Sunday, January 24, 2010

All Star Comics #2

Well, we're just one issue away from the first full-on adventure of the Justice Society of America. This second issue of All-Star Comics in the meantime, though, serves up more small doses of what was at the time, the company's most popular characters.

In fact, as part of this "great experiment" of putting multiple heroes in one book, the publishers note in this issues opening letter that 500 copies of the issue were sent free to the readers who answered last issues survey of what should be added and what features should be left out.

So, the readers have spoken. And it's goodbye to strips like "Biff Bronson" and "Gary Concord - Ultra-Man," and hello to new features: "The Green Lantern" and "Johnny Thunder."

Like the previous issue, we have no full-out JSA Adventure to discuss, so I'll once again walk through the series of shorts that we're treated to in this outing from Fall 1940.

Just like last issue, we find Hawkman hovering about some undisclosed area - this time in the middle of suburbia. He happens upon a crime scene where a woman appears to have drowned (her face all blue) in the middle of her home, a knife made of glass lying near her, and the words Yum-Chac written on a note. Consulting his books, Carter Hall finds that there's an Aztec rain god named Yum-Chac.

Good thing the killer needed a reminder note of who he was worshipping, otherwise Carter would still be flapping up around the house.

Consulting a friend who is a "specialist" on the Aztecs, Carter finds the man and his sister being held by a pair of evil Aztecs, monologue-ing about killing the sister as a ritual to Yum-Chac. Hawkman traces follows these killers as they make their way to Mexico with their new female sacrifice.

And I mean, literally follows them, flying above their boat all the way from the U.S. to Mexico. Yet, Hawkman seems to go unnoticed by Nyola, the killer Aztec, even when she spots him from the boat:

In Mexico, Hawkman gets some help from the Mexican police - and all this man is missing is a sombrero:

And the plot to throw this girl into an ancient mystic pit is soon thwarted. Even as she's thrown into the pit, Hawkman swoops down and saves her, as the Mexican Police take on those nasty Aztec Indians. Their leader, Nyola, wishing not to be arrested, throws herself into a sacred pool, drowning.

And in one last panel, the entire reason for this story is summed up as follows:

Yeah, it just doesn't seem worth the effort of kidnapping, murder, and cross-country traveling just because you didn't like a book. Those crazy Aztecs.

A mob of "monster-men" are causing havoc and destruction at city's across the region, catching the attention of Alan Scott. Alan, the original Green Lantern, learns that one of these brutes was shot and killed by police during a riot, and steals the body from the morgue to examine.

Over the next several nights, a hobo is seen wandering the streets of the city - a city years later, we'd learn is, a pre-Batman Gotham City. The hobo is kidnapped and brought back to an an old building where other homeless people are being used in experiments, transforming into hulking, mindless brutes. It's all the work of a man named Baron Von Zorn. And his goal? Sabotage. The brutes destroy U.S. factories until the country's morale is weakened.

But, the Baron probably does a better job of explaining his plan:

Perhaps the writers hadn't quite delved into just how powerful Alan Scott and the Green Lantern ring was at this point. The Baron, having no weapons other than a few thugs, has GL held captive and attempts to inject him with the monster-serum. While at first, we're led to believe it's worked, as soon as the Baron and his men leave, we discover Alan was faking it - we learn the ring makes his skin impenetrable to the hypodermic needle.

Alan, as the Green Lantern, follows the Baron and his men and stops them from injecting U.S. Officials and Statesmen with the serum - I'm guessing for more morale weakening.

Alan takes down the Baron's monster-army with a handy-dandy antidote he created at the beginning of the case.

Somewhere in between his broadcasting career, Alan Scott also had time for med school?! Who needs a power ring?!

The Baron is put away, and Alan Scott seems content to sit in his study being a good American, as seen by this end panel:

The art here by Martin Nodell is incredibly crude, even by Golden Age standards. Taking a look at any of Sheldon Moldoff's Hawkman can show you just how beautiful comic art could be even during it's Golden Age.

Bill Finger's story is very reminiscent of a similar story he told earlier that year in Spring 1940's Batman #1, where Bruce Wayne fought a series of monster-men created by Dr. Hugo Strange.

There seems to be a pattern forming with a lot of these characters, especially ones that share writers. Despite the dawning of the "specialty hero" (i.e. super-speed, lantern ring, etc), many of these characters still have not found any uniquer footing and are very much modeled after either Superman or Batman in their approach to crimefighting.

