So come with me back to, well, half an hour ago when I finished the comic, for a tale of the JLA when they were at their most iconic, the Satellite Era. When the World’s Greatest Superheroes watched over the planet’s population from – all together now – 22,300 miles above Earth.
Before the story, which comes from writer Steve Englehart, penciller Dick Dillin, inker Frank McLaughlin and colourist Anthony Tollin, the cover. The League has many great enemies: Starro, Kanjar Ro, Despero, Professor Ivo, Amazo… can Count Crystal, a man whose name doesn’t end in ‘o’, join their ranks? He certainly seems formidable on this cover by Dick Dillin and Jack Abel – six Leaguers dead. Superman about to join them? Who can save them? Maybe… just maybe… rarely present member The Phantom Stranger, so small in this cluttered image that it took me 40 years to spot him.
The story starts with Count Crystal making a deal with a devil. And in this, his one and only appearance – can’t think why – he looks awesome!
Then it’s over to the satellite, where Superman, who has seen all of time and space, is thinking great thoughts.
He’s interrupted by Count Crystal, as he puts his plan into play.
And he’s as good as his words. Superman drops down dead. Elsewhere, three Leaguers and a Plus One are having a night off. What shall we do with the drunken Leaguers?
Ignore ’em, as Shayera shares her thoughts with Dinah.
But Hawkgirl does have a unique super-power – supporting dinner plates from her ears…
Hmm, as JLA communicators go, that’s a bit different. Looks like a rat’s tail. On my 14th look, I think it’s meant to be a canary in black… or am I projecting sense onto a random bit of business?
The quartet teleport to the satellite and find Superman dead. But if he’s dead, who summoned them?
Ah. And he’s not about to take drunken Ollie’s guff.
When two more members arrive, the Stranger reveals his plan – to communicate with the dead Superman.
Things are so tense that Wonder Woman’s lost all colour – from her shorts. Kudos to penciller Dick Dillin, mind, for remembering to bend the Hawks’ wings (don’t worry, he’s going to lose those points a little later).
After a wee Doris Day tribute, the message comes, and Dillin goes big.
Hey, in the Seventies, a half-page WAS big. I like this panel a lot, it’s a mini-masterpiece of melodrama. And then, a change of mood.
That’s some nice spooky writing, it’s a shame Englehart then immediately pulls us out of the story by reminding us we’re reading a funnybook.
Oh look, it’s Tom Fagan. With regular appearances in both Marvel and DC Comics in the Seventies, I wonder who his Hallowe’en-obsessed Earth Prime version was paying.
It turns out that outside Rutland lies the spooky place that gives this story its title. I don’t think I’m being unfair to Dillin and McLaughlin is observing that this isn’t among the eeriest sights comic have given us. I do, though, love that silent beat.
And waiting for them, Count Crystal…
… and Englehart’s vocabulary. ‘Nock’ – now that’s a word you should hear a lot more when Green Arrow’s around. It turns out that the rather randomly named Count Crystal wanted to be confronted by the JLA, to steal their power, so manipulated the Stranger to bring them to his side. And now he’s ready to drop his bombshell.
As it happens, the Stranger’s powers have protected his teammates from death, though that backfiring trick arrow has Ollie feeling woozy and craving 30 winks. Luckily, Hawkman has a handy Nth metal trick.
And they always seemed such good pals over in the Brave and the Bold.
Things are looking bad for the League, but appropriately, their (rarely) resident mystical expert comes up with an idea.
I miss the days when Batman could be scared, actually feeling fear made him seem braver when he faced the darkness. And it’s plenty dark here, thanks to Dillin and McLaughlin, who do a fantastic job with the shadows.
Being dead – did we ever knew he was a mortal? – the Stranger can visit the realm where Superman faces Azgore.
Count Crystal, meanwhile, is sweet-talking Shayera.
And if you think that Wonder Woman looks awkward, wait until you see what’s coming up.
Shayera has a literary moment, before displaying a typically heroic capacity for self sacrifice.
Er, I think you’ll you’ll find marriage is a sacrament on Earth too, Mr Englehart – or is there something you’d like to discuss?
Excellent use of wings, there! It’s not like Hawkgirl only became awesome with the Justice League Unlimited cartoon.
But look at poor Diana’s arms – has she been on the Gingold?
There follows a terrific moment for Katar, leading to the climax everyone saw coming – Count Crystal hoist on his own demonic petard.
With the Count discounted and the demon departed, our heroes are returned to the Land of the Living, which is, of course, Rutland. The mundane members of the League are knackered, but that doesn’t mean they escape the Stranger’s traditional end-of-story lecture. Ohhh no .
And so ends our tale… hang on!
It’s everyone’s favourite android Leaguer, the Red Tornado (OK, the only android Leaguer this side of Tomorrow Woman, who wasn’t invented yet). But what’s he doing here?
That’s a tale for another day. Let’s not take away from today’s adventure, a solidly entertaining, typically barking, Bronze Age page filler. The villain is a bit rubbish – why not use the namechecked Felix Faust, the established JLA bad magician, who is this guy with his daft hair and no link between name and MO? – but Count Crystal motivates some splendid action sequences – and better characterisation. Englehart lays down the groundwork for Hawkgirl’s coming JLA membership and gives the Phantom Stranger perhaps his only pratfall ever. I love that moment.
The art is surprisingly iffy in a couple of spots but given Dillin was pencilling double-length stories monthly and showing up elsewhere around the DC Universe, I’m forgiving him. Maybe inker McLaughlin should’ve picked up on the likes of bendy Wonder Woman but heck, we all have bad days.
Basically, I liked this issue a lot. How about you?