Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Justice League of America #13

Justice League of America #13

Cover date: August 1962

"Riddle of the Robot Justice League"

Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciller: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Bernard Sachs

Cover: Mike Sekowsky & Murphy Anderson

Reviewed by: Tom-EL

Click to enlarge

Chapter one:

It is night in Star City. Green Arrow and Speedy are on the trail of invisible robbers, two thieves who robbed a factory payroll, then vanished into thin air as the police gave chase. The trail leads to an old clock tower with statues around the clock. GA and Speedy fire two miniature mop-head arrows, that brush the faces of two statues, wiping away their copper-colored make-up, exposing them as the thieves. Just as they are about to cuff the crooks, Green Arrow disappears, leaving behind nothing but his handcuff arrow.

At Ferris Aircraft, Hal Jordan is about to recite his oath and recharge his ring, in the presence of his mechanic friend, Pieface. At the exact moment he finishes, he disappears, with his friend wondering what happened.

Batman and Wonder Woman are performing acrobatics at a charity event in Gotham City when they vanish. In Central City, the Flash disappears as he is escorting two crooks to jail, while Martian Manhunter disappears from his city in a smoke-bomb, tossed by crooks making a getaway in a helicopter.

In Metropolis, the offices of the Daily Planet, Superman pays a visit (not as Clark Kent). He walks in on Jimmy Olsen who came into the possession of a book on ancient magic, and is reading it to learn how to make someone disappear. Superman warns him not to take that stuff seriously, but Jimmy wants to try anyway. Jimmy speaks the magic words "ALLA MAHALLA KAZARA!" and Superman goes "poof" right before his eyes! At that moment, Jimmy then thinks "Wait, how am I going to get him back? The book didn't say anything about that!" At the same time, Aquaman, while on patrol in the ocean, vanishes.

Chapter two:

The eight members of the JLA reappear at the same moment together in a large alien laboratory, each wondering how they got there. Superman asks "Where in the universe are we?" None of them know, but since they are all there together they figure someone must have brought them there. The someone is a creature of pure energy, who welcomes them to the planet Erislane, stating that his name is Sforll and that they were brought there as a last resort. He tells them that not only Erislane and Earth, but the entire universe is facing imminent destruction. Superman asks for an explanation starting from the beginning, then Sforll begins his narrative.

The story began ten billion years ago on the planet Skarn in a parallel universe. The population that inhabited Skarn was a race of very highly intelligent super geniuses, the majority of which were scientists. The greatest of these geniuses was Zed Brann, who had discovered the fact that every universe has a core of "vita-matter", which is what comprises the life-force of the universe. No sooner had he discovered that, then he discovered that the life-force of Skarn's universe was dying out. The only way to prevent the death of his universe was to steal the vita matter life force of another universe. The scientists of Skarn put their collective heads together and came up with a plan to do that. They developed a chain of hyper-dimensional transformers reaching from one universe into the next, all inter-connected and powered by a main engine. They would literally pull the life-force out of another universe and into theirs.

Across the eons, people of other universes fought back, attempting to stop the theft of the life force of their universe. No defending universe had the technology or weapons sufficient to stop the Skarn, the defenders were always defeated. In one instance, a great armor-clad hero called Ragnar of the planet Ultranoor, challenged a Skarn champion in one-on-one combat. The Skarn sent out a machine that produced a metal robot duplicate of Ragnar, they battled, and Ragnar lost the contest.

Since that time, whenever there has been such a challenge, the defenders of a given universe always lose to their robot counterparts. Superman raises the question that if there were two Ragnars, neither should have been able to win, it should have ended in a tie. Sforll agreed, admitting that it was a mystery they have never been able to solve as to why the Skarn duplicates always win. However, in the ages since then, the Skarn have stolen the life forces of many universes. One universe was able to send out a warning to other universes which reached Erislane. They in turn, began a search of their universe for a mighty fighting force, and learned of the existence of the Justice League of America who have never been defeated in combat. The JLA was brought to Erislane by means of teleportational grapples in the belief that they represented the last hope of defeating the Skarn. The Leaguers accept the challenge and step into a dimensional vehicle that will transport them between universes. Sforll bids them farewell and good luck, adding "...the hopes of a billion worlds ride with you."

