Wednesday, June 6, 2018

All-Star Squadron #4

Superhero vs Superhero
All-Star Squadron #4
The Justice Society of America vs. the All-Star Squadron

All this AND WWII!

“Day of the Dragon King/Aftermath of Infamy!/What Price Vengeance?”
Writer – Roy Thomas
Penciler – Rich Buckler
Inker – Jerry Ordway
Letters – John Costanza
Colorist – Carl Gaffod
Editor – Len Wein
February 1980

The Justice Society of America was one of Roy Thomas’s favorite teams and when DC comics gave him the greenlight in 1981 he ran with it. DC felt the characters had been languishing on the shelf for too long and Thomas got them all down to play with in All-Star Squadron, a name that was a little bit old and a little bit new.

The Justice Society first appeared in All Star Comics #3 in 1940 and the pre WWII team consisted of Doctor Fate, Hour-Man, the Spectre, the Sandman, the Atom, the Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkman. Note that these were all golden age versions of the characters. so the Atom was just a guy who hit people hard, the Flash was Jay “silver-helmed” Garrick, Green Lantern was Alan “never joined any space cop organization” Scott, and a Hawkman. Maybe that last guy was the same since the Hawkman in comics has one of those origins where sometimes he is the magically reincarnated soul of an Egyptian warrior and sometimes he an alien space cop from a planet of bird people.

Or something. I don’t know my Hawkman history.

What I do know is the Justice Society was NOT the Justice League, a group that came along later and whom the Society became the template for. They were earthier and more street and “normal”. Most of the members didn’t have actual powers, just gimmicks. They were normal strength humans whose sole ability might been that they were just able to punch a guy real good, thus they didn’t fit the classical definition of “super.”

Maybe that was the appeal for Thomas, that most of these gents were pretty regular guys in tights and not beings from beyond. And they sat on the other end of the table of the fastest man alive, a superpowered ghost of vengeance and a guy with a genie for a ring. Or maybe it was Thomas' love of putting things into a mythic historical context, something he’d done with his extensive run on Marvel’s Conan book. Whatever the appeal to Roy Thomas, Len Wein gave him carte blanche to do with these folk as he pleased and then threw in the entirety of the Earth-2 dimension alongside.

Under Thomas, Earth-2 became the “original” DC universe, the one where Superman’s rocket landing in the first issue of Action Comics took place somewhere in the 1910s. It was where all the Golden Age properties got shuffled to, which was good since once an audience member started adding up how long a character had been flying around they would quickly figure out most of these guys should be in their 60’s. Earth-2 was an effort to cover up why they still looked 30, by designing a reality still in the 1940’s.

In comic book historical terms, the dimension was first discovered in  1961's the Silver Age Flash number 123. It started out as Jay Garrick’s dimension. That issue delineated that this separate universe was actually Earth-2. Then suddenly it was home to all of the early heroes in the DC back catalogue and the date was a couple of decades earlier than present-day DC’s ongoing “Earth-1” universe. From there it was a hop, skip and a jump to having the Justice League team up with the Justice Society, and eventually steal Black Canary from them.

In a way this gave DC the best of both worlds. They could write stories with these older heroes fighting Hitler and the forces of evil during World War II AND the modern era superhero stories at the same time. Why the supers didn’t end the war in a matter of minutes is a product of deft storytelling that Thomas tells here. I’ll let you discover it below.

It’s also worth noting that when Thomas worked for Marvel he did much the same thing with the All-Winners Squad created by Bill Finger and various art teams from 1946, turning that Timely Comics supergroup into the modern team known as The Invaders.

It’s also interesting that all of this work by Thomas and the other authors who were using the JSA of Earth-2 in the JLA stories became one of the first instances of retroactive continuity or retconning. Retconning means they changed the stories to fit a more modern narrative or altered premises/characters/plotlines to mesh with a present-day storyline better. The first known use of the term is credited to Roy Thomas in the letter column of All-Star Squadron #20 in April of 1983.

