Friday, December 26, 2008

Single Issue Review: Mystery In Space #75

Mystery in Space was one of DC's long-running science fiction magazines. It was a generally outstanding title for much of its run, initially featuring mostly one-shot stories. Effective with MIS #53, the cover feature became Adam Strange, whom I have talked about previously.

Up until this issue, it had never been clear that Adam Strange existed in the same "universe" as the DC superheroes. But as you can see, Kanjar Ro (the alien shown on the cover) intends to go after the Justice League of America in this story.

Ro had appeared in the third issue of JLA's own magazine, and the beginning of this story sums up the ending of that one. Superman created a planet in space out of meteors, and deposited Kanjar and three other villains. Using his power ring, Green Lantern surrounded the planet with a force field to prevent the gang from escaping. But through dogged determination, the villains willed a tiny hole in the force field, through which Ro was able to escape:

Well, you can probably guess his answer to their pleas: Go suck eggs! After that the story follows the usual pattern of a new menace appearing on Rann, although there is one interesting difference. Adam had apparently gone to the far-off planet in the previous issue on a teleport machine and not a zeta-beam, so for a change he was not doomed to return to Earth and could remain with Alanna indefinitely.

The menace they encounter are barbarians from Rann who have an oddball crystal, which, when struck, paralyzes Adam and Alanna. They manage to reverse the effect, and Adam figures out that if they plug their ears, they will be unable to hear the vibrations from the crystal and thus immune to the effect. They confront the barbarians again and pretend to be overcome, so they can learn what's behind the sudden attacks:

Yep, it's Kanjar Ro, working to make himself more super than the Justice League. He eventually discovers that Alanna and Adam were not under his control, and imprisons them in a gravity field. But they manage to escape, and Adam hurriedly uses Kanjar's ship to return to Earth, where he hops on the next zeta beam.

Alerted by the presence of the ship, a small contingent of the JLA head to the prison planet that Superman had created, where they learn from the remaining villains that Ro had gone to Rann. Meanwhile Adam, after returning to Rann on the zeta beam, manages to ring the villain's giant gong, thus freezing everybody on the planet, including himself. But when the zeta beam wears off, he returns to Earth where he regains freedom of movement. He goes to Kanjar Ro's ship, where he discovers the remaining JLA members. Together they head off in the ship for Rann.

But when they arrive they discover that Kanjar Ro was too powerful to be affected by the gong, and was just waiting for the rest of the JLA members to arrive so he could defeat them all. He seems to be making good work of it, too. Several people express a little pity for Adam, who has no superpowers, but he uses his mind to come up with the way to defeat the villain:

Unfortunately, the illness he feels is a symptom of a problem: He learns that he cannot remain on Rann for more than a year because it would kill him. So he is forced to return to Earth once more and wait for the zeta beam.

Comments: This is generally acknowledged as one of the finest DC stories of the Silver Age. It won fandom's Alley Award for the best story of 1962, presumably both for the clever plot and the appeal of crossovers back in that era when they were rare. Excellent script by Gardner Fox and terrific art by Infantino and Anderson.

One interesting oddity: Although the story highlights that Kanjar Ro's goal is to become more powerful than Superman, in fact Supes is one of the few JLA members who is not defeated by the villain in the final chapter. Batman explains that the Man of Steel is busy on a mission in Kandor. I suspect, although I don't know, that Weisinger would not give his consent to a story where Superman is defeated by a villain whom Adam Strange then proceeds to best.