JSA All Star Archives volume 1


By John Wentworth, Ken Fitch, Bill O’Connor, Sheldon Mayer, Charles Reizenstein, Bill Finger, Stan Aschmeier, Bernard Baily, Ben Flinton & Leonard Sansone, Howard Purcell, Hal Sharp and Irwin Hasen (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1472-2

After the actual invention of the comicbook superhero – indisputably the Action Comics debut of Superman in June 1938 – the most significant event in the industry’s history was the combination of individual sales-points into a group.

Thus what seems blindingly obvious to us with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was proven: consumers couldn’t get enough of garishly-hued mystery men and combining a multitude of characters inevitably increases readership. Plus, of course, a mob of superheroes is just so much cooler than one…or one-and-a-half if there’s a sidekick involved…

It cannot be understated: the creation of the Justice Society of America in 1941 utterly changed the shape of the budding industry. However before that team of all-stars could unite they had to become popular enough to qualify and this superb hardcover sampler gathers the debut adventures of a septet of beloved champions who never quite made it into the first rank but nonetheless scored enough to join the big team and maintain their own solo spots for much of the Golden Age of American Comics.

Whilst the most favoured of the 1940s stalwarts have all won their own DC Archive collections in the past, this particular tome bundles a bunch of lesser lights – or at least those who never found as much favour with modern fans and revivalists – and features the first five appearances of seven of the JSA’s secondary mystery men: all solid supporting acts in their own anthology homes who were potentially so much more…

Gathered here are short, sharp and stirring tales from Flash Comics #1-5, Adventure Comics #48-52, All-American Comics #19-29 and Sensation Comics #1-5 collectively spanning January 1940 to May 1942 and all preceded by Golden Age aficionado and advocate Roy Thomas’ sparkling, informative and appreciative Foreword.

The vintage vim and vigour begins with a character equally adored and reviled in modern times. Johnny Thunderbolt as he was originally dubbed was an honest, well-meaning, courageous soul who was also a grade “A” idiot. However, what he lacked in smarts he made up for with sheer luck, unfailing pluck and the unconscious (at least at first) control of an irresistible magic force.

The series was played for action-packed laughs but there was no getting away from it: Johnny was quite frankly, a simpleton in control of an ultimate weapon – an electric genie…

John Wentworth & Stan Aschmeier introduced the happy sap in ‘The Kidnapping of Johnny Thunder’ from the first monthly Flash Comics (#1, January 1940) in a fantastic origin which detailed how decades before, the infant seventh son of a seventh son was abducted by priests from the mystic island of Badhnisia to be raised as the long-foretold controller of a fantastic magical weapon, all by voicing the eldritch command “Cei-U” – which sounds to western ears awfully like “say, you”…

Ancient enemies on the neighbouring isle of Agolea started a war before the ceremonies and indoctrination could be completed however and at age seven the lad, through that incomprehensible luck, was returned to his parents to be raised in the relative normality of the Bronx.

Everything was fine until Johnny’s 17th birthday when the ancient rite finally came to fruition and amid bizarre weather conditions the Badhnisians intensified their search for their living weapon…

By the time they tracked him down he was working in a department store and had recently picked up the habit of expleting the phrase “say you” which generally resulted in something very strange happening. One example being a bunch of strange Asiatics attacking him and being blown away by a mysterious pink tornado…

The pattern was set. Each month Johnny would look for gainful employment, stumble into a crime or crisis and his voluble temperament would result in an inexplicable unnatural phenomenon that would solve the problem but leave him no better off. It was a winning theme that lasted until 1947 – by which time the Force had resolved into a wisecracking thunderbolt-shaped genie – and Johnny was slowly ousted from his own strip by sexy new crimebuster Black Canary

Flash Comics #2 featured ‘Johnny Becomes a Boxer’. After stepping in to save a girl from bullies, Daisy Darling became his girlfriend and he became the Heavyweight Champion, leading to his implausibly winning the fixed contest ‘Johnny versus Gunpowder Glantz’ in #3. Only now Daisy refused to marry a brute who lived by hitting others…

The solution came in ‘Johnny Law’ when kidnappers tried to abduct Daisy’s dad. Following his sound thrashing of the thugs Johnny then joined the FBI at his babe’s urging…

This tantalising taste of times past concludes with ‘G-Man Johnny’ (#5 May 1940) as the kid’s first case involves him in a bank raid which resulted in his own father being taken hostage…

Although he eventually joined the JSA, and despite the affable, good-hearted bumbling which carried him through the war, the peace-time changing fashions found no room for a hapless hero anymore and when he encountered a sultry masked female Robin Hood who stole from crooks, the writing was on the wall. Nevertheless the fortuitously imbecilic Johnny Thunder is fondly regarded by many modern fans and still has lots to say and a decidedly different way of saying it…

Hourman by Ken Fitch & Bernard Baily was a far more serious proposition and actually had his shot at stardom, beginning by supplanting The Sandman as cover feature on Adventure Comics #48 (March 1940). Here his exploits run through issue #52 (July) establishing the unique and gripping methodology which made him such a favourite of later, more sophisticated fans…

In an era where origins were never as important as action, mood and spectacle, ‘Presenting Tick-Tock Tyler, the Hour-Man’ begins with a strange classified ad offering aid and assistance to any person in need. Chemist Rex Tyler had invented “Miraclo” a drug which super-energised him for 60 minutes at a time and his first case saw him help a wife whose man was being dragged back into criminal endeavours by poverty and bad friends…

‘The Disappearance of Dr. Drew’ found him locating a missing scientist kidnapped by thugs whilst ‘The Dark Horse’ saw the Man of the Hour crush a crooked and murderous bookie who had swiped both horse and owner before a key race.

Mad science and a crazy doctor employing ‘The Wax-Double Killers’ then added a spooky component of scary thrills and super-villain cachet for the timely hero to handle, whilst ‘The Counterfeit Hour-Man’ – which concludes the offerings here – saw our hero again battling Dr. Snegg in a scurrilous scheme to frame the hooded hero.

Hourman always looked great and his adventures developed into a tight and compulsive feature, but he never really caught on and faded out at the beginning of 1943 (#83). Perhaps all the current the buzz over the forthcoming TV series can revive his fortunes and finally make him a star in his own right…

Our next second string star is Calvin College student Al Pratt, a diminutive but determined lad who got fed up with being bullied by jocks and became a pint-sized, two-fisted mystery man ready for anything.

The Mighty Atom was created by writer Bill O’Connor and rendered by Ben Flinton & Leonard Sansone, beginning in All-American Comics #19. He was one of the longest lasting of the Golden Age greats, transferring from All-American to Flash Comics in February 1947 and sporadically appearing until the last issue (Flash #104, February 1949). He was last seen in the final JSA tale in All Star Comics#57 in 1951.

The tales here span #19-23 (October 1940-February 1941) and begin by ‘Introducing the Mighty Atom’ as the bullied scholar hooks up with down-and-out trainer Joe Morgan whose radical methods soon have the kid in the very peak of physical condition and well able to take care of himself.

However, when Al’s intended girlfriend Mary is kidnapped the lad eschews fame and potential sporting fortune to bust her loose and decides on a new extra-curricular activity…

He fashioned a costume for his second exploit, going into ‘Action at the College Ball’ to foil a hold-up and then tackled ‘The Monsters from the Mine’ who were enslaved by a scientific mania intent on conquest. The college environment offered many plot opportunities and in ‘Truckers War’ the Atom crushed a gang of hijackers who had bankrupted a fellow student and football star’s father. This snippet of atomic episodes concludes here with ‘Joe’s Appointment’ as the trainer was framed for spying by enemy agents and need a little atomic aid…

Although we think of the Golden Age as a superhero wonderland, the true watchword was variety and flagship anthology All-American Comics offered everything from slapstick comedy to aviation adventure on its four-colour pages.

One of the very best humour strips featured the semi-autobiographical exploits of Scribbly Jibbet, a boy who wanted to draw. Created by genuine comics wonder boy Sheldon Mayer, Scribbly: Midget Cartoonist debuted in the first issue (April 1939) and soon built a sterling rep for himself beside star reprint features like Mutt and Jeff and all-new adventure serial Hop Harrigan, Ace of the Airways.

However the fashions of the time soon demanded a humorous look at mystery men and in #20 (November 1940) Mayer’s long-term comedy feature evolved into a delicious spoof of the trend as Scribbly’s formidable landlady Ma Hunkel decided to do something about crime in her neighbourhood by dressing up as a husky male hero.

‘The Coming of the Red Tornado’ saw her don cape, woollen long-johns and a saucepan for a mask/helmet to crush gangster/kidnapper Tubb Torponi. The mobster had made the mistake of snatching her terrible nipper Sisty and Scribbly’s little brother Dinky (they would later become her masked sidekicks) and Ma was determined to see justice done…

An ongoing serial rather than specific episodes, the dramedy concluded in ‘The Red Tornado to the Rescue’ with the irate, inept cops then deciding to pursue the mysterious new vigilante but the ‘Search for the Red Tornado’ only made them look more stupid.

With the scene set for outrageous parody ‘The Red Tornado Goes Ape’ pitted the parochial masked manhunter against a zoo full of critters before this superb selection ends with ‘Neither Man nor Mouse’ (All-American Comics #24) as the hero apparently retires and crime returns… until Dinky and Sisty become the Cyclone Kids

A far more serious and sustainable contender debuted in the next issue, joining a growing host of grim masked avengers.

‘Dr. Mid-Nite: How He Began’ by Charles Reizenstein & Aschmeier (All-American Comics #25, April 1941) revealed how surgeon Charles McNider was blinded by criminals but subsequently discovered he could see perfectly in the dark. The maimed physician became an outspoken criminologist but also devised blackout bombs and other night paraphernalia to wage secret war on gangsters from the darkness, aided only by his new pet owl Hooty

After catching his own assailant he then smashed river pirates protected by corrupt politicians in ‘The Waterfront Mystery’ and then rescued innocent men blackmailed into serving criminals’ sentences in jail in ‘Prisoners by Choice’ (#27 and guest illustrated by Howard Purcell).

