Crisis on Infinite Earths


By Marv Wolfman & George Pérez, with Jerry Ordway, Dick Giordano, Mike DeCarlo & various (DC Comics) 
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5841-2 (HB/Digital edition) 978-1-56389-750-4 (TPB) 

Once more I’m compelled to dash out another swiftly modified reprinted review to mark the passing of one of our industry and art form’s most prolific and irreplaceable master creators. George Pérez died on May 6th from the complications of pancreatic cancer. He was 67 years old.  

His triumphs as penciller, writer and an always in-demand inker made him a force to be reckoned with and earned a vast number of awards in a career spanning almost fifty years. Pérez worked for dozens of publishers large and small; self-published his own creations, redeemed and restored many moribund characters and features (like the (New) Teen Titans), Nightwing and Wonder Woman) and co-created many breakthrough characters such as The White Tiger (first Puerto Rican superhero), The Maestro, Deathstroke the Terminator, Terra, The Monitor and Anti-Monitor.  

He will be most warmly remembered for his incredible facility in portraying big teams and cataclysmic events. Pérez probably drew every DC and Marvel superhero of his era, with major runs on The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, The Justice League of America, Legion of Super-Heroes and numerous iterations of Teen Titans as well as stints on The Inhumans, X-Men, JSA, All-Star Squadron, Thunderbolts and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. He will be immortalised for the comic book series covered below. A fuller appreciation will follow as soon as I can sort it… 

In 1985 the Editorial Powers-That-Be at DC Comics were about to celebrate fifty years of publishing, and enjoying a creative upswing that had been a long time coming. A crucial part of the festivities, and purported attempt to simplify five decades of often conflicting stories, was a truly epic year-long saga that would impact every single DC title and reconstruct the entire landscape and history of the DC Universe, with an appearance – however brief – by every character the company had ever published. Easy-peasy, Huh? 

Additionally, this new start would seek to end an apparent confusion of multiple Earths with similarly named and themed heroes. This – it had been decided – was deterring (sic) new readers. Happily, since then (primarily thanks to movie rom-coms like Sliding Doors) we’ve all become well aware of string theory and parallel universes and can revel in the most basic TV show or kids cartoon proffering the concept of multiples incidences of me and you… 

Way back then, the result of those good intentions was a groundbreaking 12-part miniseries that spearheaded a vast crossover event: eventually culminating in a hefty graphic novel collection (plus latterly three companion volumes reprinting all the crossovers). 

The experiment was a huge success, both critically and commercially, and enabled the company to reinvigorate many of their most cherished properties: many of which had been in dire need or some regeneration and renewal. Many fans would argue that DC have been trying to change it back ever since… 

Plotted long in advance of launch, threads and portents appeared for months in DC’s regular titles, mostly regarding a mysterious arms-and-information broker known as The Monitor. With his beautiful assistant Lyla Michaels/Harbinger he had been gauging each and every being on Earths beyond counting with a view to saving all of Reality. At this juncture, that consisted of uncountable variations of universes existing “side-by-side”, each exhibiting differences varying from minor to monumental.  

Building on long-established continuity collaborators Marv Wolfman and George Pérez – aided and abetted by Dick Giordano, Mike DeCarlo and Jerry Ordway – began by tweaking things fans knew before taking them on a journey nobody anticipated… It transpired that at the very beginning of time an influence from the future caused Reality to fracture. Rogue Guardian of the Universe Krona obsessively sought to unravel the secret of creation and his probing cause a perfect singular universe to shatter into innumerable self-perpetuating cracked reflections of itself… 

Now, a wave of antimatter scythes through the Cosmic All, eradicating these separate universes. Before each Armageddon, a tormented immortal named Pariah materialises on an inhabited but doomed world of each Existence. As the story opens, he arrives on an Earth, as its closest dimensional neighbours are experiencing monumental geo-physical disruptions. It’s the end of the World, but The Monitor has a plan. It involves death on a mammoth scale, sacrifice beyond measure, a gathering of the best and worst beings of the surviving Earths and the remaking of time itself to deflect cosmic catastrophe and defeat the being that caused it… 

Action is tinged with tragedy as many major heroic figures – from the nondescript and forgotten to high, mighty and grand – perish valiantly, falling in apparently futile struggle to preserve some measure of life from the doomed multiverse. 

Full of plot twists and intrigue, this cosmic comicbook spectacle set the benchmark for all future crossover events, not just DC’s, and is still a qualitative high point seldom reached and never yet surpassed. As well as being a superb blockbuster in its own right and accessible to even the greenest neophyte reader, it is the foundation of all DC’s in-continuity stories since 1985, the basis of a TV phenomenon and absolutely vital reading.  

