A Tribute to the of

The wonders of the World Wide Web bring you this latest edition of the Silver Age Sage.  I realize that's the case pretty much every time, but allow me to elaborate.  One of our long-time readers (Hi, Robert!) who is good about dropping me a line pretty regularly was mentioning something I wasn't aware of, which is a story that is brewing or maybe has already happened involving a Justice League of America/Avengers crossover.  Robert suggested that a potential review might be built around Justice League of America #87, from February of 1971, which had, among other things, a team of pseudo-Avengers giving our favorite heroes grief. (I have since discovered that this issue is the _second_ unofficial JLA/Avengers crossover; the first occurs in JLA #75 dated November, 1969. In the Denny O'Neil penned tale, "In Each Man There is a Demon!" members of the JLA are exposed to a devise that gives form to the dark side of the JLAers' personalities. "The Destructors" as they are dubbed, wreak havok and make reference to their Avengers' inspired abilites. Not to be outdone, JLA members appear, albeit disguised, in "When Strikes the Squadron Sinister!" in The Avengers #70 also dated November of '69. These stories are the result of a chance meeting at a party attended by O'Neil and Avengers scribe Roy Thomas.)  I was interested, so I went to eBay where, as luck would have it, a copy was up on the block for a reasonable price and the auction was to end soon.  So, I scored that copy and checked it out.  Thus, a web-based e-mail led to a web-based purchase and the result, on the web, is before you.  The full-length story, by Mike Friedrich, with Dick Dillon and Joe Giella providing art, all under the editorial shepherding of Julius Schwartz, is entitled "Batman—King of the World!"

The action begins as we discover an agitated Hawkman kneeling over a battered Batman.  Shaking his fist at a "colossal monster" the winged wonder takes flight only to be struck by a red ray, that puts him down for the count as well.  A gauntleted hand is shown reaching for the emergency signal in Hawkman's emblem, but it falls short.  On the following page we saw a monstrous robot plucking the Hawk emblem from our fallen hero and speaking to itself in a stereotypical computer-like fashion:  "Analysis:  Crude signaling device.  Deduction:  Functioning to summon others of their league.  Action:  This unit shall utilize device.  Potential Result:  Immobilization of this planet's super-normal inhabitants.

Segue to the Arctic where Superman seems to be in a reflective frame of mind:  "I am Superman…why must I keep impressing that on Earthlings?  There are 3-1/2 billion people on this planet and I am unique…different!  A stranger in a strange land.  Exercising…and brooding in my Fortress of Solitude aren't helping my situation any!  I need some company—to be among those that share the curse—as well as the blessing—of super powers!"  And away he flies to the satellite headquarters of the Justice League of America where, to his surprise (and certainly mine) he discovers the presence of the magically endowed Zatanna aboard.  A close-up panel of her lovely face describes her thusly:  "Zatanna…the girl with the enigmatic smile and dancing eyes...  Zatanna…ever calm in the midst of a stormy world…  Zatanna…the bearer of peace…"  Kal-El seems halfway smitten when he asks why she's there.  The magician explains that it's the anniversary of the rescue of her father, Zatara by the Justice League and that she's magicked herself up to celebrate.  (Incidentally, you can read the story of Zatanna's search and ultimate rescue of Zatara in the archives here at the Sage.)  For now the balloons and party favors will have to wait as a nearby monitor indicates a JLA distress signal from Hawkman in Peru.  Zatanna utters her trademark backward-speak to conjure herself to Hawkman while Superman flies down.  Also enroute are the Flash with the Atom along for the ride.  They soon converge on the scene, but find an odd scene.  The massive robot is in the background, blasting away at a rock formation with a red beam from its forehead while Batman and Hawkman are standing by.  Upon being queried, Batman seems belligerent and defensive, insisting everything is fine and his fellow Justice Leaguers weren't summoned.  He then states that as Bruce Wayne he was financing a dig for Incan ruins for Carter (Hawkman) Hall's museum when they discovered the robot.  They switched to their costumes, but discovered the robot was willing to obey their orders and help with the excavation.  Batman makes some unusual verbal and physical cues that lead Superman to believe he's lying, perhaps under the influence of this strange robot, but before he can investigate further, another airborne form arrives.  It's Green Lantern, who has apparently not been around for a while.  No sooner does the Emerald Warrior land than Batman brushes Superman aside and says he's the official welcoming committee.  GL asks what the trouble is that prompted the signal, which sends the already aggressive Batman into a rage.  He says he's the head man and doesn't need any of them, then invites them to leave.  Atom comments to Hawkman that he's been quiet through all this and the Winged Wonder replies that nothing is wrong and that they'd better obey Batman for their own good.  A quick x-ray vision analysis by the Man of Steel reveals nothing amiss with his two comrades, but Batman then exhibits the strangest behavior yet by ordering the robot to destroy the members of the Justice League!  The first to fall is Zatanna under the beam of the menace.  The Flash then rushes forward while the Atom follows a more clandestine attack by shrinking down and entering the computerized control center of the robot. 

