Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Classics - Justice League of America #57

Contrary to the substance of many comics today (which are all about sturm and drang), the industry in the 1960s and before spent quite a bit of effort - from time to time - in promoting positive values.

DC was especially "in your face" about it, including single page public service messages, with Superboy and Superman encouraging kids not to litter, to stay in school, to be kind to others - that sort of thing.

There was something very sweet and endearing about those efforts, and I have to admit I remember them having a positive effect on my attitudes.

But sometimes, they went a bit overboard.

That was the case with this effort in 1967, as the Justice League of America promoted the idea of equality in the story with the wonderful title, "Man, Thy Name Is -- Brother!"

The story by Gardner Fox (one of my all-time favorites, this issue aside) has all the subtlety of a ball-peen hammer, as it focuses on League sidekick Snapper Carr's efforts to learn more about three young men who have interesting stories to tell - stories that would tie in to his assignment to cover "Brotherhood Week."

Since the regular team meeting has just ended as the story begins, three of the heroes - the Flash, Hawkman and Green Arrow - offer to help (not like they have anything more important to do), and they journey around the world to meet the three men and help Snapper.

This brings them into three small adventures against small-time crooks, each time aided by the young man they're investigating. Each young man is a member of a minority (in the U.S.) - a black man, a Native American and a man trying to help people in India (he's not a minority, but the people he's helping are - in a way).

Each young person is down on their own life because they've encountered prejudice and been told they can't succeed - nothing a little pep talk by a superhero can't cure.

The story is extremely thin and sometimes silly - these crooks should offer no challenge to these heroes - yet they do. (No super-villains in evidence here.)

The artwork is by classic JLA artist Mike Sekowsky, with some heavy inks by Sid Greene (the finished product is almost more Sid than Mike), and as always it's clear, clean storytelling by two masters of the craft.

It's easy to look at this story as terribly corny now (and it is), but it was a different world at the time, and if a bit ham-handed, this was a push in the right direction, shoving back against the casual prejudice that was all too common at the time.

But times were changing - thank goodness! And every effort like this helped make that change happen. It's easy to imagine young readers seeing this story and realizing that there was no place in the world for rascism.

So, not a great comic - but it is an important one.

Grade: B-


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have fond memories of this special issue; I guess I was more receptive of its message due to my innocent youth, though I agree with you in hindsight that the execution was heavy handed.
The thing that I liked the most was the selection of heroes spotlighted in this issue! We were getting past the Batmania of the time, with The Caped Crusader being featured prominently on each JLA cover, and shoehorned into each plotline, whether he belonged or not. It was great to see Green Arrow again, and Flash and Hawkman were welcome as well.
Overall, this was a memorable issue and one I don't mind revisiting.

Sam Kujava