DC Comics History: Justice Society of America (1948 - 1951: End of an Era)
By Deejay Dayton
Jan 29, 2016 - 9:15
The Justice Society of America was another victim of the fall of the super-heroes during 1948 – 1951: End of an Era. The individual members, with one exception, would lose their own series before the group came to its ending. And yet, in the long run, the cessation of stories about the Justice Society at this time would serve them well. Both in the way they were revived a few years down the road, and also for the amazing story, crafted in the 70s, that explained the “true story” behind the group’s demise.
On the whole, this late era was not a great one for the JSA. There were some good stories, and some that were important for the development of the super-hero team, though often those two things did not occur in the same tales. But the period also saw a number of weaker stories, with little to grab a reader’s interest.
All-Star 39 was a very significant issue in terms of the development of the super-hero team, but I honestly cannot say that I particularly like the tale. While it is great to see the entire book illustrated by only one artist, Irwin Hasen is not on my list of favourites.
The story opens with a young woman, Sally Barnes, being accused of being a murderous witch. She gets sent to prison, where she tells her story to the Justice Society members, about dreaming of a magic dwarf and the realm of Fairyland, and then gaining unwanted powers. This is all overheard by another prisoner, the Slicer, who escapes and follows the Justice Society to the entrance to Fairyland, which Sally told them of. Black Canary is following the Slicer, so operating somewhat separate from the rest of the team.
In Fairyland, the JSA members encounter the Lorelei, a malevolent witch who is not only trying to rule Fairyland, but also dispose of Sally, and use Fairyland to conquer the real world. The Lorelei sends assorted magical entities to battle the heroes, who, for the first time, split up into little groups to deal with the problems. The Flash and the Atom are the first duo shown. While this style would become the standard format for super-hero teams for the rest of time, this was the very first story to play itself out in this fashion.
Wonder Woman and Dr. Mid-Nite work together, and Wonder Woman is now, and from now on, an active member of the team. Hawkman, Green Lantern and Johnny Thunder join together to fight a dragon. The little groups do not stay separate throughout, coming together and mixing as the story progresses. The JSA members wind up running in to Black Canary, who tells them about the Slicer. The Slicer meets the Lorelei, and they start to work together as well.
The culmination of the story sees the Lorelei and other magical creatures get loose into the real world, wreaking all manner of havoc. But when Fairyland the real world start to pull apart, the magical entities begin to age rapdily, and have to return to their realm. Hawkman uses the Lorelei's magic wand to restore the damage done. This story would be re-written as an early adventure of the Justice League of America in the 1960s, and Lorelei herself would return, along with Fairyland, in an Infinity, Inc. tale in the 80s. This story also marks the final appearance of Johnny Thunder in the Golden Age. He had already been ousted from his own series by Black Canary, and would not be seen again until a Justice League/Justice Society team up in JLA in the 60s.
All-Star 40 has the last, and best, of the "issues" stories, dealing with juvenile delinquency. Though this is a Justice Society tale, only Green Lantern and Black Canary (who is technically still a "special guest") have significant parts in the tale.
Instead, the story largely centres on the young version of the Crimson Claws. While the adult members of this gang are full criminals, the young members are basically a street gang, more interested in fighting others over the turf. But the older members are using and recruiting the youngsters into their lives of crime.
Though well-meant, the story does have some embarrassing moments, such as blaming juvenile delinquency on "mental and physical defects," and "lack of religion."
Much of the tale centres on one family, the Brents, in which the eldest brother is a hood, and the middle one a member of the street gang. The youngest is a member of the Junior Justice Society of America, and joins the Crimson Claws only to gain information on the group for the JSA, though his sister is mortified to learn he has joined the gang. There is plenty of drama and action in the tale, which helps lift it above the preachy nature of the earlier "issues" tales.
In the end, Wonder Woman uses her Magic Sphere to show the young men what their lives of crime will lead them to in the future - mostly the death penalty. Horrified, the kids decide to shape up and have nothing more to do with the Crimson Claws.
