Monday, March 21, 2016

Silver Age JLA - Professor Fortune!

Justice League of America six offers up one of my favorite League misadventures, the first struggle against Professor Amos Fortune. This issue written as always by Gardner Fox is well constructed and the Mike Sekwosky and Bernard Sachs artwork is the best the series has seen to date. Murphy Anderson  is back inking  a very curious Mike Sekowsky cover which is wildly kinetic (more below).

"The Wheel of Misfortune" begins with the various Leaguers going about their daily heroic duties and encountering bad luck in almost every instance. On the scene and unnoticed by each of them, Professor Amos Fortune observes. Forune has a theory that human luck is caused by two glands (one good and one bad) and by stimulating one or the other with his device  (dubbed the "Stimoluck") he affects how luck happens.

Later when the League meets for their regular monthly meeting (minus Superman and Batman) they compare notes and discover that all of them have experienced bad luck. Suspecting there is more to it but unable to prove it they then turn their attentions to two letters from folks seeking help. Flash, Green Arrow, and Martian Manhunter go to help a young girl find a hidden treasure which will help her care for her grandparents. They don't find the treasure which is itself purchased by Amos Fortune when his luck leads him to the location. Instead though they do solve the girl's problem by finding oil, uranium and a lost art masterpiece on the property. Fortune is concerned that their good luck violates his theories. Meanwhile Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Aquaman investigate the mysterious thefts from a museum of its rare pieces. The eventually discover that an employee has been using his highly developed fish-casting skills to do the deeds. Fortune again appears and finds the stolen loot just the three Leaguers confront him. He uses the Stimoluck to defeat them. Later he puts them on his "Wheel of Mistfortune" which is designed to destroy their good luck glands forever. Flash, Green Arrow and Manhunter appear but fall victim to bad luck and are captured and they too are put on the wheel. But Fortune miscalculates when the Manhunter reveals that by dint of his alien birth he doesn't have the human luck glands and his presence on the wheel has disabled it. He breaks free and captures Fortune with little trouble. The Stimoluck is added to the trophy room despite Snapper thinking it might help him on his upcoming exams.

This cover by Irwin Hasen for a 1948 issue of All-Star Comics is doubtless the inspiration for Mike Sekowsky's and Murphy Anderson's memorable cover for this issue.

This story is so much stronger than the previous issue because while being complex it's not overly complicated. Further by having one villain there is room for us to get a feel for his distinctive personality. I don't know if it is key to the success of the story but this is the first time that both Batman and Superman have been completely absent from a story. They've often been in the background, but usually get a few panels. Removing them clears the tables a bit and gives the other members the room to participate more fully. I especially liked that both Green Arrow and Manhunter had good sized roles in the story. There was a good balance in this one with everyone getting some good attention. The idea that the League take letters and help the little folk when the larger threats are not pressing is also a nice touch and adds an element of humility to a team which is so full of raw power that threats are difficult to manufacture.

I first read this story in JLA fifty-eight and was most impressed from the get-go.  

More to come.

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