With Aschmeier’s return Mid-Nite crushed aerial wreckers using ‘The Mysterious Beacon’ to down bullion planes and then smashed ‘The Menace of King Cobra’, a secret society leader lording it over copper mine workers…

The Master of Darkness also lasted until the end of the era and appeared in that last JSA story and, since his Sixties return has been one of the most resilient characters in DC’s pantheon of Golden Age revivals, but the next nearly-star was an almost forgotten man for decades…

When Sensation Comics launched in January 1942 all eyes were rightly glued to the uniquely eye-catching Wonder Woman who hogged all the covers and unleashed a wealth of unconventional adventures every month. However like all anthologies of the time her exploits were carefully balanced by a selection of other features.

Sensation #1-5 (January to May 1942) also featured a pugnacious fighter who was the quintessence of manly prowess and a quiet, sedate fellow problem solver who was literally a master of all trades.

Crafted by Charles Reizenstein & Hal Sharp ‘Who is Mr. Terrific?’ introduced Terry Sloane, a physical and mental prodigy who so excelled at everything he touched that by the time of the opening tale he was so bored that he was planning his own suicide.

Happily, on the bridge he found Wanda Wilson, a girl with the same idea and by saving her found a purpose: crushing the kinds of criminals who had driven her to such despair…

Actively seeking out villainy of every sort he performed ‘The One-Man Benefit Show’ after thugs sabotaged all the performers, travelled to the republic of Santa Flora to expose ‘The Phony Presidente’ and helped a rookie cop pinch an “untouchable” gang boss in ‘Dapper Joe’s Comeuppance’.

His final appearance here finds him at his very best carefully rooting out political corruption and exposing ‘The Two Faces of Caspar Crunch’

Closing out this stunning hardback extravaganza is another quintet from Sensation Comics #1-5, this time by Bill Finger & Irwin Hasen: already established stars for their work on Batman and Green Lantern.

‘This is the Story of Wildcat’ is the debut appearance of one the era’s most impressive “lost treasures” and a genuine comicbook classic: a classy tale of boxer Ted Grant who was framed for the murder of his best friend the Champ and, inspired by a kid’s worship for Green Lantern, clears his name by donning a feline mask and costume and ferociously stalking the real killers.

Finger & Hasen captured everything which made for perfect rollercoaster adventure in their explosive sports-informed yarns. The mystery and drama continued unabated in the sequel ‘Who is Wildcat?’ as Ted retired his masked identity to contest for the vacant boxing title, but could not let innocents suffer as crime and corruption increased in the city…

In ‘The Case of the Phantom Killers’ Wildcat tracks down mobsters seemingly striking from beyond the grave, and his adventures altered forever with the introduction of hard-hitting hillbilly hayseed ‘Stretch Skinner, Dee-teca-tif!’ who came to the big city to be a private eye and instead became Ted Grant’s foil, manager and crime-busting partner…

The comic craziness concludes here with a rousing case of mistaken identity and old-fashioned framing as Wildcat has to save his tall new pal from a killer gambler in ‘Chips Carder’s Big Fix’

These eccentric early adventures might not be to every modern fan’s taste but they certainly stand as an impressive and joyous introduction to the fantastic worlds and exploits of the World’s (not so) Greatest Superheroes. If you have an interest in the way things were and a hankering for simpler times marked by less complicated or angsty adventure this may well be a book you’ll cherish forever…
© 1940, 1941, 1942, 2007 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Sandman Mystery Theatre: The Tarantula


By Matt Wagner & Guy Davis (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-195-6

Created by Gardner Fox and first illustrated by Bert Christman, the Sandman premiered in either Adventure Comics #40 July 1939 (two months after Batman debuted in Detective Comics #27) or two weeks earlier in New York World’s Fair Comics 1939, depending on whether some rather spotty distribution records can be believed.

Face and head utterly obscured by a gasmask and slouch hat; caped, business-suited millionaire adventurer Wesley Dodds was cut from the pulp masked mystery-man mould that had made The Lone Ranger, Green Hornet, The Shadow, Phantom Detective, Black Bat, The Spider and so many more such household names and astonishing commercial successes in the early days of mass periodical publication.

Wielding a sleeping-gas gun and haunting the night to battle a string of killers, crooks and spies, he was accompanied in the earliest comicbooks by his plucky paramour Dian Belmont, before gradually losing the readers’ interest and slipping from cover-spot to last feature in Adventure Comics, just as the cloaked pulp-hero avengers he emulated slipped from popularity in favour of more flamboyant fictional fare.

Possessing a certain indefinable style and charm but definitely no more pizzazz, the feature was on the verge of being dropped when the Sandman abruptly switched to a skin-tight yellow-and-purple costume – complete with billowing cape – and gained a boy-sidekick, Sandy the Golden Boy (in Adventure Comics #69, December 1941, courtesy of Mort Weisinger & Paul Norris), presumably to emulate the overwhelmingly successful Batman and Captain America models currently reaping such big dividends.

It didn’t help much but when Joe Simon & Jack Kirby came aboard with #72 that all spectacularly changed. A semi-supernatural element and fascination with the world of dreams (revisited by S&K a decade later in their short-lived experimental suspense series The Strange World of Your Dreams) added a moody conceptual punch to equal the kinetic fury of their art, as Sandman and Sandy became literally the stuff of nightmares to the bizarre bandits and murderous mugs they stalked…

For what happened next you can check out the superb Sandman hardback collection…

Time passed and in the late 1980s Neil Gaiman, Sam Keith & Mike Dringenberg took the property in a revolutionary new direction, eventually linking all the previous decades’ elements into an overarching connective continuity under DC’s new sophisticated suspense imprint Vertigo.

Within a few years the astounding success of the new Sandman prompted the editorial powers-that-be to revisit the stylishly retro original character and look at him through more mature eyes. Iconoclastic creator Matt Wagner (Mage, Grendel, Batman) teamed with artistic maverick Guy Davis (Baker Street, B.P.R.D.) and colourist David Hornung to create a grittier, grimier, far more viscerally authentic 1930s where the mystery man pursued his lonely crusade with chilling verisimilitude.

The tone was darkly modernistic, with the crime-busting playing out in the dissolute dog-days of the Jazz Age and controversial themes such as abuse, sexual depravity, corruption and racism were confronted as well as the rising tide of fascism that swept the world then. This is a warning: Sandman Mystery Theatre is not a kid’s comic…

This first collection reprints the redefining first story-arc from issues #1-4 (April-July 1993) and commences after an absorbing introduction from veteran journalist and music critic Dave Marsh, accompanied by a gallery of the series’ original, groundbreaking photo-covers.

The Tarantula takes us to New York in 1938 where District Attorney Larry Belmont is having the Devil’s own time keeping his wild-child daughter out of trouble and out of the newspapers. She’s out all night, every night with her spoiled friends; drinking, partying and associating with all the wrong sorts of people, but the prominent public official has far bigger problems too. One is the mysterious gas-masked figure he finds rifling his safe soon after Dian departs…

The intruder easily overpowers the DA with some kind of sleeping gas – that also makes you want to blurt out the truth – and disappears, leavingBelmontto awake with a headache and wonder if it was all a dream…

Dian, after her rowdy night of carousing with scandalous BFF Catherine Van Der Meer and her gangster lover, awakes with a similar hangover but still agrees to attend one of her father’s dreary public functions that evening. He is particularly keen that she meet a studious young man named Wesley Dodds, recently returned from years in the Orient to take over his deceased dad’s many business interests.

Dodds is genteel and effete but Dian finds that there’s something oddly compelling about him. Moreover he too seems to feel a connection…

The Gala breaks up early when the DA is informed of a sensational crime. Catherine Van Der Meer has been kidnapped by someone identifying himself as The Tarantula…

Across town, mob boss Albert Goldman is having a meeting with fellow gangsters from the West Coast and as usual his useless son Roger and drunken wife Miriam embarrass him. Daughter Celia is the only one he can depend on these days but even her unwavering devotion seems increasingly divided. After another stormy scene the conference ends early, and the visiting crime-lords are appalled to find all their usually diligent bodyguards asleep in their limousines…

Even with Catherine kidnapped Dian is determined to go out that night, but when Wesley arrives unexpectedly she changes her mind, much to her father’s relief. That feeling doesn’t last long however after the police inform him that the Tarantula has taken another woman…

When a woman’s hideously mutilated body is found Dian inveigles herself into accompanying her father to Headquarters but is soon excluded from the grisly “Man’s Business”. Left on her own she begins snooping in the offices and encounters a bizarre gas-masked figure poring through files. Before she can react he dashes past her and escapes, leaving her to explain to the assorted useless lawmen cluttering up the place.

Furious and humiliated, Dian then insists that she officially identifies Catherine and nobody can dissuade her.

Shockingly the savagely ruined body is not her best friend but yet another victim…

Somewhere dark and hidden Van Der Meer is being tortured but the perpetrator has far more than macabre gratification in mind…

In the Goldman house Celia is daily extending her control over dear old daddy. They still share a very special secret, but these days she’s the one dictating where and when they indulge themselves…

With all the trauma in her life Dian increasingly finds Wesley a comforting rock, but perhaps that view would change if she knew how he spends his nights. Dodds is plagued by bad dreams. Not his own nightmares, but rather the somnolent screams of victims and their cruel oppressors haunt his troubled sleep. What else could a decent man do then, but act to end such suffering?

In a seedy dive, uncompromising Police Lieutenant Burke comes off worst when he discovers the gas-masked lunatic grilling a suspect in “his” kidnapping case and again when this “Sandman” is found at a factory where the vehicle used to transport victims is hidden. Even so, the net is inexorably tightening on both Tarantula and the insane vigilante interfering in the investigation and Burke doesn’t know who he most wants in a nice, dark interrogation room…

As the labyrinthine web of mystery and monstrosity slowly unravels, tension mounts and the death toll climbs but can The Sandman stop the torrent of terror before the determined Dian finds herself swept up in all the blood and death?

Moody, dark and superbly engrossing, these revisionist “anti-superhero” tales offer an impressively human and realistic spin on the genre; one that should delight all those grown-ups who think masks and tights are silly.
© 1993, 1995, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents All Star Comics Volume 1


By Gerry Conway, Paul Levitz, Wally Wood, Joe Staton & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-85768-810-0

In the torrid and turbulent 1970s many of the Comics industry’s oldest publishing ideas were finally laid to rest. The belief that characters could be “over-exposed” was one of the most pernicious and long-lasting (although it never hurt Superman, Batman or the original Captain Marvel), garnered from years of experience in an industry which lived or died on that fractional portion of pennies derived each month from the pocket-money and allowances of children which wasn’t spent on candy, toys or movies.

