Friday, July 10, 2015

Forgotten Books: Crisis on Multiple Earths - Gardner Fox


After reading THE GOLDEN AGE, James Robinson's deconstruction of some of DC's Golden Age superheroes, a while back, I was in the mood to read some of the real thing, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof. CRISIS ON MULTIPLE EARTHS, a trade paperback from 2002, reprints a series of stories from JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA that were a big deal in comics fandom in the early to mid-Sixties. Some quick background for those of you who aren't familiar with it (and for those of you who haven't muttered, "Another damn comic book post on Reasoner's blog" and clicked on to something else):

When the Silver Age was launched by the introduction of The Flash in 1956, in SHOWCASE #4, DC's Golden Age heroes were long since gone and had no place in this new version of the DC Universe. But writer Gardner Fox, who had written stories featuring many of those heroes in the Forties, remembered them and came up with a brilliant way to bring them back. He imagined another Earth, occupying the same space as the regular DC Earth, but vibrating at a slightly different frequency. That Earth, which Fox dubbed Earth-Two, was where the Golden Age characters lived. The Flash from Earth-One, Barry Allen, met the Flash from Earth-Two, Jay Garrick, in the iconic story "Flash of Two Worlds" (which I happen to have bought off the spinner rack in Tompkins' Drugstore, by the way).

Fox kept playing with that concept in a few more Flash stories, then went whole hog in the pages of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #21, in the summer of 1963. In this story, "Crisis on Earth-One!", and its sequel in the next issue, aptly titled "Crisis on Earth-Two!", Fox reintroduced several more Golden Age characters from the Justice Society of America and had them cross the vibrational barrier to meet their Earth-One counterparts, the Justice League of America. (I missed these two issues when they were new but bought beat-up used copies of them later at Thompson's Bookstore in downtown Fort Worth.)

Well, this two-part story was a huge success, both critically and financially, and for years after that, the JLA and the JSA would team up in a two-parter every summer. The fans loved 'em. I was a semi-regular reader of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA (I was a Marvel fan, first and foremost by then, but I read a lot of DC comics, too) and I always managed to pick up the JLA/JSA crossover. CRISIS ON MULTIPLE EARTHS reprints the first four of those annual epics, the forerunners of the annual Big Event storylines from both DC and Marvel that have gone a long way toward ruining current comics for long-time fans such as myself (or "curmudgeons", if we're being honest).

Anyway, these stories from 1963-66, with their more innocent attitudes, almost non-stop slam-bang action, and crisp scripts by Gardner Fox are just tremendous fun as far as I'm concerned. True, they're a little low-key in places, and the lack of real ambition on the part of the villains is a good example of what some have cited as the real difference between Marvel and DC during that era: Both companies could take the same basic concept, but where DC came up with Matter-Eater Lad, Marvel came up with Galactus. Despite that, while reading these stories I was flipping the pages and having a great time.

I haven't mentioned the art. The pencils in all eight stories are by Mike Sekowsky, and I knew even then that Sekowsky's art was...odd, let's say. His enormously barrel-chested figures always seemed unbalanced to me, as if they were about to fall on their faces. Anatomy aside, though, I never had any trouble following what was going on in a story with art by Mike Sekowsky. His storytelling was top-notch, and he was capable of drawing some pretty memorable panels here and there. A good inker, like Murphy Anderson on the original covers of these issues, helped a lot.

So if you're an old-time comics fan like me, CRISIS ON MULTIPLE EARTHS gets a very high recommendation. I really enjoyed reading these stories again. If you started reading comics in the past ten years, you might look at them and say, "What is this crap?"

You really had to be there.


11 comments:

Scott Parker said...

Funny timing. I'm re-reading the big Triple Crossover from 1982: JLA, JSA, and the All-Star Squadron. Time travel, three teams, alternate Earths (#3 and Prime). I love these crossovers and, like you, looked forward to them every year!

jhegenbe said...

I think you did have to be there, and thank God I was. Just imagine....

George Kelley said...

I was there at the birth of the Silver Age reading THE FLASH, GREEN LANTERN, ADAM STRANGE, and the JUSTICE LEAGUE. Gardner Fox was a key figure in those days (and he wrote some pretty good SF novels, too!). Thanks for the memories!

Charles Gramlich said...

I've kind of wanted to get into this but there's so much history there that I don't know if I'd be lost trying. I do like Fox pretty well, though

Scott Parker said...

Charles, you definitely should jump in, especially with this collection. Back then, and even until the 70s, rarely did you have story lines crossover year to year. Sometimes, you would, but they never took away from the story at hand. In fact, as I was reading the story I mentioned above (1982), there was a reference to a story published in 1942! (First appearance of the villain). The story was still good.

Another thing I liked about these big JLA/JSA events was the covers. They'd usually have the Roll Call on the edges of the cover with head shots of all the heroes. Invariably, the two teams would break up into smaller teams and those few pages would have their own mini title cards. Man! Those were some great issues.

Todd Mason said...

By my jumping-in point, in the early '70s, I would've been mostly interested in the Spectre's involvement in the teams...have you written comics scripts yet, James?

Todd Mason said...

And I suspect there's some Another Old Magazines post? from those who look at mine at all...

Bill O said...

One minor point of geekery. The Flash of Two Worlds Cover was drawn first by Infantino, as a challenge to fox and editor Julius Schwartz. Fox and Schwartz, both having scifi backgrounds, invented a parallel Earth just to justify the cover. It didn't have to go that way - the Jay Garrick Flash could've simply been an imposter.

James Reasoner said...

Charles,
I agree with Scott, you can jump right in with almost any DC story from the early Sixties and not be lost at all. Even in these JLA/JSA crossovers, everything is easy to follow.

Todd,
Bob Wayne and I plotted a Green Lantern Corps story, but i don't recall if we ever wrote a script for it. At any rate, it was never published, that's for sure. That's as close as I've come, although I've always wanted to write comics.

Bill O.,
I didn't know that about the Flash of Two Worlds cover. Very cool info. Many thanks!

Richard R. said...

This was a really good story, I thought, though it's been a few years since I read it.

Keith West said...

I started reading comics when we moved to Fort Worth on 1976 and JLA immediately became my favorite. It wasn't long before I was looking forward to the crossovers w the JSA and whoever else would be involved. It was several years before I managed to get an entire crossover. Distribution was spotty. And I agree with Scott about the roll call covers. And I thought the JLA/JSA/All Star Squadron crossover was a high point of that particular summer.