With DC Rebirth on the way, and a new iteration of the ever-expanding, ever-evolving DCU on its way, it seemed appropriate to take a step back and assess the first time a shared-universal course-correction was necessary… Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Justice League Of America #21 awaits!
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #21
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Bernard Sachs
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 12 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $1,000.00
Previously in Fantastic Four: Though Superman’s 1938 debut is the official kick-off point for the stories that would come to form the shared DC Universe, elements of the stories date back as far as 1935. All-Star Comics made its debut in 1940, and with its third issue began combining the various superheroes of the DC and All-American lineups (it’s complicated) into a shared universe. Comic books were a huge boom during the second World War, but by the end of the 40s, their star was waning, with most of the costumed heroes disappearing one-by-one. Throughout the early 50s, though, new heroes slowly appeared, a Martian Manhunter here, a Flash there, until finally the DCU was once again teeming with heroes by 1961, when they assembled to create the Justice League Of America! This, of course, left the question of what happened to the OLD heroes up in the air…
As the assembled JLA (minus Snapper Carr, whose absence Green Arrow seems almost gleeful to point out) sets off to take on their villains, the scene shifts one Earth over, to the headquarters of the recently revived Justice SOCIETY Of America on Earth-2. (Much hay has been made over the years about the renumbering issues and why the first Earth is numbered 2, but the real answer is simple: Barry Allen is and has always been super self-centered.)
A bit of perspective: This story is being presented in 1961, the same year as Flash #123, which reintroduced Jay Garrick and posited the Earth-2 explanation for the duplicated heroes. Barry himself had debuted five years earlier in 1956, with Jay Garrick’s final adventure appearing in 1951. The question of how and why there was another Flash is thus over five years old, and the dispensation of the JSA is pushing a decade.
That’s twice as long as the entire New 52.
As the seven Societeers set out to take down their old foes, the eight Leaguers engage their villains in combat…
Team One, consisting of CW superstar Ray “The Atom” Palmer, King-Of-Atlantis Arthur “Aquaman” Curry and David Goyer’s punching bag The Martian “Martian Manhunter” Manhunter are easily buffaloed by the mystical frippery of Felix Faust. Surely The Man Of Steel, The Crimson Comet and Star City’s Robin Hood will do better against Doctor Alchemy?
Yeeeeaaah, no. Team Two, despite a distinct tactical and power advantage (and doesn’t it seem a little odd to see the heroes double-and-triple teaming the bad guys?) fails to stop the man with the Philosopher’s Stone, and even LOSE a member, as Barry Allen finds himself shaken apart by one of Alchemy’s traps. This leaves the heroes’ only hope of success in the hands of JLA Team Three…
Sadly, The Dark Knight, The Emerald Gladiator and the Avenging Amazon whiff against Chronos, a sequence that would never be allowed in the modern DC Universe. (For one thing, Hal Jordan and Bruce Wayne co-existing without jockeying for dominance like two college kids fighting over the last copy of Maxim is unlikely.) I will say that it’s nice to see the team using their mighty powers to safeguard each other, and Sekowsky’s figure work is beautiful stuff. With each JLAer now in the ‘L’ column, we check in with the older, wiser JSA. Surely they’ve done bett-
…oh. One panel each? That’s harsh. In our heroes’ defense, two epically powerful wizards, a master of time, a man with complete control over matter and a mind-controller make for a daunting passel of enemies.
And also, The Icicle!
Having pulled off their thefts with aplomb, the villains plan is simple: Switch Earths and spend their loot in peace…
It’s a fool-proof plan, with one flaw: These men are apparently fools. Having gotten away with it, the villains find themselves bored, and decide to openly challenge the heroes they just beat, going so far as to tell them where and when they’re going to be…
Of course, they also took the time to switch costumes, causing the heroes great confusion as they face the wrong abilities, finally using their powers to teleport the League back to their stronghold, trapping them inside with no hope of escape!
Their makeshift séance works with flying colors, contacting their own lost Flash, who comes up with the idea that will finally turn the tide: Call the Justice Society to Earth-1 to face their own foes, using the villain’s turnabout ploy against them…
Remember, Faithful Spoilerites: Where eight heroes fail, FIFTEEN heroes will succeed! Still, the strange politics of superhero battles aside, this is a really charming and memorable issue, full of Gardner Fox’s trademark twists and turns. Also worth nothing for those who are frustrated by Rebirth’s “fix-fic” aspects, remember that this book was created to achieve the same ends: To explain or repair bits of continuity that were a problem. Justice League Of America #21 is a charming issue that proves that, as The Bard said, ‘The play’s the thing’, and even a story made to deal with continuity issues can still be memorable and excellent, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.