Monday, June 30, 2014

All-Star Comics #26 - "Vampires of the Void" or "The Mystery of the Metal Menace"

Creatures of living metal! Invasions of saucer men from outer space! It's all here in the 26th issue of All-Star Comics as the Justice Society tries to stop an alien invasion!

The cover of this book may claim "The Mystery of the Metal Menace," but once inside, we find that the story is actually titled "Vampires of the Void" and comes to us from the Fall of 1945.

It's the monthly meeting of the Justice Society and Hawkman is a bit bothered that someone hasn't shown up. That someone is a scientist whom Hawkman heard speak at a lecture and is convinced that Earth is set for an all-out invasion.

According to this scientist's theories, Hawkman explains, a ship is headed to earth from the planet and Jupiter and carrying on board, multiple inhabitants of the planet, all made of living metal and measuring 4 inches tall. It's the ship itself that concerns Hawkman, who states the metal absorbs anything it comes into contact with.

It was 1945, so scientists had yet to actually get into space and explore the planet itself as they later would with robotic spacecrafts like the early Pioneer and Voyager missions.

With what we know now, Jupiter is made up mostly of hydrogen, with a quarter of its mass being helium. It is thought to also have a rocky core of heavier elements, but Jupiter lacks a well-defined solid surface.

As radio news flashes become fast and furious, the Justice Society spread out to different parts of the globe to prevent this alien invasion.

Hawkman intervenes after a slew of four-inch robots attack a silver mine in search of 'food.' As they consume more and more silver, their metal bodies not only begin to grow, but they take on the characteristics of that mineral. Causing destruction wherever they tread, they throw even Hawkman for a loop as he tries to stop them.

The metal invaders become even deadlier when they walk through some power lines, causing their entire being to become electrically-charged, as Hawkman explains to these policeman:

Giant metal robots, surging with deadly electrical touches, making their way to cities and towns. What could possibly be done? Why, head to the bank, of course!

"Can I cash my paycheck while I'm here?"

Hawkman uses the copper pennies to thwart the electrically-charged robots, by throwing them at the robots and causing a short-circuit upon contact.

We also get this little chemistry lesson and wonderful, over-the-top intro.
Those metal monsters are now making their way into the subway systems, eating the metal that makes the tracks and pipelines running underneath the city. It runs them afoul of that Mighty Mite of a hero, The Atom. 

I'm done. Best piece of dialogue the entire issue.
The Atom does his best, but both he and the police force quickly become outnumbered and outmatched as the alien metal beasts continue to destroy, eat, and grow in strength and size. 

"I can't...outrun...them. Mustn't...stop." "Atom, long distance call for you!" "Oh, well if it's long distance, that's another story. Hello?"

The robots must have given up chasing The Atom because by the time he gets off the phone, there seems to be no sense of urgency at all. In fact, once he’s done with his call, he then goes out looking for the monsters, finding them in a jewelry store and wondering the same thing the reader does – what in the world would alien beings made of metal want with ill-gotten goods like jewelry?

We don’t get an answer because The Atom barges in and engages the beings in battle until the police show up with some “chemical mix” the Atom requested of them. The hero sprays the metal marauders with it and they slowly turn color to red and stop dead in their tracks. 

Why? We’ll let The Atom explain in this built-in chemistry lesson.

Green Lantern is on his way to a metals factory to talk with a researcher, when he finds the man almost put to death by one of the ever-growing mechanical monsters from outer space. GL saves the man and they pursue the creatures to downtown.

Those fiends! That was their plan - economic depression of a small town!
Notice anything odd about the first panel above? Green Lantern is for no explicable reason, holding onto Starman's cosmic rod.

In some instances, as Roy Thomas explains in his book, The All-Star Companion, art had been completed for this story but had to be quickly changed due to the team's new roster. That's why in this Green Lantern chapter, formerly Starman's segment of the story, you actually see him holding Starman's trademark cosmic rod in some panels, an obvious oversight by whomever had to quickly re-do the artwork after Green Lantern replaced Starman due to rights issues between the All-American Comic Company and DC Comics.

