Previously, in COMICS 101: We’ve been spending our days discussing the Justice League of America, the greatest superhero team of all time. Having just gone over the League’s membership with the proverbial fine-tooth comb, it raises the question: just who would be crazy enough to take these guys on? Following are a few of the likelier suspects…
So when you have a team that boasts the power of the fastest man alive, the King of the Sea, an Amazon princess, a Green Lantern, and two nearly unstoppable alien powerhouses (plus arguably the smartest man on the planet in terms of combat strategy), who can you possibly pit them against? Early on, JLA writer Gardner Fox faced this storytelling dilemma, and came up with the logical solution in “The Case of the Stolen Super-Powers!” as seen in the League’s third appearance in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #30 (July 1960).
In the course of their normal super-powered day, the members of the League find their powers unexpectedly cutting out on them momentarily. At their next meeting, Flash discusses two recent thefts of, all things, animals, in which the thief exhibited amazing powers, all of which corresponded to the powers and abilities of the Justice League.
Naturally, it takes Snapper Carr’s biology term paper to ostensibly put two and two together, as he points out that the two animals stolen, the cicada and the European catfish, are two of the longest-lived animals on Earth. With that, the League deduces that someone is looking to create an immortality serum, and is using the League’s stolen powers to do so.
As it turns out, the League’s theory is dead-on accurate, as the man behind the stolen powers is Professor Ivo, whose quest for immortality has led him to create Amazo, the android who possesses all of the powers of the JLA (save Superman, whose invulnerability to everything but Kryptonite rendered his powers unstealable, and Batman, who had no powers to steal). And it’s a good thing, by the way, that Professor Ivo devoted his time to android-making rather than fashion design, as Amazo isn’t exactly the most snazzy-looking fellow, sporting what looks to be a green girdle with a bright red skullcap and ears pointy enough to fit in at a LORD OF THE RINGS premiere.
At every turn, the League attempts to stop Amazo from absconding with the planet’s oldest creatures (including a poor old Peruvian dude), and each time Amazo manages to use the plethora of powers at his disposal to both achieve his objective and overpower the Leaguers, sending them back to his master, Professor Ivo.
Back at Ivo’s lair, the scientist manages to make use of the chemical analysis to create his first “immortality serum,” taking a dose sufficient to allow him to live to the age of 500.
Ivo also takes advantage of the helpless Leaguers, transferring all of their powers permanently into Amazo. At least that was the plan. Thanks to a lungful of yellow chlorine gas, Green Lantern manages to negate Amazo’s power-ring-created command for amnesia, re-charge his own ring, then draw the League’s powers out of Amazo and back into his teammates, taking Ivo and his android into custody. In a startlingly harsh sentence, Professor Ivo is sentenced to a 500-year jail term (which seems a little heavy for stealing a few animals and kidnapping an old guy) which is about as much irony as you’d get in comics in the 1960s.
As for Amazo, the deactivated robot is propped up in a glass case in the Justice League’s Secret Sanctuary, which seems to be not only a prime example of hubris, but is also more than a little creepy.
Both Amazo and Ivo would return countless times to menace the League. Amazo would eventually gain the powers of the League’s new recruits as well, while Ivo would repeatedly break out of jail and return to his quest for immortality, with his self-experimentations in time resulting in Ivo taking an hideously scaly, almost lizardlike appearance.
Ivo’s eventual overwhelming obsession with the League would take lethal shape in the years to come, costing the Justice League most dearly. But we’ll get to that later.
Another of the Justice League’s most relentless enemies, the interdimensional tyrant known as Despero, made his debut in the team’s very next appearance, in the first issue of their own magazine, JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1, (November 1960), in “The World of No Return!” by Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky.
