Monday, March 1, 2010

All-Star Comics #4 - Their first assignment

Issue #4 of All-Star Comics, cover dated for 1941, finds the JSA racing across the nation from their various neighborhoods and regions to the FBI headquarters. Although, you would think it would be faster for all (with the exception of The Flash) to just take a car.

There, these strange men in costumes who have been popping up in cities across the country are gladly let inside the headquarters of one of the top law enforcement agencies in the world. Once there, the "FBI Chief" tells the heroes that their help is needed in stopping terrorists who are weakening the U.S. War Effort.

Of course, the FBI Chief also seems to have it in for the education system, as well:

The entire introduction is steeped in American-propaganda, as the JSA members are told of all the terrible people inside the borders of the country who threaten the USA.

We're still early enough on in the All-Star run that the layouts of the plots are very much the same each issue. A plot device creates and umbrella framework that allows for mini-solo stories with each JSAer. In this case, each of the members is given "sealed orders" and sent on their way to fight the good fight, starting with The Flash.


Opening his sealed orders, Jay Garrick learns that he is super-speeding towards Michigan and Wisconsin where un-American propaganda is being spread among workers.

It's either that, or a union being formed by the worst mustached individuals ever:

Flash rescues a man who speaks out against these propaganda-pushers, and then tells the man to get the rest of the workers ready to overthrow the "gray-shirts" on his signal. A quick trip to the "gray-shirt" leader's home turns up all the proof Flash needs that these gray-shirts are working for a foreign country.

With a little super-speed aid, the workers take down the men who were once trying to convince them to overthrow their factory bosses.

It all seems taken care of until Flash is told that "The Liberty," a ship out at sea, is going to take the fall for this defeat. Of course, one wonders why these propaganda-pushers would put their plans in such risk by telling a man who has super-speed that a bomb is about to go off.

Flash makes his way out to sea where he begins searching for the bomb, and apparently makes an impression on this young couple:

Finding the bomb in the ship's coal bin, Flash quickly disposes of it at sea, but notices a "K" mark on the bomb's container. A quick trip to FBI headquarters reveals that the mark is from a manufacturer in Maryland, and the work of a man named Fritz Klaver. With a name in hand, Flash is off to get to the bottom of this while we transition to Green Lantern's mission.


Green Lantern unseals his orders to find out that his mission is to discover the cause the jamming of radio frequencies across the country. "The radio is our first line of defense" the FBI tells Green Lantern. All this falls right into his jurisdiction, since in his identity as Alan Scott, he works as a radio engineer at Gotham Broadcasting.

Coincidence? Or was the FBI onto some of these Mystery Men from the start? I think that given government-type agencies like Task Force X, Suicide Squad, etc, popping up over the years in DC Continuity with some pretty well-kept secrets about the heroes, that this could very well be the seed from which some of those agencies grew. I think the FBI knew Alan Scott was the Green Lantern all along. Why not say anything? Well, writer-wise, I'm sure the writers back then never gave it much long-term or deep thought. But, retroactive continuity-wise, I think it's the old adage, knowledge is power.

Now, back to the mission.

As Alan Scott, GL is told by his boss at the radio company to go check out these drop outs in radio signals, with a lovely female co-worker who will take notes for him.

Alan seems either really bored with this idea, or just taking the chance to look down Irene's shirt:

That night, Alan transforms into The Green Lantern and goes on ahead to the radio transmitter to see if things are all right - which they are not. In fact, the man who's supposed to be tending to the transmitters, a man named Krapek, is being bullied by some Germans who want him to sabotage the transmitter. When GL enters, a fight ensues.

GL overcomes the Germans fairly easily with his ring. That is, until one of them smashes a glass bottle over the hero's head.

Apparently any "non-metal" can harm Green Lantern. In later years, writers will have changed this to strictly a weakness to wood, but in these early days it seems the writers hadn't quite figured out how to keep GL from being all-powerful. Thus, the non-metal weakness was created.