The metal monsters continue to create havoc as they eat metal across the land, which include telephone cables, leaving towns like Smithville helpless. Until Dr. MidNite arrives on the scene, of course.

Use this one next time someone asks 'when did you get here?'

The good doctor has a plan, though.How do you foil metal beings who seem unstoppable as the gobble-up the metals of Earth?

Meanwhile, an ancient, rare, gold necklace is on display at the Metropolis Museum and is the next thing on the menu for these rampaging metal beings when The Flash enters the museum and throws a fury of super-speed punches that do little to no harm. What The Flash does manage to accomplish, though, is knocking the metal aliens off their feet, causing the necklace to fly into the air and around the neck of one of the metal marauders.

Having consumed large amount of gold, turning their own metal being into gold, the invaders make their way through more items in the museum. The police and guards think the only solution may be to dynamite the metal beings. A man of science, though, The Flash has another idea.

Jay Garrick. Ever the academic.

With little regard for the human race, the beings give small consideration to the super-speed powers that Jay Garrick possesses as the Flash - a mistake that costs them dearly as The Flash quickly bends and molds the soft gold bodies of the invaders into twisted piles of gold.

Before joining up with the rest of the Justice Society, The Flash makes sure to return the gold necklace to the museum collection.

Oh, and did I mention that this entire chapter is told from the point of view of...wait for it...the necklace! Yes, the gold necklace actually is the narrator of this entire segment.

Johnny Thunder, meanwhile finds himself in the cold land of the Great North. And apparently, in 1945, people in the Great North talked like this:

Johnny uncovers the spaceship (purportedly which brought the metal beings to Earth, but it's never really stated, so we'll just take that leap) and finds that it eats not only metal, but anything, including Johnny's boot and a hill of snow. The ship, much like the metal beings plaguing the Earth earlier, gets bigger the more that it consumes. Calling upon his magic Thunderbolt, Johnny wishes for the JSA to come and help and in an instant, they're transported on scene.

Fearing that tossing it into space may just send the threat to another civilization, the JSA decides to destroy it, with Green Lantern using his ring to transport acid that eats away at the giant ship.

When the Justice Society returns to their headquarters, they find the scientist that Hawkman spoke of at the beginning of the story waiting for them. He waits, not only to speak with the JSA, but to destroy them - his body taking on all the metallic characteristics of the robots from throughout the entire affair. He uses that power to take on the entire might of the JSA, but much like they overpowered the robots, they make quick work of him.

The JSA soon learn that he summoned the robots to Earth, telling them where they could find large deposits of metal to eat if they, in turn, robbed for him and told him how to gain the characteristics of the metal like they did. Revenge was his motive, sick of being jeered at for discoveries that many found to be laughable and crazy.

Although defeated, the Justice Society takes pity on the man and decide that after he serves his time in jail, they will help set him up with a laboratory to further his experiments. Wow, talk about turning the other cheek!

An interesting story of alien robots taking on different strengths based on the metal, and in typical old-school comic fashion, we get a little lesson in each chapter about the properties of each metal. It can be hard, however, to get through the art in some of these chapters. As always, Joe Kubert's art is fantastic in the Hawkman chapter, but the rest of the book does suffer tend to suffer from lackluster illustrations.

The art in All-Star is starting to really deteriorate and it's a sign of the time period we're currently in for the book's history. Many artist came and went through the pages of this series, be it for employment reasons or because of the war. Many consider this to be a low period on JSA art, and I'd have to agree with them.

Monday, March 24, 2014

All-Star Comics #25 - "The Mystery of the Forgotten Crime"

The title page bills this "The Mystery of the Forgotten Crime" while the cover loses a few words and refers to it merely as "The Forgotten Crime."

