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.