By the end of the 1960s comicbook costs and prices were inexorably rising and a proportion of titles – especially the newly revived horror stories – were consciously being produced for older readerships. Nearly a decade of organised fan publications and letter writing crusades had finally convinced publishing bean-counters what editors already knew: grown-ups avidly read comics too; they would happily spend more than kids and, most importantly, they wanted more, more, more of what they loved.

Explicitly: If one appearance per month was popular, extras, specials and second series would be more so. By the time Marvel Wunderkind Gerry Conway was preparing to leave The House of Ideas, DC was willing and ready to expand its variegated line-up with some oft-requested fan-favourite characters.

Paramount among these was the Justice Society of America, the first comicbook super-team and a perennial gem whose annual guest-appearances in the Justice League of America had become an inescapable and beloved summer tradition.

Thus in 1976 Writer/Editor Conway marked his DC tenure (where he had first broken in to the game by writing horror shorts for Joe Orlando) by reviving All Star Comics with number #58; in 1951 as the first Heroic Age ended the original title had transformed overnight into All Star Western with that number running for a further decade as the home of such cowboy crusaders as Strong Bow, the Trigger Twins, Johnny Thunder and Super-Chief. If you’re interested, among the other revivals/introductions in “Conway’s Corner” were Blackhawk, Plastic Man, Secret Society of Super-Villains, Freedom Fighters, Kobra, Blitzkrieg – and many others

Set on the parallel world of Earth-2 and in keeping with the editorial sense of ensuring that the series was relevant to young readers too, Conway reintroduced the veteran team and leavened it with a smattering of teen heroes, combined into a contentious, generation-gap fuelled “Super Squad”.

The youngsters included Robin (already a JSA member since the mid 1960s – as per Showcase Presents the Justice League of America volume 3), Sylvester Pemberton, AKA The Star-Spangled Kid (in actuality a boy-hero from the 1940s who had spent decades lost in time) and a busty young nymphet who quickly became the feisty favourite of a generation of growing boys: Kara Zor-L; soon to become infamous as the “take-charge” dynamo Power Girl.

This superb titanic monochrome volume gathers the four year run of the JSA from the late 1970s into a sublime showcase of different, ever-changing times and includes All-Star Comics #58-74, the series’ continuation and conclusion from giant anthology title Adventure Comics #461-466 plus the seminal DC Special #29 which, after almost four decades, at last provided the team with an origin…

The action begins with ‘Prologue’ – a three-page introduction, recap and summation of the Society’s history and the celestial mechanics of Alternate Earths, by Paul Levitz, Joe Staton & Bob Layton From Adventure #461 (January/February 1979) outlining the history and mechanics of the alternate Earths, after which the two-part debut tale from All- Star Comics #58 (January/February 1976 by Conway, Ric Estrada and Wally Wood) found newly-inducted Pemberton chafing at his time-lost plight and revelling in his new powers (he had been given a cosmic power device by retired veteran Starman) when a crisis propelled him and elder heroes Flash, Dr. Mid-Nite, Wildcat, Hawkman, Green Lantern and Dr. Fate into a three-pronged calamity devastating Seattle, Cape Town and Peking (which you youngsters now know as Beijing) with man-made natural disasters.

The veterans split up but were overwhelmed, giving the new kids a chance to shine in ‘All Star Super-Squad’. With the abrasive, impatient Power Girl in the vanguard the entire team was soon on the trail of old foe Degaton and his mind-bending ally in the concluding ‘Brainwave Blows Up!’

Keith Giffen replaced Estrada in issue #60 for the introduction of a psychotic super-arsonist who attacked the squad just as the age-divide started to chafe and Power Girl began to tick off or “re-educate” the stuffy, paternalistic JSA elders in ‘Vulcan: Son of Fire!’.

The closing instalment ‘Hellfire and Holocaust’ saw the flaming fury mortally wound Dr. Fate before his own defeat, just as a new mystic menace was beginning to stir…

Conway’s last issue as scripter was #62’s ‘When Fall the Mighty’ as antediluvian sorcerer Zanadu attacked, whilst the criminal Injustice Gang opened their latest vengeful assault using mind-control to turn friend against friend…

The cast expanded with the return of Hourman and Power Girl’s Kryptonian mentor, but even they were insufficient to prevent ‘The Death of Doctor Fate’ (written by Paul Levitz and fully illustrated by the inimitable Wally Wood). Attacked on all sides, the team splintered: Wildcat, Hawkman and the Kryptonian Cousins tackling the assembled super-villains, Flash and Green Lantern searching Egypt for a cure to Fate’s condition, and Hourman, Mid-Nite and Star-Spangled Kid desperately attempting to keep their fallen comrade alive.

They failed and Zanadu attacked once more, almost adding the moribund Fate’s death-watch defenders to his tally until the archaic alien’s very presence called Kent Nelson back from beyond the grave…

With that crisis averted Superman made ready to leave but was embroiled in a last-minute, manic time-travel assassination plot (Levitz & Wood) which dragged the team and guest-star Shining Knight from an embattled Camelot in ‘Yesterday Begins Today!’ to the far-flung future and ‘The Master Plan of Vandal Savage’: a breathtaking spectacle of drama and excitement that signalled Wood’s departure from the series.

Joe Staton & Bob Layton had the unenviable task of filling his artistic shoes, beginning with #66 as ‘Injustice Strikes Twice!’ with the reunited team – sans Superman – falling prey to an ambush from their arch-enemies, whilst the emotion-warping Psycho-Pirate began to twist Green Lantern into an out-of-control menace determined to crush Corporate America beneath his emerald heel, which subsequently led to the return of Earth-2’s Bruce Wayne, who had retired his masked persona to become Gotham’s Police Commissioner.

The Injustice Society had monstrous allies who were revealed in ‘Attack of the Underlord!’ (All-Star Comics #67, July/Aug 1977) as a subterranean race of conquerors who nearly ended the team forever. Meanwhile Wayne’s plans to close down the JSA before their increasingly destructive exploits demolished his beloved city neared fruition…

The modern adventures pause here as the aforementioned case from DC Special #29 (September 1977) disclosed ‘The Untold Origin of the Justice Society’

In this extra-length epic Levitz, Staton & Layton, revealed the previously “classified” events which saw Adolf Hitler acquire the mystical Spear of Destiny in 1940 and immediately summon mythical Teutonic Valkyries to aid in the in 1940 invasion of Britain.

Alerted to the threat, American President Roosevelt, hampered by his country’s neutrality, asked a select band of masked mystery-men to lend their aid as non-political private citizens. In a cataclysmic escalation the struggle ranged from the heart of Europe, throughout the British Isles and even to the Oval office of the White House before ten bold costumed heroes finally – if only temporarily – stopped the Nazis’ evil plans…

Back in All Star #68 (October, 1977) the curvy Kryptonian was clearly becoming the star of the show and as ‘Divided We Stand!’ by Levitz, Staton & Bob Layton, concluded the Psycho-Pirate’s scheme to discredit and destroy the JSA, she was well on the way to her first solo outing in Showcase #97-98 (reprinted in Power Girl, but not included here). Meanwhile GL resumed a maniacal rampage through Gotham City and Police Commissioner Bruce Wayne took extreme measures to bring the seemingly out-of-control JSA to book.

In #69’s ‘United We Fall!’ Commissioner Wayne brought in his own team of retired JSA heroes to arrest the “rogue” squad, resulting in a classic fanboy dream duel as Dr. Fate, Wildcat, Hawkman, Flash, GL and Star Spangled Kid battled the one-time Batman, Robin, Hourman, Starman, Dr. Mid-Nite and Wonder Woman. It was a colourful catastrophe in waiting until PG and Superman intervened to reveal the true cause of all the madness.

…And in the background, a new character was about to make a landmark debut…

With order (temporarily) restored ‘A Parting of the Ways!’ focussed on Wildcat and Star Spangled Kid as the off-duty heroes stumbled upon a high-tech gang of super-thieves called Strike Force. The robbers initially proved too much for the pair and even new star The Huntress, but with a pair of startling revelations in ‘The Deadliest Game in Town!’ the trio finally triumphed.

In the aftermath the Kid resigned and the daughter of Batman and Catwoman (alternate Earth, remember?) replaced him.

All-Star Comics #72 reintroduced a couple of classic Golden Age villainesses in ‘A Thorn by Any Other Name’ wherein the psychopathic floral fury returned to poison Wildcat, leaving Helena Wayne to battle the original 1950’s Huntress for an antidote and the rights to the name…

The concluding ‘Be it Ever So Deadly’ (with Joe Giella taking over the inker’s role) saw the entire team in action as Huntress battled Huntress whilst Thorn and the Sportsmaster did their deadly best to destroy the heroes and their loved ones. Simultaneously in Egypt Hawkman and Dr. Fate stumbled upon a deadly ancient menace to all of reality…

The late 1970s was a perilous period for comics with exponentially rising costs inevitably resulting in drastically dwindling sales. Many titles were abruptly cancelled in a “DC Implosion” and All-Star Comics was one of the casualties. Issue #74 was the last and pitted the entire team against a mystic Armageddon perpetrated by the nigh-omnipotent Master Summoner who orchestrated a ‘World on the Edge of Ending’ before the Justice Society triumphed dragged victory from the jaws of defeat…

Although the book was gone, the series continued in the massive 68 page anthology title Adventure Comics, beginning in #461 (January/February 1979) with the first half of a blockbuster tale originally intended for the anniversary 75th issue. Drawn and inked by Staton, ‘Only Legends Live Forever’ detailed the last case of the Batman as the Dark Knight came out of retirement to battle a seeming nonentity who had mysteriously acquired god-like power.

Issue #462 delivered the shocking, heartbreaking conclusion in ‘The Legend Lives Again!’ whilst ‘The Night of the Soul Thief!’ saw Huntress, Robin and the assembled JSA deliver righteous justice to the mysterious mastermind who had actually orchestrated the death of the World’s Greatest Detective.

Adventure #464 then provided an intriguing insight into aging warrior Wildcat, as with ‘To Everything There is a Season…’ he embraced his own mortality and began a new career as a teacher of heroes, whilst ‘Countdown to Disaster!’ (inked by Dave Hunt) saw Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Power Girl, Huntress and Dr. Fate hunt a doomsday device lost in the teeming masses of Gotham. It would be the last modern outing of the team for decades.