But retconning is not what you came for. You came to see some hero-punching-hero action, and this book has some great stuff after a long but important build up. Let’s hop dimensions and take a gander…

The first act of this three-act tale has both the Justice Society members traveling alongside their All Star Squadron counterparts on the morning of December 8, 1941. Their destination? Why it’s a small island chain in the Pacific Ocean, of course. 

Thomas chooses to let us dip down into the conversations of various parties as they fly along to bring us up to speed on this huge supergroup he has amassed. We begin with the Shining Knight and his lady love, whose brother is stationed at Pearl Harbor.

And then the all-powerful ghost of vengeance known as the Spectre, the recently un-magic’d Doctor Fate, and the Golden Age Green Lantern. They chit-chat and fill in the reader on how we got here from last ish…

Which involves the addition of where Plastic Man and Phantom Girl went. Plas was a recent acquisition from Quality Comics. Thomas treated him as a serious character instead of Jack Cole’s more comedic take, owing to All-Star’s more adventure heavy theme. 

We literally get five pages of flying and talking here, but it is intensely necessary since we have so many characters, many of whom are not household names. Like Johnny Thunder and his magic thunderbolt genie, seen here chatting it up with Wonder Woman.

…and Starman, Hawkman, Johnny Quick, and The Flash have a conversation that ends in a friendly bit of rivalry between the two speedsters. Thomas throws in a nod to All-Star Comics number 9 here to put the issue into proper continuity with the prior series, which is funny when you realize that at the time of this issue’s printing All-Star #9 was one year shy of FORTY YEARS OLD. Not likely an ‘80’s fanboy had a comic from four decades ago.

Then we slip into the The Atom and Robotman feeling inferior to the other supers and Liberty Belle and Hourman discussing the possible source of her powers. But most importantly, we cement Superman’s history in this timeline as only being in the cape and tights for three years.

And while we are mucking around in Superman’s head, we gain some insight into his perspective on being one of many on a super team. Appears he has his own set of hang-ups on how powerful the others are.

Having touched on a majority of the players, the book finally starts cooking story-wise. It begins where this chapter ends, with the group finally nearing the aftermath of December 7th...

The devastation is where we start in on Chapter two of this tale, beginning with this high-altitude shot of the day that will live in infamy.

From there we quickly reverse-angle to catch the stunned looks on our heroes’ faces as they approach the devastation.

Unfortunately they don’t have long to gawk because the remaining soldiers light them up with exploding shells, almost taking down a Superman trying to explain who they are without melting all the guns to slag (which would leave Pearl defenseless.)

Lucky for everyone that Johnny’s Thunderbolt can skywrite in a flash, even if he doesn’t have the luxury of spell-check. 

Soon the Mystery Men are given heroes' welcomes and meet with the base commander. Some of them, however, feel useless when compared to their super-powered comrades. They get set straight in no short order. Not only that, the horror of what they have seen strengthens their collective resolve to take the fight to the Japanese.

Before our over powered people can set off to end a war with a country that America hasn’t formally declared herself against, HAWKMAN (yes, Hawkman of all people) attempts to stop them with a rational argument. The dye is cast though and soon the supes are off in a flash to take it to Emperor Hirohito.

While these guys “nip” off to take on the Japanese fighting force, Sir Justin, the Pegasus mounted Shining Knight, takes Danette Reilly to see her brother.

Before they find his bed, Danette finds an old friend of the family who bears some bad news about he brother…

Two pages of story that hit home about the toll this great conflict inflicted on the lives of those on the frontlines. Thomas is in good form here, but we’ve reached the midway point in the book and it’s here we spend the next half of the story, first showing the heroes flying into the Pacific theater…

A fateful decision is made to stop by Wake Island and take on the Japanese forces there before heading on. 

Which is slightly fortuitous, as the island is under the control of this fella…

Before you G.I. Joe fans start yelling COBRA ripoff, this guy is the Dragon King and he’s here as part of the Axis’ two pronged strategy for dealing with superheroes. Yah see…

Yes, you are looking at the reason for why Superman and the other various “gods among us” didn’t stop this war before it got started. This is a stupendous plot device. Not even sure if Roy Thomas came up with this or if this was something done in the original books back in the 40’s.

