Crisis on Multiple Earths volume 4


By Cary Bates, Elliot S! Maggin, E. Nelson Bridwell, Marty Pasko, Paul Levitz, Dick Dillin, Frank McLaughlin & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0957-2

In regard to comic material from this period I cannot declare myself an impartial critic. That counts doubly so for the Julie Schwartz edited Justice League of America and its annual summer tradition of teaming up with its progenitor organisation, the Justice Society of America. If that sounds a tad confusing there are many places to look for clarifying details. If you’re interested in superheroes and their histories you’ll even enjoy the search. But this is not the place for that.

Ultra-Editor Schwartz ushered in the Silver Age of American Comics with his landmark Showcase successes Flash, Adam Strange and Green Lantern, directly leading to the JLA which in turn inspired Fantastic Four and the whole Marvel Empire; changing forever the way comics were made and read…

Whereas the 1940s 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…

Once DC’s Silver Age heroes began meeting their Golden Age predecessors from “Earth-2”, that aforementioned annual tradition commenced: every summer the JLA would team-up with the JSA to combat a trans-dimensional Crisis…

This volume reprints get-togethers from 1975 through 1977, encompassing Justice League of America #123 & 124 (October and November 1975), #135-137 (October to December 1976) and #147-148 (October and November 1977), offering also a wash of memory-intensive reminiscences in an Introduction from veteran colourist Carl Gafford.

All these tightly-plotted tales are competently and comfortably rendered by the criminally underappreciated Dick Dillin with his long-term inker Frank McLaughlin and, in terms of narrative, the writing consists of nothing more – or if you’re still a kid like me, nothing less – than two bunches of beguiling mystery men getting together to deal with extra-extraordinary problems.

From the early 1970s it also became about reintroducing other lost characters from other companies and pantheons DC had bought out over the years, so in hindsight, it was all also about sales and the attempted revival of more super characters during a period of intense sales rivalry between DC Comics and Marvel.

But for those who love costumed heroes, who crave these carefully constructed modern mythologies and care, it is simply a grand parade of straightforward action, great causes and momentous victories.

I love ‘em, not because they’re the best of their kind, but because I did then and they haven’t changed even if I have. Surely everyone fancies finding their Inner Kid again?

This batch of blockbusters begins with a yarn from Cary Bates and Elliot Maggin, stepping far off the reservation with ‘Where on Earth Am I?’ and its conclusion ‘Avenging Ghosts of the Justice Society!’ from #123- 124.

In Flash #179 (‘The Flash – Fact of Fiction?, May 1968) Bates and Gardner Fox first took the multiple Earths concept to its illogical conclusion by trapping the Monarch of Motion in “our” Reality of Earth-Prime, where he was known only to a dwindling readership as a mere comic-book character. It took the financial assistance of his editor Julie Schwartz in building a “cosmic treadmill” to return the Scarlet Speedster to his proper dimension…

In this quirky follow-up, Bates and co-scripter Maggin revisit the notion as a story conference in Schwartz’s office leads to the oafish goons playing with the Flash’s abandoned construct until one of them is sent hurtling between Realities…

Transformed and cosmically empowered by the journey, Bates became the most dangerous villain alive, leading Earth-2 criminals The Wizard, Shade, Sportsmaster, Huntress, Icicle and The Gambler in a lethal assault on JSA heroes Robin, Hourman, Wildcat, Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder and Dr. Mid-Nite.

Frantic and terrified, Maggin follows his friend but ends up on Earth-1 where he recruits Batman, Black Canary, Aquaman, Hawkman, Green Arrow and Flash to save three imperilled universes. In the end however it requires the Divine Might of the supernal Spectre to truly set every thing back on track and in its assigned place and time…

A year later the get-together took on epic proportions with the inclusion of stars from the Shazam! Universe (imaginatively dubbed Earth-S) which began with a ‘Crisis in Eternity!’ plotted by E. Nelson Bridwell and scripted by Marty Pasko.

One of the most venerated and loved characters in American comics, the original Captain Marvel was created by Bill Parker & C. C. Beck: the best of a wave of costumed titans devised in the wake of Superman’s blockbuster 1938 debut.

Although there were many similarities in the early years, the Fawcett character moved early into the realm of fanciful light entertainment and even comedy, whilst as the 1940s progressed the Man of Steel increasingly left whimsy behind in favour of action and drama.

Homeless orphan Billy Batson was chosen to battle injustice by an ancient wizard who bestowed the powers of six gods and heroes. Billy transforms from scrawny boy to brawny (adult) hero by speaking aloud the wizard’s name – an acronym for the legendary six patrons Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury.

At the height of his popularity Captain Marvel was published twice a month and outsold Superman, but as tastes and the decade changed sales slowed and a court case begun by National Comics citing copyright infringement was settled. The Big Red Cheese disappeared – as did many superheroes – becoming a fond memory for older fans.

In Britain, where an English reprint line had run for many years, creator/publisher Mick Anglo had an avid audience and no product, and swiftly transformed Captain Marvel into the atomic age hero Marvelman, continuing to thrill readers into the 1960s.

As America lived through another superhero boom-&-bust, the 1970s dawned with a shrinking industry and wide variety of comics genres servicing a base that was increasingly founded on collector/aficionados, not casual or impulse buys.

DC needed sales and were prepared to look for them in unusual places.

After the settlement with Fawcett in 1953 they had secured the rights to Captain Marvel and Family and, even though the name itself had been taken up by Marvel Comics (via a circuitous and quirky robotic character published by Carl Burgos and M.F. Publications in 1967), they decided to tap into that discriminating fanbase.

