The worst superhero comics that have ever been written appeared in the mid 1960s. They were published by Archie Comics, and featured characters called the Mighty Crusaders, and they were written by the co-creator of the entire superhero genre, Jerry Siegel.
If you don’t believe me, read this.
I know all this because my one time roommate and best buddy in the world The Late Great Jeff Webb conceived of an unhealthy fascination with these wretched periodicals back in the early 80s when he chanced upon a whole bunch of them in a cheap quarter bin at the local comics shop we all frequented at the time. This gave me the opportunity to read many of these Siegel authored stories, which in turn gave me the opportunity to scream in horrified disbelief and run gibbering up and down the hallway of the house we were all living in at the time until one of our other housemates hit me over the head with a half full two liter bottle of Jolt soda, stunning me long enough to allow me to once more regain my composure.
I’m serious about this. Yes, yes, Marvel and DC have published their share of truly idiotic comics, many of which were written by Gerry “Hackmeister Supreme” Conway, and, well, if you’re looking for a jaw droppingly moronic story so brainless it makes the average issue of MARVEL TEAM UP look like it was penned by Faulkner, you need look no further than THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN. But even with all these absolute suckapaloozas factored in, still, the Jerry Siegel authored Mighty Comics stories featuring the various members of the Mighty Crusaders, all together or in their own separate features, are really in an entirely separate quadrant of the Brain Damaged Galaxy.
Don’t believe me? Here are two random examples of sheer story stupidity inscribed in my memory no matter how desperately I try to forget them (and I apologize; I’ve gone up one side and down the other of the Internet looking for scans of these pages, or, really, any pages, of Siegel Mighty Comics dumbness, and apparently, nobody has ever bothered to post any of this stuff anywhere. I’d do it myself, but I never owned these comics, and I have no idea what happened to Jeff’s after he passed away back in 1993):
In one particularly unfortunate Fly-Man story, Siegel starts out by having a strange alien meteor enter Earth’s atmosphere, or become visible in Earth’s sky, or something like that. What does this meteor do? Why, it robs insects of their powers! (Holster those irons, pards; I don’t make the news, I just report it.) To demonstrate this we get several panels showing a bumblebee that is unable to fly, a grasshopper that has lost its ability to make mighty leaps, and an ant that is no longer capable of toting around bread crumbs that are ten or twenty times its own mass. (Stop hitting your head on the wall. You’re just chipping up the paint and the story will remain as idiotic as ever regardless. Trust in the word of One Who Knows.) Naturally, this causes Fly-Man to lose all his insect powers, and… and… okay, I’ll wait for you to stop screaming…
There. Better now? The second example I can immediately think of, of just how wretchedly fetid Siegel’s scripting for Mighty Comics was – there was this story where some villain or other… the Hangman, maybe, or the Wizard, or perhaps even the arch Mighty Comics villain himself, the Spider – had trapped all the Mighty Crusaders inside this nuclear furnace. There was no way for them to escape and they were all going to die in the next few minutes when… something happened, I don’t know, the furnace heat got turned up or the protective lead box they were in finally melted or the furnace itself blew up in an atomic explosion (villains were always trapping heroes in deathtraps that were going to blow up in an atomic explosion in Siegel Mighty Comics strips, as I recall). So the Shield, who is this big strong invulnerable guy in a bulletproof costume, pipes up and says something like “Say, I’ve never mentioned this before, but I happen to have the power to teleport us all to safety. Now, I can only do it once, and I’ll never be able to do it again, so after I do it we must never speak of it.” And he does. And they never do.
And, yes, I did say the Shield was this big strong invulnerable guy wearing a bulletproof costume, and no, I don’t know why an invulnerable character ran around in a bulletproof costume, although I will say that, if a strange alien meteor had entered Earth’s atmosphere that happened to have the effect of robbing all medieval weaponry and martial equipment of its powers, well, the Shield would still be somewhat protected by his bulletproof outfit, presumably, and in the Siegel authored Mighty Comics universe, you obviously couldn’t rule shit like that out, ever, so wearing it was probably a canny precaution on his part.
Until this very day I have always believed that these Siegel authored Mighty Crusaders stories were inarguably and objectively the absolute worst superhero stories that had ever been published in comics form, that, in fact, like SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE, they simply could not under any circumstances ever be equaled much less surpassed for sheer mindboggling brainbending sanity tottering stupidity by anything that ever has or ever could be produced in their own particular fictional subgenre and communications medium, from the dawn of time unto the end of eternity, amen.
