Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics
Justice League of America #63Cover date: June 1968
"Time Signs a Death Warrant for the Justice League"
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciller: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: George Roussos
Cover: Mike Sekowsky & George Roussos
Reviewed by: Tom-EL
The date according to the Justice League chronometer is May 6th, 1968. The Justice League of America is having a regular meeting with Green Lantern as the chairman, but they are totally unaware that a time-traveling vehicle is in the sanctuary with them. The vehicle is from a time, centuries in the future, operated by a business called "Time Travel Tours". They are a group visiting this time and place because recorded history at the time they are from states that this is the final meeting the JLA will have, followed by the League's total destruction. A young boy in the vehicle is unwilling to believe that, insisting this isn't right, but his father assures him that this is what historically happened and history cannot be changed.
An impending time storm disrupts the vehicle's ability to remain cloaked in this era, so the pilot informs the guests that they will have to return to their own time. At the moment the craft leaves, none of the League members notices a blue glow in the trophy room of the sanctuary, and at the same moment, a blue glow is around the Key, a master thief, in his prison cell, many miles away. An artifact that the Key left in Justice League HQ during their last encounter with him (JLA #41) has just become operational now three years later. In that previous battle, just as the League captured him, the Key was able to leave a souvenir "cosmic-key" in their trophy room that over the years has stored up enough cosmic energy to receive his mental commands and give him complete mental control over the JLA. The Leaguers will be absolutely compelled to obey any telepathic order he gives them, orders that are transmitted by this cosmic key. And so the Key sends out his mental command. He says "Members of the Justice League - Hear the commands of the Key! For the next hour you shall remain inside the secret sanctuary. You're forbidden to leave it to seek help outside!" He then telepathically tells them "You shall spend that hour figuring out foolproof ways to KILL one another!"
The blue glow fades away, but the League members come to the realization that at the end of the hour they must sign their own death warrants. They all know that if they don't find a way to get out of the sanctuary in less than sixty minutes, they are finished. Each member tries his best using his powers to break out, but not one of them is successful, they then realize they are forced to obey the Key. A second later, Green Lantern and Hawkman notice that Superman is gone. The Flash tells them he's not gone, he's just running in a circle at ever increasing super-speed. The Flash is the only one that can see him. Another second later and Superman is sitting in his chair wondering why everyone else looks worried. He tells them that all he knows is he was sitting at a meeting three years ago, then all of a sudden he's in a meeting that for him is three years in the future. He assumes that his future self for some reason went three years in the past, which automatically shifted the Superman of the past to this time, and now he wants to know why. His friends explain exactly what is going on. Batman points out that present-day Superman who is in the past is still under the Key's telepathic direction to kill one of them, so they still must work to free themselves from the Key's mental commands in the time remaining. Superman-past is not hindered by the command not to break out, so he has no trouble opening the cavern doors. However, the other members are under the command to stop anyone who tries, so each makes an effort to stop Superman. None of them are successful, and Superman begins taking them outside, two at a time, saying "You're all wasting valuable time stuggling like this, but I understand why!" Members on the inside fight hard not to be forcibly taken out, but ultimately Superman gets them all outside. When they are all outside the sanctuary, they become their normal selves again, and agree that in the fifty minutes they have left they had better find the Key.
