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Justice League of America 4
"Doom of the Star Diamond!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND April-May 1961; Still 10 cents
Cover: Murphy Anderson
Story: Gardner Fox
Pencils: Mike Sekowsky
Inks: Bernard Sachs

(Originally posted 12/14/00)

It's a cheery group on the splash page... Flash, Aquaman, Batman, Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Superman, and Snapper Carr. Whether by whimsy or accident, the two "green" members ... Manhunter and Lantern ... are hoisting aloft this issue's new member, Green Arrow!

Several trillion miles from earth, a spaceship lurks within a black, nebulous cloud. An onboard voice reports, "Carthan is approaching!" The oncoming ship is then hit by disintegrators. To the amazement of the attack vessel's crew, while Carthan's ship has been vaporized, he himself floats in space unharmed! Their dissolution rays, which would turn steel to powder, bathe him again, but do no harm. The crew concludes that Carthan has become indestructible, and pull him into their ship with a snatch-beam.

Inside the attack ship, Carthan, warlord of the space fleets of the planet Dryanna, faces his captor... Xandor, his planet's ruler! Carthan sputters, "I -- I don't understand! Why try to destroy me? I've just conquered our ancient enemies the Slyssa for our people!" Xandor, a ringer for Flash Gordon's friend Prince Barin, agrees that Carthan is a great hero back home.

Xandor is also aware that he himself is considered a dictator, and that Carthan's scientist friends hope to overthrow him and create a peoples' government...with Carthan leading the revolt! Obviously, Xandor says, he can't let him go home, and just as obviously, he can't destroy him. Nothing to do but imprison him. But before that happens, he asks for and receives an explanation for this new-found indestructibility, which is sketchily explained: while exploring a barren, magnetic planet, Carthan was exposed for hours to unimaginable radiations, which created a protective aura around him.

His curiosity satisfied, Xandor makes his decision. Imprisoning Carthan near the home planet would be pointless, for he could "telepath" his scientist friends for help. So, a ship on autopilot will strand him on the planet Earth. Three golden "box-machines," designed to keep him there permanently, will be teleported there ahead of him. (They are draped with metallic coverings and appear as a box topped with a lever.) Should he leave earth by his own efforts, they would coat his aura, leaving him permanently blind and unable to lead a revolt. Earthly science, new at space travel, would offer nothing useful. If he were to remove the coverings, he could leave Earth with eyesight intact. However, this would activate the machines, he'd be unable to turn them off, and they'd destroy all human life on earth! Carthan is too much the humanitarian, he gloats, to harm Earth's billions in order to save himself, and is confident that the plan is secure.

En route to exile at super-light speed in his invisible, radar-deflecting ship, Carthan studies the earthlings. Quickly, he learns of the existence of the JLA, and figures he can simply ask them for help. Except! ... "something" about his aura prevents him from pleading for assistance! His only alternative: pretend to be evil, and activate the machines. Surely, the League will find a way to avert the dooms, and he can leave with a clear conscience.

AT THAT MOMENT, the JLA have convened to discuss possible new members. Flash suggests Adam Strange; GL names GA; Batman nominates Hawkman; the decision goes to Green Arrow. At THAT moment, an arrow appears out of thin air and lodges itself into their boardroom table! As Batman grabs it, it begins vibrating audibly with the message that GA is the prisoner of its sender, Carthan, who identifies himself as a world conqueror whose next target is Earth. He identifies the locations of the three box-machines and tells that he's removed their coverings, which has set them in operation. Message ends.

Teams are formed: Superman and Batman go after Carthan and GA; Wonder Woman and J'onn J'onzz head to Keystone City; Flash and Aquaman sprint for Australia; and Lantern goes alone to Rome.

