Friday, June 29, 2012

All-Star Comics #14 - "Food for Starving Patriots"

At the latest meeting of the Justice Society, the group's chairman, Hawkman, is taking the bull by the horns and pushing the group to make it their next mission to deliver food to patriots fighting back in Nazi-occupied countries. It doesn't take much convincing over the two page introduction for the other JSA members to get on board, and soon, each member is given a stash of "food capsules," containing a complete dinner that can be made real with a supplementary solution. Think of it as a precursor to dehydrated food.

And so, with these narrative words, there mission begins:

"Thus from 'the land of the free and home of the brave' the gallant members of the Justice Society hit the danger trail...a trail that will lead them thousands of perilous miles over war-torn and famished Europe!"

While not directly tying into this story, just for background, it's important to note that as anyone read this tale back in late 1942, in the real world, the year had already seen Japanese-Americans relocated to concentration camps, German air raids against cathedral cities in Britain, mass murders via gassing at Auschwitz, the Battle of Stalingrad, and orders by Hitler to execute any captured British commandos. That was the summer and fall leading up to when this story was likely in the hands of readers.

Hawkman finds himself in France, where he finds patriots trying to fight back against their Nazi oppressors, and offers them plenty of food to fill their stomachs as they resist the German invaders.

In Poland, freedom fighters are hoping to prey upon superstition and are dressed in the chain-link armor of their forefathers in the middle ages. Too tired to go on with their attempts, Starman gives them an energy boost with a few of the food capsules, and a little help with his anti-gravity rod.

A convoy of Nazi trucks roll through the stone streets of Holland as a cloaked figure moves near them, offering directions that send the trucks downward into the Zuyder Zee, a shallow bay of the North Sea in the northwest of the Netherlands.

Realizing they have been tricked, the Nazis take the robed figure and throw them into a jail cell. Apparently, they never bothered to take the hood off of their prisoner, or they would have discovered it to be The Atom, who got himself captured in order to find other prisoners and freedom fighters in need of food.

The Atom - super hero, mental child abuser.

Once the Dutch Patriots are fed, and those imprisoned are set free, The Atom helps the Dutch in their secret mission to get maps and plans to the British air troops, and by tale's end, a few Nazi hangars are targets of the British bombers.

Dr. Fate has Hitler on edge after an old woman finds his name in tea leaves, and it sends ol' Adolf into a tizzy.

As Hitler becomes more paranoid about the presence of the supernatural Dr. Fate in Germany, the good doctor is working on freeing men who are held captive in one Germany's concentration camps. I believe this is the first time in All-Star Comics (and this issue is from late 1942) that we've seen the presence of the very real concentration camps where so many were taken under the Third Reich, and scores were killed.

Dr. Fate breaks into one of these camps and feeds its starving prisoners. However, instead of setting them free, he instead develops a plan with those prisoners forced to work on Nazi weapons to sabotage their work.

Why a being with the power of the universe at his fingertips didn't eradicate the concentration camps and teleport everyone to safety remains a bit of a mystery.

When some Nazi troops uncover the sabotage (and Dr. Fate who stuck around to oversee it, apparently), a fight ensue, with Fate easily overpowering the Nazis, and taking them far, far away.

Yet, somehow, carrying all the prisoners OUT of the camps never occurred to him. Apparently when you have all that magic power, you overlook the obvious sometimes.

Dr. Mid-Nite, meanwhile, finds himself in Norway, where peering through a window, he comes across a site that unnerves him.

Dr. Mid-Nite goes to Toy Fair.

Searching for the leader of the Norwegian Underground Army, and when he shows the leader and his followers the food capsules, they quickly take Mid-Nite into their confidence and show them his invention of a missile that always finds its mark, even when a submarine or ship moves out of range. His family fearful that he will be killed if he tries to get his inventions to the Allied Nations, the Underground Army Leader, also known as Eric, has remained in oppressed Norway with his inventions.

That is until Dr. Mid-Nite convinced the man to leave the country for the sake of the war, leaving his family and wife behind. You're probably wondering how this type of ultra-sensitive news will be broken to Eric's wife and children. Dr. Mid-Nite's solution? By owl.

The weirdest Dear John letter ever.