In 1973, riding a wave of nostalgia, DC brought back the entire beloved Fawcett cast and crew in their own kinder, weirder universe. To circumvent the intellectual property clash, they entitled the new comic book Shazam! (‘With One Magic Word…’) the trigger phrase used by most of the many Marvels to transform to and from mortal form and a word that had already entered the American language due to the success of the franchise the first time around…

Now in Justice League #135 the stand-alone Shazam heroes met other costumed champions when antediluvian dictator King Kull (a bestial king from a pre-human civilisation who held mankind responsible for the extinction of his race) invaded the Wizard’s home on the Rock of Eternity.

From this central point in the Multiverse Kull intended to wipe out humanity on three different Earths and began by capturing the gods and goddesses who empowered Billy and his magical allies Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel.

Thankfully fleet Mercury was able to escape and warn Earths 1 and 2 even as lesser heroes Bulletman & Bulletgirl, Ibis the Invincible, Spysmasher and Mister Scarlet & Pinky took up the fight without the missing Marvels…

Recruiting an army of indigenous super-villains from three worlds, Kull unleashes a plague of unnatural disasters in ‘Crisis on Earth-S!’ unaware that Mercury, Shazam and imbecilic magic-wielder Johnny Thunder are undertaking a devious counterattack which brings the vanished Marvel Family back into action just in time to avert a cataclysmic ‘Crisis in Tomorrow!’

This monumental melange of metahuman mayhem concludes with a brace of double-length sagas guest-starring Silver Age DC’s second-most popular superteam.

Once upon a time, a thousand years from now, a band of super-powered kids from many worlds took inspiration from the greatest heroic legend of all time and formed a club of champions. One day those Children of Tomorrow came back in time and invited their inspiration to join them…

Thus began the vast, epic saga of the Legion of Super-Heroes, as first envisioned by writer Otto Binder & artist Al Plastino when the many-handed mob of juvenile universe-savers debuted in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958), just as the revived superhero genre was gathering an inexorable head of steam in America.

The coalition grew and prospered, becoming a phenomenon generally attributed with birthing organised comics fandom. After years of slavishly remaining a closely-guarded offshoot of Superman’s corner of continuity the Legion finally crossed over into the broader DC Universe with this saga as writers Paul Levitz & Pasko combined to detail a ‘Crisis in the 30th Century!’

It begins when ultimate sorcerer Mordru drags a handful of JLA and JSA-ers (Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Black Canary from Earth-1 plus the other Green Lantern, Doctor Fate, Power Girl, Flash and Hawkman from E-2) into the future to replace a band of ensorcelled Legionnaires he has lost contact with…

Mordru’s previous captives had been tasked with retrieving three arcane artefacts that were in the JLA’s keeping a millennium past, but with them gone the wizard now expects his new pets to finish the task. Of course the ancient heroes have other ideas…

Even after linking up with the lost Legionnaires, the 20th Centurians are unable to prevent the return of demonic triumvirate Abnegazar, Rath and Ghast, but happily their eons in stasis has affected the eldritch horrors’ psychological make-up and their disunity gives the puny humans one shot at saving the universe from a ‘Crisis in Triplicate!’

This staggering panoply of multi-hued calamities and alternate Armageddons is rounded off with an instructive contextual lecture in John Wells’ Afterword ‘Those Were the Days’, rounding out a glorious gathering of captivating Costumed Dramas no lover of Fights ‘n’ Tights fun and frolics could possibly resist.
© 1975, 1976, 1977, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Crisis on Multiple Earths volume 2


By Gardner Fox, Dennis O’Neil, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Dillin & Sid Greene (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0003-9

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

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

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

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

And of course, where DC led, others followed…

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

A torturous trickle of innovative crossover yarns generated an avalanche of popular and critical approval (big sales figures, too) so inevitably the trans-dimensional tests led to the ultimate team-up in the summer of 1963. ‘Crisis on Earth-One’ and ‘Crisis on Earth-Two’ (Justice League of America #21-22, August and September) comprised one of the most important stories in DC history and arguably one of the most crucial tales in American comics.

Its success led to a sequel the following summer and by year three it had become an eagerly-awaited tradition that would last as long as the JLA comicbook did.

This second collected volume gathers the fifth through eighth summer collaborations (JLA #55-56, 64-65, 73-74 and 82-83), encompassing a period of editorial flux and change. The background is covered in Martin Pasko’s erudite Introduction ‘Crisis Behind the Scenes’ which details how the loss of stalwart originators Gardner Fox & Mike Sekowsky led to a new way of telling stories, offsetting in some respects the genuine dilemma of readers’ changing tastes…

These classics span a period in DC’s history which still makes many fans shudder with dread but I’m going to ask them to reconsider their aversion to the “Camp Craze” that saw America go superhero silly in the wake of the Batman TV show (and, to a lesser extent, the Green Hornet series that introduced Bruce Lee to the world). I should also mention that comics didn’t create the craze. Many popular media outlets felt the zeitgeist of a zanier, tongue-in-cheek, mock-heroic fashion: Just check out old episodes of Lost in Space or The Man from U.N.C.L.E if you doubt me…

A wise-cracking campy tone was fully in play for the first two-parter – ‘The Super-Crisis that Struck Earth-Two’ and ‘The Negative-Crisis on Earths One-Two!’ from JLA #55-56 (August and September 1967).

Opening on Earth-2, it boasted a radical change as the JSA now included an adult Robin instead of Batman, although Hourman, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, Wildcat, Johnny Thunder and Mr. Terrific still needed the help of Earth-1’s Superman, Flash, Green Lantern and Green Arrow to cope with an invasion of superpower-creating black spheres which gave mere mortals uncanny abilities enabling them to satisfy their darkest desires.

Things went from bad to worse after the harried heroes used the ebony invaders to augment their own abilities and turn half the combined team evil too…

Peppered with wisecracks and “hip” dialogue, it’s sometimes difficult to discern what a cracking yarn this actually is, but if you’re able to forgive or swallow the dated patter, this is one of the best plotted and illustrated stories in the entire JLA/JSA canon. Furthermore, with immensely talented Sid Greene’s inking adding expressive subtlety, mesmerising texture and whimsical humour to Sekowsky’s pencils, Fox’s bright, breezy comedic scripts simply shine.

