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Retroactive 1970s:
Justice League of America

writer: Cary Bates
artists: Andy Smith, Gordon Purcell
and Jose Marzan, Jr.

With just about a month to go before DC wipes everything clean – well, almost everything – and then starts over for the future, it almost makes sense that they’re spending this last month looking to the past.

But nostalgia might not be the right tone to hit, especially when they do it so well. Why should we trust the New 52 right after they prove they’re not making them like they used to anymore?

This Justice League of America book suckered me in with exactly the kind of plot DC swears will not be possible in the coming year. Stuck in a Zeta Beam with the villainous Kanjar Ro, Adam Strange gets caught up in a dimensional shift and ends up on our Earth.

Or rather, what we have to call “Earth Prime,” one in which the rules work like our own but which is still fictional. The catch is that all the other fiction we’ve been reading is fiction to them. Let’s just call it “Earth Morrison.”

It’s a chance to celebrate a few things. Writer Cary Bates gets to revisit a concept he did better than anyone in the seventies – the first issue of The Flash I ever bought was the one in which Bates crossed a dimensional rift into Central City. Then there’s the glorious Adam Strange, DC’s answer to Flash Gordon with a much better rocket pack. And of course, a visit to Earth Prime requires a visit to the office of Julius Schwartz, celebrating his knowledge and superiority as the Editor who built the Silver Age.

Still, Bates is writing from the perspective of 2011, and some of that tints the tale. Though the plot is as vaguely nonsensical as the best Justice League stories from the seventies, little bits of modern ugliness seep through. It’s hard to imagine picking up a 30 cent book from the spinner rack and seeing one of the heroes undergo electroshock therapy – except for Howard the Duck, and that was exactly why my mom hated me buying it.

Yet there’s also a warmth towards Schwartz that wasn’t there in the 70s, proven by a back-up reprint from the time. The editor appears in both stories, both written by Bates. Though he’s decent at heart in both, it’s also clear that a younger Bates found him crusty and the crusty Bates remembers him as wise.

The art by Andy Smith and Gordon Purcell has a softer look to it than the reprint. That, too, lends the story a glow of nostalgia, contrasted to what was meant to be hip as drawn by Dick Dillin.

Maybe this will set a tone for the New 52, proving that you can tell a complete story done in one. Ironically, the reprint is only the first half of a two-parter, in which the League and the Justice Society team up with Elliot S! Maggin against the Injustice Society and an ensorcelled Cary Bates. Somehow I missed this one the first time around, but I know the nine-year-old me would have eaten it up, AND thought everyone’s hairstyles were cool.

Derek McCaw

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