire literally and with anger. Other Blacks, those on the police force or in the National Guard, were ordered to raise their rifles against their brothers. Men, almost children still, who only months earlier had been commanded to do just that in some rice field or godforsaken backwater villages. Then and there, they’d fought against the little Yellow men who came at them from all sides. Not just men, their women and children and elderly, too. The enemy wouldn’t yield, and neither would we. These boys defended their liberty and ours. And when they came home from a country torn by war to a country torn by civil unrest, there was no ticker tape parade. They were spat at by peaceniks and called murderers. Where was the gratefulness, the thank you for your service, son? The kids weren’t alright. The sacrifices made and the achievements of your generation had ensured them a safe childhood. Now they told you that somehow all of it was wrong, that it was too much or not enough, never the right thing, not what they had wanted, what they’d needed. They spit in your face. They let their hair grow. Plastic was bad, free love was good. Then, in 1969, two years after the Summer of Love, you had the Summer of Violence. Now, when you saw a long-haired hippie with his thumb out, you didn’t stop the car, not even when it was a girl in one of those short skirts and mini dresses, though you did check out her legs in the rear-view mirror. Well, those short skirts, there at least was something nice. But these kids were dirty and unkempt, even the girls. They were full of diseases and fanciful dreams and expectations. They were out to get you. These kids despised your lifestyle, that you punched the card nine to five to pay for a double garage. This was an attack on all that you’d built. Where was this repugnance when you’d afforded them an upbringing that was safe like they were living in a bubble? Or in a nuclear fall-out shelter. You paid for their college tuition. The government, the Army had paid for yours. But that education was paid for with the blood shed by the unhappy few, your band of brothers. You got a degree in civil engineering or in accounting. You were the first in your family who graduated, from college. Your father never even finished his high school. You paid for your kids’ education. While they pretended that they took classes in social studies or English literature or art, they listened to some pied piper with lots of charisma to spare, and a better society for sale. Only those who worked hard like yourself knew there wasn’t a ticket to ride, there was no such thing as a free lunch. You had to put the years in, bend a little now and then, be willing to settle for less, to compromise, to play it as it lays. You don’t get ahead by going against the stream. You’d told them, you’d warned them. But kids don’t to want listen. Not these kids, anyway. Instead, the kids were out to get you, to stick a barbecue fork into your belly of which they knew that it had gotten soft from overindulgence. The kids were like the little girl in “Night of the Living Dead” who ate her mother. They feasted on you like a baby lived off its mother in the womb. They ate it all up, your money and stability.

 

And just let’s not get started on that whole business of women’s liberation. What was it with girls these days? You had Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, the latter sneaking into a Playboy Club to work as one of their Bunnies for a hit piece for Show Magazine, to smear the man who had started it all. When Show Magazine published “A Bunny’s Tale” in 1963, Steinem’s report of having spent eleven days as a Bunny Girl in Hugh Hefner’s New York City Playboy Club, nobody saw the political implications or the economic motivations. But you needed no tin-foil hat to see the underlying system. Steinem had begun her career at Esquire Magazine. So had Hefner, a decade earlier. Instead of being nurtured by a seasoned male editor like Steinem was, he had to go at it alone. Hefner had to learn how to use his smarts and elbows in a highly competitive environment. He didn’t want anything for free, no, sir, no nice cushion in a bed, others had made for him with their hard work. What he wanted, after he’d proven how capable he was, was a little raise of a few dollars. But there was no editor who opened the doors for Hefner, no Mr. Clay Felker who told a woman he liked her writing style so she would allow him check out her long legs a bit longer. Instead of the meager five-dollar-raise he’d asked for, Hef got a “no” for all his troubles. Hefner replied with a nice and friendly thank you and go f- yourself, and he sat down in his kitchen and founded Playboy, and whilst Esquire allowed women like Ms. Steinem to cut its balls off and serve them to them in a cocktail class and they said, thank you, Ms., Hefner built something out of nothing. Yet, sure enough, there was Steinem to tear it all down. A man who had beaten the establishment at its game, we couldn’t let that stand! The magazine Steinem’s “A Bunny’s Tale” articles ran in, not one, but a two-parter, mind you, was owned by Huntington Hartford, a fellow who’d never worked a day in his life to get where he was. This man, who told Steinem to go ahead, let’s get this fink, this degenerate, this smut peddler, he stood on the shoulders of giants. First those of his grandfather. Then those of his father and his father’s brothers who’d built A&P into the largest retail chain not only in America but the entire world. Yet their business ethics and dedication were entirely lost on Hartford. Instead of earning his keep by starting at the check-out like a regular joe who bagged your groceries for you, who carried them to the parking lot with a genuine smile and a shoeshine, he only worked at A&P briefly. That was beneath him. Strangely, all the money he inherited from his father, when Hartford was eleven years old, wasn’t. This was when A&P nearly made more money hand over fist and year after year than General Motors. Why of course, a man like Hefner, who’d come from hunger, a real man, not a conniving simp, who had built an empire out of wits, a vision, and hard work, who played by his own rules, he was the enemy. “My enemy”, that was what Hefner was called by a nobody like Susan Brownmiller on The Dick Cavett Show seven years after Steinem’s article series saw print. Brownmiller, who had brought her friend Sally Kempton along for moral support, and as her own private cheering section, was thirty-five. And like Steinem, back in 1963, she had only a few articles to her name. Sure, she had worked as an “editor”, but after she had moved from one little fly-by-night publication to the next, she turned to “freelancing”, which stood for “difficult to work with”. Of course, to Susan Brownmiller, who had attended university on a scholarship, but who had not graduated because she wanted to become an actress, Hefner was the enemy. Hefner had founded Playboy when he was twenty-seven; his magazine, that sold millions of copies and buried a toothless Esquire overnight. By calling Hefner misogynistic and labeling him a sexist, Brownmiller tried to obfuscate what Hefner had done, not for himself, but for inclusivity. Before Hefner was even thirty-five, he demanded that equal airtime be given to African-American musicians on his TV program. He’d send Alex Haley to interview George Lincoln Rockwell. This was a black writer, one who would go on to the kind of popularity and relevance Brownmiller could only ever hope to achieve, talking to the founder the American Nazi Party. Like Hefner, Haley kept his cool the entire time, even when Rockwell took out a handgun which he placed on the table. No, Hefner wasn’t “the man”, but he did what a man did. And so did Haley. Once Brownmiller had her fifteen minutes of fame, which was exactly the amount of time Cavett and his producer allotted to her and her vile sop sister turned militant bra thrasher Kempton for their little mean-spirited rant and attack on Hefner, right after existential psychologist Rollo Reece May had a chance to peddle his latest book “Love and Will”, men of all ages tuned in to see Jefferson Airplane closing out the show. Not for the long-haired musicians or their guitars, mind you, but to see Grace Slick perform in one of her tiny mini skirts. Maybe there were certain things that bridged the generation gap after all. Maybe there was hope. But deep down in your heart, in your bed and late at night, you knew, there wasn’t. The kids weren’t alright, but perhaps they were right. Even Brownmiller and her cohort, who technically were no kids and who objected to Hefner calling them “girls”. This was your own “Night of the Living Dead”, but you were not the mother who got eaten alive by her offspring, you were already dead, or worse, you were like an actor fated to perform the same play over and over, without the script getting changed to meet the interests of a new audience. Soon, you’d take your bow in an empty house. And the kids? As it would turn out, they’d learn how to compromise as well. In the end, they sold their big dreams and high ideals to be able to purchase nice new things like the generation before had. There was no money in holding up a protest sign, surprisingly. Eventually, the kids wanted what their parents had provided them with during their childhood, namely stability and material possession, the signifiers of success, the proof that you amounted to something in life, that you mattered, that you existed. Thus, sooner or later, the kids cleaned up and rubbed the sleep from their eyes. They became upward mobile. The kids were alright. They learned how to kowtow to the “the man”. Even the hippies worked for IBM.

 

