JLA_200Justice League of America #200

  • Writer:  Gerry Conway
  • Artists:  listed below
  • Published:  March, 1982
  • Publisher:  DC Comics
  • Pages:  72
  • First Line:  “They came from space, seven glowing meteors containing seven alien claimants for another world’s throne.”
  • Last Line:  “Snapping?  Cripes, now he’s got me doing it!”
  • First Read:  Early 1984?

My comic collecting began a bit haphazardly.  There were a number of random comics that my brothers had from when we lived in New York that had somehow ended up in my room.  My brothers both collected comics, and I would read what they had so I didn’t yet feel the need to buy any myself (and all my money in the early 80’s was going towards either Star Wars figures or baseball cards).  The first comic I remember buying was All-Star Squadron #31 at a drugstore on the day after Christmas in 1983.  But my older brother Kelly was collecting both Avengers and Justice League of America, the two major team books of the comics world and I started to gravitate towards them.  I liked the idea of books that combined so many characters.  Unlike Fantastic Four (which my brother John would collect) and X-Men (which all three of us would eventually collect), books in which the teams consisted of characters who didn’t have their own comics (yes, it’s true, there was a time when Wolverine appeared only in X-Men), Avengers and JLA were like getting several comics for the price of one because they each had so many characters who each had their own books.  While Kelly would collect a lot of books moving forward, I immediately began looking back into the past.  I became interested in what came before.  I wanted the whole story.  I had never heard of something called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder back then.

I wouldn’t start buying new issues of Justice League of America until #236, and after that it was still haphazardly depending on what I could find at the closest liquor store or 7-11 until I was old enough to ride my bike across town to the two comic shops in Orange.  But, on a rare trip to a comic book shop no longer in existence down by Chapman, where both my parents worked, I found a used copy of Justice League of America #200 and it was a revelation.  It was 72 pages, a massive story that made full use of comic history, though I didn’t know it at the time.  My comics history was still limited, of course, and though I loved it right from the start, it wasn’t until years later that I really could appreciate it for how great it was.

Team books have been the hallmark at DC since early on.  The Justice Society of America was founded in 1940, the first team book, teaming up what were the heaviest hitters and starting to make them a shared universe instead of just separate worlds that each had their own hero.  It was a great sales idea – for people who couldn’t afford to get issues with every hero currently available, at least they could buy All-Star Comics and see them all together teamed up in the JSA.  Except, there really wasn’t much teamwork going on.  There was a pretty standard formula followed in almost every JSA story – the heroes would gather at the beginning, find out the villain, then each hero would have their own chapter, and then they would all come back together at the end.  It’s a great concept, but reading almost any old JSA story is actually pretty painful today.  The problem is that, when the JSA was re-invented as the JLA in 1959, they decided not to do anything with that formula.  So, if you go back through the JLA Archives books that DC sells (and which, at one point, I owned), you keep seeing all these great characters who are rarely actually working together.  It wasn’t actually until decades later that DC finally started coming up with a better approach to its major team book.  It never stopped me from reading it, but today, when most of the comics I read are books I check out from the library, I don’t even attempt to find early JLA stories; they’re just not very good.  Which brings me back around to #200.

This book is steeped in history and it’s that’s part of the reason it’s still one of the best single issues of the series, maybe the best.  First of all, it does exactly what I just complained about – it takes all the individual members of the league and splits them all up.  However, it does it in a much more interesting way that works well for the story, as I will explain below.

jla-firestorm-and-martian-manhunterChapter One:  Firestorm the Nuclear Man vs. Manhunter from Mars  (art by Patrick Broderick & Terry Austin)

This was my introduction to the Martian Manhunter, who would become one of my favorite comic characters.  Several years ago, when I got rid of my comic collection and also got rid of most of my comic based toys, I kept the Martian Manhunter Secret Powers figure.  But I also liked Firestorm, because my brother collected his comic and I got to read them all.  Pat Broderick would become the regular Firestorm artist, which began a few months after this issue and this was probably his try-out, as he had just left Marvel and come to DC.  Terry Austin, on the other hand, had long been respected as one of the best inkers in the business, having done the inks for the great Claremont / Byrne run on X-Men.