I'm amazed at how much I have enjoyed the Golden Age stories of The Spectre so far. As someone who really just saw him as a supporting, yet omnipresent force in the DC Universe, it's really been an interesting and fun read to see the original adventures. They have turned out to be my favorites so far in these All Star issues.

In this particular case, Detective Jim Corrigan meets with a hospitalized prison guard who was attacked at the museum by the presence of "Kulak, High Priest of Brztal." It seems Kulak's tomb was disturbed, and according to ancient scroll in the exhibit, Kulak will destroy any civilization that disturbs his resting place. With that said, the Spectre leaves Jim Corrigan's body, setting out to save the earth.

It's very interesting that writer Jerry Siegel doesn't gloss over the issue of The Spectre leaving Jim Corrigan's body on earth. In fact, it seems to cause consternation among his boss, when, as the Spectre moves about the supernatural world, the lifeless body of Corrigan does not respond.

While their battle ensues, Kulak drowns the earth in complete darkness and let's loose "The Whispering Death," which causes the primal emotion of hate to run rampant throughout civilization - causing panic, murder, riots, and abuse that pre-dates Grant Morrison's anti-life equation earth riots in Final Crisis by some 70+ years.

Keeping The Spectre out of the fisticuffs realm he sometimes tends to falter to in these early stories, he and Kulak have a fanciful fight that moves everywhere from the heavens, to outer space, and on the rings of other planets. The fight continues as earth crumbles. It all comes screeching to a halt, though, when Kulak, reciting an incantation to destroy the Spectre for good, is interrupted by a well placed fist to the jaw. Okay, so The Spectre's magic-over-fisticuffs standard didn't last this whole outing.

The spell interrupted, Kulak is consumed by the evil forces he was summoning, and the earth is saved.

04/05/10 UPDATE: I had totally forgotten, but after re-reading the short-lived but exceptional 1992 Justice Society of America revival series, I remembered that Kulak did re-surface again in the 90s to face a now aged JSA. When consumed by his evil forces in the 40s, he says that he was thrown through time, emerging in the ancient past - a past ruled by Vandal Savage. He was defeated and "laid to rest," only to be discovered in the 1990s by archaeologists Carter and Shiera Hall. Kulak used his power, combined with modern day mass-media to turn the world on the JSA and look at them as fascists. Together, they were able to overcome him and send him back to another realm once again.

All in all, a good story, kept from getting too long in the tooth by staying within an 8 page length. Siegel seems to have quickly found the pacing and realm of The Spectre, which is that of the supernatural. Bernard Baily's art, once again the perfect companion to Siegel's eerie writing.


When a bank vault is robbed and the guards killed from within, Wesley Dodds responds to the scene (oddly enough in his everyday identity and not as The Sandman). He takes with him a professor-friend who Wesley was having dinner with earlier in the evening. The professor has apparently "contributed to medical knowledge once more" with the aid of his unseen brother.

A burn mark at the crime scene catches the professor's attention and sends Wesley into action. Wesley suspects the professor knew more about what made the mark than he let on and investigates as The Sandman.

Before he heads back to the crime scene, Sandman is working on some chemical mixture, but based on the previous panels, we have no idea why or what he is testing.

Breaking into the home of his professor friend, Sandman finds the man dead and a butler the only one in the home. As Sandman interrogates the butler, a "yellow blotched hand" drops a glowing sphere into the room, causing Sandman to go weak and nearly die. Sandman sprays the orb with his gas gun, and then seems to succumb to the orb's rays.

A man with a face made of what looks like hardened mud enters, and rather than take the opportunity of the downed hero in front of him, decides he's got more important things to do:

Our faceless villain heads to the U.S. Treasury, where his glowing orb takes down guards, leading the way for robbery. Meanwhile, at the professor's home, the police have arrived, and attempt to take off the gas mask of the seemingly deceased Sandman. However, the detective quickly finds that it's not actually Sandman. This begs the question as to if Wesley Dodds carries a spare Sandman dummy in his car at all times, or did he go home, make the dummy, then return to the crime scene to plant it.

This is where things get VERY confusing. A dummy was at the professor's house, and the last we saw our villain, he was robbing the U.S. Treasury.

Well, on the following page, Sandman (minus his gas mask) is working in a lab that is said to belong to the villain. It could be that he's still in the house where he left the dummy. But he is interrupted in his investigation when the villain returns to the lab and a fight ensues between the two. His identity compromised by the faceless man seeing him with his mask off, there is little Wesley Dodds can do, especially when the villain leaves the glowing orb in the lab with our hero.

