By 1963, the ranks of the JLA had expanded to nine super-heroes. It’s quite a task, coming up with villains formidable enough to threaten that many heroes at once, especially when a plot wasn’t padded over a multi-issue arc, as is common to-day. JLA writer Gardner Fox had to come up with a new menace every issue. Sooner or later, the well had to run dry.
To offset the problem, Fox employed a new plotting formula, beginning with JLA # 23 (Nov., 1963). It was a format in which half the team membership would be sidelined from the main action. Contrivances were found to get four or five of the JLAers out of the way early on, or else, bring them in at the end, cavalry-style. For most of the adventure, the other half of the group dealt with the big bad on their own.
After several months, Fox honed the formula further by simply omitting many of the Justice League members from the story completely, under the excuse of “being tied up on urgent cases of their own.” From 1965 on, it was a rare thing for the entire JLA membership to be involved in a case.
This approach had two benefits for Fox’s scripting. If it was a truly Earth-shaking threat, then the sense of drama was heightened by the fact that only five or six super-heroes were on hand to confront it. The other plus was that, now, every villain didn’t have to be a world-beater. Fox could drop down to the minor leagues and throw a second-tier baddie at the JLA and still get a decent yarn out of it.
Unfortunately, for him---and fortunately, for this Deck Log entry---on a few of those, Fox scraped barrel-bottom. This usually happened when, instead of going with an established super-villain, he opted for putting a super-weapon in the hands of a small-time operator.
That’s how the next three losers made the list.
4. and 3. “Nameless Nutt” and Johnny Marbles (JLA # 53 [May, 1967])
The tale’s opener presents us with two mysteries. At the Midway City Museum, while curator Carter (Hawkman) Hall is preparing to attend this month’s regular meeting of the Justice League, his wife, Shierra, shows him an imperfect counterfeit of a rare ancient coin. Somehow, the phoney had been substituted for the genuine article, without opening its display case or setting off the special Thanagarian alarm-system installed to protect the exhibits.
Carter notes that several other art galleries and museums across the country have suffered similar thefts.
Later, at the secret sanctuary, for once, it’s an uneventful JLA meeting. There’s no old business, no new business, nor even any requests for help in the mail. Snapper Carr reports that the absent Green Lantern and J’onn J’onzz have sent word that they’re---say it with me, gang---tied up on urgent cases of their own.
With nothing official to discuss, the heroes talk shop. The Green Arrow mentions that, earlier in the day, he was confronting some armed bandits and discovered that his famed trick arrows had, somehow, been mysteriously replaced by non-working duplicates.
An astonished Wonder Woman reports that she recently experienced something similar, when she rounded up a band of foreign spies and found out that her magic lasso had been unaccountably exchanged for an ordinary golden rope that resembles the real thing.
Ever the worrier, the Batman checks out his utility belt and finds that, while it looks like his belt, the gadgets it holds are worthless. Hawkman draws a connexion between the stolen super-weapons and the puzzling coin-swap at the Midway City Museum.
While the Leaguers put their heads together to address the situation, the scene shifts to a cave stuffed with antiquities and rare treasures. In a gloating soliloquy to no-one in particular, the mastermind responsible for the looting brags about being “the greatest thief in the criminal history of the world!”
You see, he has invented a matter transporter. The device can instantly transport any object to his cavern hide-out and leave in its place, a reasonable, but inexact copy---“an operation made necessary by the law of the conservation of matter and energy . . . .”
Actually, that’s not too bad, as villains go. Certainly, he might give the Atom or the Batman or Hawkman a hard time in their own magazines. But a couple of things put him on the list. First, his over-inflated ego, which eventually leads to his undoing from an unexpected quarter.
Second, it’s just hard to take him seriously as a bad guy---or anything else. Appearance-wise, he looks like he just stepped off the set after playing the lead in an episode of Dr. Who. And he conducts himself with all the high-camp exaggeration of a Special Guest Villain on Batman---which explains the two full pages spent talking to himself about his master plan and how great he is.