By 1968 the second superhero boom looked to be dying just as its predecessor had at the end of the 1940s. Sales were down generally in the comics industry and costs were beginning to spiral. More importantly “free” entertainment, in the form of television, was by now ensconced in even the poorest household. If you were a kid in the sixties, think on just how many brilliant cartoon shows were created in that decade, when artists like Alex Toth and Doug Wildey were working in West Coast animation studios.

Moreover, comicbook stars were appearing on the small screen. Superman, Aquaman, Batman, the Marvel heroes and even the JLA were there every Saturday in your own living room…

It was a time of great political and social upheaval. Change was everywhere and unrest even reached the corridors of DC. When a number of creators agitated for increased work-benefits the request was not looked upon kindly. Many left the company for other outfits. Some quit the business altogether.

Fox ended his magnificent run on the Justice League with a stunning annual team-up of the League and Justice Society. Creative and perfectly professional to the very end, his last story was yet another of the Golden-Age revivals which had resurrected the superhero genre.

JLA #64 and 65 (August to September 1968) featured the ‘Stormy Return of the Red Tornado’ and ‘T.O. Morrow Kills the Justice League – Today!’ with a cyclonic super-android taking on the mantle of a 1940s spoof “Mystery Man” who appeared in the very first JSA adventure (if you’re interested, the original Red Tornado was a brawny washerwoman named Ma Hunkle).

The plot involved a cagy time thief creating an artificial hero to help him defeat the JLA and JSA, but realising too late he had built better than he knew…

Fox’s departing thriller was also the series’ artistic debut for former Blackhawk artist Dick Dillin, a prolific draughtsman who would draw every JLA issue for the next twelve years, as well as many other adventures of DC’s top characters like Superman and Batman. He was inked by Greene, a pairing that seemed vibrant and darkly realistic after the eccentrically stylish, nigh-abstract Sekowsky.

Next up from August and September 1969 is Denny O’Neil’s first shot at the yearly cross-dimensional crisis as #73 and 74 offered ‘Star Light, Star Bright… Death Star I See Tonight!’ and ‘Where Death Fears to Tread!’

The tense, brooding tale introduced Aquarius, a sentient but insane star, who magically destroys Earth-Two until our Earth-1 heroes (with their surviving Golden Age counterparts) manage to restore it, but not without some personal tragedy as Black Canary loses her husband and opts to emigrate to our world, handily becoming the JLA’s resident Girl Superhero and picking up a new if somewhat unreliable power in the process.

This splendid exercise in fantastic nostalgia ends with another grand get-together as alien property speculators from space seek to raze both Earths 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 the concluding ‘Where Valor Fails… Will Magic Triumph?’ (#83 September, O’Neil, Dillin & Giella)

This volume also includes a few beguiling extras: the front and back covers of Limited Collectors Edition #C-46 (by Neal Adams from August/September 1976), a double-page pin-up of the JSA by Murphy Anderson from Justice League of America #76 (October 1969) and a JLA Mail Room comprised of found letters from many of the passionate fans like Gerry Conway, Alan Brennert and Martin Pasko who grew up to be somebody in comics…

These tales won’t suit everybody and I’m as aware as any that in terms of the “super-powered” genre the work here can be boiled down to two bunches of heroes formulaically getting together to deal with extra-extraordinary problems.

In mature hindsight, it’s obviously also about sales and the attempted revival of more sellable characters during a period of intense rivalry between DC Comics and Marvel.

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

…And since I wouldn’t have it any other way, why should you?
© 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Crisis on Multiple Earths: the Team-Ups volume 2


By John Broome, Gardner Fox, Mike Friedrich, Neal Adams, Murphy Anderson, Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1228-5

Super-Editor Julius Schwartz ushered in the Silver Age of American Comics with his Showcase successes Flash, Adam Strange and Green Lantern, directly leading to the Justice League of America which in turn inspired Fantastic Four and the whole Marvel Empire and changed the way comics were made and read…

Whereas the 1940s 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…

It all began, naturally enough, in The Flash, flagship title of the Silver Age Revolution. After ushering in the triumphant return of the costumed superhero concept, the Crimson Comet, with key writers Gardner Fox and John Broome 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 those few he did were all dynamite; none more so than the full-length epic which literally changed the scope of American comics forever.

‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (Flash #123, September 1961) 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 adventure he had absorbed as an eager child was grim reality to Jay Garrick and his comrades on the controversially designated “Earth-2”. Locating his idol, Barry convinced the elder to come out of retirement just as three Golden Age villains were making their own wicked comeback…

The floodgates were opened, as over the months that followed many Earth-1 stalwarts met their counterparts either in annual collaborations in the pages of Justice League of America or in their own 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.

Showcase #55 and 56 saw Doctor Fate and Hourman as a dynamic duo battling Solomon Grundy and the Psycho-Pirate and, still searching for an concept that would support its own series, Schwartz, Fox and Murphy Anderson debuted the team of Starman and Black Canary in The Brave and the Bold #61 (September-October 1965); the first of two stunning sagas which somehow led to nothing…

All those stories can be found in the previous edition (Crisis on Multiple Earths: the Team-Ups volume 1) whilst this second splendid collection – chronologically re-presenting The Atom #29 & 36, Flash #170 & 173, Green Lantern #45 & 52 and The Spectre #3 , cumulatively spanning October/November 1965 to April/May 1968 – opens with Brave & Bold #62 and a second Starman/Black Canary case wherein the resurgent champions ferociously face off against husband-and-wife criminals Huntress and Sportsmaster who had been stalking superheroes for kicks and profit. By the time Feline Fury Wildcat became their victim our heroes were on the case and ready for anything…

