Deck Log Entry # 91 Persistence of Villain: the Silver-Age JLA's Most Stubborn Foes (Part 1)

At the height of its strength in the Silver Age, the Justice League of America boasted ten super-heroes as full-fledged members. The numbers alone, you’d think, would be enough for any villain with a strong sense of self-preservation to take his gang and set up shop elsewhere, like say, Earth-Three. Yet there never seemed to be a shortage of bad guys and space tyrants willing to tackle the World’s Greatest Heroes on their way to ruling the world. And, by page 26, they always got their heads handed to them.

Most of them took only one shot at the JLA. These bad guys either stayed put in jail or were smart enough not to poke the bear, again. There were a few slow learners who tried a second time, and failed a second time.

And then there was the small sub-set of hard-headed criminals who made not one, not two, but multiple attempts to defeat the Justice League. A tally of the sixty-six JLA tales of the Gardner Fox/Mike Sekowsky era shows three villains at the top of the list for rematches. You have to give them points for resilience.

The first one out of the chute was . . . Doctor Destiny.

As made clear in his initial foray against the Justice League---in “When Gravity Went Wild”, from JLA # 5 (Jun.-Jul., 1961)---“Doctor Destiny” was the cognomen he adopted while undertaking his plans to become a master thief. He was not yet a master thief because he had not yet stolen anything.

Not that the good “Doctor” wasn’t well equipped to plunder. He had discovered a peculiar metal which controlled gravity. From this he had fashioned a lesser creation---small discs which enabled him to fly---and a greater device called the graviton-will-deadener ray. This ray cancelled the pull of gravity within a specific area, causing items to float skyward. It also neutralised the free will of any humans caught in the beam.

It was the Justice League giving Dr. Destiny cold feet. Acknowledging that he would have to eliminate the heroes before he could begin his criminal career, Destiny impersonates one of the JLAers in order to trick his way into the Secret Sanctuary. There, he plans to lay a trap. However, before he can do so, the disguised Destiny finds himself forced to participate in a League mission. As a result, the JLA members suspect their new inductee, the Green Arrow, of betraying them all.

As it develops, G.A. is able to expose the real impostor, but not in time to prevent an ambush by Dr. Destiny’s men with the graviton-will-deadener ray. Destiny places the will-less JLAers into an anti-gravity ship which he prepares to launch on a one-way trip into space. Fortunately, a neat trick by Green Lantern turns the tables on the villain. Destiny is sent to jail, and his anti-gravity discs wind up in the Sanctuary’s souvenir room (where they will come in very handy in JLA # 8).

Once locked away, Dr. Destiny showed that he was not just a one-trick pony. In the adventure “The Super-Exiles of Earth”, from JLA # 19 (May, 1963), the members of the Justice League run up against sinister dopplegängers whom possess all of their powers but none of their weaknesses. Unknown to the heroes, their evil doubles were created by Dr. Destiny. Following months of good behaviour, Destiny was given access to the prison workshop (comic-book wardens never learn), where he secretly designed and constructed the “materioptikon”---an invention which enabled the criminal to materialise the villainous Justice League duplicates from the heroes' own dreams.

While he sits back on his prison bunk, the evil dream-doubles embark on a campaign of robbery and larceny, for which the public blames the real Justice League. Despite best efforts of lady lawyer Jean Loring, the heroes are charged in court and sentenced to exile from Earth. Skirting the law by going into action in their civilian identities, the JLAers once again are thoroughly trounced by their dream-selves. Only the combination of medical knowledge and the Atom’s special talents give the Justice League a last-minute victory. Learning that Dr. Destiny was behind the whole thing, the JLAers visit him in his cell, destroy his materioptikon, and arrange to have the villain placed in solitary confinement. Destiny throws a hissy fit at being bested, again.

