A while ago, I wrote about how I first became a fan of comic books. This led me to remember several issues from DC Comics that came out in the 1970’s, that were formative parts of my exposure to this whole medium.
So then I decided to track down some of those comics and buy them, and journal the experience. I got three of them. The first I wrote about here, and now we’re onto the second: Justice League of America #134.
This (and all three comics I bought for this series) are all stories I have never read since I had the original issues. And I’ve never seen the stories in any reprint collections…so all my memories of them are from about 40 years ago, at least. Those memories are generally vague and confused. I remember never completely understanding what was going on in any of these stories, for example.
So now, years later, I can finally figure out what was happening, and also see if the issues hold up at all today.
The Battle at the Edge of Forever
Written by Gerry Conway, art by Dick Dillin and Frank McLaughlin, edited by Julius Schwartz.
So, logging my response (these are from my notes as I was re-reading the comic for the first time)
The Splash Page. We see two big strange looking alien giants watching over a battle taking place between Despero and the League.
Wonder Woman, Hawkman and the Atom already look defeated, with Elongated Man soon to follow. Batman and Supergirl (who I didn’t understand was not a League member) are still in the battle.
Now the story proper, with Chapter 1 being called “The Enemy Unknown!”, which is, let’s face it, a little better than “The Unknown Enemy”.
The two aliens witness Hawkman and Despero’s spaceships about to crash into each other, so they interfere for the purposes of research, and bring everyone on board their ship or station or whatever it is. Indeed, whatever it is, it is quite the psychedelic looking place with lots of hard lines and triangles floating in space. We see that the heroes from the splash page are on Hawkman’s ship, while Despero is on his own ship with a bunch other Leaguers held prisoner (and unconscious). Despero’s prisoners include Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Flash. Somehow, Wonder Woman is in both groups. I’m sure that will come in up in the conversation somewhere along the way.
Anyway, everyone who is awake is teleported off their ship to…where?
Incidentally, around this time I remember being disappointed that apparently Green Lantern and Flash, my two favorite characters, were going to spend the story unconscious in some tubes.
So the Leaguers and Despero all show up in the same chamber. Wonder Woman’s presence with the League is confusing to Despero (though still not explained) and the League recognize Despero from when he took Superman, presumably in the previous issue. Elongated Man attacks Despero, because his mystery-solving nose apparently detects that he’s the guy responsible for taking Superman (it’s a bit like Spider-Man spider-sense, I guess). Despero doesn’t recognize Elongated Man because he joined since Despero last fought the League, the editor tells us. Despero easily overpowers Elongated Man but Supergirl saves him.
All that in five panels!
Wonder Woman now attacks Despero, who is confused because he thinks he’s holding her captive. Wonder Woman performs some acrobatic maneuver that she thinks proves she’s the real deal, but which I found incomprehensible in the day, and still now. She addresses Despero as “Foolish mortal!”
Despero escapes, somehow (he just disappears). Supergirl laments that she’s failed her cousin, who went missing. The aliens, Albon and Nordon, spy on them and see Wonder Woman hugging Supergirl to comfort her. The art is confusing here, and it looks like the two women’s heads have swapped places, except they are backwards. I thought this as a kid and I think this now.
One of the aliens talk about how they studied all sorts of stellar phenomena, but “rarely have we studied that most intriguing occurrence–the living soul.”
They use their technology to examine the past, where Supergirl is seen telling the League–specifically Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Elongated Man, Wonder Woman and Black Canary–about Superman’s disappearance. The aliens conveniently recap for us that Superman was taken to the Planet Sirkus to fight Despera, and supplied him with fake superheros (the other Leaguers that we saw held captive, apparently) to help.
“Bizarre–and most confusing,” says one of the aliens. I agree, but it probably made sense if I’d read that issue.
The aliens decide that the image of Despero fighting Superman (and his weaker, fake League friends) offered a thrill they have never experienced before. They hope that the enemies will fight some more, and decide to encourage it if they won’t.
Despero is seen running through the hallways of the ship, finding some weapons. But Batman and Hawkman are teleported to the room as well. They don’t know how they got there, but Hawkman decides to look a “gift-grelk” in the mouth. The editor conveniently lets us know that that’s the equivalent to a terran horse. Thanks, Julius Schwartz!
Despero attacks the heroes with a weapon that turns the air around them to glue, but disappears again before he can do anything more.