But not the last in this volume: that honour falls to another Levitz & Staton landmark history lesson wherein they exposed the reason why the team had vanished at the beginning of the 1950s.

From Adventure #466 ‘The Defeat of the Justice Society!’ showed how the American Government had cravenly betrayed their greatest champions during the McCarthy Witch-hunts; provoking the mystery-men into withdrawing from public, heroic life for over a decade – that is until the costumed stalwarts of Earth-1 started the whole Fights ‘n’ Tights scene all over again…

Although perhaps a tad dated now, these exuberant, rapid-paced and imaginative yarns perfectly blended the naive charm of Golden Age derring-do with cynical yet hopeful modern sensibilities that never doubted that, in the end. heroes would always find a way to save the day.

These classic tales from a simpler time are a glorious example of traditional superhero storytelling at its finest: fun, furious and ferociously engaging, exciting written and beguilingly illustrated. No Fights ‘n’ Tights fan can afford to miss these marvellous sagas.
© 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice Society of America: Thy Kingdom Come parts 1, 2 & 3


By Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham, Fernando Pasarin & various (DC)
ISBNs: 978-1-4012-1741-9,   978-1-4012-1946-8,   978-1-4012-2167-6

After the actual invention of the comicbook superhero – for which read the launch of Superman in 1938 – the most significant event in the genre’s (and indeed industry’s) progress was the combination of individual stars into a group. Thus what seems blindingly obvious to us with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was proven – a number of popular characters could multiply readership by combining forces and fan-bases. Plus of course, a whole bunch of superheroes is a lot cooler than just one – or even one and a sidekick.

The Justice Society of America was created for the third issue (Winter 1940/1941) of All-Star Comics, an anthology title featuring established characters from various All-American Comics publications. The magic was instigated by the simple expedient of having the assorted heroes gather around a table and tell each other their latest adventure. From this low key collaboration it wasn’t long before the guys – and they were all white guys (except Red Tornado who merely pretended to be one) – regularly joined forces to defeat the greatest villains and social ills of their generation. Within months the concept had spread far and wide…

And so the Justice Society of America is rightly revered as a true landmark in the development of comicbooks. When Julius Schwartz revived the superhero genre in the late 1950s, the game-changing moment came with the inevitable teaming of the reconfigured mystery men into a Justice League of America.

From there it wasn’t long until the original and genuine article returned. Since then there have been many attempts to formally revive the team’s fortunes but it wasn’t until 1999, on the back of both the highly successful rebooting of the JLA by Grant Morrison & Howard Porter and the seminal but critically favoured new Starman series by Golden Age devotee James Robinson, that the multi-generational team found a new mission and fan-base big enough to support them. As the century ended the original super-team returned and have been with us in one form or another ever since.

This iteration, called to order after Infinite Crisis and Identity Crisis, found the surviving heroes from World War II acting as mentors and teachers for the latest generation of young champions and metahuman “legacy-heroes” (family successors or inheritors of departed champions’ powers or code-names): a large, cumbersome but nevertheless captivating assembly of raw talent, uneasy exuberance and weary hard-earned experience (for details see Justice Society of America: the Next Age and Justice League of America: The Lightning Saga).

This triptych of tomes collects issues #7-22 of the Justice Society of America series, the first Annual and Justice Society of America Kingdom Come Specials: Superman, Magog and The Kingdom; expanding, clarifying and building on those new heroes introduced in the landmark 1996 Mark Waid & Alex Ross miniseries, by rationalising many of the characters and concepts with the then-current DC continuity.

Kingdom Come and its belated sequel The Kingdom managed to connect that initially ring-fenced continuity to the mainstream DC universe and introduced “Hyper-Time”, a bridging concept which opened the way for all the storylines and history eradicated in Crisis on Infinite Earths to once more be “real and true”. Gradually a number of those variant elements began to coalesce in the relaunched Justice League and Justice Society series culminating in the expansive extended epic collected in these three volumes – although the entire saga could happily have fitted into one large tome…

This ambitious and almost daunting epic commences when Nathan Heywood awakes after an attack by modern Nazi meta-humans to realise most of his family have died in the assault. Of little comfort is the fact that his own crippling injuries have been repaired by the activation of his latent powers. The paraplegic youth has become a creature of living steel; unfeeling and ‘Indestructible’. For the sake of his surviving kin Heywood assumes the persona of new legacy hero Citizen Steel.

Soon after, ‘Bells and Whistles’ concentrates on the history of Jesse Chambers, wife of the second Hourman and daughter of WWII heroes Johnny Quick and Liberty Bell. Jesse inherited the powers of both parents but her level-headedness is all her own and vitally necessary when fellow member Damage, fuelled by berserker rage, breaks a State Exclusion Order whilst chasing super villain Zoom – the hyper-fast maniac who shredded the hero’s face and turned him into a hideous monster doomed to hide forever behind a mask.

‘Prologue: Thy Kingdom Come’ switches focus to Power Girl who has only recently discovered her true origins as a survivor from an alternate universe where her cousin Superman was the World’s Greatest Hero and leader of an another Justice Society, now all long-gone and forever lost in a universe-shredding Infinite Crisis…

During a gala party for three generations of heroes, the team are called to a flaming mystical conflagration and when 31st century refugee and barely-in control schizophrenic Starman uses his powers to extinguish the blaze he inadvertently plucks a survivor out of the void between dimensions.

This newcomer looks and sounds just like Power Girl’s own dearly-departed Earth-2 Superman…

‘What a Wonderful World’ sees the Man of Steel from the Kingdom Come continuity describe how the heroes and their successors of his world almost destroyed the planet (with flashback sequences painted by Alex Ross) before Starman explains his own connection to all the realms of the multiverse. Initially suspicious, the JLA come to accept the elder Man of Steel.

Elsewhere, a deadly predator begins to eradicate demi-gods and pretenders to divinity throughout the globe…

‘The Second Coming’ reveals how the Strange Visitor from Another Earth believes his world dead, just as a new crop of legacy heroes (Judomaster, Mr. America, Amazing Man, Lightning and David Reid) join the team, whilst in ‘New Recruits’ the death-toll of murdered godlings mounts rapidly…

This first volume concludes with an expansive sketch section from Alex Ross.

The second book of Thy Kingdom Come (collecting Justice Society of America #13-18 and Annual #1) opens with ‘Supermen’ wherein the latest incarnation of Mr. America (an FBI agent turned freelance super-villain profiler) alerts the JSA to the serial god-killer and points the way to a mysterious personage known only as Gog.

When his files reveal their suspect to be an old foe of this world’s Superman, his elder alternate volunteers to discuss the case with the Man of Steel whilst deep below the fertile earth of the Congo an alien presence communes with its apocalyptic herald…

‘Thy Kingdom Come: Gog’ at last begins the epic in earnest as the assembled team is attacked by the mysterious Gog, resulting in a staggering battle in ‘The Good Fight’ and culminating in a dramatic climax in Africa and the release and apotheosis of the One True Gog…

This immense being is an ancient deity from the race which spawned the New Gods and has been gestating in our Earth since his own world died uncounted millennia ago…

The colossal gleaming god immediately proclaims a new era for Mankind in ‘He Came, and Salvation With Him’: striding across Africa, ending want, cleansing the scorched earth, feeding the starving and curing the afflicted with broad waves of his gigantic hands.

The battle-hardened heroes are highly suspicious but since among those cured are Damage, Star Man, Doctor Midnite and Sand the miracles cause a split in the JSA ranks in ‘Wish Fulfillment’.

Something is not right though: beyond the haughty bombast there are inconsistencies. Atheist Mr. Terrific is apparently invisible to the wandering god and despite his hopes and prayers Citizen Steel is ignored whilst all others have their wishes granted even without asking.

For example Power Girl but not Superman are summarily dispatched “Home”…

With confrontation seemingly inevitable the beneficent Gog suddenly diverts from his path and declaims that he will eradicate all war…

‘Earth-2 chapter one: Golden Age’ and ‘Earth-2 chapter two: ‘The Hunted’ (from Justice Society of America Annual #1) starts with Power Girl materialised on the alternate Earth she believed long destroyed and reunited with all the friends she believed long dead. But then, why is she so unhappy and desperate to escape?

Before she can answer her own question another Power Girl turns up and all rationality and hope of a peaceful solution rapidly fades…

This volume ends with JSA #18’s ‘War Lords’ as, whilst preaching, peace, love and restoration, Gog inflicts outrageously cruel punishments on civil war soldiers in the Congo and to all sinners before transforming David Reid into his new almighty herald Magog

The third and final Book (covering issues #19-22 of Justice Society of America and Justice Society of America Kingdom Come Specials: Superman, Magog and The Kingdom) begins with Power Girl trapped on Earth-2 and consulting that world’s Michael Holt (who never became Mr. Terrific like his other-dimensional counterpart) in ‘Out of Place’ whilst a universe away, Black Adam follows phenomena which indicate his dead beloved Isis is returning, and the JSA declares war on itself as one half of the team prepares to defend Gog from the other…

 

‘Earth Bound’ kicks everything into high gear as Power Girl escapes from there to here, followed by the amassed and enraged heroes of Earth-2: a shattering confrontation which re-establishes a whole new DC multiverse.

Then Justice League of America Kingdom Come Special: Superman pits “our” Man of Tomorrow against his other-dimensional doppelganger whilst revealing the secret tragedy which made the Kingdom Come Kryptonian quit in the first place, whilst Justice League of America Kingdom Come Special: Magog describes ‘The Real Me’ as Gog’s new herald re-examines his own sordid past and proves himself his own brutal, uncompromising man…

That issue also provided ‘The Secret Origin of Starman’ which discloses how a teenager from the 31st century became the key and roadmap to the myriad pathways of the multiverse.

Justice League of America Kingdom Come Special: The Kingdom opens the final conflict with Gog as the lost god reveals the staggering price he demands for his miraculous bounty and Sand uncovers its true cost whilst JSA #21 ‘Saints and Sinners’ opens the full-scale war when the heroes attack.

