So last time, we examined the crossovers in the Golden Age between National Comics and All-American Comics before they were merged to create, essentially, DC Comics. (They wouldn’t officially call themselves “DC Comics” until 1977. Before that, they would brand their comics as “A Superman DC Production” or simply “A DC Production.”) But then superheroes waned in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s and instead National turned to westerns and war comics.
But then a book came along in 1956 called Showcase. It was merely supposed to be a vehicle to see what stories struck the readers attention: in fact, the first three issues didn’t feature superheroes at all. The first issue had a story about firefighters, the second a western, and the third was about a “Frogman” in the Navy.
And then the fourth issue was published and everything changed. The Silver Age for DC had officially begun. DC Editor Julius Schwartz assigned writer Robert Kanigher and artist Carmine Infantino to make an updated version of the old Golden Age superhero the Flash. And this Flash did make an impact with readers: he went on to appear in three more issues of Showcase before getting his own book in 1959.
The next step, the writers and editors knew, after reinventing Golden Age characters was to reinvent the Golden Age superhero team. But now, instead of a society, they took a page from baseball and called it a league.
The Justice League of America debuted in The Brave and the Bold #28 (February-March 1960) and it starred the Silver Age versions of the Flash, the Green Lantern, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, and Wonder Woman (no longer relegated to secretary).
(Superman and Batman, being the crown jewels of DC Comics, were of course too busy to attend.)
The Brave and the Bold was another anthology comic that tested new concepts for DC to spin off into the own books. Most of the early issues were fantasies starring the Shining Knight and the Viking Prince. Issue #25 introduced the Suicide Squad, however, and then the JLA and the book became almost exclusively about superheroes. And then, starting in 1963, the book became a team up book, pairing together two different superheroes: the Green Arrow and the Manhunter from Mars, Aquaman and Hawkman, the Atom and the Flash, and many more. By 1966, the book became almost exclusively Batman team-ups.
But now, back to the Flash: the curious thing about the new Silver Age Flash was his connection to the old Golden Age Flash. Barry Allen quite clearly takes the name “the Flash” from a comic book in his first issue. The Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick, was only a comic book character in the new Flash’s world.
This presented an interesting conundrum when, in The Flash #123 (September 1961), Barry Allen met and teamed up with Jay Garrick in a story called “Flash of Two Worlds!” It turned out that Barry had unconsciously vibrated into a parallel Earth. This story would then have major impact for the entire DC universe even up to the present day.
So: why was Jay Garrick real in one world and fictional in another? Well, it turns out that Gardner Fox (the co-creator of the Golden Age Flash) was unconsciously tuning into that parallel world (dubbed “Earth-2”) when he wrote the comics. Yes, they brought in Gardner Fox and DC Comics into the world of the Flash. I’m not sure if this is the first metafictional comic book (although I do remember a later Fantastic Four story where Dr. Doom confronts the writers of the book and forces them to bring him back to life), but it certainly is an interesting way of doing things.
The use of the Golden Age Flash meant that suddenly, all of the older Golden Age characters were available and this led to Justice League of America #21 and #22 in August and September of 1963. These stories were called “Crisis on Earth-One!” and “Crisis on Earth-Two!” and they were so successful that DC made a JLA/JSA team-up an annual thing for the Justice League of America book.
The story of “Crisis on Earth-One!” is pretty simple and very Silver Age: villains from Earth-1 and Earth-2 plan to commit crimes and then hide out in the opposite Earth. (How they knew there was more than one Earth is never explained.) The villains of Earth-1 trap the JLA in their headquarters, so the JLA summons the JSA to help them out. In “Crisis on Earth-Two!” they are both transported out into cages in space and finally duke it out with their villains.
Since the team-ups became an annual thing, there are a long list of “Crisis”es. Here are some of them:
- “Crisis on Earth-Three!”: The JLA and JSA team up to fight the Crime Syndicate of America. (Justice League of America #29-30.)
- “Crisis on Earth-A!”: The JLA and JSA team up after the Johnny Thunder of Earth-1 steals the Thunderbolt from the Johnny Thunder of Earth-2 and tries to erase the JLA from existence. (Justice League of America #37-38.)
- “Crisis Between Earth-One and Earth-Two!”: The JLA and JSA team up when a lab accident sends villains from one Earth to another Earth. (Justice League of America #46-47.)
- And many, many, many others.
So when did the Silver Age end for DC? Well, actually, around the same time it ended for Marvel Comics, in the early ‘70s. The end for Marvel came with a big death, but for DC is was something different:
In 1970, Julius Schwartz, who seems to be at the head of a number of these developments, helped revamp the Green Lantern comic, which had been on the verge of cancellation. Writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams were hired to make another team up book that was different, more socially conscious: Green Lantern/Green Arrow. (Although technically, it was Green Lantern co-starring Green Arrow at first.)
This was the book where Oliver Queen revealed himself to be a liberal iconoclast, a “hippy” that his later characterization would become dependent on. And Green Lantern acted as the conservative law enforcement to his liberal ways, often clashing over issues of housing and homelessness. And, in 1971, there was a two part storyline called “Snowbirds Don’t Fly” where it was revealed Green Arrow’s sidekick, Speedy, was addicted to heroin.
Marvel Comics had previously done a story in Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 about drug addiction. Even though Neal Adams had pitched his story first, Schwartz had rejected it because he knew the Comics Code would never approve it, but Marvel went and published their story without the Comics Code’s approval. Per Neal Adams:
“We could have done it first and been the ones to make a big move. Popping a pill and walking off a roof isn’t the sort of thing that really happens, but heroin addiction is; to have it happen to one of our heroes was potentially devastating. Anyway, the publishers at DC, Marvel and the rest called a meeting, and in three weeks, the Comics Code was completely rewritten. And we did our story.”
And so the Code was changed and the stories themselves changed. And DC marched forward into the Bronze Age...