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Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Justice League of America 150 - the Star-Tsar unmasked


Englehart concludes the Star-Tsar story, and his run on the book, with the Dillin and McLaughlin story in Justice League of America 150 (Jan. 78).


The story picks up directly from the end of the previous issue, as the Leaguers find Snapper Carr knocked out, wearing the Star-Tsar costume. The Star-Tsar's minions show up just as Snapper Carr wakes, and he uses his men's attack in order to get away.


The League sends out the alarm, and the entire team assembles. Although I did not notice this as a kid, it helps make this somewhat of an anniversary issue, being number 150 and all. Aquaman, Atom, Batman, Black Canary, Elongated Man, Flash, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, Hawkman, Phantom Stranger, Red Tornado, Superman and Wonder Woman all show up, and the Privateer is there as well. The Phantom Stranger decides the Star-Tsar case is not really his kind of thing and takes off right away, to Green Arrow's annoyance.


The Privateer joins Batman, Black Canary, Elongated Man, Green Lantern, the Hawks, Red Tornado and Superman follow the energy trail to a lighthouse, which proves to be the base of their old enemy the Key. The heroes all wind up captured in some neat keyholes traps, while the Key gives part of the explanation as to how he survived his death in their last encounter, John Stewart's bubble of green energy having cured his fatal illness. But the heroes note how unstable the Key is on his feet.


The other members of the team, Aquaman, Atom, Flash, Green Arrow and Wonder Woman, head to Snapper Carr's home. From his sister, they learn how Snapper's connections to the League proved far more of a drawback than a plus in his life, and actually wound up preventing him from getting any sort of decent employment. Snapper shows up and attacks the team, flying off. But he is really just trying to lead them to the Key. His plan doesn't quite come off, and they all get captured as well.


So everyone winds up in the keyhole traps. They are in limbo, and unable to make any sort of force contact, preventing the heroes from using their powers to escape. Snapper explains how the Key found him and recruited him into playing the part of the Star-Tsar. Snapper is only one of the men in the costume, as is the Key. But there is another who is the real Star-Tsar.


The escape from the keyholes is good. The Flash winds up using the Elongated Man as a treadmill, building up enough speed to break out of limbo, and free the rest of the team.


They find the Key much easier to take down than expected, as the cure for his illness shrunk all but his head, and his body proves to be a mechanical construct.


But who is the Star-Tsar? In a great conclusion, Red Tornado details how the Privateer was absent at critical moments, times when the Star-Tsar was active. The large cast made this easy to not spot, but the story plays fair. Red Tornado points out that, in the keyholes, and in Dr. Light's trap, no one was standing next to the Privateer, and those were times when the Star-Tsar was out and active. Mark Shaw has no choice but to confess, and it's a darn good one, given a full page. Yes, he had been seduced and lied to by the Manhunters, but he came to enjoy the power that being one of them gave him. He had planned to join the League as the Privateer, while running a criminal group on the side as the Star-Tsar, using his position with the League to keep his people away from them. It was a "perfect" plan, except the Red Tornado's computer mind automatically records everything, and in playback, he could spot the times Privateer was missing.

Makes for a great conclusion. And it sure took me by surprise when I was a kid.

Superman promises Snapper Carr that he will find him work, and this leads to Snapper's job at STAR Labs in the Supergirl series in Superman Family.

The Key returns a couple of years down the road, but Mark Shaw is not seen again until Suicide Squad in the late 80s. A different Star-Tsar faces the League the following year.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Justice League of America 149 - who is the Star-Tsar?


Englehart is back with Dillin and McLaughlin as he begins his final two part story, dealing with the Star-Tsar, in Justice League of America 149 (Dec. 77). Yet again, this is a story I really love.



It brings back the Privateer, who is trying to prove himself worthy of joining the Justice League. He gets into a fight with Dr. Light, who is trying to use the JLA transporter. The villain gets away, and the League have mixed feelings about allowing the Privateer to help them on the case. Batman is completely against him, but most of the rest of the team have grown to admire Mark Shaw.


Dr. Light is the first to meet the Star-Tsar, a mystery villain who informs Light that only he will be the one to defeat the JLA. As in, only the Star-Tsar. Dr. Light scoffs, still certain of his own abilities.


The story gives a much fuller recap of Mark Shaw's origins, how he was a crusading district attorney when recruited by the Manhuters back in First Issue Special, and then goes on to cover the events in Justice League, when he learned he was working for killer robots. He got the taste for crime fighting, and wants to continue. He impresses most of the members, but Red Tornado is feeling totally overshadowed.


