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Justice League of America 52
"Missing in Action -- 5 Justice Leaguers!"


DC Comics (National Periodical Publications); Julius Schwartz, editor; featuring the JLA -- sort of-- in "Missing in Action-- 5 Justice Leaguers!", written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Mike Sekowsky (like all JLA tales up to this point) and inked by Sid Greene.

Review by Bill Henley

The format of Silver Age JLA stories was pretty well set by this time, but here Schwartz, Fox and Sekowsky tried something a little offbeat. Perhaps too much so for a reader or two in the lettercol later, who complained that this wasn't a "real" JLA story. Were they right? Judge for yourself.... The cover was certainly offbeat for a JLA issue, since it looked as if it belonged on WORLD'S FINEST COMICS. The cover scene was entirely devoted to Superman and Batman battling a blocky robot-like creature that looks like it is made of giant Lego's. As he batters away at the adversary, Superman complains, "My mightiest punches can't even put a dent in this colossal cube-creature!", but Batman, swinging on a rope, reassures him; "Keep up the barrage, Superman! You're showing me what its weakness is!" (Come to think of it, maybe this didn't look all that much like a WORLD'S FINEST cover. It showed Supes and Bats actually working together against a common foe, whereas the covers of the Weisinger-edited WORLD'S FINEST around this time tended to show Supes and Bats fighting *each other* or at odds in some way.) Anyway, the rest of the Justice League is in evidence only in the form of a "Roll Call" box at the bottom of the cover, showing the heads of Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and Hawkman.

The symbolic splash page shows more disembodied heads, linked by lightning-like flashes, as the "JLA Emergency Signal" pleads: "Green Lantern-- Martian Manhunter-- Atom-- Hawkman-- Superman! Acknowledge...ACKNOWLEDGE...."

The story begins with honoraray JLA'er Snapper Carr addressing the reader directly, as he sits amongst a pile of mail sent to the JLA Secret Sanctuary. "Another batch of letters asking how come all ten members of the JLA don't participate in every case!" [The real reason, of course, is that the writer would have trouble fitting all ten members into any one story, as well as creating a menace every issue that the entire united JLA couldn't squash like a bug. But let's see what answer Snapper gives...] "That's an easy one to answer-- THEY'RE NOT OBLIGED TO! If it's a regular scheduled meeting-- or even an emergency call-- they may be involved on such critical cases of their own that they can't risk abandoning them! For example, in one of their most recent cases, Green Lantern, Atom, Martian Manhunter, Superman and Hawkman failed to show up to battle the Lord of Time!" (An editor's note reminds us that "The Lord of Time Attack(ed) the 20th Century!" two issues previous in JLA #50.) While JLA members aren't required to show up for every team mission, they are expected to send taped explanations of what kept them busy. And so, Snapper begins playing for us Hawkman's audio excuse note ("The dog ate my wings....well, no, not quite....) Hawkman and his spouse/partner Hawkgirl (not a JLA member herself at this point, though she would later become one) are pursuing a "criminal mastermind" to his hideout in an "old abandoned mine" Curiously, the "criminal mastermind" in question is Faceless, the masked gang lord who is being pursued by the Martian Manhunter on an ongoing basis in his HOUSE OF MYSTERY backup series at this time. Is Hawkman trying to steal the glory of capturing Faceless from his Martian teammate? We shall see.... While Hawkgirl slams into Faceless' crook henchmen, Hawkman pursues the villain into the mine. But despite a pudgy build, Faceless proves an unexpectedly diffficult adversary, He deals Hawkman a walloping blow-- "I was never hit so hard in my life!"--and then shrugs off a blow to the head from Hawkman's "morningstar" battle mace. Faceless hurls Hawkman back and forth against the mine walls and then seizes his mace, rips the round spiked head into two pieces and clashes them together like a pair of cymbals-- trying to catch Hawkman's head in between. The Winged Wonder barely dodges, but the metallic mace pieces hitting each other strike sparks, and "Those hot sparks-- hitting my wing feathers-- setting them aflame! Now I'm really BLAZING MAD!" Suddenly, the previously invincible Faceless starts feeling Hawkman's punches, and goes down for the count. See where this is going....?

