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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I didn't make that connection. I have Mystery of the Batwoman on DVD. As you say, the Kate Kane character isn't in it.

Oops... another wrong Batwoman! :)

You might have a hard time getting me to admit that Wonder Girl was that much less powerful than Supergirl. Of course, Supergirl had a monthly adventure anyhow, plus helping Superman as necessary... she was awfully busy.

Commander, you make an excellent point about Speedy... and in the end, to be blunt, he was Robin with a bow. He was pretty redundant. And Robin DID prove his worth, every issue. I cannot understand any group of Titans, under whatever name, who did not have Robin as leader (which the Young Justice cartoon did.)

Four did seem to be a rather magical number for teams at DC. The Doom Patrol, the Challengers of the Unknown, the Titans, the Sea Devils... they did rely on that. The exceptions I can think of were the Justice League (and let's face it... the World's Greatest Super Heroes were gonna go ten sized when they could) the Blackhawks (who were already the Magnificent 7) and the Legion of Super Heroes (and with a dozen-plus members, it would be hard to limit it to just Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, and Superboy every story.)

Dave, WW 124 is the first Wonder family story and it shows Hippolyta doing exactly what you say, splicing images together. Are you thinking of the "magic eye album" from the previous issue?

I think they dropped the "imaginary" line when they realized the stories were popular (for a while about half of WW's adventures were Wonder Family stuff) and nobody cared.

Fraser

Dave Elyea said:

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.

It occurs to me that a lot of Speedy's later characterization — cocky, flirtatious — was established in TT rather than in Green Arrow.

Fraser

Commander Benson said:

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.

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