Review by Karl Verhoven
This is the final full volume of Justice League material from Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky. It originated in 1967 and 1968, but the overwhelming progress that swept through American culture since JLA was introduced largely bypassed Fox. Modifications have been forced on the covers of the original issues here, with Batman embarrassingly dominant to begin with, reflecting his contemporary status as the superhero with a TV series. Batgirl transfers from that show into the final story reprinted.
The opening issue concluded an interesting experiment. DC introduced Zatanna by having her stop off in several of their superhero titles during 1966 and 1967, one, as revealed here, in disguise, on a quest to locate her missing magician father, here successful. It indicates a trend prominent through the opening stories here with the JLA pitted against a bizarre assortment of mis-matched foes. It’s as if Fox glanced around the living room, saw his grandson’s toys and had Sekowsky funnel them into comics: a bull with rings hanging from its horns, a building block creature, a horse with a lizard’s tale, a knight in armour… mythological creatures appear in two of the opening three tales.
Whereas the Fox was inspired during the previous volume’s annual teaming of the Justice League with their other-dimensional counterparts the Justice Society of America, lightning doesn’t strike again. A group of random people absorb little black balls that transform them into villains. The JLA are pitted against the JSA and Johnny Thunder saves the day by telling jokes. “There was one little boy, see who was always late for school! One day his teacher wanted to know why and he said ‘Because all the signs say Go Slow’”. Boom, and indeed, boom. At the time the innovation was the JSA inducting an adult Robin into their ranks to replace Batman, but that’s a thrill whose sell-by date has long expired.
The one standout story here isn’t so much due to its quality, but that an effort was made. ‘Man, Thy Name is Brother’ is patronising and heavy-handed, but in a world of racial inequality it was the first DC comic to highlight this as an issue.
Sekowsky, once remarkable for what he could fit into a panel, appears uninspired by the scripts. He delivers a couple of his trademark goggle-eyed lunatic villains, but doesn’t invest anything more than what’s required to achieve a dull competency. The odd exception is the final issue reprinted here, where there’s far greater effort applied to a glamorous Batgirl and Queen Bee. For his part, by the time we approach the end of the book Fox is resorting to omnipotent villains who abduct the Justice League without knowing why because it’s impossible for them to be wrong.
This is the poorest collection of Justice League material presented in an archive to date, but worse was to come.