All-Star Comics #3: the series in transition

Society: an organized group of persons associated together for religious, benevolent, cultural, scientific, political, patriotic or other purposes.

The first two issues of All-Star Comics were pure anthologies consisting of unrelated stories. Starting with the fourth issue, the format consists of an opening chapter with the Justice Society that sets up the story, middle chapters detailing the individual adventures of the society members, and then a closing chapter to wrap up the plot. The third issue of All-Star doesn’t follow either format. Instead it features a framing storyline that weaves in and out of the entire issue as characters meet, have dinner, and share stories about their adventures.

I love that aspect of All-Star Comics #3: that the characters aren’t fighting some huge, world-shattering threat that forces them all to come together as a team to stop it. Instead, they’re simply sitting down to eat dinner and get acquainted with each other. It’s such a normal, everyday thing to do and it really humanizes these otherwise fantastic characters. Admittedly, we do get an origin written in the 1970s that uses the Nazi threat and President Franklin Roosevelt as a catalyst for the formation of the Justice Society, but it almost takes away from the simple charm of this issue’s premise. I’m not sure we needed an explanation beyond these heroes deciding that they shared common goals and would benefit from pooling their resources.

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This certainly seems more significant in light of Multiversity…

Framing story: It’s the first meeting of the Justice Society of America, a gathering of the mystery men and heroes of the era including (but not limited to) the Flash, the Green Lantern, the Atom, the Sandman and others. Johnny Thunder knows about the meeting but hasn’t been invited, and he’s not a happy camper. Naturally he says “say you” while complaining, and so his Thunderbolt appears and starts granting his wishes. Since he wishes he was at the meeting, he’s whisked to the hotel where the meeting is taking place. He causes various mishaps including giving the Flash the chills, compelling some of the members to arrive instantly, shrinking his own head, and causing dinner to vanish. Needless to say, Johnny isn’t getting off on the right foot, so to make things right he wishes for dinner to appear, and then contributes the idea of having each of the members tell a story about one of their adventures. The others agree, and Johnny takes it on himself to get the ball rolling by introducing the Flash.

The Flash

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Come on Flash, pick up the pace!

Jay’s story involves helping a man locate a sunken Spanish galleon and fend off sabotage and attacks by some crooks who are determined to get the gold for themselves. The story begins in New York where once again Joan knows someone who needs help. Her name is Mary Rogers, and she’s in New York raising funds for her father Tim to continue his treasure hunt. Joan suggests that Jay help out. Jay refuses at first, but then changes his mind and heads to Panama, where he swims around until he locates the wreck. He messes with the would-be thieves on the Nancy K, ultimately stealing their diving equipment and stranding them near the Antarctic. He then helps Tim Rogers recover the gold and heads back to New York to check in with Joan.

  • There are so many funny lines in this story. Jay thinks getting from New York to Panama in 16 minutes is “pretty good time”. The shark who was trying to eat Jay thinks “Wasn’t there a nice juicy man here a minute ago?” (Hey, sharks talk to Aquaman. Why wouldn’t they have thought balloons?) When stranded in the Antarctic, one bad guy says “It’s so cold, I’m sweating ice cubes!” The story is a light-hearted romp where no one gets hurt, and Jay has a good time, as usual. And “Burly Billy” is a great villain name. I’m sure he says “Arrrrrrr!” all the time.
  • As usual, the ruffians in the story are just no match for the Flash. He deals with them with ease.
  • How does Jay spend so much time underwater without needing to breathe?
  • I’ve said it before: Joan Williams knows everyone.

Hawkman – The Men Who Lived in Fire

Carter and Shiera are at a party where Shiera mentions that she plans to fly to Krakatoa to investigate some strange stories. On the way home she is attacked by a native who warns her against going, but Carter drives him off. Shiera refuses to be frightened and sets out the next day, with Carter following her as Hawkman. As Hawkman he contacts her and the two of them obtain asbestos suits to investigate the volcano. There they are captured and taken before Mazda, a maniac who plans to conquer the world. He tries to kill both Shiera and Hawkman by tossing them into lava, but they escape and Hawkman smashes his machine, killing him and ending the threat, such as it was.

  • I don’t know why Jay’s story about sunken treasure reminded Hawkman about volcanos and fire men. Traveling overseas is the only connection I can think of. Some dialogue along those lines would certainly have smoothed things over.
  • Okay, normally these old comics are pretty tame, but those two panels with Hawkman looking in the window to see Shiera in bed and in her bra, and the next one where she’s covering herself with a sheet while he talks to her seem more than a little suggestive of something going on between the two of them. Does she know that Carter (who is after all her boyfriend) is Hawkman at this point? I honestly don’t know. I don’t think so, so I’m inclined to think that nothing happens between the two of them, or else that secret would be pretty difficult to hide! Still…
  • Hawkman picks a weapon for the story and chooses “the Hammer of Thor”. Now that would be a fun inter-company crossover.
  • The dialogue in most of these stories is far from sophisticated, but here it seems especially stilted and oddly paced. The mortally wounded native’s “Oh well, I’m dying”, followed by some long exposition is (unintentionally) funny. I think that an extra page or two of art to avoid cramming so much dialogue into some of the panels would have helped.

The Spectre

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I love the Spectre’s dialogue here.

A series of horrible murders have been taking place, and Jim Corrigan’s boss demands that he find the killer. Jim is attacked by a bizarre bronze statue come to life, but since he’s already dead, he simply changes to the Spectre and confronts the creature, who names himself Oom the Mighty. Oom has no lofty goals, he simply wants to kill in violent ways. In order to get rid of him, the Spectre agrees to a race to retrieve the Moonstone of Yzgartyl. The loser will leave the Earth forever. Oom, of course, cheats by throwing various obstacles at the Spectre, but in the end the Spectre wins. However Oom refuses to abide by the terms, so the Spectre thrashes him soundly, then imprisons him in the stone and hurls it back out into space.

  • It’s interesting that the Spectre didn’t just exile Oom without bothering to race him. But then the story wouldn’t have been long enough.
  • On the other hand, stories like this really showcase the “go anywhere, do anything” nature of the Spectre’s abilities. And the fanciful way outer space is drawn with clouds and planets and comets that look like cutouts just add to the weirdness. This sort of visual storytelling would be interesting to see with the production values of modern comics, but then modern books would never publish something so whimsical.
  • Bernard Baily can draw some weird looking creatures. There’s no doubt about it.
  • The Spectre fights a dragon IN SPACE and kills it, apparently by grabbing its tail and slamming it around until it was dead. Picture the Hulk saying “Puny God” and slamming Loki on the floor from The Avengers. Now picture the Spectre doing that to a dragon.
  • On a more serious note, it always seems a bit strange to me that the Spectre hangs out with mortals and swaps stories, but maybe at this point he’s not so distanced from his former life as a living, breathing, flesh and blood man and he still enjoys the company. These heroes with their varying levels of power are as close to equals as he can find.
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