Still, you’ve got to give the man credit. Most crooks would have had to break jail to threaten the Justice League; Destiny was able to do from behind bars. That’s where he still was when he tried to destroy the League again in JLA # 34 (Mar., 1965). “The Deadly Dreams of Doctor Destiny” opens in the bedrooms of Bruce Wayne, Carter Hall, Clark Kent, Diana Prince, and Ray Palmer. Each sleeping hero experiences a dream in which his costumed self faces a menace while handicapped by various items. In his dream, Batman is fighting the Joker when a yellow ring flies onto the Masked Manhunter’s finger, bestowing him with super-speed like the Flash. Meanwhile, the slumbering Carter Hall dreams that, as Hawkman, he is forced to wear a pair of gloves which force him to fly by flapping his arms.

Superman’s dream has him confronting a giant rampaging statue when a pair of eyeglass snap onto his face from out of nowhere, giving him a weakness to fire and rending his super-powers useless against anything coloured yellow. In their dreams, Wonder Woman and the Atom have their own troubles. She is forced to wear a jewelled mask which audibly broadcasts her thoughts, while the Tiny Titan is mysteriously fitted with an antenna which disrupts his sight.

Nevertheless, each JLAer dreams a successful end to his battle, despite the hindrances.

The next day, arriving at the Secret Sanctuary for a regularly scheduled JLA meeting, the Atom, Batman, Hawkman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are confronted with a mystery, when they find the five debilitating items from their dreams---the ring, the gloves, the spectacles, the jewelled mask, and the antenna---hanging in their souvenir room. Before they can investigate the bizarre circumstance, news bulletins report the emergence of various threats around the world---the exact same threats the JLA quintet had dreamt of the night before!

As the Justice Leaguers rush off to tackle their dreams-come-true, the five objects suddenly take flight from their headquarters and soar off in pursuit of the members. As each hero flies into action, the same object from his dream appears, handicapping him for real this time. Confidently, the Justice Leaguers wade into battle, using the same tactics they had used to beat their opponents in their dreams.

Unfortunately, real life doesn’t follow their “dream” scripts, anymore. The menaces---the Joker, the animated statue, Chac the immortal Mayan, and giant sentient conch shells---have anticipated the Leaguers’ actions and thwart them. Stuck without a workable method of defeating their foes, the good guys find themselves fighting for their lives.

At the time, the JLA members are too busy to give it much thought, but they are facing a new plot by Dr. Destiny to destroy them, while he stays safely in his prison cell. Solitary confinement has proven to be no obstacle to the dream-based villain’s machinations. His use of the materioptikon from his previous attempt “charged” his brain, turning it into an organic version of the device.

Destiny drafted a new plan to defeat the Justice League. The dreams experienced by the five Justice Leaguers had been transmitted to their sub-conscious minds by Destiny, as sort of a trial-run. Monitoring their dreams, he learnt how the heroes would avoid the lethal attacks of their foes. Destiny then materialised tangible versions of their foes and the five handicapping objects into the real world, knowing the JLAers would tackle them using the same methods as they had dreamt about. Only this time, with the perils genuine, Destiny ensured those methods wouldn’t work.

Like most villains, Dr. Destiny underestimated the Justice League. Each member devises a new plan on the fly and defeats his foe. With all of the dream references, it doesn’t take the Batman’s deductive genius for them to figure out their real enemy. The JLA quintet head for the state pen and the Atom cold-cocks the crook with one tiny haymaker.

“A psychiatrist will treat Doctor Destiny---so that he can never dream that way again!” says Batman.

Evidently, the Caped Crusader was right about that, because the next time Dr. Destiny launched an attack on the Justice League, he had to break out of jail first. And then re-build an honest-to-God materioptikon.

“Operation: Jail the Justice League”, from JLA # 61 (Mar., 1968), contains such a convoluted plot that I am surprised that Destiny’s head didn’t explode thinking it up (or that writer Gardner Fox’s didn’t explode typing it up). So much so that I won’t confuse things further with a rundown of events. Let me just boil down the villain’s scheme:

Using his materioptikon, Destiny puts one of each Justice League member’s costumed enemies into a perpetual dreaming sleep.

