Wednesday, May 5, 2010

All Star Comics #5 - The Mysterious Mr. X

Now, don't let my entry title fool you - this particular issue of All Star Comics did not have a title in its original form. I have simply given it one here for the mere ease of reference. It seems appropriate, as the entire story surrounds the concept of who the mysterious "Mr. X" is, plotting against the members of the Justice Society.

Just a few months after their formation, the JSA finds themselves in an interesting dilemma - crime is at an all-time low. The appearance of this super-team has cleaned up the streets and scared numerous criminals out of action, leaving the heroes unsure of what to do with their time.

Even the Spectre is just creating mists of smoke to stay in practice. You know that things have gotten pretty bad when the embodiment of God's vengeance is so bored that he's been reduced to mere parlor tricks just in order to not get rusty.

Things are going to change for the heroes, however, as a motley crew of racketeers, has decided to band together to put an end to the Justice Society, who keeps muscling in on their rackets. The soiree of crooks is briefly interrupted by an odd looking man in a monocle and derby, who pops into the scene to ask the crooks for a light. It's an interruption so blatant, you just know there's something more to it.

When the odd little man leaves, each racketeer is given a different hero to handle, with instructions from their boss, known only as "Mr. X." And thus, the framework is setup for this issue's tale. Each racketeer will handle a hero, giving each character and their respective "regular artist" a chance to shine.


The Flash is the target of racketeer Flame Farmer, who orders his men to torch an entire neighborhood that The Flash is suspected to be in. They assume that if the whole neighborhood goes up, they're bound to hit the hero's house. Regardless, they apparently hold the insurance policies on most of the neighborhood and stand to make money either way.

For a bunch of hoods, though, they were on the money with their target, as The Flash, in his civilian identity of Jay Garrick, is fast asleep in one of the apartments.
What's even weirder is that the little man from earlier is sleeping under Jay's bed.

The Flash quickly goes to work putting out the fire, using a super-speed trick that will become a mainstay in the Flash arsenal for years to come. While no writer is given credit for the story, this trick alone - and the explanation panel given for it - makes me think it's most likely Gardner Fox, who implemented such devices in Flash stories well into the 60s.

Flash then begins rescuing residents throughout the neighborhood, and lending the fire department a speedy hand. You've got to admire Jay - even when rescuing victims and putting out fires, he's still looking out for the better of the common taxpayer.

With the help of a young boy who witnessed the arsonists start their work, Flash follows the criminals to their hideout where he scares them into confessions by dropping Flame Farmer out a multi-story window...only to super-speed to the ground level to catch him. While Flame Farmer admits to his own gang's wrongdoing, he tells The Flash he has no idea who this Mr. X is that they all seem to be working for.

The immediate threat of the arsonists taken care of, The Flash drops the criminals off at police headquarters, and speeds off a telegram to his fellow JSAers.


With things pretty quiet throughout the city one night, Sandman decides to drop in on female companion Dian Belmont - the daughter of the District Attorney.

Having read the 1990s crime noir revival of the Sandman by Matt Wagner, it's nice to see the seeds he built upon in these early stories. Having Dian be such a central part of the stories was certainly not an invention of Wagner's, but one that he expanded upon brilliantly. As a huge fan of that series and the realistic and historical depths it brought the characters of Wesley and Dian to, it is refreshing to see it present, even in these early tales from 50 years earlier.

Sandman seems to be stepping up his entrance (and theatrics) from last issue when he was barging through the front door of newspaper offices. Here, in order to get into Dian's place, he uses his "wirepoon gun" - something that many superheroes, most notably Batman, will adopt in decades to come as they swing around the city streets.

Alas, when Sandman makes his way into Dian's home, she is gone, with a mysterious note left to "call upon the Sandman" if she is to be found.

Sandman, somehow, deciphers that this note is a clue for him to tune in to a special radio frequency he receives in his car. Upon doing so, he hears a message from the culprits who have Dian, and sets out to rescue her. At no point is it ever considered how these run of the mill gangsters have access to a radio frequency used by who is supposed to be a mysterious vigilante. But I digress...

So, the gangsters have Dian Belmont at the Lone Star Inn, and the Sandman is en route to rescue her. Dian, confidant she'll be rescued, tells her captors that they don't stand a chance. What I love about this is that she makes a crack to the villainous ringleader that he's going to get such an ass-whuppin that he'd better hope he has insurance...AND HE TAKES HER UP ON IT!

Sandman suggests that heading through the front door may be a trap, and he's right. There are numerous men stationed all across the inside entrance with tommy guns at the ready for our hero. So, he takes the not so easy route - using his wire-poon gun to swing across a cavern and through a window. That's gotta be some lengthy cable in that little gun to reach that far. Oh, and notice who's popped up again...

