Sunday, September 19, 2010

Comic Column: Teamwork and the Justice League

Comic Column: Teamwork
Article by Bryan Stroud

“Individual commitment to a group effort - that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” - Vince Lombardi (1913-1970)

The Brave & the Bold No 28. 1960 featured the first appearance of the
Justice League Of America

Heroes, I’ve found, share common traits with one another and I’ve used this little column to explore some of the attributes that make each heroic in their own sphere of influence.  We’ve looked at courage, honesty and sacrifice and this time, I’d suggest that heroes are nearly without exception altruistic.  They like to help others because they can.  Furthermore, they often work well in teams.  Think of your local fire department, members of a military unit, or smoke jumpers who protect our forested areas.  There is most certainly strength in numbers, and maybe that’s one of the reasons that a team of heroes can make good sense, working toward a collective good.

The Silver Age was beginning to kick into high gearat DC Comics when a new/old team was introduced to the world in the early months of 1960.  The Brave and the Bold title contained, with issue #28, the first appearance of the Justice League of America, which was based on the old Justice Society of America from the Golden Age.  Interestingly enough, this debut story didn’t contain anything like an origin story for the team, which consisted of the best known heroes in the DC stable:  Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, the Flash and the Manhunter from Mars.  The cover was done up courtesy of Mike Sekowsky on pencils with Murphy Anderson inking while the interior art was accomplished by Mike Sekowsky again on pencils, inked by Bernie Sachs in chapters 1, 3, and 5; Joe Giella in chapter 2 and Murphy Anderson in Chapter 4.  Gardner Fox is the writer of “Starro the Conqueror!”

Starro is, in essence, a gigantic, space-going and intelligent star fish who has come to Earth, doubtless up to no good.  When it enters the ocean, it creates three duplicates of itself from native star fish and the mischief is afoot.

Aquaman learns of the threat from one of his finny friends and promptly contacts the other members of the League for an emergency meeting.  Superman and Batman are indisposed, so the remaining five members gather at their concealed HQ to discuss the menace and how they’ll deal with it.  Assignments are swiftly made and the team goes out to divide and conquer, with Green Lantern tackling one of the Starro creatures in the Rockies, engaging it with his famed power ring in a titanic battle until ultimately prevailing and returning it to its natural state as a harmless sea star.

On another front, Wonder Woman and the Martian Manhunter join forces to face off against another Starro at Science City, where it is in the midst of attempting to absorb the brainpower of the gathering of prominent scientific minds at a convention hall.  The massive creature literally lifts the building containing them and heads for the upper atmosphere.  Wonder Woman is close behind in her robot plane and uses her magic lasso to try and stop the beast, but she’s having some trouble.  The Martian Manhunter, meanwhile, aids with his super Martian breath to blow the shattered remains of some meteors into the Starro duplicate.  The aerial battle rages for some time, but through determination and teamwork, the two heroes overcome the menace and are hoping their teammates are equally successful.

The Flash, meanwhile, has rushed to Happy Harbor, home of Snapper Carr, a local hipster, who’s been working on his family’s yard with fertilizing components.  When the Flash arrives, he notes that Starro has cast some sort of mind-numbing spell on the populace, with the exception of the young Snapper.  Flash quickly engages the monstrous menace, creating a spinning vortex around it.  Starro barely makes it to a nearby lake, but the Fastest Man Alive isn’t that easily discourages and is next seen using his high speed feet to cause ground vibrations, revealing the creature between the parted waters.  Ceasing the rapid movements, the walls of water fall onto the creature, putting it out for the count.  Snapper has arrived, meanwhile, and the pair head for the town to check on the residents, who now seem to have been released from the mental spell.  He and Snapper head for a rendezvous point with the rest of the JLA.

As the final chapter unfolds, the original Starro is plotting.  It has lost its three “deputies,” but has gleaned their collective intelligence and power and plans to finish the task of taking over Earth.  Little does it know that five heroes are on their way to thwart the plan.  Starro, however, won’t go down without a fight and uses its clairvoyant abilities to probe the mind of Green Lantern, turning itself yellow to be immune to his power ring.  It hurls a blast of energy at Snapper Carr, who’s tagged along and it is ineffectual, stimulating the curiosity of police scientist Barry Allen, also known as the Flash.  While Wonder Woman and the Martian Manhunter keep Starro busy, the Flash instructs Green Lantern to use his power ring to create a spectroscope to analyze Snapper Carr and see what is making him immune to Starro’s power.  They determine a higher than normal level of calcium oxide or lime on the young man.  He confirms he’d been using it on the lawn and they quickly deduce that lime will defeat Starro, just as oyster men use it to battle star fish that threaten oyster beds.  Barrels and bags of lime are appropriated in the blink of an eye and the members of the Justice League use it with abandon, destroying the creature known as Starro.

So what did this first recorded adventure of the Justice League of America teach us?  First and foremost, it taught the value of team work.  United in a common cause, the greatest heroes on earth gathered together to formulate a strategy, deploy their assets (dividing and conquering Starro and its duplicates) and came back together for the climactic finish of the terror, pooling their resources for the greater good.

Whether consciously or not, this storyline would become a noted pattern in the future adventures of the Justice League of America.  The team would consistently come together to meet whatever threat had appeared; tackled it in teams of two to three members, and collectively neutralize the enemy during the course of the story.  It was particularly notable and effective when a similar team of super villains were the foe, because a villain is self-serving and incapable of trusting anyone else.  Inevitably those “teams” fall apart in the clutch, while true heroes come together, pooling their strengths, complementing their gifts and watching each others backs to deal with the task at hand.

Heroes look out for one another, and they don’t mind at all being part of something bigger than themselves in order to achieve even more.  I’m reminded of the old definition of a team: Together Everyone Achieves More.  Obviously, individual preparation is essential, and we must not lose sight of that as we continue to strive to be our best selves, but do be ready to answer the call and join the team.  Great things will undoubtedly follow. 

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