It seems a bit ironic that it should fall to one of the writers from the old generation, the generation that was getting phased out to make room for the young up-and-comers who were hungry and cheaper, to tell readers that DC Comics was getting hip, that their superheroes were getting with it. And as if to say, “yeah, we got your message”, he did this in DC’s premier team book, Justice League of America. Readers voted with their feet and their dollars, and as far as DC flagship title was concerned, this was where the problem was, because they didn’t. During a relatively short span of four years, JLA had not only dropped out of its spot among the ten bestselling comic titles in America, in the overall sales statistic for the year 1969, it only reached rank No. 27, lower even than DC’s own team-up book The Brave and the Bold. It was a decline that hadn’t gone unnoticed by the book’s editor Julius Schwartz and his bosses. It dawned on Julius that the glow that surrounded his person was wearing off fast. To Julius, it felt like it was 1946 all over again, the year when the superheroes began to fade away and crime comics became the books du jour. Then in 1947, romance comics had hit the scene courtesy of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, and they had made a huge impact. Both genres sold millions of units. Just three years later, the horror trend had created a third line of books that kids couldn’t grab from the newsstand and the spinner racks at a local supermarket or drugstore fast enough. This had left the guys who were working on the superhero books with holding the bag. During the war years, superheroes had dominated the market and they had even crowded the pulp magazines out of the marketplace. Even adults were reading comic books and many superheroes had their own radio shows and movie serials. DC/National’s Superman was so popular, he had his own in-house agent who oversaw all the licensing deals. Everybody wanted a piece of the action it seemed. What had saved Schwartz, who had once worked as a literary agent for pulp writers and who had come to DC with the help of his former business partner Mort Weisinger, meanwhile the powerful editor of the line of titles that had been created around the Man of Tomorrow, was a screeching uproar from church groups, cultural critics and a certain child psychologist, who told parents that comic books were bad, especially those of the crime and horror variety. Those were really bad. Lest the entire comic industry was pushed off a cliff, publisher got together to hammer out a set of guidelines to govern what could be shown in a comic title and what not. It hadn’t been the first attempt at setting up a set of rules that mirrored The Motion Picture Production Code which came about under similar circumstances back in the 1930s. But when it became a matter of survival, any publisher who still wanted to put out funny books had better come up with a plan lest the outrage spread any further, and what if this new guideline took some of DC’s competitors out of the game? Which was exactly what had happened. Once the new Comic Code Authority was set up and its seal of approval rolled out to the media, no distributor wanted to touch a comic without it. Bill Gaines sooner gave up than to compromise, which seemed to close the final chapter on the Gaines family in comics. Gaines’ father had once cofounded All-American Publishing which had created many of the characters Schwartz now oversaw. Ironically, his son Bill was one of the reasons why the Code became necessary, and good riddance to the publisher whose horror comics had put a cramp into Schwartz’s success. With horror comics gone and crime comics toothless, and readers showing an appetite for much healthier fare, Schwartz had realized what nobody else saw. This was the right time for the superheroes to make a comeback. These heroes would be different altogether. Gone were the dark shadows from the days of the Depression and the Patriotism from the War Years. There’d be no sweaty vows of revenge uttered in old mansions, and no images that depicted what pretty much amounted to torture porn, no superheroines with tiny, low-cut costumes that could hardly contain the naked skin that wasn’t already presented to the readers’ curious, probing eyes, and who were further enticed to a lurid stare by many pin-poses of the heroines. Not that Julius mind that much. But his would be clean superheroes for a new age, the Atomic Age. And with all the science nerds, boys and girls, who were still reading comic books, why not give them heroes whose powers and moral center were rooted in the scientific advances and inventions that took the country by storm in this new cycle of prosperity? Schwartz and his writers and artists quickly dusted off some of the old superheroes and put them in a new set of clothes. Their origins would be based in science fiction and science fantasy and their outlook would be positive. They’d go steady with a girl or were romantically involved with a girl who wanted to marry the hero and who was pure enough that this was a possibility. Gone were the bad girls who drove a guy crazy and who came out on top. Sure, a girl could be bad, just a little bit, but in the end, the hero would always receive confirmation that he was superior, that maybe she had tricked him once, but that in reality, he held all the trump cards. The deck was stacked against these female characters, which was alright, since they wanted nothing but a man who put a ring on their finger. These new heroes appeared in a try-out book first, Showcase, and soon a few of them were popular enough to get their own books. So why not bring them together in one book as a super-team? The idea was also not a new one, but the repurposers in Schwartz’s team had a big advantage this time around. Back in the 40s, All-American had introduced The Justice Society of America. Even though the company was co-owned by Harry Donenfeld (in fact it was fully owned by him lest the line of credit he’d provided his business partner Max Gaines), there were no crossovers between All-American and the other two comic book companies Donenfeld already owned outright after he had forced his erstwhile business partner Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson out of the picture. Readers saw National’s Superman and DC Comics Batman and Robin in World’s Finest Comics having adventures together, but the All-American heroes stayed in their own little universe, and when the time came for them to form a club, it was a club of their own. But now that Harry Donenfeld had consolidated all three companies under one roof, it would be something of a sensation to have the main heroes from all universes come together in one team. There was only one problem. If he wanted to do this, Schwartz would have to obtain permission from the editors who were the custodians of DC’s most popular superheroes (with the exception of Wonder Woman) who had weathered the decline of superheroes at the end of the 1940s. But each editor ruled his line of books like his own fiefdom. Julius knew he had to lean on his friend Mort once again, because with Superman on the team, Batman’s boss Jack Schiff couldn’t refuse to grant his permission to have Batman included, at least once in a while and for the important debut issue, or readers would bombard his office with letters asking why The Caped Crusader wasn’t a card carrying member in the new Justice League from the start, when even a second-stringer like The Martian Manhunter, who didn’t even have his own book, let alone several books, made the cut. Maybe Batman wasn’t simply good enough? Schiff couldn’t have that. Indeed, Schwartz played his game of corporate chess to perfection. The irony being of course, that Jack Schiff was the editor for the Superman titles before Mort took over. Schiff had moved on to the Batman line which he ruled with an iron fist until he was eventually fired and replaced by Julius. That was still a few years into the future. For the time being, the forward-thinking editor was pleased with what he’d been able to achieve. He’d laid the groundwork for a new superteam that, theoretically at least, would be comprised of the biggest heroes across all comic book companies in the DC family. Readers would go crazy for this new book. If you followed the adventures of one of the heroes on the team, now you’d simply have to buy this series as well. He knew that with its first issue hitting the newsstands, Justice League of America would already have a massive build-in base of loyal fans, which in turn would make the proposed series a hit right out of the gate, delivering him another win to further his career at the publisher. Getting their biggest guns onto one team and into one book was only one part of the equation. But picking the right creative team was equally crucial. He needed a writer who knew how to balance multiple characters within one story. Since Schwartz had started his new age of heroes with Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino’s reboot of The Flash in 1956 (technically this age had begun with the first appearance of The Martian Manhunter nearly a year earlier), he hired the writer who had co-created the original, Gardner Fox. It had also been Fox, under the stewardship of Schwartz’s former boss Sheldon Mayer, who brought the original heroes together in The Justice Society of America in All-Star Comics No. 3 (cover-dated Winter 1940). Though, the team had originally consisted of male members only, this being the 1940s, with girls expected to do their part as well, two superheroines were allowed in the club house as well, Wonder Woman and Black Canary. Since the latter had fallen out of use, together with the other superheroes that saw their books cancelled by the end of the 1940s, this left Schwartz and Fox with Wonder Woman as a likely candidate for the new team’s roster, and she’d be included as a founding member this time around. Like the other characters on the team, with the exception of Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman had also gotten a much-needed overhaul in the meantime, courtesy of Schwartz, Kanigher and artist Ross Andru. She’d be the heart of the Justice League. The team made itself known in February 1960. Schwartz had enlisted Mike Sekowsky (and inker Bernard Sachs) to provide the art. Mike Sekowsky was the type of artist who perfectly knew how to emulate what was becoming DC’s new house-style, as defined by his colleagues Carmine Infantino and Gil Kane. The Justice League of America made its debut in another try-out book, The Brave and the Bold, in No. 28 to be precise. Fox made sure that readers saw their new favorite hero in action by splitting the team into smaller units. This way you got a lot of action with the new versions of Green Lantern and The Flash. Wonder Woman was also in the mix (but she needed support from one of the guys during her mission, albeit a green one, Martian Manhunter). Still, you got a cool shot of the League in their underground club house which looked stylish and modern. Alas, it was a house divided.

 

