Nick Cardy passed away on November 3rd, and I am so pleased to present much of his art to illustrate this article: Nick was one of Carmine Infantino's favorite artists and has always been a favorite of mine!
The best run on JUSTICE LEAGUE was by the incredibly versatile Len Wein (1972-1974, issues 100-114), aided by the solid Dick Dillin and primarily inked by the legendary Dick Giordano!
Len Wein has written my favorite Batman story (Moon of the Wolf, drawn by Neal Adams and Giordano in 1974).
My favorite Private Life of Clark Kent story (The Baby Who Walked Through Walls drawn by Adams in 1972).
And the story which returned Wonder Woman to full power as well as her title to the modern age (drawn by Curt Swan in 1974).
I say this to point out that Wein had written the Big Three, the Trinity of DC, in their own books and was more than qualified to write their most important team book; the JLA!
The kind of encyclopedic knowledge enjoyed by Wein is easy to take for granted, but within 6 years of his JLA work, Wein had risen to be the Editor-In-Chief of Marvel Comics. Later, Wein returned to freelance at DC, editing the first issues of the then-unknown Alan Moore on SWAMP THING (a character co-created by Wein) as well as launching Moore's WATCHMEN (co-created by Dave Gibbons and considered the best comic of the modern era). Make no mistake: Wein is a pimp!
Beginning with #100, Wein spun a 3-issue story of the annual Justice League/Justice Society crossover, a concept begun by Gardner F. Fox.
Zatanna and Diana Prince: Wonder Woman show up in this far-ranging tale, along with the Seven Soldiers of Victory, Metamorpho, a total of 32 heroes in all, culminating in the "death" of Red Tornado.
The only story with a comparable amount of heroes is the 12 issue maxi series CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS by Marv Wolfman, George Perez, Giordano and Jerry Ordway (1985-86); Wein told his ambitious, coherent debut JLA story with 1/4 as many pages: unbelievable!
Next, Wein tells a Halloween story with Phantom Stranger (whose own title Wein had written the best issues of with Jim Aparo) in which himself, Glynis Wein and Steve Englehart have cameos. Englehart was writing The Avengers at the time, and versions of Thor, Spider-Man, Captain America; along with Adam Strange, Supergirl and Captain Marvel; appear as adversaries manipulated by magician Felix Faust. Another sophisticated effort by Wein!
Next, Green Lantern's foe Hector Hammond animates the Shaggy Man to attack the JLA in their satellite headquarters. Classic? No. Has the satellite ever been used better in a JLA story? Maybe. is Wein the cleverest kid ever? Yes!
Next, Wein inducts the Elongated Man into the League and features the return of the Red Tornado. Wow! This Wein kid has got skills!
Next, Wein introduces Kathy Sutton, a job employment worker who assists Red Tornado (in his civilian guise as John Smith) with a kind word, a warm meal and a new apartment. Sutton begins a romance with Red Tornado and his transition from whiney loser into a reliable team member is firmly on track!
This simple emotional connection is something that Martian Manhunter has never had, and elevated the Red Tornado from just another android into someone to be admired, even envied. How many super heroes actually get the girl?
Next, the 2nd JLA/JSA crossover by Wein includes the Freedom Fighters, because this "Wein Man" is obviously a glutton for punishment! The teams are mis-directed to an alternate earth; Earth-X; where the Freedom Fighters have gone underground because their Nazis have actually won WWII. How ambitious is that twist? Bazinga! Heroes like the Blackhawks and Plastic Man have all died in the war.
(Of the routinely brilliant covers by Nick Cardy, this is my favorite one, because it sums up a complex idea in a deceptively simple image, combining Golden Age, Silver Age and Bronze Age characters effortlessly. The word balloons are succinct, the bottom banner helpfully lists the unfamiliar heroes, and, seriously, has Superman ever looked better?)
In the 2nd issue, my favorite line of Wein's run is delivered while accosting a Nazi, who asks, "Vas ist?"
"I ist! You can call me the Elongated Man -- if you can pronounce it!"
And the scene just keeps getting better from there! The stray teams help the Freedom Fighters to turn the tide of the war and Wein brings it all to a remarkably-satisfying conclusion.
Understand that it would be another 30 years before DC was able to successfully launch another monthly title featuring the Justice Society. Particularly at this time, Wein was writing characters who most readers had no familiarity with, or whom they had only seen in reprints from the 1940s. Beyond the technical difficulty of such a task, making these Golden Age heroes RELEVANT, REAL and INVESTED in the story at hand was no small feat!
The cover artist, Nick Cardy, had worked in the Golden Age himself and provided an uncanny "artistic bridge" to Wein, who was still in his long-haired, bell-bottomed 20's when doing these stories.
Next, Eclipso shows up, Hawkman quits, and Green Arrow sheds a tear rather than say goodbye to Hawkman's face. Another brilliant Wein touch!
My ABSOLUTE FAVORITE ISSUE of Wein's run is "The Man Who Murdered Santa Claus!", which features John Stewart, the black Green Lantern and alternate for Hal Jordan in Sector 2014.
We get a glimpse of Kathy Sutton, a clinch between Ollie and Dinah, and a surprise appearance by Phantom Stranger. Red Tornado even gets a Christmas present: a new costume! One of the best Christmas issues EVER PUBLISHED, ho ho ho!
Next, Wein introduces the Injustice Gang led by Libra, a genuinely smart idea that DC has yet to take full advantage of. This leads to the next issue where the League's powers have been halved by Libra and need to be retrieved by tricking Amazo. Again, such a smart idea of how to structure a JLA story, and done with the lightest of touches. "Half a Batman is better than none"? You betcha!
Next, Wein's 3rd JLA/JSA crossover, featuring the plight of the Golden Age Sandman and Sandy. This tale delivers the hardest blow that Wein has ever landed in a super hero title, as Sandman realizes what he had done to his sidekick because of foolish pride. This isn't the bitter tea that Moore served us in WATCHMEN, this the quiet, honest regret of a good man who nevertheless let down his very best friend. Remarkable.
Wein co-authored his final JLA story with Felton Marcus, which re-introduces JLA mascot Snapper Carr. Wein warmly dedicated this tale to Gardner F. Fox, but these 14 issues that Wein did went far beyond mere appreciation.
What Len Wein did was bring warmth, humor and specificity into what had often been blandly generic, politically strident or indifferently delineated characterizations, transforming these wildly-divergent heroes into a vibrantly alive team book!
Green Arrow and Black Canary had already been break-out characters, yes, but Wein made every character shine like a diamond, in each issue, in story after story!
What Len Wein did was, quite frankly, inspired and easily stands the test of time! His JUSTICE LEAGUE is the JLA that would live and breathe on the big screen, there is no doubt in my mind!