Wesley, however, tips a pot of "sulpher-lead" from the lab table onto the orb, which, apparently did the trick, because it nullified the orb's "radium rays" and any weakening effect on Wesley. Now, I'm no scientist, but something doesn't add up here.

Recovered, Sandman captures the villain, and chips away the hardened material around his face to uncover...wait for it...the twin brother of the professor, who is ALSO a genius. Go figure.

In one desperate attempt at revenge, the evil brother reaches for a nearby gun. He is tackled by Sandman in one grisly self-defense move that certainly keeps his secret identity a secret. Much like his soon to be JSA partner, Spectre, Sandman seems completely un-fazed by the grisly end he brought to his foe:

I've done my best to explain the plot of this one, but even I had some trouble with it. There was not much flow or consistency to the plot, which jumped from point A to S to G then back to B at what at times seems completely random. The art by Creig Flessel certainly holds up, but Gardner Fox's story leaves a lot to be desired on this one.

You know, I'm finding some of these no-super hero strips of the era a bit more fun than the traditional super-powered fare. If anything, for the Depression-era environment in which many of these human protagonists find themselves, as well as the almost propaganda-ish method of promoting America and its services.

I wonder how many kids ended up wanting to be be a marine, naval officer, or Army officer after growing up reading the adventures of Red, White and Blue?

Here, we find Red Dugan, the trio's core, bored on the street with companion Doris West - who, in the previous issue worked with the boys to stop a sabotage plot. We've been given no explanation in either of these two issues what Doris' connection is - whether she is in the services as well, or just Red's girlfriend. She seems quite capable, as proven by her prowess in last issue's adventure.

However, when Red and Doris check out a fire/explosion scene in the city, Red seems to have little use for Doris, who wants to inspect the inside alongside him:

Now, it also begs the question of how many off duty marines involve themselves into fire and crime investigations, but perhaps Red was just that bored.

As Red and the Fire Chief investigate, they find that the explosion was caused by gas tanks inside what was thought to be an abandoned building. They also find the body of a street cleaner (they can tell from his badge).

This all gets overshadowed, however, at another attempt to show Doris as nothing more than a pest of a woman who can't hold her own in tough situations:

We learn that this was all part of a larger scheme by a mobster and his professor partner (the 1940s seemed to be littered with rogue professors and scientists, leading one to assume the pay must have been downright terrible for these professions) were hiding materials in that building for their big scheme - using the special gas, they distribute it through the government's "G2 Headquarters" and the next day, nothing but blank pieces of paper are found in the building's records.

Rather than inspect the papers, some bureaucrat in the building has this bright idea:

Well, that turns out to be the worst possible thing. You see, the mobster and professor killed that street cleaner to get his garbage truck, and posing as cleaners, take all those blank papers. The gas, it seems, temporarily erased all the contents on the papers int he building. The criminals, collecting the papers, would then have litters of government secrets.

That is, until Red and the gang catch on to the gaseous smell (the same one they whiffed at that first fire where the gas tanks exploded) and follow the criminals to their hideout, where a fight ensues.

With the day saved, the heroes come to a very important lessen - that heroism can often be found downwind:


Johnny Thunder takes over as one of the new features of All-Star this issue, knocking Biff Bronson's feature out of the magazine completely. Johnny debuted just earlier in the year (January 1940), and has quickly established himself as an even more kiddie-friendly hero than other soon to be JSA'ers.

Johnny finds out that his girlfriend's father can't get a crew of gangsters and ruffians to vacate some buildings and properties he just purchased. When the mobsters give the old man a hard time, Daisy tells Johnny to man-up and go show those gangsters who's boss.

Knowing Johnny's simple-minded, "gee-whiz" ways, it's sort of amazing to see girls falling for him - let alone maintain a steady girlfriend in Daisy Darling. But, maybe Daisy just likes a guy who's a pushover, because it doesn't take much convincing for Johnny to head on out to confront the gangsters.

Johnny confronts the gangsters in a series of fights and environments, where, as always, he is rescued from these over-his-head situations by his magical thunderbolt.

