Bizarro Back Issues: The Justice League Takes On The Cosmic Fun-House! (1961)
I have to be honest with you, folks: As much as I like the Justice League of America, and as much as I love Silver Age DC Comics in general, I find those classic JLA stories from the early days to be pretty hard to get through. Maybe it's the function of having a larger cast to deal with, or maybe it's that the kind of big, world-threatening baddies that require a whole team of superheroes have a different kind of charm than the weirdness that you get from an issue of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, but even at their most ridiculously bizarre, they are not really my thing.
But with DC recently putting out the first year of Justice League stories as part of its line of Golden and Silver Age hardcovers, I decided to give it another shot, and this time, I finally got to Justice League of America #7 and "The Cosmic Fun-House." And when I talk about the JLA "at their most ridiculously bizarre," this is exactly what I'm talking about.
Coming at you in 1961 courtesy of writer Gardner Fox and artist Mike Sekowsky, Justice League of America #7 starts off with one of the most memorable covers of the era. And just in case you were wondering, yes: Tiny Li'l Chibi Green Arrow does show up in the story, and he is every bit as adorable there as he is on the cover.
Before we get to that, though, we have something like 20 pages of plot to get through, and I'll warn you right now: A lot of it involves the Justice League sitting around talking to each other about whether or not all these weird carnival exhibits are really just "thrill-makers."
We open on Snapper Carr, and you know what? I think I'm going to go ahead and call that "strike one."
To be fair, though, it is pretty exciting. While visiting a carnival in Happy Harbor, Snapper and his girlfriend Midge find themselves mysteriously teleported to the depths of space, facing down a monster with a taste for humans. Fortunately for Snapper, the League gave him an emergency signal device for just such an occasion, because it's 1961 in the DC Universe and this sort of thing happens literally all the time.
When the call goes out, the League is quick to respond, and... it's actually a little depressing.
"I can't go to space, so I guess I'll just drive to Rhode Island and wait around for someone to tell me what to do!" Dang, Green Arrow. Believe in yourself, bro.
At this point, with the actual superheroes showing up, we're kind of confronted with the fact that we have to talk about Mike Sekowsky. He was certainly a reliable artist, well known as one of the fastest pencilers in the business, staying on as the regular artist of Justice League for five years and racking up a pretty impressive résumé at DC throughout the Silver Age. But all that said, he's... well, on Justice League, he's not my favorite.
For what should've been DC's flagship title, Sekowsky's barrel-chested, oddly proportioned figures always seemed to me like they were a little off-model. Like, that Superman up there should be on a five-pack of action figures that also has Spider-Man, John Cena and Shrek.
I talked this over with Benito Cereno, the other ComicsAlliance contributor who spends most of his time reading weird old comics, and he finds Sekowsky's art to be part of the book's charm: "I guess I would say that while his work on early Justice League doesn't boast the sophistication of his later work on Wonder Woman and others, there's something of a... rustic charm to his flat and stilted poses and compositions. But most importantly, he's great at drawing the weird-looking demons and aliens that popped up with regularity in those stories."
He's not wrong about the aliens, but if I may be allowed a rebuttal, here's another image from the same panel as the Superman above showing us the fifth figure in the pack: Green Lantern.
Needless to say, the Justice League rescues Snapper, and when he tells them what happened, they decide that their best course of action is to go in undercover as their civilian identities to check things out. You'd think that having the word of an actual member of the Justice League --- even a mascot! --- would be enough that they'd just show up and stomp the entire carnival to dust, but no. Investigation is required.
So! Who do you pick for an investigation? If you said Batman, Superman and the Martian Manhunter --- two actual detectives and a guy who can see through walls --- then you agree with me, but not Gardner Fox. Those three head off to check out the planet where they found Snapper for any other humans who may have been teleported there. The actual undercover job falls to Oliver Queen, Diana Prince, Hal Jordan and Barry Allen. And when they get there, they find themselves being duplicated!
Before long, they're captured by a gang of Sekowsky's admittedly great-looking aliens who stand them on pedestals, surround them with tiny pink hula hoops, and start explaining their plan.
It turns out that they're from Angellax --- not to be confused with Appelax, the alien planet that fought the JLA seven issues ago --- and 100,000 years ago, they lost a war with another planet. As part of the terms of their surrender, they had to destroy all weapons on the planet, but they were able to keep their super-scientific devices, presumably as long as they didn't just pick one up and hit somebody with it.
In order to get their weaponry back and take revenge against their conquerors, the Angellaxians launched a probe into space that was designed to gather information on the weaponry of every planet it passed. There's just one problem is that it's set to land on Earth, but in a truly amazing scene, one of the aliens figures out the best plan for getting it all back:
How amazing is it that the one guy built a model to go with his presentation? Can you even imagine the guy whose plan was "Teleport to Earth and get the probe" standing off to the side, sweating because he didn't think to make a friggin' diorama to sell the idea?
The core of the plan, though, involves the duplicates of the JLA. Rather than risk getting rousted once the big guns get back from space, they dispatch the fake Flash and Green Lantern to feed the League a red herring about a plot by Xotar, the Weapons Master of 11,960 AD, that'll get them out of the way for a while. And that's where this story goes wrong.
I mean, yes, this comic has an invasion from diorama-building aliens who run a carnival, but Earth being taken over by criminals from across time to become an invulnerable outlaw planet?! How are we not reading that story right now, Gardner Fox?!
Eventually, the captured Leaguers escape their hula hoops, but when they try to leave, they find themselves transformed by the Cosmic Funhouse mirror...
... and I take back everything I said about Sekowsky earlier, because Green Arrow is delightful! Look at that weird little guy with his weird little legs and his big ol' square head!
There's a downside to all that cuteness, though: Their new forms have left them unable to use their super-powers. Poor Green Arrow can't even hold his bow with both hands, and stretched-out Green Lantern, for some reason, can't even remember who he is. And that means that the fate of the world is in the hands... of Aquaman.
I know, I was scared too.
But it turns out that Aquaman's actually pretty decent at telling other people how to use their new bodies to fight crime:
With that, the Angellaxians are defeated, and denied 100,000 years worth of weapons that would make them a galactic powerhouse once again. But on the other hand, they've seen how effective a simple bow and arrow can be even in the stubby li'l hands of Oliver Queen, so I'm guessing they'll be back up to nukes in no time.