The Flash of Two Worlds Deluxe Edition


By Gardner Fox, John Broome, Carmine Infantino, Joe Giella, Sid Greene & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9459-5 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Superhero Wonderment… 10/10

As previously stated, there have been a lot of comic book anniversaries this year, possibly none more significant than original speedster The Flash who debuted in 1940. That’s happily led to a swathe of splendid vintage material being revived, such as this tome from 2009, gathering material that truly reshaped how the industry and the fanbase consumed their reading matter: a stunning collection gathering some of the most influential and beloved stories of the Silver Age.

Way back then in 1956, Super-Editor Julius Schwartz ushered in that epoch with his Showcase successes The Flash, Adam Strange and Green Lantern, directly leading to the Justice League of America (happy sixtieth!) and more revivals – which in turn inspired Fantastic Four and the whole Marvel Empire, which further changed the way comics were made and read…

Whereas 1940s tales were about magic and macho, the Silver Age polished everything with a thick veneer of SCIENCE and a wave of implausible rationalistic concepts quickly filtered into the dawning mass-consciousness of a generation of baby-boomer kids.

The most intriguing and rewarding was, of course, the notion of parallel worlds: the very crux of this celebration gathering the first half dozen Barry Allen team-ups with his predecessor Jay Garrick: specifically, the contents of The Flash #123, 129, 137, 151, 170 and 173, originally seen between September 1961 and September 1967…

The continuing adventures of the Scarlet Speedster were the bedrock of the Silver Age Revolution. After ushering in the triumphant return of the costumed superhero concept, the Crimson Comet – with key writers John Broome and Gardner Fox at the reins – set an unbelievably high standard for superhero adventure in sharp, witty tales of technology and imagination, illustrated with captivating style and clean simplicity by Carmine Infantino.

Fox didn’t write many Flash scripts at this time, but the few he did were all dynamite; none more so than the full-length epic which literally changed the scope of American comics forever. Following an Introduction from Flash-Fanatic Geoff Johns and Foreword by Paul Levitz, you can see how and why…

‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (Flash #123, September 1961 and inked by Joe Giella) introduced the theory of alternate Earths to the continuity which grew by careful extension into a multiversal structure comprising Infinite Earths. Once established as a cornerstone of a newly integrated DCU through a wealth of team-ups and escalating succession of cosmos-shaking crossover sagas, a glorious pattern was set which would, after joyous decades, eventually culminate in a spectacular Crisis on Infinite Earths

During a benefit gig, Flash (police scientist Barry Allen) accidentally slips into another dimension where he finds the comic book hero upon whom he based his own superhero identity actually exists.

Every ripping yarn he had avidly absorbed as an eager child was grim reality to Jay Garrick and his comrades on the controversially designated “Earth-2”. Locating his idol, Barry convinces the elder to come out of retirement just as three Golden Age villains make their own criminal comeback…

The floodgates were opened, and over the following months and years many Earth-1 stalwarts met their counterparts, either via annual summer collaborations in the pages of Justice League of America or in their own individual series. Schwartz even had a game go at reviving a cadre of the older titans in their own titles. Public approval was decidedly vocal and he used DC’s try-out magazines to take the next step: stories set on Earth-2 exclusively featuring Golden Age characters. Of those bold sallies only The Spectre graduated to his own title…

Received with tumultuous acclaim by the readership, the Earth-2 concept was revisited months later in #129’s ‘Double Danger on Earth!’ (June 1962) which also teasingly reintroduced evergreen 1940s stalwarts Wonder Woman, The Atom, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Doctor Mid-Nite and Black Canary. Clearly Editor Schwartz had something in mind…

‘Vengeance of the Immortal Villain!’ from #137 (June 1963) was the third incredible Earth-2 crossover, and saw both Flashes in action against 50,000-year-old tyrant Vandal Savage to save the abducted Justice Society of America: a tale leading directly to the veteran team’s first meeting with the Justice League of America and the subsequent creation of an annual team-up 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 the Editorial powers-that-be were hesitant, fearing too many heroes would be silly and unmanageable, or worse yet, put readers off. If they could only see us now…

A less well-known but superbly gripping team-up tale is ‘Invader from the Dark Dimension!’ (Flash #151, March 1965,): another full-length shocker wherein demonic super-bandit The Shade ambitiously infiltrates Earth-1 as the opening gambit in an avaricious attempt to plunder both worlds…

Flash #170 (May 1967) was scripted by John Broome and inked by the sublime Sid Greene, reuniting the Speedsters after a gap of two years to face the ‘The See-Nothing Spells of Abra Kadabra!’, with the Earth-1 Vizier of Velocity hexed by the cunning conjuror and rendered unable to detect the villain’s actions or presence.

Sadly for the sinister spellbinder, Jay Garrick is visiting and calls on the services of JSA pals Doctors Fate and Mid-Nite to counteract the wicked wizard’s wiles…

Promptly following and concluding this cornucopia of cosmic chills, Flash #173 (September 1967, by Broome, Infantino & Greene again) featured a titanic triple team-up as Barry, Wally “Kid Flash” West and Jay were sequentially shanghaied to another galaxy as putative prey for alien hunter Golden Man in ‘Doomward Flight of the Flashes!’

However, the sneaky script slowly reveals devilish layers of intrigue since the sinister stalker’s Andromedan super-safari conceals a far more scurrilous purpose for the three speedy pawns before the wayward wanderers finally fight free and find their way home again…

Still irresistible and compellingly beautiful after all these years, the stories collected here – in lavish hardback or handy digital editions – shaped American comics for decades and are still influencing not only today’s funnybooks but also the wave of animated shows, movies and TV series which grew from them. These are tales and this is a book you simply must have.
© 1961, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1967, 2009, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

All Star Comics: Only Legends Live Forever


By Gerry Conway, Paul Levitz, Ric Estrada, Wally Wood, Keith Giffen, Joe Staton & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0071-7 (HB)

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, comic book costs and retail 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. Moreover, they would happily spend more than kids and, most importantly, wanted more, more, more of what they particularly 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 comic book 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 second DC tenure (he had first broken in to the game 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 numbering running for a further decade as the home of such cowboy crusaders as Strong Bow, Trigger Twins, Johnny Thunder and Super-Chief.

If you’re interested, among the other revivals/introductions in “Conway’s Corner” were Plastic Man, Blackhawk, 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 be relevant to young readers too, Conway reintroduced the veteran team, leavened with a smattering of teen heroes, combined into a contentious, generation-gap fuelled “Super Squad”.

These youngsters included Robin (already a JSA-er since the mid-1960s and Justice League of America #55), Sylvester Pemberton, AKA The Star-Spangled Kid (in actuality a boy-hero from the 1940s lost in time for decades) and a busty young thing 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 titanic hardback and digital collection volume gathers the 4-year run of the JSA from the late 1970s into a sublime showcase of so-different, ever-changing times via All-Star Comics #58-74, plus the series’ continuation and conclusion from epic anthology title Adventure Comics #461-466, and includes seminal DC Special #29 which, after almost four decades, finally provided the team with an origin…

Without preamble, the action begins with ‘Prologue’ – a 3-page introduction, recap and summation of the Society’s history and the celestial mechanics of Alternate Earths, by Paul Levitz, Joe Staton & Bob Layton (first seen in Adventure #461, January/February 1979). This outlines the history and mechanics of DC’s parallel continuities, after which the first half of the 2-part debut tale from All-Star Comics #58 (January/February 1976 by Conway, Ric Estrada and Wally Wood) finds newly-inducted Pemberton chafing at his time-lost plight and revelling in his new powers after being given a cosmic-power device by retired veteran Starman. When a crisis propels him and elder heroes Flash, Dr. Mid-Nite, Wildcat, Green Lantern, Hawkman and Dr. Fate into a three-pronged calamity devastating Seattle, Cape Town and Peking (which you youngsters now known as Beijing) with man-made natural disasters, the elder statesmen split up but are 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 #59’s ‘Brainwave Blows Up!’