A brief DC background note for those who don't know: Johnny Thunder (at this time) unknowingly has power over a mystical Bahdnesian Thunderbolt, that acts as a genie whenever Johnny says the phrase "Cei-U," granting any of Johnny's requests. Not knowing this as the source of his power, Johnny believes he just has great powers on his own, often leading him to get in over his head. He is usually saved when he inadvertently says the phrase "Say, you...something something" and his wishes are then granted for an hour.

Johnny's Thunderbolt, in time, will start to take on a more human appearance, even interacting and teasing Johnny. In these early stories, however, the thunderbolt is depicted as just a red bolt of lightning, granting Johnny's requests - in this issue, saving him from numerous falls, knocking down buildings, and levitating criminals.

When this "voodoo" scares the criminals into leaving town and leaving Mr. Darling's properties alone, Johnny comes off as a hero to both Darling and his daughter, Daisy.

Rex Tyler is at it again - but there's a change between this and last issue. Hourman now employs the help of a band of youngsters known as his "Minute-Men of America," that assist in his exploits. Apparently if Bruce Wayne did it, everyone in 1940s America figured it was okay to endanger children by the handful.

Rex Tyler, meek chemist, is listening to his boss complain that his brother-in-law is being suckered by a fake mystic who claims to communicate with the dead. This "Dr. Morte" (stating the obvious - morte means death in French) convinces the boss' brother-in-law that his wife is speaking from beyond the grave and would like him to bring her jewels and money to the cemetery so she can see them. Apparently, his wife is quite vain and he's used to this.

Just for the record - around this same time, Batman was busy fighting his own Dr. Death in the pages of Detective Comics.

Rex rounds up his Minute-Men boys and they head out to foil the plans of this fake seance artist. The boys try to keep the man from entering the cemetery to see his wife, and do a pretty poor job of it. The minute he arrives, he tells them to go away and they do.

Meanwhile, Hourman follows Dr. Morte to a mausoleum where he sees the not so good Doctor speaking through a speaker system to the grave up above. Exposing the fraud, the man learns that his wife has not been communicating with him, and Hourman has saved the day.

Visiting a friend at the daily newspaper, Jay Garrick finds that the entire building is deserted. Jay super-speeds into his Flash costume and then decides that the city just can't get by without the paper's morning edition, and takes on the responsibility of putting the entire paper together by himself, learning a valuable lesson in the process:

After the paper makes its way to doorsteps, a mob boss who has the entire newspaper staff sequestered in his basement, sends some hirelings to find out how the paper was published. Flash, vibrating too quick to be seen by the eye (a trick that he and successors Barry Allen and Wally West will use in decades to come), makes the criminals believe a ghost is in the building, and sends them packing. They get to the entrance of their hideout and are rounded up at super-speed one by one and brought to the police.

Meanwhile, the mob boss tries to persuade the newspapers publisher to sign the paper over to him or else, he'll shoot his daughter.

The publisher's daughter also just happens to be good friends with Joan Allen, Flash's girlfriend. When Flash returns to the hideout, he stops the signing, and rounds up the mob boss, before making his way off for a night with Joan. She's got a thing for guys in helmets.

And Flash makes sure not to leave without a shameless plug for his own book:

E.E. Hubbard's art becomes a cornerstone for the look of the Golden Age Flash adventures and is pretty standard for the series. Gardner Fox's story pits Jay against mobs and corruption, also a mainstay of Jay's early adventures in the red.

A pretty straightforward crime adventure, with the typical Fox-ian "i'll have fun with these criminals using my powers before I cart them to jail" mentality that became a definition of many JSA-ers in those early days, and made you wonder just how any criminal would have taken them seriously if they were playing jokes all the time.

Overall, Issue #2 of All-Star Comics gets us introduced to many characters that will be the foundation of the JSA beginning next issue. Some stories, even by today's standards stick out as memorable - The Spectre being the most notable.

Still, others remain typical, simple, superhero romps for the time, aimed at a little kid audience - The Flash, Hourman, Johnny Thunder. And some, well, some just seem absurd - Green Lantern and Sandman sticking out.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

All Star Comics #1 - Where it all began...

Yes, technically I've made my mission to read the entire Golden Age adventures of the "JSA," and the JSA as a team does not appear until All-Star Comics #3.

Well, we'll get to that. I think it's important that we start at the beginning - the very beginning - for such a historical title in comics.

In this first issue, we're greeted by a quick letter from the editor explaining this new idea - combining their best features from various comic magazines into one, big magazine - and asking readers to let the company know what works and what they'd like to see more of. After that, it's right into the action.