More than any other work in a truly stellar career, Crisis on Infinite Earths is the magnum opus George Pérez will be remembered for: It might not be fair, but it’s inescapably true… 
© 1985, 1986, 2001, 2008, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. 

Justice Society of America: A Celebration of 75 Years


By Gardner Fox, Robert Kanigher, John Broome, Denny O’Neil, Paul Levitz, Roy Thomas, Len Strazewski, James Robinson, David Goyer, Geoff Johns, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Dillin, Joe Staton, Rich Buckler, Jerry Ordway, Arvell Jones, Mike Parobeck, William Rosado, Stephen Sadowski, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5531-2 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Stunning Super Sagas Whatever the Season… 8/10

After the actual invention of the comicbook superhero – via the Action Comics debut of Superman in June 1938 – the most significant event in our industry’s history was the combination of individual stars into a like-minded group. Thus, what seems blindingly obvious to us with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was proven: consumers couldn’t get enough of garishly-hued mystery men, and combining a multitude of characters inevitably increases readership. Plus, of course, a mob of superheroes is just so much cooler than one…or one-and-a-half if there’s a sidekick involved…

The creation of the Justice Society of America in 1941 utterly changed the shape of the budding industry.

Following the runaway success of Superman and Batman, both National Comics and its separate-but-equal publishing partner All American Comics went looking for the next big thing in funnybooks whilst frantically concentrating on getting anthology packages into the hands of a hungry readership. Thus All Star Comics: conceived as a joint venture affording characters already in their respective stables an extra push towards winning elusive but lucrative solo titles.

Technically, All Star Comics #3 (cover-dated Winter 1940-1941 and released in December 1940) was the kick-off, but the mystery men merely had dinner and recounted recent cases and didn’t actually go on a mission together until #4, which had an April 1941 cover-date.

This superb hardcover and/or eBook commemoration comes from five years ago, gathering significant adventures of the pioneering paragons: specifically All Star Comics #4, 37, 55; Justice League of America #21, 22, 30, 47, 82, 83, 193; Adventure Comics #466; All-Star Squadron #67; Justice Society of America #10; JSA Returns: AllStar Comics #2; JSA #25; Justice Society of America vol. 2 #10 and Earth 2 #6, and – like all these generational tomes – follows a fixed pattern by dividing into chapters curated by contextual essays.

Here Roy Thomas’s history-packed treatise describes how leading characters from National-DC’s Adventure Comics and More Fun Comics and All-Star Publishing’s Flash Comics and All-American Comics were first bundled together in an anthological quarterly. Back then ‘A Message from the Editors’ asked readers to vote on the most popular…

The merits of the marketing project would never be proved: rather than a runaway favourite graduating to their own starring vehicle as a result of the poll, something radically different evolved. For the third issue, prolific scribe Gardner Fox apparently had the bright idea of linking all the solo stories through a framing sequence with the heroes gathering to chat about their latest exploits. With that simple notion that mighty mystery men hung out together, history was made and it wasn’t long before they started working together…

The anniversary amazement opens with Part I 1941-1950: For America and Democracy which hones in on those early moments, as All Star #4 eventually unites the costumed community ‘For America and Democracy’ with Fox and illustrators EE Hibbard, Martin Nodell, Bernard Baily, Howard Sherman, Chad Grothkopf, Sheldon Moldoff & Ben Flinton detailing individual cases for The Flash, Green Lantern, The Spectre, Hourman, Doctor Fate, The Sandman, Hawkman, The Atom and Johnny Thunder which coincide and result in a concerted attack on Nazi espionage master Fritz Klaver…

Pattern set, the heroes marched on against all foes from petty criminals to social injustice; aliens, mobsters and magical invaders until post-war tastes began shifting the formula…

All Star Comics #37 (1947) introduced ‘The Injustice Society of the World’ (November 1947) in a yarn by Robert Kanigher, Irwin Hasen, Joe Kubert, Alex Toth, Carmine Infantino & John Belfi. This sinister saga sees America almost entirely conquered by a coalition of super-villains before the on-the-ropes mystery men counterattack and ultimately triumph.

As superheroes plunged in popularity, genre themes predominated and it was a stripped-down team (Flash, GL, Wonder Woman, Black Canary, Hawkman, Atom and Dr. Mid-Nite) who faced a flying saucer scare in #55 and scoured outer space for ‘The Man Who Conquered the Solar System!’ (October/November 1955 by John Broome, Frank Giacoia, Arthur F. Peddy & Bernard Sachs).

