JLA #41, "Key-Master of the World!"

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #41; December 1965; DC Comics; Julius Schwartz, 
editor; featuring the JLA (minus one) versus "The Key-Master of the World!", 
written by Gardner Fox, pencilled by Mike Sekowsky, and inked (I think) by 
Bernard Sachs.

Review by Bill Henley

On the cover which looks like  Sekowsky with Murphy Anderson inks, the Key--
a villain clad in an orange  jumpsuit with a keyhole-shaped headpiece on his
bald head and, of course, a ring  of keys on his belt-- is knocking Green
Lantern for a loop with the blast from a  key-shaped ray gun. Superman, Wonder
Woman, Martian Manhunter and Hawkman are  flying to GL's aid, but to no avail? 
The caption inforns us that "He (the  Key) had the KEY and the KNACK to KNOCK
OFF the World's Greatest  Super-Heroes!"

The roll call of the issue includes Atom, Batman, Flash,  Green Lantern,
Hawkman, J'onn J'onzz, Snapper Carr, Superman, and Wonder Woman--  in other words,
all of the then-active JLA members except Green Arrow.   This was a bit
unusual, as the JLA mag had by this time fallen into a pattern of  featuring just
five or six active members per issue, on a roughly rotating basis  (though with
the heavy hitters Superman, Batman, Flash and GL given extra  exposure). 
Green Arrow had recently been dropped as a regular feature in  WORLD'S FINEST,
and his being the only member absent in this issue makes me  wonder if DC had in
mind at this point letting him drop completely into  limbo.  However, if so,
they changed their mind, as GA reappeared in JLA  #45 and sporadically

On the symbolic splash page, a giant,  grinning, exuberant figure of the Key
fires Key-weapons out of both hands while  the JLA members rush forward,
apparently to do his bidding.  "He found the  key to success--wealth-- power! 
(Sounds like some of the ads that used to  appear in comic books.)  SUCCESS he
achieved by key-controlling the minds  of men!....:POWER he wielded by using the

At a "regular meeting of the Justice League," a rather  irregular procedure
is in process, as Superman, the senior superdoer present,  rises to make a
startling but well-received proposal: "Fellow members, as you  all must realize by
now-- the moment has come to break up the Justice  League!"  "It's about
time", Wonder Woman agrees, "You don't have to talk  ME into that!", Green Lantern
chimes in, and even Snapper Carr enthuses,  "Yeah,man!  Like this is the
livin' end!"  And so, a motion to disband  the JLA passes unanimously, and
Superman proposes, "Let us refill our cups and  drink a toast to-- the JUSTICE LEAGUE
THAT WAS!"  As the ex-members file  out of their former headquarters, Green
Lantern seals their decision, cheered on  by his former comrades, by blowing
the Secret Sanctuary to smithereens with his  Power Ring.  And as the heroes
split up to return to their home towns--  Atom exulting, "What a relief to know I
won't have to drop what I'm doing to  hurry off to an emergency JLA case!" --
Snapper Carr finds a phone booth near  his home in Happy Harbor and reports
in, "I followed your instructions-- and the  Justice League is GONESVILLE!" 

The receiver of Snapper's call is,  of course, the Key, who "hangs up the
phone with a sigh of satisfaction",  figuring that now that he has arranged for
the dissolution of the JLA, "my plan  to be KEY-man of the Earth-- the Solar
System-- the UNIVERSE-- can't  miss!"  He muses about his modus operandi, how he
discovered the way to  isolte and  harness the "psycho-chemicals" that
regulate behavior in the  human brain (a panel shows a cross-section of a brain with
pointers to the areas  in charge of various functions such as body movements
and speech).  Having  determined to attack the JLA through their "weakest
link", Snapper Carr, the Key  caused him to be injured in a rockslide while on a
solo hike and then gave him  water filled with "psycho-chemicals" to put him
under mental control.  Next  Snapper spiked the JLA's punch with
psycho-chemicals, and then, turning keys on  a control board,  the Key tests his mental
domination of the JLA by  "commanding them to do the most unlikely thing I can
think of-- DISBAND THE  JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA!"  And, as we have seen, the
chemical cocktail  works like a charm.  Having confirmed his control over the
JLA, the Key  mentally commands them to remain oblivious as his "Key-Men"
criminal henchmen go  forth to commit crimes.  Why not simply order the JLA to
destroy  themselves?  Because they figure into the Key's most ambitious plan.   Once
he has taken control of world leaders with his psycho-chemicals and become 
master of Earth, he figures he will eventually get bored, and then he will need
the power of his JLA super-slaves to carry him to other worlds of the Solar 
System and universe, and to fight for him to make him master there as  well.

