Live from Metropolis: An Oral History of The Justice League
I think we first got the idea to do the Justice League when we were high. It was back in the early seventies and the thing to do was hang out in the California desert, drop mushrooms, and make out with Linda Ronstadt for some reason. We were young, famous, and felt completely indestructible. Well, I know I did. Still do. Anyway, Aquaman and I were getting pretty toasted near Joshua Tree when he comes up with this crazy vision of all the superheroes banding together as a crime fighting unit. I just laughed and laughed because, well, no one ever took Aquaman seriously. He fought crime in a wet Bob Mackie outfit, for Christ’s sake. An off-the-rack Bob Mackie.
Superman just kept mocking me, all the while punching me in the shoulder, so I was sort of slipping in and out of consciousness for a better part of the day. He was kind of an asshole back then because you could literally shoot him in the face and nothing would happen. If that doesn’t give your ego a hard-on I don’t know what will. But I kept pressing this idea I suddenly had of a Justice League, one in which we could pool our powers together to fight good…and maybe score a group health insurance plan on the cheap. I was working freelance back then and couldn’t really fight criminals because all it took was one broken nose and the hospital bills would wipe me out. I would literally run through massive battles covering my face and screaming the whole time. So no matter how hard Superman laughed and punched I wouldn’t let go of the notion because I knew it was not only a great concept but also a necessary one. The mackerel told me so.
When Batman first got the call to join the Justice League—which I think they were originally calling “Superman, Aquaman & Associates”—he didn’t take to it too kindly. But to be honest, Batman never really took anything well. We could be having a perfectly pleasant dinner at Chasen’s when for no reason his eyes would go dark, his mood would abruptly change, and suddenly everybody was either a “traitor” or “douche bag.” Right then I’d know not only were we not staying for the Baked Alaska but also our car ride home would be an absolute nightmare. He could just turn like that. People like to think Batman always held up both the spirit and the letter of the law in his dealings with criminals. But they never saw him on a bad day with a tire iron at the ready. Woe be the parking violator who’d cross his path on those occasions.
(Editor’s Note: Batman refused all requests for an interview).
Batman knew Superman and Aquaman were going to hit him up for starter costs and real estate to build the Hall of Justice. Bruce Wayne had made a pretty good living managing such huge stars as Rich Little, Shields & Yarnell, and The Bay City Rollers and they thought he would be good for at least a couple of million and maybe access to some industry parties. But what they didn’t know was that he had also lost a fortune on the Broadway musical production of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Trust me, if the plot didn’t scare away the audience then Cheryl Tiegs’ singing voice sure did.
Aquaman kept insisting we should invite this Wonder Chick to join the League, which I wasn’t too crazy about. I always envisioned our group as a sort of caped Rat Pack, only with more punching and less mob ties. But the idea of acknowledging the existence of other genders and races had suddenly become quite trendy in the early 70’s, so we decided it would be best to open up our admissions process.
I remember how excited I was when I fist got the call to be a member. I had been doing some regional crime fighting but was experiencing trouble breaking in on a national level, so the opportunity was tremendous. But Superman said I had to lose the name “Hephaestus” because no one knew anything about Greek gods. So I offered the Roman equivalent, “Vulcan.” Then Superman cracked this horrible joke, the rest of the Justice League laughed nervously, and, well, that’s how this name wound up on the HR forms.
They all knew I was Jewish. In fact, I originally signed on as “Magnifying Glassman.” Y’know, “Could quickly scan legal documents and microfiche no matter what the font size!” Most Indians—I mean, Native Americans—were played by Jewish actors back then. All the Mexicans in the spaghetti westerns were Sicilians. And an Asian didn’t even get to play Charlie Chan until Keye Luke voiced him in The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan. Plus, the first spokescharacter in a Lucky Charms commercial was some Basque actor. Just a bunch of kids looking confused as a leprechaun screamed at them in Euskara.
JAYNA (THE WONDER TWINS)
Our agent called saying that the Justice League was looking for an all-inclusive crime fighting team and we should audition. Now, technically my brother/ex Zan and I aren’t even human so we thought we didn’t have a chance in hell. But luckily Robin and I had a mutual friend in Bernie Brillstein, who had produced the L.A. run of Godspell we were both in. So Bernie made a few calls on our behalf and before you could say, “activate” Zan and I were dubbed “The Wonder Twins.” Of course, why they saddled us with that fucking monkey is anybody’s guess. You should never work with animals or children.
“Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting” was everywhere on the radio back then, so the League decided they wanted an Asian martial arts crime fighter…whose special power was turning into a tornado. I think Superman saw it as the first step to controlling the weather, or maybe just blowing the leaves off the Justice Leagues front lawn. Anyway, I know it sounds corny and patently offensive but thank god for that crappy song. If it hadn’t been for that one-hit wonder I’d never have become a superhero and would have had no choice but to go back to my day job…neurosurgery.
THE ITALIAN BATTALION
I must have sent in my reel at least a dozen times to the League only to keep getting back some reply like “The Justice League is not interested in the so-called import/export business.” What a bunch of bigoted assholes! One look at me and all they though was “RICCO Act.” Can you believe that? An associate of mine offered to torch the Hall in retaliation but I called it off at the last moment when we realized our gentlemen’s club had been wiretapped by the Feds.
We opened our doors on September 19, 1971 and to say we were an instant hit would be an understatement. I even invented a drink just for the occasion—the Aquatini! Of course, it was only after people paid their $15 did they realize it was just a watered down vodka.