I should have mentioned that Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, the Hawks and Superman are the other heroes in this story. They get into a fight with the Star-Tsar's men, but the leader takes off. Following him, Flash and Superman wind up running into Snapper Carr, their old sidekick. He is so evasive you just know he is part of the bad guys.


Red Tornado knows. But the other members let Snapper go, based on their long history together. Red Tornado takes this as another sign that he doesn't understand what it is to be human.


Dr. Light captured the League in a fairly cool death trap.  Green Lantern is able to get his body together, but before he can make another move they all get freed by the Star-Tsar.


The guy does not stick around, though, and the League take down Dr. Light, who accidentally sets off an explosion in his secret lair.


Leaving, the team finds Snapper Carr unconscious, and wearing the Star-Tsar costume.

The story concludes in the next issue.

Justice League of America 148 - the Legion vs the Justice League vs the Justice Society


Pasko, Dillin and McLaughlin conclude the giant JLA/JSA/LSH crossover in Justice League of America 148 (Nov. 77).


The Three Demons took down Mordru at the end of this issue, and the Legionnaires get sent off with him, to re-unite his spirit with his still-entombed body. Green Arrow and Black Canary are still stuck in the hourglass around his neck. Ultra Boy alerts Green Lantern about this, and he creates scissors to cut them free.


The Three Demons cannot agree on what they want to do now that they are free. Abnegazar wants to enjoy this new peaceful future world, Rath wants to rule it, and Ghast wants to destroy it. They try fighting amongst themselves, but are too equally balanced, so they each choose a team to represent them. The Legion get picked by Abnegazar, and since they are fighting to keep the world peaceful, they don't need much coaxing.


The Justice League and Justice Society, on the other, do. Rath picks the Society, and Ghast the League, and then hypnotize them into submission. Rath has to remove Dr. Fate's body first, but even then his mind fights back against the programming, as does Power Girl's.


As the teams battle against each other, it becomes clear that the League maintain more of their mental faculties than the older members of the Society. Using this, the League and Legion arrange the fights to constantly come out as even, preventing any of the Three Demons from declaring victory.


Once again, the page count gives a lot of time for the different characters to act, which is good, as there are even more Legionnaires in this issue than in the previous one. 


I'm not going to bother to list everyone this time. But it's a fun read through and through.


Eventually the Demons give up on using the heroes as proxies. Abnegazar and Rath take each other down, and Ghast gets sealed up in the long separated remains of the JLA satellite. re-forged thanks to Dr. Fate.

Mordru returns almost immediately in the Earthwar saga in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, while the Three Demons are not seen again in this book until 1982.

Justice League of America 147 - The Legion of Super-Heroes meet the JLA and JSA


Paul Levitz and Marty Pasko join forces with Dillin and McLaughlin to spin a massive two part story that brings together the Justice League of America, Justice Society of America, and Legion of Super-Heroes which begins in issue 147 (Oct. 77). It's a great thing that they chose this year in which to include the Legion. The comic was giant size, and the extra page length, and two issues in which to tell it, made sure that the massive cast got a chance to show their stuff.


The story even has a very slight crossover with the JSA's series in All-Star Comics at the top, as the Justice Society are about to bring the Psycho-Pirate back to prison. Green Arrow delays this so that the two teams can socialize some more, to Wildcat's dismay.


The party scene allows for a bit of enjoyable interplay between the teams, which gets interrupted when a giant hand bursts in and grabs Justice League members Black Canary, Green Arrow, Green Lantern and Superman, and Justice Society members Dr. Fate, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and Power Girl. This is Power Girl's first appearance in this book. The Star-Spangled Kid, now a member of the JSA, also makes a cameo in this tale.


Mordru, the evil magician who is one of the Legion's greatest enemies, is the villain of this tale. His role indicates that this story must come before the Earthwar saga, currently unfolding in the pages of Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes. He has imprisoned some of the Legionnaires, and sent out others to retrieve the Bell, Jar and Wheel that contain the Three Demons, Abnegazar, Rath and Ghast, not seen since 1965. But as the Legion has not returned with the objects, Mordru reached into the past to try to grab them that way, but wound up with the heroes instead. We find out in this story that the JLA satellite would get destroyed at some point in the future, and its contents scattered through space.


So the heroes get split into little groups, and sent out to aid the Legionnaires. All but Green Arrow and Black Canary, who Mordru keeps imprisoned in an hourglass around his neck, to make sure the others do what he commands. Superman, Hawkman and Dr. Fate head out to join Sun Boy and Wildfire and retrieve the wheel from some aliens who worship it.


The two Green Lanterns and Batman join Brainiac 5 and Princess Projectra to get the bell, which is being used to ward off space dragons.