Keith Giffen replaced Estrada in #60 for the introduction of a psychotic super-arsonist who attacks the squad just as the age-divide starts to grate and Power Girl begins to tick off (or “re-educate”) the stuffy, paternalistic JSA-ers in ‘Vulcan: Son of Fire!’.

Closing instalment ‘Hellfire and Holocaust’ sees the flaming fury mortally wound Fate before his own defeat, just as a new mystic menace is stirring…

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

The cast expands with the return of Hourman and Power Girl’s Kryptonian mentor, but even they prove insufficient to prevent ‘The Death of Doctor Fate’ (written by Paul Levitz) and, attacked on all sides, the team splinters. Wildcat, Hawkman and the Kryptonian Cousins tackle the assembled super-villains as Flash and Green Lantern search Egypt for a cure to Fate’s condition, and Hourman, Mid-Nite and Star-Spangled Kid desperately attempt to keep their fallen comrade alive.

They fail and Zanadu renews his assault, almost adding the moribund Fate’s death-watch defenders to his tally until the archaic alien’s very presence calls Kent Nelson back from beyond the grave…

With that crisis averted, Superman makes ready to leave but is embroiled in a last-minute, manic time-travel assassination plot (Levitz script, and fully illustrated by the inimitable Wally Wood) which drags 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 Woody’s departure from the series.

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

In ‘Attack of the Underlord!’ (All-Star Comics #67, July/August 1977), the Injustice Society’s monstrous allies are revealed as a subterranean race of conquerors who nearly end the team forever. Meanwhile, Wayne’s plans near fruition. He wants to shut down the JSA before their increasingly destructive exploits demolish his beloved city…

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

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

Alerted to the threat, American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, hampered by his country’s neutrality, asks a select band of masked mystery-men to lend their aid as non-political, private citizens. In a cataclysmic escalation, the struggle ranges 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 – stymy the Nazis’ plans…

Back in All Star #68 (October 1977) the curvy Kryptonian was clearly becoming the star of the show. ‘Divided We Stand!’ (Levitz, Staton & Layton) concludes the Psycho-Pirate’s scheme to discredit and destroy the JSA, and sets the scene for her first solo outing in Showcase #97-99 (not included here).

Meanwhile GL resumes his maniacal rampage through Gotham and Police Commissioner Bruce Wayne takes extreme measures to bring the seemingly out-of-control JSA to book.

In #69’s ‘United We Fall!’, he brings in his own team of retired JSA stars 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 original Batman, Robin, Hourman, Starman, Dr. Mid-Nite and Wonder Woman. It’s a colourful catastrophe in waiting until PG and Superman intervene to reveal the true cause of all the unleashed madness…

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

With order (temporarily) restored ‘A Parting of the Ways!’ spotlights Wildcat and Star-Spangled Kid as the off-duty heroes stumble upon high-tech super-thieves Strike Force. The robbers initially prove 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 triumph.

In the aftermath, the Kid resigns and the daughter of Batman and Catwoman replace him.

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

Concluding chapter ‘Be it Ever So Deadly’ (with Joe Giella taking over the inker’s role) sees the entire team in action as Huntress battled Huntress whilst Thorn and The Sportsmaster do their deadly best to destroy the heroes and their loved ones. Simultaneously in Egypt, Hawkman and Dr. Fate stumble 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, pitting the reunited team against a mystic Armageddon perpetrated by nigh-omnipotent Master Summoner who orchestrates a ‘World on the Edge of Ending’ before the Justice Society triumphantly drag 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’ details the last case of the Batman as the Dark Knight comes out of retirement to battle a seeming nonentity who has mysteriously acquired god-like power.

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

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

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

From Adventure #466, ‘The Defeat of the Justice Society!’ shows how the American Government had cravenly betrayed their greatest champions during the McCarthy witch-hunts: provoking the mystery-men into voluntarily 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…

Upping the gaudy glory quotient, a team pin-up by Staton & Dick Giordano and two earlier collection covers from Brian Bolland cap off the costumed dramas. Although perhaps a tad dated now, these exuberant, rapid-paced and imaginative yarns perfectly blend the naive charm of Golden Age derring-do with cynically hopeful modern sensibilities. Here you will be reassured that no matter what, in the end our heroes will always find a way to save the day.

These classic tales from simpler times 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 should miss these marvellous sagas.
© 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 2019 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Golden Age Green Lantern Archives volume 1


By Bill Finger, Martin Nodell, E.E. Hibbard, Irwin Hasen & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-507-4

Thanks to comics genius and editorial wunderkind Sheldon Mayer, the innovative fledgling company All-American Comics – who co-published in association with and would eventually be absorbed by DC – published the first comic book super-speedster in Flash Comics. They followed up a few months later with another evergreen and immortal all-star.

The Green Lantern debuted in issue #16 of the company’s flagship title just as superheroes began to truly dominate the market, supplanting newspaper strip reprints and stock genre characters in the still primarily anthologised comic books. The Emerald Gladiator would be swiftly joined in All-American Comics by The Atom, Red Tornado, Sargon the Sorcerer and Doctor Mid-Nite until eventually only gag strips such Mutt and Jeff and exceptional topical tough-guy military strips Hop Harrigan (Ace of the Airwaves) and Red, White and Blue remained to represent mere mortal heroes.

At least, until tastes shifted again after the war and costumed crusaders faded away, to be replaced by cowboys, cops and private eyes…

Devised by up-and-coming cartoonist Martin Nodell (and fleshed out by Bill Finger in the same generally unsung way he had contributed to the success of Batman), Green Lantern soon became AA’s second smash sensation.

The arcane avenger gained his own solo-starring title little more than a year after his premiere and appeared in other anthologies such as Comics Cavalcade and All Star Comics for just over a decade before, like most first-generation superheroes, he faded away in the early1950s. However, he first suffered the uniquely humiliating fate of being edged out of his own strip and comic book by his pet, Streak the Wonder Dog

However, that’s the stuff of other reviews. This spectacular quirkily beguiling deluxe Archive edition (collecting the Sentinel of Justice’s appearances from All-American Comics #16-30 – covering July 1940 to September 1941 as well as Green Lantern #1 (Fall 1941)) opens with a rousing reminiscence from Nodell in a Foreword which discusses the origins of the character before the parade of raw, graphic enchantment starts with the incredible history of The Green Flame of Life

Ambitious young engineer Alan Scott only survives the sabotage and destruction of a passenger-packed train due to the intervention of a battered old railway lantern. Bathed in its eerie emerald light he is regaled by a mysterious green voice with the legend of how a meteor once fell in ancient China and spoke to the people, predicting Death, Life and Power.

The star-stone’s viridian glow brought doom to the savant who reshaped it into a lamp, sanity to a madman centuries later and now promised incredible might to bring justice to the innocent…

Instructing Scott to fashion a ring from its metal and draw a charge of power from the lantern every 24 hours, the ancient artefact urges the engineer to use his formidable willpower to end all evil: a mission Scott eagerly takes up by promptly crushing corrupt industrialist Dekker – who had callously caused wholesale death just to secure a lucrative rail contract.

The ring made Scott immune to all minerals and metals, enabled him to fly and pass through walls, but as he battled Dekker’s thugs the grim avenger painfully discovers that living – perhaps organic – materials such as wood or rubber can penetrate his jade defences and cause him mortal harm…

The saboteurs duly punished, Scott resolves to carry on the fight and devises a “bizarre costume” to disguise his identity and strike fear and awe into wrongdoers…

Most of the stories at this time were untitled, and All-American Comics #17 (August 1940) found Scott in Metropolis (long before it became the fictional home of Superman) where his new employer is squeezed out of a building contract by a crooked City Commissioner in bed with racketeers. With lives at risk from shoddy construction, the Green Lantern moves to stop the gangsters. He nearly loses his life to overconfidence before finally triumphing, after which #18 finds Scott visiting the 1940 New York World’s Fair.