All-Star 41 is the high point of the Justice Society's original run. John Broome brings back the Wizard, and a new incarnation of the Injustice Society.
The story opens as Black Canary discovers the Justice Society members missing. She meets up with the Harlequin, a supposed foe of Green Lantern, who really is only a criminal in order to attract the interest of the hero. The Harlequin explains that the Wizard has used a mind-eraser on the JSA members, and made them their slaves. The Wizard has brought together two other recent foes of Green Lantern, the Icicle and Sportsmaster, as well as the new Flash enemy, the Fiddler. The Huntress, who has faced Wildcat in a couple of recent tales, rounds out the line-up, despite not being an opponent of any active JSA member.
The story jumps backwards a bit, as the Harlequin reveals how the Injustice Society attempted to recruit her, thinking that she was a straight out villain like the rest of them. She contacted the JSA, but too late to stop the Injustice Society, and wound up captured by them as well.
The Injustice Society members decide to hold a competition to see who should be their leader, by trying to pull off the most impressive theft. With them gone, the Harlequin uses her special illusion-casting glasses to break the mental control over the JSA members, who then head out to try to stop the thefts. So the story briefly returns to the old format, of one on one battles. But in this case, it works very well. Hawkman tries to stop the Sportsmaster from stealing the ship Old Ironsides, but falls victim to the mind-eraser again, as each of the heroes will.
But it's still a lot of fun to see the team-ups against the villains. Dr. Mid-Nite and Wonder Woman try to stop the Fiddler from stealing the Liberty Bell. The Atom and Flash go up against the Huntress, who uses trained elephants to grab Plymouth Rock.
Green Lantern faces off against the Icicle as he grabs Washington Monument.
And the Injustice Society as a whole grab an entire football stadium of spectators to act as judges, and determine which theft was most impressive.
Harlequin and Black Canary then manage to break the conditioning of Green Lantern, convincing the hero, whose abilities are based on will power anyway, that he is able to fly and use his ring. Once the other heroes see this, they start to believe in themselves as well, and regain their powers. Together they take down the Injustice Society members. The Harlequin takes off, but the issue ends with Black Canary finally becoming a full member of the Justice Society. This was the final alteration in the line-up for the team until their revival in the Silver Age.
This was also the last appearance of the Injustice Society until the 1970s. While the Fiddler and Harlequin each returned to face Green Lantern again, none of the other villains would return during the 1940s. The Wizard and the Icicle both came back in JLA/JSA crossovers in the 60s, while the Sportsmaster and Huntress returned as a married couple to battle Starman and Black Canary in a 1960s Brave and the Bold.
The Alchemist, also called professor Zobar Zodiak, makes his sole appearance against the Justice Society in All-Star 42.
The story opens with Professor Zodiak on trial for murder. The Justice Society are the witnesses against him, but do not show up. Some children dressed as members of the JSA do get into the court, insisting that they are the real team, but are disregarded and thrown out. While most people would then expect the charges to be dismissed against them and walk out of the court, Zodiak instead decides to explain his whole criminal career, even to the degree of confessing to the crime he is accused of.
He begins by telling the court about Gallio, a man who discovered the four treasures of alchemy: the Philosopher's Stone, the Elixir of Youth, the Perpetual Motion Machine, and the Universal Solvent. Eventually the Elixir of Youth began to wear off, and Gallio approached the Justice Society, asking him to look after his treasures with his dying breath. But Zodiak overheard, and set out to retrieve them for himself.
Zodiak adopts a masked identity as the Alchemist. It's a pretty impressive mask, as Zodiak gets taller and thinner whenever he puts it on. He fights off the Flash and Hawkman to get the Philosopher's Stone, uses the Universal Solvent to avoid Dr. Mid-Nite and the Atom, who is wearing his new costume as of this story, and escapes from Black Canary and Wonder Woman by using the Perpetual Motion Machine.
