Originally presented in Summer 2017 issue of Jack Lord's Hair.
As we discussed recently, DC and Marvel are making it easy for fans to read some of their classic comic books in a variety of formats. One is their hardcover omnibus editions which typically reprint around three dozen issues of a comic book in a high-quality hardcover edition (Both Marvel and DC publish smaller collections in softcover for those looking at a smaller budget). Recently, DC published The Bronze Age Justice League of America Omnibus, a collection of tales from the 70’s. Last spring’s issue contained a review of DC’s reprint hardcover of The Brave and the Bold, featuring the book’s early run of Batman team-ups. We discussed the book’s merit, focusing on reprint quality, page count, and the quality of the stories and art. With a price ranging from $49.95 to the list price of $125 for a 904 page book, I felt it was well worth the price. However, what of the Bronze Age Justice League of America? However, is the book worth it? How are the stories and how does the book itself look?
Ironically, the Justice League of America debuted in the pages of The Brave and the Bold, moving to its own title once DC realized it could sustain itself. DC has already published two omnibus editions covering the title’s Silver Age run. This one features the book’s early run in the Bronze Age (77-113). Just as comics were changing, so was the team and the creative forces behind it. Writer Denny O’Neil and artist Dick Dillin had taken over the book after writer Gardner Fox and artist Mike Sekowsky’s long run on the book. O’Neil featured several changes with the book, including the departures of Wonder Woman and the Martian Manhunter. Justice Society member Black Canary joined the JLA after the two teams’ annual team-up. Further changes were in store as the omnibus picks up with issue #77, a story which again changes the JLA’s status quo. This is seen in the next issue where the Justice League leaves their earthbound headquarters to a fantastic satellite orbiting the Earth. With the Moon race having just been won, this must have seemed like a great step for DC’s collection of heroes.
Dick Dillin would have an extended run on the JLA, drawing the book from #64 through #183 (with less than a handful of fill-ins). Dillin brought a consistent realistic style to the JLA and although I would never rate him as one of the all-time greats, his ability to consistently provide above-average art on a regular basis deserves recognition. The only complaints I have about his artwork is that his aliens and robots look as menacing as the denizens of the Hundred Acre Woods. Otherwise, Dillin does a good job on a book that routinely features a big cast and usually in exotic locales.
One of the highlights of the Justice League comic book (besides seeing “The World’s Greatest Superheroes” gathered together every month) was the JLA’s annual team-ups with their Earth-Two counterparts, the Justice Society of America. For those unfamiliar with the concept, Earth-Two was a parallel dimension where the superheroes who debuted in the Golden Age of Comics resided, while Earth-One was where the superheroes who debuted in the Silver Age resided. This was DC Comics’ way of explaining how there was a Flash in the 1940’s and 1950’s who was much different than the Flash who debuted in 1956. Every year, the Justice League and Justice Society would share an adventure (usually a two-parter) where they teamed up to battle a common foe.
As a kid, I enjoyed these adventures because I never knew who the writers were going to pair up from the JLA and JSA. For example, a story might feature the Earth-One Batman and the Earth-Two Robin (who in continuity had taken over for the Earth-Two Batman). On some occasions, the story might feature both characters from Earth-One and Earth-Two such as the Earth-One and Earth-Two versions of the Flash and Green Lantern. The characters had similar, but not identical powers. For example, the Earth-One Green Lantern’s power ring was useless against anything colored yellow while the Earth-Two Green Lantern’s power ring was useless against wood. One particular story features the Earth-Two characters and their Earth-One counterparts, bringing a better understanding of each.
Over time, the Justice League/Justice Society team-ups expanded to feature other characters from the Golden Age of comics. For example, the lesser-known team, the Seven Soldiers of Victory made an appearance in one of the JLA/JSA adventures (reprinted in this edition). Another featured the Freedom Fighters, a World War Two era team battling the Nazis on a world where Germany won World War Two. Later adventures would even include the heroes of Fawcett Comics such as Captain Marvel (Shazam!) and the rest of the Marvel Family (although this omnibus doesn’t reprint this particular team-up).
Unlike The Brave and the Bold Omnibus, this one features a variety of writers. While Bob Haney tackled most of the stories in The Brave and the Bold, these stories are written primarily by three different writers: Denny O’Neil, Mike Friedrich, and Len Wein. The book gets off to a rough start with O’Neil’s work as he just doesn’t have a handle on the characers. Denny O’Neil’s work on Batman and his Green Lantern/Green Arrow run are both phenomenal but his JLA stories just don’t click. O’Neil explored a lot of socially relevant topics in his Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories, exploring the heroin epidemic, religious cults, and the environment. With the JLA, his stories revolve around similar concerns (particularly environmental issues) but they just don’t click. O’Neil has stated he wasn’t comfortable writing the JLA. Fortunately, the stories improve with Mike Friedrich, one of comics’ underrated writers from the 70’s. He does a good job creating new villains capable of standing up to the Justice League and while he too incorporates environmental concerns, they don’t seem preachy. Finally, Len Wein’s work on the JLA is enjoyable. Wein bounced back and forth between DC and Marvel during the 1970’s and his JLA work shows why he was consistently good at whatever title he wrote.
I started reading the JLA right around the last few issues reprinted in this omnibus. I was impressed with most of the stories, particularly since DC always aimed its books at a younger audience than Marvel. That’s something fans of today’s books need to know before they pick these stories up. They are entertaining, particularly if you understand the time they were written and drawn during, but they are much different than today’s fare. Fans who grew up reading these books will probably find the omnibus worth the price (it’s been hovering between $50 and $60 on Amazon but retails at $125), but younger fans may not.