This yarn (which I suspect was devised for DC’s legendary comicbook premium New York World’s Fair Comics, but shelved at the last moment) introduces feisty romantic interest Irene Miller as she attempts to shoot the gangster who framed her brother. Naturally, gallant he-man Scott had to get involved, promptly discovering untouchable gang-boss Murdock owns his own Judge, by the simple expedient of holding the lawman’s daughter captive…

However, once Alan applies his keen wits and ruthless mystic might to the problem Murdock’s power – and life – are forfeit, after which, in All-American Comics #19, Scott saves a man from an attempted hit-and-run and finds himself ferreting out a deadly ring of insurance scammers collecting big pay-outs through inflicting “accidents” upon unsuspecting citizens.

Issue #20 opened with a quick recap of GL’s origin before instituting a major change in the young engineer’s life. Following the gunning down of a roving radio announcer and assassination of the reporter’s wife, our hero investigates APEX Broadcasting System in Capitol City… and again meets Irene Miller.

She works at APEX, and with Alan’s help uncovers a scheme whereby broadcasts are used to transmit coded instructions to merciless smugglers. Once the Ring-wielder mops up the cunning gang and their inside man, engineer Scott takes a job at the company and begins a hapless romantic pursuit of capable, valiant Irene.

Thanks to scripter Finger, Green Lantern was initially a grim, mysterious and spookily implacable figure of vengeance weeding out criminals and gangsters but, just as with early Batman sagas, there was always a strong undercurrent of social issues, ballsy sentimentality and human drama.

All-American #21 has the hero expose a cruel con wherein a crooked lawyer presses young criminal Cub Brenner into posing as the long-lost son of a wealthy couple to steal their fortune. Of course, the kid has a change of heart and everything ends happily, but not before stupendous skulduggery and atrocious violence ensue…

In #22, when prize-fighter Kid McKay refuses to throw a bout, mobsters abduct his wife and even temporarily overcome the fighting-mad Emerald Guardian. Moreover, when one brutal thug puts on the magic ring, he swiftly suffers a ghastly punishment which allows GL to emerge victorious…

Slick veteran Everett E. Hibbard provided the art for #23, and his famed light touch frames GL’s development into a less fearsome and more public hero. As Irene continues to rebuff Alan’s advances – in vain hopes of landing his magnificent mystery man alter ego – the engineer accompanies her to interview movie star Delia Day and stumbles into a cruel blackmail racket.

Despite their best efforts the net result is heartbreak, tragedy and many deaths. Issue #24 then sees the Man of Light going undercover to expose philanthropist tycoon R.J. Karns, who maintains his vast fortune by selling unemployed Americans into slavery on a tropical Devil’s Island, whilst #25 finds Irene uncovering sabotage at a steel mill.

With GL’s unsuspected help she then exposes purported enemy mastermind The Leader as no more than an unscrupulous American insider trader trying to force prices down for a simple Capitalist coup…

Celebrated strip cartoonist Irwin Hasen began his long association with Green Lantern in #26 when the hero aids swindled citizens whose lending agreements with a loan shark were being imperceptibly altered by a forger to keep them paying in perpetuity, after which the artist illustrated the debut appearance of overnight sensation Doiby Dickles in All-American #27 (June 1941).

The rotund, middle-aged Brooklyn-born cab driver was simply intended as light foil and occasional sidekick for the poker-faced Emerald Avenger but rapidly grew to be one of the most popular and beloved comedy stooges of the era; soon sharing covers and even by-lines with the star.

In this initial dramatic outing, he bravely defends fare Irene (sorry: irresistible – awful, but irresistible) from assailants as she carries plans for a new radio receiver device. For his noble efforts, Doiby is sought out and thanked by Green Lantern. After the verdant crusader investigates further, he discovers enemy agents at the root of the problem, but when Irene is again targeted, the Emerald Avenger was seemingly killed…

This time, to save Miss Miller, Doiby disguises himself as “de Lantrin” and confronts the killers alone before the real deal turns up to end things. As a reward, the Brooklyn bravo is offered an unofficial partnership…

In #28 the convenient death of millionaire Cyrus Brand and a suspicious bequest to a wastrel nephew lead Irene, Doiby and Alan to a sinister gangster dubbed The Spider who manufactures deaths by natural causes, after which #29 finds GL and the corpulent cabbie hunting mobster Mitch Hogan, who forces pharmacies to buy his counterfeit drugs and products. The brute utilises strong-arm tactics to ensure even the courts carry out his wishes – at least until the Lantern and his wrench-wielding buddy give him a dose of his own medicine…

The last All-American yarn here is from issue #30 (cover-dated September 1941) and again sees Irene sticking her nose into other peoples’ business. This time she exposes a brace of crooked bail bondsmen exploiting former criminals trying to go straight, before being again kidnapped…

This raw and vital high-energy compilation ends with the stirring contents of Green Lantern #1 from Fall 1941, scripted by Finger and exclusively illustrated by Nodell, who had by this time dropped his potentially face-saving pseudonym Mart “Dellon”.

The magic began with a 2-page origin recap in ‘Green Lantern – His Personal History’, after which ‘The Masquerading Mare!’ sees GL and Doiby smash the schemes of racketeer Scar Jorgis who goes to quite extraordinary lengths to obtain a racehorse inherited by Irene.

Following an article by Dr. William Moulton Marston (an eminent psychologist familiar to us today as the creator of Wonder Woman) in which he discusses the topic of ‘Will Power’, the comic thrills resume when a city official is accused of mishandling funds allocated to buy pneumonia serum in ‘Disease!!’

Although Green Lantern and Doiby spearhead a campaign to raise money to prevent an epidemic, events take a dark turn when the untouchable, unimpeachable Boss Filch experiences personal tragedy and exposes his grafting silent partners high in the city’s governing hierarchy…

Blistering spectacle is the star of ‘Arson in the Slums’, as Alan and Irene are entangled in a crusading publisher’s strident campaign to renovate a ghetto. Of course, the philanthropic Barton and his real estate pal Murker have only altruistic reasons for their drive to re-house the city’s poorest citizens. Sure, they do…

Doiby is absent from that high octane thriller but guest-stars with the Emerald Ace in prose tale ‘Hop Harrigan in “Trailers of Treachery”’ – by an unknown scripter and probably illustrated by Sheldon Mayer – a ripping yarn starring AA’s aviation ace (and star of his own radio show) after which ‘Green Lantern’ and Doiby travel South of the Border to scenic Landavo to investigate tampering with APEX’s short-wave station and end up in a civil war.

They soon discover the entire affair has been fomented by foreign agents intent on destroying democracy on the continent…

With the threat of involvement in the “European War” a constant subject of American headlines, this sort of spy story was gradually superseding general gangster yarns, and as Green Lantern displayed his full bombastic might against tanks, fighter planes and invading armies, nobody realised that within mere months America and the entire comic book industry were to be refitted and reconfigured beyond all recognition. Soon mystery men would become patriotic morale boosters parading and sermonising ad infinitum in every corner of the industry’s output as the real world brutally intruded on the hearts and minds of the nation…

Including a breathtaking selection of stunning and powerfully evocative covers by Sheldon Moldoff, Hasen & Howard Purcell, this magnificent book is a sheer delight for lovers of the early Fights ‘n’ Tights genre: gripping, imaginative and exuberantly exciting – but yet again remains unavailable in digital formats. One day, though…
© 1940, 1941, 1999 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Black Canary Archives volume 1


By Bob Kanigher, Gardner Fox, Denny O’Neil, Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella, Murphy Anderson, Alex Toth & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-734-4 (HB)

Black Canary was one of the first of relatively few female furies to hold a star spot in the DC universe, following Wonder Woman, Liberty Belle and Red Tornado (who actually masqueraded as a man to comedically crush crime – with a couple of kids in tow, too!). She predated Merry, the Gimmick Girl (remember her?) and disappeared with most of other superheroes at the end of the Golden Age, to be revived with the Justice Society of America in 1963.