Some time later, a villain called the Wrecker (who first appeared,  a
footnote tells us, in "The League Against Batman!" in DETECTIVE COMICS #197,  July
1953) makes a long-delayed return to smash and loot the Gotham County  Fair. 
Batman and Robin are on the scene to stop them, but the Wrecker and  his gang
are puzzled, as well as offended, when the Dynamic Duo completely  ignore a
rival gang of crooks, dressed in key-motif uniforms, looting the  fair.  Likewise,
the Atom halts an art museum robbery by a thug named Sandy  Salters, but
Sandy complains, "Boy, you sure must have it in for me and my gang,  Atom-- taking
US on while those other crooks make off with the paintings!"   But the Atom--
unlike Sandy and we readers-- see no other robbers, and he thinks  Sandy is
just trying to "play the oldest trick in the book" with a fake  distraction.

The story pauses for ads (including a house ad for the debut  of Ultra the
Multi-Alien in MYSTERY IN SPACE) and a lettercol, which contains  comments on
the recent JLA/JSA teamup that pitted the JSA against an evil JLA  created by
the likewise evil (though not very bright) Earth- 1 Johnny Thunder  and his
Thunderbolt.  Reader John Pierce of Columbus, Ohio, complained that  Gardner Fox
should have provided a more detailed and believable explanation of  how Johnny
was able to rewrite the origins of the various JLA members to empower  his own
henchmen, even though this involved causing two of the crooks to be born  on
Krypton and Mars.  Ye Ed (Julie Schwartz) replied, "To have elaborated  on how
the Superman and J'onn J'onzz switcheroos were made would have meant less 
space for more importan details in the tale.  Besides, when we said the 
Thunderbolt could do anything, we meant it!"

As part 2 of "Key-Master of  the World!" takes off, a similar scenario takes
place, with Hawkman and Hawkgirl  battling a gang of flying "Monarch
Butterfly" crooks in Midway City, while a  squad of Key-Men rob a bank.  But this time
there is a difference; while  Hawkman remains oblivious to the Key-Men, his
spouse and partner Hawkgirl  notices them and takes them on.  "Hey!  She ain't
supposed to see us--  let alone FIGHT us!"  "I fight anybody who commits a
crime!"  After  defeating the Key-Men, Hawkgirl angrily confronts her goofoff
husband: "You  might at least have made an ATTEMPT to help me overcome those
Key-Men!"   When Katar Hol insists that he saw absolutely nothing of any Key-Men
crooks, the  Hawks realize something very fishy is going on.  Tracing he
couple's recent  activity, Shayera Hol recalls that the previous night, instead of
drinking a  glass of milk at bedtime as usual, she gave some of the milk to a
stray  cat.  Testing the remains in the glass  good thing they weren't in a 
hurry to wash dishes-- the Hawks find a "powerful psycho-chemical" in the milk, 
and deduce that Katar spiked the milk intending for Shayera to fall under 
chemical control.  Traveling to their Thanagarian spaceship, Katar and  Shayera
use their extraterrestrial equipment to temporarily neutralize the  chemical
spell on him, and he remembers the JLA's drastic-- and now forgotten--  action
of disbanding the team.  Shayera also deduces that Robin and other  partners
were brought under the spell by the JLA members, a fate she avoided  only by

The Hawks devise a plan to free the other JLA  members from mental control. 
First Hawkman uses his Absorbascon,  containing all Earth's knowledge, to
discover the other members' secret  identities ("I don't know all their
identities, because we agreed not to!   However, this is an emergency!")  Then. the
Hawks follow the JLA members  around with movie cameras.  As the Flash defeats the
Weather Wizard, Green  Lantern takes on the Invisible Destroyer (one of his
earliest and more obscure  foes, from SHOWCASE #23), and the other members
fight other foes, the Hawks are  on the scene to get visual evidence of the
Key-Man robberies they simultaneously  ignore.  (Why the Key-Men make a point of
robbing at the same time and  place other crooks are fighting the JLA members
isn't clear, unless it's just  that they or their master think it's a big hoot.) 
Then Hawkman contacts  the heroes in their civilian identities and persuades
them to assemble at his  Thanagarian spaceship.  When he shows them the home
movies of their recent  cases, they still don't see the Key-Men robbing in the
background-- until  Hawkman doses them all with Thanagarian anti-psycho
radiation.  Then the  JLA members see the Key-Men on film and remember their
previous action of  disbanding the JLA-- an action they immediately rescind in
KEY!"  That  may be easier said than done, however, since they still don't
know where the Key  has his headquarters-- until Green Lantern interrogates his
own Power Ring and  learns that, under the Key's control, he gave it a delayed
order to rebuild the  old Secret Sanctuary as a headquarters for the Key and
his men.  (I'll say  this for the Key, he's got chutzpah.)  But how to
overcome the Key, when  the psycho-chemicals in the JLA's brains have been only
temporarily neutralized,  and by merely turning a few keys on his "keyboard" he can
seize complete control  of the JLA again?

