Justice League of America #172 (November, 1979)
Writer – Gerry Conway
Penciller – Dick Dillin
Inker – Frank McLaughlin
Letterer – Ben Oda
Colorist – Jerry Serpe
Editor – Ross Andru
Cover Price: $0.40
Today we’re not only going back to the pre-Crisis… we’re going back to pre-Chris…is. This fun (and silly) JLA/JSA team-up hit the shelves a few months before I made my understated debut on Earth-Prime.
Welp, it looks like Mr. Terrific is dead. He’s the victim of… murder! But whodunnit? Was it YOU? Was it ME? Well the way Superman is looking at us makes me think he believes so. Well, of course it wasn’t one of us… he actually believes it must have been one of the members of the Justice League… or the visiting Justice Society. He orders the Green Lanterns and Dr. Fate to seal the Satellite, ensuring nobody enters and, more importantly, nobody leaves.
We turn our attentions to the Huntress, who is the daughter of the Earth-2 Batman and Catwoman. She reflects on the annual get-togethers between the two teams with Justice in their name… and how this one went from joyous to horrifying. Ya see, Mr. Terrific was an aged superhero who just decided to come out of retirement. Clearly, this was a bad idea considering that he is now very much dead.
At first, due to hearing a loud explosion the heroes assumed the death was an accident, however, once Zatanna got involved and began working her hoo-doo, she found herself shocked into a coma… perhaps to stop her from finding out the truth! From there, the Flashes did some reconnaissance, and found nothing. After standing around with their hands on their chin for awhile, Superman finally suggests that there is very likely… a traitor in their midst!
We shift to the Lanterns and Dr. Fate in the Monitor Room, where they are creating a bubble that will surround the entire Satellite. After they construct the bauble, they discuss how difficult it would be for any of them to leave at this point… perhaps fearing that they just locked themselves inside with a murderer!
Moments later, in the Conference Room, Superman is holding court. He assigned detective-duties to Batman and Huntress, who immediately get to work, asking who might be the last person to have spoken to Mr. Terrific. It turns out it was the Flash… es, that last saw him. They chatted about Sloane coming out of retirement, and the reemergence of the old super-villain the Spirit King. The conversation got heated, and ended with Terrific stomping away proclaiming that when all is said and done, one of the Flashes will be branded as… a traitor!
Batman does the whole “hand to his chin” thing to ponder what he’d just heard. Huntress is skeptical… saying the words of a dead man aren’t much to go by… a dead man, who, while alive may have been… dun dun dun… senile! This raises the ire of (Earth-2) Hawkman and Alan Scott. Batman tells them all to settle their tea kettles… and repeats the facts… well, fact of the matter. All we know for sure is that Terry Sloane was murdered! He excuses himself (along with Huntress) to investigate the crime scene.
Among the ruins of the crime scene, Batman is able to find a piece of busted up debris from the explosion. On it, he finds depressions which could easily be the result of super-powered fingertips digging in.
The detectives split off, Huntress heads to the JLA Computer, and Batman decides to chat up his old friend Barry Allen. Barry reveals the entirety of his conversation with Terry… including how it went so wrong. Sloane appeared to be very defensive about his age… and really took any little comment as a personal affront. Across the room, Huntress is tapping away on the console when… it explodes!
The heroes rush to her aid, Superman wraps her in his cape to smother the flames. Batman kneels over the girl-who-could-be-his-daughter… and is told how cool it feels to be burned… what? Does Huntress dig pain? Ay yai yai. Anyhoo, Dr. Fate scurries over and magicks the burns away. The Flashes run in circles until the fire is extinguished. I get what they’re thinking here… but the panels showing them running around are really quite silly.
Once the hub-bub dies down, Batman is prepared to reveal his findings. He pulls out that piece of debris (piece of debreese?) from earlier… and suggests that perhaps it was Superman! But, no… the finger-indents are too close together for that. He then points to… Power Girl! Who, flatly denies it (traitors always tell the truth, right?). Batman agrees with her, claiming she would be too obvious… which I don’t quite understand. Did Power Girl and Mr. Terrific have a messy history? I dunno.
Anyhoo, Batman then reveals the true murderer… Jay Garrick! Well, kinda… it’s Jay Garrick possessed by… the Spirit King!
The Spirit King’s ethereal form reveals itself… grows one hell of a beautiful afro, and admits to everything. He’s all, “Yeah I did it… did that too… and that, yup, and that!” Looks like Jay Garrick’s off the hook!
Then… he escapes. He manages to run past all of the heroes and into the Transmatter Machine back to Earth-2. The heroes are all upset that they’ve lost this battle… but Superman is insistent that they, in fact, won. Ya see, they now know that there were no traitors among them. Mr. Terrific’s still dead, but that’s a small price to pay to know you can trust your teammates!
The story ends with the Earth-2 heroes hopping into the Transmatter Machine to give chase to their horrible foe.
Love “captive team” type stories. Just love the idea of all these strong personalities bubbling under the surface while they’re all scrutinized for killing one of their own. I mean, the ending was sort of a no-brainer… it’s not like we were gonna find out that Batman or Superman is a murderer or anything, but it was still a lot of fun. Not clear how Batman came to his conclusion… but that seems to be a theme. Either they’re just pulling it out of their backside, or I’m too dense to keep up… perhaps both!
Some of the dialogue here was really fun. I like Huntress sheepishly suggesting that they’re going on the word of a man who might have been senile… and the reactions around the room. Also, Huntress saying that it feels cool to be burned… wassupwitdat? Was she saying that it was a, I dunno… cold flame? Or did she just dig the feelin’, maaaaaan?
The Satellite Era is still something of a novelty to me… it’s such weird fun, while at the same time there’s this feeling of formality, almost “ceremony”. I mean, really now… picture Superman standing in front of a room exclaiming “I ACCUSE!”
This is one of those stories where it feels like the Leaguers (and Society-ers… Socialites?) seem more like co-workers than friends. In rummaging through whatever ephemera (physical and digital) I can come across, I found it’s a pretty common… don’t wanna say complaint, maybe “observation”, that the JLA seem like people grouped together to do a job… where the Avengers (the old… classic Avengers, before everybody was one) seemed more like a group of friends who happened to fight for the common good. It wouldn’t be unusual to see a couple of Avengers having a chat over drinks… whereas the League just feels so stuffy and formal.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this thoroughly… because, I did. It’s just that with each revisit to pre-Crisis League, the clearer those observations become. Overall, I’d definitely recommend this… especially if you can find the issue before this one too, which I sadly do not have. The entire story (and several more) are collected in Crisis on Multiple Earths, vol. 5, and is also available digitally.