The League are drawn into Despero’s line of fire when the Flash is visited by two refugees from the otherdimensional world of Kalanor, which has been conquered by the three-eyed fin-headed despot known as Despero. The refugees are looking to find a safe haven to perfect an energy-absorbing weapon which would allow them to nullify Despero’s arsenal. Agreeing to help the duo, Flash summons the Justice League for a meeting, only to lose one of the aliens, who was teleported back to Despero’s clutches. Even worse, when Flash speeds to the Secret Sanctuary to brief the League, he finds his teammates frozen in a trance, with Despero patiently awaiting his arrival. Despero offers the Flash (who’s protected from Despero’s trance thanks to his exposure to radiation from the aliens’ ship) a proposition: play a simple game of chance with the lives of his friends: if he manages to place any one of the JLA chess pieces on one of the 63 free squares on the chess board, he’ll release the JLA and the kidnapped dissident, and give up his pursuit of the other alien and his secret weapon. However, if any of the pieces lands on the disaster square, the corresponding Leaguer is teleported to another dimensional world, never to return. The Flash agrees, only to see all his teammates teleported away, thanks to his bad luck at the game.
Of course, it wasn’t bad luck at all – Despero was secretly using his third eye to affect the outcome. You just can’t trust those interdimensional dictators.
Despero is eventually undone by, of all people, Snapper Carr, who pretends to be under Despero’s trance, then guns him down with the alien energy absorber, just before the Justice Leaguers return from their various “inescapable” otherdimensional worlds.
The natives of Kalanor must be a bunch of serious pushovers from a military standpoint, considering how easily the great and terrible despot was outwitted by the Justice League mascot…
Despero reappeared frequently over the years, becoming more formidable in each appearance, and eventually taking on a mystical aspect altogether absent from his inception.
Even later, a near mindless and tremendously strong Despero carved a swath through Justice League International, and his body eventually wound up being inhabited by the League’s wacky robot sidekick, L-Ron, for a time. In the last few years Despero has reclaimed his body and popped up here and there, but hasn’t made a big flashy comeback in a while, so he’s about due.
Another early JLA foe who shows up time and again, but never really made a big impact, was another alien dictator, this one named Kanjar Ro, who enslaved the Justice League to his own sinister purposes in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #3 (March-April 1961), “The Slave Ship of Space!”, by Fox and Sekowsky.
Here, Kanjar uses his “Gamma Gong” to freeze Earth’s entire population, so as to force the Justice League to vanquish three rival dictators from neighboring planets, with only the combined voices of Kanjar Ro’s enemies speaking his name able to free Earth’s people. Much as with the chessboard cover of the earlier Despero debut issue, it’s hard for the story to live up to the promise of the cover, with the League manning the oars of Kanjar Ro’s cosmic slave ship. Naturally, the Leaguers easily defeat their targets, and also manage to surreptitiously record their opponents speaking (some in ways less believable than others, such as J’onn J’onzz constructing a wire recorder out of what looks like rocks and vines), allowing them to free Earth by themselves and giving them the opportunity to tell Kanjar Ro where to stick it.
Not really much of a threat to begin with, Kanjar Ro wound up being more of a recurring nuisance to the League, and his appearances petered out by the late ‘70s, although he did recently make a return in Joe Kelly’s less-than-stellar JLA run a couple years back.
Although he’s already been discussed at length in the first installment of our stroll through Justice League history, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention once more one of my favorite JLA villains, Starro the Conqueror, who faced off against the Justice League in their very first appearance, and would return again and again to bedevil the League. There’s just not much cooler than a giant starfish that wants to take over the world. We’ll be seeing more of Starro in a future “Greatest JLA Stories” entry, but I’ll just leave you with the following image as a teaser:
How could you not pay fifty cents for that comic?
It seems like if it wasn’t conquerors and despots for the League, it was mad scientists, as evidenced by the repeated attacks of Dr. Thomas Oscar Morrow, a.k.a. “T.O. Morrow, ” the “man who could see the future.” Morrow had invented a television that could see into the future, allowing him to reach into future eras and steal the inventions, technology and weapons of tomorrow. Having first matched wits with Flash and Green Lantern in FLASH #143, Morrow was next seen in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #64 (August 1968), “The Stormy Return of the Red Tornado,” by Gardner Fox and Dick Dillin. Here Morrow used his future-predicting computer to decide his next move, and determines that in order to successfully operate on his new home of Earth-Two, he must create a new member for the Justice Society, so as to destroy them from within.
