WC: JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #15

Among the many comics that I acquired in my Windfall Comics purchase of 1988, there was a string of six or so issues of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA from right in its earliest period. This one was the oldest of the bunch, #15, and it featured a story that I had read previously as a young boy in the back of a 100-Page Super-Spectacular issue of JLA that I had picked up. The story on that book and my initial reactions to this story can be found here:

Even so, I was happy to get this particular copy. There was still a bit of a stigma to repints in those days–they were seen as less desirable than the originals (they were almost never going to accrue in value, which was one way in which those of us who continued to collect and follow comic books justified our addiction to outsiders and even to each other.)

In 1962 when this issue came out, JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA was simultaneously an incredibly popular title among the small-but-growing numbers of connected comic book fandom, while also being a title that certain vocal members of that fandom felt needed a make-over. Of specific divisiveness was the artwork of Mike Sekowsky, the artist who drew both the JLA’s initial three try-out stories in BRAVE AND THE BOLD and thereafter the first 63 issues of the series. But to fans raised on the sleek skylines of carmine Infantino, the imaginative outer space vistas of Gil Kane, and the slick linework of Murphy Anderson (who was called upon to illustrate many of the JLA covers, and to ink most of those that he didn’t pencil, such as this one), Sekowsky’s work was strange, cluttered, abstract and off-putting. He had a weird way of contorting the human body in ways that it wasn’t meant to move. Still, to me, he defined the look of the early Justice League, and even as a kid, I liked his work, weird as it often was. Sekowsky was also one of teh fastest artists in the business, which is one of the reasons he wound up drawing JLA: in a time when artists got paid a flat rate regardless of what title they drew or how well it sold, few artists wanted to bother with books that had enormous casts. JLA was the king of those (apart from the Legion of super-Heroes feature, maybe) so it wasn’t an assignment that a lot of artists were clamoring for.

This issue’s adventure was typical of both the strengths and weaknesses of the series in these early days. Under the authorship of writer Gardner Fox, most of the League’s adventures tended to be steeped in science fiction concepts (a realm that editor Julie Schwartz was infinitely comfortable in). Teamwork was the watchword of the series, that and intellect–the League often triumphed because its individual members were smarter or better read than their opponents. They almost never won out through the use of brute force alone–in those years following the institution of the Comics code, DC was notoriously gun-shy about having its heroes throw so much as a punch at a villain. So Fox created clever challenges to put the colorful heroes up against, ones in which smarts played as big a role as powers. The downside of his approach is that characterization was minimal. All of the JLA members were identically true and noble and good, their dialogue often so interchangeable that any balloon could be spoken by almost any member. The only way to tell them apart was through their costumes and individual abilities. There was also a bit of a regimented structure to the JLA’s stories: inevitably, the group would disperse into three or four smaller groups in order to deal with teh various aspects of a menace (and in order to give all of the heroes an opportunity to shine.)

Pretty certain that I’ve shown this ad lettered by Ira Schnapp before, in one of the earlier books that we’ve covered. But it’s so cool that I’m showing it again here. The covers alone are deigned to grab the attention of a reader, but when combined with the additional sell-copy rendered here so lovingly by Schnapp, it was like a tractor beam for the wallet: young readers were going to be down almost a quarter in the near future.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA was one of the few series at this time to feature full-length stories, a necessity given how many characters there were in the standing team (all of whom showed up with grim regularity every issue for a relatively long time; eventually, Fox and Schwartz figured out that they’d be able to make better use of their players if they didn’t attempt to field the entirety of the line-up in every issue.) This particular story opens with Clark Kent and Diana Prince attending the opening demonstration of the new new defensive Sky Fortress. But the base is attacked by a mysterious, unseen force that rips away its powerful laser cannon and sends the station hurtling earthward. Transforming to their costumed identities, Superman and Wonder Woman save the Station and the people inside, then chase the cannon to Central City, where it’s being trained upon a massive skyscraper. reports of this are enough to alert the Flash, who is swift enough to evacuate the building before it is destroyed. But even Superman’s super-vision can’t see anything holding or firing the cannon. Convening a meeting of the Justice League in response to this threat, the heroes learn that other super-weapons have been stolen from around the globe, and strange stone men have been spotted standing silently in three cities across teh globe. the League splits its forces, with a team of heroes heading out to check on one of the cities hosting those giant stone forms.

The Stone Giants, it turns out, are awaiting the arrival of the stolen weapons, which they intend to turn upon the cities where they’re stationed. The first JLA team of J’onn J’onzz, Green Arrow and Aquaman move to the attack–but they are stymied as they discover that the Giants are somehow intangible. All of their attacks and punches go straight through them, like ghosts. But the Giants aren’t similarly affected, and are perfectly capable of striking or grappling with the Justice leaguers. Still, the trio is able to save Tokyo from the Giants’ attack–and their adversaries disappear once that is the case. Elsewhere, in Brasilia, Superman, Wonder Woman and the Atom face the same challenge, although this time teh strange stone aliens are using a stolen weather controlling device to create a deadly acid rain. As before, the heroes cannot make any meaningful contact with their stone foes, but through teamwork and moxy, they are able to destroy the satellite creating the acid rain, and so foil the aliens’ plans. But again, their foemen vanish immediately thereafter.

