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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The funny thing about recognizing characters on the cover is that, and someone please correct me if I'm wrong, Brave & Bold #28 was the first time Aquaman and Martian Manhunter were shown on a cover.

A full-on Fox/Schwartz JLA would have been an interesting "Just Imagine" tale. Along with their "Big 4", it might have included Adam Strange, Hawkgirl, Elongated Man with possibly a revived Captain Comet or even new versions of Black Canary, Starman and Doctor Fate!

Batman would have joined in 1964!

It was outside of the Silver Age but in JLA #144 (1977) Steve Englehart wrote a story about a pre-B&B #28 "JLA."

Off the top of my head, these are Martian Manhunter's Silver Age cover appearances:

B&B #28, 29, 30, 50, 56

various issues of JLA

House of Mystery #143-148, 151-153

Superman #199

Aquaman #18

Secret Origins (1961) #1

Inferior Five #6

He was mentioned a few times on the cover of Detective Comics, and on a few additional HOM covers.

I think that's it.  Did I miss any?

Philip Portelli said:

The funny thing about recognizing characters on the cover is that, and someone please correct me if I'm wrong, Brave & Bold #28 was the first time Aquaman and Martian Manhunter were shown on a cover.

A full-on Fox/Schwartz JLA would have been an interesting "Just Imagine" tale. Along with their "Big 4", it might have included Adam Strange, Hawkgirl, Elongated Man with possibly a revived Captain Comet or even new versions of Black Canary, Starman and Doctor Fate!

Batman would have joined in 1964!

Philip Portelli said:

someone please correct me if I'm wrong, Brave & Bold #28 was the first time Aquaman and Martian Manhunter were shown on a cover.

My first reaction was to think that B&B #28 might easily be the first time that they'd been shown together on a cover, but surely at least Aquaman must have been seen on a cover some time in the 20 or so years since he'd first appeared in 1941.  However, a quick search on GCD fails to show any cover appearances before "Starro the Conqueror" for either of them.  They really were only backup features before that story brought them into the big League (sorry)!

Yes, this was a nice homage to the late 50s but the only character in the panel that Julius Schwartz "controlled" was....Rex the Wonder Dog!

Dave Palmer said:

It was outside of the Silver Age but in JLA #144 (1977) Steve Englehart wrote a story about a pre-B&B #28 "JLA."

Philip Portelli said:

The funny thing about recognizing characters on the cover is that, and someone please correct me if I'm wrong, Brave & Bold #28 was the first time Aquaman and Martian Manhunter were shown on a cover.

J'onn J'onzz had debuted in Detective #255. He had been appearing regularly in that book for almost two years before B&B 28. His first appearance and several following issues had a blurb above the title about the "Manhunter from Mars," but no picture of him. When Congo Bill changed to Congorilla there was a gorilla picture on the cover (big surprise) but he wasn't golden like inside. Green Arrow, of course, had a number of Golden Age covers. I think you're right that Aquaman didn't appear on any covers until B&B 28. I wonder why. He was created by Mort and in Mort's books. You'd think he would have promoted him a little.

Is this the first time Aquaman appeared on the cover of a Weisinger comic book?

Despite Flash nominating Adam for membership, I honestly don't think he works. His heart's on Rann, and he'd always be popping off and unavailable (he could reasonably point out that Earth has a lot more heroes to handle the workload). Otherwise, an interesting cast.

Strangely enough, the out of continuity DC Challenge had one of the best solutions to Adam's long-distance relationship: Sardath began firing a continuous stream of Zeta beams at Earth so that when one wears off, there's another on the way almost at once (Hawkman #18 found a different solution, though not everyone remembered in later guest appearances).



Philip Portelli said:

The funny thing about recognizing characters on the cover is that, and someone please correct me if I'm wrong, Brave & Bold #28 was the first time Aquaman and Martian Manhunter were shown on a cover.

A full-on Fox/Schwartz JLA would have been an interesting "Just Imagine" tale. Along with their "Big 4", it might have included Adam Strange, Hawkgirl, Elongated Man with possibly a revived Captain Comet or even new versions of Black Canary, Starman and Doctor Fate!

Batman would have joined in 1964!

An article of keen analysis and great insight, as always, Commander. I know your love of the silver age JLA - I feel that mine is surpassed only by passion for the Legion of Super-Heroes - so it's good to see you digging into the best book, in your opinion.

 

Starting at the top – Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky were at their best, and headed by Julie Schwartz, it was at least a winner. Interestingly, the story didn’t seem based on the cover, a Schwartz specialty. Far more interesting – Superman is not on the cover. As I figure that he was THE hot property at DC in that era, it’s intriguing that Batman made it, but the Man of Steel didn’t.

 

The story was tight. I could see this going into two issues, or even involving the JSA (more on that in a bit.) But everything gets in, little is left dangling*, and everything gets accomplished. I loved such stories – 23 pages of a story that is a one-and-done. That idea seems to have gone by the wayside, more’s the pity.

 

*I wonder that we didn’t hear about Robin handling his case… but you can’t have everything. Or I’D have a power ring, and who knows what that would result in?