This compelling thriller was originally augmented by a text feature biography of the original Starman and that is reprinted here before Earth-2 Emerald Gladiator Alan Scott reunites with “our” Hal Jordan (Green Lantern #45, June 1966, by Broome, Gil Kane & Sid Greene) to thwart ‘Prince Peril’s Power Play’ as Scott’s comedy foil Doiby Dickles was romanced by an alien princess. The only fly in their ointment was a gigantic and ambitious space warrior who needed her to cement his own plans for conquest, but judicious use of green energies soon taught him that nobody likes a pushy tyrant…

Earth-2’s Tiny Titan was Al Pratt, a short man with super-strength, whilst we had size changing physicist Ray Palmer. When they met in Atom #27 (February/March 1967, by Fox, Kane & Greene) it was for an all-out cataclysmic clash between the Mighty Mites and one of the most dangerous villains of DC’s Golden Age in ‘The Thinker’s Earth-Shaking Robberies!’

With Green Lantern #52 (Broome & Kane, April 1967) Alan Scott and Doiby popped over from Earth-2 to aid Hal against the scurrilous return of his arch nemesis Sinestro in camp-crazed and frankly rather peculiar fight-frenzied fist-fest ‘Our Mastermind, the Car!’ after which a brace of Scarlet Speedsters at long last reunited in Flash #170 to face the ‘The See-Nothing Spells of Abra Kadabra!’ (May 1967 by Broome, Infantino & Greene) which found the 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 was visiting and called on the services of JSA pals Doctors Fate and Mid-Nite to counteract the wicked wizard’s wiles…

Promptly following, Flash #173 (September 1967 by Broome, Infantino & Greene again) featured a titanic 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 revealed devilish layers of intrigue and his Andromedan super-safari concealed a far more arcane purpose for the three speedy pawns, before the wayward wanderers finally fought free and found their way home again…

Eventually Schwartz finally achieved the ambition of launching a Golden Age hero into his own title; sadly just as the superhero bubble was bursting and supernatural stories were again on the rise…

After three Showcase appearances and many guest-shots, The Spectre won his own book at the end of 1967. From #3 (March/April 1968) comes this all Earth-2 team-up by neophyte scripter Mike Friedrich and artistic iconoclast Neal Adams which exposed the ‘Menace of the Mystic Mastermind’ wherein pugilistic paragon Wildcat confronted head-on the inevitable prospect of age and infirmity even as an inconceivable force from another universe possessed petty thug Sad Jack Dold and turned him into a nigh-unstoppable force of cosmic chaos…

This fabulous peek into forgotten worlds and times concludes with one of the very best team-up tales of the Silver Age as the Earth-2 Atom returns in ‘Duel Between the Dual Atoms’ (April/May 1968, by Fox, Kane & Greene) wherein a radiation plague plays hob with victim’s ages on both worlds simultaneously. Sadly the deadly situation also turns normally hyper-rational Ray Palmer into an enraged maniac and almost more than his aging counterpart can handle…

Still irresistible and compellingly beautiful after all these years, the stories collected here shaped the American comics industry for decades and are still influencing not only today’s funnybooks but also the wave animated shows, movies and TV series which grew from them. These are tales and this is a book you simply must have.

© 1965-1968, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice Society of America: The Bad Seed


By Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, Jesus Merino & various (DC)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2714-2

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

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

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

This iteration, called to order after Infinite Crisis and Identity Crisis, found the last surviving heroes from World War II acting as mentors and teachers for the latest generation of young champions and metahuman “legacy-heroes” (family successors or inheritors of departed champions’ powers or code-names): a large, cumbersome but captivating combination of raw talent and uneasy exuberance with weary hard-earned experience.

And this slim compilation, collecting JSA volume 3 #29-33 (September 2009 to January 2010) details their greatest challenge, how they met it and what resulted from it…

Accepting the necessity of becoming elder statesmen to the next generations of heroes as well as defenders of the right, the already ponderous organisation began inviting ‘Fresh Meat’ to sign up. Unfortunately as they induct effusive All-American Kid and moody teen King Chimera, the JSA discover their mystic guardian Obsidian has been reduced to an inert egg of dormant ebony energy…

Even as they interview the newbies and probe the cause of the dark avenger’s strange transformation, news arrives of a massive super-villain army attacking the city.

Exactly how to respond reignites a doctrinal debate between old school brawler Wildcat and military martinet Magog, but soon the heroes head off en masse, leaving super-genius Mr. Terrific to mind the juniors and investigate Obsidian’s condition…

The metahuman confrontation is a trap. An unknown mastermind has gathered an army of super-creeps specially chosen to counter individual JSA-ers and put bounties on all the heroes’ heads…

As a colossal battle ensues in the heart of the city something strange becomes apparent. Although the brutes, beasts and monsters run amok and mercilessly assault the JSA-ers they actually attack each other whenever teen hero Stargirl gets into the firing line.

For some reason the mystery Machiavelli behind the coalition of evil has specified that if she is even scratched nobody gets paid…

And as the super-war escalates, back at the JSA Brownstone Mr. Terrific is brutally stabbed by the last person he expected…

Caught completely by surprise the JSA are soon reduced to baffled Stargirl and defiant Jay Garrick standing over the battered bodies of their comrades. The first Flash is forced to risk everything on the villains obeying orders as he rushes off in ‘Hot Pursuit’ of major reinforcements and returns almost instantly with Doctor Fate: a crime-fighting mage with the powers of a god… or so the villains believe…

With the bad guys fleeing in terror the thrashed heroes regroup at their HQ and discover Terrific bleeding out. As magic-wielders and medical doctors strive to keep his fading spark alive, Magog and Wildcat renew their argument about how the team should be run and already-frayed tempers snap…

