BHOC: JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #154

Right on cue, the mailman delivered to me this month’s copy of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, a title for which I still maintained a subscription. That’s a really nice cover my Michael Kaluta, though I don’t think the coloring entirely works–the orange hold on Doctor Destiny does make the three heroes pop well, but it also makes him difficult to make out. I also don’t know that a brown background was the most attractive choice. Either way, it didn’t matter, because this comic was delivered right to my house without a need for the cover image to grab my attention.

With new regular scripter Gerry Conway at the helm, JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA had settled into the sort of comfortable rhythm that most of Julie Schwartz’s titles had. The creative team and approach was consistent–you were always going to find Conway and artist Dick Dillin presiding. There’d be subplots, but not too many, and any given issue was likely to be complete in and of itself–especially in this period where the book was still a double-sized monthly. Dillin was an iron man in terms of being able to consistently and reliably produce this much work–and he did so while still taking on the occasional short assignment elsewhere. No matter what issue you picked up, you knew exactly what you were going to be getting. Julie’s books had the consistency of a McDonalds.

This issue opens with Doctor Destiny raving about his plans to get revenge on his nemeses in the Justice League. Destiny is sporting a new look here–no longer a brown-haired guy, his exposure to his dream-energy Materioptikon has turned him into a living skeleton, a visual that he would keep in the years ahead. Destiny has targeted six Leaguers in particular for no particular reason except that they’re the six guys Conway intends to use this time out. And as fate would have it, all six are attending the opening of the new high-tech Gotham Starscraper hotel in their civilian identities. All Destiny needs to do is to wait for his victims to fall asleep, which they do after a night of partying and celebration–even Superman, who apparently wears his full costume under his pajamas.

And so, Doctor Destiny’s dark dreams begin. In Superman’s, the Man of Steel finds himself battling his arch-enemy Lex Luthor as he has so many times before. He’s able to trounce the bald-headed scientist, delivering him to the authorities–but Luthor still has a trick up his sleeve. He causes a flash-freeze that seals Superman inside a block of super-cold ice. This is no great problem for Superman, though, who uses his heat vision to break free, terrified of suffocating within the frozen ice despite his powers. But when the Action Ace shatters the icy prison that he’s been trapped in, the shards go flying like shrapnel, and cut down both the policemen and Jimmy Olsen, who was photographing Luthor’s capture. Superman wakes up in a cold sweat, despite his realization that such a situation wouldn’t go that was in real life. But Doctor Destiny muses that he now knows how to destroy Superman, with a method plucked from his own subconscious.

A pause here for this house ad, touting the release of the special #100 issue of SHOWCASE, the series that gave rise to so many characters and concepts in DC’s history. Boy, this issue called to me in these house ads–but it never turned up anywhere in my neighborhood, and I wouldn’t actually own a copy and read the story for another thirty years or so. This was around the point where DC and Marvel were beginning to realize that they could oversize a centennial issue and it would actually sell better than the ones around it as people showed up for the special celebration. Both companies continue to follow this model to this day.

The same kind of thing happens to the other Leaguers–they have dreams and then Doctor Destiny harvests information from them that he thinks will allow him to destroy them. So Batman envisions himself as an actual winged crime-fighter, Atom is crushed by his own shrinking costume, Flash hilariously slips on an atomic banana peel, Black Canary is caught under a collapsing building brought down by her Canary cry, and Green Arrow’s own Flash-Arrow shaft makes a U-turn mid-flight and explodes in his face, making him blind. Nobody gets a good night’s sleep, and as all of the civilian Leaguers leave the automated Hotel, they’re happy to see the back of it.

Back in the world, over the next day the assorted League members begin to experience new versions of their dreams in real life. And this time, a ruby ray from Doctor Destiny causes those dreams to go horribly wrong for the League members. So Flash slips and hurtles off into space, Black Canary is buried, Green Arrow is blinded–and poor old Batman falls Earthward when his miraculous new wings suddenly disappear. The Atom is crushed by his costume, and Superman is frozen solid by Lex Luthor, not daring to break free for fear of accidentally killing Jimmy Olsen.

But one by one, the various Leaguers survive the perils that they find themselves in. Black Canary is able to acrobatically avoid the collapsing building, Green Arrow shields his eyes from his Flash-Arrow with one of his Blackout Arrows, Flash is able to slingshot around Jupiter (!!!) to hurl himself back towards Earth before his protective aura runs out, Batman remote-crashes the Batmobile underneath him, causing the airbags to deploy and break his fall (!!!), the Atom is able to reverse his uniform’s uncontrolled shrinking, and Superman flies himself into the Sun to melt his way out of the ice–no idea if he bumped into the Flash out there in space, but they were traveling in opposite directions. Having all puzzled out the architect of their troubles, the Leaguers converge back on the Starscraper Hotel to confront Doctor Destiny.

But Doctor Destiny isn’t finished yet. After a massive infodump in which he recounts both his published history and how he both became the way he is now and how he manipulated the construction of the hotel to lure the League to him, Destiny uses his Materioptikon crystal to split himself into five invincible giants, who promptly pummel the life out of the Justice League members. But of course, he’s made a mistake–he’s overlooked the sixth Leaguer present, the Atom, who has shrunk down and positioned himself beside the Materioptikon jewel, using its dream-power to convince Destiny that he’s just beaten the League. As the spell lifts, Black Canary lays him out with one karate blow, and the adventure is concluded. And of course, before they hand Destiny over to the cops, they use the Materioptikon to erase his knowledge of their true identities–DC heroes tended to do that a lot, to their enemies and to each other.

This issue’s two-page letters page also includes our old friend the Statement of Ownership, so we can get a sense as to how well JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA was performing, in particular as compared to the prior year. According to this, the book was selling 130,271 copies on a print run of 359.577, which gives the book an efficiency of 36%. Not a great number at all–and far worse than the INCREDIBLE HULK sales we looked at a week or so ago. They were literally selling one in every three copies, and printing, shipping, returning and destroying 2/3 of the print run. It’s absolutely no wonder why the Direct Market was such a saving grace for the comic book industry.

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