Though many readers might not have noticed this, with all the excitement of an alien being called Starro attacking our world, and perhaps the in-story explanation did suffice, but to see the new team at their long conference table for the very first time, with two chairs left vacant, seemed odd. Except for cameo appearances that told readers why they didn’t have time to help the other five members of the League to battle an invader from outer space, Superman and Batman were nowhere to be found. Like this new team, DC was very much like Camelot right before it all fell apart. But for the time being, Julius Schwartz got the hit he wanted. Fox even introduced a mascot to the proceedings, “young hipster Snapper Carr”, to distract from the absence of DC’s biggest heroes, and to give readers a character they could identify with. Even though things had changed since the days of The Justice Society of America, Harry Donenfeld, their corporate overlord, had consolidated what originally were three different comic book companies under one roof, now you had editors like Mort and Jack Schiff holding court while they lorded over their characters, albeit not as creators, but as custodians. But once Schwartz got proven right, and the League became a hit, one that garnered its own series after two more appearances in The Brave and the Bold, with issue No. 1 of Justice League of America (cover-date October-November 1960), he was allowed to use Superman and Batman more frequently, since clearly, his colleagues wanted to see their heroes in a hit book. As if to make a meta-comment, the cover for the first issue presented the League in a chess game with the main villain. Though the cover by Murphy Anderson was a thing of beauty, you saw some of the heroes at the table, the original five that had started it all, but both Superman and Batman were not pictured, but they were both featured in the story, once again by Fox, Sekowsky and Sachs. Pleased with what he’d achieved, Schwartz was sitting on top of the world. He was convinced that soon the day would come when he’d be more powerful at DC Comics than his former partner Weisinger who had the benefit that books with Superman in them still sold great numbers. Schwartz couldn’t have known that his Justice League of America team would hasten the downfall of Camelot. Not only was it emblematic for the way things worked inside DC, where petty intrigues, inter-departmental grabs for power, and a lot of jealousy and insecurities seemed par for the course by now, it also brought the barbarians to their gates, and a house divided is a house that’ll fall. Timely Comics, one of the many shingles under Martin Goodman’s Magazine Management Enterprises, had pretty much been relegated to the level of an also-run once the boom of comics book was over at the end of the Second World War. Like Donenfeld back in the day, Goodman had started as a publisher of pulps and girlie magazines. Like Schwartz’s boss, he had branched out into comics when there was a lot of money to be made with these funny books. But Donenfeld had not only one leg up over him, but two. For one, there was Jack Liebowitz, a wizard where numbers and accounting were concerned and currently the head honcho of DC/National. But Harry was also the owner of the distribution company that handled Goodman’s books. Not one to feed one of his competitors, Independent News had forced Goodman into a contract that allowed for just eight comic books per month to be shipped when Goodman lost his former distributor due to an antitrust ruling in 1957. The irony was of course, that they had self-distributed their comics books for years and had only recently switched to the now defunct external partner. Left with no choice, Martin Goodman accepted Independent News’ mandate and they went from forty or fifty titles to less than a dozen per month. As it turned out, in a declining, over-saturated market, those were well enough. Magazine Management’s comic imprint had seen a few changes, and in the late 1950s, it was an office with a writer-editor and a handful of artists who turned in pretty decent art for mostly uninspired tales about giant monsters. The thing was, the writer-editor was the cousin of Goodman’s wife, hence he was allowed to keep the lights on a little longer than their sales merited. Atlas Comics, as they were now known, were but a nuisance at worst and of little consequence at best to DC/National and hence to Schwartz, except for an irritation that to a large degree was owed to the influence and power DC’s editors wielded. One of the artists this writer worked with, who fancied himself somewhat of an author who was destined to write real books one day, while he was biding his time with funny books, was a guy named Jack Kirby. In the glory days, even before America had entered into the war, Kirby and his business partner Joe Simon had created Captain America, a huge hit for Timely and across the whole comic industry such as it was back then. It hadn’t lasted, but after a few hits and setbacks, Simon and Kirby resurfaced in 1947 in a big way. While Schwartz was figuring out how to keep the original line-up of DC’s superheroes alive (he would fail) he had to contend with a whole new genre that took readers by storm. What had looked like a dud, became an overnight sensation, romance comics. Once these books sold millions of copies, there simply was no way that DC wouldn’t try to capitalize on this new trend in comics. When Liebowitz personally brought on a new editor to build their own line of romance books, Jack Miller, Schwartz knew that superheroes were doomed. And that they were until he himself brought them back with Showcase No. 4 (1956) and DC’s new version of The Flash, which was his brainchild. Right around that time, Kirby, who had broken off with Simon, began to darken their door, looking for work. But what do with a guy who’d had a hand in not one, but two upswings in the market, and who now, as he was approaching his fortieth birthday, was clearly well beyond his prime? Mort stuck him on a backup strip in one of his Superman books. No harm would come from letting an over-the-hill artist do some interior art on a nothing character, their ersatz Batman, but with a bow and arrows. Green Arrow, actually created by Mort himself and George Papp, was never a big star, but he’d managed to survive the culling that killed most superheroes at the end of the 1940s because of that. While Schwartz had seen better superpowered characters fall by the wayside one after the other, with the exception of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman who were still reasonably popular, Green Arrow managed to hang in there since he had a spot in one of the books that starred The Man of Tomorrow, and because Mort had co-created the character. Though the archer had once been a bit more popular, due to the inclusion of a young crimefighting partner, Speedy, Green Arrow was nobody’s favorite hero. Nobody paid attention to him, and surely the thought never crossed Julius’ mind to update him when he was laying the groundwork for a new age of superheroes. But since he needed more heroes, with Schiff and Mort still reluctant to give him control over Superman and The Caped Crusaders for the time being, here was a hero to include. Thus, when he showed up as a member of the team, though he’d come about at the exact time when the original Green Lantern and The Flash first saw print, nobody asked any questions. But surely, soon enough, Kirby was getting restless, and he began pestering them with a pitch for a new super-team, which came three years before Julius had the brilliant idea to team up his superheroes. Surprisingly, Schiff had a sympathetic ear and Jack listened to Kirby’s pitch for the team he and writer Dave Wood had dreamt up. This came at a time when Schwartz and Schiff shared editorial duties on DC’s premier try-out book Showcase under the supervision of long-time editor Whitney Ellsworth. Whilst Julius was in the midst of orchestrating the return of his beloved superheroes and he, Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino were about to debut their revised version of The Flash, here was Kirby with his idea for a team comprised of regular heroes without superpowers, men who were pilots, daredevils, adventurers and explorers, in short the kind of men that were shown in the pages of Detective Comics right on the cusp of the birth of the superheroes. But Schiff liked Kirby’s concept, and Ellsworth liked it as well. After Ellsworth had sent it up the chain of command, word came back that, surprisingly, DC was willing to give Ellsworth the money to buy Kirby’s characters wholesale. This was most annoying to Schwartz. While he carefully rolled out revised and modernized incarnations of once popular superheroes, The Flash, Wonder Woman (also with Kanigher scripting and Ross Andru on art), Green Lantern, and soon many more, here was Schiff with Kirby’s rival concept that was pretty much a throwback to the past of the past he was currently repurposing to populate DC with shiny new heroes, perfectly crafted to slide right in with the modern technology of The Jet Age. Kirby’s characters looked rough-hewn and grimy. Julius and his creative teams dusted off the old heroes and gave them a nice polish that made them look shiny. These were courageous, optimistic men, scientists and jet pilots. Kirby’s men looked working class. They were brought together and motivated by fate, like heroes in the 1940s, not like Julius’ heroes, who were clean and proper and born in The Atomic Age. His superheroes were men who walked a girl back to her apartment after a date. Kirby’s men put their feet on the table. The Flash made his debut in Showcase No. 4 (1956) and he connected with readers. So did Kirby’s kooky quartet of non-superpowered explorers. Challengers of the Unknown, as the team was named, arrived just two issues later in Showcase No. 6 (1957), written and drawn by Jack Kirby and edited by Schiff. It would appear that with Schiff, Kirby had a way in, and Schwartz didn’t want to imagine what he and the editor might cook up next. The artist was two years younger than Schwartz, but Julius was management. Thought it had seemed that Kirby’s best years were behind him at that time and his work on Weisinger’s green archer didn’t set the world on fire exactly, there was a raw energy to his pencils for this particular issue with its team of rough-and-tumble heroes that was undeniable. But Kirby’s art looked nothing like the house-style Julius was carefully cultivating with Infantino and Kane whose art with pristine and easy to follow, and not an overblown kinetic frenzy that might confuse younger readers. True, top brass had requested that he put a Flash story in Showcase, but Julius had sensed that this was the opportunity he had been waiting for. Instead of retreading to the heroes of old, which was essentially what his bosses had in mind, he boldly forged ahead to The Jet Age, further still, to The Space Age. Kirby’s world felt like it was the stone age or the dark ages, or what the world might look after a nuclear holocaust. A world, which primitive men ruled, and their fists were the law of the land. To Schwartz’s dismay, Kirby’s punchy daredevils without a cause were back right in the next issue. What’s worse, after just two more try-out appearances, DC gave them and Jack Kirby a new series. Not only did Challenger of the Unknown No. 1 (cover-dated April-May 1958) see print several months before Schwartz was able to convince DC to give  him the opportunity to roll out his next revised version of a classic Golden Age hero for the modern day (Green Lantern), but Kirby’s team (the first “super” team in this new age of heroes at the publisher), hit newsstands well ahead of The Flash getting a new solo title, and he didn’t even get a brand-new No. 1. But alas, things wouldn’t last. When readers picked up Challengers of the Unknown No. 9 (cover-dated August-September 1959), a title that was out-selling Schwartz’s new version of The Flash, they noticed a marked difference. There was a new artist on the book. Though Bob Brown was a skillful journeyman, he was no Jack. Nobody was. Jack Kirby had left the building, and as far as Julius was concerned, good riddance and Godspeed. With Jack and his dirty heroes gone, there’d be no more noise and distractions. Julius knew that his new superheroes were the only game in town. Sales on Challengers of the Unknown would suffer, but as far as Schiff was concerned, he wouldn’t be able to throw a wrench into his carefully laid out plans any longer. He had The Flash, Green Lantern, The Atom, and soon many more new heroes.

 

As it often will be, especially with heroes of legend, actual history is superseded by folk tales and myths. It would always put a sad, mocking grin on Julius’ face when he’d hear people repeat the same old yarn, a tale that took on even more epic proportions with every re-telling. Martin Goodman and DC’s big boss Jack Liebowitz had been at a golf game together with Liebowitz bragging to Goodman how fantastic the sales numbers on Justice League of America were, which they were. But that was about the only thing that was true. Jack Liebowitz would never blabber indiscriminately about the success they were having, especially not to one of their competitors like Goodman, not because he’d ever perceive him as a threat, but because Jack considered him insignificant. And to be in a golf match with Liebowitz, you’d have to pay the man for his time. What was true, Schwartz was convinced of this, Goodman went around to ask newsagents and the guys that stocked the magazine racks at supermarkets, what was currently selling. And what was selling were Julius’ new, pristine superheroes with their proper club house and their nice girlfriends and their hip sidekick. Not one to waste an opportunity to follow a trend to turn a quick buck, it couldn’t have escaped Goodman’s attention, that the superheroes were coming back and that a title that happened to have a bunch of them was making bank. Thus, he asked the single writer-editor in the severely whittled down comic book division of his Magazine Management to come up with a group of superpowered characters to see if he couldn’t catch some of that lightning a bespectacled, balding nerd in a white shirt had been able to capture in DC’s corporate offices. The guy Goodman talked to was still around because he was the cousin of Goodman’s wife. Again, legend had it, that he was about to quit, but for good. He fancied himself a real writer, hence he had given himself a pen name while he scripted all these little monster stories, he could fit in the eight books the deal between Goodman and Donenfeld had left them with. Having worked in the industry since he was a teen, he’d had it, and a guy pretentious enough to save his given name for the next great American Novel he was going to write, might actually throw in the towel. When you saw him, you’d think that he very well might. At not even forty he looked like he was forty-five. He was thin as a rail and he was balding like Schwartz, though with his hair slicked back, he made his huge forehead and his long nose stand out more. His wife Joan, he’d later claim in a story related over and over again ad nauseam, had convinced him to stay on and to follow through with Goodman’s request, but on his own terms. This meant that Goodman actually cared about what he was doing. When monster books and westerns were the thing to do, Goodman had told Stan to do monster books and westerns. Now all the publisher wanted to see were some people with fantastic abilities. He didn’t care what they were as long as the sold better than the books they were currently pushing, which was setting the bar really low. Still, Stan Lee scrambled, because coming up with a new idea was really hard work. Stan needn’t wreck his brain for inspiration. Here was one of the artists that he was left with coming into his office right now to drop off some artwork for those books that featured giant creatures. That guy was Jack Kirby. But what about Jack Kirby? This clearly was a case of be careful what you wish for, Schwartz would quickly learn. Once Jack had turned Challengers of the Unknown into a hit, at least comparatively speaking, a book he could do the way he wanted to, even though Dave Wood helped out with the dialogue, his bromance with Jack Schiff had reached new heights. When an agent hit Schiff up, who was sniffing around for talent for a client, George Matthews Adams, a former newspaper columnist turned packager of syndicated newspaper comic strips, Schiff paid attention. What Adams was looking for was a creative team that could deliver a science fiction strip that capitalized on business of Sputnik and the space race, because surely, kids and their fathers would eat that stuff up. Schiff recalled that a while back Kirby and Wood had come to him with a similar pitch, but he’d turned them down. Now he had a few ideas of his own how to make that thing work, but most of all, after he’d seen what the artist could really do, here was an opportunity for all of them make some serious money. A syndicated strip put out across various major newspapers reached tens of millions of readers on a daily basis. Jack went to the other Jack and they reached an agreement. Jack would refer Kirby to this agent for a finder’s fee, and he’d get compensated for his contribution, such as it was. Everything went smoothly at first. Then the money started rolling in for Sky Masters of the Space Force, with Kirby even hiring legendary artist Wally Wood to help out with the inking, paid out of his pocket. Kirby had made the deal with Schiff with the understanding that his fee would be a one-off payment, but Schiff insisted that he’s be entitled to a regular royalty payment, and Schiff wouldn’t let all that money go so easily. When the frustrated artist relented and they drew up a contract, they still couldn’t agree on the conditions. Would Schiff be getting a percentage of the gross intake or net? Here was the refined Schiff, and in the other corner you had a burly bruiser who looked and talked like one of his heroes or the foreman of a girdle factory. You need not stand at the door to make out what was going on. You’d hear their shouting matches in the hallway and the other offices. The matter wouldn’t be settled with a fist fight. They sued each other, and though the court finally ordered Kirby to pay Schiff, the editor was a vindictive kind of guy. With one phone call to Irwin Donenfeld, Harry’s son and now the editorial director at DC, Kirby was gone. Not just from his hit book, but from the company. It was like Kirby had been caught stealing the silverware. But like a bad penny, he’d turn up at Timely again, where a grateful Stan Lee put him on some of the books they were doing. And there he was again, two years later, handing in more artwork while an exasperated Lee was hard at work, dreaming up the team of superheroes Goodman wanted from him. When Jack asked him what was bothering him, with Lee’s immense forehead all wrinkled up, Stan told him. Jack took it all in and thought for a moment. Then he thought a bit more while he was half-chewing, half-smoking a cigar.

