Kanjar Ro! The Demons Three! Despero! Starro the Conqueror! These were only some of the awesome threats to mankind that the Justice League of America vanquished during its illustrious Silver-Age career. Terrible forces of evil so powerful that it required the mighty champions to band together to defeat them.
But, let’s face it. Even fabled Silver-Age JLA scribe Gardner Fox had his off months. After all, it’s difficult to come up with a world-shattering menace sufficient to challenge a gaggle of super-heroes eight times a year, every year, for eight years. So, every once in a while, one of Fox’s villains might miss the mark, be not quite up to the fearsome standard of a Felix Faust or a Doctor Destiny. For these wanna-bes, the Justice League could have taken the day off and let the Jimmy Olsen Fan Club handle it.
After pouring over my run of JLA stories from 1960 to 1968, I found seven bad guys for whom, if there were Golden Turkey Awards for JLA villains, they’d each have one decorating their prison cells. I’ve listed them in descending order of competence, starting with the “sort of lame” and going all the way down to “wouldn’t give the Inferior Five a hard time.”
7. The Lord of Time (JLA # 10 [Mar., 1962], et al.)
For those of you with fond memories of the first JLA continued story, you might be surprised to find that the Lord of Time made the list. After all, he’s a “name” Justice League villain. But, like Zsa Zsa Gabor, it’s more of a case of being famous for being famous---or in the Time Lord’s case, being infamous.
He started out impressively enough, I’ll give him that. As we learn in his debut, “The Fantastic Fingers of Felix Faust”, he’s a twentieth-century scientist who’s unlocked the key to travelling through time. Instead of doing what most of us would do if we could time-travel---jump ahead a week or so, jot down all the winning horses at Hialeah, then make a fortune at the track---the scientist decides to conquer the world.
Such ambition, and the power to back it up, should have put the Lord of Time into the same class as the Time Trapper, or Kang the Conqueror. Instead, when we meet him, he’s already on the run from the Justice League.
The L. of T.’s plan for world domination, you see, was to bring hordes of rampaging armies from both the past and the future, through “time-gates” situated on opposite sides of the world. Then he could just sit back and let them do the dirty work. Unfortunately, the JLA was on to his scheme from the get-go, and when the conquering hordes come bursting through the gates, the World’s Greatest Heroes are standing right there to shove them back in.
The villain hasn’t got time to worry about that, though. The Batman and the Flash have already tracked down his secret laboratory and have dropped by to pay him an unannounced visit. The Time Lord throws a couple of death traps their way, but Our Heroes barely have to breathe hard avoiding them.
The only reason the L. of T. wasn’t cuffed and stuffed by the end of the page was due to the inadvertent interference by another villain, Felix Faust, who had his own designs on the Justice League. Faust’s magical machinations dematerialise the Flash and Batman, along with the rest of the Leaguers, before they can get their hands on the Time Lord.
The rest of the issue is devoted to Faust’s plot, in which he is ably sponsored by the Demons Three---Abnegazar, Rath, and Ghast---who are tired of having been stuck in mystical prisons for the last billion years. For that, the Justice League has been placed in Faust’s thrall, and frankly, that’s a bigger problem for them right now, than the Lord of Time.
By page twenty-six, though, the JLA has thwarted Faust---thanks mainly to Aquaman mentally ordering a school of flying fish to smack him down. (Hmmmm . . . maybe Felix Faust should be on this list, too.) And the issue concludes with the League getting ready to go back after the Time Lord.
What Our Heroes don’t know is that Abnegazar and Rath and Ghast are waiting in the wings, and they’re going to have to deal with the three evil fiends next issue. That’s not good news for the Lord of Time, though.