Then he heads for Star City and tracks down Green Arrow in the midst of catching some bad guys. Again using his dream-device, Destiny simultaneously transforms himself into a double of the Battling Bowman, while G.A. assumes Destiny’s physical form. The villain zaps the transformed archer with the materioptikon, knocking him out. Before Green Arrow loses consciousness, the dream master brags that he will do the same to the rest of the Justice League.

In turn, Destiny transforms himself into the Penguin, Doctor Light, Lex Luthor, the Tattooed Man, Captain Boomerang, and Cutlass Charlie---all super-villains that he had put into a dreaming sleep. Then he confronts, respectively, Batman, J’onn J’onzz, Superman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, the Flash, and Aquaman---each of whom was disguised as Green Arrow (don’t ask).

In each instance, Destiny wins, and with the twist of a knob, transforms the hero physically into the criminal whom Destiny posed as. In short order, “the Penguin”, “Doctor Light”, “Luthor”, and the others are all behind bars, vainly protesting their true identities.

Got it? O.K., that’s the plan. Dr. Destiny changes each Justice League member into a duplicate of a super-villain, who is then imprisoned following his defeat. With the real super-villains in a permanent sleep, there is no way to show that they have the wrong folks in jail, and the Justice League will stay locked in prison for a long, long time.

On its own, that plan has some holes in it, but like I said, Gardner Fox drafted a tortuous script, and it got away from him. In the story, Dr. Destiny’s scheme was undone with his first conquest, Green Arrow. The villain failed to hit the Emerald Archer with enough juice from his materioptikon, and the next day, G.A. reverted back to his true form. Released from jail by dumbfounded authorities, the bowman rushed to the regular JLA meeting which happened to be scheduled for the same day.

Logically, Green Arrow would have warned his fellow members about Dr. Destiny’s threat. But this is where Fox's plot took a wild detour. There is some business about Destiny attending the meeting, once again posing as a Justice Leaguer, which would have had no point, given the criminal’s plot. Even so, it still would have made sense for G.A. to announce, “Hold it! One of you is Doctor Destiny in disguise!” and let it all shake out in the wash. The Justice League had resolved trickier situations before.

Instead, this led to the archer tossing his fellow members a curve, which in turn resulted in each of them going home and doing his crime-fighting while pretending to be the Green Arrow (except one), so he could get captured while fighting Dr. Destiny disguised as the Penguin, Captain Boomerang, or whomever.

G.A. finally captures Dr. Destiny all by his lonesome and drags him back to the Secret Sanctuary. He summons an emergency meeting of the Justice League so he can explain the whole thing. (Good luck with that!)

Destiny plays one last trick. He uses his materioptikon to rouse the super-villains he put into a coma and transports them to the Sanctuary. An all-out donnybrook results, but the outcome is never in question, as the Justice League whups up on the bad guys in a two-page spread. Even Snapper Carr gets some good licks in. After the dust settles, the JLAers give up on trying to figure out just what the hell happened and settle for Green Lantern power-ringing all the villains back into prison.

That was the last time in the Silver Age that Dr. Destiny went up against the Justice League. When he resurfaced a decade later, he was depicted as a shriveled near-skeleton of a man who had lost his sanity, but gained an arsenal of dream-based weapons. No doubt the writers of the later day figured that the fans wouldn’t accept an ordinary stocky guy in prison greys as a match for the JLA.

Maybe, but if nothing else, he sure was a persistent cuss.

Views: 334

Comment by The Baron on October 3, 2009 at 3:38pm
"In turn, Destiny transforms himself into the Penguin, Doctor Light, Lex Luthor, the Tattooed Man, Cutlass Charlie, Captain Boomerang, and Cutlass Charlie---all super-villains that he had put into a dreaming sleep."

