The Story: "If I Should Die Before I Wake..." by Paul Levitz, Len Wein, Rick Hoberg, and Dick Giordano. This very first JLA Annual opens with some robot lizard-type guys aboard the JLA satellite, knocking a few of our heroes around.
At a crucial moment, the Elongated Man is unable to stop one of the bad guys from punching a hole in the satellite's hull, sending them all hurtling into airless space!
As Elongated Man screams in terror, we realize--*whew!*--this is only a dream, or a nightmare, actually. As Sue Dibny tries to comfort her husband, Ralph is concerned about these nightmares he's been having, where he is the "weak leak in the chain."
This is all music to the ears of Doctor Destiny, one of the JLA's oldest foes. He is eavesdropping on Ralph, and considers him a fool. Unfortunately, he is no help to Destiny and his cursed affliction.
What affliction? Well, we get to see what Destiny is talking about: he is conducting research on dreams, under the guise of it being genuine medical research. Turns out those subjects who can dream are healthy, the one who can't are slowly suffering physical effects from it--their skin is turning white, their features skeletal. Sound familiar?
Destiny has a team of nurses helping him in his work, never realizing who he really is:
Destiny blames the JLA for his condition, and threatens to attack them in their dreams.
Cut to: the JLA satellite, where they are playing host to Commissioner James Gordon, who didn't know where to turn ever since Batman disappeared into Markovia (during the events of the first few issues of Batman and the Outsiders).
Turns out that Destiny, who they thought they had locked up in Arkham Asylum, has escaped, leaving a hologram in his place! The JLA takes the case and goes on a search for him.
The Hawks, the Atom, and Firestorm use a piece of Thanagarian technology to track Delta-Wave radiation, which they believe will lead them to him.
They follow the lead to the Atom's stomping grounds of Ivy University, where they are told nothing strange is going on, even with the dream research now being conducted.
Suddenly, wraith-like beings leap out of the the asleep subjects, and attack! The JLAers manage to stop them, and they fade back into nothingness, all the while Destiny watches...
Meanwhile, in Washington Square:
...I love Aquaman standing there, reading a pamphlet. It just cracks me up.
Something similar happens to them, with transparent beings emerging from monstrous stone sculptures and attacking, ending the same way--with the JLAers fighting them off.
It happens again when Wonder Woman, Flash, and the John Stewart Green Lantern find themselves fighting dreamlike versions of Amazo, Dr. Light, and the Tornado Tyrant!
The heroes stop them, and they think they have found Destiny himself, until he disappears right before their eyes, seemingly merging his being with his Dream Machine!
Zatanna uses her magic to transport herself, Red Tornado, and Elongated Man to another dimension--the dream dimension! Somebody call Neil Gaiman!
Zatanna determines its here where Destiny is hiding, so she calls in the rest of the troops:
...they arrive at the Dream Dome, where Destiny has imprisoned its heroic operator, the Sandman!
Destiny is able to call forth all sorts of horrible demons from people's nightmares, who attack the JLA.
As they fight, the Flash tries to attack Destiny straight on, but he throws some sort of dust at the Flash, knocking him out. He soon does it to the rest of the JLA!
Elongated Man is defeated last, being mocked by Destiny as it happens. Luckily, Ralph manages to hit a button on a control panel, freeing the Sandman into the Dream-Stream.
While Destiny imprisons the JLAers and plans to turn them into the skeletal husks he has become, the Sandman looks for help from the only person he thinks can. Destiny sends some of his dream-like goons to stop him.
They do, but not before the Sandman's target is awoken from his slumber--the Man of Steel, Superman!
Superman makes quick work of the demons, grabs Sandman, and heads for the Dream Dome. While the two of them fight more of Destiny's goons, he finds himself confronted by the rest of the JLA, now freed from their captivity! Destiny, being a bit of a puss, faints dead away.
Turns out why Destiny was busy watching Superman and Sandman, Elongated Man came up with the idea of Green Lantern and Zatanna focusing all their energies on Wonder Woman's glass prison tube, weakening it enough for her to shatter.
Sandman is impressed, and the JLA makes him an offer:
...Sandman, only being able to be in their dimension for an hour at a time, says he'll consider it.
Green Lantern asks what was it about Superman's dreams that led him to the Man of Steel, and he reveals it was Superman's dream of a better world, a world finally at peace, where he is surrounded his super-powered friends...the Justice League.
Roll Call: Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Atom, Hawkman, Black Canary, Elongated Man, Red Tornado, Hawkgirl, Zatanna, Firestorm
Notable Moments: After 20+ years of continuous publication, the JLA finally get an annual!
A solid story, Dr. Destiny was always one of my favorites. Using Elongated Man's insecurities was a nice touch, too.
That scene with Firestorm asking Sandman to join makes me laugh, because it seems off-the-cuff. Like, did Firestorm check with the rest of the team before making the offer?