 

Jack asked Lee if he’d seen his Challengers of the Unknown comic. Lee hadn’t. He didn’t know what that was. Jack showed Stan Showcase No. 6 which featured the team’s origin story. You saw four strangers, a scientist who was also a master skin diver, an Olympic athlete, a fearless jet pilot, and their youngest member, a daredevil circus stunt rider, united for a live radio program, only that these four never made it on the show. When the private plane crashed in which they were flying to the station, and the quartet managed to survive the crash, they made a sacred vow to use their “borrowed time” to the benefit of mankind. Julius could have explained that this was pretty much a standard 1940s comic book origin, yet he wasn’t around. If Stan noticed that, it didn’t matter to him. What was important to him was that the artist knew how to draw rocket ships. Now, if only they’d replace the plane with a rocket, since this was the thing to do in the days of Alan Shepard and John Glenn, when space was the new frontier. The four would get their superpowers due to some space radiation. This way, he and Jack wouldn’t need to come up with an origin for each of them separately, because that was tough. Kirby listened and he started to make preliminary designs. Since there were four heroes, they could base their powers on the elements, he proposed. If you gave them personalities that lined up with the elements, you’d also have a scientific explanation why they should have different powers when the four of them were subjected to the same thing. Their personalities played a role in how each power set manifested itself in each guy individually. Stan liked the idea and he had one of his own. What if they made one of the guys a woman? In the back of his mind he recalled that Joan had suggested he should try to do a comic his way. So why not put her into the comic? A pretty girl would give male readers something to really excite them. She’d be useless of course, especially in a physical altercation, but she’d be nice to look at. Kirby didn’t mind, though he made a mental note to later address the idea that she’d “be useless”. That was not how Kirby felt about women, especially not about his wife who kept things together at home. And Roz had helped with inking the very pages of the comic he was showing to Stan during their impromptu story conference. Now was not the right moment. He could see that Stan was getting restless, that he wanted to go home. Lee felt that he’d done great. With the job completed, he was getting drowsy. According to the yarn he’d never get tired of spinning on end, this was the day Stan Lee created The Fantastic Four. Julius Schwartz would hear that tale many times over the next couple of years, and he knew it was a lie. It was all Kirby. Kirby was the scourge he and Schiff had inadvertently let loose across the comic book industry. Soon, Kirby’s rough-hewn superheroes and superheroines were everywhere. But there was another element at play here, something far more insidious and you saw it already in Fantastic Four No. 1 (November 1961). To offer some kind of melodrama had always been a staple of comic books. When the romance comics hit big at the end of the 1940s (also co-invented by Kirby), it had only become more pronounced. Schwartz made sure, there was romance in the books for his new heroes. With Marvel, as they called themselves now, this took on a whole new dimension. The Fantastic Four re-introduced the idea of family into these books (Fawcett did it first, and DC had their own Superman family), but this was a dysfunctional family. This was a family of superheroes that bickered and quarreled with each other, often in violent ways. It wouldn’t end there. Once they introduced another team, The Avengers, a team that resembled Justice League much more, readers not only learned that villains could reform and become heroes, but even a hero as impeccable as Captain America might be lusting after an exotic, foreign-looking bad girl, a witch no less. When Julius and writer Robert Kanigher created The Harlequin for their original Green Lantern series in 1947, the domineering, sexy redhead was there to give male readers someone to stare at, and as a foil for the hero. As a temptress, she was driven by her raging wantonness, her desire to copulate with the guy she wanted. In the 1940s, this meant that she’d have to force him into a marriage. But the superhero remained virtuous. In the end, Kanigher had rolled it all back. Marvel cranked it up to eleven.

 

It’s little wonder that the “yeah, we got your message” that Robert Kanigher sent to readers with Justice League of America No. 84 (cover-dated November 1970), with Schwartz’s blessing, felt like a white flag. It was more than that to Julius. It was a crushing blow of defeat, and to make matters worse, it was ill-advised at that. Yet, they’d already tried everything else plus the kitchen sink during the last years which had brought many changes. He recalled the days after the war much more clearly these days. Whenever there is a crisis, things will come much more into focus. What was worse this time around, to Schwartz and his bosses, it wasn’t that the superheroes were going away, it were DC’s characters that were losing their readers, his superheroes. Not for a lack of trying, not under Julius’ watch anyway. In The Flash No. 192 (cover-dated November 1969), Robert Kanigher was the first scripter to ever address the Vietnam War in a negative, non-heroic light in a superhero comic. Earlier still, in Green Lantern No. 49 (1966), to make the superhero and his alter-ego more relevant and relatable, writer John Broome took Hal Jordan out of the military-industrial complex. Broome turned the former test pilot into a searcher for spiritual growth, something that later would be falsely attributed to a young writer named Denny O’Neil who at that time did only two fill-in issues, but who’d make a huge impression with his work on Green Lantern a few years later. Broome’s approach looked like it might actually work, with sales improving, until John was getting a bit too busy with all that marijuana he was constantly smoking, and Gardner Fox stepped in, who pissed all over his idea. While Broome was tripping in outer space under the power of his special power battery, Fox made Hal kowtow to the “the man” again. He settled in Evergreen City while he was once again dating a rich daddy’s girl. Sure, John and Gardner were great friends, but on a life raft there was only so much room, even though many fans still believed in the days when they all sang “kumbaya” in the office, plus John was more into “namaste” anyway. Or that time when Irwin Donenfeld picked up the phone, not because Jack Schiff was making a call to him, but he summoned the editor into his office who had been treating Batman like he owned the character. Irwin was Executive Vice President of DC now. He ran the whole thing with Jack Liebowitz, while they were also co-owners of Independent News, with Harry winding down his affairs. A year later, Harry died. Running Independent News, gave Irwin a bird’s eye view on the actual sell-through numbers, not only for the units that were shipped, but those that were returned as well. And with books one hundred percent returnable, all retailers needed to do was to strip a cover from an unsold book to claim credit. Donenfeld fired Schiff off all the Batman books. Schiff, always a model of integrity, decided to stay with the company to complete his twenty-five years, which were still three years away, and to wait for his gold watch, while he edited second-tier books. As Julius had expected, Irwin made him the new editor for the entire Batman line. Donenfeld gave him six months to turn the ship around, or the Batmobile (as you were). Julius knew just the right team to make Batman great again, John Broome and Carmine Infantino, who was the most popular artist at DC at that time and who owed his career to Julius. When Detective Comics No. 327 (1964) hit spinner racks across the nation, kids couldn’t believe their eyes. Here were hip and happening Batman and Robin who finally had left the 1950s behind. This was a new look Batman for mods and hep cats. Detective Comics became the series you had to read if you read comics. Once the television show arrived two years later, Batman (penned by Fox) and Detective Comics (by Broome), began to sell unprecedented numbers. Julius knew it wouldn’t last and it didn’t. In 1968, with the TV show having lost most of its campy luster, and half of its audience, with viewership even dropping lower with every episode, books sold for Detective Comics and Batman plummeted by well-nigh fifty percent each. Another year on, for 1969 in total, the numbers were even more dire than Schwartz could have ever imagined. Julius needn’t worry about Irwin, though. Harry’s son had only managed to stay on long enough to see Jack Schiff leave their offices on 909 Third Avenue sans a gold watch, for his long overdue retirement, when he got a phone call himself. Liebowitz had orchestrated the buyout of Harry’s corporate assets, including DC/National and Independent News, with Kinney National which soon would rebrand itself as Warner Communications, Inc. This gave Harry’s former accountant a seat on their board of directors while Harry’s heir apparent was pushed out of the door. But as far as Julius was concerned, the damage was already done. First Irwin had let the monkeys in, then came the barbarians. When Irwin was still Executive Vice President, writers like Bob Haney told him about Marvel. Haney was eleven years younger than Julius. In fact, the long-time writer and the big boss were both born in 1926. This somehow seemed to embolden Haney to speak freely to Irwin, to let on that Stan Lee and his ragtag crew of creators were on to something with their incongruous characters and their superhero soap operas. Julius kept his mouth shut, while Haney went on and on about Marvel, that they needed to do something, that kids were reading the Marvel books instead of DC. Julius knew nothing good would come of it, and he was proven right once again. Irwin came up with what he called “Go-Go-Checks”. Soon, each cover displayed a black-and-white checkerboard strip on top of each book, intended to make their comics to “stand out on the news racks”. Also, there’d be gorilla warfare, Irwin Donenfeld style. He mandated that DC’s covers had to feature a gorilla or some other primate regularly, irrespective of the actual content of that particular book or story. To make sure that their covers always looked topnotch, the ones with a monkey on them or without one, Irwin tasked Infantino with designing each and every cover, across the whole line. Since Independent News was distributing the Marvel titles, with Goodman still held to the contract he’d signed under duress, Irwin knew their sales numbers first-hand. Once Marvel’s Spider-Man began to outsell Batman and The Avengers managed to edge past The Justice League of America, panic started to set in. And as amusing as it was to see the heir apparent of the late, great Harry Donenfeld sweat bullets, Julius couldn’t have foreseen his next move. Irwin named Infantino as the new editorial director, a move that made the popular artist Schwartz’s supervisor. Still matters only got worse. They decided that in order to better compete with Marvel, which had become a serious threat, in no small part thanks to Jack Kirby, fresh blood was needed. Irwin and Carmine knew the right kind of guy who could deliver some of that hot new talent that was currently not working for Goodman and Stan Lee. Dick Giordano was an editor at Charlton Comics, and Carmine knew he was on the move. Charlton was a much smaller outfit and the pay couldn’t have been that great. Giordano was well-liked in the creative community, and he was even better connected. Word on the street was, that wherever he landed next, he’d be more than happy to convince many creatives to follow him, if the job offer was the right one. Irwin made him an editor. As for the talent Giordano promised to DC, Schwartz knew all about those. Many of them were still in their teens and they looked like kids looked in that era. One of those kids had showed up in his office because he wanted to draw Batman. Everybody wanted to draw Batman. As a courtesy, he’d briefly looked at the portfolio of this hippie, even though he didn’t care much for his attitude. He was working for an outfit called Warren Publishing who were doing what EC Comics had done, but with much more naked skin. The Warren material felt like the pulp magazines had made a comeback, the cheap books Harry Donenfeld was peddling back in the day with their over-the-top, hyper-sexualized covers. Only now they came with pictures that were borderline pornographic. This meant readers no longer had to use their imagination. Julius rejected the young artist. But still he had the gall to walk right into Murray Boltinoff’s office, because Murray was editing The Brave and the Bold, the title that had seen the debut of The Justice League of America. The series was a team-up book now, that also featured Batman as its lead character. It was the only Batman book not under Schwartz’s purview, but he was no Jack Schiff, so he let it slide. But other than Julius, Murray had a sense of humor.