‘New Blood, Old Blood, Spilled Blood’ sees the medical contingent working miracles to keep Terrific alive as Flash and Power Girl begin reconstructing the murder attempt and grilling the few villains they managed to capture. Soon the big scheme is starting to become clear – even if Stargirl’s sacrosanct status is not – and when the reconvened evil army attacks, even the worst possible news about Terrific is not enough to hinder the fighting mad champions in ‘The Worth of a Hero’

The truth about the traitor comes out in the final climactic clash and even though the greater plot remains unsolved, the resurgent team storms to another astounding against-the-odds victory. However in the rubble of their home and shattered unity it becomes clear that to survive at all the Justice Society has to ‘Split Up’

To Be Continued…

Scripted with deft skill by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges and compellingly limned by Jesus Merino – who should be paid a major bonus for keeping distinct and dynamic the hordes of heroes and villains populating this shocking saga – The Bad Seed is another blockbusting epic that will delight the already informed but might well be all but unreadable to anyone not deeply immersed in the complex continuity of DC’s last three decades.

Nevertheless, if you love Fights ‘n’ Tights mass melodrama and are prepared to do a little reading around then you might find yourself with a whole new universe to play in…
© 2009, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice Society of America: Black Adam and Isis


By Geoff Johns, Jerry Ordway (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2531-5

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

The Justice Society of America was debuted in the third issue of All-Star Comics (Winter 1940-1941), a communal anthology title featuring established characters from various National and All-American Comics publications. The groundbreaking landmark was instigated by the simple expedient of having assorted heroes gather around a table and tell each other their latest adventure.

From this low key collaboration it wasn’t long before the guys – and they were all white guys (except Red Tornado: a woman who merely pretended to be one) – regularly joined forces to defeat the greatest villains and social ills of their generation. Within months the blockbusting concept had spread far and wide…

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

From there it wasn’t too long before the original and genuine article returned. Since then there were many attempts to formally revive the team’s fortunes but it wasn’t until 1999, on the back of both the highly successful rebooting of the JLA by Grant Morrison & Howard Porter and the seminal but critically favoured new Starman series by Golden Age devotee James Robinson, that the multi-generational team found a new mission and fan-base big enough to support them.

As the century turned the original super-team returned and have been with us in one form or another ever since.

This iteration, called to order after mega crossover events Infinite Crisis and Identity Crisis, found the last surviving heroes of World War II acting as mentors and teachers for the latest generation of young champions and metahuman “legacy-heroes” (family successors or inheritors of departed champions’ powers or code-names).

Such a large, cumbersome but worthy assemblage of raw talent, uneasy exuberance and weary hard-earned experience (for details see Justice Society of America: the Next Age and Justice League of America: The Lightning Saga) can certainly do with some help, and this turbulent tomes collects issues #23-28 of Justice Society of America (volume 3, spanning March – August 2009): finding the august body closing one era whilst nervously embarking upon the next.

Once upon a time Billy Batson was a little boy living on the streets of Fawcett City. His archaeologist parents left him with his uncle when they went on a dig to Egypt. They never returned, his little sister vanished and he was thrown out when his guardian stole his inheritance.

Sleeping in a storm drain, selling newspapers for cash, the indomitable lad grew street-smart and resilient, but when a shadowy stranger bade him follow into an eerie subway, the boy somehow knew it was all okay. Soon after, he met the wizard Shazam and gained the powers of six ancient Gods and Heroes.

Thus began an astounding career as wholesome powerhouse hero Captain Marvel. Billy eventually found his lost sister Mary and shared his nigh-infinite power with her, as they both subsequently did with disabled friend Freddy Freeman.

They battled but eventually reached an accommodation with militant progenitor Black Adam, the wizard’s first superhuman champion who had been reborn in the body of Theo Adam – the man who murdered the Batsons’ parents. However when a succession of crises arose, everything changed. Immortal Shazam was murdered, Billy was exiled to the transcendent Rock of Eternity as his replacement and Freddy became a new Captain Marvel; his mighty gifts supplied by a completely different pantheon of patrons.

Black Adam had found peace and redemption in the love of ascendant nature goddess Isis until she was cruelly taken from him but the worst tragedies befell poor Mary. Deprived of her intoxicating powers she found herself an addict without a fix… until soul-sick Adam shared his dark energies with her. His corrupted spirit fatally tainted the once-vibrant innocent…

The saga resumes here with wrap-up epic ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’ (by scripters Geoff Johns & Jerry Ordway with Ordway & Bob Wiacek supplying the artwork), commencing with ‘The Power of Shazam’ as Adam finds his beloved Isis has been resurrected by sorcerer Felix Faust and turned into his helpless plaything…

Whilst he is savagely saving his revenant inamorata from the mage’s vile clutches, far away in the JSA’s brownstone HQ, the rifts caused by the recent war against space god Gog result in hothead Hawkman quitting in fury over doctrinal issues and how best to train the next generation.

The remaining first rank of heroes continue doggedly debating the way forward as, outside, recent additions fear for their place on the team and beyond time and space Billy the wizard’s tedious monitoring of reality is interrupted by a surprise attack.

Despite a desperate struggle he soon falls to Black Adam and an eerily reborn Isis, who somehow has lost every ounce of the vast compassion and understanding she once embodied, but none of her shattering power…

Stripped of his magical might and adult frame, the terrified boy Billy is ignominiously dumped back on Earth whilst Isis plans her next step and faithful Adam begins to fear that he has made a horrific mistake…

‘Family Ties’ sees indomitable Billy begin the fight back by convincing an extremely dubious JSA to join him in a trip to the Rock of Eternity. The rescue mission first entails sharing his outrageous origins with the adults, backed up by confirmation from teenager Stargirl who has long known Billy’s secrets.

By the time the contingent of champions arrives, Isis has “adopted” Mary Batson – still polluted with Black Adam’s contaminated powers – as she pushes forward her operation to “fix” the world.

