Sunday, August 22, 2010

All Star Comics #8 - "Two New Members Win Their Spurs"

First off, before we get anywhere on the actual content of this issue, we need to talk about this cover, and the dynamic visual it provides. What 1941 kid wouldn't want to pick this up off the newsstand when they went by? From the colors to the semi-eerie tone as the JSA's supernatural being, The Spectre, gazes into that crystal ball. And check out those pencil lines for shading and light texture. I love it.

The cover to this issue (by legendary artist E. E. Hibbard) will go on to inspire the cover of Justice League of America #29, more than twenty years later, in August 1964. That issue will be the second meeting of the then-modern Justice League and their WWII predecessors.

Okay, so on to the issue itself.

Green Lantern, much like The Flash before him, has left the JSA, taking on the role of Honorary Member, and has given up the position of Chairman that he held for only one issue, on to Hawkman, who would remain the Chairman of the group for decades to come.

Without mention, Hour-Man is also mysteriously absent from the team in this issue, beginning what would become a decades-long tradition of a rotating roster of Justice Society members.

With Green Lantern and Hour-Man now gone, that leaves two openings in the team - which as this issue's December 1941-January 1942 dated cover shows, will be taken over by newcomers Dr. MidNite and Starman.

For reference's sake, here's all you need to know about either one:

Dr. MidNite - A brilliant surgeon, who, via a freak accident during a surgical procedure, loses his eyesight in daylight, but gains extraordinary vision at night. To compensate for daytime fighting, he wears goggles that simulate night darkness for his eyes, and uses "black out bombs" that cloud an area in thick, black, dark smoke.

Starman - An astronomer and scientist who discovers a way to harness energy from the stars into a rod, giving him the power to fly and shoot energy blasts. His costume, red and green, with a fin on top of his helmet, seems to have nothing to do with his motif.

So, on to this issue's story. It seems all the JSA members have had run-ins with criminals that seemed absolutely insane. Not Joker-crazy, but normal people who just seemed to go batty. Dr. MidNite recalls a Dr. Able, who has, apparently, discovered a similar disease in Apes, as well as an antidote.

While Dr. MidNite can't locate Professor Able at his home, he does locate the antidote, and administers it to any victims he comes across of this "madness drug." Along the way, he learns that it is a "Professor Elba" who is the one behind the malicious drug.

Side note - did the writers really think the children reading this at the time in 1941 weren't bright enough to catch that the mysterious professor is "Prof Able" and the mysterious figure who's using the drug is called "Prof Elba"? Professor Cane and Professor Able would've at least been a bit more subtle. But alas, my time machine is on the fritz, so traveling back to 1941 to talk story elements with Gardner Fox isn't on the agenda today.

Dr. Fate tracks down some kidnappers who spirited away a friend's wife and injected him with this new madness drug. It turns out that the criminals aren't just into kidnapping, having their hands in protection rackets to boot. Of course, that doesn't mean anything to a sorcerer like Dr. Fate, who gives them all a firm ass-kicking.

For some reason never explained, Dr. Fate decided to cut his helmet in half starting in this issue, exposing the lower half of his face and making him look much less haunting, and much more goofy.

Also, is it odd that a character whose entire premise is being a powerful magic-wielder to not use a single element of magic as he battles criminals, instead merely flying and engaging in fisticuffs?

Perhaps he was just bored with the whole magic thing. I'm sure it gets tiresome being one of the most powerful beings on the planet, right?

To no surprise, The Atom runs into some similar trouble. Only while working part-time in a jewelry store, he comes across a crook who sells what appears to be fake diamonds to the owner. When the owner calls the police, the man then sues for false arrest, since the diamonds are real. Of course, he's willing to settle out of court for a small amount of money. It's a racket they've been running all over town.

The Atom springs into action, discovering the scheme, but not before the one thug who's been captured gets injected by his colleagues with the "madness formula."

The by-laws of the early JSA days must have been pretty damn strict about not missing meetings. How else do you explain leaving the middle of a case, not to mention the insane man you just tied up and left on a couch, so that you can go attend the meeting?

That puts the Atom right where we came into the story, at the JSA's meeting, where each member takes some of the antidote with him. So, flash-forward in time for the next panel, and Atom's back with the cure, getting the information he needs out of this suspect. From there, he pays a visit to the men behind the scheme, only to find that the mysterious "Professor Elba" is no where to be found.

"There's no time for pleasantries while crime is afoot!"

The Sandman, meanwhile, is looking into a case of some high profile citizens who are being blackmailed by some unseemly photographers.

Don't let the PR fool you, it's folks like this that came up with Photoshop.

Once again, the crooks behind this little scheme use the insanity formula to keep anyone from spilling the beans about their operation, and it all goes back to this Professor Elba.

Sandman isn't the only one dealing with blackmailers.

In another city, a young boy has taken on a dare by his friends and entered a creepy, old, abandoned house, only to find a trunk full of cash. Running home to tell his father, he almost gets hit by a car - a car driven by Ted Knight, also known as Starman.

"Nothing to see here, officer, just randomly picking up children as I drive by."

Ted, with nothing else to do, apparently, decides this kid's story about the trunk of money is worth investigating as Starman. What he finds is that it's the work of a trio of blackmailers who have created "phony letters" from a man running for governor that they were going to publish if he didn't pay up. Apparently, no one told the gubernatorial candidate that he could claim they were forgeries.

Of course, this information comes AFTER one of the men is induced with the insanity formula and requires the antidote. So, summoning all his manly heroic courage, Starman does what any hero (At least in this story) would do: take off for his Justice Society meeting and leave the wanted criminal in the care of a young child. Attaboy, Ted!