Chapter II–“The War Which Wouldn’t End”–begins. The aliens teleport Despero, Wonder Woman and the Atom to the planet surface to fight some more, and they disable the glue gun in the process. Wonder Woman and the Atom begin to pound Despero, to the thrill of the aliens. “Yes, female–Yes! Strike the scaled man! Strike him hard! Never have I felt such–such ecstacy, Nordon! The sight of this struggle overwhelms me!” Whoa, take it easy there Albon.
However, Despero uses his mind control powers to take over Wonder Woman, making short work of the Atom.
Despero gloats, and in so doing quotes the nursery rhyme about “Ten Little Indians”. Nice of the guy to take such an interest in our culture, I guess.
He initiates his own teleportation (with his super-powerful third eye) back to the spaceship, but when he does, Wonder Woman is gone and Elongated Man and Supergirl are there to attack him. Unexpectedly, everyone finds themselves teleported to another world with glass trees!
Despero tries to stop fighting, but suddenly is overcome with an urge to keep at it. He knocks out Elongated Man but Supergirl easily knocks him back. She gets frustrated and then turns her attention to the aliens who are manipulating them (who appear as giants to her, like on the splash page).
There’s no indication that Supergirl can see these guys before she addresses them–she just seems to call them out of their invisibility by the power of her awesomeness.
[After that, there is a one page Superman story called “Justice For All Includes Children 6”, in which a kid hitchhikes with some people who stole a car, but Superman is able to help him out when the police show up, as well as to teach him a valuable lesson about the danger of doing things like that. I think as a kid I was confused and didn’t realize at first that this wasn’t part of the story.]
Anyway, the aliens reveal that they are the last of their people, the Krill, and that they have been doing this because they are bored. Supergirl decides the way to deal with this is to have each of them choose a side–her or Despero. Once they’ve done it, she throws Despero into the air so that he orbits the planet!
By the way, I think this is where I first read the word, “Eon.”
The aliens bicker, as Nordon knows that his champion, Supergirl will win. Albon thinks that’s ridiculous since they’ve given Despero a force-field, which I realize now was referenced back on page 14.
Supergirl is counting on that, though, and decides not even a force field will protect Despero from throwing him around the planet and then flying at him with super-speed and punching him in the face!
Nordon attempts to gloat to his brother, who responds by punching him in the face!
In a one panel wrap-up, we see that Superman is now set free, Despero is being held captive by Elongated Man’s elongated arms (boy, does that got to be an annoying thing to have to keep doing), and Supergirl reflects guiltily that they introduced the last survivors of an ancient race to war! Though to be fair, they did force the issue. What you actually introduced them to, Supergirl, was betting on sports, which is a bit less of a crime.
Incidentally, on Page 18 is a letter page, which features an image of the League reading letters. Visible are Hawkman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman, Elongated Man, Batman, the Atom, Superman, Black Canary, Green Arrow and Green Lantern. This is significant because I remember looking at this picture and not having any idea who Black Canary was. She appeared in a flashback earlier this issue but in both cases, all you can see is her head (blond hair and all). So I had no idea who this character was. I can’t remember when I actually found out, but I guess I didn’t know who she was because she had never appeared on the animated Super-Friends.
Hey…this story was only 17 pages long! And one of them was a splash page, and another was basically taken up in flashbacks. That’s just 15 pages of story for $.30. What a rip off!
That aside, it’s a pretty good issue, I think. Dick Dillin drew about a thousand issues of the Justice League, and he does a solid job here, creating some bizarre and gripping science fiction set pieces, even if there are a couple of images that are a bit confusing. Conway’s plot is fine though rushed. The League themselves aren’t given a whole lot of characterization, but I do appreciate the sequence with Wonder Woman and the Atom. Where Diana is all about the fight, the Atom spends his time pondering the manipulation that is behind their predicament, determining to attack it intellectually. Of course, neither ends up being able to do much to help at all.
Supergirl comes across well, beating Despero without really breaking a sweat. It does leave one wondering how Superman was beaten so easily. Maybe it’d make sense if I read the previous issue.
I don’t think I realized until now that Despero’s other prisoners were not the actual League. Again, I’d have to read the previous issue, but I wonder who they were. Fake people, or just members of another alien race who were made to look like the heroes? If it’s the latter, I guess they were sent home between panels.
This story is the same length as the lead story from Superman Family #177, but it feels more substantial somehow because of all the environments it takes place in, and because of its somewhat more cohesive plot. It’s a good fun survey of a bunch of Justice Leaguers, which while not fully satisfying makes me want to read more. And it includes this cool panel of Supergirl showing Despero what’s what.
Next up: Green Lantern #91 (coming soon)