Justice League of America 66
"Divided-- They Fall!"
November 1968; DC Comics; Julius Schwartz, editor;
featuring the JLA in "Divided-- They Fall!",
written by Denny O'Neil, pencilled by Dick Dillin and inked by Sid Greene.

On the cover by Neal Adams, Justice Leaguers Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Green Arrow, Green Lantern and the Atom are all fleeing in abject terror from a scruffy group of soldiers in ragged purple uniforms, as GL shouts, "RUN! We don't stand a chance against the DIRTY HALF-DOZEN!"

Many JLA fans, I suspect, will regard the story I'm about to review as a low point in the JLA's history. (In fact, it actually says so at one point *in* the story.) However, I have a certain sneaking fondness for this tale. It's massively silly, but let's face it, so were some of Gardner Fox's convoluted classics (I mean, come on; giving the JLA bad luck by stimulating their "luck glands"?) This story has some genuinely amusing moments, and it represents the end and the beginning of an era; the first JLA story not to be written by Fox, and the first by O'Neil, most favored of the young Turk writers who would reshape DC comics for the post-Silver Age. (It was also just the third JLA story to be drawn by Dick Dillin, who would remain on the book until his death in 1980.)

On the splash page, a small band of ragged soldiers stands in front of the dilapidated Royal Palace of Offalia, "(land area 5.67 square miles, population 727, a small, quite justifiably forgotten kingdom nestled somewhere in the Mediterranean"... in JLA/AVENGERS #2, Kurt Busiek has the characters mention various tiny countries that are unique to DC-Earth or Marvel-Earth but appear nowhere on the maps of Earth-Prime...but he neglects beautiful, romantic, or is it aromatic, Offalia.) as a voice is heard from within, "OUT! Never let our royal eyes be offended again by your ugliness, Generalissimo Gog!" The plump, mustachioed Generalissimo Demmy Gog is literally booted out of the palace, but resolves to go forward with his master plan that the King of Offalia has rejected, with only his five loyal if inept troops, he will invade and conquer the United States of America."But--sir, we'll be somewhat outnumbered! Two hundred million to six! Besides, we never quite got the hang of fighting!" But Generalissimo Gog remains undaunted; "Forward--MARCH! To the U.S.A.!" (In the lexicon of political bad guys, a "demagogue" is one who uses lies and emotionalism to persuade the masses of people, whereas our unsubtly named Generalissimo doesn't seem interested in persuading people, only in conquering them. Maybe he should have been named "Warren Lorrd" or "Dickie Tater".)

Some time later at a meeting of the Justice League, three of the less omnipotent members of the group, Green Arrow, Batman and the Atom, are off in a corner comparing notes on GA's new "sonic transmitter" arrow, while an irritated Superchairman declares, "We're trying to conduct a meeting! Save your little gab-fest for later!" The Atom grumbles, "Par-DON us, Superman! We didn't mean to OFFEND you!", but the three truants join the meeting as the incoming mail is read. Honorary member Snapper Carr points out a letter from Howard Aiken, a college professor who wants the JLA's help locating a machine that has been stolen. A rift develops between the more powerful and less powerful members on hand, as Batman, GA and Atom evince an interest in following up the letter while the big guns vote to forget it. GL: "We can't be bothered with capers that a bush-league private eye could handle without working up a sweat!" Green Arrow (who hasn't grown his beard yet but is starting to develop his trademark attitude) replies, "What makes you so almighty certain this ISN"T important! Look, we're sworn to battle injustice-- ALL injustice!" But Superman replies, "But there are DEGREES of injustice! We can only concern ourselves with MAJOR breeches of the law!" Green Arrow isn't having any; he gets so upset that he knocks over and breaks a water glass, and then refuses Green Lantern's offer to heal the cut with his Power Ring; "NEVER MIND! Rather than bother your high and almighty self, Green Lantern, I'll just suffer!" In high dudgeon, GA leads the less-super contingent-- Batman, Atom, and Snapper-- off to investigate Prof. Aiken's letter, leaving Supes, Wonder Woman and GL behind to wonder what's got into their compatriots. "I've often wondered if they don't feel a bit... INFERIOR! I mean, we DO overshadow them! They're human and we're, well...MORE than human!" "But THEY shouldn't have stormed off like spoiled kids!", Superman rejoins.

