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Saturday, June 02, 2012

Justice League of America #1 - Nov. 1960

Comics Weekend "The World of No Return!" by Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, and Bernard Sachs.

Since there's no new issue of Aquaman or Justice League to talk about this week, I thought it'd be fun to dip into the "JLA Casebook" and take a look back at the team's early, early days--namely, their first adventure in a book of their own! Get ready for "The World of No Return!"
As we all ponder where Aquaman's shoulders went, we flashback to how the Justice League got to this precarious situation. A few days earlier, police scientist Barry Allen found himself driving along a country road, when suddenly his car's engine gave out. Noticing a strange blue light coming from a beat-up, seemingly deserted house, Barry investigates...as The Flash!

Inside, The Flash sees what looks like two aliens working on a strange machine. Not only that, but these aliens can communicate telepathically, telling The Flash that they come from the planet Kalanor, where a power-mad despot named Despero has seized control by force!

The two aliens escaped to Earth, hoping to hide long enough to finish their energy-absorbing machine that will help them defeat Despero. The Flash, knowing a good case for the Justice League when he hears one, activates his JLA Signal Device which sends a message to his fellow team members, who are involved in cases of their own: Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern, Superman, Snapper Carr (cough), and, teaming up, Batman and Aquaman:
As Flash prepares to depart, a beam of energy comes from out of nowhere, grabbing the alien named Saranna--it appears Despero has found them! The Flash only has time to grab the other alien and hide him inside a nearby cave, where he can finish working on his anti-weapon. The Flash then makes his way to the JLA's Secret Sanctuary, only to find his fellows JLAers frozen in place, under the control of...Despero!

Despero's powers are such that he has rendered all the JLAers immobile, but he has something different in store for The Flash--a game of chance! Using game pieces to represent each of the heroes, Despero and The Flash will play a high-stakes game: if The Flash wins, Despero will free Saranna and return home. But if The Flash chooses a "Disaster Square", the hero in question will be teleported to another dimension! Got all that?

The Flash, feeling he has no choice but to try, but within just a few moves he sees that somehow the game is rigged--no matter what piece he moves, it ends with another JLAer being whisked away. After all the JLAers are gone, The Flash has officially lost, which means he, too, is transported off Earth! As Despero watches The Flash go, he doesn't notice someone left behind: local jerk Snapper Carr, who surmises "Man, this three-eyed big daddy is a real moth-ball!"

We then follow up with our far-out JLAers, who have found themselves all over the universe! Wonder Woman is on a planet full of dinosaurs, and is partly rescued by Superman, also stranded there. They help each other escape, and head off to search for their friends.

Meanwhile, on the water-world of Thanakon:

Batman and Martian Manhunter have been transported to a highly developed, futuristic world, and escape death just in time to be met by The Flash. Eventually, all the JLAers meet up, ready to head back to Earth!

Speaking of, Despero is preparing to find the other alien, Jasonar, who is almost finished the work on his anti-energy weapon. But before he can fire it, Despero gets the drop on him! This forces Snapper Carr into action, who Despero considers barely a threat. Snapper, pretending Despero's mind control has worked on him, freezes in mid-step, allowing Despero to focus on Jasonar. While his back is turned, Snapper aims Jasonar's weapon at Despero, prompting the alien to hail Snapper a hero:
Dig it, Daddy-O!

Hard to find a better example of how different superhero comics were back in the day than this story--this is the first issue featuring the Justice League in their own book, and they don't even get to stop the bad guy! Instead, that honor is bestowed upon the kid sidekick, considered a necessary character back then but now consigned (save Robin, the Boy Wonder) mostly to the dustbin of history.

Gardner Fox, not having really to bother much with characterization, could cram A LOT of plot into twenty-five or so pages. Writing recaps of these books requires leaving a ton of detail out, and even then they end up about 3x as long as, say, the current Aquaman series recaps. And yet all seven heroes got some fun stuff to do, with Aquaman getting to spend some quality time with Hal.

It's funny how iconic this issue's cover has become--it's been homaged and parodied over the decades--and yet the game between The Flash and Despero lasts all of about a page. By burning through ideas and concepts so fast, Gardner Fox probably created twice as much work for himself...not to mention penciler Mike Sekowsky!

I of course covered all 261 issues of Justice League of America on my JLA Satellite blog, but here I have the chance to get into more detail, obviously focusing more on Aquaman's participation in any given issue. If you'd like to see more classic JLA recaps during "off" weeks here on the Shrine, drop a comment and let us know!


Joseph Brian Scott said...

I'll be the first the throw my 3 cents in and say I love this feature and would happily read more. These old stories were great; packed full of incident, invention, and interesting visuals. 'Memba when a Green Lantern could do all that stuff, move a planet out of its orbit and the like, rather than just generate anemic little comic relief constructs? This may sound weird, but I always thought that Despero was a more interesting LOOKING character when his fin went from ear to ear rather than from front to back. You see tons of aliens with head fins that go from front to back; having his fin span width rather than length made him stand out, especially with that neat pebbly texture between the segements. Also, turning him into a big, muscle-bound bruiser didn't do him any favors. How many of THOSE types of characters are stomping around the DCU, I ask you sarcastically? Well, anyways, viva nostalgia!

Wings1295 said...

Definitely would love more JLA posts concerning our favorite hero! Great posts. One of the things I loved about getting into comics was finding as many old JLA issues as I could locate - and afford!

Unknown said...

I'm up for more vintage JLA posts too, Rob. It's like opening a 100 page super-spectacular on Saturday morning.

Despero: "I have just returned from The World of No Return!"

JLA Member: "Uh, how can it be the World of No Return if you returned from...?"

Despero: "Silence, idiot!"

JLA member: "No, but seriously. You can't call it The World of No Return if you return from it. That makes it the World of Frequent Returns. How about The World of...?"

Despero: "Aaaaaagh!"

James Chatterton

rob! said...

Thanks for the positive feedback guys! More JLA recaps forthcoming!