Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A-SS Action! (1)

This may come as a surprise to you, but I love comics, even more than I enjoy mocking them. My favorite super-team is the Justice Society of America, a group made up of the greatest heroes of the 1940s. So as a kid reading comics in the eighties, my favorite title was All-Star Squadron. Written and created by number one JSA fan Roy Thomas, All-Star Squadron related the adventures of the titular team, formed by President Roosevelt after the attack on Pearl Harbor, made up of every super-hero DC had the rights to (whether through creation or legal action), including all the members of the Justice Society. I've been re-reading the entire series, and it's still as fantastic as I remember.

Here's their first appearance, as a bonus feature in Justice League of America 193 (August 1981).  This interior splash-page/pseudo-cover purports to feature the Justice Society, but includes Arthurian hero the Shining Knight, who was never a member of the JSA. I was nine years old and I noticed this instantly. If web site comments sections had been around back then, oooh, the scolding I would have given.

Thomas' enthusiasm for the details of Golden Age comics bordered on the obsessive - a lot of readers have criticized his passion for including and explaining minute details from decades old comics, but I loved it.  For instance, Comic Cavalcade was published beginning in 1942, and featured solo adventures of Wonder Woman, the Flash and Green Lantern. Although the three never teamed-up inside, the covers would show them engaged together in some kind of dramatic or fun activity. Here's the cover to the first issue, dated Winter 1942-1943:

The three are in a footrace, which Wonder Woman wins by a boob. In the prequel issue of All-Star Squadron, Roy Thomas makes the race depicted on this cover part of the story.

And the artists, Rich Buckler and Jerry Ordway, use Wonder Woman's victory to show how an Amazon born and raised on an island of warrior women will nevertheless keep her armpits cleanly shaved.

I know this has been said a thousand times before, but please forgive me, every time I see her flying the invisible plane I think how strange it must look. From the way Wonder Woman is drawn and colored I can never tell if we're supposed to assume she's invisible too, or if people below see her soaring through the air in a seated position with her arms held out in front of her. I do like how Green Lantern, rather than making something with his ring for the Flash to stand on, has decided he'd rather hold hands.

"Yes. But fuck you."

Unlike the modern-day Green Lantern, whose ring is vulnerable to yellow, the original Green Lantern's ring could not be used on wood. And no joke I could make here would be better than whatever you've just come up with.

Here are three more members of the Justice Society, the Sandman, Starman and Johnny Thunder, donning their fighting togs to investigate a mysterious glowing flying pirate ship that's just sailed by Sandman's penthouse window. I stare at this panel and wonder why Sandman and Starman put their cowls on before taking off their dress shirts, and how awkward that must have been since the cowls seem to be attached to the costume shirts they were wearing underneath. Did they dig them out from underneath their collars? Did Johnny help? Even without that deft maneuvering, it must be a little socially awkward when danger threatens and they say they'd better check it out or this is a job for the Justice Society or something and then they all stand around taking off their pants. There's probably a good five minutes between panels of them not saying anything and avoiding eye contact. Johnny must feel extra strange waiting for them to finish, since he just wears clothes. (Ugly clothes, but clothes.)

Johnny Thunder had no powers himself, but he could command a magic thunderbolt, who appeared as a muscular naked pink dude. Johnny rode him like a horse. Johnny was my favorite.

Our heroes are handed an embarrassing defeat by the Sky Pirate, a C-list villain at best. Sandman should be particularly ashamed. See those guns on his belt? One of them is a gas gun. He's been defeated by the same kind of weapon he uses. In fact, putting criminals to sleep with his gas gun is his whole shtick - that's why he's the "Sandman".   Bet he's missing the gas mask he used to wear as part of his original costume. "Oh, THAT'S why I wore that thing. Right. I stopped wearing it because it was hot. Did not think ahead."

Here's our next Society member, Doctor Fate, with his live-in girlfriend Inza (the forties were not as prudish as you might think, kids). She's not usually as much of a nag as she seems to be here. "I thought you said you defeated Wotan forever? And what about that promotion you said was in the bag, huh? My sister's husband bought her a penthouse on Park Avenue and I'm stuck in a creepy magic tower in Salem." "Yes, dear."

Meanwhile, the world's finest heroes are in a bit of a predicament - a predicament that may look a little familiar. Superman, Batman and Robin (or their Golden Age variants) are fighting Professor Zodiac, another little-remembered villain from the dawn of funny books. He uses alchemy for such nefarious purposes as making heroes into infants and putting their gloves on the wrong hands. How will Superman avenge his buddies?

Wow. Did not see that coming.

Oh. Never mind.

"Earth-2" is the name retroactively given to the world of the Justice Society. After their original title, All Star Comics, was cancelled, the superhero genre went quiet for a while. In the late fifties and early sixties, DC started reintroducing a bunch of their old superhero titles, starring all new characters using the names of the classic heroes. After these new heroes teamed up as the Justice League of America, it was decided that they lived on Earth-1 and their predecessors, the Justice Society, lived on a parallel world called Earth-2. And that's all you need to know to understand that orange narration box in the corner.

This trio of heroes is Hawkman, Doctor Mid-Nite and the Atom. Hawkman's comment - "Quite a sight, eh, Doc..." - is staggeringly insensitive given that Doctor Mid-Nite is blind. He wears special goggles of his own invention that let him see normally, but his only super-power is that he can see in the dark. So his primary super-power is that he's blind but has the power to see, which is a bit of a wash as far as super-powers go. I guess it beats the Atom, whose whole super-hero gimmick is that he's kind of short. (It's the Earth-1 Atom who does the shrinking bit.) I'm starting to see why Hawkman hangs out with them - if flight is your only super-power, you probably feel a little insecure around Superman and Doctor Fate.

And that's what I've got say about "issue zero" of All-Star Squadron. More Golden Age action to come!


  1. I love your blogs. I LOVE THEM. The End.

  2. Thanks! The blogging has been slow lately, but I'm hoping to get back into the swing of it.