Thomas returns for another educational chat as Part II 1963-1970: The Silver Age of Crisis focuses on the era that changed comics forever.

As I’ve frequently stated, I was one of the lucky “Baby Boomer” crowd who grew up with Julie Schwartz, Fox & 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, beguiling and enigmatically new.

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

It all began, naturally enough, in The Flash; pioneering trendsetter of the Silver Age Revolution. After successfully ushering in the return of the superheroes, 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, 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 not included here), establishing the existence of Infinite alternate Earths, multiple versions of costumed crusaders, and – by extension – the multiversal structure of the DCU. Every succeeding, cosmos-shaking annual summer “Crisis” saga grew from it.

Fan pressure almost instantly agitated for the return of more “Golden Age Greats” but Editorial bigwigs 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 crossover yarns generated an avalanche of popular and critical approval (big sales figures, too) so inevitably these trans-dimensional tests led to the ultimate team-up in the summer of 1963.

A gloriously enthralling string of JLA/JSA convocations and  stunning superhero wonderments begin with landmark opening salvoes ‘Crisis on Earth-One’ and ‘Crisis on Earth-Two’ (Justice League of America #21-22, August to September). In combination they comprise one of the most important stories in DC history and arguably one of the most crucial tales in American comics.

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

Temporarily helpless “our” heroes contrive a desperate plan to combine forces with the champions of another Earth to save the world – both of them – and the result is pure comic book 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 second team-up is only represented by the concluding chapter ‘The Most Dangerous Earth of All!’ Justice League of America #30 (September 1964) reprised the team-up of the Justice League and Justice Society, after (evil) versions of our heroic champions-beings from third alternate Earth discover the secret of trans-universal travel.

Unfortunately, Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring come from a world without heroes and see the crimebusting JLA and JSA as living practice 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.

The fourth annual event was a touch different: flavoured by self-indulgent humour as a TV show drove the wider world bats. Veteran inker Bernard Sachs retired before the fourth team-up, leaving the amazing Sid Greene to embellish a gloriously whacky saga that sprang out of the global “Batmania” craze engendered by the twice-weekly Batman series…

A wise-cracking campy tone was fully in play, acknowledging the changing audience profile and this time the stakes were raised to encompass the destruction of both planets in ‘Crisis Between Earth-One and Earth-Two’ (not reprinted here) and ‘The Bridge Between Earths’ (Justice League of America #47, September 1966), wherein a bold but rash continuum-warping experiment drags two Earths 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 two worlds are distracted by destructive rampages of monster-men Blockbuster and Solomon Grundy.

Peppered with wisecracking “hip” dialogue, it’s sometimes difficult to discern what a superb yarn this actually is, but if you can forgive or swallow the dated patter, this is one of the best plotted and illustrated stories in the entire canon.

Furthermore, the vastly talented Greene’s expressive subtlety, beguiling texture and whimsical humour added unheard-of depth to Sekowsky’s pencils and the light and frothy comedic scripts of Gardner Fox.

This exercise in fantastic nostalgia continues with both chapters of a saga wherein alien property speculators seek to simultaneously raze Earths One and Two in ‘Peril of the Paired Planets’ (#82 August 1970 by O’Neil, Dillin & Joe Giella) and only the ultimate sacrifice by a true hero can avert trans-dimensional disaster in ‘Where Valor Fails… Will Magic Triumph?’ (#83 September)

Part III: Bronze Age and Beyond 1971-1986 returns to independent status and stories as – following another pertinent briefing from Thomas – we next focus on a time when the team was on its second career after decades in retirement.

Set on parallel world Earth-2, the veterans were leavened with teen heroes combined into a contentious, generation-gap fuelled “Super Squad”. Those youngsters included a grown up Robin, Sylvester Pemberton, the Star-Spangled Kid (a 1940s teen superhero who had been 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 – AKA Power Girl.

It starts with a little history lesson as Paul Levitz & Joe Staton reveal how and why the JSA went away. In ‘The Defeat of the Justice Society’ (Adventure Comics #466 December, 1979) they expose the reason why the team vanished at the beginning of the 1950s as the American Government cravenly betrays its greatest champions during the McCarthy witch-hunts: provoking the mystery men into voluntarily withdrawing from public, heroic life for over a decade – until the costumed stalwarts of Earth-One started the whole Fights ‘n’ Tights scene all over again…

