Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Silver Age JLA - Starro The Conqueror!

The twenty-eighth issue of DC's The Brave and the Bold showcased the debut of one of comics greatest features -- The Justice League of America. The League was the Silver Age variation of the Golden Age's The Justice Society of America which had held sway for many years in the pages of All-Star Comics before succumbing to the general disdain for superheroes which afflicted comics in the early 1950's. This new League was a sleeker and presumably hipper model of the venerable Golden Age team with new heroes, themselves in many instances revised versions of Golden Age greats.

Julius Schwartz, the DC editor in charge of most of these Silver Age updates handed the task of writing the new team adventures to the man most experienced in the DC halls to handle it -- Gardner Fox who had written the JSA before. Mike Sekowsky with inker Bernard Sachs got the unenviable duty of drawing seven superheroes in a single comic book story. Murphy Anderson inked the iconic cover. This team (with alterations in inkers) would stay with the feature for years to come.

It begins with a gentle puffer fish who sees one night while gazing into the heavens a giant alien starfish-like being descend from the sky and enter the sea, there finding three regular Earth-type starfish and making of them identical copies of itself and sending them across the Earth to do its bidding. The puffer fish alerts Aquaman, the King of the Seas and he immediately knows he's in over his head (pun intended) and alerts his fellow members of the already extant Justice League of America to assemble and deal with the seeming threat.

Answering his call first is Wonder Woman who interrupts her date with Steve Trevor to fly to the rendevous. Superman is in space when he gets the summons but is too busy saving Earth from a wave of deadly meteors to attend. Green Lantern though is able to stop being a test pilot long enough to answer the call while Batman on patrol in Gotham is forced by his immediate crime-fighting obligations to decline. Finally the Flash gets the call and answers after quelling a tornado, as does J'ohn J'onzz The Martian Manhunter who transforms and flies to the Secret Sanctuary. The headquarters looks like a pretty snazzy modern office except its clapped up inside a cave. Flash is the chairman and quickly decides that he and Green Lantern will handle two of the newly adapted starfish alone while Wonder Woman and the Manhunter take on the third. Aquaman is ordered back to the sea to look for further threats from than vantage point.

Green Lantern quickly finds one of the Starro-clones attacking a jet which is carrying an atomic bomb. He saves the crew and the jet but the Starro explodes the bomb absorbing the atomic power, enabling it to fire atomic bolts. Green Lantern eventually is able to gain control and forces the Starro to become a mere starfish again. Meanwhile Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter find the second Starro-clone clamped onto the Hall of Science in the well-named Science City, as it attempts to kidnap the brilliant scientists inside. The Starro does tap into their minds and shows that he can fire off atomic bolts as well. Eventually Wonder Woman and Manhunter are able to use their wits to hogtie the Starro before it can escape to space. The Starro then wilts and seems to die. Flash has gone to Happy Harbor where he finds the whole town in the thrall of the third Starro-clone who can now fire atomic bolts and access the human mind with hypnotic powers. Only the teenager Snapper Carr is immune and Flash is bewildered but he is nonetheless able to use his speed to cause water to crash against the Starro with such force that it is defeated and the town folk are freed. But intrigued by Snapper's immunity he takes the teen with him to the next location where the League will unite.

The League reunites (Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, and even Aquaman) along with Snapper and confront the one true Starro who confirms that his clones had indeed been able to pass along the powers they acquired. Now Starro has all that power and his plan to conquer Earth can proceed. But the Flash with Green Lantern's help figure out that Snapper's ability to ignore Starro's control is the result of his being covered in lime, which he used on the family lawn. Since quicklime is used to control starfish populations it only makes sense it will work on the intergalactic variety (not really) and they cook up a batch and quickly dispatch Starro the Conqueror before he can really earn the title. In a final nod to the happenin' 60's the League makes Snapper an honorary member.

(The only promotion for the team - note the yellow and purple Manhunter.)
This story is a breezy adventure filled with science-like factoids and whatnot to seemingly ground it into the world as we understand it. The writing is clear and economical and the artwork is kinetic while the storytelling works all the way through some complicated scenarios. Both Fox and Sekwosky are pros and it shows in this story.

The true joy of this story though is the very presence of so many different heroes in a single story. Even the cameos of Superman and Batman must have been a thrill for fans who were not used to such things. These days heroes can spend more time in other titles than their own and crossovers are a constant barrage, often at the expense of developing individual stories. The Justice Society of America was conceived of as a marketing tool to give a higher profile to some of the heroes who were members (hence heroes who got their own title were bounced regularly) and I'm sure the League was intended with some of the same purpose. Many fans of the Flash or of Green Lantern might not even have been aware the Martian Manhunter existed. And likely many fans didn't read Wonder Woman all that often. These were heroes of new age who assembled to fight enemies that threatened the whole globe and not merely Central City or Coast City or whatever fictional burg the hero lived in.

More next time in the second Justice League of America adventure. Look for more on Starro the Conqueror tomorrow.

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