 

What was it with these new kids who all thought they were God’s gift to comic books? Murray put Neal Adams on a title that featured one of their few licensed characters, The Adventures of Jerry Lewis. Once Infantino vacated the Deadman feature, he’d just started in Strange Adventures, he let Adams do that. Meanwhile, the hippie kids Giordano had promised Donenfeld arrived in droves. Self-important would-be-hipsters who wore turtleneck sweaters, jackets with a Nehru collar and Beatles boots. Like Broome, they smoked marijuana, but they also drank espresso, and as Julius suspected, they were also smoking hashish. Of course, they didn’t fit in. They were misfits, and even though Irwin was let go, now he and his colleagues were stuck with them, since Giordano, who was friends with Adams as it turned out, had Carmine’s ear. Only six months earlier, whenever an artist walked into DC’s corporate offices, he’d have to make sure he had the right floor. DC/National was a shirt and tie affair with the vibe of an insurance company, because Jack Liebowitz liked it that way. Jack would phone up an editor whenever somebody had told him that this unfortunate fellow had been spotted in a hallway without his dress jacket on. As 1967 turned to 1968, Liebowitz had other things to worry about, and if he noticed Carmine and his new friends, he didn’t say a thing. Though he’d sold his share in Independent News in the deal with Kinney, he still had access to the sales numbers for every comic title they distributed. Goodman was selling fifty million comic books a year now, which was bad enough, but the publishers was now using his numbers as leverage. He went to the new managers of Independent News, Kinney people, and he told them that they wanted to envision a simple scenario. If he was able to achieve this number with just eight monthly titles on the stands, image how much product he’d be able to move if only they allowed him to do twice as many books or more. Julius could imagine, and so could they. The contract was revised, and Stan Lee once again scrambled with all wheels spinning when Martin gave him the good news. But Lee had also bolstered his staff. Yet not everybody made the cut, like a young writer named Dennis O’Neil. With Lee sending him packing, he’d landed at Charlton and he followed the exodus led by Giordano right to DC’s doorstep. To Carmine, any cast-off from Marvel was pure gold. Infantino asked Julius if he had a job for the guy who fancied himself a journalist. When Fox couldn’t meet his deadline on Green Lantern, Julius let him write fill-ins. For good measure, why not have the Adams kid throw in a cover? Meanwhile, Mort had allowed Adams to do an issue of World’s Finest Comics. This was technically the other Batman title that was not in his domain, but it featured Superman, hence Mort held sway. Little could Julius foresee the consequences. First O’Neil nearly wrecked Fox’s storyline. Earlier, John Broome had revealed that Hal’s longtime girlfriend Carol Ferris had been two-timing him, thus Hal had ample motivation to resign from her aircraft company and to become a seeker. This didn’t sit well with Gardner Fox. When he took up writing Green Lantern, he grounded Hal and created a new love interest for him. Just like Carol Ferris, Eve Doremus was another rich little daddy’s girl. With O’Neil given the opportunity to mess with things as he saw fit, the writer made sure that in no time flat Green Lantern was out in space again where he’d meet a cute young space girl who fill-in artist Jack Sparling decked out in a tight uniform that came with red thigh-high boots. Julius didn’t mind that, but no sooner had O’Neil killed-off her father, did she and the superhero find each other in a passionate embrace. Teira did tempt Green Lantern to stay with her on her world and indeed, the hero was mightily tempted. Here was a hip Eva to Fox’s dull Eve. Then, in his second guest issue, O’Neil made Green Lantern act like a recovering alcoholic who had fallen off the wagon and who needed assistance from friendly hippies to show him the right way. With high-jinks like these, it seemed as if O’Neil and Broome had been smoking a peace-pipe behind the scenes to get back at Fox for turning Hal into a bore again. Then, once he’d seen Adams’ work on Batman in World’s Finest Comics, Haney convinced Boltinoff to let him partner-up with Adams for The Brave and the Bold. Haney was on a spiritual quest himself it seemed. Sensing it was the right kind of approach, he wanted to move away from the more light-hearted fare he was churning out. Bob envisioned some sort of dark detective stories with Batman as the protagonist, and Adams might be exactly the collaborator he’d been looking for. When he looked at the pages for issue No. 79 (cover-dated August-September 1968), Julius couldn’t lie. Adams style looked as exciting as Carmine’s earlier work on The Flash or Kane’s Green Lantern. Now what to do with O’Neil? While Julius pondered various options, his colleague Jack Miller invited O’Neil into his office for a pitch meeting. Miller, DC’s editor-in-residence for all things romance, was currently editing Wonder Woman. The glow from Kanigher and Ross’ stealth reboot had long worn off. The once mighty Amazon was currently in a free-fall in the sales charts. Miller wanted to know if O’Neil had some ideas how to turn the book around. He had. O’Neil stripped the character of everything, her sisters, her love-interest, her powers and even her costume. She was now the new, mod Wonder Woman, only she wouldn’t be called that any longer, either. When Julius saw the results, he fumed with rage. What Miller had allowed O’Neil to do in her solo series rendered the character unusable for Justice League. Angrily, he demanded that the writer come to his office. Calmly, O’Neil, in a turtleneck and with wavy hair, told the editor he knew how to fix this. Not only this. O’Neil knew how to save The Justice League of America.

 

