Monday, July 12, 2010

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

It's the Fall of 1941.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Er...sorry. Wrong intro.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damn. That seems a bit like overkill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How thoughtful of him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, stereotypes...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I keed, I keed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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