That was always the appeal.
All of them. Fighting. Together.
Do I love Superman? You bet.
And Batman? Even more.
And Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Red Tornado, Atom, and…and…and…
And more yes.
The year is 1978. I’m eight years old. Awesome hair. Bowl cut. Velour shirt. To be clear, the first comic book I ever remember getting was Detective Comics #475. My Dad bought it for me. It was a Batman story where Joker had the laughing fish. Look at the cover.
Exactly. It scared the crap outta me. Too frightening. Too creepy. Too Joker. So I never read it. So what was the first comic I actually read? Justice League of America #150. My Dad bought me that too. (He always bought me comics even though he would’ve rather been buying me baseballs. I love you for that, Dad, wherever you are.) Look at that cover.
I can still picture the whole issue in my head—especially the big splash page by the legend himself, Dick Dillin. In it, the Justice League were trapped in key-shaped prisons by the villain known as The Key (naturally). I didn’t know who The Key was. I didn’t know who half the characters were. But, man, I knew one thing: they were TRAPPED! In key prisons! And that was BAD! Look at the art right now. Tell me you’re not scared. (Okay, pretend you’re eight years old). Now tell me you’re not scared.
You’re scared, right?
At eight years old, this page mesmerized me. How would they get out!? They were trapped! How would they win!? They were trapped! How would they survive!? THEY WERE TRAPPED!
I mean, c’mon, they trapped everyone. Even Superman! They were TRAPPED.
Of course, they tried to get out. They fought. They struggled. They made all the valiant attempts. Whoever The Key was, he’d figured out their weaknesses. There was some yellow in Green Lantern’s cell. Flash’s cell vibrated at some other frequency. Superman’s clearly had some sorta kryptonite/red sun thing. I don’t remember all the details, but again… They. Were. Trapped.
So how did they escape?
This was the part that got me. Flash couldn’t get out of his prison. Elongated Man couldn’t get out of his. And even the Atom couldn’t get out of his tiny prison. But if they worked together, well…Green Lantern couldn’t help himself, but he could help others, so they could put Flash into Elongated Man’s prison, and then Elongated Man could turn himself into a stretchy human treadmill (don’t you dare roll your eyes. I am relaying Silver Age amazingness here!). Anyway, the point was, there was only one way out of those prisons: they had to work…
God, it’s still such a simple and noble idea.
Maybe it came from a lack of real friends, or simply from being the only kid in my whole school who read comics, or maybe it was just typical comic wish fulfillment. But to this day, I still love that idea. That ideal. Indeed, it’s a theme in every single novel and TV show I’ve ever written: that alone we might be strong, but together, a group of friends united for the same cause can be invincible.
Indeed, a decade ago, it’s the only reason I said yes when Dan DiDio and DC offered me the chance to write and launch Justice League of America #1. I was drowning in my own thriller deadlines. But I’d waited 30 years for someone to ask me that question.
Today, all these years since JLA #150, the Justice League stands strong. For many, it’s fun to see the world’s greatest super heroes fight the same foe. And yes, that’s fun too. But for me, it was always more than that.
Together, we are never alone. And together, we are unstoppable.
For twenty years, author Brad Meltzer has been hiding comic book references in his #1 bestselling thrillers, including his newest, The Escape Artist. That was how he was offered the opportunity to write Green Arrow, after which he wrote Identity Crisis and yes, Justice League of America. He also led the effort to save the house where Superman was created, found the missing 9/11 flag from Ground Zero, and launched the immensely popular Ordinary People Change the World children’s book series, about real life historical heroes. He learned all those lessons in that first Justice League of America. See more about him at BradMeltzer.com.
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