Sunday, August 22, 2010

All Star Comics #8 - "Two New Members Win Their Spurs"

First off, before we get anywhere on the actual content of this issue, we need to talk about this cover, and the dynamic visual it provides. What 1941 kid wouldn't want to pick this up off the newsstand when they went by? From the colors to the semi-eerie tone as the JSA's supernatural being, The Spectre, gazes into that crystal ball. And check out those pencil lines for shading and light texture. I love it.

The cover to this issue (by legendary artist E. E. Hibbard) will go on to inspire the cover of Justice League of America #29, more than twenty years later, in August 1964. That issue will be the second meeting of the then-modern Justice League and their WWII predecessors.

Okay, so on to the issue itself.

Green Lantern, much like The Flash before him, has left the JSA, taking on the role of Honorary Member, and has given up the position of Chairman that he held for only one issue, on to Hawkman, who would remain the Chairman of the group for decades to come.

Without mention, Hour-Man is also mysteriously absent from the team in this issue, beginning what would become a decades-long tradition of a rotating roster of Justice Society members.

With Green Lantern and Hour-Man now gone, that leaves two openings in the team - which as this issue's December 1941-January 1942 dated cover shows, will be taken over by newcomers Dr. MidNite and Starman.

For reference's sake, here's all you need to know about either one:

Dr. MidNite - A brilliant surgeon, who, via a freak accident during a surgical procedure, loses his eyesight in daylight, but gains extraordinary vision at night. To compensate for daytime fighting, he wears goggles that simulate night darkness for his eyes, and uses "black out bombs" that cloud an area in thick, black, dark smoke.

Starman - An astronomer and scientist who discovers a way to harness energy from the stars into a rod, giving him the power to fly and shoot energy blasts. His costume, red and green, with a fin on top of his helmet, seems to have nothing to do with his motif.

So, on to this issue's story. It seems all the JSA members have had run-ins with criminals that seemed absolutely insane. Not Joker-crazy, but normal people who just seemed to go batty. Dr. MidNite recalls a Dr. Able, who has, apparently, discovered a similar disease in Apes, as well as an antidote.

While Dr. MidNite can't locate Professor Able at his home, he does locate the antidote, and administers it to any victims he comes across of this "madness drug." Along the way, he learns that it is a "Professor Elba" who is the one behind the malicious drug.

Side note - did the writers really think the children reading this at the time in 1941 weren't bright enough to catch that the mysterious professor is "Prof Able" and the mysterious figure who's using the drug is called "Prof Elba"? Professor Cane and Professor Able would've at least been a bit more subtle. But alas, my time machine is on the fritz, so traveling back to 1941 to talk story elements with Gardner Fox isn't on the agenda today.

Dr. Fate tracks down some kidnappers who spirited away a friend's wife and injected him with this new madness drug. It turns out that the criminals aren't just into kidnapping, having their hands in protection rackets to boot. Of course, that doesn't mean anything to a sorcerer like Dr. Fate, who gives them all a firm ass-kicking.

For some reason never explained, Dr. Fate decided to cut his helmet in half starting in this issue, exposing the lower half of his face and making him look much less haunting, and much more goofy.

Also, is it odd that a character whose entire premise is being a powerful magic-wielder to not use a single element of magic as he battles criminals, instead merely flying and engaging in fisticuffs?

Perhaps he was just bored with the whole magic thing. I'm sure it gets tiresome being one of the most powerful beings on the planet, right?

To no surprise, The Atom runs into some similar trouble. Only while working part-time in a jewelry store, he comes across a crook who sells what appears to be fake diamonds to the owner. When the owner calls the police, the man then sues for false arrest, since the diamonds are real. Of course, he's willing to settle out of court for a small amount of money. It's a racket they've been running all over town.

The Atom springs into action, discovering the scheme, but not before the one thug who's been captured gets injected by his colleagues with the "madness formula."

The by-laws of the early JSA days must have been pretty damn strict about not missing meetings. How else do you explain leaving the middle of a case, not to mention the insane man you just tied up and left on a couch, so that you can go attend the meeting?

