As summer came to a close, the mailman brought my subscription copy of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, a terrific surprise for me whenever it would show up. JLA at this point was an ongoing oversized title, so the stories were longer and more intricate, having the space for both greater plot and some characterization. All of this was due to writer Steve Englehart, who wouldn’t be with the book much longer–he had agreed to do a year on the title, and that’s exactly what he did. This issue began his final two-parter on the series, wrapping up all of his simmering subplots along the way.
The story opens on a rooftop, where the League’s old enemy Doctor Light has succeeded in locating one of the teleporter tubes which allow the League to access their orbiting satellite headquarters. But before Light can do anything with this information, he’s jumped by the Privateer, Mark Shaw, formerly of the Manhunters now making his way as a solo hero (in what has to be the least-practical super hero costume ever devised: shirt open to the naval, eyepatch, heavy cloak, wading boots. Strike fear indeed!) Doctor Light overwhelms the Privateer, but not before he’s able to summon the League on his own home-built version of their signal device–a device that batman is angry that he possesses.
The League arrives en masse, and Light heads for the hills. After a few tense moments between the Privateer and Batman, the tam spreads out to attempt to locate their escaping foe. But Light’s abilities allow him to elude Green lantern and even batman himself. from above, however, Red Tornado and the Hawk twins locate him and pounce on him–but it turns out that this Doctor Light is just a decoy mirage. Red Tornado feels like a fool for having been tricked so easily. Meanwhile, the real Doctor Light is approached by a new villain, the Star-Tsar, who tells him that he will destroy the Justice League as Light cannot, before zipping away at Flashlike speed.
As the team regroups, the Privateer takes the opportunity to petition them for membership. For those unfamiliar with him, he relates his backstory: how he was a public defender stymied by a system that often let the guilty go free, how he was recruited by the ancient order of the Manhunters, the predecessors of the Green Lantern Corps, and given their addictive mask and armor. How he ultimately turned his back on the Manhunters and is now trying to make his own way as a solo hero. The League is interested in him–even Batman’s reservations are slight–and the Red Tornado worries about his own status if the privateer joins, since Reddy is still nursing an inferiority complex.
Meanwhile, the Star-Tsar and his men are in the process of robbing the Belgravian Embassy of its crown jewels, but Doctor Light comes upon them and pettily decides to alert the authorities to the crime-in-progress. The League is summoned, and they swiftly take down the felons, all except the Star-Tsar himself, who escapes. Pursuing him, the Flash instead catches Snapper Carr, the League’s now-disgraced former honorary member, hiding suspiciously nearby. We get a quick rundown on his past–how he first joined the League as an honorary member and how he eventually betrayed the location of the Secret Sanctuary and was ejected from the team. The Flash finds Snapper’s presence and his story of just taking a walk suspicious, and he probes Snapper about the Star-Tsar, getting evasive answers from the kid that he doesn’t like.
But before the speedster can press the point, Superman suggests that he and the Flash race at super-speed in a checkerboard pattern in the hopes of flushing out either or both Doctor Light and the Star-Tsar. They do so, locating a distortion field nearby that they figure must hide Doctor Light’s lair. As the League heads out as a group to confront the villain, Snapper pulls out a transmitter and sends a mysterious-though-incriminating alert to some unknown associate or associates. The League closes in on Doctor Light, and he holds his own against them, until the Privateer surprises him and decks him one.
Staggering, Doctor Light manages to still get the upper hand, trapping the League in an impenetrable light-sphere and then dividing their bodies into segments like the rays of the spectrum. Fortunately for the team, Green Lantern’s power ring winds up in the green portion of the spectrum, and using it he’s able to first pull himself back together and then to reconstruct the rest of the Leaguers. But before they can turn their attention to the light-globe that still imprisons them, it falls away, revealing the Star-Tsar, who has liberated them in revenge for Doctor Light foiling his theft earlier.
The Star-Tsar zips off again Flash-style, and the League turns its attention back to the returning Doctor Light, who is astonished to find them free. he attempts to turn his spectrum weapon on them again, Hawkman grapples with him, and the shot goes wild, destroying an outer wall of his lab. But Light is done, the League takes him into custody and prepares to convey him to prison. But as they head out, they spy a fallen figure beyond Light’s headquarters, who has been accidentally felled by debris from the stray shot. It’s the Star-Tsar, whom Batman is then able to unmask as Snapper Carr! To Be Continued!
The issue wrapped up with two separate letters pages and what would be the final installment of the 100 Issues Ago In JLA feature, this one focusing on issue #49 from back in 1966. I loved this feature and was heartbroken to see it go (without even so much as an announcement) but diminishing page counts in this format meant that something had to fall by the wayside, and this was it. I expect it also took a bunch of time to pull together each month as well.