In retrospect, it appeared weirdly fitting that what eventually culminated in a stolen kiss between a pair of costumed crimefighters, should be forged in violence, figuratively and metaphorically. Violence came at the financial expense of two men, one real, the other a character in a four-colored world. Yet for the latter, it also brought spiritual growth, and while he, the fictious hero, lost his fortune and his company, a very real enterprise, right here on our Earth, would move into a direction destined to not only change its fortunes, but the whole comic book industry. It is equally fitting when you give the man the boot, to have the booted legs of the heroine who did this, front and center on a comic book cover, albeit it being one of Carmine Infantino least inspired designs. The long legs of a woman in fishnet stockings and ankle boots was all you got, and at the pointy tips of her high-heeled boots, you saw a sorry looking group of broken men who defied the name superhero with their loss to a single female. Readers who had been following the events of the previous two issues needn’t to see more to know who this woman was, but of course, they wanted to see more, of her. They could and they would. Since she was attired like she’d just arrived on the scene after her shift as a cocktail waitress ended, or like one of Hefner’s Bunny Girls, it only seemed fitting that she should sneak up on unsuspecting males like Gloria Steinem had just five years earlier. But if Steinem saw the irony, she sure had other problems with the writer than this. Gloria had been reading Wonder Woman as a young girl and soon she’d make her voice heard that she didn’t like what O’Neil had done to the character. Meanwhile, with Schwartz’s blessing, O’Neil re-introduced a character who did to made-up men what Gloria Steinem did to the very real Hefner, in fact, the first time the none-natural blonde crimefighter had done this to a hero was right around the time when the future co-founder of Ms. Magazine was a teen who read Wonder Woman. She wasn’t a hero then, with superpowers or otherwise. Back in 1947, when Julius Schwartz, Robert Kanigher and Irwin Hasen came up with a sexy redhead as a villainess for Green Lantern to fight and to boost sales, The Harlequin, the writer introduced a similar character into a lackluster backup series in Flash Comics, a title that featured the original Flash, Jay Garrick, as its main attraction. The Flash was exciting. On the other hand, Johnny Thunder was a dull affair. Inspired by the film noir movies he liked, Kanigher thought up a femme fatale who’d trick the gullible hero into helping her with her crime. Since the writer made no mention of what she was supposed to look like, the artist asked him. Kanigher simply answered: “What’s your fantasy of a good-looking girl? That’s what I want.” The artist was Carmine Infantino, and he had a very good idea what he wanted and what would help them to catch some much-needed eyeballs for the backup series: “I made her strong in character and sexy in form.” That she was indeed, right from the first panel which introduced her to readers in Flash Comics No. 86 (1947). While the hapless Johnny Thunder is hit over the head by some criminals, he still only had eyes for this statuesque blonde who seemingly left him in the hands of these two evil-doers who were about to bash his brains out but who also took their sweet time to admire this mysterious, long-legged woman like this was a Warner’s cartoon. Black Canary was a blonde that came with a domino mask and the look of a movie star, and she was dressed to attract a lot of attention, especially from male readers. Clad in a bluish-black jacket, a strapless bustier bodysuit, fishnet-stockings and boots, she sure did that. But she was also a bad girl, a criminal who tricked Johnny into helping her with some scheme that surely wasn’t above board. Even though Johnny got wise to her at the end of the tale, still he wondered if he’d ever see her again. His pet thunderbolt was having none of that: “No you don’t! I’m tired of heroes in comic book falling in love with beautiful villainesses! You’re not much of a hero, m’lad, but you don’t fall in love… not in this story!” Alas, with the next issue, readers and the love-struck Johnny found out that she was on the side of the angels. You see, her illegal activities were part of her grand plan to infiltrate some criminal organizations to dismantle them with what she’d learned on the inside. This was a character twist, Kanigher would later re-use for The Harlequin, to turn her to the good side. What ruined the latter villainess, The Harlequin was simply too good a bad girl to be a good girl, worked with Black Canary. Readers responded so overwhelmingly positive to her, that Kanigher and Infantino overshot their initial goal. Not only did the backup become popular because of her, it was decided to kick Johnny out of it. With issue No. 92 (February 1948), she literally stole Johnny’s thunder. After the well liked Wonder Woman, this gave DC another popular girl superhero. To mark the momentous occasion, Carmine put her on the cover with a full-figure drawing. Though she’s flanked by the original Flash and Hawkman, her male colleagues seem a bit smaller. While this was partly owed to the forced perspective of the cover, it was an announcement directed at her new fans. It was her show now. The Black Canary was here to stay. Soon thereafter, she joined the Justice Society of America. But who was she, really? With Johnny Thunder gone, Kanigher had plenty of storytelling real estate to flesh out the backstory of DC’s latest superheroine, albeit she didn’t have any superpowers. Like with many of her crimefighting and Nazi-bashing sisters during the war and post-war years, her attractiveness and her willingness to put her feminine guile and her looks into play, remained her only powers. Once she’d become a superheroine, she did lose the mask, though. Anyway, Kanigher came up with a much better disguise to protect her secret identity. Black Canary was a raven-haired beauty named Dinah Drake and in her regular life, she ran a flower shop. Yet whenever and wherever there was a crime committed, all she needed to do was to but on her outfit and a blonde wig and she was ready to spring into action. As the plots by Kanigher demanded it, she’d often team-up with private eye Larry Lance, who was a bit of a dick in many ways, and while he was clearly as smitten by the gorgeous blonde crimefighter (little did he know) as the gone, but not lamented Johnny Thunder, he’d often clash with Dinah Drake, who was a woman of her own mind, and you’d better didn’t call her “baby”. Even The Black Canary couldn’t keep Flash Comics from getting the axe. In one big poof, most of the superheroes vanished at the end of the 1940s. By the time Black Canary resurfaced more than a decade later in the pages of The Justice League, the character, like many of her peers, had mostly fallen into obscurity. It would only seem logical, once he’d assembled his own superteam, that this team should meet its original incarnation from the 1940s, The Justice Society. As Schwartz had established, these heroes from the so-called Golden Age of Comics lived on a parallel Earth now. On this other world, designated Earth-2, time had moved on. Superheroes could grow older and settle down or even retire. And some had married their long-time girlfriends. Like it does more often than not, this was art imitating life. During these brief glances into a world that was so similar to the world the newer heroes lived on, the heroes Schwartz and his creators had envisioned at the end of the 1950s, but that was different in some aspects, readers could see scenarios played out how the lives of these new heroes might develop. In consequence, by looking for a way to keep the old superheroes around yet separate from the main continuity as it played out in DC’s then current line of superhero books, Schwartz had stumbled onto a groundbreaking concept. Superheroes could age, and they might get tired of the hero life. In essence, this mirrored and confirmed a basic tenet of life: nothing is as constant as change. When the first generation of creators entered the comic industry, many were in their teens. Meanwhile, nearly three decades later, most of them were married with kids and they’d have to churn out more pages to make ends meet than ever. Some had moved through the ranks, albeit as a powerful editor or art director, and now they ruled entire universes, others simply retired like Jack Schiff. And if you looked carefully and you caught them in an unguarded moment, on the faces of a Jay Garrick and an Alan Scott there was the same realization that they had become obsolete, both as heroes and as men, now that there was a shiny new penny, that the old guard of comic creators must have felt when Giordano and his crew of long-haired hipsters moved into 909 Third Avenue. Schwartz knew that if he wanted to survive, he had to go with the times, and to do this, he had to favor some of the hippie kids over the old stalwarts who either refused to get with it or who didn’t understand a world they did not make. When O’Neil told Julius about his idea how to make Black Canary an integral part of the DC continuity, Schwartz listened. She was simply too good a character, or too good-looking, to be relegated to the sidelines. What if she didn’t just show up for the occasional meeting between the Justice League and its older incarnation? What if she became a regular member of the Justice League of America? The veteran editor liked what this kid was saying. O’Neil was still a hippie. There was a real chance that he might mess it up. There were rumblings that his new approach for Wonder Woman wasn’t all that great. But Schwartz was quite taken by pretty girls, even imagined ones, especially if they were a little naughty. And when all was said and down, the writer didn’t only integrate a heroine from a different era into a newer comic book continuity, O’Neil redesigned the hero Schwartz hadn’t modified when he’d put him into the team early on. Slowly, the players came together that would fundamentally change DC Comics.

 

To O’Neil it felt like talking to your father or your grandfather even, talking about the war. But he knew how to get the ear of a powerful editor, and as a writer, he was much smoother than an artist like Neal Adams who just waltzed in and told editors: “Here’s is what I can do. You should only be so lucky to be in a position to hire me. So, when do I start on Batman?” Only after a week or so at DC, he knew that if you wanted to have an in with Schwartz, you needed to talk about something he was interested in, and what Schwartz was interested in were girls. Lo, when he sat down with Julius, O’Neil didn’t say, “I want to write your prestige team book” or “I know how to make the title sell better again”, instead he simply pitched his idea how to make up for the loss of Wonder Woman by bringing in another girl hero. Julius liked that. Schwartz immediately told O’Neil about The Harlequin, that he’d had a hand in her creation, that in fact he had suggested the idea to introduce a bad girl into the Green Lantern books to help with sales to his then-boss Sheldon Mayer, once he saw the success Kanigher and Infantino were having with Black Canary. Though Mayer did have reservations, Julius had fought for his idea and he’d managed to convince his boss to let him do it his way. It was his concept with which Bob Kanigher and Irwin Hasen set-up the character. It was he, who’d told Kanigher to wait a bit longer before turning her into a good girl like the writer had done with Black Canary. The fiery redhead was too good to be good. Hearing him reminisce about the good old days and how he’d come up with the origins for all these gaudily dressed men and women with superpowers, sounded to the writer like he was sitting in Stan Lee’s office all over again. Marvel still was publishing stories he’d written earlier for their western books which hadn’t seen print until now. This gave him a pretext to touch base with Roy Thomas, to find out where his head was at, and to prepare his way back once Roy took over from Stan in earnest, in case his deal with DC were ever to sour. His time at the house of ideas had been an unhappy one, but at DC it gave him status. As it turned out, Bob Haney had been telling them for years that Marvel was taking names and that, if they failed to adapt, DC wouldn’t stay the premier comic book publisher for this much longer. It didn’t matter to Bob Kanigher or Broome how good his writing actually was, that he’d apprenticed under the genius that had created the Marvel Universe, at least according to the legend that Lee never tired of peddling, gave him a certain cachet, with the older writers looking at him for direction, to let them know how you needed to write comic books now, to tell them what the kids were into these days. Or you could be like Gardner Fox who had fallen asleep at the wheel that was Justice League and who didn’t like where John Broome was taking the new Green Lantern. Consequently, Fox regressed Hal Jordan from the searcher he’d become under Broome, back into the company man he’d always been, and Fox even gave him one of those rich daddy’s girls as his new love interest, though to Fox’s credit, she was a bit a young. Yet Eve still lived at home and she lived off of her father’s money. O’Neil could see how John Broome had to be annoyed by this latest development. Broome must have seen what Marvel was doing when he decided to give Hal Jordan’s personality a much-needed makeover. What had worked when Broome had created the character in 1959, felt out of touch in 1968. For his fill-in issues, O’Neil subverted Fox’s corrections; by introducing a sexy new female, then by showing how dull and gullible Eve really was. Him taking over Justice League meant that Fox would get the boot on that book. Then again, one only needed to take a brief look at where the book was at. In JLA No. 64 (August 1968), with the entire issue dedicated to the Justice Society, Fox chose to open with a splash page on which these characters stated how bored they were. You had these supergods and geniuses and they didn’t know what to do with themselves, it was as ludicrous as it was maddening. These men had grown old, too old obviously to check out the girl who lounged on their sofa, Black Canary, and she was bored as well. These characters were bored, and they were dull because you had a writer who didn’t know how to use them properly anymore. Still, Gardner Fox made good use of Black Canary and the art by Dick Dillin and Sid Greene was nice, especially for the faux-blonde. Here was an idea, his idea. Fox had an idea of his own for the issue when he introduced a robot as a new character, in fact an android. He did it right around the same time when O’Neil’s former colleague Roy Thomas introduced an eerily similar android in The Avengers. Directly or indirectly, these machine-men were the offspring of a mad scientist, but in the case of Thomas’ Vision, readers learned that at Marvel “Even an Android Can Cry.” Of course, when O’Neil came to issue No. 72 (June 1969), he made sure that their android, Red Tornado, might cry a little, too, if only he could. Though his first issue came with No. 66 (November 1968), it was better to ease the readers in after so much boredom. Since he had the benefit of having Neal Adams as his cover artist (as with his Green Lantern issue), O’Neil was sure, the book would sell a bit better; no need to rock the boot. Even though he had already taken away Wonder Woman’s powers in her solo series, the issue featured her in her original costume, powers and all, and for good measure, high heels for her red boots, too, which didn’t make that much sense. Since the very next issue featured only reprint material, and she wasn’t in the consecutive issue, readers first saw the new Wonder Woman in the pages of JLA with No. 69 (February 1969). But she was not Wonder Woman any longer, just Diana Prince, and she only appeared to catch the League and those readers up to speed who weren’t reading her solo book. Without her powers, she was resigning from the team. In issue No. 73 (August 1969) Denny O’Neil began to unfold his masterplan. On Earth-2, the hero Starman encountered a powerful alien being in the orbit of their Earth. At the same time, Dinah Drake Lance and Larry Lance came to his alter-ego’s observatory. In the meantime, Black Canary had married her private detective beau. And he knew her secret. Suddenly, Starman crashed through the roof, badly hurt from his run-in with this all-powerful foe. Before the Justice Society arrives, readers could see Black Canary in action, courtesy of some great art by Dillin and Greene. But shock followed shock, and in the end, all was lost. This was the day, the superheroes failed. The cosmic villain Aquarius obliterated the world of the heroes with one snap. Like that, everyone was gone, except for four superheroes, Wonder Woman, Black Canary and Larry Lance. What a cliffhanger! Was Earth-2 over? Readers had to wait a full month to see the epic conclusion to this nail-biting two-parter. No. 74 (September 1969) had yet another shock in store, albeit on a much smaller, more personal level. Aquarius pitted both teams against each other. This confrontation found Black Canary go up against Green Arrow, the blandest of all superheroes. Still, the archer managed to glue the heroine to the ground with one of his trick arrows. Thusly incapacitated, Dinah was left in the path of Aquarius who had morphed into a ball of energy. When Larry rushed in to save his wife, he destroyed the enemy nobody else could defeat. With him gone, this reversed his spell and every citizen of Earth-2 returned, minus two. Larry was dead, and with him gone, there was nothing that tied Dinah to her world. Thus, she asked the League for refuge from all the memories that held no meaning, now that Larry had given his life for hers. Once fully ensconced on Earth-1, the Earth that was the home of the newer superheroes, she discovered a secret superpower she never knew she had. She hadn’t aged. Though all the other superheroes on her Earth had aged in real time since the 1940s, Dinah still looked like she was in her early twenties, thus, she fit right in with the new heroes that came from a different age of comics entirely, and with one hero especially. Readers only needed to open the next issue to realize with whom O’Neil’s sympathies lay. It’s interesting that he should choose this hero from among all the other superheroes to move him not only into the spotlight, but to have him be the second man, Dinah Lance would give her heart to. Clearly, matters were helped in that he was the hero who’d been left entirely untouched by Schwartz when he had multiple creative teams re-envision old favorites that had fallen out of vogue for his reboot of DC’s superhero lineup. Then again, you couldn’t miss that now he had also been transformed, albeit just superficially. Before this landmark issue of Justice League of America hit newsstands, No. 75 (cover-dated November 1969), Bob Haney got hold of the character. Meanwhile, the writer who was not a member of the now generation like O’Neil, but who was still ten years younger than Broome, had turned the Batman vehicle The Brave and the Bold into a moody crime book, with Batman cast as a fierce creature of the night and a non-nonsense Dirty Harry style detective before that was even a thing. This suited his artist Neal Adams fine, and together the duo moved more copies than the lackluster JLA while under Fox. Issue No. 85, which appeared when O’Neil was finishing up his Aquarius two-parter, featured the guy with a bow and arrows as guest-star. Since Adams couldn’t draw anything or anyone this bland, the artist completely re-designed Green Arrow. He now sported a fashionable Van Dyke beard which made him look like a rebel and a swashbuckler, and a new costume. But when he met up with the other rich boy, Bruce Wayne, here was something that rubbed O’Neil the wrong way. You had two rich frat boys, and consequently, these guys would do what frat boys did best.