Sandman overpowers the men inside the house, rescuing Dian from their clutches. Upon exiting the hideout, however, he finds even more armed guards waiting for him. Apparently, though, these men flunked out of henchmen school and don't even bother putting up a fight.

The crooks are hauled away, and we're clued in to Dian's very sick sense of humor and fun:

When is all is said and done, the kidnappers are behind bars, Dian is safe, and Sandman can head home. Before he can change back to his secret identity of Wesley Dodds, however, he finds a telegram under his door from Jay Garrick. Unfortunately, the fastest man alive chose not so fast a messenger service for this one. Too little, too late, Jay.


Arriving home following the Justice Society meeting, Hawkman hopes that he'll now have some time to finally catch up on research that has fallen to the wayside with his super-hero career taking such a front seat. Before changing back to his civilian identity of Carter Hall, a little tidbit is dropped that Carter is working on a duplicate set of wings and another flight belt from the Nth metal...just in case of emergency.

What Carter doesn't realize is that the plan to take down members of the JSA have come to his town, and they know exactly how to lure Hawkman in. Spreading word that they're planning on knocking over a jewelry store, the gangsters make sure the message gets all across town, making it a point that Shiera Sanders finds out. Apparently, even the underworld knows she's pretty chummy with Hawkman.

Leave it to those girls' gossip to start trouble...

Shiera alerts Carter by telephone and he springs into action, noticing a telegram delivery coming as he's flying away from his home. This would be the telgram from Jay Garrick that has once again arrived too late to help the heroes. The irony is not lost that the fastest man alive has been the slowest at getting out warnings to his fellow heroes. Arriving at Pullman's Jewelry Store, the gangsters and their guns are no match for Hawkman, causing the criminals to quickly retreat.

And look who they pass on the way out (other than Shiera, wh
o happens to arrive just in enough time to get in the way during their hasty getaway)...that's right - the man in the derby!

Flying Shiera back to his home, Carter finally reads the telegram sent to him by The Flash and realizes that he is the target of a criminal organization. His plan, however, is to confront the criminals and throw them into confusion with the appearance of two Hawk-like heroes. Now, how does a man who's already had no trouble overpowering these run-of-the-mill gangsters come to need such an elaborate plan of confusion among the criminal lot?

I don't really think he does. I think he just wants to see his girlfriend get dressed up like him. How narcissistic is that?

Atop the roof of the criminals' hideout, Hawkman explains to the newly minted Hawkgirl (although she is never called that in this story) that he will head inside and confront the gangsters. When he shouts out a key phrase, he explains, she is to come crashing through, letting the gangsters get a look at two Hawk-people. This apparently, is going to throw them into a state of absolute fear.

This may just be me being wacky, but I think a room full of mobsters watching a grown, and attractive woman in the skintight Hawkgirl outfit come barging into their hideout...well, I don't think fear would be the reaction one would expect. I digress...

The plan all goes awry, when a trigger-happy flunky outside the hideout notices the figure of Hawkgirl on the roof and mistaking her for Hawkman, assumes he can take down the source of the organization's troubles with one, quick bullet. She takes the bullet, and the marksman comes running into the hideout to brag about his supposed kill. However, he finds not just his fellow mobsters, but Hawkman inside, as well as can be. When he hears that "Hawkman" was shot, he goes into a fit of rage, tearing his way through the onslaught of gangsters, determined to make his way to Shiera.

He finds her alive, but injured, and still well enough to pine away for an embrace. It's funny how a woman who just fearlessly threw on a ridiculous costume, flew through the air, and took a bullet, still buckles at the knees from an embrace by a super-hero.

Flying Shiera to somewhere where she can receive medical attention, Hawkman vows to find the Mr. X behind all of this.


Returning to his tower in Salem following the JSA meeting, Dr. Fate is greeted by Inza, who tells him of an old woman named Mrs. Ross-Cooper, who is being swindled by a charlatan magician who claims he can communicate with the dead. Dr. Fate is suspicious as to why any woman who willingly sought out this fake magician (appropriately enough named "Magico") would then be seeking help to show him up. So, Inza and Kent Nelson, in their civilian identities, decide to pay a visit to Magico for his latest seance with Mrs. Ross-Cooper.

When Magico looks into his crystal ball, however, it is not Mrs. Ross-Cooper's husband who comes from beyond the grave and through the curtains, but that funny little man in the derby once again, leaving everyone in the room befuddled.

That's not the only thing coming from behind the curtain, though, as a gun appears from the darkness, taking aim at none other than Kent Nelson! Inza, spotting the weapon before he does, throws herself into the line of the bullet, causing Kent Nelson AKA Dr. Date to retreat to his tower in a cloud of smoke, much to the dismay of Magico.

