BHOC: JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #158

While my subscription to FLASH had run its course, I still had a few issues of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA coming to me. And so this one arrived in my mailbox one day, having made the slight transition to the DC Explosion format. Which is to say, it came down in price by a dime and also dropped 9 pages of story content. From here on out, JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA would once more be a title in the same format as the rest of the DC line. But because this was a subscription copy, I didn’t really notice the change in cover price–it was the shorter story length that concerned me more. Because this issue felt a bit more cramped than usual as a result.

But even at the shorter length, the actual contents were comfortably familiar. Writer Gerry Conway had settled in as the League’s writer, a post he would hold for another fifty-plus issues. And longtime artists Dick Dillin and Frank McLaughlin continued to provide the artwork. Not everybody appreciated their style, but as they were the pairing that I had grown up with on JLA, they very much defined the look of the series in my eyes. This particular story also brought back Conway’s recent creation Ultraa, who had started out as the only super hero born on Earth-Prime–which is to say, our real world Earth, the one in which super heroes were just the stuff of comic books.Having encountered him in a previous issue, the League completed Ultraa’s transition to Earth-One, where he might more readily fit in among the more super hero-familiar society.

The story opens with the Flash and Wonder Woman in pitched combat with Mirror Master and Poison Ivy at the Central City Museum. Ultraa shows up in the middle of the fight to lend a hand, and he seems a bit more unhinged than he had in the League’s prior meeting with him. Nevertheless, the trio of heroes can’t prevent the villains from escaping with their prize, a rare sundial–and they are worried about the fact that the bad guys dropped a reference to the Injustice League, their criminal opposite number. And it’s true, the Injustice League has set up shop once again, this time in the League’s old mountain headquarters in Happy Harbor. They’re being guided by a mysterious shrouded figure in a dark cloak, who has guided the crew in stealing four ancient items that he claims will give them mastery over the world’s energy reserves.

The Justice League, meanwhile, has assembled in their own satellite headquarters and is working out a plan to track down their villainous opposite number. However, before they can take action, Ultraa bursts into the place. He’s come to the conclusion that any and all super-powered beings are a threat to the normal course of civilization, and so he’s determined to get rid of all such beings–starting with the Justice League. In order to do so, he bombards the Justice Leaguers with rays from a device he’s built that emits Negative Waves which subliminally plant in the heroes’ minds the idea that they cannot use their super-powers. And indeed, as the League attempts to engage Ultraa, they find that they cannot summon up any of their abilities .

Of course, the Injustice League is still a threat, but Ultraa doesn’t see that as a problem. He races off to find their lair, and bombards them with the same Negative Waves that crippled the League. However, in this instance, because these villains all have a negative orientation, being criminals and all, Ultraa’s bombardment accidentally enhances their powers, making them twice as tough as they were before. At the behest of their robed leader, the Injustice League uses the four stolen artifacts to disrupt energy production around the world–waterfalls cease falling, windmills stop turning, oil rigs stop pumping, etc. It’s an instantaneous energy crisis, and the League is powerless to intervene,

But somebody who isn’t powerless is the cocky Ultraa, who figures he’ll just swoop in and use his own mighty powers to defeat the Injustice League and restore order. And he might have been able to do that, had his Negative Waves not enhanced the evil League so dramatically. Ultraa is outnumbered six to one, and he’s being outfought as well. So the powerless Leaguers charge into the fray, determined to make up for their dampened abilities with courage. Their strategy, which seems to bear fruit, is to encourage one another as they attempt to take action, overcoming the negativity of the Negative Wave energy through positive reinforcement.

One by one, the League members take out the Injustice villains: Mirror Master, Poison Ivy, the Tattooed Man, the Scarecrow and Chronos. Superman is the last to get his mojo back (or else he likely would have handled the whole matter on his own) and he’s able to defeat the bad guys’ mysterious leader by destroying the artifacts with his Heat Vision. (Wouldn’t the authorities want those stolen artifacts back, though? This seems a bit needlessly destructive of Superman.) The ringleader is underwhelmingly unmasked as the Flash’s old enemy Abra Kadabra, the magician from the futuristic 64th century. And that was about it–save for the League casting a sideways glance at a humbled Ultraa and wondering what trouble he may cause in the days to come. It’s a perfectly fine story, but the shorter length was going to take some getting used to again on the part of the creators, so as to balance all of the characters and give them all something worthwhile to do.

The JLA MAIL ROOM letters page in this issue showed the results of a recent poll conducted in its pages, giving all of the results as well as the number of people who voted for each. So it gives a sense of what the active audience for the series was like at the time. The character the fans most wanted expelled from the Justice League turned out to be the Phantom Stranger, who was an infrequent honorary member in the first place. And the hero they wanted to join the group on a regular basis was Zatanna. Conway promised to have Zatanna join the League in short order, though he’d do so in a manner that wouldn’t make everybody happy. But that’s a tale for a future time.

3 thoughts on “BHOC: JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #158

    1. The Man From Neverwhere was planned to run in ADVENTURE COMICS, but it was a victim of the DC Implosion.

      Writer Roger McKenzie said: “It…along with several other series of mine (and lots of other creators’ as well) got buried in the ‘DC Implosion’ back then when (I think) about a third of the DC books got axed all at once. As for what Neverwhere was about…who can say after three decades. I’d pitched the name (which Paul Levitz tweaked, by the way!) and *I think* some sort of elvish/magical/time-travel superhero mishmosh of a concept.”

      Like

  1. Technically the Stranger wasn’t an honorary member. They offered him membership when they first teamed up, but he demurred on accepting it; when he showed up in JLA 110, though, he specifically says he’s a member.
    Zatanna’s success is impressive, as they note, given she hasn’t appeared anywhere since her short-lived backup series in Adventure Comics. But then, I’ve always found her pretty cool.

    Liked by 1 person

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