Review by Frank Plowright
When DC issued their Greatest Stories hardcover anthologies in the 1980s they were desirable collections of often rare material otherwise only available as often very expensive original comics. Two factors have changed this. Firstly almost every comic of note is available online without looking too hard, and secondly even the 1970s stories were dating considerably by 1989, and the years since haven’t done them any favours.
The good first. Mike Gold’s introduction notes the considerable effort expended in producing the collection, soliciting suggestions from writers and fans, and instigating much debate. This anthology wasn’t just thrown together. And some stories do still resonate. The dialogue in the watershed pairing of Green Lantern with Green Arrow, so carefully contemporary in 1970, now reads woefully, but the graphic art of Neal Adams remains timeless refinement. Alan Moore’s idea of a Kryptonian virus causing Superman to meet Swamp Thing is slight by Moore’s standards, but thoughtful enough to be a highlight, with Rick Veitch being inked by Al Williamson an interesting combination.
1954 is the starting point, but two-thirds of the story pages feature material originally published between 1958 and 1964, desirable then, now available in numerous formats. There’s the first meeting of the Barry Allen Flash with his 1940s inspiration, the Justice League of America’s first teaming with the Justice Society of America, the Teen Titans first coming together. All landmarks in their day, but now formularised and dull.
Superman’s foes Luthor, Prankster and Toyman uniting is a novel interpretation of a team-up tale, but one DC had twice previously included in books. They meet visiting a fairground, in case you’re curious. It’s enjoyable nonsense, as is Batman, Robin and Superman becoming the Three Musketeers to discover the identity of the Man in the Iron Mask. It includes Batman flawlessly impersonating an 18th century French king. The idea of connecting an Aquaman story with the Green Arrow story in the same issue of Adventure Comics was interesting in 1959, but it’s hardly a team-up, and neither story is in any way distinguished. The superhero adventures of the time were very gimmick motivated, and these highlight that, with Aquaman telepathically commanding an octopus to fire arrows, and Green Arrow facing an underwater fire-breathing dragon. That feature at least has some nice art from Lee Elias (sample, left). There’s also an elegance to the art, shared between Murphy Anderson and Carmine Infantino, as Adam Strange teams with Hawkman to rectify Earth being transported across space to the vicinity of Rann, Earthman Strange’s adopted home planet. Gardner Fox’s plot is also dependent on gimmickry, but more intelligent, science-based knowledge. The highlight? A fabulously composed and iconic Infantino panel of Adam Strange rocketing toward Earth. There’s also some nice art from Alex Toth on a bonkers plot teaming Flash and Atom.
If there’s a lesson this collection imparts it’s that nutty scientists are frequent menaces. For every accident of science that creates the Flash, their ignorant tampering with forces beyond their understanding in the name of scientific exploration more often than not results in danger and villainy.
Then TV writer Alan Brennert is responsible for the only other story published in the ten years before this collection, but it’s an odd choice, the weakest of three stories he wrote teaming Batman with other DC stars. It’s also available in Tales of the Batman: Alan Brennert.
In the 21st century the value of this collection is some good art, but in an era when every month presents a team-up, both the premise and content are dated.