You should have seen the headlines! “Justice League Prevents Multiple Airline Collisions Due to Disastrous ‘Take Your Child to Work’ Day at Air Traffic Control.” “Justice League Saves Downtown from Gigantic Man-Made Vinegar and Baking Soda Volcano. Diabolical Fourth-Grader Now in Custody.” “Justice League to Open ‘Super Supper’ Theme Restaurant Chain.” You couldn’t buy publicity like that! People didn’t even mind that we would awkwardly wait around after every rescue, clearly waiting for tips.
Even Batman was happy. Oh sure, he’d still have his bouts with depression, alcoholism, bulimia, prescription drug abuse, over-the-counter drug abuse, Flintstones Vitamins abuse, and public disturbance. But seeing him smile for that brief half-second after a successful mission but before he’d mutter how the world should burn would always remind me how little the down times really mattered.
I finally felt I was doing something good with my skills…which was essentially having wings. I originally had applied to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, but unless you’re old money Wasp you’re not getting in there. Seriously, the place is like Exeter with even more dangling chromosomes. I also applied to Magneto’s Academy for Personal and Professional Excellence, but it turned out it was just an even less-accredited DeVry.
We weren’t just a team in the beginning. We were a family. No one ever said to me, “Y’know, if we took away that ring of yours even the monkey could beat the shit out of you.” Well, they didn’t say it the first few weeks. They did switch my ring a few times without me knowing it. I’d be exclaiming, “”In brightest day, in blackest night…” and then suddenly notice the stone in my ring had turned to yellow-orange, meaning I was nervous…and wearing a mood ring.
We were heady with success and flush with cash. We could have anything we wanted. Weapons. The latest crime fighting technology. High school cheerleaders. Anything!
I was brought on as Musical Director for the Justice League in the fall of 1974…a move that I still don’t understand to this day. But Superman kept saying. “We need someone to introduce and end our battles with musical flourishes, like ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ or Kraftwerk!” He really had a thing for the German composers.
Who the hell needs music to fight crime? Or dancing girls? Or warm-up patter from Wayland Flowers and Madame? Those morons didn’t know a thing about fiscal responsibility! They just thought the good times would never end. Well, Batman never thought they started. You know, for a billionaire who could get laid whenever he wanted that guy really was a doleful son of a bitch.
It wasn’t long before the core group started losing control, both of the business and of themselves. The League just transformed into a heavily endowed frat house. Dick jokes. Wrestling matches. Constantly snapping one another with towels. If it weren’t for that giant two-way monitor in the control room those guys would have rode each other like cowboys.
Soon we were losing fights, sponsors, you name it. The only reason the Cold War didn’t end back in 1975 was that Batman was so coked up he flew Wonder Woman’s invisible jet straight into the Kremlin. Of course, to Moscow officials it just look like some weirdo in a cowl had somehow been thrown through a building, so they were more confused than angry. Still, tensions remained high.
By the end Batman wouldn’t even appear in the Justice League. All his conversations had to be done with a split-screen.
Everybody was on edge. If it wasn’t because we had lost both Portlands to Lex Luthor it was the constant infighting. People were always complaining about how certain members were getting more press or bigger roles.
All the major jobs went to the core group. The white male group, with Aquaman occasionally pleading Wonder Woman to join him because he got scared during missions. Meanwhile, I kept getting sent on these low-budget “urban” missions where you could see the damn boom mic in every shot. Everybody else just kept saying, “But your jobs have the coolest music!” I’m still glad I made that anonymous call to the IRS.
Suddenly we’re being audited! Do you know how hard it is to keep financial records when everyone has a secret identity?! Before you knew it the entire organization had crumbled. It…it was horrible. I wept for days.
I spent the next week sitting shiva.
I fell between the sofa cushions in the break room. No one even looked for me for three years. No one cared anymore.
I was the only female superhero who got to keep the word “Woman” in her title. All the others were “girls.” Batgirl. Hawkgirl. It was a power thing, a hierarchy on the guys’ part. They thought if they made them feel inferior than the female heroes would do anything to get some approval. I think the only female superheroes they didn’t try to sleep with were me and Jayna, mostly because she’d just turn into a grizzly bear and maul the living shit out of them. Then Zan would show up as a bucket of cold water, splash the guy, and chirp, “I helped, too!” Sure you did, H2No.
ZAN (THE WONDER TWINS)
You know you’re screwed when your entire career can be summed up with a single catchphrase. Once in the late 70’s I overheard two housewives shout “Wonder Twin powers activate!” in a supermarket. I just turned to Jayna and said, “Oh crap, here comes dinner theater.”
We all took it hard, especially Batman. By the end I had moved out of stately Wayne Manor. After all, I was pushing 30 and still a ward. Plus, I was trying out a new persona that didn’t work well with an 8 pm curfew and an outfit bought in the junior’s section. Batman and I still speak, occasionally meet for drinks or at fundraisers. But it’s not the same. Never will be. Damn, I miss him paying all my bills.
I…I just wish I could say how sorry I was to all the people I hurt over the years. I mean, not the bad guys. They deserved to die. But I lost so, so many friends. I also lost my ring. Hence the new job at Walgreens.
The guys still call me. I think I’m on their “bucket list” or something. Kinda pathetic.
I paint. Mostly houses. I started shopping around a memoir. I routinely sue Birdman. Whatever pays the bills.
Zan and I can now be seen in Starlight Express at the Westbury Music Fair. I play a diesel engine.
Things are changing. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a still a long way to go. But now Luke Cage has his own TV series. Falcon and Black Panther are in the movies. God, I have to fire my manager.
I’m doing fantastic!
I don’t have many friends nowadays, mostly because I live in a heavily fished area. I still think the Justice League was a good idea, though. Maybe one day I’ll revisit the concept with different people…or as a stage play.