It’s been almost three short years, and here we are at the 100th post on Comics, The Universe and Everything! I hope you’ve been enjoying the ride!
Anniversary Issues have become a big deal in the comics world, a universe where very few comics last long enough to have 100 issues. Indeed, some of the all-time most important series — All-Star Comics comes to mind — never made that milestone. And so we get big comics with epic stories and a plethora of guest stars or returning favorites. The Fantastic Four faced off against virtually all their foes! Spider-man became more spidery by growing 4 extra arms! I don’t remember what happened in Avengers 100 but the cover promises “the mightiest 100th issue of all!!” Also ten-damn-dollars for Amazing Spider-Man #800, but that’s another conversation.
For our 100th post spectacular, we’ll revive the “First Comics” column. I’ve written about my first comic as a collector (Action Comics # 425) and my first issue of Fantastic Four (#126). Today we’ll look at my First 100th issue, Justice League of America #100, August 1972. Ironically, #99 had been a double-sized issue. DC had tried to make their entire line of comics 52 pages for 25 cents but that experiment ended and issue 100 returned to the more modest size and price of 20 cents. A SPECIAL REGULAR-SIZED ISSUE!!
It was probably on the stands 49 years ago today as I write this and the next issue box from JLA #99 ramped up expectations!
This is about a year before, with all the seriousness a nine-year-old can muster, I decided I was a “comic book collector.” I only owned a handful of comics at this point but I knew I liked team books with lots of heroes and this one promised to fit the bill.
So let’s revisit the actual comic. It’s surprising how little happens in this issue.
It begins with some JLAers arriving at the team’s dusty, cobwebbed former headquarters ready to celebrate their hundredth meeting. That’s a bit on point, but okay. Green Arrow must have a dustbuster arrow or some nonsense that will help them clean up. Also, I have no idea why they’re holding this celebration in what looks like a cave while they have a perfectly good multi-million-dollar state-of-the-art satellite headquarters. Nostalgia, I suppose.
Their satellite, by the way, is in geosynchronous orbit which is 22,300 miles above the Earth’s surface and THAT is a fact that I learned from reading comics.
Everybody wants to attend the party. There are more than 2 pages of characters getting ready to go to, starting to go to, arriving at the cave, or bemoaning the fact that they can’t attend the party. DC takes the opportunity to pad the list of guest-stars that they hyped in the last issue. Just saying, Adam Strange — one panel, Martian Manhunter — one panel, Snapper Carr — one panel. At least we see why Batman is too good to help clean up the cave; two low-level thugs need apprehending. Also, Diana Prince needs a lift. Doesn’t she have an invisible plane?
And there’s a cake with a big numeral on the top. Even at eight, I knew that was lame. Also, would someone please slap the crap out of Green Arrow?
Suddenly… as they say in the comics biz, everyone in the cave is teleported to Earth Two and we’re introduced to The Justice Society of America. America Two? I really like the JSA and for as long as I can remember I’ve liked them better than their Earth One counterparts. When I came back to comics in the 80s, I mostly read Marvel books before Crisis on Infinite Earths. Two of the exceptions were All-Star Squadron and Infinity, Inc. Because of the JSA connections.
That’s what makes this a personal key for me. As near as I can figure this was my introduction to the JSA as a group although I’d seen some reprints of their solo stories. Still, look at this! Cool gas mask, cool hood, cool goggles, cool helmet. Also, Wildcat has literal whiskers! Great stuff! And for me way more interesting than the everyday leaguers.
And here the book gets positively Asimovian. The JSA explains that their Earth is being gripped by a huge hand which has something to do with a villain called the Iron Hand. Clearly, Len Wein had been watching Star Trek.
With Zatanna’s help, Dr. Fate conjures an oracle who keeps on with all the long-winded explanations. The key to saving Earth Two from the Hand? Turns out it’s the Seven Soldiers of Victory (Well, eight really, but let’s say that’s about keeping the name alliterative and not about the fact that Wing was Asian). Anyhow, the 7SofV? Also pretty cool. But Stripsey? Bwah-haha! Oh, the 1940s, you can be so silly!
The last adventure of the Seven Soldiers had them encounter a menace called the Nebula Man who is somehow similar to that hand thing. We get an extended flashback. The 7SofV built a whatchamacallit to defeat the Nebula Man and that same thingamabob just might do the trick here. Luckily for their publicist, they’re victorious, although one of the soldiers sacrifices his life and the rest are taken out of time so they no longer exist. The contemporary Earth 2 heroes can’t really remember them.
Something almost happens; in an homage to the great JSA stories from All-Star Comics, everyone has to break into teams to retrieve the time-lost Seven Soldiers. In another homage, the Earth 1 Wonder Woman gets left behind to “brief anyone else who might arrive.” We get another flashback and now the coincidences are multiplying faster than the spiders in Miss Havisham’s wedding cake. That Iron Hand guy? He used to be known as merely “the Hand” and he was responsible for them becoming a team in the first place. We learn his early history with the team, which is ultimately their origin story.
Then something finally happens! We get to see the first team retrieve the first soldier from the depths of the past.
And as suddenly as the action began, it ends, because the pages have been successfully filled. We end with a couple of panels where the Iron Hand gives a typical over-the-top supervillain rant and vows that all these foolish heroes will not foil his plans. The next issue is hyped with a title that is almost a pun and the issue is over.
Overall this issue is mediocre; I poke fun but enjoyed revisiting the issue. The story, bringing two teams together to welcome a Golden Age group back into continuity is worthy of a 100th issue. But the pacing is a bit off and I wonder if this was planned for a double-sized issue and had to be reconfigured in a hurry when they decided to make all the titles regular-sized again. The JLA warranted a larger anniversary issue. Another hundred issues on they got one, a “Super-sized, star-studded 200th” issue if the cover is to be believed.
The story continues into JLA 101 and concludes in 102. It’s more of the same; the other groups of heroes rescue the remaining Soldiers of Victory and we get a lot of patent DC Weirdness along the way. We learn which soldier sacrificed his life and Diana, without any powers, gets to take down the Iron Hand. The weapon that the 7SofV built is recreated and this saga ends in a way parallel to the 7SofV’s last story; one of the JSA sacrifices his life to deploy the device and save Earth Two.