Overcome by the glass bottle, GL is distracted and the villains escape. However, they don't stay away for long. For some reason, they even return to the exact scene of the crime to try again later in the day - this time as Irene is visiting the transmitter looking for Alan Scott, and she is caught in the middle of another fight between the Germans and Krapek.

You'd think that Krapek would have gone to the police after the morning's assault, but, eh, it was a different time, I guess.

Green Lantern returns, only to find Krapek and Irene both missing - Irene's purse his only clue that she was there. Taking off into the sky, he eventually finds the villains' floating hideout - a dirigible that emits cloud cover. As the blimp moves across the country as a seemingly harmless cloud through the sky, a device inside jams America's radio frequencies.

Actually, kind of a cool plan.

Once inside the blimp, Green Lantern lets loose on these Germans, while Krapek destroys the jamming device for "his adopted fatherland of America." He continues to do this even as he his riddled with gunfire from the Germans. Krapek and Irene escape with the help of Green Lantern and the blimp is destroyed via the power ring.

Even safe from the blimp, it's too late for Krapek, who dies in Green Lantern's arms. The moment has Irene very shaken up, but even amid the in-need-of-comforting Irene and the dead body of Krapek, Green Lantern shrugs it off like just another day's work.

Alan Scott - Time for patriotism...not for whoopee.


The Spectre holds his orders in his hands, and needs not even open them - as the omnipotent being already knows what's inside. Spectre, it seems, is easily the most powerful member of the JSA. So, why the government wastes his time with missions to stop sabotage rather than just mystically ending the war seems a bit questionable.

He transports himself in an instant to a munitions plant in Pittsburgh where sabotage is about to take place.

You know how I know? Because the saboteur has the nasty habit of narrating his every action.

Our saboteur, now known as Hans, has his hands stuck in the barrel of the gun and is caught red-handed by his co-workers, who capture him and question him, to no avail. So, they figure the FBI will give the crook a harder time and set out to take him there. Unfortunately, they don't get too far, when an armored truck crashes into the car containing the factory works and Hans. It's Hans' colleagues, who steal him away before he can talk. The Spectre, instead of stopping them then and there, decides to follow.

Hans is killed for the thought that he might have been willing to talk to the Americans, and another sabotage plot is about to unfold - the destruction of an American Factory. Spectre, of course, makes haste and gets to the potential bomber, throwing him for a magical loop that leaves the man dazed and confused. However, even this isn't enough - as there was a backup time-bomb in the building.

No sweat for the Spectre, though, who literally TURNS BACK TIME once the bomb goes off. The clock is turned back to just before it detonates, and The Spectre removes the device harmlessly.

Seriously, if he could do that, he couldn't have just stopped any of this from taking place? For a dead guy, he's really got some quirks.

Eventually, using his mystical powers, Spectre discovers where the rest of this group of saboteurs is headed, and decides to stop them in their tracks. He does, stopping yet another plot - this time to photograph some secret government plans. He then learns the name of the leader behind these plots - Fritz Klaver. Sound familiar? He's the common thread in each of these stories thus far.

How does he learn this? Well, he does the whole mind-reading trick....and not just any telepathy - the one where he removes a person's head to read their brain. Still a bit theatrical, but come on, used this one already. Impress me once, good for you. Try it twice, just come up with some new material, you silly spook. Oh, and look at the shock on the crook's face behind them. I think he just soiled himself.

Before Spectre can head out after Fritz Klaver, though, he is suddenly and inexplicably transported away from the scene of the saboteurs to an inter-dimensional realm of nothing but black space and colorful spheres. Whatever the spheres are, they are "robbing me of my temporal existence,' The Spectre says, and does his best to fight them off.

But Spectre's will to survive for patriotism far outweighs this evil force.

Soon freeing himself from whatever this is and however he got there, Spectre just as quickly is back on Earth, and on his way to visit the leader of the sabotage ring.


Hourman's mission is quite straightforward. Guards at an oil well keep dying - four total. So, Rex Tyler, in his civilian identity, takes a job at the oil field to get to the bottom of it. With a little help from Miraclo, he proves not as easy to kill as the other guards. It turns out these saboteurs want control over the oil fields in their quest for power over the U.S.