The Schwartz letters page this time out included a letter from Buddy Saunders, who would go on to be a member of the “Texas Trio”, a consortium of “Big Name Fans” who published the well-remembered amateur hero fansine Star-Studded Comics. Saunders would also go on to become a comic book store retailer and distributor many years later. He held strong opinions about what was and wasn’t appropriate material for comic books, and that caused some friction with the assorted publishers and creators at different times. Here, he attempt to prove that the Flash is swifter than Superman using some relatively dodgy logic. It wouldn’t hold up today, in the era of Handbooks and Who’s Whos, but it’s a credible effort for the period.

The final Justice League team is comprised of the Flash, Green Lantern and Batman, and they’ve been dispatched to teh Scarlet Speedster’s home of Central City. In this instance, teh Stone Giants are using an earthquake machine to attempt to destroy the city, a plan that Green Lantern easily thwarts with his Power Ring. But the aliens take notice of this feat and attack GL, wresting his Power Ring from his hand and vanishing away again. Fortunately, this is all part of Hal Jordan’s plan: he’s commanded the ring not to work for the giants, and to transport the three Leaguers to their location once they get where they’re going, so that a showdown can be had. It turns out that the Stone Men come from a parallel world to Earth, one separated by a dimensional barrier in precisely the manner that Earth-2 will eventually be known to be. However, they tested a cobalt Bomb recently, which has weakened the barrier between worlds, and which will cause their planet to intersect with the Earth at a given point. When that happens, their cities will attempt to occupy the same space as the Earth’s cities, destroying both. So they’ve come to Earth in order to eliminate the human cities in order to save their own people. Remaining out of synch with the vibrational rate of the Earth is what made them untouchable. But now that the JLA are on their homeworld, all bets are off.

Green Lantern reckons that the easiest fix for the problem would be to move the giants’ cities to other areas of their planet that are barren and uninhabited, where they won’t impact on the Earth. The giants attempt to warn the League that their cities are booby-trapped and designed to explode of an invader tampers with them–like, say, by trying to shift them–but it’s too late to halt the Emerald Crusader. Fortunately, it turns out that Green Lantern is smarter than this, and he realizes that a better solution would be to simply repair the damage done by the Cobalt Bomb, thus restoring the dimensional divide between the worlds. So he does that, and the day is saved. There’s a final wrap-up back in the JLA headquarters where everybody reports in about their adventures and mascot Snapper Carr marvels at teh fact that the giants weren’t bad guys–they were trying to save their world just as the League was. The problem was a lack of communication and understanding between people. Or, as Snapper puts it: “Beam in to the caper! Listen to the little men, and all the far-outs will be in orbit!” Words to live by, those.

8 thoughts on “WC: JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #15

  1. I grew up with Sekowsky’s JLA work so I’m fond of it. When he was writing/drawing Wonder Woman he proved himself capable of much better.
    Fox gets a bum rap on the “divide into three” — a number of stories depart from that setup. The JLA fighting individual robot doubles in #13, their own foes in #14, their evil counterparts in #19. But breaking into teams did make sense plotwise as it lets him put, say, Aquaman and GL against a yellow sea creature without having WW or J’Onn take care of it.

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    1. Superman and Batman were often absent or played down on early JLA covers. I think it was because one or both characters’ own editors were resistant to the idea of their appearing in another editor’s book, DC at the time being divided into separate departments that were very much the editors’ territories.

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      1. Even into the late 80’s & nineties, I heard various writers say how territorial the different editorial groups were. “Fiefdoms” might’ve been the word used. The Super books editor (maybe Carlin @ that point) or someone even higher didn’t allow Superman into Giffen’s late 80’s JL. While Denny let them use Batman.

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  2. The editorial fear of both Mort Weisinger and Jack Schiff was that appearing on too many covers per month would negatively affect sales on the tit;es they edited. In today’s market, where you get at least a half-dozen iterations (often more) of popular series every month at both DC and Marvel, the idea seems absurd, but really, they knew that, despite having the same heroes, SUPERMAN and BATMAN outsold ACTION and DETECTIVE, and the likelihood that kids’ meagre allowances weren’t going to allow fans of those heroes to buy their every appearance. What they didn’t realize was that kids of my era were remarkably driven to somehow earn enough to cover them all, or at least divert their money from other less-attractive comics. Donenfeld evidently convinced both of them (and Schwartzn when he took over the Batman franchise) that, if anything, kids were more likely to buy the solo adventures BECAUSE they were featured in JLA, and the embargo on featuring them on covers was lifted (shortly after this issue).

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  3. Even more than the control of characters, the DC editors of this era established their own fiefdoms by maintaining an exclusive stable of talent, Writers and artists seldom worked for more than one editor’s “group.”

    One of the first creators to change this was Neal Adams, who from spring of 1967 through spring of 1968 had work in titles edited by Robert Kanigher, Murray Boltinoff, Julius Schwartz, and Mort Weisinger, while also placing stories with Archie Goodwin at Warren.

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