Now, since the JSA isn't formed just yet, we get a series of solo adventures from what will become the team's charter members. So, since there is no "JSA tale" in which to discuss in this issue, I felt it appropriate to take a look at each of the solo tales the publishers presented in this first issue, the Summer of 1940.

We begin with Hawkman - AKA Carter Hall - although, he is never revealed as such in this strip. Hawkman, when our story opens, finds himself flying high above some mountainous region in an undisclosed location. A screaming girl grabs his attention and tells Hawkman that her brother is being held captive by their uncle. And the uncle has found a way to create "Haitian Zombies" - I kid you not - to work in the mines left to her by her late father.

Naturally, Hawkman swoops in to help this pretty young girl, and through a series of battles, gets the brother and sister reunited - leading to this slightly awkward reunion between siblings:

The reunion is short-lived and the siblings are soon kidnapped again by their evil Uncle and his witch assistant. Every bad guy worth a grain of salt should have one.

It's important to note that the Uncle's ethnicity looks more like an ugly Asian or Eastern stereotype compared to these two pale-white beauties:

Well, needless to say, the witch's magic (a red circle of dust that acts as a barrier so no one can get to the evil uncle standing in the circle) does not work when Hawkman comes to the simple realization that instead of stepping into the circle, he'll just fly over it. He does, capturing the old man, and once again freeing the wonder twins, before flying off into the night.

The art's beautiful. Compared to much of the Golden Age art, the realistic style and detailed backgrounds of Sheldon Moldoff really stand out. The story, by Gardner Fox, is very pulp-inspired, and certainly not without its flaws as noted above. But, it's whiz-bang action adventure, moving swiftly to its conclusion.

Ol' Wesley Dodds is shopping for a watch - "something serviceable," he tells the man behind the desk, when a holdup occurs. The crook leaves and Wes soon follows, spotting a man who looks just like the crook (but in a lighter suit) walking down the street. Wes follows the man to his home. Instead of trouncing him there, Wes then goes back to his own home, where he gets dressed into his Sandman costume, and heads back to the alleged criminal's home, where not only does he find the loot, but the crook waiting, of course.

Narrowly missing a gunshot to the head, Sandman and the crook get into a fight, which leaves the criminal unconscious and Sandman with an injured shoulder. Looking back, one would think the best thing to do is tie the crook up, perhaps. Or maybe call the police.

But, apparently Wes was in dire need of some healing, because he decides to "take a rest" in another room of the house, only to be awakened when the guy's twin brother comes back home and their scheme is overheard in the other room.

The scheme? One robs a store and passes it along to the twin, who stashes it. However, one would imagine that since these two are pulling robberies in broad daylight and their features exposed, as well as live in the same house, that one might have gotten caught a little easier than this.

The crooks - apparently thinking that no hero would still be on the premises after a fight - discuss their plan and head out, with Sandman quickly following them. Their goal is to rob from the Steamship Offices - a plan cut short by Sandman, who overpowers both men and leads them into the waiting arms of the police.

The art by Chad Grothkopf is very good, and his original Wesley Dodds fits the traditional, square-jawed, matinee idol secret-identity that was so typical of the day. The Guy Davis interpretation some 60 years later in Sandman Mystery Theatre would make Wesley a little more rounded...sometimes a little pudgy. He would wear glasses, and would seem to look like more of an average joe with his more bank clerk looks.

The story, also by Gardner Fox, takes place mostly at night with the exception of the opening robbery, keeping Sandman as a figure of the evening, hunted by police - a theme that would continue many decades later. Compared to many other heroes of this issue - and of the time - Sandman certainly stands out as a more pulp-inspired hero than any other, ditching the typical super hero tights (those would come years later) for a more conservative suit and gas mask.

As much as I like the character of Wesley Dodds, I will admit this outing was a bit lackluster, even by Golden Age standards. With an entire series ahead of me, though, I'm sure there's much better to come.


I will admit that even with my terribly geeky and lengthy knowledge of the Golden and Silver Age, Gary Concord completely eluded me. I was completely unaware of his existence until this read.

Gary works as the "high moderator of the United States in North America" in the year 2240. The setting of events in 2240 mirrors that of 1940s culture. A war is raging between two European countries, many are unemployed, and propaganda from both sides fills the air.

