March - April, 1974
A Startling Season's Greeting's Card From:
Len Wein - Writer
Dick Dillin & Dick Giordano - Artists
Julius Schwartz - Editor
(With Thanks To Green Lantern Fan, Duffy Vohland.)
The latest adventure of the Justice League of America begins not as a rescue mission -- but as a meeting -- as the World's Finest team -- Superman and Batman -- arrive to pick up Santa Claus! With the orphans waiting for a visit from the man in red, St. Nick takes a moment to adjust his hat -- BWA-ROOMMM Only the invulnerable body of the Man of Steel saves the Darknight Detective from the bedroom explosion! The two heroes head forward to see what's left...
Superman sees that Santa Simpson is dead, and Batman knows that the key to his murderer is in the victim's hand! This is far from an ordinary key, as they will soon discover! This is a challenging invitation which will soon have the world's greatest heroes chasing after ... "The Man Who Murdered Santa Claus!"
"To the Justice League of America
A Christmas Gift to you from me;
A very extra-special key!
Beneath the arch, it fits a lock
That, once it's turned, will save a block
Of cityfolk, both Mayor and bum,
From being blown to Kingdom Come!
So waste no time; don't hesitate!
You have till twelve to find the gate
This key will fit
Though I admit,
I think you'll be TOO LATE!
With Santa's death -- the challenge has been given -- and although the planet knows the joys of the holiday season, it does not know of the humming of two Justice League signal devices now in use -- a super sonic summons which travels the world with the speed of light... Although the call has been sent to all -- some are not available to reply... Barry Allen and his wife are spending the holidays with her parents -- 1000 years in the future! Ray Palmer is exploring a sub-microscopic universe and has lost track of the time... Ralph and Sue Dibny are off the coast of the Caribbean, not in reach of his JLA receiver, as they go scuba-diving... Aquaman and Mera are presiding over the Festival of Lights in Atlantis! Still, there are others who have received the call... John Smith is on a stroll with Kathy Sutton, and tells her that there's an emergency he must attend to... Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance are in the midst of a more personal celebration when they are interrupted...
Finally, it is Hal Jordan, who is about to take a shower... who slips on a bar of soap -- CLUNG -- and when the JLA signal continues -- the power ring shines on its owner with a bright green light -- finding that the injury is a minor one -- and unable to wake him, casts a healing beam -- before flying away into the night sky! John Stewart is regaling his friends about what happened when he was preparing to hand over some building plans... when the alternate Green Lantern of Sector 2814 has been summoned for active duty! Whether or not he wishes to go is another matter, entirely...
The members are now present in the JLA satellite, which whirls 22,300 miles above the Earth -- and it is a small group, indeed. They see that they are the only ones who will arrive, when another voice greets the JLAers -- that of Green Lantern! The Man of Steel sees the uniform, and sees that the man present is not Hal Jordan! The Archer has heard from his friend about John Stewart and tells the others to listen to what he has to say! It is the power ring which tells them how Hal Jordan programmed it to find John Stewart... in the event that he were indisposed to respond instead. The regular Green Lantern is sporting a king-sized headache for Christmas Eve, and Green Arrow finds it a terrible way to spend the holiday. The android Red Tornado wonders how this particular evening is different from any other, and the Archer finds himself speechless... in trying to explain it to a machine! The android reminds him that his creation hasn't impaired his ability to learn, and if Green Arrow is unable to explain, then he should say so, and be done with it!
The angry Archer is ready to explain himself when the Darknight Detective suggests that he put his energy to the problem at hand. Unless they find the lock the key fits before midnight, an entire city block will be blown sky-high! When John asks if he has any idea where to start looking, Batman tells him that -- he has! Those who have read the tag tied to the key very carefully! All the clues are there -- and all that has to be done is -- to find them! After going over the clues, three Justice Leaguers soon find themselves on the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri... Their search has been narrowed to one city!
Superman figures that they should try the key in every lock in the city, but that would take them too much time! With the Fastest Man on Earth absent, the Red Tornado offers to take his place, and John uses his power ring to make the key sensitive to the right lock! The android soars down -- through residences, businesses, avenues, and dirt roads -- with the same result! He has gone through the entire city, and the key has not reacted! As the android continues down a condemned street... the key begins to pulse -- to throb like a human heart! In the deserted building before him -- the Red Tornado has found the lock he has been looking for!
Moments later... the others arrive, and the Man of Steel could swear that the android was smiling! As the JLAers prepare to enter the building... they see three children who ask for some spare change! They see John Stewart and ask the Green Lantern if he'd help a brother make it through the holiday... He wishes he could help them, but his uniform doesn't come with pockets. John offers to use the power ring to produce some green... but Green Arrow thinks that the Guardians of the Universe would frown on that idea. If he really wants to help, he should wish them a Merry Christmas, and enter the building with the rest of the group -- because if they don't find the bomb before the stroke of midnight, the children -- and everyone who have to live in this ghetto. The key is inserted into the lock -- and the six heroes enter the old building -- their entrance is seen by two dark eyes that watch with cold detachment from a secret control room...