To get away with the Elixir of Youth, Zodiak uses his "alchemo-bombs" against Green Lantern. He had killed a man using these same bombs in order to get to it, the murder for which he is on trial now. Professor Zodiak then captured the JSA members and tied them to a wheel which would reduce them in age. The youthful members themselves explain that part to a bailiff. When confronted by the young JSA members, Zodiak hurls another alchemo-bomb at them, but it only has the result of bringing them all back to their proper ages. In attempting to flee in his nifty looking alchemy airplane, the craft explodes, killing Zodiak. We also find out that the man he supposedly murdered just sort of came back to life. Those alchemo-bombs are not to be trusted.
Though Professor Zodiak never menaces the Justice Society again, he does return in All-Star Squadron in the early 80s.
The Justice Society face foes from a different dimension in All-Star 43, as the series begins its decline. Iron, in various forms, goes mysteriously vanishing across the US. At the same time, an escape artist become fascinated by golden performers at a carnival. He tries to figure out their secret for surviving acid, and ultimately determines that they really are made of gold. When he discovers that they are also behind the iron thefts, he turns to the Justice Society for help.
The Justice Society come to the carnival to confront the golden men, who vanish while on a ride. The JSA climb aboard, and with Green Lantern's ring providing a power boost, use the ride to travel to the same dimension as the golden men. The world is called Xenca, and the Justice Society learn that iron is extremely rare on this world. Aurikon and his followers came to Earth to steal enough iron to build three massive golden robots, which they intend to use to conquer their world. So the JSA members split up and battle the robots, Hawkman, Dr. Mid-Nite and the Atom going first. By this point, the Atom has begun to manifest super-powers in his own series, although it's not too clear if he has them in this tale.
Wonder Woman and Black Canary make up the next team. It's interesting to note that, even in 1948, it was not felt necessary to add a male to the unit to make it "even" with the others. Of course, Wonder Woman was the most powerful member of the team at this point. Still, each of the three teams does get defeated by the giant robot that they face, and Green Lantern and Flash are no different. But then, of course, once they are all together, and prepared for the strength of the robots, the team combine and defeat them all, as well as Aurikon, and return to their own world.
The JSA goes Hollywood in All-Star 44. The story opens as an actor goes missing from the set of a picture in development. The director contacts the JSA, explaining that the movie in an expose of the head of the Hollywood mobs, and the script is being delivered to him in installments, by a mysterious writer. A man named Evil Star has kidnapped the actor, and wants production of the movie stopped, pretty much indicating that he is the mob leader.
So the Justice Society members head to Hollywood to patrol the set and try to figure out who Evil Star is. There are a number of cameos by film stars in this issue. Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope all appear on the page above, and Peter Lorre and Jimmy Stewart are on later pages. There are also a handful who I do not recognize at all.
Evil Star makes a couple more attempts to disrupt the production, starting with a scene in a western mining town. The Flash and Dr. Mid-Nite try to stop him, but wind up getting captured.
The movie seems to be quite a strange tale, as the next scene Evil Star ruins is a comedic one, set in a late 1800s gambling den. Hawkman and Wonder Woman both fall to Evil Star in this part, as he collects the various defeated heroes. Evil Star then moves on to steal the silver ingots used in film production, though the Atom and Black Canary try to stop him, getting nabbed in the process. Green Lantern tries pursuing the trail of the script, and the location the pages were mailed from. Although he finds the writer, he falls into Evil Star's hands as well.
The JSA members get put into a really silly death-trap, in theatre seats, with a huge knife throwing machine to kill them. They survive simply by all moving in unison. Then they confront the man they suspect of being Evil Star, who calls in his henchmen, but has no chance against the unified heroes. The tale ends with the Justice Society members being asked to put their feet in cement, just like real movie stars. Although this version of Evil Star never returns, there would be a completely different villain of that name who would fight Green Lantern, beginning in the 60s.
All-Star 45 has another of the weaker tales. Some fleeing criminals disappear from the police. The Justice Society head out to investigate, and come across Dr. Egri. Egri explains how he had just finished an experiment in drawing down cosmic rays and imbuing them into ordinary items, when the hoods burst in, stealing the objects from him. The teams splits up to find the bad guys, who are immensely aided by the cosmic devices they are using. Some good backgrounds are used for this story. Hawkman and Wonder Woman fight amidst the neon signs of a bustling downtown. Dr. Mid-Nite and the Atom wind up at a fairground. In each case, just as the heroes triumph, something upsetting, but unseen, occurs.
