The Crime Syndicate of America

The Crime Syndicate of America

(pop culture)
Just imagine—a world without superheroes, where five despotic doppelgängers of the most powerful members of the Justice League of America rule with an iron hand. This is the home of the Crime Syndicate of America: Ultraman, Superwoman, Owlman, Johnny Quick, and Power Ring, evil analogs of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, the Flash, and Green Lantern, respectively. In The Flash #123 (1961), DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz and writer Gardner Fox borrowed from science fiction the concept of parallel worlds—coexisting alternate realities—in the landmark adventure “Flash of Two Worlds,” in which the modern “Earth-One” Flash of the Silver Age (1956–1969) joined forces with the original “Earth- Two” Flash of the Golden Age (1938–1954). Annual team-ups between the JLA and the Golden Age's Justice Society of America soon followed. The second such meeting, in Justice League of America #29 and #30 (1964), introduces “Earth- Three,” a topsy-turvy planet where American Christopher Columbus discovered Europe and actor Abe Lincoln shot President John Wilkes Booth. On Earth-Three resides the Crime Syndicate, cavalierly pillaging riches with no one to stop them … leading to their utter boredom. Upon discovering Earth-One and its heroes, the Syndicate ventures there for a challenge worthy of its malevolent might, and through trickery overcomes the JLA and soon Earth-Two's JSA. In a climactic rematch, the League narrowly vanquishes the Syndicate, and Green Lantern's power ring imprisons the members in a “dimensional-barrier jail.” Despite their striking costume design by artist Mike Sekowsky, these were supervillains high on concept but low on characterization. Little was offered other than their villainy to differentiate them from the JLA, save for Ultraman's empowerment by (instead of weakness to) kryptonite—he gained a new superpower with each exposure!— and Power Ring's revelation that his finger-worn weapon was acquired from a monk named Volthoom (an homage to “Vulthoom,” a 1935 fantasy story written by Clark Ashton Smith). The Crime Syndicate remained in limbo until 1978, resurfacing again in 1982. Ultraman and his criminal cronies were destroyed as multiple worlds perished in the ambitious maxiseries Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985–1986); a retroactive rewriting of DC history now ascribed their planet of origin to the antimatter planet of Qward. Writer Grant Morrison resurrected some of the CSA in Animal Man #23 and #24 (1990), but their temporary rebirth was the result of the Psycho-Pirate's reality disruptions. Morrison found this mirror-universe JLA too enticing to ignore. In the graphic novel JLA: Earth 2 (2000), the writer, with artist Frank Quietly, unveiled a rebooted Crime Syndicate inhabiting a dystopian antimatter replicate of Earth and operating under the dictum Cui Bono (“Who Profits?”). That Earth's heroic counterpart to Lex Luthor implored the Justice League to rally to his world's aid. This reimagined CSA has become a major force in DC's twenty-first-century continuity, even dominating eight 2004–2005 issues of JLA in the serial “Syndicate Rules,” in which they waged war against the Qwardians. In 2003, DC Direct released a series of action figures based upon the Silver Age Crime Syndicate.
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