All is not what it once seemed, as Mrs. Ross-Cooper is no swindled widow. Instead, she turns out to be in on the entire operation. Magico and she are in cahoots, working together, to take out Dr. Fate by the orders of the mysterious "Mr. X."

As Dr. Fate tends to the injured, but not yet dead, Inza back at his tower, Magico and the widow work on a scheme to take down Dr. Fate for good. Convinced he will return to the scene of the attempted assassination, they littler Magico's lair with dynamite, and await Fate's return.

An immortal being of magic, Dr. Fate walks away from the explosion unscathed, and tells Magico that the only way he's going to the grave is if he so chooses.

This isn't entirely true, of course. Over the course of the next 50 years of stories, Kent and Inza Nelson would remain somewhat younger than they should have, attributed by many writers as the prolonged effects of Dr. Fate's helmet and the magicks contained within. However, in the early 1990s, the magic would soon work less and less, and both Kent and Inza Nelson, legendary heroes of the Justice Society would die of old age, not even their will to live being enough to sustain them forever.

When Magico spills the beans about "Mr. X" and the contract out on all JSA members, Dr. Fate springs back into action, but not before checking in on Inza, who's survival he attributes to "her strong will to survive." With that said, Fate that moves onward to join up with his fellow JSAers and get to the bottom of these assassination attempts.

On a side note, this story is the only one, so far, in this issue of All Star that seems to have remained as true to the character as he would be known over the next several decades. From his tower in Salem, to his sorcery backgrounds, this is pure Dr. Fate - a character that unfortunately, will go through quite a few transformations, and not for the better, over the course of issues and writers, until being put back on track 20 years later in the JSA's 1960s revival.


Bernard Bailey's work is always a treat, whether it's writing or drawing, and whether it's any one of his numerous comic creations, including The Spectre, or in this case, Hourman. His art has a movement and lithe to it that many Golden Age comics lack, and it always ups the quality of whatever tale he's working on.

In this case, Hourman (or Hour-Man as he's referred to in these early tales), is the subject of a frame-up by the criminal organization that's been targeting our heroes. A gang of crooks led by "Monkey" Macy - who's face looks like that of a gorilla - are using flunkies dressed in Hourman costumes to steal tires off of cars. Naturally, this sense the (typically Irish) beat-cop of the Hourman's hood into a tizzy, thinking the man of the hour has turned crook.

Monkey Macy...not the best looking guy around...

Now, on the surface, this criminal plan is actually not all that bad. If there's people running around various cities in strange costume and masks, and no one knows who any of them are, all it takes is one well-assembled Halloween costume to smear that hero's image. But I can't help but ask - stealing tires?! If you're going to go to the trouble to frame a super-hero, don't you think a bank heist, or a murder, or something a little more severe might be in order other than stealing tires off of cars?

It obviously doesn't take long for Rex Tyler to read about the Hour-Man's criminal leanings in the morning paper, and that night he decides to set the record straight by capturing those responsible.

What Hour-Man finds is a crew of gangsters waiting for him to patrol that night, ambushing him the moment the opportunity arises. However, Chemist Rex Tyler has taken one of his patented Miraclo pills that gives him super-strength for one hour, and lays a beating on these crooks. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop "Clancy" the cop from responding and wanting to arrest Hour-Man on the spot. Hour-Man can't risk it, and escapes from Clancy, attempting to follow the henchmen he just beat up as they run back to their hideout.

It's like one big cat and mouse game, you see. They frame Hour-Man, he comes out of the woodwork and beats them up, then they run off, Hour-Man follows. Turns out they want Hour-Man to follow them so they can gang up on him back at their hideout.

It's never said where this hideout is, but it appears to be some sort of mechanic's garage or tire wholesaler, because the entire place is littered with tires, which, naturally, Hourman uses to his advantage.

The criminals admit that the plan was that of "Mr. X" and Hour-Man then delivers them to the authorities, wrapped in tires. Oh, and look who happens to be on the street watching it all unfold...

Hourman then delivers the three crooks to Officer Clancy and tells him they are the real auto thieves.

Seriously?! That's all it took?! Clancy's ready to throw Hour-Man in jail because he saw someone in an Hourman costume ripping off a car, but now that Hourman shows up and says "it wasn't me, it was these three guys," all's well and done?
Man, that cop either had too much to drink or is the most gullible badge alive. Hey, Clancy, I got some land in Florida for ya, while I'm at it...


It seems there's a scam going on at Muscles' Gym. The aforementioned gangster and his pals pull small-framed men off the street and insist they join their "Hercules in Five Lessons" program. When Mr. X tells the men to take out The Atom, they begin rounding up every small man they can find along the street and "enroll" them into the program, whether they like it or not.