That puts the Atom right where we came into the story, at the JSA's meeting, where each member takes some of the antidote with him. So, flash-forward in time for the next panel, and Atom's back with the cure, getting the information he needs out of this suspect. From there, he pays a visit to the men behind the scheme, only to find that the mysterious "Professor Elba" is no where to be found.

"There's no time for pleasantries while crime is afoot!"

The Sandman, meanwhile, is looking into a case of some high profile citizens who are being blackmailed by some unseemly photographers.

Don't let the PR fool you, it's folks like this that came up with Photoshop.

Once again, the crooks behind this little scheme use the insanity formula to keep anyone from spilling the beans about their operation, and it all goes back to this Professor Elba.

Sandman isn't the only one dealing with blackmailers.

In another city, a young boy has taken on a dare by his friends and entered a creepy, old, abandoned house, only to find a trunk full of cash. Running home to tell his father, he almost gets hit by a car - a car driven by Ted Knight, also known as Starman.

"Nothing to see here, officer, just randomly picking up children as I drive by."

Ted, with nothing else to do, apparently, decides this kid's story about the trunk of money is worth investigating as Starman. What he finds is that it's the work of a trio of blackmailers who have created "phony letters" from a man running for governor that they were going to publish if he didn't pay up. Apparently, no one told the gubernatorial candidate that he could claim they were forgeries.

Of course, this information comes AFTER one of the men is induced with the insanity formula and requires the antidote. So, summoning all his manly heroic courage, Starman does what any hero (At least in this story) would do: take off for his Justice Society meeting and leave the wanted criminal in the care of a young child. Attaboy, Ted!

"Starman, this man's going crazy!" "Sorry, kid. Gotta go!"

Like several of his colleagues, Starman spends the time between panels at the opening's JSA meeting, returning with the antidote to the madness drug. Once administered, his informant spills the beans about the extortion job, and Starman cleans house with the criminals.

Meanwhile, Hawkman is dealing with some similar criminal activities - men who bought out "a press clipping bureau" to go through the old newspaper files and dig up dirt on people who they can extort.

It's apparently extortion week here at the JSA.

And these men went on to create Google.

When the president of a Trust Company becomes the target and tries to kill himself, Hawkman happens to be nearby and saves the man's life. After hearing his case, and the names of the blackmailers, Hawkman is off to set things right, with Hawkgirl following close behind.

I know when I'm being pursued, my first thought is to describe, in detail, my worst fears and fates.

Hawkgirl tries to find the crooks on her own, only getting into trouble (those silly 1940s girls) and getting captured, putting her in (surprise) need of a rescue. Hawkman tracks down one of the two men responsible, but not before the crook is injected with the madness drug by his partner.

So, with no resolution, no justice, and Hawkgirl still captured, what is a hero to do?

Eh, she'll be okay, right? I mean, it's not like there's another JSA meeting next week or anything that you could go to.

Hawkman returns from the meeting, only to find the one crook he captured, free, and trying to get away in the mountains. Well, wouldn't you know it...this is the same guy who's greatest fear, told to us in great detail earlier in the story, is being crushed to death by rocks. What do you think happens to him as he runs through the caverns?

As the crook meets his fate under a pile of rocks, Hawkman comes across Hawkgirl, who is shallowly breathing, and somehow resuscitated when Hawkman puts his belt to her mouth. I'm not kidding. Check it out...

Leaving her in a safe spot to recover, Hawkman goes after the final criminal in the duo - the one afraid of electricity - who stumbles through an electric fence and meets a shocking end.

All is back to normal, and Hawkman continues the path of his fellow JSA members to find this "mysterious Dr. Elba."

Oh, and the gubernatorial candidate was extremely grateful.

Why does every man who sees the shirtless Hawkman start gushing like a school girl?

As much as I poke fun, as always - the art by Sheldon Moldoff on Hawkman is amazing, especially when compared to some of the other art of the period, which often times crossed the line from being aimed at children, to looking like it was drawn by children...depending on the artist, of course. But Shelly Moldoff is one of the greats of the Golden Age. Right up there with E. E. Hibbard and Bernard Bailey, if you ask me.

But back to our adventure.