JLA # 11 (May, 1962), “One Hour to Doomsday”, kicks off with the JLA descending on the Time Lord’s citadel, which was easy enough to do since the villain hadn’t bothered to find a new hide-out while the good guys were busy with Felix Faust. Unfortunately, the Leaguers discover that their foe is no longer at home. A gloating image of the L. of T. tells them that he is already travelling to the far future, where he’ll recruit a new army and collect a grunch of super-scientific weapons. Then, the plan is, he’ll come back to the present day and finish conquering the world. And the Justice League will be helpless to stop him. Heh heh heh.
While I’m thinking about it, this illustrates a fundamental problem with comic-book villains who can travel through time. They never seem to use their time-spanning powers to their best advantage. If the Lord of Time wanted to conquer the world, no muss, no fuss, why come back to 1962, where a Justice League is waiting to fight him? Why not take his futuristic armies and weapons back to 1952---eight years before there was a Justice League at all? Or 1930, or 1900? Any era before there would be any super-heroes around to give him trouble.
The big downcheck for the Time Lord, though, is leaving that image behind to brag to the Justice League. It inadvertently informs the heroes of precisely the year to which the villain has fled, from a detail caught by Superman's power of total recall. One manufactured time-bubble later, the JLA is speeding through the time barrier after their quarry. They nail him in the year A.D. 3786. He’s caught completely flatfooted, and Wonder Woman has him snared in her golden lariat by the top of page 6.
No back-up plan, no clever escape, nothing. The rest of the issue depicts the JLA’s fight against the Demons Three, and the L. of T. spends the whole time locked in the time bubble. Once Abnegazar, Rath, and Ghast are disposed of, the Leaguers return to 1962 and take the Time Lord to the hoosegow.
The problem was, of course, a scripting one. The big baddies in this two-parter were Felix Faust and the Demons Three. The Lord of Time was sandwiched between their threats and he had to be gotten out of the way so the main villains could take centre stage. Even so, it leaves the Time Lord looking pretty impotent. Particularly because, unlike the rest of the lame-o’s on this list, his ability to bring things back and forth across time was formidable enough to legitimately challenge the Justice League. And he should have; instead, the JLA takes him out almost as an after-thought.
Superman transported a whole bubble-full of JLA members to the future, yet only two of them needed to get out of the thing to nab him.
On this entire list of losers, the Lord of Time is the only one to make a second appearance in the JLA title during the Silver Age. That came four years later, in issue # 50 (Dec., 1966). He didn’t do any better that time. Only half the League bothered to show up to deal with him, and they took him out in one panel!
6. Headmaster Mind (JLA # 28 [Jun., 1964])
The only other costumed villain to make the list (if you can call a mortarboard and graduation robe a costume), Headmaster Mind had a more modest goal than many of the JLA’s foes. He only wanted to steal money and valuables. He wasn’t looking to rule the world or destroy the Justice League. In fact, he needed the heroes alive for his scheme to pay off. But he did need them out of the way, too, so they couldn’t stop him. He found a way to accomplish both.
Mind was yet another rogue scientist. (Why is it that scientists who go bad are the only ones characterised as “rogue”? You never hear of “rogue architects” or “rogue insurance salesmen”.) He had made a discovery---when the members of the Justice League utilised their super-powers, their hearts, which were especially adapted to the physical strain of doing so, generated a unique rhythmic force which Mind termed cardial vibrations.
Secretly observing the super-heroes in action, Mind absorbs this cardial energy into specially designed batteries. Then he was uses the stored force to create disasters whenever the JLAers exert their super-powers. Whatever actions the heroes take, Headmaster Mind ensures they just make things worse. The public perception is that the heroes’ powers were out of control.
In response, the United Nations, in an emergency session, issues an injunction prohibiting the members of the Justice League from using their super-powers.
This is what Headmaster Mind has been waiting for. Putting together a small gang of super-villains---the Top and the Tattooed Man and the Matter Master---he launches a campaign of robberies and hijackings. And as we all know, comic-book police are helpless to do anything about that.
It all works quite well. Mind has taken pains to avoid any connexion with the Justice League’s troubles. He sends his three henchmen out to commit the crimes, while he sits back, safely hidden in his home in Edgewater City---and JLAers, resigned to spending the rest of their days in their civilian identities, read the papers and gnash their teeth in frustration.
