My Justice League: He’s Baaack!

Note: in these posts JLA refers to “Justice League of America” volume 1 (November 1960 to April 1987)

In the early days of costumed crime fighters, there were very few costumed villains. Most of the crooks were ordinary crooks, from petty thieves to big-time bank robbers. But once the crooks became “master criminals” or “inter-galactic goons”, there was no turning back.

When the JLA came on the scene, it would make no sense for there to be a powerful team of costumed crimefighters if the threat came only from run-of-the-mill gangsters. The villains needed to be a threat on a global scale. Also, in the early days of the JLA rather than taking on the same super-villains that they saw when they working as individuals, there needed to be a new set of villains who were uniquely qualified to pose a threat of such global proportions. By early ’64, it was now time to recycle some of the original JLA adversaries who made the most impact when they first appeared.

Following the first appearance of Zazzala Queen Bee of Korll, three out of the next four issues involved the return of villains who had previously threatened the Earth and were defeated by the JLA.

In “Justice League of America” issue #24 (December 1963), Kanjar Ro, the very powerful dictator from the planet Dhor returns to Earth after escaping from a prison on the planet Rann. One morning while standing in his cell the violet-skinned, self-declared “master criminal” absorbs doses of “radiation” following a freak storm on Rann. The radiation causes Kanjar’s super-brain to become even more super. So super that Kanjar now suddenly understood all of the mysteries of nature and the universe. This epiphany of universal proportions presented to him immediately two things: a way to escape from his cell and the planet Rann, and knowledge regarding the secret of auras. From this knowledge, Kanjar learned how to disassociate and materialize one’s aura.

After escaping Rann and going to Earth, Kanjar was able to easily conquer Earth after making an aural clone of Earth. He then attempted to trick the JLA into believing that the Earth that they were guarding was the real Earth.

The JLA was not fooled and with the help of Adam Strange, Kanjar was caught again and returned to a stronger (?) prison on Rann. In the words of Shakespeare: “All’s well that ends well”.

{Note: The woman standing next to Adam Strange (far right) is Alanna of Rann, Adam’s wife.}

“Justice League of America” Issue #25 (February 1964) introduced a new and one-time villain named Kraad the Conqueror and also a one-time trio of aliens named Sfarlians. This is a classic JLA story that is based on the pseudo-science that Gardner Fox and gang were famous for.

The JLA members (GL, Wonder Woman, Atom, and Flash) take some pills that allow them to travel with the Sfarlians on their next hop to another planet. Since the pills will have no effect on Superman, GL comes up with the brilliant idea of shining his power ring through a sliver of kryptonite that he suddenly wills into existence. Doing so apparently allows the pill to have an effect on the man of steel. This is a classic Gardner Fox plot device that requires the utmost suspension of disbelief. Yet it matters not, because when the heroes are told they have only 20 hours to “solve the problem” before planet Earth is disintegrated into cosmic dust, that becomes now their sole focus. They want you to forget about questioning the “science” behind the DC multiverses and to go with the flow of the story being told. Then when you are finished reading, you go: “Gee, that was fun. I had a fun time reading that comic book.”

The heroes hop around from planet to planet each time they are transformed into the image of the dominant lifeform of the planet. On one planet they are turned into creatures made of crystal. Finally, they meet the villain of the month, Kraad the Conqueror and he is one ugly dude.

Supposedly, all five of the heroes are disintegrated into dust, but thanks to a previously and well-established plot device, the Atom is the team member who saves the day.

In the end, Kraad the Conqueror is conquered by the JLA. He is sent to prison on the Sfarlian’s home planet. They must have a very secure prison system because unlike most other super-criminals, Kraad is never, ever seen again.

The next three issues see the return of villains who had very recently made trouble for one or all of the JLA team members.

The super-villain playmate for March 1964 (issue #26) was Despero. He is a three-eyed amphibian humanoid from the planet Kalanor and this was the second encounter between him and the team. Despero had the great distinction of having been the first villain of the series, appearing opposite the JLA in issue #1 of “Justice League of America” (Nov 1960) and he had been imprisoned on his home world, having had his third-eye sealed shut to prevent him from messing with other people’s minds.

Despero captures some of the JLA team members inside of weird hourglasses and threatens to send the heroes off to places known as “Chronal Worlds”.

It is not clear to me what is meant by “chronal worlds”, but one the Earths that Despero is planning to conquer is a world where dinosaurs are the dominant life-form. It is here where the Flash is sent and he quickly makes friends with one of the dinosaurs. How cool is that?

In issue #27, the team is threatened by an entity that identifies itself as “I”. I have a sense that this mysterious entity named “I” is a metaphor for the self. This selfish entity is for some reason opposed to teamwork and oddly enough that just so happens to be what the Justice League is all about. As we all know there is no “I” in “team”.

Yet I became somewhat confused when Snapper Carr came up with the idea of using Amazo, a now-defunct android, to defeat the “I” by having Amazo absorb the super-powers from each of the heroes. Doing so allows the Justice League to defeat “I” and then working as a team they also defeated Amazo and sent him back to the trophy room to stand in the corner for all eternity. Amazo first appeared in “Brave and the Bold” vol. 1 #30. It was after this issue of the Brave and the Bold that the Justice League of America was awarded their own series beginning with Justice League of America #1.

Issue # 28 (May 1964) saw Matter Master working with a gang of super-criminals led by a new guy named the Headmaster.

Super-villain Matter Master first appeared in an early Hawkman/girl story (Brave and the Bold #35 (1961). This issue was beautifully drawn by the great Joe Kubert.