This was a great open to the issue – first we get a little recap of the JLA origin, then a magnificent two-page splash of the JLA satellite (clearly drawn by George Pérez), and then here comes Martian Manhunter slamming through the wall of the satellite, kicking the crap out of Firestorm, and then fleeing the satellite with the Appelaxian meteor that we know about from reading the opening bit on the origin.  Now, we’re suddenly into the story with a great burst of action and the call goes out to the rest of the leagues.  But none of the original leaguers show up and Green Arrow, the hero who’s been with the group the longest (and had actually quit the league – this will be his way back into the league) explains why and we get the split-up so each chapter can have its own individual battle.

jla-aquaman-and-red-tornadoChapter Two:  Aquaman vs. Red Tornado  (art by Jim Aparo)

Now that we know the story, we meet a tangential character, The Phantom Stranger, which brings me to another great part of this story.  This issue was a 72 page story with no ads in it.  That meant, that there was no ad on either the back cover or the interior of either the front or back covers.  Instead, the cover is a full page spread of the entire league battling each other, while the interiors of the covers were used to tell the history of the league.  So, even if you didn’t know who The Phantom Stranger was, he is mentioned in the history of the league that covers the first 200 issues.  I don’t know that any other anniversary has ever been treated to such a great production – so many pages, with no ads, and the history of what came before this issue.

So, now we enter the next part.  Now we come to one of the artists who was known for a specific character – Jim Aparo.  He had done the complete art (pencils, inks and even lettering) for the Aquaman series for years when he first came to work for DC in 1968.  His weather looks fantastic, and it makes for a great battle between Aquaman, emerging from the waves, Red Tornado, and his weather based powers, and even the intervention of The Phantom Stranger with a magnificent burst of lightning.

zatannaChapter Three:  Zatanna vs. Wonder Woman  (art by Dick Giordano)

With Wonder Woman headed to get her meteor from Paradise Island, where no man can walk, it’s up to Zatanna to take her on.  While Zatanna easily has the power to take on Wonder Woman, Princess Diana has strategy on her side.  In the new Justice League in 2007 (which may be a future post), when the entire team is captured and Batman only has time to free one member, she’s the one he chooses because she’s the best melee fighter.

Dick Giordano at this time was mainly an editor (he was the managing editor for DC) but he had done various art work over the years (included inking some very famous runs by Neal Adams) and had been the penciller for Wonder Woman during a key part of her history in the early 70’s.

Gil Kane Green Lanter Atom JLA 200Chapter Four:  Green Lantern vs. The Atom  (art by Gil Kane)

Gil Kane is the first of three artists here who is featured in a great book I have called The Silver Age of Comic Book Art.  Kane is a key player in comic history if, for no other reason, because in the mid-60’s he was the first person to openly work for DC and Marvel at the same time (others did it, but used pseudonyms).  But, that wasn’t the only reason.  He co-created two of the key Silver Age characters for DC, Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) and Ray Palmer (The Atom).  He would also draw two of the most important Spider-Man stories (the drug stories that broke with the Comic Code and the death of Gwen Stacy).  His chapter is great because it allows him to return to two characters that he was the first to draw and it really hearkens back to the Silver Age.

200chap5Chapter Five:  The Flash vs. The Elongated Man  (art by Carmine Infantino & Frank Giacoia)

If Gil Kane is a major heavy hitter of the Silver Age, that’s nothing compared to Carmine Infantino.  Whether you like his work or not, you can not minimize the historic importance of Carmine Infantino.  He did not have a hand in creating nearly as many characters as Jack Kirby did, but his vital role really makes him the artist that gave birth to the Silver Age.  The Golden Age began with the creation of Superman in 1938 and ended somewhere between 1949 and 1953, depending on how you want to count it.  But there’s no argument over when the Silver Age of Comic Books began – it was with the creation of Barry Allen, the new Flash in Showcase #4, cover-dated October, 1956.  That issue was drawn by Carmine Infantino.  He actually drew a lot of seminal Silver Age comics and I wrote a piece on him when he died because I felt his importance was over-looked when he died.