The mechanized monster, which has ultra-sensitive sensors, is soon wreaking havoc with the members of the Justice League, all the while coldly and clinically describing his actions, using the analysis, deduction action series we saw earlier.  It isn't long before he's sidelined both the Flash and Atom and is making things miserable for Superman and GL by using red sun radiation and changing his color to yellow, respectively.  He also makes mention that the induced insanity of Batman is successful, which is overheard by Superman and Green Lantern moments before the Emerald Warrior hits the deck, too.  The final analysis is no detectible heartbeats, respiratory activity or nervous system response in the crumpled members of the JLA at his feet.  Seconds later, even the mighty Man of Steel is defeated and his lifeless form is presented to King Batman, who is now perched atop a throne on a pole, complete with crown and scepter.  I notice a control panel on one side of the chair that looks like it's from the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.  As the lunatic Batman gloats over the scene, the robot again reports to itself that the mission can now begin as the barrier has been removed and that he'll now report to the corporation.  Close Part I.

Part II begins rather strangely.  The form of Green Lantern, while still seemingly a goner, shows evidence of brain activity.  His power ring glows and is monitoring a wavelength used to communicate between the dread robot and its home base.  The next panel finds the Atom shrinking to sub-atomic stature in order to follow the link back to its point of origin, where he can begin the work of putting the menace out of commission.  How did this resurrection occur?  The explanation is soon disclosed as the members of the Justice League confer on a nearby mountaintop.  Superman congratulates Green Lantern on creating android duplicates of each member as a decoy while they came up with a strategy to defeat the mechanical monster.  The power ring had also detected the strange energy emanating from the robot, causing Batman's madness and Hawkman's ineffectiveness.  Superman flies his two afflicted comrades to get some medical help while the rest of the League decide to join the Atom in his neutralization mission.  For some reason, GL's ring isn't as powerful as it had been.  An editorial note refers us to some sort of cataclysmic event in his magazine, but does not elaborate further.  As a result, he pools his will power with that of the Flash and Zatanna to transport them to the distant world where they find the Atom by the rubble of what was once the home base computer.  The heroes look around and discover a world that has been destroyed by nuclear warfare.  They only have a moment to survey this rubble and destruction, though, when they receive some unexpected company. 

Four costumed figures appear and our crack editorial staff do the honors in explaining their identities and abilities:  "Jack B. Quick – super-speedster!  Not as fast as the Flash, but on the other hand he can fly short distances…  Blue Jay – a normal man who's discovered how to shrink to the size of a bird and gain wings…  Silver Sorceress – A female with extremely powerful hex power, but unable to control it completely…  Wandjina – Coincidentally the name of the Australian Aborigine god of rain… able to control the elements!  On his world, he is believed to be an actual god, but no one really knows…"  Then it's flashback time as we learn that both this group and the JLA are on Cam-nam-lao, "…a planet once dominated by highly competitive business corporations…so competitive, in fact, that the corporations of Cam-nam-lao ultimately eliminated each other in total atomic war…" It turns out the robot was the creation of one of the corporations, designed to go forth and collect raw materials on other worlds.  This new group of heroes is from the world of Angor, where they'd fought a similar robot and, like the League, they've now journeyed here to take on the robot's HQ.  They shout upon their arrival, "There!  They must be our enemies!

The next panel contains a document that correlates to the asterisk in that last statement.  It reads as follows:  "This Literary License enables us to translate the alien language…even the unintelligible alien names…into English!"  It bears the signature of Julius Schwartz – Commissioner of Licenses.  Cute, guys.  Back to the action. 

Obviously our heroes don't know this very foreign tongue, but Green Lantern comments that it sure sounds like a battle cry, so they brace for the onslaught in classic fashion, deciding the best defense is a good offense.  This, of course, only stiffens the resolve of the recently arrived band and they are now convinced they've met the controllers of the robots, making them the enemy. 