In this tale, Gary, in his official capacity, breaks up some riots in America, and puts those who have choice words for other political parties or countries, to shut up and deal with it in the boxing ring. (If only we could do this today when people begin arguing about politics and parties)

Ditching his official uniform and dressed in nothing but a pair of skivvies, Gary becomes Ultra-Man, and fights with those in Europe to try and bring an end to the war. He uncovers that the war is simply the plot of a man who is trying to secure the uranium mines and finances of both countries. The villain is supplying both sides with materials in exchange for their mines. In the end, he wins no matter which side is successful. The parallels between this story stretch far beyond the 1940s and well into the current day.

When Ultra-Man discovers this, and upon exposing that this war was started for one man's profit, gets both sides to stop, and sends the villain - Lord Criket - flying out a 90 story window.

And I think the last panel pretty much sums it up:

Jay Garrick has not changed all that much in his crime-fighting career in the DC Universe. Sure, he's gotten older, his hair's gotten a little whiter at the temples. But for all intents and purposes, Jay's always been like that old friend you can always rely on to do the right thing. And here's no different.

When a police patrolman (appropriately enough with an Irish brogue, which seems pretty typical for 1940s media of the day), can't get into a building to check on an old woman, The Flash lends a hand and discovers there's been a murder. So, wanting to help, Flash heads down to the police station where he's told he can't handle the case because he's a civilian. Super-speeding away, Flash then takes a policeman's uniform from some poor hapless cop, comes back, and demands to be deputized.

Wow, talk about wanting to do things by the book!

Needless to say, Flash uncovers n'er do wells by finding a ripped necktie at the scene. At the "only department store in town that sells such ties," Jay super-speeds through their sales files to find who has purchased such a tie. This, leads the scarlet speedster to the flunkies and mastermind behind the murder, and the day is saved.

And all before the beat cop even made his way from the murder scene back to the police station.

It's funny how in these early Flash tales, an emphasis of just how fast Flash moves is put into perspective (or attempted to) by the writer by comparing his feats to the speed it takes others to do some other task. In this case, the beat cop walked from the scene to police HQ, but in that time Jay not only convinced the commissioner to deputize him, but went back to the scene, found the tie, went through the store and its records, had fights with flunkies, and took down the murderer, by the time the cop got back to the station. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but it's comics, so like many other times, we let it pass.

Even in this 1940 adventure, The Spectre is still almost what we know him as today. He is still the vengeful hand of god, punishing those who most deserve it, and often times, killing the villain by the story's last panel.

In this tale, Detective Jim Corrigan is investigating fatal arsons and suspects a landlord who is set to collect insurance money on the buildings, despite no safety precautions for the inhabitants. Corrigan becomes the Spectre and visits the after life, where he asks a soul who died in the fire if it was intentionally set. When the soul tells him yes, The Spectre then heads back to Earth to punish those responsible.

Following a trail of thugs and flunkies. This is where the Spectre turns from rock em' sock em' 40s fist-fighter and into the ghoulish figure we have come to expect. While the doctor makes his escape by car, The Spectre follows, growing larger and larger until he crushes the car with getaway car with his foot, and grabbing the shifty thug like a ragdoll.

One particular image that stands out for its supernatural macabre is when the flunky refuses to talk, and The Spectre, wanting to pick his brain, LITERALLY removes his head so there is nothing but a floating brain. And Bernard Baily's art for scenes such as this our exquisite, especially for this time.

When the Spectre finally finds Dr. Cragg, the man who's owned the buildings and collecting money on the fires, he is bombarded by fiery explosives, which, of course, have no effect on the supernatural hero, and The Spectre than dishes out what he feels is the appropriate punishment.

He has Dr. Cragg stare into his eyes, where he sees the faces of all those he has killed with his fires. A screech from the doctor, before he falls flat, dead. And the Spectre we all know, love, and fear, shows little remorse:

Another chap I was not all too familiar with before this venture is Mr. Bronson. It seems he's somewhat in the vain of Slam Bradley and other Golden Age Detective heroes. Not much to say here. The story is typical of its day as Biff uncovers who stole some secret plans from a factory.

A very straightforward story that leads Biff to uncover "Remembro," a vaudeville performer who is a master of remembering anything he reads. Turns out Remembro worked two jobs - at the factory by day, as a stage performer by night. He looked at the plans in the factory, memorized them, and was going to sell them to a foreign power...into Biff stepped in and a few punches later, had the guy in custody.