In a blistering blitz attack the JSA are separated: the bulk of the team barely surviving Adam’s frenzied assault, Billy and Stargirl cruelly targeted for torture by Black Mary and elder Flash Jay Garrick lured away by the ghost of Billy’s father…

The frantic furore ends in ‘Family Feud’ as Mary forces her powerless brother to share her debauched and corrupting energies, mutating into psychotic deviant Black Billy. The deadly Adam family then translates back to Earth and their former homeland Khandaq – where the global pariah and his bride are worshipped as messiahs – with the battered but determined JLA hot on their heels.

Flash and Mr. Batson (Deceased) have meanwhile traversed the most dangerous corridors of infinity (but not without consequences that will later threaten the world) to reawaken the only being capable of ending the accelerating cosmic catastrophe, but as the trio speed to Kahndaq the situation has again shifted.

The game-changing moment occurred when Isis casually eradicated her devoted human worshippers and revealed to her shocked husband that her intent is to scour Earth of all life and repopulate with beings of her own making…

By the time Jay arrives with a literal Deus ex Machina in his wake, Adam has repented and switched sides, but that makes no difference to the apocalyptic fury of the world’s enraged deliverer…

Following that tragic and spectacular clash a semblance of normality takes hold in heart-warming “day in the life” tale ‘Black Adam Ruined my Birthday’ (by Johns, Dale Eaglesham & Nathan Massengill) as Stargirl Courtney Whitmore is ambushed with a belated sixteenth birthday party and gets her most fervent wish granted… almost…

Ordway & Wiacek return for one last blast from the past in ‘Ghosts in the Darkness’ as the many-handed team are attacked by a horde of disposed and extremely angry sprits who breach the brownstone’s esoteric, ebon defences to hijack Flash, Green Lantern, Wildcat, Liberty Bell and Hourman.

The shanghaied stalwarts soon discover they have fetched up in Hiroshima moments before that fateful atomic bombing…

With the ghosts revealed to have been manipulated by a Machiavellian old foe, the saga shockingly concludes with a cunning doublecross and sneaky twist, even after nigh-omnipotent former JSAer The Spectre takes relative new kids on the block Power Girl, Damage, Atom Smasher and Judomaster on a time-busting rescue mission against the ‘Phantom Menace’

Tipped in as an added bonus is a doom-laden recap of past glories and upcoming tragedies in a trenchant Origins and Omens strip-vignette courtesy of Matthew Sturges & Fernando Pasarin, deftly laying the groundwork for the horrors to come in forthcoming adventures…

Even with covers, variants and celebratory triptychs by Alex Ross, Ordway & Wiacek, this in one more blockbusting epic that will be all but unreadable to anyone not deeply immersed in the complex continuity of DC’s last three decades, which is a real shame as the writing is superb, the artwork incredible and the sheer scope and ambition breathtaking.

Nevertheless, if you love Fights ‘n’ Tights cosmic melodrama and are prepared to do a little reading around then you might find yourself with a whole new universe to play in…
© 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

All Star Comics Archives volume 0


By Gardner Fox, Jerry Siegel, Ken Fitch, Bill Finger, John B. Wentworth, Sheldon Moldoff, Sheldon Mayer, Albert & Joseph Sulman, Creig Flessel, Jon L. Blummer, Martin Nodell, E.E. Hibbard, Chad Grothkopf, Stan Aschmeier, Bernard Baily, Howard Purcell, William Smith & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0791-X

I will never stop saying it: the creation of the Justice Society of America in 1941 utterly changed the shape of the budding comicbook industry. However before that team of All-Stars could unite they had to become popular enough to qualify, and this slim yet superb hardcover sampler gathers a selection of individual exploits featuring many of the soon-to-be beloved champions who would populate the original big team and guarantee their immortality long after the Golden Age of American Comics ended.

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

As scrupulously detailed in Roy Thomas’s history-packed Foreword, characters from Flash Comics, Adventure Comics, More Fun Comics and All-American Comics were bundled into the new quarterly and ‘A Message from the Editors’ asked readers to vote on the most popular, even offering copies of forthcoming issues as prizes/bribes for participating…

The merits of the project would never be proved: rather than a runaway favourite graduating to their own starring vehicle, something different evolved. With the third issue, prolific scripter Gardner Fox apparently had the smart idea of linking the solo stories through a framing sequence as the heroes got together for dinner and a chat about their most recent cases.

With the simple idea that Mystery Men hung around together, history was made and from #4 the heroes would regularly unite to battle a shared foe…

This slim sublime hardcover tome collects the stories from the first two All Star Comics (cover-dated Summer and Fall 1940) and opens with a tale of a fantastic winged warrior…

Although perhaps one of DC’s most resilient and certainly their most visually iconic character, iterations of Hawkman have always struggled to find enough of an audience to sustain a solo title.

From his beginnings as one of the B-features in Flash Comics, Carter Hall has shone through assorted engaging, exciting but always short-lived reconfigurations. Over decades from ancient hero to re-imagined alien space-cop and post-Crisis on Infinite Earths freedom fighter, or the seemingly desperate but highly readable mashing together of all previous iterations into the reincarnating immortal berserker-warrior of today, the Pinioned Paladin has performed exemplary service without ever really making it to the big time.

Created by Gardner Fox & Dennis Neville, he premiered in Flash Comics #1 (January 1940) and stayed there, growing in quality and prestige until the title died, with the most celebrated artists to have drawn the Winged Wonder being Sheldon Moldoff and Joe Kubert, whilst a young Robert Kanigher was justly proud of his later run as writer.

Together with his partner Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman, the gladiatorial mystery-man countered uncanny and fantastic arcane threats, battled modern crime and opposed tyranny with weapons of the past for over a decade before vanishing with the bulk of costumed heroes as the 1950s began.

