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Justice League of America: Volume 1

01/11/2010. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy Showcase Presents Justice League of America: Volume 1 in the USA - or Buy Showcase Presents Justice League of America: Volume 1 in the UK

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pub: DC Comics. Showcase Presents Justice League of America: Volume 1 by Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky. 544 page black and white graphic novel softcover. Price: about GBP 7.00 (UK) if you know where to look. ISBN: 978-1-40120-761-8.

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There are over 500 pages of comics in this hefty black and white reprint volume so you get quantity at least. Whether or not you get quality is a matter of taste. You certainly get a lot of super-heroes and a lot of aliens. The super-heroes include Superman, Batman, the Flash, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern and Green Arrow. The aliens are a varied bunch. The Justice League of America is a patriotic name but the JLA fights all over the world. In fact, they fight all over the galaxy and in other dimensions, too.

The first story is from ‘Brave And The Bold # 28 March 1960’ and has the Justice League of America fighting Starro, an alien who looks like a starfish. In the second story, they fight the Weapons Master, an evil chap from the future, with weapons. In the third story, they fight Amazo, an android who can steal their powers. In the fourth story, which is the first in their own magazine, they fight Despero, a three-eyed evil alien genius from another dimension. In the fifth, aided by Merlin, they fight Simon Magus. Spot the trend?

In the sixth exciting yarn, Kanjar Ro, an alien from a far distant planet, makes them battle his rival alien leaders. Hyathis who is Panala of planet Alstair. In a footnote, Gardner Fox tells us that Panala is equivalent to an Earth queen. The second is Kromm, Gromar of the planet Mosteel. In a footnote, Gardner Fox tells us that Gromar is equivalent to an Earth king. The third is Sayyar, Jeffan of the planet Llar. In a footnote, Gardner Fox tells us that Jeffan is equivalent to an Earth king. I heard a story that when Walt Simonson started out in comics he went first to DC for work but asked them please, please not to give him a script by Gardner Fox. He couldn't stand the footnotes saying a Squart on the planet Krummy is equivalent to one human mile. Unfortunately, they gave him a Fox script and he ran away. This story may not be true and I must say I disagree with Walt anyway. Gardner Fox didn't write the sort of stuff we're used to nowadays but the stories are endlessly inventive, if sometimes ludicrous, and clearly the work of a very clever man.

Fox was a polymath and his stories often contain useful information. Here, for example, Martian Manhunter converts hematite - chemical formula Fe2 O3 to lodestone - chemical formula Fe3 O4 - with his Martian knowledge of transmutation. So the caption says, ‘The physical process seems to consist of sticking his hands into the ground. The useful footnote tells the schoolboy that Fe2 O3 means two atoms of iron in combination with three atoms of oxygen.’ The Martian Manhunter is weakened by flame which makes you wonder how Martian civilisation ever got off the ground. If they couldn't make iron how did they get as far as transmutation?

In 'The Fantastic Fingers Of Felix Faust', the JLA fight a sorcerer and the infamous Necronomicon is mentioned, as is H.P. Lovecraft. Not surprising as Gardner Fox was an early pulp writer and well acquainted with the works therein. Felix summons up three demons who used to rule the Earth until they were imprisoned millennia ago by the Timeless Ones. Gardner Fox was doing cosmic long before Galactus came along but somehow it's so low key it doesn't have any impact. It strikes me as similar to Science Fiction before John W. Campbell came along. Writers like E.E. 'Doc' Smith dreamed up wonders galore but nobody in the stories seemed to be astounded. Campbell insisted the characters react as real human beings would.

There are twenty stories in all, many of twenty-four pages or more. Early sixties DC often had two ten page tales per issue but cramming all these heroes in necessitated more space. In general, they are split into chapters and the JLA splits into groups to go off and fight the different foes. It works quite well. I didn't like Mike Sekowsky's art in the first issue but it grew on me as I progressed. Either I got used to it or it got better. To be fair, the realities of comic production back then meant quality was not always possible. Sekowsky's art tells the story clearly and that's the main thing.

Characterisation in 1960s DC land is virtually nil and the heroes are pretty interchangeable as far as personality goes. The stories are clever tricks and emotion does not come into it much. DC super-heroes are not passionate and the men don't even seem to notice that Wonder Woman is a girl. Later, of course, super-heroes did notice that their female colleagues were super in other ways and even dated. Later still, they raped them. This is progress. These stories, fortunately, are suitable for children. They are good, sweet, innocent yarns from a bygone age and enormous fun if not taken seriously. If you do take them seriously, you will hurt yourself because real people can't fly.

Eamonn Murphy

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