The mailman brought my subscription copy of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, another oversized installment in writer Steve Englehart’s excellent year-long run. Having left Marvel behind, Englehart agreed to do a year’s worth of Justice League stories for DC, and negotiated that they be of extra-length so that he could service the huge cast the series had. Long-time JLA artist Dick Dillin was productive enough to be able to turn out a 34 page art job every month–so for about a year, that’s what we got.

As I’ve mentioned previously, Englehart did for JLA much the same thing that he was known for on AVENGERS earlier. He focused on characterization and overarching plotlines, while at the same time drawing assorted strands from throughout the DC universe together in the manner that he learned from his mentor Roy Thomas. In this particular story, he incorporates aspects of DC’s supernatural titles into the mix, in particular Phantom Stranger.

The issue opens with sorcerer Count Crystal summoning the demonic lord Azgore and pledging to provide him with the souls of the Justice League in exchange for mystical power. The bargain struck, Crystal transports himself to the JLA satellite headquarters, where Superman is on monitor duty, and promptly kills the Man of Steel. So yeah, that’s an opening! Meanwhile,.on Earth, Green Arrow and Black Canary and Hawkman and Hawkgirl have been out together, in an attempt to put an end to their long-running feud. Black Canary laments that the League’s dopey rule about not duplicating powers prevents Hawkgirl from becoming a member.

In the midst of this conversation, an alert from the JLA communicator comes in, but there’s nobody on the comm channel. Suiting up, the four heroes beams up to the satellite, only to discover Superman’s dead body. As the confused quartet tries to make sense of this, the Phantom Stranger steps from the shadows and indicates that he sent the emergency signal–not just to them, but also to Batman and Wonder Woman, who also arrive. Now they are seven, a mystic number, and equally balanced male and female, so the Stranger can perform a seance to contact Superman’s spirit and learn what transpired. 

Superman’s angry spirit gives the team the lowdown on Count Crystal and demands vengeance, but the Stranger is hopeful that the Man of Steel can be restored. He mystically tracks Crystal to, of course, Rutland, Vermont, this time not at Halloween as was typical with the place. Crystal’s Carnival of Souls is parked on the outskirts of the town, and the JLA moves in to confront their foe, only to be outclassed by his mystic might. 

A pause here, as it’s about this point in the book where this ad ran. I was very excited by the prospect of a Showcase revival, especially one headlining a new iteration of the Doom Patrol, whom I had loved in reprints. So I would definitely be on the lookout for this book in the days and weeks to come.

Back at the carnival, the JLA find themselves mystically transported onto a roller coaster of death, where assorted magical menaces attack them along te way. Green Arrow is no help, having been struck by the sedative arrow that he’d earlier launched and Count Crystal. Only the Phantom Stranger has an effect on the creatures that assault the team, and he conjures them into substance so that the League can combat them–but he falls from the coaster car and the ground rushes up to meet him fatally. Like Superman, the Phantom Stranger is dead.

In the spirit realm, Superman has found his essence drawn down a spiraling path, to the domain of Azgore itself. He fights back valiantly, but he’s not Superman here, merely one more soul for Azgore to snack on. But he’s rescued by the surprise appearance of the Phantom Stranger’s shade–the Stranger allowed himself to be killed so that he could come to Superman’s aid. Hell of a plan, that. Back in the material world, Count Crystal has become enamored of Hawkgirl and spirits her away, while leaving the remaining Leaguers to combat his fearsome puttylike demon minions. Hawkgirl appears to succumb to his charms until she can get the drop on him and rescue the League.

At this point, Azgore has had enough of this nonsense. He’s given his power to Count Crystal, and the Count hasn’t been able to feed him even one Justice Leaguer. It’s far easier for him to cut his losses and simply consume Crystal’s soul–which he does. And as dawn breaks, the exhausted but intact Justice League counts their blessings and savors their victory–until a voice rings out from off-panel. A voice belonging to the Red Tornado, the android Leaguer who is dead. How is Reddy back again? For those answers, we’d need to come back next time. To Be Continued!

And finally, the issue closed out with another installment of my favorite feature, 100 Issues Ago in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA. This time, the focus was on #45 from 1966, the story that introduced the League’s recurring nemesis the Shaggy Man, a gigantic, unkillable, unstoppable artificial Sasquatch creature who was running amok. The League eventually bested Shaggy man by having the scientist who created him make a second Shaggy Man, and then pitting them against one another and sealing up the cavern in which they fought behind them.

And I suspect that this ad represented my first awareness that there was a Superman movie being made. I didn’t enter this contest myself–and in fact i was relatively blase about the prospect of a Superman film. This was still before the era of Star Wars and the big budget special-effects blockbuster, so movies as a whole were only of limited interest to me at this point. That would change.

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