Friday, March 4, 2016

Silver Age JLA - The Weapons Master!

In The Brave and the Bold #29 the Justice League of America returns for its second documented adventure thanks to the creative team of Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky and inkers Bernard Sachs and Joe Giella. This time out the League faces a threat from the distant future.

"The Challenge of the Weapons Master!" begins in the year 11, 960 when the super-thief Xotar is in the middle of a heist but knows the Intersolar Police will be breaking in any moment. He uses his time-traveling robot once named "Ilaric" to travel back in time to confront the Justice League of America and test four super-weapons he has stolen. He knows that three of the four will prove ineffective against the police but does not know which one. And he has documented evidence (the corrupted pages of the Justice League log maintained by Wonder Woman) that he defeated the League with one of these weapons.

Once arriving back in time, he takes over the body of Snapper Carr and uses him to summon the League. All the members save Superman answer the call and assemble in the Secret Sanctuary where they find themselves suddenly held captive by a yellow gravity beam. Xotar tells them of his scheme to battle them a few at a time and gives them a riddle as to his location. The Flash is the first to be released.

Flash uses the library at Middlevale to unravel the obscure clue and races to the a missle-testing base in  Florida where he finds Xotar attacking the Venus rocket. Xotar attacks Flash with a gun that shrinks him but Flash is able to overcome the weapon and defeat the villain.

Xotar then travels back in time to a minute after the Flash left to meet him and challenges Aquaman and Martian Manhunter to battle him at the Isthmus of Panama where he unleashes a weapon which devolutioinizes those creatures it touches. The two are able to avoid it but some octopi are not so lucky. Eventually the pair defeat the weapon by turning its power upon itself ruining its own integrity.

Xotar pulls the time travel trick again and this time challenges Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Batman to battle him. Batman immediately bugs out to find Superman while WW and GL head to Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota to fight Xotar. He uses his third weapon, one which unleashes magnetic bubbles. Wonder Woman is trapped but Green Lantern frees her and together they end the threat.

The League reassembles and await Xotar's fourth attack, this time with a weapon he is confident will defeat them. It appears to be a device which will transport them to another world where they confront gigantic monsters, but in fact it is merely an illusion-casting weapon. Superman and Batman show up and the Man of Steel, just returned from time-travel himself,  is able to crush Xotar's time-traveling robot and send the super-thief back to the future where he is soon captured by the Intersolar Police, mystified by his defeat. We learn when Wonder Woman finishes her account that key words were missing revealing that in fact the League won the day.

I found I really liked this adventure. The way the division of heroes was accomplished was clever and worked within the story. Xotar's gimmick of traveling back in time to challenge the next team was very smart and gave the story a weird unity some stories of this kind lack. Time travel in stories is always tricky, but Gardner Fox is able to use it to create some nifty mind games. Xotar seems to have been pretty much a one-off villain who would rarely be seen in the DC Universe again. It's a shame, as he's pretty dang clever, or at least he thought he was as most villains do.

I especially like Xotar's time-traveling robot Ilaric, which is given a name and a history of sorts. Nothing much came of this but it gave the robot character, and I really like the idea that Xotar's time-machine also functioned as a weapon and vehicle. The robot was based on this one from a vintage All-Star Comics issue seen above, as was the cover to this particular issue of The Brave and the Bold.

The robot (miunus Xotar) makes an unofficial appearance of sorts battling The Bestest League of America by Roy Thomas for an issue of the fanzine Alter-Ego. 

I love time-travelling villains. They have a real charm and a serious ability to inflict some serious damage on the world and our heroes. The best of course is Kang the Conqueror from the pages of The Avengers. Like Xotar, Kang was an opportunist who did not create the technology he uses but is able to take the work he steals from others and make the most of it. He of course is often is own worst enemy and fails to see that the heroes have some more than time on their side.

But it occurs to me that Xotar is actually more like Zarrko the Tomorrow Man, a time-traveling rogue who was displaced by a more infamous character and fell into the mists of memory.

In Xotar's case he was displaced by The Lord of Time who went on to become a Justice League regular villain of sorts. 

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