Saturday, April 16, 2011

All-Star Comics #10 - "The Case of the Bomb Defense Formula"

A group of America's top scientists are hard at work on a formula that would protect the country from air bombings (obviously a very real and looming threat when this story was published in 1942. So, when a group of gangster storm into the laboratory wanting the scientist's work for themselves, the eggheads are lucky that a few members of the JSA are nearby (for reasons unexplained) to help them.

The other members are gathered and Chairman of the Board Hawkman decides its in the best interest of the country and the JSA to protect the scientists, including one who claims he has built a "time ray' that can zap people into different time periods. Now, if he was able to successfully create that, you'd think the war might already be over, but I digress.

Struck by inspiration, Johnny Thunder suggests the JSA go into the far future where future-scientists are bound to have discovered the "anti-air-bombing formula." They all agree, and leaving the scientists under the watchful eye of Green Lantern, the team heads into the far future, courtesy of the time ray.

The JSA stumbling into the scientists lab at just the right time to stop the gangsters, I'll buy it. The anti-air bombing formula, a long stretch, even by 1940s standards, but given the fear that surrounded the war at the time, especially for children, I would imagine, I'll buy that too.

But I still have a hard time swallowing how Hawkman summoned the rest of the team...

I wonder how long those lessons took. Do you think Dr. MidNite's owl, Hooty, got jealous?

So, Hawkman arrives in the future, where he is very quickly arrested as a suspected spy. No one believes he is truly Hawkman, who, along with the other members of the Justice Society, are revered as the greatest heroes of all time. Briefly imprisoned, Hawkman escapes and goes to the one place one would look to find out where the anti-air-bombing formula is hidden.

The library? No. The hall of records? No. Quickly! To the Televisabrary. Try saying that five times fast. Heck, try saying that at all.

"All the records are kept via television!" Oh, I love the 30s-40s view of the future.

Hawkman watches a girl talk into a mic asking for the current population of New York City in the year 2442, to which a magic mirror-like television screen displays a man who gives her the answer of 50,700,000 people. Just to note, the population of NYC in 2011 during the last census numbers is 8,175,133. So if you like over population now, just wait another 431 years, Big Apple!

Talking to the television, Hawkman learns the formulas for anti-bombing defense have been hidden in various points across the globe, conveniently enough, in just as many places as there are Justice Society members searching for them. So, after a brief scuffle with the future-police, Hawkman meets up with his colleagues, stealing some flying contraptions in the process, for those heroes who can't fly on their own.

The first up to give these flying contraptions a try is The Sandman - although a regular reader would quickly note that Sandman has ditched his classy suit, hat, and gas mask look for a more cliche superhero tights ensemble of yellow and purple. No reason is given within the story for the sudden design change, but editorially it was the work of writer Mort Weisinger and artist Paul Norris and occurred shortly before comic legends Jack Kirby and Joe Simon took over the character.

Sandman's mission in the year 2442 is to get the second piece of the anti-bombing formula and bring it back to WWII era scientists. He stumbles upon a group of miners who are taking a break from their duties for a little exercise through the air.

Sandman and the mystery on Fire Island

Stealing a pair of clothes from the now half-naked, miners, Sandman disguises himself and heads into the mine, where he is put to work at an underground area that houses 'the chamber of manuscripts.'

I'd say without any prior knowledge of where he was to even begin looking for the formula, Sandman's luck pretty much saw him through this one. It doesn't take long before the other miners become suspect and the Sandman finds himself in a rush to overpower the miners while still copying down the formula in the chamber. Upon his success, Sandman flies out of the mine, determined to make his way back to 1942 and leaving the future-era miners in awe of having encountered a hero from hundreds of years in the past.

Though not a single one asked where his gas mask was...

The Atom's quest takes him to a land of giants - because if you want to send someone to the land of giants, naturally, you send the teammate who is already known for how small he is. Needless to say, it isn't long before The Atom gets captured and placed in a bird cage as someone's pet.

What saves the mighty mite? Is it keen thinking and intellect? The brawn that comes with years of training and fighting wartime criminals alongside the Justice Society?


Finally, those months of bird-speaking lessons from Hawkman pay off.

Once he escapes, the Atom easily finds his piece of the anti-bombing formula and heads back to 1942 to meet up with the rest of his teammates.

Starman, meanwhile, has been sent to the section of the U.S. that has now become a virtual kingdom of giant trees - "the great redwoods grown to giant-size," as the hero puts it.

Like some of his colleagues, Starman is recognized as wearing the costume of a great hero of history and immediately thought to be a loon. So, the authorities take away his gravity rod and incarcerate him - in a glass bubble. Not just any glass bubble, but one that is hanging between two rocky cliffs.

Obviously, the highly-advanced architects of the future didn't give any thought to this failed jail setup.

Naturally, Starman escapes from the glass bubble and secures his portion of the secret anti-bombing formula before returning to 1942.

Dr. Fate enters a portion of the United States that, in the future, is primarily under water. (Sorry, too soon for any off-color natural disaster jokes) There, he befriends a young guardsman, who believes the hero that he is the Dr. Fate of historical record, and even shows him the great statues erected to he and his super-hero brethren as legends of history.

The young man and his wife gladly share what they know of the anti-bombing formula with the mystical Dr. Fate, which is contained in an information system not unlike today...