The Spectre's hunting down corruption. A key witness to a trial - Louis Scaloni - has been released from custody, at the behest of a man referred to as "Boss" Williams. That doesn't sit too well with Detective Jim Corrigan, who pays a visit to "the boss" and finds Scaloni infected with the madness drug in Boss Williams' basement. Turning from Corrigan into the ghostly Spectre, the antidote is quickly given to Scaloni, leaving The Spectre to dish out some justice to the Boss and his minions.

It doesn't take much for The Spectre and his control over the supernatural to scare the criminals into confessions. However, it won't do too much good in court, as The Spectre has pushed Williams so far over the edge, that he takes his own life.

And the Spectre is very much broken up about the whole thing:

"Just another day at the office"

Oh, Johnny Thunder. Thinking that he's got a crooked contractor on his hands, Johnny just feels he needs a confession - one that will be prompted by administering the insanity antidote to the contractor, who's name is Oscar K. Doodle.

So determined to make his arrest, Johnny is willing to fight through some no-good mobsters to get to his prey. Of course, he does so with the usual Johnny Thunder flair.

What Johnny does succeed in is getting himself captured, and soon finds himself held in the same room as Oscar K. Doodle, who isn't a crook, but turns out to be another victim. Now injected with the antidote, Doodle tells Johnny that he was kidnapped because he uncovered the crooked practices of the racketeers, and is willing to help Johnny turn the crooks over to the police.

That is, if Johnny can convince the cops he's not a loony as well.

And wouldn't you know it...just as Johnny's escorting the police to the racketeers, who happens by but Johnny's infatuation - Daisy Darling, and her father.

What the heck did Johnny ever see in this bitch?

Score one for underdog Johnny Thunder, as the police haul the racketeers away. Once the police leave the scene, though, Johnny, who doesn't seem to be needed for any kind of police statement, just hangs around the crime scene...where the mysterious Dr. Elba shows up, clobbering him and taking him prisoner.

Johnny seems to full of pride to call on his magic thunderbolt for help, but ends up needing it. Just before Dr. Elba can inject Johnny with the insanity serum, Johnny's Thunderbolt comes crashing in with the entire JSA, who quickly overpower the mad doctor.

Dr. MidNite learns he's not as smart as he thought he was.

Injected with his own serum, Dr. Elba goes insane, and throws himself out the window, causing not a blink from the JSA, who are so preoccupied with giving new members Dr. MidNite and Starman three cheers, that they fail to notice the man falling to his death out the window.

But wait! There's more!

This issue of All-Star is important for one reason in particular, and that's this:

That's right. Here, with no fanfare, not even a spot on the magazine's cover, one of the most iconic female characters in the world - Wonder Woman, made her very first appearance.

"A man!" Oh, those crazy amazons.

In the story, an Amazon named Diana wins a contest of physical endurance on her home of Paradise Island and is chosen to be the champion sent to the outside world to fight for justice...and yes, live among men. Egads!

Monday, July 12, 2010

All-Star Comics #7 - "$1,000,000 for Orphans"

It's the Fall of 1941.

At this point, the United States and Great Britain have signed the Atlantic Charter declaring their opposition to Fascism, but the U.S. is still trying to remain neutral in the European War brewing. In just a month or two, Japan will bomb Pearl Harbor officially pulling us into what will become World War II.

America stands on the outside of its greatest uphill battle, and the nation's writers, and its superheroes, can only guess what lies ahead. It doesn't mean they aren't sympathizing with the plights of those already involved in war overseas, however.

The Justice Society is about to begin their next regular meeting - the first without The Flash, who has moved on to "honorary member" status last issue. That means he'll be absent from the pages except for special occasions. The first meeting isn't off to a great start, as the new Chairman of the JSA is late for his first meeting.

I really like how before the story really begins, we get a little glimpse of the world's greatest protectors bickering like little old ladies about new chairman, Green Lantern, and his tardiness.

When GL does arrive, he's got a very good reason. He's been flying through war-torn Europe and Asia, getting a first-hand look at all the problems that go on in the course of a war. Why he doesn't use his power ring to stop the war never gets mentioned, but what he does discuss is the matter of the children left behind in war-torn countries.

