Saturday, June 19, 2010

All-Star Comics #6 - The JSA initiates Johnny Thunder

The Flash is stepping down as an active member of the JSA in order to put his attention toward "more pressing duties." What seems to be the trend with the JSA is that as soon as one of the heroes receives their own comic title, and are no longer just a part of a team or anthology book, they move to "reserve member status."At this point in comic publishing history, The Flash has just gone from being one of the multitude of heroes in "Flash Comics" to also starring in a book completely his own, called "All-Flash."

Sort of raises a question about the character's self-awareness. Are they aware that they're nothing more than fictional comic characters? Sort of a metaphysical thought for 40s comics, and I'm sure no one really dwelt on it back then. But it's the sort of thing Grant Morrison would have had a field day with today.

Either way, the JSA members have put out a full spread to say goodbye to their friend, The Flash as an active member.

Of course, what's a party without a party this case, Johnny Thunder.

For the past five issues, Johnny Thunder has been an outsider when it comes to the Justice Society of America. While the rest of the team boasts fantastic powers and prowess, poor Johnny is just a hapless, naive young man, with a good heart.

However, the bow-tied blond does have some ability to his credit - raised on a Bahdnesian island, a ritual held over him when he was a baby gave him the power to control a mystical "thunderbolt" - kind of like a magic genie. The only problem for Johnny is that he's completely unaware how he controls this power. It's put to use when he says the phrase "Cei-U," which sounds like "Say you" in English.

Needless to say, the writers often find someway for Johnny to work the phrase into his dialogue in the nastiest of situations, thus always unwittingly calling upon his thunderbolt to help him out of tough spots.

Well, now Johnny insists (at the behest of his girlfriend, Daisy, no less) that it's time he become a full-time member of the JSA. Boy, that Daisy sure is something. If she isn't complaining about how Johnny isn't smart enough or rich enough to date her on a regular basis, she's convincing him to go pound down the door of some super-heroes and insist he join their team. What a gold digger.

And as tried and true heroes do, they let Johnny know that he's out of line.

So, you're facing down the most powerful beings on the planet, interrupting a celebration for one of their closest and founding members, and you've just been told that you're stepping way out of line.

What's the best possible thing to do at that moment?

That's right. Try to use the one power you have to FORCE these heroes to let you in. Smart.

Needless to say, the members of the JSA are pissed that Johnny just tried to use magic to convince them to let him in the group. So, who can blame them when they decide it's time to teach Johnny a lesson in humility.

The JSA decides that maybe they can have a little fun with Johnny and tell him that as part of his initiation, he'll have to bring in "Killer" McPanzee, a criminal who seems to have made quite a few headlines. Eager Johnny is quick to agree, and heads out to capture the crook. Once gone, the JSA members have a good laugh at his expense, as McPanzee is nothing more than an old man who dreams of being a feared criminal and prints out his own headlines on a printing press.

It's kind of hard to put your faith into a group of heroes who put so much time into laughing at and causing trouble for their less intelligent members. But, at the very same time, I quite enjoy how the the early JSA was more of a fraternity than a super-hero group.

While the heroes laugh off Johnny's initiation, Johnny finds himself over his head - surprise. While Killer McPanzee may not be a threat, he has been shaken down by real criminals who want to use Killer's pathetic persona as a front for real crime operations. Who would suspect the desperate man making his own newspaper headlines would actually have a real connection to the underworld.

Johnny's big plan is to sneak into McPanzee's home in disguise, and then hand him over to the authorities, disguised as what appears to be a college graduate. So, dressed like a graduate from Bad Mustache University, Johnny heads over to McPanzee's, only to find REAL gangsters have beaten him there. Worse yet, they see right through his graduation gown disguise. Faced with some of the most ruthless gangsters of the town, Johnny shows just how courageous he would be as a JSA member...telling them exactly why he's there.

Naturally, this leads Johnny into a boatload of trouble - being placed into a burlap sack by the gangsters and tossed right into the river. It's only by accidentally saying those magic words "Cei-U" that he escapes from drowning and The JSA members are alerted, one by one to the fact that he's in trouble.

Thus begins another round of framework for a story that gives each JSA member the chance to have a small solo adventure while on the hunt for Johnny Thunder. In the case of the Flash, he follows the gangsters leaving Killer McPanzee's house, only to stumble across a counterfeiting ring. Using his powers of super-speed to move the pens and equipment of the counterfeiters, Flash gives the criminals exactly what they want - a little too much, in fact.

So much counterfeit money has been created thanks to the Flash's super-speed efforts, the gangsters quickly go from elated to frightened, when the money nearly drowns them in their own hideout. It draws a lot of attention from those passers-by in the neighborhood, and I love how these two citizens so quickly go from excited about free money to disgusted about counterfeitting.

Once the counterfeiters are safely behind bars, The Flash realizes while he was distracted by the counterfeit ring, he failed to locate Johnny Thunder. Well, having escaped from drowning, Johnny is just about to give it all up. and uses his powers to wish for the first thing on his mind.

Oh, Johnny...always thinking with your penis...

Naturally, spending the day trying to work it on Dr. Fate's girlfriend comes with its own risks. In Johnny's case, he gets mixed up in a plot by some criminals who are well-aware that Dr. Fate and Inza are tight, and plan on luring Fate into a trap by kidnapping his main squeeze. Johnny? Well, as always, Johnny just gets in the way...and shows much courage in the face of hiding in the trunk of Inza's car, which is driven right into the criminals' hideout. Meanwhile, Dr. Fate comes to Inza's rescue and takes down a group of racketeers working out of an auto mechanics garage. When the gangsters can't find a way to step up to the ancient magic of Dr. Fate, the hero/sorcerer's inner-pyro, seems to bubble to the surface.

