Deck Log Entry # 216 A Forgotten Gem: Justice League of America # 27 (May, 1964)---Part Two

Naturally, you might be asking:  “Why Justice League of America # 27?”  After all, there were more significant JLA stories published during its Silver-Age existence.  Indeed, there were, and they are all stand-out adventures.  But also hardly the type that would fall under the heading of “forgotten gems”.

 

Though not as well remembered, JLA # 27 brings together all of the elements that made the title so popular during the Silver Age and produces the classic Justice League case.

 

Gardner Fox was an intricate plotter; his stories were complex and far ranging and laced with arcane facts from science and history that he loved to collect.  When he wasn’t careful, his plots could get away from him, with too many twists and turns for the reader to follow.  They’d bog down from the weight of their own layers.  But when he was very good, then you’d get a tale like “The ‘I” Who Defeated the Justice League”.

 

Fox presents the JLA, and the readers, with a fistful of quandaries:  the mystery of the letters written by three of their own members; the individual cases of the invisible robber, the self-firing cannon, and the disappearing island; and the threat of the ultra-galactic being, “I”.  Even the solution to the loss of their success-factor, the reactivation of Amazo, carries the additional problem of having to defeat such a formidable foe.  Yet, Fox’s plot masterfully conflates all of these individual situations into one purposeful conclusion.

 

Fox designs his convoluted plot around his familiar formula of dividing the JLA into three sub-teams to handle components of the menace.  However, by this stage, late 1963 to mid-1964, he attempted to vary the routine.  With nine active super-heroes to deal with, overcrowding was a problem.  One approach Fox had tried over the past few issues was back-benching some of the team for most of the story.

 

For this tale, he goes in a similar direction, by having three League members miss out on the opening sequence, but then having them eventually join the sub-teams dispatched on the requests for help.  By the end of part two, the whole Justice League is together to confront the threat of “I”.

 

Change was in the air, however.  Soon, Fox and editor Julius Schwartz would grow comfortable (i.e., the fans didn’t complain overmuch) with employing fewer JLA members in stories, while leaving the rest out altogether.  Consequently, cases in which the entire membership participated became infrequent.  JLA # 27 would be the last time that bringing the whole team together for at least part of the adventure was the norm.   

 

 

 

Under the best of circumstances, writing a JLA story was complicated, with up to ten super-heroes’ powers and weaknesses to learn.  But Fox didn’t stop there.  He often drew from the rich history of the Justice League itself.  “The ‘I’ Who Defeated the Justice League” abounds with reminders of past issues of JLA.  Obviously, there's the return of Amazo, but we also get a flashback to the League’s battle with Doctor Light, from JLA # 12 (Jun., 1962).  The tale even opens with remembrances of the team’s early victories over Starro and Kanjar Ro.

 

Fox kicks off the events of issue # 27 with another treat for long-time JLA fans:  having the team go out on “mail calls”.  Answering requests for help arriving in the mail was an infrequent, but routine practise of the Justice League over the title’s Silver-Age run.  These mail calls were one of the quainter elements of the series.  There was a certain charm in the idea that something as prosaic as a letter, or an announcement over Snapper Carr’s transistor radio, would send the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes off and running.

 

However, Fox didn’t limit his attention to continuity to JLA.  Details from the individual members’ own series often popped up, and they did in this issue.  As early as page two, Fox reminds us of the long-standing friendship between Superman and Batman, by pointing out that they are aware of each other’s civilian identities.

 

“I’d sure like to be sent out to answer Bruce Wayne’s letter,” the Man of Steel cogitates, “but I can’t make an issue of it!”

 

The close partnership of the World’s Finest team is visited again, after “I” has stolen the Justice League members’ ability to work with each other.  When the JLA returns to the Secret Sanctuary in defeat, it dawns on a demoralised Superman that he will no longer be able to work with Batman on cases together.  The Flash and Green Lantern realise the same thing (acknowledging the friendship being developed between the two heroes in stories by Fox and John Broome).