Incidentally, writer Gardner Fox never bothers to give this dandified do-badder a name. In a letter of comment about this story that appears in a subsequent JLA Mail Room, fan Leonard Rosenberg, of the Bronx, New York, makes note of this. The evil collector, says Mr. Rosenberg, “for all I know, was called Nameless Nutt . . . .”
Meanwhile, back at JLA HQ, Hawkman has made use of a Thanagarian detector. The Winged Wonder aims the gizmo at the counterfeited art objects from the victimised museums and picks up a radiation signature that he can trace. The three JLAers who had their weapons substituted ask the other members to sit this one out, while they and Hawkman get first crack at the hidden mastermind.
In short order, the Justice League quartet tracks down the secret cave. Startled by Our Heroes’ appearance, Nameless Nutt (if it’s good enough for Leonard Rosenburg of the Bronx, it’s good enough for me) pulls out another gadget. With it, he animates some of the stolen statuary and sends it on the attack. The stunt gives each of the four JLAers a page to strut his stuff---and an opportunity for polymath Fox to show off his knowledge of obscure folklore in four lengthy editorial footnotes.
It doesn’t take long for the Leaguers to reduce the giant bric-a-brac to so much rubble, but it delays them enough for ol’ Nameless to make a run for it. The heroes give chase, but when they catch up to him, they find the crooked inventor lying unconscious.
“He must have tripped and fallen---knocking himself out!” concludes Green Arrow.
The JLAers confiscate the gadget in N.N.’s hand, then turn him and his stolen booty over to the authorities.
That’s the last we’ll ever see of Mr. Nutt, but the story is far from over.
When JLA foursome rejoins the others in the secret sanctuary, they realise that there are still a couple of pieces missing from the puzzle. For one thing, there was no sign of Batman’s real utility belt in Nameless Nutt’s cave. Nor Green Arrow’s shafts or Wonder Woman’s lasso.
Next, the device they took from N.N. is simply an ornate metal shell, with no inner workings whatsoever. There’s no way it could have been used to commit the thefts.
Before Our Heroes can look into it further, Batman, Hawkman, and the others who tackled Nutt in his cave suddenly keel over in their council chairs and turn invisible. By feel, the others can tell that the sticken members are still alive, but their pulses and breathing are growing weaker by the minute.
The unaffected JLAers deduce that this is an after-effect resulting from the four heroes receiving too much exposure to the radiation emanating from the real tele-transporter. And there's going to be fatal consequences---unless they can find the genuine device and, somehow, reverse its effects.
Then it’s Good News/Bad News time.
The Bad News: Hawkman’s radiation detector turned invisible when he did and they can’t operate it.
The Good News: If Hawkman has a radiation detector, then so will Hawkgirl.
The Bad News: Hawkgirl isn’t a Justice League member; they don’t know how to reach her.
The Good News: Yes, they do---the Atom knows Hawkman and Hawkgirl’s secret identities. (An editor’s note helpfully reminds the readers that the Tiny Titan and the Winged Wonders exchanged knowledge of their true identities in Hawkman # 9 [Aug.-Sep., 1965].)
Leaving Aquaman behind “in case our stricken members recover consciousness,” (and because Fox couldn’t think of anything else to do with him), the Atom, Superman and the Flash super-speed to Midway City and Shierra Hall. Strapping on her wings and grabbing the spare radiation detector and a handy mace, Hawkgirl leads the Justice Leaguers straight to . . . .
Mobster Johnny Marbles and his gang!
Gardner Fox often wrote convoluted plots, but this one was so byzantine that, when I first read this issue forty-five years ago, I had to go over it twice before it finally made sense. It didn’t help that the explanation came from Johnny Marbles himself, who talks like a gangster from a 1930’s B-movie.
In regular English, here’s what happened: Marbles suspected that the art thefts were being committed by someone with an unbeatable gimmick. Figuring that the best way to put the finger on this somebody was to sic the JLA on him, the gangster ordered his underlings to secretly steal the weapons used by Batman and Green Arrow and Wonder Woman and substitute them with imitations. It’s never explained how the thugs accomplish this; all we find out is that the effort resulted in most of Marbles’ men winding up in the jug.