It's written by Gardner Fox. 

The cover date for All Star Comics #25 is June 1945, which means this likely hit newsstands sometime in the Spring of '45. At that time, Hitler was celebrating his 56th birthday in the bunker in Berlin; with reports that he is in an unhealthy state, nervous, and depressed. Soon, he marries Eva Braun in that bunker and commits suicide. FDR died suddenly and Harry S. Truman moves up to become President of the United States. Germany surrenders and the war carries on with Japan until that Summer.

In All-Star Comics, the Justice Society's adventures accentuate not the war overseas anymore, but mysteries, crimes and super-villains back on U.S. soil. The world is changing, and with it, so are the fictional heroes of the WWII era.

The Justice Society enters their meeting room to find a dying man lying on the floor. Recently hit by an automobile, he says he had not memory, even of who he was, for years, until being hit by the car. Now, he says he still doesn't recall his identity but does know that a man named Rob Victor is innocent of the 20 year old murder of District Attorney Timothy Kimball.

I should note that while Wonder Woman appears on the cover of this issue, she only appears here, in the very first chapter of the story, holding a cold compress to the head of this mystery man who has shown up in the JSA headquarters. She does not even make an appearance for the story's resolution. Sadly, the mightiest member of the team, once again, is stuck playing nurse.

Jay's Friday nights before marriage.

Using items found on the man's person, the JSA set out to uncover the truth about this two-decade old crime.

With a silver belt buckle as his only clue, Hawkman tracks down its manufacturer, ‘one of the finest jewelers in the city,’ in the hopes of learning more. The jeweler tells Hawkman to investigate the person who bought him from him, by heading to the old Kimball estate, alerting some mysterious person or persons by phone that Hawkman is on his way.

There, the winged warrior is quickly ambushed by some thugs who intend to take him to a chemical plant and drop him in a vat of acid. He overcomes the men quite easily and begins looking around the estate where he finds the Kimball’s housekeeper, now old and frail. She informs Hawkman that the Rob Victor and Tim Kimball were both in love with the same woman. One night at a dinner party, Victor became quite drunk. 

Later in the evening, she and others heard a gunshot and ran into the library to find Rob Victor with a smoking gun in his hand above the dead body of Tim Kimball. The belt buckle, she says, was a gift from she to the late Tim and she has stayed on the estate to care for it and his descendants, following his death. With that, Hawkman is off.

Green Lantern, meanwhile, tracks down the lead-reporter for the murder trial all those years ago, showing him the next clue - a wallet that says "To Boots, From Doe." The reporter tells GL that 'Doe' is really Doris Black, the woman both Tim Kimball and Rob Victor loved.  The woman is still very much alive and tells Green Lantern the tale of what happened that night - that the men had fought over her, later in the evening a gunshot was heard, and Doris and the others saw Rob Victor with the smoking gun in hand.

The plot thickens...
She explains to GL that Rob wasn't quite clear of what happened, between the chaos and his drinking that night, but assumed he had committed the murder. However, in a bit of a macabre move, Rob puts Kimball's body on a boat, covers it in gasoline, sets it into the water and lights it on fire to dispose of the body.

The charred remnants of the body were found and Rob Victor was sent to jail for the crime. However, it's only after a visit to the warden that Green Lantern learns Rob Victor did not actually die in prison, but had escaped, and the rumor of his death was spread to cover the previous warden's incompetence.

The Atom is off to find Jabez Smith, the Kimballs' butler. Smith moved out to the middle of nowhere shortly after the murder it seems. The Atom's visit is interrupted by an attack by two goons who don't want the mighty mite making contact with the butler, apparently.

Who is this hooded man? The Atom's PR guy? "He's sensational!"

The Butler tells the Atom that the D.A. who was handling the case admitted that the gun belonged to Timothy Kimball's cousin, who knew the layout of the house inside and out. The Butler also lets the Atom in on the fact that there was only one bullet in the gun. The Butler tells the Atom that the District Attorney disappeared shortly after that fact came to light years ago.