She was created by Bob Kanigher & Carmine Infantino in 1947, echoing the worldly, dangerous women cropping up in the burgeoning wave of crime novels and on the silver screen in film noir tales better suited to the wiser, more cynical Americans who had just endured a World War and were even then gearing up for a paranoiac Cold one…

Clad in a revealing bolero jacket, shorts, fishnet stockings and high-heeled pirate boots, the devastating shady lady who looked like Veronica Lake even began life as a thief…

This superb full-colour hardback collection was released in 2001 to capitalise on the character’s small screen debut in the first Birds of Prey TV series. It gathers her admittedly short run of tales in Flash Comics (#86-104, August 1947 – February 1949), Comics Cavalcade #25 (February/March 1948), plus two adventures that went unused when the comicbook folded: one of the earliest casualties in the wave of changing tastes which decimated the superhero genre until the late 1950s. Those last only resurfaced at the end of the Second Great Superhero Winnowing and were subsequently published in DC Special #3 and Adventure Comics #399 (June 1969 & November 1970 respectively).

Also intriguingly included are two stellar appearances in Brave and the Bold #61-62 (September & November 1965), therein teamed up with JSA team-mate Starman as part of a concerted but ultimately vain editorial effort by Julius Schwartz to revive the Golden Age squad of champions situated on parallel world Earth-2.

Best of all is the re-presentation of a 2-part solo thriller from Adventure Comics #418-419 (April – May 1972) after she successfully migrated to “our” world and replaced Wonder Woman in the Justice League of America.

Regrettably, all these treasures can only be found here. Incomprehensibly, DC have allowed this entire imprint of reading gold lie fallow for years, both in print and digital formats. Hopefully, events in their cinematic analogues will entice them into reviving the Archive line… and adding to it…

In the heady, desperate days of post-war uncertainty, continuity was meagre and nobody cared much about origins. All that mattered was pace, plot, action and spectacle. As we’ll see, even when the Black Bird got her own strip, where she came from was never as important as who she faced…

Flash Comics #86 was just another superhero anthology publication, suffering a slow downturn in sales, and perennial back-up feature Johnny Thunder had long since passed its sell-by date. Although a member of the JSA, Johnny was an idiot; a genuine simpleton who just happened to control a genie-like Thunderbolt.

His affable good-hearted bumbling had carried him through the war, but changing fashions had no room for a hapless (adult) hero anymore. When he encountered a masked female Robin Hood who stole from crooks, the writing was on the wall. In this introductory yarn, ‘The Black Canary’ tricks him and T-Bolt into acquiring an invitation to a crime-lord’s party, lifts the ill-gotten loot and leaves Johnny to mop up the hoods. It was lust at first sight…

Nothing much was expected from these complete-in-one-episode filler strips. Hawkman and The Flash still hogged all the covers and glory, and although young artists Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella gave it their all as they learned their craft on the job, writer/editor Robert Kanigher was often clearly making it up as he went along…

The next Johnny Thunder instalment in #87 featured the immediate return of the Blonde Bombshell as she again makes the big goof her patsy, leaving ‘The Package of Peril’ in his inept hands. When mobsters retrieve the purloined parcel and secret documents it contains, Johnny follows and, more by luck than design, rescues the Canary from a deadly trap.

She returned in #88 – sans domino-mask now – using trained black canaries to deliver messages as she again finds herself in over her head and is forced to use the big sap and his magic pal to extricate herself before retrieving ‘The Map that Wasn’t There’ from a pack of human jackals.

Flash Comics #89 held the last Johnny Thunder solo tale as ‘Produce the Crime!’ sees the cheerful chump accidentally busting a gem-smuggling scheme without any help from the Girl Gladiator – but she did return in full force for #90 as ‘Johnny Thunder and the Black Canary’ officially team up to thwart a photographic frame-up and blackmail plot in ‘Triple Exposure!’

They resumed the partnership in #91 as gangsters used rockets and ‘The Tumbling Trees!’ in their efforts to trap the svelte nemesis of evil – and just to be clear: that’s her, not Johnny…

The strip became Black Canary with the next issue. She even got to appear on the Lee Elias cover with Flash and Hawkman. Johnny simply vanished without trace or mention and his name was peremptorily applied elsewhere to a new cowboy hero as the rise of traditional genre material such westerns relentlessly rolled on…

In ‘The Huntress of the Highway!’, feisty florist Dinah Drake is being pestered by arrogant, obnoxious but so-very-manly private eye Larry Lance, only to realise that the wreath she is working on is for him. Doffing her dowdy duds to investigate, the Blonde Bombshell is just in time to save him from a wily gang of truck hijackers.

And that’s all the set-up we got. The new status quo was established and a pattern for fast-paced but inconsequential rollercoaster action romps took off…

To celebrate her arrival, the Canary also appeared in catch-all anthology Comics Cavalcade – specifically #25 cover-dated February/March 1948 where she flamboyantly finishes a ‘Tune of Terror!’ inflicted on a rural hick trying to claim an inheritance, but encountering nothing but music-themed menace…

A word of warning: Kanigher was a superbly gifted and wildly imaginative writer, but he never let sense come between him and a memorable visual. The manic Deus ex Machina moment where a carpet of black canaries snatches the eponymous avenger and victim out of a death-plunge is, indeed, utter idiocy, but in those days, anything went…

Back in a more rational milieu and mood for Flash Comics #93, the ‘Mystery of the Crimson Crystal!’ has the Canary tracking down a conman who bamboozled many gullible women into parting with their fortunes for spurious immortality. On the home front, the utterly oblivious Larry had pressured shy Dinah into letting him use her shop as his detective office. Of course, the oaf had no idea his mousy landlady was the lethal object of his crime-busting desires…

The rather pedestrian ‘Corsage of Death!’ in #94 sees them save a scientist’s ultimate weapon from canny crooks, whilst ‘An Orchid for the Deceased!’ spectacularly finds the Avian Avenger framed for murder in an extremely classy Noir murder mystery before #96 combines equestrian robbery with aerial combat as gem thieves risk innocent lives to solve ‘The Riddle of the Topaz Brooch!’

Finally finding a formula that worked, Kanigher had Larry and the Canary investigate textile thieving thugs involved in ‘The Mystery of the Stolen Cloth!’ and murdering stamp-stealers in #98’s ‘The Byzantine Black’, as Infantino’s art grew ever more efficient and boldly effective.

‘Time Runs Out!’ in #99 ups the drama as ruthless radium-stealing gangsters trap the duo in a giant hourglass, and #100 again utilises baroque props and plots as they track down a model-making gang of burglars and are unexpectedly caught in ‘The Circle of Terror!’

Just as the stories were building momentum and finding a unique voice, the curtains were beginning to draw closed. ‘The Day that Wouldn’t End!’ in #101 sees Canary and gumshoe uncover a sinister scheme to drive a rich man mad, Dinah’s shop becomes an unsuspected tool of crafty crooks in ‘The Riddle of the Roses!’, and ‘Mystery on Ice!’ finds the capable crime-crushers suckered by a pack of thieves determined to steal a formula vital to America’s security.