Fox integrates the story further into the DC universe by mentioning prospective JLA member Hawkman’s previous meetings with the Atom, in The Atom # 7 (Jun.-Jul., 1963), and Aquaman, in The Brave and the Bold # 51 (Dec., 1963-Jan., 1964).

 

 

 

If Fox had left out these references, it wouldn’t have changed the story one whit, and in fact, it would have been easier for him not to do so.  In writing JLA, he was dealing with a regular cast of stars cadged from the fiefdoms of four DC editors---Julius Schwartz, Mort Weisinger, Jack Schiff, and Robert Kanigher.  Fox regularly wrote for Schwartz’s titles, but he had to go across the hall to find out what was going on in the magazines put out by Mort or Jack or Bob.

 

Fox could have taken the easy way out and omitted these touches, but he didn’t---and Justice League of America was the better for it.  It reïnforced the feeling that the various DC titles existed in a shared universe, and that was a feeling that DC fans of the day didn’t get very often.  With the exception of Superman and Batman---the only two characters that dared cross editorial lines---DC super-heroes seemed to operate in their own separate realities.  When an alien invasion fleet attacked the Earth in the pages of Wonder Woman, it never occurred to the Amazing Amazon to call in help from Superman or Green Lantern.

 

The success of Justice League of America was ultimately responsible for forcing the various DC editors to acknowledge that the other characters, in the other editors’ stables, existed.  And then, when something world-shaking occurred in a hero’s title, the writers would start making references to why the Justice League wasn’t available to help out in the crisis.  Other remarks would be made about an individual hero’s association with the League.  Significant events occurring in a member’s parent series, such as Aquaman’s wedding, would guest-star the rest of the JLA.  This kind of unification between DC titles was never seen before the creation of the Justice League.

 

 

There’s an old joke among fans of the Silver-Age Justice League that the function of the rest of the JLA is to kick the kryptonite away from Superman.  The implication being, of course, that the Man of Steel is so powerful that the other members are superfluous.  There were a couple of stories---“Challenge of the Weapons Master” (The Brave and the Bold # 29 [Apr.-May, 1960]) and “The Mystery of Spaceman X” (JLA # 20 [Jun., 1963])---that winked at the notion.  But “The ‘I” Who Defeated the Justice League stated it outright.

 

After discovering that “I” has removed their ability to work in concert, the other JLAers turn to Superman, confident that his formidable array of super-powers is sufficient to overcome the ultra-being.  Then they step back to watch the Action Ace go to work. 

 

But, for once, Superman isn’t so sure.  He’s confused over just how to tackle their non-physical foe. 

 

This gives “I” enough time to lash out with a green-kryptonite tendril, crumpling Superman like a pile of old laundry.  And when J’onn J’onzz and Green Lantern rush up to “kick the kryptonite away”, “I” fells them with their respective weaknesses, as well.

 

So much for old jokes.

 

 

 

“The “I” Who Defeated the Justice League” also answers the question, “Why do the super-heroes keep Snapper Carr around?”

 

According to Julius Schwartz, in an interview appearing in the magazine Alter Ego, issue # 38 (Jul., 2004), Snapper Carr wasn’t his idea, nor that of Gardner Fox.  The character was thrust upon them by Whitney Ellsworth, DC’s editorial director.  Ellsworth wanted to exploit the burgeoning youth culture, obsessed by rock-and-roll and social rebellion.  Perhaps reflecting the fact that he lived in Hollywood, Ellsworth told Schwartz to add a character modelled after the hep-talking “Kookie”, played by Edd Byrnes on the television series 77 Sunset Strip.

 

Clearly Schwartz and Fox were just following orders when they added Snapper Carr---the name came from Ellsworth, too---to the story of “Starro the Conqueror”.  If anybody ever wondered over the perfunctory reason Snapper was awarded his honorary JLA membership---his “assistance” to the League was, essentially, not taking a shower after spreading his family yard with lime---that’s probably why.

 

Stuck with the character, Fox struggled to make use of him.  At times, such as the adventures against Xotar and the Key, the Snapster had plot value as the JLA’s weak link.  Occasionally, he would be seen collecting the mail or keeping the League casebook.  But his primary rôle appeared to be providing an English-warping wisecrack for the story’s smiles-all-around final fade-out.