His last appearance was in All Star Comics #57 (1951) as leader of the Justice Society of America, before the husband-and-wife hellions were revived and re-imagined nine years later as Katar Hol and Shayera Thal of planet Thanagar by Julie Schwartz’s crack creative team Gardner Fox, Joe Kubert & Murphy Anderson…

Their long career, numerous revamps and perpetual retcons ended during the 1994 Zero Hour crisis, but they’ve reincarnated and returned a couple of times since then too…

Here Fox & Sheldon Moldoff offered the eldritch saga of ‘Sorcerer Trygg’ wherein the still-bachelor hero travelled to the mountains of Wales to crush a callous capitalist making zombies to work the mines he had stolen from his nephew and niece…

The Sandman premiered in either Adventure Comics #40 July 1939 (two months after Batman debuted in Detective Comics #27) or two weeks earlier in New York World’s Fair Comics 1939, depending on which distribution records you choose to believe. He was originated by and illustrated by multi-talented all-rounder Bert Christman – with the assistance of young scripting star Gardner Fox.

Head utterly obscured by a gas-mask and slouch hat; caped, business-suited millionaire adventurer Wesley Dodds was cut from the radio drama/pulp fiction mystery-man mould that had made The Shadow, Green Hornet, Black Bat and so many more household names and monster hits of early mass-entertainment and periodical publication.

Wielding a sleeping-gas gun and haunting the night to hunt killers, crooks and spies, he was eventually joined and accompanied by plucky paramour Dian Belmont, before gradually losing the readers’ interest.

His fortunes were revitalised when Joe Simon & Jack Kirby took over the feature, but here in his salad days Fox & Chad Grothkopf spectacularly pitted him against ‘The Twin Thieves’ baffling and bamboozling the hapless cops with their murderous jewel capers…

Gary Concord, the Ultra-Man premiered in All-American Comics #8 November 1939, the son of a 20th century scientist who had awoken from a suspended animation sleep in 2174AD with incredible physical abilities.

His son inherited his attributes and became the guardian of a troubled future and official “High Moderator of the United States of North America”.

Created by Jon L. Blummer – working as “Don Shelby” – the Buck Rogers-inspired serial ran until issue #19 and is represented here with the then-topical treat ‘The European War of 2240’ wherein a conflict orchestrated in a foreign zone allowed a scurrilous third party nation to attempt seizing control of neutral America’s Uranium mines. Naturally the bombastic Ultra-Man quickly scotched the scheme and restored peace and prosperity to the world…

Devised, created and written by Gardner Fox and first drawn by Harry Lampert, Jay Garrick debuted as the very first Monarch of Motion in Flash Comics #1 and quickly – how else? – became a veritable sensation. He was the first AA character to win a solo title, mere months after All-Star Comics #3 hit the newsstands.

The Fastest Man Alive wowed readers in anthologies Flash Comics, Comics Cavalcade and All Star as well as All-Flash Quarterly for just over a decade before changing tastes benched him and most other Mystery Man heroes in the early1950s.

His invention as a strictly single-power superhero created a new trend in the burgeoning action-adventure funnybook marketplace, and his particular riff was replicated many times at various companies where myriad Fast Furies sprang up.

Then after over half a decade of mostly interchangeable cops, cowboys and cosmic invaders, the concept of human rockets and superheroes in general was spectacularly revived in 1956 by Julie Schwartz in Showcase #4 when police scientist Barry Allen became the second hero to run with the concept. It’s been non-stop ever since …

Here Garrick speedily solves ‘The Murder of Widow Jones’ (by Fox and signature illustrator Everett E. Hibbard) in the time it took the cops to simply report that a crime has been committed…

The Spectre is one of the oldest characters in DC’s vast stable of characters, created by Jerry Siegel & Bernard Baily in 1940 and debuting with a 2-part origin epic in More Fun Comics #52-53.

For a few years the Ghostly Guardian reigned supreme in the title with flamboyant and eerily eccentric supernatural thrillers, but gradually he slipped from popularity as firstly Dr. Fate and successively Johnny Quick, Aquaman, Green Arrow and finally Superboy turned up to steal the show. By the time of his last appearance the Spectre had been reduced to a foil for his own comedic sidekick Percival Popp, the Super-Cop

The Ghostly Guardian was Jim Corrigan, a hard-bitten police detective who was about to marry rich heiress Clarice Winston when they were abducted by mobster Gat Benson. Stuffed into a barrel of cement and pitched off a pier, Corrigan died and went to his eternal reward. Almost…

Rather than finding Paradise and peace, Corrigan’s spirit was accosted by a glowing light and disembodied voice which, over his strident protests, ordered him to return to Earth to fight crime and evil until all vestiges of them were gone…

Just like Siegel’s other iconic creation, the Dark Man suffered from a basic design flaw: he was just too darn powerful. Unlike the vigorously vital and earthy early Superman, however, the arcane agent of justice was already dead, so he couldn’t be logically or dramatically be imperilled.

Of course in those far-off early days that wasn’t nearly as important as sheer spectacle: grabbing the reader’s utter attention and keeping it stoked to a fantastic fever pitch. This the Grim Ghost could do with ease and always-increasing intensity.

In ‘The Tenement Fires’ Siegel & Baily pulled out all the stops for a sinister struggle against merciless arsonists and the Ethereal Avenger recruited the recently murdered victims to help dispense final judgement…

Although we think of the Golden Age as a superhero wonderland, the true guiding principle was variety. Almost every comicbook alsooffered a range of genre features from slapstick comedy to prose thrillers to he-man adventure on its four-colour pages, and More Fun Comics had its fair share of straight adventurers like freelance troubleshooter Biff Bronson, who debuted in #43 (May 1939) with sidekick Dan Druff for a near 30-issue run thrashing thugs, crushing crooks and exposing espionage. He last appeared in #67.

Here the special agent exposes scurvy spy ‘The Great Remembo’ in a smart thriller deftly detailed by brothers Albert & Joseph Sulman.

