Sunday, May 29, 2005

This Comic Is Good - Justice League of America #20

Reader Fabe-0 reminded me that we sometimes tend to talk more about recent books here, so I figured it would be nice to give some attention to a good comic from a little over forty years ago, June 1963's Justice League of America #20 (Story by Gardner Fox and art by Mike Sekowsky, with inks by Murphy Anderson on the cover and Bernard Sachs inside).

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Isn't that a cool cover?

I will admit, Spaceman X is not the coolest designed character, but the design of the cover is awesome...and that exact fight depicted on the cover occurs INSIDE the comic (not enough comics have been written with Wonder Woman using her yellow lasso to mess with Green Lantern), which I always think is cool.

In any event, this story is a true epic, with basically FOUR issues worth of goodness mixed into one.

The story opens with Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and Aquaman trying to shut down a machine that is subjegating an alien race. The machine has the defense of hurricane-level winds holding the Leaguers back, so they have to come up with an ingenius plan involving a giant space crab and Wonder Woman PULLING AN ENTIRE MOUNTAIN (how cool is THAT?!?!)!!! On the negative side, there IS a mind-numbingly dumb scene where Green Arrow tries shooting arrows at the machine...INTO THE HURRICANE WINDS!! He then opines how his arrows are useless in these winds...well, DUH!)

However, even after destroying the machine, the aliens remained unaffected!!

We then flash back to the past where we learn what the deal is, and see Superman getting an SOS and the league deciding to do one of the Gardner Fox classic "split into three groups" stories.

We return to the present to see the dejected heroes return to Earth to Snapper Carr's deranged ramblings (some examples - "You're real small - with satchels under your eyes! Gulp! It's bad news! What's on your front burner?" "So you met a bad gad who was the ginchiest! Forget it!"). If this was meant to cheer them up, I do not know what Snapper was thinking. Luckily, Gardner Fox lets us in on what Snapper is thinking - "Maybe some bossa nova music will bring a smile to their faces!" To think, if only there was some bossa nova music playing, Identity Crisis could have been prevented!

In any event, Snapper's radio program was interrupted by news of a rampaging giant - Spaceman X! The three leaguers faces light up like kids on Christmas - a way to atone for their failure!

The mystery of Spaceman X will have to wait while we see Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and Flash on an alien world destroying the machine THERE. They have trouble with a formidible space dragon, but through teamwork, they are able to kick the dragon's behind and destroy the machine. But nothing happens to the alien people who were being harmed by the machine!!! So yet another trio of dejected Leaguers head back to Earth.

We then see that the Earthbound leaguers discover that the giant Spaceman X is not actually hurting anyone. He is causing "disasters," but each "disaster" is really just a cure for a SECOND disaster. Like he is blocking ships from passing, but it turns out he is just protecting them from lightning bolts. So Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Green Arrow are generally quite pleased by Spaceman X. However, when their teammates show up, they only see the general problems Spaceman X is causing, and their Earthbound teammates have to keep them from stopping Spaceman X. This is the fight depicted on the cover - but it ends really quickly, as soon as Green Lantern and pals see Spaceman X is helping people.

We then cut to the last team of superheroes, Superman, Batman and the Atom. As was the Justice League's wont back then, Superman and Batman generally didn't get much page time, so as to not take away from the other heroes (more on this later), and that is the case here, as the aliens they came to free are freed BEFORE they destroy the machine!!

This is when they realize that the bad guys who created the machines created them so that they did not affect the aliens on the world that hosted the machine, but on the OTHER alien worlds! So when Wonder Woman's team destroyed the machine, it freed the aliens on Superman's world, and when Green Lantern destroyed the machine, it freed the aliens on Wonder Woman's world. Clever twist (although it doesn't really hold up as a PLAN. What do the bad guys benefit from such a gambit?), I thought.

Finally, after making quick work of the machine, Superman's team rushes back to Earth where they discover that Spaceman X is really a machine designed by an alien to gather energy (like absorbing stray bolts of electricity) to power the alien. The alien had him do good deeds while gathering energy so as to not draw suspicion until it was too late!

As the story was nearing the page limit, Superman quickly solved the dilemma by just grabbing the alien and just flying him into outer space out of range of his robot (while making sure to fly only by planets with yellow suns, natch) and then flinging the alien far, far away.

The story ends with the lesson of the day - "things are not always what they seem," which would APPEAR to be telling us to be suspicious of everyone, even if they are doing good deeds. Hey, maybe Dan Didio really IS basing his current comics on older books!!!

Besides this huge story, this issue also contains a page of science facts (did you know that the nails on your middle fingers grow faster than the nails on the end fingers?!), a page explaining the difference between a flaw, a blemish and a defect, a bunch of funny Tootsie Roll ads, and a letter column that counted up which Justice League member had appeared in the most panels since the first Brave & Bold appearances (as mentioned before, Superman and Batman did not appear as much, and they were last of the original seven). Can you name which Leaguer was first?

The art by Sekowksy was strong, and it was a fun, interesting story (with an odd moral) by Fox.

Definitely a good comic.

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Blogger Bill Reed said...

I'll guess... Flash!

5/29/2005 03:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And if you have a cool local library system or a wealthy friend, the issue is in Volume 3 of the Archive Editions. You miss out on the nifty ads, but I love those things. Especially when obscure continuity comes up like the Mind-Grabber Kid in Seven Soldiers #0.


5/29/2005 05:04:00 PM  
Blogger The Grey Man said...

How does GL's ring work with Wonder Woman's yellow lasso?

5/30/2005 02:42:00 PM  
Blogger Christopher Burton said...

So, the Flash hits Aquaman at a dead run, and *he's* the one that goes sprawling. I guess it could happen. You know, if these things were real. :) But I would've thought that he'd knock Aquaman into next Tuesday.

So don't keep us in suspense, Bri. Was Bill right?

5/30/2005 09:34:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Very observant, Grey Man.

I was thinking the same thing when I saw the cover.

However, inside, we learn that Wonder Woman was smartly USING her lasso to STOP Green Lantern's ring!

5/30/2005 11:31:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Oh, and yes...Bill is correct!

Flash barely ekes out a victory over Green Lantern, by about 20 panels (997 to 975).

5/31/2005 04:56:00 PM  
Blogger Christopher Burton said...

Kudos, Bill!

5/31/2005 10:28:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...


And to think, I almost said Aquaman. Then I remembered that no one likes him.

But, I also remembered the solo Flash chapter in the very first League story, so I figured that gave him an edge.

Or maybe I'm just over-thinking this.

5/31/2005 11:09:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Haha...Bill, good memory!

Now that you mention it, I DO recall that Flash got a solo part of the story early on!

6/01/2005 12:38:00 AM  

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