When Al Pratt gets Jay Garrick's telegram warning him of the impending plot against the JSA, Al decides to play along and acts coerced into the program when approached on the street. He offers up the down-payment of $100 (out of $500) and gets to work...ruining all of the equipment in Muscles' Gym.

Needless to say, the pint-sized wonder returns to the gym once he knows who the players are, and lays a beating on all of them, insisting they end the racket and turn over any information they have over to him and the JSA.

After getting their collective butts handed to them by this miniature marvel, they comply, and The Atom exits, switching back to his civilian identity of Al Pratt.

And just take a look at who Al runs into when he makes his way outside the gym...

Something fishy is afoot with this guy.


Once again, Johnny Thunder's tale is told in prose, and with no relation to the rest of the "Mr. X" storyline. In this outing, Johnny has taken a job as an elevator boy at and office building - the same office building where Mr. Darling, father to Johnny's on-again-off-again flame, Daisy Darling. While Johnny can't seem to gain the respect or attention of Mr. Darling, he does get the attention of some rough looking thugs who want to be taken to Mr. Darling's office.

It seems Mr. Darling is getting in the way of some kickbacks that the Commissioner otherwise would be entitled to from some rigged construction jobs. Johnny denies that Mr. Darling even works in the building, but leave it to Daisy to show up just in time to tell Johnny to take her to her father's office, right in front of the criminals. So, with that, Johnny is left with little choice but to obey, and brings the criminals to Mr. Darling's office, where they're about to kill him - until Johnny accidentally says those words "Cei-U" (Bahdnesion phrase that sounds like "Say You" in English) and sicks his magical thunderbolt on the bad guys. Needless to say, after some roughing-up of the magic kind, the thugs give up and Johnny becomes a hero in the eyes of Daisy and Mr. least until next issue when everyone will have quickly forgotten and be walking all over Johnny once again.


Here's the thing you need to know about The Spectre - he's a ghost.

Detective Jim Corrigan was killed, but his body is now inhabited by The Spectre, the vengeance-driven spirit. So, he may seem like a human being while in the guise of Corrigan, but he is dead. Deceased. A spirit.

Why drive that point home?

Because in this chapter, The Spectre finds himself being framed by a bunch of gangsters running an illegal gambling operation. They leave notes in glowing paint on walls for the police that are found during raids, leading to a police and media frenzy that The Spectre is running illegal casinos throughout the city.

Come again?! I mean, I know newspapers were a bit more tabloid-esque back in the 40s, but, you show me any newspaper that would print that a ghost is running rackets.

Now, naturally, The Spectre gets to the bottom of this, but not before a round of adventure that includes him turning a trap the gangsters meant for him on themselves, Spectre temporarily losing his powers due to a gem in a ring worn by one of the gangsters, and the Spectre then haunting an illegal casino and spooking the criminal mastermind into confessing.

I know these 1940s cops were just getting used to men who moved at the speed of sound and wielded power rings, etc, but you don't think they'd be a LITTLE more concerned when an apparition comes moving through the office wall and drops off a criminal? Personally, I'd need a new pair of pants if I witnessed that.


Alan Scott is up against more minions of Mr. X - this time a rogue scientist who has turned off all the power in Gotham City. However, the villains have invested much of their success in this caper in their getaway - an airplane that has the ability to reflect light in such a way that it seems invisible to the human eye. It doesn't, however, make it invisible to Green Lantern's power ring, and goes down with one shot from Alan Scott's mystical weapon.

However, though the villains went down in the plane - a bit of a dastardly execution that Alan seems to not blink at - the power is still out throughout Gotham, leaving not just the citizens in the dark, but leaving places like hospitals without power.

Rather than let the city fall into terror and despair, GL pulls his biggest trick yet. He amasses as much willpower as he possibly can and uses his power ring to restore power to the entire city.

Sure, a modern reader may scoff at this feat, but let's not forget - this is the early 1940s. Hal Jordan and the GL Corps were not a spark in any writer's eye at this point, so an achievement of this magnitude had yet to be pulled off. For its time, very impressive.


Well, the JSA has successfully taken down Mr. X's ring of criminals, racketeers, murderers, con-men, and more, but they've yet to find out just who Mr. X is. Enter the little man in the derby who has run into the JSAers at each of their adventures. It seems the little man is looking for the police station.


To turn himself in.

As he admits to the policeman, and then the JSA themselves, he is none other than Mr. X, and has grown tired of having his operations shut-down by this rise in costumed interlopers. So, he's packing it in, but not without sticking it to the system first.

That's right, Mr. X has it made. Turn himself in and live off the state.

Absolutely diabolical.