The Flash gets a solo chapter against a thief whose cosmic boots allow him to move as fast as the Flash. And Green Lantern, similarly, faces off against a ring wielding enemy. Dr. Egrii turns out to be the major villain in the story, somehow using black light as a teleportation ray, bringing the heroes, and the thieves, back to his lair. Black Canary was suspicious, so pretended to have fallen for Egri, keeping her on the scene and able to free the other JSA members. Egri attempts to use all the cosmic devices at once to fight the assembled heroes, but only succeeds in blowing himself up.
Johnny Thunder may be gone, but his spirit lives on, and not in a good way, in All-Star 46. This is also the first issue in which the entire Justice Society is not shown on the cover. The story begins in a perfectly acceptable way, as the team discuss how to deal with a group of thieves known as the Invisible Band. But then it quickly goes wrong. They leave their notes behind, and the cleaning lady for the team brings them home and gives them to her nephew, Elmer Doolittle, who fancies himself a detective.
Operating off of the notes, he winds up at the same spots that the Justice Society members are as they take down the Invisible Band - but in each case, Elmer winds up taking out the JSA members. It just becomes downright annoying. Both because it plays the same joke over and over again, and also because, by being defeated by Elmer, it makes the Justice Society members look even less competent than he is. The Invisible Band take advantage of the situation, capturing the team and setting Elmer up to gun them all down - although of course he screws that up as well. All gets straightened out in the end, and the bad guys get caught. For one horrible panel, when they realize Elmer knows their secret headquarters, it looks like they might offer him membership in the team - but thankfully they just decide to move.
All-Star 47 pits the Justice Society against the ghost of Billy the Kid, which is the final issue to feature the entire team on the cover.
The story has a thieving cowboy causing problems in the city, claiming to be Billy the Kid. The Justice Society hear from an eminent professor who was kidnapped by the cowboy, who was taken to a western town, and convinced that Billy the Kid was real. When he tried to find the town a second time, there was nothing there. He tells the Justice Society that he really believes this is the ghost of Billy the Kid, but Green Lantern, at least, is not convinced. So then the issue plays out as they have come to, with the team splitting into smaller groups.
Each team not only fail to stop Billy, they are also stunned by something when they try to pursue him. This feels like it might be something big, but in fact it's just that he and his men keep vanishing. They get a note from the professor to come to an auditorium, and there they find not only the professor, once again kidnapped, but also Billy the Kid and his entire western town. He had a number of underground passages, which he and his men escaped through, and the professor never realized they have taken him to a spot within the actual city. Billy ties everyone up and puts them on a stagecoach, intending to blow it up. But Green Lantern uses his ring to take control of the coach, frees the team, and they take down Billy, who turns out to be wearing a mask. He is really a rodeo rider who turned to crime. Not an awful story, but there is little to make it stand out.
By the time All-Star 48 came out, Wonder Woman was the only member of the team to still be appearing in another book. So it's hardly a surprise that the story in the issue deals with her Magic Sphere, or that she appears twice on the cover.
The tale centres on a young boy who is dying of nothing in particular. He is a big fan of the Justice Society, so at the doctor's request, they come to the hospital to cheer him up. It works, but only for a moment, and then the kid is back on death's door, having simply lost his will to live.
So Wonder Woman hauls out the Magic Sphere, and shows the boy scenes from his later life (assuming that he doesn't just die). The first vision sees him as a teenage page boy at a television studio, helping Wonder Woman and Black Canary stop a murder. The second vision has him in college, on a rowing team, helping Hawkman and the Atom save lives when an extremely poorly constructed ship tips over, dumping its passengers into the river. The third vision has him as a young adult, on an expedition in Australia, where he finds a hidden valley of prehistoric creatures. Along with Dr. Mid-Nite and Green Lantern, he saves the other members from his team from being killed by the creatures. The final vision has the man and the Flash prevent the murder of the woman he loves.