 

The only element that I didn’t like were those tentacles. Yeah, yeah, kryptonite, yellow, and fire. I would have liked to see a little originality… maybe that they were extra-dimensional, and so were resistant to the JLA. Or maybe they couldn’t be touched by the JLA, but COULD touch them. And Wonder Woman… clutched so tightly that she could hardly breathe? Another case of Princess Diana getting short shrift.(Especially when “I” was referred to as a male entity… so if she were imprisoned by a  male, she’d lose her powers… and that’s done.

 

Nice to see a Dick Grayson cameo. And that’s part of “The Silver Age Fogey’s much easier solution to ‘I’”. I’ll note ahead of time that this solution would have made a very dull story… but a far less hazardous answer. It was even mentioned in the story, when Aquaman and the Atom regret that they couldn’t work with Hawkman again* The solution? Induct some new members into the JLA. Even if they were only mentioned in JLA, that list includes Hawkman (and Hawkgirl), Adam Strange, Metamorpho, Jimmy (Elastic Lad) Olsen, Robin… and if we want to stretch that just a tiiiiiiny bit, we could include Supergirl and the other Teen Titans. On the same token though… how long would it have taken “I” to remove THEIR success factor?

 

*Had there been room, I’m sure Schwartz would have insisted on a comment about Green Arrow and J’onn J’onzz not being able to work together again as well.

 

One last element, and it’s slightly snarky. Maybe Snapper hung around the Justice League because Wonder Woman had a great affection for him. She never as much as held hands with the other JLAers… but he got a kiss from her at least twice. I hear music… I see moonlight.... :)

 

Commander, as always, a splendid offering, and one I thoroughly enjoyed. Thanks!

Eric L. Sofer said:

Nice to see a Dick Grayson cameo. And that’s part of “The Silver Age Fogey’s much easier solution to ‘I’”. I’ll note ahead of time that this solution would have made a very dull story… but a far less hazardous answer. It was even mentioned in the story, when Aquaman and the Atom regret that they couldn’t work with Hawkman again* The solution? Induct some new members into the JLA. Even if they were only mentioned in JLA, that list includes Hawkman (and Hawkgirl), Adam Strange, Metamorpho, Jimmy (Elastic Lad) Olsen, Robin… and if we want to stretch that just a tiiiiiiny bit, we could include Supergirl and the other Teen Titans. On the same token though… how long would it have taken “I” to remove THEIR success factor?

 

Always glad when you chime in, Fogey!  Your solution to the "I" problem has one real creative value; it occurred to me while I was reading your paragraph above.  I'll get to that in a minute.

The idea of the JLA members, unable to work together, ringing in other super-heroes who could team up, shows the muddiness of Gardner Fox's notion that the Justice League possesses a success factor that generates a robber-force injurious to "I".  It's never established that only the Justice League members possess this success factor.  If so, why just them?  And if not, why was "I" concerned only with the JLA?  One would think that "I" would have to go after every super-hero who might conceivably join together.  And the Doom Patrol would certainly be on his list.

And, as you pointed out, if the Justice League couldn't tackle "I" directly, it's doubtful an ad hoc team of sidekick and second-string super-heroes could.  Most certainly, "I" would have sucked out their success factors, as well.

One criticism I have of Fox is that he went to the Justice-Leaguers-generate-a-unique-force well too many times.  In JLA # 26 (Mar., 1964), the Leaguers are said to generate super-energies which villain Despero is able to convert to a "chrono-energy" which permits him to create alternate Earths.  In JLA # 28, Headmaster Mind discovers that the JLAers generate a force called "cardial vibration", which Mind uses to create disasters.  In JLA # 33 (Feb., 1965), scientists from the Earth's future discover that the Justice League generates "chrono-kinetic energy", which helps them defeat the Alien-ator.

But your proposed solution against "I", my friend, carried a brilliant idea, though it would have meant postponing the tale for a couple of months, at least.

After the team-up of Kid Flash and Aqualad and Robin, the Boy Wonder, in The Brave and the Bold # 54 (Jun.-Jul., 1964) informed DC that there was gold to be mined from a junior version of the JLA, the Teen Titans hit the stands full-blown, in B&B # 60 (Jun.-Jul., 1965).  The three stars of B&B # 54, along with an inexplicably discrete Wonder Girl, comprised the team without benefit of an origin.

Now, yes, a story of the Titans' origin finally appeared in Teen Titans # 53 (Feb., 1978), but it was inaccurate with regard to the Titans' continuity, written by Bob Rozakis, who was going more by memory and a Neat Idea, than actually researching the details.

It would have been a better approach to have the Justice League, unable to work as a team, thanks to "I", call together some of the members' junior partners, who would have then found a way to defeat "I".  Their success would them prompt the youngsters to form their own team.  And the senior heroes couldn't very well veto the idea, given how the kids bailed their asses out of trouble.

That would have called for a "special double-sized issue" or the like, the sort of thing DC didn't do in those days, but there would have been a work-around for that.  Perhaps a cross-over between JLA and B&B, in the same fashion as was eventually done between Challengers of the Unknown # 48 (Feb.-Mar., 1966) and The Doom Patrol # 102 (Mar., 1966).