When Roy Thomas left Marvel for DC, he made a lifetime dream come true by writing his dream team… sort of. Justice League of America #193 (August 1981) featured a “Prevue” insert mini-comic featuring the ‘All-Star Squadron’. Thomas, Rich Buckler & Jerry Ordway  launched a series of new stories set in the immediate aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, told in real time and integrating published tales from the Golden Age into an overarching continuity. Here the JSA were augmented by contemporaries from other companies acquired by DC over the years – such as Plastic Man, Firebrand and Uncle Sam – and minor DC stalwarts like Liberty Belle, Johnny Quick and Robot Man. This prequel tells of December 6th 1941 and how the JSA heroes are attacked by villains from their own future as a mastermind seeks to alter history, leaving President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to issue a clarion call to all of Democracy’s other champions…

After an impressive and entertaining 5 year run that skilfully negotiated the rewriting of continuity during Crisis on Infinite Earths, the series ended with All-Star Squadron #67 (March 1987) as Thomas, Arvell Jones & Tony DeZuñiga recondition ‘The First Case of the Justice Society of America’ from All Star #4 and reveal how Nazi Fritz Klaver met justice…

Industry insider Ivan Cohen then reveals how things changed after the Crisis as a taster for Part IV: The JSA Returns 1992-2007 which opens with the last issue of Justice Society of America volume 1 (#10, May 1993). The series had concentrated on adventures of the aging heroes in modern times and ‘J.S.A. No More?’ by Len Strazewski, Mike Parobeck & Mike Machlan closed a superb and joyously fun run with the geriatric wonders polishing off ancient wizard Kulak and saving humanity from an army of unquiet ghosts and zombies…

The heroes were again rebooted six years later via a series of one-shots bracketed by a 2 issue miniseries and here James Robinson, David Goyer, William Rosado, John Dell & Ray Kryssing conclude the WWII-set battle against mystic marauder Stalker with ‘The JSA Returns, Conclusion: Time’s Arrow’ in JSA Returns: All-Star Comics #2 (Late May 1999).

All that attention led to a spectacular new series, which gained new fans for the old soldiers by turning the team into a mentoring service for new heroes. It must have been hard to select a sample from that era but the editors here went for ‘The Return of Hawkman: Seven Devils’ (JSA #25, August  2001 by Goyer, Geoff Johns, Stephen Sadowski, Michael Bair, Dave Meikis, Paul Neary & Rob Leigh).

But first, a slight digression…

Hawkman is one of the oldest and most revered heroes of all time, premiering in Flash Comics #1 (January 1940). Although created by Gardner Fox & Dennis Neville, the most celebrated artists to have drawn the Winged Wonder are Sheldon Moldoff and Joe Kubert, whilst a young Robert Kanigher was justly proud of his later run as writer.

Carter Hall was a playboy archaeologist until he uncovered a crystal knife that unlocked his memories. He realised that once he was Prince Khufu of ancient Egypt, and that he and his lover Shiera had been murdered by High Priest Hath-Set. Moreover, with his returned memories came the knowledge that his love and his killer were also nearby.

Using his past life knowledge, he fashioned a costume and flying harness, hunting his killer as the Hawkman. Once his aim was achieved he and Shiera maintained their “Mystery-Man” roles to fight modern crime and tyranny with weapons of the past.

Disappearing as the Golden Age ended, they were revived by Julie Schwartz’s crack creative team in the 1960s, but after a long career involving numerous revamps and retcons, the Pinioned Paladin “died” during the Zero Hour crisis.

The interconnection between all those iterations is resolved after time-lost Jay The Flash Garrick awakens in ancient Egypt, and learns from that era’s superheroes – Nabu, the Lord of Order who created Doctor Fate, Black Adam and Khufu himself – the true origins of Hawkman whilst in the 21st century, the modern Hawkgirl discovers his connection to alien cop Katar Hol, the Hawkworld Thanagar and true power of empowering Nth Metal.

When Hawkgirl is abducted to the aforementioned Thanagar by its last survivors, desperate to thwart the schemes of the insane death-demon Onimar Synn, the JSA frantically follow and Carter Hall makes his dramatic return from beyond to save the day in typical fashion before leading the team to magnificent victory in this concluding chapter…

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

Called to order after Infinite Crisis and Identity Crisis, this JSA saw the surviving heroes from WWII as teachers for the latest generation of young champions and metahuman “legacy-heroes”: a large, cumbersome but nevertheless captivating assembly of raw talent, uneasy exuberance and weary hard-earned experience.

Taken from truly epic storyline ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham, Ruy Jose & Drew Geraci’s ‘What a Wonderful World’ comes from Justice Society of America vol. 2 #10 (November 2007): expanding, clarifying and building on heroes introduced in the landmark 1996 Mark Waid & Alex Ross miniseries Kingdom Come, and its belated sequel The Kingdom.

