JLA # 97 "The Earth Dies Screaming" on sale January, 1972, produced by Mike Friedrich (F) and Dick Dillin/Sid Giella (D/G).
I recall my giddy excitement at getting this issue, with JLA's power guys frozen on the cover and Starbreaker uber alles. "37 Pages!" the hype cried. A big second act coming.
But, but, anybody who has ever attempted dramatic writing, be it for stage, screen or TV, will tell you that second acts are the hardest. Think of the last time you were bored in a movie: it likely wasn't during the first or last 25 minutes (except,perhaps for "The Wedding Crashers", which became a different, surreal movie as it staggered through its last 25 minutes) but during that big 50 or so minutes in the middle, when things slow down, get talky, feel padded.
The first act of the Starbreaker arc wasn't all bad. Yes, there was GL's sorry "hey babu riba" dialect, there was some woozy mumbling about Starbreaker "fusing magic and science", thereby allowing F the lazy-writer conceit of Superman getting useless around even card tricks. But damn, the '70s League needed a big-time villain and Starbreaker could fit the bill. Of course, he had yet to do anything but brag, and send weak-sister duplicates to fail at doing his bidding, and brag again that this time he'll kick ass and take names like Earth's never seen...
But he does! I opened the book and somebody's planet is taking a sun bath, with Starbreaker lapping up the resultant terror-infused energy like melting Carvel. D/G didn't do their best work here: it's too colorful, candy colorful for an event that's sombre and scary, and the alien kid personifying the planet's misery looks suspiciously familiar--yeah, too much like that idiot A-Rym from the failed crossover of months ago.
Still, it's a good start, followed by Starbreaker, in best James Bond-villain tradition, cutting negotiations short with an emissary seeking to buy energy, then destroying him and cackling "they don't dare reply!" I wonder why D didn't give him a mustache to twirl. Of course, there's also wretched F excess: "totally ruthless is this grinning devil, shamelessly selling his blood-bought power to greedy space merchants whose scruples have long since dissipated into cosmic dust." Hemingway thought good writing demanded that one cut the adjectives, but F rolls in them like a dog in deer squat, and offers only a gussied-up way of repeating, repeating exactly what we were told throughout the opening act in #96. Ah well.
The fast-moving fun continues with "StarBaby" (don't blame me) destroying city blocks on Earth, leading to Superman, GL and Flash responding, only to be dumped without ceremony or apparent effort. Flash's spanking is particularly humiliating, as he gets the stiff-arm Spidey used to stop Quicksilver back in ASM #71. This leads Batman to mope "we led with our aces and were trumped." Just when did Batman swap personalities with Tin of the Metal Men?
Hawkman rejects the pity party, claiming his absorbascon allows him to tap Earth's "racial memory", which includes the JLA's origin, and demands that the group, most of whom have been doing nothing but fretting, review the League's origins, for rallying inspiration.
Uh-oh. 37 pages shrinks to 22 fast when origins are repeated. I didn't want this, then or now. Leaving aside the cobwebs we have to brush off the plot device, just how does this help against a guy commanding the power of "limitless suns"?
You may find interesting the interspersing of D/G retakes on the origin with Sekowsky's original panels. I like D/G's work here, and prefer them to the originals (though no cover Neal Adams did for JLA matches the cover to #9, the--well-- original origin issue--what a terrific, and typical, Silver-Age DC problem).
I'm still not persuaded, as Batman is when the show ends, that stressing the life spirit, refusing to give in to terror, will actually drain Starbreaker. He may not get the jolt he's used to, but he's still plenty tough, no?
And then Sargon walks in to the satellite, uninvited. I love how mystics breach the satellite at will: JLA/Avengers reprised this with Phantom Stranger entering as if hopping a subway turnstile.
Well, as second acts go, it certainly was padded, and promises some F sermonizing about human spirit lurking in the next issue. But I'm enjoying Starbreaker: his manhandling of the League's power core leaves me begging for his humiliation in the next episode. Since I care about what's next, this second act, stuffed to obesity with reprinted material, still did its job.
Bernard Kasdan's circulation statement shows JLA at 218,000, again hovering at red zone (sub 200,000 was generally cancellation time).
I wish Starbreaker had been used with the JSA in the summer of '71. I wish A-Rym and Teppy met Jerry Lewis.
Next, will Sargon die, a la Spectre, to save the world? If so, who'd miss him?