The Last JSA Story

Category: JSA
Last article published: 24 November 2020
This is the
21st post under this label

The Justice Society of America admittedly has had more than one "last story", but I wanted to go back to the Golden Age, as times they were a-changing, when the JSA wasn't set on Earth-2, wasn't relegated to team-ups with the JLA, or elder statesmen. That last issue of All-Star Comics before the book became All-Star Western and the doors closed on these superheroes for many years - All-Star Comics #57 (February-March 1951).

"The Mystery of the Vanishing Detectives" by John Broome, Frank Giacoia and Arthur F. Peddy, with inks by Giacoia and Bernard Sachs, shows the team still using the split-up no-teamwork structure JSA stories had been doing since the beginning, but by this point, each hero doesn't get their own artist. The load is shared, but it's not like getting an extra strip of any given member, in their particular style, probably because most of those strips were already dead. In fact, only Wonder Woman continued to be published, and it's a last Golden Age appearance for everyone else. Question remains: Did the JSA nevertheless go out on a high?

A globe-trotting adventure has that potential. The plot? The Key (no, not that one) is going to kidnap four world-famous detectives going to the same convention. Famous for the purposes of this story, of course, nobody actually famous. Four policemen from all over - Honolulu, Britain (Scotland Yard), Turkey, and France. And they're old friends of the JSA who, as per their arrangement, have conceived some ind of test of their deductive powers, a model crime for them to show off different countries' methods. Is this something they do at real detective cons? Sounds fun. The detectives do well, too, but we're not here for them. We're here for the JSA. And when the lights get abnormally bright and the guests of honor disappear leaving only a skeleton key calling card, our heroes finally have something to do. And in fact, it seems like the Key is giving them the same kind of challenge as urgent telegrams for each of the detectives are immediately delivered to the stage, recalling each of them back to solve some baffling crime where the crooks left the same silver key. An international crime ring? Sounds like a job for the Justice Society!
And all in front of a studio audience too. Green Lantern drops every off, starting with Dr. Mid-Nite in London (his name is gonna bug them silly), who finds bank robbers hiding in a old air-raid shelter which the authorities take for granted and don't search. He gets them running away and in a position to use his night vision AS MUST HAPPEN IN EVERY MID-NITE STORY thanks to... the olde London fog! The coppers can't get them, lost in the pea soup and education editor's notes (no really, they're on hyperdrive), but Mid-Nite easily manages to track them to their getaway train.
He's done it! And confiscated their instructions written by a mastermind called the Key. Next up, the Flash in Paris, where someone stole one of the gargoyles from Notre-Dame-de-Paris. He stakes the cathedral out to see if they'll try again, and of course, they do, escaping through a secret passage Jay Garrick can't open. So, heritage site or not, he uses a sheet of paper to dig through the wall at superspeed. Uhm.
That's how they got in and out, but turns out he didn't have to do all that damage. If only he'd read the sheet of paper, it's the Key's instructions and mentions the Club Attila where the crooks hang out. Bit of a super-speed scuffle takes care of them before they can finish drilling gold out of the gargoyles. Uhm. It appears Quasimodo was real, and had amassed a fortune hidden in one of the gargoyles (I don't think the comic knows how rock sculpting works), so the bad guys were stealing each one until they hit the mark. Oh okay. I need a break while I digest all this, and here comes Dr. Mid-Nite with an activity to distract me!
Wow, now I can spy on the family from the window sill! Having put Victor Hugo spinning in his grave out of my mind, we move to Wonder Woman's adventure in Turkey. Hey! It's in her corner of the world. There's an Emir there who annually gets his weight in gold from his loyal followers (and at 300 lbs., they pray he goes on a diet - also, someone must have their finger on the scale because he doesn't look an once over 230). Anyway, you'd think this method of taxation would be the real crime, but no, it's all about an impostor stealing off with the treasure. Diana decides to think like master psychologist Hakim (the missing detective) would. Well, it's not a big revelation that the crooks might want to escape the city quickly, but at the gates, she finds very heavy tire tracks - a sure sign of a car weighed down with gold. She follows in her invisible plane, and spots a submarine in the Bosphorous, near the abandoned car (was Mid-Nite's periscope a hidden clue?!). Wonder Woman snags the sub and does her thing!
