It was always an unexpected thrill when a new subscription copy would turn up in the mailbox. I can recall this issue of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA waiting for me after returning from school one day. This Mike Grell cover is in particular a strong piece, with some excellent coloring–it’s full of mood and portent.
The story inside was the first of a pair of untold tales that would be featured over the next year or two, filling in some perceived gaps in the history of the JLA that got glossed over in the transition from one writer to the next. In this specific instance, the story reveals just when the League members decided to disclose their secret identities to one another. This is something that had just happened, fait accompli, in the course of several earlier stories, so this issue turned back the clock to try to make sense of it all. This sort of Retroactive Continuity would become more and more of the norm in comics as they began to be written by people who had been fans themselves first.
The story opens with the League gathered together to defeat the threat of an arctic giant, which they do in about three panels, and without the help of several Leaguers. More mysteriously, none of the members admits to being the one who set the alert that gathered them together. Regardless, the team proceeds to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude with the subdued creature, unaware that the creature is actually a disguised enemy. Within the Fortress, that villain returns to its true persona, and avails itself of some Amnesium, an element whose properties affect memory. The malefactor exposes the League members to this element.
All of the Leaguers save Superman and Aquaman are affected by the Amnesium, their personal identities scrambled among them. Superman and Aquaman are so concerned with the strange behavior of their friends that they neglect to check the analysis of the Fortress computer to what might have caused the arctic creature to attack.
As he exits the Fortress, Aquaman’s attention is attracted by a strange glowing fish, which detonates, seemingly destroying the undersea king. The villain behind this activity, Doctor Light, reveals himself to the reader at this point. Inspired by how Superman and batman defeated him in his first battle with the JLA by exchanging costumes, he’s scrambled up the JLA’s knowledge of itself, and then proceeds to trap each member in a deathtrap that would have proven ineffective to the true hero behind each civilian persona. So things look bad for the Leaguers at this point.
When Superman returns to the Fortress, Light is waiting for him and encircles the Man of Steel in Kryptonite light-bands. But much to Light’s surprise, the rest of the League shows up to attack him–and it’s all due to the still-alive Aquaman. Having survived Light’s booby-trapped fish, he returned to the Fortress and read the computer’s analysis. Then, using his seldom-employed human name of Arthur Curry, he ventured out to save and assist his teammates from the assorted traps they’d been left in.
But just because his ruse has been uncovered doesn’t mean that Dr. Light has been defeated. he turns his full powers on the League, releasing the Fortress zoo-inhabitants, turning one Leaguer against another with hate-light, and, in a fun bit of business, transforming Flash’s after-images into pursuing doppelgangers who will explode on contact if the Scarlet Speedster slows down.
Still, it’s a pretty one-sided fight, as the League heroes rapidly overcome Light’s handiwork through a combination of brains and teamwork, and it’s not long before they have the luminescent criminal in custody. And then, in the final two panels of the book, Green Arrow suggests that the team wouldn’t have been in this mess if they’d all known one another’s true names, and the JLA resolves to become more open about who its members actually are to one another. There’s an unfortunate continuity error on this last page: Aquaman has removed Superman’s cape, so that Flash can race through it, detonating his pursuing after-images behind him. But a panel later, the still-bound Superman can be seen still wearing the cape–oops!