Superman uses his telescopic vision and sees the Key and his Key-men, out of prison and advancing on the United Nations. The Key, in the belief that the JLA is now out of his way, is out to fulfill his life-long dream to make himself Key-master of the world. Then the Justice League shows up and the Key is in disbelief, thinking "How'd they manage to escape?" and wondering where his plan went wrong. The JLA doesn't give him much time to ponder that as they move in, knowing that they don't have a second to waste. To keep the Key "locked up", Superman unloads a pile of bricks on top of him as the other Leaguers go about rounding up the Key-minions. The Key-men put up a terrific struggle, using key-shaped weapons that shoot gas, electricity, and fire, but the JLA eventually takes them down. At the end, with only six remaining Key-men still able to use their weapons to fight back, Superman comes at them from one direction, the rest of the League from the other. But to the amazement of the Key-men, Superman bypasses them and goes flying directly into his team-mates, attacking them! GL figures that the Key must have finally gotten a mental command through to Superman. In fact, Superman was aware that the hour was up, and if he didn't knock his friends out, they would have started killing each other. After taking care of his fellow members, Superman again turns to fight the few remaining Key-men. As Superman brings down the Key's men, the Key, who has this entire time been under the pile of bricks, sees a Key-gun land on the bricks, pointed directly at him. He yells out to Superman to save him, which Superman is willing to do - just as soon as he countermands his telepathic orders to the League to kill each other. Realizing that request must mean that he still has mental control over them, the Key refuses. The Key thinks he can re-issue those orders to the League, but Superman reminds him that they are all knocked out. Then the Key tries to order Superman to save him, but big blue refuses untill he revokes his kill-the-JLA command. The Key wishes he had the guts to just let the Key-gun kill him, but he knows he doesn't have the nerve, so he agrees and countermands his orders. Superman smashes the gun, then promises the Key that he will imprison him in a place where he can never threaten the JLA or anyone else ever again. The Key says "Bah! I'll find a way to escape no matter WHERE you put me". Superman considered that possibility, so he asks "Really? Even from my Fortress of Solitude, where you will be in a state of suspended animation?". The Key admits that does present some difficulty, but states "Hear me good Superman - like a bad penny, a key always keeps turning up!"
When the Justice League members come to, Superman explains to them why he did what he did and how he got the Key to countermand his orders. As they return to the sanctuary, he asks "Which of you was slated to kill me?" They were all under the Key's mental control not to inform each other who would kill who, so Superman continues to ask each member. Finally, one member speaks up and says "The key selected me to kill you, Superman." It was Snapper Carr. Superman seems incredulous. "You can't work magic, you have no Kryptonite on you, so how could you possibly have - ". It was the souvenir key in the trophy room, the Key ordered Snapper to get it. Under the cosmic key's lead coating, it was made of green K, and Snapper would have just filed off the protective lead. The Flash grabs the key to get rid of it, while Snapper says "But, I didn't mean any harm." Superman says "I'm confident I didn't kill any of you three years ago - you're all living proof of it!" he then returns to the past, and the Superman of the present automatically returns. The obvious question is, who was Superman supposed to kill, and what kept him from carrying out the Key's mental command three years ago? The answer is, he was instucted to kill Batman. Earlier Green Lantern told Superman-past that he wasn't sure his power ring was powerful enough to stop Superman, and Wonder Woman said the same about her magic lasso. Superman-present remembered his past self being told that, so when he arrived in the past, unable to explain his presence, he told GL and Wonder Woman to use ring and lasso on him simultaneously, and not to release him for one hour. From what they said about not being sure that his power ring or her magic lasso individually could stop him, Superman gambled that if they worked together as one, their joint power of ring and lasso could stop him and prevent him from killing Batman. Neither Green Lantern or Wonder Woman remember that from three years ago, but they chalk it up to the Key's mental control causing them to forget that. At any rate, the JLA now considers the case - CLOSED!
Which brings us back to the time travelers from the future who believed the JLA members were going to kill each other. When the travelers returned to their time, it seems the history books recorded no such event taking place. Their assumption is that the time storm was playing tricks on their memory. The boy tells his dad "The Justice League adventure with the Key was one of my favorites, I've read it dozens of times - so I guess the true story was implanted deep in my sub-conscious mind. That part of me still retained the real story, even if my conscious mind didn't." The end.
Story - 4: The time travelling historians plot is a clever addition, and was homaged by Gerry Conway in JLA #206. This story is a sequel to a previous Gardner Fox story in Justice League of America issue #41, called "The Key Master of the World", the JLA battled a villain who called himself the Key. At the very end of that story, as he was apprehended, the Key is seen thinking to himself "The Justice League thinks it has triumphed over me, but just before I surrendered, I managed to pull my last and greatest key trick!" In that story, the Key used "psycho-chemicals" and a keyboard to control the JLA, supposedly the cosmic key of this story would give him that mental control without the need for the keyboard and the chemicals.