Meanwhile, in Honolulu, Green Lantern must investigate the theft of a millionaire's 100,000$ bill which he used as a souvenir for crossing the International Date Line (apparently, it's customary to sign a piece of currency, usually a one-dollar bill, the first time you do so, at least by ship). The police have done a good job of not allowing anyone aboard the cruise ship to disembark, so the thieves must be aboard. GL draws out the perpetrator with a clever ploy which involves the millionaire getting evacuated for radiation poisoning and the thief discovering the bill glowing in his dark stateroom, taking it, decontaminating it with the ship's decontamination machine, and that's where GL catches him. I have many questions. Then the thief, who is also the ship's stage magician, starts trowing bullets with his bare hands.
MANY questions. GL defeats the Amazing Gordoni and explains his ring was able to make the bill glow wherever it might be, I guess, and that's how they made him panic. Of course there was never a radiation threat. Well okay. Let's go back to Civic City where there's actual teamwork going on with Hawkman, the Atom and Black Canary. Can they find the missing detectives? Turns out a fake door on the set led to real stairs down to the cellar, and only four sets of footprints can be seen in the dust. Before the heroes can jump to any conclusions, they GET jumped, by the Turtleneck Gang!
They find objects left by each detective and once the rest of the team returns, the JSA converges on a mansion 10 miles out of town, bought by some mysterious man... and the footprints lead to that general area? Not quite clear how they find this place with the Scotland Yard inspector's pipe in the driveway exactly. The detectives are indeed inside, sitting there, hypnotized. And when the Englishman appears on a video screen, then rips off a rubber mask, you think, okay so one of the detectives got kidnapped first, then the doppelganger led the other ones astray. On the Key's word, the entranced detectives pull guns, but the JSA's super-powered members quickly get rid of them, and head outside, where the malefactor is escaping in a cable car! Well...
Rather than be caught, the Key jumps to his death. In postscript, the four detectives send the JSA a silver key without a note about them being the seven greatest detectives in the world. Very nice, but it does highlight the problem I have with giving the JSA a detective mystery. If all the human mystery men had been on the case, that would be one thing. But it's a little awkward to have Wonder Woman or GL employ OTHER detectives' methods to solve crimes, then just unleash their super-powers on outmatched henchmen. Everything is subjugated to the mystery story, a genre that retained its popularity in the 1950s while superheroics were on their way out. We can feel the transition. Indeed, though the four detectives are very gracious at the end, the fact the JSA has to solve THEIR crimes, in THEIR towns, using THEIR methods speaks to them being the actual stars, with the Justice Society crashing their party rather than the opposite.

In another 10 years, this story would have ended with the detectives having planned the whole thing to test the heroes, with no real crime being committed or anyone in any kind of jeopardy (that would have been the Silver Age version, I do think), so if it's not exactly going out on a high, it could have been worse.


Martin Gray said...

Great review. I’ve just read this for the first time and my love for it is unalloyed. It’s just pure joy - the only thing that would have made it better would have been the Key appearing as he did on the splash page, with a big key-shaped headpiece, shooting the heroes with a key-shaped gun. Ah well, at least the visual came back in the Silver Age.

Was measuring riches on human-sized scales a thing in the Far East? It also happens in Jimmy Olsen #49, and I have a vague memory of something similar in a Lois Lane story.

Siskoid said...

Agree 100%!

I bet the weighing thing is in the 1001 Nights.

Roger Nowhere said...

This was very enjoyable. Personaly I like Wonder Woman being a principal character, not a secretary, and being a powerhouse able to wreck a submarine!
Having an Emir receiving his weight in gold is a reference to Agha Khan, an Ismaelite religious leader, who had something alike once.


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