The elder Kal-El from that tragic future dystopia has crossed time and dimensions to stop his world ever forming and not even awakened god Gog or his new allies will stop him. ‘What a Wonderful World’ sees Tomorrow’s Man of Steel disclose how the heroes and their successors almost destroyed the planet (with flashback sequences painted by Alex Ross) before (another) Starman explains his own connection to all the realms of the multiverse. Initially suspicious, the JLA come to accept the elder Man of Steel, but elsewhere, a deadly predator begins to eradicate demi-gods and pretenders to divinity throughout the globe…

Having grown too large and unwieldy again, DC’s continuity was again pruned and repatterned in 2011, leading to a New 52 as sampled here in concluding segment Part IV: Revamp 2012. Accompanied by another Cohen text briefing, ‘End Times’ by Robinson, Nicola Scott & Trevor Scott comes from Earth 2 #6 (January 2012) with a recreated JSA operating on a restored alternate Earth, but one where an attack from Apokolips has created a living hell for the survivors of humanity, and a small group of metahumans such as Flash, Hawkgirl and Green Lantern struggles to keep humanity alive and free…

With covers by Hibbard, Irwin Hasen, Arthur F. Peddy & Bernard Sachs, Sekowsky, Murphy Anderson, Joe Giella, Neal Adams, Dick Dillin, George Pérez, Tom Grindberg & Tony DeZuñiga, Mike Parobeck, Dave Johnson, Andrew Robinson, Alex Ross, Ivan Reis & Joe Prado, this magnificent celebration of the premiere super-team is a glorious march down memory lane no fan can be without. Whether in sturdy hardback or approachable electronic format, this titanic tome must be yours…
© 1941, 1947, 1950, 1963, 1964, 1966, 1970, 1979, 1981, 1986, 1992, 1999, 2001, 2007, 2012, 2015, DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The JSA All Stars Archives volume 1


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

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Golden Aged But Evergreen Enjoyment… 8/10

In their anniversary year, here’s yet another DC classic collection long overdue for revival and digital return. Until then – and if you can find it – this hardback will make a perfect present for you or yours…

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

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

The creation of the Justice Society of America in 1941 utterly changed the shape of the budding business. However, before that team of all-stars could unite they had to become popular enough to qualify, and this superb hardcover sampler gathers the debut adventures of a septet of beloved champions who never quite made it into the first rank but nonetheless scored enough to join the big team and maintain their own solo spots for much of the Golden Age of American Comics.

Whilst the most favoured 1940s stalwarts have all won their own DC Archive collections (some even making it into digital modern editions this century), this particular tome bundles a bunch of lesser lights – or at least those who never found as much favour with modern fans and revivalists – and features the first 5 appearances of 7 of the JSA’s “secondary” mystery men: all solid supporting acts in their own anthology homes who were potentially so much more…

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

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

The series was played for action-packed laughs, but there was no getting away from it: Johnny was, quite frankly, a simpleton in control of an ultimate weapon. At least his electric genie was more plausible than an egomaniacal orange-toned cretin in control of America’s nuclear arsenal…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hourman always looked great and his adventures developed into a tight and compulsive feature, but he never caught on: timed out at the beginning of 1943 (#83).

Next second string star is Calvin College student Al Pratt: a diminutive but determined lad fed up with being bullied by jocks who remade himself into a pint-sized, two-fisted mystery man ready for anything.

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

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

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

He sported a costume for his second exploit, going into ‘Action at the College Ball’  to foil a hold-up and then tackling ‘The Monsters from the Mine’ who were enslaved by a scientific mania intent on conquest. The college environment offered plentiful plot opportunities. In ‘Truckers War’ the Atom crushes hijackers who had bankrupted a fellow student and football star’s father. The episodes conclude here with ‘Joe’s Appointment’ as the trainer is framed for spying by enemy agents and needs a little atomic aid…

Although we think of the Golden Age as a superhero wonderland, the true watchword was variety, and flagship anthologyAll-American Comics offered everything from slapstick comedy to aviation adventure on its four-colour pages. One of the very best humour strips featured the semi-autobiographical exploits of Scribbly Jibbet: a boy who wanted to draw. Created by real-life comics wonder boy Sheldon Mayer, Scribbly: Midget Cartoonist debuted in the first issue (April 1939) and soon built a sterling rep for himself beside star reprint features like Mutt and Jeff and all-new adventure serial Hop Harrigan, Ace of the Airways.