When Magog’s eyes are opened he deserts his malign god presaging the beginning of the end but humanity is saved in its most desperate hour in the concluding chapter ‘Thy Will Be Done’ after which, with the threat ended the lost heroes of the myriad Earths win their final rewards…

Conceived by Geoff Johns & Alex Ross to irrevocably button down the company’s new continuity, this extended tale is beguiling and impressive if you’re well-versed in the lore of the DC Universe but probably impenetrable if you’re not.

Executed by Johns with inserted segments illustrated and painted by Ross and the major proportion of the art provided by Dale Eaglesham, Fernando Pasarin, Ruy Jose, Rodney Ramos & Drew Geraci, Jerry Ordway, Prentis Rollins, Bob Wiacek, Richard Friend, Rebecca Buchman, John Stanisci, Mick Gray, Kris Justice, Norm Rapmund, Scott Kolins, Jack Purcell & Nathan Massengill, the final volume concludes with another expansive sketch section from Alex Ross and a stunning double-page portrait of the Earth-2 JSA by Jerry Ordway.

As I’ve already stated, I fear this blockbusting yarn will be all but unreadable to anyone not deeply immersed in the complex continuity of DC’s last three decades, which is a real shame as the writing is superb, the artwork incredible and the sheer scope and ambition breathtaking. However, if you love Fights ‘n’ Tights cosmic melodrama and are prepared to do a little reading around (Kingdom Come and The Kingdom are mandatory here) then you might find yourself with a whole new universe to play in…
© 2007, 2008, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Crisis on Multiple Earths volume 1


By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Bernard Sachs & Sid Greene (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-895-2

As I’ve frequently mentioned before, I was one of the “Baby Boomer” crowd which grew up with Julie Schwartz, Gardner Fox and John Broome’s tantalisingly slow reintroduction of Golden Age superheroes during the halcyon, eternally summery days of the early 1960s. To me those fascinating counterpart crusaders from Earth-Two weren’t vague and distant memories rubber-stamped by parents or older brothers – they were cool, fascinating and enigmatically new.

…And for some reason the “proper” heroes of Earth-One held them in high regard and treated them with obvious deference…

It all began, naturally enough, in The Flash; pioneering trendsetter of the Silver Age Revolution. After successfully ushering in the triumphant return of the superhero concept, the Scarlet Speedster with Fox & Broome at the writing reins set an unbelievably high standard for costumed adventure in sharp, witty tales of science and imagination, always illustrated with captivating style and clean simplicity by Carmine Infantino.

The epochal epic that literally changed the scope of American comics forever was Fox’s ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (Flash #123 September 1961, as seen in Showcase Presents the Flash volume 2) which introduced the theory of alternate Earths to the continuity and by extension resulted in the multiversal structure of the DCU – and all the succeeding cosmos-shaking yearly “Crisis” sagas that grew from it.

And of course, where DC led, others followed…

Received with tumultuous acclaim, the concept was revisited months later in #129′s ‘Double Danger on Earth!’ which also teasingly reintroduced evergreen stalwarts Wonder Woman, Atom, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Doctor Mid-Nite and Black Canary. Clearly Editor Schwartz had something in mind…

‘Vengeance of the Immortal Villain!’ from Flash #137 (June 1963, inked by Giella) was the third incredible Earth-2 crossover, and saw two Flashes unite to defeat 50,000 year old Vandal Savage and save the Justice Society of America: a tale which directly led into the veteran team’s first meeting with the Justice League of America and the start of an annual tradition.

When ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ introduced the concept of Infinite Earths and multiple versions of costumed crusaders, public pressure had begun almost instantly to agitate for the return of the Greats of the “Golden Age” but Editorial powers-that-be were hesitant, fearing too many heroes would be silly and unmanageable, or worse yet, put readers off. If they could see us now…

These innovative yarns generated an avalanche of popular and critical approval (big sales figures, too) so inevitably these trans-dimensional tests led to the ultimate team-up in the summer of 1963.

This gloriously enthralling volume re-presents the first four JLA/JSA convocations: stunning superhero wonderments which never fails to astound and delight beginning with the landmark ‘Crisis on Earth-One’ and ‘Crisis on Earth-Two’ (Justice League of America #21-22, August and September) combining to form one of the most important stories in DC history and arguably one of the most crucial tales in American comics.

Written by Fox and compellingly illustrated by Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs the yarn finds a coalition of assorted villains from each Earth plundering at will, meeting and defeating the mighty Justice League before imprisoning them in their own secret mountain HQ.

Temporarily helpless “our” heroes contrive a desperate plan to combine forces with the champions of another Earth to save the world – both of them – and the result is pure comicbook majesty. It’s impossible for me to be totally objective about this saga. I was a drooling kid in short trousers when I first read it and the thrills haven’t diminished with this umpty-first re-reading.

This is what superhero comics are all about!

‘Crisis on Earth-Three’ and ‘The Most Dangerous Earth of All!’ (Justice League of America #29-30, August and September 1964) reprised the team-up of the Justice League and Justice Society, when the super-beings of a third alternate Earth discovered the secret of trans-universal travel.

Unfortunately Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring were villains on a world without heroes and saw the costumed crime-busters of the JLA/JSA as living practise dummies to sharpen their evil skills upon. With this cracking thriller the annual summer get-together became solidly entrenched in heroic lore, giving fans endless entertainment for years to come and making the approaching end of school holidays less gloomy than they could have been.

(A little note: although the comic cover-date in America was the month by which unsold copies had to be returned – the “off-sale” deadline – export copies to Britain travelled as ballast in freighters. Thus they usually went on to those cool, spinning comic-racks the actual month printed on the front. You can unglaze your eyes and return to the review proper now, and thank you for your patient indulgence.)

The third annual event was a touch different; a largely forgotten and rather experimental tale wherein the dim but extremely larcenous Johnny Thunder of Earth-1 wrested control of the genie-like Thunderbolt from his other-world counterpart and used its magic powers to change the events which led to the creation of all Earth-1’s superheroes. With Earth-1 catastrophically altered in #37’s ‘Earth – Without a Justice League’ it was up to the JSA to come to the rescue in a gripping battle of wits and power before Reality was re-established in the concluding ‘Crisis on Earth-A!’ in #38.

Veteran inker Bernard Sachs retired before the fourth team-up, leaving the amazing Sid Greene to embellish the gloriously whacky saga that sprang out of the global “Batmania” craze engendered by the Batman television series…

A wise-cracking campy tone was fully in play, acknowledging the changing audience profile and this time the stakes were raised to encompass the destruction of both planets in ‘Crisis Between Earth-One and Earth-Two’ and ‘The Bridge Between Earths’ (Justice League of America #46-47, August & September 1966), wherein a bold – if rash – continuum warping experiment dragged the two sidereal worlds towards an inexorable hyper-space collision. Meanwhile, making matters worse, an awesome anti-matter being used the opportunity to break into and explore our positive matter universe whilst the heroes of both worlds were distracted by the destructive rampages of monster-men Blockbuster and Solomon Grundy.

Peppered with wisecracks and “hip” dialogue, it’s sometimes difficult to discern what a cracking yarn this actually is, but if you’re able to forgive or swallow the dated patter, this is one of the very best plotted and illustrated stories in the entire JLA/JSA canon. Furthermore, the vastly talented Greene’s expressive subtlety, beguiling texture and whimsical humour added unheard of depth to Sekowsky’s pencils and the light and frothy comedic scripts of Gardner Fox.

This volume also includes an enthralling introduction by Mark Waid, a comprehensive cover gallery and creator biographies.

These tales won’t suit everybody and I’m as aware as any that in terms of the “super-powered” genre the work here can be boiled down to two bunches of heroes formulaically getting together to deal with extra-extraordinary problems. In mature hindsight, it’s obviously also about sales and the attempted revival of more sellable super characters during a period of intense sales rivalry between DC Comics and Marvel.

But I don’t have to be mature in my off-hours and for those who love costume heroes, who crave these cunningly constructed modern mythologies and actually care, this is simply a grand parade of straightforward action, great causes and momentous victories.

…And since I wouldn’t have it any other way, why should you?
© 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 2002 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Kingdom Come


By Mark Waid & Alex Ross (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2034-1

In the mid 1960s a teenaged Jim Shooter wrote a couple of stories about the Legion of Super-Heroes set some years into the team’s own future. Those stories of the adult Legionnaires revealed hints of things to come that shackled the series’ plotting and continuity for decades as eager, obsessed fans (by which I mean all of us) waited for the predicted characters to be introduced, presaged relationships to be consummated and heroes to die.

By being so impressive and similarly affecting the astonishing miniseries Kingdom Come accidentally repeated the trick and has subsequently painted the entire DC Universe into the same creative corner…

Envisaged and designed by artist Alex Ross as DC’s answer to the epic and groundbreaking Marvels, Kingdom Come was released as a 4-issue Prestige Format miniseries in 1996 to rapturous acclaim and, although set in the future and an “imaginary story” released under DC’s Elseworlds imprint, almost immediately began to affect the company’s mainstream continuity.

Set approximately twenty years into the future the grandiose saga details a tragic failure and subsequent loss of Faith for Superman and how his attempt to redeem himself almost led to an even greater and ultimate apocalypse.

The events are seen through the eyes and actions of Dantean witness Norman McCay, an aging cleric co-opted by Divine Agent of Wrath the Spectre after the pastor officiated at the last rites of dying superhero Wesley Dodds. As the Sandman, Dodds was cursed for decades with precognitive dreams which compelled him to act as an agent of justice.

The first chapter ‘Strange Visitor’ shows a world where metahumans have proliferated to ubiquitous proportions: a sub-culture of constant, violent clashes between the latest generation of costumed villains and vigilantes, all unheeding of the collateral damage they daily inflicted on the mere mortals around them.

The shaken preacher sees a final crisis coming, but feels helpless until the darkly angelic Spectre comes to him and takes him on a voyage of unfolding events and to act as his human perspective whilst the Spirit of Vengeance prepares to pass final judgement on Humanity. First stop is the secluded hideaway where farmer Kal-El has hidden himself since the ghastly events which compelled him to retire from the Good Fight and the eyes of the World.

The Man of Steel was already feeling like a dinosaur when newer, harsher, morally ambiguous mystery-men began to appear. After the Joker murdered the entire Daily Planet staff and hard-line new hero Magog executed him in the street, the public applauded the deed and, heartbroken and appalled, Superman disappeared for a decade. His legendary colleagues also felt the march of unwelcome progress and similarly disappeared.