Rex Tyler, or "Tick Tock" Tyler as he is known in some circles, has in his life as a chemist devised a pill called Miraclo that gives him super powers for one hour. And in this short tale, Rex, in his everyday identity is found saving a boys' camp from fire. But he and the head of the camp are quickly greeted by a note that demands the camp area be cleared or a murder will be next. Changing to Hourman, Rex takes a pill and investigates.

However, he quickly becomes distracted by a cry from help from down the road, and finds a family being harassed by thugs. Before the thugs can say who they were hired by, Hourman senses danger, and grabs the family, running out of the home before it explodes, killing the criminals inside.

The family tells Hourman that these criminals were trying to steal the deed to their house, and Hourman quickly springs back into action, finding a wallet, conveniently enough,laying in the middle of the road. Luckily for Hourman, the wallet has the name and address of its owner, John Blair Real Estate and Investments. It doesn't take long before Hourman invades the company and fights with Blair and his men.

It turns out the government wanted to buy this family's house but Blair wanted to steal the deed (buried beneath a tree in the woods) and sell it to the government himself for even more money. And we thought the current real estate market was bad.

It seemed kind of odd that what started out as an investigation into who was setting fires and threatening murder at the camp turned into this real estate adventure. There is no connection made between John Blair, the family, and the camp, playing out as just another case Hourman stumbles into, leaving the intentionally set fires and threats at the boys' camp unsolved.

However, it's key to note that an element is already laid out here that will have major repercussions in storylines some decades later. The power of the Miraclo pill runs out after one hour, and in this early adventure, Rex Tyler has no problem just popping another pill when the drug has run its course, doing so at least three times in an evening. It does not seem surprising at all that 50 years later or so, writers would tell the untold tale of addiction that Tyler went through from his crimefighting use of the pill.


Finally, the first-issue of All Star Comics comes to a close with a story of Red, White, and Blue, three servicemen who are seemingly given a vacation by the government, but that vacation happens to be in Alaska - long before it became the political hotbed we know of in the Palin-age of today.

Turns out, the vacation is a cover for a mission to find an agent who has been captured by the Kavinese. The boys end up stopping a plot to use the power of a volcano to, as one agent puts it "stab us in the back during a war!"

The boys, and female agent friend, Doris West, foil the plot, with the help of some wonderfully stereotypical Alaskan Eskimos.

And that brings us to the end of the first, giant-sized issue of All Star Comics #1, which just a few issues later will become home to many (but not all) of these heroes in the form of the JSA.

Overall, a good, entertaining read. The stories, like many of their day, are short, ranging between 6-8 pages on average. One could guess that the short attention span of children might have contributed to the short lengths. In many ways, though, I'll admit that the short stories make it easier to get through the issue, as the stories, while entertaining, are sometimes a bit too silly to get through in one sitting. This is especially true when considering current sensibilities in stories.

Stand-out stories, even with modern sensibilities in mind:
The Spectre, and one I wouldn't have expected, the futuristic and sci-fi inspired Ultra-Man.

I could definitely see being entertained as a 1940s kid, and would have been haunting the newsstand for the next issue. One interesting note is that the publishers ask readers to contact them as to what features should stay and go in the next issue.

And when we crack open Issue #2, we'll see who made the cut.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Re-reading the JSA from square one

I have set out with a clear-cut, geeky goal: to read the adventures of DC Comics' classic Justice Society of America from the very beginning - starting with All Star Comics #1 in the Summer of 1940.

As a comic book reader since I was a young child, I've seen many superheroes, and especially super hero teams, come and go. But, even as a child, one group of super heroes fascinated me more than any other - The Justice Society of America. They were the first. Formed in the early 1940s, it was the first time some of the most popular characters in comics met, interacted, and began to exist in the same universe. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Sure, by the time I was growing up int he 80s, they a thing of the past - 40 years past. It didn't matter though. These characters set the pace for what was to come. They battled the everyday suited gangster, giant robots, the world's first super-villains, and of course, Nazis and other Axis powers. But they always did it with a smile, and a great example for the youth of the time.

Today, many of these characters still exist in the comics universe. Some, the originals, just now elderly and teaching the newest generations of heroes how it's done - still setting examples of what is right in an age that has gotten mighty dark.

And so, I'm going to go back - all the way back to the Summer of 1940 and read, in order, the adventures of the Justice Society.

With each subsequent reading, I will do my best to summarize, review, and when appropriate, note any sort of retroactive continuity references that find their roots in comics Golden Age.