However, contemporary fashions soon demanded a humorous look at mystery men, and in #20 (November 1940) Mayer’s long-term comedy feature evolved into a delicious spoof of the trend when Scribbly’s formidable landlady Ma Hunkeldecided to do something about crime in her neighbourhood – so she dressed up as a husky male masked hero.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Master of Darkness also lasted until the era’s end and appeared in that last JSA story. Since his 1960s return he’s become one of the most resilient and mutable characters in DC’s pantheon of Golden Age revivals, but the next nearly-star was an almost forgotten man for decades…

When Sensation Comics launched in January 1942 all eyes were rightly glued to the uniquely eye-catching Wonder Woman who hogged all the covers and unleashed a wealth of unconventional adventures every month. However, like all anthologies of the time, her exploits were carefully balanced by other features. Sensation #1-5 (January to May 1942) also featured a pugnacious fighter who was the quintessence of manly prowess and a quiet, sedate fellow problem solver who was literally a master of all trades.

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

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

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

His last showing here finds him at his very best, carefully rooting out political corruption and exposing ‘The Two Faces of Caspar Crunch’…

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

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

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

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

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

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

JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice


By David S. Goyer, Geoff Johns, Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-937-9 (HB) 978-1-4012-0040-4 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Pristine Perfection for all Superhero Connoisseurs… 9/10

After the actual invention of the superhero – in the June 1938 Action Comics #1 debut of Superman – the most significant event in comic book history was the combination of individual sales-points into a group.

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

It cannot be understated: the creation of the Justice Society of America (in All Star Comics #3, cover-dated Winter 1940-1941) utterly changed the shape of the budding industry. Happy 80th Anniversary, chaps!

From the JSA stem all the multifarious thrills and wonders associated with panel-packed pages stuffed with dozens of heroes pounding the stuffings out of each other. …And then again, there are tales like this one…

Some books you can talk about, but with others it’s simply a waste of time. This is one of the latter. Please be aware that here the JSA was and is Earth’s premiere super-team: formed to crush oppression and injustice while raising morale during World War II. They are now an organisation regularly saving the world whilst mentoring the next generation of superheroes.

Their inspired successors, the Justice League of America are currently the World’s Greatest Superheroes – and have all the characters who’ve appeared on TV and in movies. You now have all the background you need to read this wonderful example of costumed hero fiction which remains inexplicably out of print both physically or digitally.

As they have done for years, the JLA and JSA have gotten together to celebrate Thanksgiving when suddenly alien conqueror Despero attacks them and the entire world by releasing the Seven Deadly Sins. These deadly demons promptly possess Batman, Power Girl, Mr. Terrific, Dr. Fate, Green Lantern, Plastic Man and Captain Marvel (as Shazam was called back then)…

Can the remaining heroes defeat the Sins without killing their friends, and save humanity from total destruction?

Of course they can, that’s the point. But seldom have they done it in such a spectacularly, well written and beautifully illustrated manner.

This is a piece of pure, iconic genre Fights ‘n’ Tights narrative that hits every target and pushes every button it should. If you love superhero comics you should own and treasure this lovely tale.
© 2002 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Golden Age Starman Archives volume 1


By Jack Burnley, Gardner Fox, Alfred Bester, Ray Burnley & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-622-4 (HB)

After the staggering success of Superman and Batman, National Comics/DC rapidly launched many new mystery-men in their efforts to capitalise on the phenomenon of superheroes, and – from our decades-distant perspective – it’s only fair to say that by 1941 the editors had only the vaguest inkling of what they were doing.

Since newest creations The 6Sandman, The Spectre and Hourman were each imbued with equal investments of innovation, creativity and exposure, the editorial powers-that-be were rather disappointed that these additions never took off to the same explosive degree.

Publishing partner but separate editorial entity All American Comics had meanwhile generated a string of barnstorming successes like The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and radio sensation Hop Harrigan and would imminently produce the only rival to Superman and Batman’s status when Wonder Woman debuted late in the year.

Of course, AA had the brilliantly “in-tune” creative and editorial prodigy Sheldon Mayer to filter all their ideas through …

Thus, when Starman launched in the April 1941 issue of Adventure Comics (relegating Sandman to a back-up role in the venerable heroic anthology), National/DC trusted in craft and quality rather than some indefinable “pizzazz”. The editors were convinced the startlingly realistic, conventionally dramatic illustration of Hardin “Jack” Burnley would propel their newest concept to the same giddy heights of popularity as the Action Ace and Gotham Guardian.

Indeed, the strip – always magnificently drawn and indisputably one of the most beautiful of the period – was further blessed with mature and compelling scripts by Gardner Fox and Alfred Bester: compulsive and brilliant thrillers and even by today’s standards some one of the very best comics ever produced.

