Friday, March 11, 2016

Silver Age JLA - The Sinister Sorcerers!

The second issue of The Justice League of America pits the team against magic and not just any magic, but an entire world rife with the stuff. Gardner Fox spins a story which is a classic of the kind of tale he wove, complex and well paced. Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs once again give us pages filled with handsome heroics and ferocious action. The dramatic cover is another sleek outstanding effort by Murphy Anderson.

"Secret of the Sinister Sorcerers" begins when Green Lantern attends a local magic act and discovers what appears to be actual real magic and not merely chicanery. At that same time across the globe the League members and the population at large discover that modern inventions cease to function. The team assembles and eventually casts a spell to evoke the spirit of Merlin, the most famous magician they can think of. Merlin tells the team of another dimension called sensibly enough "Magic-Land". In Magic-Land three evil magicians named Saturna, Simon Magus and the Troll King discovered the Earth dimension ruled by science and then proceeded to magically have the two dimensions switch. Armed with scientific might the three villains take control of Magic-Land. Merlin sends the League to Magic-Land where they divide into teams to confront the enemy, while Snapper stays with Merlin to watch over Earth. Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern take on Saturna in Asgard who is guarded by a Griffin and a Manticore. Despite the appearance of a pillar of flame which causes Manhunter some problems the duo are able to defeat the monsters and capture their man. Flash and Wonder Woman take on the Troll King and find his castle in Olympia guarded by Troll giants. The pair are captured by the King and put into his dungeon but quick thinking by Flash freezes a torrent of water and the duo escape to make the Troll King their prisoner. In Oceana Superman, Batman, and Aquaman search air, wood, and water to find Simon Magus. Each thinks he does but the magician seems to always disappear. Eventually though when Aquaman corners him he is trapped and despite his tricks of air sprites and living trees he is captured, completing the trio. They now have the spell which will reverse the problem and cast it but a great door appears and a menacing blue taloned hand appears. A blue giant pushes through and the League looks to repel the seeming threat when it is revealed the giant is in fact Snapper Carr who had become careless with Merlin's spells and transformed himself. Merlin fixes Snapper, the Earth is returned to its proper science-based dimension and Magic-Land is once again filled with magic.

This is really dandy JLA adventure, with the heroes getting some great chances to showcase their powers against a clever array of enemies. Each Leaguer has a chance to shine despite the irritating need it seems to always have Kryptonite and fire around to give Superman and Manhunter problems. The balance in this story of the heroes is remarkable and the storytelling never flags despite a huge cast. Sekowsky does a great job overall, though I confess his rendition of a Griffin was less impressive than I'd have hoped.

Merlin from The Demon #1
The schism between magic and science which is the basis for this story points to a key element of the DC superhero revival of the 60's, the reliance on rationality. The science fiction stories which had been a staple of the 50's invoked the stories from DC in particular with a feel of reason. In the Golden Age magic and science seemed equal parts of the fictional world with characters like the Spectre and Dr.Fate being just as much a part of the world as anyone. Even Green Lantern was magical. In the new era science was king and magic, though a rich resource for storytelling was less common, though Merlin the Magician himself would pop up again and again in stories. That would change as the years rumbled by and characters appeared who challenged this basis, but in the beginning there's no doubt where the editor Julie Schwartz's sympathies reside.

On another note, this is the first JLA story to hinge on an alternate universe, a plot device which will increasingly become central to the series as it progresses through the decades. Ironically it is Merlin who gives the League the crystal ball which they later use to gaze upon their famous counterparts on Earth-2. 

More Silver Age JLA action coming soon.

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