 

Still, every once in a rare while, the youngster was given a hero turn.  In “For Sale—the Justice League”, from JLA # 8 (Dec., 1961-Jan., 1962), Snapper single-handedly rescues the super-heroes from death, after learning of the will-deadening cyberniray in a letter from its inventor.  And circumstances conspire in “Journey into the Micro-World”, from issue # 18 (Mar., 1963), to make Snap the only member of the League capable of defeating the Protectors of Starzl.

 

But in the adventure against “I”, the finger-popping teen really earns his keep.

 

With the Justice League’s morale at its nadir, it’s Snapper Carr who jumps to his feet with the solution to “I’s” theft of their success-factor.  The answer which eluded the critical thinking of the Batman, the super-brain of Superman, or the scientific minds of the Atom and the Flash.  Snapper’s cure for their situation is elegant in its simplicity and satisfying to JLA devotees (with whom Fox played fair by telegraphing the day-saving idea in the first panel of the story).

 

 

 

The complexity of the plot.  The familiar formula of three.  The nods to the JLA’s past events.  The attention to the details of the individual members’ series.  The active involvement of all the Justice Leaguers.  And a reason for Snapper Carr to have a chair at the council table.  This one had it all, folks---all of the touches that made a Gardner Fox JLA tale so enjoyable.

 

If someone wanted to know what the popularity of the Silver-Age Justice League of America was all about, this is the issue I would give him.

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That makes sense.

But didn't the entire League get together again in Case of the Forbidden Super-Powers? Or is it that they didn't work as one big team against Headmastermind the way they do against Amazo and I?

Fraser Sherman said:

But didn't the entire League get together again in Case of the Forbidden Super-Powers? Or is it that they didn't work as one big team against Headmastermind the way they do against Amazo and I?

The entire League didn't participate in "The Case of the Forbidden Super-Powers", from JLA # 28 (Jun., 1964).  J'onn J'onzz was absent throughout that story.  (And for no explanation, not even the usual "tied up on an urgent case of his own".)

Got it. I'd misremembered everyone being involved in that one.

I'd say he nipped out for a smoke, but ...

My thought was that it was the only story in which every then-member participated. They even name-checked soon-to-be member Hawkman. I read all of the JLA stories from B&B 28 through the late 70s and don't remember any (even this one) full participation stories. Granted, I haven't read the reprints except a few.

I believe JLA 40 had everyone. Between that and "I" there are two stories, #33 and #36, both of which have the JLA fighting itself (under the influence of the Alien-Ator and Brain Storm respectively).

Richard Willis said:

My thought was that it was the only story in which every then-member participated. They even name-checked soon-to-be member Hawkman. I read all of the JLA stories from B&B 28 through the late 70s and don't remember any (even this one) full participation stories. Granted, I haven't read the reprints except a few.

I think it was a good call when they started using a rotating selection of a smaller number of members. It gave the individual members more room to show their stuff and gave the writer more flexibility to tell a story. That's probably why Fox used the chapter/small group story technique for so long. The chapter format wouldn't have worked well with the severely slashed page count.

From The Brave and the Bold # 28 (Feb.-Mar., 1960) to JLA # 9 (Feb., 1962), inclusive, Superman and Batman were largely curtailed from the stories---for a number of reasons, but the most prevalent of which was their respective editors, Mort Weisinger and Jack Schiff, didn't want their characters over-exposed. 

However, even if one doesn't count the stories in which the World's Finest team appeared and took little or no part on the proceedings, there were quite a few adventures, even early on, in which every JLA member took full participation, starting with "The World of No Return", from JLA  # 1 (Oct., 1960), and "Secret of the Sinister Sorcerers", from JLA # 2 (Dec., 1960-Jan., 1961).  I suspect Superman and Batman were given equal time in these tales in order to attract as much reader interest as possible in the new title.