At this time all comicbooks also featured a prose story, and in All Star #1 Publisher Max Gaines’ niece Evelyn contributed a fanciful science fiction romp entitled ‘Exile to Jupiter’ that wasn’t up to much but was graced with illustrations by the wonderful Sheldon Mayer.

The comics sagas resumed with The Hour-Man stepping in to combat ‘The Forest Fires’ in a moody drama by Ken Fitch & Bernard Baily. He had started strongly in Adventure Comics #48 (March 1940) but slowly ran down until he faded away in #83, February 1943.

Tick-Tock Tyler, the Hour-Man” began by offering his unique services through classified ads to any person in need. Chemist Rex Tyler had invented a drug he called Miraclo which super-energised him for 60 minutes at a time and here he helped beleaguered loggers enduring sabotage and murder…

The first issue closed with long-lived and much loved light-hearted military strip Red, White and Blue by Jerry Siegel & William Smith.

Marine Sergeant Red Dugan, Whitey Smith of the US Army and naval Rating Blooey Blue were good friends who frequently worked for military intelligence service G-2 whilst saving trouble magnet Doris West from her own dangerously inquisitive nature…

The series began with All-American Comics #1 April 1939 and ran there and in sundry other titles such as World’s Finest Comics until 1946, with the trio turning up all over the world solving the USA’s problems.

Here they found themselves despatched to Alaska to find a missing G-2 agent, only to discover Doris already there exposing a slow infiltration by sneaky Asiatics of an ostensibly neutral nation in ‘The Volcano Invasion’

All Star Comics #2 immediately follows with Hawkman (by Fox & Moldoff) fighting an Aztec cult in America and the jungles of Mexico, desperately seeking to rescue the latest kidnapped ‘Sacrifice for Yum-Chac’

Green Lantern then debuted in ‘The Robot Men’ by Bill Finger & Martin Nodell. Technically the Emerald Gladiator was first seen All-American Comics #16 (July 1940 and practically simultaneously with this All Star appearance), devised by up-and-coming cartoonist Nodell and fully fleshed out by Finger in the same way he had contributed to the success of Batman.

Green Lantern was a sensation, becoming AA’s second smash hit six months after The Flash and preceding by 18 months the unprecedented success of the Amazing Amazon Wonder Woman.

Engineer Alan Scott survived the sabotage and destruction of a passenger-packed train due only to the intervention of a battered old railway lantern. Bathed in its eerie verdant glow, he was regaled by a mysterious green voice with the legend of how a meteor fell in ancient China and spoke to the people: predicting Death, Life and Power.

Instructing Scott to fashion a ring from its metal and draw a charge of power from the lantern every 24 hours, the ancient artefact urged the engineer to use his formidable willpower to end all evil – a mission Scott eagerly embraced…

The ring made him immune to all minerals and metals, and enabled him to fly and pass through solid matter amongst many other miracles, but was powerless against certain organic materials such as wood or rubber which could penetrate his jade defences and cause him mortal harm…

He won his own solo-starring title within a year of his premiere and feature-starred in many anthologies such as Comics Cavalcade for just over a decade, before he too faded away in the early1950s, having first suffered the humiliating fate of being edged out of his own comicbook by his pet, Streak the Wonder Dog

In this issue however he was at his mightiest and most impressive, battling a nationwide invasion of men turned into shambling monster slaves by an enemy spy…

Siegel & Baily then exposed The Spectre to ‘The Curse of Kulak’ wherein an antediluvian sorcerer returned to punish mankind for desecrating his tomb by inundating the world with a plague of murderous hatred…

The Sandman’s second stint featured a spooky science thriller by Fox & Creig Flessel as the Man of Mystery tracked down a killer using a deadly radioactive weapon – ‘The Glowing Globe’ – to terrorise and rob.

Siegel & William Smith’s ‘Invisible Ink Gas’ pitted Red, White and Blue against spies with a diabolical scheme for stealing Army documents whilst Johnny Thunderbolt’s All Star debut added even more light-hearted shenanigans to the mix when the imbecilic genie wielder became guardian of ‘The Darling Apartment’ (by John B. Wentworth & Stan Aschmeier).

Johnny Thunder – as he eventually became – 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 unconscious control of an irresistible magic force. The feature was always played for action-packed laughs but there was no getting away from it: Johnny was a simpleton in control of an ultimate weapon…

Decades before, the infant seventh son of a seventh son was abducted by priests from the mystic island of Badhnisia to be raised as the long-foretold controller of a fantastic magical weapon, all by voicing the eldritch command “Cei-U” – which sounds to western ears awfully like “say, you”…

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

For now though, back in America and seeking his fortune, he spent lots of time trying to impress his girlfriend Daisy Darling’s dad. In this exploit the irate property magnate was experiencing difficulties with a new building he was erecting and Johnny decided to tackle head on the mobsters holding up production…

After another Evelyn Gaines text vignette, ‘The Invisible Star’, Hour-Man battled murderous charlatan ‘Dr. Morte, Spiritualist’ by Fitch & Baily before the inimitable Flash closed out the stunning show in fine form by foiling thugs who had kidnapped an entire publishing company, becoming in the process ‘The One-Man Newspaper’ in a fast, furious and funny thriller from Fox & Hibbard.

Wit the entire Justice Society canon collected in eleven dedicated Archive Editions, this particularly impressive afterthought completes the resurrection of the rare and eccentric material which revolutionised comicbooks.

These early adventures might not be to every modern fan’s taste but they certainly stand as an impressive and joyous introduction to the fantastic worlds and exploits of the World’s First Superheroes.

If you have a love of the way things were and a hankering for simpler times remarkable for less complicated adventures, this is another glorious collection you’ll cherish forever…

© 1940, 2006 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

JSA All Star Archives volume 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandman Mystery Theatre: The Tarantula


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showcase Presents All Star Comics Volume 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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