Flash Comics disappeared with #104, making way for new titles and less fantastic thrills. ‘Crime on Her Hands’ ended the Canary’s crusade on a high, however, with an absorbing murder-mystery involving a college class of criminologists. She wouldn’t be seen again until the return of the Justice Society as part of the Silver Age revival of costumed mystery men, when awestruck readers learned that there were infinite Earths and untold wonders to see…

Nevertheless, the sudden cancellation meant two months’ worth of material was in various stages of preparation when the axe fell. The “All-Girl Issue” of reprint series DC Special (#3) subsequently printed one of the Canary yarns in 1969, with Bernard Sachs inking Infantino as ‘Special Delivery Death!’ finds Lance framed for murder and both Dinah and Black Canary using their particular gifts to clear him. Adventure Comics #399 printed the last story as ‘Television Told the Tale!’, revealing how a live broadcast tips off the Blonde Bombshell to a crime in the making…

Once the Silver Age revival took hold, superheroes were everywhere and response to Earth-2 appearances prompted DC to try-out a number of impressive permutations designed to bring back the World’s first team of costumed adventurers.

Try-out comic The Brave and the Bold #61 offered a brace of truly titanic tales by Gardner Fox & Murphy Anderson, pairing the Canary with Ted Knight, the Sentinel of Super-Science known as Starman. The deliriously cool cases began with ‘Mastermind of Menaces’, as vile techno-wizard The Mist returned, using doctored flowers to hypnotise his victims into voluntarily surrendering their wealth.

When he utilised Dinah’s flower shop to source his souped-up blooms, she, husband Larry and visiting pal Ted were soon on the villain’s trail…

Mystery and intrigue gave way to all-out action in #62’s ‘The Great Superhero Hunt!’ as husband-and-wife criminals Sportsmaster and Huntress began stalking superheroes for kicks and profit. By the time Feline Fury Wildcat became their first victim Ted and Dinah were on the case and ready for anything…

These latter classic tales alone are worth the price of purchase, but this splendid tome still has the very best to come as Adventure Comics #418 & 419 provide a scintillating 2-part graphic extravaganza by Dennis O’Neil & the legendary Alex Toth.

Originally an Earth-2 crime-fighter, Dinah was transplanted to our world by the wonders of trans-dimensional vibration after husband Larry was killed (see Justice League of America #73-75 or many assorted JLA compilations). Beginning a possibly rebound romance with Green Arrow, Dinah struggled to find her feet on a strangely different yet eerily familiar world. In ‘The Canary and the Cat! Parts 1 & 2’ she accepts a job teaching self-defence to women. The bereaved Blonde Bombshell has no idea her pupils are hirelings of vicious criminal Catwoman and the martial arts moves she shares will lead to her death and the liberation of a deadly menace…

Augmented by a fond remembrance from co-creator Carmine Infantino in his Foreword and detailed biographies of the many people who worked on the character, this admittedly erratic collection starts slow but builds in quality until it ranks amongst the very best examples of Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy. I hope you get a chance to see it…
© 1947-1949, 1965, 1969, 1970, 1972, 2001 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

JSA by Geoff Johns Book One


By Geoff Johns, James Robinson, David S. Goyer, Scott Benefiel, Stephen Sadowski, Derec Aucoin, Marcos Martin, Michael Bair, Buzz & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7490-0 (TPB)

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 sales-points 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 of All-Star Comics (Winter 1940/1941), an anthology title featuring established characters from various All-American Comics publications, by the simple expedient of having the 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 only pretended to be one) until Wonder Woman premiered in the eighth issue – 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 comic books, and, when Julius Schwartz revived the superhero genre in the late 1950s, a key moment would come 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 returned. Since then there were many attempts to formally revive the team’s fortunes but it wasn’t until 1999, on the back of both the highly successful revamping of the JLA by Grant Morrison and 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.

It didn’t hurt that the writers – all with strong Hollywood connections – were both beloved of the original concept, but also knew what mass-market action audiences liked…

Officially concentrating on the efforts of current fan-fave Geoff Johns, this initial volume (available in trade paperback and digital formats) re-presents JSA #1-5, from August 1999 to October 2000, and also includes the conceptual works of his collaborators David S. Goyer & James Robinson which all germinated in a prequel tale from JSA: Secret Files #1.

The majestic drama opens sans fanfare with Robinson & Goyer’s ‘Gathering Storms’ – illustrated by Scott Benefiel & Mark Propst – from JSA: Secret Files: detailing with great style and remarkable facility (considering the incredibly convoluted continuity of the feature) how the last active survivors of the original team reconvened after losing most of their membership to old age, infirmity or enemy action. Veteran champions Wildcat, Flash and Green Lantern/Sentinel unite with youthful inheritors of the old team’s legacy to continue the tradition, train the next generation of heroes and battle one of the oldest evils in the universe…

It all begins with the death of the Sandman, octogenarian Wesley Dodds, who beats the odds one last time to thwart an unstoppable ancient foe and warn with his dying breath those surviving comrades of the immense peril to come…

The story resumes in the premiere JSA issue with ‘Justice Be Done’ by Robinson, Goyer, Stephen Sadowski & Michael Bair. At Dodds’ funeral, a horde of death-demons attack the mourners after the hero known as Fate is murdered, and the assembled mourners – legacy heroes Sand, Stargirl, Hourman, Atom Smasher, Starman and Obsidian, plus Black Canary, Wonder Woman (in actuality, her mother Hippolyta who was an active Nazi crusher during WWII) and the aforementioned trio are sent on a tripartite mission to rescue three babies; one of which is the new incarnation of the magical hero Doctor Fate.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to all, a wild card has been introduced with the unexpected return of another departed comrade in the guise of a new and deeply troubled Hawkgirl

Although deeply fixed in the vast backstory of the DC universe, the story is quite accessible for newcomers and continues in ‘The Wheel of Life’, as mystery hero Scarab offers his assistance as arcane forces hunt the imperilled newborns.

The heroes are all at odds with each other as the mystery villain behind everything comes out of the shadows, precipitating a chase across myriad times and dimensions and an offer of assistance from two long dead heroic ‘Old Souls’

The resultant chaotic ultimate showdown in ‘Ouroboros’ then re-forges the multi-generational team into a force ready and willing to tackle anything. This is a fabulously engaging superhero-rebirth saga: wonderfully compelling with a frenetic pace that keeps the reader barrelling along. The struggle against the sinister big bad villain is pitched perfectly, with plenty of clues for old-timers and enough character illustration to educate and satisfy those who have never heard of “the Dark Lord…”

With the revival and reintroduction of new iterations of Hawkgirl and Doctor Fate achieved, the saga looks inward with ‘Grounded’ (illustrated by Derec Aucoin & Bair) focusing on the history and new powers of the latest Sandman whilst introducing a new Mister Terrific to the team, and casting plenty of foreshadowing of horrors yet to come…

Geoff Johns’ tenure begins as co-writer with Goyer and the official public relaunch of the JSA in ‘Justice. Like Lightning…’ (illustrated by Marcos Martin & Keith Champagne). As old guard Flash, Sentinel and Wildcat assume the role of mentors for both current and future champions, the ceremony is disrupted when they are attacked by a demented super-human named Black Adam (a magically empowered superman, usually harassing the agents of do-gooding wizard Shazam!).

The bombastic battle serves to introduce more very far-reaching plot threads as the new incarnations of Doctor Fate, Hourman and Hawkgirl thereafter journey to ancient Egypt to solve the mystery of the Black Marvel’s madness, before the second major story-arc of the series begins.

In ‘Darkness Falls’ (Sadowski & Bair), Sentinel’s troubled son Obsidian – haunted by his own powers – seemingly goes mad and attempts to drag the world into a supernatural realm of dark despondence. Naturally, there’s more to the mess that might first appear, and when a new Doctor Mid-Nite appears, it’s not long before the ebon tide begins to turn in a war for ‘Shadowland’

The epic concludes in a savage battle for the ‘Black Planet’ after which Wildcat takes centre-stage for a magnificent solo duel against the entire Injustice Society in ‘Wild Hunt’ – the best Die Hard tribute ever seen in comics…

Beginning with ‘Split’ (illustrated by Bair & Buzz), the next extended saga pits the team simultaneously against serpentine super-terrorist Kobra and time-bending villain Extant (who killed many of the original JSA team in crossover crisis event Zero Hour). forcing the still largely untested new squad to divide its forces between a world in peril and a continuum in meltdown.