No time to look that info up though, because at that moment the Dragon King does his part to amplify the effects of Tojo’s magic. This happens right as our heroes are flying over Wake. Suddenly all of the really powerful guys feel a tingle of electricity rush over them. Next thing you know…

Green Lantern, Superman, Wonder Woman and Johnny Thunder all begin to turn on the non-powered heroes. Now I’m not one to quibble…okay, I am one to quibble, but I find it odd that Johnny Thunder is affected. Maybe that Thunderbolt of his is more a manifestation of something inside him than it is some kind of friendly genie.

Either way, Hawkman is in a bad way, being the only flying hero unaffected by the magical barrier. He finds himself accosted in the air. Not that our ground-bound regulars have it any easier. They are dropped right into the middle of the Japanese forces on Wake by a bewildered Green Lantern (who also shouldn’t really be affected IMHO.)

Look at that mace to the side of Fate’s head. We’ve got real superhero vs superhero smackdown action about to take place. And that ringing you hear isn’t just from Fate’s helmet, that’s the round one bell.

The world does catch one break: Superman, Wonder Woman and the Spectre all stop themselves before completely being overcome. They can’t help the heroes already on the other side of the mind-altering barrier, but at lease they aren’t turned themselves.

Meanwhile our regular fighters have to make their own luck against Green Lantern, starting with using his weakness to wood against him.

With one blow, Liberty Belle knocks out Alan Scott. Then it’s Robotman’s turn to shine as his metal body serves the others as a shield against bullets.

Then it is an all out donnybrook between our more than able non-special powered fighters and Tojo’s best. I particularly love Doctor Mid-Nite’s gas grenade tactic and the resultant series of panels. 

We turn to the Dragon Lord who is gloating that since the heroes can’t get the spear or the grail that there is no way for them to every attack Japan or Germany. Then he notices something that makes him almost squee in delight: Wonder Woman’s will appears to have broken. However, what he doesn’t see is that Hawkman has made a very important discovery.

With the information that he can lead people out of the zone where they will be affected by the waves, Hawkman dives back toward the island with a daring plan in mind. Meanwhile, Robotman finds the generator at the core of the island and his mere presence there sets off a booby trap that destroys it.

Even with the generator destroyed, the ray is still in full effect on the island, but Hawkman taunts Green Lantern to have him bring the rest of the JSA along for a little catch me if you can. On the way back they encounter the Spectre, Superman, Johnny Thunderbolt, and Wonder Woman in her invisible jet. All of whom Hawkman taunts into chasing him.

His desperate gamble pays off. As Doctor Fate slows him down, the mystical magician shows him that he’s led the other heroes out of the range of the awful mind control powers of the evil Axis.

And as the heroes regain their resolve to defeat them, the bad guys make off in a sub, plotting to one day take their war to America’s shores. One day very soon.

What a rousting good time this was! I have to commend Rich Buckler and Jerry Ordway’s pencil and inking skills and a huge thanks to Roy Thomas for presenting such a fun tale. I only have three of this title in the Crapbox, but you can be certain I’ll be looking for more of the chronicles of Earth-2’s heroes against the powers of Hitler’s Axis. Heck, the book even clocks in at a respectable 26 pages. They are without a doubt a bronze age blast!


  1. Awesome write up mate, I will bookmark your page for sure. I am sure I have this book at home somewhere, the story seemed very familiar to me.

    One point about the beams effect I think Lantern and Thunder were effected by the beams as Fate says "They worked on those of us most vulnerable to magic, somehow.. because magic is part and parcel of our very origins" So it is effective more vs magic than just vs people with powers I think. Johnny Thunder's genie is magic, GL's ring is magic.. maybe Superman shouldn't be effected!!

    Cool blog, check mine out if you get the time, oooh also can you tell who my user name is named after?

  2. Oooh just thought I have 2 blogs, check out the Tales from the Grey Side one, the other is all heavy metal which may not be your thing :)

    1. I need to get a copy of you links to throw in my sidebar then. Can you put them in the reply? Always happy to help a fellow blogger.


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