Chapter three:

The Justice League arrives on the planet Skarn. As soon as the vehicle stops and they get out, they are met by a Skarnian who is there to conduct them to the great arena where the competitions will take place. He tells them the stadium is packed because "We Skarn enjoy these contests. Our side always wins!" For a few minutes, the Leaguers stand alone on the arena grounds, and then the duplicator machine rolls out. A moment later, seven metallic silver robot duplicates of the JLA materialize before them. There is no robot of Aquaman, the reason being that water does not exist on Skarn. Realizing the Aquaman will eventually need water to survive, Green Lantern fashions a floating pool of water above the stadium from where Aquaman can see all the competitions and cheer his teammates on. At that point, the individual challenges begin. Superman and robot-Superman will have a super-speed race around a track. On one side there is a blue light, on the other a red, one will glow brighter and the other glows dimmer depending on who is winning. The one whose light goes out first loses. Flash and robot-Flash also engage in a super-speed competition, using their speeds in various ways. Green Arrow and his metal rival have an archery contest. Two J'onn J'onzz's face each other in a super-slugfest. Green Lantern and his robot opponent engage in a power ring duel. The two Batmen will test each other's fighting and martial arts skills. Wonder Woman and robot-Wonder Woman have a tug-of-war with their magic lassos. All the while, Aquaman observes from his floating ringside seat, shouting encouraging words to his comrades.

From the outset, it appears that the robot League is beginning to take the lead. Everywhere Aquaman looks, his fellow members are facing defeat, while the cheers of the crowd get louder and louder. Out of desperation, Aquaman says whatever he can think of to encourage his friends to find a way to win. He tells the Flash "Turnabout is fair play". The Flash then turns himself about fast enough to cause an updraft shaking his robotic opponent apart. Aquaman tells Wonder Woman "Remember your Amazon heritage - yank harder!" Pondering that, she gives a mighty yank, and robot Wonder Woman flies into the arena wall and shatters. Member by member, Aquaman gives words that each of his friends hears and uses to find a way to win their respective competitions. Batman hears Aquaman say "You can't let a metal man beat a human". With that in mind, Batman thinks "I've been fighting this robot as if he were human, not metal." He wipes the perspiration from his face and touches the palm of the robot with his wet hand, while scraping his feet on the ground build up an electrical charge. The resulting "shock" from Batman short-circuits the motor in robot-Batman's body and Batman wins. Aquaman shouts to Superman "Come on, give it a little something extra!" Superman, who at the moment is behind in his race, thinks "I wonder if something extra is helping my rival? With my x-ray vision I'll look inside him." He looks inside the robot and sees a special transmitter-receiver device, that takes the sounds of the cheering crowd and converts the sound into extra power, enabling the robots to win. The contests were never fair. He then uses his heat vision and burns out the transmitter. Knowing that the robot is made of metal, Superman continues to race until the robot experiences metal fatigue, collapses, and he wins. All the members, having won, gather together and the Man of Steel explains about the sound conversion transmitters that were the reason the Skarn doubles never lost. Superman and J'onn J'onzz destroy the duplicating machine, but then they hear an electrified voice saying "Destroying the duplicator will do you no good, Justice League. The engine that absorbs the life force of the universes is too well hidden for you to find. Within moments it will begin drawing off the life force of your universe. You won, but you also lost!"

Chapter four

The Justice League members realize they must find and destroy the life force engine, and they only have one hour before the machine completes its work. Green Lantern uses his ring to make a giant screen TV that Aquaman can use to watch the progress of his friends as they search Skarn for the engine. The JLA split up to search Skarn for the engine. Aquaman then notices something that seems odd. None of the Skarnians in the stadium seem worried or afraid that the League will find the engine in time. Not one face seems to show any concern whatsoever. He reasons that this can only be because his friends are not looking in the right place, and there is only one place they aren't looking... the arena itself. Aquaman activates his emergency signal to summon them back, and the Leaguers return to the arena. He explains his theory, which seems plausible so Superman uses his x-ray vision and Manhunter uses his martian vision on the stadium interior. Both clearly see the engine, then Wonder Woman and the Flash work together to destroy it.

With their mission accomplished, the JLA return to Erislane in the dimensional vehicle, where they are honored with a ticker-tape parade. They are then returned to Earth within moments of the exact time they all disappeared. Wonder Woman helps the Flash round up the two crooks he was taking to jail. Batman and Green Lantern help J'onn J'onzz stop the crooks in the helicopter. Speedy tells Green Arrow "I don't know how you did it GA - but that disappearing act you put on is the most sensational thing I've ever seen!" At the Daily Planet, Superman promises to tell Jimmy Olsen the real reason he vanished, and below the surface of the sea, Aquaman returns to his patrol. In the meantime, honorary member Snapper Carr has no idea regarding what has just taken place. He's sitting at home reading newspaper accounts of how GA and Speedy, J'onn J'onzz, and Wonder Woman and the Flash captured thieves and crooks. He thinks to himself "They sure have been having an easy time of it lately."