Superman appeared in most of the silver-age Justice League stories, but in few if any was he the central character that so much of the story hinges on as he was in this tale. Gardner Fox spent time in the 50's writing Batman stories, and in the 60's writing the Flash, but this is one of the few times he got to focus on Superman and in my opinion it made for an interesting story, with some cleverness on Superman's part. And as far as I am aware, while there are many silver-age stories of Superman time-traveling to the past, this is the only time I remember that he was shown to be able to do it in an enclosed room. Usually it was out in space or flying around the world. This was a neat trick. The story does have what seemed to me to be a couple of little inconsistencies. In the beginning, the first mental command the JLA is given is "You shall remain inside the sanctuary!" So what's the first thing they do? They try to break out and fail. But a few minutes later, Superman of the past works to do the same thing and the rest of them are all over him, trying with all their might to stop him from doing what they were ALL trying to do minutes before. So did they have limited free will, or no free will under the Key's mental directions, which was it? Later Superman-present remembers something that was said to Superman-past, but Green Lantern and Wonder Woman, who did not time travel, have no recollection of the same conversations. These are little things I do grant, but in the smooth flow of a story, little things like that are like speed bumps on the road to me, because I think "Wait a minute, I thought he/they could/couldn't do that." It's an interesting story with a few little plot twists, and a couple of inconsistencies, but I liked it, especially Superman's part in it.
Art - 4: This was Mike Sekowksy's last issue as penciller of the Justice League of America. I certainly won't deny to being a big Sekowsky fan, but to me, his work was a 5 when it was inked by Bernard Sachs. The others that inked Mike on JLA, including Roussos, Sid Greene, and Joe Giella, while not doing a bad job, just changed it enough that IMO, pulls it to a 4. Still, it was as good or superior to a lot of the pencilling and inking in comics during that time, and sixty-three issues (plus 3 Brave and Bolds) is an impressive run. Maybe a 4.5 because I thought Roussos was the best of the later three inkers, and to me, he managed not to detract too much from Mike's fine pencilling of Superman.
Cover Art - 5: Principally because of the dominant way that Superman is placed on the cover. In fact, this is to the best of my memory, the only time that the the title at the top of the cover had to be restructured from the regular JLA shield logo, and made smaller to accomodate the size of Superman on the cover. On the cover Superman is saying "NOW- who's the toughest Justice Leaguer of them all!" and six other League members laying trashed on the ground. Some time back, I read a blog of this issue, with the blog-writer wondering if Superman ever had this dream.
Pre-Crisis Superman Comic Book Reviews
- Action Comics #1 (June 1938)
- Action Comics #2 (July 1938)
- Action Comics #3 (August 1938)
- Action Comics #4 (September 1938)
- Action Comics #5 (October 1938)
- Action Comics #6 (November 1938)
- Action Comics #7 (December 1938)
- Superman Archives: Volume 1 (1939)
- Superman #1 (Summer 1939)
- Action Comics #8 (January 1939)
- Action Comics #9 (February 1939)
- Action Comics #10 (March 1939)
- Superman #13 (November/December 1941) - The Archer
- Superman #19 (November/December 1942) - Case of the Funny Paper Crimes
- Action Comics #60 (May 1943) - Lois Lane - Superwoman
- Superman #30 (September/October 1944) - The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk
- Action Comics #80 (January 1945) - Mr. Mxyztplk Returns
- Superman #38 (January/February 1946) - The Battle of the Atoms
- Superman #42 (September/October 1946) - The Death of Clark Kent
- Superman #45 (March/April 1947) - Lois Lane, Superwoman
- Superman #53 (July 1948) - The Origin of Superman
- Action Comics #124 (September 1948) - A Superman of Doom
- Superman #60 (December 1949/January 1950) - The Two Identities of Superman & Superman Fights the Super-Brain
- 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
- Superman #134 (January 1960) - The Super-Menace of Metropolis
- Jimmy Olsen #42 (January 1960) - The Big Superman Movie!, Perry White, Cub Reporter!, and Jimmy the Genie!