"We here in the future call it wikipedia!"

So, Dr. Fate sets out to find the formula, which is hidden many fathoms below the sea. Now, ordinarily, you would think an all powerful being like Dr. Fate would snap his fingers and teleport to the formula...or make it teleport to him. But, apparently that's just not as much fun, as Dr. Fate instead borrows a specially-made diving suit invented by the young man and sets out underwater to find the formula.

He finds it, all right, and then quickly heads back to 1942.

Part of being a super-hero apparently means having no regard for the SPECIALLY MADE suit you just borrowed from someone and left in the ocean. Mystical jerk.

Dr. MidNite finds himself headed to future's "City of Knowledge," located in the former lands of Egypt's deserts. The Sphinx and pyramids appear to have survived anything that occurred in the hundreds of years since 1942, but a civilization has been built, literally, around them.

It is here that Dr.MidNite - and Hooty, because who would go to the future and NOT bring their pet owl - ask about where they might find the shrine of science, which is where the anti-bombing formula is kept.

Like many of his fellow Justice Society colleagues discovered, claiming to be the original Dr. MidNite gets him sent straight to the loony bin, where the only thing that saves him is when a high-powered official (apparently in a non-psychiatric wing) needs a surgery that "only the legendary Dr. MidNite could perform."

Yes, that's right. Despite hundreds of years of science and medical development, there is only one man in history who can perform this surgery, and he just happens to have been locked in the psychiatric wing. Makes you wonder just how many other people have died when no one could operate on them.

Hospital staff tries to stop him, but Dr. MidNite, with some assistance from Hooty, manages to perform the surgery, while keeping the orderlies at bay.

Thank god they also committed Hooty to the asylum, right?

Having saved the man's life, the doctors all somehow seem convinced that this must be the real Dr. MidNite, and tell him exactly where to find the secret Shrine of Science, where the formula is kept. It is deep within the catacombs of the pyramid that MidNite finds the secret formula, along with some criminals who have followed him. It seems for all the advancement of the future, crime still exists. It's only how they deal with criminals that has evolved.

Your tax dollars at work.

And with the formula in hand and the criminals vanquished, Dr. MidNite (and Hooty) head back to 1942.

The Spectre's missing piece of the formula is hidden away on a planet called "Ultima," which, as the caption box points out - "hasn't yet been discovered in 1942." In his earthly guise as Detective Jim Corrigan, The Spectre hitches a ride on a rocket (portrayed as the future equivalent of a taxi) to the planet Ultima. Along the way, though, he eavesdrops on two men who plan on using a new type of ray gun to take over the planet.

His 'better plan' involves taking the place of a high priest on Ultima, letting himself get shot by the would-be assassins, and then taking them out. So, your great plan is just delaying the destruction of these criminals for another few pages? Got it.

Naturally, in gratitude, the high priest lets the Spectre take a copy of the secret formula.

Johnny Thunder is up next. Man, have I come to dislike having to make my way through these Johnny Thunder chapters. In typical Johnny fashion, he's been given wings that malfunction, and so he spends the first part of his adventure flying around backwards bumping into guardsmen on accident.

Yes, folks, this was one of the original members of history's first super-hero team. Apparently, requirements were not all that high in the 1940s.

Johnny gets duped by some future guardsmen who are looking to have some fun at his expense, and sent off to take care of "Black Butch," a troll-like being who lives in a cave. To the surprise of all the law enforcement officers, Johnny takes down Black Butch, albeit with the help of his magical thunderbolt, and in return, secures his part of the anti-bombing formula.

He then heads back to 1942, flying backwards, because even with the power of a magical genie at his command, he still can't figure out how to put the wings on straight.

Once the entire team returns to 1942 (only minutes after they left), the group of scientists gets right to work on the anti-bombing formula.

"Just some common, every day household items. This should be a jiff!"

Once the scientists get their device created, they decide it's time to test it out - and what better way than just dropping some bombs.

I really don't think that's the time for puns, Dr. Fate.

Well, apparently the device worked, and the JSA suggests getting the new anti-bombing raid device into the weapons archives of the U.S. Government.

The "weapons archives" of the government? Why do I keep getting the feeling I've seen that place before...(cue the John Williams' Indiana Jones theme)

Overall, the story had the rah-rah-rah U.S. Democracy that was typical of many of the early Justice Society stories of the times. It was an entertaining, if not always interesting take on the future, with the idea of the world split off not into countries, but into almost tribal-like societies - air, underground, underwater, etc.

It sticks to the classic JSA story structure of once again setting up a story framework and then having the team split-up so each member gets their own solo story. I understand that time was a factor here, too, but did it really make sense, other than from the standpoint of ease for the writer (Gardner Fox), to have one team member handle infiltrating an entire civilization on his own? You'd think the combined might of the JSA might have helped wrap this case up a little faster.

Anyway, a side note as we look both ahead at future issues, and back to the past over the course of JSA history.

For those following along, in about two dozen issues, we'll meet a super-villain named Per Degaton who will become a recurring nemesis to the Justice Society. Some time in the 1980s, writers decided to ret-con (retroactive continuity) the story of Per Degaton, and re-wrote that he was, in fact, a lab assistant to the team of scientists in this story. In this original edition, he is no where to be found, but as later writers cherry pick and add and subtract, it's an interesting notion to mention.

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