Green Lantern explains to his fellow members that after the dust settles from a bombing or attack in the course of war, many children are left without parents, injured, homeless, and worse, and he feels the JSA should step in to help these poor children that otherwise fall to the wayside.

With that said, the JSA takes a vote to help the children, setting a large goal of $1 million towards the effort. Each of the members has been charged with raising $100,000.

When he realizes this still makes them short of their goal of $1 million, Johnny Thunder steps up to plate, telling his fellow JSA'ers that he'll show them all up and raise $300,000 to make it an even million.

Only after the meeting is adjourned does the fear set in for Johnny, who realizes that $300K is an awful lot of money to promise anyone.

So, what do super heroes do when they've got to stop being polite...and start getting real?

Er...sorry. Wrong intro.

What happens when super heroes have to stop saving the world and start raising money?

Green Lantern wonders just how he is going to raise this cash - even though he's the one who suggested it in the first place. A man who wields the power of an all-might green light in his hand can't seem to figure out how to raise the funds to help these orphans, and he's quite torn up about it.

Well, when the hero gets stumped, they go to their confidants, or in the comic book realm, to their sidekicks. In Green Lantern's case, that would be Derby Dickles, otherwise known as "Doiby Dickles," a cab driver with a very think Brooklyn accident. Of course, Doiby isn't exactly flowing with ideas to offer.

So, while "Doiby" and GL try to come up with ideas to raise some cash, they unwittingly get involved in a kidnapping of a man named Felix Doon - a man who has seemingly escaped from the mental asylum.

Oh, and according to the newspapers, he's the twin brother of Matthew Doon, a well-respected businessman. Felix insists that he is really his brother, Matthew, and that the criminal's have made some sort of mistake. He promises Doiby and GL that if they get him out of this situation, he'll gladly give them the $100,000 they need. With the power of GL's famous ring, defeating the bad guys is a snap.

But, it turns out Felix...really is Felix...and is quite insane.

Not to worry, though. Like many other super hero stories of the Golden Age, the good guys shall triumph. In this case, Matthew Doon discovers (how is never addressed) that is insane brother promised GL and Doiby the cash for the orphans, and donates the money, himself, to the cause.

With Green Lantern's portion of the fundraising, complete, we turn to that ghostly hero, the Spectre.

For those not in the know, when The Spectre isn't being the 1940s resident ghost superhero, he's creepy Jim Corrigan - once-deceased New York City Detective who was raised from the dead to serve as the human host for The Spectre - the spirit of vengeance.

Well, now it's the Spectre's turn to raise $100,000 for the orphans, and he puts all his ghostly powers to use to do so.

First, he enrolls in a boxing match, where his otherworldly abilities allow him to take on the champ without a flinch, and walk away with $5,000 in prize money.

Then, when almost struck my a car outside the boxing match, Corrigan stumbles upon some bank robbers - of which there is a $10,000 reward for.

Then, Corrigan saves the life of a man who is almost hit by a speeding car - only to find that the man is so grateful that he offers Corrigan $5,000 as a reward for saving his life.

So, that brings The Spectre's total to $10,000. So, what's a superhero and supernatural being to do?

You got it!! Use your supernatural abilities to play the stock exchange and invest in a substance that will one day result in the illness and sickness of thousands!

Now, wait a minute. Didn't Martha Stewart get into trouble for this kind of insider trading? Apparently it's all okay when it's for the orphans.

From there, Corrigan takes his now $40,000 and heads to the races, where he bets on the unlikeliest horse of all - Dusteater! And what do you know - he wins.

I wonder if the other JSA members would be concerned at how The Spectre is using his abilities to manipulate the universe towards monetary gains. I also have to wonder just how the hell a being with the power to throw planets and and dance upon the stars can't just whip up $100K when he needs it? Not to mention, why would a being that powerful even really care? Spectre, you are an odd creature.

After a little distraction helping a down on his luck Swami (no, I'm not kidding), The Spectre figures out how to rustle up the rest of his cash - by using his vast power to find buried treasure.

Now, wouldn't this have just made things easier if he had done this from the very beginning?