After snuffing out his flaming wings, Hawkman rips the mask off the now-unconscious Faceless-- and finds under it the bald green cranium of the Martian Manhunter. "No wonder I had such a terrible time with him-- until my wings caught fire! FIRE is his weakness!" But does this mean J'onn J'onzz is a schizophrenic who has been hunting down "himself* in the pages of HOUSE OF MYSTERY? While Hawkgirl hauls the other gang members off to jail, Hawkman confronts his dazed, errant teammate, who mutters, "I remember going after FACELESS-- my arch-enemy...masquerading as him...!" But Faceless was on to him and shot "a bolt of incredible energy" that "paralyzed my Martian memory" and not only induced him to believe he really was Faceless but impelled him to plan "a series of crimes for 'my' mobsters to pull offf this very night!" Hawkman suggests that J'onn J'onzz team up with him to stop the robberies, and they set off to do so, as the Manhunter groans, "How Faceless must be laughing at me!" (Actually, J'onn, Faceless has been giving you the horse-laugh for months now, as readers of HOUSE OF MYSTERY #173-- or my review of it on the list some time back-- will know.) It is at this point that the JLA emergency signal goes off,, but neither Hawkman nor MM can answer the call, as "stopping this crime-wave takes priority! Our by-laws state so!" Our heroes crash through the entrance of "Manuscript Mansion", site of a "display of priceless historic scrolls and parchments" which Faceless's gang of thugs (as always, dressed for success in suits, ties, and fedoras-- Silver Age crooks might commit murder, robbery or mayhem, but they'd never be so gauche as to do so in informal attire) are after. Despite the need to avoid damage to the artifacts, Hawkman and the Manhunter manage to subdue the gangsters with a flurry of camp-era sound effects-- KAA-RACK! ZOK! THUD! SWOKK! and WHAP! [SWOKK?]

Following an ad for the Captain Action doll and a house ad for the first regular issue of a somewhat less illustrious DC super-team-- the Inferior Five-- we go on to hear what excuse Green Lantern has come up with for blowing off the JLA mission. GL is charging his ring and reciting his oath, but his Power Battery flares with an unusually garish and baleful light-- "The glow of power-- brighter than usual-- and full of EVIL!" I'm not sure exactly how you tell an evil green light from an ordinary green light, but anyway, GL deduces that "someone else is using the POWER BATTERY ENERGY-- for his own evil ends!" Detecting a telltale trail of energy from the battery, GL follows it to a remote farmhouse that exhibits a "tainted" green glow. Power-ringing himself through the solid wall, Green Lantern finds a sobbing woman, a young boy and a grim-faced man holding a rifle. "Bobby, I must kill Jeff! It's the only way to stop...." The boy begs GL for his help saving "Jeff," who is his dog. It seems that the normally docile hound suddenly and mysteriously increased in size and turned vicious. As the family ran for the shelter of the house, the monster mutt tore apart a tractor and began chasing cows. "Green Lantern-- can you stop him-- without hurting him?" GL is confident of his ability to do so-- too confident, as the only effect of his power beam on the dog is to make him "twice as big as before-- and even more VIOLENT!" It seems Jeff somehow absorbed some of the "evil-filled energy" siphoned from the Power Battery, and applying more energy only makes the effect worse. This leaves GL with the option of trying to subdue the giant dog with fist-power rather than ring-power. But GL's attempts to slug the dog on a sensitive spot have no effect,and of course , "Ha! Some timing! The JLA Emergency Signal WOULD have to come in right now! Well, it's a cinch I can't go to any meeting!" But then, GL gets an inspiration how to deal with the situation. He dips his gloved hands into a handy pail of yellow paint. Since the evil energy animating the monster dog originated in GL's Power Battery, it shares GL's yellow weakness. Now GL's punches with yellow fists have an effect, and GL manages to knock the dog unconscious. The boy Bobby kneels by his giant pet sobbing, but GL reassures him that the dog should return to normal as soon as "the power force that caused all this wears off". But what did cause GL's power battery energy to run wild? GL still doesn't know-- until he follows the energy trail to where Martian Manhunter and Hawkman have just finished their own battle aganst the Faceless gang. J'onn J'onzz deduces, "Somehow, Faceless managed to tap your Power Battery and create a force strong enough to make me lose my Martian memory and believe I was him!" You might think this would motivate GL to take a special interest in the fight aganst Faceless and insist on joining forces with the Manhunter to subdue the masked gang lord. But GL all but shrugs it off, only noting "I'll have to put a special aura of power around my battery to keep anything like that from happening again!"

At this point we pause for a few house ads, for BATMAN, FLASH-- and HOUSE OF MYSTERY. Oddly, nowhere-- either in the HOUSE OF MYSTERY ad, nor in a footnote in the JLA story-- is it made clear that Martian Manhunter is pursuing the hunt for Faceless in the back pages of that title (behind the "Dial H for Hero" lead feature). You'd think that, after making an extended reference to the MM vs. Faceless fight in this JLA story, DC would grab the chance to attract some extra readers to the low-selling HoM title. Maybe Julius Schwartz was only interested in cross-promoting the titles he edited himself-- as suggested by the splash panel of Part 3 of "Missing in Action", which is a scene of the Atom punching out a pair of 18th century malefactors, watched by Benjamin Franklin. And here, a footnote does carefully inform readers that the scene is taken from ATOM #27, featuring the Time Pool time-travel story "Stowaway on a Hot Air Balloon!" That covers why Atom missed the Lord of Time mission (and how ironic, as SA comics used to say, that Atom missed fighting the Lord of Time because he was time-traveling himself).