Accordingly, Morrow uses his aptly named “humaniztron” to create the Red Tornado, who would go on to serve in both the Justice Society and the Justice League. Once he vanquished the JSA (and the Red Tornado as well), Morrow returned to Earth-One to take on the Justice League, where Morrow uses the devices and souvenirs in the League’s Trophy Room against them (including, by the way, the previously deactivated Amazo. Serves ‘em right for just leaving him lying around like that.).
However, the not-quite-dead Red Tornado followed Morrow to Earth-One and was instrumental in helping the Justice League defeat him, after which the Tornado was inducted into the Justice Society, while Morrow was sent off to prison. Morrow would also make numerous return appearances (one of which was discussed a couple weeks back), most recently in the Mark Millar-written JLA #27, which also featured Amazo and the return to active duty of the Atom. A good little stand-alone story, well worth picking up.
Considering that they didn’t have a sorceress on the team for about 18 years, the Justice League had to deal with magic-based threats fairly often, usually thanks to one Felix Faust, a master magician and frequent League opponent, who made his first appearance in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #10 (March 1962), in “The Fantastic Fingers of Felix Faust!”, by Fox and Sekowsky.
In his debut, Faust ensorcelled the Justice League, commanding them to bring him the Bell, the Jar and the Wheel, three ancient mystical relics that would free the demons Abnegezar, Rath and Ghast, who would in turn grant Faust unspeakable mystic powers. The League retrieves the items in short order, and are forced to stand motionless while Faust casts his spell that would make him “the greatest sorcerer in the universe.” Luckily, Aquaman’s power to command sea life requires no physical motion, which accounts for the school of flying fish that hurtles through the open window of Faust’s lighthouse and smacks him in the face, breaking his concentration and freeing the League.
Faust continues to make the occasional appearance in the DC Universe, becoming saddled with an increasingly contrived and overly complex backstory, but never quite as cool as when he had the Justice League for fingers…
Readers of IDENTITY CRISIS will recognize our next JLA baddie, the infamous Doctor Light, who, while not as deviant as more current tellings have suggested, is certainly more of a badass here in his introduction (particularly in the opening chapter) in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #12 (June 1962), in “The Last Case of the Justice League!”, by Fox and Sekowsky.
As Snapper Carr arrives at the Secret Sanctuary in response to his JLA signal device, he finds not the League but Dr. Light, who engages in some serious monologuing for the benefit of the confused JLA mascot. Dr. Light, logically enough, has mastered all the secrets of light, and planned to use these scientific techniques for – what else? – world conquest. Realizing that first he had to get the JLA out of the way, Dr. Light reasonably engages a preemptive strike, kidnapping Aquaman and using his signal device to summon the rest of the League to a trap of Light’s devising, which would teleport each Leaguer to a distant planet specifically chosen to nullify that Leaguer’s powers. Aquaman is sent to a desert planet, J’onn J’onzz to a world of fire, Flash to a world without balance where he can’t run, Wonder Woman to a planet where her central nervous system won’t function, Green Arrow to a planet where wood is magnetized, Green Lantern to a yellow planet, Batman to a backwards world where his scientific equipment is useless, and Superman to a planet beneath a red sun. As the first chapter closes, a tearful Snapper Carr remains paralyzed in the Secret Sanctuary, while Dr. Light begins his path of plunder unopposed across the planet. A pretty good accounting for himself for his first at-bat, but it would soon fall apart for Dr. Light and never be that good again.
Batman and Superman, who had arrived late to Dr. Light’s trap, had been forewarned thanks to Superman’s telescopic vision, and decided to try to outwit him by changing costumes to give them the element of surprise. A strange notion on Superman’s part, but a fortuitous one, as it was Batman who wound up beneath a red sun, while the fully powered Superman was able to rescue the rest of the Justice League from their “doom worlds,” with J’onn in turn retrieving Batman. The League heads back to Earth to battle Dr. Light, who gives the team a good run for their money thanks to a trio of light-mirage duplicates of himself, until Green Lantern uses his ring to track the light-beam emanations back to the real Dr. Light, and closes down his operations.
