JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #17 was another issue of the title that I got in that box of Silver Age comics that I purchased for fifty dollars back in 1988. By this time, the formula of the series had largely crystalized, and it was as reliable a product as must anything else being released by Julie Schwartz’s editorial stable. Looking at this cover, it’s no coincidence, I expect, that the popular newly-revived super heroes the Flash, Green lantern and the Atom are placed at the forefront of the piece, whereas the more-established Leaguers who aren’t quite so new and novel are pushed further into the background. And as per usual, neither Superman nor Batman put in an appearance in this image, a frankly self-defeating choice made necessary by the protestations of Mort Weisinger, who intended to maintain his control over the Man of Steel with an iron fist.
Before we get into the book itself, here’s a cool inside front cover touting a new DC/National innovation, which they called Comicpacs. These were bundles of four comics sealed in plastic and intended to be sold in supermarkets and toy stores and department stores and the like–places beyond the regular Newsstand distribution chain. Even then, publishers were looking for other outlets for their product, and Comicpacs would last for a few decades, on and off. They were aimed less at the readers themselves and more at grandparents and other relatives who might be looking for an easy gift to get for a child.
So after seventeen issues plus three earlier tryout stories, editor Schwartz and writer Gardner Fox must have been getting tired of the story formula that they’d evolved for the series, because it’s at this point that they begin to play with it. This started in the previous issue, whose adventure turned out to be a comic book story sent by a fan to the Justice League and not an actual adventure they’d had themselves. And this time, we’re again largely dealing with a story in which the Justice League proper play only a minor and indirect role. I’m not sure what motivated these creators to do two stories of this type back-to-back, but it somewhat gives the impression that somebody was having some difficulty coming up with situations that could challenge so great an assortment of super heroes. Or else, it was simply an attempt to do something different.
So this story is actually entirely focused on the Tornado Tyrant, a character originally created for an earlier Adam Strange story. In that tale, Adam deduced that it was actually the whirlwind itself that was the malevolent one, rather than the craft that appeared to be controlling it. As we pick up with the Tyrant in this story, the being has had a change of heart. Having witnessed Adam Strange’s subsequent triumphs over all menaces since his own defeat, the Tyrant has turned over a new leaf and determined to become good as well. And when it happens to see the Justice League of America during that group’s team-up with Adam Strange, it’s even further inspired. So the Tornado Tyrant heads off into deep space, where it creates an exact duplicate of the Earth, down to the people–except his copy doesn’t have a Justice League. Instead, he himself takes on the personae of the mighty heroes, dividing himself up into a multitude of forms in order to do so.
For a time, all is good and tranquil, and the Tornado Tyrant–who has rechristened himself the Tornado Champion–basks in the adulation of the crowds in the guises of the Justice Leaguers. But he hasn’t reckoned with the evil that lay within his own heart. Because that malevolent impulse has likewise split off from the Tornado Champion and taken on separate form–and it is determined to prove the superiority of evil to good by defeating the Champion in his Justice League guises.
One by one, the assorted Tornado Leaguers are confronted by the reborn Tornado Tyrant, and one by one, despite their faith in the justness of their cause, they are defeated and overwhelmed by their sinister counterpart. This plays out as a series of short action pieces in which each individual Leaguer pits their own specialized powers against the incoming threat, and are driven back by it. By the end of this second chapter, it’s looking bad for the proponents of good over evil.
At this point in the issue, there’s a break for a double-page JLA Mail Room letters page. This one is interesting in that it carries a pair of letters suggesting a cast of actors to play the Justice Leaguers in a movie adaptation. A JLA film wouldn’t wind up coming to fruition for another fifty years in actuality, so these suggestions, while interesting, didn’t amount to much more. But it is interesting to see how the fans of the day viewed the characters and their real-life counterparts.
Completely clobbered, the Tornado League can only listen as the Tornado Tyrant explains how it was able to overwhelm each of them. But the Leaguers insist that the only reason that they lost was that they battled the Tornado Tyrant individually rather than as a team. For no good reason other than that he wants to prove his other self wrong, the Tornado Tyrant agrees to a rematch with the Tornado League, and they hurl themselves at the menace in concert with one another. But even as a group, there doesn’t seem to be much of anything they can do to lay a glove on the Tornado Tyrant. But the Tornado Champion is able to spirit his super hero creations away before the Tornado Tyrant can destroy them–but he has no idea how he can triumph over his villainous other self.
But the Tornado Champion has an idea. And so, 20 pages into this 25 page story, we come to the actual Justice League on Earth. The Champion journeys there and manifests his own separate Tornado Tyrant, which he has duplicate the moves of the villain he faced on his duplicate Earth. As in his case, the League is mostly stymied along the way. But in the end, they are able to find a weakness in the faux Tornado Tyrant and destroy it. This is helpful information–except that the Tornado Champion cannot duplicate their efforts as the vulnerability the League discovered affects him as well as his enemy.
Ira Schnapp shows up here with another beautifully designed house ad, this one for two non-Schwartz titles, OUR ARMY AT WAR featuring Sgt. Rock and SHOWCASE headlining Tommy Tomorrow.
As the story moves into an unprecedented fourth chapter, the Tornado Champion in his Justice League guise returns to his duplicate Earth with a plan to defeat his counterpart. We’re done with the real Justice League completely for this story–they show up for a total of 3 pages. Rather than creating the energy that would destroy both his foe and himself, the champion instead uses his JLA avatars to generate sufficient power to transport the Tyrant to a dimension filed with the fatal energy, thus ending the thing’s menace. And proving once more that good always triumphs over evil.
On the last page of the issue, the yearly Statement of Ownership was run. In this period, the Statement didn’t include as much raw data on sales as it eventually would come to in later years. But it does show us that, by this time, JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA was selling approximately 340,000 copies per issue, a solid number.
Finally, the book closes out with another Ira Schnapp house ad, this time for the latest Superman and Batman Annuals chock-a-block full of reprinted material. There had been enough of these that the new ones were being organized, however loosely, around a connective theme. So the Superman Annual was devoted to stories of other super heroes interacting with the Man of Steel (but pretty much nobody else that was a name from the DC line, with the exception of the Legion of Super Heroes), and the Batman Annual was a collection of personal adventures