Thursday, March 17, 2016

Silver Age JLA - Doctor Destiny!

Justice League of America number five features something which had been largely absent from these adventures -- super-villains, at least the costumed variety. The League had battled mostly outer space threats and such but now at last we get some proper villains. The story by Gardner Fox with art by Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs is a wild one and not the most compelling. I suspect we have a story which was inspired by the cover save that for the first time the regular artists Sekowsky and Sachs produced that too.

"When Gravity Went Wild" begins near its end with the assembled League members discussing a case which to their minds has had a horrible turn. It appears that the new member Green Arrow has turned against the League. With Superman, Batman and Snapper Carr listening as judges the remaining League members tell what happened when six super-villains break jail thanks the the machinations of the Getaway Mastermind. The villains vow to work together to defeat the Justice League so that they can go about their criminal ways unmolested. Wonder Woman, Flash and Green Arrow race to confront Captain Cold, Clock King and Professor Menace. They battle against an ice trap and a sun dial which turns to quicksand and are about to capture the trio when suddenly Green Arrow fires arrows which explode and allow the criminals to escape. Meanwhile Aquaman, Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern race to confront Electric Man, Puppet Master and the Getaway Mastermind who use jet stream to trap them when it suddenly becomes liquid and later Manhunter is able to defeat a scheme to trap the heroes in a rocket bound for outer space. Finally though they try to stop some puppets and Green Arrows sudden arrival and his firing of some explosive arrows stalls the attempt by the heroes to capture the villains. Green Arrow explains how he detected that the first trio of villains were robots and were actually rigged to blow up and destroy his teammates and likewise the deadly puppets were charged with a deadly force field his arrows defeated. His actions seemed treacherous but were meant to save the team and he had to operate in secret because one of the Leaguers was an imposter. Suddenly as he makes the charge gravity goes wild and the Leaguers are drawn up into the air and imprisoned in a vast ship in the sky. Green Lantern is revealed to be Doctor Destiny who arranged all of the threats the League has faced and who now wants to send them into deep space so that he can pursue his goals in peace. But Green Lantern has recovered from his captivity and is able to defeat the arch criminal and save his colleagues.

This is an amazingly convoluted story even by the usually complex standards of a Gardner Fox plot. And frankly its many twists and turns overtake any momentum it might have obtained as it tries stubbornly to find a climax. I think in the case of this story Fox outwitted himself and created a story which fails to achieve any pace at all. It's neat to see the League fight actual villains from their various continuities but the nature of the threat and the device of Green Arrow as a traitor makes it all too much to swallow, even by JLA standards.

But it is an extremely well drawn adventure and the heroes look great.  There's a lot of overheated work here to justify a spectacular cover image. Mike Sekowsky excelled at drawing realistic-seeming people who just happened to be wearing costumes. His heroes were of a distinctly human mode and that shines through here.

One bit of trivia is that a panel from the end of this story became the template for the "The JLA Mail Room" logo which graced many a letters page through the comics history.

Variations on this visual theme ran through the comic for many many years.

I've always liked the smiling heroes shown in these images, their comradeship and friendliness put a warm feeling in this fanboy's heart.

More League adventures to come.

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