But the kid just keeps on dying, and the JSA get called out to where they are actually needed. Wonder Woman leaves the Magic Sphere behind, and the boy sees the JSA members in deadly danger. So he instantly heals, rushes from his hospital bed, and saves the Justice Society. You can tell I don't think much of this story, can't you? The boy does appear again, in the America vs the Justice Society miniseries in the 80s.
By All-Star 49 it feels like the heart has gone out of the series. The issue contains a tale in which a comet approaches the Earth, carrying an alien race of fire people. We also see the huge Justice Society computer, which is not very good at drawing maps.
The comet had come to Earth in the distant past, and the fire people had raided uranium and radium, causing an atomic explosion when they left which wiped out a forgotten civilization. So the heroes do their best to prevent this happening again. But nothing really kicks this into high gear. The text tells us about the Atom's super-powers, but we never see him do anything notable. Instead, the new format feels sort of plodding along, as with the late stories in the earlier format.
Each team of heroes fails to stop the comet people from their raids. Green Lantern gets the solo outing, but fails as well. Then they hold off the fire people with "carbon-arc lamps,' whatever those are. It turns out the fire people do not like heat, which doesn't make a lot of sense, beyond the "fight fire with fire" concept. Dejected, they turn their atomic weapons on themselves and destroy themselves. Umm. Ok.
Things are a bit better in All-Star 50, as the team deals with a scientific genius, Mr. Alpha. The story opens at the college the Flash attended ten years earlier (which is, amazingly, an accurate amount of time). He and some fellow students wrote prophecies of what they would all be doing in ten years, and left then with their professor. They each read them out now, except for Paul Turnbull, who throws his in the fire. Curious, the Flash and the other Society members reconstruct Turnbull's letter, and see that he wrote that he would become a master thief, Mr. Alpha. As soon as that's done, Mr. Alpha does indeed begin a crime wave. The story has a bit more spark than the last one. Mr. Alpha uses some weird scientific tricks, and in each case leaves the heroes in death traps. As well, there is another shadowy figure seen in each chapter, keeping tabs on Mr. Alpha. This makes it enough of a puzzle to keep the reader's interest. Or at least, my interest.
Once again, it's Green Lantern who gets the solo outing. You'd think it would be Wonder Woman, the only one with her own book. But it never seems to be. In the end, it turns out that Tunbull is not Mr. Alpha. He was the shadowy figure, saving the Justice Society members from the death traps. Mr. Alpha was really the professor, deep in debt, who had read the prophecies and figured he could frame Turnbull for his own crimes.
Diamond creatures from underground are the source of the problems in All-Star 51. The start of the tale isn't bad, as the various heroes deal with odd events, such as Old Faithful not erupting, and a bottomless lake losing all its water. These events are being caused by diamond creatures from below the Earth's surface, who emerge from a volcano, bent on domination.
But by far the biggest problem to this story is the art. Scenes like the glacier crushing the city just look awful.
The battles with the diamond men are not much better. And the resolution, in which the Justice Society members shatter the diamond creatures by ringing bells, is a real let down.
The story in All-Star 52 is more entertaining than the last, but still far from the glory days of the series. The Justice Society and an archaeologist uncover four men encased in glass, deep under the Earth. When the glass gets opened, the men emerge, and display an impressive degree of powers, including mind control, hypnosis and teleportation. They leave the Justice Society members in the cave as the head to the upper world, and in fact it is a full year before the JSA shake off their trance and come back to the land above.
The Society members split up to track the men, who are each involved in a scheme to draw the world into war. Hawkman and Wonder Woman catch up to one of the Four Kings in South America. While Black Canary and the Flash find another in "southeastern Europe," which must mean the Balkans. Although the format stays strong, with Dr. Mid-Nite and the Atom failing to stop the one in the Middle East, the same way the others have failed, the art is much better, especially on the locations.