Sounds like a pretty good plan, right? So, why’s he on the list?
Oh, just one little thing . . . .
He forgot that there were two members of the Justice League who did not possess super-powers---the Batman and the Green Arrow. Well, he didn’t actually forget; rather, he dismissed them as useless.
Trust the Masked Manhunter to come up with a plan. The next time the Top and the Matter Master and the Tattooed Man go on a crime foray, the other Justice Leaguers will keep them busy, catch them if they can, without using their super-powers. Meanwhile, he and Green Arrow will do the necessary detective work to track down the mysterious mastermind back of the whole thing.
Their sleuthing takes them right to a certain address in Edgewater City, and one blunt-tipped arrow and judo throw later, “The Case of the Forbidden Super-Powers” is closed.
I’m sorry, but you just aren’t much of a threat to the Justice League if its two weakest heroes can take you out before you even lift a finger. At least the Top and the Matter Master and the Tattooed Man made a fight of it.
5. Pete Ricketts (JLA # 8 [Dec., 1961-Jan., 1962])
They may have been light in the strategic-planning department, but at least the Lord of Time and Headmaster Mind had enough brains to invent their own weapons. Penny-ante crook Pete Ricketts couldn’t have invented a hat rack. The gizmo which gave him the notion of taking on the Justice League of America dropped out of the sky---literally.
At the start of “For Sale---the Justice League”, Pete’s minding his own business---strong-arm robbery---when a couple of police officers spot him and chase him into a alley. Running isn’t Pete’s strong suit and he trips, just in time to see what looks like a peculiar flashlight fall from above and clatter to the pavement. The “flashlight” emits an orange beam which happens to bathe the approaching cops.
Instinctively, Ricketts yells for them to stop---and to his amazement, they do. In fact, they freeze in mid-stance.
Cunningly, Pete figures out the weird device has something to do with it. He picks it up, keeping the orange light trained on the officers, and tells them to scram. The lawmen turn tail and run off.
Convinced he’s on to something, the crook walks a few blocks down and flashes the orange light on a passer-by. Pete orders his victim to turn over his wallet and his wristwatch. The man does so without hesitation.
The source of Pete Ricketts’ good fortune was scientist Caleb West, whose laboratory occupied a upper storey of one of the buildings which flanked the alley into which Pete had run. West had developed a device which he called the cyberniray. West intended the cyberniray to be an educational aid, by increasing a subject’s ability to learn and remember information.
While West was making the final adjustments to his invention, an accident hurled it out the window, to land at Pete Ricketts’ feet. Dazed in the accident, West was able to crawl to the window and peer down, just in time to see Ricketts use the cyberniray on the police officers. He shouted at the fleeing Ricketts to stop, but, yeah, like there was any chance of that.
The next day, West reads a newspaper account of Pete’s escape from the policemen by shining a queer orange light on them, and he realises that the cyberniray must somehow compel a person to do whatever he is told. Realising the danger he has inadvertently created, West puts it all down in a letter to the Justice League of America and mails it to its Washington, D.C. post office box.
All Pete Ricketts knows is that it’s his lucky day.
After Pete pulls a few more hold-ups with the gadget, it finally dawns on him that there must be a way to use the cyberniray to pay off with big bucks, but damned if he can figure out how.
Meanwhile, over in the world of organised crime, the Mob is having troubles of its own. The Justice League is putting their rackets out of business and their illicit profits are drying up. The Syndicate’s ten top chieftains decide to put up a hundred thousand dollars apiece---a cool million---and offer it to anyone who can come up with a way to put the JLA on ice.
A few days later, when Ricketts gets word of this through the underworld grapevine, he figures that his orange flashlight is just the ticket to get that million dollars.