A nice bit of inspiration, friend Eric!

Actually the Teen Titans did get an origin, just not a conventional comics one.

In the first Teen Titans story, Robin tells Batman that after saving the Hatton Corners teens from Mr. Twister, it occurred to him, Kid Flash and Aqualad that teenagers needed a team who could help with their problems and perils, so they invited Wonder Girl and formed one.

That's such a simple, practical idea, I love it. But as it's tossed off in one panel, I didn't remember it until I went back and reread the Silver Age run (or as much of it as I have).

Commander Benson said:

Eric L. Sofer said:

Nice to see a Dick Grayson cameo. And that’s part of “The Silver Age Fogey’s much easier solution to ‘I’”. I’ll note ahead of time that this solution would have made a very dull story… but a far less hazardous answer. It was even mentioned in the story, when Aquaman and the Atom regret that they couldn’t work with Hawkman again* The solution? Induct some new members into the JLA. Even if they were only mentioned in JLA, that list includes Hawkman (and Hawkgirl), Adam Strange, Metamorpho, Jimmy (Elastic Lad) Olsen, Robin… and if we want to stretch that just a tiiiiiiny bit, we could include Supergirl and the other Teen Titans. On the same token though… how long would it have taken “I” to remove THEIR success factor?

 

Always glad when you chime in, Fogey!  Your solution to the "I" problem has one real creative value; it occurred to me while I was reading your paragraph above.  I'll get to that in a minute.

The idea of the JLA members, unable to work together, ringing in other super-heroes who could team up, shows the muddiness of Gardner Fox's notion that the Justice League possesses a success factor that generates a robber-force injurious to "I".  It's never established that only the Justice League members possess this success factor.  If so, why just them?  And if not, why was "I" concerned only with the JLA?  One would think that "I" would have to go after every super-hero who might conceivably join together.  And the Doom Patrol would certainly be on his list.

And, as you pointed out, if the Justice League couldn't tackle "I" directly, it's doubtful an ad hoc team of sidekick and second-string super-heroes could.  Most certainly, "I" would have sucked out their success factors, as well.

One criticism I have of Fox is that he went to the Justice-Leaguers-generate-a-unique-force well too many times.  In JLA # 26 (Mar., 1964), the Leaguers are said to generate super-energies which villain Despero is able to convert to a "chrono-energy" which permits him to create alternate Earths.  In JLA # 28, Headmaster Mind discovers that the JLAers generate a force called "cardial vibration", which Mind uses to create disasters.  In JLA # 33 (Feb., 1965), scientists from the Earth's future discover that the Justice League generates "chrono-kinetic energy", which helps them defeat the Alien-ator.

But your proposed solution against "I", my friend, carried a brilliant idea, though it would have meant postponing the tale for a couple of months, at least.

After the team-up of Kid Flash and Aqualad and Robin, the Boy Wonder, in The Brave and the Bold # 54 (Jun.-Jul., 1964) informed DC that there was gold to be mined from a junior version of the JLA, the Teen Titans hit the stands full-blown, in B&B # 60 (Jun.-Jul., 1965).  The three stars of B&B # 54, along with an inexplicably discrete Wonder Girl, comprised the team without benefit of an origin.

Now, yes, a story of the Titans' origin finally appeared in Teen Titans # 53 (Feb., 1978), but it was inaccurate with regard to the Titans' continuity, written by Bob Rozakis, who was going more by memory and a Neat Idea, than actually researching the details.

It would have been a better approach to have the Justice League, unable to work as a team, thanks to "I", call together some of the members' junior partners, who would have then found a way to defeat "I".  Their success would them prompt the youngsters to form their own team.  And the senior heroes couldn't very well veto the idea, given how the kids bailed their asses out of trouble.

That would have called for a "special double-sized issue" or the like, the sort of thing DC didn't do in those days, but there would have been a work-around for that.  Perhaps a cross-over between JLA and B&B, in the same fashion as was eventually done between Challengers of the Unknown # 48 (Feb.-Mar., 1966) and The Doom Patrol # 102 (Mar., 1966).

A nice bit of inspiration, friend Eric!

Fraser Sherman said:

Actually the Teen Titans did get an origin, just not a conventional comics one.

In the first Teen Titans story, Robin tells Batman that after saving the Hatton Corners teens from Mr. Twister, it occurred to him, Kid Flash and Aqualad that teenagers needed a team who could help with their problems and perils, so they invited Wonder Girl and formed one.

That's such a simple, practical idea, I love it. But as it's tossed off in one panel, I didn't remember it until I went back and reread the Silver Age run (or as much of it as I have).

Oops!  I forgot about those two panels in The Brave and the Bold # 60.  In retrospect, I kind of like it, too.  There's no requirement for every super-team to have a epiphanic crisis to bring its members together.  In the case of the Teen Titans, all it took was Robin sitting back and thinking, "Hey, this could work!"

Good catch, Mr. Sherman!

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