- Jimmy Olsen #44 (April 1960) - The Wolf-Man of Metropolis
- Adventure Comics #271 (April 1960) - How Luthor Met Superboy
- Jimmy Olsen #46 (July 1960) - Jimmy Olsen, Orphan
- Superman #141 (November 1960) - Superman's Return To Krypton
- Superboy #85 (December 1960) - The Impossible Mission
- Jimmy Olsen #51 (March 1961) - The Girl with Green Hair
- Jimmy Olsen #52 (April 1961) - Jimmy Olsen, Wolf-Man
- Superboy #89 (June 1961) - Superboy's Big Brother!
- Action Comics #279 (August 1961) - The Super-Rivals
- Superman #147 (August 1961) - The Legion of Super Villains
- Superman #149 (November 1961) - The Death of Superman!
- Jimmy Olsen #57 (December 1961) - Jimmy Olsen Marries Supergirl
- Superman #155 (August 1962) - Superman Under the Green Sun and The Downfall of Superman
- Justice League of America #13 (August 1962) - Riddle of the Robot Justice League
- World's Finest #129 (November 1962) - Joker-Luthor, Incorporated
- Superman #158 (January 1963) - Superman in Kandor
- Superman #160 (April 1963) - The Mortal Superman
- Superman #161 (May 1963) - The Last Days of Ma and Pa Kent
- Superman #162 (July 1963) - The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue
- Superman #163 (August 1963) - Wonder-Man, the New Hero of Metropolis and The Goofy Superman
- Justice League of America #21 & #22 (August/September 1963) - Crisis on Earth-One! and Crisis on Earth-Two!
- Superman #164 (October 1963) - The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman
- Superman #165 (November 1963) - The Sweetheart Superman Forgot
- Superman #166 (January 1964) - The Fantastic Story of Superman's Sons
- Superman #167 (February 1964) - The Team of Luthor and Brainiac
- Superman #168 (April 1964) - Luthor - Super Hero and Lex Luthor, Daily Planet Editor
- Superman #169 (May 1964) - The Man Who Stole Superman's Secret Life
- Action Comics #314 (July 1964) - The Day Superman Became The Flash
- Justice League of America #29 & #30 (August/September 1964) - Crisis on Earth-Three! and The Most Dangerous Earth of All!
- Superman #173 (November 1964) - The Triumph of Luthor and Brainiac
- Action Comics #318 (November 1964) - The Death of Luthor
- Action Comics #319 (December 1964) - The Condemned Superman
- Superman #175 (February 1965) - Clark Kent's Brother
- Superman #181 (November 1965) - The Superman of 2965
- The Legion of Super-Heroes - Archives Volume 4 (1965)
- Superman #184 (February 1966) - The Demon Under the Red Sun
- Action Comics #338 (June 1966) - Muto - Monarch of Menace
- Action Comics #339 (July 1966) - Muto versus The Man of Tomorrow
- Superman #189 (August 1966) - Krypton Lives Again
- Action Comics #346 (February 1967) - The Man Who Sold Insurance to Superman and The Case of the Superman Imposter
- Superman #194 (February 1967) - The Death of Lois Lane
- Superman #196 (May 1967) - The Star of Steel
- Superman #199 (January 1967) - Superman's Race With The Flash
- Superman #200 (October 1967) - Super-Brother Against Super-Brother
- The Flash #175 (December 1967) - Race to the End of the Universe
- Justice League of America #63 (June 1968) - Time Signs a Death Warrant for the Justice League
- Superman #211 (November 1968) - The Name of the Game is Superman!
- Superman #215 (April 1969) - Lois LaneŠ DeadŠ Yet Alive
- Superman #224 (February 1970) - Beware the Super-Genius Baby
- Action Comics #393 (October 1970) - Superman Meets Super-Houdini! and The Day Superboy Became Superman!
- Jimmy Olsen #133 (October 1970) - The Newsboy Legion
- Action Comics #394 (November 1970) - Midas of Metropolis and Requiem for a Hot Rod!
- World's Finest #198 (November 1970) - Race to Save the Universe!
- Action Comics #395 (December 1970) - The Secrets of Superman's Fortress and The Credit Card of Catastrophe
- Jimmy Olsen #134 (December 1970) - The Mountain of Judgement!
- World's Finest #199 (December 1970) - A Race to Save Time!
- Superman #233 (January 1971) - Superman Breaks Loose!
- Jimmy Olsen #135 (January 1971) - The Evil Factory!
