Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

No longer invincible? The Justice League in 1966 and ’67

For some reason, Gardner Fox in late ’66 and on into the following year — Justice League of America #50 through #55 — decided it would be interesting if he wrote the invincible JLA as completely vincible.As I mentioned back in May in a previous Silver Age reread post, #50 shows the clear influence of Bat-mania. It’s a Batman adventure that brings in the Justice League when Bats realizes the rogue Green Beret he’s fighting is mind-controlled by the League’s old foe, the Lord of Time. It turns out that after their last battle the League put a mental block on the villain that stopped him using his futuristic weaponry (as noted at the link, #50 reboots him from a crook who mastered time into a Kang-like villain from the future). His solution is to mind-control Sgt. Eddie Brent, arm him with 50th century firepower and send him to get the McGuffins that will break the mental block.

The League sets out to stop Brent and gets their butt kicked. He has an arsenal of weapons that enables him to do just about anything, plus a protective energy shield that makes any attack on him rebound on the Leaguer responsible. Wonder Woman traps him in her lasso? She’s the one who finds herself bound and helpless! I’d write it off as some perverse compliment to the Green Berets (a hundred men may test today but only three wear the green beret, am I right?) but it didn’t stop there.In JLA #54, the Royal Flush Gang return. This time, though, rather than the straight card outfits shown on the cover, Ace is dressed as a serpent, Ten wear’s a judge’s robe and wig, etc.

These outfits are fashioned out of pure handwavium (I’d give the details but it wouldn’t help) enabling the gang to manifest a variety of random powers and, once again, kick the League’s butt.Then in #55 it’s the JSA’s turn. Four ordinary individuals have been possessed by beings from a dying universe. Having reached the evolutionary pinnacle in their dimension, their power far outstrips the JSA. Worse, their power will grow as our universe is gaining energy, making them even more unbeatable. Johnny Thunder sends his Thunderbolt to bring back the JLA for help but it turns out they’ve been clobbered by a quartet of the beings who landed on Earth-One. Can even the combined might of both teams stave off defeat (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you)? If nothing else, it’s noteworthy for the adult Robin, and for the first reference to Earth-Two having its own Batman or Superman (who don’t show but are referred to in passing).

This string of stories isn’t the first time the JLA faced foes it couldn’t beat until the final pages. Still, having so many stories like that in a short time still feels odd. Was Fox experimenting? Bored? Off his game? While there are several entertaining stories ahead before Fox leaves the book, there are more misses in this period than any comparable stretch earlier in the decade. Case in point, #53, “Secret Behind the Stolen Super-Weapons.”The story opens with Hawkman about to leave for a JLA meeting when Shiera discovers one of the Midway City Museum’s priceless antiques has been stolen. Seemingly impossible antique thefts have been happening at other museums but the only way a thief could bypass Thanagarian security measures is teleportation. At the meeting it turns out Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Arrow have all had their special weapons switched for fakes—— so obviously the same crook must have teleported them away too, right? They catch up with the never-named mad scientist stealing antiques, whom a later letter-writer suggested should be called the Nameless Nut.I think it fits.

While the JLA defeat NN and his army of animated antiques (it takes longer than necessary because neither Batman nor GA stops to switch out the fakes for real weapons), they don’t find their stolen equipment; the scientist’s device is a fake; and the “disastrous side effect” turns some of the team invisible and paralyzed. It turns out the stolen weapons weren’t Nameless Nut’s work at all but a common gang boss called Johnny Marbles.Because what could be easier for a gang of common thugs that switching Batman’s utility belt or Wonder Woman’s lasso for fakes without the heroes noticing? Or for a gang of punks presumably driving a car to keep up with Wonder Woman’s invisible jet? And a brain like Johnny Marbles could easily deduce that these thefts weren’t performed by any ordinary means, even though Hawkman didn’t suspect it until the Midway theft. It all sounds completely plausible, right?

Oh dash it, who am I kidding? Forgive me m’lord, I’m throwing myself on the mercy of the court.

#SFWApro. All art by Mike Sekowsky


  1. Le Messor

    And here I thought the whole ‘ordinary humans are better than superheroes’ mentality didn’t come in until the 2000s! Well after Batman’s surgence in popularity and everybody said “I like him because he doesn’t have any powers, so anybody could really be him.” (Where does that leave Puck, The Phantom, Blue Beetle, Mr Terrific, The Watchmen, etc…?)

    1. Yeah, anybody could be Batman if they had millions of dollars to finance them and trained from childhood. Piece of cake.
      I’m reminded of Roy Thomas’ idea when writing All-Star Squadron that as most non-super superheroes hadn’t trained from childhood, some of the spoiled playboys must have been exactly that. So he wrote Starman as a guy who’s stumbled into the superhero world and is just barely up to it. I loved it (though obviously it was retconned out by James Robinson’s Starman making Ted a true hero).

      1. Le Messor

        Whenever I hear people say that, I always respond (in my head, at least) that, yeah, you’d have to train from childhood and be super-rich.

        I think what makes Batman so popular is actually his rogues’ gallery, and the psychological intrigue they bring with them.

  2. Aside from their obvious ‘Batcentricness’ these covers – especially #55! – show to me a degree of Marvelisation. Did you sense that in the actual stories, Fraser? I certainly sensed it when Andru took over The Flash’s art: there was an awful Fox story (#177, famous ‘big head’ cover) with The Trickster which had big, skewed sub–Kirby action panels. I know DC staff hated Marvel and their rise; however they couldn’t help but ape bits of it.
    I collected JLA back issues but stopped with many of this era (e.g. not read #53, 54) as it seemed Fox’s last 30–odd issues declined compared to his first 30–odd. Saying that, I did enjoy the Royal Flush Gang’s first appearance, which like #10 and 11, I read in reprint like many of you guys.
    Speaking of 10 & 11, I followed your link and I don’t recall The Lord of Time’s role in that Felix Faust 2–parter at all but it has been ages since I’ve read all these old JLAs.

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