As Dr. Fate watches the racketeer's hideout burn to the ground, a frightened Johnny escapes from the trunk and continues his brilliant plan of retreat by jumping down the building's laundry shoot. From there, Johnny finds himself in a myriad of bizarre situations - from a horror-house with men running around dressed as skeletons, to an illegal casino...none of which warrant much detail other than a mention. Each mishap is just another method for the writers to bring in another hero as they "search for Johnny" while having a solo adventure of their own.

Of note in these adventures is The Spectre, who, while searching for Johnny comes across a man being attacked by a creature with no head. I find it of note for a few reasons. The first being that, as I've mentioned many times before - The Spectre is a ghost! So why is this almost all-powerful being wasting his time looking for the JSA's mascot? I still can't fathom that one out.

As always, The Spectre's adventure is always the most bizarre of the Justice Society members.

Worth a mention here is that it seems someone in the art department may have been out of the loop with the bigger picture of this the man Spectre saves from these creatures is drawn and colored an awful lot like Johnny Thunder, complete to the color of his suit, tie and hair. The only difference is the thinly drawn (and I'm guessing late-added) mustache.

Maybe that's why The Spectre felt drawn to the man...because the man, named Bob drawn just like Johnny Thunder!! But I digress. It seems Mr. Randall has been attacked by these headless creatures while spending time with his fiance, Jean. The only common link? A creepy little man who Bob says has been staring at Jean from the bushes of the park whenever she walks through.

Well, like any good sociopath and sexual predator, the odd little man already feels he has some sort of relationship with Jean, and expects some of kind of return favor for paying so much attention to her...from behind...the bushes.

When she refuses to give him a little sugar, the man kidnaps her and forces her to call Bob to come rescue her. When Bob comes charging to her aid, he is attacked by yet another headless creature. It appears the strange little peeping-Tom has somehow taken ordinary men and turned them into these headless slaves, and plans to do the same to Bob...while Jean is forced to watch. The little man then insists that once Bob is under his control, he'll use him to force Jean to be his. Sick little perv, isn't he?

Well, if there's one person who deserved a good dose of justice, it was this little man. And who better to dish it out than The Spectre, who destroys the headless henchmen while Bob, having been freed from his chains by The Spectre, now pounces on the little man, taking him down a flight of stairs. When the fight is over, the little man is dead - and The Spectre doesn't bat an eyelash.

Who knew The Spectre was such a romantic?

While his fellow JSA members head out to find Johnny, falling into their own mini-adventures, The Green Lantern finds himself bored, and decides it's time to put his efforts into the search for Johnny Thunder. Like many of his colleagues throughout the story, Green Lantern quickly gets sidetracked - this time by hijackers, who GL witnesses murder a truck driver and take off with the truck and its contents. Though, oddly enough, it's never once mentioned what the contents of the truck are.

The hijackers - not surprisingly - are no match for Green Lantern and his magic power ring, and are quickly overpowered. While transporting the criminals to police headquarters, though, GL notices a strange sight in the air around him. - Johnny Thunder, who, surprise, has gotten himself into more trouble.

Wow...for someone who just described Johnny's predicament as "hanging on for dear life," Green Lantern has no problem just walking away. So cold. So very cold.

To find out just how Johnny got into the predicament, the reader is thrown back in time a little bit, to when Johnny got thrown out of that illegal casino earlier in the story. It turns out when Johnny was thrown out of that casino, he got so fed up, he just wanted to fly away.

Man, what a baby.

Wow. So, apparently, the way to get into the Justice Society is to throw yourself a pity party.

Once again through his witless wishing ability, and the magic of his thunderbolt, Johnny is rescued, and plopped right onto the deck of a ship in the middle of the ocean. It's not just any ocean liner, though. Naturally, Johnny's uncanny knack for staying alive every time he gets in over his head has landed him on the very ship that some gangsters have kidnapped Shiera Sanders. That's right - Hawkman's girlfriend just happens to have stumbled onto a large inheritance.

And some gangsters who were snooping outside of the estate reading want a piece for themselves. So, they've taken Shiera hostage until she pays her own ransom.

You know, with Johnny and Shiera's abilities to get in to trouble each and every month, it's surprising these two never got together. But then, I think Johnny would pretty much soil himself on the spot if a jealous Hawkman showed up on his doorstep.

After rescuing Shiera from the sea-bound criminals, Hawkman flies her away, leaving Johnny to take care of the rest. That's right. The hero who actually has some kind of special ability is leaving the idiot in the bow tie to clean up the rest of the ship's crooks on his own.

Hawkman. Winged Warrior. Chairman of the JSA. Dick.

Johnny holds his own, it turns out, with the help of his magic thunderbolt, of course. Johnny gets so pissed about being the butt of everyone's adventures that he orders his thunderbolt to mop the deck with the criminals on board. Then, who should he find out at sea but Killer McPanzee - whose capture would mean JSA membership for Johnny. Sure, Johnny may be an idiot, but can you blame him for being so angry when he's just walked over by hero and villain alike?

Johnny brings the JSA Killer McPanzee as requested. In fact, with the help of his magic thunderbolt, he brings them the whole damn ship - right outside their brownstone headquarters! Realizing that even for a dimwit, Johnny never seems to give up, and somehow manages to get the task done, the JSA votes to install Johnny Thunder as a full-fledged member of the group.

Of course, that still doesn't do away with the giant ship outside of the brownstone. With Johnny's once a day limit of one hour of thunderbolt magic used up, you'd think his initiation to the JSA would be short-lived.


He just rolls up his sleeves and gets ready to take the ship apart by hand.

Say what you will about Johnny Thunder - the kid's got balls.