Hmmm. Power over oil and power over the U.S...on the brink of war...why does this sound all too contemporary?

Needless to say, Hourman stops the saboteurs, and learns that they are working for a man named Fritz Klaver...who seems to be the mastermind behind all the small fires our heroes are putting out.


Much like The Spectre, Dr. Fate does not even need to open the envelope before him, using telepathy to read his mission. Though, with such vast power at his disposal, one wonders why Dr. Fate bothers with work for the U.S. government, when he could pretty much end things all his own.

His mission is to look for sabotage at some New England salvage yards. He does so using a cloud to track down spies - yes, a cloud that hovers and glows gold when its above "evil men do against America."

What Dr. Fate finds are men using a trench mortar to send shells from a boat on the seas to naval fleets in the shipyards. Fate stops them, but that's not good enough for him. He wants the whole network of saboteurs brought down.

And if they need a little convincing, Fate just stirs up some monsters from beyond.

Using his vast powers, Fate has the men send out a fake broadcast, ordering all the saboteurs to travel near and far to those New England shipyards for new orders. The men are so scared they do it. Apparently, the saboteur network is so loyal that no one questions why they'd all get together in one easy, very target-worthy location. But there's a surprise waiting for them, as Dr. Fate as alerted the authorities.

No, he didn't call them. He sent his magic cloud. Please note how the FBI seems unfazed. "We're the FBI...we deal with magic clouds every day."

The FBI agents arrive to find that Dr. Fate has rounded up all the saboteurs. He doesn't play around. Even after getting information from one, Fate binds him with iron chains, just for the helluva of it. Badass.

After that, Dr. Fate is off, sending a message to Sandman and other JSA'ers about Fritz Klaver in Toledo, Ohio being the head of the entire spy ring they're currently after.

And that leads us to the Sandman's tale.


We find ol' Wesley Dodds, The Sandman, in El Paso, Texas, where word is out that an American-based newspaper in El Paso has been threatened by "gray-shirts" into not publishing. Sandman finds this highly offensive to the American way and has a thing or two to say about it.

To get to the bottom of things, Wesley heads to the paper and confronts the editor about the threats made against him.

Unfortunately, Sandman should not have eaten that Texan-sized burrito before his mission.

Learning of the threats by the gray-shirts, made up of many local boys, Sandman heads out to stop them. Although, for reasons completely unknown, he has driven in a convertible with the top down all the way to El Paso, while wearing his Sandman costume. Yet, when he heads out to stop these men, he takes the costume off and charges on into the building, causing a heroic scene. Isn't that sort of contradictory to the whole secret identity thing, Wes?

I mean, what would you say if you were driving down the street and saw THIS guy in the car next to you with the top down?

Anyway, once he finds this band of gray-shirts, plain, old Wesley Dodds enters their camp by force, beating up the men and their leader. The leader doesn't take this show of force very well and decides to get back at the American who humiliated him, he's going to blow up the American newspaper in El Paso.

Yeah, I don't get that flow of logic, either.

Regardless, it is at THIS point that Wesley puts his Sandman uniform back on and gets to the true point of his mission - to stop the gray-shirts from attacking the paper. He does, halting a car filled with explosives en route to the paper and subduing the men inside with his gas-gun.

He then gives a patriotic speech to the local boys in the gray-shirt group, who claim all they wanted was a little excitement.

So, Wes suggests they join the U.S. Army...and the boys are so happy, they strip.

And if that weren't as bizarre a celebratory ritual enough, the boys then sing.

The JSA - inspiring half-naked boy bands since 1940.

His mission accomplished, and receiving a telepathic message about the ringleader of this operation from Dr. Fate, Wes hits the road to meet up with his other JSA pals to find this Fritz Klaver.


Johnny' Thunder's text-only story in this issue has no bearing or relation to the larger story at hand. With that said, I'll sum it up briefly. Daisy and Johnny stumble across a mind-reader storefront in their hometown of Appleville. Only this mind reader, named Mogi - drawn like many other stereotypes of the day - steals Daisy's pearls while putting her under a trance. Johnny and his thunderbolt save the day, however, and Johnny once again becomes Daisy's half-witted hero.