However – according to the artist in his Foreword to this stunning deluxe hardback collection – that was possibly the problem. Subtle, moody, slower-paced stories just didn’t have the sheer exuberance and kinetic energy of the most popular series, which all eschewed craft and discipline for spectacle and all-out action.

Happily, these days with an appreciably older and more discerning audience, Starman’s less-than-stellar career in his own time can be fully seen for the superb example of Fights ‘n’ Tights wonderment it truly is, and – in his anniversary years – cries out for a definitive archival collection… especially since his legacy descendant Stargirl is a big shot TV sensation…

This epic collection reprints the earliest astounding exploits of the Astral Avenger from Adventure Comics #61-76 (spanning April 1941- July 1942), including some of the most iconic covers of the Golden Age, by Burnley and, latterly, wonder-kids Joe Simon & Jack Kirby.

Burnley came up with the Starman concept but, as was often the case, a professional writer was assigned to flesh out and co-create the stories. In this case said scribe was the multi-talented Gardner Fox who wrote most of them. The illustrator also liberally called on the talents of his brother Dupree “Ray” Burnley as art assistant, and sister Betty as letterer to finish the episodes in sublimely cinematic style.

In those simpler times origins were far less important than today, and the moonlit magic here begins with ‘The Amazing Starman’ from #61 as America suddenly suffers a wave of deadly electrical events. Appalled and afraid, FBI chief Woodley Allen summons his latest volunteer operative. Bored socialite Ted Knight promptly abandons his irate date Doris Lee to assume his mystery man persona, flying off to stop the deranged scientist behind all the death and destruction.

Almost as an aside we learn that secret genius Knight had previously discovered a way to collect and redirect the energy of Starlight through an awesome handheld device he calls a “gravity rod” and resolved to do only good with his discoveries…

The intrepid adventurer tracks diabolical Dr. Doog to his mountain fortress and spectacularly decimates the subversive Secret Brotherhood of the Electron.

In #62 the Sidereal Sentinel met another deadly deranged genius who had devised a shrinking ray. It even briefly diminishes Starman before the sky warrior extinguishes ‘The Menace of the Lethal Light’, after which ‘The Adventure of the Earthquake Terror’ (#63) depicts the nation attacked by foreign agent Captain Vurm, using enslaved South American tribesmen to administer his grotesque ground-shock engines. He too falls before the unstoppable cosmic power of harnessed starlight. America was still neutral at this time, but the writing was on the wall and increasingly villains sported monocles and Germanic accents…

Adventure Comics #64 pits the Astral All-Star against a sinister mesmerist who makes men slaves in ‘The Mystery of the Men with Staring Eyes’, after which – behind a stunning proto-patriotic cover – Starman solves ‘The Mystery of the Undersea Terror’, wherein the ship-sinking League of the Octopus proves another deadly outlet for the greedy genius of The Light…

‘The Case of the Camera Curse’ in #66 layered a dose of supernatural horror into the high-tech mix as Starman tackles a crazed photographer employing a voodoo lens to enslave and destroy his subjects, before #67’s ‘The Menace of the Invisible Raiders’ introduced the Astral Avenger’s greatest foe. The Mist devised a way to make men and machines imperceptible and would have conquered America with his unseen air force had not the Starry Knight stopped him…

Alfred Bester provides a searing patriotic yarn for #68 as ‘The Blaze of Doom’ sees Starman quenching a forest fire and uncovering a lumberjack gang intent on holding America’s Defence effort to ransom, after which Fox was back for #69’s ‘The Adventure of the Singapore Stranglers’ in which the heavenly hero stamps out a sinister cult. In actuality, the killers were sadistic saboteurs of a certain aggressive Asiatic Empire. American involvement in WWII was mere months away…

The martial tone continued in ‘The Adventure of the Ring of Hijackers’ as Starman battles Baron X, whose deadly minions are wrecking American trains carrying munitions and supplies to embattled British convoy vessels, although a welcome change of pace came in #71 when ‘The Invaders from the Future’ strike. Brigands from Tomorrow are bad enough, but when Starman discovers one of his old enemies had recruited them, all bets are off…

In #72, an Arabian curse seems the reason explorers are dying of fright, but the ‘Case of the ‘Magic Bloodstone’ proves to have a far more prosaic – if no less sinister – cause…

With Adventure Comics #73, Starman surrendered the cover-spot, as dynamic duo Simon & Kirby took over ailing strips Paul Kirk, Manhunter and Sandman. However, ‘The Case of the Murders in Outer Space’ proved the Knight Errant was not lacking in imagination or dynamic quality, as he matches wits with a brilliant mastermind murdering heirs to a Californian fortune by an unfathomable method before disposing of the bodies in an utterly unique manner…