With Earth left to the mercies of dangerously irresponsible new vigilantes, civil unrest soon escalated. The younger heroes displayed poor judgement and no restraint with the result that within a decade the entire planet had become a chaotic arena for metahuman duels.

Civilisation was fragmenting. Flash and Batman retreated to their home cities and made them secure, crime-free solitary fortresses. Green Lantern built an emerald castle in the sky, turning his eyes away from Earth and into the deep black fastnesses of space. Hawkman retreated to the wilderness, Aquaman to his sub-sea kingdom and Wonder Woman returned to her hidden paradise. She did not leave until Armageddon came one step closer.

When Magog and his Justice Battalion battled the Parasite in St. Louis the result was a nuclear accident which destroyed all of Kansas and much of Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska. Overnight the world f aced starvation as America’s breadbasket turned into a toxic wasteland. Now with McCay and the Spectre invisibly observing, Princess Diana convinces the bereft Kal-El to return and save the world on his own terms…

In ‘Truth and Justice’ a resurgent Justice League led by Superman begins a campaign of unilateral action to clean up the mess civilisation has become; renditioning “heroes” and villains alike, imprisoning all dangerous elements of super-humanity, telling governments how to behave, all utterly unaware that they are hastening a global catastrophe of Biblical proportions as the Spectre invisibly gathers the facts for his apocalyptic judgement.

In the ensuing chaos, crippled warrior Bruce Wayne rejects Superman’ paternalistic, doctrinaire crusade and allies himself with mortal humanity’s libertarian elite – Ted (Blue Beetle) Kord, Dinah (Black Canary) Lance and Oliver (Green Arrow) Queen – to resist what can only be a grab for world domination by the meta-human minority. As the helpless McCay watches in horror Wayne’s group makes its own plans; another dangerous thread in a tapestry of calamity…

At first Superman’s plans seem blessed to succeed, with many erstwhile threats flocking to his banner and his rules of discipline, but as ever there are self-serving villains with their own agendas. Lex Luthor organises a cabal of like-minded compatriots – Vandal Savage, Catwoman, Riddler, Kobra and Ibn Al Xu’ffasch, Son of the Demon Ra’s Al Ghul – into a “Mankind Liberation Front”.

With Captain Marvel as their slave, the group are determined the super-freaks shall not win and their cause is greatly advanced once Wayne’s clique joins them…

‘Up in the Sky’ sees events spiral into a deadly storm as McCay, still wracked by his visions of Armageddon, is shown the Gulag where all the recalcitrant metahumans have been dumped and sees how it will fail, learns from restless spirit Deadman that the Spectre is the Angel of Death and watches with growing helplessness as Luthor’s plan to usurp control from the army of Superman leads to a shocking confrontation, betrayal and a deadly countdown to the End of Days. The deadly drama culminates in a staggering battle of superpowers, last moment salvation and a second chance for humanity in ‘Never-Ending Battle’

Thanks to McCay’s simple humanity the world gets another chance and this edition follows up with an epilogue ‘One Year Later’ which end this ponderous epic on a note of renewed hope…

This edition comes with an introduction by author and past DC Comics scribe Elliot S. Maggin, assorted cover reproductions and art-pieces, an illustrated checklist of the vast cast list and a plethora of creative notes and sketches in the ‘Apochrypha’ section, plus ‘Evolution’: notes on a restored scene that never made it into the miniseries.

Epic, engaging and operatically impressive Kingdom Come continues to reshape the DC Universe to this day and remains a solid slice of superior superhero entertainment, worthy of your attention.
© 1996, 2008, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

JSA vs. Kobra


By Eric S. Trautmann, Don Kramer & Michael Babinski, with Neil Edwards (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-955-3
After the actual invention of the comicbook superhero – for which read the launch of Superman in 1938 – the most significant event in the genre, and indeed industry’s, progress was the combination of individual attention-getters into a group. Thus what seems blindingly obvious to us with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was proven – a number of popular characters could multiply readership by combining forces and readerships. Plus of course, a whole bunch of superheroes is a lot cooler than just one – or even one and a sidekick.

The Justice Society of America was created in the third issue (Winter 1940/1941) of All-Star Comics, an anthology title featuring established characters from various All-American Comics publications. The magic was instigated by the simple expedient of having the assorted heroes gather around a table and tell each other their latest adventure. From this low key collaboration it wasn’t long before the guys – and they were all guys (except Red Tornado who merely pretended to be one) – regularly joined forces to defeat the greatest villains – and social ills of their generation. Within months the concept had spread far and wide…

And so the Justice Society of America is rightly revered as a true landmark in the development of comicbooks and, when Julius Schwartz revived the superhero genre in the late 1950s, the game-changing moment came with the inevitable teaming of the reconfigured mystery men into a Justice League of America.

From there it wasn’t long until the original and genuine article returned. Since then there have been many attempts to formally revive the team’s fortunes but it wasn’t until 1999, on the back of both the highly successful rebooting of the JLA by Grant Morrison & Howard Porter and the seminal but critically favoured new Starman by Golden Age devotee James Robinson, that the multi-generational team found a concept and fan-base big enough to support them. In 1999 the original super-team returned and have been with us in one form or another ever since.

Kobra originated in February 1976 in his own short-lived title, during a period of desperate experimentation whilst super-hero tales were plummeting and the industry feared its inevitable extinction. Credited to Martin Pasko, Steve Sherman, Jack Kirby and Pablo Marcos, the saga is a radical updating of Alexandre Dumas’ seminal 1844 novel Les Frères Corses – “The Corsican Brothers”.

When conjoined twins Jeffrey and Jason Burr were surgically separated soon after birth, Jeffrey was abducted by disciples of the Cult of Kobra and raised to be their Dark Messiah: a deadly warrior, scientist and strategist dedicated to bringing about the end of civilisation and initiating a cleansing “Age of Chaos”. The peculiar circumstances of their birth meant that Jeffrey and his brother Jason maintained an uncanny connection wherein one would experience the hurts and harms inflicted upon the other, leading Jason to become the ultimate weapon in the war waged by numerous DC heroes against his serpentine terrorist sibling over the years.

Eventually Jason was safely murdered by Kobra, but later resurrected as an even greater evil, assuming his brother’s position as head of the World’s most dangerous death-cult. The new Kobra is an utterly dedicated fanatic who married the cult’s technological resources to hideous, sacrificial blood-magic and preferred faith-driven disciples to the disaffected proto-thugs employed by his predecessor (for further details see Checkmate: Pawn Breaks)…

The JSA battled the first Kobra many times (most notably in JSA: Darkness Falls and JSA: Savage Times) but were utterly unprepared for the sheer horrors in store when they swung into action against the inheritor of the Snake cult…

This terse, tense collection re-presents the six-issue JSA vs. Kobra ‘Engines of Faith’ miniseries and, informed by the real-world terrorism of fundamentalist factions around the globe, finally elevates Kobra to the first rank of villains as the deadly herald of the World’s End plays a lethal game of cat-and-mouse with the Planet’s Smartest Man and some of the most experienced heroes of all time…

The Serpent Lord begins his campaign of terror in ‘Bad Religion’ by dispatching suicide bombers to destroy the Justice Society in their own home; confronting logic and superpowers with pure faith and high-tech explosives. Caught off-guard by foes actually happy to die if they can strike a blow against their master’s enemies, the JSA are further wrong-footed by seemingly random attacks against civilians and institutions, all orchestrated by field commander and fanatical bride of death Ariadne Persakis.

The sheer scale of the bloodletting and illogical nature of the attacks soon have the heroes fighting amongst themselves as they strive to find some rhyme or reason behind the murderous assaults… so why then does Persakis surrender herself to their custody?

‘Strange Days’ finds the team seething but still unable to fathom the terrorist’s game plan until Ariadne breaks free of Checkmate custody. Apparently the covert international spy-force has been hopelessly infiltrated and compromised. The senseless death-toll mounts exponentially and as, the team narrowly thwart an assault on a giant particle accelerator that could split the Earth in two, masked genius Mr. Terrific begins to discern a pattern to the random madness in ‘Misdirection’

The brutal attacks intensify and, although it appears the heroes are slowly gaining the upper hand, Terrific perceives the hidden agenda behind the unceasing ghastly blows against decency and civilisation. ‘Lightning in a Bottle’ finds Kobra making his ultimate move and apparently failing, leading to a gathering of champions ‘Beating the Grass’ and taking the war to the relentless foe, but even after the stunning climax of ‘Shedding Skin’ the weary heroes cannot be sure if they have won the day or somehow lost the war entirely…

This is a stunning piece of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction: dark, dramatic and intensely compelling. Writer Eric S. Trautmann has melded shiny super-heroics, grim realpolitik and genuine cultural zeitgeists into a splendidly mature costumed drama and the effective underplayed art of Don Kramer, Neil Edwards and inker Michael Babinski is chillingly effective at capturing the tone as well as the events.

If you’ve grown beyond gaudy mystery men and “goodies” against “baddies” this graphic novel is more than likely to make you think again…

© 2009, 2010 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

The Greatest Team-Up Stories Ever Told


By various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 0-930289-51-X

When the very concept of high priced graphic novels was just being tested in the early 1990s DC Comics produced a line of glorious hardback compilations spotlighting star characters and celebrating standout stories from the company’s illustrious and varied history decade by decade. They even branched out into themed collections which shaped the output of the industry to this day.

The Greatest Stories collections were revived this century as smaller paperback editions (with mostly differing content) and stand as an impressive and joyous introduction to the fantastic worlds and exploits of the World’s Greatest Superheroes. However for sheer physical satisfaction the older, larger books are by far the better product. Some of them made it to softcover trade paperback editions, but if you can afford it, the big hard ones are the jobs to go for…

From the moment a kid first sees his second superhero the only thing he/she wants is to see how the new costumed marvel stacks up against the first. From the earliest days of the industry (and according to Julie Schwartz’s fascinating introduction here, it was the same with the pulps and dime novels that preceded them) we’ve wanted our idols to meet, associate, battle together – and if you follow the Timely/Marvel model, that means against each other – far more than we want to see them trounce their archenemy one more time…

The Greatest Team-Up Stories Ever Told gathers together a stunning variety of classic tales and a few less famous but still worthy aggregations of heroes, but cleverly kicks off with a union of bad-guys in the Wayne Boring illustrated tale ‘The Terrible Trio!’ (Superman #88, March 1954) as the Man of Steel’s wiliest foes, Lex Luthor, Toyman and the Prankster joined forces to outwit and destroy him, whilst World’s Finest Comics #82 (May-June 1956) saw Batman and Robin join the Man of Tomorrow in a time-travelling romp to 17th century France as ‘The Three Super-Musketeers!’, helping embattled D’Artagnan solve the mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask.