Wow, he did Cutlass Charlie twice? ;)
Comment by Commander Benson on October 3, 2009 at 4:08pm
Arrgh! I proofed this thing four %$@*$# times and I still missed it. And something else, too, which of course I spotted immediately after it was approved and posted.
Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on October 4, 2009 at 5:33pm
Later still, as you may or may not know, Neil Gaiman retconned the true origin of Doctor Destiny's "materioptikon" as being an Object of Power belonging to Dream of the Endless in the early issues of Sandman, notably #5-7, in a decidedly darker tale than those descibed above.
Comment by Figserello on October 5, 2009 at 11:50pm
Ah, so the Commander isn't refferring to Sandman when he writes:

When he resurfaced a decade later, he was depicted as a shriveled near-skeleton of a man who had lost his sanity, but gained an arsenal of dream-based weapons. No doubt the writers of the later day figured that the fans wouldn’t accept an ordinary stocky guy in prison greys as a match for the JLA.?

So it was earlier writers that brought us the nutjob in Gaiman's book? I thought it was him who gave Dee the makover. Maybe Gaiman gave him the Mother-fixation?
Comment by Eric L. Sofer on October 6, 2009 at 7:44am
No, the Doctor Destiny reappearance was the work of Gerry Conway. Good ol' Gerry Conway. He was prolific. I don't think I could point to a single work of his and say that it's on my favorites list... nor even on my "really like it" list... but the man could pump out comic stories like an engine, no question about that.

And if any of you are fans of Justice League (and/or JL Unlimited), then the appearance of Doctor Destiny in the cartoon is what this appearance was like... skull like face (although it wasn't a mask in the comics), light blue and dark blue accouterments... sort of the scary bad-guy nightmare type figure. Again, no work of genius... but an acceptable output. Pretty much a Gerry Conway character, save that Doctor Destiny was around before Conway got his hands on the JLA.

Comment by Figserello on October 6, 2009 at 8:24am
Yeah, I asked on the old board a while ago what Gerry Conway was all about as a writer and the silence was deafening. Still kudos to stalwarts like him. Kept these shared universes ticking over.

Jeff said:Later still, as you may or may not know, Neil Gaiman retconned the true origin of Doctor Destiny's "materioptikon" as being an Object of Power belonging to Dream of the Endless in the early issues of Sandman, notably #5-7, in a decidedly darker tale than those descibed above.

This was my introduction to Doctor Dee.

I was very intrigued when I looked into Grant Morrison's earliest Doom Patrol, to see that he'd written a 'sequel 'of sorts to that very storyline. In issue #25 we learned of copies of the Materioptikon that the JLA were recalling after the incident in the Sandman comics #5-7 and the one in the Doom Patrol HQ started to cause similar warping of reality around people's dreams and desires as in Sandman.

It was interesting to see the two contemporary writers different takes on the same basic 'comcbook' idea. Most interesting was that it must have been written right after Morrison read the original monthly Sandman comics. They are so close in publishing dates.

I wrote about it here in the second last post.

It's perhaps as close as we got to a collaboration between these two guys.
Comment by Randy Jackson on October 6, 2009 at 6:17pm
Regarding Gerry Conway as a writer, he's written some stuff that made me roll on the floor laughing about how bad it was (see his early takes on Daredevil) to stuff I thought was pretty damned impressive (particularly the Tombstone saga in Spectacular Spider-Man. He's a very professional writer--it's not always gonna be great, but usually it will be readable.
Comment by Randy Jackson on October 6, 2009 at 6:18pm
Oh, and I'm totally digging The Last Days of Animal Man
Comment by Ajit Shenoy on October 8, 2009 at 11:00am
You would never mistake Gerry Conway for, say, an Alan Moore. (Nor even a Gardner Fox.) But give the man his due -- you didn't just flip through a Conway-scripted issue in five minutes or less as with most modern comics.

Nice write-up, Commander, who is next? I remember Amos Fortune tangled with the League more than once as did Kanjar-Ro.
Comment by Commander Benson on October 8, 2009 at 11:05am
"Nice write-up, Commander, who is next? I remember Amos Fortune tangled with the League more than once as did Kanjar-Ro."

Thank you for the kind words, sir. As for who's next, let's just say you're batting .500.


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