"Starman, this man's going crazy!" "Sorry, kid. Gotta go!"

Like several of his colleagues, Starman spends the time between panels at the opening's JSA meeting, returning with the antidote to the madness drug. Once administered, his informant spills the beans about the extortion job, and Starman cleans house with the criminals.

Meanwhile, Hawkman is dealing with some similar criminal activities - men who bought out "a press clipping bureau" to go through the old newspaper files and dig up dirt on people who they can extort.

It's apparently extortion week here at the JSA.

And these men went on to create Google.

When the president of a Trust Company becomes the target and tries to kill himself, Hawkman happens to be nearby and saves the man's life. After hearing his case, and the names of the blackmailers, Hawkman is off to set things right, with Hawkgirl following close behind.

I know when I'm being pursued, my first thought is to describe, in detail, my worst fears and fates.

Hawkgirl tries to find the crooks on her own, only getting into trouble (those silly 1940s girls) and getting captured, putting her in (surprise) need of a rescue. Hawkman tracks down one of the two men responsible, but not before the crook is injected with the madness drug by his partner.

So, with no resolution, no justice, and Hawkgirl still captured, what is a hero to do?

Eh, she'll be okay, right? I mean, it's not like there's another JSA meeting next week or anything that you could go to.

Hawkman returns from the meeting, only to find the one crook he captured, free, and trying to get away in the mountains. Well, wouldn't you know it...this is the same guy who's greatest fear, told to us in great detail earlier in the story, is being crushed to death by rocks. What do you think happens to him as he runs through the caverns?

As the crook meets his fate under a pile of rocks, Hawkman comes across Hawkgirl, who is shallowly breathing, and somehow resuscitated when Hawkman puts his belt to her mouth. I'm not kidding. Check it out...

Leaving her in a safe spot to recover, Hawkman goes after the final criminal in the duo - the one afraid of electricity - who stumbles through an electric fence and meets a shocking end.

All is back to normal, and Hawkman continues the path of his fellow JSA members to find this "mysterious Dr. Elba."

Oh, and the gubernatorial candidate was extremely grateful.

Why does every man who sees the shirtless Hawkman start gushing like a school girl?

As much as I poke fun, as always - the art by Sheldon Moldoff on Hawkman is amazing, especially when compared to some of the other art of the period, which often times crossed the line from being aimed at children, to looking like it was drawn by children...depending on the artist, of course. But Shelly Moldoff is one of the greats of the Golden Age. Right up there with E. E. Hibbard and Bernard Bailey, if you ask me.

But back to our adventure.

The Spectre's hunting down corruption. A key witness to a trial - Louis Scaloni - has been released from custody, at the behest of a man referred to as "Boss" Williams. That doesn't sit too well with Detective Jim Corrigan, who pays a visit to "the boss" and finds Scaloni infected with the madness drug in Boss Williams' basement. Turning from Corrigan into the ghostly Spectre, the antidote is quickly given to Scaloni, leaving The Spectre to dish out some justice to the Boss and his minions.

It doesn't take much for The Spectre and his control over the supernatural to scare the criminals into confessions. However, it won't do too much good in court, as The Spectre has pushed Williams so far over the edge, that he takes his own life.

And the Spectre is very much broken up about the whole thing:

"Just another day at the office"

Oh, Johnny Thunder. Thinking that he's got a crooked contractor on his hands, Johnny just feels he needs a confession - one that will be prompted by administering the insanity antidote to the contractor, who's name is Oscar K. Doodle.

So determined to make his arrest, Johnny is willing to fight through some no-good mobsters to get to his prey. Of course, he does so with the usual Johnny Thunder flair.

What Johnny does succeed in is getting himself captured, and soon finds himself held in the same room as Oscar K. Doodle, who isn't a crook, but turns out to be another victim. Now injected with the antidote, Doodle tells Johnny that he was kidnapped because he uncovered the crooked practices of the racketeers, and is willing to help Johnny turn the crooks over to the police.

That is, if Johnny can convince the cops he's not a loony as well.

And wouldn't you know it...just as Johnny's escorting the police to the racketeers, who happens by but Johnny's infatuation - Daisy Darling, and her father.

What the heck did Johnny ever see in this bitch?

Score one for underdog Johnny Thunder, as the police haul the racketeers away. Once the police leave the scene, though, Johnny, who doesn't seem to be needed for any kind of police statement, just hangs around the crime scene...where the mysterious Dr. Elba shows up, clobbering him and taking him prisoner.

Johnny seems to full of pride to call on his magic thunderbolt for help, but ends up needing it. Just before Dr. Elba can inject Johnny with the insanity serum, Johnny's Thunderbolt comes crashing in with the entire JSA, who quickly overpower the mad doctor.

Dr. MidNite learns he's not as smart as he thought he was.

Injected with his own serum, Dr. Elba goes insane, and throws himself out the window, causing not a blink from the JSA, who are so preoccupied with giving new members Dr. MidNite and Starman three cheers, that they fail to notice the man falling to his death out the window.

But wait! There's more!

This issue of All-Star is important for one reason in particular, and that's this:

That's right. Here, with no fanfare, not even a spot on the magazine's cover, one of the most iconic female characters in the world - Wonder Woman, made her very first appearance.

"A man!" Oh, those crazy amazons.

In the story, an Amazon named Diana wins a contest of physical endurance on her home of Paradise Island and is chosen to be the champion sent to the outside world to fight for justice...and yes, live among men. Egads!