Like with Gil Kane, both the heroes involved here were co-created by Infantino.  It was another classic return to characters that had been developed under his hand.  In fact, the year before this issue, Infantino had returned as the penciller for Flash, where he would stay until the comic was cancelled in the lead-in to Crisis on Infinite Earths and in his very first issue back, he had Flash and Elongated Man face off against each other (my brother Kelly collected Flash at that time, so I was very familiar with Infantino’s work with the character).  Infantino brings real emotion to the fight between two friends and also makes good use of Flash’s powers in a way that isn’t normally used.  Infantino, of course, is also featured in The Silver Age of Comic Book Art.

bollandChapter Six:  Green Arrow and Black Canary vs. Batman  (art by Brian Bolland)

Unlike most of the artists in this issue, Brian Bolland was an artist on the rise.  He had been “discovered” in Britain and brought over to work at DC, mostly on covers at this point.  Ironically, Bolland (whose art in this issue seems to owe something to Neal Adams, who had famously drawn both Batman and Green Arrow in massively critically acclaimed runs in the early 70’s) would later become an important Batman artist, including work on Batman #400 and drawing The Killing Joke, one of the most famous of all graphic novels.

Justice-League-of-America-Vol.-1-200-1982Chapter Seven:  Hawkman vs. Superman  (art by Joe Kubert)

Joe Kubert was one of the longest lasting comic book artists.  His work with Hawkman actually began back in the Golden Age.  He pencilled some of the late adventures of the Golden Age Hawkman, as well as several issues of All-Star, which featured Hawkman as the chairman of the Justice Society of America.  So, in 1961, when Hawkman was the next character up for a revival (rather late, it seems to me, given how important he was in the Golden Age), it was Joe Kubert who was turned to as the artist.  Kubert, like Kane and Infantino is in The Silver Age of Comic Book Art, of course.  But they are also featured in a book that had a major impact on my love of comics.  It’s called Secret Origins of the Super DC Heroes.  It’s long out of print now, but you can find it for sale online.  I used to devour it at the Taft Branch of the Orange Public Library as a kid because it had origins for all the major DC heroes, and it had both the original Golden Age versions, as well as the Silver Age versions, so I have been reading the origin stories drawn by Kane, Infantino and Kubert for decades.  About a decade ago I bought a copy online and I kept it when most of my collection was sold.  Kubert’s work on Hawkman in that issue is great, and Kubert himself would go on to form a school of drawing comic book art and two of his sons would become artists themselves.

This chapter is in some ways the most interesting, because you would think that it’s a huge power differential (which it is, of course – for storytelling reasons they didn’t have Firestorm take on Superman which would have made more sense), but Hawkman uses his wits and strategy, and comes off well until the conclusion.  The ending also allows a cameo appearance from Adam Strange, an honorary JLA member.

jlaConclusion:

And, now we’re back to the amazing work of George Pérez.  With the meteors gathered together, the original members of the League realize they’ve been duped and they are quickly overcome.  But the rest of the group catches up to them and for the first (and only time), we have the entire membership of the league united in one group shot, drawn by the always awesome George Pérez.  Pérez might very well be my favorite comic book artist of all-time (with his major competition being John Byrne and Jim Lee), and I have a book about his work.  He was drawing JLA regularly at this time, having recently left the Avengers (and in fact had drawn Avengers #200, so it was appropriate to have him here) and he was the star of the industry at this time because of his work on New Teen Titans.  In the final three chapters of the book, the original foe that brought about the formation of the League in the first place is dispatched by the entire League working together in perfect harmony (although, in three different teams).

This issue was the start of my JLA collection.  I would, by the time I stopped collecting, either through actual issues or the Archives hardcover books, own the vast majority of issues of the original 261 issue run of the book.  When I look back at those issues, getting things from the library, most of it wasn’t very good.  Too much of it relied on spotty story-telling and the art wasn’t great during the early years.  But this issue is so very right in so many ways, from the way it hearkens back to the old story-telling, to the magnificent use of all the classic artists, to the teamwork that brings us to the conclusion (they even talk Green Arrow into rejoining the League).  In later years, there would be various ups and downs to the League, the more humor-based Justice League of the late 80’s and early 90’s, to the (in my opinion) over-rated run by Grant Morrison, to the fantastic revival, both in story-telling and art, in the stretch between Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis.  But, in the first 25 years of the League’s existence, this was absolutely the pinnacle.

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