Hurtling toward Keystone, WW and J'onzz are set upon by human-size bees! J'onzz has spotted the doom machine with his Martian vision, but they'll have to fight through the insects to get to it. The weapon must be causing the growth, J'onzz reasons, as the nearer they get to it, the bigger the buzzers have become, as have the other animals...though humans are evidently not affected. Now he's fighting giant leafhoppers, whose gluey exclusions so immobilize him that he can no longer fly. Next, it's a firefly, large enough to ignite dry leaves on the ground nearby, which it does! J'onzz, of course, has an aversion to fire. Meanwhile, WW's robot-plane becomes a cat toy for some colossal tabbies, and she abandons it, riding air currents only to be caught by a huge hawk. It's crushing her, and there's time for just one toss of her lasso ... which coils around J'onzz, pulling him from the approaching fires. In turn, he inhales to create a terrific downdraft, pulling the hawk close enough for a roundhouse KO. At the bottom of a dry well lies the golden box machine, literally a box with no buttons or levers of any kind. Lacking an intellectual solution, they smash it with their bare hands, but it repairs the damage immediately. WW notices the covering lying off to the side, and figures there might be a benefit to putting it back in place. Well, look at that...the covering indicates a handle! It must be the on-off handle, and it must exist in another dimension! What quick thinking! Twirling her lasso, WW directs it by force of will into the fourth dimension, where it snags the handle. As it's restored to the "off" position, the insects return to tiny size and the pair go off to seek Carthan.

At the same time, on the other side of the world, Aquaman and Flash see that Australia is sinking, doubtless because of Calthan's machine. Aquaman dives deep in an attempt to locate it, and Flash races around the entire continent, holding the advancing waters at bay! Deep below, the local fish inform Aquaman that the odd engine is indeed nearby, and that nothing alive can get near it, a fact which he confirms. Figuring that Flash may succeed where he failed, Aquaman drafts a group of octopi to weave a huge, strong seaweed net. Then, using a long piece of coral cut by a swordfish (looking more like a chainsaw fish), a whale pokes the box, this one with conspicuous handle on top, into the net. As sharks swim the netted box to shore, Aquaman holds up a succession of signs (since Flash is moving too quickly to take in more than a word at a time) which inform Flash of what he's learned. Now, Flash takes split-seconds from his continental runarounds to attempt to set up counter-vibrations. Back and forth: stamping feet, twirling arms, spinning like a top, each time with Aquaman rushing for the handle. Rapid spinning is the solution: Flash is soon able to stop his marathon. They go off in search of Carthan.

At the same time, in flight over the Alps, Green Lantern is suddenly confronted with a trio of gigantic golden statues, come to life, he surmises, by the doom machine. As drawn, they appear four stories tall at the knee, so are possibly 150 feet tall! GL realizes this to be a set for a sci-fi movie, that the big dummies were manipulated by wires from helicopters during filming. (Obviously at a time between Godzilla-era rubber suits and CGI.) We see that military heavy armor is ineffective against the destructive giants. Dodging their grasping fingers, GL recognizes his own powerlessness against their yellow selves and opts for an extraordinary tactic: he pulverizes a nearby forest into sawdust and creates giant fans (no jokes, please) to send the stuff against them with hurricane force. One more zap of green energy petrifies the wood, leaving them immobile! The matter of locating the box is more difficult, as it's yellow, and, well, you know. Cleverly, GL has his ring seek its life ray emanations instead, and is directed to the source. Unable to contain the golden rays with ring energy, he lunges forward to attempt the shutdown physically...only to be paralyzed by the electrified lever! His feet are grounding him! By use of the ring, he shovels the earth away from his feet while he floats at ground level, breaking the circuit and allowing him to throw the switch. GL then goes on his way to join in the matter of Carthan's threat.

Interlude: the letter column includes a post from Roy Thomas, Jackson, MO.

At the same time, Superman has spotted Carthan's ship, and, twirling mightily, bores an entry for himself and Batman. Inside, on a dais, they see a figure imprisoned behind series of colored light beams. It's Green Arrow, who warns them that the beams are deadly. Naturally, Superman just barges through, a plan in mind. The floor is lead, it turns out, to protect GA from the rays while imprisoned. Supes reshapes the lead into a giant egg and leaves the dais, carrying GA safely within. GA then explains that he was captured by a snatch beam while on patrol; in the same flashback, we see Cathran apologizing for the action.

