Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Justice League of America #178 (May, 1980)

The Atom, Aquaman, Zatanna, Batman, Green Arrow, Black Canary and Superman all met aboard the Justice League Satellite to consider the various attacks by anthropomorphic chess pieces they'd faced, individually or in pairs. The group was then attacked by another, more powerful chessman, which came up through the League's transporter tube system. It was defeated, but not before smashing the group's computer system, eradicating most of their records on active and inactive team members. However, careful study of the remains led the Atom to conclude that the piece was capable of beating the entire team, and only allowed itself to be destroyed.

In a spaceship hovering over Mars II, Despero chided, “Ah, how unfortunate. You’ve lost another piece… and this time, one of your most powerful! You disappoint me, my friend… Can it be that J’onn J’onzz, the famed Martian Manhunter himself, just doesn’t have his heart in the game?” The acrimonious aliens sat at a chessboard, the Alien Atlas shackled to his chair, replicas of the Justice League on the wrong side of the game. “Curse you, Despero! Making me play to the death against my friends…” The alternative was for Despero to fire his ship’s turbo-lasers at “the planet you so quaintly call Mars II,” killing his fellow Martian survivors, and “the relatively peaceful natives of this barren world.” It amused Despero to offer the choice of J’onzz killing his friends or his people, with the Manhunter likely to lose his life either way. With an uncharacteristic fury, J’onzz jerked at his bonds and stated his intention to kill a Kalanorian. “No, I don’t think you will. A Martian’s greatest enemy… fire!” Jets of flame ignited from turrents atop J’onzz’s chair, emphasizing his powerlessness. “Stop it! Stop it! I’ll play your filthy game!”

“I knew you could see reason, J’onn! That’s why I chose you for this little enterprise, after I finally managed to escape from the Krill… Now… shall we begin again? Just pick your piece, and I’ll use my third eye to teleport its larger counterpart into the Justice League’s presence… Ah! A knight! A bold choice… and I hope, for your planet’s sake, an effective one…” Billions of miles away, the knight roamed the League satellite, finding it bereft of life. “There… must be something wrong with the mind-link you’ve set up, Despero. As before, I can see everything the knight sees… but the satellite is… empty! The Justice Leaguers are-- gone!” Despero’s telepathic scans couldn’t find the seven heroes on the satellite, or even the Earth. With a grin, J’onn pronounced “Then, by the terms of our game-- if you can’t field your players… I WIN!”

Despero began swatting at his heroic chess pieces like a child. “No! I have other pieces, J’onzz-- Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern… some even more powerful than the ones I’ve already played!” Hawkman and Hawkwoman were also represented, but J’onzz asked what would happen if they all disappeared, just as they did. That is, all save the Atom. “Haven’t you guessed fish-face? In chess terms, this is what they call the endgame!” The Tiny Titan sprang from the board to knock Despero back out of his chair. “You… startled me… gained a momentary advantage! But only momentary! I still control this ship! And these animates, these chess pieces, will answer to my commands! However you came to be here-- you came here to die!”

As it turned out, the Justice League had arrived through the magic of Zatanna, who had disguised the heroes as Despero’s gameplay replicas. The Martian Manhunter explained, “I hoped you’d notice-- I had my ‘bishop’ destroy the memory bank record for every Justice League member-- active or inactive-- except my own!” The League got the message, then began fighting all of Despero’s pieces en masse, without the benefit of J’onzz’s benevolent guiding hand. The heroes began to falter, until the Atom worked out a plan to attack the pieces at the atomic level, with Superman's help. The chessmen explode, causing Despero to call out no’s while Atom recited yeses. “Face facts, Despero, you’ve just been hustled-- courtesy of the master chessman of Mars!”

Under the moons of Mars II, Despero was escorted away in chains by two Martians in heavy blue robes. “I-- and my people-- owe much to your sensitivity, Zatanna,” as well as the League’s might. Zee had caught the Martian Manhunter’s clue, which prompted Superman to scan Mars II with his telescopic vision, and the Heiress of Magic did the rest. “Simple matter or not, the deed deserves a reward, and you all shall have it… a celebration at the palace of heroes… as my ever-honored guests!”

This story involved a lot of players, so rather than write one gigantic post, I decided to do "customs" across several blogs. The finer details of the Atom's participation can be found here, and most of the rest are covered at Justice League Detroit.

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