A lot of these stories are regrettably uncredited, but nobody could miss the stunning artwork of Dick Sprang here, and subsequent research has since revealed writer Edmond Hamilton and inker Stan Kaye were also involved in crafting this terrific yarn.

Kid heroes prevailed when Superman was murdered and the Boy Wonder travelled back in time to enlist the victim’s younger self in ‘Superboy Meets Robin’ (Adventure Comics #253, October 1953) illustrated by Al Plastino, whilst two of that title’s venerable back-up stars almost collided in an experimental crossover from issue #267 (December 1959).

At this time Adventure starred Superboy and featured Aquaman and Green Arrow as supporting features. ‘The Manhunt on Land’, with art from Ramona Fradon & Charles Paris, saw villainous Shark Norton trade territories with Green Arrow’s foe The Wizard. Both parts were written by Robert Bernstein, and the two heroes and their sidekicks worked the same case with Aquaman fighting on dry land whilst the Emerald Archer pursued his enemy beneath the waves in his own strip; ‘The Underwater Archers’, illustrated by the excellent Lee Elias.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was one of the “Baby Boomer” crowd who grew up with Gardner Fox and John Broome’s tantalisingly slow reintroduction of Golden Age superheroes during the halcyon, eternally summery days of the 1960s. To me those fascinating counterpart crusaders from Earth-Two weren’t vague and distant memories rubber-stamped by parents or older brothers – they were cool, fascinating and enigmatically new. And for some reason the “proper” heroes of Earth-One held them in high regard and treated them with obvious deference…

It all began, naturally enough, in The Flash, flagship title of the Silver Age Revolution. After ushering in the triumphant return of the costumed superhero, the Scarlet Speedster, with Fox and Broome at the reins, set an unbelievably high standard for metahuman adventure in sharp, witty tales of science and imagination, illustrated with captivating style and clean simplicity by Carmine Infantino.

Fox didn’t write many Flash scripts at this time, but those few he did were all dynamite. None more so than the full-length epic that literally changed the scope of American comics forever. ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (Flash #123 September 1961, illustrated by Infantino and Joe Giella) introduced alternate Earths to the continuity which resulted in the multiversal structure of the DCU, Crisis on Infinite Earths and all succeeding cosmos-shaking crossover sagas since. And of course where DC led, others followed…

During a benefit gig Flash (police scientist Barry Allen) accidentally slips into another dimension where he finds the comic-book champion he based his own superhero identity upon actually exists. Every adventure he’d avidly absorbed as an eager child was grim reality to Jay Garrick and his mystery-men comrades on the controversially named Earth-2. Locating his idol Barry convinces the elder to come out of retirement just as three Golden Age villains, Shade, Thinker and the Fiddler make their own wicked comeback… Thus is history made and above all else, ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ is still a magical tale that can electrify today’s reader.

The story generated an avalanche of popular and critical approval (big sales figures, too) so after a few more trans-dimensional test runs the ultimate team-up was delivered to slavering fans. ‘Crisis on Earth-One’ (Justice League of America #21, August 1963) and ‘Crisis on Earth-Two’ (#22) combine to become one of the most important stories in DC history and arguably one of the most important tales in American comics. When ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ introduced the concept of Infinite Earths and multiple heroes to the public, pressure had begun almost instantly to bring back the actual heroes of the “Golden Age”. Editorial powers-that-be were hesitant, though, fearing too many heroes would be silly and unmanageable, or worse yet put readers off. If they could see us now…

The story by Fox, Mike Sekowsky Bernard Sachs finds a coalition of assorted villains from each Earth plundering at will and trapping the mighty Justice League in their own HQ. Temporarily helpless the heroes contrive a desperate plan to combine forces with the champions of a bygone era and the result is pure comicbook majesty. It’s impossible for me to be totally objective about this saga. I was a drooling kid in short trousers when I first read it and the thrills haven’t diminished with this umpty-first re-reading. This is what superhero comics are all about!

The wonderment continues here with a science fiction hero team-up from Mystery in Space #90, which had been the home of star-spanning Adam Strange since issue #53 and with #87 Schwartz moved Hawkman and Hawkgirl into the back-up slot, and even granted them occasional cover-privileges before they graduated to their own title. These were brief, engaging action pieces but issue #90 (March 1964) was a full-length mystery thriller pairing the Winged Wonders and Earth’s interplanetary expatriate in a spectacular End-of the-World(s) epic.

‘Planets in Peril!’ written by Fox, illustrated by Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson, found our fragile globe instantly transported to the Alpha-Centauri system and heading for a fatal collision with the constantly-under-threat world of Rann at the behest of a scientific madman who eventually proved no match for the high-flying, rocket-powered trio.

Before settling into a comfortable pattern as a Batman team-up title, Brave and the Bold had been a high-adventure anthology, a try-out book like Showcase and a floating team title, pairing disparate heroes together for one-off  adventures. One of the very best of these was ‘The Challenge of the Expanding World’ (#53, April-May 1964) in which the Atom and Flash strove valiantly to free a sub-atomic civilisation from a mad dictator and simultaneously battled to keep that miniature planet from explosively enlarging into our own.

This astounding thriller from Bob Haney and the incredible Alex Toth was followed in the next B&B issue by the origin of the Teen Titans and that event is repeated here. ‘The Thousand-and-One Dooms of Mr. Twister’ (#54, June-July 1964) by Haney, Bruno Premiani and Charles Paris united sidekicks Kid Flash, Aqualad and Robin the Boy Wonder in a desperate battle against a modern wizard-come-Pied Piper who had stolen the teen-agers of American everytown Hatton Corners. The young heroes had met in the town by chance when students invited them to mediate in a long-running dispute with the town adults, but didn’t even have a team name until their second appearance.

By the end of the 1960s America was a bubbling cauldron of social turmoil and experimentation. Everything was challenged and with issue #76 of Green Lantern, Denny O’Neil and comics iconoclast Neal Adams completely redefined contemporary superhero strips with relevancy-driven stories that transformed moribund establishment super-cops into questing champions and explorers of the revolution. ‘No Evil Shall Escape My Sight!’ (O’Neil, Adams & Frank Giacoica, April 1970) is a landmark in the medium, utterly re-positioning the very concept of the costumed crusader as ardent liberal Green Arrow challenges GL’s cosy worldview as the heroes discover true villainy can wear business suits, harm people just because of skin colour and happily poison its own nest for short term gain…

Of course the fact that the story is a brilliant crime-thriller with science-fiction overtones beautifully illustrated doesn’t hurt either…

The Fabulous World of Krypton was a long-running back-up feature in Superman during the 1970s, revealing intriguing glimpses from the history of that lost world. One of the very best is ‘The Greatest Green Lantern of All’ (#257, October, 1972 by Elliot Maggin, Dick Dillin & Dick Giordano) detailing the tragic failure of avian GL Tomar-Re, dispatched to prevent the planet’s detonation and how the Guardians of the Universe had planned to use that world’s greatest bloodline…

Brave and the Bold produced a plethora of tempestuous team-ups starring Batman and his many associates, and at first glance ‘Paperchase’ (#178, September 1981) by Alan Brennert & Jim Aparo from the dying days of the title might seem an odd choice, but don’t be fooled. This pell-mell pairing of Dark Knight and the Creeper in pursuit of an uncanny serial killer is tension-packed, turbo-charged thriller of intoxicating quality.

The narrative section of this collaborative chronicle concludes with the greatest and most influential comics writer of the 1980s, combining his signature character with DC guiding icon for a moody, melancholy masterpiece of horror-tinged melodrama. From DC Comics Presents #85 (September 1985) comes ‘The Jungle Line’ by Alan Moore, Rick Veitch & Al Williamson wherein Superman contracts a fatal disease from a Kryptonian spore and plagued by intermittent powerlessness, oncoming madness and inevitable death, deserts his loved ones and drives slowly south to die in isolation.

Mercifully in the dark green swamps he is found by the world’s plant elemental the Swamp Thing…

The book is edited by Mike Gold, Brian Augustyn & Robert Greenberger, with panoramic and comprehensive endpaper illustrations from Carmine Infantino (who blue-printed the Silver Age of Comicbooks) and text features ‘The Ghosts of Frank and Dick Merriwell’, ‘That Old Time Magic’ and a captivating end-note article ‘Just Imagine, Your Favourite Heroes…’. However for fans of all ages possibly the most beguiling feature in this volume is the tantalising cover reproduction section: team-ups that didn’t make it into this selection, filling in all the half-page breaks which advertised new comics in the originals. I defy any nostalgia-soaked fan not to start muttering “got; got; need it; Mother threw it away…”

This unbelievably enchanting collection is a pure package of superhero magnificence: fun-filled, action-packed and utterly addictive.
© 1954-1985, 1989 DC Comics Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Justice Society Volume 2


By Paul Levitz, Joe Staton & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1194-3

This second of twin volumes gathering the 1970s revival of the fabled Justice Society of America collects issues #68-74 of All-Star Comics plus the series’ continuation and conclusion from giant anthology title Adventure Comics #461-466.

Set on the parallel world of Earth-2 the veteran team was leavened with a smattering of teen heroes combined into a contentious, generation-gap fuelled “Super Squad” – although by the start of this book that rather naff sub-title has been quietly dropped and the assembled multi-generational team are all JSA-ers. .

Those youngsters included a grown up Robin, Sylvester Pemberton, the Star-Spangled Kid (a teen superhero from the 1940s who had been lost in time for decades) and a busty young nymphet who quickly became the feisty favourite of a generation of growing boys: Kara Zor-L – Power Girl.

By issue #68 (October, 1977) the curvy Kryptonian was clearly the star of the show and as ‘Divided We Stand!’ by Paul Levitz, Joe Staton & Bob Layton, concluded a long-running scheme by the villainous Psycho-Pirate to discredit and destroy the JSA she was well on the way to her first solo outing in Showcase #97-98 (reprinted in Power Girl). Meanwhile Green Lantern resumed a maniacal rampage through Gotham City and Police Commissioner Bruce Wayne took steps to bring the seemingly out-of control team to book.

