Friday, January 27, 2012

All-Star Comics #12 - "The Black Dragon Menace"

All-Star Comics #12 has a cover date of August-September 1942. A little background on what was going on in the world at the time - Gandhi was arrested in Bombay by British Forces; Walt Disney's animated film "Bambi" made its debut, six would-be German saboteurs are executed, a massive burst of cosmic rays are detected in London, and a Japanese floatplane drops incendiary devices at Mount Emily near Billings, Oregon.

Well, when you've got a story from 1942 that also happens to be titled "The Black Dragon Menace," you sort of know what you're getting into.

An old man, leading Japan's Black Dragon Society has ordered his agents to steal secret weapons from the United States - weapons that he claims Japan can duplicate for their own purposes during the war.

This says way more about the skewed view and opinions of many Americans at the time, I'm sure, than it actually does of what the Japanese are or are not capable of.

Wartime hysteria is nothing new, nor is it anything extinct. How soon after an attack or disaster of some kind in today's world do some eyebrows raise in skepticism at someone of a nationality different than theirs, or the same as those who happen to claim responsibility? It was going in full force during WWII, no doubt, and the "Black Dragon Society" seems to play right into those Golden Age wartime fears.

Historical background diversion:

The Black Dragon Society traces its roots to the turn of the century, where it was created with the goal to support the driving of the Russian Empire out of East Asia. In the 20s and 30s, they reportedly became more of a political organization against liberal and left-leaning thought, never with more than several dozen members at a time. However, it had ties to leading members of government and the military, which it gave it a bit more power and influence than other groups.

By the 30s, they moved from being directed only against Russia to having agents in various parts of the world, including Europe, the U.S., Morocco and more.

On March 27, 1942, FBI agents reportedly arrested members of the Black Dragon Society in the San Joaquin Valley, California and in the Manzanar Internment Camp a small group of pro-Imperial Japan flew Black Dragon flags and intimidated other Japanese inmates.

They officially disbanded by order of the American Occupation authorities in 1946, but was reportedly re organized as "The Black Dragon Club" in 1961.

The Society was also the featured villain in several films on the early 1940s.

We now return you to your regularly-scheduled blogging:

Well, in this tale, the American government is concerned, and asks the Justice Society of America to investigate. Fortunately for the JSA, they've got a new member in the ranks - one with the power of the gods flowing through her veins! A powerhouse rivaled only by Superman! There's no way they can lose!

Oh, wait...

Each of the JSA'ers (minus Wonder Woman) are given a scientist/invention to investigate and take off.

No, you can't go, Wonder Woman. You need to type up our last meeting's minutes and re-organize the filing cabinet.

Hawkman has to reclaim a giant spinning propeller vehicle - not a vehicle with a propeller, but just a giant propeller, before the Japanese use it to drop bombs below. Aside from getting knocked out and tied to the propeller at one point, he does so with ease, knocking the thieves out into the skies, but noting they have parachutes and "will land safely."

How can he guarantee that?

Those are some damn-well trained hawks.

Mission accomplished, Johnny Thunder's magic Thunderbolt swoops in and takes Hawkman away, claiming that Johnny is in trouble. Shocking.

The Sandman, meanwhile attempts to rescue the inventor of "Modern Greek Fire" - fire that can burn on water. The inventor is being held captive in an underground cave, but his rescue is short lived, as both he and The Sandman are soon taken captive, and given a demonstration of the "Greek Fire" by Japanese scientists. Together, Sandman and the scientist free themselves and Sandman is soon, also swept away by Johnny's magic Thunderbolt.

However, Sandman seems perfectly fine in leaving the captured U.S. Scientist alone with the man who kidnapped him in the first place...

Next up is Al Pratt, otherwise known as The Atom. I'm going to focus a little bit more on The Atom than I ever have before in one of these entries, and you'll find out why in just a few moments.

You see, The Atom has to stop a plot to blow up San Francisco, but how he stops the plot is really not anywhere near as interesting as to who he does it with...

Wait, wait. There's more. The Atom goes undercover on this case.

How undercover you ask?

Disguised as a Japanese miner, The Atom infiltrates the tunnels that are being planted with bombs and puts an end to the plot, but not before first reminding all those impressionable 1942 youth that some Japanese people are bad...but not all...

Starman's task is to reclaim American planes that have reportedly been stolen by Japanese forces and being used for their own intentions. The art by Jack Burnley, as always, is beautiful on the Starman tales, but other than the beautiful art, there isn't much to report on this chapter. Starman makes pretty quick work of the perpetrators, while spreading the "Yay! America!" Message that flows very openly throughout the tale.

A tank with a long-barreled flame thrower. That's what Dr. Fate - the man with the the power of the occult on his side is after. However, the writers seem to be weakening the once all-powerful Dr. Fate for the purposes of storytelling, as noted by this panel:

Dr. Fate is also aided in his quest by a group of Native Americans that he comes across in the desert, who seem all too eager to help.

At that time, it should be noted, there were a large amount of Native Americans who enlisted in the armed forces and fought for the United States in World War II.

The assignment for Dr. Mid-Nite reads "You are to find Dr. Stander, discoverer of the X-Ray - - we have no absolutely no clues, except that he's disappeared like the rest..."

Since the X-ray was already built by the late 1800s, and the fact that a page later, Dr. MidNIte refers to it as the "Y-ray," I think it's safe to assume that first panel was a typo.

Dr. MidNite decides that with no way to find the Black Dragon Society without a lead, he'll make them come to him, and has his owl Hooty drop a note among the missing scientist's belongings addressed to MidNite's alter ego, Dr. Charles McNider. The note references the secret ray, leading the kidnappers right to McNider.

Once kidnapped, McNider is placed in a cell with Dr. Stander, the inventor of the "Y-ray," described to Dr. MidNite as an "instrument of healing" that the villains wish to use as a "weapon of destruction." When turned on to a plant, the plant withers and dies. When the villains pull the scientist from his holding cell with plans to turn the weapon on him, Dr. MidNite makes his move, attacking the kidnappers - a fight that inadvertently turns the ray on the bad guys instead of the scientist.

With the case wrapped, Mid-Nite is about to leave when he, like all the other JSA members, are picked up by Johnny's Thunderbolt and swept away.

Meanwhile, deep in the depths of the sea, The Black Dragon Society has Charles Reagan, the inventor of "the amazing rocket-bomb" held captive in a submarine. The bomb, the scientist explains to his captors can be adjusted to hit any particular spot using magnetic forces. When the villains try to use it on Chicago, it grabs the attention of the supernatural Spectre...

The Spectre, proving once again that he is the JSA's resident bad-ass, growing to grim proportions, then decides to launch the sub into space...

The Spectre then follows the Thunderbolt to join the others in assisting Johnny. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Government has given Johnny the mission of staying out of the way. Which is probably the smartest assignment anyone has given Johnny Thunder. Can you imagine giving this guy a vital role in this case and yet making Wonder Woman take notes?! These JSA guys will go a long way to save face for the sake of male pride.

Of course, it doesn't take Johnny long to accidentally stumble across members of the Black Dragon Society, and even less time to draw attention to himself.

Naturally, the JSA show up in time to save Johnny's behind, and do so courtesy of some more, great Jack Burnley artwork.

And with the case wrapped up, all that remains is for the armed forces to take the lack Dragon Society members into custody and the JSA to file their report.

Thank goodness Wonder Woman sat around all that time to take down the notes...

Silly boys.