Since Marbles doesn’t seem bright enough to know which end of a pencil to use, the notion that his henchmen could succeed in relieving three super-heroes of their personal gear is a huge honkin’ pill to choke down. For that matter, the whole scheme seems beyond him. Maybe one of his captured men was the real brains behind the operation. That would explain a lot.
As Marbles hoped, the heroes assumed that the same mastermind robbing the museums was also behind the thefts of their weapons, and when they tracked him down, Johnny and his boys were following close behind.
They lied in wait until Nameless Nutt made his run for freedom. Before the pursuing heroes could round the corner, the hoods waylaid the flamboyant robber and took his tele-transporter, leaving a fake in its place.
Now in possession of the transporter, Marbles tests it out on the front door to his apartment. He just happens to activate the device just as the Justice League members and Hawkgirl come bursting in. Instantly, the four super-heroes are frozen shock still. (“There must have been an element of kryptonite in that thing to have it affect me,” says Superman later, trying to save face.)
Instead of doing something smart like, oh say, running for the hills, Johnny Marbles ignores the petrified super-heroes. He’s more interested in teleporting the entire gold reserve of Fort Knox right there into his living room. He orders his men to move the furniture out of the way, not stopping to think that materializing over five thousand tons of gold on a simple hardwood floor is going to give the people in the apartments directly below quite a surprise.
Before the gangboss can flip the switch, the tele-transporter is slammed out of his hands---by Hawkgirl’s mace!
Her radiation detector absorbed the energy holding her paralysed, and now free to move, she tackles the hoodlums with gusto. Marbles and his remaining two lackeys grab for the Justice Leaguers’ weaponry that they stole earlier, to make a last stand of it, but all they manage to do is foul each other up. The Female Fury takes them out, neat as you please. Aquaman could’ve done it.
Once Superman and the Flash and the Atom are unfrozen, they zip back to the secret sanctuary and, reversing the polarity of the transporter, restore the dying JLAers to health and visibility. Then it’s smiles all around, as Hawkman gives his wife a big hug and promises to do the dinner dishes every night for a week. (O.K., I made that last part up, but I bet he did.)
2. Joe Parry (JLA # 31 [Nov., 1964])
“Riddle of the Runaway Room” is remembered principally for being the story in which Hawkman joined the Justice League of America. The Winged Wonder’s induction into the League is the best part of the tale, and it’s over by page 6.
While that happy event was taking place in the secret sanctuary, the issue’s villain, Joe Parry, was carrying out his “master scheme”---robbing a bank.
Not that Joe himself was doing the dirty deed, mind you. He sent some gun-toting friends to do it.
But, to be fair, there was a little more to it than that.
Joe Parry, like Pete Ricketts, was a penny-ante crook who lucked upon a weapon of tremendous power. In Joe’s case, it was a pancomputer from the planet Pthisthin, a monochromatic world in which everything was coloured yellow.
Resembling a Chinese lantern with a handle, the Pthisthinian device was capable of drawing material from another dimension and creating anything which its operator wished. It had lied buried after a Pthisthinan spaceship had crashed on Earth, thousands of years earlier. Until an earth tremour delivered it to the surface and into Joe Parry’s hands.
Realising that the alien machine could only create things in terms of its home planet, Parry sought a way to capitalise on the immense power in his grasp. When it came to plotting, however, Joe made Pete Ricketts look like Lex Luthor. Joe’s grand scheme was to rob a bank.
He recruited three of his lowlife buddies. Then he asked the pancomputer for something which would protect them from all harm. It responded by producing a set of “time-field hoops”, worn by Pthisthian space-explorers to protect them from harm. The hoops hovered around the wearer’s waist and surrounded him with a “time-field”. Anything that entered the field was projected ten minutes into the future.
Parry sent his three knuckle-dragging pals, thus armed, off to near-by Shore City to rob a bank.