Before the Atom can find out why that fact would matter, a hooded figure reaches in from the window and takes the gun, overpowering the Atom in the process.

Dr. MidNite investigates Tim Kimball's cousin, Hengast Kimball, whom he feels is the person who would have benefited the most from Kimball's death. That man, the head of oil companies, lives in a penthouse where MidNite lurks until spotting the masked figure that fought the Atom earlier. With pistol in hand, he's taking aim at Kimball's cousin until MidNite interferes. A fight ensues on the rooftop until MidNite is overpowered and the masked individual gets away.

MidNite also runs afoul of some bodyguards there to protect Kimball's cousin, who claims he didn't hear the scuffle with the masked man and tells MidNite that he blames himself for the events of that fateful night 20 years ago. He says that knowing Tim was heartbroken over Doris, he providing him would much alcohol to get through the night.

Sure. I mean, what could have wrong with this scenario?

Once again, no one saw the murder, but only heard the gunshots before running into the library to find Tim Kimball over the body of Rob Victor. So, when Dr. MidNite asks if there was any doubt, the cousin simply tells him...

No. Nothing suspicious about this man at all...

Poor Johnny Thunder just can't catch a break. Even when he does nothing but step off a trolley, he finds himself in trouble. This time, its two thugs who intentionally bump into Johnny, knock him down into puddles, then accuse him of insulting them. They take him to an empty lot to pay him back and, by tying him up, gagging him, and setting some explosives.

However, it's the mysterious masked man that has been following the JSA throughout this case that comes to Johnny's rescue, telling him he is also investigating the case and insists that Rob Victor did not kill Tim Kimball.

Of all the Justice Society members, why would this masked fellow choose to share vital information with possibly the most thick-headed JSA member? Probably because he knew he could get away whatever follows. Case in point, this delightful exchange:

The masked man corners the Kimball family and tells Johnny that they were all accomplices to Hengast Kimball, Tim's cousin, who hired the thugs to take care of the JSA as they investigated the case. The masked man also claims that it is Hengast who killed the District Attorney investigating the murder, with the D.A's body recently found following the masked man's battle with The Atom.

In over his head, Johnny calls upon his magic Thunderbolt to bring the rest of the Justice Society to him for help. The JSA compare notes of what they've found so far, but it still adds up to not much. However, The Flash decides to follow up on a lead - Big Hunk Adams, the gang czar whose thugs have been attacking the JSA up to this point.

In the chaos of this meeting, the masked man has disappeared.

The Flash checks in (or crashes in) on Big Hunk's gambling joint only to find out that Big Hunk Adams and his men were all hired for $100,000 (according to inflation calculators, that's about $1.2 million today) by Hengast Kimball to take care of the Justice Society and agree to testify to that to the authorities.  

The art in this Flash chapter is probably the low-point of the entire issue. It's credited to  Joe Gallagher and Martin Naydall. Gallagher's work in the Atom chapter and on the cover work fine, but the style somehow fails to work on a character like The Flash, I'm afraid. The style tends to look much more like Naydall than Gallagher, causing me to wonder how much of a hand Gallagher actually had in this chapter. Naydall did a bit of work on Jay Garrick's Flash series in that 1945-1946 time period. While his work is not bad, it just does not seem to be the fit for a character of super-speed like the Flash.

Possible letterer or writer error?
So far, Hengast has been the cousin,
not the brother.

Suddenly, the Justice Society has gathered all of the players into one room, where they talk out the entire case just like the ending of one of the Thin Man movies. There is no mention whatsoever as to how they rounded everyone (including the masked man) up for this. They just are there.