On his way to California for his mission, Hakwman stops an American plane from falling out of the sky. It appears the two pilots inside have been the victim of some sort of gas and fallen asleep at the stick. Disaster averted, Hawkman looks on ahead and finds a giant net cast across hilltops, which was ready to catch the crashing plane, referred to by the Hawkman and others as one of the U.S.'s "new flying fortresses."

Realizing something is amiss between the net, the gassed pilots, and the scientist on board the plane, Hawkman decides to investigate.

Meanwhile, his girlfriend (though only referred to here as his "friend") Shiera Saunders, gets bored while Hawkman is off on an adventure and decides she wants to be a part of it.

So, what does any sane-thinking 1940s gal do in a situation such as this?

You guessed it - throws herself out of an airplane.

Rescuing her from yet another exotic death, Hawkman puts Shiera to work, telling her to work with the scientist on finding out who could have manufactured the time-release gas that affected the pilots.

I'm not sure what's more disturbing - that Hawkman just ordered his girlfriend, who has no chemistry background whatsoever, to start playing around with dangerous chemicals, that they're all sleeping over in the scientist's lab, or the fact that Hawkman sleeps with his mask on.

That's right. Spies attack, and Hawkman goes to work on them, taking out any attacking gray-shirts. He even pounds the information of their hideout out of one of them and beats the police to the scene.

Apparently, vigilante brutality is not a problem if you're beating up spies, because not only do the police have no problem walking in and finding the room a bloody mess of smashed spies, but one of them even seems a bit turned on...

Oh, and somehow Shiera discovered that the gas is only manufactured by one facility - a facility owned by Fritz Klaver, the common thread in the story.


Before we converge on Mr. Klaver, though, Al Pratt, the original Atom gets his turn in the spotlight. It seems kids across the Tri-State College campus are being bullied by foreign students into joining their cause.

It doesn't take Atom long to run into these bullies, and the tiny wonder gives them the once over. Humiliated by the young hero, they plot revenge. And how will they get revenge? They're going to beat up EVEN MORE college kids.

Unfortunately, they decide to start with Al Pratt. Poor choice, guys.

The Atom quits toying with these guys and decides to bring their campus beatings to a close. So, he pays them a visit at The Fatherland Club.

Who would've ever thought to find members of the Third Reich at a place called The Fatherland Club? The World's Greatest Detective, he is not.

The Atom takes down the members of The Fatherland Club, and discovers, much like his fellow JSAers, that they are being given orders by Fritz Klaver in Toledo, Ohio. So, The Atom races to Toledo, where a few hours later, he is held captive by several gray-shirts, while Klaver monologues about his evil schemes.


The entire book's solo stories come to a head in Toledo, Ohio. Before the JSA can even arrive, Johnny Thunder has blundered his way to the evildoer's hideout by wishing himself there.

Just like always, Johnny's Thunderbolt whisks him away, and he's right there, being held at gunpoint alongside The Atom. Before any bullets can fly, though, the JSA cavalry arrives.

The gray-shirt soldiers are quickly dispatched by the combined might of the JSA. The Spectre and Dr. Fate spook the hell out of a couple of them as bullets pass harmlessly through their mystical forms, and The Flash throws a few super-speed punches their way.

However, it is Fritz Klaver who tries to get the last laugh, hitting a self-destruct button on his entire home.

But - to no avail. Dr. Fate doesn't play that game.

The threats now neutralized, and the head of the spy ring defeated, all that is left is to turn the culprits over to the authorities - something Johnny Thunder, once again, does without knowing it.

Johnny Thunder - master of the magical thunderbolt...not of common sense.

Naturally, the house up and flies itself to Washington, D.C., outside the window of the FBI Chief, once again kept in shadow by the comic creators.

By the tale's end, the JSA has passed their mission with flying colors and has earned the gratitude of the U.S. Government - most likely making them family-friendly for readers, and off the radar of any least until the McCarthy era of paranoia to come.