The Archer has been better places from under a rock, but for John Stewart, it is an all-too familiar sight. They press on to find the bomb... THUMP... when the floor goes out from under them! The six JLAers rise to their feet and see what appears to be a miniature sun descending towards them! The sun has a yellow core and the power ring has no effect on it!
The primary radiation is that of a red sun... which is sapping the Man of Steel's strength! He must destroy it before it is too late, but Green Arrow thinks that Supes may be outmatched by this challenge! Superman is the only one who has a chance! If any one of the others tried... it would be death! He tells the Archer to be quiet and asks for their help... as the Man of Steel painfully launches himself towards the miniature red sun... BWAROOMM The sun is blown to smithereens -- saving the JLAers, but Superman has been blown to atoms, too! The Batman knows that his best friend is now --dead!
Before they can lose themselves in grief... the Red Tornado sees a portal opening in a nearby wall! As the five heroes pass through the portal, the doorway has sealed shut behind them! In this next room, a circus calliope begins to play music and emits gas! The power ring is useless against the yellow gas! With the room closed tight, there is no way for the android to disperse the deadly fumes! His friends are -- doomed! Black Canary has an idea -- then throws back her head to sing -- The silent ultrasonic tune begins to force the gas away from the JLAers! Another portal appears in the wall -- but Black Canary must stay behind to keep the gas at bay --
She uses some judo to send Green Arrow through the doorway! Even as the Archer strikes the steel floor, he rushes back towards the room and the girl he loves -- but he is too late! SLAMM! His fists beat at the door, but the Archer is told by the Darknight Detective that it's hopeless! In the shadowy control room, a voice is heard speaking into a microphone... two of the JLAers have succumbed to the mystery villain's traps! His boss wants to hear more, and tells Key-Man #1 to continue his report! The Key will never rest until the Justice League of America is as dead as he soon will be!
Green Arrow is eager to reach the end of the maze and find the one who killed Dinah -- and nothing will stop him from getting his hands on him! It is at that moment that Red Tornado sees several things that are equally eager to try! Batman sees several giant globes -- like Christmas tree ornaments -- heading towards them! An ornament is about to strike the Archer from behind, and the Darknight Detective hasn't the time to find something from his utility belt to deflect the globe! All he has is -- himself! THUDD! Before Green Arrow's eyes, he sees Batman being absorbed into the ball! As he draws an arrow from his quiver, the Archer is too late! His fellow Justice Leaguer is gone! John Stewart sees another doorway opening on the other side of the room...
Green Arrow has figured out that the huge globes are tracking them by their body heat -- and if it's heat they want -- two incendiary arrows will give them plenty! He tells John and the Red Tornado to run for it! Passing through the doorway, they know that the Archer has sacrificed himself for their safety! In the next room, a group of toy tin soldiers prepare for the attack! THWOOM! The android uses his tornado powers to knock one toy soldier down, while John is pleased to see that his power ring finally works on something -- before the other soldiers change their colors to yellow!
The Red Tornado sees that the toy soldiers have gotten heavier, and are not so easily knocked down now! John Stewart is about ready to admit defeat, but the android is not ready to say die! As both heroes back away from the toy soldiers, they fall through another portal sliding open behind them! The door slams shut -- saving them from the march of the weird soldiers -- but why? Reddy suggests that they check for answers at the tunnel's end! On a huge monitor, the Key watches as his toy soldiers descend onto his foes, and Key-Man #1 confirms that the remaining JLAers have been destroyed! He had sworn to have his revenge on the group -- swore that he would outlive them -- most of them -- and now he has!
When they last met... Superman had sought to imprison the Key in the Fortress of Solitude -- where he would be kept in suspended animation! This might have been the case -- except that it was ruled unconstitutional by a judge, and the Key was given twenty years - to- life... As it happens, life was shorter of the two... During a routine examination, the prison doctor told him that the various psycho-chemicals he's injected over the years have unbalanced his cellular structure! He was ... dying! The Key wouldn't last the year, perhaps to Christmas -- but he wouldn't see the new year... After his parole from prison, the Key had time to plot his revenge... Since the Justice League of America was responsible for his many defeats, how they would they be able to witness his final defeat -- his death?! The killing of the Santa -- the key-clue that led the group into his death-maze -- the result of many months of planning and building -- a Christmas present to himself -- his last present -- the death of the -- ? He hears the voice that tells him that the tag on the gift should read, "Do Not Open Til X-Mas!" There's still a few minutes to midnight!
The Red Tornado assures the villain that he and John Stewart are still alive! The Key must be dreaming, but if it is a dream, Superman and the Black Canary are there, too! He must be losing his senses, and this is something that the Green Arrow and the Batman would agree on! The reason for the JLAers' survival reveals himself... Both the Key and the Justice League turn and see the one man who would consistently be in the right place at the right time to save each Leaguer -- The Phantom Stranger! He wants no credit for something they would have been able to do if he hadn't been there! When the right moment came to replace Key-Man #1, the Phantom Stranger took it -- no more, no less!