Sinister science again reigned in #74 as ‘The Case of the Monstrous Animal-Men’ finds the Starlight Centurion tragically battling ghastly pawns of a maniac who turns men into beasts, whilst #75’s ‘The Case of the Luckless Liars’ details how Ted Knight’s initiation into a millionaires’ fibbing society leads to Starman becoming a hypnotised terror tool of deadly killer The Veil…

This initial foray into darkness ends with a rollicking action riot in ‘The Case of the Sinister Sun’ wherein cheap thugs of the Moroni Gang upgrade their act with deadly gadgets: patterning themselves after the solar system in a blazing crime blitz until Starman eclipses them all…

Enthralling, engaging and fantastically inviting, these Golden Age adventures are a lost high-point of the era – even if readers of the time didn’t realise it – and offer astonishing thrills and amazing chills for today’s sophisticated readership. Starman’s exploits are some of the best but most neglected thrillers of those halcyon days, but modern tastes will find them are far more in tune with contemporary mores. This book is a truly terrific treat for fans of mad science, mystery, murder and stylish intrigue…
© 1941, 1942, 2000 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Black Canary: Bird of Prey


By Bob Kanigher, Gardner Fox, Denny O’Neil, Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella, Murphy Anderson, Alex Toth & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0908-6 (TPB)

Black Canary was one of the first of relatively few female heroes 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!). The Canary predated Merry, the Gimmick Girl – remember her? No, you don’t – and disappeared with most the majority of costumed crusaders at the end of the Golden Age: a situation that was not remedied util her revival 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 a 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 collection capitalises on the character’s recent screen incarnations, gathering her admittedly short run of tales from 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 from Brave and the Bold #61-62 (September & November 1965), teamed up with JSA team-mate Starman as part of a concerted yet ultimately vain editorial effort by Julius Schwartz to revive the Golden Age squad of champions then comfortably situated on parallel world Earth-2.

Best of all is the re-presentation of a 2-part thriller from Adventure Comics #418-419 (April-May 1972) following her migration to “our” world to replace Wonder Woman in the Justice League of America.

After years languishing in a hard-to-find or afford Archive edition, these treasures have thankfully migrated to the paperback and digital forms found here. I trust you are suitably grateful and will purchase and peruse accordingly…

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 sales decline wherein perennial B-feature Johnny Thunder had long since passed his sell-by date. Although a member of the Justice Society of America, Johnny was an old-fashioned comedy 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 seductively 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 Infantino & Joe Giella gave it their all as they learned their craft on the job, writer/editor Kanigher was often clearly making it up as he went along…

The next Johnny Thunder instalment in #87 featured ‘The Black Canary Returns’ with the Blonde Bombshell again making the big goof her patsy by leaving a perilous package 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 – using trained (black) canaries to deliver messages as again landing in over her head. Once more forced to use the big sap and his magic pal to extricate herself, she nevertheless retrieves ‘The Map that Wasn’t There’ from a pack of human jackals.

Flash Comics #89 held the last Johnny Thunder solo tale – so it’s not included here – but she returned 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!’

The partnership evolves in #91 as gangsters use 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 as westerns relentlessly rolled on…

In ‘The Huntress of the Highway!’ however, feisty florist Dinah Drake is being pestered by arrogant, obnoxious but so-very-manly private eye Larry Lance, only to realise the wreath she’s working on is for him. Doffing her dowdy duds to investigate, she 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 (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 or logic 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!’ sees the Canary tracking down a conman who bamboozled gullible women into parting with their fortunes for spurious immortality. On the home front, the utterly oblivious Larry has pressured shy Dinah into letting him use her shop as his detective office. Of course, the oaf has no idea his mousy landlady is 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!’ finds her 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 illustration 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, before #100 again utilises baroque props and plots as they track 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 closed 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” (yes, I know, but it was actually progress for the times, so please just go with it if you can) of reprint series DC Special (#3) subsequently printed one of the Canary yarns in April 1969. Bernard Sachs inked 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 (November 1970) printed the last story as ‘Television Told the Tale!’, revealing how a live broadcast tips off the Blonde Bombshell to 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 (August-September 1965) offered a brace of truly titanic tales by Gardner Fox & Murphy Anderson, pairing the Canary with Ted Knight, the Sentinel of Super-Science called Starman. The deliriously delights 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 stalked 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 and 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 ‘Circle of Doom Parts 1 & 2’ she accepts a job teaching self-defence to women. The bereaved troubleshooter 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 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. Why not see for yourself?

© 1947, 1948, 1949, 1965, 1969, 1970, 1972, 2021 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

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…
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