Now, anyone who’s ever seen a season of The Sopranos knows what a bad idea it is to get involved with the Mob. You or I, if we were of a less honest bent, could undoubtedly think of a dozen different---and safer---ways to make a million dollars with the cyberniray. But like so many mouth-breathers, Pete thinks he’s smarter than he really is.
Ricketts waylays the Green Lantern at a charity event, then forces him to activate his JLA emergency signal, luring the rest of the League into falling under the power of the cyberniray. Well, all of them except for Superman and Batman, whom Gardner Fox wrote out of this story by having them away on a mission in “Dimension X”.
Ricketts turns the six entranced super-heroes over to the Syndicate chiefs and collects his million-dollar payoff. Now he does the smart thing, right? He changes his identity and moves to a poor, obscure foreign country and lives like a king on his million. Oh, no, not our boy Pete.
Instead, he decides to auction off the JLA members to the gangbosses for even more money. When the winners start bragging over which one of them made the best deal, they decide to settle it in a contest. To settle the issue, the enthralled heroes are set against each other in competition. Ricketts orders the Flash and the Green Lantern to both attempt to steal the Napoleonic Tiara, to see which one brings it in. Similarly, Aquaman and the Green Arrow are dispatched to rob the gambling ship, Deuces Wild; and J’onn J’onzz and Wonder Woman are sent after a million-dollar cache of radium.
After a quick scene showing honorary JLA member Snapper Carr at the secret sanctuary, reading Caleb West’s letter, the action shifts to the three JLA pairs undertaking their larcenous missions. In a trio of vignettes, we see each of the criminally compelled Justice League duos do battle with each other over their intended booty. All three contests result in a draw. Not that it matters, because each time, the prize intended for stealing is mysteriously taken out of their hands.
The Justice Leaguers return to the Syndicate bosses to report their failures. Clearly, they’re better crook-catchers than crooks. Disgusted, the gangsters fall back on “Plan B”---killing the super-heroes in pre-arranged death traps. Still under Ricketts’ control, the Leaguers compliantly submit to the murder devices, a separate trap for each member. Helplessly, they await the end as the traps are activated.
Seconds away from death, each JLAer suddenly finds himself inexplicably free of Ricketts’ control. Able to think for themselves again, the Justice League members resort to their legendary teamwork. One hero frees another from his doom-trap, who then goes on to free the next, until all are safe. It doesn’t take much longer for the super-heroes to corral the gang-chiefs.
Desperately, Ricketts digs into his pocket for the cyberniray device---and finds that he no longer has it! And that’s when the answer to the League’s rescue becomes known. Snapper Carr!
It was the Snapster who secretly absconded with the loot from each of the three robberies attempted by the JLA teams. By using the captured anti-gravity discs of Doctor Destiny, their foe from JLA # 5, “When Gravity Went Wild”, Snapper had been able to zoom to each location and prevent the heroes from committing their crimes by taking the valuables first.
And how did Snapper know where each of the crimes was taking place? From emergency signals transmitted by the JLAers themselves! As a precaution, Ricketts had ordered the Leaguers not to use their own signalers, but he had neglected to command them not to activate each other’s.
Still, the credit for the game-save goes to Snapper. Just how boneheaded does a crook have to be to have his master plot foiled by a finger-popping, English-mangling teenager?
Speaking of planning, it would have been obvious to anyone with more than a grammar-school education that Pete’s scheme was ‘way overcomplicated. Why bother to sell off the enslaved JLA for a simple million dollars when he could order them to do whatever he wished? J’onn J’onzz or Green Lantern alone could have put a small fortune in Ricketts’ pocket. Pete was a walking testimonial for that old cautionary adage---K.I.S.S.
“Keep It Simple, Stupid!” The accent, of course, on stupid.
In conceiving menaces to threaten the JLA, Gardner Fox created a whole sub-set of villains who were nothing more than cheap hoodlums who lucked into a powerful gimmick. And, believe it or not, Pete Ricketts was the least incompetent of the lot.
We’ll take a look at who was worse next time out, when the countdown continues.