 

Both men soon competed for the affections of Black Canary. But to O’Neil, this wasn’t who Wayne was, let alone Batman, and Oliver Queen, the man behind the green domino mask, was not yet the man he needed to be to be with Dinah Lance. Haney, in his ever-ongoing quest to compete with Marvel, called dibs, though. Still, Dennis O’Neil began to slowly establish the pairing he wanted to see. O’Neil jumped at the chance to introduce readers to his new players. Black Canary, who did discover a real superpower after all, in that she could emit a sonic boom, an ability Dinah couldn’t yet quite control but one that fit nicely to her superheroine code name, and the new Green Arrow. O’Neil achieved this by moving both of them into the center of the issue, not in any romantic capacity just yet. But by hinting that there was an undeniable chemistry between these two characters, he’d lay the groundwork. Theirs would be the first real relationship between superheroes at DC Comics. Dinah and Oliver would not only hold hands. But as important as the physical aspects of their love were, they would be equal partners in every way. Before these two could have a future, Green Arrow needed a make-over that was as radical as what his colleague John Broome had done to Hal Jordan when Hal learned that his girlfriend and boss Carol Ferris was about to marry another man, a rich guy she’d been seeing behind his back the entire time. With a handful of panels on the first page, O’Neil took Oliver Queen’s company and all his money from him. It was this turn of events that made him an everyman, a working-class hero with a bow and arrows. Queen became a born-again radical and soon the voice of the new left. Meanwhile, Haney tackled what stood in the way of a relationship between Black Canary and Batman when they teamed-up a few issues later in The Brave and the Bold No. 91 (August-September 1970), or better said, who stood in their way. This wasn’t a team-up either. While investigating the secret behind a new criminal mastermind, The Batman and Dinah Lance met a certain individual. According to Schwartz’s original idea for multiple Earths, there was a doppelganger for everyone on each Earth. There was even an Earth-3 which was home to another Justice League, only that the team featured evil counterparts of our heroes. Therefore, on Earth-1, there had to be a Larry Lance. And there was. Though Haney had lost his collaborator Neal Adams, the artwork for the issue by Nick Cardy served the story he wanted to tell better than Adams’ sleek, photo-realistic style. Cardy was an artist with a handsome, poetic style which he’d developed while working on comics about bold adventurers and romance with an eye to Milt Caniff’s newspaper strips. At its core, “A Cold Corpse for the Collector” was a romance story, albeit neither the title nor the cover would hint at that. On the contrary, the cover, also by Cardy, promised that this issue wouldn’t be an exception to his other hard-hitting crime potboilers starring Batman which had begun when he and Adams had joined forces. When Julius had let him do an issue of Detective Comics earlier in the year, O’Neil jumped at the chance to team-up with Neal himself. O’Neil liked the direction Haney was moving Batman in, but not this story. The cover for The Brave and the Bold No. 91 was another fake-out cover DC had become well-renowned for, if not a bit notorious. You saw the brutally beaten, almost broken bodies of Batman and the heroine, and Black Canary’s sleek motorbike, equally damaged and half-burying The Caped Crusaders, was about to explode. The bad guy, covered under the shadows of the night, was stealing away across the horizon, a trail of smoke drifting from his gun. However, this tale was anything but grim. Though there was some gritty crime action at the beginning, during which The Dark Knight teamed up with a private eye, readers got where this was going when they read the name of the never before shown new partner for Batman. This was Larry Lance, the Larry Lance of Earth-1. And sure enough, with the lower tier on page five, Bob Haney and Nick Cardy revealed the cards they were playing. You saw the long, shapely legs of a young woman which she dangled over the edge of the detective’s table, with her naked legs crossed the knee. Even though you didn’t see the face of this black-haired beauty who was revealed in the very next panel, since the woman to whom these mile-long legs belonged had her face turned away, you knew who she was. That is, if you knew the heroine from her Golden Age appearances. In the new, modern continuity, the Black Canary had not yet been shown without her blonde wig. She wouldn’t for a while in the Justice League series. The next time readers learned that this was only disguise arrived Green Lantern No. 81 (December 1970), albeit in one panel, after the main tale of the issue had long finished. More confusing still, if you did read Justice League, a few months earlier, in No. 81 (June 1970), you saw a panel in which Black Canary admitted to herself that she was missing a certain archer very dearly while she was looking at a frame photography of him. Still, since this issue of this team-up book announced her presence, you might have guessed that this was her, also because the desk she was seated on stood in the office of a man named Larry Lance. And if not, here was Haney with a wordy thought bubble for Dinah on the next page to clue you in, if you did read the thoughts that were on her mind, and you weren’t too distracted by the very short, pleated skirt she was decked out in. She was Grace Slick for the comic book set, and as good as Cardy already was, this time he went all in. So did Dinah, who was convinced that since this guy was this Earth’s Larry Lance, he had to be the same kind of man in every respect as her late husband.