Green Lantern gets his, now usual, final solo segment, facing the King that has stayed in the US. Green Lantern uses his ring to hypnotize the other Society members into fighting against the Kings, the only way they can think of to overcome their mental powers. This works well, despite Green Lantern forgetting to hypnotize himself, and the Kings wind up just destroying themselves.
The Justice Society get an enjoyable time travel tale in All-Star 53. The story opens as a murder mystery, with a dead scientist, a strange machine, and an innocent man accused of the crime.
The Justice Society are called in, and determine that the machine is made for time travel. The gun used in the crime has gone missing, and they believe it was tossed into the machine, and has "fallen" through time. The story introduces an unusual concept, of time as a mountain with ledges. The team enter the machine to stop at the various time ledges, hoping to retrieve the gun from one of them.
The Flash and Black Canary wind up at the court of Genghis Khan, where they do find the gun, but it disappears, continuing its fall through time, before the can grab it. Each encounter will end this way. Wonder Woman and Dr. Mid-Nite face Attila the Hun and his horde when they reach their time ledge. The Atom and Hawkman wind up in Imperial Rome, and though they fail to get the gun, they do aid Spartacus in his revolt.
Green Lantern heads to the extremely distant past, and is surprised to discover a highly advanced civilization. Of course, this is Atlantis, so not only does Green Lantern fail at getting the gun, he sees the entire culture wiped out. Downer. Back in the present, without the gun, the team decides to employ some basic deductive skills on the case instead, and quickly determine that a rival scientist was the killer. He has also invented a death ray, which he starts to use on the JSA. Dr. Mid-Nite tricks him into firing it into a mirror, so he just winds up killing himself, as so many of their enemies have recently done.
The story in All-Star 54 is a bit better than the harmless cover might imply. The Justice Society note a correlation between a series of thefts in cities, and the travellings of the Circus of a Thousand Thrills. When they go to investigate, a number of attempts to kill the team are made in the fun house.
The problem the JSA face is that the suspects, the performers, are always in view while the crimes are being committed, and that continues throughout the story. Hawkman stops a high wire walker from a theft on a boat, but when he gets back to the circus, Black Canary informs him that the man is still there, performing. Black Canary gets reduced to doing that in every chapter. The Atom and the Flash stop an animal trainer from using elephants in a robbery, but once again it seems he never left the circus. Dr. Mid-Nite and Wonder Woman have the same thing happen after they catch a stunt cyclist. And though Green Lantern stops the strongman, Goliath, from a theft, Goliath is still at the circus as well.
In the end, it turns out that the circus folk are all twins. The robberies were intentionally done while the twins were performing, in order to provide alibis.
For the first time, the Justice Society operate as a team throughout the events of All-Star 55. The story deals with Professor Napier, an old friend of the Justice Society, who they hadn't heard from in years. In a tidy acknowledgement of continuity, Black Canary has no idea who Napier is, allowing the other team members to give some expository dialogue.
The reason Napier has come up is that there have been sightings of UFOs and aliens. Going to check on Napier, they find him gone, but read his notes, which detail receiving mysterious messages that pushed his scientific knowledge. They discover plans Napier made for a space ship to take him to Jupiter. Following the plans, the Justice Society build a ship for themselves, and head off to the giant planet.
On Jupiter, they find a white man, which means he must be a good guy, Miko. He explains how the bug-like green headed creatures have been fighting to take over the planet. The Flash does some spying on the green meanies, and finds that they are being lead by a mysterious helmeted man. This man's plans involve the conquest of not only Jupiter, but the Earth as well. The JSA spend a while fighting against the green bug things, but get tricked into putting on helmets, which take over their minds, making them willing slaves of Helmet Man. Green Lantern sees this, and though he does not put a helmet on, he is forced to fight an exact duplicate of himself.
He succeeds at that, and then goes off to face the other members of the Justice Society. This also marks the first time a member of a team has to fight against his mind-controlled team-mates, a fairly standard event in super-hero teams, which had its genesis here. Although Green Lantern has a hard time of it, he prevails by using his ring to remove the other helmets, freeing his team-mates minds. Getting the helmet off of the evil leader, they discover Napier. But Napier is not an actual villain, the helmet itself is. It was the helmet that contacted Napier, and gave him the instructions to build the ship. The helmet can control whoever puts it on, but is incapable of doing anything itself, being a helmet and all.