After some pages of ads (including house ads for the  issue of FOX & CROW
introducing Stanley and his Monster, and for a BRAVE  & BOLD issue with Supergirl
and Wonder Woman),Part 3 commences.  The  JLA members travel to their old
headquarters inside a mountain, but discover  that under the Key's control, Green
Lantern made the mountain headquarters  completely impenetrable, even to
himself.  But then, the Atom has an idea;  Snapper earlier contacted the Key by
telephone, so there must be a working phone  line into the Sanctuary (this was,
of course, long before the days of cell  phones).  And so, as the Flash dials
the "unlisted headquarters phone  number" (can you imagine the kind of crank
calls JLA HQ would get if it wasn't  unlisted?) the Atom enters the Key's lair
undetected through the phone  line.  At the same time, Green Lantern finally
works up enough willpower to  neutralize the barrier he created on the
Sanctuary, and the heroes crash into  their HQ.  The Key thinks he has only to touch
his keyboard to bring the  JLA back under control.  Little does he know that
little Atom is busily  blocking the keys from making contact with the board with
his body, as well as  crossing wires on the board.  The Key and his Key-Men
are shocked to find  that his mental commands no longer deter the JLA.  But the
Key has more  tricks up his keyring-- special "key-weapons" designed to
defeat each individual  JLA'er-- a Kryptonite key for Superman, a fiery key for
Martian Manhunter, a  yellow-key-bola to capture GL, etc.  But as always,
teamwork saves the day  for the JLA as the various members act to destroy the
key-weapons keyed  specially to threaten other fellow members.  Even Snapper Carr
gets into  the act, helping save the Flash from being pulled into a key-generated
dimensional warp.  Superman and Wonder Woman shield the other members from 
the Key-Men's deadly key-rayguns, J'onn J'onzz uses his invulnerable body to 
smash sharp key-traps blocking access to the sanctuary, and the other members 
defeat the Key-Men in combat,   The JLA then smashes the Key's  keyboard--
"This is one weapon we don't dare keep intact for our souvenir  room1"-- leaving
the master villain seemingly ready to lock up and throw away  the key. 
Raising his arms in surrender, the Key begs to know how the JLA  members overcame
his psycho-chemicals, but Batman refuses; "That's a secret NO  KEY could
unlock!"  And yet,all is not won, for even as Green Lantern  prepares to wipe
knowledge of the JLA's secrets from the Key's mind, he mentally  gloats, "Just
before I surrendered, I managed to pull my LAST AND GREATEST  KEY-TRICK?"  And so,
rather than writing finis to another unalloyed victory  for the JLA, the
caption writer can only say, "The End-- AS OF NOW!"  (It  took until JLA # 63 ,
"Time Signs a Death-Warrant for the JL", for the  Key's "last and greatest trick"
to unfold-- to learn the secret, check out my  review of that issue which can
be found on the Yahoo Silver Age Reviews  site.)

The Key comes across as being one of the JLA's cleverer foes, and  yet when
you think about it, he's actually pretty stupid, considering what he  could
have done with the kind of power he had.  Why screw around wearing a 
silly-looking costume, sending "Key-Men" out to rob banks, and messing with the  JLA's
minds, when you have the power to affect people's minds directly.   The story
explains the Key needed to have his Key-Men rob in order to get money  to create
more psycho-chemicals and carry out his full plan tor world 
domination....but couldn't he have just used his chemicals on one tycoon to get  as much seed
money as he needed, and then move directly to psycho-controlling  the
President and other national and world leaders?  I guess the DC  Universe is lucky
that villains who are bright enough to create incredibly  elaborate and powerful
devices and weapons aren't usually bright enough to use  them to the best
possible advantage for themselves.  (Of course, for that  matter, a lot of
villains could do better patenting and selling their amazing  inventions for honest
money than they ever could do from crime.)