At that moment, the rest of the League barges through the hole drilled by Superman. Immediately, they're imprisoned in a clear bubble, which quickly hardens into a huge, hollow diamond. Carthan, looking on, thinks that they consider him their enemy, and so he had to do this for his own safety until he can explain things. Within the diamond, J'onzz is weakened by tiny flames encased in its structure; GL's ring is powerless against golden flakes within it; WW wishes she knew the stress point so she could strike it; and Flash opines that the stress point can only be determined from without. Superman, who is outside the gem, is weakened by its Kryptonite component. Batman lunges for Carthan, the man responsible, who at that moment is repelling one of GA's arrows, explaining that nothing can harm him. Batman, slamming into him, knocks Carthan backward against the ship's machinery, which crackles madly...hurting him! He realizes that the aura has suddenly faded away! Quickly, he lays out the facts of the matter to the astounded pair, capped with the revelation that he's now free to return to his world. Except!...with the machinery wrecked, he can't release the League from the diamond! Woe!

GA, determined, insists they have a slim chance. Pulling out a diamond-tip arrow, he claims he could split the thing if he knew the stress point, which Carthan then gladly indicates. Sweat beading his forehead, GA pulls back his bowstring, fully aware of the terrible fate that awaits them if he fails. However, his aim is true.

Following a few moments' wild confusion, Batman, Superman and GA convince the others that Carthan is truly a friend. To J'onzz's offer of League help against Xandor, Carthan says feh (and here I'm paraphrasing), you've helped me plenty, this is my fight.

"Later," after Carthan's ship is repaired and departed, the JLA reconvene in their secret hideout to attend to the swearing-in and exchange their individual stories.

Then: house ad, Brave and Bold 35 (Hawkman), Flash (122? "Land of Golden Giants."")

The set-up really lays on the contrivances, which my adult mind finds both hokey and admirable. Writer Fox must have had some giddy moments of forward and backward engineering in order to keep it semi-plausible as a confinement scheme going in, then only partially obvious as a tailor-made problem for our heroes on the way out. Both ends match up nicely, all in all.

Two elements of the story bother me. Carthan's invulnerability reads like a solution patch for plot points that just wouldn't resolve. This power comes up out of nowhere, has to be explained to his jailer, prevents him from communicating directly with his saviors, and is then conveniently undone when it gets in the way of his salvation. Oh well. Point the second, GL killed those living yellow giant puppets. We can hem and haw over whether they were just Solomon Grundy style "pseudo life," but the script says they were alive.

I'm also bugged that GA has so little to do, as his actual story participation involved simply hitting an unmoving target that someone else identified for him, which was only a few feet away at the time. The cover scene (the moment before he released the drawn arrow) was, of course, conceived before the story was written, so Fox had to work up to it, but the "Doom" attached to the Star Diamond (never referred to as such in the story) was never made clear. The cover threat situation was all over in a minute or so of relative time. I suppose slow starvation and/or suffocation would fit the bill as "doom," but the cover made it sound so much more exciting! The diamond tip of the situation-resolving arrow is shown to be about as big as an office stapler, by the way. Well, why quibble, of course it would have been big... Ollie Queen was a wealthy man in those days!

I haven't looked back at Mike Sekowsky's earliest Justice League work in a very long time and am impressed with how supple it was, a little boxy but not as awkward as I remembered it. He certainly wasn't afraid to work, putting in a lot of body language during scenes that were otherwise quite static.

Letterer Gaspar Saladino, who handled the majority of Julie Schwartz's books, lent a calligrapher's touch to the page's inaugural announcement, besides handling those chapter headings that have been his hallmark.

The membership suggestions are interesting. No one on Earth would have had any awareness of Adam Strange as anything other than an archeologist, so this one is surprising. It must just have been a plug by Schwartz and Fox for one of their own; on the other hand, I suppose a guy with a blaster gun would be handy in a pinch, and his color scheme would balance all the green characters. Hawkman? Sure, a logical choice, and he would bring the JLA's roster a bit closer to the JSA's, for old times' sake. The nod of course went to Green Arrow, who'd been around long enough to have been in the JSA, speaking of which. Looking to the future, perhaps editor Schwartz or hot new writer Denny O'Neil remembered that GL spoke well of GA at this time and grabbed it as one more justification for adding Green Arrow to the Green Lantern book, which happened only about 8 years after this here issue.

Tom Orzechowski