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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Actually that scene is where Robin tells Batman about the existence of the Teen Titans. He does mention how he, Kid Flash and Aqualad decided to become a group after their adventure in Hatton Corners. But he doesn't mention Wonder Girl at all which, once again, raises the question of how they met her. 

Maybe Wonder Woman heard Batman, Flash and Aquaman boasting about their proteges' victory over Mister Twister at the Secret Sanctuary and thought that it might be a good way for her adopted sister to acclimate herself back into Man's World! After all, she just popped into continuity and had to be a little baffled!

Or maybe B&B #54 was enough of an origin story by itself, though not the most inspirational one!

JLA: "So your origin is that you finally beat up an old guy in a feather cape. That's...nice. *snicker*"

Titans: "Well, it's no 'We-Got-Turned-Into-Trees-But-Won-When-We-Rubbed-Up-Against-Each-Other' but you take what you can get!"

Commander Benson said:

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!

The page in question:

Thanks. It's always cool to contribute something given the level of expertise on this site.

Commander Benson said:

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!

My guess is the three guys started thinking about who else they could recruit and asked Wonder Girl and Speedy, who passed on full-time membership (as he did in the Rozakis origin).

Fraser

Philip Portelli said:

The page in question:

Yes but how did they know about Wonder Girl as she wasn't even a separate character when B&B #54 came out? We saw how the three male heroes met but there was never a big Wonder Girl reveal until the flashback in Teen Titans #53.

It remains one of the Silver Age's great "Untold Tales"!

And I don't think that they did ask Speedy at first, probably because he didn't respond to the teen crisis of Hatton Corners for whatever reason.

My guess (and obviously it's just head canon) is that WW had talked about her sister to the other leaguers and the guys had heard about her from them. But yes, the story of them meeting up for the first time could be entertaining.

Am I correct in my belief that Donna Troy is the only super-hero in comics who is entirely comprised of ret-cons?  From the original ret-con that Princess Diana used to run around in version of her costume (complete with lasso) years before she actually won the role of Wonder Woman to becoming a hologram projected by a device worn by Hippolyta, to Donna Troy and everything that came after, she's like a Russian nesting doll of continuous editorial revisions & reimaginings.  In a way, it's awe inspiring.

Mr. Fraser - I agree with your assessment. Wonder Woman told the JLA about Wonder Girl, who passed on the story to their sidekicks. It's a great set up. The problem is the timing. I don't recall - but I'm sure Commander Adam and a few others - will recall Wonder Girl's first independent appearance. Prior to that event, the "Wonder Woman Family" was just an imaginary tale, a "what if Wonder Woman teamed with her younger selves, along with her mother?" But that Wonder Girl was Princess Diana again. I wonder, in fact, if Brave and the Bold #60 was Donna's first appearance. It's easy enough to explain with a couple of panels... Wonder Woman telling Hyppolyta how happy she is that the girl she rescued is adapting wonderfully to life on Paradise Island, and Hyppolyta responding how interesting that the character from their stories* ended up being a real heroine.

*It was Paradise Island. They didn't have transistor radios or TV... music, art, and story telling were their entertainment. The Wonder Woman Family Tales may have gone over very well.

Mr. Elyea, I don't how it counts, but I long thought that TV cartoon heroes who made their way into comics were rather introduced by ret-cons. Firestar, Harley Quinn, Batwoman II*, Morph, etc. all made that transition.

*Not Betty Kane. I mean the new one.

The Teen Titans were a really good idea, but, in context of the comics, Dick seems to have missed a couple. The aforementioned Bat-Girl, Supergirl, Elastic Lad, Robby Reed, Speedy, Beast Boy, and maybe one or two that I'm forgetting - even though Speedy and Beast Boy got their guest spots, and Hawk and Dove were still fresh in the pages when they guested in TT. 

Over course, the Superman Family characters were under lock and key by Mort Weisinger... but still, a Supergirl guest spot would have been fun. Maybe against Dev-Em... that would have made an interesting match up. Yes, I know Dev-Em was in suspended animation at this time... but if we could get Supergirl to appear for an issue, how outrageous could that have been?

The first appearance of the Not-Diana Wonder Girl is kind of a tricky matter, again due to the ret-cons.  Technically, the first definitive appearance of "Wonder Woman's kid sidekick" would have been B&B #60, altho the Titans' letter columns played fast and loose with that fact, neither confirming or denying that their Wonder Girl was a separate character of unknown origin or a time travelling Diana.  It wasn't until TT #22 (August 1969) that their Wonder Girl was finally given an actual name, Donna Troy, and a backstory.  So technically, that issue is the first appearance of "Donna Troy".  However, there are a number of stories from the Wonder Woman Family era that would make a lot more sense if the Wonder Girl in them had been Donna Troy (and Donna's origin implies that Donna was somewhere behind the scenes in every story set on Paradise Island), but of course, those stories were never intended to actually make sense.  For the record, only the first few "Wonder Family" stories were technically imaginary, as they were the result of Hippolyta splicing together home movies so that Diana seemed to be interacting with herself at different ages.  As of WW #124 (August 1961), Hippolyta creates a device that is basically identical in function to the mobile hologram emitter from Star Trek: Voyager, and from then on, Wonder Girl & Wonder Tot are solid light projections that are able to interact with the real world and possess roughly the same powers as Wonder Woman.  My head canon is that this device used so much energy to keep running as much as it did that it was largely responsible for the Amazons having to move their Island to another dimension to recharge a few years later.