 

She was definitely motivated to find out. On that page, she was already in a passionate embrace with a guy she’d technically just met for the very first time. Once Batman finds out about this, to say that he’s not too pleased is a bold understatement. He warns Dinah about Lance, who gives off a strange vibe. It only got worse, for The Caped Crusader. When an attempt is made on his life, Black Canary appears out of nowhere on her fast motorbike. She hurls the bomb away from its intended target with a well-placed supersonic scream, lest it finishes its lethal job. To add insult to injury, all Batman is left with, is to stare at her lovely backside whilst she is rushing off to her date, though Dinah still had some time to put some salt on it and to really rub it in: “Going home to change into something more feminine for Larry!” While Batman and we wonder what “more feminine” might actually look like with a girl who’s already dressed like a Playboy Bunny, she’s gone. Since he’s The Batman, he stays on the case. When he confronts Dinah with the news that there’s something not adding up, things do not go as he’d expected. She slaps him across the face while she says: “Want to know what I think? You’re jealous! Jealous!” She falls onto her big bed while The Caped Crusader steals away like an awkward nerd caught spying on a hot cheerleader. This is when Larry re-enters like this was Shakespeare or a daytime soap. He had been listening to their exchange from another room. While they embrace, she’s in an even shorter skirt and her bed is shown very prominently in the same panel, and it’s a king-size bed. And as Cardy closes the sequence with one equally gorgeous panel that is composed with negative space, we are left to wonder how he was able to get the other shot past the Comics Code. Unlike what O’Neil had done with the character so far, Bob Haney, like Robert Kanigher, zeroed in on the heroine’s alter-ego. Though in the end, like Kanigher once did with The Harlequin, he almost messes up the character. Once Larry stands revealed as the criminal The Masked Manhunter was, well, hunting, she’s forced to admit what a fool she’d been. Though Black Canary is the more formidable one when she and he chase after Lance during his brazen attempt to flee from both of them, Batman is there, all smug and with a look that says: “You’ll learn one day, kid.” That salt must have really hurt like a mother. Speaking of Robert Kanigher, he delivered the kiss that not only broke the second fantastic female character he’d created near the end of the first superhero boom, this kiss changed DC Comics forever. In a way, his miscalculation in turning the vastly fascinating Harlequin into a woman who couldn’t really succeed without a bunch of men (from the F.B.I. no less) helping her, came full circle two decades later. In Justice League of America No. 84 (November 1970), Black Canary was getting ready to assume “observation duty in the JLA’s space-satellite headquarters”. She greeted this distraction, since “…how can I forget? I’m just a lonely girl, still mourning the death of my husband.” This was when she started crying. This was quite the contrast to that time when she and the other Larry had done just fine. Matters were not helped in that Dillin and Giella’s art felt rushed, and unlike Cardy’s polished, hyper-romantic linework, and the stylish and hip wardrobe he gave Dinah, this felt like a book that could have come out five years earlier and nobody would have noticed a thing. The contrast to the issue of The Brave and the Bold which had appeared only a few months earlier, was jarring. In look, in tone, in everything. With O’Neil scripting JLA, there was an energy to the title that was reflected in the art. It feels strange that the same team would deliver such lackluster artwork. There was more. Once it was time for Dinah to be relieved from guard duty, Batman shows up. Though he’s sympathetic to her plight, for he was lonely, too, he’s also curt. When he turned to the monitor bank instead of giving Black Canary more attention, clearly there was some muscle-memory from the way she’d treated him all the while she was romancing Earth-1 Larry Lance. When she began to cry again, Batman caved in. First, they embraced, but: “Trapped in the same universal web of loneliness in which all humans are imprisoned… the couple gropes through the darkness of their souls… lips fumbling for warmth… their hearts beating in a secret language without vocabulary…” Well, yes, they locked lips. But somehow, it was wrong, and they both felt ashamed. Of course, you only needed to pick up an issue of The Avengers to see a similar scene play out, almost. Like Batman, Marvel’s hero beyond reproach, war veteran Captain America was lonely. He was fantasizing about the young girl on the team he was leading, the Scarlet Witch, who was prancing around their headquarters in a red swimsuit and red boots and not much else and who looked glamorous and exotic, especially with the way Don Heck drew her. A lot of melodrama could be gleaned from the notion that an older guy, a hero of The Second World War and thus, a man out of time, had a crush on a young foreign girl who ironically had also started her career as a bad girl like Black Canary or The Harlequin. Readers learned that just like they themselves, superheroes had feelings that were often misguided. At Marvel, even Captain America had daydreams about the beautiful girl on their team. But this was Stan Lee ca. 1965. Now the times they were a-changin’ all over America and the world. Thomas had succeeded “The Man” as the voice of Marvel Comics. Though Stan was still writing their A-list books, kids like Gerry Conway were getting ready to take over, and they were even younger than Roy Thomas.

 

These writer and artists from the baby boomer generation were enthusiastic comic fans turned pros. It was the end of an era. Yet it was the dawn of something new and different. As for Kanigher’s approach, this made one thing painfully obvious. The older generation didn’t get it. In their mind, you could beat Marvel at their own game, all you needed to do was to do more of what they did. And if this meant that you had to increase the melodrama and the soap opera elements, so be it. But Broome got it, Haney to a degree and O’Neil and those who followed understood. What was required was something even more radical. You had to find your own way. You had to kill your darlings in the process. O’Neil and another new writer, Mike Friedrich, with whom he’d switch assignments soon, were doing just that. O’Neil had led the charge with Wonder Woman. Writing Justice League, O’Neil now quickly turned his attention to their mascot, teenager Snapper Carr. As it turned out, not even Roy Thomas knew what to do with Rick Jones, who at Marvel was moved from one hero he could admire to the next. O’Neil destroyed Snapper. Carr became a traitor. Carr was simply crushed by the weight of being a nobody who palled around with supergods. Ironically, by revealing the secret location of the League’s super-secret club house to a man who was The Joker in disguise, he’d triggered the team’s ascension to a Mount Olympus in space. O’Neil was only getting started. He was now also writing Challengers of the Unknown, the team “The King of Comics”, Jack Kirby himself, had created, but which since then had fallen on hard times. Not wanting to be the guy left holding the bag, editor Murray Boltinoff took Robert Kanigher off the book and assigned it to O’Neil. After O’Neil finished Kanigher’s storyline, again with a cover by Neal Adams, it was time for him to dismantle the house that Jack had built. But who was Jack Kirby to Denny O’Neil? In issue No. 69 (August-September 1969), he nearly killed off the leader of the team Professor Haley. In the same issue, he introduced a new female character who was nothing like the team’s gal pal June Robbins, who Kirby and Wood had premiered all the way back in Showcase No. 7 (1957), the Challenger’s second issue. She was Corrina Stark, and artist Jack Sparling was up to the task to bring the point across O’Neil was making when he decked her out in a hip, happening jumpsuit which came with a belt that accentuated her hips rather provocatively. That the issue also announced a line wide price increase by three pennies, you did not mind, if you dug this beautiful blonde who was Pepsi to the Coca Cola June was offering. And with the next issue, the creators made it official. The new girl was here to stay. Not only did she become the replacement for the injured Professor, she was calling the shots now, and like any female, she told the boys what to wear to look their best. In Friedrich’s case, it didn’t look like this was where he was going, not at first. Mike Friedrich, who was ten years younger than O’Neil, was hesitant. After all, here he was, a fanboy turned actual comic writer, who could play with these awesome characters like they were his own action figures. Friedrich felt that the heroes needed to be treated with the respect they deserved, with hardly one hair on their heads touched. Like Fox, he did some regressing at first. Not with the hero, but his wife. The new Flash was married by now. The previous writer, Frank Robbins had presented Iris and Barry Allen as a hip, globe-trotting power couple. Robbins had two kids who were teenagers. In his mind, his son and his daughter wanted to see a balanced husband and wife team in which each spouse was an equal. Though Ross Andru stayed on as the artist, Friedrich made things more traditional. Thus, Andru showed that the married couple was sleeping in separate beds, something he himself had done away with when Robbins was scripting. Iris was also changed. She was transformed into sexy housewife in a mini dress who made sure, dinner was ready, and who telepathically knew every desire her husband might have. Seemingly, her days as a self-actualized reporter-adventurer were over. But once Friedrich paired up with artists Gil Kane and Vince Colletta (who came with a tenure in romance comics), Mike loosened up considerably. With what was a surprising genius combination of two veteran artists, in The Flash No. 197 (May 1970), the creators killed the Barry and Iris of old. Sure enough, some readers must have thought that they had picked up the wrong book or that there was a wrong cover on this particular issue, because once you flipped past the cover, nothing too unusual or exciting here, here was this new couple. These two individuals looked like they’d stepped out of a film shot by Michelangelo Antonioni. The hero wore his hair much longer now, and he was bare-chested, and Iris looked like a fashion model right out of the now with her short hair, while she was dressed in the shortest nightie imaginable. Who were these characters you had to wonder. Only a few months earlier, in Green Lantern, Friedrich didn’t hesitate either, when he destroyed Carol Ferris, Hal Jordan’s erstwhile girlfriend, and to a degree, Mike did the same to the hero. In Green Lantern No. 73 (December 1969), the daddy girl turned into her bad-girl alter-ego Star Sapphire once again. As the magenta-clad, superpowered villainess, Carol Ferris was more powerful and aggressive than ever before, and as readers learned in issue No. 74 (January 1970), she didn’t even shy away from teaming-up with Green Lantern’s arch-nemesis Sinestro, the disgraced former Lantern, i.e. the fallen angel of the Lantern Corps. For starters, the superhero got rescued by his erstwhile ethnic sidekick, airplane mechanic Thomas Kalmaku, who Friedrich had turned in a successful entrepreneur. Once Star Sapphire and Sinestro were defeated, Green Lantern broke the news to his old flame that she and Star Sapphire were indeed the same person, something Carol hadn’t been aware of. His intervention was neither careful nor gentle, and she didn’t take the news well. The manner in which Green Lantern crushed the woman who had been the love of his life with his revelation, felt misogynistic and unnecessary cruel. Perhaps this was Mike telling readers that Hal hadn’t worked through his issues after she had dumped him for the man she’d been seeing behind his back. And clearly, that she was still in love with Green Lantern and had wanted the hero to stop her from getting married to another man, did explain his passive-aggressive behavior, though there was no excuse for it. Hal Jordan had become a dick, and this was where Friedrich left things, before John Broome returned. But this book was under Julius Schwartz’s purview, like Justice League. And one issue later, Schwartz suggested that Denny and Friedrich want to trade their assignments, a lateral move that pretty much guaranteed that things were shaken up even further. And while Schwartz and O’Neil hashed out the plan to re-brand Green Lantern, and John Broome was kicked to the curb, Friedrich did his mentor a solid. In Justice League of America No. 88 (March 1971), he resolved the dangling plot thread from four issues earlier, albeit most certainly in a way that wouldn’t make Kanigher happy, or The Batman. After Kanigher’s poor attempt at shipping Black Canary and Batman, which pretty much amounted to what Nietzsche said about poets who didn’t know how to do their job, in that “they muddy the water, to make it seem deep”, the scripter revealed that The Dark Knight still carried Batcave-sized torch for her. Now she stuck the knife in deep like she’d done in Haney’s tale. Dinah considered him “a brother”. If you were on Team Batman, there you had it.