This leaves only Superman to explain his absence. "Sorry, guys, but I had a hot date with Lois...."? Maybe so, but the explanation he actually gives begins with an incident several days previous to the Lord of Time emergency, as Superman and Batman are just finishing a case in Metropolis. (Batman himself was very much present for the Lord of Time mission; in fact, just now at the height of Batmania every JLA story was sure to feature Batman prominently, including this one, even though it violated the story's premise of featuring heroes who were absent from the previous story.) Batman is about to head home to Gotham City when suddenly an "overwhelming force" registers on the "Energimometer" on the Batmobile's dashboard. Following the trail of energy (there's a lot of energy trail following in this issue) Supes and Bats discover thata band of "cubist creatures" who seem to be made of giant kids' building blocks have "ripped an opening in the space-time continuum" and are wreaking havoc in Metropolis. One of the creatures turns a piece of itself into a bomb to attack Superman, but he shrugs off the explosion; "These cubists are SQUARES! They don't know only Kryptonite or magic-- or the rays of a red or green sun-- can weaken me!" However, Superman is no more effective against the cube-beings than they are against him. Neither his punches nor Batman's merely human blows can subdue the creatures-- even when one of them is literally knocked apart, the cube-pieces reunite. But then Batman says, "Keep up that heavy barrage! I just noticed something!" And Superman also observes what the Caped Crusader has spotted; the more one of the creatures is hit, the bigger one piece of it-- the "toe" grows. Batman has deduced that while humans who suffer trauma experience pain and swelling in whichever part of their body is hit, the cube-creatures' nervous systems "detour" all pain ad swelling to a single part, the toe, enabling the creatures to shrug off pain elsewhere and keep fighting. Batman manages to snap off the toe-piece of one of the creatures, rendering it vulnerable to the attack on the rest of it. Realizing that the heroes have discovered their Achilles heel, or rather their Achilles toe, the other creatures gather up the scattered pieces of their comrade and escape back through the space-time hole. "Let 'em go! Now that we know their weakness, they won't be back!"

Don't be so sure, Batman.... for a week later, while you are busy taking on the Lord of Time with the rest of the JLA, Superman will be the one to face the cube-creatures' return by himself. Only this time, instead of invading our dimension, the creatures send a green energy beam (lots of green energy beams in this story too) to pull the Man of Steel from the apparent safety of the Fortress of Solitude into their own world. They propose to use Superman as a guinea pig to learn the secret of his invulnerability and create an equally indestructible android army to invade and conquer Earth. One problem; here, in their world, Superman isn't all that invulnerable. On Earth, the creatures' ultimate weapon the "Procleonic Cube" didn't muss his hair, but here, a mere blow to the skull with a wooden club knocks him silly. A groggy Superman realizes that, since there is no Kryptonite or magic present, and it was green energy that grabbed him, the cube-creatures' homeworld must have a green sun which removes his powers because the green rays mask out the yellow radiation. Now seemingly helpless against the cube-creatures, not-so-Superman throws in the cape, er, towel, agreeing to help the cubists duplicate his super-powers. Calling for a series of ingredients including silica, soda, borax, and magneisum oxide, he creates a large glass lens which he holds over himself. It has the effect of filtering out the green rays of this world's sun, leaving only the yellow radiation which empowers the Man of Steel. Reneging on his promise to provide the cube-creatures with super-powers, Superman pulverizes their vulnerable toe-cubes and escapes back to his home dimension. "Next time I see Batman, I'll have to tell him about this surprising sequel to our adventure! Along with all the other absent members, Supes shows up belatedly at JLA headquarters to hear a post-mortem on the Lord of Time mission, and join in a ceremony awarding a Medal of Honor to Sgt. Eddie Brent, the soldier who aided in that mission.

As noted, some readers complained that they wanted to read about a "real" Justice League mission, rather than about what the individual heroes were doing when they *weren't* on a mission. Speaking of readers' letters, the lettercol this time (appearng between parts 2 and 3 of the story) was devoted to just two long missives from regular letterhacks Ken Ahlstrand of Millbury, Mass., and Joe Arul of New York City. Though Ahlstrand was pleased enough about the story that appeared in JLA #49 (which featured the return of sorcerer Felix Faust) both he and Arul complained about a couple of trends in recent JLA issues, the attempts of Gardner Fox to write at a "teen level", with slang and campy gags, and the tendency to downplay the less prominent JLA members like J'onn J'onzz, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman and Aquaman in favor of (in Ahlstrand's words) "the glory-hungry Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkman" Arul also complained about issues in which the heroes fight separately rather than actually working as a team. "If I want to see solo action, I can find it in the individual magazines of these heroes." Ironic that this complaint appeared in an issue specifically devoted to individual adventures of the heroes rather than a normal JLA team mission (even if some of the heroes did team up by twos in the course of the story).