So, leaving his family behind in an oppressed country, with food capsules, Eric sets sail with Dr. Mid-Nite to lands far away.

On a hidden airplane hangar somewhere south of Brussels, the grim and ghostly figure of The Spectre haunts the skies , and when he comes across an execution attempt by some Nazi soldiers, he springs into action, growing to gigantic proportions and scaring the bejeezus out of the Axis soldiers.

While he delivers food capsules to the starving people of Belgium, The Spectre spends much of this tale just stepping back, hoping to "inspire" the local people that they, too, can rise up against their oppressors and do their part "in the good fight."

And step back he does, watching as the humans control their own destiny on this one.

Oh, Johny Thunder. With a mission to feed the Czech Patriots, he's already off to a bad starts when he stops the first person he meets and asks them if they know where the Patriots are. And that person just happens to be a uniformed Nazi soldier.

How'd this guy get in the Justice Society again?

Through his own dumb luck (isn't that always the way with Johnny), he stumbles into a restaurant that has closed because they have no food to serve. So, Johnny breaks out one of his food capsules to tide himself over, to the amazement of the starving restauranteur, who quickly seizes the meal, just as some Nazi soldiers want to seize him...AND the food.

However, it is through this stroke of luck that Johnny discovers the Czech Patriots, who have been hiding out under the restaurant, making plans to strike against Nazis.Johnny's plan for the patriots is to "pretend" they're having accidents when around the Nazis (i.e. tripping, bumping into them, etc), and pick-pocketing any plans the Nazis may have on their person. Johnny then summons his magic Thunderbolt to have those plans delivered to the RAF.

The plan goes fairly smoothly until a raid on the Czech Patriots' headquarters by the Nazis. In order to calm his nerves, Johnny lights a cigarette, and the Nazis suddenly surrender. Once the Nazi's are trussed up, Johnny learns why - he was lighting his cigarette while standing next to the highly flammable material used for incendiary bombs.

A Nazi Captain is experiencing haunting dreams that involve Sandman, along with his sidekick, Sandy the Golden Boy. This is the first time Sandy's made an appearance with the JSA, and personally, I prefer my Sandman stories solo. Then again, I prefer my Sandman in gas mask and trench coat instead of yellow and purple tights, so what are you going to do?

The Nazi Captain has every right to be fearful of his dreams, as even as he awakens, Sandman and Sandy have derailed a Nazi train, and brought food capsules to freedom fighters in Greece

Here's where Sandman's plan gets a bit...weird. After publicly derailing the train, and beating their way through Nazi soldiers, Sandman and sandy tel the Nazi Captain that they have decided to switch allegiances.

Yes. Yes they are fooling you.

And in roughly four panels, with very little persuasive word, Sandman and Sandy have somehow convinced the Nazis that they've switched sides. With no challenges put forth to test their allegiances, they're accepted into the fold, so much so, in fact that with a mere friendly wave, they bid the captain adieu and ask him to send out a message via the Propaganda Broadcasting Office.

Surprise, surprise. The message was really a coded message that let American Intelligence Officers know where an invasion was taking place so that they could stop it. Oh, and Hitler makes an appearance before the chapter's end:

Their individual missions completed, the Justice Society reconvenes, and gives themselves a large round of back patting, except for Johnny Thunder, who's starving and decides to gorge on food capsules, leading to this bizarre exchange with Wonder Woman:

So, not only do they now let her be a full-fledged member of the group, but they also make her watch over the most useless member of the organization? Sheesh, they might as well have made her Den Mother.

Of course, all those food capsules are useless without the solution to make the food solid, which then inspires this brilliant move by Johnny Thunder:

And with that, this JSA adventure comes to a close.

On a historical note, a running theme throughout each story in this issue was the "RAF Bombers," either in mention or action as the planes took down Nazi hangars. In case you're wondering, the RAF stands for Britain's Royal Air Force. If this issue is dated for Dec 1942 - Jan 1943, it likely was on newsstands some months before, at which point, in the real world, the Allies had agreed upon a strategy where Americans would bomb during the day and the RAF at night.

Next up, something I've been looking forward to - the JSA's first encounter with a full-fledged super-villain -"The Brain Wave!" Stay tuned...

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