The Key is determined that they will not spoil everything! If he can't defeat the Justice League, he'll settle for the next best thing -- the city-block of people they came to protect! He has drawn the primal key, and the JLAers are unable to stop him... not arrows or power ring are able to penetrate his yellow force field! The Key escapes through a trapdoor, while the Phantom Stranger reminds them that they must tend to other more important matters! With the doom-bomb's countdown in motion -- they must clear the surprised residents from their homes before the explosion can occur...
With only a few seconds left, John Stewart knows that the whole neighborhood will be wiped off the map! They may have saved the people -- and he must make certain that the rest of the city will be protected from the shock-wave! THWA-RA RAMMM When the smoke clears, the JLAers see that the tenements which should have been destroyed by the blast -- now look as if they've just been built! John tells them that's exactly what's happened! Since it's against the Green Lanterns' code to provide new housing -- he used his power ring to reconstruct the old tenements the moment they were destroyed -- without the pests and poor living conditions, and such... The old buildings are now as firm and clean as they were when they were first built! He had promised the kids a Christmas present -- and they got one! The Archer compliments the Green Lantern on his good deed! John knows that this is the first time that he's been called that since they've met! Green Arrow smiles and figures that he's earned it! The Darknight Detective reminds them that the Phantom Stranger has left -- without telling them if he'd join the JLA! Batman figures that he stopped by to give them a little Christmas present of his own...
After saying goodbye to the substitute Green Lantern... the JLAers are back on the satellite, where the Red Tornado has been summoned! Black Canary hands the startled android a wrapped present, and when he confesses that he doesn't know what he's done to merit such an honor, the Man of Steel tells him that it's a gift -- a Christmas gift from all of them! It is a new Red Tornado uniform, designed and sewed by Black Canary herself! She had been tired of the plain outfit he's been wearing, and tells him to try it on! After a whirling blur of motion -- the Red Tornado stands before them in his new costume! The android finds it most... appealing, but doesn't understand why they gave it to him! Black Canary explains that there is no purpose -- that it's Christmas and the reward -- is in the simple satisfaction of giving! Reddy figures that the giving must be similar as when each of them gave their lives to save the others! When she tries to explain, Superman figures that the Red Tornado is right! It's been said that the man whose birth is celebrated gave his life so that those who followed could live in peace! Hearing this, the Archer mutters that they should wish him a Merry Christmas... already! Supes wonders if his super-hearing is correct, and Black Canary also asks her love what he just said! "Merry Christmas" -- a simple "Merry Christmas"! Ollie wonders if they want to make something out of it? Nope, they all see that he has made enough out of it for all of them! Green Arrow smiles as Black Canary kisses him, and wishes him a Merry Christmas! The android smiles, as the Man of Steel turns to us, and wishes us the same!
In the Pre-Crisis D.C. Universe, how could the World's Finest Team pick up Santa for his appointed meeting with children all over the world? If they couldn't... who could?
Thanks to the dramatic opening to this story by Len Wein, the reader is eager to find out who was "The Man Who Murdered Santa Claus!"
For many years, Dick Dillin was the premier Justice League artist in the decade of the '70s. He was the artist on the first Justice League of America book I read. It was #116, and was another 100 Page Spectacular like this issue was. I regard his art and the book's format as the best Christmas present a beginning reader could ever receive.
Dick Giordano is well-known as being an editor at Charlton and D.C., as well as being the artist on Batman in the 1970's, inking the likes of Neal Adams, Irv Novick, and Bob Brown.
Seeing the likes of Batman and Black Canary, as drawn by these two gentlemen, I can still see what attracted me to the book in the first place. Besides, Mr. Giordano likes drawing beautiful women, and his version of Dinah Lance is a cry for joy!
As a young reader, I first came across the name of Julie Schwartz in an Amazing Worlds of D.C. Comics advertisement. Having seen his name in many books, my young mind figured out that an "editor" was not unlike being the leader of the Justice League. It was he who informed the reader in footnote's that Green Lantern's power ring was useless against the color yellow and held a twenty-four hour charge. If Hal Jordan wanted an extension on his battery's charge, he'd have to see Julie about it!
It's nice to see the other heroes enjoying Christmas Eve in their own way. Even though they're not in the story, the reader gets to see them when they are on holiday.
Hal Jordan finds it's "no soap" when he's put out of action, and John Stewart is equally startled when he's put in the ring, instead!
Even with the Fastest Man Alive absent from the story, the Man of Steel should have been able to use the key on the many locks of the city in the blink of an eye... that is, assuming that the effects of "Kryptonite Nevermore!" were still in effect.
We learn that there are things that Green Lanterns can do and not do, but thankfully, John Stewart finds a way to give the kids and their neighborhood the nicest of Christmas presents.
Seeing the Key in the flesh, the discriminating reader can easily find the villain's fashion sense to be ironically off-key!
Prior to this story, the Key last appeared in JLA #63 (first series).
It's ironic that the villain didn't find out that the key-note speaker was not Key-Man #1, but the Phantom Stranger, himself!
The Phantom Stranger was offered League membership in Justice League #103 (first series).
Even an android can learn the true meaning of Christmas... especially when it's explained to him by an exasperated Oliver Queen!
This Review Is Dedicated To Len, Dick, Dick, Julie, and Duffy
"The Man Who Reviewed Santa Claus!"