THE GOLDEN AGE JUSTICE LEAGUE
The Justice Society of America
The Winter 1940 issue of “All Star Comics” (#3) introduced an innovation that’s lasted to the present – the superhero team up. Created by editor Sheldon Mayer and writer Gardner Fox for DC Comics, the concept immediately caught on with readers and this first incarnation lasted until 1951. The initial team members were The Flash, The Green Lantern, The Spectre, Hawkman, Dr. Fate, The Hour Man, The Sandman and The Atom. These Golden Age versions are somewhat different from their contemporaries – e.g., the Green Lantern was originally a railroad engineer who gained his powers through a magical entity that fell to Earth. Batman and Superman are considered “honorary members”, and did not participate in the teams adventures. This is because they both have their own books; it was a rule that only characters whose stories appeared in anthologies became part of the JSA. When the Flash and Green Lantern got their own titles they also left.
The JSA is first seen getting together for a dinner party in the hotel suite that serves as headquarters. The team is fully formed and no origin story is ever presented during the Golden Age; in fact, not during the Silver Age either. It took 40 years for DC to show how it all started in “DC Special” #29 (Aug-Sept ’77). Outside the hotel, Johnny Thunder mopes around wondering why he wasn’t invited. Thunder is an unusual, somewhat comical character, who can summon up the genie-like ‘Thunderbolt’, and, for one hour, have his wishes come true.
His only problem, he has no idea how he does it. A full explanation can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Thunder. Anyway, he does manage to get in, and after dinner suggests that each member tells about their most exciting experience. The stories make up the rest of the book. Thunder became the JSA’s mascot and remained with them until the late Forties when he lost his power and resigned.
The Red Tornado in all her glory.
Another bizarre, comical character makes a brief appearance at the gathering. Red Tornado, a female superhero (one of the earliest and possibly the first) aka Ma Hunkel, who debuted in Issue #3 of All American Comics. Part of a series called ‘Scibbly, the Boy Cartoonist’ (a semi-autobiographical strip by Sheldon Mayer), Ma is Scribbly’s friend Huey’s mother, and the overseer of a large extended family. In issue #20 gangsters accidentally kidnap two neighborhood kids and Ma and the other children know who has them, but the police, lacking evidence, take no action. Coming back from the Station, Scribbly and Huey tell Ma that The Green Lantern would come to the rescue in a minute. Ma wants to know about the Green Lantern and is intrigued by the description. Near the end of the story a strange figure appears at the gangsters’ hideout. Sporting red long johns, a cape and a cooking pot for a helmet, Red Tornado is born (she’s sometimes mistakenly, or deliberately, called the Red Tomato.). Certainly not your usual Superhero, Ma nevertheless possesses extraordinary strength. Actually not invited to the JSA dinner (they thought she was too busy), Ma crashes the party through a window, but, in so doing, rips her long johns. The embarrassing tear causes her to leave immediately after arrival. Though never an official JSA member, she’s referred to in later stories as an honorary one.
After issue #3 the stories begin using the formula that would hold for the majority Individual members would become involved with part of the plot and then come together for the resolution. One good example is issue #5, ‘The Mysterious Mister X’. Since The Justice League’s success has reduced the crime rate, Mr. X, a criminal mastermind, calls together the heads of several gangs and assigns each a JSA member to dispose of. The Flamer, leader of an arson ring, gets the Flash and soon fires break out in the neighborhood where Jay Garrick (The Flash) lives. Seizing a fire hose he speeds around creating a water curtain that douses the flames, then, with the aid of a child witness, tracks the gang. From The Flamer, he learns that all of the JSA members are in danger and immediately notifies them. The Sandman grapples with the Kidnapper’s Union while Hawkman battles the Norris jewel thief gang. Dr.Fate falls into a trap set by Dr. Magico, a fake magician, but survives due to his ability to repel any force directed at him. The Spectre, Hour-Man, The Atom and The Green Lantern all overcome their own challenges. In the end all the heroes gather, but none has been able to find out who Mr. X is. A meek-looking man brushes past them and all recognize him as a casual observer of their encounters. They follow him into a police station where he turns himself in as Mr. X.
Mr. X and a stunned JSA.
Issue #8 saw Wonder Woman join the JSA as the second (if you want to count Red Tornado’s brief encounter) female member, however, for a long time, she was relegated to the role of the organization’s secretary. Some saw this as sexism, some think it’s because she had her own book, and some say that her creator, William Moulton Marston, didn’t want anyone writing for her but him. Whatever the reason, she didn’t become an active member until much later. Other heroes who joined the team are Dr. Midnite and Starman in Issue #8 to replace the departing Green Lantern and Hourman, Mister Terrific and Wildcat in #24 (they only appeared in the one issue, but are occasionally mentioned later) and Black Canary to replace Johnny Thunder in #41.
Issue #57 (Feb – Mar. 1951) marked the last appearance of the Golden Age JSA, and the series title changed to ‘All Star Western’. The reason, falling sales due to a growing lack of interest in superheroes, though no explanation was provided for still loyal readers. The Silver Age began a few years later when Showcase #4 (Oct. 1956) brought back The Flash (Barry Allen) as the first step in an attempted superhero revival by DC. It worked and heroes began running , flying, swimming and dematerializing once again. A new team up was inevitable and in Brave and the Bold #28, the Justice League of America took it’s stand against Starro, the mind-controlling starfish from Outer Space.