‘The Blood-Dimmed Tide’ (Goyer, Johns & Buzz) concentrates on the anti-Kobra contingent but their swift victory is spoiled when the sole survivor of the other team appears, repeatedly bringing them into battle against Extant in ‘Time’s Assassin’ and ‘Chaos Theory’ before a spectacular conclusion is won in ‘Crime and Punishment’, wherein reality is stretched beyond its limits, the gates of the afterlife are propped open and more than a few dead heroes return…

Complex and enthralling, these super shenanigans are the very best of their type: filled with wicked villains and shining, triumphant heroes, cosmic disaster and human tragedies, and always leavened by optimism and humour.

As such they’re simply not for every graphic novel reader, but if you can put yourself into the head and heart of a thrill-starved 10-year old and handle the burden of seven decades of history, these tales will supercharge your imagination and restore your faith in justice…
© 1999, 2000, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Kingdom Come



By Mark Waid & Alex Ross, with Todd Klein & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6082-8 (20th Anniversary HB) 978-1-4012-2034-1 (TPB

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 utterly impressive and similarly affecting, Kingdom Come accidentally repeated the trick decades later, subsequently painting the entire post Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Universe into the same creative corner until one of the company’s periodic continuity reboots…

Envisaged and designed by artist Alex Ross as DC’s answer to epic groundbreaking Marvels, Kingdom Come was originally released as a 4-issue Prestige Format miniseries in 1996 to rapturous acclaim and numerous awards and accolades. Although set in the future and an “imaginary story” released under DC’s Elseworlds imprint, it 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 leads 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 officiates 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.

Opening chapter ‘Strange Visitor’ reveals 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 and uncaring of the collateral damage they daily inflict on the mere mortals around and in all ways beneath them.

The shaken preacher sees a final crisis coming, but feels helpless until the darkly angelic Spectre comes to him. Taken on a bewildering voyage of unfolding events, McCay is to act as the ghost’s 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. Heartbroken and appalled, Superman simply disappeared for a decade. His legendary colleagues also felt the march of unwelcome progress and similarly dropped from sight.

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 towards the deep black fastnesses of space. Hawkman retreated to the wilderness, Aquaman to his sub-sea kingdom whilst Wonder Woman retired 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 faced 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 every dangerous element of super-humanity and telling governments how to behave, blithely 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’s 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 considered 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 doctrinaire 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 Shazam-empowered Captain Marvel as their slave, this group are determined the super-freaks shall not win. 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 recalcitrant metahumans have been dumped. He also witnesses how it will fail, learns from restless spirit Deadman that the Spectre is the literal 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 a calamitous world-shaking ‘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 – available as a 20th Anniversary deluxe hardback, a standard trade paperback and in digital formats – comes with an introduction by author and former DC scribe Elliot S. Maggin, assorted cover reproductions and art-pieces, an illustrated checklist of the vast cast list plus a plethora of creative notes and sketches in the ‘Apocrypha’ section, and even hints at lost glories in ‘Evolution’: notes, photos and drawings for a restored scene that never made it into the miniseries.

Epic, engaging and operatically spectacular, Kingdom Come is a milestone of the DC Universe and remains to this day a solid slice of superior superhero entertainment, worthy of your undivided attention.
© 1996, 2008, 2016 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…

The transcendent wonderment 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, and reprinted in loads of places, but not here): introducing the concept of alternate Earths to the continuity and by extension the multiversal structure of the future DCU as well as all the succeeding cosmos-shaking yearly “Crisis” sagas that grew from it.

Moreover, where DC led, others followed…

Received with tumultuous acclaim, the concept was revisited months later in Flash #129 which also teasingly reintroduced evergreen stalwarts – Wonder Woman, the Atom, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Doctor Mid-Nite and Black Canary: venerable members of the fabled Justice Society of America. Clearly Editor Schwartz had something in mind…

That tale 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’ brought us the notion of Infinite Earths and multiple iterations of costumed crusaders, public pressure had begun almost instantly to agitate for the return of the Greats of the “Golden Age”. The 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 adventures generated an avalanche of popular and critical approval (big sales figures, too) so inevitably the trans-dimensional tests led to the ultimate team-up in the summer of 1963.

This gloriously enthralling volume – available in trade paperback and digital incarnations – is the first of a glorious sequence of collections celebrating Infinite Diversity in Infinite Costumes (extra fanboy kudos if you get where I filched that from!) and re-presents the first four JLA/JSA convocations: stunning superhero wonderments which never fail to astound and delight. It also comes with context-conveying Introduction ‘1 & 2 = Crisis’ from wonder-scribe Mark Waid detailing even more cool facts behind the phenomenon…

The comic book catharsis commences with the landmark ‘Crisis on Earth-One’ and ‘Crisis on Earth-Two’ (from Justice League of America #21-22, August & September 1963) combining to form one of the most important stories in DC history and arguably one of the most crucial tales in American literature: at least the stuff with pictures in it.

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 insufferably 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 it – and the result is pure Fights ‘n’ Tights 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 buying public clearly agreed and one year later ‘Crisis on Earth-Three’ and ‘The Most Dangerous Earth of All!’ (Justice League of America #29-30) reprised the team-up of the Justice League and Justice Society, when the super-beings of a third alternate Earth discover the secret of trans-universal travel.

Unfortunately, Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring are villains on a world without heroes who see 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 in 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 of an old and misty-eyed man…)

The third annual event was a touch different; a largely forgotten and rather experimental tale wherein the educationally-challenged and extremely larcenous Johnny Thunder of Earth-1 wrests control of the genie-like Thunderbolt from his otherworld counterpart: employing its magical powers to change the events which created of all Earth-1’s superheroes.

With Earth-1 catastrophically altered in #37’s ‘Earth – Without a Justice League’, it’s suddenly up to the JSA to save the day in a gripping battle of wits and power before Reality is re-established in #38’s concluding chapter ‘Crisis on Earth-A!’.

Veteran inker Bernard Sachs retired before the fourth team-up, leaving the amazing Sid Greene to embellish the gloriously whacky saga that closes this tome: one springing 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 are 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).

Here a bold – if rash – continuum warping experiment drags the twin sidereal worlds towards an inexorable hyper-space collision. Meanwhile, making matters worse, an awesome anti-matter being uses the opportunity to break into and explore our positive-matter universe whilst the heroes of both worlds are 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 textures and whimsical humour add unheard-of depth to Sekowsky’s pencils and the light and frothy comedic scripts of Fox.

These titanic 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 commercial competition between DC Comics and Marvel.

But I don’t have to be mature in my off-hours and for those who love costumed dramas, 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.

Justice League of America: The Silver Age volume 4


By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Bernard Sachs & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8061-1 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Wholesome, Wholehearted Super-Action… 8/10

The day the Justice League of America was published marks the moment when superheroes truly made comicbooks their own particular preserve. Even though the popularity of masked champions has waxed and waned many times since 1960 and other genres have re-won their places on published pages, in the minds of America and the world, Comics Means Superheroes.

The JLA signalled that men – and even a few women – in capes and masks were back for good…

When Julius Schwartz began reviving and revitalising the nigh-defunct superhero genre in 1956, his Rubicon move came a few years later with the uniting of these reconfigured mystery men into a team…

The JLA debuted in The Brave and the Bold #28 (cover-dated March 1960) and cemented the growth and validity of the revived sub-genre, consequently triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comicbooks and spreading to the rest of the world as the decade progressed.