What is discovered is that Hengast Kimball (once again referred to as cousin, making me think the page in the Flash chapter WAS some type of error), shot his cousin, Tim while hiding out in a secret fireplace entrance all those years ago. Hengast made sure Rob Victor, who was upset over the love of his life, Doris, had plenty to drink so he wouldn't remember what happened and think himself the killer. Hengast went back through the secret entrance, joined the other party guests as they ran to the library to react to the sound of a gunshot.

Adding to the confusion of these revelations is the masked man - who is really Rob Victor, alive and older. Rob escaped from prison and has been living a life in hiding. Wait. It gets more convoluted. The man who entered JSA headquarters and couldn't remember who he was, only that Rob Victor was innocent - is none other than Tim Kimball!

His memory flowing back to him, Tim says Hengast shot him and he passed out but was not dead. He woke up on a boat that was on fire, but there was also a vagabond on that boat trying to rob him. Tim fought the vagabond off and fell in the water, and it is believed it was the vagabond's burnt body that was discovered and thought to be Tim for all these years.

You said it, Hawkman.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

All-Star Comics #24 - "This is Our Enemy!"

While All-Star Comics #24 is cover dated as the "Spring Issue" of 1945, some research shows that it was on newsstands in mid-February of that year. Of note on the cover is the fact that there is no "DC" logo, instead replaced with the logo for "All-American Comics."It seems a real-life split between DC (aka National Comics) and All-American left several issues beginning with this #24 to be published solely by All-American. That meant that former DC properties were not available for use and changes had to be made to the team roster.

That would account for why Starman is suddenly no longer a part of the team, nor is The Spectre. Instead, we have characters from All-American's stable of heroes joining the team, Wildcat and Mr. Terrific. This issue also marks the return of The Flash and Green Lantern, who had previously left the team to focus on their own solo adventures.

Mr. Terrific makes his only appearance as a JSA member in these pages. Wildcat will make just one more.

The story itself is heavily drenched in American war propaganda, and according to comics historian (and beloved writer) Roy Thomas, the story for this issue had originally been planned as "Dreams of Madness," a tale that will come to light later on in All-Star Comics #30. As it started to become evident that the war would be ending sooner rather than later, that meant "This is Our Enemy," a story that relied so much on the backdrop of WWII and fighting Germany needed to get out as soon as possible or not at all.

It involves a young man named Dick Amber, who is friends with Carter Hall, otherwise known as Hawkman. Dick has been drafted into the U.S. Services, but while he admits he loves the country he lives in, he does not believe in the U.S.'s involvement in the war. For this reason, Hawkman invites him to the Justice Society meeting, where they hope to convince Dick of the necessity of warring with Germany.

As the JSA sits around looking for a way to make their case to Dick as to why he should support the war, the Conscience of Man (remember her?) is once again awakened in her other-dimensional realm and takes an interest in this situation.

Hey everyone! Remember me?
She sends Dick and the members of the JSA along with him, through time, to experience life as a member of the German people throughout various times in history. The point, of all of this, is to 'prove' to this young man that the Germans have always been a war-hungry and monstrous people and that is why he should be in favor of going to war.

When the JSA accomplish this, the Conscience of Man fades away, and Dick Amber is more than ready to go to war.

We won't quibble over the atrocities and horrors that occurred in World War II. Those are evident.

There are moments when the JSA specifically mentions Hitler and his desires, which certainly works for the story at hand. However, as the tale runs its course, young Dick Amber is made to see that Germans, in general, have always been either war-hungry, blood-thirsty, backstabbing, or ready and willing to follow orders at the drop of a hat. It's just odd reading. I will say, though, that it's sort of disconcerting to see characters that would become such tried-and true heroes in the comics universe such as Alan Scott, The Atom, etc, trying to convince a young man that he is wrong for not wanting war and then using the entire tale to tell that man (and the young readers) how foul, vicious, bloodthirsty and war mongering an entire race is. It's a product of its times, of course, but I think you would be very hard-pressed to find something like that today.

Coming up Next, the JSA solves the mystery of "The Forgotten Crime"...