Monday, September 20, 2010

Justice League of America #2

As the story begins, Green Lantern is attending a magicians' convention. Why? Well, on the story level we'll assume it's because he's a fan of legerdemain, but from the writer's (Gardner Fox) standpoint, it's so that he can witness an important event. A girl is summoned apparently from nowhere, but when the magician reveals the secret, it turns out that the trap door she was supposed to come up through was locked. So how did she arrive?

Note in particular that the light switch doesn't work. Indeed, none of man's scientific gadgets work, from planes to trains to automobiles. What can have happened? Well, once the JLA has gathered, Green Lantern makes the obvious deduction; magic works, but science doesn't. We see the extent of the fabulous JLA library:

Meanwhile, in the magic dimension, we learn what caused the sudden change:

The concept of two different Earths, with strong similarities but important differences, was of course the idea behind the multiverse of Earths 1, 2, 3, etc. Note in particular that this story predates Flash of Two Worlds by about 8 months.

Merlin, the magician, quickly learns who's behind the sudden change:

As those three are the only people on their world to understand the application of science, they quickly loot the planet of its treasures. After a test of magic, the JLA summons Merlin to their HQ. He explains the background of the story, and the JLA members split into teams to take on the three villains:

This was the basic template that Fox used for the JLA adventures: Identify the menace, break the team into parts, and then have the team get back together again for the denouement. It was also the template for the old JSA stories in All-Star, although there (because the Golden Age books had more pages), Fox had let them star in their own solo adventures.

The team-up concept is promising, but Fox doesn't really deliver. Green Lantern fights a manticore, while the Martian Manhunter battles a Griffin. They only really join forces to capture Saturna and to prevent him from destroying a part of the magic spell that will return our Earth to the science dimension.

Wonder Woman and the Flash do cooperate more in their capture of the Troll King, but Batman, Superman and Aquaman split up, and as it happens, the Sea King is the one who finally captures Simon Magus. So all that remains is for Merlin to cast the spell to return our Earth to the science dimension, right?

Well, no, there is the problem shown on the cover to handle. But it turns out that the monster the JLA are trying to prevent escaping into the magical Earth is none other than:

Comments: A pretty standard Gardner Fox plot, with art by Mike Sekowsky.

The JLA Mailbox includes a letter from Jerry Bails, Jr (I assume written by his father and possibly posted by Roy Thomas):

Bails pere, of course, was a major figure in the then-nascent fandom movement, and had been a longtime reader of the JSA stories in All Star Comics. From correspondence between him and Roy, we know that many of the early letters to the editor in JLA were written by him under various pseudonyms.

Correction: As noted by Jonathan L. Miller in the comments, Jerry Bails, Jr, was himself the actual fan. I knew that Bails lived in Michigan for most of his adult life, but he was apparently originally from Kansas City.


Ed said...

I love how the JLAers would just team up randomly rather than for strategic reasons. Today there'd be all kinds of justifications and discussions of tactics and blah, blah, blah.

And I've always loved that panel of the ginormous Viking riding in the back of that early 60s Imperial or whatever it is.

Jacque Nodell said...

Seems like that letter would have been written by Bails (Sr.) -- I don't think many kids would have suggest a story on juvenile delinquency!

Commander Benson said...

Now you're talking! Justice League of America was always my favourite Silver-Age title. So many things at which modern-day comics fans would turn their noses up I loved and remember fondly.

The divvying up into three sub-teams. As Ed said, there was rarely any strategy employed; the teams seemed to be randomly selected. That always suggested to me how confident the JLA members were---it didn't matter which two or three of them handled the matter; they would still prevail.

And although they happened less frequently than memory would have it, I enjoyed the times when the JLA would tackle mail calls---requests for help that came through the post. It was always a little neat that it didn't have to be a government official or some highly placed individual that could request the JLA's help. Little Johnny having trouble could send a letter for help to the team.

Mike Sekowsky . . . there never seems to be much middle ground in appreciation of his art. Comics readers either loved him or hated him on JLA. I can understand the detractors' point of view, but, me, I loved it. Whatever else one may say, good or ill, about his art, Sekowsky was a master at arranging sometimes as many as ten members in a panel and making it seem natural and unforced.

You can't ever run too many entries on the Fox-Sekowsky JLA for me, Pat.

Jonathan L. Miller said...

I'm pretty sure Jerry Bails Jr. is the Bails who founded "Alter Ego," et al, not his son.

Anonymous said...

In the first JLA-JSA team-up, the JLA members use a crystal ball to make contact with Earth-2. Batman says that Merlin gave it to them as a souvenir of their adventure with the Sinister Sorcerers. (Although, IIRC, it was not mentioned in JLA#2).