Another ground-breaking story, even if it doesn't really appear to be in its telling. Professor Napier returns in All-Star Squadron in the early 80s.
Shape changing aliens from the future are the menace, in All-Star 56. Unfortunately, the story is nowhere near as exciting as that sounds. Part of the problem is that is takes an awfully long time to get going. The first third is spent on establishing the city of Modernia, in the 31st century, and the chameleons who are trying to overthrow it. Both the chameleons, and a scientist from that era, head back in time, the chameleons to steal weapons, and the scientist to get the Justice Society to stop them.
The Justice Society take a while to convince, but finally get on board with the plot. They also determine that the aliens study photographs of the people they are going to impersonate, which enables them to seek the villains out. The team does work together to battle some giant robots that the chameleons are using, before splitting up into teams.
But the heroes turn the tables on the aliens, disguising themselves as the humans that the aliens were impersonating. Green Lantern encases their bomb with an energy globe, and the menace from the future is defeated.
The Justice Society have their final Golden Age adventure in All-Star 57, with the appropriate title of The Mystery of the Vanishing Detectives. Even on the cover, the Justice Society members seem insignificant compared to the shooter and the Eiffel Tower.
But it is one of their better tales, so at least the series goes out on a high note. It's the only appearance of the Golden Age version of the Key, although the way he appears on the splash page is not how he looks in the story itself.
The tale deals with four famous detectives from around the world - England, France, Turkey and Hawaii, who come to participate in a contest, solving a crime. Even the contest is really cool, as the detectives watch a glass duplicate of the crime scene, with giant puppets taking all the roles. They solve the mystery, but then the lights go out, and the four detectives disappear. The Justice Society were playing host to the visitors, so now jump into action to find them. A silver skeleton key is found left behind. And, to complicate things, at that point each of the vanished detectives receives an urgent cable from their homelands, about puzzling crimes, and silver keys left behind.
So the JSA members split up and some head to the four locales to solve those crimes, and hopefully get on the track of the key-leaving villain, while others stay behind to try to find the detectives. Dr. Mid-Nite heads to foggy London to solve a bank robbery, and is the first to discover that a man known as the Key is the mastermind.
The Flash heads to Paris, where gargoyles are being stolen from Notre Dame, looking for the hidden treasure of Quasimodo.
Wonder Woman goes to Turkey, and stops the theft of a mound of gold.
While Green Lantern gets the Hawaiian adventure, with a stolen $100,000 bill. Back at home, Hawkman, the Atom and Black Canary search for the missing detectives, and manage to find them, though the men are all hypnotized.
The other heroes return at this point, as the Key reveals himself to have taken the place of the British detective, Inspector Dawes. He turns the hypnotized detectives against the JSA, but that's hardly a challenge, more of a distraction. The Key appears to jump to his death, and perhaps he did die, as we never see him again.
Later continuity would add one more adventure after this one, which would result in the Justice Society being hauled in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and threatened unless they revealed their identities. Refusing to do so, the team disbanded until the 1960s.
In reality, Wonder Woman was the only one who was still appearing in any other book, and she would continue to do so. The Flash would be the first JSA member to return, teaming up with his Silver Age successor in the pages of The Flash in the early 1960s, which would lead to the rest of these heroes returning, in a Flash story that recapped this adventure.
Justice Society of America: All-Star Comics 39 – 57 (Feb/March 1948 – Feb/March 1951)
Next up – Dr. Mid-Nite!
DC Comics History: Justice Society of America (1948 - 1951: End of an Era)
DC Comics History: Justice Society of America (Late Golden Age)
DC Comics History: Justice Society of America
Justice Society of America # 53
Justice Society of America # 49
Justice Society of America #45
Justice Society of America #44
Justice Society of America # 43
Justice Society of America Special # 1 (of 1)
Preview: Justice Society of America #43