Spanning June 1963 to September 1964, this latest full-colour paperback compendium of classics (also available digitally) re-presents issues #31-41 of the epochal first series with scripter Gardner Fox and illustrators Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs seemingly able to do no wrong…

And while we’re showing our gratitude, lets also salute stalwart letterer Gaspar Saladino for his herculean but unsung efforts to make the uncanny clear to us all…

The adventures here focus on the collective exploits of Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars, Green Arrow, The Atom, hip and plucky mascot Snapper Carr and latest inductee Hawkman as the team consolidate their hold on young hearts and minds whilst further transforming the entire nature of the American comicbook experience…

JLA #31 finally saw the induction of the Winged Wonder into ‘The World’s Greatest Superheroes’ – and not before time. However, in this ancient world of Boy’s Clubs and willing segregation, his dutiful wife and partner Shayera would have to wait for more than a decade before she herself was invited to join as Hawkgirl. Hawkman would be the last successful inductee until Black Canary joined the team in #75.

‘Riddle of the Runaway Room’ sees an alien wish-granting machine fall into the hands of second-rate thug Joe Parry, who nonetheless makes life pretty tough for the team before their eventual victory over his bizarre amalgamized multi-powered villain Super-Duper (no, really!).

The visually impressive Hawkman must have been popular with the creators, if not the fans, as he was prominently featured in all but one of next half-dozen adventures. Issue #32’s ‘Attack of the Star-Bolt Warrior!’ introduces the uncanny villain Brain Storm who attacks the League to avenge his brother who had been “murdered” by one of their number!

The entire universe was once again at stake in time-travelling thriller ‘Enemy from the Timeless World’ as the team strive to counter a chronal monster dubbed the Endless One, after which a persistent old foe had yet another go in #34’s ‘The Deadly Dreams of Doctor Destiny!’: a thriller packed with an army of guest-villains.

The team are attacked by their own clothes in issue #35’s supernatural adventure ‘Battle Against the Bodiless Uniforms’, a devilish fall-back plan concocted by the antediluvian demons Abnegazar, Rath and Ghast, which had been slowly percolating since the end of JLA #11.

Issue #36’s ‘The Case of the Disabled Justice League’ sees the team raise the morale of despondent kids with disabilities by overcoming their own recently-inflicted physical handicaps to defeat the returning Brain Storm. This tale was in fact inspired by ‘A Place in the World’, a Justice Society of America adventure from 1945’s All Star Comics #27. That yarn was produced at a time when returning servicemen, maimed and disfigured in combat, were becoming an increasingly common sight on the streets of America…

The third annual JLA/JSA team-up follows, a largely forgotten and rather experimental tale wherein the Johnny Thunder of Earth-1 wrests control of the genie-like Thunderbolt from his Justice Society counterpart and uses its magic to alter the events that led to the creation of all Earth-1’s superheroes.

Then it’s JSA to the rescue in a gripping battle of wits in #37’s ‘Earth – Without a Justice League’ and the concluding ‘Crisis on Earth-A!’

Issue #39 was an Eighty-Page Giant reprinting Brave and the Bold #28 and #30 and Justice League of America #5 (represented here by its evocative cover), so we jump to #40 and the ‘Indestructible Creatures of Nightmare Island’: a challenging mystery wherein an astral scientist’s machine to suppress Man’s basest instincts almost causes the end of humanity. The result is an action-packed psycho-thriller stuffed with villainous guest-stars and oodles of action before this compendium concludes with JLA #41 which introduces a modern version of an old Justice Society villain.

The Earth-1 mastermind called The Key is a diabolical scientist who employs mild-altering psycho-chemicals to control the behaviour of our heroes in ‘The Key – Master of the World!’

With iconic covers by Sekowsky & Murphy Anderson, these tales are a perfect example of all that was best about the Silver Age of comics, combining optimism and ingenuity with bonhomie and adventure. This slice of better times also has the benefit of cherishing wonderment whilst actually being historically valid for any fan of our medium. And best of all the stories here are still captivating and enthralling transports of delight.

These classical compendia are a dedicated fan’s delight: an absolute gift for modern readers who desperately need to catch up without going bankrupt. They are also perfect to give to youngsters as an introduction into a fabulous world of adventure and magic…
© 1964, 1965, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Sandman Mystery Theatre: Book One


By Matt Wagner, Guy Davis, John Watkiss, R.G. Taylor, David Hornung & John Costanza (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6327-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Eerie Mystery-Mood Masterpiece… 8/10

Created by Gardner Fox and first depicted 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.

Head and face utterly obscured by a gasmask and slouch hat; caped, business-suited millionaire adventurer Wesley Dodds was cut from the iconic masked mystery-man mould that had made pulp fictioneers The Lone Ranger, Green Hornet, The Shadow, Phantom Detective, Black Bat, The Spider and so many more such household names. Those dark red-handed heroes were also 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 especial pizzazz, the feature was on the verge of being dropped when the Sandman abruptly switched to a skin-tight yellow-&-purple costume and gained a boy-sidekick, Sandy the Golden Boy (in Adventure Comics #69, December 1941, courtesy of Mort Weisinger & Paul Norris). All this, presumably to emulate the overwhelmingly successful Batman and Captain America models then reaping such big dividends on the newsstands.

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 Simon & Kirby 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) teamed with artistic adept Guy Davis (Baker Street, B.P.R.D.) and colourist David Hornung to create a grittier, grimier, far more viscerally authentic 1930s, where the haunted 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 addressed controversial themes such as abuse, sexual depravity, corruption and racism; all confronted against the rising tide of fascism that was sweeping the world then.

This is a warning: Sandman Mystery Theatre is not for kids…

This compendium collections the redefining first three story-arcs from issues #1-12 (April 1993 to March 1994) and commences after an absorbing introduction from veteran journalist, critic and pop culture historian Dave Marsh.

Each chapter preceded by its original evocative faux pulp photo cover created by Gavin Wilson and Hornung, the dark drama opens with The Tarantula, taking us back 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 gallivanting all over town every night with her spoiled rich friends; drinking, partying and associating with all the wrong sorts of people, but the prominent public servant has far larger problems too. One is a 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 – which also makes you want to blurt every inconvenient truth – before disappearing, leaving Belmont to awake with a headache and wondering if it was all a dream…

Dian, after a rowdy night of carousing with scandalous BFF Catherine Van Der Meer and her latest (gangster) lover, awakes with a similar hangover but still agrees to attend one of her father’s dreary public functions that evening. The elder Belmont 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 seems genteel and effete, yet Dian finds 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 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 their usually diligent bodyguards all soundly 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 hideously mutilated body is found Dian inveigles herself into accompanying dear old Dad to Headquarters but is promptly 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 darling devoted 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 and tormented by bad dreams. Not his own nightmares, but rather the somnolent screams of nameless victims and their cruel oppressors haunt his troubled sleep. Worst of all these dreams are somehow prophetic and unrelenting. 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-mask lunatic grilling a suspect in “his” kidnapping case and again later 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 but 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 depraved terror before the determined Dian finds herself swept up in all the blood and death?

Of course, he does but not without appalling consequences…

Scene and scenario suitably set, John Watkiss steps in to illuminate second saga The Face (issues #5-8). Attention switches to Chinatown in February of 1938, where Dian and her gal-pals scandalously dine and dish dirt until Miss Belmont meets again an old lover.

