Tuesday, May 28, 2013

All-Star Comics #20 - "A Movie that Changed a Man's Life"

In the world at the time this issue had hit the stands - Britain's Royal Air Force has suffered major losses during an air raid on Nuremberg, the United Negro College Fund is formed in the United States and the Armed Forces were prepping for what would in just a few months become known as D-Day.

A lot of people look at these old Golden Age tales as lame or corny, but when I read these, I see a burst of creative absurdity hidden beneath the pages. It's as though writers Gardner Fox and Sheldon Mayer just through anything they ever knew out the window and let their imaginations run amok....and I love it.

This particular story, from the Spring 1944 issue of All-Star Comics is no exception to that category. I really think it ranks up there as one of the weirdest adventures of the Justice Society I've read yet.

A noted businessman, Jason L. Rogers, has put an ad in the paper soliciting the help of the Justice Society. They respond by inviting him to their latest meaning to explain his plight, which is that he is being plagued by a criminal known only as "The Monster," robbing banks, dynamiting factories, and more.

The Monster isn't the only problem plaguing Mr. Rogers, though. In his younger days, Rogers had a hobby of photography, and enjoyed splicing together home films. However, after showing the home films to his wife, she suddenly collapsed and died. When he showed the films at his club, he lost all his friends. Life became so bad that Rogers was forced to move to a new city and begin a new life, but was plagued by The Monster, who began plaguing Rogers in his old town and continues to do so today.

When you see the ring, seven days later, you die...

The Monster wreaks havoc wherever he goes. Sometimes it's extortion, threatening to blow up a dam and kill thousands. Other times it's a bit more gruesome and intricate, such as causing a noted surgeon to lose his license, thus making him desperate and susceptible to crime. Together they kidnap wealthy men, disfiguring them and then charging a hefty fee to put them back to normal. 

I'm sure I get the same reaction when I make comic book pitches.

Oddly enough, the only member of the Justice Society who seems to stand a chance against The Monster is Johnny Thunder, or more precisely, Johnny's magical Thunderbolt. Whereas most of the stories in this issue deal with The Monster temporarily taking out the hero, or distracting them long enough to make a getaway, this chapter actually has The Monster getting a severe smackdown from the genie-like Thunderbolt and heading for the hills as fast as he can.

When the JSA reconvenes with Jason Rogers, they admit a sense of defeat. While they may have stopped the Monster's machinations, they've yet to bring in the villain himself. Seemingly unconcerned about the matter, Rogers once again brings up his home movie that seems to result in the loss of his friends and loved ones. When he tries to show the JSA, the film appears blank, causing Rogers to excuse himself to try a chemical treatment in his darkroom.

However, Rogers does not return from the dark room for an hour, rousing the suspicion of the heroes...eventually.

"Hey, this guy who's commissioned us to solve these mysteries has disappeared for an hour. Should we be worried? Nah, let's have some more punch."

When the Justice Society finally realizes that they might want to check out the dark room, they find Rogers gone but none other than the Monster there in his place. One by one, the villain takes out the surprised mystery men, explaining along the way that Rogers had stolen his body. Before he can explain more, The Monster pulls out a small ray gun that is quickly turned on himself.

You can almost here the instrumental 'dun dun dunnn'

As the Monster lie dying, the JSA decide now is a good time to look at the film that Rogers was treating. What they find are images of Rogers transforming into the Monster. It turns out the two shared one body, something, as always, Dr. MidNite condescendingly explains.

Know it all.

As he exhales his last breaths, The Monster begins to transform back to Jason Rogers, who now feels at peace with his soon to be extinguished existence, taking solace in the fact that The Monster will no longer plague the world.

Now, one might wonder how a group of heroes like the JSA might feel about this man, whose life was tragically shared with a villain he could not defeat, dying in their arms...they're not as compassionate as you might think.

"This man is dying in front of us! Meeting adjourned!"

I can't summarize this issue without making note of the one-page Green Lantern story / public service announcement that promotes the conservation of paper during wartime. I'm not quite sure if it's the charm of the period-problem of war rationing, or the effort to try and understand what was being said through Doiby Dickles thick accent, but it's just one of those things that serves as a nice, nostalgic reminder of what was going on in the world when these stories came out.

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the American Government asked citizens to collect and salvage a myriad of items that could be used toward the war effort. It wasn't just paper. That list also included types of metal that could be used for aircraft production, rubber (since Southeast Asia had been a major supplier of the substance before the war), silk stockings, and cooking fat, which could be used as the base material for soap, candles, paints, artificial rubber, synthetic resin and much more. Not to mention, glycerin in fat was a key ingredient in explosives.

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