Like so many at DC in the ’60s, the JLA started in the pages of Showcase… but what about their first headline adventure? How about a nice game of chess? Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Justice League of America #1 awaits!
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Bernard Sachs
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 10 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing:
Release Date: August 25th, 1960
Previously in Justice League of America: When the Silver Age of Comics launched in the pages of Showcase with a new Flash, the question of what had happened to the old one was left unanswered. Likewise, nobody seemed to worry about what happened to the legendary Justice Society, but when the shiny new Justice League showed up to fight starfish in Rhode Island, it was clearly the beginning of a new age. After a three-issue tryout in the pages of
Showcase The Brave and The Bold, the League graduated to their own title, and naturally you’d expect a big threat worthy of pulling these mighty heroes together. Instead, we get… Despero.
It all starts when Barry Allen’s convertible conks out on a deserted back road.
The story doesn’t really worry about why the police scientist/Fastest Man Alive is hanging out in the sticks, instead detailing a class war on the planet Kalanor. Green-haired alien Saranna explains that her homeworld has been taken over by a despotic weirdo named Despero, whose energy weapons keep him in command. The Flash uses his signal device to call in the League, but when he speeds away to Justice League headquarters, he finds his friends paralyzed, and three-eyed pink skinned
flying purple people eater alien overlord challenging him to a game of chess!
Fans of modern comics may not recognize this version of Despero, another of those villains whose real name should have been a hint that they were evil from the beginning. (He and Sinestro should get together with Evillo and go bowling.) It quickly becomes clear that Despero’s chessboard is rigged, and each member of the League is teleported away as part of Despero’s nefarious plan. Having lost the game, a chagrined Flash gives up, but JLA mascot Snapper Carr sneaks onboard the alien’s spacecraft. Fortunately, the Justice League is a resourceful bunch, and they quickly figure out how to fight the threats on Despero’s titular World of No Return. Superman and Wonder Woman are left on the same planet, punching out pterosaurs together. First, he saves her from quicksand, but she returns the favor when he is overcome by Kryptonite.
On another planet in the same system, Aquaman and Green Lantern join forces, but are unable to break through the yellow radiation field around the world. Worse still, a giant lens is heating the oceans, endangering every one of the sea creatures of the aquatic planet. Since trying to move the whole planet would kill all the native lifeforms, they have to figure out another way out using only a powerful omni-weapon and a herd of alien octopi.
Once the machine isn’t yellow anymore, Green Lantern is able to disable it, and the duo is heralded as heroes, taking off to find their friends. On yet another planet, Batman and Martian Manhunter are forced to combine their powers (what with J’onn having ALL the super-abilities and Bats having none at all, it evens out to be pretty powerful) to take down another alien trap, with The Flash teleporting in just in time to put out flames that would have killed J’onn. It’s a neat little plot that dovetails together perfectly, showing how clever Gardner’s work can be, even giving a hero moment to team beatnik Snapper Carr.
Indeed, just like their first publisher adventures, Snapper saves the day, defeating Despero by draining his energies and leaving his hypnotic third eye powerless. It’s actually kinda fun to see the mighty JLA members in action without their various powers being the point, though modern audiences might be confused about why Despero is a threat. For my part, I like that Justice League of America #1 avoids the modern trap of “THE GREATEST THREAT EVER KNOWN (THIS WEEK)”, instead giving us a clever tale that might have worked with any heroes at all, and Sekowsky art that pulls it all together for a better-than-average 3.5 out of 5 stars overall. It may seem like an odd choice for a first issue, but first issues weren’t anything special in 1960.
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JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1
A classic example of the tight, clever plotting of Gardner Fox combines with Sekowsky's peculiar-but-brilliant art for a fun debut.
And, hey, at least it's not Darkseid.