In #69’s ‘United We Fall!’ Commissioner Wayne bought in his own team of retired JSA-ers to arrest the “rogue” heroes, resulting in a classic fanboy dream duel as Dr. Fate, Wildcat, Hawkman, Flash, GL and Star Spangled Kid battled the one-time Batman, Robin, Hourman, Starman, Dr. Midnight and Wonder Woman. It was a colourful catastrophe in waiting until Power Girl and Superman intervened to reveal the true cause of all the madness. And in the background, a new character was about to make a landmark debut…

With order (temporarily) restored ‘A Parting of the Ways!’ focussed on Wildcat and Star Spangled Kid as the off-duty heroes stumbled upon a high-tech gang of super-thieves called the Strike Force. The robbers initially proved too much for the pair and even new star The Huntress, but with a pair of startling revelations in ‘The Deadliest Game in Town!’ the trio finally triumphed. In the aftermath the Kid resigned and the daughter of Batman and Catwoman (alternate Earth, remember?) replaced him.

All-Star Comics #72 reintroduced a couple of classic Golden Age villainesses in ‘A Thorn by Any Other Name’ as the floral psychopath returned to poison Wildcat, leaving Helena Wayne to battle the original Huntress for the cure and the rights to the name…

The concluding ‘Be it Ever So Deadly’ (with Joe Giella taking over the in inkers role) saw the entire team in action as Huntress battled Huntress whilst Thorn and the Sportsmaster did their deadly best to destroy the heroes and their loved ones. Simultaneously in Egypt Hawkman and Dr. Fate stumbled upon a deadly ancient menace to all of reality…

The late 1970s was a perilous period for comics with drastically dwindling sales. Many titles were abruptly cancelled in a “DC Implosion” and All-Star Comics was one of the casualties. Issue #74 was the last and pitted the entire team against a mystic Armageddon perpetrated by the nigh-omnipotent Master Summoner who orchestrated a ‘World on the Edge of Ending’ before once more the Justice Society triumphed.

Although their book was gone the series continued in the massive 68 page anthology title Adventure Comics, beginning in #461 with the blockbuster tale intended for the anniversary 75th issue. Drawn and inked by Staton, ‘Only Legends Live Forever’ detailed the last case of Batman as the Dark Knight came out of retirement to battle a seeming nonentity who had mysteriously acquired god-like power.

Divided into two chapters, #462 delivered the shocking conclusion ‘The Legend Lives Again!’ whilst ‘The Night of the Soul Thief!’ saw Huntress, Robin and the assembled JSA deliver righteous justice to the mysterious mastermind who had truly orchestrated the death of the World’s Greatest Detective.

Adventure #464 provided an intriguing insight into aging warrior Wildcat as with ‘To Everything There is a Season…’ he embraced his own mortality and began a new career as a teacher of heroes, whilst ‘Countdown to Disaster!’ (inked by Dave Hunt) saw Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Power Girl, Huntress and Dr. Fate hunt a doomsday device lost in the teeming masses of Gotham. It would be last modern solo outing of the team for decades.

But not the last in this volume: that honour falls to another Levitz & Staton landmark history lesson wherein they revealed why the team vanished at beginning of the 1950s. From Adventure #466 ‘The Defeat of the Justice Society!’ showed how the American Government betrayed their greatest champions during the McCarthy Witch-hunts provoking them into withdrawing from public, heroic life for over a decade – that is until the costumed stalwarts of Earth-1 started the whole Fights ‘n’ Tights scene all over again…

Although perhaps a little dated now, these exuberant, rapid-paced and imaginative yarns perfectly blend the naive charm of Golden Age derring-do with cynical yet hopeful modern sensibilities that will always hold out hope for hero to save the day. Fun, furious and ferociously fun, this is stuff non mystery-man maven can do without.
© 1977, 1978, 1979, 2006 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

Justice Society Volume 1


By Gerry Conway, Paul Levitz, Wally Wood, Joe Staton & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0970-4

In the turbulent 1970s many old publishing ideas were finally laid to rest. The belief that characters could be “over-exposed” was one of the most long-lasting, garnered from years of experience in an industry that lived or died on that fractional portion of pennies derived each month from the pocket money and allowances of children which wasn’t spent on candy, toys or movies.

By the end of the 1960s comicbook costs and prices were inexorably rising and a proportion of titles – especially the newly revived horror stories – were consciously being produced for older readerships. Nearly a decade of organised fan publications and letter writing crusades had finally convinced publishing bean-counters what editors already knew: grown-ups avidly read comics too; they would happily spend more than kids and they wanted more, more, more of what they loved.

Explicitly: If one appearance per month was popular, extras, specials and second series would be more so. By the time Marvel Wunderkind Gerry Conway was ready to leave Marvel, DC was willing to expand its variegated line-up with some oft-requested fan-favourite characters. Paramount among these was the Justice Society of America, the first comicbook super-team and a perennial gem whose annual guest-appearances in the Justice League of America had become an inescapable and beloved summer tradition.

Thus in 1976 along with Blackhawk, Plastic Man, Secret Society of Super-Villains, Freedom Fighters, Kobra, Blitzkrieg and many others Conway signalled his DC tenure by reviving All Star Comics with number #58 (the original title had transformed overnight into All Star Western with that number running for a further decade as the home of such cowboy crusaders as Strong Bow, the Trigger Twins, Johnny Thunder and Super-Chief.

Set on the parallel world of Earth-2 and in keeping with the editorial sense of keeping the series relevant to young readers too, Conway reintroduced the veteran team and leavened it with a smattering of teen heroes, combined into a contentious, generation-gap fuelled “Super Squad”.

The youngsters included Robin (already a JSA member since the mid 1960s – see Showcase Presents the Justice League of America volume 3), Sylvester Pemberton, The Star-Spangled Kid (in actuality a teen superhero from the 1940s who had spent decades lost in time) and a busty young nymphet who quickly became the feisty favourite of a generation of growing boys: Kara Zor-L AKA Power Girl.

This first of twin volumes gathers all the 1970s tales into a fine showcase of different, ever-changing times and includes All-Star Comics 58-67 plus the seminal DC Special #29 which, after almost four decades, finally gave the JSA an origin…

After a three-page recap by Paul Levitz, Joe Staton & Bob Layton, outlining the history and mechanics of the alternate Earths, the first tale found newly-adopted Star-Spangled Kid chafing at his time-lost plight and revelling in his new powers (he had been given a cosmic power device by retired veteran Starman) in Seattle when a crisis propelled him and elder heroes Flash, Dr. Mid-Nite, Wildcat, Hawkman, Green Lantern and Dr. Fate into a three-pronged calamity devastating that city, Cape Town and Peking (which you youngsters now know as Beijing) with man-made natural disasters.

The veterans split up but were overwhelmed, giving the new kids a chance to shine in ‘All Star Super-Squad’. With the abrasive, impatient Power Girl in the vanguard the entire team is soon on the trail of old foe Degaton and his mind-bending ally in the concluding ‘Brainwave Blows Up!’ by Conway, Ric Estrada and Wally Wood.

Kieth Giffen replaced Estrada in issue #60 for the introduction of psychotic super-arsonist ‘Vulcan: Son of Fire!’ as age divide began to chafe and Power Girl began to tick off and re-educate the stuffy, paternalistic JSA elders. In ‘Hellfire and Holocaust’ the flaming fury mortally wounded Dr. Fate before his own defeat, and a new mystic menace was uncovered.

Conway’s last issue as scripter was #62’s ‘When Fall the Mighty’ as antediluvian sorcerer Zanadu attacked, whilst the criminal Injustice Gang opened their latest attack using mind-control to turn friend against friend…

The cast expanded with the return of Hourman and Power Girl’s Kryptonian mentor, but even they were insufficient to prevent ‘The Death of Doctor Fate’ (written by Paul Levitz and fully illustrated by the inimitable Wally Wood). Attacked on all sides, the team splintered: Wildcat, Hawkman and the Kryptonians tackling the assembled super-villains, Flash and Green Lantern searching Egypt for a cure to Fate’s condition and Hourman, Mid-Nite and Star-Spangled Kid desperately attempting to keep their fallen comrade alive.

They fail and Zanadu attacked again, almost adding Fate’s defenders to his tally until the sorcerer’s very presence called him back from beyond the grave…

With the crisis averted Superman prepared to leave but was quickly embroiled in a manic time-travel assassination plot (Levitz & Wood) that dragged the team and guest-star Shining Knight from an embattled Camelot in ‘Yesterday Begins Today!’ to the far-flung future and ‘The Master Plan of Vandal Savage’ a breathtaking spectacle of drama and excitement that signalled Wood’s departure from the series.

Joe Staton & Bob Layton had the unenviable task of filling his artistic shoes, beginning with #66 as ‘Injustice Strikes Twice!’ with the reunited team, sans Superman, falling prey to an ambush from their arch-enemies, whilst the emotion-warping Psycho-Pirate began to twist Green Lantern into a maniac menace determined to crush Corporate America leading to the return of Earth-2’s Bruce Wayne, who had eschewed his masked persona to become Gotham’s Police Commissioner.

The Injustice Society had monstrous allies and in ‘Attack of the Underlord!’ a subterranean race nearly ended the tea forever. Meanwhile Wayne laid plans to close down the JSA before their increasingly destructive exploits demolished his beloved city…

The modern adventures pause here and this first colourful chronicle closes with the aforementioned classified case from DC Special #29 (September 1977). ‘The Untold Origin of the Justice Society’ by Levitz, Staton & Layton, reveals how in 1940 Adolf Hitler acquired the mystical Spear of Destiny and summoned mythical Teutonic Valkyries to aid in the imminent invasion of Britain.

Alerted to the threat, American President Roosevelt, hampered by his country’s neutrality, asks a select band of masked mystery-men to lend their aid privately. In a cataclysmic escalation the struggle ranged from the heart of Europe, throughout the British Isles and even to the Oval office of the White House before ten bold costumed heroes finally – if only temporarily – stopped the Nazis evil plans…

These classic tales from a simpler time are a glorious example of traditional superhero storytelling at its finest: engaging, exciting and perfectly illustrated. No Fights ‘n’ Tights fan can afford to miss these marvellous sagas.

© 1976, 1977, 2006 DC Comics. All rights reserved.