Well, Spectre isn't the only one who thinks treasure was a good idea, as a gun-wielding thug stumbles upon the grim ghost and wants a piece of the action.

Seriously? If a ghost was standing in the your first thought to hold him up?

Damn. That seems a bit like overkill.

And with that, The Spectre is off to deliver his promised $100K to the Justice Society, leading us to Calvin College, where student Al Pratt (AKA The Atom) is in the library trying to figure out how to raise his pledged amount of cash for the orphans.

While the books in the college library offer little help to Al Pratt, his time in the library does allow him to overhear a problem being discussed by the College Dean and some of the school's most notable benefactors. It seems that someone is bribing Calvin College athletes to throw games and matches so that those gambling against the school can make a killing.

Al quickly changes into his Atom costume and crashes the meeting, vowing to bring this criminal gambling ring to justice - if the college benefactors are willing to help out his charitable cause.

I guess you can't be subtle when there's orphans that need saving.

How does the Atom do it? In what is possibly the longest-executed sting operation of Golden Age, The Atom builds a reputation as "The Masked Demon," a wrestler-athlete for the school's team, whose identity is hidden behind a mask. When the criminal syndicate works there way into the fight, they offer the Masked Demon a good amount of cash to take a dive. When he doesn't, two flunkies follow him home to let him know what a bad idea it was to not cooperate.

Fully aware of the criminals following him, Al Pratt leads them to his apartment, where he greets them as The Atom, and offers a few good punches, and tosses one of the thugs right out of the window - which is a big super hero boo-boo.

How thoughtful of him.

And with the criminals in custody, and the college gambling ring busted, The Atom collects his $100,000 from the school's benefactors, sealing his part of the pledge to help the orphans.

Meanwhile, Dr. Fate claims that "Getting money is one job that money won't help on" - amazing that all that mystical power comes with a monetary limitation. So, what's a sorcerer to do? Enter a writing contest!! That's right, a writing contest. It would appear that a magazine is offering a large cash prize for the person who writes the best essay on...wait for it..."Crime: How to Commit it and Prevent It." Sounds like a piece of cake for a super-hero with so much experience fighting crime.

Well, that's convenient...except for the fact that those running the contest turn out to be real criminals who purchased the ad space and are running the contest to try and get new ideas of how they can commit crimes without getting caught. Needless to say, when they receive Dr. Fate's entry - signed by Inza as a way to protect his secret identity - they find it so original, they've just got to pull the crime. What's more, they tell Inza that if she wants to get her cut, and keep her life, she's going to keep coming up with crime ideas for them.

If we've learned anything from Dr. Fate's adventures, it's don't mess with Inza - unless you want to find a creepy dude in a golden helmet floating into your personal space and burning you to a crisp.

Yeah, these run-of-the-mill gangsters don't stand much of a chance. After stopping them midway through a bank robbery that he and Inza plotted out in their essay, Dr. Fate lays the cosmic smackdown on the thugs, much to the delight of the bank's owner.

I love how the guy offer's Dr. Fate a reward, and Fate actually milks the guy for more.

Hawkman is stumped as to how to raise his $100,000 for the orphans, and turns to girlfriend, Shiera.

Stumped for cash? Didn't Shiera just inherit a fortune last issue? She sure did. That explains why she thinks inspiration will come at the country club.

As a matter of fact, it does. It seems a newspaper publisher friend of Shiera is having trouble with some criminals who don't like the types of articles being printed. Everything from reporters to newsboys are being threatened or injured on the streets, and the publisher is willing to pay to have them taken care of. Hawkman to the rescue, who takes down the bullies, and gains the reward.

So, did he make the check out to Hawkman, or...

Sandman finds himself in a similar quandary, as in his civilian identity of Wesley Dodds, he looks to girlfriend Dian Belmont for help. They may be superheroes, but boy are they terrible fundraisers. Dian suggests that they go after some of the city's "most wanted" to claim the reward money and put it toward helping those orphans.

Wait a minute. Isn't Wesley Dodds a millionaire playboy? Couldn't he have just whipped out the checkbook?