Starting with "The Fantastic Fingers of Felix Faust", from JLA # 10 (Mar., 1962), the prohibition against using Superman and Batman had been lifted (by Jack Liebowitz, who famously told Julius Schwartz, "Go back and tell [Weisinger and Schiff] that Superman and Batman belong to DC and not them!"), and Gardner Fox started a new member-participation formula of having every JLA member fully participate in the adventures.

Therefore, the whole Justice League fully participated in every story from JLA # 10 through # 22 (Sep., 1963), inclusive (with the exception of "The Menace of the 'Atom' Bomb", from JLA # 14 [Sep., 1962], in which Fox deliberately reverted to his old practise of curtailing Superman and Batman in order for his plot's mystery to fool the audience).

By this time, it was becoming difficult for Fox to give nine super-heroes equal time, so he changed his membership formula, again.  Now, he would include the entire League, but find someway of sidelining part of the team from most of the adventure.  The sidelined members would be involved in the final showdown, but miss most of the issue's action.

Fox started doing this with "Drones of the Queen Bee", from JLA # 23 through "The Case of the Forbidden Super-Powers", from issue # 28 (Jun., 1962).

Two of the issues in that run were exceptional:  JLA # 25 (Feb., 1964) featured only five Justice League members; the rest were absent.  This was a trial run of Fox's fourth formula, discussed next.  And JLA # 28 not only put Batman and Green Arrow out of the main action somewhat, J'onn J'onzz was completely absent from the story.

Starting with JLA # 29 (Aug., 1964), Fox implemented his rotating-membership formula, in which, most often, only some of the JLA members---usually five---would take part in the story, and the others wouldn't be seen at all ("tied up on urgent cases of their own").  He continued with this formula for the remainder of his tenure on the title.

But even so, occasionally, Fox did provide a tale in which the entire membership was involved, usually in the manner of his third formula, in which some of the team would be diverted from most of the action, but showed up for the big finish.

Mr. Sherman mentioned three of these tales:

JLA # 33 (Feb., 1965), "Enemy from the Timeless World"

JLA # 36 (Jun., 1965), "The Case of the Disabled Justice League"

JLA # 40 (Nov., 1965),  "Indestructible Creatures of Nightmare Island"

Besides those, the whole Heehaw gang showed up to play in:

JLA # 44 (May, 1966), "The Plague That Struck the Justice League"

JLA # 61 (Mar., 1968), "Operation: Jail the Justice League"

By that point, there were the "A" players (Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman) and the "B" players (Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, Atom). Fox would usually use 3-4 "A"s with 1-2 "B"s for his main story.

Philip Portelli said:

By that point, there were the "A" players (Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman) and the "B" players (Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, Atom). Fox would usually use 3-4 "A"s with 1-2 "B"s for his main story.

Exactly, Philip!  In fact, I elabourated on this in my commentaries on a couple of JLA issues I did for another site.

Some of my remarks on "Attack of the Star-Bolt Warrior", from JLA # 32 (Dec., 1964), read:

_____________________________________________________________________

When Our Heroes burst into Brain Storm’s hilltop lab, Batman asks, “I wonder where the other Justice League members are?”



JLA devotees were probably asking the same thing.  It was four issues now and the only time the entire group had been together was for a few panels at Hawkman’s induction. The sidelined heroes weren’t even showing up for the final chapter, as they had before.

 

Gardner Fox had settled comfortably into his fourth, and final, membership formula of including only as many members in a JLA tale as suited him---usually, five.  For many readers---including myself, at the time---it felt like you were getting only half your twelve cents’ worth.  And the fans of Aquaman and Green Arrow and J’onn J’onzz must have felt especially short changed. Those three heroes had barely been seen and not heard at all, except for a single dialogue balloon from the Emerald Archer.



The absence of the entire League had other costs.  The last several issues---at least, since # 27 (May, 1964)---had lost a sense of “epic sweep”. The most memorable JLA adventures ranged far beyond the Earth---into the outer reaches of space and time.  The Justice League tackled threats on other worlds or in other dimensions.  Or, alternately, from other worlds or dimensions.