Jimmy Shan once worked in her father’s office but now serves as lawyer and fixer for his own people amongst the teeming restaurants, gambling dens and bordellos of the oriental district…

Dian would be horrified to see Jimmy – or Zhang Chai Lao as his Tong masters know him – consorting with unsavoury criminals, and would certainly not be considering reviving her scandalous out-of-hours relationship with him. All frivolous thoughts vanish, however, when the diners vacate the restaurant and stumble upon a severed head: a warning that the ruling factions are about to go to war again in Chinatown. As usual, white police are utterly ineffectual against the closed ranks of the enclave…

Later at a swanky charity soiree to raise money for a school, Dian meets Jimmy again and agrees to a later meeting. At the same shindig she later sees Wesley, and in the course of their small talk, Dodds reveals that he recognises Shan from somewhere…

And in Chinatown, another beheading leads to greater tension between the Lee Feng and Hou Yibai Societies. When an enigmatic gas-masked stranger starts asking unavoidable questions, he finds that both Tongs deny all knowledge of the killings…

As the grisly murder-toll mounts, The Sandman’s investigations lead to one inescapable conclusion: a third party is responsible. But who, and why…

Before the drama closes, Dian will learn more hard truths about the world and the money-men who secretly run it…

Issues #9-12 (December 1993-March 1994) are illustrated by R.G. Taylor and plumb the darkest depths of human depravity in the tale of ‘The Brute’.

The friendship of Dian and Wesley slowly deepens and life seems less fraught in the city, but that soon ends as hulking degenerate stalks the back-alleys, killing and brutalising prostitutes and their clients…

Dodds is also on the mind of boxing promoter and businessman Arthur Reisling who’s looking for a fresh financial partner in his global exploitations. The effete-seeming scholar is hard to convince, though, unlike Eddie Ramsey. He’s a poverty-stricken pugilist and single parent desperate to make enough money to pay for his daughter Emily’s TB medicine. Riesling’s offer to him is just as scurrilous but the broken-down pug doesn’t have the luxury of saying “no”…

Eventually, with Dian in tow, Wesley accepts a party invitation from the speculator and meets his dynasty of worthless, over-privileged children. None of them seem right or well-adjusted…

Later, when Eddie tries to come clean by informing the authorities of Riesling’s illegal fight events, he’s attacked by the promoter’s thugs and saved by the Sandman – at least until the colossal mystery killer attacks them both and they’re forced to flee for their lives…

As Dodds returns home to recuperate, the punishing dreams escalate to mind-rending intensity.

Eddie, meanwhile, is left with no safe option and takes to the streets with Emily. His decision will lead to revolting horror, total tragedy and utter heartbreak…

The Sandman returns to his covert surveillance, silently unearthing the depths of Reisling’s underworld activities and coincidentally exposing a turbulent and dysfunctional atmosphere in the magnate’s home life to match his criminal activities. In this house corruption of every type runs deep and wide, and the masked avenger decides it’s time to bring his findings to Dian’s father. This time, District Attorney Belmont is prepared to listen and to act…

And as the murders mount and Dodds’ dreams escalate in intensity, the strands of a bloody tapestry begin to knot together and the appalling secret of the bestial killer’s connection to Reisling is exposed, only a detonation of expiating violence can restore order…

Stark, compelling and ferociously absorbing, the bleak thrillers depict a cruel but incisive assessment of good and evil no devotee of dark drama should miss, and the period perils come accompanied by a gallery of the series’ original, groundbreaking comicbook photo-covers and posters by Gavin Wilson plus later collection covers and related art from Matt Wagner, Alex Toth and Kent Wilson
© 1993, 1994, 1995, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice League of America: The Silver Age volume 3


By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Bernard Sachs & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6862-6

The moment the Justice League of America was published marks the moment when superheroes truly made comicbooks their own particular preserve. Even though the popularity of masked champions has waxed and waned many times since 1960 and other genres have re-won their places on published pages, in the minds of America – and the world – Comics means Superheroes.

The JLA signalled that men – and even a few women – in capes and masks were back for good…

When Julius Schwartz began reviving and revitalising the nigh-defunct superhero genre in 1956, his Rubicon move came a few years later with the uniting of these reconfigured mystery men into a team…

The JLA debuted in The Brave and the Bold #28 (cover-dated March 1960) and cemented the growth and validity of the revived sub-genre, consequently triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comicbooks and spreading to the rest of the world as the decade progressed.

Spanning June 1963 to September 1964, this latest full-colour paperback compendium of classics (also available digitally) re-presents issues #23-30 of the epochal first series with scripter Gardner Fox and illustrators Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs seemingly able to do no wrong…

The adventures here focus on the collective exploits of Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars, Green Arrow, hip and plucky mascot Snapper Carr and latest inductee The Atom and see the team further transform the entire nature of the American comicbook experience…

The wonderment begins with Justice League of America #20 and ‘The Mystery of Spaceman X’: an interplanetary adventure and cunning brainteaser featuring a marauding giant roaming Earth, serving up oodles of action and mystery but only really serving to whet the appetite for the pivotal classic which follows.

‘Crisis on Earth-One’ (Justice League of America #21) 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’ (Flash #123 September 1961) introduced the concept of Infinite Earths and multiple, diverse iterations of heroes to the public, pressure began almost instantly to bring back the lost heroes of the “Golden Age”. Bizarrely by modern standards, the editorial powers-that-be were hesitant, fearing that too many heroes – especially with the same name – would be silly and unmanageable, or worse yet put readers off. If only they knew what we know now…

Here the plot sees a team-up of assorted villains from two separate Earths plundering at will and trapping our heroes in their own HQ. Temporarily helpless, the JLA contrive a desperate plan to combine forces with the champions of a bygone era and alternate existence: the Justice Society of America!

It’s impossible for me to be totally objective about this saga. I was a drooling nipper in short trousers when I first read this story and the thrills haven’t diminished with this umpty-second re-reading. This is what superhero comics are all about! You really should read it and see for yourself…

Faced with the impossible task of topping themselves, creative team Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs rose to the challenge with an eccentric outer-space thriller: as ‘Drones of the Queen Bee’ the team was compelled to make the alien Zazzala immortal empress of the universe… Morevoer, even as the team combine to escape enslavement to an alien seductress, the continuity bug was growing, and the mention of the individual cases of members outside the confines of strictly JLA pages would become a mainstay of most future issues.

Alien despot Kanjar Ro returns in ‘Decoy Missions of the Justice League’: a sinister world conquest plot featuring a return engagement guest-shot for off-world adventurer Adam Strange, followed by a perplexing mystery with planet-shaking consequences that temporarily baffles the team in rousing cosmic romp ‘Outcasts of Infinity!’

In issue #26,‘Four Worlds to Conquer’ reveals the insidious revenge plot of three-eyed alien despot Despero after which a far more metaphysical menace troubled the team in ‘The “I” Who Defeated the Justice League’, despite deadly android Amazo appearing to add some solid threat to the proceedings…

The charmingly naff Headmaster Mind and a bunch of second-string super-villains tried to outfox the League in #28’s ‘Case of the Forbidden Super-Powers’ by orchestrating a UN ban on using superpowers but the real treat is saved for last in this epic collection…

‘Crisis on Earth-Three’ and ‘The Most Dangerous Earth of All!’ reprised the team-up of the Justice League and Justice Society, after the metahuman marvels of yet another alternate Earth discover the secret of multiversal travel. Unfortunately, Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring are ruthless villains from a world without heroes who see the costumed crusaders of the JLA and JSA as living practice-dummies to sharpen their evil skills upon…

With this cracking two-part thriller a tradition of annual summer team-ups was solidly entrenched in heroic lore, giving fans endless joys 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 date – 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 now unglaze your eyes and return to the review proper now, and thank you for your patient indulgence…

With iconic covers by Sekowsky and Murphy Anderson, these tales are a perfect example of all that was best about the Silver Age of comics, combining optimism and ingenuity with bonhomie and adventure. This slice of better times also has the benefit of cherishing wonderment whilst actually being historically valid for any fan of our medium. And best of all the stories here are still captivating and enthralling transports of delight.

These classical compendia are a dedicated fan’s delight: an absolute gift for modern readers who desperately need to catch up without going bankrupt. They are also perfect to give to youngsters as an introduction into a fabulous world of adventure and magic…
© 1963, 1964, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.