I mean, yeah, I knew that DC and Marvel had put out a lot of really stupid comics in the early Silver Age. AVENGERS #2, featuring the Space Phantom, is without a doubt one of the goddam dumbest comics stories ever put on paper, and nearly every Superman Family story ever published under Mort Weisinger’s editorial direction is senseless to the point of mental retardation. But there’s a surreal, almost iconic, and certainly grander than life absurdity to the Weisinger stuff that makes it very enjoyable to me, so Jimmy Olsen becoming a 200 foot tall turtle just didn’t bug me that much, and, well, AVENGERS #2, and pretty much every subsequent Space Phantom story ever done, I just try to close my eyes and stagger blindly past whenever necessary. (The Space Phantom is such a prancing cerebral hemorrhage of a character that he defies the capacities of even the most brilliant comics writers to ever do anything even remotely sensible with; even “Stainless” Steve Englehart, arguably the finest superhero comics writer ever to put fingers to typewriter, merely used the buffoon to erase the knowledge of Captain America’s foolishly revealed secret identity from the minds of every man, woman, and child on Earth – and why? So Cap’s mind would ‘be at peace’ when the Grim Reaper transplanted the Vision’s brain into Captain America’s body… and if that makes any sense to you at all, I suggest you go to the emergency room right now because you almost certainly have a concussion or a very high fever or both.)
But, still, even with all that, and everything ever mis-written by Gerry Conway thrown into the mix, I nonetheless maintained my fervent belief that the Siegel authored Mighty Comics stories were the absolute nadir of superhero comics, and that DC and Marvel, wretched though some of their Silver Age output undeniably was, had never sunk to any depth even remotely as abysmal as those that were routinely plumbed by a no doubt near constantly drunken Siegel in his Mighty Comics gig.
But, well, I was wrong, as I learned today, when going through SHOWCASE PRESENTS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA VOLUME TWO, and reading, for the first time, the mind shreddingly godawful stupidity incarnate that is JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #19 – “The Super Exiles of Earth!”
Follow, if you dare:
We open with a splash page showing the entire Justice League – at this time (from left to right on the page) Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Martian Manhunter, Superman, Green Arrow, the Flash, and Green Lantern – all looking very sad, as they stand disconsolately around a globe of the Earth with the Atom sitting on top of it, in an equally gloomy posture. “This is all we’ll see of Earth from now on,” Green Lantern solemnly advises us, “since we have been exiled into space forever!”
How did something so dreadful happen? Well, we turn the page and discover that, apparently, Ray Palmer, while staring into a microscope, happens to see – the Atom! This is rather bizarre, because Ray Palmer actually IS the Atom, but that doesn’t seem to matter, because the Atom promptly zips up to his more proper action figuresque height of three inches and pummels the rather startled Mr. Palmer into unconsciousness.
After this, Superman shows up at Clark Kent’s door, proclaims that he, himself, is ‘really a Super-Superman, and to prove my point, here’s my convincer!’, after which, he lobs a chunk of Green Kryptonite at ol’ Clarkie. Clark, as he is wont to do in such circumstances, pisses his pants and falls to the floor near unconscious, wondering as he does “but why wasn’t my twin weakened too?” (Gee, I don’t know, Clark. Maybe he was a Superman robot, or maybe he was a shapeshifting alien from another galaxy, or maybe he was actually Batman in disguise playing a cruel practical joke on you, or maybe he’s an evil Superman from another dimension where Green Kryptonite doesn’t weaken, but actually gives him additional superpowers – any of which are perfectly plausible explanations, given that all of them are things that Superman routinely encountered during the Silver Age. Or maybe he’s something else entirely, but anyway, the one thing we know for certain and there ain’t no maybe about at all, Mr. Kent, is, you’re still a great big doofus, you great big doofus.)
So then Hal Jordan gets beat down by Green Lantern, except this is a Super-Green Lantern who has no weakness for yellow. Barry Allen gets punked by a Super-Flash who is even faster than he is. Wonder Woman gets kicked around by a Super-Wonder Woman who makes her look like a shabby generic. The Martian Manhunter gets humiliated by a Super Martian Manhunter who is not afraid of fire, and Green Arrow gets outdrawn and outshot by a Super Green Arrow who, you know, can actually shoot a bow well, or something, I don’t know. Aquaman gets lured into a maelstrom that he can’t swim out of by a Super Aquaman, who promptly adds insult to injury by easily swimming out of said inescapable maelstrom while heaping scorn on his haplessly trapped twin. And Batman gets punched in the jaw by his own Super Bat-Twin, proving that this Super Bat-Twin is ‘far superior’, because, you know, prior to this, nobody in the history of humanity had ever managed to sock Batman one in the snoot. Yep. Suuuuuuuure.
And then, with the real JLA all hammered into unconsciousness or trapped in whirlpools or just too friggin’ embarrassed to show their capes or cowls in public, this Super JLA goes on a crime rampage, beating up little old ladies and robbing museums and raping squirrels from one end of the U.S.A. to the other. (Okay, actually, as with any early Silver Age villains at the DC Universe, all this evil JLA does is commit crimes against property. In the DC Universe at this time, villains hardly ever assaulted helpless bystanders, murders were rarely or never committed outside Batman’s comics, and rape certainly didn’t exist, because, well, sex didn’t exist.)
In response to this bizarre outlaw rampage by the apparently round the bend JLA, coppers move to arrest the real JLA members (because, you know, if Superman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Batman, the Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman went bonkers and started stealing shit from coast to coast, you just know the authorities would send flatfoots with nightsticks out to bring ‘em in, yes, indeedy). The real JLA surrenders without incident, and Jean Loring gets the job representing them in court, because she’s the only person in the entire DC Universe who has a law degree and has passed the bar, so she gets all the superhero business. (For something like thirty years, Matt Murdock, with occasional help from his partner Foggy Nelson, occupied a similarly opportunistic position in the Marvel Universe.)
Now, the judge has to be a Republican, because it never seems to occur to him to wonder, if the JLA has gone bananas and is robbing everybody in sight, why in the world did they just let us slap handcuffs on them and come meekly to court? Couldn’t they, you know, reduce the entire assembled police forces of the globe to powder in half a second, if they wanted to, and wouldn’t they, if they’d really gone rotten, as we presume they must have, since we’re arresting them? But, nooooooo, examining the internal fallacies of one’s deeply held preconceptions not being a conservative strong suit, this judge happily accepts Jean Loring’s suggestion that the JLA be exiled from Earth forever, because, as he notes, “What jail could hold them – if they decide to escape?” So he orders the exile, with the JLA members ‘forbidden to return unless and until their innocence is proved to the satisfaction of the court’.
Which… now, wait, let me look at that cover… is this actually an issue of the Justice League of the U.S.S.R.? The JLA has to prove their innocence? Isn’t this in complete violation of the bedrock principle of American jurisprudence? Well, never mind, we’re movin’ on again. Superman builds this great big spaceship and they all get aboard and go rocketing off to the end of the universe.
Leaving behind the evil JLA, who all promptly gloat “Now we can rob and steal without interference from our counterparts!” (And beat up orphans! And put ground up dolphin in all the canned tuna! And boy is that bitch Jean Loring getting a cornholing tonight! And that dickweed Lex Luthor better not show his face anywhere in Metropolis or man oh man is HE getting a surprise…!)
Meanwhile, off in a jail cell, some dork-and-a-half is gloating “So far my plan’s working like a charm!”
Wait a minute. This is somebody’s plan? Somebody who’s in jail? What the FUCK?
Oh, but it’s that numbnuts Dr. Destiny. Let’s let him explain it –
“With the help of a confederate, I managed to get a letter mailed to the JLA’s post office box. When they opened it in their headquarters, the action of the air on the chemically treated ink produced an invisible gas that caused them to dream that night!”
It’s… I… but… okay, wait a minute… you’re in JAIL, dude… how are you getting chemically treated ink that produces invisible gas that causes anyone to do anything, much less, dream, which is, you know, a retarded thing to create chemically treated ink that produces invisible gas to do?
“As the gas forced the JLA to dream about themselves as super-superheroes, my Materiopticon – which I was able to build in the prison workshop where I was sent for good behavior – transformed those dream images into living beings!”
Okay, couple of points here.
First, as Bill Maher might say, NEW RULE – evil assholes who have created mind boggling magical or technological devices at any point in the past with which they have attempted to rule the world never, never, never get sent to the prison workshop. NEVER. If they behave themselves they can have ice cream and maybe get to watch some reality TV once in a while, but they DO NOT GET SENT TO THE PRISON WORKSHOP UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES WHATSOEVER. Got it?
Second, okay, so you’ve got chemically treated ink that makes people dream of whatever it is you want them to dream of and you’ve got some fucked over device that makes these dreams into actual living breathing solid three dimensional reality.
So, like, why not make yourself dream of, I dunno, Raquel Welch and Grace Kelly and a young Liz Taylor in the buff, all of whom have super powers, and who, after boffing your brains out for hours on end, will then kick a gaping hole in the wall of your prison cell and fly you off to your secret Destiny Cave, after which, they will resume boffing your brains out for as long as you want them to? And than make those particular dreams real? Why bother with the goddam Super-JLA at all?
But I’m interrupting. Sorry. Let’s get back to Dr. Destiny’s narration: “Naturally, since I am wicked – I caused those dream materializations also to become wicked! In the beginning they were not wicked enough so they did not succeed in destroying the Justice League – merely knocked them out or trapped them! I had intended for those dream powered Justice League members to get rid of the real ones! But perhaps exile from earth will do just as well. Wait – knowing the Justice League, I’ll bet they have a trick up their sleeve!”
It… I… well, so, they weren’t wicked enough, to… um… whose sleeve is the trick up, now? Because Wonder Woman doesn’t even have sleeves, and… you know, I’m still thinking, if you’re going to make dream materializations wicked, naked, horny mind controlled Liz Taylor, Grace Kelly, and Raquel Welch with super powers are waaaaay more fun than dumb ass super- superheroes. I’m just sayin’, is all.
Oh, wait, he’s still ranting: “I wouldn’t put it past them to return to Earth and attack the Dream JLA! But it’ll do them no good! My super Super League – who will grow more wicked every day – will destroy them! And the beauty of the entire scheme is that no one can possibly suspect that I am the mastermind behind all this!”
Mastermind. Right. Hm. Let me go over this – he’s got a thingie that makes dreams real, and some chemicals that make people dream about whatever he wants, and a confederate willing to mail things off to anyone he wants, and still, here he is, sitting in his jail cell, reading the newspaper, while the materialized dreams he’s created run amok stealing everything that isn’t nailed down all over the planet.
Yep. Sure. He’s a mastermind all right.
Now, okay, I know what you’re thinking. Yeah, yeah, this is pretty stupid shit, but, still, it ain’t no alien meteor that robs insects of their powers stupid. It ain’t, like, a mesomorph in a bulletproof suit suddenly announcing he has the ability to mass teleport his entire team to safety… once… and never again. It’s not THAT stupid.
But, wait… there’s more –
So, off at the ass end of the universe, the JLA suddenly decides they can return to Earth and clear themselves without violating the judge’s order by doing it -- in their secret identities! Okay, with thinking like that, where one obeys the letter by utterly annihilating the spirit of the law, it would seem the entire JLA is Republican, too, but what the hell. So they all change into their secret IDs (except for poor Aquaman, who doesn’t have one, and will have to stay on the ship, but who cares, he’s a big dork anyway), which is a big deal, because prior to this, the only JLA members who knew each other’s secret IDs were Superman and Batman. So they’re all like “oh, wow, you’re this nobody I never heard of, isn’t that cool” (Barry Allen takes the cake here when he tells Diana Prince “Obviously, you’re Wonder Woman!” heh… what was your first hint, there, Barry, the gigantic hooters?)
Anyway, Green Lantern whips up an invisible space ship and all the secret IDs return to Earth, where they divide up into teams and attack various different groupings of their super super doppelgangers. And, naturally, they all get their asses kicked AGAIN (“Get her? That was your whole plan? Get her?”) after which the Dream JLA explains that they are only dream manifestations and are about to finish off our heroes (“our wickedness has grown by leaps and bounds! This will be a pleasure!”) when Ray Palmer points out that the Dream JLA is, you know, only a dream of the real JLA, and if they kill the real JLA, they themselves will cease to exist. Which the Dream JLA has to admit is a bummer, and more than that, will put a crimp in their plans to dump a whole load of fizzies into the swim meet and deliver the medical school cadavers to the alumni dinner. So they relent and Super Green Lantern whips up this emerald box that they put the real JLA in and then bury it a mile beneath the ground. (Because, you know, it’s not like three quarters of the JLA won’t die of thirst or oxygen deprivation within hours or days if they do that, or anything.)
So the real JLA all combine their willpower on GL’s ring and get the energy bubble to rise back to the surface again, and then Wonder Woman muses on a past case where her muscles and nerves wouldn’t obey her mental commands, and then Ray Palmer speaks up:
“I have an idea! Diana, you’ve studied medicine on Paradise Island, and I’m a scientist. Now, listen closely… I could shrink myself so small as to be invisible while John Jones blows me toward our Secret Sanctuary where are other selves have gone! Becoming microscopic in size, I could enter our dream selves’ brains undetected and unfelt – and perform delicate “operations”!”
It… I… erm… nyargl… bleagh… hyrrrrngggg… okay, my brain just tried to sneak out the back of my head with a suitcase in one hand and a bus ticket to Tijuana in the other, but I’ve wrestled it to the ground and am sitting on its chest, so let us continue:
Following the above utterly deranged speech, there is an Editor’s Note: “What Ray Palmer has suggested is entirely possible! Modern medical techniques can perform amazing brain “surgery” by applying electrical stimulation to many parts of the brain!
“Wait,” my brain whimpers from the floor where I have it firmly pinned, “even assuming the Atom can get into the ‘brains’ of a bunch of materialized dreams and start performing ‘operations’, what the fuck does ‘applying electrical stimulation to many parts of the brain’ have to do with anything? He’s not Electro! Or the Eel! Or Lightning Lad! What the fuck! What the fuck! What the fuck!!!!”
Shut up. It gets worse. (Noooooooooooooo…) Yes, it does. Because, on the next page, all the real JLAers, still in their civilian guises, are running into the Secret Sanctuary. Did Ray operate? Or was he captured again? They’ll know in a minute, when their super-selves spot them…!
So then we get this panel where, well, let’s quote The Man himself:
“The dream beings try to rise and fight but Ray Palmer has succeeded only too well…”
Because Wonder Woman is doing ballet and Batman is flailing around on the conference table and Green Lantern is on his back kicking his chair into the air and the Martian Manhunter is standing on his head and, you know, pretty much everyone in the Dream JLA are completely spazzing out. Mission accomplished, Ray, you brain surgeon to the superhero set, you!
So the JLA turns their Super Super Dream Selves in to the authorities, clearing their names, and then they get Aquaman back off the intergalactic spaceship, and examine this famous letter that Dr. Destiny sent to them with the chemically treated dream ink, which lets them figure out who sent it (I guess Dr. Destiny’s confederate was considerate enough to put Dr. Destiny’s return address on it, or something) so the JLA shows up at prison and takes his Materiopticon away and puts him in solitary where he’ll never be able to make another one, ever again.
But there’s still one more bit of monumental stupidity we have to make our way through before we’re finished with this –
In the last two panels, Superman advises “Since a worldwide knowledge of our civilian identities may expose those dear to us to danger – I’d better do something about it! I’ll go now and get some AMNESIUM from my Fortress of Solitude and with it make us and the whole world forget everything it learned about our secret identities on this case!”
To which the rest of the JLA responds: “SO SAY WE ALL!”
Although none of them will ever remember doing so.
And God, I wish I couldn’t, either.
Now, if truth be told, I’m not sure that even all of that brain staggering stupidity really adds up to something as stupid as the kind of ultra-stupid shit Jerry Siegel routinely tried to run by his audience while writing for Mighty Comics, but certainly, it’s in the same ballpark. And I cannot tell you how sad it makes me, to know that Gardner Fox actually wrote stuff in the Silver Age JLA that was stupid enough to palpably compete with the rampant stupidity evinced by every single character in nearly every single panel of every single script ever turned in to Mighty Comics by Jerry Siegel. I mean, heretofore, I had considered Jerry Siegel’s Mighty Comics work to be something like the cinematic ouvre of Ed Wood, never to equaled much less surpassed by any other entry into its genre or medium, but, now, I find that not only is there another comics story out there very nearly its equal in sheer blinding brainlessness, but, for the love of sweet baby Jebus, it was written by Gardner Fox and – and—it’s a Silver Age JLA story!!!!
I mean, seriously. Say it ain’t so, Joe.
Any Joe will do.