 

The scope of the stories had breadth---in that the JLA would divide into sub-teams that took them to distant locales---and depth.  The fate of the Earth or other worlds, or even whole galaxies, was often at stake.  This sense of majesty had slipped away.



On the other hand, with only half the regular cast, Fox’s scripts became more intimate, less cosmic.   Brain Storm’s mission was to take vengeance on one Justice Leaguer. Not even the whole team.  And, one issue before, all Joe Parry wanted to do was rob a bank.  Hardly earth-shaking.



There were fewer Justice League members in each tale, but the ones that showed up got more face time. Fox applied little characterisation to his heroes, yet they did expand somewhat as characters simply from having more time “on stage”.  And with a short cast, odds were some story would show your favourite JLA member making a significant contribution.  (That is, unless your favourite JLA member was Aquaman or Green Arrow or the Martian Manhunter.) . . . 

Finally, it should be noted that not every JLA fan had a problem with the shorter roll calls.  John F. Lebar, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, at least, was happy about it, and he said so in a letter which appeared in the JLA Mailroom of issue # 35 (May, 1965) with the following remarks:



Bravo!  For the fourth issue in a row, you didn’t have those darn, minor super-heroes cluttering up the JLA.  All six of the participants in “Attack of the Star-Bolt Warrior” are the ones that deserve to be in the group . . . . The addition of Hawkman, who proved himself in this issue, was a brilliant move and I recommend that you keep the membership to the number presented in this story.



Editor Julius Schwartz diplomatically responded that there were no “major” or “minor” members and they each had earned the right to be in the Justice League.  Which JLA members appeared in a particular adventure, he said, would be as circumstances warranted it.



“As circumstances warranted it”---that was Julie’s way of giving himself some wiggle room.  Savvy JLA fans, though, had begun to suspect that certain League members were more “warranted” than others.  The next issue would show just where Schwartz drew that line.  

____________________________________________________________________

I followed up on the concept of "A" Justice Leaguers and a "B" list in my commentary on the next issue, # 33 (Feb., 1965) and its story, "Enemy from the Timeless World":

____________________________________________________________________

With JLA # 29 (Aug., 1964), Fox instituted a new format of including only some of the group, usually five, in any given adventure.  For reasons I’ve discussed before, this new formula was less taxing on Fox’s imagination and changed the timbre of the stories. However, once four issues under this format had hit the stands, savvy JLA fans were beginning to notice that the line-up choices weren’t as egalitarian as before.

Batman and Superman, the Flash and Green Lantern were being highlighted.  Wonder Woman had started out strong, but was getting eased out by new member Hawkman. The Atom showed up to play once.  And Aquaman and Green Arrow and J’onn J’onzz hadn’t been seen at all, except to wave “hi” to the Winged Wonder at his induction to the League.

Despite what editor Julius Schwartz told fan John F. Lebar, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, in a JLA Mailroom response, it was certainly sizing up to be that there were major Justice League members and minor ones.

And the line-up selection for “Enemy from the Timeless World” drew the line between the two categories.

The members who were summoned into the future---Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Superman, Hawkman---carried the main action, meanwhile, the members left behind---Aquaman, the Atom, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, and J’onn J’onzz---appeared only as a hinderance.  It telegraphed the way in which the two sets of heroes would be viewed in Gardner Fox’s stories for the next two years.

____________________________________________________________________

Good analysis, as usual. I shall keep it in mind next time I reread the Silver Age issues.

It sounds like the big guns were Superman and Batman (who had been mandated by upper management to be included in the stories) and Schwartz's big guns (Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkman). Atom was,of course, also a Schwartz character, but he worked better in small stories. Aquaman, Green Arrow and J'onn J'onzz had been backup characters in other editors' titles, and Wonder Woman was only being published so DC didn't lose the rights to Marston's heirs. It seems to me that Schwartz and possibly Fox actively resented these "minor" characters, who were sometimes hard to shoehorn into a story.

When I bought The Brave and the Bold #28 it was because I recognized the cover-featured Aquaman, J'onn J'onzz and Wonder Woman. I didn't know who Flash and Green Lantern were until I read the issue.

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