It’s pretty much all downhill from there for Dr. Light, who fought several Leaguers separately in their own titles and returned to face the League numerous times, each time seeming less formidable than the last. Later, Dr. Light moved down to the minors and set his sights on the Teen Titans, and hit his absolute nadir in the late ‘80s when the pre-adolescent kiddie heroes known as Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys took him down. Grant Morrison tried to salvage the character in his acclaimed JLA run in the late ‘90s, but it wasn’t until the events of IDENTITY CRISIS, for better or worse, that Dr. Light really returned to the spotlight as a formidable, vicious foe, and it looks as though plans are to continue to utilize him as such, next in the pages of Geoff Johns’ TEEN TITANS.
With a book about a team of the world’s greatest superheroes, logically one would expect them to be facing off against teams of villains. However, it doesn’t happen as often as you’d expect. In fact, there have only been three superhero teams to oppose the Justice League with any regularity. One of these teams, the Royal Flush Gang, only fought the Justice League on three occasions, and is remembered more for their outstanding design and clever hook – criminals dressed as figures from a poker deck and flying around on giant playing cards – than for any real importance in the League’s overall history.
The first Royal Flush Gang was formed by the League’s old adversary Professor Amos Fortune, who took the role of the Ace, while the second was the brainchild of Hector Hammond, who used the team as catspaws in his plan to absorb the Justice Leaguers’ psychic energies. In this second iteration of the Royal Flush Gang, the role of Ace was taken by a series of super-strong androids. Again, the Royal Flush Gang looks cool as hell, but they’re mostly just hired muscle.
Another supervillain team the League encountered was the Injustice Gang of the World, intended to be the League’s opposite number, with enemies of each League member joining up.
However, with second-string losers such as the Scarecrow, Chronos and the Tattooed Man (Honest to God. He had magic tattoos that would come alive and attack – oh, never mind…) among the members, it was hard to take the group too seriously. In fact, it wasn’t until Grant Morrison’s outstanding JLA run in the 1990s that the “Injustice Gang” theory was really done right, but that’s a story for a few columns from now…
Until just a few years back, the coolest and most formidable supervillain team the JLA had ever faced had been wiped from continuity by the CRISIS: namely, the Crime Syndicate, the opposite duplicates of the Justice League from the parallel world of Earth-Three. Longtime COMICS 101 readers may remember the Crime Syndicate, the only super-powered individuals on a world where evil is good and good is evil. Making their first appearance in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #29 (August 1964) in “Crisis on Earth-Three!”, by the usual suspects of Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky, the Crime Syndicate consisted of Ultraman, who gained new powers with every exposure to Kryptonite; Superwoman, a rogue Amazon; Owlman, the evil version of Batman; Power Ring, the evil analogue to Green Lantern who received his ring from a Buddhist monk named “Volthoom”; and Johnny Quick, Earth-3’s sinister version of the Flash.
When Ultraman’s newly acquired “ultra-vision” reveals the existence of Earth-1 and the Justice League, the Crime Syndicate, bored with the lack of opposition on their own world, immediately heads to Earth-1 and starts busting up the joint with the intention of drawing the JLA into battle. The two teams swiftly discover that they’re each unbeatable on their home planets, but each suffer a loss in battle on their enemies’ homeworld. Intending to prove who’s best, the Crime Syndicate move to take out the Justice Society on Earth-2, clearing the way for a final battle between themselves and the Justice League on truly neutral territory.
Sure enough, the Crime Syndicate takes out the JSA rather easily, then teleports the JLA to Earth-2, where the two teams meet in battle once more. This time, it’s the JLA who are triumphant, and after cleverly sidestepping a doomsday contingency the Crime Syndicate had set up in case they lost, the JLA and JSA leave the Crime Syndicate imprisoned in the limbo between the parallel Earths.
The Crime Syndicate would occasionally escape from limbo and stir up some trouble every now and then until 1985 and CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, when not only did the very concept of the parallel Earths go away, but the Crime Syndicate themselves were killed off within the first few pages of the series. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely reintroduced the characters in their 2000 graphic novel JLA: EARTH 2, and they’ve returned time and time again in the fifteen years since. Everything old is new again…