It turns out that I made an error a while ago when I covered JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #15, indicating that it was the oldest of the JLA issues that I wound up with in my Windfall Comics purchase of 1988. Because in actuality, that was this book, JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #6. So we’ll rectify that oversight by covering it now. To start with, this was another issue where the cover was commissioned first, and then a story was crafted in order to justify the cover image–a regular practice in the DC line of this era, when it was felt that an eye-catching cover was the key to impulse buy sales, and far more important than the contents of the magazine. In this instance, as often happened, editor Julie Schwartz recycled a concept that had been used for the League’s predecessors, the Justice Society of America, back during their 1940s run in ALL-STAR COMICS. With the ongoing turnover in readership, nobody thought anyone would mind, or even notice.
This story introduced one of the League’s recurring foes, Professor Amos Fortune. Fortune’s stock-in-trade is that he’s a specialist when it comes to matters of luck, which makes him a perfect antagonist in these early Silver Age days, when the stories weren’t about straight-up fights so much as they were having the heroes use cleverness and intellect to overcome their opponents. He’d eventually go on to found the better-remembered Royal Flush Gang, but at this early point, he was a solo operator. As with al of the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA issues, this adventure fills the entire issue and was written by Gardner Fox and illustrated by Mike Sekowsky. While Gardner was also the writer who originated the Justice Society back in the Golden Age, he was gone from the series by the time “The Man Who Hated Science” was produced, so he wasn’t repeating himself here.
As he explains directly to the audience after an extended preamble, Amos Fortune has developed what he terms Stimoluck, a device which acts upon the “luck gland” within the human body, causing the recipient to experience either good luck or bad. This is, of course, bogus science–there is no luck gland to be so affected. But as usual in the Schwartz books, the nonsense needed to drive the plot is conveyed with a veneer of authoritative science which helps to make things credible. Across the first half-dozen pages of the issue, we see the various members of the Justice League all fail to prevent crimes in progress because of bad luck. So Amos Fortune’s initial tests have proven successful. But comparing notes about their recent mishaps, the League suspects that there must have been something behind it.
As Chapter One gives way to Chapter Two, we get a brief intermission in the form of ads. One of which is an ad for Annuals that we’ve seen before, so I’ll skip reposting it here. Instead, I’m including this filler page of science facts. These sorts of pages were common especially in Schwartz’s titles, and helped to make some of the aspects of the stories seem more plausible, as though they were being created by people who knew their science for real. But the reason I’m reproducing it is that banner at the bottom. That’s a specific shot at rival publisher Dell Comics, the leader in the industry by far until they made a few key misjudgments, one of which was raising their cover prices to 15 cents from a dime. DC/National held the line at 10 cents for a few months, and were the beneficiary of the fact that kids abandoned the Dell titles in droves, since they could buy another company’s books for a fraction of the cost. This is the moment when DC surpassed Dell to become the industry leader.
As the second chapter opens, the Justice League has split into two groups in order to deal with a pair of situations that they’ve become aware of requiring their aid. So Flash, Green Arrow and J’onn J’onzz head off to the Deeping Farm, where a girl has written about her destitute family’s need to locate a missing treasure, the only clue to which is a strange poem. The three heroes are able to decipher the riddle within the poem after an exhaustive search, but to no avail. Because Amos Fortune shows up, having learned through his Stimoluck about the situation, and he’s able to purchase the wrought-iron gates that secretly contain the sought-after gold. But the Leaguers each have strokes of incredible luck as well, turning up far more wealth in the form of uranium, oil and a lost painting and saving the family in crisis.
As Chapter Three begins (no break for ads here) Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Aquaman arrive in the town of Sea Dunes, which is being bedeviled by an invisible thief. A quick aside here–I hadn’t really noticed it before writing up this issue, but artist Mike Sekowsky has an omnipresent fetish for showing the heroes from behind. This book is simply littered with shots of the backs of super heroes, for no particular reason. I assume the backs were easier and quicker for him to draw, but still. Anyway, the Leaguers are briefed by the Museum Curator about how rare objects have been disappearing from his locked museum, and the League sets up a sting. Green Lantern uses his power ring to put an invisible aura around the remaining objects that he’ll be able to trace, and the heroes then settle in to wait for the burglar to strike again. At the same time, guided by his Stimoluck, Amos Fortune has stumbled upon the cave in which the criminal had been stashing his ill-gotten goods, and he in turn makes off with them. But the heroes have already caught up with the burglar, who used a fishing apparatus to lift the stuff, and they’re just in time to see Amos Fortune attempting to make off with it. With no other recourse, Fortune zaps the League trio with bad luck and takes them prisoner.
Time out here for the JLA MAIL ROOM letters page, as well as an ad for a BATMAN ANNUAL we’ve looked at previously. You can see that Schwartz was attracting a slightly older and more literate crop of readers than he Weisinger titles–though he was no doubt cherry-picking the letters, and was likely not above cleaning up their grammar and spelling for publication.
This particular League story is broken up into four chapters for no reason that I can discern–an odd break with tradition, that. Anyway, Amos Fortune can’t figure out where the League is getting its good luck from, and why it keeps trumping his own luck. He figures that the best way to prevent this from happening is to strap the League members to a giant wheel and then zap them with energies that will destroy their luck glands entirely. He plans on doing so once he’s able to get the rest of the team members in his clutches. He’s able to draw the other Leaguers to him by giving himself a super dose of good luck, and that luck holds once they arrive, allowing him to overcome them. So we get to the cover scene where the assorted heroes are on the spinning wheel, being bombarded by Fortune’s rays that will eliminate their luck glands.
But in an absolute deus ex machina, J’onn J’onzz breaks free once Fortune has revealed his plans to the team, and reveals that, as a Martian, he doesn’t possess any luck glands, so Fortune’s powers have been useless against him. Which doesn’t really track, as we’ve seen J’onn just as fouled up by Fortune’s Stimoluck throughout this adventure as any other member. What’s more, his Martian powers neutralized the rays of Fortune’s wheel, so his fellow members are also fine. They simply played possum to learn Fortune’s plans before turning the tables and capturing him. And that’s the end! While everybody gets an opportunity to show off their colorful super-powers along the way, not a single punch is thrown in this issue. The editors were still very worried about the backlash against comic books from the 1950s, and so they wanted to dispel anything that could be seen as violence. It’s an interesting challenge to create stories that will entertain readers while working under those limitations, but Fox and Sekowsky and Schwartz’s other creative teams managed for the most part. It wasn’t really until Jack Kirby would begin to cut loose on the new Marvel super heroes that battle, actual fights, would return to being a hallmark of super hero comics.