Flash and Power Girl go it alone to retrieve the jar, and the chapter almost becomes a solo one for Power Girl. Not such a bad thing, as it serves to introduce her to the Justice League readers.


Mordru gets the three items and releases the Three Demons. But he expected them to become his servants. Instead they turn on him and take him down, which leaves Green Arrow and Black Canary in a precarious situation.

The story concludes in the next issue.

Justice League of America 146 - two new members


Englehart, Dillin and McLaughlin follow up the return of the Red Tornado, and bring back the Construct as well, in Justice League of America 146 (Sept. 77).


Batman, Black Canary, Green Arrow, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Superman and Wonder Woman are shocked to see Red Tornado back from the dead. Their initial excitement gets muted when he starts giving vague answers as to how he managed to survive all this time. Added to that, the fact that the last time he returned from the dead he was a pawn of T.O. Morrow makes Superman question the Tornado. He answers everything correct, including the information revealed a couple of issues ago about the true origin of the League, something the Red Tornado could not have known.


Sure enough, it is the Construct inhabiting the Red Tornado's body. How he found all the bits floating in space, gathered them up and put them back together is not explained. The team defeats the Construct, and then splits up to further investigate the creature's return, just leaving the Red Tornado's body lying on the ground. Once again, that's rude. But ultimately a good thing, as the Tornado slowly revives as the story goes on.


Superman, Batman and Green Arrow head down to Atlantis, hooking up with the Atom and Aquaman, and learning what they can about the first Construct from them. This third one remembers little of what his predecessors experienced, but knows that he wants vengeance against the League.


Wonder Woman suspects that her weird blackout time, with the Injustice Gang, may have been the result of the Construct, so she heads back to Paradise Island, bringing Black Canary and the Hawks with her. We get to see the shields Hippolyta has set up to prevent the outside world from making electronic contact with Paradise Island, as they come under assault from the Construct. Wonder Woman learns that the entity had, indeed, taken control of her mind, which she is not at all happy about.


As the team gathers to compare notes the Red Tornado catches up to them. They refuse to believe he is anything other than the pawn of the Construct, and in a really good scene he pleads with them not to turn him away. Hawkgirl and Wonder Woman are the two who believe him, and convince the others to give him a chance. Good plan. It winds up being the Red Tornado to face down the Construct, and the villain expends so much energy trying to destroy the android that he shorts himself out.


Wonder Woman creates a random wave generator to prevent the Construct from re-forming, and this works until 1985, when it returns in the Red Tornado miniseries. The story ends as Red Tornado is voted back into the League, and Hawkgirl finally becomes a member, after far too long.

Justice League of America 145 - Carnival of Souls


Carnival of Souls, the Englehart, Dillin and McLaughlin story from Justice League of America 145 (Aug. 77) is yet another of my favourite issues. I love stories set in amusement parks that are big death traps, and this one hits all the right notes for me.


The villain in this story, Count Crystal, makes a pact with a demon, Azgore. In exchange for power, Count Crystal promises to kill the Justice League and send their souls to the demon.


It begins well for the Count, as he attacks and kills Superman right off the bat. There is a really good running plot thread to this story, of Green Arrow and Hawkman trying to bury their differences with each other by getting drunk. Black Canary and Hawkgirl accompany them, but remain far more sober and level headed than the men. Even Hawkman sobers up quickly once the story gets going, but Green Arrow remains plastered throughout.


The Phantom Stranger calls in the other Leaguers, Batman and Wonder Woman, and performs a sort of seance to contact Superman's soul, lost in Azgore's realm. Through this they learn about Count Crystal, and head to Rutland, Vermont.


Tom Fagan gets a cameo, but there is no Halloween party in this tale, which is far more serious than the last time the team was in town.


The Leaguers have little option than to go through with the crazy death rides that Count Crystal has set up for them, though the Phantom Stranger sacrifices himself early on.


His death was needed, though, as he searches for and finds Superman, and keeps the hero out of Azgore's clutches.


Count Crystal's fatal mistake lies in trying to bang Hawkgirl. Rather than overseeing the attacks on the other Leaguers, he grabs her and runs off, and then willingly believes her when she says she will stay with him. Of course it's a ruse, and she takes him down and escapes.


By the time Crystal is back on his feet the time limit has passed. None of the other Leaguers have died, and the Phantom Stranger has kept Superman's soul from being devoured by Azgore, who eats up Count Crystal instead.


Superman and the Phantom Stranger manage to escape from the land of the dead during all the chaos. And, it appears, so does the Red Tornado, in a very surprising closing twist. That part of the story continues in the next issue.