Whatever the reason for Wesley being such a tightwad when it comes to charity, he's now on a crusade to arrest three criminals, whose rewards will equal $100,000. The first is a criminal known as Mu King - and Sandman believes a man named Chinatown Charley...that's right...Chinatown Charley will lead him right to Mu King.

Oh, stereotypes...

It turns out Chinatown Charley was just Mu King in disguise. Apparently Sandman just can't tell one Asian criminal from the other. How progressive for the guy who helped usher in an age of men running around in costumes.

After catching Mu King, Sandman then comes across the two other criminals he needs to apprehend for the reward, and he loads them all up for a joyride in his car. Well, at least he let them get a good tour of town before carting them to jail.

At least Sandman stopped to think about the whole check thing.

Aside from the always great art by Bernard Bailey, the Hourman feature in this issue is unfortunately quite forgettable.

Bailey's art is always a treat, whether it be here or on The Spectre, but Hourman's solo attempt at raising money for the orphans just seems uninteresting.

In it, Chemist Rex Tyler is on his way to an expedition in Mexico, where he is supposed to deliver a very special chemical. Naturally, Rex is worried this diversion will get in the way of his raising money for his JSA pledge. However, he quickly finds himself mixed up in an adventure that has him, in his Hourman guise, protecting the expedition from some greedy criminals who buried their stolen loot in the same spot that the archealogical dig is taking place.

As a thank you for stopping the criminals, the head of the expedition promises Hourman enough cash for his fundraising efforts.
Wow. You know, for being the Great Depression, people were handing out rewards to people in ridiculous costumes like it was nothing.

That brings us to ol' Johnny Thunder and his magical Thunderbolt. Remember, Johnny pledged that he could get $300,000 in the pot all on his own. So, with no ideas of his own, he turns to The Federal Reserve.

It's people like Johnny Thunder that caused the banks to fail in 2008.

Needless to say, the Federal Reserve wasn't about to lend Johnny Thunder, who normally doesn't have two nickels to rub together, $300,000. If the humiliation of the loan denial weren't enough, Johnny finds himself smack dab in the middle of a robbery, and the guards think Johnny's in on the caper. When the bullets start flying, Johnny ducks for cover in the criminals' getaway car. With nothing left to lose - and even after trying to sell everything from peanuts to umbrellas on a street corner - Johnny turns to the protection racket.

Yep, a member of the Justice Society figures the best way to raise money for orphans is by racketeering. Next issue - the patriotic points of genocide.

I keed, I keed.

These criminals laugh at Johnny, until they're held up by, apparently, none other than The Sandman and The Atom. Knowing Johnny's a member of the JSA, the criminals figure he probably could offer them the protection they'd need, and enlist his services. Johnny and his Thunderbolt go to work, revealing the duo to not be The Atom and The Sandman, but just a couple of hoods in very convincing costumes.

The drawback to being a masked hero - all it takes is one good tailoring job on the part of a bad guy and your reputation is in the toilet.

With the magic power of his thunderbolt, Johnny easily takes care of the fake-JSAers, telling them to both go jump out the window. Naturally, his thunderbolt makes that happen.

Pay attention to the background here. As always, Johnny is completely oblivious to the fact that he just made two people commit suicide. How many lives has this kid ruined through his sheer stupidity?!

The criminals are grateful, of course, that the OTHER criminals are out of the way, and offer Johnny a reward - a $10 reward that is.

Glad to see the economic depression is hitting the gangsters as well.

Returning to JSA headquarters, Johny tries to sneak past his colleagues unnoticed, embarrassed that he's the only one who hasn't been able to raise his promised money - leaving those poor, war torn orphans to starve. It doesn't take long for a group of super-powered beings to find Johnny hiding under a table in the room, and begin an old-fashioned shakedown.

Once again, Johnny inadvertantly comes through, when he wishes that honorary members Superman, Batman, and The Flash would help him out. And, thanks to his magic thunderbolt - BAM! - all three show up with money in their hands for the kid.

Then, after a mutual admiration meeting by the JSA where they all slap each other on the back for collecting the money, they break the fourth wall, encouraging their readers to help "these refugee children in the war-torn democracies throughout the world."