- Superman #234 (February 1971) - How to Tame a Wild Volcano
- Jimmy Olsen #136 (February 1971) - The Saga of the D.N.Aliens
- Superman #235 (March 1971) - The Sinister Scream of the Devil's Harp
- Superman #236 (April 1971) - Planet of the Angels and The Doomsayer
- Jimmy Olsen #137 (April 1971) - The Four-Armed Terror!
- Superman #237 (May 1971) - The Enemy of Earth
- Superman #238 (June 1971) - Menace at 1000 Degrees
- Jimmy Olsen #138 (June 1971) - The Big Boom!!
- Superman #240 (July 1971) - To Save a Superman
- Jimmy Olsen #139 (July 1971) - The Guardian Fights Again!!!
- Superman #241 (August 1971) - The Shape of Fear
- Superman #242 (September 1971) - The Ultimate Battle
- Jimmy Olsen #141 (September 1971) - Will the Real Don Rickles Panic?!?
- Jimmy Olsen #142 (October 1971) - The Man from Transilvane!
- Jimmy Olsen #143 (November 1971) - Genocide Spray
- Jimmy Olsen #144 (December 1971) - A Big Thing in a Deep Scottish Lake!
- Superman #247 (January 1972) - Must There Be A Superman
- Jimmy Olsen #145 (January 1972) - Brigadoom!
- Jimmy Olsen #146 (February 1972) - Homo-Disastrous!
- Jimmy Olsen #147 (March 1972) - A Superman in Super-Town!
- Jimmy Olsen #148 (April 1972) - Monarch of All He Subdues!
- Superman #292 (October 1975) - The Luthor Nobody Knows!
- Action Comics #458 (April 1976) - Make Me a Super-Hero! and Masquerade of the Nutty Kid!
- Superman vs. Muhammad Ali (Spring 1978)
- Action Comics #484 (June 1978) - Superman Takes a Wife!
- Superman #328 (October 1978) - Attack of the Kryptonoid
- Action Comics #489 (November 1978) - Krypton Dies Again and Where There's a Will... There's a Fray
- Superman #329 (November 1978) - I Have Met The Enemy... And He Is Me! and The Secret of the Talking Car
- Superman #330 (December 1978) - The Master Mesmerizer of Metropolis!
- Action Comics #490 (December 1978) - No Tomorrow For Superman
- Action Comics #491 (January 1979) - A Matter of Light and Death
- Superman #331 (January 1979) - Lockup at 20,000 Feet
- Action Comics #492 (February 1979) - Superman's Secret Afterlife
- Superman #332 (February 1979) - The Eternity Cage
- Action Comics #493 (March 1979) - The Metropolis UFO Connection
- Action Comics #494 (April 1979) - The Secret of the Super S
- Action Comics #495 (May 1979) - Attack of the Ultimate Warrior
- DC Comics Presents #14 (October 1979) - Judge, Jury... and No Justice!
- The Superman Story (1979) - The Life Story of Superman
- DC Comics Presents #57 (May 1983) - Days of Future Past
- DC Comics Presents #67 (March 1984) - 'Twas the Fright Before Christmas
- DC Comics Presents Annual #3 (1984) - With One Magic Word
- Superman: The Secret Years #1 (February 1985) - Dreams and Schemes and Feeling Proud!
- Superman: The Secret Years #2 (March 1985) - Reach Out and Touch
- Superman: The Secret Years #3 (April 1985) - Terminus
- DC Comics Presents #80 (April 1985) - A World Full of Supermen!
- Superman: The Secret Years #4 (May 1985) - Beyond Terminus
- DC Comics Presents #85 (September 1985) - The Jungle Line
- Superman Annual #11 (1985) - For The Man Who Has Everything
- World's Finest #323 (January 1986) - Afraid of the Dark
- DC Comics Presents #97 (September 1986) - Phantom Zone: The Final Chapter
- Superman #423 & Action Comics #583 (September 1986) - Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?
- Showcase Presents: Superman Family - Volume 1 (October 2005)
- Superman/Batman: Saga of the Super Sons (December 2007)
- Not Brand ECHH #7 (April 1967) - The Origin of Stuporman
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