Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Justice League of America: Fans Critique the Early Years

In my last post I presented an article on the superhero revival of the 1960s that appeared in an early fanzine, Hero. In this installment I follow up with another piece from Hero # 1; a discussion on DC’s popular Justice League of America. The team concept was not only a proven financial success, but garnered robust support from a majority of fans, including a portion that had collected All Star Comics in the 1940s and early 50s, a comic book that starred the original “Justice Society of America".


Justice League of America # 16 (December 1962), published a few months before the article in Hero # 1 appeared, is an example of the industry's growing awareness of fandom. A character in the story, Jerry Thomas, is a nod to both Jerry Bails and Roy Thomas, two well-known fans whose missives were published in editor Julie Schwartz's letter columns. Murphy Anderson art; Ira Schnapp letters. Image from the Grand Comic Book Database:  

Rick Weingroff,
 a creative fan who wrote a series of intelligent articles on comics (and several years later published his own superior fanzine, Slam Bang) came up with a novel idea: ask some well-known and knowledgeable fans their thoughts on the JLA and present it in a format where one can imagine them sitting around a table chatting. Weingroff was the “chairman” who posed questions to his virtual panel and the effect worked quite well. The "Point of View" column was popular and continued in later issues (which will be covered in upcoming posts). 

The “round-table panel” consisted of three fans; Rick West, Paul Gambacinni , whose articles appeared in the long-running Rocket’s Blast Comic-Collector (Gambacinni became a future published author and radio broadcaster for the BBC) and Roy Thomas, co-editor of Alter-Ego (first with Jerry Bails, followed by Ron Foss. Thomas soon graduated to full editor). In less than three years Thomas joined the ranks of comic book professionals, taking a position beside Stan Lee as his editorial assistant and scripting team titles that included Sgt. Fury, X-Men, and a group inspired by the Justice League: The Avengers. For the next fifteen years Thomas had a turn writing practically every Marvel superhero title, brought properties such as Conan the Barbarian to the medium and initiated a truck-load of new series ideas. When Thomas moved to DC in 1980 he not only got a chance to write a few issues of Justice League, but launched a new comic featuring his beloved “Justice Society” entitled All Star Squadron. While continuing to work on special projects for various companies Thomas went full circle in the late 1990s, returning to fanzines as editor of a revived Alter Ego, of which I am proud to be a contributor. 

Justice League of America # 17, cover-dated February, 1963, would have been on newsstands when fan discussion of the group appeared in Hero # 1. Murphy Anderson art; Ira Schnapp letters. 
Image from the Grand Comic Book Database:

Reproduced below: a time capsule into the world of fandom from Hero # 1, December 1962. 


Justice League of America # 21, August 1963. Mike Sekowsky pencils; Murphy Anderson inks; Ira Schnapp letters. Image from the Grand Comic Book Database:

Six months after Roy Thomas prophetically intoned: "I favor the revival of the JSA in any form. I think we'll see it ere long." His and other fans' dreams came to fruition in the pages of Justice League of America # 21. Alternate worlds were familiar trappings to readers of science-fiction, including DC editor Julie Schwartz, who as a teenager co-produced Time Traveler, an amateur publication that was a precursor to comic related fanzines. 

A brief but interesting aside: In 1961 Schwartz informed Jerry Bails that the newsletter he was planning - originally to be devoted solely to the Justice League, but was broadened in scope before final publication to incorporate the costumed hero revival as Alter-Ego - was referred to as fanzines.

In order to explain the existence of the Justice Society to a general audience - some of whom had the same names and powers as their 1960s versions - Schwartz and writer Gardner Fox incorporated the "similar yet different world" concept into comics, first when the Flash encountered his 1940s counterpart ("Flash of Two Worlds!", Flash # 123, September 1961), and then with the reintroduction of the Justice Society. Fan interest may have played a part in Schwartz's efforts to continue in that direction. 

The discussion format Weingroff instituted brought together a coterie of fans who were not only devoted to the subject matter but expressed their thoughts with a degree of intelligence. It's not surprising that a segment of fandom forged careers in the comics industry and other creative arenas.    

Next Time: Hero # 2 and the Marvel Explosion     

No comments: