Wednesday, March 14, 2012

WHM 2012 Women of the Justice League

The first comic-book that I remember devouring was JUSTICE LEAGUE of AMERICA #112 in 1974. In that issue, which I talked about in this article, there were two female Justice Leaguers: Black Canary, who was a current member, and Wonder Woman, who was a former member. Before the JLA disbanded in JUSTICE LEAGUE ANNUAL #2 (1984) there would only be two more women, for a total of four. Today I'd like to tell you about them.
Wonder Woman was one of the founding members (with Superman, Batman, Aquaman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and the Martian Manhunter), but in 1969 DC Comics decided to make her into a non-powered "Emma Peel" type character. So there she is on the cover of JLA #69 appearing to vote Green Arrow out when she was the one who was actually leaving. This character lasted for a few years untl more logical heads prevailed and the "real" Wonder Woman returned. The JLAers ask her to return, but due to a memory loss she now has self-doubt regarding her abilities an asks the JLAers to monitor her cases and judge for themselves whether she still has what it takes. (It's worth mentioning that her friends have absolutely no doubts that she was fine!) Unfortunately, her comic-book was only published bi-monthly at this point so this storyline went on for nearly two years! Finally she was readmitted in JLA #128, nearly sixty issues without her! So when I picked up JLA #112 she was still out, although she appeared in the reprinted story. I eventually learned of her "tasks" and went in search of them. The first one I found was WONDER WOMAN #220, with beautiful art by the great Dick Giordano. He became one of my favorite artists and the featured bad guy (Chronos) became a favorite villain.

While Wonder Woman was out of the Justice League, the remaining members voted in a new female member name Black Canary. Her history is long and convoluted, so I'll summarize it here: Black Canary was  a member of the Justice Society of America, the very first super-hero group EVER. It retired in 1951 when comic-book super-heroes fell out of favor. During that time Black Canary married and had a daughter, cursed with a "sonic scream" power. In 1969 the original Black Canary and her husband, private detective Larry Lance, were killed by the alien Aquarius. The daughter then decides to join the Justice League. So we have one of the first "next generation" super-heroines, a member of both the JSA and JLA. (I have to admit, however, that these details did not come clear fr nearly 20 years; during that time the daughter *thought* she was the mother. The less said about that the better.) Black Canary fights as well as Batman and has a "sonic whammy" power, her Canary Cry, too. Plus she wears leather and fishnet stockings and rides a Harley *and* has long, blonde hair. What's not to like? She's one of my favorites and deserves to be more famous. Given that Wonder Woman took 60 issues off, Black Canary and Wonder Woman have a roughly equal number of appearances in JUSTICE LEAGUE.
Hawkman pushes his case
for Hawkgirl to join
The third woman to join the JLA was the comic-book equivalent of Rodney Dangerfield: Hawkgirl appeared in the same JLA issue when her husband is inducted in 1964, but she herself is not asked to join until 1977. In the Golden Age of Comics (1940s) Hawkman and Hawkgirl were re-incarnated ancient Egyptian prince and princess. In the Silver Age of Comics (1960s) they were alien police officers from the planet Thanagar. So in the pages of HAWKMAN his wife was an equal partner; in JLA, however, she was less than nothing. The reason given for asking Hawkman to join the JLA but not Hawkgirl was that there was a JLA by-law that said only one new member could be asked per year. She said she understood and had no problem with this; I'm guessing she was secretly thinking, "I'll get voted in next time." Ha! After both Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter quit in 1969 it seems like they would have asked Hawkgirl to step up then; nope. She did guest-star in JLA #72, but not to join! Finally, after Black Canary, Elongated Man, and Red Tornado had all joined, Hawkman had had enough: he told his colleagues that they had to take them both or neither of them. She was finally admitted in JLA #146.

Hawkgirl finally joins the JLA
However, that isn't the end of the story. Even after she became a member, she often failed to show up for meetings. She ended up missing a huge run from JLA #195 thru #221. This included her being excluded from the special anniversary issue of JLA #200. Hawkgirl (or Hawkwoman, which she was preferring by this time) got to join, but she never seemed to get the respect from the writer or the editors.

When the JUSTICE LEAGUE cartoon made its debut in 2001, Hawkgirl took the place of Aquaman as a founding member and was featured prominently for the first three years. Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman seems to have finally found her place in mainstream popular culture.

The same can't be said about the Justice League's fourth and final female member. Zatanna Zatarra (her real name) is a stage magician who is also a think David Blaine as crime fighter and you're half-way there! Zatanna was created as a supporting character in the pages of HAWKMAN by Gardner Fox, original writer of JUSTICE LEAGUE and one of the fathers of the Silver Age. She, like Black Canary, was a "next generation" hero, as her father was Zatarra, the magician super-hero ala "Mandrake" who made his debut in ACTION COMICS #1. Zatanna guest-starred in several JLAers' individual issues until she guest-starred in JUSTICE LEAGUE #51 and again in #83.

After that she appeared randomly. She did not have her own series in any comic books and was basically in limbo. That is, until 1978 when the editorial staff of JUSTICE LEAGUE asked the readers to vote on the character they would most like to see join the JLA. Zatanna won in a landslide, and as the dumb-founded editor promised, she joined in JLA #161. However, she had lost her top hat, fishnets, and tuxedo outfit for some lame Seventies jumpsuit, cape, and ponytail monstrosity. I, for one, was disappointed. (Hell yea I voted for her!)
After several years with that uniform, artist extraordinaire George Perez designed her something new, and that was the one she wore for the rest of her JLA career. It was more "sorceress" than magician, but it seemed to be better that what she had been using, so it stuck. Not so oddly enough, in current DC Comics continuity she is back in the fishnets and tuxedo. :-) 

The Justice League adding their 4th female member (JLA #161)
in a typical Seventies jump-suit that screams, "magician."
The DC Comics universe has several other super-heroines, but I don't none anywhere near the emotional connection with them that I have with Batgirl and these four. Most notably there is Supergirl. Although I have tried reading her series several times, I simply can't seem to like her (I'm not a huge fan of SuperMAN, either). And of course, there is Mera, who is mostly (if not only) known as Aquaman's wife. Mera was never portrayed as a genuine full-time super-heroine while I was a kid. Very recently she has been portrayed more as an adventurer like her husband, and I feel great things about her. Perhaps she is on her way at last to becoming a full-fledged super-star. We can only hope.

Meanwhile, some Marvel women have had it even worse. I'll talk about *them* next week.

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