Flipping the page, we find a full two-page spread under the screaming banner THE NAME OF THIS GAME IS WAR!  As anyone could have predicted, Zatanna is taking on the Silver Sorceress, Green Lantern and Wandjina are swapping power bursts, the diminutive Atom is engaging the similarly sized Blue Jay and Flash and Jack B. Quick are zipping around.  Surrounding this carnage is an interesting series of text boxes.  See if you can detect a theme in the snippets:  War is the total breakdown of communication!  War is the insane attacks of strangers upon each other for non-personal reasons!  War is the lesson of self-destruction never learned!  War is the state of no compromise!  It has been said:  War is unhealthy for people and other living things.  Okay, I think we get the point.  Anyway, the next bit of action shows Blue Jay being knocked senseless by some flying debris.  In his unconscious state, he regains normal size and Zatanna quickly rushes to his aid, enlisting the assistance of Green Lantern, who quickly erects a bubble of emerald energy.  At the magician's behest, he drops the shield in order to use his ring's power to heal Blue Jay.  The Angor hero's comrades observe what is going on and when they see him rise, restored and raise his arms in their world's sign of peace, the skirmish is abruptly over.  The power ring is again brought into play to bridge the communication barrier and after shaking hands; the heroes of Angor depart for their home world. 

The final panel shows Green Lantern, Atom and Flash surrounding and embracing Zatanna with these closing thoughts in more multi-colored text boxes:  "There can never be any real words to describe the peacemaker…and Flash, Green Lantern and Atom don't even try, for this is…Zatanna…the girl with the enigmatic smile…ever calm in the midst of a stormy world…the bearer of peace…and blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God…"      

My friend Robert was right.  The heroes of Angor do resemble the Avengers to a certain extent, or at least some of Marvel's better-known characters.  Wandjina reminds me of the Mighty Thor with just a hint of Kraven's lion-maned tunic for good measure.  Even his battle-axe has a leather thong on it, like Thor's hammer.  The Silver Sorceress puts one in mind of the Scarlet Witch.  By the way, how did they come up with "Silver Sorceress" anyway?  I see no hint of silver on her, any more than the Blue Raja from the spoof super hero film "Mystery Men" had anything to earn the "blue" in his name.  Maybe they were just scraping bottom for names.  That certainly had to be the case with "Jack B. Quick."  Johnny Quick of Earth 3's Injustice Society's long-lost cousin, perhaps?   And speaking of blue, the monotonously dubbed Blue Jay doesn't especially remind me of anyone with the possible exception of Doll man from Earth-X combined with the Black Condor.  Either that or Woody Woodpecker with that plumage. 

This story was something of a roller-coaster ride for me.  I don't like my heroes to be dunces, but an introspective Superman at the get-go put me off a little.  Then the appearance of Zatanna and the reference to it being the anniversary of the rescue of Zatara, her father, by the Justice League was quite welcome, even if Mike Friedrich seems to be a bit infatuated with the character.  He almost portrays her like a sort of mystical temptress, causing the men around her to be captivated.  Then I took a few minutes to read the letters regarding the recent return of the Spectre in JLA #82 and #83 and some of them were fairly vicious toward Denny O'Neill's writing.  Perhaps that was one of the reasons for the faux Literary License inserted into the story, signed by Julie Schwartz.  It was kind of a cute gesture, as I mentioned earlier.  Then the brief battle and resolution with the references to war and peacemakers.  I can only assume they were making some social commentary on the Vietnam War.  As many of you know, I'm not big on socially conscious comics, but considering the times and the war-weary nation, I can give that a pass.  I was a little surprised at the PDA's (public displays of affection) in the closing panel, too, where GL, Flash and the Atom embrace Zatanna.  Atom even pecked her on the cheek.  I'm not saying it's right or wrong, it just seemed a little out of place in a comic that didn't have a romance theme.  Overall, I could take this story or leave it.  As is my custom when reviewing a comic outside the bounds of the Silver Age, which ended in 1970, I'm suspending my rating this time.  Despite my less than stellar opinion of this comic I am thankful for the request and hope I'll receive more in the future. 

To that end, drop me a line at silveragesage@thesilverlantern.com.  It's always a pleasure to hear from you.  Remember also to return in a couple of weeks for another review.

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2003 by B.D.S.

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