5Story - 5: Gardner F. Fox was not only a comic book writer, but was an established writer of science fiction novels and stories. During his time at DC, he worked with Bill Finger on Batman, the batarang and the Batplane were inventions of Gardner Fox. In the silver-age, Fox's ability as a sci-fi writer had him writing such DC books as "Mystery in Space" and the Flash, introducing the concept of multiple earths in the story "The Flash of Two Worlds". But his major claim to fame was his work writing "The Justice League of America", a silver-age reworking of his 1940's work on The Justice Society.

Fox's stories had the JLA in space fighting alien threats and villains nearly as often as they were on earth stopping super villains. Starro, Despero. and Kanjar Ro were alien villains that crossed the League's path numerous times, well beyond the JLA stories Fox wrote. This story rates as highly as it does with me for a couple of reasons. First, I consider it a well paced story. Chapter one sets up how the JLA comes together on this case. Chapter 2 defines the threat, in the 3rd, they work together to stop the threat, and 4 is an epilogue that brings resolution to their mysterious disappearance. Second, there were several JLA stories that only used some of the members, but not all. This story involved the entire roll call of the League in a story that used all the members I thought fairly evenly. The fact that Superman is the member that uncovers the secret of the robot victories, and the cameo appearance of Jimmy Olsen in this story is a treat to me as a Superman fan. In my judgement, the Justice League of America was never better than when it was written by Gardner Fox. Incidentally, this is the very first Justice League story I ever read. I was nine when it hit the stands. Obviously, I was hooked for life.

5Art - 5: Everything I just said above about Gardner Fox applies just as strongly in my view of Mike Sekowsky. Next to Curt Swan, Sekowsky was one of my favorite DC artists of the silver age, and when he ended his run on the JLA, I continued to follow his work, both on Wonder Woman (the "New" Wonder Woman story-arc, issues #178-204) and on Supergirl in Adventure Comics. I am particularly fond of Sekowsky's work when he was inked by Bernard Sachs, who was his inker in the first 44 issues of Justice League of America. I still liked his work when it was inked next by Joe Giella and later by Sid Green, but to me his pencil-work lost a little something in the translation when Sachs' time as Mike's inker came to an end. I am aware that Sekowsky's work was not necessarily every comic fan's cup of tea, but his style worked for me in the stories he was telling. This is especially true of the way he pencilled Superman. Next to Swan's, his Superman was my Superman, other than the fact that he occasionally didn't get the "S" insignia quite right, but otherwise to me, his Supe's was right on. Sometimes his JLA stories required putting 7-10 members on the same page and Mike could do it in a way that was fair to each one. Mike Sekowsky brought to his art the same quality work that Gardner Fox brought to his writing that made the original version of the Justice League as good a book as DC put out in the silver-age, and this story is a fine example of that.

4Cover Art - 4: Mainly because Superman wasn't on the cover, but I understand that there wasn't enough room for all the members to be seen. The other reason is that this is one of a long line of JLA covers that Sekowsky pencilled and Murphy Anderson inked. While I like the Sekowsky/Anderson cover art, the one slight drawback to me is that Anderson had a way of inking Mike's work that made the characters look more like Anderson had also pencilled them. When Sekowsky was inked by Bernard Sachs, the characters seem to me to show more of Mike's own style.

Pre-Crisis Superman Comic Book Reviews



  • Superman #76 (May/June 1952) - “The Mightiest Team in the World”
  • Superman #80 (January/February 1953) - “Superman's Lost Brother”
  • Superman 3D (1953) - “The Man Who Stole the Sun”, “Origin of Superman” and “The Man Who Bossed Superman”
  • Superman #87 (February 1954) - “The Prankster's Greatest Role”
  • Superman #88 (March 1954) - “The Terrible Trio”
  • Superman #89 (May 1954) - “Captain Kent the Terrible”, “Superman of Skid Row”, and “One Hour to Doom!”
  • Superman #91 (August 1954) - “The Superman Stamp” and “Great Caesar's Ghost”
  • World's Finest #88 (May/June 1957) - “Superman and Batman's Greatest Foes”
  • Superman #115 (August 1957) - “The Midget Superman!”
  • Superboy #65 (May/June 1958) - “The Amazing Adventures of Krypto Mouse”
  • Action Comics #242 (July 1958) - “The Super-Duel in Space”
  • Superman #123 (August 1958) - “The Girl of Steel”
  • Superman #127 (February 1959) - “Titano the Super Ape”
  • Action Comics #252 (May 1959) - “The Menace of Metallo” and “The Supergirl From Krypton”
  • Superman #129 (May 1959) - “The Girl in Superman's Past”
  • Superman #130 (July 1959) - “The Curse of Kryptonite!”, “The Super-Servant of Crime!”, and “The Town that Hated Superman!”
  • Jimmy Olsen #40 (October 1959) - “Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl's Pal”




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