On the way to Happy Harbor College in the Arrowcar, Batman the great detective confronts Snapper; why did he forge the letter from Prof. Aiken? Snapper confesses that his favorite college prof really is in trouble, but is too proud to ask for help, so Snapper hoped to bring the JLA in. Arriving at the college, the heroes see an approaching mob of students and think they are autograph-seeking superhero groupies, but the students bypass the JLA to mob a real group of heroes-- the college's football team, a 50th-ranked squad which has just beaten the first-ranked Ivy University team. Moreover, when the JLA members try to congratulate the victorious gridiron squad, the athletes start a brawl and threaten to overwhelm Batman and GA, who can't use their full abilities against "a bunch of overgrown kids". Only GA's "dazzle arrow" enables the JLA to make their escape by temporarily blinding the football players. On the way to Prof. Aiken's office, Snapper is startled to observe his fellow students acting strangely and even more nonplussed to spot the prof himself preparing to jump off a ledge, apparently believing that he can fly like a bird. Once again Green Arrow saves the day by pinning Aiken to the wall with an arrow through his jacket. After being retrieved from the ledge, the professor admits that he briefly felt "so insanely sure of myself that I thought I could defy gravity!" Pressed by the JLA to explain his troubles, Aiken relates how for years he studied the factor of morale and how it could influence people in groups, and even built a machine "to measure certain electric impulses of the brain which I believe have a bearing on the morale factor!" Batman asks if the machine could be adjusted not only to measure morale but actually to increase it, and when the prof allows as how that might be possible, Batman notes that the strange goings-on at the college seem to be related to "an EXCESS of morale!" Observing that the weirdest student behavior seems to center around the college's old bell tower, the heroes invade the tower, but fall from a tilting floor into a flypaper trap. They are confronted by a gloating Generalissimo Demmy Gog, who explains that first he learned how to increase morale and now he will reduce it. "My genius tells me that if I make Americans' morale LOW while I make my soldiers' HIGH, I can seize the country without firing a single shot!" As for the JLA, he will set their morale so low that it will "sink below the level of wanting to live! As you say in the U.S.A....SO LONG, SUCKERS!"

And while all this is going on, what cosmic, earth-shaking mission are the heavy hitters in the JLA undertaking? Why, they're cleaning and redecorating the Secret Sanctuary, under the command of a certain Amazon Princess with an apron tied over her star-spangled bathing suit. As she directs Superman to move the "Psonic Computer" across the room and GL to paint the room pink with his ring, GL ruefully (and chauvinistically) reflects, :"WONDER she may be... but mostly, she's WOMAN!" But then suddenly Superman drops the heavy computer on the floor with a "Thonk!" "It suddenly seemed STUPID to be lifting the computer.... I lost INTEREST in carrying it!", Supes lamely explains. And Green Lantern is no better off; "I feel the same way about using my RING!" With Wonder Woman feeling equally listless, the trio decide to follow their colleagues to Happy Harbor College and look for answers together. But when Superman leaps into the air with GL and WW in tow, he falls back to earth; "NUTS! I can't even get interested in FLYING!" And as the three heroes stand with thumbs out waiting for a passing truck, the caption advises us, "Gaze upon the most dismal moment in three illustrious careers...and if you feel like weeping, go ahead!" Boo hoo....

After the three super-hitchhikers arrive at the college, Superman's super-sensitive hearing detects a strange noise from the bell tower, and they follow it, only to fall victim to the full force of Generalissimo Gog's morale machine. But as Supes, GL and WW collapse, too demoralized to live, the Atom, still stuck in flypaper finds a new motivation; "I don't want to save my life.... I don't CARE about it... but I must save my FRIENDS! " He manages by clicking his size controls to reduce himself to sub-atomic size, small enough to slip between the waves of energy from the morale-ray, then enlarges himself behind Gog and swipes the morale machine's remote control. As the Atom resets the JLA'ers morale to normal, GL frees Batman and GA from the flypaper trap, and our heroes take on Gog's squad of soldiers, defeating them with unsurprising ease. Even Snapper gets into the act; "It's not hip to hit a man of higher RANK...but this cat is so rank I'm doing a public service!" Only Generalissimo Gog is left on his feet, but he has one gambit left to play; using the morale machine on himself. "Now is the moment I dream of....the supreme moment when I BEAT YOU ALL TO PIECES!" But now is also the moment when we learn the limits of increased morale...after Gog works himself into exhaustion pummeling Superman with punches, an entirely unfazed Man of Steel yawns as he punches Gog into oblivion. Later, Prof. Aiken surveys his modified machine and concludes that it must have been broadcasting its impulses erratically, with some beaming in the vicinity of the college and others bouncing off the Heaviside layer in the stratosphere to reach the JLA headquarters. Superman also offers the obligatory explanation, "I suspect those waves are similar to Kryptonite radiation!" Finally, a slightly embarrassed band of heroes try to make amends for their earlier friction, as Green Arrow apologizes for "flying off the handle," and Batman points out, "Gog was INSANE! But nonetheless, he almost defeated us!" Wonder Woman: "Yes, because we let petty personal differences blind us to the fact that we NEED one another!" And, as Aiken and Snapper look on, the six heroes clasp hands in a circle in a symbolic reunion. Awwwwww.....

Denny O'Neil's run as JLA scripter continued through issue #83, and while his stories got more serious in tone after a while (possibly because DC decided that the "camp" era was over for good and all) they continued the trend of "Marvelizing" the JLA by giving the members more distinct personalities and inter-personal conflicts. Which was not a bad thing....I don't imagine the JLA would have survived into the post-SA era if DC had tried to keep them the flawless and more or less interchangeable icons of yore.