Meanwhile, back at JLA headquarters, after the cake and punch, half the Leaguers duck out early, to get back to important cases they’re working on. This leaves Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and rookie member Hawkman to answer a police-band announcement of the Shore City bank robbery.
The super-heroes arrive in Shore City just as the crooks are leaving the bank. Swooping in, Green Lantern finds his power beam useless against the crooks. When the beam enters the time-field, it gets sent ten minutes into the future, and the hoops themselves are yellow.
But nothing else the JLAers try works, either. Super-speed whirlwind, magic lasso, or plain old fists, they all disappear as soon as they enter the time-field around the crooks. The Justice Leaguers can only watch helplessly as the hoods get into their car, also protected by the time-field, and drive off. Ten minutes later, when the effects of their efforts materialise, Our Heroes figure out what’s going on.
Now that they know the secret of the hoops, the group overtakes the getaway car and use the time-shunting gimmick against the crooks. Green Lantern’s power ring discovers that the robbers’ minds have been wiped clean of any knowledge of the hoops or how they got them. And the time-hoops themselves have been rendered inert.
The Justice Leaguers head back to the secret sanctuary to dope out the mystery.
Back in his beachhouse, Joe Parry panics. He’s seen the whole thing on a pancomputer-provided monitor. He orders the device to kill the Justice League members before they can track him down. Unfamiliar with the physiology of Terrans, the machine asks Joe to tell him how Earth people die.
Gotcha, says the alien gadget. The next thing the JLAers know, the mountaintop of their secret sanctuary explodes and the section of flooring containing Our Heroes around the council table blasts upward into space.
Naturally, this is only a moment’s pause for the super-heroes. Once they catch their breath, the Emerald Crusader power-rings a protective air canopy over them, while Hawkman reverses the controls of his anti-gravity belt to drop the broken sanctuary flooring back to Earth. As a bonus, the Winged Wonder tells his new teammates that the special contact lenses built into his headgear have detected an “invisible yellow force beam”.
Once back on Earth, Hawkman, with the other members in tow, follows the invisible yellow beam to Joe Parry’s shack. In desperation, Joe orders the pancomputer to create an amalgamated being consisting of Wonder Woman’s head and magic lasso, Batman’s torso, Green Lantern’s arms and power ring, the Flash’s super-fast legs, and Hawkman’s wings. Joe dubs his creation “the Super-Duper” and sends it out to destroy the oncoming JLA heroes.
Incredibly, the hodge-podge creature gives the Justice Leaguers a thorough drubbing, until only Hawkman is left standing. The Super-Duper trains its power ring on the Pinioned Paladin at point-blank range.
Let’s review here for a moment. The Super-Duper was created by a yellow pancomputer from the planet Pthisthin, where the only colour in existence is yellow. Everything created by the pancomputer is yellow and it even gives off invisible yellow energy.
And what do we know about the colour yellow and Green Lantern’s power ring, hmmm?
Despite the other members’ long association with the Emerald Crusader, only Hawkman tumbles to the fact that a power ring created by a yellow force will not work. (Gardner Fox was clearly giving Hawkman centre stage in his JLA debut.)
The Winged Wonder takes advantage of his deduction and plays possum to lure Joe Parry out of hiding. One clever stunt later, and Joe is decked by the Justice League’s newest member. When they get their hands on the Pthisthinian machine, the JLAers discover that it has run out of power and the Super-Duper fades from existence.
Like Pete Ricketts, Joe Parry was done in, more than anything else, by his own ineptness. Parry had at his control a device of almost unlimited capability and the best plan he could come with was a simple larceny. His thinking on the fly was even worse, as shown by his half-baked doom-traps for the League. In the end, even Joe himself knew it.
“The trouble with me was I wasn’t smart enough to use that machine to my best advantage!”
“Cheer up, Joe!” replies the Flash. “You don’t have to be smart---in jail!”
Next time out, the countdown ends with the all-time lamest Justice League foe of the Silver Age . . . .