One of my favorite Justice League stories is “The Deadly Dreams of Doctor Destiny!” from Justice League of America #34 (March 1965). It may be one of the worst JLA stories ever. It is definitely one of the most audacious.
Today the villain Doctor Destiny is a monstrous, skeletal figure, emaciated from the toll exacted by years of channeling mysterious energies. JLA #34 found him pretty early in his career, though; and he’s just a regular-looking guy without even a supervillain costume. In a previous story, he had invented a machine (the “Materioptikon”) which could make real whatever he dreamed. If he dreamed about chocolate, he’d get chocolate. Thus, he dreamed about a Materioptikon, and got a Dream-Materioptikon. This allowed him to plot against the JLA from his prison cell, and indeed during the story he never leaves it.
Naturally, his plan involves manipulating the Leaguers’ dreams. Each of our heroes dreams — sometimes in conjunction with a colleague, which you’d think would tip them off — that during a super-battle, a weird article attaches itself to him or her and imposes some encumbrance. That’s fancy talk for Batman’s ring giving him super-speed, Hawkman’s gloves only letting him “swim” through the air, Wonder Woman’s mask broadcasting her thoughts, and Atom’s headpiece giving him always-on telescopic vision. Superman’s device renders him immune to Kryptonite, but makes him susceptible both to fire (a la Martian Manhunter) and the color yellow (like Green Lantern’s power ring). I haven’t yet mentioned Superman’s device, because it in fact is the ludicrous hurdle which this story must overcome.
Superman’s device is a pair of eyeglasses.
Now, by itself that might not be a problem. Superman fights his particular opponent (a giant statue) in the Italian countryside, perhaps far removed from anyone who might see his bespectacled face. The fact that this happens initially in a dream also mitigates a lot of secret-identity concerns. However, when the dream-devices inevitably manifest themselves in reality, and the glasses are fixed on Supes’ nose, he doesn’t think anything of it. Furthermore, he apparently doesn’t care that he’s still wearing the things when he and the rest of the Leaguers visit Doc Destiny in prison. In an era where secret-identity plots were as common as primary colors, I can barely believe that writer Gardner Fox and editor Julie Schwartz passed up such a golden opportunity.
I mean, I wouldn’t be making such a big deal about this if the story had only acknowledged that maybe it might be a problem for Superman to be seen in a pair of glasses. Supes probably had a half-dozen ways to talk himself out of “say, don’t you look like that reporter?” One line of dialogue addressing just one strategy no doubt would have satisfied a lot of readers, me included. I can accept a lot — I accept Doc Destiny’s reality-bending powers, especially given his later appearance in Sandman — but I trip over this plot hole every time.
And I do like the story. It’s one of the first Fox/Sekowsky JLA stories I remember reading (in a ’70s reprint, of course), and it is one of the more imaginative takes on a familiar JLA plot. There are nice visuals too — Wonder Woman and the Atom fight giant mollusks, Batman and Hawkman fight the Joker and (the terribly obscure) Chac amongst some South American ruins, and Superman’s gladiator-statue foe is convincingly menacing.
Those glasses, though…. I’m still shaking my head.