On to other matters, I've also found it odd that neither Supergirl nor Jimmy Olsen ever put in so much as a cameo in the original run of the TT--a lot of effort was put into making the Olsen-Robin team a thing, and Robin was one of the first people on Earth to know about Supergirl's existence, and that should have counted for something!  My guess is that since Linda Danvers had started college by the time the Titans started, she was considered too old to hang out with younger teens, and back then, Jimmy seemed to be kept about the same age as Linda, so I guess that's why they were left out.  Well, that and the whole Weisinger thing.

Eric L. Sofer said:

Mr. Elyea, I don't how it counts, but I long thought that TV cartoon heroes who made their way into comics were rather introduced by ret-cons. Firestar, Harley Quinn, Batwoman II*, Morph, etc. all made that transition.

*Not Betty Kane. I mean the new one.

Are you saying that the current Kate Kane Batwoman debuted in a cartoon? I don’t remember hearing that before.

The Teen Titans were a really good idea, but, in context of the comics, Dick seems to have missed a couple. The aforementioned Bat-Girl, Supergirl, Elastic Lad, Robby Reed, Speedy, Beast Boy, and maybe one or two that I'm forgetting - even though Speedy and Beast Boy got their guest spots, and Hawk and Dove were still fresh in the pages when they guested in TT. 

I can see that the original Bat-Girl was not included because she was just a female version of Robin, and therefore redundant. Supergirl, aside from having to fight with Weisinger, would have been too powerful to allow the others to shine. I was always puzzled when Jimmy Olsen/Elastic Lad was treated as a teenager. He had a permanent job and dated an airline stewardess. Was Lucy Lane an early cougar? I believe that the others you mention “belong” to other editors. The odd thing to me was that they would include Aqualad, who is always hard to shoehorn into stories, and not Speedy, who could easily be included in stories.

Richard Willis said:

I was always puzzled when Jimmy Olsen/Elastic Lad was treated as a teenager. He had a permanent job and dated an airline stewardess . . . The odd thing to me was that they would include Aqualad, who is always hard to shoehorn into stories, and not Speedy, who could easily be included in stories.

The question as to why Jimmy Olsen wasn't included in, considered for, or regarded as a contemporary of the Teen Titans has a definitive answer:  he was an adult by the time that the Teen Titans were created.

In "Jimmy Olsen's Wildest Nightmare", from Jimmy Olsen # 62 (Jun., 1962), the Jimster turns twenty-one years of age.  In fact, much of the story revolves around that.  Thus, having reached the age of majority, he could scarcely be considered a "teen".

As to why Speedy was left out of the original line-up of the Titans, that's more subject to conjecture.  It could have been that Bob Haney forgot about him or that the Boy Bowman was simply overlooked.  Perhaps, B&B editor George Kashdan had said, "Hey, that issue with the three kid heroes sold really well.  Find a girl hero to put with them and we'll make it a team."  Or maybe Kashdan had his reasons for limiting the Titans to four, and he already had Robin and Aqualad and Kid Flash.  Adding a teen-age heroine would make four.

There were a couple of other considerations that might have occurred to Kashdan.

At the time of the story that started it all, "The Thousand-and-One Dooms of Mr. Twister", from The Brave and the Bold # 54 (Jun.-Jul., 1964) , the senior partners to Robin and Kid Flash and Aqualad---Batman, the Flash, Aquaman---all had their own titles, in which the junior partners appeared regularly (or, in the case of Kid Flash, semi-regularly).  On the other hand, not only did the Green Arrow not have his own title, his own series had folded a couple of months earlier---cancelled after World's Finest Comics # 140 (Mar., 1964).

 

Additionally, a sub-plot of the tale in B&B # 54 involved Kid Flash and Aqualad underestimating Robin's abilities, as they had super-powers and the Boy Wonder did not.  If Speedy, who also did not possess a super-power, had been included, it would have complicated that sub-plot.  (Not only would the script have had to ultimate justify Robin's capabilities, it would have had to have done so for Speedy, as well, but in a different manner.) 

Perhaps Kashdan had intended carrying on with the angle of Robin having to prove himself against his super-powered teammates.  The series would have needed only one non-super-powered teen hero to put across that sub-plot.  Adding another hero without powers, Speedy, would have been redundant.

"

Are you saying that the current Kate Kane Batwoman debuted in a cartoon? I don’t remember hearing that before."

A direct-to-DVD feature, "Mystery of the Batwoman" gave us a new Batwoman and might have been the inspiration for the Kate Kane version. However they're not much alike — Kathy Duquesne is straight and she's one of three women posing as Batwoman.

If there's another cartoon Eric is thinking of, I'm not aware of it.

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